Claps, Clicks & Whistles #26

Last weekend, when I really should have been working on my extremely overgrown back garden (not a euphemism), or sorting out my man-cave (also not a euphemism) both in advance of my first guests coming to visit in mid-September, I actually spent the whole time glued to the television. I am truly the Prince of Procrastination.

I noticed the other day that all three series of Mum are now available to watch on the BBC iPlayer, a show which I loved and (I think) I wrote about on here at the time.

It turns out it’s there to whet the appetite for a brand new series by the chap who wrote Mum, Stefan Golaszewski, which starts on BBC1 tomorrow night (Sunday 14th August 2022, in case you’re not reading this on the day of publication). Marriage stars Sean Bean and Nicola Walker, and having had my passion for Golaszewski’s writing reignited by my Mum-binge, I can’t wait. They’re both great actors, but neither renowned for their comedic chops.

But that’s fine, because the central pairing of Mum weren’t either.

In case you’ve never seen it, Mum tells the story of recently bereaved Cathy (Lesley Manville – most recently seen in BBC1 drama Sherwood, which I also heartily recommend, but for very different reasons) and the possibility of a romance blossoming with her dead husband’s best mate, Michael (Peter Mullan).

Of the two, it was perhaps Mullan’s casting which raised most eyebrows, and I gather he took quite some persuading to take the role on. Which is hardly surprising when you think about the weathered tough guy roles he had made his name playing: I first encountered him as a largely silent hood in Danny Boyle’s 1994 movie Shallow Grave, then he popped up again in Boyle’s masterpiece Trainspotting as Swanney ‘Mother Superior’ (“So called because of the length of his habit”), who spends much of the film cooking up on a kitchen breakfast bar in a filthy crack-den, and takes Renton (Ewan McGregor) to hospital after he OD’s in his flat. But you know all this, right?

The beauty of Mum is the naturalistic conversation, which never sounds in the least bit scripted; it’s in the looks and glances between Cathy and Michael – from the moment he arrives, it’s clear that Michael is besotted with Cathy, but has never been able to act upon it. But now his friend and Cathy’s husband is no longer on the scene, the path is clear and he’s wondering whether he should lay his cards on the table, and if so, when is an appropriate amount of time for him to wait? Cathy, meanwhile, still grieving and putting on a brave face, is oblivious. There were so many moments I was close to blubbing, so perfect were the performances and the script.

And that’s why I hold up such high hopes for Marriage; because in Mum, Cathy and Michael get very few of the funny lines – they are the drama around which the comedy takes place.

Mum gives us a whole plethora of funny characters: there’s Cathy’s son (Sam Swainsbury), forever wandering around in his boxer shorts, shovelling the contents of another packet of crisps into his gob (in this respect, he very much reminded me of an old flat-mate of mine and Hel’s); his girlfriend Kelly (Lisa McGrillis), beautifully blonde and airheaded, heart in the right place but incapable of engaging mind before mouth, forever saying the wrong thing; Cathy’s dim-but-trying brother Derek (Ross Boatman), focusing on all the wrong minutiae of life, and his awful partner Pauline (Dorothy Atkinson) who looks down her nose at everyone and dishes out not-even-slightly subtle insults and put-downs (in Series 3, the moment when, after being on the receiving end of one such put-down for the umpteenth time, Cathy sweetly says: “You can go fuck yourself” to Pauline, I almost wanted to punch the air in celebration; Pauline of course has it covered: “Well done,” she says, in begrudging admiration, and a ceasefire, a new found respect between the two is, briefly, in place); and then there’s Cathy’s in-laws, Reg (Karl Johnson) and Maureen (Marlene Sidaway) who are at the age when they really don’t give a fuck about saying what they think, who hears them or who they might offend.

What I’m trying to say is this: Mum is pretty much perfect, there’s not a mis-step throughout all three series, and that’s a very rare thing indeed. If you want to escape the horror of the sun this weekend, you could do a lot worse than drawing the curtains and working your way through them: I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Time for a tune or two. Or three. Actually, four. But they all sound a bit samey.

I wanted to post the theme tune, “Cups (The Long Way Round)” but I’m really not sure who actually performs it.

See, Shazam identified it as being by Jean Simone:

Jean Simone – Cups (You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone) (Radio Version)

However, wikipedia credits it to American actor Anna Kendrick, as apparently she sings it in one of the Pitch Perfect movies:

Anna Kendrick – Cups (When I’m Gone)

But even that is, according to wiki “adapted” from Lulu and The Lampshades, which I’m pretty sure is the version I posted when I first wrote about Mum:

Lulu and The Lampshades – You’re Gonna Miss Me (aka Cups)

Much as I think Ms Kendrick is the hottest thing since the jar of jalapeno chutney I recently purchased, I’ll have to eschew her inevitable advances and plump for Lulu and her Lampshades version as the version of choice for me. Sorry Anna.

Although I think Shazam has it right as to which version is the actual theme tune to Mum.

But imagine my surprise when I found out that it’s actually a “revival” (which is different to a cover version, apparently) of an old Carter Family tune:

The Carter Family – When I’m Gone

Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a winner!

Enjoy, and happy binge-watching.

More soon.

Get Off My Playlist! #4

Back we go then, to last week’s unfinished business, interrupted as we were by “technical issues”.

And in what I’d love to take credit for as entirely planned, but which is actually utterly coincidental and fortunate, this morning’s song is one which was written by one of the three co-writers of yesterday’s tune. Nope, not Phil Spector, nor Jeff “Not John” Barry: I speak of the wonderful Ellie Greenwich.

Between 1963 and 1967, Greenwich and Barry were responsible for an impressive array of classics. Check this list out: The Crystals’ Da Doo Ron Ron and Then He Kissed Me; The Ronettes’ Be My Baby and Baby, I Love You; Darlene Love’s Christmas (Baby Please Come Home); The Exciters’ (more famously covered by Manfred Mann) Do-Wah-Diddy; The Dixie Cups’ Chapel of Love; and The Shangri-La’s Leader of the Pack.

That’s not a bad list of credits, right?

This morning’s tune was bumped from the summery playlist I recently prepared for JC’s site time and space reasons; I wanted it to be around the hour mark, and something just had to go to keep the length there or thereabouts.

Plus, I couldn’t quite make up my mind which rendition of it I’d include.

So in a homage to Hong Kong Phooey, I thought I’d post all three versions I own and which were in contention, and you can make your own mind up.

(And in case that reference goes over your head, here:)

Would it be Elkie Brook’s version, which was first a single in 1977 and appeared on her Two Day Away album, but which I first encountered via the former Vinegar Joe lead singer’s wonderful, if M.O.R., 1981 album of (mostly) covers, Pearls:

Elkie Brooks – Sunshine After The Rain

Or, perhaps it would be two-hit wonder Berri’s version from `1994, which lobs a healthy chunk of Donna Summer’s 1977 smasheroo I Feel Love into the mix to bring things…erm…bang-up-to-date:

Berri – The Sunshine After The Rain

Or perhaps I’d have just stuck with the original:

Ellie Greenwich – The Sunshine After the Rain

Could be…!

In the end, I couldn’t make my mind up, so bumped the song entirely, in a painfully transparent reason to include Hong Kong Phooey on these pages.

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

It’s hard to dislike Bananarama (and, before we go any further, I don’t).

There’s three distinct phases to their career:

  • The early years, when they occasionally duetted with Funboy 3, loved vodka as much as they loved stonewashed jeans with rips at the knee, and weren’t overly fussed on the concept of harmonies;
  • The Stock Aitken & Waterman years, when Siobhan (eventually) jumped ship to be replaced by Jacqui, who never really seemed to fit;
  • The reformed/nostalgia years, where they could release new material, which nobody was really interested in, as long as they did Robert de Niro’s Waiting (Talking Italian!!!) at their 80s reboot gigs.

It’s a record from that 2nd phase that we’re looking at today, and here’s the original:

Shocking Blue – Venus

Now, I love that version, and, contrary to popular belief, that has nothing to do with the cleavage on show on the sleeve.

Legend has it that the Bananas (the ‘Ramas? What do we call them in truncated pop band name land?) approached the curators of The Hit Factory, and asked that they make them sound like Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Round (Like a Record):

Dead Or Alive – You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)

When they were instructed to sing Venus, so the story goes, the ‘Rama girls were less than enamoured with the idea, but did it anyway. They slunk away from the recording session, concerned that they may have made a wrong turn.

They need not have been so pessimistic, for this was the outcome, their biggest hit:

Bananarama – Venus

I’m not the biggest fan of the SAW Hit Factory production line, but they nailed it with this one.

More soon.

New Mood on Monday

As regular readers will know, I love a good cover version.

Up the stakes: Give me a good cover version of a great 70s sitcom written by Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais and I’m practically immobile with joy.

It turns out Snuff can help me – and you – out this morning.

See, it turns out they have not just released their seminal Flibbiddydibbiddydob, with its thrash versions of TV adverts (Bran Flakes, Shake’n’Vac): they’ve also released the similarly daft-titled Potatoes And Melons At Wholesale Prices Straight From the Lock Up which has this on it. If you listen closely to the backing vocals, there appears to be an inadvertent (I assume) celebration of The Chuckle Brothers thrown in for good measure:

Snuff – Theme From Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads?

You’re awake now, right?

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Here’s three words I never thought I’d type: Dubstar are back!

You remember Dubstar, right? Had a couple of successful Britpop-era electronica pop records: Stars, Everywhere, Not So Manic Now and a really rather great cover of Billy Bragg’s St Swithin’s Day? Yes, that Dubstar.

When I say they’re back, they actually resurfaced in 2018, released an album called One which totally passed me by.

But now they’re back! Back! BACK! with a new album of mostly new material called Two.

I’m always a little wary of bands returning: I genuinely can’t think of a single band who has reformed and released records of the same standard as they did first time around. Don’t give me Take That as an answer, I’ll be dealing with them some other time.

I’ve not really given Two anything more than a cursory listen yet – it sounds just fine on first listen – so I may be wrong and this is the triumphant return one hopes for.

But it does include, as a final track, a cover version which is a pretty bold selection:

Dubstar – Perfect Circle

I’m undecided what I think about that.

Here’s the original:

R.E.M. – Perfect Circle

I have many different versions of R.E.M. performing that Bill Berry composition live, but on most of them something is not quite right – either Stipe’s lead vocal or Mike Mills’ backing vocal is just a little bit off.

This is the best the version I have, recorded for VH1’s Storytellers show, after Berry had left. Not only is it pretty much perfect, it includes Stipe saying “Hi Bill!” towards the end, an acknowledgement of the songsmith on this one:

R.E.M. – Perfect Circle (VH1 Storytellers)

Just beautiful.

More soon.

This Is Pop #16

I’d say there are four things that Tracey Ullman is known for here in the UK:

  1. Being a very funny comedian;
  2. Having a very busy 1980s where, in reverse order, she had her own TV show in the States in the late 80s which gave birth to The Simpsons;
  3. Appearing in Three of a Kind, a sketch show in the UK in the mid-80s, in which she starred with Lenny Henry an David Copperfield (not that one);
  4. Having a brief but wonderful pop career in the early 80s, which included 3 Top 10 and a further 2 Top 40 hits in the UK.

It is of course the pop career we’ll be looking at this morning. And just in case you’re already turning your nose up and thinking “novelty hits” well…you’d be partly right, for all of her hits were cover versions.

But these were novelty hits with some artistic weight behind them, for they were released on the legendary Stiff Records label, home at some point or another to such luminaries as Nick Lowe, The Damned, Lene Lovich, Wreckless Eric, Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Devo, Madness, The Pogues, The Belle Stars, and, most importantly, Kirsty MacColl.

MacColl actually wrote the title track for Ullman’s debut album, You Broke My Heart in 17 Places:

Tracey Ullman – You Broke My Heart In 17 Places

I mean, it’s got early Kirsty written all over it, hasn’t it?

The first of her hits was a cover of an old Irma Thomas tune, written by Jackie DeShannon and Sharon Sheeley, and was probably the least well-known as a cover when it was released in March 1983, peaking at #4 in the UK charts:

Tracey Ullman – Breakaway

And, in case you’re as unfamiliar with the original version as I was when Ullman’s version came out, here you go:

Irma Thomas – Breakaway

I have two things to say about that; firstly, when she first released that, it was called Break-A-Way rather than Breakaway; and secondly, if you’re of a similar vintage to me, and if your brain is wired the same way as mine (and heaven help you if it is) then you too will have seen the word Breakaway and immediately thought of this, and are now feeling a bit peckish:

But I digress.

You may have noticed a recurring theme when looking at Ullman’s album and single sleeve; Ullman dressing up in various guises. This is something which she carried over into her videos; here she is in the Breakaway promo, where, when not dressed as a go-go dancer with an array of beehive hair-do’s, she demonstrates the art of singing into a hairbrush:

This is entirely in keeping with Ullman’s background, for truth be told she very much stumbled into her pop career: “One day, I was at my hairdresser,” she once recalled, “and Dave Robinson’s [head of Stiff Records] wife Rosemary leant over and said, ‘Do you want to make a record?’… I went, ‘Yeah I want to make a record.’ I would have tried anything.”

Before she embarked upon her brief life as a popstar, she had won a full scholarship to the Italia Conti Academy at the age of twelve, attended a dance audition at sixteen, which resulted in her landing a contract with a German ballet company for a revival of Gigi in Berlin, then joined Second Generation dance troupe on her return to the UK, before branching out into musical theatre where she was cast in numerous West End musicals, such as Grease, and The Rocky Horror Show.

Now, if you thought having written the title track of Ullman’s first album, that Kirsty McColl’s work here was done, then you’d be very much mistaken, for the second single was a cover of Kirsty’s ruddy marvellous They Don’t Know, which reached #2 in the UK charts in September 1983.

Rumour has it that Ullman was unable to hit the high “Baby!” after the instrumental break, so Kirsty had to do it. It certainly sounds like her…:

Tracey Ullman – They Don’t Know

And of course, I cannot resist also posting Kirsty’s version:

Kirsty MacColl – They Don’t Know

Probably one of my favourite records ever, that. It’s certainly in the Top 10.

The video for Ullman’s version not only gave her further opportunity to dress up and show both her acting and dancing chops, it started a trend which she continued through her next few singles: the celebrity guest appearance.

Wait for it…..:

Single number three from the album was a cover of Doris Day’s Move Over Darling; released in December 1983, it peaked at #8 in the UK:

Tracey Ullman – Move Over Darling

Here’s the original, for completeness’ sake:

Doris Day – Move Over Darling

There were more guest appearances in Ullman’s video:

I should end this here, but the next single from the follow-up album You Caught Me Out is worth mentioning. Not because it was her final Top 20 hit (it wasn’t – it peaked at #23; the next single Sunglasses got to #18 and that was the last time Ullman bothered the Top 40)…

Tracey Ullman – My Guy

…not because it was yet another cover version (which it was, albeit with a gender swap in the title)…

Madness – My Girl

…but because this time the video contained the most infamous of cameos:

Yes, that really is then-Leader of the Labour Party, Neil Kinnock, hamming it up.

It’s hard to imagine reliably-dull Kier Starmer doing anything so glamourous…

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

Given that it’s my favourite Nick Cave song, you’d expect me to dislike any attempts to cover Into My Arms. Why mess with perfection, right?

Wrong.

For there was nobody more surprised than I when I heard Ane Brune’s version on her 2017 album Leave Me Breathless, a record packed full of cover versions of songs I love done in a totally unique way.

Which is odd, because I’m pretty sure that had I first heard this sound-tracking an advert for anti-perspirant or some such I probably would have hated it.

As it is, loads of weeping strings and steel guitars somehow give this an almost pastoral feel.

Check it out for yourself:

Ane Brune – Into My Arms

I still prefer the Dark Overlord’s version, of course, but that’s pretty good.

More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

I’ve always loved this song by This Mortal Coil, mostly, admittedly, because of the lead vocal provided by Kim Deal.

I always felt her voice was criminally under-used during her time with the Pixies, where she was mostly consigned to backing vocal duties. I can only think of two songs where she was permitted to sing the lead part: the gloriously filthy quietLOUDquiet Gigantic, and Into the White, B-side to Here Comes Your Man, both of which would easily sit in my Top 5 Pixies tracks.

But This Mortal Coil do not make the same mistake, putting her right out front on You and Your Sister:

This Mortal Coil – You and Your Sister

The first time I ever acquired a copy of that record was on a 4AD sampler stuck to the front of some magazine or other. It was when I was working at Boots the Chemist in Cardiff, and I remember returning to the staff “restaurant”, clutching the WH Smith’s bag it was contained in, and being asked by someone at the same table as me why I looked so pleased, at which point I produced the magazine and CD from the bag, to the noise of total disinterest and non-plussedness.

I was reminded of this tune recently because this lady:

…who I refuse to accept is 63 years old, has included a rather fine cover version of the tune on her current album, Bright Lights:

Susanna Hoffs – You and Your Sister

Take your pick, both versions are fecking gorgeous.

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

It may have escaped your attention, but the other week it was Record Store Day.

I’m never quite sure what to make of Record Store Day.

Sure, I see it’s intentions are honourable, the aim being to attract punters back into (independent) record stores, part with their hard-earned cash, and keep the shop alive and kicking for a while longer.

And that’s great.

But what it also does, with its slew of limited edition releases set free for that one specific day, is feed the record buying equivalent of the ticket tout.

Whilst you will see ticket touts outside gigs, flogging their grubby wares, they’re far more likely to sell over-priced tickets online, and these exclusive Record Store Day releases are going the same way.

Take, for example, one of the most sought after releases this time around, the Foo Fighters Hail Satin album, which includes a load of Bee Gees overs.

Now, I don’t know how much these were being sold for in-store; I would imagine being a limited edition release by one of the world’s biggest rock bands, who are fronted by a guy who used to be in one of the world’s most iconic and influential bands, I’d have thought round about the £50 – £60 mark would be appropriate.

Now have a look at how much they are being going for on ebay:

Fair enough, the first guy has had the decency to throw in a couple of DVDs which you could probably pick up in your local Cex store for a couple of quid each. But those prices are just ridiculous.

In the same way as bands, venues, ticket selling outlets and festivals are trying to crack down on the ticket touts, something needs to be done to prevent this exploitation of genuine fans.

As it happens, I’ve managed to *coughs* obtain a copy of the album in question. Released under the name Dee Gees, as a nod not just towards the source act in question, but to main Foo Dave Grohl. (I had to explain this to somebody on Twitter who thought it was a fake…)

I know what you’re thinking: the Foo Fighters covering the Bee Gees? That sounds awful!

It really isn’t. For a start, it’s only the ‘A’ side that’s covers (the ‘B’ side is a load of live recordings from the Foo’s most recent album, which I don’t own, so can’t really comment on, other than to say they sound like every Foo Fighters live song I’ve ever heard), but it’s quite surprising how good, and faithful to the originals, the covers are. For a start, Grohl rocks a really quite impressive falsetto which I don’t ever recall hearing on his previous records. He should try it more often.

Here’s a taster:

Dee Gees – Night Fever

More soon.

Old

I try to avoid posts marking the anniversaries of records being released for two reasons.

Firstly, I can’t be bothered with, and would have no idea where to start, keeping track of this sort of thing.

Secondly, because I just feel old when I see them.

“It can’t be that long, can it?” I find myself thinking, before looking it up and finding that yes, yes it can be that long ago that the record in question came out, even if does seem like a blink away.

On my Twitter timeline this week, it was brought to my attention that Sleeper’s The It Girl is twenty five years old this week.

I wouldn’t mention it were it not for the fact that I have a ticket for a gig which has been kicked down the road several times because of Covid, where the band will perform the album before this in full, ably supported by The Bluetones doing the same for their debut album, Learning To Fly.

And so it is: Sleeper’s The It Girl is 25, and I dare not look to see how old their debut album Smart is.

So here’s one of the singles from the album, notable for two reasons. Firstly, it’s used as the theme tune to a Radio 4 panel show (either the Sue Perkins hosted Dilemma, or the Victoria Coren-Mitchell hosted Heresy, I can’t remember which now and typically neither are available on the iPlayer at the moment to allow me to check – I think it’s the former):

Sleeper – What Do I Do Now?

And secondly because of this utterly wonderful cover version, by the other Elvis, which I’ve posted before but is so good it deserves another outing:

Elvis Costello & The Attractions – What Do I Do Now?

Take your pick.

More soon.