Late Night Stargazing

Tonight’s late night tune is one that I always associate with the Nightmares on Wax tune I posted here last week, mostly because I first encountered it when it featured on the same double compilation CD, but also because it sounds bloody great when played directly after it.

I’m not really a fan of drum’n’bass, if indeed that’s what this is (I’ve always been lousy at distinguishing between the many sub-genres of dance music; in my clubbing days I used to try to avoid getting into conversations with people about whether a DJ’s set had been techno enough, for example, since I had absolutely no idea what that meant), but this I love in all it’s dark, unsettling, glory:

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Origin Unknown – Valley Of The Shadows

More soon.

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Aww, Shucks, You Guys…

So, I just wanted to say thank you for the incredible messages you left for me in the last week, not just about my post on Monday, but also the ongoing attention you give to my weekly post called The Chain.

I’ve said it many times, but I’ll say it again: I don’t write The Chain post, I just host it. You guys and girls write it, all I do is find the songs (if I can – bloody hell this week’s lot look tricky), piece it all together/copy and past what you’ve written, and stick a couple of lame jokes in there.

A phrase which has been mentioned in a couple of the comments is “labour of love”, a phrase which makes me think of two things: firstly UB40, a thought which I of course ignore, and secondly one of the greatest singles from the 1980s, which I have written about before, and which I love as much today as when I first heard it, sitting outside a trendy bar (the name of which escapes me) in the centre of Peterborough (The Blue Nile and Robbie Robertson were also on the tape they played on repeat), swigging on bottles of Perronni and feeling ever so sophisticated for doing so.

Looking back, this song was the mark of a political awakening for me, landing as it did just as I was discovering The Smiths and Billy Bragg. It’s a record which to this day still fires up folks of roughly the same age as me, give or take the odd fifteen years or so: at a very good friend of mine’s 40th birthday a few years ago (they will remain nameless for they would bloody murder me were I to broadcast their age on these pages), this record got played and the place went appropriately nuts:

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Hue and Cry – Labour of Love

Stone cold classic.

More soon.

Calling Your Name

Over at JC’s ever-glorious place today, the latest in his Saturday’s Scottish Song is a tune by Bronski Beat, and JC of course describes their “The Age of Consent” album as “incredibly brave and groundbreaking”  (and I mean ‘of course’ in the sense that he is 100% correct, rather than in the sense of “predictably”, followed by a weary sigh and a rolling of the eyes).

In the early 1980s, there suddenly seemed to be a lot more openly gay pop stars, and Bronski Beat were arguably the most important; not only did they write songs about being gay in a community that wasn’t exactly “gay-friendly” (I’m thinking of “Smalltown Boy” here, as potent, powerful and emotional a record all these years later as it was the first time I heard it), but they also portrayed an image which, as far as I’m aware, had not been done before: that there wasn’t necessarily anything out of the ordinary about gay men.

Out and proud musicians were not a new thing in the early 1980s – we’d had Disco for several years – but up until then gay men in pop music, and probably in popular culture more generally, had always been portrayed as camp, incredibly flamboyant, or both. (see: Divine, Sylvester, or Boy George).

But here, with Bronski Beat, were three blokes who just happened to be gay, who looked like any other blokes you might see on the street, and who, although Smalltown Boy and The Age of Consent are undoubtedly very political records, just wanted to make great pop songs. What Bronski Beat taught us was that one’s sexual preference makes no difference, other than providing a different perspective from which to comment on things.

I mention this, and Boy George in passing, because I read a fascinating article by Alexis Petridis in The Grauniad the other day (apologies, I always refer to it as such due to its fabled propensity for failing to spot basic spelling mistakes and grammatical errors pre-publication). Petridis is one of my favourite music journalists, a view probably somewhat coloured by the fact he was the first famous person (if being a Grauniad journo counts as being famous…), before I started writing this blog, to ever reply to one of my Tweets (a joke about Withnail and I, in case you’re interested). Along with JC’s kind advice on the practical points of how to do this blogging lark (of which I have written, and embarrased him, previously), Petridis’ acknowledgement that something I had sent him was funny was just as an important part in my starting to write here. This wasn’t my mates laughing at something I said down the pub, this was someone I didn’t know, who could very easily have just ignored my Tweet, responding in a positive, probably unintentionally, encouraging way.

But, as usual, I digress. The article in question was an interview with early 80s pop-pioneer and friend of Boy George (and I don’t mean that in a “Friend of Dorothy” kind of way), Marilyn.

Back in the early 1980s, both George and Marilyn were branded as “gender-benders”, which always struck me as lazy, homophobic journalism. What you’ve done there, Mr Daily Mail journo, is find a word which rhymes with gender, and hope that its use as a derogatory term, a playground cat-call, will stick. Which, annoyingly, it did.

That was part of the problem for Marilyn back in the day; his friendship with Boy George was generally construed/portayed as him hanging onto the coat-tails of his famous friend, and as George’s star descended into an unseemly mess of drug addiction and not very good records, so Marilyn’s career spiralled down the spout too.

Make no bones about it, Boy George is an integral part in the story of how gay men came to be accepted as equals in modern society, in the same way as, dated as they may seem now, people like John Inman and Larry Grayson had done in the 1970s. And when people saw Boy George and wondered out loud if “it” was a boy or a girl (there’s a clue in the name, folks), they were positively aplopeptic when they saw Marilyn. And his story is amazing, 2 parts inspirational to 1 part sad. Or maybe that should be the other way round. I’m not sure.

To say any more would be to trample all over the interview itself, which you can read here: When Alexis Met Marilyn

Given the content of my last post, there’s a certain theme (failed pop star turns into drug-addled loser) bubbling up here, and that’s not intentional. Donovan has had his moment of redemption, where the public have gone “Oh, you’re alright really, aren’t you?”. Marilyn is not as big a star as Donovan, nor has he been afforded such a luxury.

What I’m really trying to do is nudge you in the direction of this, one of the greatest, often over-looked, pop songs of the 1980s:

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Marilyn – Calling Your Name

And if you ever need convincing of just how important gay rights were in the 1980s, I urge you to watch “Pride”, an incredible film that I’ve waxed lyrical about before, and which I’m off to watch again now.

Here’s the trailer:

More soon.

All Part of the Service

You’ve probably noticed that I haven’t done a Friday Night Music Club post for a few weeks now. There’s a few reasons for that.

Firstly, I felt that I’d kind of painted myself into a corner with that thread in its present format. It had started off as just being a post with a playlist for those of us who, for whatever reason – be it through lack of funds, or having reached a certain age where going out dancing isn’t really a viable option, or simply have nobody to go with – are unable to go out on a Friday night, to enjoy in the comfort of their own living room.

But somewhere along the line, it changed into me posting ten songs on a particular theme. Some of these became tedious for me to write (I’m thinking of the series of three posts about songs that shared a name with a television programme in particular), and judging by the marked drop-off in comments, I guess many of you felt the same way about reading it!

Secondly, I was running out of ideas for themes, although typically I’ve thought of a couple of potentially good ones recently, so I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of it returning again at some point. Ultimately, though, if it does return, it’ll just be some tunes to brighten up your Friday night, something to dance to, sing along to, maybe even shed a tear to.

Thirdly, it was becoming  bit of a drag to do. By about Wednesday every week, my mind would start to frantically scramble for a theme, the panic rising throughout Thursday, reaching a climax around Friday lunchtime. Sometimes I managed to pull a good one out the bag (I’m still quite proud of the post about Radio songs which I cobbled together at the last minute), but more often than not I felt I was boxed in a bit. And, as I’m sure my fellow bloggers will agree, if writing a particular post becomes a bit of a chore to do, then maybe it’s time to move onto something new. As they say on those adverts encouraging us to gamble, “When The Fun Stops, Stop” (like that’s an excuse for the previous thirty seconds of telling us how cool it is to gamble, how much money you could win…don’t get me started…)

Fourthly, I discovered regular Chain contributor Rol’s excellent My Top Ten blog, where he posts ten songs on a certain theme. Here, it seemed, was my excuse to put Friday Night Music Club on a hiatus, for Rol seemed to be doing a much better job of it than I, writing with warmth, wit and charm about a selection of subjects, whilst highlighting a broad range of records.

I mention this, because having been out for a few beers last night, I woke early this morning, still thirsty, and began my usual trawl of the blogs I follow, at which point I alighted upon My Top Ten and found what I think we can safely describe as “a cry for help”.

As part of his “Top Ten Maths Songs (Volume 5: Division) Rol had posted a song by a former Australian soap star (he’s still Australian, just no longer a soap star) that he was a tad embarrassed about. His writings ended with the following words:

“Perhaps I should consult Jez over at A History of Dubious Taste? If anyone will stick up for me here, it’s got to be him…”

Happy to help. All part of the service, no extra charge.

Now, I should start off by saying that back in 1989, I would have rather chewed off one of my own testicles than admit to liking anything by Jason Donovan (for it is he), or indeed anything from the Stock, Aitken & Waterman camp, but I’ve kind of mellowed. Besides, it’s physically impossible, so I’m told.

Now, Donovan (and when I refer to Donovan from hereon in, I’m referring to Jason, not Leitch) has certainly had his troubles: post-Neighbours, and post-pop career, he developed a serious drug problem, taking around two grams of cocaine a day. In early 1995, at Kate Moss’ 21st birthday party, held in The Viper Room, Johnny Depp’s notorious bar on (not Paul) Hollywood’s Sunset Boulevard, where actor River Phoenix died of a drug overdose a couple of years earlier, Donovan suffered a drug-induced seizure which very nearly finished him off too. Lightweight.

Putting aside the whole episode where he sued The Face magazine in the early 1990s for alleging he was a homosexual – which he has later confessed was the biggest mistake of his life – I’ve always found Donovan to come across as quite a likeable chap, as this clip from now defunct-and-should-have-been-out-of-its-misery-years-before-it-actually-was comedy pop quiz “Never Mind The Buzzcocks” illustrates:

So, a drug habit and a bunch of A-List celebrity friends certainly would seem to provide him with an air of credibility that one could argue his recording career didn’t really deserve.

Sure, we may not consider many, if any, of his records to be in any way profound or artistically worthy, but that’s because they’re not supposed to be. Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Donovan made pop records, and pop, by its very nature is “here today and gone tomorrow”, transient bubble-gum. But forever tucked away in our CD racks, our cupboards of vinyl, our MP3 folders, there they lurk: pop songs. And some of them are cheesy. And some of them people will stumble over, raise an eyebrow in your direction and say “Really? You like Cleopatra??”

There’s nothing wrong with liking pop records.

So, as part of the newly founded Bloggers’ Solidarity Movement (so newly founded, that’s the first ever mention of it), here’s a song by Jason Donovan that I like.

There, I’ve said it.

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Jason Donovan – Too Many Broken Hearts

I’m perfectly aware that Too Many Broken Hearts is not a great record, but that doesn’t preclude me from liking it. I don’t think this is too difficult a concept to grasp: I’m not wrong for liking it, and you’re not wrong for disagreeing with me.

Oh, and he had a nice hat.

More soon.

The Chain #22

Evening Chain Gang!

So, so much to get through this week, so I’ll assume you all know what we do here, and will dive straight in.

Last week’s records was “Inbetweener” by Sleeper, and the suggestions for records that link to that came in thick and fast. Now, I know I swore off fiddling around with the order last week, but as it turned out, this week there were several suggestions which followed similar themes so I thought I’d try to group those together, interspersed with the remaining ones.

And so to kick things off this week, here’s The Swede from Unthought of, though, somehow which just happened to be the first one I received:

“Louise Wener of Sleeper published an autobiography in 2010 entitled ‘Different For Girls’. ‘It’s Different For Girls’ is the title of a rather splendid Joe Jackson song.”

It most certainly is, and you need proof, here you are:

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Joe Jackson – It’s Different For Girls

Wener’s post-Sleeper career has largely been based upon her writing skills; not only has she written that aforementioned autobiography, but she’s written several works of fiction too. Which made me think of this record, which contains my favourite mop-top guitar riff:

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The Beatles – Paperback Writer

Having hit on the novel idea (see what I did there?) of featuring songs about authors, this one sprang to mind:

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Morrissey – Reader Meet Author

Don’t worry, it’s not all bout me this week! But “Reader Meet Author” leads us nicely on to SWC from When You Can’t Remember Anything‘s first nomination of the day:

“I once got stuck in a lift with Louise Wener AND the keyboardist from The Wannadies. There is no link here unless you want to post ‘Hit’ by The Wannadies, in all of its two minute brilliance?”

Of course I want to post that! It was going to feature in a future unrelated post, but I’m not adverse to posting the same song more than once, and I can always postpone that one:

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The Wannadies – Hit

Moving further away from Wener’s writing prowess and SWC’s stalker tendencies (I’m sure he’ll claim it was a work-related incident, though), here’s Charity Chic from Charity Chic Music:

“A sleeper is a train that transports you through the night – if you were to get a Midnight Train to Georgia like Gladys Knight and the Pips, chances are it would be a sleeper.”

Can’t fault your logic, there CC:

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Gladys Knight & The Pips – Midnight Train to Georgia

Whenever I hear the name Gladys Knight & The Pips, I always think of Geordie adult comic Viz, to the snappily titled “The Viz Book of Crap Jokes: A Pitiful Array of Poor Quality Jokes from the pages of Viz” which I used to own but which seems to have got mislaid on one of my many house-moves over the years, and particularly to this, which young folks who’ve never had to use a public phone probably won’t understand:

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Now, can we all give a warm Chain Gang welcome to the first of many new contributors who’ve been in touch this week. Here, from his frankly quite wonderful blog Is This The Life? is The Robster:

“I was going to suggest It’s Different For Girls until Swede beat me to it. So instead I thought about Louise’s first novel ‘Goodnight Steve McQueen’ which led me to the Prefab Sprout album ‘Steve McQueen’. But I never liked Prefab Sprout (a heretical remark in some quarters, but I stand by it) [In which case, we’ll skip playing anything by them – Chain Ed]. “There was also a book she wrote called ‘Just For One Day’ about Britpop which is as good an excuse as you could ask for to include some Bowie.”

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David Bowie – Heroes

The Robster continues: “Then I went down the sleeping route: Sleep by Godspeed You! Black Emperor would be a good one, but you probably don’t want to post a 23-minute instrumental, do you?”

Challenge accepted!

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Godspeed You! Black Emperor – Sleep

“So I ended up plumping for The Dreaming by Kate Bush. ‘Cause you dream when you sleep, right?” he concludes.

And quite a lot of the time when I’m awake, if I’m perfectly honest.

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Kate Bush – The Dreaming

Okay folks, brace yourselves. It’s become a bit of a tradition here on The Chain that we feature at least one cringe-worthy song every week. Not because we necessarily like it, but because…well, did you ever hear that quote, which I had always thought was attributed to mountaineer Chris Bonnington, that goes “Q: Why do you want to climb that mountain? A: Because it’s there.”? (A quick internet search tells me that it was actually first said by George Mallory, an English schoolteacher and mountaineer, born 1886, died 1924 trying to errm….climb Mount Everest. Not so smug now, eh, Mallory, old bean?) I digress – it’s the same principal here. So, babylotti, why did you recommend this record? Because you could. Or, as you put it:

“Inbetweener conjures one song up for me immediately. It’s that excruciating dance scene in the Inbetweeners film where they ‘move’ across the dancefloor to ‘We No Speak Americano’ that’s my suggestion, right there. Sorry.

No need to apologise, babylotti!

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Yolanda Be Cool – We No Speak Americano (Radio Edit)

And just in case you don’t know the scene babylotti is referring to:

Which leads us rather neatly on to the next suggestion, and can we have a warm Chain Gang welcome to The Beard, who does not appear to be the biggest fan of the show which gave us such phrases as “Bus Stop Wankers!”, “Bum-der” and “Clunge” (I advertently described a cheesecake at a recent party as “looking a bit clungey”, not realising what that meant until the words were already out there. I am free to host the Great British Bake Off, in case anyone on C4 is interested).

Anyway, here’s The Beard’s suggestion:

“The plural of Inbetweener is Inbetweeners. The Inbetweeners was a mildly-amusing-but-quickly-lost-its-charm comedy. One of the protagonists was called Jay. A more famous Jay is Jam Master Jay. ‘Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)’ by his band, Run DMC, is ridiculously good.”

It certainly is:

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Run DMC – Here We Go (Live At The Funhouse)

Since we’re on a rap/hip-hop vibe, here’s Rol from My Top Ten:

“Literal link again: the only song I have in my collection with Sleeper in the title is Nightbus Sleepers by Dan le Sac Vs. Scroobius Pip. Not usually my bag, musically, but I love Scroobius Pip’s rambling rhymes”.

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Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip – Nightbus Sleepers

Seems a bit quiet around here without George this week, doesn’t it? Time to rectify that, with more of his Tottenham Hotspur links:

“Sleeper is a film by Woody Allen. Dave Allen was in the Gang of Four, leading to Dave Mackay of Tottenham Hotspur (their finest ever midfielder), leading to Andy Mackay of Roxy Music, and Ladytron.”

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Roxy Music – Ladytron

Time to welcome back Alyson from What’s It All About, Alfie?

“At the risk of looking as if I am stalking George by copying everything he comes up with (it’s all a coincidence honestly) [I knew it! You might call it stalking, we call it spying! – Chain Ed] my first thought was also that Woody Allen was in a film called Sleeper with one-time partner Diane Keaton, but we all know that Woody also had a long-term relationship with Mia Farrow. [Phew! I wondered where you might be going with that for a moment there. I was dusting off the word ‘allegedly’ ready for quick insertion – Legal Ed] Now Mia was once married to Frank Sinatra so I could go down that route but instead, in the interests of championing the Guilty Pleasure tagline yet again, I will go down another route. Ms Farrow starred in the excellent film Rosemary’s Baby and back in 1970 Edison Lighthouse did really well with Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes) – I think the brackets are important!”

Anyone whose services as the resident pop nerdo boffin in pub quiz team will know how invaluable knowing where the brackets go in a pop song title is. My favourite one that catches people out is Heaven 17’s “…(And That’s No Lie)” which you’ll note quite literally has no words that aren’t in brackets.

Anyway, here’s 1970s not Guilty at all Pleasure:

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Edison Lighthouse – Love Grows (Where My Rosemary Goes)

Time for a warm welcome to the third of our new contributors this week, which comes from within Alyson’s sleeper cell humble abode:

Don’t know if my other half is allowed to join in but out of interest his suggestion probably falls into the Guilty Pleasure category also and it’s The Gambler by Kenny Rogers – The opening few lines being relevant to a) Sleeper trains b) Being too tired to sleep c) Railway lines are laid on sleepers.”

Tick, tick, tick, as The Hives once said, as did the nit nurse at my Junior School (although The Hives also added the word “Boom!”).

I’ve digressed again. Here’s King Kenny (no, not that one. Or that one. This one):

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Kenny Rogers – The Gambler

If you didn’t catch Kenny Rogers’ Sunday Afternoon Legends slot at Glastonbury back in 2013, you can see it here. Well worth a look, in my book.

Anyway, before I forget, a warm Chain Gang welcome to Alyson’s other half, Jamie.

Now, as they say, for something completely different, and to my final suggestion for this week. “Inbetweener” comes from Sleeper’s debut album, “Smart”. Smart is a word which has several different meanings: Well dressed (The Great Gog will expand on this in a moment); to be in pain (as in “Ouch, that smarts a bit”), or to be clever.

If you’re the opposite of clever, then you could easily be described as intellectually-challenged, or just plain stupid. That’s S-T-U-P-I-D:

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Sultans of Ping F.C. – Stupid Kid

Since I’ve just mentioned him, here’s The Great Gog:

“One can be said to be smart if one is wearing one’s Sunday best. Off the top of my head, the only song I can think of that references Sunday best is The Icicle Works’ “Who Do You Want For Your Love”, in its second line. And it’s a particular favourite of mine.”

Not one I was overly familiar with before getting your suggestion (I really don’t know how this one passed me by, to be honest), but it’s fast becoming one of mine too:

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The Icicle Works – Who Do You Want For Your Love?

A suggestion which coaxed The Swede back for a second stab:

“I’ve now got Elvis Costello’s ‘Sunday’s Best’ as an earworm, a song that’s as relevant today as it was in 1979, if not more so. It also contains the line ‘
Sleepy towns and sleeper trains
.’, so can be designated a double-linker!”…

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Elvis Costello & The Attractions – Sunday’s Best

…which in turn caused ructions with The Great Gog’s working day:

“Whilst staring at an increasingly confusing spreadsheet at work, I’ve just remembered that Madness’ “Our House” makes mention of Sunday best. Needless to say, it is currently ear-worming…”

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Madness – Our House

Right, hold on chaps. Seems it’s you guys that are digressing now. Quick, we need another suggestion to break us out of this Chain Reaction.

Up to the plate steps Badger, also from When You Can’t Remember Anything:

“I was once in the audience of Jools Holland, it was a Hootenanny special (filmed in August) but one of the acts there was Audioweb who performed their minor hit ‘Sleeper’ – they had more chart success with their ragga indie version of ‘Bankrobber’.”

As it’s a Clash cover, let’s dedicate this one to George:

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Audioweb – Bankrobber

“As my obligatory second option”, Badger continues,”another song on the debut Sleeper album was ‘Lady Love Your Countryside’ which was a slight piss-take of supposed political rebels S*M*A*S*H and their ‘feminist anthem’ ‘Lady Love Your C___’ who actually turned out to be posho college boys. Either way ‘I Want to (Kill Somebody)’ was a great three minutes of Tory baiting”:

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S*M*A*S*H* – (I Want to) Kill Somebody

Now, since Audioweb have been mentioned, here’s Swiss Adam from Bagging Area:

“Sleeper was a song by mid 90s Manchester dub/rock/electronic and Audioweb, an actually pretty good piece of mid 90s music. The 12″ came with not 1, but 2, Andrew Weatherall mixes.”

Now these are mixes which I did not own. But fear not, I thought: Swiss is renowned for being a bit of a Weatherall nut, so I figured I’d just pop over to his blog, type Audioweb into the Search function, and get them from him, only to be met with the following message when I did:

“No posts matching the query: audioweb”

Gah!

Anyway, I managed to track down the following two mixes. I’ve no idea if one, or the other, or both for that matter, are in any way Weatherall related (although they both sound pretty similar to these ears…)

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Audioweb – Sleeper (Emissions No. 5)

Audioweb – Sleeper (Sleepless In Balham)

Okay, time for Comment Showboat of the week, which undoubtedly goes to Dirk from sexyloser. I’d get comfy, if I were you:

“A ‘sleeper’ these days is of course not only a person, who, like you and me do, goes to bed in the evening and, well, sleeps. No, a sleeper is a spy planted in advance for future use, but not currently active (not necessarily a terrorist, back in the golden days of the cold war we just had spies, you know, for younger readers, all harmless stuff!). This may be hard to believe, but fear not: there is a movie which might shows it all: ‘Salt’. In it, Angelina Jolie plays Evelyn Salt, who is accused of being a Russian sleeper agent and goes on the run to try to clear her name.

Now, as you might or might not know, Angelina Jolie announced that she and Brad Pitt go ‘different ways’ from now on, a divorce will come soon, I’m afraid. Very sorry to hear this, and I would just l.o.v.e. to help Angelina in those difficult times of misery, but I fear that Mrs Loser would have severe objections against my noble offerings. So, Angelina, the only advice I can give you currently, is to see your future positively and to sing along loudly to Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & His Clowns’ ‘Free, Single And Disengaged’: a neat song indeed and, coincidently , my tip for this week’s ‘Chain’.

Ah, well 
”

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Huey ‘Piano’ Smith & His Clowns – Free, Single and Disengaged

PS – Angelina, if you’re reading this, there is no current Mrs Jez, and you seem exactly the sort of headcase that some of my ex-girlfriends were clearly readying me for. Call me, maybe?

Sticking with the Cold War/Spy angle, here’s Alex G from We Will Have Salad:

“OK, other people have done railways and spies. So let’s combine the two, and what springs to my mind is James Bond getting into a bit of a scuffle in “From Russia With Love”. As it happens, I have a soft spot for Matt Monro, so let’s hear him singing the title song from said movie.”

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Matt Monro – From Russia With Love

You’d have to be pretty annoyed if you were Matt Monro. Your most famous record (as far as I know, feel free to provide alternatives) and you don’t even get to feature on the sleeve. Such is life.

Now a warm Chain Gang welcome back to Kay, who continues the theme:

“Sleeper made me think of a sleeper cell – cold war, John Le Carre novels, Russia etc 
.then Russia made me think of Babushka by Kate Bush”:

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Kate Bush – Babooshka

Which just leaves us with George’s second suggestion, and for what I think is for the fourth time on the trot, it’s related to Tottenham Hotspur:

“In Sleeper, the singer was Louise Wener. Louise was/is the name of a pop-singer who is married to footballer Jamie Redknapp, son of former Tottenham Hotspur manager Harry Redknapp, who signed Dutch footballer Rafael van der Vaart. And speaking of things Dutch leads to prog-flute band Focus, and their song House of the King. a splendid pop prog song with flute-ing and hand-clapping.”

My knowledge of Focus, I thought, began and ended with “Hocus Pocus”, until I heard this and recognised it as the theme tune to Steve Coogan’s BBC comedy series “Saxondale”, so truly thanks for pointing me in its direction (don’t let the word “prog” put you off, George is right, this really is splendid):

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Focus – House Of The King

And that’s it for another week. Of course, none of us guessed the official link to the official record, which I’ll have to concede is a better link than usual, if still not a patch on any of ours:

“…From Sleeper – part of an earring – to a hit from Dutch band Golden Earring…”:

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22. Golden Earring – Radar Love

(Relax ladies: all of the members of Focus and Golden Earring are either married or dead).

So: let’s be having your nominations for records which link to “Radar Love” by Golden Earring”, along with your explanation of how you got to it, via the Comments section below, in time for me to source and write this by the same time next week.

See you then, Chainies!

(More soon)

My Back Story

Two posts on a Monday? Must be my birthday or something.

First, thank you for all the birthday wishes and messages. I wonder, at what point I have to stop referring to myself as being in my mid-forties and admit I’m now in my late forties. I reckon I have another year of mid-forties-ness left.

Now then. To business.

I’m not a fan of The X-Factor and shows of that ilk, partly because they tend to generate such bloody awful records, partly because they seem to serve no other function than to line Simon Cowell’s pockets even more than is really necessary, but also they seem to me to be exploitative. As an audience we are encouraged to laugh at those members of the public at the audition stage who have delusions of talent, whilst those who progress to later rounds are expected to have had some terrible personal tragedy befallen them prior to auditioning on the show, and which every ounce of emotion is wrung from this “back story”.

Having said that, I quite literally have a back story which I and my family are reminded of on my birthday every year, and this is it.

So here’s the thing. I wasn’t born under normal circumstances.

My mother suffers from high blood pressure. When she was pregnant with me, six weeks before her due date, she went for a check up and found that her blood pressure was off the scale. The experts (I know, we’re all sick of experts, right?) concluded that something was wrong and that I needed to be gotten out asap.

They were right. For when I was born, I was found to have a condition called myelomeningocele.

In case you don’t know what that is (and I wouldn’t have done if I hadn’t looked it up), myelomeningocele is a defect of the backbone and spinal cord, where, before birth, the baby’s backbone, spinal cord and the structure they float in don’t form or close normally. It’s a form – the most serious form, so the internet tells me – of spina bifida.

In my case, the tissue which should have been around my spinal cord had not melded properly, and was sticking out of my back.

Now, obviously I don’t recall any of this, so I am going by my parents’ retelling of the story, and I have run this by them for accuracy.

My Dad tells me that, freshly plucked from the womb, he and I were bundled into an ambulance outside Kettering General Hospital, where I had been born, and which had absolutely no facilities to deal with my condition. Westminster Children’s Hospital in London was where I needed to be.

The ambulance driver got to the car park exit, stopped at the junction and called back to my Dad “Any idea which way it is to London?”. “Turn left”, Dad replied. And so we set off.

When we got to London (and apparently we had a police escort to get us through the traffic – beat that, James Corden and your “Call me Mr Green Light” nonsense!) a decision had to be made: operate or leave me as I was. My Dad had to decide what happened next.

Bear in mind this was 1969, when mobile phones, the internet, Skype and the like didn’t exist. He couldn’t consult with my Mum, who was in a completely different city, in quite a lot of discomfort herself and not exactly able to get to a phone to chat about it.

In layperson’s terms, the operation seemed straight-forward enough: sever the spinal tissue, and then stitch me back up again.

As far as I know, my Dad is not a gambling man. But here’s the decision he was faced with, laid out in brutal honesty.

a) Leave me as I was, and have a seriously disabled child to care for, for the rest of my life, or

b) Operate, but with no guarantee about the outcome of the operation.

Ah, the possible outcomes. It could go, Dad was advised, one of three ways, and the doctors had absolutely no idea which was the more likely:

  1. the spinal tissue is cut, with no repercussions;
  2. the spinal tissue is cut, but if it had any nerves in it – and the only way to find out was to cut it and see what happened – then I would have been paralysed from the neck down, permanently;
  3. I die.

It seems to me that my parents went through very different types of pain and mental anguish that day. My Dad had to make the decision, and wasn’t able to consult with my Mum. Mum, on the other hand, could have no part in the decision, and didn’t know what was going on down in That There London.

So decision time. Stick, or twist?

When I’ve talked to Dad about this he tells me that when the options and possible outcomes were put to him, his thought was “Well, we’ve come all this way, I suppose you’d better operate”, which makes it sound like he was on a gameshow and he’d just been asked whether or not he wanted to go for the Star Prize. That’s when he doesn’t try to tell me that he flipped a coin to decide, that is.

Twist.

Because it was just hours since I’d been born, and because of the third possible outcome, the hospital’s resident priest was summoned to christen me. You know, just in case.

Operation time.

I got lucky.

As it happened, because I had been born six weeks prematurely, the nerves had not yet formed in the tissue.

I should stress that I’m fine now. Apart from a scar between my shoulder blades, you wouldn’t know about all of this. For this, I feel incredibly lucky.

I say you wouldn’t know about this, but many of my friends do, because I have often amused myself by telling this story to them when they were at their most susceptible: late at night, after a drink and maybe “a smoke”. Generally it would be met with disbelieving guffaws, at which point I would lift up my t-shirt to expose the scar, at which point the guffaws would change to exclamations of disbelief along the lines of “Whoa dude!”

This tune seems appropriate. Maybe I’ll sing it if I ever go on The X-Factor:

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AC/DC – Back In Black

More soon.

Happy Birthday (to me)

It’s my birthday today.

When you’re birthday is a) on a Monday, and b) two days before pay-day, it’s hard to work up much enthusiasm.

And, let’s not go into the whole “how old I am” shebang, please.

If you really want to know, then I’ll let you do the donkey work, by just saying that this was the No. 1 single in the UK when I was born:

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Creedence Clearwater Revival – Bad Moon Rising

Read into that what you will.

More soon.