Sales Pitch

Regular readers will know that a pet hate of mine is TV adverts, and the songs that are hijacked and inserted into them.

In the past, I’ve written several posts where I attempt to deconstruct the advert in question, and explain why the song they’ve chosen to soundtrack it is not an appropriate one.

I’m wondering, though, if perhaps it might be better if I offered some more constructive criticism, and maybe ways to improve it.

So let’s give it a go.

There’s an advert currently airing in the UK which I imagine you’ve all seen. Here’s how it goes: a hipster-bearded middle-aged man leaps from his bed where he and his lady partner have just exchanged happy, satisfied glances (and doubtless much more). He dances, struts and swaggers his way from the bedroom, down the stairs, where his partner joins him for a brief dance before he goes outside into the bright sunshine. The camera pans up to the blue sky as voiceover man announces “4.3 million men in the UK experience erectile problems” before the product being advertised fades into shot.

Yup, it’s Pele’s favourite: Viagra.

(4.3 million sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Although, I think it’s probably a conservative estimate. I mean, presumably they’re basing that figure on the amount of sales achieved when it was a prescription-only product, when blunted swordsmen gave in and visited their GP to seek help with their little problem. And men are notoriously reluctant to go the GP at all, let alone when they have to go through the embarrassment of explaining their current predicament, often preferring to stumble on using a rudimentary winch and pulley system fashioned out of a couple of elastic bands and a lollipop stick instead.)

Anyway, in the background (of the advert, not in the GP’s¬†surgery), this is playing:

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Steve Harley & Cockney Rebel – Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)

See what they did there? They made a joke. Well, (ahem) a semi one. Viagra. Up. Do you see? It’s very clever.

But I reckon there’s a better way this could have been done.

I’ll explain.

I think that there are two types of advert which are most effective. The first is where there is a series of adverts, each a new episode following on from the last, which tell a story. Perhaps the most famous example is the late 1980s/early 1990s ad campaign for Gold Blend coffee.

For those of you too annoyingly young to know what I’m referring to, the ad campaign in question ran from 1987 to 1993, and starred Anthony Head and Sharon Maughan as Tony and Sharon, a couple who begin a slow-burning romance after she moves into an adjoining apartment to him, and knocks on his door to ask if he has any coffee she can borrow to satisfy her dinner party guests.

Here’s that first ‘episode’ in all it’s naff glory:

The Gold Blend Couple advert ran for a total of twelve individual adverts, and as the series progressed, each drew more and more attention from the media, drawn into the “will they/won’t they” plot. So, essentially: free advertising on top of the paid-for advertising.

The second type of advert which I think is often effective is the one where you’re not quite sure what it is that’s being advertised. These also often form part of a sequence of adverts, but usually the additional adverts are shown if not within the same ad break, then within the ad breaks interrupting the one programme.

In my proposal, I’m not suggesting a sequence of twelve adverts – attention spans are not what they once were. Instead, I’m suggesting four “episodes”, each with a different, appropriate song to soundtrack it. Four adverts would sit quite nicely within one sixty minute television programme (in the UK anyway), as there are generally ad breaks at around the 10-15 minute mark, another at around 25-30, a third at 40-45 and then the final one as the show ends.

So I’m suggesting a combination of the two types of advert I’ve mentioned, where a story is told over those four adverts/episodes, but where you are not entirely sure what is being sold until the third one.

Even better, my ad campaign would bring back Tony and Sharon from the Gold Blend ads. Let’s face it, it’s over thirty years since the original Gold Blend ad campaign first aired, so Tony (and I must stress at this point, in case any lawyers happen to be reading, I categorically mean the character Tony and not the actor Antony Head, who I’m sure is among the most virile of men) is bang in the age group likely to need the services of the little blue pill. Also, this way there is no need to worry about dialogue or introducing the characters, we all know who they are: it’s Tony and Sharon from those old Gold Blend adverts. Our minds go back to that golden age when the nation was captivated by their budding romance. What have they been up to since then? How nice to see they’re still together and going strong!

Here’s how the ads would run.

Ad 1: The camera opens on a close-up of Tony’s eyes, viewed from above. It pulls back and we can see that he is laying on his back on one side of a double bed. He is clearly naked, but has a sheet across his lower half to protect his modesty. Not a word is spoken, but it is evident from the look on his face that he is worried, upset, embarrassed. The camera stops just as it becomes apparent that there is someone laying alongside him; there is a hint of a form, a shadow, but crucially it does not reveal who this person is.

And to soundtrack this ad:

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Art Brut – Rusted Guns Of Milan

Ad 2:¬†The camera opens on a close-up of Sharon’s eyes, viewed from above.¬†It pulls back and we can see that she is laying on her back on one side of a double bed, the other side to the one we saw Tony laying on earlier. She is also clearly naked, but has a sheet across her to protect her modesty. Not a word is spoken, but it is evident from the look on her face that she is disappointed, frustrated, embarrassed. A wicked smile plays across her lips, and she glances in the direction of the person laying in bed next to her (who we still do not see, but we all know it’s Tony). She reaches over to her bedside cabinet and opens the drawer, but crucially we do not see what is in there or what it is she is reaching for.

And to soundtrack this ad:

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Elastica – Stutter

Ad 3: We rejoin Tony, the camera in exactly the same place as at the end of Ad 1. Not a word is spoken, but we can hear a buzzing noise. Tony sits up, looking disbelieving, offended looks towards the other side of the bed. He flops back onto the bed, before a look of steely determination takes over his face. He reaches to his own bedside cabinet, and pulls open the drawer. This time, we do see what is in there: a packet of Viagra.

And to soundtrack this ad (with the music kicking in as he opens the drawer):

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AC/DC – Let’s Get It Up

Ad 4: Is exactly the same as the Viagra advert currently airing, with exactly the same tune, but re-shot with a satisfied Tony and Sharon frugging their way out of bed.

Good, eh?

To my boss, Kay: if you’re reading this, I’m very happy at work and definitely do not want a career change.

To any advertising types who may be reading: I didn’t mean all the nasty things I’ve said about you in previous posts. All said for comic effect, you understand.

Apropos of nothing, a reminder that I can be contacted via the Comments section, by email or on Twitter, details of which can be found somewhere on this page.

More soon.

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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.

Friday Night Music Club

Today is Andrew’s birthday. Andrew is¬†my older/only brother.

For once I don’t have to take international time-zones into consideration to ensure that he¬†reads my birthday wishes¬†on the right day,¬†for this year he’s home from India and back in the UK for a couple of weeks.

To mark the occasion, I’m travelling up to my folks for the weekend, and to inevitably spend Saturday night sitting up and drinking Jack Daniels with him.¬†Often when I go home, I’ll prepare a playlist of stuff to listen to, but often this has to take into consideration what the ‘rents will put up with having to listen to. So I thought this week, I’d post a few songs here which remind me of my Big Bro because…well, he bought (most of) them when we were kids.

As I was choosing the songs to play tonight, it occurred to me that my musical evolution followed a pretty similar path to his. This is hardly surprising since I used to listen to his records in that period before I started buying my own on a regular basis. We both had: a dodgy rock stage, a dodgy pop phase, followed by some semblance of redemption by way of liking something approaching decent indie records (although he had more than a passing Goth phase too).

I’ve talked about some of the records from our shared past before, here and he even wrote about the songs he bought when he was younger here. I’ve tried to avoid the songs played on those posts and focus on the…less cool stuff. For a start, anyway.

(By the way: my file sharing service Cut Pi, seems to be becoming increasingly erratic, and doesn’t seem to recognise some of the mp3s as being mp3s. It’s been doing this for a while and I can’t work out why. Upshot is, some of the links are shared via Zippyshare. Hope they work okay. And George – you got your wish.)

So let’s break these into the aforementioned three sections.

The Rock Stage

Of course, he had bought AC/DC’s¬†seminal 1980 “Back in Black” album, (and later owned copies of “Let There Be Rock” and “If You Want Blood…You Got It!” (an album title I always thought would have been better suited to Kiss or Alice Cooper)¬†but I imagine you all know pretty much every song from that album, so I’ve plumped for this from their 1981 release, which pretty much sums up us at the time, the band, and how the start of tonight’s post is going to go:

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337. AC/DC – For Those About To Rock (We Salute You)

Shortly after we moved into what became the family home throughout our childhood (mid-1970s), our parents converted a part of the loft into what they christened “The Playroom” – which was fine whilst we were kids, when it housed Andrew’s model train set and my Dr Who toys,¬†but a little embarrassing, in the way that teenagers find everything embarrassing, when they would suggest we took any¬†friends who called round up to The Playroom, which by our teens¬†housed¬†a sofa, a¬†TV and a record player.

At first, the record player was one of those old ones, with the arm that came across and held your next record on the spindle whilst the current record played underneath. But soon, Andrew had saved enough cash up to purchase his first stereo system, one of those with a radio, twin tape deck, a space for records to be stored, a silver beast housed in a teak cabinet with a glass door to the front.

This next album made regular appearances on both turntables; I preferred the album’s title tracks, whilst Andrew¬†always loved this one, ironically, I like to think, given he spent 20-odd years in the RAF:

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338. Black Sabbath – War Pigs

Next, a song which he didn’t buy, but every time I hear it I am reminded of those formative years spent listening to records, and in particular one Thursday evening when we had been banished upstairs to watch Top of the Pops, on which this record appeared, and which led to the pair of us leaping up from the sofa and frantically playing air-guitar, in full on foot-on the monitor mode:

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339. Iron Maiden – Run to the Hills

The reason I think I remember that is because it was probably a turning point, where we both admitted to liking the same records as each other. Up until then, we hated, or pretended to, each other’s musical choices – dammit, we pretended to hate each other (that’s what siblings did when they were that age, right?), having many a play fight which spilt over into full on physical violence, as the snooker¬†cue that I broke over his back once attests (Look, he was bigger than me, I was fully entitled to come tooled up, okay?). As does the broken violin bow we had argued over a few years earlier when we had both found ourselves learning the instrument at Junior School. (I know, I know – fights involving violin bows: it’s not exactly “Angela’s Ashes”, is it…?)

(As an aside: my friends Hel and Llyr went to the Reading Festival in 2005 when Iron Maiden head-lined. They watched them, and afterwards reported that the section of the crowd they were in were distinctly non-plussed by the veteran rockers. Lead warbler Bruce Dickinson, attempting to whip the crowd up into a frenzy would call “Do you remember this one…?”; the crown responded as one “Nope!”)

Particularly indicative of our love/hate relationship came one Saturday night in, I guess, the early 80s. Saturday nights¬†were a family night, which we would spend playing records from my Dad’s record collection. As I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions, Dad’s taste is predominantly Country records, but there was/is diversity there: he likes a bit of jazz, some folk, some classical. There was a series of classical albums that he owned, a spin off from a BBC radio programme, called “The World of Your Hundred Best Tunes” (a name I toyed with giving this very blog, until I realised there may be copyright issues). We were categorically not allowed to bring our own records down to play. But my brother figured out a way round this, and got one song – a cover version of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony by the next band from their “Difficult to Cure” album – played. So offended was I that he had been allowed to have one of his songs played, but I hadn’t (as I had no rock covers of classical records) I spent the entirety of the song under the dining room table, kicking and screaming about “how unfair” it was. (“So Unfair” was, I’m reliably informed, mostly anytime my parents watch any Harry Enfield sketch involving Kevin & Perry, practically my catchphrase when I was a teenager. This was just me warming up, I reckon)

Obviously, I’ve mellowed with age. But I’m still not playing “Summertime” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince unless someone comes up with a bloody good reason to. And I mean bloody good.

Anyway, I’m not playing the Beethoven cover either; since they’re unlikely to feature again (more than once more) on these pages, I thought I’d plump for the big single from the same album:

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340. Rainbow – I Surrender

Rainbow were, of course, one of the many bands to rise from the ashes of Deep Purple, another band that we begrudgingly admitted to having a shared passion for back then. Again, Big Bro’s record collection featured several of their albums, but the first I recall seeing – and to this day, the only one I’ve ever purchased myself (Cheers Fopp (Cardiff¬† branch) and your ¬£2.00 shelf!)¬†– was a compilation album called “Deepest Purple”, from which this one is lifted:

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341. Deep Purple – Woman from Tokyo [Single Edit]

And you’ll be relieved to hear, that’s the end of the Rock Stage…

The Pop Phase

…and perhaps less relieved when you see what comes next.

Luckily for you, I’ve talked before – here – about the fact that we both mysteriously somehow came to own our own copies of Billy Joel’s “An innocent Man” album, so I’ll spare you that.

Ditto, I’ve previously posted – here – the two songs from Cyndi Lauper’s “She’s So Unusual” album, which he also owned that are any good (and I’m not going to post “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” as it annoys me even more than the aforementioned “Summertime”)

But here’s a song by a band I’ve never really liked but – and I can say this without fear of correction, as he denies remembering anything from our childhood – I’m pretty sure Andrew joined the fan-club of:

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342. Thompson Twins – Doctor Doctor

Twins, see? And there were three of them. Pfffffft. Funny guys (and a girl). (They were named after the characters from the Tintin cartoons, as everyone knows – The Ed)

Moving swiftly on, to a song which I had completely forgotten about until Brian over at Linear Tracking Lives! posted it a month or so in his wonderful alphabetical trawl through his own record-buying history.

Lifted from her “The Drum is Everything”, much was expected of Carmel and her brand of smoky, jazzy pop, but she feel by the wayside shortly after this was released (although I did pick up one of the singles from the follow-up album, which I’ll feature soon enough, and which utterly tanked):

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343. Carmel – More, More, More

I should at this point talk about the records by groups like The Go-Go’s which he brought back from a summer in America staying with relatives, working on their blueberry farm. Instead, I’m going to post something from an album which contains another of my most disliked pop songs ever by another group I was fairly indifferent to for much of their existence, but with the benefit of hindsight I can see did have some decent pop tunes, particularly in their early 80s¬†synth-pop phase.

But the album Andrew bought by Eurythmics – “Be Yourself Tonight” – does not come from that period. It comes from their just-after-the-synth-pop-phase, and from an album which brought their only UK Number 1, the aforementioned disliked pop song “There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)” (It’s the over-singing that does my head in). The album spawned two other hits: “Would I Lie To You?”, which I posted recently, and this one, which I’d completely forgotten about until I came to write this, gave it a listen, and decided it’s not too bad at all:

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344. Eurythmics – It’s Alright (Baby’s Coming Back)

But there was one band from his pop period who loomed large. I believe they were the first band he ever saw live (albeit supporting The Police), and, as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, a band I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for too:

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345. The Alarm – Where Were You Hiding When The Storm Broke?

It was The Alarm more than any other band, I think, that focused my brother’s attentions on records which were…well, let’s say more critically acclaimed shall we?

But first, two more bands that I remember compilation albums appearing amongst his burgeoning record collection. Neither need any introduction:

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346. The Rolling Stones – Get Off Of My Cloud

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347. The Jam – Down in the Tube Station at Midnight

I don’t recall which of these albums first surfaced on The Playroom’s record decks (ha! like it was anyway near as cool in there as that sounds), what I do know is that a) I have recently bought both of these albums on vinyl myself, and b) shortly after The Jam album appeared I remember laughing at my brother for wearing white socks, the only mod accessory one could get away with at our school. Still, at least he didn’t steal them, of if he did, he wasn’t dumb enough to get caught. Ahem.

But these were the first shoots of liking more credible records, for very soon, we were fully into stage three, where he has resided ever since.

The Road to Redemption

There’s only one place to start. The Alarm’s haircuts may have influenced his for many years afterwards, when he could get away with it, but it was the dress sense and image of one of the Sex Pistols that most captured his imagination. He was told many times that he looked like this sneerer, which I’m pretty sure always thrilled him, however indifferent he may have appeared to look.

It’s credited to Sex Pistols, but make no mistake, released in 1978 as the band were imploding, this is a Sid Vicious record in everything but name:

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348. Sex Pistols – My Way

And so, with his black hair sprayed vertically, skinny black jeans with black studded belt and black winkle-pickers or occasionally cowboy boots (which, if memory serves, were brown when he bought them, unable to source a black pair, and which he spent several hours glossing over with a tub of Kiwi black polish and an oily rag), there was only one place he was going to go next:

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349. The Sisters of Mercy – Alice

And of course, this lot, who we are both unified in our admiration of, so it seems appropriate this song occupies the 350th slot in this section:

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350. The Jesus & Mary Chain – You Trip Me Up

He also bought the one and only album by this next lot, who I mention because I cannot hear it without thinking of the summer I spent as an underage drinker, hanging out with him and his mates Rob and Phil, driving round Cambridgeshire’s¬†village pubs, where no-one knew our names, pubs like The Barnwell Mill, which had a massive juke box, and¬†only one record they liked upon it. Once they realised that it didn’t differentiate between the same song having been selected twice by different people, they realised they could have hours of fun, by simply playing this, over and over and over and over and over again, often leaving after they’d heard it once, leaving the rest of the drinkers to sup their way through it another 17 times:

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351. Sigue Sigue Sputnik – Love Missile F1-11

Gradually, our musical tastes have pretty much merged. At no time was this more apparent than when I was at Sixth Form, between 1986 and 1988. As I mentioned recently, on a nightly basis  I found myself preparing mixtapes to play in the Sixth Form common room the following day, and there was one album which Andrew had bought which was invaluable for that. For he is the only person I know to have bought the legendary NME C86 album when it came out (admittedly, he bought the vinyl version, not the original cassette only version, but props are still due).

This band featured on the album in question, but not with this song, which he both realised we loved within the last few years, when discussing how much the much-missed The Long Blondes reminded us of them:

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352. The Shop Assistants – Safety Net

In 1997, our paths crossed back at our folks house, and, presumably after they’d gone to bed we were either playing records, or more likely watching a music TV channel, this came on. I’d not seen him so enthused for some years (actually, I’d probably not seen him for years), and he proclaimed this “the new punk”:

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353. The Prodigy – Firestarter

At which point, I’d better draw things to a close. If I don’t, it won’t be his birthday anymore by the time¬†I post this.

So, one last one, by a band I remember him going to see towards the start of their career, and telling me afterwards how he’d been to see a band who used bashing-themselves-on- the-head-with-a-metal-tea-tray as a percussion instrument. I’d be very surprised if this doesn’t get an airing tomorrow night:

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354. The Pogues – Boys From the County Hell

Happy Birthday Bro. See you tomorrow. I’ll bring the Jack Daniels.

And to the rest of you – well, as I’m away, it’ll be a little quiet around here for the next couple of days, certainly not as busy as it normally is of a weekend. If I have time to write them before I set off tomorrow, there will be a Late Night Stargazing and a Sunday Morning Coming Down, but no promises. Otherwise, The Chain will return on Monday, so you’ve got another couple of days to get your suggestions in if you haven’t done so already.

Til then, have a fab weekend.

Oh, and More Soon, obviously.