Rant

Well, there’s only one place to start my weekly fortnightly when I can be bothered round up of news, and that’s here:

For those of you who may have been living under a (Chris) rock for the past week – maybe you’ve already made cutbacks by cancelling your broadband and selling your TV in anticipation of the moment, any day now, when all of the UK’s fuel and food prices go up – that was the moment when Will Smith (from off of the movies) got up and slapped Oscars host Chris Rock (from off those other movies that Will Smith passed on) for making a joke about Smith’s wife’s (Jada, a fine actor in her own right, and not deserving of the tag “Mrs Will Smith”) alopecia.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Firstly: it is not cool to make jokes about people’s medical conditions. We all got upset when Trump mocked a disabled guy at one of his rallies, so Rock should be spared no less criticism.

And alopecia is not only no joking matter, (without wishing to seem patronising or condescending) it’s way worse for female sufferers than men. Hair loss is accepted, even expected, in men, and their careers can happily carry on regardless, but when it happens to women, it’s a game changer.

The most high-profile example here in the UK is Gail Porter. One minute, she’s a hugely popular gorgeous blonde model, TV presenter and popular personality, so famous she had her arse projected onto the House of Commons to promote a lad’s mag (and who amongst us can brag that’s happened to us?), the next all her hair fell out and nobody wanted to book her anymore.

In a week when famous 67 year old baldie Bruce Willis announced he was retiring from acting due to health reasons, the contrast was obvious and maddening. I wish the guy all the best – he’s been responsible for some of my favourite moments in cinema (Butch in Pulp Fiction) and also my least favourite (that bloke who got his knob out in a swimming pool in Color of Night) – but God help us if it forces him to resurrect his singing career:

Bruce Willis – Respect Yourself

Pretty quickly the debate on social media became whether Smith’s slap was orwas not a publicity stunt. Well, the first time I watched it, I certainly thought it was. There was something about the way Rock kept his hands behind his back and seemed to almost his offer his cheek as a slapping target, along with the fact that Smith learned how to box when he was preparing to play Muhammed Ali on film (he knows how to punch, so why a slap? And why wasn’t he thrown out of the ceremony instead of being allowed to stay and collect his Best Actor award?), that made me think it may have been.

But then, I did what people on Twitter rarely do: I thought about it a bit more. If it was a publicity stunt, I thought, who gained from it? For sure, the only award winner I know from that night was Smith; I have no clue what won Best Picture or who won Best Director, but I do know Smith won for Best Actor – but I almost certainly would have known that anyway without this circus.

Similarly, Rock may have been the victim of the slap, but he did make a joke at the expense of Jada’s medical condition, so I would hope he would rather that went unhighlighted.

And Smith doesn’t gain anything either: he’s not just a wildly rich and successful black man – and we all know how much the media just loves those – now; he’s a wildly rich and successful black man with a temper.

So, not staged, for my money, especially when you see the whole footage, and in particular that Smith laughed at the ‘joke’ in question, until he caught the eye of his not-laughing wife, and he thought he had to do something to defend her honour and remind everybody what a good guy he is. Turns out he went too far, s’all.

The Crystals – He Hit Me (And It Felt Like A Kiss)

Or, if you’d prefer:

Spiritualized – She Kissed Me (It Felt Like A Hit)

Of all the people that you would have expected to try and hijack the narrative to make political capital on this, you’d have got good money on our very own Chancellor of the Exchequer being the one stepping up to the oche.

In an interview with BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, he said: “Joe Root [captain of the England cricket team, who had just lost a series to the West Indies], Will Smith, and me – not the best of weekends for any of us.’

“But”, he continued, “I feel, on reflection, both Will Smith and me having our wives attacked – at least I didn’t get up and slap anybody, which is good.”

He was referring to this interview:

What’s interesting here is that Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, has a £430m shareholding in the IT firm Infosys.

Even more interestingly than that, ministers are obliged to publish details of any financial interests held by themselves, and their close family, which are relevant to their role in government. The ministerial code says that ministers “must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise” and adds that ministers must provide their department’s top civil servant with a list of all interests which “might be thought to give rise to a conflict” – a list which should also cover “interests of the minister’s spouse or partner and close family”.

So his “I don’t know what my wife does or where her money comes from” defence frankly doesn’t wash. It pays for this rather lovely – and by the look of it, expensive – house you live in, you know Rishi: the place you got planning permission for a swimming pool, gym and tennis court to be built on to last year, you hypocritical fuck:

Ahem.

Yet Mrs Sunak’s healthy interest in Infosys – or, indeed, any of the other six UK companies she holds direct shareholdings – are not declared in the register of interests.

While most big global IT and consultancy firms have all closed their operations posts since the situation in Ukraine escalated, Infosys is one of the few IT service companies which continues to operate in Russia.

Well, until this week anyway, when, in entirely unrelated news, a month after Russia commenced it’s attack on Ukraine, presumably delighted at the extra scrutiny it was suddenly attracting, Infosys quietly announced that it was shutting down it’s Russia office.

Also coincidentally, Infosys was not one of the companies operating out of Russia that had UK sanctions imposed on it.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned how indebted the Conservative Party is to Russian oligarchs with these words: “Carrie Symonds, the current Mrs Johnson, and often rumoured to the real power behind the man, was a founder member of The Conservative Friends of Russia.”

Those who need the links between Putin’s Russia and the Conservative Party spelling out – and I don’t just mean the chap who claimed I was (probably) clinically insane when I mentioned it a few weeks ago) – should watch this:

The Wonder Stuff – Give Give Give Me More More More

*****

Now, I don’t know about you, but I love to receive a letter, or, if I’m feeling particularly modern, an email.

And lucky me, for the last few weeks I’ve received loads of both: from my energy provider, from my internet provider, from my mobile phone company, all of whom were writing to tell me that they aren’t making quite enough money at the moment, and that they simply must put their prices up.

A lot.

You’ve received similar correspondence, no doubt.

Some of them try to make it look like they’re doing you a favour. “Now that we’re out of the EU,”, said one missive, “even though we could, we’re not reintroducing roaming charges!” Sub-text: Aren’t we the good guys?

Just to clarify that: the EU introduced a rule that said that mobile phone companies could not charge customers extra for using their phones when abroad, in an EU country. But now that we’ve “taken back control” having left the EU, that rule no longer applies to us.

And then, in a separate email: “Hello [always friendly with the bad news, see]. The cost of running our business has increased, so – much as we don’t want to – we simply going have to increase our prices. By 58%.”

Thanks! But since you and every Tom, Dick and Harry has put their prices up, I can barely afford to catch the bus into town, let alone travel overseas now.

Gas provider: “Us too! Sorry!”

Electricity provider: “Gosh, we wish we didn’t have to, but we have no choice (if we want to continue making more money than we need): us too!”

Repeat ad infinitum.

I don’t understand why one of them – just one of them – doesn’t stop and think: everybody else is putting their prices up, why don’t we pledge not to do the same, keep our prices low, rake up all the competitor’s customers and make money that way?

Bj̦rk РCome to Me

I hate to tell you this, but this could have been avoided. And I’m not just talking about Brexit, which remains (pun very much intended) the clearest example of a gullible population collectively shooting themselves in the foot. And I don’t wish to be all “I told you so” either.

In 2015, one of the core pledges in Ed Milliband’s manifesto was to place a cap on energy bills. But the good old, reliable British public decided to vote for David Cameron instead, because they didn’t like the way Milliband ate a sandwich.

“Imagine the chaos if Labour get in”, the red tops crowed at the time.

“Look at his stupid monolith with dumb statements engraved into it!” (They had a point there, to be fair.)

And now look around. Nice and calm and safe, isn’t it?

Remember how we all clapped and cheered for our brave NHS staff because of the way they (just about) coped with the Covid pandemic? And how, when given the opportunity to actually thank them by way of a pay rise, this Government decided not to?

Well, here’s the rub, no finer example of how those that rule us don’t give a flying fig for us: the Conservative Party’s 2019 manifesto promised to make NHS parking free for “frequent outpatient attenders and staff working night shifts”. But now, just as the cost of living crisis bites, free parking for NHS hospital staff has ended.

Meanwhile, as well as being able to claim their fuel costs back on expenses, each member of Parliament is entitled to one parking permit in the Palace of Westminster, free of charge.

Alex Chilton – All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain

I don’t think it gets any clearer whose snouts are in the trough, and who is expected to pay for it, than that.

Spacemen 3 – Revolution

More soon.

Friday Freedom Song

With apologies to those of you in different time zones, or who have to work over the weekend, but it’s Friday, it’s five o’clock and it’s time for…..a freedom song.

(And to all readers who found themselves mouthing the word ‘Crackerjack’ towards of the end of that sentence, congratulations, you have exposed yourself as being “of a certain age”).

Here’s Alex Chilton:

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Alex Chilton – Free Again (Original Mono Mix)

Ok, you seem nice. Have yourself a slightly different version, recorded in all new stereosound, which I think might just catch on:

Alex Chilton – Free Again (Stereo Mix With Alternate Vocal)

In case you hadn’t guessed, the album both of those are lifted from – Free Again: The “1970” Sessions – is a must own: twenty golden greats, the majority of which, believe it or not, have titles other than Free Again.

As with many records that Chilton either wrote or performed on (or usually both), his was not the first version of that song that I ever heard. You will probably not be too surprised to learn that it was in fact a cover by this bunch of Scottish scallywags, who give it more 70s-glam-stomp Big Star-esque sound (again, no surprise there):

R-1197391-1200054241_gifTeenage Fanclub – Free Again

But even that’s not the first version I ever heard of that song. (You will tell me if this gets too tedious, won’t you?) That honour goes to this a live version which featured on a cassette given away with the not-actually-missed-that-much-at-all NME:

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Teenage Fanclub – Free Again (Live at Glastonbury 1993)

And since I’ve mentioned Glastonbury and Big Star, here’s an extra little treat for you: Super Furry Animals playing….well, I’ll let Gruff explain:

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Super Furry Animals – Northern Lites (Glastonbury 2007)

Have yourself a great weekend folks, I’ll be back with some more nonsense in the morning.

That’s the long-hand way of saying: More soon.

Late Night Stargazing

A few months ago I stumbled across a rather marvellous compilation of some of Alex Chilton’s recordings, called ‘Free Again: The “1970” Sessions’.

That’s Alex Chilton of The Box Tops, Big Star and…er, well… Alex Chilton fame.

This is one of my favourite tracks on it, a gloomy little beauty:

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Alex Chilton – All We Ever Got From Them Was Pain

More soon.

How To Do a Cover Version

So, when I was writing Friday Night’s Music Club, I realised that somehow I had managed to avoid posting anything by Teenage Fanclub and vowed to rectify that. And here we are.

I first came across their version of this song on a cassette that was given away free with the NME, a celebration of Glastonbury that included live performances by acts playing at the mother of all festivals. So, this, then, is from their 1993 appearance:

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Teenage Fanclub – Free Again (Live at Glastonbury 1993)

Ah, but we can’t leave it there, I’m afraid. See, bands do many a live cover version, and I’ve kind of made it my rule not to include them in this thread – the cover version has to have had a commercial release to qualify for posting here. I have standards, see.

Lucky for me then, that The Fannies released their version as a limited edition 7″ single back in 1992:

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Teenage Fanclub – Free Again

Many years ago, a drummer friend of mine asked me if I’d seen Top of the Pops the night before. I had, and he went on to moan about a band on that had been he thought sounded  derivative and bland. After much pressing, it turned out he was talking about this:

My skin-twatting buddy may have won the argument – for an argument there was, once we had established he was slagging off Teenage Fanclub – had he been able to name the band that he felt they were derivative of.

(It turned out that what had prompted this outburst was the fact that, at his request, I’d gone to see the band he played in doing a gig at the legendary Clwb Ifor Bach in Cardiff a few nights beforehand. Because he knew I was a bit of a music nerd, and had some experience of being in and booking bands -all of which is to come in the main thread of this blog, when I finally get my arse in gear to write it again, by the way – he had asked me to come along, watch them and then provide an honest opinion on them. He had approached me minutes after coming off stage, asked me what I thought; my critique began with the words: “Do you want me to be honest, or nice?” His displeasure at The Fannies TOTP appearance had been fuelled by the need to be told they were better than a band which was attaining commercial success; unlucky for him, he picked the wrong band to use as an example. His band split up about a week later. No need to thank me, all part of the service.)

We all know, of course, that the members of Teenage Fanclub love Big Star, and all fans of Teenage Fanclub love Big Star too, and frankly we don’t care if they sound like them – that’s (one of the many reasons) why we love them.

Free Again is not, however, a Big Star cover – it’s a track by Big Star mainstay Alex Chilton. His version is, I would say, a little more Gram Parsons than Big Star.

This, then, is his take:

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Alex Chilton – Free Again (Stereo Mix With Alternate Vocal)

So today’s lesson is: choose a cover version by one of your idols, but cover it in the style of the band he used to be in, rather than the style he recorded it in.

And as an added bonus, here’s Super Furry Animals (I don’t mention them enough)  from Glastonbury 2007 performing their single “Northern Lites” in the style of….well, I’ll let Gruff explain:

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Super Furry Animals – Northern Lites (Glastonbury 2007)

More soon.