So, for the second week running, I find myself having to write about the passing of a legend. Last week I dodged the sadness of Ronnie Spector’s death by passing it to a fellow blogger who had already written a beautiful piece which said all that I wanted to say, but I suspect the love from the blogging community at the news that Michael Lee Aday aka Meat Loaf has died may be a little thinner on the ground.
So here’s the first thing I want to say: Bat Out of Hell is a great record. Just because it’s one of the most commercially successful records ever does not make it a bad record. You know that phrase: 50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can’t Be Wrong? Well, yes they can, but in the case of Bat Out of Hell (and, fair dues, Elvis too) they’re not.
I’ve written about my love for that album before, here, should you wish to check it out.
Although he hasn’t made a record I liked for 40 years or so, and anything he did release which didn’t involve Jim Steinman should really be avoided, I loved Meat Loaf for he was the soundtrack to a part of my youth.
There was a really good documentary on BBC4 last night about him, called MeatLoaf: In and Out of Hell which I can thoroughly recommend. If you’re in the UK it’s currently available to stream on the BBC iPlayer.
But I’ve noticed a worrying trend starting with these two most recent celebrity deaths. Is there a link? Or is this just a way for me to shoehorn a loads of great songs into one post?
For quite some time now, I’ve been pondering what it is that is preventing me from posting with the same regularity as I was last year.
I’ve worked it out.
Regular readers will know that I generally sit on a Friday night, have a few drinks and write posts for the next week. But for a while now, I’ve become preoccupied on doing a new mix.
Warning: artist at work excuse incoming.
See, whilst they seem remarkably unpopular, I really enjoy piecing together a long playlist/mix/call it what you will, and that inevitably means a few drafts which don’t quite, to quote Echo & The Bunnymen, cut the mustard.
So, I’ve been working on this mix for some time now, but somehow something always seemed to prevent me from finishing it, be it me tinkering with the running order, or thinking of new tunes to toss in, or some kind of technical calamity, or (more often) listening to it and realising I’ve utterly messed up a mix and I simply can’t bear to have anyone else listen to it.
I’m not going to pretend all of the mixes between tunes here are perfect – there’s at least one which I know isn’t – but I’ve reached the point where it’s close enough to let it go and move on to something else, before I drive myself mad searching for perfection.
So here’s my latest mix, imperfect though it may be; frustrating as it has been, I really like this one, which starts off in the usual way – slowly – before getting into a groove which includes Kings of Leon from before they went stadium and knew how to use a cowbell, a new(ish) track by The Chemical Brothers, an obligatory Soulwax remix, two of the finest female pop stars going: Miley Cyrus & Dua Lipa (not on the same tune, sadly), the occasional hidden ‘joke’ (by which I mean it seemed funny when I first put the songs together, less so now), via Madonna having a short chat with Johnny Cash.
It’s the usual mix of songs you love, songs you’ve forgotten about, and songs which make you think “What the hell has he put this on here for??”. Some might say eclectic, but I couldn’t possibly comment. Think mainly Indie guitar stuff, with a few dance tunes, 80s pop songs and a couple of timeless classics – at least one of which you probably won’t have heard before – thrown in.
As always, no track-listing – I like to imagine your faces when the next song kicks in – but there’s a list of featured artists on the right hand side in case you want to see what you’re letting yourself in for. Which is a treat, obviously. If you desperately need to know what a track is, either Shazam it or, if you’d like to feed my ego, ask me via the Comments at the bottom of this post.
Usual disclaimer: any skips and jumps are down to the mixing software; any mis-timed mixes (and, as I say, there is at least one) is down to me. Either way: Sorry!
One more thing: you may recall that last time out I mentioned that my brother had said he managed to predict what I was going to play next, which annoyed me greatly. No such criticism of the last mix, although he told me he listened to it whilst out on his morning run, so some of the sudden gear changes weren’t helpful. I’ve tried to rectify that this time, with a relatively steady beat and tempo maintained throughout (after you’ve got past the traditional slow start) for those of you who listen to this whilst doing your exercises (not that I really understand what that means). The danger was that it would denigrate into either a Ministry of Sound pumping dance mix or a Top Gear/Best Driving Songs…in the World…Ever! playlist, but I think the song choices just about keep us on the right side of that happening.
Let’s say it starts slowly, gets into a groove, and then has more false endings than a Status Quo single.
I’m a bit annoyed that since I first decided to include it, at least on song here has popped up in an advert – and you know how I feel about them – for burgers, of all things. Rest assured, the advert in question was not the inspiration for the song’s inclusion. You’ll know it when you hear it, I think.
Oh and there are several songs which feature effing and jeffings – “sexual swear words” as Simon Bates used to say at the start of videos – so please avoid if you are easily offended by unfettered vulgarity and sauciness. Look, there’s a Goldie Lookin’ Chain tune which is probably the rudest and most inappropriate (but funny) thing I’ll ever post, so beware.
For a limited time (until I do another one, so y’know, could be months), you can stream or download it via Soundcloud here.
In case you were wondering about the somewhat erratic nature of my recent posts, I’m in the middle (hopefully) of a bout of insomnia.
I simply cannot sleep at night, but as soon as I’ve finished work and my arse has hit the settee, I’m out for a couple of hours, which of course means I can’t sleep that night, and so on and so forth ad infinitum.
What this means is that I end up laying on the sofa at ouch o’clock, trying to find something mind-numbingly dull enough to send me to sleep.
It hasn’t worked yet.
What has evolved is a routine of programmes I end up watching: Premiership Years on Sky Sports (“I’ll go back to bed as soon as Spurs are mentioned…wait, which year is this? Who was managing us then…?”), any episode of Police Interceptors, or something of it’s ilk, hopefully one of the episodes set in rural Wales where PC Paddy Duwayne is the hero, snuffling out bail absconders from underneath beds or behind doors; and if I’m still awake at 4:30 (which I am) then The £100K Drop with squawking Davina (“I love these guys!”) kills an hour, and then it’s time for a repeat of Countdown followed by a couple of episodes of Cheers (which is just as brilliantly written and acted as I remember; I imagine you can stream them on All4 and if you can I’d heartily recommend you do) and then…oh, time for work,
But the other night, I caught a large chunk of a Manic Street Preachers gig, filmed in Manchester to promote the launch of their Everything Must Go album. Billed as their “comeback concert”, it was the first time they had performed since guitarist, lyricist and cheese salad sharer Richey Edward had gone missing several months earlier.
I flicked on to the channel just as they were launching into a rousing version of Motown Junk, my favourite Manics tune, much posted on these pages before. What I don’t know if they played – but given it features a harp, I somewhat doubt it – is this absolute beauty from the same album, one of those rare moments when lead singer James Dean Bradfield actually sings, rather than shouts (not a criticism, by the way – just my way of saying he’s actually got rather a nice singing voice which doesn’t get trotted out enough):
I got quite excited the other day, when I went into my Drafts folder and saw this title.
“Zut alors!” I exclaimed, thinking that I must have at the very least started writing the next installment of The Chain. And that I was French or German or whatever that language is.
But no, my laziness and ineptitude was laid out there before me, for all I had done was write the title, and that was it. Classic me, if my deadline nightmares are anything to go by.
Anyway, hello, and welcome back to the latest in what is turning out to be an increasingly infuriating occasional series: The Chain.
But at least it’s here, right? We all need distractions and things to think about at the moment, things to fill the time, and surely there’s no finer way to spend some time than reading what folks from all around the world can link to one particular song. It’s what Covid-19 was invented for, surely.
A brief reminder for those new to the shnizz we get up to here: we’re working our way through the songs played on The Chain section of Radcliffe & Maconie’s 6Music show, coming up with alternative suggestions, and listening to them all instead of just the one (Mrs Wembley). 80s sitcom gag, there, to help you acclimatise to the level of writing you can expect should you venture further.
I used to write these once a week, but then couldn’t be arsed lacked inspiration for a year or so, brought it back and suddenly find myself wondering where the days/weeks have gone and how it’s got to the point where I really should have written it by now has arrived.
Anyway, blah blah blah poor old me….let’s be off.
This episode, just to be different, we’re not going to start with the source record from last time. Well not quite, anyway.
No, instead, we’re going start with the first part of one of Rol from My Top Ten‘s suggestions:
The album version of Tubthumping opens with an inspirational quote from the great Pete Postlethwaite, taken from the movie ‘Brassed Off’…
Dammit, it’s done my head in for years trying to remember where I recognised that from! Cheers, Rol!
Before we go any further with Rol’s suggestion, I’ll hand you over to one of the two people who insist on emailing me (which is fine, by the way) their suggestions rather than popping them in the Comments section:
You may recall that last time out The Great Gog got a little obsessed with the county of Hampshire. And rightly so: if Hampshire had a church steeple with a 123-metre spire, then them pesky Ruskies would be queuing up to smear Novochok all over it and any corporate Italian restaurant chain in the immediate vicinity (I’m nothing if not topical).
Anyway, things don’t appear to have changed much in the Land of the Gog:
The album containing Tubthumping is Tubthumper.
Thumper is a rabbit in the animated film Bambi.
There are lots of cartoon rabbits in the animated film Watership Down.
Watership Down is set in some Hampshire fields – which could take us all the way back…
Is it too early to be handing out points for Comments Showboating? I think not: POINTS!
By the way, I’m not going to post the Points Table every time I write one of these, as nothing much will change from one post to another. It’d be like looking at any sports league table over the past four weeks. I’ll update things and do it every couple of posts or so.
Or…The Great Gog continues…stretching the link to breaking point (You’re by no means the worst cuplrit, fill your boots)…given my ramblings above…[this] would seem appropriate:
Next up, over to The Robster from the annoyingly still dormant Is This the Life blog who offers this:
All I could come up with is Get Up by R.E.M. but I’m sure I can come up with something else given time. Probably got, what, 18 months before the next installment? which is a bit rich, coming from the man who only posts anything at the end of the year. Go on click that link to his blog, let’s see if we can’t get him back in action. Your country needs you, Rob!
I posted the album version of this song not so long ago in my I’m Not Too Keen on Mondays series, so here’s a slightly different version, a live one, which pops up as one of the bonus tracks on the Collector’s Edition of the Shiny Happy People CD single.
But since the band themselves have practically disowned that single (guitarist Peter Buck once described it as “relentlessly upbeat” and also said “If we did one of those per record, I could see how it could get a little embarrassing”) maybe we should too; it’s notable for it’s absence from many of the Greatest Hits compilations, despite it being their =4th biggest hit in the UK (after, in reverse order: Leaving New York (#5), E-Bow The Letter (#4) and The Great Beyond (#3))
They weren’t so embarrased by it that they declined to do this, though (and who could blame them: would you turn down the chance to appear with the Muppets on Sesame Street???)
I love that the female vocalist is a Muppet who looks like Kate Pierson from The B-52s who, as you all know, provided the additional vocals on the single.
But I digress: this version is neither the album version nor the tucked-away-on-a-limited-edition-CD single version, but one I *coughs* obtained from a long gone and much missed blog called (I think…) The Independence of Tractors (long-time bloggers and blog followers may be able to jog my memory….I’m thinking of featuring this soon and would like to accredit, so if anyone has any info….y’know….), who once posted the whole of the band’s Tourfilm DVD as a series of mp3s:
I got a bit worried when you mentioned Jarvis and his controversial stunt at the Brits as I remember whose expense it was at. But no, it was our friendly water boys who if I remember correctly soaked Two Jags Prescott. Sticking to my Scottish band theme I’m therefore going to go with The Waterboys for the next link and sticking with my “water” theme in this comments box, the song….
Since we’re on Prescott, indulge me for a moment with my two favourite clips involving him. The first isn’t really about him, but it is from a documentary he made back in 2008 called Prescott – The Class System And Me:
I guarantee you, she voted Brexit.
And then there’s this notorious clip:
In his defence: a) what would you do if someone chucked an egg at you? and b) later (admittedly when he’d had time to get someone else to write a witty response think of something clever to say, he came up with this: “Well, Tony Blair asked me to go out and connect with the electorate….”
Anyway, that leads me to my next suggestion of the week:
Over now to Martin from New Amusements who proffers this Prescott related…um… jewel, I guess:
Like George, I’m going with a John Prescott connection, but hope to craft mine into a Double Linker. Yes, Danbert Nobacon once up-ended an ice-bucket over John Prescott at the Brits, but John Prescott was also memorably once replaced on ‘Have I Got News For You’ with a tub of lard, so I can surely claim a double link to Tubthumping for anything lard-related, so I’ll pitch:
He’s not done yet: …which, lest we forget, featured Marc “Lard” Riley. Since this is also about drinking, much like Chumbawumba’s chorus, could this be a Triple Linker? And maybe a point for worst suggestion of the week?
I don’t think I can refuse, can I, dear reader? It’s unquestionably the worst record of the week (POINT!) and he has managed to get a triple link out of this, the first time this has happened as far as I can recall (Ermmmm…points, I guess….).
I think we need to cleanse our palate a little, and remind ourselves that Martin could easily have dodged the sub-Barron Knights tosh that is The Shirehorses by referencing it and then directing us to this:
If that’s not a double-linker, than I don’t know what is.
Well, yes, Yes it is. POINTS!
Anyway, for continuity purposes, take a step back. If You Tolerate This… was the band’s first #1 single in the UK (I’m sure this can all be traced back to a shared cheese salad…) and it contains the line “Well, if I can shoot rabbits, then I can shoot fascists”, which leads me to another draft post of mine which I never got round to finishing. And neither Chas nor Dave are anywhere in sight.
This one even had a semi-clever title: “You’re Not The One For Me, Fascist”.
I’ll hand over to the ever wonderful Charity Chic to explain:
Chumbawumba recorded a song with Credit to the Nation called ‘The Day the Nazi Died’…
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t allow a suggestion which was simply “X recorded the source record, and they also recorded this”, but since this was a collaboration with the frankly quite marvellous Credit to the Nation, I’ll let it slide.
Plus: Charity Chic has a point to make:
….Morrissey (who may or may not be a Nazi) – he continues (“Not my words, the words of Top Gear car magazine!”) had a song called:
…And he is a bit of a tub these days who could probably do with a good thumping…Charity Chic signs off.
Just in case you’re not sure what CC is banging on about, or on which side of the fence you should be sitting when it comes to the whole “Is Morrissey a racist?” question, well I’ll leave you to make your own mind up.
And here to help you is a picture of him performing live on The Jimmy Fallon Show in May 2019:
And here’s a close-up of the badge he’s wearing on his lapel:
In case you’re not familiar with it, and I hope you’re not, that is a For Britain badge.
For Britain are not nice people.
Oh my, indeed.
Here’s my rule of thumb when it comes to Morrissey, which you are welcome to adopt: yes, when he was in The Smiths he made some inflammatory comments in interviews, but none of them leaked into his lyrics. Since The Smiths split and he went solo, they have. Regularly.
So: The Smiths – fine to still express love and admiration; Morrissey solo – tread carefully.
Which leads me to a suggestion from Jules of Music From Magazines fame, which *checks notes* I’m disqualifying becuase *checks notes*…well, I’m not sure why to be honest, but I am and that’s that:
Carrying on with the high five, Mel Brooks ‘Hitler Rap’
Ah now, I remember; in response to Charity Chic’s anti-Moz post, Jules responded: A high five for that and I don’t think that’s enough to allow it.
Yes, I am a strict Taskmaster, and yes, Greg Davies, watch your back!
What else have you got, Jules?
As I am a tad partial to a cider drink or eight anything I suggest at closing time will make sense….
Well, long time readers of The Chain will know that certain things crop up repeatedly. For sure is eggs is eggs, someone will suggest either a record by The Clash or Bruce Springsteen just to annoy George, and Jules will suggest something by Lambchop.
No, not that Lambchop….
So let’s unclasp the shackles and let Jules free; I have to say that I almost rejected all that you are about to enjoy, until I thought about his first suggestion a little harder:
Any crossword fan would see the anagram “wham bam Cuba” and the country’s name was nailed by the Gibson Brothers:
Now, let’s be honest: every time we’re unlucky enough to hear that, all we can really think of is this:
…Dave Grohl left the drum stool, strapped on a guitar and became Mr Foo…which sounds like a George Formby record (“Oh Mr Foo, what shall I do…? A niche joke, I know), but I’ve gone off at enough tangents, so we’ll leave that.
This song has featured in The Chain before so strictly speaking should be disqualified, but looking back I see that both this and The Rezillos version were suggsted at the same time, and, unable to choose between the two, I posted both. So I’ll let this slide too…but only so I can post my favourite record about somebody getting their head kicked in:
…link being Chumbawamba covered this on the “Fuck EMI” compilation.
Which leads me back to The Robster, who hasn’t quite had the eighteen months he ribbed me with earlier to think things over, but nonetheless has returned with this:
I remember when Tubthumping came out, it was released on EMI *shock-horror* a filthy major label. The band was deluged with accusations of selling out and going back on its DIY ethos. But one of the reasons they signed to EMI was because previous label One Little Indian rejected the ‘Tubthumper’ album as they didn’t like its sound. The band subsequently signed to EMI as “…experience had taught us that in a capitalist environment almost every record company operates on capitalist principles. Our previous record label One Little Indian didn’t have the evil symbolic significance of EMI but they were completely motivated by profit. Our position was that whoever we signed with would want us not for our ideas but for the potential profit, so we’d battle for a contract where we still had autonomy.”
So to that end, I’m offering up…a song about the music industry’s obsession with making moolah with little regard for the art:
We’re on the home stretch now, I promise. And with the finish line in sight, the baton is thrust into Alex G’s hand:
Of course, a song about a man who drinks a whiskey drink, a cider drink, a lager drink AND a vodka drink naturally leads us to Shane MacGowan. I suppose any song would do, but just to keep the theme going, it may as well be…
What Alex G omits to mention is that That Woman’s Got Me Drinking features the guitar work of one Mr Johnny Depp. When he’s not acting in the latest Tim Burton movie, or appearing in an advert for something smelly, or getting stopped at the border of an antipodean country trying to smuggle dogs across and subsequently being forced to make an apologetic if half-arsed video rather than go to jail, or defending himself against allegations of domestic abuse for that matter, there’s nothing Mr Depp likes more than to pop up in unexpected places:
Where were we?
Ah yes, booze related songs. I’m surprised there wasn’t more of these. Let me chuck one into the mix:
Two famous song titles are more or less quoted in the lyrics of ‘Tubthumping’ – the first one being ‘Danny Boy’, which, as we all know, is the Anthem of Northern Ireland. And what is the finest thing Northern Ireland ever produced, apart from ships (minus the Titanic. Obviously)?
Alas it’s not [I know] (although, Jez, nevertheless this should be a good excuse to include said tune in your essay straightaway), because, as I said, another song is being mentionedand that is ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’. Yes, I have noticed that Chumbawamba omit the ‘Argentina’ – bit (and replace it by ‘next door neighbour’). But this is purely for copyright infringement reasons, I’m sure.
Now, ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’ is a song done by Julie Covington back in 1976. But only (freaks like) you and me know this. And Wikipedia. To the wider public another version is much better known, and that’s the one by Madonna from 1997.
So the link, no question about that, is, to my great dismay (because I would have LOVED to see my other option), Madonna’s version of ‘Don’t Cry For Me Argentina’.
I mean, love ya for trying and all that, but it isn’t the link, and frankly Covington’s version pisses all over Madonna’s attempt, so Dirk: you shall (metaphorically) go to the (metaphorical) ball!
Brassed Off was on Film 4 the other night. It remains a thing of beauty. If you haven’t seen it, or even if you have, and have a couple of hours to kill (which, I think I’m safe in saying we all do at the moment) then you could do a lot worse than spend them watching this: it’s up to stream on the C4 app All4.
And that leaves just one thing: the unveiling of the next link in The Chain, and trust me, had anybody got this I would have been suspicious.
Here’s the official link from Tubthumping to the next record:
[Tubthumping] was once sung by Homer Simpson of cartoon fame. He also sang:
Your suggestions then, please, along with your explanation of how your suggestion links to Mellow Yellow by Donovan, via the Comments section below or, if you must, by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Minus points to anyone who suggests Coldplay. You’ve been warned.
In a rare example of me being ahead of the curve, I’d not only heard of but had seen Manic Street Preachers a good while before they got anywhere near being famous.
For they had played as a support act at a gig we put on at the Students’ Union.
This was in the year before I became Social Secretary, and so I had nothing to do with them being booked.
And I can’t pretend I was in slightest bit enamoured with them when they did play; I can’t put my finger on quite how I came to this opinion, but I was pretty sure that at least 50% of the four-piece band were miming.
A few months later, when I had taken up my elected post, I was told that we had the chance to book them again.
“Absolutely not”, I said. “They were awful last time they played here, and I can’t see them having got any better.”
Oh, how wrong can a man be.
The Entertainments Manager, who had the final say over who got booked and who did not, decided – rightly, wisely – to ignore my input.
And so, the Friday night they were booked to headline (I say headline, obviously my indie disco was the main draw) rolled around, and as the crew set up, I was charged with looking after the talent, and on this occasion this meant taking them to the college refectory for some food.
We queued with the rest of the students, the band fitting in pretty well to be fair, and then we sat, the four of them with their bordering-on inedable meals in front of them.
Richey noticed I didn’t have any food. “Why aren’t you eating?” he asked.
“Budget doesn’t extend to me, just you chaps,” I replied.
“Have you eaten today?” (I was a lot thinner then than I am these days, or he probably wouldn’t have asked.)
“No, I’ll get a bag of chips on the way home.”
He pushed his plate into the middle of the table.
“Here, have some of mine”, he said, and so it was that I shared a cheese salad with Richey Manic. (Sharing a Cheese Salad with Richey Manic so nearly ended up being the name of this blog.)
This in no way colours my reappraisel of them when they played that night, but everything clicked and fell into place, I suddenly got them. And if they had been miming the first time, they definitely weren’t miming now.
In the years after, when I was working in retail in Cardiff, I sold Nicky Wire the entire Echo & The Bunnymen back-catalogue, and James Dean Bradfield some athlete’s foot powder (in different shops, of course).
But I never again crossed paths with Richey, who went missing a few years later in 1995, never to be found again. He was pronounced “presumed dead” in 2008.
Motorcycle Emptiness remains their finest moment, but for my money this remains them at their most angry, visceral and magnificent. Lyrics all by Richey (I think!):
Bored of the “Acoustic Afternoons” series, I’ve continued in my search for decent topics for a series with an alliterative title.
To kick this series off, an orchestral re-working of what was already an wonderful single.
The Stealth Sonic Orchestra is a pseudonym of dance act Apollo 440, which, when you consider their own output (which I have a bit of a soft-spot for, as it goes, for reasons which are about to become clear) includes a version of the Lost in Space theme tune, and a track which samples Status Quo, makes this remix even more incredible.
This came out as an extra track on one of the singles from Manic Street Preachers’ break-through album, “Everything Must Go”, and, in case I haven’t eulogised about it enough already, let me add breath-taking and beautiful to the list of adjectives:
It’s almost four years since I started writing this blog.
I mention this not because I want recognition for the longevity of it – although it is a minor miracle that I haven’t got bored of it yet – but to make a point.
Which is that I really didn’t expect I’d still be writing it now. And sometimes, the fact that I am still going causes me a bit of a problem.
You see, as long term readers will know, I use this place not just to furnish you with (hopefully) entertaining bon mots and tunes I like and hope you do too, but to pass on my best wishes to friends and family when birthdays and moments of significance happen. Because, y’know, I’m too cheap to actually buy them a present or send a card – surely a mention and a tune on here is better than either of those things, right?
But, the thing is, the longer I write things here, the harder it becomes to write something new about the subject in question on their special day.
Take my brother, for example. He lives in India (for now, until the FEDs catch up with him) so we don’t see each other often, maybe once or twice a year. And so when he has a birthday, this is my medium for letting him know I’m thinking of him.
And when he hits a significant birthday, like he does today, his 50th birthday, I feel that I ought to pull out the stoppers and write something worthy of such an occasion.
But when I’ve written about him and the influence he has had on me and my music collection so many times already, what more is there to say?
Well, he often points out (when I mention somebody or something from our dim and distant past, or when it comes to our parents’ birthdays or wedding anniversaries, all of which I assume he would remember but email him to check), ‘I’m the one in charge of remembering stuff’, so perhaps there’s quite a lot.
He’s probably my longest serving reader (I hate the word follower – I’m not the Messiah, I’m a very naughty boy, to misappropriate a famous quote), and if he isn’t then he’s certainly the family member who has been reading the guff I write here for the longest.
When he started reading this, he was very supportive; often I’d receive an email or a text from him telling me he liked what I’d written. He’s also the only person to so far accept my invitation to write a post for this place and have it published (I have a couple in reserve before the authors of those take offence). You can read that here, and I have re-upped the links should you wish to listen to any of the songs mentioned. It’s annoyingly good (although I did send him back to rewrite it at least once, a process that he rightly compared to being back in double English class); I’ve just re-read it and laughed quite a lot.
I first told him about this place in January 2015, when he and I went to see The Jesus & Mary Chain perform their legendarily awesome “Psychocandy” album at The Troxy in East London. If there’s one band who will forever unify us, then it’s them: a band he loved when he was in his full-on Goth mode in the mid-80s, and a band that sweet naïve young me tried to resist the allure of, but could not. So this seems to be an appropriate moment to have our first musical interlude:
I bought the tickets for that gig as a present, but actually it was payback for him buying me two tickets to go and see Squeeze back in 1987, when they had just reformed with Jools “boogie woogie” Holland in the line-up, on the tour to promote their “Babylon and On” album. Which is a cue for another song, I think. But not from that album, because it’s not very good.
I’m painting this as a quite the harmonious relationship, aren’t I? It wasn’t always thus.
I don’t think he would argue much if I said that for quite a long time, when we were kids, we really didn’t like each other much, or rather liked each other only in that “You’re my brother so I have to like you” kind of way. We fought a lot. Our childhood is littered with stories about how we managed to break stuff whilst fighting, most notably a violin bow (we both somehow ended up trying to learn how to play the screeching instrument when we were in Junior School) and a few years later, a snooker cue, which I distinctly recall breaking when I twatted him with it across the small of his back. Trust me, he was asking for it.
But I also remember the night that changed.
We had been growing closer as we got older, and saw less of each other, which may not be coincidental; also he and his mates Rob and Phil had asked me to join them as representatives of their local pub in a Pool League. I was alright at pool at the time, indicative of a wasted childhood, although I would often try a ridiculously adventurous shot which would result in me accidentally potting the black. I don’t think I won a single game for them.
It was the journeys to the away matches that I loved, cruising round the sleepy backwaters of local villages, ‘Mary Chain and Sisters of Mercy blasting from the car stereo – those trips probably did more to meld my musical tastes than anything else. I was in a gang, albeit a gang who were terrible at pool, and since they liked this kind of music it seemed appropriate that I should too.
I remember the night that we buried the hatchet, when no more snooker cues would be broken. It was his birthday, either his 19th or 20th, and we went to the local pub. We drank and chewed the fat, and on the short walk home he turned to me and said “You’re alright really, aren’t you?”
Which may not sound like much a of a compliment, but after ten years plus of battering each other, it was like the Good Friday talks writ small. And the feeling was mutual.
And since then, well, we’ve been friends. Which may not sound like much to most of you, but bearing in mind how much we fought when we were kids, and how infrequently we see each other, I’m pretty chuffed about.
As you will know if you’ve read that post he wrote, he joined the RAF at a young age, and remained in its loyal service, rising to the rank of Sergeant, until the early 2000s, when the offer of early retirement and a decent pay-off was too good to decline. And so it was that the family was invited to an RAF base in Lincolnshire to pay witness to him leaving the forces.
I say the family, but rules are quite archaic on an RAF base; women were not allowed into the hall where a set meal and a presentation took place to honour all that were leaving, so my Dad, my brother and I went and ate, drank and were merry for an afternoon, whilst Mum had to entertain herself elsewhere.
Afterwards, we retired to the Officer’s Mess, where my Mum was permitted to join in; and there was a further perk – a subsidised bar. Not a free bar, a subsidised one, so the drinks were ridiculously cheap: 50 pence (I think, though it may have been 20p) for whatever you wanted to drink, on the proviso that whenever you bought a drink, you bought the person serving you one too. Deal.
People who know me will be able to guess what happened next: a long afternoon and evening of drinking Jack Daniels and coke, a family trait, it turned out, as was commented on by many of my brother’s colleagues. I lost count of the amount of people I was introduced to who said something along the lines of “Oh Christ, does he drink as much of that stuff as you do?”
The next day, in a severely hungover state, my Dad told me that he couldn’t believe how much my brother and I had drunk the night before: we had, apparently, drunk nothing but Jack Daniels from about five in the afternoon until chucking out time (and even then we moved on to a different bar) at a rate of a new double every fifteen minutes or so. “I saw them change the bottle at least six times”, he said, in a tone pitched somewhere between concern and awe.
And then there was my brother’s actual demob party. For years he had a yearning to do the Monopoly Challenge – to have a drink in a bar at every location listed on a standard UK Monopoly board in one afternoon. And wouldn’t you know it, he invited me along, provided I brought my drinking trousers with me.
I buckled up.
And so it was that I travelled up from Cardiff to London one Saturday, met up with him and a bunch of his squaddie mates – the names of whom escape me, mostly (there was, I think, a Pete and a Jeff) for reasons which will become perfectly obvious if it hasn’t already – and at mid-day I was bundled into a stretch limo at Kings Cross Station that they had hired for the day.
See, it turns out that my brother wasn’t the only person in the world who wanted to play this drinking game on a grand scale. In fact, there are companies who run specific tours allowing the party to play this game, with a pre-determined route taking you to a bar at every stop on the board. The only difference is that the driver wants to take you to each destination according to whichever was nearest; we, however, instructed him that we had to do it sequentially, in order, even if that meant it would take longer than to do it the way the limo company wanted you to do it.
What I wanted to do now was post a song which links to every property on the Monopoly board as I recounted what happened in which bar, but that proved too arduos a task (plus, my memory is kind of fuzzy about the whole day, so a running commentary is simply out of the question). So instead, here’s a song related to the Jail square:
Safely ensconced in the bosom of my new-found drinking partners, I was plied with a flute glass filled with a mixture of Guinness and champagne. Sounds revolting, turns out it was alright.
And then there was the Space Dust.
You remember Space Dust, right? A powder you placed on your tongue which popped and pinged and fizzed. This stuff:
Except the decision was made that we could not consume the Space Dust in the traditional manner. Instead, if we wanted to have some then it had to be ingested nasally.
This sounded like a blast to me, with a couple of Guinness and Champagne combos sloshing around inside me. And so, rolled up twenty pound note at the ready, I gave it a go.
Such an anti-climax. Rather than fizzing and popping in my nose as I had hoped, it just kind of congealed and sat there, like a big lump of snot. Kids take note: drugs , don’t do ’em.
Oh, one more thing you need to know before I report on the events of the day: his squaddie mates had insisted he dressed as Elvis (Presley, not Costello), so for the entire day he was wearing a white jumpsuit, a pair of 70s sunglasses, and a wig which slowly deteriorated as the day progressed.
And so, to Old Kent Road we went, then Whitechapel Road (to a bar which proudly advertised the fact that the Krays used to drink there) and so to The Angel Islington, and to a bar which I forget the name of, but which seemed to be a real old school boozer.
It was remarkably busy for that time of day; split into two rooms, the squaddies squeezed their way into the room next to where I was pinned; I could see through the doorway that it appeared to be very full, quite raucous, with all of the men – and it was only men – looking in the same direction. I assumed there must be some sport on the TV in that room, and focused my attention on my beer.
Until a naked Japanese woman thrust a pint glass with pound coins in it under my nose. At which point the penny dropped.
She shook the pint glass.
“You see my show?” she said.
“Erm…no…I didn’t…sorry…” I replied, trying desperately to maintain eye contact.
“But you see me now?” she said, and gestured past her neck level.
Now that’s cheating, I thought. I haven’t asked to be here, I’ve not asked to see you all nudey, and even if I had, I haven’t seen the traditional transitional clothes on-to-off sequence which generally is the thing men are willing to pay to see. All I’ve seen is a naked woman thrust a pint glass under my nose, and this was a regular sight at 3am on Caroline Street in Cardiff.
I made my excuses, downed my drink and went outside for a cigarette.
Before I go any further, I would like to stress that no naked girls were harmed in the making of this post. One of the bevy of beauties who continually go-go dance in my flat did fall downstairs once, but that was entirely coincidental, and the man who lives in the flat below me was most appreciative.
Get to the Orange properties on the Monopoly board, as we did around 5pm-ish on the day, and you’re faced with a bit of a problem: there are no pubs or bars on Vine Street. We asked the driver what we should do, and he pointed us in the direction of a pizzeria, where, as long as you bought some food, you could also buy beer. The address of the place wasn’t on Vine Street, but half of the restaurant area looked out onto it. That’ll do, we thought, and several rounds of garlic bread later, we had another one ticked off. This seems appropriate:
By this time, bladders were full, so the concept of “Little Boy’s Wee” was introduced.
Worry not, we’re not about to go all Yew Tree on you.
Because we had reached the stage where most of us would be ready to visit the Gents, the jeopardy that was “Little Boy’s Wee” was introduced. And that was this: if you went into the gents and encountered a fellow Monopoly member who wasn’t peeing like a little boy – that is, pants AND trousers around your ankles as you stood at the urinal, bare arse on display – then the next round was for the pee-er to get in.
I got some funny looks in that bar.
And so to the Red properties, and I wouldn’t be doing my job properly if that didn’t mean I post this…
…but nothing of any interest happened on The Strand.
Trafalgar Square, on the other hand, was quite the opposite kettle of fish.
Our driver pulled up at Trafalgar Square, where we found the whole area was cordoned off. A stage, empty, stood at one end. Clearly, something was due to happen there in the next day or so. This, since my brother had decided he wanted to paddle in the fountains, was a problem.
We strutted up to the cordon, where we were greeted by a security guard.
“Sorry lads, no entry” he said, sort of firmly.
At which point, one of the squaddies – it may have been Pete, it may have been Jeff, it may have been one of the others – cocked a thumb in my brother’s direction. My brother, don’t forget, is dressed as 70s Elvis.
“Erm…but he’s the talent for tomorrow night,” he said. “This should have all been cleared. We’re just here to look the venue over and make sure it meets with the talent’s requirements.”
Unbelievably, the security guard, rather than phoning it in to check, just lifted the cordon and said “OK then, in you go.”
At which point, a man dressed as Elvis ran forwards, dived into the fountain, resurfaced and started telling everyone to “Come on in, the water’s lovely. Uh-huh-huh”
(The relevance of that record will become clear if you listen to the talkie bit at the end: “And then on the way home, it always seems like a good idea to go paddling in the fountain, and that’s because it IS a good idea.”)
From out of nowhere, several more security guards arrived and escorted us back past the cordon. I heard one of them chastising the guard who had let us in: “They’re just a bunch of pissheads. One of them is dressed as a shit Elvis. Did you really think all thisis for a Shit Elvis that’s playing here tomorrow night??”
Mate, if you’re reading this and lost your job as a result of that, I’m really sorry.
And so on to a bar in the proximity of Trafalgar Square, a bar which we found had a basement room which was hired out for private functions, and on this particular Saturday was being used for a wedding reception. A basement room with a woefully under-staffed bar, which meant that many of the guests came upstairs to the regular bar, where we were, to get served.
Including the groom.
Now putting aside for a moment the reason why the groom is having to buy his own drinks at his own wedding reception, what this meant was that he clapped eyes on my brother. Still dressed as Elvis, albeit as slightly bedraggled Elvis.
“My wife…my new wife…loves Elvis….” the groom announced.
We all nodded in consent. His new wife was wise. He had chosen well. Elvis was pretty good.
“You know what would make her special day even more special?” the groom continued.
We all looked at our shoes. We knew where this was going.
“If Elvis sang at her wedding reception!”
“Would you do that for us, on the happiest day of our lives…?”
I looked at my brother. There’s no way he’ll agree to this, I thought.
And then a look came over his face. A look that said: this is something to tell my grandchildren about. The sort of thing that one day my younger brother will write about on the blog he hasn’t even thought about starting to write yet.
“Yes I will, Sir,” he said, appropriating the accent, “but I don’t know any Elvis songs all the way through.”
“That’s okay”, proffered Pete/Jeff/one of the other squaddies, “we’ll help you out.”
And so we were all ushered downstairs, to a very full room of wedding guests, who all stopped what they were doing as we walked in. Like that scene in “An American Werewolf in London” when they walk into The Slaughtered Lamb. That. This:
“Darling”, announced the groom, “fate brought us together, and fate has led this gentleman here tonight too!”
At which point, my brother, soaked to the skin in a white sequinned Elvis suit, wig drooping down so it was more like a centre parting than a quiff, broke into the opening lines of a song:
And now imagine him stumbling over the words before the end of the second line, and his mates ploughing in to carry him to the end of the first verse, without the slightest whiff of a harmony being employed.
Except me. I had, I thought, wisely hung back from the group and therefore avoided any participation in the group “singing”.
Moving back upstairs, and separate from the group, and therefore vulnerable, like a gazelle picked off by a lioness, I was approached by a chap who asked if we were all in the forces.
I, in my drunken state, decided it was easier to say “Yes, we’re all in the RAF” than to try and explain that I had never been in any of the Forces, but that my acquantances were either in the RAF, just about to leave the RAF or had just left the RAF.
The chap who has enquired, it transpired, had tried to get into the RAF, but failed, and he wanted to know a) why that might be (so we discussed his medical history), and b) as much technical detail about engines and wings and stuff (of which I know nothing) that I could muster in case he ever reapplied.
I managed twenty minutes of utter bullshit to this guy, only interupted by Pete/Jeff/one of the other squaddies butting in to tell my conversationalist friend what a guy I am and how if you got me started on the concept of inverted wingry, I’d never stop. Cheers, guys.
We finally made it to Mayfair, the final square on the Monopoly board. All that was open was a restaurant, so we all piled in there and ordered a victory drink at 23:55.
By this point, I knew I was done, so after finishing my final drink in a Mayfair restaurant, I sloped off to hail a taxi. All of the other guys were staying in a hotel, but I had asked Hel if I could utilise her sofa-bed for the night.
I fell into the back of a black cab, and, having provided the name of the road Hel lived on, I also offered these wise words:
“And yes, I am really pissed, and no I’m not from round here, but if you take the long way to her house, I will know and I will run off without paying.”
He would have easily caught me if I tried.
The cab dropped me off outside Hel’s flat, but instead of just going in, I wandered off (after paying him, of course).
Forty-five minutes later, I rang Hel to ask her why her flat had moved to a place I couldn’t find. She came out to collect me, and will often tell me now – after we shared a flat together for four years and regularly got very drunk together – that she has never seen me that drunk before or since.
All your fault, Big Brother.
Which just leaves me to think of a tune which appropriately ties this all together, and I’ve thought of two.
Firstly, since we all doubtless slept exceedingly well that night, this, by a band I first listened to because my big brother regaled me with stories of a wild gig of theirs he went to, where one of the band members kept bashing his own head with a tea-tray as a means of percussion: