Stranglers on the Shore

There are a number of bands I didn’t immediately sign up to when I first heard them: for example, Dire Straits and The Pet Shop Boys, both of which I now appreciate far more than when they first came on the scene (the fact that Neil Tennant sounds just like Al Stewart didn’t hurt either). I even disliked The Stranglers at the beginning, if you can believe it: I was at the time very wedded to prog-rock and disliked a lot of punk and ‘new wave’ on sight (iyswim.) But it didn’t take me long to come round, and by the time they released the divine Golden Brown where the intro skips a beat like a lovestruck heart, I was sold.

As a child my musical world consisted of church music and oddbits of classical which I learned on the piano. There were also tedious instrumentals played for church socials including the number I later knew as Stranger on the Shore, the very sound of which transports me back to a draughty church hall, the churchwarden and his wife doing a stately foxtrot. Finding Top of the Pops was an epiphany, and instantly I developed a taste for folk-rock (James Taylor, Carole King, Neil Young in his early incarnation) and prog-rock (Yes, Genesis, The Floyd). Like many people I’ve often tried to narrow down my eight choices for Desert Island Discs and found it impossible; I come up with different records every time. But today’s choices are:

Oh Jesus I Have Promised (the original music not the newfangled jolly tune which sadly I can’t find anywhere but I’m sure the BBC could) – this reminds me of the time the organist asked me my favourite hymn and played it on the organ.

Leonard Cohen: Suzanne. This reminds me of the first time I heard Cohen, in a classroom in 1972.

Argent: Hold Your Head Up

Gerry Rafferty: Baker St

Anderson and Vangelis: Somehow I’ll Find My Way Home (very apt, eh?)

Bob Marley: Jammin. I went to see Bob Marley in 1980; he was already ill and shortly to die of cancer, though we didn’t know it at the time.

Carole King: It’s Too Late

Leonard Cohen: If It Be Your Will

And the one I’d save from the waves? The last one, which I also would like played at my funeral. There’s also this version, which I love.

What would your Desert Island Discs be?

Kirk out

Tomorrow Night Have a Good Time With This App

As I write to you I am listening to what OH calls ‘the only right-wing pop song ever’ (though I think OH may have forgotten ‘Sweet Home Alabama‘ or anything by Ted Nugent) in other words, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again‘ by The Who.

I absolutely love The Who, not least because they are from my home town (though I was far too young to see them play at the White Bear in Hounslow) and I don’t consider ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ to be a right-wing song so much as a cynical take on revolutionary politics, more in the vein of ‘Animal Farm’.

I’m pausing for a moment while I wait for Roger Daltrey to scream.

OK that’s done. I’m now trying to think of some way of celebrating the New Year whilst realising deep down that having woken up at 5.30 this morning, I’m 99.9% certain to be asleep when it comes (I’ll be pushing out the zzzzz’s when it comes; I’ll be pushing out the zzzz’s when it comes….) there are times when I really do feel old and pathetic. But hey, it’s not as if a jumble of events are competing for my participation; as far as I can see folk in Loughborough are all asking themselves what’s happening for New Year and the furthest they’ve got is someone saying they’re going to Diane’s house. I don’t know Diane so I’m stuck. It would be nice to have somewhere at least to pretend to go even though I know I’ll inevitably fall asleep on the sofa before 10 o’clock.

In 2020 I’ll be there for a while but I don’t think I can have a drink or any dinner tonight or tomorrow night if I don’t have a drink or tomorrow night if I don’t have a shower then again I have a good time to do with this app.

That is what I’ll be doing next year according to the predictive text on my phone, which gives a rather dispiriting insight into the type of words I use most often and what a rock-n-roll life I lead.

*Sigh*

Ah well. Happy New Whatever.

Kirk out

Giving Thanks (for the Dance)

It’s Thanksgiving today in the US which, unlike the spurious phenomenon which will occur tomorrow (and which I refuse to name), is something we might do well to import. Of course it’s tainted, because everything is tainted now; tainted with the knowledge and guilt of colonialism and with the awareness that many people around the world don’t have much to be thankful for. But those of us in the blogosphere surely do; at least I do, and one of them is the latest Cohen album (yes, he’s still churning them out from beyond the grave.) Actually to say churning out does him a great disservice, for Cohen was always the slowest of writers and could take years to produce a song and decades over an album; of all artists he knew how to take time over his work. But death seems to have sped him up a little, for this one has been less than three years in the making; the bones of it are recordings he left behind and the meat on the bones is the performances by those he worked with in his lifetime. It has a bleak, faded beauty with that unmistakable Cohen flavour and as to whether it works, it’s an incredible fusion of voices and intentions.

It feels like a return to his beginnings; one voice in a room, a guitar, other voices slowly coming in with maybe a gentle sax, a Spanish guitar, a piano, some distant drums. This is no cynical attempt to milk his legacy but a genuine collection of unreleased work made more beautiful by the collaboration of his old partners. The title track recalls both Joan of Arc and Take this Waltz. The Hills builds from a single voice to a near-orchestral climax and The Night of Santiago features the plaintive passion of a flamenco guitar, echoing Cohen’s love of Lorca.

It feels like Cohen singing through an open door after supper. They could even be in the same room.

Perhaps they were.

Kirk out

RIP Leonard, We Miss You

Three years ago today we lost Leonard Cohen. As I write this I’m listening to ‘Democracy’, a song which made me laugh out loud the first time I heard it (have a listen and perhaps you’ll see why). People had the idea that he was gloomy and depressing – the prince of suicide, the bard of bad vibes, the grocer of despair – but with his self-deprecating humour he could be a total hoot (‘people were very rude about my guitar-playing: they used to say I only knew three chords, when in fact I knew five.’)

It was hard in the early years to be a Cohen fan because people were so mean about him; my own mother used to call him ‘old groaner,’ which was very rude and disrespectful. After all, I was never allowed to criticise Eartha Kitt.

Actually I quite liked Eartha Kitt. But I wasn’t so keen on Mendelssohn’s Elijah which we had to listen to quite a lot. Musical taste (amongst other things) was a one-way street in our family: basically we had to listen to whatever the adults liked, which meant listening to what our Mum liked. Tired of this, one Christmas I assembled the family, turned down the lights and put on Dark Side of the Moon. Ten seconds in my Granddad grabbed my Grandma’s arm and joked ‘Gigs! I’m scared!’ and when Breathe began he started playing along with the maracas. I gave up. As for introducing them to Cohen, it was unthinkable. You might as well stand outside and ask people to throw snowballs at you.

But it got better; in the ’80’s Cohen drew widespread acclaim with ‘I’m Your Man’ and when the financial shenanigans of his manager forced him out of retirement and back on the road, a song from ‘Various Positions’ was picked up and covered by just about everyone from Rolf Harris (no, scrub that) by everyone from Willie Nelson to Justin Timberlake. My favourite apart from the original is Rufus Wainwright’s, though Jeff Buckley’s is probably more famous. It also featured in Shrek, sung by John Cale.

It was Cohen’s refusal to shy away from the darker side of life that made him challenging, especially in America where, as Jennifer Warnes put it, you’re supposed to ‘put on a smile and come out swingin’, no matter how ruined you’ve been.’

Cohen was not the most prolific of writers but over the course of his career he released 15 or so albums, the penultimate of which, ‘Popular Problems’ he joked would be succeeded by ‘Unpopular Solutions’ but which was in fact followed by ‘You Want it Darker’. By the time of recording this he was so ill that he had to sit and sing the lyric into a desk mic while his son Adam produced the album.

I won’t sport with your patience by giving you a full bio; there’s plenty of information out there including the recent BBC series ‘Marianne and Leonard‘ about his time on the island of Hyra with Marianne Ihlen and her son Axel, but it seems both ironic and fitting that his two most famous songs should have both gotten away from him. He lost the rights to ‘Suzanne’ when they were stolen by an unscrupulous agent, and though he retained the rights to ‘Hallelujah’ it’s other versions which are more widely known than his.

Soldier of the heart, grocer of despair, go well.

RIP Leonard Cohen, Sept 21 1934 – Nov 7th 2016

STOP PRESS: there’s going to be a new album!!!!! composed of material he was working on, assembled by Adam Cohen and including collaboration by people who worked with him during his life. It’s called Thanks for the Dance and it’s due out on Nov 22nd. Oh. My. God. Even when he’s dead that man just can’t lie down and let himself be buried.

Kirk out

Excuse Me While I Colour the Sky

Just when you think it’s safe to wake up in the morning, this happens:

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is blue.

Me: Oh?

OH: Don’t you?

Me: I hate to break this to you, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it

OH: In fact I don’t believe it is blue. I think it’s actually purple.

Me: Oh, right

OH: Don’t you think so?

Me: I don’t know really. I don’t think about it much

OH: I have serious problems understanding why the sky is purple.

Silence

OH: do you know what I mean?

Me: I really think you should stop asking that question

Last night I went to see Rocketman. I first came across Elton in the early seventies (I still have Honky Chateau) and have always considered him a total one-off. There’s a sort of rocket theme going on at the moment with the oddly-titled Stephen Poliakoff Summer of Rockets (I’ll probably get to that later) but the biopic was stupendous. It was stirring, stonking, stupefying and contained stupid amounts of alcohol and drugs.

The story begins with Elton in a red and gold outfit with wings – like a cross between a superhero and a carnival queen – walking off stage and into rehab from where he tells the rest of the story in flashback. The narrative focusses on the early to middle years: Reggie’s childhood with an emotionally absent father and a self-indulgent mother – his Gran the only person who takes an interest – his scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, his interview with a record company and subsequent meeting with Bernie Taupin and then the rocket-like trajectory of his success. And here the film really goes to town with the songs, the outfits, the glasses, the concerts, the parties, the coming-out as gay, the fake marriage to Renata, the success and the excess and the final crash.

What made the film so great and so un-cliched was the naturalistic acting of Taron Egerton (he also played Eddie the Eagle) and his singing! I was astonished to discover that he actually sang the songs, as he managed to sound so like Elton and yet without parody.

The film was made in collaboration with the singer himself and it finishes with a short update and some pictures of him with David Furnish. It was a shame the film didn’t get as far as his friendship with Diana but then that’s a whole nother story.

So there it is. Now showing at a cinema near you.

Kirk out

Do Not Adjust Your Mind-Set

Once upon a time when I was but a wee girl, your TV set would go wonky.  The picture would tip sideways or develop horizontal lines or a loud hiss would interfere with the sound, necessitating adjustment: fiddling with the aerial or finely adjusting the Horizontal and Vertical Holds, each interspersed with appropriate curses.  Like mantras in a ceremony it was important to get these right, viz: ‘Stupid bloody box – twiddle – why – bend – don’t – twiddle – you – sodding well – shove – work!  These occurrences were not infrequent but sometimes the problem would be at the Other End ie the TV company: at such times a sign would be displayed saying ‘Do Not Adjust Your Set.’  Then would follow the celebrated Test Card.  And some  music, usually of the plinky-plonk variety.

As a sort of hommage to this phenomenon a programme was made for children called Do Not Adjust Your Set.  I loved this, short-lived though it was, and only much later realised that it was proto-Python, being made by some of the same team:

 I had a serious point to make but my mind-set has gone all wonky now.  I’ll try giving it a  shove.

Nope, I’ve lost the picture.  And now the sound’s going.  Oh well, here’s some plinky-plonk music instead.

Kirk out

Serious Thinkin’

Steve Wright-In-The-Afternoon (that is his name isn’t it?) has a rather baffling item on his show where people text in saying what they’re doin’ only without the g at the end.  The item is called ‘serious jockin’ – at least I think that’s what it’s called – and I’ve never quite been able to understand the point, but maybe that’s because I lack the necessary brain cells to completely comprehend Radio 2.  But I like most of the music they play; it being the aged version of Radio 1 which has, so to speak, moved over and taken the listeners with it.  But in fact it’s a lot better than R1 used to be because it’s not restricted to a playlist of the top 20 plus up-and-coming tracks with a few oldies thrown in: R2 plays a wide variety of music and treats its audience with a great deal more respect.  Even so, I used to have R1 on all day long because it was virtually all we had.  On a good day when the wind was in the right direction you could get Radio Caroline, a pirate station broadcast from a boat somewhere in the North Sea, and eventually in London we got Capital Radio which featured the wonderful Kenny Everett who had been sacked from the BBC more times than I’d had hot dinners.

Nowadays I’m mostly a Radio 4 person, but there are times in the day when I need music: when I’m driving and don’t want to put a CD on, or when I’m doing the washing up or the decorating. Nowadays there are a thousand channels you can listen to on your iphone or tablet or laptop or sound system – but back then it was very restrictive.  One of the ways people got round the restrictions was with CB radio.  CB (or Citizen’s Band) radio was very big in the States and had its own language, as shown in this terrible song:

But it was illegal over here, I think because it interfered with police frequencies.  This did not stop enthusiasts from installing them in their cars; the big giveaway being large twin aeriels sprouting from the car.  One such nutter was stopped by the police:

PC Plod:  Excuse me sir, is this your car?

Mad Eddie:  Ay, so what?

PC Plod:  It’s equipped for CB radio

Mad Eddie:  Well I’m equipped for rape but I don’t go out and do it

Soon afterwards it became legal and therefore much less fun (CB radio I mean.)

Kirk out