Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Abbey Road Webcam

I'm not sure how long this has existed, but I only came across it recently. Abbey Road Studios, scene of so many classic Beatles (and other) recordings, has a webcam trained on the famous zebra crossing which featured on the cover of the 'Abbey Road' album.

Watch live (and with sound) as an endless procession of tourists annoy the hell out of drivers, as they have their picture taken aping the band's legendary pose.

Obviously better during UK daylight hours, to view the webcam click here.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Shins - Simple Song

I don't often plug new stuff but amidst a pretty uninspiring music scene, with major awards being doled out for utter mediocrity (Ed Sheeran, anyone?), the news that The Shins are back is a blessed relief.

There is a new album out on 20th March, entitled 'Port of Morrow'. The first song to emerge is 'Simple Song', and it's four and a bit minutes of perfect melodic pop loveliness.

The full video can be seen here.


Sunday, 5 February 2012

In The Name Of The Father

I feel I should explain myself. Or, more specifically, the absence of any posts recently.

It's quite simple really. My beloved father, who had been diagnosed with cancer in early 2011, became increasingly ill in the last few months and eventually passed away in mid-January. During his life he had been many things: Son, Husband, Brother, Father, Grandfather, Friend, Comrade, War Hero. I, along with many others, miss him terribly.

Initially I stopped writing due to lack of opportunity, as I spent more time visiting and caring for Dad. Soon though, I simply didn't feel like it. From the start of this blog most of my output has been either of a humorous (intended at least) nature, or enthusiastic recommendation of music or other entertainment. Unfortunately, in recent times I have felt neither funny or enthusiastic about anything much.

I am hoping this won't last too much longer, and that if you choose to return here you will be rewarded with some engaging prose. Maybe what I write will be different from before, and that I'll just get down what's on my mind without worrying too much if it fits into any previous 'house style'.

For those who use Twitter I do still pop up on there when the mood takes me: click on the blue button at the top of the page to follow (be warned: there may be bad words).

I thought it might be appropriate to insert here a piece of music as a small tribute to Dad. The trouble is, he would probably (without letting on) hate most of the stuff from my collection that I might choose. Instead, here is perhaps the earliest song I can remember being played  (and sung) in the house when I was a child: the French (or Quebecian depending who you believe) children's song, Alouette. Cheers me up no end.


Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Vintage Video

#009 Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song live at Earls Court 1975

Possibly my favourite Zep song.


Sunday, 27 November 2011

When Hugh Laurie Was English And Stephen Fry Was Funny

Although I have always found him immensely likeable and talented, I would have found it very hard to believe 10 or 15 years ago that Hugh Laurie would one day be among the highest paid actors on US TV.

Back in those days he was well-known in the UK for his portrayal as an amiable thicko in the third and fourth series of Blackadder, along with the sketch show A Bit Of Fry & Laurie, in which he starred with his long-time comedy partner Stephen Fry.

In the sketch show Laurie would often employ highly suspect foreign accents. The clip below showcases his 'Australian', but his American characters were usually even less convincing. This mattered not a jot, as it was comedy: often exaggerated and grandiose, nearly always hilarious.

The irony for me is that when I see his performance in House, the accent sounds just as inauthentic to my English ears. You could argue that I am not qualified to comment, that it is good enough for folks in America: end of story. I have no real comeback for that, I just can't help chuckling. Similarly, when seeing him on TV performing songs from his 'Blues' album. I am immediately reminded of when his genuine musical abilities were only displayed on parodies like this. Some time ago I posted my lovely wife's unusually profound reaction to a commercial for the aforementioned album.

Stephen Fry had to plough his own furrow while his old pal became the darling of Hollywood. Nowadays he is best known in the UK for two things: Hosting the smug-fest quiz show QI, and for being one of the first celebrities to embrace Twitter.

QI is unique for me amongst TV shows in that it almost exclusively features guests who I like and whose other work I admire, yet I hate the resulting programme. I am not averse to smart-arse banter, in fact it is a pretty essential ingredient in any comedy panel show. With QI, however, it just is somehow cranked up to an unbearable level, and Fry as host can barely contain himself from displaying his fabulous education and expert knowledge on almost every possible subject.

There seems to be a misconception common in the UK that if you are on Twitter you must follow Fry. This could unfortunately put people off what for me is a vibrant, fascinating, and often uproariously amusing forum. I find his tweets rather dull, but as he (at the time of writing) has 4,440,632 more followers than I have, what do I know?

I do know that he is, or at least was, an amazing comedy talent. He, like Laurie, was a leading light in Blackadder, but this post was inspired by catching the excerpt below on TV late last night. It's Fry & Laurie doing a superb parody of It's A Wonderful Life, where Aussie Media Tycoon Rupert Murdoch is shown how the world would be if he had never been born. A lovely thought anyway, but it's superbly done.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Aretha Who?

The media - both social and ..er.. antisocial (?) has been full of unkind comments about UK X Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos, after her admission on Saturday night's show that she had never heard the Aretha Franklin song 'Think', as performed on the programme by pink-haired Amelia Lily.
This is a little unjust. She is, as she pointed out whilst defending herself on Twitter, only 23. She knows certain old songs which her parents played in the home she grew up in, but this wasn't one of them. Fair enough I say. Clearly she's a decent sort of girl, otherwise she wouldn't let that inbred farm boy with the funny hat tag along with her band, thus avoiding the need to put him in a home.

People are obviously labouring under the illusion that a knowledge of classic artists and quality music is a pre-requisite for the role of judge on this show, which it plainly isn't. Leave aside the fact that a quick, painful listen to an N-Dubz album would reveal few signs of her ever making even a passing acquaintance with anything as uncool as a melody. She, like her fellow judges present and past, is there for other reasons. 

In Tulisa's case there was a vacancy for a pretty young female following the departure of the fragile beauty that is Cheryl Cole: the perceived 'edge' of her group helping to spread the show's appeal to their demographic - kids in tracksuits who generously play music for everyone on the bus via their phones, rather than selfishly use headphones. Each of the other judges fulfill a specific purpose (yes - even Louis Walsh).

The point here is that The X Factor isn't a music show, it's a money show. Every decision made by the Svengali/Davros figure Simon Cowell is based on maximising ratings, and therefore revenue. By the same token, Cowell and most of the others involved are not music people, despite the hit records they could no doubt list ad nauseum.  

There is plenty of evidence to support this. The marvelous Danny Baker recounts the tale of being on a radio show with Walsh (pre - X Factor days). Danny thought it pretty safe ground whilst chatting to a prominent Irish music business figure to mention the great Van Morrison. The Boyzone and Westlife manager was at a loss to place the name until eventually coming up with  "Oh, the 'Brown Eyed Girl' guy?"  

Courtesy of b3ta user benito vaselini (8333)

Cowell himself frequently shows his lack of appreciation of any musical heritage. He has been guilty of unwarranted reverence towards third-rate acts from the 80s/90s such as Backstreet Boys and Boyz II Men (he probably thinks their album of Motown covers contains the definitive versions of The Tracks of My Tears and Mercy Mercy Me, or more likely they are only versions he has heard). Ask him to name more than one Bob Dylan or Stevie Wonder tune and he would likely be found wanting, Alan Partridge style ("Favourite Beatles album? That would be...The Best of The Beatles!"). His true love, and indisputable ability, lies not in music but in marketing products that a large number of people will buy, creating enormous wealth for himself and his companies, but perhaps much, much less for the desperate hopefuls on his show who sign the only contract they will ever be offered, without the representation of a sharp-eyed music industry lawyer. 

In the latest UK series, Cowell's judging seat has been taken by Take That's Eagle-Eyed Action Man, Gary Barlow. He is presented as a real music man, a sort of younger Paul McCartney, and uses baffling insider terms like semitone and tempo. The reality is he comes from a boy band, and only stands out from all of the other boy band boys because he can play piano and write what can loosely be termed a song. Barlow is no nearer to being Macca than Richard Stilgoe, and hardly more qualified to tell some scouse teenager that they made 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' their own (ugh!) than the departed Dannii Minogue was.

So don't go watching X Factor expecting to see loving tribute paid to the musical pantheon of the last sixty years, it's about phone votes and Christmas singles and inane tabloid gossip. It's a business, and besides, the subject of music probably never came up at Tulisa's job interview. So lay of her and show some R-E-S-P-E-C-T (just a little bit). 

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Kids Eh?

Below is a verbatim exchange of texts between myself and my eldest daughter, a few days ago.