Friday, 29 July 2011

Yer Big Five.....

Introducing a series wherein I declare certain quintets of loosely related things to be YER BIG FIVE.

5 Pairs of Songs With The Same Title That Are Actually Both Pretty Darn Gretchos.

How do you name a song? Surely it's easy, isn't it? You just pick the most obvious part of the lyrical refrain and call it that. Good enough for Noel Gallagher, Brian Wilson and a host of others. It's not as if its important is it. Not as important as an original tune, say. But what if said title's been done already. Dang. You want people to remember your tune, you dont want it confused with somebody else. Such apprehension explains the titling strategies of acts such as Public Enemy (Black Steel In The Hour of Chaos), The Fall (Mere Pseud Mag Ed) and Aphex Twin (Btoum-Roumada).

If you lack confidence in your title's originality, then dont worry. If the tune's original enough, just use whatever title you want.

1: Come Together - Primal Scream and Spiritualized

Now I know neither of these were the first to use the title but I hate the Beatles song of the same name. Sacrilege to some I know but there you go. Such a celebratory, communal, orgasmic title should lend itself to something mind blowing and spiritual, not something lumpen and tired. That's why I celebrate the Primals and the Lized's songs rather than that old bollocks. The Scream's song is the Screamadelica era version of that band in essence - a well chosen sample (Jesse Jackson at Wattstack 1972 concert), a gospel choir, some housey piano, and a throw the kitchen sink at it style of arrangement and production. Spiritualized's song comes from a different angle, somewhere between where the Scream would be at the time of their song and where they'd be at the end of that same decade, a throbbing, vital, angry jazz funk techno avant garde krautrocknroll spectacle. It's an edgier, more menacing affair - old Spaceman famously playing a condemned prisoner in the video - play back to back and celebrate perhaps the two most important bands of the 1990s.

2: Temptation (new order/heaven 17)

For New Order, Temptation marked the point of no return. Leaving behind once and for all Martin Hannett, Joy Division and a monochrome austerity that defined their embryonic post-Ian Curtis releases, New Order's third single is a thing of such epic loveliness, it's amazing it hasn't soundtracked a thousand romantic movies. Blue Monday was a year away but the seeds are here; lyrical non sequiturs, an euphoric momentum, an insistent and motorik beat. Thirty years old next year, it sounds vital even now. Forget everything they did post 89 and listen to this - four people from Northern England changing music forever. From across the Pennines and a year later, Sheffield's Heaven 17 release a behemoth of crazed discosoulgoth - despite their many other fine releases in the first half of the 80s, this would be the millstone around the necks, they'd become songwriters and producers for hire and all on the strength of this one song, their preposterous but ultimately rewarding anthem. In the Heaven 17 song, its worth pointing out that singer Glenn Gregory looks like Rob Brydon playing a Yuppie Rutger Hauer.

3: California (Low/Wedding Present)

California. The Sunshine State. Hollywood. Surfing and earthquakes. The end of the road in all them movies. Who better to sing about it than a bunch of Mormons from neighbouring Utah? Or an even dourer jangly band from Leeds. Low's effort is just unbearably gorgeous, like a Steinbeck story sung by Teenage Fanclub. The Wedding Present's effort stems from their Hit Parade period, California is Gedge at his plaintive best - three minutes of almost summery optimism.

4: Raindrops (Basement Jaxx/Tindersticks)

Coming from opposite ends of the happiness spectrum. For Basement Jaxx, Raindrops are the cleansing and euphoric kind. For the Tinders, they're the unwept tears at the end of a troubled relationship. One of these songs is easier to dance to than the other, but both are fantastic.

5: Here We Go (Stakka Bo/Arab Strap)

Stakka Bo was a one hit European pop star of the early 90s. His song is ludicrously of its time. It was a little bit acid jazz, a big bit Stereo MCs. Despite that, it still sounds good mind. Arab Strap remain one of my favourite acts of all time, this song documents the post-indiscretions row on the way home from the pub familiar to just about every bloke I know. And if that makes them sound like the Streets, I apologise, they're a thousand times better than Mike Skinner - this is genuinely soulful music for the recently dumped clubber....

What We Talk About When We Talk About Mastermind

What We Talk About When We Talk About Mastermind

(Or Famous Chairs in Television)

Picture the scene. Four thirty in the morning, nine tastefully decorated floors above Salford. I’m in a hotel room, ringing room service to see if they’ll supply me with painkillers. The reason I’m up so early is panic, blind panic. The painkillers aren’t for that, they’re for a shoulder I (wrongfully) suspect I might have dislocated slipping in the shower five minutes ago.

In less than twelve hours time, I’m going to be sat in the most famous chair on British television. Not Chris Tarrant’s precariously elevated IKEA stool, not Jim Royle’s sofa of slothful patriarchy, but a chair that inspired the toughest quiz show on television, a show partly informed by the interrogation tactics of the Gestapo.

Rewind six months. John Humphries, white haired veteran of news and current host of Mastermind is asking potential contestants to apply at the end of a show. I, giddy with having correctly answered eight or nine questions from the comfort of my settee, decide that this is the appropriate arena in which to declare my brilliance. Online application filled in, I sit back and wait for the inevitable phone call from Humpers (as I shall no doubt be allowed to call him soon) telling me to pop along.

Months pass, I get a letter inviting me to audition at my local BBC studios. The audition involves me sitting down, talking a little about myself, and answering twenty or so general knowledge questions. My pub quiz gene kicks in, and I find that I’m supplying answers with reasonable ease. The production people don’t let me know if I’ve got any right, however, and so we move on to the small matter of my specialist subject.

For those of you who don’t know the show, and at this point I welcome anyone who’s completely mistyped the Nuts website address, the contestants have two rounds. One is general knowledge, but the first is a specialist subject, handpicked by the contestant at the audition stage.

In 2006, Simon Curtis, having picked the films of Jim Carrey as his specialist subject, scored only one point. Insert predictably snide reference to Dumb and Dumber here. So, it’s best to pick something you actually know something about. An esoteric prowess that made me the scourge of quiz machines throughout the M4 corridor is one thing, actual detailed knowledge of a specific subject is another. I plump for Factory Records. Been done. The Coen Brothers. Done. Martin Amis. Done. The World Cup. Done.

Soon my knowledge of Rentaghost might be called into question but then, out of thin air, I pluck Raymond Carver. The late, great Ray C, chronicler of American blue collar despair and master of the short story. With him having only managed a handful of publications in an all too short life, I think I’ve tactically pulled a blinder. All I need now is the nod for my appearance.

A month or so later, a phone call confirms I’m through. Four months till filming, the fifty years of Raymond Carver’s life to research. Piece of piss.

Except, of course, I do nothing of the sort. The usual everyday pressures of life take their toll on my planned research schedule. That and my default setting of manana when faced with anything more pressing than a bowel movement. Increasingly, I begin to panic. The family and friends who’ve promised to attend, now faced with shame by association, drop out faster than you can say “I’ve Started So I’ll Finish”.

Soon, I’m on a tram to Salford, barely halfway through an only recently purchased Carver biography. Tomorrow is filming day. Humiliation beckons.

Alarm set for half four, I decide on a shower to shock the sleep out of me. Its here I slip and hurt myself. Now I’m in trouble. The pain is too much to even read. The hotel, quite sensibly, won’t give out painkillers. I also realise, at this point, I’ve left my shaving stuff at home. My request for a razor, surprisingly, is agreed to. I manage to dress myself and head downstairs to pick up a razor that might suffice for some things but not a national television appearance. An early train into Manchester to collect painkillers and shaving things. Back to base for five hours panic reading. Then grooming. Then national humiliation.

At the studios, I’m taken to a green room full of healthy vegetables. Insert production staff joke here. The other contestants mingle with their families and answer random general knowledge questions from wives and children. I sit alone, numb on Panadol. It occurs to me that this is a particularly Carveresque situation to be in, a badly prepared man miles from home about to be humiliated, miles from loved ones. The other contestants are all men, all married with children, and all lovely. I’ve been drawn as Contestant 3. Which is ace. Contestant 4 is the one you don’t want to be. Because, at the start of the second round, you have to go in order of reverse scores from round one, meaning you’d be in and out of your chair like a diuretic yo-yo if you had a Curtis moment.

Sitting in a TV studio where the only lights are on you, with the audience to your backs is an odd experience. Soon John Humphreys emerges from behind a dark web of sinister cameras and wires. Filming begins and I want to go home. A sole spotlight shines on the Eames Soft Pad Lounge Chair. Contestant Number One strides confidently into position and rattles off correct answer after correct answer. Shit. Contestant Number Two does the same. All of a sudden, I wish I’d taken the Rentaghost option after all. Without realising I’m doing it, I’m walking across the stage to the famous chair and telling Humpers who I am and why I’m here. Before the first question, I wonder to myself, is this the moment of my greatest disaster? Humpers speaks.

“Fourfoot, you have two minutes on the life and short stories of Raymond Carver, starting now.”

In this manner, the issue was to be decided.

(At the time of writing, I dont know when its going to be on. I'll let you know.)

Sunday, 24 July 2011

A New Era - A New Title

Hello. This is my new blog. It's much like the old one but I've deleted all the old stuff. I'm going to put all my writings and adventures on here. My life is possibly heading in curious new directions and I'm going to be discrete about that for now but in the interim, here's some stuff you can enjoy in the near future.

1: Mastermind: The Day I Sat In A Black Chair For Kicks
2: Big Threes and Top Fives.
3: Talk to Monk
4: The Thursday MSPaint Ten Minute Challenge
5: Some Other Shit.