Friday, 30 December 2016

2016 And The Kindness Of Strangers

So ends (well almost - there is another day to come) 2016. It has been a year of celebrity deaths, an unattended Olympics (this fact overlooked in the mood of British triumphalism), electoral schisms and general pessimism. I started the year unattached to any medication and finish it back on everything. In this latter regard I have learned my lesson - some things are meant to be. To those, particularly the Groupie, who were alarmed by my tumble from the well wagon, I apologise and thank them, particularly the Groupie. I'll try not to do it again.

Those electoral schisms - Trump first. The dust begins to settle but still I cannot see this as anything other than a scar on the face of America. The man is vile. What does become yet more obvious as Democrats sift through the electoral rubble, is that Hillary Clinton was a catastrophically poor candidate. Yet the closest they came to an alternative was a barmpot like Bernie Sanders with his half-baked student politico socialism.

As for Brexit, well you know which side of the fence I fell. What has been by turns most amusing and most horrifying is the wounded self-righteous gibberish of the bien-pensant. Usually sober and sane commentators have lost all perspective. And yes I'm talking about you Matthew Parris - you have branded millions of us as racist (which I am not) and you should be ashamed of yourself. I expect Polly Toynbeee to write bilge but I thought you better than that.

All of which can leave a nasty taste in the mouth. So it is good to finish on a note of reassurance. On Tuesday afternoon La Famille Roberts set out on a walk over Cannock Chase. DN1's GPS reading was our guiding star. Well here's the news - sometimes the technology goes wrong. We ultimately exited the Chase three miles from our starting point and enveloped in swift-falling darkness. We resolved to call a taxi and were on the point of knocking on the first door we came upon to get an exact postal location. Our interlocutor would have none of it. He would drive us round the Chase (we had conspired to traverse it) back to our car. I do not know your name Sir and we will never meet again but for that kindness you win the OG Man of the Year Award for 2016.

Happy New Year.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 10 & 11

Two Disney films, both ambitious in conception and stunning in execution.

Sleeping Beauty has the luminescent palette of ancient devotional paintings and is visually arresting even if the trouble with fairy tales is that you know who is going to win and how. 7/10.

This year's revisualising of The Jungle Book has a lot to live up to, the 1967 cartoon being an indisputable classic. Yet this new version manages to nod musically to the earlier film whilst setting its own high water mark in computer generated images. I really enjoyed this. 8/10.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 9

A candidate for the most quotable movie line decorates The Italian Job. And I mean of course the original 1969 film not its later imitator.
You're only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!
I have seen this best described as a caper movie. And bloody good fun it is. Two cultural behemoths do their filmic stuff - Michael Caine as Charlie and Noel Coward as the luxuriously incarcerated crime boss, Mr. Bridger. Great fun. 7.5/10.

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 8

All sorts of liberties have been taken with the truth but Saving Mr. Banks remains a satisfying piece of work.

A mythologised account of the process of adaptation of Mary Poppins for the screen, the film is full of strong performances, most obviously from the reliably excellent Emma Thompson and Tom Hanks. There is a nice supporting turn from Paul Giamatti.

The Disney version of any truth should always be taken with a pinch of salt but at heart this is an affectionate and pleasing film. 7/10.

Advent 24

One from the fifties, three from the sixties, fourteen from the seventies, four from the eighties, and two from the noughties. No other decades get a look in. This has been an interesting journey for me: I have been surprised by the extent to which my list (which was compiled unscientifically and with no question of proportionality) is dominated by music gestated in the seventies. The odd thing about much of that music is that I came to it years after its production. However in all cases what attracted me was the conception of the album as an entity to be listened to as a whole. The iPod shuffle has a lot to answer for in the near death of this manner of musical participation.

Some damned fine music has missed out. In no particular order I feel guilt about omitting REM, Guns N' Roses, Nirvana, Paul Simon, Todd Rundgren, Muse (very guilty in fact), the Stones, John Mellencamp, Pink Floyd, and on and on goes the list.

So here it is - the album that to me seems to be distill the allure of the medium. From 1982, musical perfectionism winnowed down to just thirty-eight minutes: Donald Fagen's The Nightfly.

Happy Christmas to you all and may your god go with you.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 7

At the rather smashing Electric Cinema to see (for the first time cinematically, the umpteenth time altogether) the masterpiece that is It's a Wonderful Life.

We sit in comfortable seats with plentiful legroom in the company of a chilled bottle of white and enjoy the unadulterated pleasure of a film that confirms the possibilities of cinema. It was door 24 on my first ever blogged advent calendar so I am repeating myself but if you have never seen this you really do have to make the effort. If it doesn't make you smile then you lack heart.

At the end of the screening the audience bursts into applause and heads out into the Decmeber chill with renewed optimism. 10/10.

Advent 23

This is the other album we used to listen to when we came back from the pub to our student flat in South Kensington - I have already included Crime of the Century. 1974's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway is the concept album par excellence and the last Genesis record before the departure from the band of Peter Gabriel.

Arguably this proves the adage that even estimable double albums have only three good sides but in this case the first three are so good that you can indulge the final side. That's me, Rael Imperial Aerosol Kid.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 6

You have to be careful about revisiting films you enjoyed as a parent with your young children. When you watch through your own unaccompanied and less innocent eyes, the holes in the plotting can be all the more obvious. So it is with The Santa Clause, but the film is worth the effort if only for the clip when Santa strides to his sleigh to a ZZ Top soundtrack. 6/10.

Advent 22

I promised a wrinkle in the one entry per artist rule and here it is. A solo album by a band member will not count in application of that rule. Paul McCartney has already had Band on the Run but, of course, there has to be a Beatles album. And so there is. Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (1967) is thirty-nine minutes of brilliant musical experimentation. Out of it grew much of the musical art of the seventies.


Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Advent 21

When I describe today's offering as art school rock, what I mean is that is/was the sort of thing that appealed to the artistic temperament. 10cc were always just that little bit smarter and wittier than the competition. I could have chosen any of the albums from the original Gouldman/Stewart/Godley/Creme lineup, but marginally favour the last release by that combination - 1976's How Dare You! 

By the way, has anybody else written as many hit songs as Graham Gouldman for all manner of people with so little fanfare? A national treasure.    

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Advent 20

A canndidate for the greatest Canadian, Joni Mitchell writes and performs beguilingly beautiful songs. From 1975 we have the evocatively titled (it might be my favourite album title) The Hissing of Summer Lawns. We are now into the realms of seriously great albums. Tomorrow another example of what I always think of as art school rock.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Advent 19

The double album is problematic in the compilation of a list like this one, prcdicated as it is on the forty minute shot of sound that is the kernel of the form. We have had one double album thus far (Out of the Blue) and today we have another. There will be just one more.

It used to be said that even the greatest double album had only three sides of good tracks but this offering belies that rule. Bruce Springsteen's 1980 The River is chock full of excellence. The soundtrack to my final year at King's, culminating in seeing him live with IW in the summer of 81. And just remember - everybody has a hungry heart. I certainly do.

Sunday, 18 December 2016

Advent 18

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker (plus various session men) are the presiding maestros of Steely Dan. And it is here that my self-imposed rule of one album per act jumps up and bites me because without that rule I would be including all or most of Steely Dan's magisterial 1970's recordings. By the way I will shortly be introducing a bend in that rule.

So I settle for their fifth offering, 1976's The Royal Scam. It includes their most widely known track, Haitian Divorce, and is masterfully designed throughout. Nice.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Advent 17

1977: the Queen's silver jubilee; Ian Botham makes his test debut; I spend the summer on an expedition to map a glacier in Iceland; Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is released and we are knowingly assured that music will never be the same again.

Well, the musical world did not of course tilt irretrievably on its axis but Never Mind the Bollocks has left an indelible mark. A beautifully produced and realised record driven by John Lyndon's coruscating voice and marketed by Malcolm McLaren's devilish genius. A landmark.

Friday, 16 December 2016

Advent 16

I remember reading the NME, cheap newsprint covering my fingers, and being struck by a review of one of Mike Oldfield's later albums in terms that have always stayed with me. It was something along the lines of: 'Some people hear the name Mike Oldfield and utter "genius". Others of us think it all smacks of fairies at the bottom of the garden."

Well, Tubular Bells may or may not be ethereal but it is definitely not ephemeral. From 1973, it is a key part of the soundtrack of its decade. Somewhere I may still have my copy on cassette.

Tomorrow, another and very different milestone album.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 4 & 5

Contrasting films. First up one that achieves the rare accolade of four stars (out of four) in my well-thumbed Halliwell's Film Guide.  Made in 1949, Passport to Pimlico is British comic cinema at or near its finest, a gentle riff on post-war privation, pride, vulnerability and parochialism. Watching it again I couldn't help but wonder what Remainers and Leavers might have made of it during the EU referendum. My own conclusion was that it could be most usefully appropriated to the Remain cause. Perhaps as well that nobody thought of it at the time. 8/10.

A considerable contrast is The Hurricane, a 2000 take on the story of Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter, a champion boxer incarcerated for twenty years for murders he did not commit. Apparently some liberty with the truth has been taken in the rendering to the screen, but that cannot stand in the way of the dependably excellent Denzel Washington in the lead. A well-made and moving piece of cinema. 7.5/10.

Are Brilliant ... Mark XXII

damn fine coffee
Good coffee. I am currently drinking Kochere from Ethiopia, courtesy of the admirable Monmouth Coffee Company in Covent Garden. I make it in my newish Russell Hobbs filter machine, the old apparatus having burnt itself out. I prefer this method of production by a small margin over the stove top and the cafetiere.

That London - I was there yesterday on janitorial duty for Daughter Number Two's flat. I had drinks and a meal with both DN2 and DN1. The pub (whose name I forget) where we drank was memorably described by DN2 as being full of old men who smell like mashed potatoes. We then ate at Del'ish, a Persian restaurant in Fitzrovia. Very good.

My daughters - one shouldn't boast but they are rather marvellous.

Advent 15

Paul McCartney's post-Beatles career may have descended into whimsy and saccharine pop, but some of the earliest output was notable, most particularly the Wings 1973 album Band On The Run. This remains in my mind as the soundtrack of the term spent boarding at Longdon Hall, an educational experience made available to boys at King Edward's Aston which had grown out of Leonard Brandon's feeling for the plus side of the wartime evacuation to Ashby. At the behest of Birmingham City Council the Longdon experiment was ended in 1976. A great pity - it had turned round the academic performance of this noisy teenager.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Advent 14

I was introduced to the music of the Moody Blues via the cassette player of PJ (or was he PR?) on a school trip to France. They became my favourite band even though they had, by the time I acquired the taste, split to follow solo projects. They would eventually re-form and a version of the group still goes on today. But it is the earlier albums I most enjoy. I choose 1969's On the Threshold of a Dream for its orchestral and melodic qualities. This is art/prog rock and it wavers on the edge of pretension but for me the musicality saves it. PJ/PR now does the racing news on Radio WM.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Advent 13

My sister (not that she reads this blog) would never forgive me if David Bowie did not make an appearance in this list. There is much and various to choose from but I go back to 1972 and settle for that longest of album titles, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Bowie's death early this year excited much comment and quite right too - a seminal artist.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 2 & 3

You can confuse yourself in knowing ridicule of Dick Van Dyke's ludicrous mockney but to do so is to miss the point about Mary Poppins, which is that it is a genuinely good film. The songs are terrific - I enjoy best of all Feed the Birds - and the pre (very pre) CGI effects are still arresting. It must I'm sure be on over Christmas (we noticed it on Sky Disney) so treat yourself to two hours of innocent fun. Perhaps with a glass of something pleasant and a mince pie. 8/10.

Now one we hadn't seen before but picked up from the same channel. Movies chronicling efforts to 'save Christmas' are opportunistically thick on the ground and Get Santa duly obseves the necessities of the generic cliches, but it has enough to mark it from competitors. It is stolidly British and has Jim Broadbent (whom we like) as an imprisoned Santa. It made me smile. 6.5/10.

Advent 12

Today we have an album with its roots in the 50's but recorded in 1984. This is the 'operatic' recording of West Side Story with Leonard Bernstein conducting his own score and Kiri Te Kanawa and Jose Carreras (inter alia) singing Sondheim's brilliant words. Breathtaking stuff and if you disagree then, as the gang so memorably put it, "Officer Krupke, Krup you!"

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Advent 11

Jeff Lynne, musician, composer, producer, ELO's presiding front man, honorary doctor of the Birmingham City University, and client of my late maternal grandfather. We never had to pay for our copies of ELO's albums nor for concert tickets. They were superb live. After decades away and now tellingly restyled as 'Jeff Lynnne's ELO' the band played the Sunday classic slot at Glastonbury this year.

Out of the Blue (1977) is, of course, best enjoyed on the original blue vinyl edition. Pop-rock at its best.

Saturday, 10 December 2016

Advent 10

Not often, but sometimes I listen to music radio as I go to sleep - most often it is Janice Long on Radio Two on a Sunday night. Now this seems to me to be a terrible confession to make because Long prattles on annoyingly in a manner that approaches the Himalayan heights of Jo Whiley. However she does have the redeeming feature of playing some arresting music. I suppose the same has to be conceded to Whiley.

Anyhow, it was on Long's show that I drowsily first heard Rilo Kiley's Silver Lining (2007), the opening track from their excellent Under the Blacklight. I had to hear more. I listened to this album a lot when working on essays during my second incarnation as a student, a time I freely and selfishly admit was just bloody great fun. Fun is not to be lightly dismissed.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Minor Suburban Decadence

Yesterday evening we did the Christmas wine re-stocking by visiting the ever excellent Majestic Wines at Four Oaks. They opened a nice Rioja for me and we obligingly bought a dozen to go with the other goodies (everyday white and fizz for the middle classes). We then popped to Sainsbury's for some essential victuals and paired this with buying the Christmas double issue of Radio Times. Nothing gets me in the Christmas mood so certainly as the purchase of this esteemed organ.

But none of that was the decadence. No, that was going to the bottom shelf of the wine rack and fishing out a Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2008 and drinking it whilst watching recordings of Delia Smith's Christmas. Rock and roll has nothing on us.

Advent 9

Another unimaginative call today but it has to be on the list. From the days before Bono had become better known for tiresome proselytising U2's The Joshua Tree (1987) was the first album I ever bought on CD. Best track: Bullet the Blue Sky. "Outside it's America".

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Advent 8

It may be stating the bleeding obvious but it does have to be said that today's entry is a popular classic. Released in 1977, Rumours, is loved for good reason. It's odd where old music can take you - Second Hand News reminds me of listening to Radio Luxembourg on a scratchy transistor in a tent in Snowdonia on a school D of E Award expedition. Which of us had thought to take a radio? It certainly wasn't me. Am I imagining it? Quite possibly but artfully misremembered nostalgia can be the most powerful.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Advent 7

Let me take you by the hand and lead you into the twenty-first century. 2002 to be precise. But don't you worry pop-pickers we will, I am sure, be returning soon to the golden days of the 70's.

By the Way, by the Red Hot Chili Peppers is perhaps emblematic of what happened to albums when CD superseded vinyl. It comes in at a chunky seventy minutes' worth of music. That's double album territory and unless the product is consistently good, the duration can deflect from attentive listening. No problem in this case. A superb record.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Advent 6

There's a pattern emerging here and I promise you it's not deliberate. When I started assembling this year's calendar I simply and gradually wrote down the names of the albums that occur to me as influential on me, until I had far too many. Then I winnowed down. That pattern? We are stuck in the 1970's. The odd thing is that I came to much of this music much later than that - I suspect that I had a latent interest in what other people had been listening to back in the 70's and only later did I satisfy my musical curiosity.

Today's choice definitely falls into that category. I had seen Wishbone Ash live as a student but went only out amity - a bloke called Tim from Evesham was a fan. As I remember they were good. But their most esteemed album, Argus (1972), came into my ownership only in the iTunes days. I'm ashamed to say I don't even have it on CD. However this combination of prog rock and folk influences is now on my most-listened list.

This one is for Big TW who would never read this blog but who is a staunch Ash fan and an altogether decent bloke.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Twelve Films At Christmas: 1

The Groupie has reminded me that we have a habit of postponing the watching of festive films until too late and thereby miss out on them. Well not this year.

This Christmas has Idris Elba heading an ensemble cast, wearing a leather cap at a jaunty angle and sporting an American accent. It's a Christmas family reunion movie and not without its cliches despite its attempts at grittiness. (In what other festive film does the lead break a brandy bottle over another character's head in the opening scene?)

A quibble - either the version on Sky is dodgy or this is one of the worst sound engineering jobs in cinema history - the soundtrack is oppresively loud whilst the characters mumble/whisper. Or is that me showing my age?

Not without merit. Not without faults. Like all of us really. 6/10.

Advent 5

My admiration for Clive James is immense and the lyrics he wrote for the songs of Pete Atkin are quite fabulous. Lyrically better than Dylan, and Atkin's settings of those lyrics are rather beautiful. Of Atkin's 1970's albums (superior to the more recent additions) I choose The Road of Silk (1974). Lines from The Man Who Walked Towards the Music sum up my own relationship with music:
He couldn't tell a wah-wah from Akira Kurosawa / But he liked the way they played the way Natasha liked the ball.

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Advent 4

The Nobel Committee may have beaten me to it but there does have to be a Dylan album in this list. I go for Blood on the Tracks (1975).

Mind you, Nobel Prize for Literature or not, I will tomorrow give you an album that is lyrically greater even than Dylan. Can you guess?

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Lucky Generals

I'm having fun today, in fact yesterday evening as well. That evening was spent at Sunnybank Avenue watching a riotous (almost literally) game of floodlit rugby and then catching up with a lot of old friends.

Today starts with driving the Precious Jag to Anglesey (a solitary inspection visit), no traffic hold-ups and snow gleaming in distant Snowdonia. I find all well here at the country estate and then settle to watch another game of rather more elite rugby - England v Australia. Which brings me to lucky generals. Bonaparte wanted such generals and Eddie Jones seems to have found a similar quality in his players. The Sky pundits were purring over England's victory but it would be wrong to overloook the good fortune that underpinned a deceptive (37 - 21) scoreline. England got the rub of the refereeing green (does Jaco Peyper ever have a good game?) and were gifted two of their tries. All that aside, one has to say chapeau to the sheer bloody-mindedness and professionalism of Jones' team. It's all rather un-English. And most welcome.

A word also for Stephen Moore the Australian captain whose after-match interview was a model of bloodied and magnanimous modesty. Chapeau also.

We Are

And now I am bingeing on American College Football on ESPN. One of my teams (I favour quite a few because there's a lot to choose from and it's nice to have an interest in each conference) is Temple and they are presently demolishing Navy in the conference championship. Go Owls. These multiple preferences should not however disguise my prime loyalty: We Are Penn State. 

Advent 3

Punk was a rebellion against the self-consciousness of prog rock but I certainly never was a punk - I mean I was School Vice Captain for goodness sake! Neither, in its full flush, was I really a prog rocker. I was stuck with my outdated preference for the Moody Blues, not that it did me any harm.

Today's album is though definitely prog rock. Supertramp's 1974 breakthrough album Crime of the Century did not initially grab my attention. We have to wait for 1979 when I am living in a student flat in South Kensington (yes that used to be possible) and this was one of the albums we listened to communally (there were eight in the flat) as the conclusion to a night at the Zetland (the pub's still there) on the export cider. The music would be served with boiled egg and Tabasco sandwiches, the batch of which was prepared before we went out. If only we had been so organised in our studies. Different times. Great times. Great album.


Friday, 2 December 2016

Advent 2

I mentioned the other day that the peerless Robin Valk played a request for me on his BRMB rock show back in the day. That song was Haymaking Time from City Boy's eponymous first album. There is not a weak track on that album and it therefore finds its way onto the calendar. Released in 1976, this sort of melodic rock got immolated in the punk explosion and the band never really made it beyond their local fame (they used to drink in the Garden Gate) - certainly they should not be remembered for their one hit single, 5705, which is not a patch on anything on City Boy.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Advent 1

We open the calendar with the only selection that was actually released before my birth. Time Out by the Dave Brubeck Quartet dates from 1959. It upset jazz critics on its release because of its experimentation with obscure time patterns. This means nothing to me I'm afraid but I love the way it all sounds. It is available as part of the fantastic twenty-five CD box set The Perfect Jazz Collection.

The cover alone is a thing of beauty. You will probably recognize track three, Take Five, which is one of those tunes you know but can't attribute.