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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Stevie Nicks: her style is unforgettable, her lyrics unintelligible

Preparing for Monday evening's Word podcast recording with Ben Watt and Zoe Howe and thinking about Stevie Nicks, the subject of Zoe's new book, I remembered an old spoof that Danny Baker used to play on the radio. Is it on You Tube? Of course it's on You Tube.

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Now don't tell me it's a cheap shot. All humour is a cheap shot. God, I miss musical comedy.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

When did the man hug arrive and when's it going to go away?

Last night I said to my wife "when we got married, thirty five years ago, was there any male hugging?"

"No," she said. "Your father and my father might have put an arm around your shoulder but it wouldn't have been anything people would recognise as a hug."

We looked at the wedding picture on the wall and wondered whether the other guests might have hugged. We decided they wouldn't. That didn't make them notably undemonstrative people. They just didn't hug. Nobody did.

I was asking last night on Twitter when the current vogue for male hugging began. It's like the internet. It spread so fast you can barely remember a time when it wasn't there.

Somebody said it began in 1988. "Why?" I asked. "Ecstasy," he said. Oh.

Like all these things the man hug has gone from being optional to being obligatory in no time at all and now people look at you as if there's a piece missing of you if you don't do it. I'll be honest. With very few exceptions I hate it.

Is there any chance it will go away as fast as it came?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Does Britain have a Portlandia?

Interesting New York Times piece about the kind of people who have moved to Portland, Oregon. They've got good college educations and yet prefer to work as baristas or yoga teachers.

“People move to New York to be in media or finance; they move to L.A. to be in show business,” Renn said. “People move to Portland to move to Portland.”

 It's interesting for two reasons: it recognises what's been clear for the last twenty years. Lots of young people want the good lifestyle but don't want to do the work that buys the lifestyle and therefore will get by on next to nothing if it means they can noodle about playing music or designing a website for a friend.

The other is that Americans have traditionally relocated across the nation if it means they can afford the kind of life they want.

There's been talk of this over here recently in the light of the Scottish independence debate and HS2. Could Britain sustain its own Portlandia? Does it have one already?

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The thousand natural shocks the bench is heir to

I'm not surprised that Marco Van Basten has stepped down as coach of Az Alkmaar because of "mental and physical problems".

I'm just amazed at how many people seem eager to become a coach, a job that makes most other jobs look stress-free.

You may have difficult days at work from time to time but you don't have the hot breath of 50,000 people blaming you when one of the over-bred multi-millionaires you send out to implement your policies have a bit of an off-day.

When absolutely everything that could go wrong has gone wrong you don't have to go and face a room-full of hacks who seem completely at a loss as to how to fix their own business but can immediately tell you where you're going wrong in yours.

You don't turn on the radio to hear a load of hacks gleefully discussing how soon you'll be fired.

I don't think anybody puts themselves through that kind of thing for the money.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Putting Nick Cave on the cover of the NME is like putting Johnnie Ray on the cover in 1976

"Yesterday's Papers", my programme on Radio 4 this afternoon at four, doesn't have time to go into the minutiae of the decline of print music magazines but you can see one problem at work in the latest issue of NME.

Nick Cave had his major success at the end of the 80s, which is a quarter of a century ago. Putting him on the cover is like putting Johnnie Ray on the cover in 1976.

Of course that analogy doesn't apply because the world moves so much more slowly now and anyway Nick Cave has the kind of fans who may even buy the paper because he's there. The free posters are interesting too. Bet the Iggy Pop and David Bowie pictures date from before the current editorial team were born.

There was a time when the best thing you could put on the cover of the NME was the new, new thing. That formula stopped working years ago. And please don't waste your time blaming the publishers or the editorial staff for not being bold or adventurous enough. They found out where boldness and adventurousness gets them because they tried it and looked at the figures.

Old publishing saying: pioneers are dead men with arrows in their back.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

In 1971 nobody kept a record of the records


I get a lot of enjoyment out of my 1971 playlist. It's a bit like having a garden. From time to time I visit and do a bit of weeding. I chuck out duplicates. I get new things from the garden centre. For instance, when I started it Spotify didn't have Led Zeppelin. Now they do.

There's the odd album which is probably so locked up in legals that it may never appear. You can't get Badfinger's 1971 album "Straight Up" so I had to get a track from it via a film soundtrack. Sometimes Spotify has things mixed up. They've confused Paul Williams, the composer of the soundtrack of "Bugsy Malone", with an Evangelical Christian singer and anyway his 1971 album "Just An Old Fashioned Love Song" isn't represented.

Sometimes I'm quite relieved to see albums aren't there. Donovan's stuff can be infantile at the best of times and I can get by without hearing his 1971 children's album "HMS Donovan" again. Other times it's a shame. You can't get the first J. Geils Band album, which came out in the UK in 1971, but you can get the follow-up "The Morning After", which came out the same year.

Lots of acts put out two albums in 1971 and most of them were also on tour for most of the year: Alice Cooper, Yes, Carole King, Paul McCartney (one on his own and one with Wings) and The Faces (you can't get "A Nod..." on Spotify for some reason).

In 1971 nobody seemed to have worried about "saturating the market". Crosby, Stills and Nash each put out solo albums in the year and the group was further represented by the live album "4 Way Street". At the same time Neil Young was touring with the songs that would come out on "Harvest" the following year.

Some albums, such as Nick Drake's "Bryter Later", which is marked as a 1970 release, don't appear to have actually come out until March 1971.

I was talking to a youngster the other day (they come up and ask questions when I'm mending my nets at the harbour) and trying to explain that in those days release dates were approximate, particularly where the smaller labels and the less well-known artists were concerned. In the 70s if you went into a record shop and asked them to look something up they would have to either consult a Gramophone guide, which would always be a year out of date, or their own card index. If you knew what record company it was they might order it and if they were lucky they might receive it. If not they would keep on putting in the order and getting "not available" in reply. It might take months to find out they were trying the wrong distributor.

In those days shopping was like a treasure hunt. Affording the records was one thing. Hunting them down was another thing altogether.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Breakfast with a National Treasure at the British Museum

I guarantee my day started better than yours did. First thing this morning I was at the British Museum for a press unveiling of Germany: Memories Of A Nation, Radio Four's big new series which starts at the end of the month. Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum who fronted A History Of The World In 100 Objects and Shakespeare's Restless World, stood up and gave us half an hour on the relationship between German identity and German history.

I noted down a few nuggets: the greatest German philosopher, Imanuel Kant, never set foot in any of the country we now call Germany; Goethe was a great admirer of british railways; the greatest German military decoration, the Iron Cross, is given to all ranks; the resettlement of eastern Germans to the western sector in 1946 was equivalent to the entire population of Australia and Canada coming back to the UK; the true measure of tyrannies like Hitler's is the amount of energy they're prepared to spend on trivial things; being an island people, the British have difficulty understanding peoples who define themselves across national frontiers.

He spoke without notes, using just a few slides to illustrate exhibits in the British Museum event which will accompany the series. He didn't once say "um" or "er", when he reached for a word it was always the right one, he didn't include a sentence that didn't need to be there in order to set up the next sentence and when he finished the audience, who were made up of hacks and arts professionals, applauded him for longer than I've ever heard anyone applauded at a press conference before.

Like all the best speakers, MacGregor's a teacher above all. It's a rare gift.