Search This Blog

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Social media and BBC pay cheques

The unveiling of the BBC pay list provoked lots of comment on social media. None of it was very interesting. 

On Facebook and Twitter people were either falling over themselves to tell you how the BBC was the best bargain in Britain and therefore every penny it paid was money well-spent or they wanted to tell you that it was about time the whole featherbedded lot was privatised. Such positioning statements are largely for show or to keep in with mates and useful contacts.

Meanwhile all the real chat about who was worth it and who was getting away with daylight robbery had tactically withdrawn into Direct Messages on Twitter, individual emails from Gmail accounts, texts and indignant WhatsApp groups.

Maybe this is a tipping point for social media. We've seen the same thing in recent elections. If people are going to say what they think they're going be increasingly choosy about who they say it to. We don't really know any more about what the mass of people think than we did back in the days when nobody asked their opinion about anything.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Weather fronts don't "rock up". Nor do rock bands.

Just heard the weatherman on BBC Radio Four talk about when some weather front would "rock up".

I talked about the rockification of everything in "Uncommon People". Now that we no longer have actual rock stars we have rock star chefs, politicians or cyclists instead.

Clearly I should have added something about the unchecked growth of the verb "rock up", which is now so widespread that even weather forecasters, who used to be dull and sort of proud of it, feel they should use it to lend their bulletins a raffish air.

"Rock up" isn't mentioned at all in the 2008 edition of Jonathon Green's Dictionary of Slang so it must be a recent thing.  But it's not all that recent. According to the OED it was first recorded in a dictionary of South African English in 1996 where it meant "to arrive, turn up, esp. casually, late, or unexpectedly".

Strikes me that two things never turn up casually or unexpectedly. One is a weather front, which takes weeks to build up; the other is a touring rock band, which is encumbered by so much equipment and so in thrall to the soundcheck that it is incapable of doing anything quickly and without fuss.

If rock bands could get on, get it on and get off without fuss they would be a good deal more popular than they are.


Monday, July 03, 2017

Here's a thing the Beatles didn't do very often

I was at the Chalke Valley History Festival this weekend, talking about Sgt Pepper with Giles Martin and Kevin Howlett.

These are two men who've heard more unreleased Beatles session tapes than anyone.

Over dinner beforehand I asked them to confirm what I had always suspected: that The Beatles didn't swear much.

Giles and Kevin thought about it and then said that the Beatles swore but only occasionally. When they did it was in extremis. It wasn't part of their standard flow.

That's one of those things which underlines just what a different the world of fifty years ago was.

Back then most of the swearing was done by men doing heavy work out of doors. It wouldn't have been heard in public or in a white collar environment. The EMI studios was a white collar environment.

If you were to eavesdrop on any bunch of people at work in 2017 on the other hand, from a band in the recording studio to people trying to fix an I.T. system,  I think you'd hear quite a lot of casual, even playful profanity.

I wonder when that started to change.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

These two interviews stopped me in my tracks.

The first is A Major In Mosul, another example of the New York Times podcast The Daily, which seems the state of the art when it comes to doing daily news with sound. In this they talk to Ben Solomon, a NY Times journalist who has been embedded with a unit of the Iraqi Army whose job it is to clear ISIS forces out of Mosul street by street, hole by hole, in what promises to be the bloodiest street fighting since the Second World War. One of the points he makes is that the ISIS soldiers are an unusually difficult foe for the simple reason that they expect to die.

The second is Sam Harris's long conversation with Graeme Wood, the author of The Way Of The Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State. Wood set out to talk to the people within ISIS about what they believed, why they had joined up and how they saw it all finishing. Strangely enough, he says it was a lot of fun. This is an amazing listen, particularly when it gets on to the details of the End Of Days.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Why Fiona Apple's version of "Across The Universe" is the only Beatles cover that's better than the original

I wrote a piece for Saga to mark the 50th anniversary of "Sgt Pepper". I said there was only one cover of a Beatles song that was better than the original. This was asterisked in the print version but not named in the version online.

On Twitter and Facebook people were speculating what I could be talking about. Was it Joe Cocker's "With A Little Help From My Friends", Stevie Wonder's "We Can Work It Out" or Earth Wind and Fire's "Got To Get You Into My Life"?

If I'm honest (as the footballers say) I don't actually like any of those records. I don't like Ella Fitzgerald's "Can't Buy Me Love" for the same reason. They're all cases of people being told "you've got to do a Beatles song", realising they can't improve on the original record and then doing their own unnecessarily ornamental version just because they're the kind of artists who can.

To my ears they don't sound right. They're overdone. It's like hearing lines from The Sopranos declaimed by some actor of the grand tradition. They're all so American (particularly the Joe Cocker one) and they remind me of how British the Beatles were. They weren't ones to indulge their emotions.

Fiona Apple's version of "Across The Universe" is the only record of hers that's every done anything for me. I only heard it because it's used at the end of "Pleasantville". What I like about  is it goes the other way from the cover versions mentioned above. If anything it's slighter sparer than the original. And it seems to work slightly better in her blank after-hours style than it did in the original. I play it a lot. For me it's the only Beatles cover I would reach for in preference to their original.



Thursday, May 25, 2017

How to record an audiobook


We started recording the audiobook of my new book "Uncommon People" on Monday morning. This is how it works. You go to a studio that specialises in voice recordings. They've printed out a script of the finished version of the book. It looks a bit intimidating when you start.

We were recording in Patch's studio. He was on the other side of the glass with another copy of the script. Whenever you fluff or misread (even so much as changing an indefinite article for a definite article) he stops you and you go back and drop in the correction. As you finish each page you try to drop it to the floor noiselessly. At the end of each session there's a ton of paper at your feet. Patch also warns you if the energy is dropping, as it tends to do in the late afternoon, and dispenses industrial strength lozenges when he hears your voice "getting tight".

The last book too almost four days to record. We must be getting better because we managed to do this in three by starting early on the last day and giving ourselves hardly any breaks. We reached this page at close of play yesterday.






Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Want to know why Donald Trump repeats sentences? This is why Donald Trump repeats sentences.

Of all the impressions of Donald Trump I've seen or heard in the last few months Anthony Atamanuik's is the best. It's so good that it's got this unknown improv actor his own show on Comedy Central.

What impresses me most is that Atamanuik has worked out the great truth about Trump. He's a TV personality. Like all TV personalities he only exists when he's being televised. Like all TV personalities he only believes in one thing, which is the thing that appears to be going down well at this particular moment. When he says things it's clearly the first time he's thought them. Which is why you can observe him hearing them coming out of his own mouth. They're clearly as fresh to him as they are to us. And as soon as he's heard himself say something which sound OK to him he repeats it.

There are two reasons for this. So that he can enjoy the sound of it and also give his mouth time to prepare the next thing to say.

Atamanuik explains the mechanics of his impression to Stephen Colbert here.