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Seven

Blogging has taken a back seat over the past couple of weeks, as I’ve been busy meeting deadlines for a number of (ta-da) paid writing assignments.

Meanwhile, topping the in-tray of bloggable topics has been this meme, which filtered forth from Beth at the inestimable cup of coffey site.

The meme criterion is straightforward enough: seven unknown facts about yourself.

Since this meme nomination hailed from Beth, major blogosphere source of musical knowledge, I’ll stick to this theme.

1. First single bought

Meme etiquette demands that I reveal hitherto suppressed memories of actively purchasing the following vinyl embarrassments:

‘Long-Haired Lover From Liverpool’  – Little Jimmy Osmond

‘Name of the Game’ – Abba (which, of course, is now rightfully considered a classic)

‘Follow You Follow Me’ – Genesis

Ordinarily, the first single I would proudly admit to buying is “Start!” by The Jam.

2. First gig attended

As the ska/mod revival continued to sweep the UK in 1981, I saw The Beat (aka The English Beat stateside) at Cornwall Coliseum, St. Austell. I remember little of the gig other than a shambolic ‘Mirror in the Bathroom’ and the stirrings of a political awakening during the encore of ‘Stand Down Margaret’.

Has Margaret Thatcher inspired more songs than any other British PM?  Renaud’s ‘Miss Maggie’, Elvis Costello’s ‘Tramp the Dirt Down’, Morrissey’s ‘Margaret on the Guillotine’, and Billy Bragg’s ‘Thatcherites’ spring to mind – there are doubtless dozens.

3. Last CD bought 

The last tangible CD I bought was Tom Waits’ triple offering of ‘Orphans’.  Another stunning addition to the Waits’ canon.

4. Best gig attended

In terms of raw excitement and crowd/band rapport, it has to be The Jam in 1982 at the Top Rank in Sheffield. The first five notes of Pretty Green was all it took to get the entire audience rocking in unison. No let-up for the duration.

5. Worst gig attended

Two obvious contenders spring to mind. In the mid-eighties, a Pop Will Eat Itself gig at Trent Polytechnic was cancelled mid-way through the first song. The NME later reported that a riot had occurred. In reality, a scrawny drunken student had exchanged a few unpleasantries with a female “security officer” – a member of the Poly Ents committee. It was a long drive home.

The other disappointment was The Jesus and Mary Chain at Brixton Academy in 1987. Apart from a blistering version of ‘Kill Surf City’ as an encore, the rest was a woefully sub-par event.

6. Best stadium gig moment

Has to be the Wembley Live Aid teddy bear in 1985. While Madonna was being beamed to the big screen from Philadelphia, the entire Wembley crowd was cheering the repeated launchings of a small brown stuffed toy. Whenever anyone held on to the grubby little cubby for longer than a nanosecond, 70,000 people would boo in their general direction.

7. Best R.E.M. gig.

Beth’s nomination makes an R.E.M.- free post out of the question. I’m still kicking myself for a mid-eighties decision to buy tickets for Martin Stephenson and the Daintees at the Town and Country Club instead of paying a fiver at the same ticket agency to see R.E.M. at the Hammersmith Odeon.

Still, other than an oddly soulless concert at The Hummingbird Theatre, Toronto a couple of years ago, I’ve witnessed several stellar R.E.M. gigs since then, topped by one at The Manchester Evening News Arena in 1999.

Accelerate to the next.

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Fairytale of New York

My two dabblings in transvestism were both very public events. The first time, I was supreme.

More accurately, I was a Supreme, being one third of a trio of ten-year olds miming a choreographed routine to the pop classic “Baby Love” at a school Christmas concert. Sadly, no footage has survived, and I’m disinclined to organize a reunion.

A decade or so later, working at an international summer school, I was persuaded to (fail miserably in a shambolic bid to) impersonate the much-missed Kirsty MacColl in yet another mimed and choreographed rendition of a timeless pop classic: “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues.

This Pogues song hit the headlines in the UK again this Christmas when BBC Radio One temporarily censored the song, by beeping out the words “faggot” and “slut.”

Of course, there are far worse injustices going on in the world right now.

However, when your favourite anti-carol gets bowdlerized during the season of joy and merriment, it does give you pause for reflection.

The song is a beautiful depiction of hope refusing to die amid a relationship ravaged by alcohol and heroin abuse. In the “offensive” mid-section of the song, the evening turns ugly as the protagonists exit the warm hazy glow and descend into hurling abuse at each other. “You cheap lousy faggot” and “you’re an old slut on junk”, whether we like it or not, are exactly what we’d expect to hear at this point.

Writing in The Observer, former NME scribe Sean O’Hagan wrote a wonderful paean to the song, paying tribute to the “great anti-carol, a blast of dirty realism that cuts a swathe through the po-faced piety of the more traditional Christmas song.”

Meanwhile, Peter Tatchell, co-founder of Outrage!, took a different view.

Mr Tatchell is unhappy about the public broadcasting of a song that includes the word “faggot” as an insult. He goes further and states that:

I challenge those who defend the use of the word faggot in these lyrics to state publicly that they would also defend the right of white singers to use the n-word as a term of abuse in a song. They won’t and that makes them cowardly homophobic hypocrites.”

Hang on a second. The song is a depiction of two fictional characters. The insults are part of a traded slanging match as the characters stagger around New York late one Christmas Eve.

By defending the song, no one is condoning homophobia here. Likewise, the use of the n-word as a term of abuse might be entirely apposite if it were part of a dialogue between two bombed-out revellers. Writing offensive dialogue doesn’t make a songwriter, author, or scriptwriter complicit in their characters’ drunken ravings.

Mr. Tatchell attempts to equate any defence of the lyrics with the type of reasoning that defends the right of people to incite murder and foment racial hatred.

I can’t make this mental leap. The song, however much it might be rooted in personal experience, is presented as a work of fiction, not as a political diatribe against a societal group.

For me, Peter Tatchell makes a telling set of points about media hypocrisy, but I think he was woefully off target with “Fairytale of New York.”

The BBC revoked its decision– I think Mr. Tatchell should do the same with his views on the song.

Happy New Year everyone. Hope you all get on a lucky one.

Here’s the song:

Further blogospshere reading on this topic can be found at: Fora, Bod’s Blog, Tracey Crouch, and Adventures and Random Brain Waves

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For anyone who has managed to miss the Paul Potts’ phenomenon, here is his first audition on Britain’s Got Talent. Just double click on the “play button” in the middle of the screen:

He’s a bit good, isn’t he?

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Top ten songs

This past week, I’ve been asking people to name songs that have been significant at turning points in their lives. So, it only seemed fair to put together a list of my own.

In no particular order, here are ten of the best that are likely to remain on any of my lists for the foreseeable. Bonus feature: Some have audio clips available.

1. Going Underground The Jam

The Sound of The Jam, 2002 (song originally released as a single in 1980)

 I hope everyone has this kind of musical epiphany. In 1980, I was on holiday in Blackpool with my grandmother. Sitting in a hotel café, this song came on the jukebox. Hard to explain what happened next. Somehow, my body and mind were totally integrated with this wall of music. Everything had just fallen into place. I spent the next hour just paying to hear the same song over and over.

Best line: “You’ll see kidney machines replaced by rockets and guns.”

the jam

2. The Hardest WalkThe Jesus and Mary Chain

Psychocandy, 1985

Recipe: Take feel-good riffs from big and simple sixties love songs. Smother liberally in layers of chaotic feedback. Dress in black. Sprinkle with negatives: never, hardest, dead etc. Serve up to indie crowd. Watch them dance and enjoy themselves while pretending not to.

Best line: “I don’t want you to want me.”

3. HexagoneRenaud

Amoureux de Paname, 1975

The bulk of my soundtrack to my year in France was provided by singer/songwriter Renaud. I find a lot of his songs almost unlistenable these days, but he did write some classics. And I learned masses of useful expressions from his lyrics. Hexagone is a month by month left-wing tirade against perceived French failings, hypocrisy, and all manner of deadly sins.

Best line:  “Moi j’voudrais tous les voir crever, étouffés de dinde aux marrons.”

(Which lacks a little charity at Christmas, and sounds worryingly like the sentiments that lead to a Reign of Terror, but, hey, when you’re writing polemics for posterity…)

l’hexagone

4. BonesRadiohead

The Bends, 1995

Sometimes a song just seems to sum up the moment for you. This simple but soaring rant against physical and metaphorical pain was just what the doctor ordered when I was cursing through a lengthy bout of sciatica. To be sung through gritted teeth.

Best line: “Now I can’t climb the stairs – pieces missing everywhere.”

5. You Belong to Me Kate Rusby

The Girl Who Couldn’t Fly, 2005

Whatever you think of previous versions of this song, you just have to give this a listen. Fair enough, I’m bound to be a tad biased with Kate being a Barnsley native and all. Vocals sound effortless, with perfect phrasing and are just utterly mesmerising.

Best line: all of them.

kate rusby 

6. Martha Tom Waits

Closing Time, 1973

Sometimes people ask you to sit down and listen to how great a song is. In some cases, you wonder what the fuss is all about. Not this time. Someone special once asked me to give this a hearing. The song transports you forty years into the future and forces you to reconsider your present, lest you end up regretting what you’re giving up right now.

Best line: “Those were days of roses, poetry and prose.”

 tom waits

7. Tubthumping Chumbawamba

Tubthumper, 1997

The ultimate resilience song. I remember one day I had an important interview at 6pm in the evening in front of a panel with a presentation element. After a long and stressful day at work, I had a 45 minute drive to the interview site. I just played and sang this the whole way there in a bid to build up adrenaline and self-belief. It worked.

Best line: I get knocked down, but I get up again.” (What else?)

8. This is the One The Stone Roses

The Stone Roses, 1989

Ever wonder what falling in love sounds like when set to music? In popular music terms, this is about as good an evocation as you’ll ever hear. Perfectly captures the sensation of happily tumbling into the abyss while simultaneously being uplifted.

Best line: “I’d like to leave the country for a month of Sundays. Burn the town where I was born.”

the stone roses

9. Sit DownJames

The Best of James, 1998 (song originally released as a single in 1989)

Have to include at least one of “our songs”. When my wife and I had our first drink together, I put this on the jukebox. Luckily for me, since she’d been travelling in Asia for a while, she hadn’t heard this song before and I got top marks for cool taste. She later told me that she figured anyone who liked such great music was worth getting to know. You just never know where that walk to the jukebox will lead.

 Best line: Those who find themselves ridiculous – sit down next to me.”

10. Find the River R.E.M.

Automatic for the People, 1992

Very hard for me to choose an REM song, but this one has always been near the top of my list. It’s a very poetic song, whose lyrics look a bit florid on paper. Caught up in the stunning melody however, you get their best meditation on life, death, the quest for meaning, and a heartfelt call to enjoy the ride.

Best line: “The river empties to the tide – all of this is coming your way.”

automatic for the people

Comments are welcome! And feel free to leave your own list. 

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