This BBC Wales programme about Mavis Nicholson, the absolutely wonderful TV interviewer, is a must-watch for anyone interested in celebrity culture. She interviewed the biggest names in showbusiness, starting on an innocuous afternoon show aimed at women, and always got the greatest answers from them, due to her honesty and rapport with her subjects.

In the programme, Eamonn Holmes points out how times have changed in the world of asking people how wonderful it was to work on their latest film. “You had got that in-depth interview where it mattered, where questions were important, where you cared about the quality of what you were talking about. That’s all different now…the PR companies rule the interview shows. They decide who you interview and what you’re going to ask them.”

Mavis talks about telling Kirk Douglas that their interview will be “the conversation you’d like to have, rather than what you expect to have”, and this interview with Kenny Everett shows how she gets so much out of him; it’s almost like therapy and you can feel that there’s something cathartic for Everett to talk about big issues.

27 years ago that was, and you simply can’t imagine anyone in the public eye talking like this in a TV interview.What I love about Mavis’ style is that it’s so deceptively easy. Unlike Michael Parkinson, she wasn’t a journalist, and her style reflected that. This 1974 interview he did with Richard Burton acts as a great compare and contrast between their styles. Parky’s clipboard questioning gets the results, but it seems far less relaxed and natural than the Nicholson way.

Hard to imagine such a major star and serious figure putting themselves through this kind of thing today, where it’s all about the comedy chat show, where you don’t have to reveal a single personal thing apart from something funny that happened on the set of your latest film. Ultimately, the celebrity interview is about flogging a product, and in a world where there’s now so much media that allows you to do this, you don’t have to do an hour baring your soul on a talk show.

The star interview thing is a strange concept. Every time I sit in a hotel room and switch my recorder on, I think how fake it all is.  As journalists, we’re supposed to come out of the encounter being able to tell our audience exactly what our subject is like, and ideally get them to tell us something they’ve never told anyone else before, the sort of thing you’d have to have months in expensive therapy to draw out normally. When it does happen, it’s great, but there are increasingly few opportunities to sit down in a room with a subject any more.

Print journalists may be asked if they want to do an interview via email, or via conference call with the subject’s press officer listening in. They may be asked to a ’round table’ event where you sit at a table with the celebrity and half a dozen other journalists with different aims and different questions. I remember years ago there was this dreadful woman who could turn anything round to the fact she worked for the Highgate Residents’ Association publication. If someone had confessed to a murder in a press conference or round table, she’d butt in with the line “Yes, well, I understand you live in Highgate; what do you think of the changes in the refuse collection timetables?”. Brilliant.

There was also a press event where I was beside myself to find I was the only journalist at a table with Alan Bates. We were talking about his new project for Christmas and a woman came and sat beside me and asked Bates if he was going to spend the festive season with his family. Normally you’d find this personal information really useful when writing a piece, but I was desperately trying to change the subject, as in the previous few months, Bates’ wife had died, and a son died a couple of years previously. Awks.

Another great chance to talk at cross purposes come at the events where both press and public meet. The public pay to come to an event which a TV company also uses as a launch, and while the press want stories for websites and papers, Brianna who’s come all the way from Idaho just wants to tell her screen heartthrob that she fancies him. Very nice, Brianna, but most people don’t actually care.

It’s only a few places that major stars will talk to any degree, and on television, hardly at all, which is why the Mavis Nicholson programme provided a great chance to watch the halcyon days of intelligent people talking to each other about things that matter to all of us, and bring us together in a very human way. Here’s Mavis with Bowie, which is just lovely.

I think it would be great if a TV copany commissioned a new series of  Mavis Nicholson interviews with some of the major personalities of today. As you’ll see when you watch the programme about her, she’s still got it – and also, 40 more years of experience from when she started the job. Imagine how great it would be if her fabulousness was unleashed on a new generation.







Return To Yesterday

It’s been a bit of a week of things coming back from 2003 that hasn’t been seen since; fortunately not Saddam Hussein or Den Watts in EastEnders (a third comeback from the dead would be pushing it a bit). Last Friday, I went to the launch for the new series of Cold Feet, and Monday was the screening of Ricky Gervais’ Office movie reboot, David Brent:Life On The Road. You can guess which one I enjoyed more.


The first episode of Cold Feet saw Adam (James Nesbitt; yes, there is reference to his richly luxuriant barnet) return to Manchester to announce to his friends and son that he’s met a hot, young, beautiful millionaire’s daughter and is going to marry her, such is the power of a hair transplant. Expectations amongst a room full of journalists were high, and fortunately, nobody seemed disappointed.

The new series of Cold Feet isn’t a retread, merely a continuation by the writer and creator Mike Bullen, and feels like meeting old friends again after 13 years. It feels seamless, although of course things have moved on – Pete and Jenny are back together, Karen’s a successful businesswoman, David’s married to his joyless, bossy divorce lawyer, they’ve all got teenage kids. It all bobs along in a warm and witty fashion, on your screens in September.

The David Brent movie is out on August 19 and with that I’m not so enamoured. We’re supposed to feel sorry for the salesman; he’s had a breakdown, he’s now a rep for Lavichem, purveyors of bathroom supplies (cue tampon gags ie ‘One size fits all…oh, no, it doesn’t…’) but still yearns to be a rock star. He hires musicians who hate him for a tour of the Thames Valley with his band Foregone Conclusion, drags along a young mixed race rapper who’s become involved with him somehow, says a million embarrassing things and sings (I did like the line in Native American where he rhymed ‘American’ with ‘a pelican’).


I guess we are now invited to feel pity for Brent, having been ill and now reduced to selling bog brushes, but it’s all a bit late. Even vague flashes of self-awareness don’t make him likeable; I can only draw comparisions with Alan Partridge, who I like more for being an out and out arsehole. Do we really want a cuddly Ricky Gervais…oops, David Brent? Brent’s arseholier-than-thouness makes him the character he is and as a fictional comedy creation, we don’t have to like him, he just has to make us laugh. Ricky, you can want to be loved, it’s only human, but you’re not Brent, yeah?

Did it make me laugh? In parts. Too much cringey stuff that we just know Brent is going to say because he is a copper-bottomed, well-created character. Very little story arc – drama is conflict, and because people generally walk away from Brent, tutting, nobody ever really confronts him about what he does. What would happen if someone punched him? Other irritants including a scene where Brent does a publicity shoot to the accompaniment of Bowie’s Fashion (‘I knew him, you know’) and Gervais’ strange fascination with giving fat women a kicking, in this case, twice in the movie. Being fat makes them unloveable, being an arse still gets Brent a nice lady admirer in the office.

Different critical reactions to both media events, different personal ones as well. Forget the past 13 years, the Cold Feet launch was like the past 25 going past my eyes; it seemed that every writer I’d ever worked with, and the occasional publicist, was in the room. It also made me think about the people who weren’t there, the dead ones in particular. Whilst talking to a PR and having a gush about how good it was, I felt tears in my eyes and had to make my excuses and leave to have a minor bawl in the well-appointed lavatories of the Soho Hotel.

After the Brent movie,  I felt nothing but really grim, probably because it too made me think about what had happened in my life in the last 13 years. The Cold Feet characters had had success, sadness, families, relationships and seemed set for a comfortable middle age, bar the dramatic stories that Bullen had planned for them. Brent had none of the above. Guess which one I felt more akin to?

Kill me now. But not before you book me into a blog reading tour of venues in the Thames  Valley.







The Fat White Duke and other middle-aged rock and roll stories

fatfansTo the Robin 2 in Bilston last weekend, to see a Bowie tribute. Look, you gotta get it where you can these days. Anyway, I like me any kind of tribute band; all killer, no filler; they won’t play three tracks from their new album to please themselves and the MegaArena’s booze sales, and it’s a bloody great, cheap night out. And at the Robin, you can have the “Whatever happened to the Robin 1?” conversation as well.

The band were great. Lead guitarist looked more like Trevor Bolder than Ronno (though they weren’t supposed to be lookalikes), and Bowie? Well, an excellent soundalike, and from the lips upwards, fantastic. Costume-wise, two black suits and a Kansai Yamamoto-tribute cape as the chap in question was a bit broad in the beam for the one-legged Ziggy bodysuit. He’d been at the game for 24 years, so you can’t blame the bloke for getting a tad middle-aged, as had the audience as you can see from the photo. 

We all had a great time, though, unlike the poor sods at the Brentwood Festival who were berated by Bob Geldof for “wearing wall-to-wall fucking Primark”, adding “‘This is a rock and roll festival. When you come to a rock and roll festival you dress for a rock and roll festival. You can never be too careful.” Dear God, Bob, the Rats are still great, but it’s not particularly punk to have a go at your older, fatter followers 40 years after your greatest success, especially when you can still fit into a 28″ waist, you bastard. If you don’t like playing provincial pop festivals to people with 15-year-old kids and an Esky, then don’t play provincial pop festivals to people with 15-year-old kids and an Esky.

But maybe the problem with big pop events is that they’re big pop events. I was in Hyde Park for Stevie Wonder, courtesy of a very kind friend, and the irritation level of bloody people was almost off the scale, especially the two twentysomethings trying to chat up a girl in the middle of Love’s In Need Of Love Today – ‘YAH, I’VE GOT A BALLS-ACHINGLY DULL JOB IN THE CITY” sounds great over a gospel background. “Not that good a one, otherwise you’d have been in the VIP area,” I muttered under my breath. To be fair, when they told those of us who asked them to pipe down and they told us to go somewhere else “as it’s an open air festival with a different vibe, yeah?”, they got a chorus of ‘No, you go somewhere else”. And, to be fair, they did. Mars, I hope.

The middle-aged there that day tutted as their picnic rugs got trodden on as crowds heaved together for the four-hour gig (“But I’ve been here since TWELVE NOON!”), but the best audience sight of the day was two middle aged women having a fight, induced by too much expensive, rubbish rosé drunk in the heat. Their faces! Alcohol plus vitriol created a right scene as they were dragged apart, snarling, by their companions. Maybe the middle-aged shouldn’t be allowed out after dark in the open air.

At least Stevie didn’t insult us. I broke my personal record of leaving a stand-up gig a few weeks ago, lasting about two minutes. I’m usually pretty good at being an upstanding audience member, but once this comic walked onstage with a bulging notebook and biro writing all up his arm, I thought: “Hello. Work in progress.” He then called the audience “cunts”, and asked what had made them pay £16 to see him; galling when you can pay a fiver to see a work in progress gig by a middle-ranking comic in a pub and not be made to feel like scum. 

Not being in the mood to be feebly insulted I left. My friends who stayed managed about another 15, and told me the insults continued, with the mainly young crowd seeming to laugh a bit with fear of being picked on. At least Jerry Sadowitz did it with some style and a disappearing coin.

Pick on your audience who won’t see 40 again at your peril. Although it’s easy to take the piss out of bingo wings underneath a sequinned bolero from Primark or a too-tight Fred Perry polo shirt, it’s the wearers who’ve got the money to pay for the tickets. They might even buy your latest album that nobody else gives a toss about and stay for the three tracks you play from it.


The Pop Kids

The wind-up gramophone in my basement on a hill has pretty much been all Bowie, all the time for the last two months. And to think I’d never listened to the Berlin albums properly before, as I thought they’d be too difficult. For SHAME. Though I admit I like Heroes, the one everyone likes the best, the least, bloody contrarian that I am.

Speed Of Life, I have discovered, is my new favourite song for entering the office to in order to make yourself feel vaguely invincible (as invincible as a middle-aged newspaper journalist can, anyway. Imagine the training montage), and my current favourite albums of Bowie’s are Low and Station To Station, oddly the ones made at arguably the most unhappy time in his life. Sorry about that, Dave, but at lest it didn’t go to waste, eh? As I’ve just discovered how to do this, so I’m sharing my Spotify list of new favourite Bowie things I like so you can sneer at my lack of sophistication and depth of knowledge.

So last week, I went to a preview of a film called Sing Street, which I could describe to you as The Commitments but set in the Eighties, but it’s so much better than that. The plot is ludicrously simple; young lad in Dublin forms a band to impress a girl with hilarious results. It’s super-charming and funny, with an incredible use of music. The period stuff is great – Duran Duran, Joe Jackson, The Jam, The Cure – but the original stuff, co-written by screenwriter/director John Carney and the god-like Gary Clark, is just fanastic.  The Hall and Oates pastiche Drive It Like You Stole It is the most memorable pop track I’ve heard in ages, and gloriously performed in the movie by the young band. I comment it all to you.

The film’s released in May, and I bet it will make you feel the way I did if you’re the same vintage as me – a bit teary and hugely nostalgic. It really brought back the feelings of being young and discovering everything, particularly the music you did and didn’t like. When I was, 18, I was a massive Smiths devotee, went to see New Order when I should have been revising for my exams, and knew who was on the up thanks to the NME.

It was a bit of a facade, though. I went to Seletadisc in Nottingham and bought James’ Hymn From A Village to impress a bloke. I hated it, still do, but it did the trick briefly. He asked me to to and see The Jesus and Mary Chain and I didn’t want to go, which was when the rot set in.  I thought they were a bit of a racket, even back then, and a raft of achingly cool bands have subsequently passed me by. I used to care, but advanced age means I don’t give a monkeys’ about The Fall.

Watching Sing Street, and the Spike Lee documentary on Michael Jackson’s early solo career , which is also moving in its own way, were just a reminder that I still really like great pop music and always have, even if it finished off relationships. Listening to a ton o’ Bowie lately has been a rewarding intellectual blast, but listening to great pop, which doesn’t have to mean anything at all, has been a brilliant contrast. Never trust anyone who feels music always has to ‘mean something’. They are no fun. And never trust anyone who stopped buying Smash Hits when they were 16 as they felt it was for kids; I’m sure Neil Tennant feels the same.

Big fish

So I had a look on Tinder. This is some of  what I found:

Men with pictures taken in car parks, standing by sports cars which clearly aren’t theirs.

Men with pictures of them driving motor vehicles. Cars, vans, motorbikes.

Men with pictures taken with their kids. Look, I know you want to make yourself look like the great dad you are, but it’s like bringing them along on a first date.

Men with pictures of themselves taken with lapdancers and Playboy Bunnies.

Men wearing sunglasses in pictures.

Men posting pictures of the cross of St George upon which is written the legend ‘ENGLISH AND FUCKING PROUD OF IT’.

Men with pictures of themselves with 7 empty bottles of beer in front of them, holding a 8th and 9th.

Men with pictures of themselves 20 years ago. Let’s face it, we were all a lot better looking then. Also men who ask ‘how old is your profile picture?’.It’s not my fault I look a deal younger than I am.

Men whose only picture is a football team logo.

Men who write nothing about themselves at all. Opacity isn’t attractive, unless you have looks so stunning they’d make any woman fall in love with you instantly (nobody is like this).

Men wearing offensive t-shirts (ie ‘It won’t suck itself’, ‘I ‘HEART’ to fuck’).

An extremely high proportion of men who say they attended Oxford University. Liars.

Men with pictures taken in a dimly-lit room on a webcam, which gives them the ambience of  someone from a movie. Hannibal Lecter.

Pictures of men holding guns.

But mostly, shoals of pictures of men with fish. This site shows what I mean, but it’s got mainly American chaps on it. The sun is shining, the fish are exotic. Over here on grim old British Tinder, it’s blokes by reservoirs with giant, slimy carp, bream and perch, held with pride against a background of pondweed and a bivouac.

It’s all a reminder of how different men and women are, and how they see themselves (love to hear from any chaps similarly irritated by what pictures women post). It’s horrible out there.









We like dancing and we look divine

So, to the launch of Punk London. subtitled ’40 years of subversive culture’. My subersive act of the day was wearing a leather jacket to the office (Yeah, take THAT, middle-market newspaper! We’re bringing down society one dance review at a time!), although because I am such a dullard, I had to be accompanied by somebody properly cool, my top pal Rockmother.

I knew something was up when I arrived at the 100 Club and instead of feeling like the usual totally out-of-place tit that I do at events like this, I saw the rest of the mainly young attendees and felt ever-so-slightly superior, probably because events were in my memory, unlike most people there who must have been average age 25, with stupid beards. (And that was only the women, arf).

jcc (362x640)They yakked their way through beautiful, elegantly-dressed, noisy, thrashy and raw Skinny Girl Diet (‘I don’t think the young blokes know what to make of them,’ commented RoMo), but worse still, they yakked through John Cooper Clarke. You’re dished up the nation’s premier performance poet being full of charm and funny as fuck and you can’t be bothered to watch, preferring to take selfies, drink free beer and forget whey you’re actually there (you can hear the hubbub here).  Cooper Clarke came off and most people left, probably not even realising that on the wheels of steel was Don Letts  playing brilliant tunes that were so right for the night. Punky classics, heavy dub, all ace, and leaving the last ones dancing the ones who won’t see 21 again. Or 41. It was great (me and RoMo do like to be the last on the dancefloor) and it was brilliant fun. Long time since I’ve yelled along to Patti Smith’s Because The Night in public.

At about 9pm, school disco-like, the lights went on. I was surprised the organisers hadn’t got Letts to play Hi-Ho Silver Lining and flick the lights on and off, revealing a spotty Herbert snogging his girlfriend in a previously dark corner. Wow. How very punk. A flat end to an evening that was as thrilling as you wanted it to be, should you be bothered to engage with what was going on.

Yesterday, The Rockmother took me along to the last day of Janette Beckman’s show at the Punctum Gallery, which was part of Punk London, but about a billion times more thrilling than the launch. Beckman photographed key musical figures and youth culture in Seventies London, and was a pioneer in photographing hip-hop artists in the States, and she’s a greatt woman (she was in attendance) whose work stands alone, but she had also been collaborating with other artists, designers and students on mash-up projects on her pictures, which you can see on the Facebook page.

Does anyone under 40 give a fuck about punk, though?  At the launch, I thought all the kids seemed a bit wet and scared. I wrote this a few years back about the Beeb’s Punk Britannia season and feel sad that if I launched a duo called Wet & Hopeless (ft MC Mummy’s Boy), they’d probably get at least a top 20 hit.

Up yours.










Bowie Bye Bye Ta ta

My friend, the musician and writer Anthony Reynolds, was sucked into the Bowie vortex as a child, too. Only he was inspired to do something hella creative with it.


When you’re very young, you don’t have much in the way of peripheral awareness.

So in 1975, when I was four, sat on the floor of the dark cosy living room at 106 Railway street, Splott, Cardiff all I remember is the glowing TV, huge and warm.  That and the vision and sound on it- space footage and a song about a spaceman. Nothing much existed beyond it.

This was the re-release of ‘Space oddity’ and the introduction of my friend David Bowie into my life.  It remains my first musical memory.

I was beguiled even then.  My first exposure to magic. (Bowie was realer than the imaginary friend I cultivated during those first years. (Hi ‘John’).

And  then ‘The laughing Gnome’ on the Tony Blackburn breakfast show with Arnold the dog barking off tape, words and pictures, Gnomes and Goblins scurrying across the breakfast table via the radio.  The downstairs radio being the…

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