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.

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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’).

Brentlifeontheroad

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.

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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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You’re not alone

bowieWhen you are eight, and Ziggy Stardust lands in the living room, the effect is extraordinary. My home was the averagely dull place, 30 miles from Where It Was At, so when my sister brought that red and blue flash and red hair , plus Ziggy’s computer-print jumpsuit into the house and put it on the red and cream Dansette, it was the start of a strange fascination.

Listening to those Bowie albums and seeing him slip his arm round Mick Ronson’s shoulders on TOTP must have been a marvel for a lost teenager, but for someone whose age had yet to hit double figures, it was something very different. My head – and the brown, hardback book with lines on the pages that I had for drawing – was full of Bowie imagery. I drew A Lad Insane in that book, Ziggy Stardust, did my version of Life On Mars.

Those junior ballpoint masterpieces are long gone, but the memory of the lyrics of those early albums in my malleable mind have been there for forty-odd years. The jaunty piano of Kooks and the very idea of throwing your homework on the fire and driving away are the very ingredients of a song that appeals to kids, but there was so much more to think about. Everything fascinated; Mickey Mouse I g0t, but was Lennon or Lenin on sale again? What had Lennon done to ban himself from sale if the former was true?

Everything was so singalong. Dum-doo-waah, five years, that’s all we got, come on, come on, we really got a good thing going, let yourself go- woah! The guiro on The Man Who Sold The World: I’d never heard anything like it.

It was the imagery and the words that really stuck. A million hordes of mice, a moonage daydream, just who  will love Aladdin Sane (with those perfect words set to just-off-kilter enough music)?, an alligator, a mama-papa comin’ for you (with DUH-DUH metal guitar intro). It fed a million imaginations, and took me to somewhere I’d never have gone if all the mental stimulation I had at home was Blue Peter and Milly Molly Mandy books. I thought very carefully about what it all meant and stored it away, almost invisibly. I’d never have classified myself as a mad fan, but he was always there in the back of my mind, whatever guise he took on.

The David Bowie Is… exhibtion at the V& A humanised the legend. Crikey, he had a Dansette record player at home, too! There was a section of the show done up like a record shop where you could flick through copies of his albums as I’d done in the Virgin store in Birmingham’s Corporation Row, telling my college mates that yeah, I grew up with Bowie, y’know. Despite the superstar status, the show made fans feel a deeper kinship with the clever boy from Brixton; we’d always want to read the books he liked, see the films he’d seen, wear what he did, but to realise that he’d been a kid like we all had, made him seem more real, less remote, even amidst the iconic costumes and videos.

A clever, post-war kid who’d used his brains and talent to make himself a star, and if he could do it, then so could we. I know so many people who’ve felt driven in some way, either creatively or personally, by Bowie’s persona and message. He’s still largely seen as a ‘man’s’ artist; cutting edge, serious and stylish I think, with the emotional bits overlooked. Where Are We Now? is beautifully reflective – and more poignant given his death – but how many times has Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide provided a shoulder to cry on?  It was the first thing I put on at 6.50 this morning when the news was confirmed, and I wept as I’ve never done for a celebrity death before. It starts so low-key, understanding just how you feel, then consoles – there is no doubt in Bowie’s emphatic tone that you’re not alone, and you’re wonderful. And he lifts you to the big, brassy heights and makes you feel like a god. Through all life’s shitty times it felt like baby Bowie and his song was there for me, including, ironically, when I fell stupidly hard for someone who turned up on a fancy dress date dressed as Berlin Bowie. How could you not? I thought it was the magic I’d waited so long for.

I’ve had brushes with the Bowie retinue; my friend did the PR for the Let’s Dance album, I nearly met Tony Visconti,have heard lovely personal stories about what a nice guy Duncan Jones is; one of my acquaintances was pals with him for fifty years, utnil the end; I felt overcome and had to throw my arms around Woody Woodmansey, and only last week interviewed the great Mary Finnigan about her book about Bowie’s Beckenham years, Psychedelic Suburbia. I so wanted to even stand in the same room.

Never going to happen now, obviously, but Bowie stands in all of us who’ve ever felt perplexed, amazed, entertained, influenced, educated or comforted by him. He made us better, and that’s the most wonderful thing.