Thursday, 28 April 2011

Oh Bondage, Up Yours

Somedays the ideas won't come.  Somedays no matter how hard you stare at the keyboard the words refuse to form.

For whatever reason today I can't seem to get my brain to work, to be creative: to think of anything much to say.

I don't know how creativity works for other writers: I know that we're very cautious about talking about it - incase the ideas go away and because, quite frankly, we don't understand it either.  Where do these ideas come from?  The Qwik-E-Mart?  Might as well be.  Why do they come to us?  Are some people more open to the lightning strikes of ideas that hit every brain and, in many cases, bounce off?

Sometimes these ideas seem like a waste - they don't go anywhere much, they may be unshared and, more often than not, they come to us at awkward times and are lost before they are fully formed. 

But those creative ideas are what keeps us going, what makes us who we are - what makes the gaps inbetween worth the while: and in the mean time we wait - and hope the lightning strikes us again.

In the mean time this week marked the death of little known Punk rocker Poly Styrene (of The X Ray Spex) at the tender age of 53 - and I wanted to share the below with you because I think that in our current culture of fame at any cost the lyrics are perhaps more relevant than ever - and only go to show that a good, original idea, is never out of fashion

Is the crisis
Can't you see
Identity identity

When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself
Do you see yourself
On the t.v. screen
Do you see yourself
In the magazine
When you see yourself
Does it make you scream

When you look in the mirror
Do you smash it quick
Do you take the glass
And slash your wrists
Did you do it for fame
Did you do it in a fit
Did you do it before
You read about it

And - because you can't have a Royal Wedding with aaat a coupla corkerneys cor  blimey hows yer father etc etc etc here's Chas N Dave - from the last time someone royal tied the knot

Monday, 18 April 2011

New Experiments In Hi-Fi

OK - so for those of you who don't already know about 12 months ago now I started learning the saxophone.  One of the frustrations of which has been trying to find a way to record it.  I tried the vocal mike that we've had since Time Imemorium, but frankly the sound was like a combination of 1,000 Bumble Bees farting and one of those Electronic synth sounds you used to find on Bontemi keyboards in the 1980s (work out for yourself which would be the worse sound)

However, Argent was kind enough to lend me a small microphone and, after some experimenting with locale I established that a good place for said mike was clipped to my neck strap.  Then, after much shouting and swearing at Soundcloud (which apparently doesn't like my web browser) I eventually managed to upload this - which is me playing one of the trio's that we practice in our lessons.  You'll have to excuse the low notes being a bit poor - but its a new mouthpiece (my excuse of the month, after the chap who serviced my Sax told me the old mouthpiece was causing "tuning issues")

Ancient Hymn
Ancient hymn by Don't Feed The Pixies

I've also been experimenting with a free recording package called Audacity.  It's not really designed for recording songs, so does have limitations when it comes to mixing - but for sheer simpleness it wins over others that I've tried, so until I win the lottery and immediately buy Q-Base (industry standard recording package) it will more than do for the kind of nonsense I record.

Here then is a simple blues song I came up with recently - based around the main riff you can hear.  The lyrics are just the right side of cheese I think

I Don't Need No Doctor
I Don't Need No Doctor by Don't Feed The Pixies

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Everything Must Go

It would be foolish to pretend that the music industry was ever anything other than precisely that: an industry.

Even in the days when rock n roll was the voice of the emerging youth, the sound of rebellion: there was someone, somewhere who was making a lot of money from it.

Even in the early days there were products especially designed as merchandise to help make even more money: just look at all the Elvis movies if you don’t believe me.

But there’s something rather sad about the latest generation of wannabe pop stars openly endorsing consumer products to help finance that difficult second album.

And it’s not like I can pretend that it’s merely the cannon fodder that are doing it. Yes: there is a high level of consumer advertising being done by former X Factor types. One Direction (sorry, who?) advertising Pokemon, Alexandra Burke with her underarm B.O. problems (or why else would she be advertising them?), JLS advertising whatever the hell it is that JLS advertise – if it were just these nearly-rans that were jumping on the bandwagon then I wouldn’t be quite so worried – but its affecting the big hitters as well.

Johnny Rotten – the epitome of Punk Rock – can now be seen advertising butter, U2 brought out their own i-pod in a sponsorship deal with Apple. Hell, even Bob Dylan has done it

You can barely turn on the telly without seeing some perfume fronted by the Beckams, the Beyonce’s or the Back-Street Boys (alright, not the latter, but you get the picture)

So what’s the next logical step? Politician’s in adverts, perhaps? Surely not, I hear you cry – so checkout the adverts for a money advisory company starring John “Two-Jags” Prescott (admittedly no longer an active Politician)

Of course – the Queen already advertises products and has done for a long time – if you count the fact that any product used in the Royal household can show the royal crest, so presumably it’s only a small step from that to a quick advert for MacDonalds next time she wants Balmorral pebble-dashing?

And now the adverts aren’t even going to wait for the advert breaks – there’s product placement with a “P” advisory that this programme that we are watching may contain sudden bouts of characters suddenly saying ‘Hmmm, Scum-Cola: refreshing”

And let’s not even get started on adverts with voice overs from “celebrity” actors – it seems that these days we can’t be persuaded to buy anything unless That Bloke From Gray’s Anatomy is either voicing or starring in it.

Even worse is the current trend for getting us to actively participate in adverts - call this number and send us your money to decide if Fictional Character A proposes to Fictional Character B, or to follow us on Facebook.  I mean surely there can't be anyone out there so desperate for friends that they're willing to add a roll of toilet paper to their role of associates, no matter how quilted it may be?  What would the updates be like??

There is a current feeling in those of us that still take interest in film and TV that there are no stars of the magnitude of Days Gone By. Sure we may go and see a film starring Rachel From Friends because we liked her in that and know that she’ll be pretty much the same in this, but not in the same way that Humphrey Bogart in a film could guarantee a return. Is this really because actors are not as good, or are they just spreading themselves too thin?

Back In The Day it used to be BBC policy to only use the Daleks sparingly in Dr Who – the idea being that the infrequency of their appearance would add to the impact when they turned up. In these days of multi-media and toy-sales based programming they have been in every season of the re-vamped show so far: and only to their detriment.

Perhaps then, if the stars of today were to go away for a while we might appreciate them a bit more when they returned?

Mind you: I caught something on the radio the other night where a man was saying that he’d had a phone call from someone trying to sell him something

He had asked the girl in the call centre, ‘Why are you doing this dead-end, soul-destroying sales job? Isn’t there something more fulfilling you could be doing with your life?’

To which she replied, ‘I’m not the one answering phone calls at home during the day’

Something to think about there: if nothing else.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Watching The Detectives

Ah yes - we are at that point in the game where I have gathered all the usual suspects into a confined room to accuse everyone in turn of having murdered Lord Faffington-Smythe until finally revealing the identity of the real murderer.

Lets face it murder-mysteries can be so formulaic, and yet we love them and keep coming back to them: and so, to celebrate some of the more renowned here is another of my now surely infamous "list o' fives"

As usual there are rules - no police procedurals, no cop shows: so if you're a fan of CSI Bognor Regis, or TJ Hooker look away now as they won't get a mention other than just now.

No - I'm focussing on stand-out performances of famous detectives - some that have made it from paper to the small screen and some that went beyond.

#1: Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes
Many actors have played a character called Sherlock Holmes: amongst the most famous versions being Basil Rathbone, Peter Cushing and, more recently, Robert Downey Jr.  But only one actor has captured Arthur Conan-Doyle's Holmes and that was Jeremy Brett in the ITV series that ran from the 80s-90s

Brett became so wrapped up in the character that he made himself physically ill, a factor that probably added to his early death - but his arch performance makes his Sherlock Holmes stand head and shoulders above the pack. 

#2: David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
Many people hold up the works of Agatha Christie as being the perfect murder-mysteries and talk of her profound knowledge of the motives of humans - I can't say that it's a point of view that I particularly prescribe to.  If we're honest here you could probably put any of her characters as the murderer and swap her plots between books and no one would notice - but although she felt that in Hercule Poirot she had created a monster David Suchet succeeds in making the Belgian detective remarkably human.  Now only five or six stories away from having made every single Poirot for TV it must be hoped that the excellent Suchet continues

#3 Peter Falk, as Columbo
I'd love to have been at the meeting where they pitched this one to the networks: hey guys, its a detective show, only we show you whodunnit at the start.  But why, they must have asked, would you watch until the end if you knew whodunnit at the start?

The answer, of course, is Peter Falk.  Absolutely note-perfect as the deshiveled detective who allows his suspects to trap themselves by forever adding on their story until it falls apart this is surely one of the most genius pieces of casting of all time - although, it is interesting to note that a touring version of the very first Columbo story recently came to our local theatre with Dirk "The Face"/Starbuck Bennedict as Leiutennant Frank Columbo (and yes, that was his first name.  Though never used in the show it does appear on his police badge)

#4: John Thaw as Chief Inspector Morse
Thaw was already no stranger to the TV detective genre, having played Regan in 70's cop-show The Sweeney, but it was here, amidst the splendour of Oxford's universities that he truly excelled.  Morse took the step of making every episode two hours long, allowing plenty of time for the viewer to get to know the characters - and for once it really worked.  With his panchant for opera and expensive cars Endeavour Morse (yes, that really was his first name) was an example of UK TV at its best

#5 Angela Lansbury as JB Fletcher

 OK - so before we talk about the infamous Murder, She Wrote I just want to briefly mention my REAL fifth choice - who is of course the immortal Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
Hickson played the part in a series of BBC adaptations around the same time that Jeremy Brett played Holmes, and she could match him scene for scene for believability - more than can be said for the new Agatha Christie's Marple series.  I heard once that Agatha Christie had mentioned Joan Hickson as a possible actress for her second most famous character - and if she did she was spot on.  Any actor that plays Holmes or Marple has to stand in the shadow of Brett and Hickson for ever more

So back to Murder, She Wrote - lets face it the stories were utter rot.  Mostly Jessica would be visiting a distant relative, or working on a re-write of one of her novels, and said relative would be accused of murder.  From thereon in the writers just put all the character names into one hat and a spurious murder reason into a second hat and drew lots to find out whodunnit.

But of course none of that mattered, because Angela Lansbury, like Dick Van Dyke in Diagnosis: Murder and Tony Shaloub in Monk - were just so damn watchable that the whodunnit was very much a side issue

Suggestions for any ommissions welcome as ever

Friday, 1 April 2011

Today In History, A Forgotten Heroine

Most of you probably won't be aware, but today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Emily Frying

Looking back at history you'll notice that most of the famous names are men with a few noticable exceptions: Boudicca, Cleopatra, Marie Curie - there are others, but generally there names are forgotten: largely because of the social situations at the time.

The same was true for Frying, the eldest of what would eventually be a six-child family (front row, approximately 12-15 years old in this picture).  Her father, Robert Frying had drifted from job to job and is listed in the census for the time as a salesman, a butcher and finally a chef at the new Savoy kitchens

(The Royal Alex Kitchens, circa 1910 where Frying would later work)

Emily herself took on a role at the Savoy as Skillet Maid, where she worked until she married. 

This was handily timed as just before the turn of the century there had been a shortage of eggs and dairy produce due to a severe case of Foot And Mouth (a disease of cattle) that had drastically impacted on supplies - however with the endemic reduced and the Savoy kitchens newly refurbished it became very popular, and a sign of wealth, to dine on "Skilleted" eggs for breakfast. 

Head Chef Marcel Holtz recorded in his diary that "Miss Frying was a deft hand with the skillet: a hard worker and much admired through the kitchens.  So much so that the staff began to refer to the art of skilleting eggs as "frying"

Being a low graded maid Emily's contribution to culinary delights was never publicised, nevertheless the term "frying" passed into common parlance and eventually began to replace the name "skillet" for the pan.  It was only about 15 years ago that her name was discovered under the records of the Savoy at the time and a member of her family managed to trace the line.

Emily herself came to a sad end, dying in a workhouse when her husband was killed in the war and she could not find employment.

For more information on Emily - click here