Old movies, classic comedy and good clean smut…

There’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about going on a nostalgia kick.

In fact, there’s something quintessentially ‘British’ about using the word ‘quintessentially’, which I suspect is only ever followed by the words ‘British’ or ‘English’. You definitely never see anyone describing something as ‘quintessentially German’ – not even goose-stepping.

I’ve recently reconnected with a bunch of stuff from my youth, which leads me to write this epistle.

Here’s the ‘stuff’:

  • Vinyl records played on a proper record player with little tinny speakers
  • Black and white films, of the sort that always used to be on telly on a Sunday afternoon
  • 1960s BBC radio comedy – specifically ‘Round The Horne’
  • B-movie science fiction, generally from the 70s and early 80s

These items, in and of themselves, are fairly normal. You could easily read that list and silently – or audibly – go “meh”…

But it’s more what they evoke than what they deliver.

Take the vinyl records, for example. They, for me, demonstrate that great line from the movie ‘High Fidelity’, when, after Dick tried unsuccessfully to guess how Rob was rearranging his record collection (“Chronological? No… not alphabetical…”) Rob reveals his system will be autobiographical, so that “if I want to find the song “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac I have to remember that I bought it for someone in the fall of 1983 pile, but didn’t give it to them for personal reasons.”

I’ve not got many vinyl albums, but when I listen to the double live album Babylon By Bus by Bob Marley and the Wailers, I’m back home with my parents, them sat watching tv in one room whilst I’m sat next door, listening to one of the world’s greatest protest singers delivering a lyric so great, you don’t realise how revolutionary it was until nearly ten years later… but you remember the message. When I’m listening to Dare by The Human League, or Upstairs at Erics by Yazoo, I’m back in that post-school, pre-serious work period where everything was cool, and I was a part of it.

The old movies? Sunday afternoons in front of the telly were great – especially if it was raining outside, and we sat in front of the fire watching films like ‘The Sheriff of Fractured Jaw‘ with Kenneth More, or – if we were lucky – a Carry On film. All a part of those days when you could watch a film and part of your eight-year-old mind still believed it might be real. And if it was a sci-fi b-movie so bad it’s good, the knowledge that it most certainly wasn’t…

Round The Horne was something I got to later in my childhood, but the repeats of the show were always something I looked out for. The cast was brilliant, with the leader of the gang, Kenneth Horne, often playing the straight man (in all senses) to Kenneth Williams, Hugh Paddick, Betty Marsden, Bill Pertwee, and another ‘quintessentially’ BBC voice, announcer Douglas Smith. Listening to the show now, it’s remarkable how far they managed to push the boundaries of the BBC back in 1965, when the show was first broadcast. They had plenty of sexually repressed characters, innuendo by the bucketload, and the incredible ‘Julian and Sandy’, two unemployed actors taking on a range of different jobs. They were the most obviously gay couple imaginable, in an age when homosexuality was still illegal. The fact that they could get away with so much still surprises me, such as when they were working as lawyers:

HORNE: Will you take my case?

JULIAN: Well, it depends on what it is. We’ve got a criminal practice that takes up most of our time.

HORNE: Yes, but apart from that, I need legal advice.

SANDY: Ooh, isn’t he bold?

Comedy nowadays struggles to fit in single entendres, let alone the doubles that Round The Horne was liberally sprinkled with. Entertainment has changed, and not really for the better.

In this age of digital downloads, 3D blockbusters and so called ‘talk-radio’, I’d rather stick with entertainment that… well, entertained.

Will Rogers : Misfits

The latest album to drop into my inbox is the soon-to-be-released offering by Will Rogers, Misfits.

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Will’s music is an open, honest mix of lyric-driven acoustic rhythms, no more so evident than in the title track, which cocks its hat very much in the style of Barenaked Ladies. But this album has many more layers and dimensions to it that the simple desire to cram as many words as possible into two minutes and fifty four seconds. It comes over very much as a labour of love and an insight into the musician’s soul.

Take the first track, More, which espouses all of the collective fervour of Billy Bragg’s social utopia with none of Bragg’s annoying political overtones. It’s a great little sing-along song with catchy riffs and a tagline that sticks in the head, leading to those embarrassing moments when you find yourself singing aloud in public. Together with Thunder, Misfits and Take A Leap, there’s a positive, almost jaunty feel that dares the foot not to tap along.

Cogs hits a sombre, darker tone, with a lyric that comes closest to angst-driven unrest and despair. It shows that Will is far more than a one-trick pony, with the ability to deliver both lightness and shade.

My favourite track, however, is the final offering, Dangerous Words In The Dark. There’s a clarity of message that cuts through so clearly, telling of the challenge facing a man desperate to completely open his heart and soul to his true love. As a contrast to the rest of the album, it takes you by surprise and really makes you sit up and take notice.

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I’m really glad that I got the chance to listen to Misfits. Finding a new artist, and getting to understand a little of what makes them tick, is the best thing about writing reviews. And it’s even better when the material is as refreshing as this.

Misfits is released on Saturday, March 7, 2015. For more info, go to http://willrogersmusic.com/

EDIT: Misfits is OUT! You can get it through the link below (or in all the usual places, amazon, spotify etc.)

https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/misfits/id970648939

Of Sins Present And Past by John Aulabaugh

 

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New Music.

It’s a phrase that evokes a range of emotions, but these days, more often than not it sadly throws up a depressing image of kids with computers in bedrooms remixing and self-producing in the hope of becoming the world’s next YouTube sensation. Which is why, when a new artist comes along that defies the stereotype, we should sit up and take notice. John Aulabaugh is one such artist.

His debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, dropped into my inbox this week.

John is a musician, a businessman, a father, a son, a husband. He’s seen life with all its triumphs and challenges, and with this album, John brings all his years to bear when telling a story.

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Of Sins Present And Past talks of addiction and recovery, of secrecy and deceit, of compulsion and hurt, pain and recovery. And just as that journey is full of ups and downs, John’s music hits you on unexpected, and at times slightly uncomfortable levels. It sings of despair, desire, destruction, desperation and the hope of ultimate deliverance, through well-written, meaningful lyrics and intelligent, carefully crafted melodies.

If you asked me to pull out a few tracks as standouts? It’s tough, because they are all good, but I’d say that having spent a few days listening, the tracks that I find myself singing are the wonderfully acoustic A Road Less Travelled, the darker, more compulsive Strange, the more laid back, rhythmic feel of Awake, and the beautifully haunting Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. That these tracks each have their own feel and flavor just highlights again how John Aulabaugh has delivered a welcome, refreshing breath of fresh air with Of Sins Present And Past.

This new kid on the alt-country block has been round that block a few times, and his music is all the better for it.

John Aulabaugh‘s debut album, Of Sins Present And Past, is a habit well worth indulging. Featuring such renowned artists as Jessy Greene and Rami Jaffee, it’s at the same time both personal and universal, and deserves all the acclaim it will undoubtably create.

Of Sins Present And Past is released on March 30, 2015.

#OfSinsPresentAndPast

I’ve been listening to some new music today.

It’s so new, in fact, that it’s still in the process of final mixing. The release date for the album isn’t for a few months yet. But the tracks I’ve heard so far have been very good.

I’ll go into more detail over the next couple of months, but keep your ears open – or pop over to John’s website.

Of Sins Present And Past by John Aulabaugh.

You heard (about) it here first!

Buskers, Chuggers, and Big Issue Sellers

Usually, buskers are – to me – nothing more than a mild inconvenience. They generally fall somewhere in the middle of the annoyances that a stroll through a town usually provides. There are a few, and it’s worth listing them here, to put my blog article in context:

Chuggers.

Now, for those outside of the know, that stands for Charity Muggers. These are people, generally in green ninja-style ‘low-visibility’ jackets, who ask for a minute of your time, but who are really after a deep conversation about their pet issue – which is always something about which you could not possibly care less – and are also after the contents of your wallet in perpetuity. I have two easy ways to avoid them. First, is the generic ‘just received a fake call on my mobile phone‘ approach. This works far better than just keeping your head down, because if you are approached whilst on the phone, it’s them that are the inconsiderate oafs, and not you. The second way to deal with Chuggers is to identify their cause early on, and then apologise, but say you’ve just signed a petition with their arch-nemesis at the other end of the high street that will get them running off, foaming at the mouth. An example would be: “Excuse me, we’re with PETA, can I have a moment of your time?” “Oh, no – sorry. If only you’d caught me earlier, but I’ve just signed the petition of the Cosmetics / Tobacco / Pharmaceutical company at the end of the street, they are collecting because they have run out of beagles and monkeys…”

Big Issue Sellers.

Now I’ve bought my fair share of Big Issue magazines in the past, but whenever I look through them, there’s nothing there that’s really a big issue for me. To me, a ‘big issue’ is when my Sky TV reception fails, or when the car breaks down on the way to the gig, or even the crazy price differences for Apple goods between the US and the UK. So I’m not a regular purchaser these days, and a recent trip to Edinburgh confirmed why this is the case. I’ve seriously never seen so many Big Issue sellers in one place, and when I discovered that Big Issue has an office there – yet through the window I couldn’t see a single sleeping bag – I realised that if they can afford premises where nobody sleeps, they probably don’t actually need my two quid that much. The mobile phone approach works best, followed by the ‘apologetic smile and shake of head whilst patting supposedly empty pockets‘ method.

Buskers have, in the past, demonstrated that they are at least making an effort to give something back for your hard earned cash. And some are really good – but those will nowadays be found on YouTube rather than on the streets of your town. What’s left is the reason for this missive – the terrible quality of street musicians that is fast becoming a blight on the urban landscape of our once-great nation.

Bad buskers come in many guises. There’s the utterly predictable busker, such as the guy in the underpass with his guitar, cycling round the songs he knows, such as Cavatina, and…. well, Cavatina again. If I hear one more busker playing the theme to The Deer Hunter, I’m gonna start taking my chances on the dual carriageway instead.

Then there’s the ‘one man and his backing tape‘ busker. This is the guy in the rainbow jacket with the Bluetooth link between his guitar, his headset microphone, and his amp. Quite how he can afford something so high tech and still be begging on the streets for a few coppers defies logic. And the danger here is that simple avoidance is harder, as he can follow you at least fifty yards from his base. In his case you just need to keep your focus on the road ahead, or if that’s proving difficult, duck into a shop and then challenge him to follow you. You never know, having a mad busker chasing you around the interior of your local Ann Summers might be good for a few chuckles down the pub later on. Especially if he’s singing “I WANNA KNOW WHAT LOVE IS…. AND I WANT YOU TO SHOW MEEEE….” as he sprints past the furry handcuffs and transparent underwear on display.

Last week I saw two buskers that defied belief. Both in Dorset, which must be some kind of Busker Training Zone. Or maybe Twilight Zone.

First off, let’s call this one Busker A. I have to do that, because I really couldn’t tell whether the seventeen-year-old was male or female, so utterly generic was their appearance. Hair down to the waist and clearly unwashed, sweatshirt, jeans, trainers,you know the type. They were sat on an amp, from which was coming a generic early 80s slow rock backing track, to which they were adding the guitar solo.

Now guitar solos can be great. When they are, I love listening to a guitarist flinging his fingers over the fretboard. What I can’t forgive in this case, was the terrible quality. Not of the playing, because I have no basis to suggest they put a note wrong. Where the problem lies is with the ambition. The backing track never varied. I was in earshot for maybe an hour whilst walking around Weymouth, and the speed and energy never rose above a very slow dirge. And the guitar sound never changed from that typical soul-less Gary Moore whine. And all of this, in public, from a seventeen year old who should at least have been throwing in some Foo Fighters or Pearl Jam riffs.

Sad as this sounds, it was potentially topped by Busker B the following day. Sherborne’s a lovely little town, and a little street music should have enhanced an already pleasant afternoon. However, Busker B (definitely a male in this case) managed to avoid this obvious outcome in a brilliant way. Sat half-way along the High Street with his accordion, he played The Anniversary Song (better known as “Oh How We Danced” and recorded by such greats as Al Jolson, Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra) – which should have been lovely. and would have been, if only he’d known the full song.

But no – he knew (and played) one verse. Well – almost one verse. He couldn’t quite finish it off, and so put an improvised ending to the tune, before looping back and starting again. Over and over. And over. And over….

There was a spark of creativity there, however. He managed to get the tune wrong every single time, but in a slightly different way. Just to keep his audience in their toes.

Needless to say, the hats were not exactly bulging with coins at the end, and nothing had been donated by me. Except this review of how NOT to play music on the streets. Which I offer free and for nothing.

Key takeaways? Well, to Busker A, my advice would be to play some different stuff, at different speeds, and expand your horizons beyond Gary Moore.  And for Busker B? Learning the one verse of the one song you can play would be a start…

Album Review – Degrees of Freedom’s PERFECT WORLD

It’s always a good feeling when you do something new – visiting a city for the first time, reading a new book, watching a new movie. So I was pleasantly surprised when my copy of the recent Degrees Of Freedom album, ‘Perfect World’ hit my doormat. Some new music by a band I’d never heard before was just what I needed.

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The story behind the album is interesting – it’s the culmination of guitarist John Aulabaugh’s mid-life crisis, which took a Blues Brothers twist when he decided to pull his band back together after a quarter of a century. I’m not sure if a 106-mile road trip or the Illinois Law Enforcement Agency were involved, but I’m sure the sunglasses put in an appearance!

As far as line-up goes, Degrees Of Freedom are guitarist John Aulabaugh, vocalist Michael Husler, Michael Murphy on bass and drummer Tim Murphy. In addition, the album benefits from guest appearances from Lydia Salinkova on keys and strings, Ken Barnum on bass and Paul Garisto on drums.

Perfect World is an eclectic mix of tracks, ranging from the rock to the melodic, from the driving beat to the tunefully pensive. Each tune has a slightly different flavour hinting at a wide range of influences and moods. My personal favourites are Again and Again, Overwhelmed, and Howlin’ at the Moon, tracks that show the best that Degrees of Freedom offer – great musicianship, a lyric that tells a story, and a tune that sticks in your head after the album has long finished.

The remaining tracks are all very good standalone tracks, including the title track, Perfect World, deliberately written in a mix of time-signatures so that it never quite settles into a comfortable groove in your head.

These days, it’s rare that you’ll sit and listen to an album from start to finish. I’m old enough to recall a time before people simply downloaded individual tracks, and then hit the shuffle button. Gone are the days when an album took you on a journey, with all of the tracks hanging together and taking you from A to B. And there’s the only problem I have with the album. Perfect World is, to me, an example of how nine great songs don’t quite hang together as a great album when played in sequence.

Now I’m very aware that I’m being picky here, but it’s that range of influences I mentioned before that possibly contributes to this. Don’t get me wrong – this is far better than most of the stuff you hear on the radio these days, and is worthy of a place on your shelf.

As a collection, Perfect World is excellent. As an album, it’s merely very good indeed…

Track listing:

  • Again and Again
  • Indifferent
  • Howlin’ at the Moon
  • Bring Me
  • Lie to Me
  • Mexico
  • Overwhelmed
  • Hand of the Devil
  • Perfect World

Just a quick list

OK, quick list time – please comment on the contents….

Top 5 Films watched over Christmas:

Megamind – actually a fun animated flick, better than I thought it was going to be.

Tangled – OK, but I preferred Megamind.

Uncle Buck – who could ever get tired of this one? John Candy at his finest.

FAQ About Time Travel – I do love this quirky little science fiction thing.

Ooh You Are Awful – early 70s vehicle for the late great Dick Emery, allowing him to scour the country for tattoos on girls bums. Well, why not?

 

Top 5 TV Shows Watched Over Christmas:

I’m gonna preface this list with the comment that i still haven’t seen Doctor Who yet – but I will rectify that over the weekend. And I know that’ll take up a space on my list, so you only get 4….. Anyway:

Still Open All Hours – I was a little dubious about this, but I really enjoyed it, and reckon it could make a decent sitcom series.

PQ17 – this was on last night (so technically NOT Christmas) but was such an interesting documentary about the most disastrous convoy mission of WW2.

The IT Crowd – Love this show, and finally got to see the last episode (The Internet Is Coming) which was fab.

Morecambe and Wise Christmas Special – yeah, i know. But this had everything you want from a Christmas TV show, including the Andre Previn sketch. Never gets old.

 

Top 5 Christmas Gifts:

Dangerous to separate these out, because everything I got was great, so this one is more a subset of a much larger cool list of stuff…

Theatre Tickets – yeah, thanks to David and Heather, we’re gonna soak up some culture in 2014 over at Windsor.

Shaver – sounds dull, but it’s what I wanted, and my old one was very much past it. This one’s lovely and shiny-bright…

Christmas Jumper – well, not so much a Christmas jumper, more a winter one, so whilst it’s lovely and warm, it has no reindeer, holly, Santa or Christmas puds on it, which makes it acceptable for me!

Lynx – loads of Lynx stuff. Apparently, ‘Attract’ smells best, according to my girls….

Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish – the book that tells the background to all those well-intentioned yet spectacular failures, and shows that not all of the show is scripted.

 

Five Books I am reading:

Currently I have five books on the go, so it makes sense to add these to the post…

The Bible (natch)

Raising Steam by Terry Pratchett (surprisingly hard going compares to his usual fare)

Some Kind Of Wonderful by Stephen Biskoff (the novelisation of one of my favourite movies)

Doughnut by Tom Holt (brilliant fantasy farce)

Top Gear – Ambitious But Rubbish (see above)

 

Finally, let’s do 5 things I want to do in 2014:

More gigging and drumming with my great mates in Riser.

Visit Ben and Julia in the South of France, hopefully fulfilling an ambition to drive over the Millau Bridge.

Write more – stories, blogs, songs, whatever, I really want to put more out there this year.

Go deeper – sounds strange, but with all the things I treasure – relationships, experiences, honesty, faith and self-awareness – there’s another level to take them to.

Enjoy life – 2013 was a bit of a struggle for much of the year, and has ended so well, I want this to continue throughout the year.

OK, there you go. Five lists of Five items. Let’s see where we go from there……