Archive for the 'Musical interludes' Category

How to snare me into writing about Valentine’s Day

Damn those French. Lolly clearly knows I can’t resist the opportunity to make a playlist, so tagged me in a Valentine’s Day playlist meme using the We7 site.

Now, let’s get one thing clear from the start here. I’m not a particularly big fan of Valentine’s Day. Usually I try and ignore it or, failing that, despise it. If I’m feeling particularly perky, I’ll head out and play singleton’s bingo.

The rules are thus. Go to a godawful nightclub that will have no shortage of desperate single people. Take a friend. Get a drink and a good vantage point. Survey the romantic apocalypse about to be unleashed below and match up exactly which people will end up with the most inappropriate partners by the end of the night.

It’s quite fun, largely because you realise that no matter how lonely, and probably pointless, your existence is on this particular day, at least you’re not one of those below, desperately trying to cop off with somebody, anybody, in an effort to validate your own attractiveness for the night.

Really, it’ll be easier for all concerned if they just locked all single people in separate rooms with some porn and a box of kleenex for the night on February 14th. At least you wouldn’t have to spend as much to achieve the sense of shame and inadequacy going out on Valentine’s is guaranteed to bring.

So, having established my feelings towards this coming Saturday, the choice of tracks for my playlist are perhaps somewhat unsurprising.

Here’s the playlist.

And because I am, essentially, a walking High Fidelity cliche, here’s a running commentary with the tracklisting.


1. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau – Aled Jones

I started off in a surprisingly positive frame of mind. Casting for a link to start the playlist was obvious: Wales play England in the Six Nations on Valentine’s Day and hopefully we’ll give Martin Johnson’s men a damn good hiding. The Welsh national anthem, then, was a given. However, they didn’t have any proper versions, just a piss poor attempt by Aled Jones. This somewhat sets the tone for the rest of the playlist – something you love utterly bastardised.

2. International Velvet – Catatonia

I’m still on the loving Wales theme at this stage. Every day when I wake up, I thank the lord I’m Welsh. Very self-absorbed. Very Valentine’s Day.

3. Hermann Loves Pauline – Super Furry Animals

So, now we’re still with the Welsh, but crossing into a genuine love story here – the love story of Einstein’s parents. Includes lines about Marie Curie dying from radiation. Perfect wooing material.

4. You’re The One For Me Fatty – Morrissey

As if I need an excuse to put Morrissey in this playlist. Still with the slightly dubious kind of life.

5. Your Mother’s Got a Penis – Goldie Lookin’ Chain

And with this we move from the dubious to the very wrong kind of love. And we’re back with the Welsh as well.

6. Ladies of the World – Flight of the Conchords

Continuing the transsexual theme here, this moves beyond Wales and takes the love out to the whole world. It doesn’t matter what type of woman you are, Brett and Jermaine just want to give you loving. Us men aren’t fussy like that.

7. When Did You Stop Loving Me, When Did I Stop Loving You – Marvin Gaye

At this stage I was torn between going into a genuine love playlist with Let’s Get It On, or go for a more miserable angle with the above track. A no brainer in the end – this is probably the most bitter, yet seductive, break-up song ever written.

8. Caught Out There – Kelis

Where bitterness gives way to pure anger. Nobody wins.

9. There’s a Guy Works Down The Chip Shop Swears He’s Elvis – Kirsty MacColl

I wanted to put England 2 Columbia 0 in here but We7 didn’t have it and it wasn’t on my computer either, so I’ll have to settle for “he’s a liar and I’m not sure about you.” The next track would have been Ian Dury, but they didn’t have any of that either.

10. Babies – Pulp

A lovely little tale about sleeping with a girl’s sister, only to discover you fancy the other one all along. Deceit moves into just plain male uselessness.

11. Where The Wild Roses Grow – Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue

And all that pent out anger has to come out somewhere. Namely murder. Obviously, by this stage, Nick Cave had to feature somewhere and this was the lazy, yet appropriate, choice.

12. Valentine – Richard Hawley

I mellowed by this stage and put a genuinely nice track in. Other than the fact that Richard doesn’t need any Valentine or roses, but a cuddle. Which suits me just fine. See, Richard Hawley’s music can turn even an hardened cynic a little bit slushy.

13. Vincent – Don Maclean

All good things must come to an end, and what better way to finish this play list than with this tragic tale from Don? Reminds me somewhat of Romeo and Juliet, and I know plenty of people who’ve told me that play is the best love story ever written. I never like to point out at that stage that exactly how it ends.

If you missed the earlier link to this playlist, it’s here.

Right, let’s tag a few people. Chris, Matthew, Geordie, Jaz, Chris N and Kerry can do their worst.


Let the bells ring out for Christmas

The Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is the best Christmas song ever. That can never be disputed. But what of the second-best?

There’s been some Christmas classics over the years but it’s hard not to wish they (whoever THEY may be) would add a few different tracks to the annual Christmas compilation albums. There’s only so many times you can hear Slade before it starts to get a tad grating.

So, I’d like to humbly suggest a revival of this Christmas-related classic from the wonderful Saint Etienne featuring Tim Burgess: I Was Born On Christmas Day

In fact, just go back and listen to the entire Saint Etienne back catalogue. You’ll thank me for it.

Any other suggestions for criminally underlooked Christmas songs? Fountains of Wayne’s I Want An Alien For Christmas anybody?

A brief musical interlude

Out of the many strange habits that have developed during my office-based working life is to dive onto YouTube at various points in the day to have a quick blast of music. Usually it’s out of a desire to hear a specific track or a specific band that isn’t on my iPod. It’s quick, easy and generally satisfies any urge I may have to listen to Hoddle and Waddle’s Diamond Lights [1].

Like Homer Simpson squeezing juice out of an orange by pressing it against his forehead, I’ve always suspected there’s probably an easier way to satisfy my arbitrary musical cravings. Certainly Muzu looks like it does the job a lot better. Largely because it’s nothing but music on there.

There’s a few interesting features, especially the bit that allows fans to upload their own tributes, video and footage directly to the artist’s profile, and the video player’s embeddable to blogs and social networking sites. It’s also quite artist-friendly, as they share their advertising revenue with the artists and anything fans upload has the copyright assigned to the artist, which is an interesting solution to the age-old problem on copyright v filesharing.

The teenage me would have probably loved the site, given how into music I was back then. Memories of taping every new entry off the top 40, collecting anything and everything to do with a band and the like. The older me isn’t quite so into his music anymore, views festivals as his idea of personal hell and rarely gets to gigs. But can see why music fans would like the site. As my more music loving colleague said when I forwarded her the link: “I love this. I think it’s broken my computer, but when it restarts I’m going straight back on.”

I’m still having occasional problems navigating around the site, but less so that MySpace. And what I’d really like to see is a ‘like this artist – try these’ recommendation on the channels, a bit like the related video bit on YouTube. But most unforgivably of all is a search for The Smiths brings up New Kids On The Block. That’s something that needs to be fixed before hysterical shaven-headed Morrissey fans start throwing vegan soup at the creators.

Techcrunch has been pretty complementary about Muzu and its nice to see YouTube and MySpace get a bit of competition in the music stakes, and music PRs could definitely find it useful, if it takes off. Thankfully, nobody’s uploaded Diamond Lights to the site yet either.

DISCLAIMER: Yes, this is the product the company who emailed me a few weeks ago was pitching. I’m writing about it as I quite like the site. If it was shite, I wouldn’t have. I’ve not got paid or even given a cup of tea for this. And I’m not planning on writing up any old PR bumf that I’m sent on a regular basis. But I thought it tied in quite nicely with the pitching to bloggers post, and theirs was a good pitch. And, as I said, I like the product. I’d have emailed it to a few friends regardless. Not that this write up will make any difference to their hits, I suspect, given that about 20 people read this blog. And not that I feel particularly ‘raaaah, I am TEH ALL POWERFUL BLOGGER, kneel before me puny traditional media’ for doing writing this, as I don’t really invite these kind of PR pitches and I’m not overly likely to write about them. In fact I’ve probably just destroyed any linger credibility I have now.

[1] I have only ever done this once, I’d like to stress.

The future of (local) commercial radio

Newspapers, we’re constantly told, are changing, a dying breed according to the more gloomy. That conversation has been repeated ad infinitum and is still ongoing. But what about radio? The conversation around where to turn your Web 2.0 dial is a lot less loud, and a lot less straightforward. Nonetheless, like all traditional media, it’s a medium that has to adapt or feel the squeeze.

Times are perhaps never better and never worse for audio lovers. On one hand you have GCap laying off up to 100 staff. On the other hand there are more local radio licences being granted [1], while internet listenership has gone up

No here you have a bit of a flashpoint, and one that highlights the positives and negatives of radio. Unlike print, which traditionally used to have just on letters to the editor, radio has always had a high degree of interactivity with its listeners, so had an advantage over other mediums when it became apparent that interacting and conversation was at the heart of the web.

But commercial radio is doing a lot to squander this lead, assuming it hasn’t already been happened. To save on costs, commercial radio companies are increasingly networking shows, destroying one of the aspects that make commercial radio, especially local commercial radio, unique. It’s not the same interacting with a show that’s being produced, often pre-recorded, for a generic nationwide listenership as it is with a live DJ. The BBC’s DJs do this aspect incredibly well. Local DJs do this well. This is less apparent on networked shows.

If you’re sticking on a generic DJ or, even more extreme, cutting them out altogether, then you’re just left with the music, which is normally decent if unadventurous. And here’s another problem.

Anybody who’s worked in commercial radio with know the ‘target listener’ their station is aimed at (she’s normally called Jane [2], and has a couple of kids). Jane may vary slightly from station to station but she’s normally pretty constant on her music tastes, and the playlist usually reflects this. It’s perfectly listenable but with networked or no DJs it struggles to differentiate itself from other products.

As has been said elsewhere, if you’re just producing playlists then Apple does this better. If it’s about discovering music tailored to your tastes, there’s Lastfm. Then there’s a whole host of digital and internet-only stations that do a minimum of chat and play fairly narrow genres. Or if you just want to grab a few select tracks, YouTube does the job quite nicely. And we’ve not even touched on podcasts here. Already, it’s easy to see the challenges commercial radio faces.

There are two (well, two and a half to three quarters) ways of tackling this. Firstly, there’s the quality of the presenter. Martin Kelner has said:

“I think most people listen to the radio because they like the presenter. I don’t think people say ‘ooh, Russell Brand’s on radio 2, he’s going to play some banging tunes’.”

But a lot depends on the quality of the presenter. You can’t just stick any old celebrity in front of a microphone and expect decent radio. Brand, Jonathan Ross, Terry Wogan and others are in the job because they’re good at what they do. Then you’ve got the presenters who are DJs first and celebrity second – the likes of Moyles, Scott Mills, Steve Lamacq.

You might have noticed all of the above are BBC radio presenters, and that’s largely because it’s difficult to think of equivalents with as good a brand recognition nationwide, which makes their decision to axe Graham Torrington all the more baffling [3].

Johnny Vaughan and Jamie Theakston are both decent broadcasters and, personally, I’d rather listen to either of them than Moyles. But that’s just a personal preference. I can understand why Moyles is popular. You can see, to a certain extent why GCap and others would like to network more and compete with the BBC.

But that brings us onto the second of the two and three quarters: local. Whether Vaughan would work so well outside the capital is questionable, and it would really hurt where local radio performs well – their breakfast show.

It’s fair to say I wasn’t target audience at any of the commercial stations I worked at. But I’d still listen to their breakfast shows out of choice even when I wasn’t working. The music didn’t differ wildly from the alternatives, but the connection these shows had with their audience gave me a reason to tune in. I could relate to the chat, and the DJs clearly knew their area.

Getting out and about, chatting to and interacting with the audience, the local DJs scored a much higher name recognition than any of the networked shows (bar, naturally, Graham Torrington), even among non-listeners. It’s always been clear to me, and I may be wrong here, that local is such a strong part of the brand and is a great USP in a fractured marketplace.

Without local, you’re back to networked shows that have less relevance to the listener, you’re back to the music and you’re back to the hundreds of alternatives. It’s the strongest selling point for a local station. Reduce the number of local hours and it becomes just another radio station, with the same competition.

Local news, too, plays a huge part in this. It makes such a difference to hear a local story leading a bulletin (on merit, I hasten to add) rather than a national story. Local radio news may have its own issues with staffing, pay and the like. But no commercial station I’ve ever worked for has ever accepted the cliched local story of cat stuck up tree as news. The standards for making news relevant to listeners at commercial stations are as high as you’ll find anywhere – it’s practically beaten into you as a journalist to keep the news relevant to the target audience. It’s why many local radio stations excel when a national story breaks on their patch.

The other three-quarters is, unsurprisingly, the websites. Much has been written about the often poor quality of newspaper websites. Radio is often just as bad if not worse. The really poor sites do nothing but just tell you a bit about the station, a bit of news, and if you’re really lucky, a few photos from local events. There is nothing to keep anybody on the site for much longer than a few minutes, and in a Web 2.0 that’s just not good enough.

Even best the commercial radio websites – usually GCap – are a bit thin once you scratch below the surface. At least half the content is the same across all sites and offers precious little in the way of Web 20 interactivity (and this is different from traditional interactivity). News is very much dependent on individual news teams and their desire to keep the web updated. Elsewhere, there’s a couple of decent-ish local sections – usually the local guide and events – but given the number of listeners balanced against the chance to get a real community going, there are so many missed opportunities.

Part of this is the centralised format, where the template is set and it’s hard for individual stations to deviate from this. Interestingly, Roy Greenslade had this to say after Newsquest’s relaunch of their local newspaper websites:

“I still wonder whether all the regional chains – including Trinity Mirrorand Johnston Press – have gone about their website strategy as effectively as they should. Rather than centralising the design process I wish they had allowed individual papers to create their own sites and, at the same time, encouraged their local readers to have taken part in the process.

Internal competition, allied by public involvement, would surely have resulted in even better sites. Most importantly, it would have speeded up the process of change, allowing papers to make gradual improvements that would have retained and enhanced the loyalty of the audience.”

It’s a view I’d share, although I think tempered perhaps. By all means have a basic template, but give a lot more scope to play around with. If one station has a couple of active and well-received bloggers, allow them more space at the expense of something else. If another wants to add a Twitter or Flickr stream, or even embeddable video, let them. Regular podcasting should be a given, not an optional extra.

In fairness to commercial radio, the problem is endemic across most media. There’s no joined up 360 degree strategy and the web is still bolted on as an afterthought. That’s changing, faster in some places than in others, but it’s still not at the heart of strategies as it should be.

Despite all this, I’m still reasonably optimistic about radio. A lot of the engagement that drives conversations is already there in the form of the DJ. Texting, emailing, phoning, forums (if available) all add to the on-air product.

But if local commercial and commercial radio as a whole is to adapt to a world of Apple, Muxtape, Lastfm, YouTube et al when it needs to remember what keeps it unique, what drives the brand. That largely comes down to the quality of the DJs and, if for local stations, you remove more of the local hours, and with it the local interaction, then the question is ‘what is being offered that’s different from internet radio or Web 2.0 music broadcasters’? The answer is often, sadly, not a lot.

I love good local radio. Let’s hope it’s still around for me to love when I finally find a local area I want to settle down in.

[1] My hometown and old news patch of Exeter being one.

[2] There’s one station I know that, in jest, has a sign up asking “What would Jane do?” But the point is served with good humour.

[3] And since I blogged about Graham Torrington, that post has become my all-time most read post, and most searched for topic. Go figure.

It only takes a minute

I blame Abba. Or perhaps Buddy Holly. Ben Elton’s definitely getting some of it as well. Ever since some bright spark had the idea of mixing well known pop music with stage musicals, the hen weekend market suddenly found a whole host of new options. There’s definitely blame in there somewhere, because gosh darn it, we live in a blame society and I want to blame somebody for Never Forget – otherwise known as the Take That musical.

This type of theatre is something I’d normally sprint across hot coals to avoid but the offer of free tickets and the odd idea that I should really try to step out of my comfort zone on occasions and perhaps try something I’d normally turn my nose up at led me to the Savoy Theatre on a Friday evening.

As with a first date that’s not going well, let’s get the niceties out of the way first. Never Forget is by no means awful. There’s a lot of energy, some nice 90s boyband jokes (“at the moment you lot aren’t even 911”), and it has some genuinely funny moments. It’s certainly passable if you’re the target audience. Sadly, I’m not really the target audience and if it wants to achieve the success it needs to somehow transcend the hen-weekend audience.

And that hen-weekend appeal is also part of the problem. There’s so many shows like this on the market that the script and show need to sparkle. It can be as ropey, plot-wise, as it likes as long as you get a chance to completely immerse yourself in the world.

The are weird elements that don’t quite sit with each other. The Manchester setting makes you feel like you’re watching a hyper-real episode of Corrie on occasions. There’s also plenty of references to chavs, the tribute band circuit, tacky clubs and the general awfulness of working class nightlife, but it pales in comparison to, say, Benidorm, which is much more sharply observed in this area. And the Northern tribute act storyline was done so much better in the wonderful Little Voice, while the Full Monty also looms in the background. It pulls in all of these elements but only serves to remind you how good some of these possible inspirations are.

So Never Forget falls back on the songs, and while the best-known Take That songs will always get the audience clapping in the aisles, weirdly it’s like you’re watching a poor Take That tribute band trying too hard, and at this point postmodernist theory probably gets a very bad headache and decides to decamp to the pub for a pint and a packet of crisps to try and work out what the hell its just seen.

It might be a bit cheaper and easier to get to than watching the real Take That live but then there are also plenty of decent tribute bands doing the circuit that are a lot cheaper, which leads to a question that should trouble all productions of a similar ilk: just what has Never Forget – or similar shows – got that the alternatives haven’t?

It’s a problem that really seems to afflict any kind of entertainment package – be it theatre, music, film, or TV – that attempts to leap onto another medium. It just jars badly outside of its natural habitat because we’re too familiar with the original source material.

Never Forget might have worked better on screen than stage. After all, there are plenty of classic musicals than have storylines that could easily be grouped with it – A Star Is Born and Singing In The Rain spring to mind – and in the hands of somebody like Busby Berkeley or Vincente Minelli it could have been a visual treat on celluloid. Even Scorsese’s Happy Endings, the spoof musical within his New York New York, worked far better than these kind of shows.

It’s a bit of a two way process though. Chicago has been one of the best musical adaptations for the big screen in recent years but even that felt far too stagebound. Sweeny Todd did a decent job, largely because it had the unmistakable feel of a Tim Burton film and an excellent cast. The Producers, however, just felt like a stage performance on the screen and was a pale imitation of the original source material.

With the exception of The Producers, though, these films feel like somebody has put effort in. Something like Never Forget, and to a certain extent forerunners like We Will Rock You, feels lazy – like bolting on whatever they can find to something that’s already popular, safe in the knowledge there’s a decent enough fanbase out there who’ll come and see it regardless of what kind of job has been done. Grease may be a cheese-fest but its light years ahead compared to today’s current new musicals, both on stage and screen.

With all this lazy-musical love in, you’d think audiences would be prepared to tolerate more musicals on the big screen, but Sweeny Todd seems to indicate otherwise, and other forays into this genre have been largely disappointing.

Still, there’s no doubt money to be made from this. Got a successful film that involves a bit of dancing (“Billy Elliot”) – make it into a musical. Got a popular culture figure (Beckham)? Make a musical around it. It almost feels that, in this day and age, if you were to propose Brass Eye’s Sutcliffe: The Musical somebody would snap it up.

With that in mind, I’m proposing a musical built around The Smiths & Morrissey. Given real-life events, it’d probably be called We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful and the big love number would probably be You’re The One For Me, Fatty, Bigmouth Strikes Again or Girlfriend in a Coma. I’ve no idea what the plot would be, but it’d be as anti-musical as you could get, yet still be a music. Panic! would obviously be the choice of music for the obligatory nightclub scene, while Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and How Soon Is Now were built for those lonely solo numbers. In fact, much of the show could be made up of lonely solo numbers. The final song would have to be There Is a Light That Never Goes Out.

I’m not quite sure how I’d work Meat Is Murder into it, but I’d like to think La Mozzfather himself would raise a wry smile. Now, who wants to be a Max Bialystock and invest in this?

Oh no, not, horror, singing!

Cinema has the capacity to surprise and evoke quite strong responses, yet hitherto the emotion of walking out and them complaining to the Advertising Standards Authority about buying a ticket without realising they were about to watch a film with singing in it probably hasn’t been high up the list.

Now, if I’d brought a ticket for a film and it turned out to be a musical, I’d at least give them film a chance and let it stand or fall on its own merits [1]. But no, it seems some people are so offended by the idea of sitting down for a couple of hours and watching a film with singing in it, they’re unable to countenance the idea the film might actually be quite good.  Yet I’d wager a good proportion are exactly the same morons who’ll happily pay fifty quid to sit through a couple of hours of unadulterated toss on stage like We Will Rock You, or think Grease is is the nadir of musical cinema.

Burton’s adaptation of the demon barber’s story may be flawed in place, but it’s still probably the best musical committed to the big screen for a decade, maybe more.  Chicago was fun, with some great tunes, but felt too stilted and stage-bound, while The Producers was just rubbish.

Anyway, if we’re complaining about trailers misrepresenting the actual film, then I’d like to claim some form of damages for being duped into thinking Along Came Polly was funny, Perfume was in any way intelligent, Spiderman 3 wouldn’t make me want to gnaw my arm off in sheer frustration at the treatment of potentially one of the best villains in the series, and that Mission: Impossible 3 had aspects that could be described as ‘exciting’ and, thus, lead me to mistakenly assume the whole film wasn’t made solely for dribbling numpties who can’t be described as brain dead on the grounds that brain dead people have infinitely more intelligence.

On second thoughts, if I’d just endured sitting through any of the above then I’d probably be too depressed at the waste of all those hours of my life I’d never get back. Or, as I felt after watching quite possibly the worst film ever made – Le Divorce – whether or not to kidnapped all those involved with the film and drop them out in the middle of the desert with no water and portable DVD players containing only that film until they saw the error of their ways and vowed to burn every copy of the offending piece of celluloid ever made.

[1] I’ve actually done this once before when I saw the fantastic 8 Women. I’m not sure if it quite classifies as a musical, but with the random bursts into song its near as dammit. And yes, I wasn’t expecting it, and yes, I’m bloody glad I saw the film.

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December 2022

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com