Wednesday 25 February 2009


Off to see Marianne Faithfull the other night for a special "session" for BBC Four, my favourite TV channel. It was in a lovely venue "St Lukes" and was, for me anyway, the height of sophistication: Round tables. Candles. Glass of wine. Plus some farmyard animal- shaped sweets my friend had brought. That and a packet of peanuts, and we were good to go!

On she came and instantly had the audience in the palm of her hand due to her vulnerability. The voice which was pure and sweet originally has "matured" into a husky instrument due to years of well documented drug and alcohol abuse. It sometimes seemed little more than a croak. She was clearly nervous and seemed under- rehearsed with frequent stops to restart tunes and there were several retakes at the end. However, a really enjoyable evening. There seemed some confusion outside the venue as it seemed it was a hot ticket and so there was a bit of battle to get in with rather confused security arrangements.

Not sure when the concert will be shown but it will be worth watching for a number of reasons: 1) How the many stops and starts were cleverly edited into a seamless concert. We were asked to applaud a few times by the TV people. If they splice this in later will this regarded by the Daily Mail as another "BBC Faking it" scandal?

2) How the BBC copes with the strong language used not only in some of the introductions but also in the songs. "Why'd Ya do it" from the "Broken English" album being a case in point. I hope they don't cut it as it was one of the high points of the night.

3) To see if you can see me shovelling nuts and sweets down my gaping maw and beaming at the same time. She ended with "As Tears Go By" in its original form albeit with a totally different sounding voice from the 60's original.

Friday and it was time for another of our DJ "Nerd Nights". As you know if you are familiar with the show and this blog, every couple of months on average we hasten to a major British city to spoil it for the good citizens by being crashingly dull about radio and jingles and playout systems and the like.

Newcastle was the victim on this occasion. "Curated" by John “I met you in Binns Middlesbrough when I was 14 and got your autograph" Foster of BBC Tees and his partner Anna Lee of BBC Five Live. This meant choosing the bars and the restaurant.

Newcastle is a hopping town and there was probably the best turnout we have ever had with Roger "IKEA FM" Clarke driving all the way from Berkshire to be with us. He reckoned a 650 mile round trip in total. It was good to see him as well as a host of new faces and some of the old stalwarts. Radio Two's Charles Nove made the trip and a nerd night is never a proper nerd night without Hirsty of Galaxy in Leeds. A great mate and the "Rain man" of these events. He can not only tell you the title and artist of a song but also the label it came out on and most damningly…the colour of the aforementioned label! This is a terrific party trick but also slightly disturbing.

I decided to let the train take the strain which it did although as seems to be a hallmark of journeys that I undertake the "Quiet Carriage" was full of the noisiest passengers. This time it was a stag do on its way to Edinburgh. They had crates of beer and stood clutching themselves in the aisle and yelling at one another in between gusts of raucous laughter. My guess is that they would have all been naked and lighting farts by the time they hit the border. It may have been my imagination but I think I heard the train driver complaining that he wasn't able to hear the sound of the locomotive above the racket.

A great night was had and we stayed out until 3am. I remember everything up until when we left the bar. Not the short taxi ride to the hotel. Nor getting in to bed. I woke up with my finger still on the light switch.

Roll on April and the next one. This time we are heading back to London. Be warned - bores in a bar near you zzzzzzzzzzzz

Thursday 19 February 2009

MMMmmmmm Pie!

Fun week and an even "funner" weekend. The concert season is in full swing once again. I like nipping down to the local ticket agency and swiping their schedule, scuttling home and marking up all the gigs I would like to attend. It may be a little like Fantasy Football. So far I have earmarked 20 although I think it may be a bit much to expect to get the time to attend them all particularly as many are midweek. The by now Legendary Libido Boy made one of his first appearances of the New Year when he hit town and we went to see a terrific double bill of Tift Merritt and Teddy Thompson.

Tift thanked Bob Harris for his support as he has featured her in session on his show before as well as playing her music probably more often than me. She had even gone and got the DVD's of "The Old Grey Whistle Tests". It is good to see a support act get such a warm reaction when usually people are busy talking loudly or in the bar. I always think this is A) Terribly rude and B) A waste of the ticket money. Teddy made a guest appearance to sing some great harmonies. Then it was his turn. Last night of the tour and he was excellent and also a very engaging and likeable performer who has a terrific rapport with the audience. Someone described him to me as a bit like Ricky Gervais (shudder). I am sorry if I am out of step but I don't buy into the "godlike genius" tag that seems to follow him around.

The only down side to the gig was that it was midweek so Libido Boy and I weren't able to rush off to Camden for beer and crisps after the show. It was back to bed as soon as possible for a couple of hours before the following morning’s programme.

Soon it was the weekend and I went up to the Midlands to see friends. In a pub in Darlaston on Friday evening and the bloke at the bar homed in on the woman I was with and said in his fabulous Black Country accent: "You'm gorranora….a charisma yow 'av." Someone piped up "ignore him, he says that to all the girls" With hindsight I added "he's drunk, wears thick spectacles and only appears to have one eye". This was duly noted and I knew that revenge would not be long in coming.

Saturday we headed off to Tipton. Home of Mad O'Rourke's Pie Factory. I had the "Hen Pecked" which was, as you would imagine, chicken. She had the "Pansy Potter" which was a steak and kidney although a smaller version of the massive "Desperate Dan Cow Pie". They both have horns though!

Saturday night and into Birmingham to the Hare and Hounds pub which has a reputation as being a music pub. Although we were there to celebrate the 21st Birthday of Janice Long's son Fred and her partner Paul’s 50th. Great night with DJ's - Paul took a turn with some of his friends singing a few songs. They must have been pretty good mates as there was a certain amount of harmonica sharing going on. I was dragged up to dance…..then it happened….the revenge….like a stiletto between the ribs. "I think it must be true what they say about Taureans." she said "What?" said I (May 11th). "that they are all awful dancers!"

Thursday 12 February 2009


Decided that a little continental R & R was called for last weekend. ‘American Adventure Three’ is going to be too expensive, and it’s also rather undiplomatic and uncaring when the UK is in meltdown and people are battening down the hatches. This year I’m going to be spending more time at home for holidays and doing the odd weekend away.

With the awful weather I decided on a last minute trip to see some friends in rural Normandy. I phoned the ferry company and effectively said: "Usual 8.30 Portsmouth to Caen Friday morning and coming back Sunday afternoon at 4pm please." "Sorry not possible", came the reply. "We don’t run Friday morning crossings in the winter" Aeeeiiie! The joy of being so close to the coast is that it’s a quickish and relaxing hop across the Channel. There was only one thing for it - THE TUNNEL.

Not been by car this way, although I had a trip on Eurostar a few years back, which was very nice. Left a snowy London after the show and headed for the port at Folkestone. I arrived in plenty of time to find only a few cars there and some rather bewildering signs. I followed what I thought was the right route, and eventually ended up halted by some official looking guys. One asked the usual security questions and then rubbed the steering wheel with some gizmo which was supposed to show up any explosive residue. Just how accurate was this machine and what else would it show? “Hmmm we are picking up traces of cheese and onion crisps, dandruff and someone hasn't washed their hands after using the toilet have they sir?"

None of these applied to me so, after being given a clean bill of health, I was allowed to proceed onto the train. Like a car ferry they pack you in a long line, inches from the vehicle in front. The difference being that you remain in the car for the short hop under ‘La Manche’. Thought it was a good opportunity to have a doze. However the car in front kept switching its hazard warning flashers on and off, pausing…. then turning them on again. They’re pretty bright when they are only three feet away from your tired orbs. Eventually I could stand it no longer. I hauled myself out of the car strode to the vehicle in front and rapped on the window. "Are you aware that you hazards keep going on and off?" I barked. The driver and his wife smiled wanly and pointed to their child standing on the transmission tunnel pressing all the buttons on the dash. Resisting the temptation to yell "CONTROL YOUR CHILD", I merely muttered "Oh! It is beginning to give me a headache that’s all". Darkness reigned after that. Not being a parent, I’m not sure at what point parents decide in the law of diminishing behavioural returns, it’s better to let their children run riot and disturb others, rather than have them sulk or worse stifle their creativity and freedom of expression.

Out the other end and off I went with the Sat-Nav telling me it was 280 miles to my destination. It was only a few kilometres down the motorway when I realised that no one had asked to see my passport.

Most of the roads were toll roads or ‘Peages’ and included in the drive was a trip over the impressive ‘Pont de Normandie’, which crosses the Seine near Le Havre. This added £25 to the bill. The roads were pretty clear and speedy progress was made. So it only took me about three and a half hours to reach the house. However it would probably be a good idea if you are alone in a right hand drive car to manufacture a comedy long arm to hand the money over at the toll booth. Instead I had to get out walk round the car hand over the cash walk back round and get back in and head off. Not quite a ‘Le Mans’ start, but I could do with all the exercise I can get at the moment.

Arrived at the house just in time for the central heating oil to run out. However the water wasn't affected and there was plenty of wood for the stove. Bottle of wine and some really terrible DVD's – ‘Galaxina’ anyone? Luvverly. Woke up to find I was snowed in. Nothing for it, more terrible DVD's, ‘Hunk’ anyone? Wood burning stove, wine, DVD's, bread and pate and an electric blanket what more can a boy ask for?

By Sunday morning most of the snow had gone, so was able to set off for the ferry port at Ouistreham. I decided to have a nice dawdle, so I headed for Arromanches and the D-Day landing beaches - hence the title of this week’s blog. Taken from ‘Big Show’, it’s a song by the wonderfully underrated Bonzo dog doodah band. When I arrived I was immediately transported back 40 years as a party of British teenagers were goofing about and not taking much notice of their surroundings and their place in history – just as I had done on my school trip back in 1969. Maybe it’s only with age that one gets to appreciate the sacrifice made on our behalf all those years ago. I wasn't annoyed as I could see myself in the kids and so am confident that they too will come to understand as they mature. Onto the ferry and parked up behind a muddy estate car. Out hopped Paul Heiney, formerly of ‘That’s Life’, and his wife Radio 4 stalwart and journalist Libby Purvis. As you pointed out on the show - I should have given them my autograph.

Thursday 5 February 2009


Gig season is upon us once again and so for the first time in 2009 my mate Simon aka "Libido Boy" blew into London. I always make out that my old school chum is as "shagadelic" as Austin Powers but it is only in jest. He is a tryer though so he finds his mind wanders when women walk past. He arrived with a brace of new charity shop shirts and a glint in his eye. Not sure what he had been up to the previous 24 hours but I expected he was up for some loud music and then a visit to one of our favourite pubs for the silent DJ and his wheels of steel.

This time he brought a towel rather than use mine and this coupled with his sleeping bag in my tiny flat, he did think it was a bit like we were moving in together. Think "The Odd Couple" and you are getting close. Although not sure which one of us is the prissy Jack Lemon character. I have a nasty feeling it is me as I fuss around tidying before he arrives vacuuming my moultings from the bathroom floor. Cleaning the khazi and generally straightening stuff so that he can leave the toilet seat up. He does this as he knows how it bugs me. My view is that it is such a tiny bathroom if you turn round quickly you will dislodge something and straight down the loo it will go. There are few things more annoying than fishing a soaking roll of "bathroom stationary" out of the pan.

Friday night’s destination was the Shepherds Bush Empire for the last date of the tour by those punk stalwarts "The Buzzcocks". Not seen them before although I have played them many times on the show. Support were the Lurkers who are down to one original member I think.

It was going to be interesting to see/hear how punk had held up these last 30 years or so. The audience seemed to be comprised of middle aged mothers and their children where we were sitting in the balcony. (it’s the knees, you know). Down in the pit middle aged and young men were ready to pogo like it was 1979. The moment the Lurkers hit the stage beer started flying and the dancing started. Gently at first but by the time the Buzzcocks were in full flight it was bedlam down there. Meanwhile up in the gods the middle aged Mums and their daughters were up and jiving blocking the view for Libido Boy and me who were still sitting down. (It’s the knees you know).

It was pretty relentless stuff although hugely entertaining. Not entirely sure that the politics and teen anger had fared so well. It must be hard to sing "16" when you are knocking 50. It was pretty exciting stuff although you had a pretty good idea of the tempo of the next song....usually the same as the one that preceded it. I noticed however that although I was tapping my feet Libido boy was not moving. Had he died of excitement? No, he had fallen asleep!

After the gig it was off to our favourite boozer in Camden for a few pints, crisps and the silent DJ and his wheels of steel. There then started a conversation about which version of "Do you love me" he was playing. Dave Clark 5, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes or the Contours. We thought we would ask the silent DJ and his wheels of steel. When he finished his set he packed all his vinyl back into a couple of holdalls and swept into the night before we had a chance to utter a word.

Hamburger heaven followed as we went to one of the many concession stand,s then we walked back to the flat. When we got back the hall porter was joshing with some women. So as we waited for the lift we joined the josh. One of the women was eyeing me with some amusement. "She fancies me" I thought. When I got into the lift and looked in the mirror I realised what she was actually staring at: I had huge globule of tomato ketchup on my chin.

Weather caved in and we had snow in London and the South East over the weekend. This was enough to make all the news outlets go into a collective meltdown, conveniently forgetting as ever that there were plenty of parts of the UK that hadn't seen a flake. So instead of going with the flow we decided not to. We have always enjoyed a little light subversion on the programme so thought it would be more fun to enjoy the idea of it than go into "crisis" mode. You can get that any time on your local station as that is what they do well reading out the long list of the school closures with small children hoping theirs is going to be shut. Like waiting for their lottery numbers to come up. As older boys try and make hoax calls to get a bogus closure mentioned. I think they are wise to this by now so there are a lot of "codes" in place. Just what the BBC needs right now is for there to be "BBC Bogus School closure Gate".

On the Monday I went against meteorological advice. Got a train to Birmingham to see my Dad. Delayed ten minutes either end but otherwise fine. Plenty of snow. Buses working fine. Bonus as I walked along, I saw a temporary street sign for a new estate. It must be difficult to try and think of new themes for estates once you have run out of flowers’ names and local worthies to name cul- de-sacs after. I think judging by the house numbers in Merton Way they are going for a Radio 2 themed estate. "Wogan Way" anyone?