Thursday, 24 February 2011
LISTEN...DO YOU WANT TO KNOW A SECRET?
When the show came from Birmingham we would have publicity stills taken from time to time and fell foul of indifferent picture takers. Once I was despatched to a studio which was the lair of a man who specialised in baby pictures, and had my photograph taken surrounded by toy bricks, brightly-coloured balls and fluffy rugs. He succeeded in making me look like a chubby-faced ghost.
On another occasion someone had the bright idea of taking our picture and having Janice Long and I made into cardboard cut-outs to stand in the reception area. This time is was a seasoned press photographer who was summoned to do the job. Brilliant, getting in to the thick of the action, taking the pictures and getting out to meet the deadline. Not so hot on the portrait front. He insisted on standing on a chair to take the pics from above. The end result was we all looked like Toulouse Lautrec with tiny, short, stubby legs and big heads. I - for some inexplicable reason - had a power socket between my tiny feet!
Needless to say, the pics never made the final cut.
Whilst we were moving on to think of maybe a wedding car we were interrupted by a letter plopping on the mat; it turned out to be from my Uncle Maurice (who you may know from the previous blog managed to guess the gift we had given my Aunt by the shape: "Ooh look she's got a Metronome" before Daphne had a chance to get the wrapping paper off).
His letter was typed which means his fingers were still healing from the stamping he received along with all the other unimaginable comedy violence we wreaked on his "sorry ass" (Sorry, channelling Will Smith there) at the time.
It was a very funny letter of contrition (not that he needed to apologise) containing a variety of nose gags, as well as the very astute observation that the only person in the world who somehow never needs to apologise is the Duke of Edinburgh. He signed it, "The Blurter"!
Got me thinking that I cannot take the moral high ground on "blurting", as I have previously in that department. In fact, if you want to keep a secret don't under any circumstances tell me. My brain can't cope with deception and I am the most awful liar.
In a previous life I was in a pub in Sheffield and met a woman who I vaguely remembered a fact about. We chatted for a while and then it came to me and:
BLURT: "Oh I remember you. You were the woman that as a nurse had sex with (a now well-known pop star) on the operating table at the hospital, before he got famous and was working as the handy man"!
CUE: Agonising kick in the shins from my then partner who had given me this juicy slice of information a few minutes earlier.
In a previous, previous life, I recall a family meal with my then girlfriend, her mother and her sister. For some reason, the two of them had gone off for a weekend in the country and had not told the other sister.
Me making conversation during a lull:-
So....BLURT "how was your weekend in Yorkshire"?
Oof! (agonising kick in the shins under the table from a pointy and expensive designer shoe.)
Before you warn the Dark Lady, I have told her never to tell me anything she wants to keep a secret. As a friend of mine says.
"Secrets are like crisps. They are to be passed around in the pub."
The Nerd Season is upon us once again and it was to Norwich last Friday to meet up with other DJs and radio people for our bi-monthly bore in.
Not been to Norwich since the 80's and, like many cities, it has had quite a makeover in that time. I decided - as it was going to be a late night - to go by train as it is a direct route(ish).
Britain is great North to South, but try going side to side and that is where the problems begin.
Train from London to Norwich utilising ancient Inter City rolling stock. I expected to bump into Jimmy Saville any moment. On the return journey it was Norwich to Diss. Then a coach to Stowmarket then train to London. The coach driver wasn't exactly instilling confidence in his passengers by asking: "Do you know the way?"
Still marginally better than him asking:
"Are we there yet?"
Bit of a coup for the Nerds on this occasion as often times we stay in hotels away from the main drag. On this occasion, scouring the map as I stood outside the station wondering how far away it was, I noticed it was the other side of the road.
Top location and top people, including folks from the local radio stations. Nice to meet them and one of the women there was the daughter of the bass player from the Bonzo Dog Doo-dah Band. Now this is the type of company I like to keep!
We walked the city streets past the sad remains of Anglia TV.
In its heyday it was home to:
"From Norwich....it’s the quiz of the week" Sale of the Century with Nicholas Parsons who got all kinds of stick for his on air gaffes but as he told me once:
"Every time I made a mistake the ratings went up"
"Who has just won the Open golf championship"?
Buzzer: "Sam Snead....er, I mean Derek"
Contestant Derek: "Sam Snead"
Wonder if he won the boat?
They also made Tales of the Unexpected and lots of wonderful wildlife programmes.
Now it is a shell as the regional TV franchises have all but been dismantled.
The previous occasion I visited it was to see someone I knew who had just got a job as a reporter there.
In a hotel room in the city that night, she made me shave off my moustache which had had since I was 21 in a feeble attempt to make me look older. In the bathroom we discovered my face had caught up and I had a receding upper lip.
She left Anglia shortly after that and had quite a career at the BBC, although despite being an excellent TV journalist she was sometimes referred to as "Helen Keller"
This may be a reference to the time when she visited a hospital which housed the last few surviving 1950's polio victims, encased in iron lungs to help them breathe.
Holding the camera tripod over her shoulder and chatting with the consultant about how they would conduct the interview and frame the shots, after he told her what he thought was the best course of action she agreed with the words.
"Good Wheeze"! realising she was surrounded by people struggling for breath in their machines, she fled the ward to regain composure…unfortunately braining one of the patients with her tripod in the process.
While I have got you here, why not make a song request for the Listener's Library? A track you haven't heard in awhile, a track that is special you would like to share, or just try and catch us out with a song you don't think we will even have. Visit here, I look forward to hearing - your suggested records.
And don't forget to add me to Twitter @alexthedarklord (click here to do so) and also use the same login to hear the latest Audioboo (click here).
Friday, 18 February 2011
OH PLAY THAT THING!
She tells wonderful tales of early morning organ practice as a student in London, when each note would bring mouthwatering smells pouring from the pipes. (This was due to the bellows being placed in the basement next to the kitchen where they were cooking breakfast.)
This strikes me as being a great way to learn an instrument, although it could be argued it is a similar method that animal trainers use: when the dog has finished leaping through hoops of fire and running backwards through the trainers legs, or when the horse has finished a clear round at Hickstead and they are given a sugar lump or something similar.
In my Aunt's case this was a full English.
Not sure if the music reflected impending meals and treats, or even it it was possible to alter the make-up of the odour. If you look carefully at the stops on a pipe organ they are labelled exotically with names that roll off the tongue, for instance: "Diapason", "Gallery Reeds" or even "Bombard".
Does make you wonder what her Organ lessons sounded like though:
(Cue crazy-haired shabbily dressed be-corduroyed eccentric teacher possibly of Eastern European extraction):
"DAPHNE, I WENT TO SMEELLL THAT TOAST!"
"NO, NO, NO GIRL! I WANTED LIGHTLY POACHED...YOUR FINGERING IS SO HEAVY THEY ARE HARD BOILED!!!"
After qualifying, my Aunt moved to the lake district and took up a teaching post at Kendal High School for
Girls which - sadly - was nothing like St. Trinians, she tells me, and probably never had a Head mistress who was a man in drag called Miss Fritten.
She taught piano, flute and also choir. Her whole life has been steeped in music. She regularly tunes in to the Best Time of the Day show but does admit that not all the music I play is to her taste.
Having said that I am - without doubt - her nephew.
Whenever I play the current playlist song by The Pierces, Dr. Strangelove the producer says: "They sound like Fleetwood Mac" This repetition is becoming similar to the mantra chanted by tourists eating frogs legs, or maybe even marinaded shark, for the first time:
"Hmmm, tastes like chicken!"
So we have now ascertained that Bach's "Toccata and Fugue" tastes like a full English and The Pierces' "You'll Be Mine" tastes like Chicken.
Having just re-read those paragraphs it may at first appear baffling, but there is a tortured logic in the music = food argument, however baffling it may at first appear.
So it was to the Lakes we went on the Saturday morning to meet my family in a pub for a birthday lunch for Auntie.
Dark Lady and I drove up her wondering what the rest of my family would be like and if it would be wise to flee now, before I put the ring on her finger. Wedding planners note: this is the second ring. She already has the engagement ring. It is odd that once that arrived everyone seemed more interested in her ring finger than the rest of her. Lovely as it is, the ring seems to have taken centre stage lately with friends and family.
I don't know the history of weddings and wedding jewellery but I can tell you one thing; if things had been different they wouldn't be flashed around in public I can tell you...
Take Buttock adornment, for example:
"Hitch up yer skirt and show us yer ring"
(That looks worse written down than I expected. Apologies.)
When we arrived the whole family were there:
My Aunt and her best friend, Norma. My Dad and his hot squeeze, June. Nell and John - my sister and brother-in-law - and also my Aunt Pat and Uncle Maurice.
The DL has expertly wrapped the present from Nell, John her and myself: a Metronome. Her previous one is nearly a century old and has expired as the weight had taken to slipping down the stick (technical term, Metronome fans) so that as you played the rhythm became faster. End result? Some of her pupils could perform the "Minute Waltz" in under 40 seconds!
Unless you place it in a large box the shape of a Metronome, it is always is going to be a bit of a give away.
As we handed the gift to Daphne. Maurice piped up:
"Looks like a metronome"
There then followed several minutes of punching, pulling of ears and tweaking of nose and digging in the ribs ands stamping on feet, as well as a little light shin kicking. A bit like a Laurel and Hardy or a Three Stooges routine.
Just before we carried the bloodied and bruised body of Maurice to the table there was one final gift. Yours!
You have been very helpful in the past what with your advice on wheelbarrows for wedding gifts and Snorkels for my Dad.
As my Aunt is a musician, it needed to be a musical-type offering. The suggestions came rolling in. Sousaphone was a mite heavy. A Ukulele was a possibility. No idea where I could lay my hands on a musical saw, so a finely tuned and economical Triangle was decided upon; a welcome addition to any household. If you can't play it, you can always stand at the door and rattle it to herald meal times like Granny did in The Beverly Hillbillies.
"Come and get it!"
The DL was pounced on in turn by family members and given the third degree. Luckily I am blessed with a terrific family so no worries anywhere on that score (unless they were trying to talk her out of marrying me!)
At the end of the last blog I told you I had purchased a special turntable that transfers vinyl to CD.
When I started as a boy broadcaster, technology was very different and I would play vinyl and the occasional 78. Then came the new fangled CD which took a while to get used to. Now, of course, it is all downloads and hard drives. Since the programme moved from Birmingham to London in 2008, I have not had access to a turntable in the studio so a lot of wonderful music is lying in my spare room, unplayed outside of my home.
I had seen similar machines advertised but they only connected to a computer so you could load them that way. I need CDs. Saw just the thing in a shop and, as it was a mite expensive; a few minutes on the internet and one swift phone call later and I had ordered an ex-demonstration one from a "Good as new!" type site.
It arrived and I plugged it into my vintage 1978 rack system in place of the existing turntable so I could hear what I was playing. All I heard was a very distorted low-level version. I had no headphones with the correct-sized plug socket, until I remembered somewhere I had a small speaker that I used to plug into my cassette Walkman during the 80s (this was so that I could listen to music whilst in the bath!)
It worked well enough for me to hear what was going on. So it was with some trepidation I loaded B.B King's 1972 album, Guess Who? into the flash memory. Loaded a blank CD-R and pressed the button marked "burn".
Did it work?
Judge for yourself by checking out last Monday's Lester's Library tracks on the BBC iPlayer (click here to get it)
Next time there may be some St. Valentine's tomfoolery and - yes - another "Nerd Night" is occurring, a night where DJs and broadcasting types converge on a city and try and out-bore each other. This time as the train drew into Norwich I thought I could see long lines of refugees with their belongings on carts and prams lining the road, fleeing in the city before our arrival.
Don't forget to add me to Twitter @alexthedarklord (click here to do so) and also use the same login to hear the latest Audioboo (click here).
Also, still keep your Listener's Library suggestions coming in. Think of a track you haven't heard in ages, or a track that is special you would like to share, or just a darn tootin' good song that you think I should play. Visit here, I look forward to hearing - your suggested records.
Wednesday, 9 February 2011
LET THE MUSIC PLAY ON
The first-few-weeks-back-at-work frenzy is levelling out and thoughts turn to fun!
Fun for me means - among other things - music. This always makes me thankful that my hobby and my work are more or less the same thing. There can't be that many jobs that combine both if you think of it.
Accountant: "I love sitting counting stuff. When I get home of an evening I count bathroom tiles to keep the buzz going".
Supermarket check-out queen: "When I finish work, I hurry home and stack stuff in the kitchen cupboards. It always gives me a big thrill. Value beans at the front...always!”
Undertaker: “Time with the deceased is never wasted. When I get back from a top interment I sit there with my family wishing they were in the ground....or that I was just dead!”
Truck driving is a less cut-and-dried occupation. Through the show over the years I have learned that many drivers enjoy driving and when the day is over they hurtle around in ludicrously overpowered cars or attempt to become undertaker fodder via warp-speed motorcycles.
Over Xmas and New Year there wasn't a lot going on and, apart from the Glenn Miller Orchestra, the live music itch wasn't being scratched.
Step forward Country legend, Marty Stuart.
Bob Harris Country producer and mate, Al Booth, had a spare ticket. I had first heard about the gig having been tipped off in a roundabout way by a listener: Mary from New York.
She is an Anglophile (there are still a few left) and live music fan.
The concert was so low-profile I had seen no advertising for it at all. This may explain why the gig was only two thirds full.
Being an enthusiast and not an expert, I hadn't had much time for Marty over the years as every time I had seen him it had usually been at an award ceremony, so had not really witnessed him play.
My vision was coloured by his image; that of a perma-tanned vision in rhinestones with a faintly ludicrous hairstyle (let’s call it "Downhome Bouffant" or maybe "Country Mullet").
Boy was I ever wrong. He has been around for a while now being roughly the same age as me and spent some years as guitarist in Johnny Cash's band, as well as marrying one of his daughters, although he is now hitched to Country legend, Connie Smith.
He ran through a very polished set of originals and covers and instrumentals with a cracking band, including the tallest and thinnest guitar player I have ever seen. The show climaxed with some Gospel featuring gorgeous harmonies.
Image is such an important part of music that we tend not to realise how much it affects us.
When I think of the number of CDs featuring photos of perky teens or oily geezers in tuxedos that I have discarded without listening to, due to my innate prejudice, I wonder how much great music I have missed out on over the years.
Talent show contestants immediately get flushed down the khazi as they will turn up everywhere, so no need to spend time on them. However, some artists start off badly for me but improve.
Joss Stone as a perky teen with big voice didn't resonate with me particularly; for her first album she had coaching from a middle-aged Betty Wright. Why not just get Betty to record the stuff in the first place? Latterly she has been working with a variety of people including Jeff Beck so her credibility rose. Likewise Katy Melua who started out as a Mike Batt protege singing twee tunes about bicycles. Then along came William Orbit and she became suddenly a more interesting artist.
I know, we are heading towards the "ageism" debate and a whole "good looking sells" argument. I suppose that is just the way the world turns.
I maintain not being good looking enough has prevented me from having a glittering TV career. Shortly, I will change this argument to include "I am also too old".
Actually thinking about it...I probably am too old!
Dark Lady and I have been busy making wedding plans and trying very hard to ensure it is as stress free as possible. We are planning something low key. So low key I am not sure I have been invited.
We were looking at cakes the other day as we probably need to have one of these. We are not too keen on having the standard three tier with the plastic Bride and Groom stuck on the top, so we looked on the internet at various cake sites. One we saw which looked pleasant enough, but nothing startling, retailed at a mad £999!
Mentioned it on the show and, as a result, thank you to everyone who offered to make us a cake. You really are very kind.
Think we are all sorted now, although the DL vetoed the idea of a Bob the Builder supermarket-bought job. My local supermarket will print a pic on the cake using some Fancy computerised icing system. Few months back went past the counter and there was a sign pointing out that they had the right to veto "unsuitable pictures".
Wonder what brought that about? A plethora of confections featuring bottoms, breasts and worse? Or Wedding cakes resplendent with the photo of the former wife/husband or police mugshot?
Taking time off from the planning we headed to the Mermaid Theatre in London for a Radio 2 In Concert special featuring OMD.
Before the gig proper started we went upstairs to watch Jo Whiley doing her stuff with the band and also a live set from Jonathan Jeremiah, who seemed familiar and played some wonderful songs backed by a string quartet. I have a suspicion that I have played him as part of the library a year or so back.
We took our seats one row back from the stage which boasted an unparalleled view.
On came the band and the couple in front stood up blocking aforementioned view!
I politely tapped the woman on the shoulder and asked her to sit down and she said
"Why don't you stand up?"
Not sure what the riposte to this should have been. I was on the horns of a dilemma here: was I spoiling their fun by asking then to remain seated? Or were they being inconsiderate by blocking our view?
Luckily they sat down after a few minutes and remained so for most of the gig.
I felt for a guy on the front row nearest the aisle who walked with the aid of stick. His view was continually blocked by people rushing to the front to Dad dance. So much so that his patience began to wear thin. By the time the band launched into "Enola Gay" he was using the stick as a weapon to hoik people out of his eyeline.
The weekend came and it was off to the Lake District for my Aunt’s 80th Birthday lunch.
You are so useful and kind with all your help with gift ideas. When people are into middle-age and beyond generally they have everything they need and in many cases are looking to downsize and simplify their lives. To that end the word had gone out:
Hmm, a problem. You had come to the rescue for my Dad several times now with a snorkel and the idea of having him fired from a cannon. What to get for an 80 year old music teacher?
The ideas came pouring in. We needed something musical, so extreme sports and a gigolo were politely declined. Although a bungee jumping Chippendale playing a zither did flit across my mind for a moment....only a moment mind.
I will tell you the rest of the story in the next blog which, if I remember, will also contain a glowing review of a vinyl to CD burning turntable I have just bought; soon I will be able to play you some of the albums and singles in my collection that are not available in other formats and so, at the moment, don't get an airing.
It is currently in its box. I just hope I can get it to work!
Thursday, 3 February 2011
HERE COMES THE BRIDE
She will be reading this so it is important to keep on the right side as she knows all the DL's "Skeletons". I am hoping for a few juicy nuggets of personal info just in case we ever have a knock down drag-out fight about anything:
"Well, I may have forgotten to take the rubbish out but at least I didn't get horribly drunk on holiday in Lloret and marry a 74 year-old waiter called Pablo!"
"Darling, I never knew your Great Aunt was Eva Braun?"
So far on all the evidence from first-hand experience and what Annie has told me, there is nothing to get my teeth into.
She doesn't even like shopping that much either, so we can't argue about a totally unnecessary pair of shoes (as I reach for a nerdy magazine to drool over the prospect of a totally necessary second car or a Microlight).
I will play the long game on this one.
DL knew where we were headed so, as it was Friday - and by the end of the week I tend to be a bit shot to pieces with the early starts - she drove. We drove west with me occasionally waking from my slumber to proffer some important and timely route advice:
"MIND THAT BUS"
"HOW FAST DO YOU CALL THIS??"
"OH....SEEMS FAster......" (lamely subsiding).
DL is a far better driver than me so I am in no position to criticise. It is just what we blokes are programmed to do.
The Warp speed journey continued and we soon found ourselves in a pretty village outside a pub called "The Ear".
This is where we were staying. Nice comfortable room with big bed and capacious bathroom. After a long week we were going to sleep the sleep of the dead.
(Oi! I know what you are thinking.....Disgusterating!!!)
DL had to go and help with the wedding rehearsal; she was to play an integral part in the proceedings by doing one of the readings, although I didn't know this until just before the proceedings. She likes to keep some things quiet. (Hmm, I wonder what 74 year-old Pablo would think?).
Off she went and I went and found a comfortable place to write the blog. The last blog before this one, that is. Creative juices flowed, as did the lager. The bar was very cosy with an open fire and WiFi. What more could a boy wish for?
Two hours later she was back and I was done. A quick bite to eat and she carried my drink-sodden form up the wooden hill to Bedfordshire.
That is when the trouble started. We may have been staying in an ancient coaching in may be a picturesque location…but it did creaks. Oh how it did creak. I think our room on the first floor was located under the corridor above. So every time anyone walked upstairs the groaning and squeaking and moaning of protesting woodwork meant sleep was well nigh impossible.
We were husks by the time the morning light came filtering through the leaded windows, and the foxes had ceased barking and the Cockerels had finished "Crowin' fo' day".
Breakfast. Then it was in the bar for "one for the ceremony" A minibus came to collect us as we hicced our way towards a tiny church.
Inside it was packed with Welshmen.
Now before you think I am about to make a selection of off-colour remarks about the Welsh, you can think again for a number of reasons.
1) Annie is Welsh
2) So is her intended, Steve
3) Steve is a truck driver so is immediately elevated to "top man" status
4) Steve is also very muscular, with a side order of extra muscles in case he runs out of the ones that he has already.
5) The church was packed with a male voice choir.
6) I present the Best Time of the Day show, not Top Gear!
The choir were wonderful. I defy you not to find a lump in your throat when they are in full flight.
DL gave a reading of part of Margery Williams’ children’s book, The Velveteen Rabbit.
Damn, there was that lump in the throat again.
Annie's dog even made a guest appearance complete with flowery lead.
Then amid the congratulations the corks popped at the back of the chapel and out came the champagne.
Now that is the way to get people into church on a Sunday. Booze!
Minibus returned and we headed for the pub.
Mulled wine and fabulous food and then the speeches.
Steve managed to lose his carefully crafted speech. He had been sweating over it for weeks but it didn't matter as he was very funny and went down a storm. Often the best speeches are off the cuff
As did his best man, Keith; another top bloke and a former truck-driver.
Father of the bride, Johnny, also did a great speech; he feigned being slow on the uptake when Annie had told him she was going to marry Steve.
The list was endless.
There was even a quiz set by Annie and the DL's friend and colleague, Martin.
As usual everyone looked at me when the music round came up.
As usual, I disappointed. DL was on my team and I discovered just how competitive she is.
I play tunes on the Radio in the middle of the night so inhabit a parallel universe. She is in business. Winning is important. She would be good on Dragon's Den. I think she would out-fox Lord Sugar! She would certainly charm him to death!
We staggered out of there ready for bed just after midnight as the minibus took us back to the "'Ear"
Then once more up the wooden hill, followed by everyone else to their respective rooms.
"See you at breakfast"
"What time will you be down?"
As we checked out the following day I realised we hadn't been staying at “The Ear" after all. There had been some "signage malfunction"
I am still not sure where in the West Country we went, exactly.