Friday, 27 August 2010

Free - Wishing Well

Bloody TV advertising! It’s done it again and you just can’t seem to escape from it. Sadly, I saw an advert for the new Free/Bad Company compilation CD recently and it immediately reminded me of ‘Wishing Well’, a song that was once a great favourite but about which I have not really thought about for many many years.

‘Wishing Well’, with its chiming descending riff takes me right back to a time when I could only afford to buy 45 rpm singles very infrequently and so was forced into the dark world of taping stuff off the radio onto my brand new WH Smith cassette recorder – at the time, the height of new tech. One of my early compilation tapes from 1972/3 contained the aforementioned Free track which, as time went on, shone like a beacon in amongst a whole load of other admittedly banal chart material. But that’s the trouble with tape – you can never easily edit out the banal at a later date.

In those days, I used to take my tiny cassette player with me on outdoor excursions so that I could have music wherever I went (in compliance with the ‘Ride-a-Cock-Horse’ convention) and I cringe to remember what a fool I must’ve looked wandering around Verulamium Park nursing a small grey box with chart hits of the day blasting from a tinny speaker. I wonder what the Romans would’ve made of it?

Despite many of my friends being devotees, I’ve not really been a Free or a Bad Company fan and other than the odd single here and there own nothing by either of them so I tentatively checked out the Free/Bad Company compilation. Unfortunately even now it doesn’t do much for me. As well as being bored with ‘All Right Now’, I find that the Bad Co contingent just reminds me of dreadful mid-70s college discos (the clumping ‘Can’t Get Enough of Your Love’, being a prime example) so I’ve chickened out and downloaded ‘Wishing Well’ for old times sake and it still sounds as good now as it did then.

Actually on further listening, there are one or two others that could qualify for my collection - ‘My Brother Jake’ comes a close second - but for the time being I’m going to stick with ‘Wishing Well’ as my Free representative. Sometimes you just have to trust your judgement and not let golden nostalgia cloud the issue.

Friday, 20 August 2010

How's Your Musical Health?

How are you feeling today? On top of the world, or a bit peaky? Me? Well, my back’s still a bit stiff after surgery a few years back and I seem to have developed a stabbing pain through my left shoulder and…oh, yes, music.

Rather than not taking my vitamins, engaging in vigorous exercise or taking particular note of what my doctor tells me, it seems that the real problem is that I have not been listening to enough music. This is according to Dr Maoshing Ni (thanks to Alan for the link) who claims that music has therapeutic effects which affect longevity. Judging by the comments in his blog on the subject, Dr Mao would probably prescribe me a course of early Kinks singles for my back and perhaps an album or two of Britpop compilations for the shoulder. Actually probably not, as his main recommendation is for large doses of classical music as the real secret to a long life and produces as exhibit A the fact that all orchestral conductors live to a grand old age despite having to get to grips with the dissonance and shifting time signatures of the likes of Stravinsky and Shostakovich.

I have to say that I have a certain amount of sympathy with his view, having been a music listener for some considerable time. There is no doubt that much mental and spiritual well-being can be derived from music, unless you count ‘Tie A Yellow Ribbon’ and the world would undoubtedly be a poorer place without it. But as to whether it can cure all ills and lead to a longer life, well, let’s say that is open to debate.

The difficulty with all this is that there appears to be a difference in effect between those that create and those that consume music. As I have pointed out on numerous occasions in this blog, those who enter the world of music to produce art of the highest calibre often have a shortened lifespan themselves so it seems a little unfair that those that listen to the product of their creativity benefit from enhanced longevity. I’m not sure that the likes of Hendrix, Morrison, Lennon and all the others who died young would be overly enamoured of the fact that the rest of us are living it up for decade after decade on the back of their musical therapy but then who said life was fair?

Friday, 13 August 2010

Strange Days at Café Chouette

After a period of rather scary unemployment, I am now working on a contract basis for a property company in the west end of London which now means that I can now eat without worrying about what I need to sell first. Across the road from my office in what has become over the years, the Lebanese quarter of London, sits a small café run by a delightful posse of girls who supply my mid-morning Latte. I sheltered there whilst waiting for my interview for the job I now have so it has become a bit of a sanctuary.

Usually, I enter at around 10.30 to be greeted with a smile and a rush of piped music, sometimes western pop, other times of ethnic origin and all this seems to fit the ambience perfectly. But last time I tripped up the steps I was met by ‘Love me Two Times’ by the Doors from their second album, ‘Strange Days’ and somehow, it felt very incongruous. I’m not sure why this should be so but Jim and the Boys were stood out like the proverbial sore digit.

Actually, I like ‘Strange days’ a lot despite the fact that it sold poorly on release in 1967. It has all the usual hallmarks of a classic second album – it came too soon after their debut and comprised mainly of material left over from the sessions for the first album. Despite all this and the fact that everybody else’s second album turned out to a bit of a re-heated meal as a consequence, I prefer it to the more celebrated ‘The Doors’. The material has a more psychedelic feel and its 12 minute centre piece ‘When the Music’s Over’ is better realised than the similarly lengthy ‘The End’ from their debut. All in all, a good listen and an album I would put in my top three Doors’ albums along with ‘Morrison Hotel’ and ‘LA Woman’.

So getting back to my café, why did The Doors sound so out of place? Perhaps it was my own preconceptions of what should fit? Certainly, the staff had no problems and the customers weren’t making an undignified dash for the door, which just goes to show how universal music can be and how it can cut across cultural boundaries if given the chance. Or perhaps the pastries are too good to leave?

I think I may be guilty of allowing myself to be brainwashed by the media who insist on compartmentalising music to the extent that you feel some square pegs should not be played in round holes. I should return to my mantra: there are only two types of music, good and bad.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Dan Dare

In the mid sixties, when I was a young lad of some eight summers, I was struck down with Rheumatic Fever, a disease that attacks the heart valves, and was carted off to the children’s ward of St Albans hospital for 3 months. During my stay, my mother was obliged to traipse across town nearly every afternoon to see me. Of course, I was always glad to see her but it was her Thursday visit that I really looked forward to as it was on Thursday that she arrived brandishing my weekly comic, ‘The Eagle’.

And ‘The Eagle’ meant only one thing: Dan Dare. There are two abiding memories of those hospital days; Dan Dare and the ominous rattle of the blood-testing trolley. But blood aside, I’d been introduced to the delights of Frank Hampson’s iconic pilot by a school friend who had been following his adventures for some years and I’d badgered my parents to buy me ‘The Eagle’ on regular order – my first comic. Unfortunately I entered the fray too late to witness Hampson’s own celebrated artwork as he had left the strip in 1960 having completed a 10 year run on the characters he had created in 1950 but with artists Frank Bellamy and then Keith Watson doing a sterling job recreating the futuristic world of Dare and Digby, I was hooked.

In retrospect, the original Dan Dare stories come across now as a sort of WWII RAF squadron in space complete with pipe and banter, but they are still hugely imaginative and combine story telling with eye-boggling artwork in a way only comics can manage. It is why I still enjoy comics to this day, although in the face of the virtual demise of the British comic industry, I have now shifted my allegiance to the American comic-book.

But going back to Dan, I remember a story called ‘The Mushroom’ in which the green dome-headed Mekon attempts to invade earth via a mushroom structure built on the earth’s surface. It is the story that I read and re-read during those long hours in hospital and as the memory fades, I would love to see it again in print.

Luckily, Titan Books are reprinting the collected Dan Dare stories in hardback at the rate of about 40 weeks worth of comics per issue and two hardback releases a year. So far they have published 10 volumes with a further two promised for 2010 which takes Dan up to about the end of 1959. I have calculated that it will take them about another three to four years before ‘The Mushroom’ appears, assuming Titan have not stopped publishing. I can wait. After 45 years, a few more won’t make much difference.

But if they could see their way clear to speeding up the process, I wouldn’t object.