Friday, 25 February 2011


Those of you who, like me, use Blogger as your platform for spouting forth to the world will have noticed that a recent addition to the dashboard has been the Stats function. Since its appearance in the middle of last year, it has been busily collecting data about my blog and letting me know, amongst other things, which posts are the most popular on the basis of cumulative hits. This has given rise to some interesting facts and inferences.

What has become clear is that four of my posts are considerably more popular than the other 200-odd and when I mean ‘considerably’ I mean at least double the hits of the chasing pack and in the case of the top two, significantly more. I am a little puzzled about this because if I have one criticism of Blogger it is that it does not appear to push metadata to the major search engines like Google with any enthusiasm unlike Wordpress which seems to do a much better job. So how are readers finding these pages? That aside, these are the posts that have the largest number of hits over the last six months.

By far the most popular is ‘Beatles Remastered’ (Jan 2010). This one sent my hits through the roof to a level never achieved since. What is it about The Beatles that 40 years later the world is still desperate to read about them? Actually, I feel a bit guilty about its popularity as the post was more a ‘what I got for Christmas’ post than an in depth review of the Remastered reissues of The Beatles back catalogue. I can imagine all those readers avidly seeking out my post in order to find out what I thought about the ethical implications of the correction of Paul’s slightly off key backing vocal on ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and being horribly disappointed. Oh well.

The second most popular post has been ‘Lesley Duncan, Singer Songwriter (1943 – 2010)’ (March 2010). This I find particularly heart-warming. To know that there is a large number of people in the world that care about Lesley, who after all was not a big, nor particularly well known star, restores my faith in the human race. I’d actually written this post some months before her death and had intended to post it immediately but other more pressing posts got in the way. So it was pure coincidence that it was eventually published a few days before she died at the age of 66 after a long illness and I quickly had to go back and rewrite parts of it, post publication, to turn it in to a sort of eulogy.

Third in the list is ‘Curved Air – Reborn’ (July 2008). I find this astonishing given that it was originally published in mid-2008 and is still a post that garners a record number of hits. It comprises little more than a review of their reunion album which was released through violinist Daryl Way’s website that year prior to their reunion tour. Clearly there is a lot of interest in this band from old fans like me who remember the glory days of the early 1970s. In fact, despite my comments about metadata above, the post has occupied a front page position on Google for two years now.

The final post in the Big Four is ‘Cult Bands – The Violet Hour’ (April 2010). This is similar to the Curved Air post in that it appears there are hoards of Violet Hour fans still out there pining for their lost band despite the fact that they only lasted a few years in the early 1990s and produced a lone album. Presumably that is the attraction?

So I’m a bit flummoxed. The evidence of post 1 shows that the biggest band of them all still attracts a huge audience, yet posts 2-4 indicate a solid following for those lesser names, stitched into the margins of the vast tapestry that is Rock ‘n’ Roll. I think this is saying, write what you feel? I hope so.

STOP PRESS:  Just heard of the sad death of Nicholas Courtney, known to all Dr Who fans as Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart.  A massive loss to the Dr Who family.  RIP Nicholas, and don't forget, 'Chap with horns, five rounds.  Rapid!'

Friday, 18 February 2011


As you will have probably noticed, I’ve been musing on the 1980s recently and this sort of thing can throw up all sorts of forgotten gems. This was a period when a decent income and few responsibilities meant that I could indulge myself, musically and my music collection grew exponentially. Unfortunately, the downside was that most of my purchases never really received my full attention for long and many fell by the wayside. It also meant that little pockets of music became forgotten - like this one: ‘Love & Pride’ by the extravagantly attired, cockatoo coiffeured Paul King and his similarly clad mates, or collectively, King.

I revived this forgotten memory whilst trawling YouTube and was unexpectedly blown away by its sheer vivacity. It just jumps out of the speakers at you – all 80s synth stabs and fat plunking bass with Paul King’s impassioned vocal overlaying the musical maelstrom. For some reason it brings back memories of driving down to Hove for a weekend with friends, to visit another who lived in a flat overlooking the sea, yet I don’t recall playing it on any of those journeys. It must’ve just been in the air during those carefree years of the mid-1980s.

In fact, I discover, I have a cassette copy of King’s second album, ‘Bitter Sweet’ – but that doesn’t have ‘Love & Pride’ on it either. So quite where that recollection has sprung from I really don’t know but there is no doubt that it has the salty smell of the English Channel permanently attached to it in my mind. In fact, now I come to think about it, I had a King Christmas concert on video for a time – I recall it was taped over eventually in favour of some other fly-by-night. Oh, the vagaries of youth!

King was a bit of a here-today-gone-tomorrow outfit. Having burst onto the scene with ‘Love & Pride’ in 1985 they stayed around for little more than a year but in that time scored big-time with the equally fab ‘Alone Without You’ and ‘The Taste of Your Tears’ as well as collecting a few other minor hits along the way. I believe Paul King now works for MTV again, having been a VDJ prior to the formation of King, the band, which is a bit of a loss to the music industry.

In essence, King were a classic starburst in the rock ‘n’ Roll firmament – bright and dazzling but soon over. And that’s a pity really, as I have unexpectedly enjoyed rediscovering their material from 25 years ago and have not only resurrected my copy of ‘Bitter Sweet’ but have speculated 90p to put ‘Love & Pride’ on my iPod. A great band and probably a bit under-rated. There, something good came out of the 80s after all.

Friday, 11 February 2011

Nik Kershaw and Howard Jones

Is it just me, or do certain things or people just belong together? I’m not talking about pairs like salt and pepper or Laurel and Hardy, which clearly do belong together but other rather unrelated stuff. Perhaps it’s a memory thing.  As I'm in a bit of an 80s mood at the moment let's go with it.

Often, when I try to remember something from the past, something else muscles its way in, like they were magnetised together. For example, when I think of the album ‘Chicago III’ my mind immediately shows me a picture of the dirty living room windows at the house we lived in during the early 1970s. The linkage goes something like this: in 1971 I did not own my own record player and was thus forced to use the family ‘Alba’ auto-changer-in-a-box player that sat in the living room. The living room faced south and in the depths of winter when the sun was low on the horizon, its watery beams would spear into the room illuminating the window pains and revealing them to be a bit on the shabby side after a winter of rain and frost. Quite why I would only play this particular disc on sunny winter days rather escapes me, but there it is – a memory frozen for all time.

More particularly, I was reminded of another linkage when I heard Chesney Hawkes one-hit-wonder rendition of ‘I Am The One And Only’ on the radio the other day. Most people will know by now that this song was written for him by Nik Kershaw who churned out a number of very competent songs for both himself and others from the mid 1980s onwards. And as soon as I think about Nik Kershaw there is a knock on the door and who should rush in but Howard Jones. To me the two just seem to be inseparable and I can’t think of one without the other.

Why does this happen? Well, let’s see…

They both bothered the charts in the period 1983-1986 then disappeared

They both sported a ridiculous mullet

I own two albums from each of them

Er…that’s it

Doesn’t really seem enough does it? Yet they even sit close together in my alphabetically stored LPs (J,K) and you feel like separating them like an over-zealous primary school teacher and banishing them to the A and Z sections. Musically, however, they were quite different. Howard Jones offered a dose of care-free pop in the classic tradition of hummable throw-a-way tunes set in the genre of the day, electro-pop. Listening to ‘New Song’ and 'What is Love’ now just make me smile which is what they are designed to do so mission accomplished.

Kershaw, on the other hand, was always a bit more knowing musically and wore his jazz leanings on his padded shouldered sleeves. There was always an aura of cleverness associated with his output which, because it was always topped by a good tune, I kinda liked. Things like ‘The Riddle’ with its slithery melody and ‘Wouldn’t it Be Good?’ are beautifully crafted songs.

Perhaps that’s the link. For a brief period, I liked them both, but I still haven't worked out why Kershaw gave away his best song.

Friday, 4 February 2011


As the decades roll past it generally takes a little time for their traits to be revealed. As we look back on the sixties we now think of miniskirts, Carnaby Street, concrete high-rise buildings and the summer of love. Closer to home, the 2000s and 1990s are still a little vague but time is now beginning to bring a decade like the 1980s into sharper focus. It was a time of big shoulders, even bigger hair, mobile phones and Yuppies, wine bars and loadsamoney.

Musically, it can be thought of as the decade when music was transformed by technology. Synths bred like rabbits and in some arenas replaced the evergreen guitar completely. Synthesised bass and drums replaced the real things and by the end of the decade, computers were putting in a bid to take over music completely.

Whilst we kicked off with the largely traditional New Wave and the New Romantics, by the end of the 80s music had been reinvented by the onslaught of Rap and Hip-Hop based around the beatbox. In between, bands struggled to adapt to the acceleration in technological change by mutating into electro-pop outfits. Whether you were New Order, Depeche Mode, The Human League or The Pet Shop Boys, you had to embrace the synthesiser, the sequencer, the drum machine and (gasp) the use of backing tapes for live performance. It is a style of music that is finding favour again with today’s young artists and it was against this backdrop that German band Propaganda produced their stunning debut, ‘A Secret Wish’ for one of the coolest record labels of the time, ZTT.

Formed by entrepreneur Jill Sinclair, music journalist, Paul Morley and ultra-trendy producer, Trevor Horn, ZTT was home to Frankie Goes To Hollywood and the Art of Noise, two bands that typified the 1980s as an in-your-face-whilst-backed-by-cutting-edge-tech sort of time. But the real gem in their stable was neither of these two, but a band called Propaganda whose 1985 album; ‘A Secret Wish’ is a shining example of what could go right with the 80s.

In the early 1980s, Propaganda was part of Germany’s arty hardcore industrial music scene and comprised Ralf Dörper (keyboards), Michael Mertens (percussion), Susanne Freytag (spoken vocals) and Claudia Brücken (sung vocals). ZTT invited them to the UK and gave their insistent hardcore rhythms an electro-pop treatment, allowing main vocalist, Claudia Brücken, space to project their strangely beautiful melodies in her unique yet oddly attractive nasal, Teutonic voice. As you would expect, the production is classic Horn/Stephen Lipson larger-than-life fare which, at its best, is quite intoxicating. ‘Duel’, Dr Mabuse and ‘P-Machinery’ are all fabulous slices of 80s overdrive sourced from computer based instruments and given a sheen of musicality by their shimmering melodies.

Firmly rooted in the Me-Me-Me attitude and burgeoning technology of the day, this album could only exist in the 1980s and it is worth a visit back to 1985 to bask in its strange Anglo-Germanic glow.

Even after all this time, Claudia Brücken is still my favourite German – fact.

Here is the fab ‘P-Machinery’ essayed in a completely bonkers German Art School video.