Friday, 29 April 2011

The Expert

So ‘Waking The Dead’ has finally ended its 9 year TV run and Superintendent Boyd has walked off into the sunset to shout at someone else.  Shame really, as despite the grisly stories of torture and death, WTD was a first rate drama built around plot and character development rather than special effects and car chases.  It also added to a burgeoning tradition of police procedurals based around forensic pathology that over the years has brought us ‘Silent Witness’, ‘CSI’ and er…’Quincy’.  Even the demise of WTD has not stopped in-house pathologist, Dr Eve Lockhart (Tara Fitzgerald) spinning off into her own series, ‘The Body Farm’ to be shown later in the year.

But does my memory play tricks or was there a much older version of this genre – a BBC series called ‘The Expert’?  It ran from about 1969 to 1972 and starred Marius Goring as a Home Office pathologist assigned to help the local police solve crime.  The reason this programme sticks in my memory is down to one particular episode, the finale of season 2 or 3.  The plot involved the kidnap of Goring’s screen wife and the efforts of both him and his police inspector partner, played by Victor Winding if I remember correctly, to find her.  The shockingly unexpected denouement saw the kidnapper kill his hostage before she can be rescued and seeing Goring’s anguish, the inspector’s composure snaps and he beats the crap out of the kidnapper, effectively ending his own police career.

The series thus ends on a bombshell with the future of all the major characters in the balance. At the time, this episode made a huge impression on me.  In my experience of TV programmes up to that point, major characters did not die, nor did the police beat suspects to within an inch of their life.  The tension and the emotional intensity were almost unbearable.  Of course, these days such occurrences are almost mandatory, as ‘Waking The Dead’ illustrated time and again, but back in 1971 or thereabouts it was rare and the drama was genuinely shocking.

Unfortunately, ‘The Expert’ was made at a time when the BBC regularly wiped videotape after broadcast and I don’t believe many episodes exist in the archives.  Certainly, the series has not appeared on DVD so I fear the worst.  Nevertheless, I’d still like to track down that episode and see it again.  Does anyone know anything more about this series and whether episodes still exist?

Friday, 22 April 2011

Jools Holland and the Onset of Dad's Disease

I don’t want to alarm you but I think I’ve caught ‘Dad’s Disease’.  The symptoms are complex and age related but are generally revealed as a complete lack of interest in modern music.  I remember seeing the signs develop in my own father back in the dim and distant past.  When I was developing a burgeoning interest in the new fangled pop music in the 1960s he would’ve been in his forties yet he never failed to watch an episode of Top of the Pops on our ancient black and white telly every Thursday nor did he fail to listen to the chart rundown on a Sunday afternoon on the wireless.

It was in the late 1970s that things began to change.  He rarely watched TOTP, despite the efforts of Legs & Co, and never listened to the radio.  He had hit 50 and Dad’s Disease was developing from which he never recovered.  As a fifty-something myself, I thought I’d avoided the dreaded ailment, but it seems to have got me in the end.  It is the new season of ‘Later with Jools Holland’ that has me worried about a possible positive diagnosis.  Jools’ TV show is a modern day version of ‘The Old Grey Whistle Test’ where more ‘serious’ music is showcased in a live environment and it is a source of new material that has kept me in good stead over the years.

The first edition of this season’s show featured the following artists: Elbow, Beady Eye, Anna Calvi, Raphael Saadiq and The Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson).  Normally I can find something to enjoy in any line-up but this lot just left me cold.  Bland, bland, bland.  Not a single note provoked my interest and I was bored stiff for a whole hour.  That’s what Dad’s Disease does to you.

Beady Eye were, unsurprisingly, just a derivative sub-oasis clone churning out dated rock ‘n’ roll, Elbow were worthy and tried hard yet were ultimately a bit tedious, up & coming star Anna Calvi was dreadfully disappointing with not a decent melody to her name and Raphael Saadiq was a classic case of style and too much energy over content.  The only glimmer was The Tallest man on Earth who almost had me interested, but then didn’t.  Oh yes, and there were some old jazz players who could’ve been really good, but just weren’t.

Oh dear!  What am I going to do?  Encouragingly, my consultant says that it may not be Dad’s Disease after all but just a bit of a hiccough in the ‘Later’ scheduling exacerbated by a recent exposure to PJ Harvey’s ‘Let England Shake’.  Nothing that a blast of something loud and edgy won’t cure.  Let’s hope so.  I’m still too young to be admitted to the ‘No Pop Music Here’ home for the permanently square.

Friday, 15 April 2011

Kate Bush - The Director's Cut

Hold the front page!  It’s another Kate Bush album and it’s only been, what, six years since the last one?  What’s the matter with the woman?  The next album isn’t due until 2017.  Ah, but on closer inspection, it turns out to be a compilation.

But Kate being Kate, it’s not quite that simple.  Out on 16th May and entitled ‘The Director’s Cut’ it comprises a selection of songs from her late period albums, ‘The Sensual World’ and ‘The Red Shoes’ that have been er…‘re-imagined’.  Finally released from her EMI contract, it appears she now has full control over her back catalogue and has decided to re-engineer parts of songs whilst retaining the basic skeleton to give a definitive edition – hence Director’s Cut.

The track listing will be:
1. Flower of the Mountain (The Sensual World with new lyrics taken directly from Ulysses)
2. Song of Soloman
3. Lily
4. Deeper Understanding
5. The Red Shoes
6. This Woman's Work
7. Moments of Pleasure
8. Never be Mine
9. Top of the City
10. And So is Love
11. Rubberband Girl

Hmm.  I have to say that despite being a BIG KT fan, ‘The Red Shoes’ is her weakest album by some margin and ‘The Sensual World’, although much better, does not enter my top three Bush product either so I’m not expecting too much from this.  As a taster, she has already released the re-constituted version of ‘A Deeper Understanding’, a song that I like very much and blogged about over three years ago! Interestingly, its lyrical content about computer dependence and lack of human contact seems even more relevant today than it did when it was first released in 1989.  This 2011 version is interesting in the way that all re-mixes are interesting but I’m not sure it improves on the original.  In particular, it replaces the eerie ‘computer’ voice of the original with a vocoded sample of her son’s voice and this doesn’t work half as well as it chops up the timing of the song.

Quite by chance, I was watching her video for ‘There Goes A Tenner’ on YouTube the other day and it got me to thinking about originality, a word that is bandied about in the media all too often.  It occurs to me that far too many new artists from the last 20 years have been feted as ‘the new Kate Bush’ or compared to her in one way or another, but watching this video just kills all those assertions stone dead.  No one is like her.

In the video her young self looks other-worldly, beautiful, enigmatic, funny and serious, welcoming and aloof.  The song is like no other – a kaleidoscope of melodic fragments, rhythmic shifts, 80s synths, brass bands and a myriad of voices.  The video itself is a concoction of part dance, part drama against set piece backdrops, dripping with imagery.  No one since comes close to creating the wonderfully weird world of music, lyric and presentation that Kate managed (and largely by herself - no teams of writers, arrangers and ‘advisors’ doing the donkey work.)

But having achieved true originality, it would be a crying shame if she insisted on unpicking it at this stage of the game.  (Now read part 2).

Friday, 8 April 2011

Is HMV's Time Up?

As someone who seemed to spend their young life rushing to music shops to buy first-day-of-release LPs and then dashing home clutching the huge cardboard cover in my hot sticky mitts, I’ve never really got over the thrill of record shop browsing.  Even though I now buy virtually all my music on-line either as a download or, more usually, as a CD I can hold in my still warm hand, the lure of the high street shop remains strong.

So it was with a degree of sadness that I turned up at HMV near Bond Street tube the other week only to be met with a paper notice sellotaped to the wall saying, ‘This store will close on 5 March’.  I have to admit that the news wasn’t a complete surprise.  The store had had that aura of an old unkempt dog shuffling around waiting to die for some time.  The Virgin Store at the other end of Oxford Street had had the same feel about it before it handed over to the short-lived Zavvi some years before.

There is something unbearably distressing about the death throes of a music store.  Where it was once vibrant and relevant, it just becomes scruffier and scruffier, gives up trying to stay on top of new releases, has endless bargain bins and descends downmarket into the sale of T-shirts and tacky tourist items rather than proper music which then gets shoved to the upper/lower floors like some unwanted embarrassment.

But mixed in amongst the sadness is a little annoyance.  HMV have really had it coming.  Their pricing policy has had a head-in-the-sand quality about it ever since the rise of Amazon and their ilk, years ago.  Even with their closing down notice on the wall and a pervading ‘everything must go’ feel about the place their ‘sale’ items were still more expensive than on-line sellers.  It just beggars belief.  As intimated above, I have long since given up buying anything from HMV because their prices are way too high.  Surely in their time of closure they could give some of us old hands a few bargains?  But no.

OK, I understand that shops with overheads cannot compete with on-line sellers but the premium HMV is asking for instant access is just too high.  Another example: In a desire to get my browsing fix, I subsequently visited the HMV in the basement of Selfridges Department Store and noted to my utter amazement that the Star Trek Original Series 1 remastered DVD set I bought for £12.50 from Amazon was being offered at £50.  I mean, FIFTY QUID!  Perhaps Selfridge’s customers don’t care about this sort of money, but I do.

In my more uncharitable moments, I think that HMV deserves to die.

Friday, 1 April 2011

The Last Bryan Adams Monopoly

‘In The Summer of ‘69’

Thus warbled Bryan Adams in the summer of ’85 but then he was wrong on both counts.  What he should’ve been keeping his eye on was the summer (and autumn) of ’91 as that was the time when we all had something to worry about.  That’s when a collective madness descended on the UK and billions of copies of ‘Everything I Do (I Do It For You)’ were bought thus ensuring that it remained at number one in the singles charts for a concentration-wanderingly massive amount of time.  Archives show that it was sixteen consecutive weeks to be precise and a record probably never to be broken.

It reminds me of spring of 1977 when I was a student whose first job on returning from lectures was to turn on Capital Radio (95.8!) and listen to the day’s ‘Hitline’ ( a daily chart voted by listeners) only to find that it was topped by Hotel-bloody-California AGAIN!  This went on for months as I recall and has ensured that HC remains firmly on my ‘not to be bought under any circumstances’ list.

But that was then (1970s to 1990s) and this is now and one thing that is now guaranteed is that singles no longer have a shred of longevity, so perhaps we should be grateful.  Looking back over the last 5 years or so, if you exclude Gnarls Barkley (‘Crazy’) and Rihanna ft Jay-Z (‘Umbrella’), no single has lasted more than 3 weeks at the top in the UK and the majority only hit the top spot for a single week.  This not really surprising as first, the singles market is now vast and moves at close to the speed of light so blink and you’ll miss a release and second and infinitely more annoying, pent up demand is deliberately created by advertising a single in the media weeks before you can actually buy it.  This ploy ensures maximum sales in the first week of release and hopefully a number one spot immediately.

But it also means no longevity, as all those who want to buy it have done so in one huge and unseemly rush.  Anyway, there are ten billion new singles to choose from next week, so for any song to last in the top 40, let alone number one, for weeks on end is about as likely as a snowball in the proverbial.  All these smart-alec music companies are on to a loser with me anyway, as my inclination is to buy a single I like soon after first hearing it and if I can’t do so for weeks, my memory is now so bad that I’ll forget about and paint the spare room instead.  Age has its benefits and thwarting the music industry without really trying is one of them.