Adam and Joe win fuck all

Tuesday 12th May 2009

And they were up for four awards. Sure, they were runners-up in three categories, but nobody remembers you if you came second.

These awards, nominated by the great and the good*, seem to prefer shouty men (Evans) and women (Feltz) or worthy projects (Radio 3, Brixton prison) to shows that are funny, fresh and imaginative. Still, it’s a reminder how something you think is self-evidently the best thing on the radio can fly straight over the heads of everyone else. 

*They’re not.


Help

Saturday 9th May 2009

Early on Saturday 9th September 1995, TV Cream hurried down to its local record shop to be sure of buying a new album released that day and predicted to sell out by lunchtime.

Help album cover

It’s hard to recapture the sense of non-cynical responsibility that hung in the air that day. The only information about the album in question had been in the papers and on the radio. It wasn’t even guaranteed that it would be available right across the country.

Buoyed by a mixture of excitement and earnestness, TV Cream ended up buying not one, not two but three copies, before going round to a mate’s flat for an afternoon spent listening and attempting to determine the precise running order of tracks and artists. There was no information on the album as to its performers or songs; simply a paragraph of text with a few names and “apologies to others still to be confirmed”.

The Help album was one of the high points of the 1990s. It had been ages since a decent charity album had come along. It had been ages since a decent charity had come along. Up till then the only attempt at fusing music with modern life (which was Rubbish) had been the woeful anti-Criminal Justice Bill campaign: a bunch of protests and singalongs that could only ever succeed in simply hurrying up the passage of legislation as MPs got up close with the sorts of people who really did live up trees and down tunnels and spent a week dancing to disco beats in a cowshed.

Anyway, the mystery and hype surrounding the project ensured its success (it was indeed sold out by lunchtime) and the generation of a significant amount of money for the War Child charity. Its hasty production (one week from recording to release) fuelled coverage in the press as well as the uncertainty regarding its contents.

It wasn’t until the following week’s NME that definite details emerged. Select magazine printed a cut-out-and-keep CD sleeve, but that was the following month. With no internet, facts were thin on the ground. Consequently, the fun was all the greater at hearing the thing for the first time and trying to work out who sang what. 

Help sleeve notes: back cover

It begins, as even the news bulletins did in 1995, with Oasis, or rather Noel Gallagher and various session-ites including, apparently, Johnny Depp and Kate Moss. This was back when all those Oasis cliches (singing one line and having the backing vocals repeat exactly the same line a few beats later; harmonies moving in step with the lead vocal but a major third higher; the song title repeated endlessly at the end) felt fresh and, well, charming. It sounds decent enough today, half a world away (ho fucking ho) from all of Oasis’s bombastic crap that was round the corner.

Getting second place are The Boo Radleys, a nod to their-then Chris Evans-aided pomp, albeit with a nursery rhyme-esque reel exhorting “brother brother hold on!” TV Cream remembers liking this at the time, but the passing of the years has taken its toll on songs with airy vocals and busker guitars.

Then things take a huge dive on track 3 with a version of Love Spreads by The Stone Roses that is note-for-note identical to the original, save for the presence of a badly-played piano. Brown’s vocals sound even more wretched than before, and Squire’s guitar is preposterous. It’s amusing to think that, a year previously, this song served as a “taster” for the band’s “comeback” album. Although in a way it was ideal, by virtue of lowering everyone’s expectations ten storeys (do you see?).

The first real gem is track 4, Radiohead‘s Lucky, which would get rather shamelessly bundled out on OK Computer a year and a half later. Was this really, as all tracks were supposed to be, recorded in one day? Track 5 is Orbital, with a load of samples and pleasant electronic noodles. This was the first one that, on that Saturday afternoon, TV Cream and its mate were unable to identify.

The Portishead song on track 6 now sounds quaintly formulaic, with Beth purring “Did I…?”, all that heavily-compressed guitar tinkering and a rather clod-hopping bass.

Then there’s a version of Massive Attack‘s Karmacoma, already a year old, called Fake The Aroma, which is good but not really that different. It’s followed, however, by Suede’s version of Shipbuilding, which is, unfortunately, diabolical. Brett emotes like a maiden aunt and the band simper through the arrangement as if trying to replicate the original like-for-like.

The Charlatans do a decent job on  Time For Livin, then it’s the – gasp! – Stereo MCs. The who? Come 1995 they’d not done a single bloody thing since their debut album years ago, so this was trailed as their first “new material”. They needn’t have bothered, though nowadays it’s a cautionary reminder of how a) they could never really sing and b) they could never really play.

Sinead O’Connor‘s version of Ode to Billie Joe, a last minute addition to the album, still sounds great. Unlike The Levellers with their fuck-you finger-pointing ranting. “I see fences where there was no fence before” – fuck off.

A picture from the Help album artwork

Then it’s the Manic Street Preachers with an ace version of Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head. This was a big deal for TV Cream at the time, being the band’s first official thing since Richey disappeared. TVC would see them later in the year supporting – *supporting* – Oasis, whose love affair with The Beatles had by that point reached the extent of Noel Gallagher treating the audience to a version of Octopus’s Garden on his acoustic guitar. From Revol to revolting in the course of one evening.

Terrorvision, another Evans-eulogised act, grind out some polite and decent enough funk before the KLF rustle up a rather half-arsed version of the Magnificent Seven theme, done entirely on synths with more samples and what sounds like a child playing a bassline on a Casio keyboard.

Much better stuff lies ahead, in the shape of the Planet 4 Folk Quartet. Even now TV Cream is unsure as to who, or what, this is. Was this Brian Eno’s contribution? It’s one of the best bits of the album: jaunty (but not whimsical) electronica. And it’s followed by the delightful version of Dream A Little Dream by Terry Hall and – ooh – Salad, with the lovely Marijine van der Vlugt (sic). Stephen Street produced this, and it’s his voice that’s heard introducing it. This was what the mid-90s was all about, not Keith Allen rubbing cocaine into Damon Albarn’s hair.

Speaking of which, after Neneh Cherry does something called 1,2,3,4,5 (“Once I caught a fish alive”), there’s Blur’s AWFUL contribution: an instrumental with a fucking clever-clever name (Eine Kleine LiftMusik) involving a tuneless piano and Damon going doo-wah doo-wah like a girl. Considering they were kings of Britain in 1995, you’d have thought they’d have put in a bit more effort.

The finale was the big publicity thing: Paul Weller, Noel Gallagher and Macca doing Come Together at Abbey Road. This was where the defining image of the whole Help project came from, the three of them in the studio, with Macca looking at least 10 years younger than Weller and telling everyone how “I wrote a new song on the way down, have we got time to record it?” (they didn’t). It’s an OK version, perhaps not the spectacular climax it should have been, but the novelty carries it safely home.

On the day of its release, the men in suits at Gallup decided the Help album wasn’t a proper album and therefore couldn’t be included in the following day’s charts. It got a mention in passing by whoever was doing the Top 40  – Goodier, presumably – but that was it. There have been follow-ups, but none have had the buzz and the guess-the-artist potency of the original.

TV Cream still thinks it’s one of the finest albums of the decade. It captured the best and worst of those best and worst of times.

The back of the Help album


Threat level: insidiously unsettling yet strangely reassuring

Friday 1st May 2009

A few people have a spot of flu. Is it worth carrying an umbrella in case the sky falls on your head? Is it time to board up your front door like in Night of the Living Dead? How, in short, to make head and/or tail of a situation which is, above all, a developing situation?

Worry not, because help is at hand. The TV Cream Matrix Databank Central Office of Information has produced an illustrated alert-ometer to advise the public on the current threat level:

fluwheel

There are six stages of alarm, which can be recognised by the identity of the person fronting the latest government information campaign. 

1: Mike Smith. Threat level: fresh-faced to vaguely needling

2: A Radio 4 continuity announcer. Threat level: insidiously unsettling yet strangely reassuring

3. Basil Brush. Threat level: perkily ubiquitous and family-friendly

4. Rolf Harris. Threat level: sober yet good-naturedly stoical 

5. The voice of Brian Wilde. Threat level: death is stalking deceptively-shallow lakes

6. Angela Rippon, the mother of the nation. Threat level: we’ll meet again

Let’s see what the alert-ometer is registering today:

fluwheel2

Phew!

Make sure you keep checking back here for the latest developments, every hour for the next four years until people stop coughing, or for the next four minutes until the media loses interest.


Beeb stung by stink over Brucie’s pet burial

Wednesday 22nd April 2009

“A group of people snivelling at a dog’s funeral. Daft I call it!”

Meanwhile, further on:

“Should children call their parents by their Christian names?”

and new names for the WC – which is “going out of favour” – include The Menace, The Necessarium and The House of Commons.

brucieburyinghisdog1


“What do we want?” “More emphasis on continuity with seasons 19-21!”

Wednesday 1st April 2009

It seems some of those much-hyped and secretly-wished-for “rogue elements” ((C) The Daily Express, The Daily Mail et al) slipped into Saturday’s anti-G20 protests after all.

None of the press appeared to pick up on the presence of the poster below, although it did make it into a couple of photo libraries. Will the same folk be attending today’s demonstration? Perhaps they’ll be shape-changing at pertinent moments to avoid the gaze of the police. 

drwhoprotest


The right kind of TV Cream politician

Saturday 28th March 2009

BBC Parliament has spent the evening reliving events from precisely 30 years ago, when Donald MacCormick stood on a gantry high up in the rain outside Westminster and announced the end of Jim Callaghan’s government.

Callaghan is most definitely a TV Cream Politician. Criteria for entry into this category, one that is never very far from threatening to become important, is, inconveniently for this blog at this precise moment in time, hard to put into words.

It’s easier to use comparison. While Sunny Jim and Sailor Ted, for instance, are most definitely TV Cream Prime Ministers, Harold Wilson and Margaret Thatcher are not. The latter two both lurched large in the public domain and tried to cast much of the country in their own image, but neither won universal respect and/or pity.

Both divided the country down the middle. Jim and Ted did not. They united it – not necessarily in admiration (if ever), but in a more everyday, workmanlike fashion, in their stubbornness, or fallibility, or simply by dint of being human. And it’s in this sense that, while John Major is a TV Cream Prime Minister, Tony Blair is not.

It’s something to do with being ordinary people in extraordinary situations. Most of what TV Cream is about concerns everyday things being turned into the ultra-special and the uber-memorable, usually by TV, radio, music and print. So a TV Cream Politician is somebody who is thunderously ordinary and who leaves their mark on our lives through not being particularly special but having special things done to them.

This is all getting a bit convoluted, so how about a reassuring list to sort things out.

The following are all TV Cream Politicians:

Willie Whitelaw
For wearing pyjamas to Cabinet meetings.

Denis Healey
For the Nationwide panto.

Leon Brittan
For being ugly when ugliness was against the law (1983-5).

Bryan Gould
For being everywhere on TV then suddenly being nowhere.

Francis Pym
For sounding like Kenneth Williams.

Chris Patten
For forgetting to win his own election.

David Steel
For running a political party from a constituency in the middle of nowhere, making for much pitch black/reporters-standing-in-fields coverage on results night.

Virginia Bottomley
For becoming a ubiquitous anagrammatic common room joke.

The following are most definitely not TV Cream Politicians:

Norman Tebbit
For becoming his own stereotype.

Shirley Williams
For being called ‘a lovely gal’ by Norman St John Stevas in 1979. And for the fact that, while it’s good that much of what she says is right, it’s not good the way she revels it.

David Owen
For breaking up too many parties.

Edwina Currie
For substituting one vulgar cultural motif – poisonous eggs – for another – sex with John Major.

Roy Hattersley
For being the last ever Secretary of State for Prices and not doing anything about prices.

David Mellor
For being David Mellor.

Margaret Beckett
For telling Jim Naughtie to “pack it in” on the Today programme.


The Stuart Maconie catalogue

Sunday 22nd March 2009

The nation’s most ubiquitous Wiganite has a new book out.

It has much in common with his previous publications: a breezy (i.e. rushed) style; sweeping generalisations rendered in whimsy; man-of-the-people rants; but above all, a crap title.

Adventures On The High Teas follows Cider With Roadies and Pies And Prejudice in sporting wordplay that somehow doesn’t work. The source of the title bears no relation to the content of the associated text; the title mixes metaphors and tells you nothing of what the book is actually about; and there’s an attempt at a pun that doesn’t come off.

Anyway, seeing as how the man seems to be stuck in a rut of sniffy inconsequential travelogues, the TV Cream Matrix Databank has come up with four possible future titles for Maconie’s consideration:

1) The Road To Wogan’s Ear
One man’s story of first hiding from, then working for, Radio 2. Besides referencing the nation’s most popular DJ, the title conveniently boasts not one but two puns that don’t work.

wogan

2) The Cant & Murray Tales
How two men called Brian and Gordon joined forces to create one of the most iconic children’s series of all time. Again, the title handily tries but fails to be a proper pun, in the process rendering the sentiments of the source utterly irrelevant.

camberwick

3) The Importance Of Being Furnished
Join the author as he pays loving tribute to the living rooms of the 1970s, an era he dubs ‘the decade that taste forgot’. Note how some atrocious rhyming and vague sense of upper-class snobbery combine to create another money-spinning title.

furnished

4) The New Collins Dictionary
Stuart Maconie itemises everything he likes and loathes about his ex-colleague and sometime gag-writing partner for Clive James.

collins