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.


Photo clippage #52

Monday 11th May 2009

Science!

"She blinded me..."


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


South Bank Show goes south

Wednesday 6th May 2009

Melvyn’s plaything has been axed.

"I wonder, ah, erm, ah, maybe, ah, erm, what?"

Surely nobody will mourn its demise. It’s been a joke for years, shoved out at the arse end of Sunday nights, shorn of all dignity and respect, spending two thirds of each series profiling whichever D-lister was propping up ITV’s schedules that week.

Besides, it stopped taking itself seriously when it binned off the full, glorious version of the theme tune and started using that weird, abbrieviated one with no title sequence and just one boring graphic.

The last good one was the edition  in 1992 about how Sgt Pepper was made, with George Martin pissing around with a giant recording console at Abbey Road.

Here’s Melvyn and friend toasting his smugness, yesterday:

Melyvn gets back to his pretend roots


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.


And now on BBC1, it’s time to pour another glass of…

Tuesday 28th April 2009

The last ever series of Last Of The Summer Wine began the other week. Or did it? The Beeb simply says it’s the 30th, but producer Alan “one line on my CV” JW Bell seems to think that’s it. Or rather, that’s it for him, because he’s quit claiming the Beeb has said the 30th series is the last one even though it hasn’t while writer Roy “two lines on my CV” Clarke hasn’t said anything either way and the cast are all too old to be insured to appear in the bloody thing anyway. Or are they?

Hmm, the future of this vintage (ho fucking ho) institution is as hard to unravel as its history. But TV Cream has given the latter a go. It seems to have gone something like this:

1) A DIFFICULT BIRTH

An episode of Comedy Playhouse in 1973 called The Last Of The Summer Wine and starring three mac-wearing malingerers is deemed a hit by the BBC suits. A series is commissioned but it is a flop. A second series is commissioned but it is also a flop. Both series are shown post-watershed and star Michael Bates as shifty ne’er-do-well Cyril Blamire with whiskery perv Compo Simonite (Bill Owen) and simpering wimp Norman Clegg (Peter Sallis). Bates leaves because of ill-health and BRIAN WILDE agrees to replace him so long as he gets top billing.

'Ere, yer great jessie

2) A TROUBLED ADOLESCENCE

BRIAN WILDE is unhappy about not getting top billing. The show moves from Monday to Wednesday to Tuesday night. The 1978 Christmas special is aired at 10.40pm due to its explicit content. Someone decides to bung it in the doing-the-pots Sunday teatime slot. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: earthy. The perv pervs at old woman’s pants. The wimp simpers about not eating enough iron. BRIAN WILDE quits because nobody likes him and he doesn’t like anybody.

3) THE UTTERTHWAITE INTERREGNUM

Percy Alleline off Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy invents himself a part in the series. Second eleven of archetypes introduced: hen-pecked husband who isn’t getting any, hen-pecked husband who doesn’t want any, hen-pecked lollygagger who’s had too much. Millions of old women sit about discussing “thems that have, thems that have not” in high-backed chairs. A cafe has no customers. Perv tumbles off ladders, through roofs, down drains and through windows. Thora Hird sucks her teeth in and whistles. Lousy spin-off, First Of The Summer Wine, has Sallis playing his own father. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: salty.

4) THE WILDE RESTORATION

BRIAN WILDE discovers he likes everyone again and comes back. Eight years pass. BRIAN WILDE leaves because he’s not top billing and he doesn’t like anybody. Ratio of pastoral pontificating to falling off dry stone walls: perspicacious.

These are my residuals from Porridge, so hands off

5) THE LET’S-PRETEND-NOTHING’S-CHANGED GAMBIT

Bill Owen lookalike and son of Bill Owen joins to play son of Bill Owen. Captain Peacock replaces BRIAN WILDE. Same scripts recycled (for 14th time) in hope of appearance-of-freshness-yet-still-reassuringly-familiar appeal. It works. Programme wins 1999 National Television Award for Best Sunday Teatime Yorkshire-Based Yomping.

Captain Peacock proposes 10 new sales drives

6) THE LET’S-NOT-BOTHER-PRETENDING-EVERYTHING’S-CHANGED ENDGAME

Dozens of Variety Club sitcommers move into town. Original cast now not allowed on location and film all scenes on a sofa with back projection. Archetypes now include dopey black policeman, conniving Oriental, befuddled swashbuckler, prickly spinster, Rene Artois, Nurse G-G-Gladys Emmanuel, whatshername off Bread and Norman Wisdom. Oh, and Blakey, who does this every five seconds:

If the wind changes...

Altogether, for the billionth time: “The last of the summer wine/The la-ast of the summer wine/The la-ast of the summer wine/er…”


Girls, girls, girls

Sunday 26th April 2009

BBC4’s Saturday night parade of female-fronted song-and-dance archivery felt like it accomplished two things.

First, it highlighted how you don’t see any of the following on TV anymore:

a) Routines wholly centred on fancy dress
b) Casual racialism
c) Moments where the studio seems to be in complete darkness

But more significantly it called attention to the absence of any comparable non-male helmed programmes doing the rounds today. Barrowman, Brucie, Norton, Ross, Ant and Dec: where are their female equivalents?

Fortunately the TV Cream Gentle Sex Matrix Databank has rustled up three pitches which are going to be sent to the BBC Entertainment department first thing tomorrow morning.

1) A SLICE OF SARAH
Sunday 7.30pm, BBC1
The delightful Miss Cracknell eases you into Sunday evening with a rich mix of celebrity and song. Each week’s show has a theme, such as the weather, fashion or America, which Sarah and her guests explore through timeless tunes and witty turns. Regular contributors Instant Sunshine serve up a melodic ode on an aspect of the week’s news, and legendary singers from Val Doonican to Kate Bush drop in for a duet. Why not forget about those pre-Monday blues and enjoy familiar faces from past and present, a joke or two, and – naturally – class performances by Sarah with her band of 20 years, Saint Etienne.

2) LIFT OFF WITH ALESHA!
Wednesday 8.00pm, BBC1
The winner of Strictly Come Dancing 2007 makes her primetime TV debut with a star-encrusted variety spectacular for all the family. Alesha and her backing dancers, the Dixonettes, promise a cavalcade of good moves and great grooves. Every week there’ll be a dazzling routine with stars of Strictly Come Dancing (including Brucie, if he’s not too busy on the golf course!), a tune from a famous BBC face, and a celebrity revealing a hitherto secret talent. Alesha will also be showing viewers what she’s been up to during the week, springing surprises on people from 8 to 80. Each show includes a rundown of the midweek singles chart.

3) IT’S LAUREN
Saturday 5.35pm, BBC1
Teatime musical treats with an extra helping of cheeky charm. The former Kenickie singer-turned-national treasure shares some of her views on life through song, dance and plenty of down-to-earth humour. Professional comedians, magicians, crooners and dancers will be popping in to get the weekend off to a swing, along with regular guests Chris Serle, who’ll be introducing colourful locals with a story to tell, and Danny Baker, who’ll be broadcasting live out and about encountering Britain ‘as it happens’. Plus Lauren is challenged to learn and perform a classic song before the end of each show, in front of a panel of celebrity judges. Whatever they think of her efforts, they’re sure to agree on one thing: it’s Lauren!