4 dusty gems from the 1970s

I don’t know about you, but one of the most rewarding ways of spending a few idle moments is a good old fussock around YouTube looking for musical gems.

Here’s a few that I’ve bookmarked recently…

10cc…they were always a bit too clever-clever for me, but I seem to have become a real fan of late. ‘Rubber Bullets’ is a great song – witty lyrics, an interesting chord structure and great ensemble playing. This is a live version with a nice jam at the end…note the changed lyrics…

 

Another fantastic 1970s band were Be Bop Deluxe, with the sublime guitar playing of Bill Nelson.  I used to play this tune in a band called ‘Spud and the Fabs’ – and sing it too…

 

The early to mid 1970s were great musically – it was still OK to be able to play your instrument well, as the Edgar Winter Group show in this 10 minute version of ‘Frankenstein’. It was OK to look as if you were actually enjoying yourself, too…

 

I’ve always had a soft spot for Mott, with Ian Hunter’s flawed yet consummate ability to live and breathe rock and the way that the band were so shambolic yet never quite fell apart.  Incidentally, Mrs Shark went to school with two of the band – Buffin and Overend Watts…and yes, he really does sing ‘cock in hole queen’, the rude little monkey…

 

The pursuit of accidents

‘One hit wonders’ are an interesting aspect of pop and rock music and Wikipedia has a very informative entry on the subject here.

However, in some cases, it’s not the success that such acts achieved that’s significant and of lasting merit, but their failures.

Thunderclap Newman – the subject of this article – are best known for their hit ‘Something in the Air’.

This was a so-so piece of hippy revolution fluff that dominated the UK charts in the summer of 1969 and reached #1.

The band was probably more interesting than their big hit based, as it was, around trad jazzer Andrew ‘Thunderclap’ Newman on piano, John ‘Speedy’ Keen on vocals, guitar and drums and Jimmy McCullough (who was only 15) on lead guitar.

With the aid of a powerful friend – no less than Pete Townshend of the Who – Newman and McCullough were brought in to help Keen record the hit. The original idea was for Townshend to mentor each of the three and help with their own individual projects. However, to save time, one project only emerged – the band named after the oddball pianist Thunderclap Newman.

So, ‘Something in the Air’ came and went and the inevitable album was released on the back of the hit – ‘Hollywood Dream’.

Now, ‘Dream’ is an OK album, but it contains one diamond in the rough – a sprawling 9 minute track called ‘Accidents’.

This was totally rejigged and re-recorded as a sub 4 minute single as the follow-up to ‘Something in the Air’ and peaked at a disappointing #46 in the UK.

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I say disappointing because it’s one of my favourite songs ever and a small and perfect but woefully neglected gem.

Dealing as it does with children disappearing through accidents, it was described thus by critic Nathan Morley:

One would have to listen to Wagner in a funeral parlour for something even more morbid than Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Accidents’

However, Morley shares my love for the song:

…which chronicles the deaths of various hapless children who all meet a very nasty end – Poor Mary falls in a river whilst waiting for the Queen to sail by and little Johnny is killed by a speeding car. That said – the song, orchestration and performance are simply brilliant. It is captivating and without doubt their best recording.

The lyrics conclude:

Life is just a game, you fly a paper plane, there is no aim

However, set against a somewhat jaunty backdrop with some nice guitar from McCullough and some well-scored brass, woodwind and strings, drumming that sounds like Paul McCartney to me and some remarkably effective acoustic rhythm guitar, its somewhat depressing message is somehow leavened by the almost singalong and upbeat sound.

It’s one of those pop songs that are quintessentially English – like the Kinks’ ‘Autumn Almanac’ – and like Ray Davies’ creation is almost like a little operetta with various movements all leading to a full-blown coda.

I think another thing that makes ‘Accidents’ very special to me is that I can remember exactly when and where I was when I first heard it.

Somehow I’d blagged a gardening job for the Head of English – Raymond Willis, a great bloke – during the late spring of 1970, which was the year I took my ‘A’ Levels.

It was a Saturday morning and I was re-digging a flower border (a tedious and unpleasant job as he owned a big and very smelly dog which used to shit all over the garden like a fucking elephant) and I had my transistor radio on tuned to the Kenny Everett Show.

Everett always had great taste – usually good melodic pop stuff – and he raved about the track before he played it.

Well, it knocked my fucking socks right off and I tried to buy it as soon as I could, but with no luck.

It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I heard it again when a neighbour lent me a CD reissue of ‘Hollywood Dream’ and I was able to hear the single version of ‘Accidents’ once more (a bonus track) and also the 9 minute album version.

You’d have thought that maybe a wait of something approaching 40 years might have ended in disappointment.but it didn’t and the track has become very precious to me.

So, what happened to the band?

Well, Andrew Newman still gigs the band although he’s the only original member, John Keen is out of the business after a brief career in music which included producing Motorhead’s first recordings and Jimmy McCullough is dead of a heart attack following a heroin overdose just after he left Wings – yes, that Wings.

I suppose therefore that poignant is the right word for this track – Everett’s dead, Jimmy McCullough’s dead of fucking smack and I’m guessing my old English teacher is too, as he’d be over 100 if he was still alive.

Plus you’ve got children disappearing and a rather nihilistic message.

Perhaps Morley was right after all…

As ever, the music should really do the talking, so here’s the single and the best version of ‘Accidents’ –’ video’ here but good for sound only.

Should you wish to hear the 9 minute album version it’s available on YouTube.

Any port in a snowstorm?

We’ve been watching coverage of the approaching snow in the UK with great interest as we’re due to visit dear old Blighty next week.

At first, we saw the usual dire predictions of doom and I have to admit that I scoffed at them. However, parts of the UK now have snow, and conditions in some parts seem quite severe.

A couple of talking points have stood out amongst all the usual media guff.

Firstly, the poor reaction of some drivers to snowy and icy conditions. Braking is the worst thing to do – you should brake with your gears – and staying a good distance away from the car in front is a good idea too – about 10 car lengths should do – and, it really should go without saying, keep your speed right down. If you do have to brake then don’t fight the direction of the skid – steer into it.

I’m struggling to understand why some UK weather reports are giving out the Fahrenheit equivalents to Celsius temperatures. The now standard Celsius scale seems to be more logical with 0° being freezing point, whereas it’s 32° in Fahrenheit which doesn’t seem as immediate or informative.

Although I was educated when imperial units were used, I use mostly metric units nowadays and exclusively so here – ounces and inches mean fuck all to the French after all. However, the difference between the two systems doesn’t seem as wide as that between Celsius and Fahrenheit – it’s not like a measurement of length will start in a different place, for example.

When it comes to standard units, money can also be subject to this strange species of nostalgia. You may remember when 12 pence made a shilling and 20 shillings made a pound. Of course, we then went decimal. The French also changed their currency, although going from 100 centimes to the franc to 100 cents to the Euro wasn’t that tricky maths-wise. However, the French still express prices in francs as well as Euros so that a supermarket till receipt will give you a total in Euros and then its franc equivalent.

Imagine going to your local M&S and getting a receipt telling you that the £12.67 you just spent was the equivalent of £12 13s 4d in old money.

Bonkers.

Well, we sail from Caen on the overnight ferry and arrive in Portsmouth next Tuesday. We’re staying a few days in Milton Keynes to see our son and our friends and then it’s off to Gloucester to see our daughter and various relatives.

Snow seems to be forecast for next week both here* and in the UK, so it may be something we can’t escape. So, a shovel, blankets and a flask of cocoa will be loaded in the car as well as all the Christmas presents for the UK and our luggage.

Now, where’s my thermals?

*It snowed briefly here at about 4pm – just a few flakes but the white stuff all the same…

An English Democrat gets his wish

Well, he must have his own private fucking genii because the moronic EDP motherfucker who seemed to want to see a bit more ‘get up and go’ in evidence on the streets of the UK certainly got his wish today.

School pupils as young as 14 decided to take the day off school and protest against the hike in student tuition fees and the involvement of the Lib Dems in all of this.

Fortunately, most of the protests passed off peacefully, although as I’ve just seen on the local London BBC regional news program tonight, it got a bit fraught in the capital – particularly around Whitehall. Indeed, as I write this, I’ve just seen a report from a ‘kettled’ area where a bus shelter has been set on fire. Earlier, steel barriers were thrown at police lines and an isolated police vehicle was cut off by protesters and vandalised.

Even worse, I’ve just seen Lenny Henry – surely one of the most overrated UK comedians of all time – on the One Show cracking a joke that the protests at least meant that students had stopped eating Doritos, put their trousers on, turned off Trisha and gone out to do something.

So what about the 14 year old school kids kettled in Whitehall while you’re in a nice cosy studio, Lenny? Pleased to see them go out and do something instead of that boring old schoolwork – like bunking off school and getting kettled, perhaps?

Cunt.

And speaking of cunts…

Who knows, perhaps the EDP shithead who wanted to see a bit more UK street action has a son or daughter kettled at this very moment in Whitehall!

It’s possible, as I understand that the party has a bit of a presence in Kent, and in its towns such as Dartford, so it must be easy enough to nip up to the capital’s streets where ‘guts were being displayed’ today.

Although it’s easy enough to mobilise large numbers of people – mobile phones, Twitter, Facebook, etc – when the various groups of school pupils got to the protest, many of them interviewed seemed upset that what they had intended to be a 100% non-violent event had been hijacked by certain elements who were intent on violence.

And there’s the danger.

When you’re 14, 15, 16, you’re not always aware that you might be being manipulated and your enthusiasms subverted by people whose aims are rather different to yours. That’s not a criticism, it’s just part of being young, and manipulation is manipulation, whether it’s by anarchists or record company executives. To many people, the young are fair game.

They certainly were today.

I’m not totally without sympathy with the broad thrust of the protesters today. After all, I benefited from a cheap degree with no tuition fees, but then I’ve also seen a blind dogmatic rush towards degrees for everybody at any cost by the last three Labour governments. This created an unsustainable demand on public money for cheap university education which we now simply cannot afford. And that’s another inevitable and inherent problem with being 14 or 15; a failure to appreciate that money will only stretch so far (after all, you don’t have to earn the fucking stuff), such as when you ask your parents for a new pair of £100 trainers. 

So, Mr Englsih (sic) Democrat, I don’t know whether your child’s shivering its arse off inside a police kettle in Whitehall at this very moment, but someone’s child certainly is.

Quite a few of them in fact.

Maybe you should be more careful what you wish for…

Gently does it

One of the best gadgets I’ve ever bought is my iPod Classic. Its 160Gb capacity means that I’ve been able to leave all my CDs and other music media packed up, along with my main stereo. All I need for instant music here until we move permanently is contained on the iPod which I’ve hooked up to a Panasonic mini hi-fi.

I’ve got about 150Gb of audio on the iPod which gives me plenty of choice and just lately I’ve been listening to some audiobooks.

I’ve never been too fond of audiobooks but listening to them whilst I was laid up with a cold which turned into a sort of stomach flu last month was very enjoyable and I’ve continued to listen to them.

With such a huge capacity on the iPod it’s easy to overlook things but I’ve rediscovered some Douglas Adams audiobooks I put on there a couple of years ago on a whim.

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I have all five of the Hitchhiker books, read variously by Douglas Adams, Martin Freeman and Stephen Fry. I also have both Dirk Gently books read by the author.

I first heard ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ when it was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4. It was OK, although I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit too clever-clever and perhaps tried too hard to be different.

However, I continued to listen to the broadcasts and after that the next two radio sequels and then the TV series. I even read the first three books.

After about 1982 I didn’t bother with Adams again until just recently, although I did buy the DVD set of the TV series and also borrowed the recent(ish) film from the library, although I found the latter to be an execrable piece of shit that should have never been made.

Being able to catch up, as it were, with Adams’ writings after the original trilogy I’m starting to really appreciate him again and a re-evaluation is now due.

From what I’ve heard of the last two Hitchhiker books (and also the two Dirk Gently novels), I reckon he got better and to me they seem to be a vast improvement over the original trilogy.

This might well be heresy to Hitchhiker fans, but his later novels seem to have benefited from concentrating more on character and plot and less on witty observations and all the fussy details when the Guide is quoted.

In short – more substance and less gimmick.

Arthur Dent becomes a far more rounded character and the passive, bumbling ingénue of the first three books develops into a far more realistic and assertive individual to whom one can relate more closely. The early Dent is a comic book character; the later one a comic novel character – a big and welcome difference.

This depth of characterisation extends to his Dirk Gently novels which were a real surprise to me. I thought they were excellent, with a wealth of references to all manner of things that piqued the intellect, plot lines which interwove in a labyrinthine way and, at times, some quite haunting descriptions of the ways in which the main characters’ minds worked.

Dirk Gently himself is an amazing invention. At times he seems to act as a deus ex machina facilitating intersecting twists and turns in the plots and subplots just when you think they can progress no further. The closest parallel I can think of is the character of Dr Who and so it was really no surprise to discover that Adams wrote the scripts for three series of the iconic TV show at around the same time that Hitchhiker got off the ground.

I’ve been reading more about the author himself and he was one of those people who was fortunate enough to be able to indulge his passions as part of his work. Interested in science, music, computers and the conservation of endangered species, Adams brought these all to bear on his work and they even became his work at times.

Adams’ life, before the phenomenon that Hitchhiker became, followed a pretty similar path to many of his peers’ – boarding school, Cambridge, BBC script writing; a bit of a cliche really. But Adams was much, much more than most of them, and, had he lived, then people like Stephen Fry might well have far fewer Twitter followers.

He was, if you like, what Stephen Fry thinks he is.    .   

Yes, Adams was a true Renaissance man for the technological late 20th century and, had he not died in 2001, would have been equally at home in the 21st.

To wrap this article up, here’s my favourite Adams quote:

Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?