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Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Seven thoughts on the morning of yet another England football failure


  1. All this talk about "humiliation" is no help to anyone. England lost a football match. As the young Boris Becker pointed out all those years ago, "nobody died."
  2. I don't buy the idea that England footballers don't try. Very often they try too hard. What matters is trying effectively
  3. And it's nothing to do with how much they're paid either.
  4. Our best players play at a the top level, but generally alongside players from overseas who are technically better and can deal with pressure for them. As soon as things go wrong for an England team you can see the fear in their eyes.
  5. When the England rugby team won the World Cup in 2003 Martin Johnson was the captain but they had another four "officers" on the field who could have done his job. That's what you need to win in any team sport.
  6. Iceland are a good team unencumbered by expectation whereas England are a fragile team saddled with mad levels of expectation.
  7. The next England manager should do just one press conference a year. 



Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Big stars no longer need media because they *are* media

Talking to Sylvia Patterson last night at Word In Your Ear about her book "I'm Not With The Band", which traces her experience in the music press from the halcyon days of Smash Hits through NME and The Face to the dog days of today.

Sylvia thought it was a shame that the likes of Beyonce and the Beckhams no longer feel the need to meet journalists except in circumstances where they have complete control.

This made me think that the really big names of today - the likes of Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Jay Z, the Kardashians and the Beckhams - don't need media any longer for the simple reason that they are media.

If you've got more Twitter followers than a newspaper then it's easy to see who's the needy one in that relationship.

Ties in with this piece "How Is Donald Trump Going To Quit?", which says that Trump doesn't seriously want to get bogged down in power with responsibility, which is the lot of the President, when he can start his own TV station and have power without responsibility, which is of course the prerogative of the harlot.

I agree.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Never mind Top Gear - here's the Earl Grey Whistle Test

The other day Mark Ellen and I returned to the bench in Golden Square where BBC publicity took our picture in 1982 for Old Grey Whistle Test. We've put the two pictures together to mark the fact that we've taken over next week's essay slot on Radio Three (10:45 every evening from Monday) for  something called The Earl Grey Whistle Test.

Back in the eighties Mark would joke that we would end up as two old dodderers presenting a programme under that title so we wanted to make good on the gag. Our essays, one joint and four solo, cover such topics as drummers in rock, why rock stars never give up and the unusual sensation of being part of a duo most people can't tell apart.

While we're plugging things, Mark and I are appearing at the Harrogate Literary Festival on July 9th with Zoe Howe and Paul Du Noyer. Details here. We're also hosting Word In Your Ear tomorrow night in Islington with Sylvia Patterson and Derek Ridgers. Details here.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

When shopping goes semi-automatic

I asked about a book in The Strand in New York. I didn't know the author but I had the title. The assistant was very helpful and found a number of titles with the same name. We agreed which one it was. "We have one copy," he said and, without my asking, handed me a small ticket with the details of the book. "Hand it to anybody downstairs and they'll find it." I took it downstairs, handed it to an assistant and she set off down the stacks at such a pace I almost had to break into a trot to keep up. She went straight to a shelf, handed me the copy, I took it to the desk and paid for it.

The following day we decided to see a Broadway show. The New Yorkers we'd had dinner with the night before had advised us to use TodayTix. This turned out to be an app through which you can book and buy tickets for shows that day. You get the tickets by turning up at the theatre half an hour before curtain up where you rendezvous with a rep wearing the TodayTix uniform who hands you your tickets.

I was impressed with both these experiences because they combined technology with the personal touch. Neither of them could have happened satisfactorily without the human element, neither of them would have been possible without the mechanical element. It made me wonder whether this might be the next stage of the retail revolution.

Friday, June 03, 2016

An Englishmen in New York goes to see An American In Paris and finds not all is as it seems



Went to see An American In Paris on Broadway last night.

It was one of the greatest things I've ever seen.

I've seen good productions of American musicals in London but you always feel the cast are putting so much effort into the business of being American that it can never look or sound quite as effortless as you'd like it to be.

Not so this, which just glided by. When the dancers did flying leaps here you never heard them land on the stage. The transitions occurred so seamlessly that you didn't even notice they were happening.

Obviously the cast could all dance, sing and act but they also did the million and one tiny things that don't really fit into one of those categories. There seemed to be an ease about them which you don't find on the London stage.

We went out enthusing about how wonderful it was to see such an American form being done by the Americans.

Only this morning did we find out that the star, Leanne Cope, comes from Bath.

Furthermore, it was directed and choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon, who's from Yeovil.


"1971: Never A Dull Moment" published in the USA.


Here's the cover of the American edition of 1971: Never A Dull Moment, which comes out in the U.S. next week.

I'm delighted to say it's been chosen as one of Amazon.com's best books for June.

Pass it on.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Allow me to introduce you to one of the greatest records ever made

Guy Clark died  today.

He wrote some great songs and made two strong albums in the seventies.

You can get both of them for £2.99, which is plain ridiculous.

My favourite song of his was "Desperados Waiting For A Train".

 My favourite version of that was by Mallard, the group formed by former members of Captain Beefheart's Magic Band.


Here it is.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The year is 2016 and Jimmy Webb's at number one in the States.

Jimmy Webb played a showcase at his publishers tonight. A few score people gathered around his piano as he did half a dozen songs, which included obscure requests as well as the ones that made him famous.

I liked his patter. "People associate me with the 60s or the 70s if I'm lucky. But what you people don't know is I'm still relevant because one of my songs is at number one in the USA this week."

He was talking about the use of his song "Do What You Gotta Do" in Kanye's hit "Famous".

"It seems this record's about some beef that Kanye has against Taylor Swift. I didn't think that was very gentlemanly so I wanted to have it out with him, Okie to Okie. Then somebody said 'you know you're getting 35% of this record?' and I thought 'Taylor's a big girl - she can look after herself.'"


Two thoughts about Colin Hanks' Tower Records documentary


Two things struck me after last night's screening of the Tower Records documentary All Things Must Pass and the Q&A with its director Colin Hanks.

The first was just how sentimental the younger people in the audience were about the idea of record shop culture and how desperately some of them persuade themselves that the current fashion for pristine, newly-pressed Stooges albums at twenty quid a pop indicates anything more than the desire of a tiny handful of people to have something that makes them look both soulful and affluent. 

Hanks asserted that record shops would continue to hang on but was forced to admit that only this week Other Music, the New York store which was the hold-outs' last best hope, announced it was closing in June.

The second thing that struck me was how amazing it was that Tower Records hadn't closed years earlier than it did. I hadn't realised it had expanded in such an uncontrolled, haphazard way. The stores in Japan were opened before the one in New York, for instance. All this worldwide expansion was reliant on borrowed money, which meant that the company couldn't withstand the slightest downturn, let alone the one that arrived.

When the banks finally put their people in one of the first things they did was close down the Tower magazine Pulse! This was very upsetting for the people in the company. I  couldn't help being amazed that they had employed more people to do their free magazine than most British publishers would hire to do a paid one.

P.S. A third thing struck me. People say Hanks looks like his father. I think he looks more like Woody.