Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Moorgate train crash was 37 years ago today

On this day in 1975, at 8.45, a packed train entered Moorgate station on what was then the Northern Line (Highbury Branch) and, instead of slowing down, accelerated into the sand drag at the end of the platform, through the buffers and into the wall at the end of the tunnel. Forty three people lost their lives. Nobody really knows why. There was speculation that the driver may have committed suicide. I remember seeing his picture in the papers for months afterwards.

I was thinking about that this yesterday morning when I stood on Palmers Green train platform. Some of those 43 dead may have stood there 37 years earlier. This line is now operated by First Capital Connect. It's called something different but it serves the same purpose - to get office workers from the suburbs of north London and Hertfordshire into the City of London.

I was thinking about it again last night while watching the first episode of The Tube, the new BBC series about how the underground works. My youngest was enthralled by this programme, by the steady thrum of the service, the seen-it-all look in the eyes of the staff and the drunken selfishness of a small minority of passengers. I've seen films about the Tube before but I'm always happy to watch a new one.

My reaction is always the same. Considering four million people get on the Tube every day and considering these metal bullets are being fired down these tunnels with such remorseless regularity and taking into account that the one thing we know is that the unforeseen does happen, it really is a miracle that these tragedies don't occur more often.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Talk about a page-turner. I've just sat stock-still for two hours finishing this book

Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon.
First published in 1981.
About a missing child.
Genuinely enthralling.

Why the "true fans" might not want to know the truth about ticket touting

Watched the Dispatches programme about the "secondary market" for tickets, which uncovered pretty clear evidence that promoters were supplying some tickets to the big on-line companies who were then selling them on as if they came from private individuals.

The thing I really found surprising was that on the two occasions when "the act" was mentioned, it was taken for granted that they couldn't possibly know anything about this business and if they did they would be horrified.

The big acts - and it's the big acts that see their tickets being sold on for a 200% premium - are quite practised at turning a blind eye to things which benefit them. If only their fans were a bit less naive.

Let's assume I'm the manager of a hot group. As I look out into the arena I can assume that half a million pounds has been spent on tickets. The problem is that my act has only got £300,000 of that. I'd be failing in my duty as a manager if I didn't want my clients to get a share of that missing £200,000.

Ticket prices have increased beyond all reason in the last ten years. This is not solely because of touting and re-selling. It's because people have been ready to pay increasing amounts and the acts have increased their prices to take advantage of that.  The problem they've got now is that they can't be seen to ask the prices they know that people will pay.

I don't actually know of a case of an act scalping their own tickets. However I would be absolutely amazed if it doesn't go on. Some exposé will eventually make that connection, although the concert business is so opaque it's unlikely they'll ever be able to prove it. The real problem is the public won't want to believe it.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What parents really mean when they ask “where are you?”

We have a couple of offspring under our roof at the moment, both of them over eighteen. The male one having gone out and not called home for a couple of days last week I eventually succumbed to texting those three little words that mean so much in the contemporary relationship between parent and child: “Where are you?”

I’ve texted those words thousands of times during their growing-up years. You’re not really curious where they are because they swarm hither and thither in search of the place where the maximum number of mates are gathered. Where they are right now bears no relation to where they will be in half an hour. I discovered long ago that it was no use asking where they were going when they left the house because that was a decision that would eventually be reached as a result of scores of texts. Young people nowadays don’t plan because mobile communication has meant they don’t have to.

So I’m not really interested in where he is. What I really mean when I thumb out the three words “where are you?” can better be expressed in the three words “are you alright?” (a question which triggers a mental slide show in every parent’s mind, no matter how old the person you’re asking it of.) Obviously you can’t actually ask that question because it will come back over the net with vicious top spin. Of course, I’m alright. Why wouldn’t I be? Honestly...

It’s at times like these that you realise that the boom in mobile telephony has been driven less by freedom-loving kids than by comfort-seeking parents.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Is this the end of the tearjerking movie?

I'm not a big crier but "The Interrupters" had me in tears more than once. It's a documentary about the efforts of former Chicago gang members to reduce the apparently random violence in their communities, often by putting themselves between perpetrators and victims. One of them is Ameena Matthews (above), who has the charisma of ten actors. "Dear Zachary", another documentary about real-life tragedy, also made me cry in a way that I could no longer imagine happening with a fictional feature film. Is that it for traditional tearjerkers?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Tonight I met an act-or

In 1967 I saw Edward Petherbridge (right) play opposite John Stride in the original production of Tom Stoppard's "Rosenkranz and Guildenstern Are Dead". Tonight Petherbridge told a story at True Stories Told Live and I reminded him of that production.

He ran through the cast for me and paused at Graham Crowden, who was The Player.

"Ah yes, Graham. Gathered, you know."

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Don't expect Kenny Dalglish to manage the modern footballer - it can't be done

Kenny Dalglish is getting a lot of stick over his unwillingness to criticise Luis Suarez. Maybe Dalglish realises the truth about "managing" top footballers today. The truth is it can't be done. Today's multi-millionaires are not amenable to reason or persuasion, let alone discipline.

This should be even clearer in the same month that Alex Ferguson, arguably the most powerful personality in European football, has let the extravagantly talented youngster Ravel Morrison leave Manchester United because he's come to the conclusion the boy is simply unmanageable.

This should be even more obvious this morning when we read that Roberto Mancini is considering letting Carlos Tevez back into the fold at Manchester City, just a couple of months after saying he would never darken their doors again.

The flavour of the month in management is our own Harry Redknapp who's being lauded for his "putting an arm round the boy" management technique. What this amounts to in practice is getting along with the players who are lucky enough to be in the team and hiding from the players who aren't.

Like all top managers, he only has power once a week when he fills in the team sheet.

The death of Whitney Houston and an original observation about stars - not made by me

Waking up to the news of the death of Whitney Houston, my mind went back to a 1973 film about Elton John I saw recently. At the time it was made Elton was already a big deal but on the surface he was still the comparatively modest figure who had played piano with Long John Baldry. The Monstrous Years were still to come, to be followed by The Therapy Years and then The Belatedly Domestic Era which we're living through at the moment. In those days I don't think we really knew what modern stardom could do because it hadn't really been invented.

Anyway, Dick James, who had been The Beatles publisher and was the man whose record company put out Elton's early records, is interviewed in that film and he says something that struck me as one of the most perceptive comments on superstardom that I've ever heard:
All artists can deal with adversity. I fact they thrive on it. I've never met one yet who could deal with success.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

There’s no pop like fairground pop

Back in the sixties one of the few places you could hear pop records played properly loud was at the fairground.

As the ride began the sideburned blokes who took the money on the waltzer or the dodgems would drop a blunt stylus on a scratched 45 of the latest hit.

Because not many cars had radios in those days the magical combination of music and movement was a rare thrill. It was particularly thrilling when it was getting dark, the smell of candy floss and beer hung in the air and the slightly slutty girls leaned back on the rails chewing along to the sound of The Ronettes singing “Be My Baby”.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

(I Don't Want To Go To) Playback

Twenty years ago I was asked to go to a record company HQ to listen to a new release by a major artist. They’d decided they could no longer send out review copies in case those advance copies found their way to a radio station. They put me in the control room of their most enormous studio, put the DAT (remember them?) in the player and retreated, leaving me alone to appreciate the splendour of the rock and the majesty of the roll.

It didn’t sound very majestic at all. Rather than call the record company person back to ask “does this sound all right to you?”, I scanned the thousands of buttons and faders on the massive desk until I found a toggle switch next to the tape player. I moved it from “mono” to “stereo”. That was better.

Just the other day I was asked if I’d review a new album by this same artist by going to the record company HQ for “a playback”, which is increasingly the form with big name acts. I said no, not just because I can’t bear the fuss but also because it’s no way to form a proper impression of a record. That you can only do when you’ve lived with it for a few weeks and calculated how many times you’ve found yourself reaching for it, which is the only true measure of worth.

There’s nothing wrong with doing the kind of track-by-tracks the music papers of the 60s used to do (“track three is an uptempo dance number with John singing lead”) but too often today’s critics try to pretend they’ve reached a conclusion which time has simply not allowed them to. Because they don’t feel confident enough to lay into a record they’ve only heard a couple of times they will tend to come back with something overly respectful and non-committal, which isn’t a lot of use to anyone. It probably suits the artist’s ego. Artists like making records but they’re mortally terrified of putting them out because that involves Judgement Day and playbacks ensure that day isn’t too judgemental. The “playback” ceremony also restores to the PR the High Priest role that the internet has robbed them of in most other respects. They like that.

I read reviews for their entertainment and enlightenment value. If I want a "verdict" on much-ballyhooed, maximum security albums such as those by the likes of Kate Bush and Leonard Cohen I'll find it in the columns of Twitter a month after release.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

The films I can't be bothered to understand

There are generational divides in music. Punk was one. Rap was another. Metal a third. It's a point beyond which older listeners usually don't want to go, because it's just too noisy and abrasive on the other side.

I noticed the same thing happening with films the first and only time I saw The Matrix. I didn't understand it. This in itself is nothing new. What was new was my complete disinterest in gaining any understanding. I realised that the plot had probably been worked out in scrupulous detail so that it made sense in some way but I frankly couldn't be bothered to find out because I suspect I would have been underwhelmed by the conclusion. I decided to watch it scene by scene as if it was a collection of pop videos,

I felt the same about Source Code, which I watched this week. I feel that if it takes more than a minute to explain the premise of the film then I'm losing interest. This particularly applies in the science fiction idiom. If the hero has to ask lots of questions in order to establish whether he's alive or dead then there's a chance mere spectators like us won't be entirely sure either, which is bound to impair our enjoyment. I did enjoy it as a matter of fact but I probably only got about 25% of it.