Friday, January 30, 2015

An amazing evening for Gavaid

London never stops amazing you. It's like a huge desk with hundreds of drawers, most of which you never get round to opening.

 Last night at six I got on the overground heading east from Highbury & Islington. I didn't know until last night they call it the Orange Line. All the hundreds of people flooding on to that train on their way home were young. It was different from the mix you would have found if you were travelling north or south.

I got off at Shadwell, which is in the heart of what I used to think of as Jack The Ripper territory. In the past nobody I knew ever went there, lived there or had any business reason to be there. Nowadays I'm increasingly pulled there as my own children live in that direction, in areas I've never even visited, areas which not long ago were post-industrial wastelands but are now full of all sorts of surprises.

One of them is a rather fabulous former cinema on the Commercial Road called The Troxy, which was reopened a couple of years ago and is now being developed as a groovy events venue. (You can take a virtual tour here.)

Last night it was full of almost 900 journalists, advertising people and PRs, many of whom had known or worked with Gavin Reeve. Gavin died last year at no age at all. He was a victim of pancreatic cancer. I worked with him briefly many years ago. My daughter worked with him more recently. He was a charmer, engaging everyone who crossed his path.

The gathering was a showbiz quiz in aid of Pancreatic Cancer Action. Denise Van Outen presented the quiz, which quickly exhausted my store of knowledge about characters in Brookside or the obscurer reality TV contestants. (Although it has to be said Mark Ellen impressed me by knowing how many line-ups of the Sugababes there had been.)

A visitor from the 1980s might have been shocked by the tawdriness of some of the subjects that some people knew about - breast reductions, people selling the media rights to the birth of their child, the lyrics of Peter Andre songs - but they might also have been struck by the decency of everyone's behaviour, which is not always a given at media business bunfights.

Before it got under way there were speeches by Ali Stunt from the charity and Gavin's wife Leesa Daniels, speeches which were listened to with close attention. They showed a clip of him speaking at last year's Gavaid event, which I didn't attend. At that stage he was still well enough to stand up and crack jokes in front of a crowd. None of us are promised tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

We gentleman of a certain age still live in Hancock's world

I had to smile this morning when someone tweeted the old Tony Hancock line "have they forgotten Magna Carta? Did she die in vain?"

In the early seventies I shared a flat with a load of blokes. Between us we had three budget Hancock LPs on Pye's Golden Guinea label. We played them on Sunday afternoons when nothing was open and there was nothing else to do.

Thus we committed every word of The Blood Donor, The Radio Ham, The Missing Page, The Reunion  and the others to memory. There are a few comedy series that stand up to repeated viewing and listening but I don't know another where the individual lines linger quite as much.

Not a week goes by I don't quote one either out loud or just in my head. Handing around the wine gums at the theatre the other day I found myself saying "don't take the black one", which then led to "they do tubes of all black ones nowadays" and then "I know, but you can't always get 'em".

Galton and Simpson were great writers, they were coming up with lines for great comic actors and most of them were tried first on the radio, which may account for their peculiar savour, for the way they only lend themselves to being said in the way the actor in the original production said them.

I know them like other people know poetry. 

"Given, no. Spilt, yes."

"We're not all Rob Roys, you know."

"Last one in the Reichstag's a sissy."

"We're going to Margate this year, if any of you young nurses fancy it. No funny business."

I walked in on my youngest Skyping mates all over the world the other day and couldn't stop myself saying "send a bread pudding to Kuala Lumpur".

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"Subterranean Homesick Blues" and the days when records came to us in dreams

Richard Williams' piece about the anniversary of Subterranean Homesick Blues got me thinking back to the first time I heard it. In those days the Light Programme hardly played any records. Thanks to the BBC's agreements with the Musicians Union, they were only allowed a handful. Most of their output was light orchestral. A pop record, any pop record, coming on the radio was exciting. If it was a record like "Subterranean Homesick Blues", which seemed to have no precedent, that was doubly the case.

I think I remember hearing it first on the TV. I dimly remember a minute of it was played on "Juke Box Jury", probably over shots of students and shorthand typists uncertainly trying to tap their foot along to the beat. It literally sent shivers up my spine. I had a presentiment that when I finally got to hear this record properly it would thrill me beyond measure.

I knew that I might not hear it again for weeks and if I did it would come without warning. I might turn on the radio just as it was finishing, which would be like arriving at the youth club dance to find the girl you fancied laughing at somebody else's jokes. Furthermore, when it actually came out you might not be able to afford to buy it and you'd have to hope somebody would bring their copy to school and you would be able to persuade the music teacher to let you use the gramophone at lunchtime.

In the gap between hearing something and being able to hear it again in those days a strange and rather beautiful feeling blossomed. You re-ran the memory of your hearing the record in your head and tried to uncover further details of it, as if you were the witness to a crime, going over your recollections again and again trying to come up with another line or a sound you had forgotten.

This meant that music came to you as if in a dream. This is interesting because that's often the way a song first occurs to the musician. Before it's something they play it's something they hear in their head. The dream analogy applies particularly well to "Subterranean Homesick Blues", a performance that still sounds today as if it's tumbling forth faster than the recording machine can handle it and that if it hadn't managed to capture it on that occasion the moment would have been lost to memory entirely, much the way most dreams are.


Wednesday, January 07, 2015

Buying more books saves you something more important than money

Discussions about digital migration are often ham-strung by a version of the either/or fallacy. I'm sure the boss of Waterstone's would love to believe that Kindle sales have all but disappeared and the paper book is making a comeback. I'm sure it's not as simple as that.

The habit matters more than the product and the Kindle may have re-awakened the habit of reading books among some people. If I'm reading something major nowadays, the kind of thing that I'm going to want to have in my pocket to read at the bus stop, I'll tend to buy a cheap paperback and also get it on Kindle. Generally speaking, books are cheap. The major investment is the time devoted to reading them. If I buy both forms I'll read more quickly, which is a more satisfactory way to read. I'll then get through more books, which will make me feel better and also look for more books.

I think that's what they call win-win.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Just one amazing detail from Gyles Brandreth's Westminster Diaries

2015 is going well. I'm in front of a fire with Breaking The Code: Westminster Diaries by Gyles Brandreth, which is the most candid parliamentary memoir you're ever going to read.

I'm not one of those people who believe MPs are up to their necks in bribery and corruption but the entry for February 3rd 1993 contains a wonderful illustration of how people in institutions - all institutions - design things to make live easier for themselves.

Brandreth was a member of the Heritage Select Committee, which was chaired by Gerald Kaufman. He writes:
"Gerald and the Select Committee are off to the U.S. at the weekend, gathering evidence for our enquiry into the cost of CDs. Gerald explained to us that if we all went, the Budget wouldn't stretch to us travelling Business Class. He felt that those going would want to travel Business Class (murmurs of assent), so was anyonready to volunteer not to go? I put my hand up."
Was there ever a time when rational human beings thought that Parliament could make the slightest difference to the price of compact discs? And in that time was it really felt that a bunch of Parliamentarians could rock up in New York and be given access to some information about CD pricing that they couldn't have got back in Westminster? And how did Gerald Kaufman manage to keep a straight face while asking that question about Business Class?