Thursday, December 22, 2016

You can't make your children happy - particularly at Christmas

This is the only thing I learned from my experience of bringing up our kids, all of whom are adults now.

You can't make your children happy.

You can't force it upon them.

And Christmas is the time of year when you try hardest to do just that.

It's at its worst when they're little. That's when you want them to be excited but not too excited. This is an emotional state they're not equipped for. All that pent-up anticipation all too easily spills over into tantrums, even tears, which then upsets the adults.

This didn't happen all the time but I well remember the times that it did. It was always when we were trying to make it perfect.

So, have yourself the kind of Christmas you want.

Friday, December 16, 2016

All famous people think they know each other

Vanity Fair have tried to find out the truth about Donald Trump's claim that he and Kanye West are "old friends". 

One of the first things that fame teaches the newly famous is to treat everybody as though they've already met. This always works because once they're famous everybody they do meet will mention the time they met before. The famous person won't remember this because the famous person meets hundreds of new people every day and if it makes these people happy to have them believe that you remember meeting them before then why mess up something that makes them happy? The famous person will have forgotten all about the civilian within minutes of meeting them so it's no skin off their famous nose.

If you're major league famous, like, say, Madonna or David Beckham, all social interactions will be instigated by somebody else. You never have to go "hello, I'm Madonna". It's a given that you're Madonna and therefore everybody is naturally drawn to you and will defer to you. You never have to explain your presence.

The best bit in the first series of "Episodes" is when Matt Le Blanc has lunch with writers Tamsin Greig and Stephen Mangan. His opening line is "I'm here....why?" He simply can't be caught admitting he's there because he wanted to be. Somebody else must have made this happen.

I'm told the Queen never says hello or goodbye. This makes perfect sense to me. For everybody she deals with life begins when she arrives and ceases when she departs. The only scene that matters is the one featuring the Queen and by definition this is over when she leaves.

And here we have Kanye West and Donald Trump. At the time they met they were the two most famous and controversial figures in the New York area. Therefore it stood to reason that they should meet and have their picture taken.

Do they know each other? They're famous. That's all they need to know about each other.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Neil Cowley Trio have very nearly got a hit

I went to see the Neil Cowley Trio play a short gig in an underground garage this week. They did some tunes from their new album "Spacebound Apes". These days the words "new album" only cause excitement among the people who have made said new album. It's like back in the old days people used to come round and make you look at their holiday snaps. You paid attention largely to be polite.

Nowadays the precious currency is not the recorded music. It's the audience's undivided attention. That's a fact. You can waste your time mourning the world that's gone and is never coming back or you can take notice of the fact that new opportunities may arise from time to time in this new dispensation. People's attention can no longer be demanded but it can be piqued.

Neil talked about a tune called "Grace". A few weeks ago he noticed that it had been streamed 30,000 times on Spotify. He was quite gratified about that but he knew it wasn't going to amount to much. But then next time he looked it had gone up a lot. Then it went up even more. Next thing he knew it had been streamed over a million times, which is a lot for a barely-known British act operating in the space dangerously adjacent to jazz.

The reason it had been streamed this many times is Spotify had included that one tune in one of their playlists of new material. It had popped up on people's playlists and since they hadn't skipped it it appeared to have met with their approval. I've just looked again and the total number of times it's been streamed is over four million. That's not going to keep Adele up at night but it's not nothing.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Leon Russell was at the height of his powers in 1971

I was never a fan of Leon Russell's voice but as an arranger/producer/ringmaster he made a lot of great things happen. Quite a few of them happened in 1971.

He produced and played piano on "Watching The River Flow", which was one of Bob Dylan's great singles. He was the musical director of the Concert For Bangla Dash.

And he was instrumental in one of the very few blues/rock crossovers that worked and still works, Freddie King's 1971 album, "Getting Ready".

 It's got all Russell's signature touches: barrelhouse piano, swelling female choruses, the ear for a good song and driving rhythm. Best track is this one, which, I note, still sounded fresh enough to make the sig tune of the U.S. comedy show "Southbound And Down" a few years back. Take it away.

Friday, November 11, 2016

How a cheap marketing gimmick made Leonard Cohen a star

Seemed like my whole generation of college students bought "Songs of Leonard Cohen" in 1968.

Actually first of all they bought "The Rock Machine Turns You On". This was a cheap sampler album of all CBS's new "alternative" acts. Leonard Cohen's "Sisters Of Mercy" was at the end of side one. This was a time when Bob Dylan was writing happy songs and so there was an untapped market for a bit of dark. Leonard fitted the bill, particularly because he was an actual published poet. When Dylan was awarded the Nobel recently I couldn't help thinking it ought to have gone to Leonard Cohen. His songs had the discipline of poems.

I met him once, in the 80s at a party in New York, thrown by his record company to mark how many records he'd sold outside the United States. He wasn't a rock star; he was too polished, too comfortable with formality for that. Somebody from the record company made a speech. Standards aren't high when it comes to record company speeches. What I do remember is Leonard responding with one courtly-sounding sentence: "I'd like to thank you all for the modesty of your interest in my work."

Every time I saw him he always seem to be surrounded by a phalanx a beautiful young women, who clearly admired him greatly. That's one of the reasons I always got irritated with the jokes about "songs for swinging suicides" and the like. Far as I can see Leonard lived a full life and he always saw the funny side.

Thanks to the embezzlement of his retirement fund, he went back on tour late in life and got to enjoy a lap of honour such as no other artist has known. He died surrounded by his family, his affairs settled and his reputation higher than it had ever been.

I don't know if he knew the outcome of the U.S. election. This morning I heard him sing the line "There's a mighty judgement coming", which gave me a shiver. Then he adds "but I may be wrong." Cheers, old boy.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Has Billy Joel appointed his successor?

Nice story here about Michael DelGuidice, a musician who went from being in a Billy Joel tribute band to being hired by Joel to play in his band and help him out with the vocals.

The best tribute bands are better than the bands they're based on because they work harder at it and as soon as one member can't do the job they replace him.

The best backing singers are better than the singers they back because they're younger.

A few years back I saw the bus carrying "The Glenn Miller Orchestra". Obviously none of the original musicians and clearly no Glenn. They're licensed by Glenn Miller Productions. They keep the sound alive and cater for the audience that wants to hear that sound.

Maybe Billy Joel Productions will be doing the same thing in the future.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

"Hillbilly Elegy" is a reminder just how foreign a lot of America is

Hillbilly Elegy is the story of how J.D. Vance made it from a very unpromising background - born into family of suspicious hillbilly folk transplanted from Kentucky to post-industrial Ohio, growing up amid domestic chaos with an addict mother and a succession of father figures - to an entirely new life as a successful lawyer and writer. It's been cited as a useful guide to what's persuading many Americans that Trump's the solution to what ails them.

He serves as an officer in the U.S. Marines, which helps pay for him to go to university and he gets into the law school at Yale, by which time you'd assume that he would have seen enough of the world outside Middletown, Ohio to be able to handle most social situations. It almost comes apart when at a dinner thrown by one of the big law firms who come to recruit at Yale he tastes sparkling water for the first time and is so unused to the taste that he spits it out in disgust.

No nation has a monopoly of insularity but one of the things about growing up in the UK is you're aware that there is a world out there bigger than the world of home. For a start there's the the other world you see every time you switch on the TV, which is usually America. You quickly learn the world is full of unfamiliar things, some of which you might encounter at some point, and you tend to be ready for them.

Monday, October 10, 2016

You couldn't make up the Jeremy Thorpe affair

Maybe A Very English Scandal is as good as it is is because John Preston couldn't publish it until Jeremy Thorpe died in 2014.

I like to think he used that time polishing his account of the Norman Scott affair until it gleams like a truly superior airport novel.

It couldn't be an actual airport novel. The story it tells is too tawdry. Instead of a climax it has a misfire. It's a misfire that fits perfectly with all the bungling that led to it. The two main protagonists both act as though the world owes them a living. Everybody else in the story is just used.

It's a story replete with English types no airport novelist would dare invent: Thorpe's cigar-smoking, monocle-wearing mother who lived on boiled eggs; the eccentric peer of the realm who played a saintly role in homosexual law reform and had badgers roaming free in his home; the chancer Peter Bessell who had to atone for his role as Thorpe's consigliere by living out his days in a one-room shack on a California beach; the extraordinary George Carman QC who could be mortally drunk at two in the morning and then rise in the morning to twist a jury round his little finger; the almost inevitable appearance in the narrative of Jimmy Saville.

I read it in a couple of sittings. It would make a great film. That'll never happen because no American could possibly begin to understand how weird England can be. Shame.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

Farewell to the rock reference book

Before the internet I had to have rock reference books to do my job. If I wanted to know what year a record came out I had to look it up in a book. Ditto the spelling of the surname of a producer or the age some star was claiming to be. There was nowhere else you could go.

Some of these books, like Nick Logan and Bob Woffinden's "Encyclopaedia Of Rock", and the "Rolling Stone Record Guide", lived at the office because I needed them all the time. And in those days the market for rock books was quite small and so they had a habit of going out of print for years. If you lost one it was the devil's own job to replace it.

Today I put all my music books in one room so that at least I know where they are. I don't want to be searching for hours for a book about Black Sabbath, like I did yesterday. At first I was giving pride of place to the reference books in my sort but now I realise they're the ones I no longer need to have to hand. I literally never open them. Wonder if we'll ever see a rock reference book again.

Friday, September 30, 2016

If somebody's paying you more than ten grand for making a speech, it's not the speech they're buying.

There have been a handful of occasions in my career when I've been paid quite well for making a speech. I'm sure the company signing the cheque thought I was charging too much. Then again they weren't there during the days and days of preparation. They weren't sharing in the pre-speech nausea during which I would have been quite happy to turn on my heel, go home, not put myself through the ordeal at all and let the money go hang.

But then people who can't make speeches think that people who can make speeches don't have to prepare. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people who can do it work hundreds of times harder at preparing than the people who can't. There may be a clue there.

I was thinking of this when reading about the sums of money the Clintons can command for making speeches to commercial organisations and then Sam Allardyce being caught talking about being paid £400k for making a speech. I'm sure all these people are eminently capable of holding a conference's delegates in the palm of their hand for forty minutes. But there's a point at which reasonable recompense shades into the controversial area of purchasing somebody's services. Here's a clue. If somebody's paying you more than ten grand for making a speech, it's not the speech they're buying.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Spotify's new "Daily Mix" feature is a nightmare for music radio and the music business

Spotify have just launched a new "Daily Mix" feature. This provides me with six playlists of tunes based on the kind of things I've been playing in the recent past. Although each of these lists reflects what you could call an area of music I like, they've wisely not given them names. I can't abide those buttons that demand I choose between "country" and "hard rock".

Instead the buttons are a montage of the artists featured within, which works out roughly as follows:
Playlist 1: the bands and songwriters I've listened to for a lot of the last forty years: Steely Dan, Paul McCartney, Boz Scaggs etc.
Playlist 2: the more tuneful side of jazz: Basie, Ellington, Bix, Coleman Hawkins etc.
Playlist 3: Classical: Scarlatti, Liszt, Handel, Vaughan William etc.
Playlist 4: the ambient music I never know the name of: Nils Frahm, Luke Howard, Max Richter etc.
Playlist 5: edgy hip-hop, dance-type stuff: Blood Orange, James Blake, Tame Impala etc.
Playlist 6: some rather twee French pop of the kind that gets used on the soundtracks of comedy films.

On one hand no algorithm will be able to make the intuitive leap that guarantees you'll love what's been chosen for you. On the other hand it's a sight more likely to satisfy you than whatever radio comes up with because all music radio is a product of compromise. The more successful it is the more compromised.

The Daily Mix will get better. You can educate it by promoting or demoting songs you feel strongly about one way or another.

Funny how things change. Music radio used to draw its strength from the fact that it had all the tunes. and we didn't. Nowadays we all have just as many tunes as they do and we're free to listen to whatever we feel like whenever we feel like it.

For music radio and the music business it's a nightmare.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

I blame "media training" for the rise of Donald Trump

A CNN poll has found that people think Donald Trump is "more honest and trustworthy" than Hillary Clinton by a margin of 15%.

That's because of the way he talks. People have become so inured to the carefully-chosen words used by everybody in the public space nowadays and the soothing tone  with which they use them that the sudden appearance of somebody who gives the appearance of saying the first thing that comes into their head, who invents policy like a cab driver or a drunk, is seen as the long-overdue appearance of honesty and trustworthiness.

I blame media training.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

"Dadland" is the best new book I've read this year

When we were running True Stories Told Live, Keggie Carew was one of our turns. She came and told a story about losing her elderly father at a London railway station when he came up from the country to see her.

That's just one of the episodes in Dadland: A Journey into Uncharted Territory.It's about her father, who served in Special Operations in the last war. He was with the Jedburghs, three-man teams dropped into France and Burma to supply and organise partisans operating against the occupiers. These people were all brave but her father had such disregard for danger some of the others said that if they'd known they would never have gone with him. She accompanies him to a reunion and finds these elderly men in their blazers and berets are still impossible to control. It was their cussedness that got them through it all.

The book tells the story of his war and his peace, which wasn't all that peaceful. He had a lot of trouble settling into civilian life. The qualities that made him indispensable in a fight could make him a liability in a business. It's also an exploration of family with all its fascinating complexities. Most of all it's a really moving portrait of a former superman slipping into dementia.

They say what makes men cry at the cinema is sacrifice. Stiff upper lip as well. There's a scene here where she takes him to a Jedburgh reunion. His dementia is so advanced that he picks meat off his plate with his hands at the formal dinner and shoves it in his jacket pockets for his dogs. His old radio operator, who jumped out of a plane with him into the darkness over occupied France sixty years earlier, pretends not to notice.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

See if you can pick this up in your airport book shop

Heard Jeffrey Toobin talking about his new Patti Hearst book. He spoke of The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking as the best book on the hi-jack mania of the early 70s.  I managed to track down an ex-library copy. It's enthralling.

I remember how before airline security there was a time when it was fashionable to hi-jack planes and demand they take you to Cuba. I had no idea there were so many. Between 1970 and 1973 there was one every month in the USA.

Most of them weren't thought through. People took control of planes that had hardly enough fuel to get to the next city and demanded they fly halfway round the world. They handed barely literate notes to cabin crew demanding a million dollars from the airline. They often got it. Sometimes they demanded parachutes and jumped from the planes. The odd one survived. Sometimes they ended up in Third World countries where the government relieved them of the money. Sometimes they sloped back into America undetected and tried to start a new life.

"The Skies Belong To Us" is about one particular hi-jack from 1972 when a couple of stoners with loose radical affiliations took a plane from Seattle to Algiers under the threat of exploding a fictional bomb. The hi-jacker gets stoned on the flight deck. The passengers empty the plane's stock of booze back in the cabin. When the FBI try to interview them afterwards they find them too drunk to make any sense.

The amazing thing is that whenever people proposed fighting back against this blight by checking the bags of everybody getting on the plane it was argued that would be impractical and prohibitively expensive.

Bears out my theory that we don't need a programme called "Tomorrow's World" any more. We need a programme that reminds us of the day before yesterday.

P.S. A few people have asked why I recently disabled comments on this blog. No reason other than I just wanted to see how I felt about it this way.

Tuesday, September 06, 2016

I've had it with post-laughter comedy

I quite enjoyed watching "Fleabag" but I only laughed once in the first three episodes. It was where the guy came into her cafe, said he didn't want to order anything and then plugged in all his various electronic devices.

It was a pretty tame, old-fashioned gag in the context of "Fleabag", where most of the jokes are about grim stuff. I'm not sure these programmes are actually supposed to elicit laughter so much as shared recognition of that grim stuff. I'm not saying programmes like this don't have a place. I just think comedy should make you laugh.

Of late I've started to take evasive action when I find myself not laughing. I watched the Ricky Gervais film "Special Correspondents". I like Ricky Gervais and this film had a good premise but I turned it off after three-quarters of an hour when I realised it wasn't actually making me laugh.

I watched a whole series of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt because I love Tina Fey and Ellie Kemper. Only at the very end did I realise that since the joke about the water bottle in episode one I hadn't laughed at all. However I read lots of pieces explaining how good it was.

I'm always hearing that comedy is essentially political, essentially provocative, essentially subversive, essentially challenging or essentially a feminist issue. Well, yes, it might be some of those things as well, but essentially it should be funny.

This is of a piece with the growing tendency to judge entertainment on anything other than its entertainment value. When Beyonce's last album came out the reviews in the heavy papers were about what this record "said" about women and celebrity and fidelity and a whole host of things that you'd expect slim volumes of fiction to be "about".

Pop music is only "about" one thing: tunes. If you haven't got those you're sunk. Same with comedy and laughs.

Thursday, September 01, 2016

My absolute favourite clip in the whole of You Tube.

 I think this is my favourite clip in the whole of You Tube.

 It's George Harrison watching a clip of the Beatles doing "This Boy", the B-side of "I Want To Hold Your Hand", on a regional TV show in 1963.

He's watching it in the year 1976. He's thirty-three. He's gone up to Granada in Manchester to plug his new album "Thirty Three and A Third".

Tony Wilson, who can be seen in the background, brings him into the edit suite and gets the editor to load the old reels into the Steenbeck editing machine so that George can look at this clip, which he has never seen. It's like he's looking back into the far-distant past. Thirteen years earlier.

Mark Cooper and I had lunch today. We were talking about the mid-70s, when the Beatles were all still around and only in their thirties. At the time nobody realised their reputation was only at the beginning of its ascent. That's when this clip was shot.

Think about the things that would have been inconceivable to the people in that clip. The internet, You Tube and John Lennon's murder for a start.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Which bands will be in the V&A in 2026?

The V&A have announced their Pink Floyd exhibition.

There are just four British acts who could justify this kind of treatment: The Beatles, Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Pink Floyd.

Queen and Elton John would probably attract the public but places like the V&A are first and foremost snobs and they'd be too snooty to have them.

So that's just four, all of whom made their names in the first twenty years after Elvis.

And they've all kept on adding fans with each successive generation so that they're all more popular now than when they were doing their most popular stuff.

Who's making music nowadays that you'll be able to say the same about?

Who's come along since 1975 who might get the V&A treatment in 2026?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

All TV Should Be Like Carpool Karaoke

One of the reasons Carpool Karaoke has taken the world by storm is it finally solves the problem which has been apparent to the people in front of the camera for years but never seemed to get through to the people behind the camera - what makes performers nervous is not the thought of the millions of people at home; it's the thought of the half-dozen camera operators and production personnel who are standing just a few feet away.

Carpool Karaoke is shot the same way that Top Gear is, in cars kitted out with invisible cameras and microphones, with all the production staff relegated to vehicles either preceding or following. Corden's completely in charge and all the star's fluffers, minders and supernumaries are too far away to get in the way.

I once did a couple of things like this for a cable channel. I drove around Manchester interviewing Tony Wilson and drove around London interviewing Bryan Ferry. I can't tell you how liberating this was compared to the standard TV interview experience.

In fact, all telly should be done like this.

Thursday, August 04, 2016

I've read the Ring Cycle of political biographies. Do I get a badge?

Robert Caro started writing 'The Years Of Lyndon Johnson" in the early 80s. His plan was to be able to cover the President's whole life and times in three volumes. Then he decided that wasn't enough. He's now published four volumes and is working on a fifth. I first tried reading it in the early 90s and gave up. In fact I even took one volume to the charity shop in one of my periodic attempts to thin out my books.

Earlier this year, encouraged by having read a few other presidential biographies, I bought the volumes I didn't have and on holiday I just finished reading the fourth, "The Passage Of Power". The third volume, "Master of The Senate", was so heavy that I bought a book stand to hold it as I read it. And guess what? It's an extraordinary piece of work. I can't wait for volume five, but I'm clearly going to have to.

I'm not going to recommend you should read it because I wouldn't want anyone to make that kind of commitment on my recommendation. I was discussing this with a friend while on holiday. My spirit increasingly rebels when people say "you must read this" or "you have to watch that." You should read or listen to or watch whatever gives you most pleasure. However, if you are in the market for 3,000 plus pages about the life and times of a man who was not all that pleasant but achieved a lot more than most of his better-known peers, here it is.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Think about it. If Francois Hollande has a round- the-clock hairdresser, so does your rock hero

Mark Ellen, Paul Du Noyer, Zoe Howe and I were in Harrogate last week, plugging our books at the local literary festival (and, as you can see, admiring the display in the local Waterstone’s).

Over dinner the evening before we debated that greatest of all rock & roll mysteries, greater even than the unanswered question of who wrote the Book Of Love; how come all the senior superstars of rock still have hair?

There are exceptions. Pete Townshend. James Taylor. A few others. But they are exceptions.

The Rolling Stones, McCartney, Roger Waters, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart all appear to still have tons of the stuff and some of them won’t see seventy again.

It only makes sense if you recognise the fact that hanging on to their hair is not a question of preference; it's a professional imperative. Mark remembered asking Rod Stewart how long he would keep on doing it and he said “as long as I have the barnet”.

This wasn't just a flip comment. This was Rod speaking from the heart. You cannot sing “Maggie May” with a receding hairline. It simply can’t be done. The audience will take one look at you and know that both you and they are fooling themselves.

We were thinking about our experience backstage at big shows, how every last detail of the performance is the responsibility of somebody, how it’s planned better than a military operation (whereas no battle plan survives first contact with the enemy, a rock show is a nightly battle where the outcome is guaranteed); is it possible, we thought, that there aren’t people back there whose job it is to make sure that the hair of the stars is not seen to its very best advantage, even if that means outright fakery?

We decided that was unlikely, particularly since we’ve been watching the hairlines of the stars of the sixties and seventies recede, halt and then mysteriously advance again.

And now that I’ve just read that Francois Hollande, the French President, put his ownhairdresser on staff, at a cost to the taxpayer of ten thousand Euros a month, I’m even more convinced that there has to be an entire army of colorists, camouflage experts, blow driers and titivators employed to keep us from seeing the uncovered domes of those we are pleased to call rock heroes.

After all rock, like football management, is a business that’s about one thing above all. Hair.

Monday, July 11, 2016

There is no such thing as a piece of entertainment that's too short

Good line from Alec Baldwin's "Here's The Thing" interview with former Disney boss Michael Eisner. Now that Eisner doesn't run a studio any more he can be a lot franker than he would have been back in the day. Talking about one former boss, he recalls hearing that he'd died and his partner saying "I hope it was painful". Pressed to name one of the movies he produced that he's particularly proud of, he can't get past the feelings he had at the time. "The first time you see a movie and it starts well, all you're hoping is it's going to end quickly."

Boy, I sympathise with that point of view. If something's going well, my instinct is to wrap it up as soon as possible, before it overstays its welcome. The minute you think, this is going OK, it's about to be not OK. If only rock stars and film directors were capable of recognising this feeling.

The recent death of Michael Cimino reminded me that his original cut of "Heaven't Gate" was five and a half hours long. He apologised, saying he could take fifteen minutes out of it. What was he thinking?

I was talking to an old friend last week and we agreed that as you get older you're more inclined to find that everything goes on too long and we decided there is literally no piece of entertainment about which you would say, "I could have done with another half an hour of that."

Saturday, July 02, 2016

This is why Jeremy Deller's We Are Here project was so powerful

Remembrance isn't a competitive sport, obviously, but yesterday the news media gave too much play to the Thiepval ceremony to mark 100 years since the first day of the Somme and not enough to the astounding Jeremy Deller initiative We are here in which thousands of volunteers, dressed as members of Kitchener's Army, stood around in stations and public places up and down the country as though it were a hundred years earlier and they were waiting to embark.

If anyone asked what they were doing there they silently handed out a card bearing the name of the soldier they were, as the kids would say, "representing", all of whom died on July 1st 1916.

It wasn't just a dazzling piece of theatre and a great logistical feat. It was also a powerful reminder of the thing that strikes me every time I go to one of those cemeteries in northern France and Belgium and read the little books of remembrance in which are listed the home addresses of the dead.

The Vicarage.

Gasworks Street.

Glebe Cottage.

The Old Kent Road.

They were us.

Friday, July 01, 2016

The reporter on the spot seems to know slightly less than we do

I have the 24 hour news channels on in the background at the moment. I have Twitter on in the foreground.

It feels to me as if the old news standby, the man on the spot, knows less and less. That's mainly because he's the man on the spot.

If he's the man on the spot, struggling for a place to set up his cameras, putting all his effort into getting people to agree to being interviewed, haggling with his masters back in the studio about when they're going to come to him, fiddling with his earpiece and straightening his tie, he misses the story, which is off and running on social media like a glinting fish and will have scarpered by the time he's found the next place to park his van and unpack his equipment.

Yesterday morning I felt more informed than the man on the spot. Robert Peston had tweeted mid-morning that Boris Johnson may have been putting back his press conference, which suggested something was up. Then Matthew Parris was on Five Live. When asked what he thought Boris was going to announce he said, with the assurance of an old pol, "oh, this Gove announcement has finished him."

 As soon as he'd said that the press conference started. Ten minutes later we found out how right he had been. The man on the spot looked shocked. I felt quite smug.

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'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.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

If only you could put tweets on the covers of books

Lots of people have tweeted about my book. I couldn't bear to let them all go by.

As Father's Day approaches and the weather starts to suit reading in the great outdoors I look forward to seeing interesting pictures of people enjoying it.

The first email I got from somebody who'd read it was from a blind man whose Kindle had read it to him. "I listened when I was supposed to be working," he confessed. That aside, this one gets an award for speed reading.
Then there was this...
...and this...
...and then you see inside people's lives...
...and meet their loved ones.
Some of them are well-known.
Some are miffed.
Some are in a hurry.
I like this one.
It doesn't matter whether or not you were there in 1971.
As we were reminded only this morning.
And did I mention this?

Thursday, May 05, 2016

New Day failed because people don't try things any more

Trinity Mirror is canning its cheap newspaper New Day just two months after it launched. This is probably the right thing to do. You can lose fortunes and spend years of people's lives trying to prove that a hunch was right. Believe me. I know.

You can say it didn't live up to expectations, but that rather assumes that people are bothered enough to have expectations. You only have to see how the newspaper kiosks that used to be a feature of all London tube stations are now either closing or turning themselves over to selling confectionery to note that most people are not in a position to turn to a new newspaper because they long ago stopped buying an old one.

I noticed this in the world of magazines more than ten years ago. People stopped trying new things and they certainly stopped paying for new things. I bet New Day didn't fail because the publishers were disappointed how few people stuck with it. I bet it failed because not enough people tried it in the first place.