Finally… Phil Collins

February 6, 2010

The MiniBishes bought me, by proxy, two music DVDs for my birthday. I think VHS was king last time I bought such an article, but having had my amp repaired recently after a long period up the creek, I was ready for some aural stimulation. I said aural.

I’m sure it demonstrates what I dinosaur I am to admit that the discs were Pink Floyd’s Pulse and Phil Collins’s Finally… The First Farewell Tour.

It’s BishWife’s birthday today, and while she is enjoying a morning in town, the MiniBishes and I snuck in a few tracks of the Phil Collins stuff and I must say, with only a slight twinge of shame, that it really is tremendous. In fact, the end brought a lump to my throat and a tear to my eye, as the band left to “go home” one by one, knowing that they (probably) were (almost) really saying goodbye (sort of). Was that a moistness in the eye even of the stoical Leland Sklar?

So, I decided it was high time to add PC to my short but slowly growing list of Heroes, and lo! it is done. A man who followed his dream (assuming his dream wasn’t acting) and moved millions with his music. Including me.

I’m sure he’ll feel better for knowing that.

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Tufte and Anderson

October 19, 2007

Arguably, one of the problems of getting older is that there’s less new stuff to amaze and delight the mind. I’ve just added a new hero to my heroes page, in the person of Professor Edward Tufte, a man who talks an awful lot of sense about statistical displays, of all things.

I know what you’re thinking: what could be less interesting than statistical displays, right? Well give the man a chance, and have a look at his first book The Visual Display of Quantitative Information. In particular, look at the astonishing graphic by Joseph Minard of Napoleon’s 1812 Russian Campaign, which Prof. Tufte holds up as probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn. It makes the blood run cold to look at it. He has several more examples of staggeringly clever displays too, and some horrors from the other end of the scale. Really thought-provoking stuff which has definitely affected the way I layout and think about information.

I mention Prof. Tufte as someone who, through his book found by chance in the library, introduced me to a world that I didn’t really know existed. And that quite recently, giving the lie to my opening statement. Whatever.

Harking back a little, hearing for the first time O Superman by Laurie Anderson was a similar eye-opening, mind-broadening experience. Back in 1981 I would have attained the tender age of seventeen, so I’d heard a fair bit of music, but this was from another planet! And it has endured. Big Science survived my CD collection purge of a few years back, and playing it again tonight whilst contemplating this post (they’re not just thrown together you know), I wondered if actually I should already change my Inheritance Track choice and pass O Superman on to the MiniBishes as a track that shook the mind of Bish in his formative years.

Vive la difference. I wonder what new, unimagined worlds of interest lie ahead?

Inheritance Tracks

July 2, 2007

I’m sure all readers of Bish will be familiar with the Inheritance Tracks feature on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live, but I’ll give you a reminder anyway. This is a segment of the programme in which a person with something mildly interesting or topical about them, but not necessarily a celeb, chooses two pieces of music; one they “inherited” from their parents and one they would wish to pass on to their children.

This week Charles, Earl Spencer (sister of the late lamented Diana, Princess of Wales) gave forth his choice: Benny Hill’s “Ernie, the Fastest Milkman in the West” and Mike and the Mechanics “The Living Years”.

The Benny Hill track is an excellent choice of course, the very apotheosis of the comic song, which still makes me chuckle today, nearly thirty years on in a time when milkmen are a dying breed. Apparently the song is a favourite of David Cameron too, as he chose it as one of his Desert Island Discs. All of which goes to prove that the toffs can laugh along with the rest of us.

One of my heroes, Rolf Harris, will be able to vouch for the Mike and the Mechanics song. We know from Animal Hospital that Rolf is a man whose emotions run close to the surface, and I remember him getting quite overcome on breakfast TV when listening to The Living Years when it first came out. Bless you Rolf. It may be a bit schmaltzy, but it’s heart is in the right place and yes, it does still bring a lump to the throat now, despite the, ahem, rather dated production. God bless Mike Rutherford too then.

Obviously choosing Inheritance Tracks is a task deserving the greatest care and consideration, and probably would be subject to constant revision of the “Oh yes, I’d forgotten, that. That was good wasn’t it?” kind. Ten o’clock at night is probably not the right time to have a stab at it. Nonetheless, in case I go under the proverbial bus tomorrow and can’t choose anything…

The track I inherited from my parents I would say has to be The Hippopotamus by Flanders and Swann. I remember listening to it many times on an old black vinyl-covered HMV mono autochanger record player on the floor in the sitting room, everyone singing along in the chorus. I wouldn’t say that either Mum or Dad were especially big on music, or maybe it was just that there wasn’t money to splash out on records. Mum often had the radio on I recall, usually Radio 2, JY and Wogan, but Dad was more of a TV man when that came along. Family Favourites was popular Sunday lunchtime listening, but the radio always went off smartish when Benny Green’s jazz programme started.

Anywho, both Mum and Dad liked the comedy of the time, the Glumms, Navy Lark, Clitheroe Kid and of course, Round the Horne. And Flanders and Swann, whose “At the Drop of a Hat” and “At the Drop of Another Hat” LPs graced the record cabinet for ever and worked their gentle, witty magic on the next generation.

Ooh, but what to choose to pass on to the MiniBishes? I have been, as I may have mentioned before, a man of musical fads. When I liked a particular artist I became moderately obsessed (can one be that?) with collecting all their work, but there was one group of whose modest canon I only kept one album: Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring. This was midway between their pop phase and their new age phase and contains an intriguing mix of both. I’ve loved it since I got it and it’ still perfectly listenable now, unlike some of my other fads.

It’s a hard thing even to pick a single track, but plump I must. As this is an Inheritance Track it must pass some sort of hopeful message I suppose, and lyrically I don’t think this is the most uplifting album around, so purely on the basis of the title I’m going for “Life’s What You Make it”. Don’t listen to closely to the words though, even if you can make them out: the voice is strictly just another instrument here. After dinner, turn off the lights, lay back and soak it up. Priceless.

That’s my choice today anyway. Tomorrow it might Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”.

Moving parts

March 4, 2007

Occasionally it’s good to be reminded of what it is that one really likes to do and takes pleasure in.

Last week the son of a friend of BishWife’s left his bike here as it had sustained a puncture on the way home from school. Consequently MiniBish1 and I attempted to fix the hole one evening. Unfortunately, due either to the ancient vintage of my puncture repair kit or the size of the hole, patching was not possible. It seemed that the youth had ridden up a kerb with the tyres somewhat underinflated and, despite it being a mountain-type bike, the tube had got pinched by the rims and cut very neatly in two places. Any patch I put on it just blew through when I inflated the tyre. Quite spectacular. The bike also had a missing pedal and was a pretty mucky, the chain was rusty and so on.

Anyway, my point is really that I enjoyed fixing it up, cleaning, oiling, mending; because at base I am a fixer of things. I don’t have a tremendous creative flair, but I do like finding solutions to problems and seeing things working smoothly and properly be it bicycles, computer programs, business processes or teams of people. Same with words: I’ve never had much success as a creative writer, but I enjoy tinkering with sentences until the meaning becomes clear and seems to have the correct expression. (Readers of this blog may disagree!)

I can imagine after I’m retired taking up one of those hobbies involving fixing things. You know, like those chaps who oil the engines in working museums, or mend old clocks, or run miniature steam railways. What is it with men and steam engines?

On a completely “nother” topic, I was quite moved by a TV documentary (probably a repeat) last night on the New York Dolls bassist Derek “Killer” Kane. I’m not especially familiar with the work of the Dolls, but I recognise that they were a seminal outfit which helped to bring in the New Wave in the late seventies. In a nutshell, it seems Kane spent thirty years in poverty, confusion and resentment following the acrimonious break-up of the group, was saved by Jesus via the Mormon church and found work in their family history library. Thirty years after the break-up, the remaining members of the group reunited and appeared in concert at a festival at the Royal Albert Hall. Hatchets were buried, the gig done good, and there was much talk backstage of more such outings, but Kane died of leukaemia just 22 days after returning home.

What did I take away from it?

  • How difficult it must be to be creative, in a group with other creative egos.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse wrecks lives.
  • Music is a fantastically powerful, mystical force and how great it must be to perform it to a responsive crowd.
  • Rock stars have no automatic right to be rich, but how sad they can be when they are not. Kane could barely afford the interest payments to keep his instruments in the pawn shop.
  • How wonderful that he had that last experience of gigging, recognition and reconciliation before he died. It’s almost like the plot of a novel where he was staying alive against the odds until he had had that chance.
  • How blimming lucky I am to be boring old Joe Average without all that grief.

Long live music and steam engines.

Finally the germ of an idea. While I was fixing up the bike I thought I’d quite like to change my ancient racer for something more in a touring style. What if I didn’t buy it with money from my job, but made myself earn it some other way? Writing or whatever? Just couple of hundred pounds. Yes, I wonder…

I heart my ukulele

January 8, 2007

I love my guitars too, but they are so big and, well, serious.

The ukulele is small and friendly and just begs to be picked up and played. What’s more it’s only got four strings – just the same as I’ve got fingers – so there’s no fretting (sorry!) about what to do with the ones you can’t hold down.

And you can’t help smiling when you see somebody with one. The whole thing is faintly ridiculous, and the bigger the person the more ridiculous it is. Yet it can hold a tune well and handle a good selection of chords for strumming. Four strings is enough for a triad and a bit so unless you want to play all-out jazz you’ll find something suitable on there somewhere. Alright, you don’t get much richness of sound (although that’s part of the fun – it’s so distinctive) but it’s great for being so un-macho.

And best of all, they can be had for £10 or so brand new so you don’t have to wince each time the children pick it up, you can even get them one each.

I wish to credit my brother Tim with having introduced me to it, via the good offices of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain (do see them at least once). Actually I feel like a strum just now so I’m off to have a go. I hope you are too.

Genesis reunion

November 8, 2006

Excellent to hear on various news channels that Genesis are planning to tour again in 2007. Surely it can’t be a coincidence that the announcement comes hot on the heels of legislation banning age discrimination in the workplace?

I was a bit of an obsessive Genesis fan in my formative years, though I’ve been clean for some time now after being prescribed large doses of Talking Heads as an antidote. From there it was a small step to a more balanced diet of eighties singles, Radio 4 and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain.

I do remember seeing a re-formed Genesis once before. Stop me if you get misty-eyed, but this was the benefit concert they did for Peter Gabriel who had just bankrupted himself starting WOMAD. Ah yes, Phil Collins back behind the drumkit, PG singing and even Steve Hackett turned up at the end. Those were the days.

Funny gig though, bit like a half-day festival. It was at Milton Keynes Bowl and, guess what, it rained all day so the place was a sea of mud by the end and we were all very wet and cold. But did we care? Well, yes actually. There was support from John Martin (who he?) and Talk Talk (they went down well – not!) and some other band whose name escapes me.

While I’m undergoing the rosy (after)glow of nostalgia perhaps I should give one of the old albums a spin. Sadly I find most of them too cringeworthy to put on now, but if I had to pick a favourite I think it would have to be Selling England by the Pound, but leaving out that nonsense about the Battle of Epping Forest. What were they thinking? Close second, And then There Were Three…, that opening note takes me straight back to my teenage bedroom, not that I’d want to stay in there long.

So will I go to one of the new shows? Er, no thanks. They might not be too old, but I sure am.

Must go now, supper’s ready.

DRM and all that

September 20, 2006

For once I’m in the news! Well, not me specifically, but lots of people who, like me, downloaded the new iTunes 7 recently only to find that it works less than perfectly.

It’s sort of interesting for the reason that it highlights just how used I’ve become to having software updates that work. Since the broadband revolution, lots of bits of software update themselves automatically with little more than a confirmation dialogue box, if that. My anti-virus, web browser, and even operating system do this for themselves and by and large it just works. Then along comes iTunes with dodgy release which really wakes you up to how much you trust all these people to get it right. Funny how quickly we come to take these things for granted.

My iTunes problems are really limited to distorted playback whenever anything else happens on the PC, but it seems I can fix it by switching to Mini-Player view, or by pausing and resuming play. Not a big deal, but really not good enough for a market leader leader like Apple, especially when Microsoft is aiming its new Zune player and services squarely at them.

I’m still sitting on the fence about buying an iPod. I’d like one so I can take music and podcasts with me in the car and on foot. Sort of. But all sorts of things bother me about it, not least the rights management issues. Actually this affects Apple less than other services (Amazon Unbox appears to be one) with far more onerous restrictions on what you can do with the stuff you have “bought”. At least you can burn iTunes stuff to CD and walk off with it.

It’s interesting that in this atmosphere the vinyl single is making a comeback. What a lovely simple idea: you buy music on the record and you get to keep it. Forever. Play it where you like, resell it, lend it to a friend, stick it in the loft for twenty years and then rediscover it. It’s somehow surprising that the copyright folks are struggling so much with the digital issue – you think they’d leap at new ways to exert more control over what people do with their music, especially when it comes to copying. And that’s how we end up with Unbox – paying the same as you would for an equivalent DVD costs, and get crippled rights (so it seems).

Is it all going the right way I wonder? I like to pay artists for music, but surely they must in return be reasonable about what rights that purchase gives me. I think Apple have it about right. Let’s hope they can sort out these silly technical problems, and then I’ll probably consider a cheap last-edition iPod. (Nano of course – who wants a hard disk with all those moving parts to go wrong.)

Mmm. Consumer electronics. Must buy, must consume…