Sunday, December 13, 2009


Or maybe I've developed the attention span of a goldfish.

I’ve finally got round to loading some of my CDs onto my smart-phone. Actually, it uses Windows Mobile 6.1 as an Operating System, so actually it’s not that smart at all. But that’s another story. The good thing about the phone is it can take a 16Gb Memory card, and you can get just about the whole of my music collection onto something about 15mm square, which is a bit scary if you think about it for too long.

Paired up with a decent set of headphones (Sennheiser PX-100s, for the anoraks out there), I can immerse myself in music anywhere. And very nice it is too, on occasions. Yes, I know a few of you in the rest of the world have been there for ages, but some of us need a little time to make the change. That’s my stance anyway. I won’t tell you what my childrens' slightly different opinions of this dilatoriness are down to.

But it got me thinking. I am of the analogue age. Recorded Music to me started with 78RPM shellac discs. They played for a maximum of 4 minutes or so, and if you wanted to listen to, say, a classical symphony, you were up and down, to the record player, like a Bride’s Nightie to turn the record over, and 4 minutes later, you did it again. Somewhere in my archives, I have a complete recording of Handel’s Messiah which is on, I think, 13 records – that’s 26 sides.

Then some clever soul in around 1948, I think in Columbia, came up with the Long Playing record - the LP. This was quite simply, a miracle. You could get around 25-30 minutes to a side, and because it was made from new fangled vinyl, the surface noise was almost inaudible and the frequency range capable of being played was (compared to the 78s), immense. The Hi-Fi industry was born, and mad (and not so mad) inventors in England particularly produced amazing pieces of electrical gear and loudspeakers to listen to the new LPs on. 50 years ago, they sounded stunning, and still do. Look up companies like Leak, Rogers, Radford, Quad (Peter Walker), Thorens, Tannoy, Spendor and Bowers and Wilkins if that sort of thing turns you on.

But the medium was still Analogue. Some people today still think the latest vinyl LPs sound better than their equivalent CD versions. I’m afraid my ears no longer allow me to decide, but the issue is still open to debate. What that does tell you is the sound then was pretty good. I’ve still got a couple of Classical recordings (Decca and Deutsche Grammaphon were the two companies that led the way in recording quality) which stand comparison with anything produced since – and they were released in the mid 60s.

On another tack, it’s interesting to wonder how this LP technology affected the way music (and Pop Music, in particular) was actually written. Because you put the stylus in the groove at the beginning of the record, and it wound its way unchallenged through the groove sequentially, it was quite difficult, and frought with the potential to damage the record significantly if you got it wrong, to skip tracks. You listened from Track 1 through to the End of Side 1, turned it over and then listened to the other side, again starting at the beginning of Track 1 on that side. So composers and singers had to give considerable thought to the order in which the songs appeared on the disc – even to decide what song they wanted to finish Side One on before you got up to turn the disc over. The format also forced singers and songwriters into a 50-60 minute collection of songs to put on one record. The prolific guy who had 80 minutes of songs to sell was not too welcome at the record studios in those days. One and a bit records didn’t go down too well with the suits in charge even then.

All of which thought came to me when I started to listen on my new fangled machine. When was the last time you actually listened to a CD from beginning to end, without skipping a track, or even thinking of Fast Forwarding to miss one you didn’t quite fancy? I don’t mean the live concerts, the “Greatest Hits” collections or the concept albums (The Wall, DSOTM, Tommy etc), but a common or garden standard collection of pop songs.

I sat down last night to think how many of the albums I possess which would stand this test. Where every song (not just most of them, but all of them) were ones you wanted to listen to. That’s what we had to do 40 years ago, and I’m not sure that the simple ability to skip, jump and reorder a digital version into whatever sequence you want today makes the artist think as much about what is on the record as they needed to back in the dark ages of the vinyl groove, and the stylus.

Anyway, for me the list so far isn’t that long. It doesn’t mean that they necessarily include the best individual songs ever – That’s another list! – but these LPs or CDs are the ones where every song hits the button with me – no weak links, fillers or make-weights.

As they say, in No Particular Order -

Fleetwood MacRumours listen to the angst in the words
Steve WinwoodTalking Back to the Night the man has a great and unique voice
Band on the Run – I know it’s heresy, but I like this more than any Beatles record
AbbaThe Visitors - a very dark album - Abba for people who don't like Abba. Assuming, that is, you get the one without the added Extra tracks which are very definitely Division 2. They left them off the first version for a very good reason – they’re not good enough.
EnyaWatermark she flows all over you like a warm Irish Coffee - very haunting
Michael Jackson
Off the Wall I think it's his best album
Stan Getz and Charlie BirdJazz Samba fabulous creamy sax and brilliant guitar playing
Roxy MusicFlesh and Blood perfect 1980s pop
Simon and GarfunkelBridge Over Troubled Water Only Just! There’s one track that only marginally scrapes through - the rest though is stunning
Bryan Ferry - Dylanesque Dylan's lyrics still lacerate, provoke and intrigue - some of his imagery is remarkable, and Ferry puts a more laidback 2006 spin on them. At least he can sing!
Gerry RaffertyCity to City one of Pop music's most under-rated singer/composers

Now that lot probably gives any psychiatrist worth their salt enough informatio to form a very clear view of the utter Middle of the Roadness my musical spectrum, and possibly my life spans. Let’s hope I don’t ever need to apply for a job again.

Thursday, December 10, 2009


Sometimes you catch something on TV, usually late in the evening, which is quite unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. About 10 years ago I caught a programme on what was later to become the Sky Arts channel.

Now I am quite a fan of the ballet. For many years, we were Subscription Members of the Birmingham Royal Ballet, making several trips each year up to the Hippodrome in Birmingham to see them dance. It was always an excellent evening, and sometimes an amazing one. When people hear that you’re a fan, they sometimes look at you a bit sideways, as if there is a slightly disturbing side to you they didn’t know before.

There’s nothing like that actually. I just love the simplicity of the medium, the power and the gracefulness of the dancers, the wit and inventiveness of the choreography, the beauty of what’s played out in front of you, and the way an enormous range of emotions can be evoked simply by a movement or a glance.

So, back to the TV. It was a ballet programme, and I recorded it to watch later. The title of the piece was “Rooster”, and it turned out to be a ballet set to 7 or 8 Rolling Stones songs. It starts out with a guy – the Rooster – who is quite simply a chicken in a suit. He moves and struts around JUST like a Rooster, and you can’t take your eyes off the way he simply becomes the animal. The ballet is actually all about the battle of the sexes, and there is some amazing choreography in it.
I’ve lost the video now, and have often looked around to see if anyone ever put out a DVD of the film I had recorded. They haven’t, so until this evening I’ve had to rely on my memory to replay in my mind.

Typing “rooster” into Youtube, which rather pathetically had not occurred to me for 10 years, threw up this clip. It’s the first 8 minutes or so of the 25 minute performance. The sound on it is none too good, but that's the early Stones for you. You may think I’m turning a bit odd when you look at it, but I think it’s a tremendous piece of work, and as an introduction to modern ballet for people who would never be seen anywhere near one, it’s a great start.

All we need to do is get the company who danced it (I think they were Dutch) to search through their archives, and make a DVD of it, and I will be a slightly happier man for the rest of my life.

Anyway, give it a go, let go of your prejudices, and when you’ve seen it, tell me you didn’t like it. Just a little bit anyway.



Friday, December 04, 2009


Once again, I’m glued to the TV watching two of my favourite cricket teams in action – India and Sri Lanka. They are playing the last of three Test Matches in Mumbai in India. It’s hot and humid, and Sri Lanka have just been bowled out for just under 400. Not a bad score.

Except my favourite batsman, Virender Sehwag, is opening the batting for India. He has made a few false starts so far this year, although he did get 131 in the last match. Today, he made complete amends, and showed why, when he is on form, he’s the most exciting batsman in the World. He opened very gently for him, scoring only 15 off his first 31 deliveries. Very unlike him. But that was a bit like “Light the blue Touch Paper, and Retire”.

Suffice it to say, he batted for most of the day, and gradually turned the screw on the Sri Lankan bowlers in a display of utter professional batting. He ended up smashing a Not Out 284, scoring the fastest 250 ever seen in Test match Cricket’s history. If he scores another 16 runs he will stand as the only player ever to score three Triple Centuries in Test Matches.


He plays with a ruthless attack, with defence being the last resort. It was clear today that he wanted to hit Muralidaran, particularly, out of the game – which he did stupendously. You simply can’t place a field which will restrain him, and one suspects that around 17 men would be needed in the fielding side to slow him down when he’s in this sort of mood. Unfortunately, the rules only allow 11.

Tomorrow is another day, and India are already 50 ahead of Sri Lanka with 3 days left. They will plan to bat all day tomorrow to remove any chance of Sri Lanka even thinking of winning. Sehwag scores at such a rate that any team he plays for can get themselves in a winning position very quickly. I would love to see him get another 100 and beat Brian Lara’s 400 runs record, but that’s a really tall order. Apparently, he has a bad back. Imagine what he’d be like if he was fully fit!


The TV recorder is on for 4 in the morning. I can't wait.
Pictures by Associated Press.