Thank You -- Dido
Finally then, as promised, Dido. I thought most of the criticism which greeted Dido's first album No Angel was a bit unwarranted. It wasn’t too far away from the jibes James Blunt received a few years later, but whereas in his case he deserved it (not least for spoiling the memory of watching Bill Bixby in The Incredible Hulk by borrowing the theme tune), Dido’s doubters seemed to simply dislike the woman because her music sudden popularity was surely going to herald the return of the light ballad, the soulful music for the soulless once epitomized by Sade and Beverley Craven. And so it was as Dido was followed by the Norah Joneses and Madeleine Peyrouxes to the supermarket shelves – a slightly bluesier sound clearly but still hitting the same aural comfort zone.
If Dido’s second album, Life For Rent descended into maudlin territory, to these ears, No Angel is a treat from top to bottom with Thank You the highlight. This isn’t challenging music, but it doesn’t want to be; it’s an attempt to capture honest feelings without anger, a musical Bridget Jones’ Diary without some American stealing the part played in my head whilst reading the book by Sally Philips. The singer describes a typically shitty day in Dido-land – having to go to work on a rainy day with a hangover, missing the bus, late for work but throughout she encounters her lover, in photographs and in person and to quote another lyricist it's all ok. In her subsequently much copied naturalistic singing voice she tells him or her that they’re the best thing about her day, no matter what’s happening.
Of course, never having been in a relationship, these are emotions I can’t really tap into, and so I’ll admit there’s a certain wish fulfillment involved in my attachment to the song. Blokes and other spouses should love this song though because it suggests that just by being there they can turn their girlfriends and partner’s life around. Lyrically it isn’t exactly economic, or as impressive as Regina Spector or Kate Nash, but it’s still a lucid daydream, the listener romantically projecting themselves inside. It’s clever too, somehow managing to use the word ‘imply’, something I’ve not heard in a song before or since. The production is deceptively simple – the bongo drums, echoing choral bits double banking some of the lyrics (shades of Nelly Furtado when she was good) and rather looser to these ears the first time it appeared in public with other Music From The Motion Picture Sliding Doors.
I can absolutely understand why some of you hate its breeziness, and I’ll never convince you. There are just some people who hate music which fails to challenge the ear, which is passable background fare sometimes, but emotionally useful otherwise. Predictably, I loved Dido as I love all this music, from Diana Krall through Natalie Imbruglia to Stacey Kent, drawing the line only at Katie Melua who at no point has or does sound authentic or as though she has much at all to do with the music. I bought The Closest Thing To Crazy the day it came out, and regretted it ever since, sounding as it does like a mechanized attempt at recreating Norah Jones in much the same way as Avril Lavigne stole Alanis’s thunder. Oh and Natasha Beddingfield, who is just scary. I suppose it takes a fan to see the difference between all of this stuff.
We know that only a fraction of the music that made the playlist of Michael Parkinson's Radio Two show was any good.
God Be With You Till We Meet Again – Ralph Vaughn Williams
At the Liverpool Blue Coat, the then all-boys, mostly a grammar school, officially a comprehensive school, that over seven years shaped some of who I am, assemblies were very important. Every morning the school would unite either in the main hall of the school chapel for the same routine – organ voluntary, reading, hymn, prayer and school messages – what club and society activities there would be that day and whether anyone in particular was doing something worthy of a telling off. Every Tuesday, a charity speaker would attend and tell us exactly why we should give our pennies to Amnesty International, Oxfam, Friends of the Earth or the PDSA. Randomly what can best be described as an evangelist would turn up and give us a sermon, which these days would be considered very curious indeed considering it wasn’t what modern jargon might be labeled a faith school.
Being a contrary person, even though I’d dabbled with Christianity in my first year but rejected it soon afterwards, I really appreciated these assemblies – the voluntaries were often spectacular, the collective experience of singing hymns and being able to hear the appalling notes drawing from nearby teachers and the readings, which through some bizarre twist of fate (and volunteering) I managed to give a hell of a lot of in the sixth form (once an exhibitionist etc). I even helped to pick the charity speakers as one of the class representatives who bothered to show up for the termly meeting to look through the box of leaflets which had been sent pleading for money. We’d always seem to end up choosing the same ones and often on the basis of who would be speaking. Friends of the Earth always did well because their visitor had a funny name.
At the end of each year there would be a final assembly at the close of the last day. The format was roughly the same as in the morning, but the aspects were rather more fixed – the same reading, the same voluntary (I think) and the same hymn, no 740 in Hymns Ancient and Modern, God Be With You Till We Meet Again. It was a school tradition which fled across the decades and happened each and every year. The words, by Jeremiah E. Rankin, cumulatively inspired one sentiment. Take care, and I’ll see you soon. Even though I was bullied horrendously for years at the place, habitually had a horrible time all told, and leaving the discussion of what I thought 'God' meant in this context, I often choked up during this part of the assembly because I was still intensely proud of the fact that I went to that school and that once you were a Blue Coat boy, you were always a Blue Coat boy.
Inevitably after seven years I was sitting in the final ever assembly in the school. I remember it oddly just being my year group and for some it being quite a chore (they wanted to get to the pub, which was predictably called the Coffee House). By then, girls had joined the school, there we no longer borders living there, and some of the other traditions had fallen away but we were still singing this hymn, and yes I did get as emotional as I’d hoped. This had been my final proper day at a school I’d worked so hard to get into at the beginning of my teens letting me loose towards the end. Just exams to go and then hopefully university. We were finally becoming adults (!) and there certainly would be people here we wouldn’t see again (until the invention of FriendsReunited and Facebook) and yet we still sang those lyrics – and loudly – it sounded like a soccer chant. But it still seemed right to say take care, one more time.
Food The case for Quorn. I'm still not convinced, partly because I love meat and also since it sounds exactly like the stuff Professor Jones and his colleagues at the Nut Hutch were growing in Doctor Who's The Green Death.
Web Friends Reunited redesigns. Now looks like every other boring website online. Owners ITV miss point (as usual) and now want to turn it into Facebook for oldies. At least it's free now. And easier to use. Hmm.
Books A cautionary tale for researchers and writers everywhere. What I don't understand is how the writer,Veronica Buckley, could have used a purposefully fictual work as a primary source without reading the back cover or introduction which presumably fess up to the intrigue. And even if they don't, what about the fact that the book is credited to an author rather than an editor (as a real diary which had been prepared for publication would).
In September 1995, BBC Music Magazine published this article which helpfully introduces the internet to a readership who may still be getting used to hearing their music on cd:
It’s the kind of writing which still needs to put the words like browser and phrases like World Wide Web into apostrophes and which spends a lot of time explaining what the Usenet is. This is pre-Google and the search engine of choice, Lycos didn’t even have its own domain name yet.
Over a decade later the various news groups are still there (rec.music.classical, rec.music.early, rec.music.makers.piano) and can be seen though Google Groups, but the WWW Vitual Library’s been lost and I’m pleased to see Lycos is still in the topic five web portals along with their doggy logo. Most impressively though, the Viola Jokes domain still works and takes you to a page which notes that the magazine made a typographical error in the URL before usefully pointing you in the right direction!
With the exception of this organ, I haven’t been in sight of a high street magazine about music in years. Most of anything I read about music is in the papers or online which probably explains why I still haven’t understood exactly how writing process works despite spending the best part of two months in the attempt. As a homage to John Warburton’s fantastic piece of journalism, here are the five music related ‘websites’ ‘online’ which I’m using right now. Don't expect any great revelations ...
No Rock And Roll Fun
I’m not subscribed to too many music-related gossip websites largely because Simon seems to read them all for me (and us). Covering everything from the business to what the tabloids are saying I might not always have a clue who he’s talking about but his posting rate is impressive and the writing between the links is often funny and acerbic.
Wired: Listening Post
As you’d expect this offers a slightly more corporate, technology orientated version of the above but with more a more proactive approach. More often than not, I’ll read a story here which isn’t picked up by the rest of the media until days later and with less detail.
My music player of choice. Having tried iTunes and found it cloggy and slow on my dial-up connection, Winamp continues to be a lean, useful alternative. A recent overhaul added a little box which appears and tells you unobtrusively which track is just beginning, although I still can’t get the ID3 editor to work as well as before.
A tool which analyses your scrobbling habits through Last.fm and then sends news via an RSS feed of new releases by the artists whose music you’re listening too. It works too – Jewel’s new lillbitcountry album is released in June.
Well, yes, clearly. Does anyone actually remember what the web was like before the Wikipedia came along and could tell you very quickly why Lou Reed recorded Metal Machine Music? Pointlessly criticised for the few minor errors which are corrected almost as quickly as they’re noticed it’s been the main source for many of these articles. If the coverage isn’t always as detailed as you like, at least you can go in yourself and make it as detailed as you like. Even if you’re wrong.
Obituary Bye Humph. I can't imagine how I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue will work without you. Oddly though, George Melly managed to write your obituary for The Guardian before he died himself, which shows forward planning.
Film Rather lovely if slightly tragic Vanity Fair article about Doris Day. I didn't know she'd married a wrongen: "In the course of their 17-year marriage, Melcher took over Day’s career completely. Long before prenuptial agreements became standard among Hollywood celebrities, the Melchers entered into something even rarer: a post-nuptial arrangement. Dated December 28, 1955, the document underscores that, after four and a half years, the Melcher union had become more professional than conjugal. In it, Day is referred to as “the Artist” and Melcher as “the Manager.” When Melcher died suddenly, in 1968, Day discovered that he and his business partner, Jerome Rosenthal, had lost or misappropriated all of her $23 million fortune. Terry Melcher (Marty had adopted Day’s son from her first marriage) would spend the next decade fighting a legal war with Rosenthal to get some of his mother’s money back."
By The Sea – Roosta
In the late 90s I worked as a roadie for rock band called Roosta. Well, I used to carry the drums in for my friend Chris who was in a band, but since the opening line sounds cooler, we’ll stick with that. I used to be a roadie for a rock band called Roosta. They were a four, sometimes five piece, who met at university. As well as Chris's drumming, Rick was the lead guitar, Tony on bass and Mark on guitar and vocal, with Eddie around to cover for Mark when his voice was having a few problems.
They played mostly pubs and bars, in Manchester and North Wales, the biggest gigs were at the famous Flying Picket when it was still on Hardman Street in Liverpool (in September 1999). They fooled around with mostly covers -- Oasis, The Stones, U2, The Kinks, Quo and Hendrix. Their signature Radiohead reworking became something of an in-joke as we shouted Creep throughout the gig until they finally relented with a sweary and lengthy rendition.
The best of their own material was By The Sea. On the version I have, recorded at the old Fold & Firkin on Wavertree Highstreet in 1997, the words are largely inaudible, drowned out slightly by the rebound of the drums and excellent guitar work, but the chorus is all too clear ‘By the sea […] Is were I wanna be […] Is were I wanna send me away…’ (with some lyrical duplication in there). I don’t know if it was their best performance of the song, but it was certainly tight, with Rick for once not going off into a ten minute guitar solo.
I know this because Chris recorded a few of these concerts and he passed on a bootleg. The whole set is on here, and between songs you can hear the chatter from pub visitors and even what sounds like the barmaid asking them to turn the amps down. Just as this song begins Mark says ‘This is one of ours…’ and someone from the crowd, our crowd mocks ‘Oh no!’ and boos which is just the kind of support a band needs when it’s starting out. But I remember that night more clearly than most simply because I think everyone turned out to hear them.
I like to believe that By The Sea was autobiographical, that Mark (assuming he wrote it) was lamenting some lost love, last seen on a beach. To these ears it’s as good, if not better than most of the cover versions they played, with great hooks and a complex counterpoint within the wall of sound. It follows some of the rules (ABA) throws out others (guitar solos after each chorus and not just before the bridge) and it improves with each listen. I’m bound to say this, but it’s a tragedy that they never managed to make it into a recording studio to lay down a definitive version, but as it stands this is good enough.
TV Well, that about wraps it up for what the Wikipedia gamefully describes as the UNIT dating controversy (controversy?!? It's hardly the Kennedy assassination, which as we know was carried out by young Kiwi tabloid journalist James Stevens). If the Doctor says they happened "in the Seventies...or was it the Eighties?" that's good enough for me, because actually they did happen in the Seventies and the Eighties and so along with Sarah-Jane’s recently revealed date of birth, our lords Lance and Lars can quite happily publish another edition of Ahistory integrating that sticky special UNIT section into the main text. Pheeuw. Glad that’s sorted out, because really in relation to inflating the importance of the unimportant that’s the big one. Now if only someone would admit that C-19 is a code number for Torchwood, everything will be hunky-dory. Except that wouldn’t be so much a kiss to the past as a full on shag.
What a stonking episode! This was clearly Helen Raynor’s best ever script, perfectly paced, with all of the problems of Daleks Take, sorry In Manhattan cleared up. That episode didn’t gel because the audience were too far ahead of the Doctor – we already knew it was the Daleks and had an inclining about what they were up to and essentially watched the timelord spending forty-five minutes getting up to speed. This episode worked as a proper detective story, as the Doctor stumbled into the Sontaran’s ship refreshingly early which meant that the mystery rightly became what their stratagem was for him and us. And no visible goal posts.
If said stratagem wasn't entirely original – it’s another alien something pretending to be an ordinary something which has invaded the ordinary lives of the ordinary population – it did lead to a half decent if over extended cliffhanger which can’t be dealt with too quickly presumably. Unless the Doctor suddenly reveals that his lungs are bigger on the inside and he breaths in all the gas – or he turns the Tardis into a catalytic converter or something. It’s worth adding to the chorus of hackles which suggest granddad could be saved with a well aimed brick, but for that matter, was the lock on the car door deadlock sealed, or is it a dodgy Watchdog-bating make of car which can’t be opened using sonic devices?
There aren’t many other series that would run the alien invasion, evil twin and boy genius stories together in the same episode and unlike, say New Earth, which also attempted a similar conflation of ideas (evil medicine, mind swap) it actually worked because none of them seemed randomly placed and all were logically connected. Into the mix there’s the companion’s return home, the revisit of a recent in the memory companion (which is something the television series has never done) and the already mentioned venerable organisation. All in forty-four minutes. With this much creativity, it's almost as though someone's been snorting the Ritalin, Elizabeth Wurtzel-style. I’m surprised there weren’t clowns as well.
Instead we had the Sontarans back and probably the best they’ve ever been. It’s an interesting new strategy, reinventing one of the ‘classic’ alien races by doing nothing to them other than designing and producing some decent prosthetics so that the person behind the mask has more than his lips and voice to act with (Christopher Ryan stonking and stomping performance was perhaps the best we’ve seen from a long line of men to assume the potato head) and giving them some decent characterisation. The key, as writer Raynor says in her commentary, was to acknowledge they had ‘small man syndrome’ and run with it. So we’re making fun of them rather a lot, but also introducing some pathos in that they’re built for war but weren’t actually ‘allowed’ the participate in the big one.
Raynor wasn’t afraid to mess about with some of the tropes of the new series, particularly in relation to the Doctor. That scene in which he got the wrong end of a very big stick about Donna’s trip home was a perfect antidote to similar slightly forced scenes and the expectation of a massive explosion from a jeep with the accompanied by the launch at the floor followed by a pfft from the sat-nav may well have been one of the funniest moment this series. You could argue that the timelord’s visit to Rattigan saw Tennant channeling the favourite Baker, but the character is at his best when we can see that he’s the sum of his parts and would the Fourth Doctor have been so bold as to take down a Sontaran using a shuttlecock?
Catherine continues to provide a multi-dimensional performance. By now, all of the apparent baggage has melted away and I actually think she’s giving the best filmed performance we’ve ever seen from her (I hear she’s always been scorching on stage). She was about the best thing about Planet of the Ood and it’s a testament to what she’s doing that the trip home feels so fresh even though it’s a scene we’ve seen at least twice since the show returned from its multi-medium sabbatical. The chemistry with Bernard Cribbins is divine and you can believe that they’re relatives enjoying their giddy secret about who the Doctor is and were she’s been.
Whilst we're here, might as well note that Donna was as the epicentre of the arc-clue additions. The Doctor mentioned the Medusa cascade during his thank you speech, but also more curiously registered an interesting kind of surprise as Donna piloted the Tardis. It wasn’t so much what he said, that he couldn’t believe she was working the controls, as to how he said it, as though she, in truth, shouldn’t have that kind of knowledge. Connected with whatever’s supposed to be on her back, perhaps? I really hope that it’s not revealed that she’s under some kind of alien influence or been lying all of this time about who she actually is, Turlough with a double X chromosome, a tool of The Trickster or whatever.
Martha’s back too of course, her eyes still sparking. Freema’s received some rather mean spirited notices for this episode, but I really can’t see what the problem is. She’s as good as she’s ever been, it’s just the character thats changed. Like Sarah-Jane, we’re watching an ex-companion dealing with the after-Tardis-life and this is a perfectly logical extension – she’s become a scientific adviser, a professional albeit with less authority than the Doctor. The potential misstep of having the character tied down and being experimented on again was nicely twinkled with the introduction of evil Martha, a figure who offers some of us the perfect opportunity to nip over to the dark side (or the bathroom). Again. And again.
We’ll hopefully see more of UNIT in action next week, five rounds rapid and all that. It was very strange not to see The Brigadier in there somewhere, but it’s clearly a case of trying to strike a balance between the old and new elements and with everything else going on, to have yet another returning character would have been messy – and it wouldn’t have been fair to bring back such an icon simply for a cameo. In any case, according to the good book, he's still retired in 2009 when this episode is set. It is a shame that Bessie couldn’t have been dragged in from whichever Doctor Who exhibition she's currently parked in, with a nice ‘WHO 10’ already attached to the front. But for story reasons, the Doctor had to be stuck in a jeep with a satnav so it kind of makes sense, and the interplay with young Ross Jenkins just about recalled similar scenes between the Third and Alistair.
My first episode reviews always turn into a few random thoughts and that’s largely because they're essentially giving half an opinion. The first three episode of The Twin Dilemma are just rubbish, but the final part has that powerful scene between Colin and his mentor which dwarfs his entire era in terms of its emotional reality (honestly). Which goes to show you never can what will come next. On this occasion, I’m very optimistic that The Poison Sky will be as good as this. The Sontaran Stratagem I mean. Not The Twin Dilemma. I'd hate to think Luke's got a sibling. He was about the only real disappointment, a mirror universe edition of Wesley Crusher selling his own people out to the Whoniverse's own Klingons, Ryan Sampson’s sometimes pleasingly arch portrayal undermined by a slightly wayward accent. Exactly why is he supposed to be American though? Are we suddenly trying to offer payback for the well-worn Hollywood villainy shorthand?
Next week: I go blind and Terrance Dicks receives a royalty cheque as we’re given a status report on the Sontaran’s battle with the Rutans.
Answer Machine Message (Baby Call Me Back) -- Britney Spears
Despite every attempt to contrary I seem to know an awful lot about Britney Spears, largely because whenever anything happens to the sometime Disney Club singer (see what I mean) it’s splattered all over the rolling news, sometimes to the embarrassment even of our British presenters. Last month footage of the singer’s emergence from hospital was greeted by a warning from BBC News presenter Simon McCoy who suggested that if we really didn’t care we should "look away now" (then).
It's good to see that lately she's slowly begun to get her life sorted out if only so that her every move isn't turned into breaking news and we have to endure it. How interesting that it seems to be happening now that the cameras and everyone else are generally pointing in a different direction (unless you Heat readers know differently), largely blocked by a beehive hairstyle.
Everyone seems to have an opinion about the cause of Spears’s problems, ill informed pet theories which don’t really match reality. So here’s mine. I’ve absolutely no idea how I came by this but listening on random one night Baby Call Me Back passed through my ears and although it’s clearly not the actual reason for Britney’s troubles it’s exactly the kind of thing that could at least have contributed. It begins which the familiar piano bass from Baby One More Time and then ‘Oh baby, baby’ and then the creepiness begins as the singer talks directly to us …
“Hi, this is Britney Spears and sometimes my friend can’t come to the phone and this is one of those times so leave a message after the beep and baby they’ll call you back one more time and thanks for calling!”
… or in fact the person who’s calling you up assuming you’re the kind of person who’d want this instead of your own regional tones on your answering machine service.
I’ve only ever heard the pop songtress (description © Smash Hits some time in the last century) actually speak three times before. The first was during an infamous interview in the final week of The Big Breakfast in which the infamous presenter Richard Bacon proposed to her and during this video outtake from her reality television programme being commented on here (was she saying Spawn, Spun or spam?). On each occasion her voice has been completely different and this soliloquy is no exception, young sounding and professional and actually like the opening introduction to Lucky (which would be the third).
It’s not a bad idea I suppose and certainly preferable to the soundalikes which litter this ‘market’, trainee John Culshaws giving us their Simon Callow (‘My God, you’re rubbish, you’re the worst singer I ever heard, leave a message…’) In another universe, this twenty-two seconds could be seen as a blueprint for saving the pop industry. Whoever mixed it, has somehow managed to include both of the major hooks from the song and in the middle what might as well be an advert for the singer’s personality. Throw in the chorus and it’s a quick hit of pop whose only negative point is that its too short to get to the dancefloor.
It’s also the kind of thing a singer might only do early in their career when she’s drumming up support for their first single (is it worth citing here the video for Billie Piper’s single Because I Want To With which features an alien invasion? Thought not.) Do these artistes later on, when they discover that their new album is already half price at Woolworths, long for those days when everything was fresh and new and their career was ahead of them and they were being called upon to record proxy answer machine messages? Is that what led to Britney’s more recent troubles, the remembrances of these times past?
Yes, ok. I know. Three days to go...