Monday, 13 December 2010

In Praise of Children's TV: Terry Deary's Horrible Histories

AS evidenced by my trip out to see the mighty Big Howard and Little Howard show on Saturday afternoon, my life is less hardcore political stand-up these days and more children's telly.
Now, unluckily for Miss H, being comfortable 21st Century 'pretendy' lefties, me and Mrs H have decided that there'll be no Disney Channel in the house, so Children's BBC is our mainstay.
Luckily the BBC is producing a handful of the best programmes airing anywhere on the planet, and the two funniest.
The first is the aforementioned BH&LH and the other is Horrible Histories, adapted from the best selling books by Terry Deary - more than 200 and counting. His latest WII novel Put Out The Light, signed by the author for Miss H on Saturday at an in store, is being devoured. It's a multi POV book which looks at the blitzes of the second war and how they affected both British and German Cities.
However, I think Deary will be known most for Horrible Histories because it's funny, witty, clever, intelligent and iconoclastic in its approach to explaining history to the pre-teen market.
Sure, it's light on context, but it makes up for its lack of methodological rigour in its post modern plundering of pop culture to explain the Romans, the Greek empires and British history of all eras. I have a friend who teaches Egyptology at the University of Liverpool who uses a sketch in an introductory lecture to first years.
The actors help too: Mathew Baynton, known for his work as Deano in BBC's Gavin & Stacey, Sarah Hadland (from BBC's Miranda), Martha Douglas Howe and the annoyingly talented Ben Willbond are among the pick of a cast which really gathers together a who's who of modern British comedy's top acting talent.
By far the funniest actor on display in the funniest ongoing sketch is The Mighty Boosh's Simon Farnaby as Death in the section called Stupid Deaths, where, er, stupid historic deaths are brought to life.
The sketches are brilliant but for my money it is the songs that win out every time. From heavy metal Vikings to High School Musical Spartans, its' clever appropriation of modern pop idioms to explain broad historical themes and periods - it is both laugh out loud funny and bears frequent watching, as our house can testify.
My favourites, however, are the Westlife style parody of the four King George's of England and the tipper toppermost is Baynton as Charles II of England as an Eminem-style, self styled rapping King of Bling.

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Little Howard And The Magic Pencil Of Life And Death

Venue: Lenny’s Bar & Grill, Liverpool

It’s been a rite of passage of mine to bring young Miss H to her first comedy gig, I got to do that today thanks to Little Howard And The Magic Pencil Of Life And Death and the wonderful Tongue in Cheek Comedy organisation in Liverpool.
Part cartoon, part scatological children’s book and part stand-up, Little Howard And The Magic Pencil Of Life And Death is a brilliant vision of comedy at its truest.
Ostensibly children’s show, but with much double entendre-ing for the adults, it is an inventive riot of ideas.
(Big) Howard Read, stand-up and illustrator, took his animated six-year-old alter ego, Little Howard, on a journey to avoid the dark menacing force of Cartoon Death, (actually called Rodney and really Read in a Grim Reaper suit), as the latter seeks to steal back the magic pencil of life and death which allows you to invent and obliterate cartoon characters.
Little Howard and the various other characters come to life on the video screen thanks to Read’s masterful illustration and the wonders of an Apple Mac and a projector.
It’s an anarchic, witty brilliant show with 10 times the number of ideas than the average comedy show - especially in an era dominated by the cheap alpha male macho posturing of TV panel shows.
The first half was ostensibly a warmer for the post interval Magical Pencil of Death segment, which was, in itself, an extended CBBC show on stage.
But, in the first half, the illustration games, audience interaction, which saw children from the audience get up and ‘play’ with Little Howard, was just as enjoyable and, again, more inventive than any show I have seen for a long time.
In the second half Big and Little Howard defeat Rodney (Cartoon Death) but only after Little Howard uses the magic pencil to turn himself into a ‘real’ 3D boy who hovers round the room thanks to the 3D glasses distributed by Read, sorry, Rodney.
You’d be hard pressed to find any theatre experience more riotous, more funny or more life affirming than this as you hear children laughing like drains in a comedy club at three in the afternoon.
At the end of the day, the show’s success is all down to Read himself. He’s a masterful and likeable stand-up in his own right, and leaving aside his illustrations and the brilliant technology that brings the Little Howard world to life in the live environment, his ability to work an audience of any age is extraordinary.
As someone who sees a lot of comedy, I can honestly say that I haven’t laughed as much in years and, more crucially, neither had either my wife or daughter and it was the latter who was most important in our shared rite of passage.  

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Magazine design: Less of a process and more a combination of trial and error and serendipity

THIS wonderful video of  the coming together of a magazine article package goes to show that when designing, it's less about a regimented process of following templates or processes, but more to do with trial, error and simple inspiration.
And, that process is hugely enjoyable.

The mighty, mighty James Lee Burke

I have written about American novelist James Lee Burke a few times here and have rather been on another binge of the great man's work in recent weeks.
Having just listened to the fabulous audio book version of his 2008 Dave Robicheaux novel Swan Peak, expertly narrated by Will Patton, I have been excitedly hoovering up reviews and interviews the great man has been doing to promote his newest Robicheaux tome The Glass Rainbow (Chapter one extract here).
I, like all James Lee fans, will always love (and be piqued to the point of frenzy) by any first chapter of a Robicheaux book which sees the hero of the novel's notorious malcontent buddy Clete Purcel entering the narrative with the words: "Am I interrupting anything?"
All hell's going to break loose when Dave's former partner from the New Orleans Police Department, one half of the Bobbsy Twins and long term trouble magnet, turns up saying that.
Here is James Lee speaking to BBC Radio 2's Simon Mayo, a long term fan, about The Glass Rainbow.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Seu Jorge: the greatest encore I ever saw

LOTS is spoken about the best gig and the best solo and whatever, nothing much is ever talked about the best encore you ever saw at a gig.
YET'S TWIST AGAIN... Super Furry Animals
I've seen my fair share of no shows, perfunctory 'Hey let's play the new single again' and 'Here's our favourite cover', but nothing touches two I saw in Liverpool's best music venues.
The second best was the Super Furry Animals (right) coming back on to the stage at the Royal Court, dressed as Yetis and playing a white noise guitar version of That Man Don't Give a Fuck which was introduced with a 10 minute techno mix with a sample of Bill Hicks intoning 'All Governments are murderers and liars'. (Great alternative review here at Time magazine.)
However, the best was Brazilian legend Seu Jorge (Last FM link) at the Liverpool Philharmonic a few years ago.After doing a mesmerising two hour mega show full of solo acoustic hits and full band material, he took the band on a tour of the stalls and upstairs to the balcony of the great old hall one and all beating out a samba rhythm. I was 'that' close to the man, I touched his dreds, blud.
All gigs should close with a parade - or may be that's the Northern Ireland in me coming out.
Here's some more youtube footage of a magnificent evening I enjoyed with our much missed mate Dave McManaman RIP - if you stare closely you'll see me and Macca dancing up on the balcony.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Spotify Playlist for the North West Massive Mingle (which I missed)

I have put together this playlist for the meeting of the North West branch of The Word magazine bloggers. It's a shame I had to miss it due to work commitments, they are among the best nights of the year.
So this playlist features a lot of French hip-hop I eulogised here, one song from Washingtonian Ankh Amen Ra,  the brilliant Rachid Taha makes an appearance and there are some songs I have loved for many years by Irish singer songwriters Nick Kelly, Damien Dempsey, Paul Brady and Christy Moore.
In the cruelly overlooked/ nearly were section, there are two songs by Beulah, one each from Liverpool indiers Smaller, Replacments front man Paul Westerberg and San Francisco indiers American Music Club. Belfast guitar soundscape kids And So I Watch You from Afar get stuck in while Texan country legend Guy Clark performs a song which has haunted me for years.
Spotify users click on the link below, everyone else, the full playlist is below the fold.
Massive North West Mingle

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sweet Seoul Music: #2

Dave Candler has posted his second Korean Homesick Blues podcast. I've not listened yet, but I recognise a name or two that I like and know that Dave knows the score, so go 'ead and listen, la.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Two interviews with Lloyd Cole: Part 2

You talkin' to me? Well, I'm the only one here. Who (edit) do you think you're talkin' to?
THIS is my interview with Lloyd Cole during my time as the music corresponent of the Liverpool Daily Post, actually, I think it was still the plain old Daily Post. I had offered to caddie for Lloyd around West Lancs Golf Club where my brother was a member at the time and Crosby, the town mentioned in the piece, is where I live and Lloyd's oul fella was brought up.

IT'S A reflective Lloyd Cole who talks to the Daily Post. Maybe it's the bad flu he suffered with while moving house back home in Massachusetts before he flew into Britain. Maybe the fact he's had to leave his beloved golf clubs at home for this two-week tour of Britain grates too.
(He's had to reluctantly decline an offer from the Daily Post to play West Lancashire golf club in Blundellsands due to the aftereffects of the illness. His Crosby-raised father, a former pupil of Merchant Taylors' school in the town, regularly played the famous links course in his formative years on the way to becoming a club professional.)
Either way, it isn't the same cocksure, archly ironic hipster who fronted Scots pop outfit The Commotions to no little chart success in the 1980s and then embarked on an acclaimed solo career more than a decade ago.

Two interviews with Lloyd Cole: Part 1

Lloyd appears sceptical at the choice of Leon Osman on Everton's right 
Picture: Boston Globe

I did two interviews with Lloyd Cole while working for the Liverpool Echo and Liverpool Daily Post.
In hindsight, they aren't very good, Lloyd's answers were great, they're just not terribly well written. They are what they are. I'm not looking writing plaudits, 'Good job too,' says y'all.
Here's the first:
FROM his Stuttgart hotel room, one of the coolest songwriters of the last 30 years is talking about his admiration for Gerry Marsden.
Lordy, Lloyd Cole , the king of intelligent 1980s pop praising the bard of Mersey River crossings?
"I have more respect for Gerry and the Pacemakers, still playing the oldies rather than writing mediocre new songs, " he says earnestly.
Some might think that the erstwhile Commotions front man, known for his candour and wit, has gone soft prior to his first Liverpool show in donkeys' years.
But no, the Derbyshire-born, 'naturalised' Scot now living in Massachusetts still airs his opinions very freely, taking in everything from The Waterboys to The Clash, and US indie band The Strokes.
For many, Cole, now 42, signifies an all-too-brief moment in the 1980s when pop music was smart, when Manchester's The Smiths, Australia's The Go-Betweens and Glasgow's Aztec Camera along with Cole And The Commotions looked set to dominate the charts.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh: A tribute in text and sound

IN THIS era of wall-to-wall sport coverage, where every hack commentator turns to the US or wherever for a gimmick to set them apart in a crowded market, one man (and one voice) has set himself apart - Michaél Ó Muircheartaigh.
A Kerry man who has been one of the key voices of Irish GAA sports on RTE radio since 1949, he has, mercifully, never been one to let his own opinions intrude in the key job of a radio commentator - vividly describing a match for those who can't get to see it.
While British soccer commentators are seemingly in thrall to imparting their own op-ed opinions on what is going on - step forward Alan Green, no cares what you think, you boor - Ó Muircheartaigh, 80, has established himself as a real time storyteller and, if I may be excused a cliché, a painter with words.
Some of his classic quotes are here.
His rapid fire, high octane delivery and encyclopaedic knowledge of the games perfectly captures the spirit and energy of gaelic football and hurling. His frequent interruptions in Irish into English commentary, his shout outs to ex-pat Gaels listening in across the world and brilliant turns of phrase have marked him out as being, literally, one of a kind. Listen to this clip to see what I mean if you have never heard the man before.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Lloyd Cole Interviews: Part 2

Maconie and Radcliffe react to Cole's 'You think I asked for a 12" pianist?' joke punchline

EDIT NOTE: Made a gooly on album title and name of a track played here. Lloyd's album is called Broken Record and the title track of the album is 'Like a Broken Record'. Sorry, haven't bought mine yet. You can buy yours from Lloyd's own shop here.

THIS is the second part of Lloyd's one day blitz of two BBC radio stations earlier this week.
And here is a great piece of funny, interesting radio thanks in no small part to the hosts, Mark Radcliffe and Stuart Maconie, having a genuine affinity with Lloyd and letting him talk.
There are live acoustic versions of Writers Retreat! The (see got the title and punctuation correct this time, although I still have reservations about the lack of an apostrophe), 'Flipside' 'The Flipside' (from Broken Record) and a brilliant version of 'Perfect Skin'.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Get on board the Seoul Train: a guide to the music of an expat in Korea

DAVE Candler (right), a great Merseyside/ Cheshire journalist has gone on a remarkable journey in the last 10 years. The journey has seen him swap the strip lighting of the night shifts of Liverpool ECHO and Daily Post for first, Manhattan and the New York Daily News, and then the bright lights of South Korea.
Along the way he has met Paul Simon and Lou Reed, taken people to Johnny Thunders' grave and guided a local journalist around New York during the days after September 11, 2001. And then he and his wife upped sticks and headed for Wonju in South Korea.
He's a difficult man to keep track of, jaysus, Lord alone knows where he is right now, but at least he is making podcasts of the things he holds most dear. It appears he is back in the Far East and turning an ear to some of the music of his adopted homeland.
See, at heart he is still a punk rocker and in this, the first of hopefully a series of shows, he guides us through some of the music he is listening to now. It's a selection of flinty guitar pop with the kind of lo-fi atmosphere sadly lacking on BBC's 6Music and which would fit Late Junction on BBC Radio 3 perfectly.
Better than tha, the so and so has the greatest voice for radio ever. Mr Thompson, I think you have found the new Peel, but, he'll have to work out of the Seoul bureau.
A track listing, biogs and links have been requested from Dave.
I really think this is what the internet may have been invented for.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Huzzah: Lloyd Cole on network radio

Lloyd Cole was on the BBC Radio 5Live mid-morning show's music review section today and the peerless Radcliffe and Maconie on BBC Radio 2 this evening.
He was promoting his new record, Broken Record, which was financed by fans through his brilliant website. 'Writer's Retreat' is the first single from it - it's not really a single - but it's the one he has chosen to film a promo for.
For my money it is the closest album he has recorded to 1995's Love Story, my favourite of his. (See GMs passim) Crucially his voice gets better as the years go on and he gets even more wry, which is, in the parlance of modern girls the world over, 'a good thing'.
I've filleted the section from Radio 5 below, the longer Radcliffe and Maconie session will follow when I have time to edit it.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Beulah's Miles Kurosky's brilliant solo album

I have eulogised about Beulah here before and it was great news recently that the band's lead singer Miles Kurosky had released a debut solo album The Desert of Shallow Effects. Here's a stunning video released on Miles' website.

Do you know a lad down the chippy who thinks he's Elvis?

Again, another of my blog posts on The Word Magazine which gained some very funny replies.

Camping in beautiful Pembrokeshire last week I marvelled at the night sky of an evening.
On Thursday night I saw two shooting stars - when I mentioned this to the GLW she replied in a cod Barking accent 'But they were only satellites.' Everyone's a Billy Bragg these days.
The shooting stars weren't satellites, they were shooting stars and no camping holiday is complete without seeing one, or two in this case.
What have you heard in a song and experienced in real life?

Who would be in your Fantasy Writers team?

I wrote this on The Word magazine blog - there were some interesting replies.
FOR a long time I have pondered the death of the print only publication as we are apparently amid the 'vinegar strokes' of getting writing from one roster of writers. With the impending revolution of the iPad/ slates many writers believe that it will herald the opening up the possibility of a new era of micropayment-as-you-go media which unpackages the old print bundles. 
But that's not enough for me.Alas, a google reader service is not enough, I want it in a leaf through package - either physical or online.
What I mean is a product a bit like the service The Week provides now. I kind of crave for the time when I can get an aggregation of all the writers I like on a given day - weekly or monthly - whereupon I can indulge myself.
I read several newspapers daily most weeks and a few monthly magazines and have a wish list of people I would gladly pay to follow if there was, say, a nice iPad app which packaged them up in a format which I found agreeable aesthetically. I'd buy an iPad solely for that express service.
My list is:
Laura Barton
(The Word Sycophancy alert) Hepworth, Du Noyer, Fitzpatrick, Jim White
Paul Kimmage/ David Walsh (Sunday Times)
Charlie Brooker (The Guardian)
Sandy Toksvig (The Telegraph)
Mark Steel (The Independent)
Andy Gill (see above)
Caitlin Moran (The Times)
Matthew Norman (The Guardian)
Dave Simpson (see above)
Gavin Martin (The Daily Mirror)
William/ Alistair Fotheringham (cycling & rugby)
Eddie Butler (literally the king of sports writers) (The Observer)
Joe Queenan (The Guardian)
Mark Lawson (The Guardian)
Tom Humphries (Irish Times GAA writer, see Eddie Butler) (The Irish Times)
Brian Reade (The Daily Mirror)
(Irish politics writers) Eamonn Mallie, Mark Devenport, Mick Fealty, Jason Walsh, Malachi O'Doherty, Eamonn McCann, Splintered Sunrise & Anthony McIntyre.
These are the people I always read.
NB:If Drakeygirl, Backwards7, Pat Carty, Archie V, Crowther, Amitri, Law, Stimps et al (sorry if I missed someone out) wanted to put their heads above the parapet and write a column on a semi regular basis, I'd also pay for an aggregation of that.
Who would form your Fantasy Writers League?

Thanks Da for introducing me to Freddie White

MY da gave me the second greatest gift of them all: the first album I ever treasured: Freddie White Live On Tour (1978).
I still play parts of it at least once a week such is my deep affection for it.
I went to the primary school that da taught in 10 miles away and every day the car was filled with great music.
Pa H was never what you could have called a trendy - illustrated by the fact that the journey to school was always Mike Murphy's breakfast show on RTE Radio 1.
But on the way home it was always his home made tapes of Beatles/ Stones/ Dubliners/ Van/ Chieftans/ Paul Brady/ The Johnsons/ Planxty/ Moving Hearts/ David McWilliams albums.
It really was a great, unspoken education into my own culture in the midst of the Troubles.
And while all those albums were fabulous, the one album that got me into music when I was about nine or ten was Freddie White's live covers album.
It was the perfect gateway drug to the history of modern music - he did songs by Hoagy Carmichael, Tom Waits, Guy Clarke, Frank Zappa, Randy Newman and Joan Armatrading.
His guitar playing was beguiling, his voice gorgeous and soulful and his version of Guy Clarke's 'Desperados Waiting for a Train' was so brilliant that it haunts me to this day - in a good way.
After 25 years, I still have the thread worn TDK C90 with it on one side with Paul Brady's Hard Station on the other. (Don't start me on what Brady's song Nothing but the Same Old Story means to me, there'll be tears before the looming bedtime. See Gobshites passim.)
Freddie never achieved big success and moved to Boston for years making money in the clubs of the eastern seaboard. He returned to Ireland a few years back.
He remains a kind of underground national treasure, but I hope some of you here get something from the clip below and if you do, raise a glass to Freddie and to my da too. I'll always treasure the music the oul fella introduced me to.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Top 5 Liverpool albums

Brian Reade RADIO contact resumed after a tough month at work and we start off with another doozy of a subject beloved of saloon bar bores in fading tour t-shirts the world over - Top 5 albums.
And we're kicking off with one of the most contested of all - a Liverpool Top 5.
As an introduction, below is a wonderful wee slice of the late and much lamented Brian Reade Show on City Talk. I contributed to the show and guest hosted it on a couple of occasions too, but that's enough self-regarding nonsense.
Here Brian (right, looking like he's heard Gillett and Hicks have called for Liverpool to move out of Anfield and on to Stanley Park's public pitches) talks to Al O'Hare of The Trestles in his day-to-day guise of music journalist, Ian Prowse former lead singer of GM faves Pele and now the main man in Amsterdam and award winning journalist Mike Chapple about a survey conducted in 2008 to see Liverpool decide its own Top 50 greatest albums.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Political songs for after election day: Part 3

A FEW gems, I think you'll agree, from 'Widnesian' and Tom who responded to Part 2 on Friday night. Please keep them rolling in.

Fire Next Time are a new one on me, but there are fewer more knowledgeable music fans than Widnesian Tony Dagnall, a Cheshire lad safely billeted in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

It's featured here before, but this is mine (and Tom's) favourite song about being Irish in Britain.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

Political Songs for after election day: Part 2

IF YOU have read the last post, you know the score, add your own political songs below the fold. If you haven't read the last post, what you waiting for?
Here's Part Two of my favourite political songs for after election day.

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised – Gil Scott Heron: Intellectual black consciousness, proto rap which lambasts the growing commercialisation of American life in the age of television advertising. Sadly, not on his play list in Liverpool last week, but still a very potent example of political polemic nearly 40 years since it was first written.

Shipbuilding – Elvis Costello: The bitter sweet ironic reality of politics in a song. Costello juxtaposes the prosperity that the Falklands War brought to the working class shipbuilding communities in the early 80s with the reality that these people were building ships to kill in the South Atlantic. Best version is this much shown Robert Wyatt cover from the Whistle Test.

Beds are Burning – Midnight Oil: There can’t have been many more political bands to have worked over the last 30 years and there can be very few who have had a global hit about Australian Aboriginal land rights. Lead singer Peter Garrett is now Australian Minister for Environment Protection, Heritage and the Arts.

Killing in the Name - Rage Against the Machine: A popular anarchist/ left wing band writes an anthemic protest song that accuses the military and police of being in the Ku Klux Klan. And now all we know about it is that it kept Joe McElwotsit off the Christmas Number 1. Go figure.

Vive la Quinte Brigada – Christy Moore: He wasn’t afraid to put his head above the parapet during the Troubles and say what he felt even if it was controversial, but this beautiful song is a loving tribute to the Irish Socialists who fought on the Republican side during the Spanish Civil War. It’s an education listening Christy.

If you are in the orbit of Spotify, I have started a playlist here Political Songs for Election Day

Political Songs for after election day: Part 1

PETER Guy over at Liverpool's brilliant Get Into This blog asked to me to put together a Top 10 political songs for the momentous British General election day. But as anyone who has ever tried put together Top 10s, it’s virtually impossible, so here’s 10 of my favourites but please post yours below the fold.

A Change is Gonna Come – Sam Cooke: A beautiful hymn for change in Segregation era USA by a man who possessed the voice of his generation. Inspired after his arrest for trying to book into a whites only motel in Louisiana, Cooke set about his masterpiece in1963, the year of Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech.
The final verse ‘There have been times that I thought I couldn't last for long/but now I think I'm able to carry on/It's been a long time coming, but I know a change is gonna come’ is one of the great refrains of the civil rights-era and the combination of Cooke’s wonderful voice and atmospheric production could make stone cry. Otis and Aretha versions are also worth a listen.

Alternative Ulster – Stiff Little Fingers: It may have been a cut price version of The Clash and lambasted by many in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, but Alternative Ulster has strangely stood the test of time.
Belting final verse too: ‘Take a look where you're livin'/ You got the Army on the street/ And the RUC dog of repression/ Is barking at your feet/ Is this the kind of place you wanna live?
Is this were you wanna be?/ Is this the only life we're gonna have?/ What we need is/ An Alternative UlsterLike all great political songs, it’s a call for change.

Eton Rifles – The Jam: Weller’s somewhat naïve call for class war by taking on the officer classes of the British establishment wrongly endorsed by Cameron a couple of years ago. Weller’s always been an uppity outsider: ‘All that rugby puts hairs on your chest,’ ‘What chance have you got against a tie and a crest?’ kinda lay bare his intent. His best political lyric is however on ‘Down in the Tube Station’ ‘They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs/ And too many right wing meetings’ That’s the 1970s right there and tragically parts of Essex and the North today.

It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back – Public Enemy:  And album, I know, but it is a complete political history class in urban black America at the end of the 20th Century. Focussing on drugs, violence, government neglect, segregation, black consciousness and militant Islam, it’s hard to separate any one song. Perhaps ‘Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos’ or ‘Night of the Living Baseheads’ illustrate the primal anger and power that made Chuck D the greatest songwriter of his generation. And always remember: freedom is a road seldom followed by the multitude.

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward – Billy Bragg: It was a toss-up between Housemartins-era Paul Heaton and the big nosed bard of Barking, for who wrote the best lefty lyrics in the 80s. But, Bill it had to be, especially given he’s still harassing the BNP whenever he can. 
A lyric that is brilliant from start to finish, but the opening verse has a beauty we don’t often ascribe to Billy: ‘It may have been Camelot for Jack and Jacqueline/ But on the Che Guevara highway filling up with gasoline/ Fidel Castro's brother spies a rich lady who's crying/ Over luxury's disappointment/ So he walks over and he's trying/ To sympathise with her but he thinks that he should warn her/ That the third world is just around the corner’.
Best thing is, he’s still rocking this and updating it at every available opportunity. Check out this performance on Craig Ferguson’s Stateside Talk Show.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Sefton Central - not so much a sh*t sandwich as a 'merde baguette'

THIS billboard defacement is as far as we got to some cut and thrust of political debate in the new Sefton Central constituency, a parliamentary area which hugs the Mersey shore from the prosperous towns of Crosby and Formby and stretching five or six miles inland towards Maghull.

Each of these stolidly middle class enclaves still quaintly cling to their former village status but are essentially commuter towns home to the many public servants, professional white collar workers and the prosperously self employed who have prospered in the New Labour era.

The mortgage boom has seen these towns grow and the middle class demographic has deepened in recent years with average house prices in Crosby and Maghull stretching from the £170k mark through to £220k.
Formby comes in at around £270k - but that is skewed by the millionaires' row of Freshfield which is home to Steven Gerrard, some other footballers past and present and snooker legend John Parrott.
House prices have more than doubled in the last 10 years as they have become desirable communities for those public servants to raise their children.

It is not hard to see why they are desirable places to live. Strong, cheap public transport links to Liverpool (no more than 30 minutes away) make them commuter-friendly and each is home to a large number of reputable schools and each still has fairly strong church communities - Crosby, especially, is an historically strongly Catholic town with some excellent state faith schools.
But, despite Tory promises to axe many public sector jobs to cut the deficit and Labour's pledges to boost the economy without touching the public sector, this constituency has seen virtually no electoral campaigning by any of the three main parties - at least down our way, anyway.

Perhaps, due to boundary changes, that may be down to the perception that it's a shoo in for the Tory candidate Debi Jones, a former BBC local radio and shopping channel personality who has been a councillor for Crosby's Manor Ward for four years.

The constituency  was until 1997 solidly Tory - Thatcherite Sir Malcolm Thornton ruled the roost from 1983 to 1997. It's true that Baroness Shirley Williams held it briefly for the SDP after a by-election in 1981 but she briefly replaced Tory grandee Graham Page who had held it from 1953.

A spanner was thrown in the Tory years by boundary changes in 1997 which saw the solidly Labour wards of the Waterloo area, essentially part of Crosby, taken out of Joe Benton's Bootle constituency and rightly thrown into Crosby.

Britain's one time most expensive MP, Claire Curtis-Barking Thomas, one of the much vaunted Blair babes was parachuted in from Crewe and took the seat at a canter. She has made little or no mark on the area in her time and succeeded only in: a) boosting the sales of lads' mags in an ill-conceived campaign to get them stocked on the top shelf and, b) garnering headlines for her vast office expenses.

But now Waterloo has ridiculously gone back in to Bootle (where a voter's influence was seen to be about 0.0003 in a recent BBC exercise) and Sefton Central was created, with Maghull coming back from the Knowsley North/ Sefton East constituency that George Howarth has held from its creation in 1997.
So, getting back to the defaced billboard, what debate has there been in Sefton Central? That's an easy question to answer: none whatsoever.
In the four weeks of the campaign I have met only one candidate - the safe encumbent of Coventry North East - defence secretary Bob Ainsworth (above) who was out on the stomp for Labour's Bill Esterson.
Esterson is another parachuted-in Labour candidate, coming this time from Medway where he was a councillor for 15 years.
My sole experience of him has been some badly designed leaflets through the door which prove only that someone he knows can't take photographs or use Photoshop's magic lassoo tool - but more of rubbish election leaflets this week.

The Lib-Dems have Richard Clein, a member of Liverpool's Clein LD dynasty, a former BBC journalist who now works for leading global PR firm Bell Pottinger. He again hasn't been near the stoop of GM Towers and has also only posted poor newsletters through the letter box. I have written previously about how one leaflet looked like a An Phoblacht off-cut from the 80s.

In fairness, I haven't contacted him until today when he dilligently replied to a tweet, but a man of his talents, family experience and undoubted personality should have been out on the stomp much longer, if indeed the Lib Dems thought they really could take the seat. I think the Shinners could show them a thing or two about campaigning when it comes to the kinds of apparently lost causes even my ma's favourite saint of lost causes, St Luke Jude might blanch at.

So it all comes down to the bookies' favourite La Jones, the Tory candidate. Selected in 2005 to run this year, she presumably jumped to the front of the queue thanks to her media background and ability to switch on Christmas lights - despite the fact that there were a number of longer serving councillors who could have done the job too.

We have had a couple leaflets from the Tories, but Dave Cameron has written more often than those closest to home and Debi's entire pitch seems to be that 'she is just like us', but again more on crummy election literature tomorrow.

On the issues, such as they are locally and nationally, there have been no hustings and no public debates on what Crosby is going to get after the election of whatever government. The Tories, in particular have resorted to reprinting scare stories from the right skewed press (see below) in a bid to scare us to vote for them - now that's mature.

Thanks to slashing of editorial staff by Trinity Mirror, which controls the local newspaper market, media coverage isn't what it might have been in previous years.

It's not as if this corner of middle England isn't going to suffer from any cuts to the economy and particularly the public sector economy. Dave Cameron has already targeted the North West, North East and Northern Ireland as areas of public sector reliance to be addressed. Extrapolating wildly from my anecdotal experience, that's going to affect the many teachers, school administrators, doctors, nurses, coppers and local government media types I know from my extended social circle.

Labour and the Lib Dems have spent most of their time telling us that we should vote for them because the other can't win it, again without telling getting into the issues that matter in the constituency. Presumably because GM Towers is in a safe Tory ward, we are not deemed to be worth a visit in these cash strapped and volunteer light times.
However, most importantly, like the rest of North Merseyside we will be electing yet more back bench fodder.Just as Liverpool Walton, Bootle, Knowsley North/ Sefton East etc have got in recent years, we are not going to get an MP who will make a blind bit of difference to the national debate - unless of course it's on the key issue of getting the prisoners' favourite, Nuts magazine, banished to the top shelf.

Debi Jones is not going to get a high ranking Tory portfolio as she has neither the ambition nor Tory central office links - she is a strictly a very provincial answer to an anti-Labour question.

Richard Clein has the ambition and personality to make a career out of it - in the manner of Southport's John Pugh - but he's still a Lib Dem and Esterson will be back in Medway before you can say Billy Childish.

So, for voters, it all amounts on a local level to a simplistic and democratically self defeating exercise of a) getting rid of the hated Brown, b) hating the vacuity of Cameron's empty flim flam or c) daring to believe that the untested Clegg could usher in an era of mature three party politics and the most recent opinion polls tend to mitigate against the latter option, now.

The conclusion, therefore, is that in this era of re-branding and electoral marketing the choice in Sefton Central is not so much a shit sandwich but more of a 'merde baguette' - same old same old, just a different title.  Bon appetit, mes copins!

Friday, 30 April 2010

Liverpool Comedy Festival Preview - Part 1

THE opening two nights of Liverpool’s 2010 Comedy Festival have one of the finest arrays of comics the city must have ever hosted with big names scattered across the arena, theatres and clubs.
On Thursday, John Bishop (above) kicks the big gigs off with a 5,000 seat sell-out ECHO Arena show which just illustrates how a year is a very long time in comedy.
In an interview with Catherine Jones in today's ECHO he explains how he has gone from selling out the 250 seater Unity Theatre last year to selling out the Arena this time around.
At the same time Chris Cairns and Keith Carter debut their specially written one off one hour shows at the Slaughterhouse. Cairns is doing ‘The A-Z of B Movies’ (interview here, Tuesday) about a life watching rank bad films while Carter is bringing his scallydelic musician alter ego Nige back for a musical evening of songs from the stoner King of Park Road’s new album ‘Dark Side of the Meff’. (Interview here Wednesday)
Daniel Kitson, held by many as the best stand-up working in Britain today brings his new one man theatre show ‘66a Church Road – A Lament Made of Memories and Kept Suitcases’ to the Everyman for a week. It’s a clever, literate story of nostalgia and life gone by told from a series of battered suitcases.
But in each of the five main weekly clubs that the city now boasts, there is an absolute welter of quality acts. At Comedy Central at Baby Blue on Thursday the brilliant Paul Sinha headlines while at Rawhide downstairs in the Royal Court, Paul Tonkinson is the headliner. They are both quality acts.
While the clubs normally have some of the best bills anywhere in the country most weeks, next Friday they have really upped their game for the festival.
Promoter Tongue in Cheek Comedy’s three clubs lead the way. At their flagship club in the Slaughterhouse, regular compere Neil Fitzmaurice (Phoenix Nights and Peep Show) welcomes charismatic Canadian Tom Stade who has gone through somewhat of a career renaissance recently.
At their second night at the Slug and Lettuce, TiC have Ste Porter compering the brilliant surrealists Mundo Jazz and Seymour Mace and having taken over Comedy Hell at Lenny’s Bar and Grill the brilliant Nick Revell and Adam Bloom pop in.
At this stage it's not clear whether Mundo is going to be doing his Liverpool inspired hit  'Scally Scally Scouse' but hopefully he will be doing the his touching cri de ceour for racial integration 'Peace Song'.
Rawhide, with more than a decade of putting on brilliant shows is, as ever, a study in comedy club booking excellence. Paul Tonkinson returns for a second night while the glamourous Jonathon Mayor joins him.
At Comedy Central,  Paul Sinha stays on for another night, and is joined by Kevin Hayes and the ever brilliant and energetic Simon Bligh. All bills remain for Saturday.
In an exclusive text message he cut and pasted from the press release, Festival marketing director Iain Christie said: "The Festival comes around so quickly every year and we can't wait to get into this one, With 75 shows in 10 days you won't be able to move for funny stuff wherever you are in the city."
You’ll not get a ticket for Bish at the Arena so get out and see some high quality comedy at often bargain basement prices.