Friday, 5 February 2016

Out On Blue Six : Earth Wind and Fire, RIP Maurice White

Another sad loss - Maurice White, founder member of Earth Wind and Fire, has died aged 74 following a lengthy struggle with Parkinsons Disease.


End Transmission

Wake Up To Wogan: 20 Songs - RIP Terry Wogan

Cribbed mercilessly from this blogger, I thought I'd mark the passing of the great Terry Wogan by showcasing twenty of the songs I fondly recall him playing regularly on his Radio 2 breakfast show Wake Up To Wogan when I was an avid listener, around 1999 to 2006/07. Without Wogan - and his producer Paul 'Paulie' Walters who died in 2006 - I'd never have heard of some of these songs and artistes. 

20. Double ~ The Captain of Her Heart

A good breakfast show knows how delicate we are first thing in the morning. Wake Up To Wogan certainly did and would often ease us gently into the day with this melancholic '80s offering which often seemed to start the show at 7:30am

19: KD Lang ~ Miss Chatelaine

I always got the feeling this was one of Paul Walters' (aka Paulie, aka Dr. Wally Poultry, aka many many other things) favourites

18: Carly Simon ~ You're So Vain

Often concluded with Wogan informing us that Carly wrote the song about him. This ranks alongside many of Terry's great whimsies, including his audition for Bond when Connery left and his 'racing snake' physique. Fond of Carly, he often played Let the River Flow and Kissing With Confidence too - chuckling at the overbite reference.

17: Catherine Porter ~ Crazy

An artiste Terry championed in the early '00s who sadly failed to catch with the nation's imagination. He played quite a few of her songs from the album Something Good (which I went out and bought) including this one which, if I knew it was a contender in the Song for Europe, I had clearly forgotten about until looking for it today. Clearly, Terry thought a great deal of her.

16: The Corrs and Bono ~ Summer Wine

The Corrs, or as Terry teasingly called them, 'a bag of auld spanners'

15: The Beautiful South ~ Don't Marry Her

Often played with Terry and Paulie's concern that one day they would inadvertently play the obscenity littered album version rather than the clean radio edit.

14: The Small Faces ~ Lazy Sunday Afternoon

You never actually knew when this song ended as so often Terry and Paulie would provide their one cheery whistles and 'a-rum-de-doo-de-di' long after the fade-out.

13: Marvin Gaye and Kim Weston ~ It Takes Two

At the conclusion of this song, Terry would almost certainly say ''It takes two...Radio 2'' a catchphrase that never caught on with the rest of the station!

12: The Yardbirds ~ For Your Love

A pips crashing classic. Almost always played immediately before 8am and the news. So much so that whenever I hear it now, I expect to hear the pips immediately after the last rattle closes the song.

11: Juliet Turner ~ Doctor Fell

Splendid Northern Irish singer that Terry championed. Like Catherine Porter around the same time, I went out and bought the album Burn The Black Suit, which Terry played several tracks (including this, the titular track and Take The Money And Run) from in his efforts to make Turner a mainstream hit. He didn't succeed, but more fool the general public. Often concluded with the Limerick born Tel adopting a N.Irish accent and demanding an ''Ulster Fry''

10: Paolo Conte ~ Via Con Me

Another perennial fave, always referred to as ''the chips chips song''

9: Tony Joe White ~ Polk Salad Annie

Who needs Elvis? Tel played the original and the best.

8: The Four Tops ~ If I Were A Carpenter

Known affectionately as ''the cummerbund song''

7: Peter Gabriel ~ That'll Do

Taken from the Babe soundtrack and written by Randy Newman, this was invariably concluded with an ''aww'' from El Tel

6: Katie Melua ~ Closest Thing To Crazy

An example of a successful artiste that Terry helped to break, this became a sensation thanks to his repeated playing and scored a hit for the young Georgian born singer and former Womble Mike Batt.

5: Harry Chapin ~ W.O.L.D

Terry loved the rather meta thing of playing songs about radio DJ's. As well as this classic he would also often play The Last DJ by Tom Petty, sharing much of its sentiment.

4: The Moody Blues ~ Question

A favourite for the show. that never failed to revitalise both everyone in the studio and the listeners at home. Often preceded by ''Feet - do your stuff'' and, after its whiplash, lightning speed conclusion, ''Anyone hurt?''

3: The Doors ~ Riders on the Storm

I well remember being driven into work one rainy morning by my sister and hearing this being played after the 8am news. How many other mainstream radio breakfast shows play The Doors? It secured kudos from my Doors loving friend at work who had previously viewed Radio 2 as 'cardigan country'.

2: Eva Cassidy ~ Over The Rainbow

Terry loved his country. Shania Twain and Faith Hill would often get played but it was this songbird, who sadly died in 1996, that gained the most recognition thanks to Paulie's introduction of her music to Terry. They both deserve the plaudits for discovering Eva and bringing her to the UK. Without Wake Up To Wogan, Eva Cassidy would be unknown here. It's as simple as that.

1: Clifford T Ward ~ Home Thoughts From Abroad

Another much loved favourite, indeed it was - as Terry confessed - one of his all time favourite songs. Another lovely melancholic wake up, the song gained extra resonance when I heard it after I had just broke up from a long-term girlfriend in 2006. It's become one of my all time favourites too.

God bless you Terry (and Paulie, pictured above too) Heaven has a wonderful new breakfast show now you've been reunited.


Thursday, 4 February 2016

Theme Time : Billy Taylor - Film...

The theme that every film buff in the UK knows, the theme that has been around on the BBC since 1971 and continues to this very day. It's Billy Taylor's I Wish I Knew How It Feels To Be Free, and the programme is of course Film...

Starting in 1971 as Film '71 local programme only for the BBC's South East region, it became a nationwide late night mainstay the following year and started with a rota of hosts including Joan Bakewell, Ian Johnstone, Frederic Raphael and, of course, Barry Norman - the man who became the show's most famous presenter, taking the helm for Film '72 and concluding presenting duties twenty-six years later with Film '98. Beloved of impersonators and Spitting Image, he claims never to have uttered what became - in the public's mind, at least - his catchphrase, ''And why not?''

For Film '99 a new presenter was found in the form of the hugely successful motormouth and rather Marmite TV personality Johnathan Ross. Wossy - as he is known on account of a speech impediment which means he cannot pronounce his 'R's' - presented the show until he left the BBC in 2010, dogged by his part in the notorious 'Sachsgate' Radio 2 scandal two years previously which saw Film... taken off the air for twelve weeks whilst the host was suspended.

Since 2010 the show has been hosted by two presenters, the delightful Claudia Winkleman and film critic Danny Leigh. Like Wossy, Winkleman is something of a Marmite personality and, when she was announced as the show's main host, Damon Wise of film magazine Empire claimed that, like the then recently axed Top of the Pops, Film... would become "another BBC flagship show that was allowed to slide out of existence" Well, Claudia and Danny are currently hosting Film 2016 meaning that the show has been running for six years now, with no sign of sliding out of existence yet. It's actually thriving very well as a live TV show, having gone live in 2010 at Winkleman's behest. In recent years, both Claudia and Danny have been joined on the sofa by a guest critic each week including Antonia Quirke, Robbie Collin and Camilla Long to name but a few.

Out On Blue Six : Goldfrapp

Beautiful, eerie and atmospheric song that always puts me in mind of the advert that used it and starred Gary Oldman

I guess you could look at how memorable that is for me and consider it a successful ad could, if I remembered what it was they were advertising, beyond a rather vague 'phones?'! 

End Transmission

Blanchett & Blunt

Cate Blanchett and Emily Blunt.

Um, I really have this thing for women dressed in masculine suits!

Wednesday, 3 February 2016

Rapid Reviews : HHhH by Laurent Binet

HHhH by Laurent Binet is a cracking read. I picked it up on an impulse at the library lasdt week, having recently (re)watched Operation Daybreak. Like that film, Binest's book is about the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, 1942 by two British trained Czech paratroopers, Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš. The title derives from the nickname, translated from German, the SS gave Heydrich; Himmler's brain. 

But this is no ordinary run of the mill factual account; in fact, it's half factual book, half novel and half a writer's journal about the perils and pitfalls of trying to write a story. It's pretty indescribable really, and certainly not like anything I've ever read before - for instance, on a couple of occasions, Binet writes something and then, in the next chapter, says 'of course, that never happened', before berating himself for his use of dramatic licence and revealing what actually happened. Speaking of dramatic licence it puts to rights the deliberate errors any previous film depictions of the mission made; cornered, Gabčík and Kubiš did not kill one another, because Kubiš had already been killed by the SS troops in the first wave of their attack against their church bolthole. And Karel Curda the notorious traitor who gave the SS and the Gestapo his comrades names, did so not for fear that his family would be slaughtered, but simply for the money, having no allegiance to the Allies whatsoever. Of course the story is utterly fascinating, I've always thought so.

Also weirdly, no page numbers!

Wordless Wednesday : Heavy Horses

Monday, 1 February 2016

Angel (2007)

I'm having a bit of a Romola Garai marathon of late and that meant, sooner or later, I had to watch the 2007 film Angel. It was with some trepidation I sat down to see it, after all it has some pretty scathing reviews.

And having watched it now, I can understand the reviews. Maybe it was because the previous film I'd seen was The Comic Strip Presents Red Top, that I kept imagining this tale of a young woman who becomes an overnight success as a romantic fiction writer in 1900s England in the hands of Peter Richardson, or as a French and Saunders sketch, but I don't think so - I think director François Ozon had his tongue firmly in cheek for much of this, and I'm not sure everyone gets that. But, when you see the ludicrous, laughable back projection and hear the sweeping score of Philippe Rombi that sounds like it belongs in some Hollywood technicolour period drama from the '50s, you just have to know that someone here is spoofing the conventions of this genre. Once I appreciated this, I actually had a whale of a time. The whole thing has a wonderfully light, satirical Gallic touch at odds with the usual Merchant Ivory style of costume drama and I admired the irony in an eponymous film called Angel that features a character who is anything but angelic. It seemed to me that Ozon wished to concentrate on the brattish, self centred nature of his heroine that many may consider acceptable in contemporary drama in these period confines and, as a result, delivers perhaps the most intriguing anti-heroine since Vanity Fair's Becky Sharp. 

As Angel, Garai replaces her natural blonde hair for dark locks but looks just as divine. Many reviewers have cited her performance as irritating and over the top. I prefer to say it is more exuberant than OTT, but really, how else would one play someone so gloriously precocious and self centred? I actually began to wonder if it was Ozon and Garai's intention to suggest Angel had a form of Aspergers, as she was so unable to comprehend anything outside of her own febrile imagination. The film takes a more sombre and serious turn in the final half when the outbreak of WWI sees Angel separated from her husband, the penniless artist Esmé (Michael Fassbender) when he enlists to fight in the army. It is here that Angel actually develops some (small) appreciation of the outside world, removing herself from her usual fripperies and romantic melodramas to write fiction with a pacifist stance. It's a sign of maturity, but it's worth acknowledging that she is only delivered to this stage via her selfish desire to keep her husband (and her male staff) at home at her beck and call.

At heart, Angel also possesses an interesting question regarding the achievement of one's ambitions and dreams; does living the dream mean that you are ultimately detached from the realities of life  - true love, an understanding of, and compassion for, your fellow man, maturity etc - that you may have only got to experience without fame and success that came with your goal? It's an intriguing philosophical query that permeates through the film's final stages as it becomes clear that Angel and her beau were doomed from the off, perhaps because their greatest loves were not each other, but in reality both their hopes of success and themselves. As such, it's hard pressed to call this a romance in its truest sense.

So in conclusion, it's OK not to like this but, y'know...

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Theme Time : Holiday - Various Artists

Long before those channels found in the high hundreds on your cable or satellite's TV guide came into life, if you wanted to see a bit of the world from the comfort of your armchair and considered booking yourself a holiday, there was only one place to go; BBC1's Holiday programme.

Like the recently blogged about Tomorrow's World, Holiday was a pinnacle of what the BBC would call magazine programming, something they don't really do any more. Starting in 1969 it ran until 2007 and became the world's longest running travel review show. Like that other behemoth of BBC magazine programming Film... (which is still running to this day as Film 2016) Holiday began life as Holiday 69 and the title would change each year accordingly until the programme ultimately dispensed with that title style. It was fronted by Cliff Michelmore from 1969 until 1986 and over the years it featured a range of hosts and travel guides including Jill Dando, Frank Bough, Des Lynam, Anneka Rice, Ginny Buckley, Carol Smilie and Craig Doyle. 

Holiday enjoyed several themes tunes in its 38 year history. The first theme tune was The Castle by Love

In the mid-70s this was replaced by Hugo Montenegro's arrangement of Lalo Schifrin's theme from the 1968 film The Fox, and by Jean Michel Jarre's Equinoxe Part 1

Most famously in 1978 the programme selected Gordon Giltrap's tune Heartsong, which remained as its theme until 1985 and is fondly remembered 

In 1985, the programme chose a specially commissioned piece by EastEnders and Howards Way composer Simon May entitled The Holiday Suite but this proved unpopular and was removed shortly after for a return of Giltrap's Heartsong

Until finally in 1988 Holiday turned to Paul Hardcastle of 19 fame for his piece entitled Voyager, a great theme which remained as the show's theme throughout the '90s and until the show's final episode in 2007.

And if that hasn't shook you out of these winter blues and had you thinking of sun sea and sand then I don't know what else will.

RIP Frank Finlay

Further proof that Janurary has been the shittest month - Frank Finlay, one of my favourite actors, has passed away at the age of 89.

Bolton born Finlay (a dead ringer for my late Uncle Harold) was an accomplished veteran of the stage and both the big and small screen since the mid '50s. A silver fox with a dark, handsome demeanour, Finlay played a memorable green eyed Iago in 1965's Othello opposite Olivier, and played older than his years (as was often the case) as a memorable Van Helsing in the 1977 BBC adaptation of Dracula. He also appeared as Inspector Lestrade on two occasions, Study In Terror and Murder By Decree aiding each films respective Holmes on the hunt for Jack The Ripper and played the Dutch detective Van Der Valk for West German television. Roles in Robbery, Sitting Target, The Deadly Bees, Cromwell, The Molly Maguires, The Wild Geese and Shaft in Africa kept him busy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, with roles in The Pianist. Common as Muck, The Sins, Eroica, Life Begins, Prime Suspect and Johnny and The Bomb keeping him active in recent years. But he is perhaps best known for three key roles in the 1970s; firsly as Casanova in Dennis Potter's TV drama of the same name, as Porthos in Richard Lester's definitive and wonderful Musketeers films - The Three Musketeers, The Four Musketeers and The Return of the Musketeers - and as a father whose relationship was a touch too close to his daughter in the excellent, scandalous TV adaptation of Andrea Newman's novel A Bouquet of Barbed Wire.  I will also remember him for his marvellous turn in that supremely underrated sitcom How Do You Want Me? playing Dylan Moran's father in law from hell in what was effectively, Straw Dogs as a sitcom!


RIP Terry Wogan

This month is now officially the worst. So many celebrity deaths and now we've lost Sir Terry Wogan.

A national treasure, an institution and a firm fixture in our house; Sir Terry Wogan has passed away following a short battle with cancer aged 77. Wogan meant so much to me; growing up with his eponymous chat show, watching him host every year two of the BBC's biggest events, Children in Need and the Eurovision Song Contest, which he blessed with his wonderful dry wit for almost four decades. But it was perhaps his Radio 2 breakfast show, Wake Up To Wogan, that I really got to like him and appreciate his warmth and talent. It takes a real gift to entertain at that time of day and set someone up for what lay ahead but Wogan did it effortlessly, with some wonderful banter and some great tunes.


Friday, 29 January 2016

Fighting Back : Petitions to Sign

Cameron and his Tory cronies think they can get away with the tax dodging deal they've secured with Google. They're paying just 3%, a pittance in tax, and Cameron is hoping he can ride out the media storm by pulling his usual trick; comparing his efforts with that of a government last in power 6 years ago.

We can change this.

It's not just Corbyn who want to take Cameron to task over this insulting deal. It's also the European Commission. The woman in charge of big business has said she would investigate the deal with Google and overrule them - but only if someone complains.

Sign this petition and kick-start this much needed investigation.

Out On Blue Six : Freeez

Another almost forgotten gem getting an airing on TOTP on BBC4 tonight...

End Transmission

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Child 44 (2015)

A husband and wife are on the trail of a murderer in Stalinist Russia, where the totalitarian regime decrees that 'there are no murders in paradise'

It's hardly a Soviet Hart to Hart!

In fact this is Child 44, a film based on Tom Rob Smith's soar-away bestseller which in turn was loosely based on the crimes of Andrei Chikatilo, the 'Citizen X' of Russia responsible for the deaths of over 50 women and children from 1978 to 1990. Like the novel, the film places the events much earlier in history to the post-war years of the 1950s when Stalin still ruled the lands behind the Iron Curtain with an equally hard, iron fist.

When I first saw that a film was being made of Child 44, my appetite was immediately whetted. When I heard the cast would feature Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman, Noomi Rapace and Paddy Considine, I expected nothing short of a blockbuster. But it was not to be, and the reviews that came in upon its release suggested a complete and utter flop.

Were they fair?

Well, yes and no. This is a plodding and overlong, unrelentingly grim affair from Swedish director Daniel Espinosa, but it's not atrocious - just average. I think the real problem it has is that it lacks a heart to invest an audience's interest. In the central role of Leo Demidov, Tom Hardy flounders, principally because the only attempt to introduce him to us is two deeply inferior scenes that establish his backstory; we first meet him as an orphan taken under the wing of a kindly soldier (Welsh actor Mark Lewis Jones - a favourite of mine) and then we're immediately transported 10 years to the end of WWII when, following a momentous final push that looks like it is filmed through a thick veneer of brown soup, Leo becomes a national hero when he is picked to wave the Soviet flag for the famous photo atop the Reichstag in 1945. The crux of the rivalry between him and his fellow MGB officer, the cold hearted Nikitin (Joel Kinnaman) is shown here....albeit with just one brief and slightly jealous look. From this, we're meant to appreciate everything that follows between the pair!

It's the simple fact that Richard Price's screenplay hasn't put in the groundwork that leaves Child 44 stumbling into 'so what?' territory. The central theme of the cruelty, both singular and institutionalised, against Russia's children is all too often muffed and little is made of Leo's own experiences beyond some meaningful glances and the soundtrack reminding you that THIS IS IMPORTANT. OK, maybe it is, but how about you actually write something that convinces us of that fact?  It's a real shame that some great actors are utterly squandered by the material too; the aforementioned Lewis Jones, Lorraine Ashbourne, Vincent Cassell, Tara Fitzgerald, Charles Dance and Jason Clarke all pop up for something like 5 minutes at the most. But the film doesn't offer all that much for its stars either. Hardy brings his usual robust screen persona to the proceedings but there's an element of auto-pilot accompanying it here, which is a world away from his recent performance in Legend, or even Mad Max: Fury Road. Gary Oldman is effortlessly brilliant with a rather minor role that the film seems to forget about in the final third, whilst Considine seems surprisingly toothless. Noomi Rapace at least delivers some heart, with the ability to convey a range of emotions that are utterly affecting with just the simplest of glances.

I'd probably recommend Citizen X, the HBO movie featuring Stephen Rea and Donald Sutherland over this, but the production and costume design here is very good - if you can see through the murkiness that is. 

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

"A Bunch of Migrants" - Cameron's True Colours

I like to think I'm rather cynical and don't expect anything from the government that unfortunately run my country, but even my jaw dropped this afternoon watching the PMQ feed in which David Cameron (the cunt) lambasted Jeremy Corbyn for visiting Calais and meeting with "a bunch of migrants"

This kind of comment I expect from Farage and UKIP - but seriously, our PM?

Firstly, Cameron, they're refugees fleeing their country. Secondly they're far more than a "bunch" - not a "swarm", may I remind you - but a number representative of the very real crisis that is occurring on the global stage - a crisis you claimed was so important when seeking the agreement to bomb Syria before Christmas, so why trivialise it now? And thirdly, to say something so flippantly offensive on Holocaust Memorial Day just about sums up your blatant, shameful ignorance and callous disregard for the suffering of others.

I've watched the news since with interest and at first, little was said about it at all. The BBC - a left wing bastion, as many right wingers would have you believe, but frankly the most collaborative impartial broadcaster since Orwell's 1984 - preferred to focus on the cut and thrust of the debate regarding Google's ridiculous 3% tax deal; Corbyn and the European Parliament think it nowhere near enough, but the BBC preferred to ignore the objections of the European Parliament and spin the story as another example of Corbyn struggling to take the PM to task, whilst Cameron defended his deal and verbally beat the Labour leader. The comment was just part of a very brisk news package - shown, but not commented upon.

When the BBC touched upon the slur in this evening's news, their political correspondent suggested that the Tories have defended their leader's comment arguing that this was just the kind of language he used when his dander is up in the House. Oh, so that's OK then is it? If he turned around and directed a racially offensive comment at Diane Abbot or Chuka Ummuna during such a debate, we're supposed to forgive him because he's just 'pumped up'?

Cameron's comment came in a rant that suggested Corbyn would never stand up for the British people. Tell me, Dave, exactly how is proposing to slash £30 of benefit from the very poorest and sickest of our nation is an example of you standing up for them? 

Now more than ever is it clear that Cameron and his cronies do not give two hoots about anyone other than themselves. The whole world can go to hell in a handcart and he would barely bat an eye - after all, this is a man whose wife, appearing on The Great British Bake Off tonight, freely admitted he told her he was nervous for her 'showstopper bake'. Nice to know the most important man in the UK has his full and undivided attention where it matters eh? 

Out On Blue Six : Thea Gilmore

Ah I well remember this music video - thirteen years ago already? Uploaded to Thea Gilmore's YT channel earlier today, she notes it was filmed at Crewe's Virgin Megastore on their security cameras, costing around £38 to make.

Cracking song.

End Transmission

Mean Machine (2001)

A somewhat ill advised remake of Robert Aldrich's The Longest Yard, 2001's Mean Machine takes the plot (and much of the dialogue) across the pond to our own shores here in the UK, with former footballer turned actor Vinnie Jones as Danny Meehan, an ex-England football international who, after his career goes tits up, finds himself in gaol for a drunken assault on two police officers. Determined to keep his head down and do his time, Danny soon finds this impossible as he is pressurised into assembling and coaching a prisoners' football team by the corrupt governor - played by David Hemmings and his spectacular eyebrows - to play against his team of prison warders.

Being both a prison movie and a sports movie this is quite literally a film of two halves. The prison aspect sees every cliche under the sun thrown at it; wily old lag with pearls of wisdom (David Kelly, virtually reprising the same role he played in Greenfingers around the same time, opposite Danny Dyer and Adam Fogerty who also pop up here) the racist thuggish screws, the naive green prisoner our hero must take under his wing (Dyer) etc etc, whilst the football aspect suffers from the usual inability to translate the beautiful game across to the big screen.

It's very much a film of its time, coming off the back of Lock Stock and the like which revitalised British cinema in the late 90s, and I well remember going to the cinema at the time and enjoying it for what it was, a slightly naff but enjoyable bit of entertainment. Unfortunately it isn't a production that is improving with age and its tin eared script, stilted gor blimey acting, heavy cliches and poor pacing (complete with irritating screenwipe to move us from one scene to the next) is certainly ensuring its reputation as something of a miss-fire. Most disappointing of all is how little the stakes are in terms of the story and that boils down to the film's awkward transition from the US setting to the UK. In the old Burt Reynolds actioneer, you can believe the thuggish, thick armed Deep South violence and feel the threat of the gun toting prison warders, which is totally alien and absent to the UK. Everything's just a bit too safe - there's really not that much to play for.

That said, there's still a fair bit to enjoy here if you look beyond the limitations of its star, Jones who may have proved himself above the usual sports stars before a film camera in Lock Stock but who struggles to carry a film solo. Its the supporting cast who actually make this movie and who show up the lead for the amateur he clearly is whenever they share the screen with him, so step forward the likes of Hemmings, Kelly, Ralph Brown, John Forgeham, Stephen Walters and Jason Statham, because you steal the film. 

The final score; a likeable effort but not one that comes away lifting the trophy. Think Escape To Victory meets Porridge.