Happiness Stan

Happiness Stan

May 292012

At 11.30 pm in the UK the Eurovision Song Contest has just finished, and the favourite, Sweden, romped home with a rather lumpen and tuneless disco dirge that somehow captivated the hearts of the 42 competing nations. At least we didn’t have to stay up until 3.30 am, which is what it is in the host country of Azerbaijan, where the annual festival of cheese didn’t start until midnight their time.

Engelbert Humperdinck kicked off proceedings for the UK with an inoffensive ballad which didn’t really do anything, and garnered just enough votes to put him second to last, fractionally ahead of Norway, whose song I can’t remember either.

The Russian Grannies ended up over a hundred points behind but still in second place, and put in an exuberant performance having added the presence of a great big oven from which they produced a large tray of biscuits just ahead of the final chorus, which must have been glued down given the enthusiasm with which the eldest of their number was dancing around with them. The clip I posted before now has very nearly three and a half MILLION hits, this live version has almost half a million already. They were robbed.

Serbia came in third with a rather serious sounding ballad, which translated as something like “Love Is Not a Thing,” if memory serves, delivered in a stentorian baritone by a man in a suit.

May 232012

Further to the thread the other day about losing, borrowing, stealing, and doing all sorts of other things to favourite records, I found myself humming this as I was stuck at the traffic lights on way to work the other day, as I’ve been wont to do for the last 23 years, and musing that I’ve never been able to buy it as I’ve never even seen a copy. I even collared their drummer at a gig once and asked if he knew where I might be able to find a copy and he had no idea either.

Apart from John Peel playing their records at every opportunity, Bob made about as little impression on the pop world as it was possible to get away with but still keep going for a few years, and they were my favourite band. I went to see them whenever they played anywhere within about a 30-mile radius (I’m talking about British roads here), we booked them to play at our local community centre, and I own all of their records except this one. And they are almost all as good as this one, which made number 31 in John Peel’s Festive Fifty (as nominated and voted for by his listeners)—which was about the closest they ever got to recognition.

One of my greatest fanboy experiences was bumping into them at the bar at the Town and Country Club (as it was called then) at a Julian Cope gig and missing the first 2 songs of the second half of the show through being engrossed in conversation with them. I practically had to go and lie down when Dean, their drummer, recognised me and stopped for a chat in the Cabaret tent at Glastonbury a couple of years later.

So, in an attempt to feel less alone, I have two questions for the Hall:

  1. Is there a record you would like to own that you have just never managed to find? (I’m talking about one that you’d actually play and listen to, not just for being ridiculously valuable.)
  2. Have you ever followed a band whose talent it feels/felt that no-one but you and about 3 other people have been able to recognise? (Getting above number 30 in any chart of any description counts as success, particularly if it involves record sales).
May 022012

Tiny Tim

Like a slightly younger approximation of Hubert, son of Rawlin, Herbert Khaury was in his 30s and still unusual when he finally got noticed. The Bonzos supported Mr Khaury in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall, and I have occasionally wondered since whether Viv Stanshall based Hubert either consciously or subconsciously on Herbert, or at least his alter-ego, Tiny Tim.

He certainly was unusual.

I first chanced upon him as the musical interlude on a popular game-show on British TV in about 1968, as he wandered through a mock up of an English Country Garden plinking his ukulele and singing “Tiptoe Thru The Tulips” in glorious black and white while my grandparents tapped their toes in time to my mother railing and seething against this assault on her sensitivities.

Rolling forward about a decade, I started going on the train to the first of the Brighton record fairs as soon as the Saturday job money started picking up, and I can remember quite clearly the one when I came home proudly bearing copies of An Evening with Wild Man Fischer, half-a-dozen Monkees albums, some really weird looking singles, a demo of ? and the Mysterians’ “96 Tears,” and a copy of God Bless Tiny Tim.

“The Other Side” is, though admittedly by a fairly short stretch, the oddest song on the album. I wasn’t expecting to find it on Youtube, and was completely unprepared for this live rendition.

That evening I took God Bless Tiny Tim around to my mate’s house, the mate in whose house I would be living in just a few months later, and we listened to it three or four times, we would enjoy it many more times in the years to come, and he was as excited as I was when a year or so later I chanced upon a copy of Tiny Tim’s Second Album, which is as enjoyable in its own way as its predecessor.

As punk was turning into new wave, and as new wave turned into new romanticism and it all mushed back into nasty early ’80s pop, the first two Tiny Tim albums provided regular welcome respite.

Continue reading »

Apr 212012

This has been a rather grim week or two for the passing of rock legends, and today Bert Weedon, inspiration for many a guitarist primarily through his Play in a Day book, said goodnight as well.

I know practically nothing about his life, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of his records, but in common with Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Brian May, I owned a copy of his book and at one time tried to learn to play using it.

My knowledge of music was so rudimentary (read non-existent) that the book was far too complicated for me, and I never returned to it. I eventually figured it out in my own way, but the act of buying the book and opening it with an untuned and probably untunable guitar in hand was enough of a statement of intent to lead me to find a doorway to the instrument even if it turned out not to be that one.

I eventually figured it out by making a set of flash cards with chords on one side and the name of the chord on the other and to keep shuffling them and pulling them out at random until I could not only play them but remember them all as well. I did do it in a day—New Year’s Eve 1978, when I couldn’t find anyone to stay up with, but which turned out in hindsight to be the most productive evening I’ve ever spent.

I wondered if anyone in the Hall ever did learn to play using Bert’s book? And please share any Eureka moments with instruments that you subsequently became at least passingly competent with.

Apr 182012

I’ve been a bit quiet around here lately because I’ve just landed myself a new job in as a technician in a town planning department, and I’ve been in a bit of a panic brushing up on (and learning from scratch some of) the things I will need to be able to do the job.

I ran my own business for a few years, but managed to get out just at the tipping point before heavy depression gave way to a nervous breakdown, and somehow in the midst of this found myself working for the local council.

This was about a year before the recession hit, and I spent a year being mocked for describing how people had simply stopped buying stuff from me and predicting that the mother of all depressions was about to happen. My father was self-employed all his working life and has described to me how he was a day away from bankruptcy several times, so I grew up knowing what recessions felt like, and also that they happen even if politicians tell you that this time they’ve brewed the snake oil to stop it from happening.

The three of us who had been taken on to do the most mindless task ever created by local government were sat just by the toilets, which gave ample opportunity for breaking off what we were doing to chat to people, or “network” as it is known these days according to Mrs H (MBA), and one day I was conversing with a town planner who has since become one of my best friends about music.

It transpired that neither of us had ever met another human being on the planet or any of the other planes we inhabit who admitted to enjoying An Evening With Wild Man Fischer, and certainly never met anyone else who owned a copy, before moving on to discover that both of us owned the record and that it had given both of us a great deal of pleasure, but that neither of our spouses would let us play it while they were in the house. Or the street. Or under any circumstances ever.

A few weeks later he told me that his administrator had walked out and asked if I might be interested in applying to be her replacement. I asked him what an administrator did and he told me he had very little idea, but thought that it was just “doing stuff.” I told him I could probably “do stuff,” so they sorted out the paperwork, and I’ve been “doing stuff” ever since. Before he moved on, we spent many happy minutes singing Larry duets at the start of our working day, until asked politely but firmly to desist by our colleagues.

I have often found myself humming this song since (although to be truthful I often found myself humming it before I became one). John Peel used to play it quite often, and I was always extremely fond of it.

Anyway, I’m not going to be a government administrator any more, but will have to think of myself as on the way to being a planner.

As a leaving present for the gang, I’d like to make a compilation of appropriate songs for planners, and also have some tunes in my head to hum when I’m thinking hard in my new job.

So I’ll start with the obvious: XTC, “Making Plans for Nigel”

Mar 302012

It’s coming…

I have been watching the Eurovision Song Contest since about 1971, which means that, even allowing for the years when I have had other demands on my time, I have devoted something like a whole week of my life to the event.

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far away, there were a group of European countries, who just ten years previously had either been at war with one another, occupied by or occupying one another, or keeping out of it by pleading neutrality. An organisation based in Switzerland called the European Broadcasting Union put forward the suggestion that an international song contest should be held, primarily to test the limits of live television broadcasting technology, but also to promote international harmony.

And so in 1956, in Switzerland, seven countries tested the technology, and ever since then, on a Saturday evening in the Spring, Europe pauses to come together in a festival of music to unite the continent.

By the time I became aware of the competition, sometime around 1970 or thereabouts, it was well established, and the format had shown itself to be quite adaptable, with an increasing number of nations taking part. The national broadcasting organisation in each participating country is fairly autonomous, so I can only attempt to describe the Contest through a British pair of eyes.

I have a compilation of every winner since 1956 (including all four tied winners from 1969 – they ran out of medals and after the Contest had to go away and work out how to stop it happening again), which I have been known to play on long car journeys.

As a service to the Hall I have edited the highlights among the winners down to just under eighteen minutes. The sound quality is highly variable, but I am sure that this will be the least of the worries of some Townsfolk when faced with some of the music contained herein.

[audio:https://www.rocktownhall.com/blogs/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/eurocomp.mp3|titles=Fifty-Six Years of Eurovision in Eighteen Minutes]

Alternatively, here’s Lulu.

Early in the year, each broadcaster selects, in whichever way it sees fit, an artist and a song to represent the country. In the early 1970s the British entry was selected through the Cliff Richard Show, with somebody like Olivia Newton-John, The Shadows (without Cliff), or Cliff himself singing a song each week and viewers would vote for the song they preferred, which would then proceed to the Contest. If I remember correctly, this was done by viewers cutting out a coupon from the Radio Times (the BBC’s TV listings magazine, in existence since before telly – hence the title) and posting it to the BBC. This was in the days when British homes tended to have small black and white televisions, but tended not to have telephones, so it probably was the most democratic selection process available at the time. I remember my Grandma telling me in no uncertain terms that she wouldn’t waste her money on the Radio Times, so I don’t think we ever voted.

From very early on in its history, the Contest has been hosted by the winner of the previous year’s competition. Every country works to put on a show more impressive than those which have gone before, a bit like the Olympic Games, which inevitably costs quite a lot to stage, but works quite well unless a country has a winning streak for several years. In the 1990s, Ireland won it 3 years on the trot, and again a couple of years later, and their Government were seriously concerned that the Irish economy would collapse if it had to pay for another one – at which point they decided to ensure that they selected a song which couldn’t possibly win. This may at first glance appear quite straightforward, in a “Springtime for Hitler” sort of way – but doesn’t always pay off. I’ll get to the songs themselves in a bit.

Mar 192012

We here in the Halls of Rock Town are sometimes taken to task for being overly negative, snarky, hyper-critical, and all too often, just downright rude. As part of our collective efforts to bring a bit of sunshine and light to the world wide web, we occasionally make an extra effort effort to find something good to say about, you know, stuff that is clearly godawful.

It is in that spirit that we embark on yet another effort to bring some positivity to our proceedings. Please spend some quality time with the video above, then—if you can—please find something nice to say about it. You’ll feel a whole lot better, I promise you.

I look forward to your comments. Just remember, if you can’t say anything nice about this video… please don’t say anything at all.

With less than 3 months to go, I am getting very excited about the prospect of this year’s Eurovision Song Contest!

The behind-the-scenes activity is already hotting up, with 75-year-old Engelbert Humperdinck lined up to represent Great Britain. He must be gutted that his place as the oldest person to perform in the Contest will immediately be usurped by 76-year-old Natalya Pugacheva from the Buranovo Grannies, whose husband is apparently very cross that she is going away to represent her country and he will need to find someone else to milk their cattle during the competition.

Go Grannies!


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