Wednesday, 21 June 2017

"La La, La La La La, Love is Strange."

Listening to the final part of 'Paul Merton’s Beatles' today in the midst of the UK's current heatwave brought to mind one of my favourite renditions of a Buddy Holly song, Wings’ ‘Love is Strange’.

Well…all right (to quote another Holly record): it isn’t technically a Buddy song so much as a track that’s often connected with him because he covered it too, but it’s fair to say neither the original by Fifties R&B act Micky & Sylvia, nor Buddy’s version instantly lend themselves to be reinterpreted with a loose reggae groove, but that’s the route Macca chose to take with excellent results. In my opinion it’s by far the most enjoyable performance on Wings’ much maligned first LP - and while that’s fairly shallow praise, it is by no means meant to be taken as such; it’s just about as summery a recording as you can get.

It’s fair to say that Paul had a bit of a soft spot for reggae in the early Seventies, something Wings' 1972 single C Moon also attests too, but the groove of Love is Strange is in my opinion far more successful; not surprising, as Wings purposely all switched from their usual instruments when recording the former, so it was always likely to be messier. For me, Love is Strange is the sound of summer, or at least the soundtrack to an idealized summer break. Even though it’s low-key it also has bite towards the end when Macca’s vocal cuts loose with a joy few other singers can bring to their voice. It makes me want to head for a barbecue, but one with plenty of veggie options, of course.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

See How They Run.

I booked my train tickets for Edinburgh today, so it must be happening.

I also managed to fit in listening to the first three parts of BBC Radio 2’s four-part series ‘Paul Merton’s Beatles’ around working on my show; I wonder if you can guess what band the programme was about?

More specifically, it's built around the fictional premise that - after putting aside their business differences - The Beatles briefly reformed in 1974 to release a new album (called ‘All Made Up’) and stage a reunion concert. The first two episodes consist of solo live performances from John, Paul, George and Ringo that have been edited together to sound like a single gig (with Merton supplying the excitable commentary of a journalistic witness) and the final two are built around studio recordings from the post-Fab Four that have been collated to sound like the album the group might have made.

Paul Merton is famously a big Beatles fan so I knew it was likely to be good, but even I was surprised by some of the song choices. The third episode - which was essentially side one of the fictional album - is really nicely thought out, with Merton having cleverly considered the themes of the material and how they might have been interweaved if such an album had been made, I doubt it would have been as democratically spread as Merton’s tracklist (I can’t see Ringo getting as many cuts as John and Paul), but it was a creative selection. I’ll look forward to hearing what he chose for ‘side two’ when I listen to the last episode.

When I wasn’t listening to The Beatles, I was being generally productive. As well as booking my train tickets, I ran some new material I plan to do at Thursday’s Mostly, did some video editing for a couple of slides in the show, had a look at some of the weaker points of the set and did a run of the whole thing. It felt a little messy if I’m honest, as there are a few bits I need to decide on more clearly - plus I was a little hazy about some of what you might laughingly call the script - but that’s okay for where I’m at. I can tidy things up tomorrow in time for Friday’s show, and while it will by no means be the complete article by then, it should be a good way toward it.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Sweat the Small Stuff.

Today’s been too hot for its own good.

I met Glyn briefly this afternoon in Hitchin Market Place to discuss plans for Thursday’s Mostly Comedy over a couple of mint choc-chip ice creams, which were tax deductible because we were discussing work. It was more of an administrative meeting than anything, as we’ve had no time to consider any double act material together lately on account of our current lack of availability. That said, it was also a chance to have a bit of a general catch up, as we haven’t really seen each other since last month’s gig; as I said above, chances to get together are rare.

Meeting allowed me the chance to pass on the frustrations of my recent cancelled previews and Glyn the chance to fill me in on the challenges of juggling two young children (not literally). We tend to start most of our get-togethers these days with a general chat about where we’re both at before we look at work - even if time is tight - as it’s all part of being a double act; even though we’re not actively writing together at the moment, we’ve still got to feel comfortable in each other’s company, and that can only come from having the odd casual chat; work tends to expand or contract as according to the time we have for it anyway, so we might as well spend at least some of that time being sociable; after all, we are friends first

One thing I didn’t do today was work on my show, but that’s okay, as a long chat I had with my wife about it yesterday has helped focus my attention on what I needs to do next. It’s sometimes hard when I don’t have a director to see the wood for the trees without someone to sound off of, which was where this conversation was so useful. It reminded me I’m not that far from where I want to be, and gave me a few notes to focus on. Hopefully, I can have a long look at it all tomorrow and Wednesday, so I can put it down on Thursday when we’re doing Mostly and then comforably pick it up again for Friday’s show. Fingers crossed, it’s not this hot then; I’m done with sweating, damn it.

Getting So Much Better All the Time.

Today is Paul McCartney’s 75th birthday; a fact which seems to have slipped below the radar despite the furore over the fiftieth anniversary of Sgt Pepper of late.

Sadly, his constant presence at high-profile events in recent years seems to have resulted in a dip in popularity (and an increase in cynicism) particularly in the UK. He still sells concert tickets by the bucket-load, but there’s a sense this is purely because he’s the only living Beatle who co-wrote the lion's share of their material - which he trades on heavily live - but perhaps that’s where the interest in his work should end.

As someone with huge respect for him as an artist, this makes me very sad. Only today, I stumbled across an internet poll that deemed him the third-best Beatle; the man who wrote Eleanor Rigby, Yesterday, Let it Be, Hey Jude, Blackbird, She’s Leaving Home, Here There and Everywhere, Helter Skelter, Golden Slumbers and You Never Give Me Your Money to name just a sizeable few; for some reason, a combination of familiarity and perhaps a slight dislike for his upbeat persona has left him falling short.

But I don’t want to talk about him as a Beatle; that topic’s been covered. I want discuss what he did afterwards. What I love about McCartney is his constant quest to do more. The man’s never lost the joy of creativity - and what’s forgotten is nearly every album he's put out recently has been described as “his best work since Band on the Run” for years.

This thought - and the fact that today's his 75th birthday - led to me tweeting links to eight songs released in the past twenty years (so long after his Beatles and Wings period) that I think are great.

I know I missed scores of good ones, but if I’d included them all, I'd have lost all my followers. That’s what’s so inspiring about his solo work; if you put your wellies on and dig deep, there’s an endless trove of treasures to find. But here's a place to start:

1) Jenny Wren (from 2005's 'Chaos and Creation in the Backyard).
2) Paul wrote Little Willow as a gift to Ringo's kids following their mum's death. Released in 1997; Linda was battling cancer at time.
3) Alligator (produced by Mark Ronson. From Macca's 2013 album, New). 
4)Another one written and recorded around the time of Linda's illness: the beautiful Somedays from 1997's Flaming Pie.
5) Fine Line (produced by Nigel Godrich and released in 2005).
6) My Valentine (written for McCartney's third wife Nancy and ttaken from 2012's bum-centric 'Kisses on the Bottom')
7) Travelling Light (taken from his mostly-improvised [?!] 2008 album released under pseudonym The Fireman, Electric Arguments):
8) The End of the End.  Only Macca could tackle the topic of his own death with positivity. Played on same the piano he recorded Lady Madonna on.

9)  Sod it. Bonus one from the Seventies. The bloody marvellous 'Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five'. Funky git.

In summary, anyone who says Paul McCartney has written nothing of note for years is talking out of their anus. Happy 75th!

Saturday, 17 June 2017

You're a Lady.

I just read that June Whitfield and Julie Walters were made Dames in the Queen's Birthday Honours List, which is excellent.

While Julie Walters is commonly regarded as an exceptionally versatile actress, June Whitfield is perhaps a little underrated. The breadth of her career since the 1950s is pretty astounding, and she always stands out in whatever she’s in, whether playing the uptight nurse in The Blood Donor or Edina’s mum in Absolutely Fabulous. She radiates class and never pulls focus; the consummate comic foil to the likes of Terry Scott, Jennifer Saunders and Tony Hancock.

She also still looks fantastic. She’s - get this - 91, but you’d never believe it, as she’s as energised and as sharp-as-a-pin as ever; yes, that’s right: she’s my old-lady crush.

That said, I also love Julie Walters. It’s the spark behind her eyes when she's performing comedy that gets me, like she's taking her performance to the edge of anarchy and dares her co-stars to corpse; it’s brilliant. She’s wholly prepared to make herself look ridiculous, which is admirable, and her straight acting is painfully truthful.

The reason I'm so gratified by the news is I don’t think we celebrate these people enough. The same can be said for Billy Connolly, who’s about to be knighted. Why wait until they're no longer around to pay tribute? I can only assume my medal's in the post.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

"Heh Heh Heh Helection Half Hour."

Thursday morning’s a time I look forward to, as the episode of Hancock’s Half Hour that was broadcast that week becomes available to listen to on iPlayer, and consequently becomes the soundtrack to my bath. Today was no different, with this week’s instalment being the frighteningly appropriate ‘The Election Candidate'.

In the episode, Tony is convinced to stand for parliament as a celebrity candidate (*cough* Donald Trump *cough*) and while it’s definitely one of the best - though let’s face it, pretty much all programmes that exist have stood the test of time wonderfully - my favourite moment has to be when Hancock is asked who’ll he’ll vote for, before he’s convinced to through his own hat in the ring.

“Neither of them,” he replies. “I shall show my contempt by going down to the polling booth, taking my form, crossing both their names out and writing ‘get knotted’ in”.

(Some things never change.)

The episode was first broadcast nearly sixty years ago, but the general consensus is still pretty much the same. So many are disillusioned by what a potential MP can offer, or if they want to vote for them. Elections are also still heavily influenced by celebrity candidates and endorsements; the only thing different in real life is the lack of a tuba riff breaking up conversation.

Notwithstanding the topical nature of this week’s show, I’d heartily recommend delving into HHH if you’ve never listened to it. It’s a masterpiece in comic writing and performance that’s remarkably still so very relevant. You should join me for my Thursday morning ritual (though we're not sharing a bath). 

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

'Not tonight, Joke-sephine.'

Unfortunately, I've had to cancel tomorrow’s preview in Winchester with Norman Lovett as the take-up hadn’t been as much as we would have liked - and while I could have left it a little longer to see if we sold more, it made sense to call it now, to allow time to inform ticketholders and to save the hassle of getting there tomorrow to find we're just as quiet.

It’s very frustrating, but ultimately can’t be helped, and it feels better to make the decision today instead of leaving it hanging, particularly as most of the day was spent going through the mechanics of cancelling it, leaving me no time to work on the show itself. All this does is echo how I’m sick of being the one doing all the organising and how I'm seldom, if ever, the one previewing my show on someone else’s night with them doing all the booking and promotion. In fact, now I think of it, in all the time I’ve worked with Glyn or on my own, we’ve never previewed a show at someone else’s event. Not once; yet the times I or we have offered other acts the chance to try something out in front of audience having not had to do anything other than show up are countless.

The aborted show in Winchester was the first example of someone meeting me halfway by allowing me to essentially perform under the umbrella of a club that wasn’t mine, but I still booked Norman, took the financial risk and led the promotion. I know it’s not the way these things go, but it would be nice if these arrangements went both ways.

The plus side to losing tomorrow is it actually frees up the diary, giving me more time to work on the show for the next preview at the Actors’ Temple with Phil Kay next Friday, without having to rush. Here’s hoping I use it correctly and make the most of it; what I’ve lost in not having a chance to try the material out to a new audience tomorrow (which is obviously always beneficial) I gain in having the time to fix what I don’t like about it.