Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Ne'er the twain

On Tuesday night Alex Ferguson celebrated his 1000th game in charge of Manchester United with a Champion’s League win over Lyon in front of 67,000 fans. His two strikers cost a combined £40 million.

Alex Ferguson’s first game in charge was a 2-0 defeat against Oxford United in November 1986.

Since that day, Ferguson has won one Champions League title, eight Premiership titles, five FA Cup’s, one Cup Winners’ Cup and one League Cup. He has also been knighted.

Since that day Oxford United have slipped down the leagues and are now 21st in the bottom professional league in the country. On Saturday they were beaten 1-0 by Rochdale with a last minute goal which came off the back of the goalkeeper’s head.

Go fig.

Tonight thank God it's them instead of you

Musically, I wasn’t mad keen on the first Band Aid record. I’m pretty sure the family had a copy or two and I wouldn’t ever try to deny its impact just because the participants weren’t very cool. I just didn’t like it. I always preferred USA for Africa’s We Are The World, though it still teases my sensibilities to admit it.

We Are The World? Let’s face, you’re not, are you?

The new version’s OK, a marginal improvement bar the Dizee Rascal bit. Sadly it’s the want of fifty-something year old men to think the way to modernise and update music is to introduce ‘rap’, because after all it is a genre that is only, at least, twenty-five years old. That, or lay a 4/4 house beat over the top (See: The recent remix of Lou Reed’s Satellite of Love).

Along with the song, the history of the whole event has been re-written. Firstly, the original concept actually wasn’t that high profile. First I remember of it was an afterthought announcement at the end of a local news bulletin. There was no precedent to it, so nobody really knew who or how many stars would turn up to the recording. Geldof was a has-been punk and the Boomtown Rats were a distant memory. As a spectacle it had little more impact than a Radio 1 Roadshow. It was only afterwards, when Geldof had pulled it off, that the impact started to hit.

They’ve also largely ignored the fact that a remake has already been done by the Kylie and Jason era pop clan. There was nothing wrong with that version, but the participants weren’t that cool and the fashions not as retro as the original.

The thing that’s really bugging me, however, is Bono and That Line. No mention of the new version is complete without a mention that Bono has recreated “His famous line”. In 1984 U2 were very much at the edgy end of the pop spectrum. The omnipotent rock giants of 1984 were McCartney, Queen and Elton John, the Blues, Girls Alouds and Westlifes were Duran Duran, Wham and Bananarama. U2 were the Franz Ferdinand of their time, local pockets of fervent support, bags of potential, but nowhere near the real major league.

Bono’s Line had no more, or less significance than Simon Le Bon’s nasally whine or Paul Young’s tissue thin vocal croak. It was U2’s performance at Live Aid that started to join the pockets of support for the band and turn it them into a global phenomenon. Now they are these rock behemoths, the line has acquired a significance it never had before. Not that the whole thing needs any hype or angle, it was one of the most significant events of the decade, and perhaps the only time the whole world has been united against one cause. Oh how I loved when they cut to Live Aid Russia and the poor soviet techies had managed to plug the sound into one TV channel and the pictures into another meaning we listened for ten minutes to appalling soft rock whilst watching old women picking cherries on a farm.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

When focus groups attack

A genuine conversation from a re-branding workshop we’ve just done at work.

“We want to be all things to all people.”
“Yes, so perhaps our logo should be lots of different colours, like a kaleidoscope or a rainbow”
“And we want to be approachable, but credible. We want to give people a warm fuzzy feeling, but know they are going to get good service”
“Maybe we need an icon or figurehead, a friendly face?”
“What? Like Mickey Mouse? He’s warm and cuddly.”
“Yes, an animal would be good. Ooh what’s that animal that always changes colour”
“A chameleon?”
“Yes, that could be our figurehead”
“But they’re not warm and cuddly”
“Well, we could make it more cuddly, ooh, how about putting a chameleon in a waistcoat?“

Monday, November 15, 2004

The freaks come out

The Northern Line was an interesting place to be on Saturday afternoon. Sitting opposite me was a battered vicar in his eighties talking to a scrawny man with a regulation Marine’s flattop crew cut wearing a blue uniform, white gloves and holding a bugle.

Amongst the smattering of Arsenal and Tottenham fans returning from the North London Derby were a gaggle of Arsenal stewards straight from the 1950’s in red and white ties and thickly greased hair. Sitting amongst them were blue rinsed old ladies and nice girls who do well in their studies clutching union jacks returning from the Lord Mayor’s Show.

Dominant, however, were about 20 kids talking loudly and animatedly amongst themselves. At Archway the doors opened and the Vicar bade farewell to the bugle man and made for the door. He signalled to the kids who were clearly in his charge. The battalion of twenty North London Boys Brigade plus all their marching band paraphernalia, made for the exit. Ten made it through before the beeps threatened to close the door. The frail vicar valiantly stood in front of the door preventing it from closing. The rest of the battalion piled through the gap he created (and partly filled). For a moment, the vicar, disappeared under a flurry of teenagers, drums, and twirling batons. Eventually he regained his composure and with a bony hand directed the boys to the exits.

Bugle man stayed on for the next stop, when his cue to exit came, his afternoon’s bugling done, he ambled off to who knows what. A wife? A cup of tea? A disturbing obsession with paramilitary organisations? An imprisoned Danish student?

The rich tapestry of London.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

From the sublime to the ridiculous

Guy Fawkes night is a big night at Emma’s school. The whole village congregate for a music and fireworks spectacular. Emma is usually followed around the muddy field by past and present pupils demanding her attention and pointing at me. Friday was no different; she was quickly surrounded by a swarm of last year’s class who have been scattered to the four corners of the local secondary school world. From the gloom appeared two former pupils, Anna, and Jeremy, a plump mildly autistic boy, dressed in a red and yellow Harry Potter jumper and scarf. Emma greets them.

“Hello Anna, how’s St Joseph’s? and Jeremy, have you come straight from Hogwarts?”

Then on Saturday, Emma was looking at the TV listings and complaining that BBC were dedicated two and a half hours Paula Radcliffe’s next race; entitled “Paula’s Return”. ‘How can they justify that amount of time just on one race’.

I explained that the New York Marathon would be very difficult to complete it in any less time.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Tales from the Perfumed Garden

Having bought it religiously for years, I rarely buy the NME now. I’ll buy the Christmas special or the issues when they do the best 50 LP’s of all time etc. I gave up when I realised their understanding of ‘dance’ music stretched little beyond Trip Hop and no hip hop artist could escape without a comparison the De La Soul’s 3 Feet High and Rising. I also sussed the editorial style, which, when assessing a new band’s style always listed two peers that you had heard of (to help you) and one that you hadn’t (to make them look cool).

“Gobstopper’s sound is not unlike early Joy Division, Blur and Flungebuckets Christmas Retention Programme”

I decided I didn’t want to read a magazine written by isolationist sixth formers dressed like Robert Smith. I’ve never regretted the decision, in fact whenever I’ve bought it I’ve found it as informative as the Tesco top 100 CD chart. Ooh the coolest bands on the planet are The Strokes, The White Stripes and, crikey, Nirvana.

I bought it this week for the Peel tribute, in which it praises his style of playing records in their entirety without speaking over them because it “allowed people to tape the songs off the radio, which is what people used to do before file swapping” Jeez where’s my Zimmer frame?

Anyway, here are my favourite Peel facts from their list of 50: -

• A massive Captain Beefheart fan, in 1969 Peel volunteered himself to chauffeur him around the Midlands gig circuit. At one point, Beefheart, ordered Peel to stop the car with the words “John I want to hug a tree”.
• Ater giving The Damned exposure on his show, he received a letter from the drummer’s mum thanking him for “helping Christopher’s career”.
• Part of his show was The Pigs Big 78 which involved his wife choosing a 78rpm record for him to play.
• He hated Essex drivers so much he’d drive around the county to avoid them.
• With the wide range of music played, Peel would get annoyed when his Festive 50 were always made up of white boys with guitars. When Nirvana topped the poll in 1991 with ‘Smell’s Like Teen Spirit’ he cancelled the poll altogether. A Phantom 50 was later broadcast through the year, one a week.
• In 1997 he ran a Festive 31 due to the paucity of votes
• He deleted the first 5000 words of his autobiography by mistake
• The only band ever to be bumped down the Festive 50 were The Dawn Parade who had something like 20 times as many votes as anyone else due to Internet vote rigging. He let them be Number 50 for sheer cheek.
• At you can find the John Peel Sweet Eating Game. It involved eating a sweet whenever he played a record at the wrong speed, mumbled incomprehensibly about a family member, was caught by surprise by the end of a track or played a record so obscure it’s only available at one shop in Oslo.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Old school to New FADS and beyond

The thing about John Peel was his relevance, whether it was dad’s Elvis and Beatles generation or my indie pop and acid house generation Peelo was all over it. The announcement of his death appears to have been greeted with uniform shock. Peel was hardly old, but he wasn’t young either, he was omnipotent in music terms and rather like the music he championed, I suppose we all assumed he would last forever.

Peel was unique, able to traverse the musical generations without effort or embarrassment. The musical tastemakers of today – Pete Tong and Tim Westwood, for example, have had their moments, but as their favoured genres become marginalised, so will they. This never worried Peel, his ability to avoid getting sucked into the industry side of music (and it’s inevitable trends and fads) meant it’s always been about the music. The industry outputs may dip and peak, but there is always good music available somewhere – Peel knew that and had a voracious appetite for finding it.

The news was broken by our Nervy Cerebral Manager who had heard it on the radio in the car. He, like everyone reacted by positioning himself in a Peel context announcing that he was a punk at University (one, we teased, who supported Anarchy in the UK as long as it was within a structured community and observed the rule of law – “Of course” he replied going crimson). In tribute, he then burst into a chorus of Uptown Top Rankin’.

Monday, November 01, 2004

Go Sox!

My dad and I agree about “one thing” apparently; that George Bush is evil. A victory for Bush endorses his right wing Christian radicalism, further polarising global politics, legitimising the ‘affirmative action’ of those disenfranchised by his aggression. His “You’re either with us or you’re a terrorist” attitude creates a vacuum in the middle where liberalism perishes and his ideological war is accelerated. Or as dad says; he represents everything that is wrong about America.

On the other hand, baseball represents everything that is right about America, and the Red Sox winning the World Series represents everything that is right about Baseball. The sport is resolute about its traditions and history which are involved and romantic. Major League Baseball is wholly democratic, players negotiate salaries and terms collectively, it preserves individual liberty – it’s a team game but you are judged on your individual merits. It is international and multicultural – it’s not unusual to find Japanese, Ecuadoreans, and Cubans in any team and I don’t mean Ecuadorian-Americans, I mean Ecuadorians who were born in Ecuador.

Why do Americans deny their own national identity by authenticating themselves with claims of being Irish or African or whatever?

Anyway, the great thing about Baseball is that no matter what level you watch, it always looks like its being played by pub players in the park on a Sunday. Most of the time the ball flies off the top of the bat and into the crowd, or scuffs along the floor. You can be rubbish at Baseball and still look like a pro (although, unlike you, they do occasionally throw the ball at 100 mph or welly it out of the ground). The great thing about the Sox though is that they are, almost to a man, shaggy barrel chested barflies which, despite the rampant modernisation of sports science today (coupled with the fact they wear almost identical uniforms) means a modern baseball professional looks no different to the hard drinking hard living players of the twenties. Football fans who hit their early thirties must come to terms with the fact they will never play professionally, a baseball fan reach his late forties before that happens.

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