Sunday, 22 June 2008

Larbreck Hall Gig

Great gig last night for David and I out at Larbreck Hall Caravan Park.

We were going to do an outdoor, but the weather was appalling. The organisers had sorted out an old barn and built a stage with scaffolding, pallets stacked and carpeted over and a backdrop and sides of sheet plastic - pretty good too for such a temporary set-up!

The pallets were very springy though - when we started foot tapping and getting into the faster stuff I thought I was going to be catapulted off stage a couple of times but we survived and dragged Jeannie up to sing backing vocals for The Ronette's song Be My Baby.

Thanks to the holiday makers and residents at the caravan park for such a great reception and your enthusiasm! Thanks too to the very enthusiastic group of girls who screamed and shouted and kept demanding Bob The Builder for some strange reason! I managed to work it into my keyboard solo on Ho Ho Silver Lining - that has to be a world's first...!

The gig rounded off a charity event organised mainly by my mother which she has run every year in support of Cancer Research since Dad died in 2004.

Saturday, 21 June 2008

The Airfix Railcoach Kit

Apart from all of the aeroplanes I used to make with Airfix and Revell plastic kits as a lad, I remember a few other sorts of kits with great affection.

This railcoach for instance. Dad had bought it in the early 1960s with a view to putting a small electric motor in it so we could run it on the OO-guage model railway he had built for us. No photos exist of this as far as I've been able to find anyway. It was built on four large pieces of fibreboard which slotted together to give a floor-filling layout with an oval track shape with platforms on both straight runs and twin tracks (I have a brother - it was necessary for a peaceful life for us both to be able to play at the same time!)

We each had a full size engine - his was Princess Elizabeth and mine a more American-looking affair with a huge cow catcher on the front. We each had a shunter engine too. Mine was a GWR tank engine and Frank had a diesel shunter. Between us we had a collection of rolling stock including a couple of pullman carriages, four red carriages with lights inside and a varied assortment of trucks and goods containers of one sort or another. Looking through the Internet now, it becomes obvious how many Dad had built for us out of Airfix kits. In fact all of the buildings that we had to go on the layout; platforms, stations, kiosks, houses, signal boxes etc. all came from Airfix kits.

The Railcoach however, stayed in its box, pristine and a source of never-ending anticipation for us. When would Dad finish it? When would we be able to put it on the tracks and send it whizzing round? I'm not really sure why, but it never did get built. But in truth we probably got more enjoyment over the years from opening the box and looking at all the green pieces of plastic, the set of decal transfers, the instruction sheet and - great excitement - the tiny electric motor that Dad had placed in the box, than we would have done had he built it for us to smash up in a collision with one of the metal locomotives after half an hour's play!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Brixham

Just to round off the posts about our weekend in Torquay (before the next weekend actually hits!) here are a couple of views of Brixham where we had gone on the Saturday.

We had been before and the roads are somewhat exciting around the harbour - very narrow streets with at least one hairpin bend that requires you to try your best, then reverse and try again! Single-track streets that are two-way etc. etc.

Anyway we chickened out and went on the bus. This made it more relaxing and used less fuel which was a bit hard to come by that weekend!

The harbour is lovely. A typical fishing harbour, with pastel painted cottages lining the hills behind and to the sides of the cove.

This is the unlikely landing point for William, Prince of Orange who led "The Glorious Revolution" to become King William III and deposed James who it was feared would lead Great Britain back to Catholicism. It is called the Glorious Revolution because it was mainly bloodless (though I'd be willing to bet someone got a bloody nose over it somewhere...) However the fact that he turned up from foreign parts with a dirty great army and was suddenly given the crown of England could justify the thought that there had been an invasion. It may have happened to have been a good time to be invaded but when he jumped onto the quay at Brixham and gave his speech the locals were probably a bit bemused.

"Woss he say?"
"Dunno - it's all in foreign innit? Oy! You! I'll buy your fish, how much a pound? Talk in English can't you? Ow! Me nose! I thought this was supposed to be a bloodless revolution?!?"

His imposing statue is either less than flattering...or the nose has fallen off at some point.

The other reminder of history is a replica of Francis Drake's ship the Golden Hind, in which he sailed around the world. (I mean in the first one...not the replica)

In fact there's another replica in London and they look nothing like each other. This is possibly because it's hard to build a replica when we haven't a clue what the boat looked like. What we do know are the measurements of it and the fact that it is highly likely that there was a pointy bit at the front, a window or two at the back and a deer's head stuck on it somewhere as otherwise it would have been called something else.

"'Ere - wossat on 'is boat?"
"Aw no... it's Bambi's mum, ain't it?"

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Central Pier Maintenance

This was a spot of good luck.

As I was on the Central Pier yesterday, taking photos of grown men making ultra-large sand pies, a separate gang of workmen were at work on the supporting structure of the pier itself.

Because of the shape of the decking (narrow bit, gets wider, goes narrow again, gets wider again) I was able to get a good view of them.

Unfortunately no great sprays of welding sparks but a few here if you look closely!

Devon Cream Tea

I'm sorry.

I'm really, really sorry.

But it just has to be done...

[scoff!]

Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!

I knew there was another reason for going to Devon!

Monday, 16 June 2008

Blackpool Sea Defences

Well this isn't fair at all is it?

The only thing I had to build sandcastles with when I was a lad was a bucket and spade!

I've had a day off work today and whilst Fran had a bit of a shopping excursion in Blackpool I wandered down the Promenade to the Central Pier to see how the work on the new promenade was coming along.

The work has been going on for quite a long while and the workers seem to be cleverly doing little bits here and there perhaps with the intention of unveiling it all at once, or perhaps because the bloke who hoovers up at the end hasn't turned up yet?

Perhaps there's still a few days work left yet because another gang of men were busy painting the old railings...

Anyway, this is a splendidly deep hole they were digging with their diggers, egged on by a row of holiday makers and sightseers along the railings of Central Pier.

The other digger was employed digging in a pipe so that the blue pump could empty the puddle in the foreground. Bet it fills up again when the tide comes in... In fact so will that dirty great hole they were digging, so I hope no one wanders down the beach and fancies a paddle or they could end up having a bit of a surprise!

Babbacombe

So having skipped to the description of the Juke Box Heroes show that we went to on Saturday night, what about Babbacombe itself?

It lies just north of Torquay on the opposite side of a small peninsula and has sandstone cliffs overlooking a small beach that you can get to on a furnicular railway.

There's an excellent and large green (occupied by a bikini clad far-too-old woman who was muttering loudly and fiendishly to herself - where are the yellow coated fellows when you need them?). The theatre itself sits at one end of the green and there are several large hotels strung along the road between the theatre and the furnicular railway.

We had a meal in the Babbacombe Inn and the food was excellent.

Although there wasn't a great many people to be seen wandering about parking spaces were hard to come by along the coast road!

Sunday, 15 June 2008

Juke Box Heroes

This was why we were down in Torquay for the weekend (see previous post).

Tony Harte, lead singer with the 1960s band The Honeycombs had brought this show to our attention and we had booked the show in Torquay after finding there were no dates (as yet) booked up in Lancashire. If we were going to travel it may as well be to somewhere nice we figured!

Also on the bill were John Leyton (Johnny Remember Me, Wild Wind, and a few not inconsequential films such as The Great Escape and Von Ryan's Express) and Craig Douglas (Only Sixteen, Teenager In Love), both these singers being backed by a band called The Flames.

We went over to Babbacombe early and were nicely ensconced in a local inn, waiting for a meal to be placed in front of us when Tony and the rest of The Honeycombs members came in. We've swapped messages and emails via the excellent Billy Fury website, but this was our first meeting.

It would be fun to suggest he lives up to the image of vodka-swilling reprobate that he likes to put about, but truth is he comes across as a great guy! And once the show started he and The Honeycombs work hard as they filled the entire first half of the show. Have I The Right is, of course, their biggest hit and it still sounds great today! Tony and the boys (yes a male drummer these days, though they joked that it was Honey Langtree after a sex change!) do some of the original Honeycombs songs and a running tribute to a number of late 50s and early 60s singers with Billy Fury's Halfway To Paradise getting the audience singing!

Singer Kelly brought a bit of feminine glamour to the proceedings and she sang a few excellent numbers including Connie Francis's Stupid Cupid and a brilliant duet with Tony providing the harmonies. I spoke to her afterwards and she said it was only her 5th outing with The Honeycombs. She's made an impressive start then!

Aaaah - and those matching Burns guitars look and sound the biz! I play Fender Stratocasters and the only time I've played a Burns is for a brief try-out in a guitar shop. I like my Strats though!

Part Two and The Flames do a couple of Shadows numbers before introducing Craig Douglas, who delivered a good set with some gentle self-deprecating quips; "I've been singing these songs day in day out, decade in, decade out..."

Then on came John Leyton in leather jacket and trousers, looking and sounding the business and setting off to a good start with Shout Shout Knock Yourself Out. Wild Wind and my favourite JL song Son This Is She both got an airing before the finale of his great hit Johnny Remember Me. He then did an encore of Sea Cruise which brought the show to a rousing finish.

We met up with Tony and the rest of the Honeycombs afterwards and he lost no time in separating me from Fran for a photo! Smooth operator that he is! However he has to admit that he has too much hair and is too slim to be seriously sexy like me...

John had a queue in front of him - mostly being held up by a determined lady who had brought 964 photographs to be signed... We've met a few times before - maybe just as well, seeing as Tony yelled, "John, have a word with my mate - he fancies you like mad...!"

A great night! And if you bring the show up north Tony - we'll see you again!


Torquay Weekend

Mmm! Just back from a long weekend down in Torquay.

We went down on Friday, which turned out to be the best day as far as the weather was concerned. It was after lunch by the time we got down there so we didn't have a lot of time to do very much.

We had a walk round the harbour and booked into our hotel (The Marstan Hotel, Meadfoot Sea Road, recommended!) and then went down to Paignton in search of enough fuel to get us home and to have a meal.

We've seen lots of petrol stations without petrol and diesel this weekend. Thankfully we managed to fill up down there so we did manage to get home again!

The reason for the trip was to visit the theatre at Babbacombe on Saturday night to meet up with and clap and stomp along to The Honeycombs and John Leyton in the "Juke Box Heroes" show.

More of that later!

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Eurovision 2008

I know it was weeks ago but we had a bit of a gig that night with the band so I didn't see it until later.

Well what a kerfuffle! So the UK came last (joint - as if that makes it somehow better...) again. But for Heaven's sake, however well Andy Abrahams sang on the night, the song was a bit of a disaster let's face it. Most of Europe put in songs with verses and a chorus and a tune you could actually hum afterwards and we put in a dog's dinner so enough wingeing already.

I love Terry Wogan's humour but saying that Bosnia Herzegovina's entry (pictured) shouldn't have got more points than the UK was way out. It was a good song. The chorus made me want to sing along (even though I couldn't because I had no idea what they were singing!) and the rather bizarre setting with the "four knitting brides of Frankenstein" and that ridiculous skirt and the washing line didn't take anything away from the song itself. I thought it could well have won. I wasn't that keen on the winning Russian song to be honest. But no matter.

None of the western European countries put in particularly strong songs. Germany fielded four girls one of whom was singing out of tune and the song was instantly forgettable. France fielded a bearded nutter who inhaled from an inflatable beach ball and and was backed by four bearded girl singers. Spain... well how do you even describe it? The song was quite catchy I suppose but then compare those against some of the others. Armenia's Qele Qele delivered by a young girl with a great beat and a memorable chorus, Finland's heavy metal band but with a bloody good song, Latvia's pirates with a song that surely everyone wanted to join in with the "yo ho ho" bits... Turkey fielded a band also with an excellent song that I'm sure I'm going to listen to again and again.

And even the Ukraine had a great song - I think - I may have been a bit distracted by the lovely Ani Lorak to be honest... But indeed, who wouldn't be? Always a pleasure to have an excuse to feature a pretty girl! Could perhaps do with a bit of Harmony hairspray to keep that fly-away effect down a bit...?

So what will it take for the UK to win the competition again? Will we have to court friends in neighbouring countries? Will we have to move the islands to the Baltic? Should we give up having very little in the way of drama and ridiculous costumes? Nope, perhaps the UK should concentrate on allowing some decent songs into the final of the selection instead of chucking them all out before the public have a chance of voting on the crud that's left...

And finally - who couldn't love the Croatian entry of laid-back old geezers, accordians and wonderful song. They could have ditched the grumpy old octogenarian rapper though. ...and possibly the hitting of bottles filled to different levels of water...

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

The Ship Choppers

Remember the Riverdance ferry that was wrecked on Anchorsholme beach near Blackpool last January?

They were hoping for months to be able to refloat her whilst the residents of Blackpool shook their heads sadly and thought "No chance..." Well they have now come to the same conclusion and are in the process of cutting up the ship and taking it away bit by bit.

We went down on Sunday morning to have a look and the stern of the ship has already disappeared. The first week of the operation saw the welding torches start a fire aboard the Riverdance - always a distinct risk of this type of operation.

So after six months it seems Anchorsholme is to lose the biggest tourist attraction since the Abana suffered the same fate in the late 19th century. At least there are a few spars of that wreck still left on the beach for people to see. Only a few hundred yards away in fact!

Sad end to a ship.

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Great Music

I thought it might be fun to show some of the albums I've collected over the years which are not exactly mainstream. I have a huge collection of music including some 400+ 78rpm records, a thousand or so vinyl 45s and around 300 vinyl albums plus lots and lots of CDs.

I've digitised a lot of the music myself - particularly the 78s which can be hard to find on CD. So here are five of my albums which you may not have heard of, starting with the one that you are most likely to have heard of. It's possibly true to say that any readers over on the US side of the Atlantic may have a better chance of having heard of some of the following.

But we start with this one- The Beat of The Brass by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.

I was still a teenager when I bought this and the music from the record was featured in a TV special recorded by the band. It's a very laid back record that starts with a version of Cabaret and ends with Herb's only vocal hit - This Guy's In Love With You. One of my favourite tracks is a jazzy thing called Slick. And a bit of trivia for you - Herb Alpert is the 'A' of A&M Records.

The Cactus Brothers

What can I say about this album? It wasn't even available in the UK when I bought it. We were in Florida on holiday in 1993 and I wanted to bring some of the music back that we were hearing on the car radio. I plucked this one off the shelves purely at random but have never regretted it and I play this album as much as any of the others in my collection. It is a country hillbilly group with a large collection of motley characters playing fast driving country rock and with a couple of finger pickin' instrumentals thrown in for good measure. It starts with a hard smacking version of Sixteen Tons and there's loads of superb tracks to savour.

Commander Cody and the Lost Planet Airmen

I was introduced to this one by John Briggs, who was bass player with a group I was in called Spiral, way back in the early 1970s. He played it to me after we had listened to our traditional playing of his 78rpm version of the Everly's All I Have To Do Is Dream c/w Claudette and it knocked my socks off. There's a track called Boogie Man Boogie with some of the best boogie piano playing I have ever heard. Again though, this is an album without a single mediocre track!

In Search of Amelia Earheart by Plainsong

A strange mixture this one. It looks like a concept album but only two of the songs are about the titular flyer and her probable doom at the hands of the Japanese. The rest are a mixture of songs of the soft folk rock type. The band featured Ian Matthews, of Matthews Southern Comfort fame and Liverpool Scene guitarist Andy Roberts. I bought it after hearing them on a BBC radio In Concert programme.

Songs From Wasties Orchard by Magna Carta

Now if you like modern folk music or even just nice gentle sounds then this album has to be one of the ultimates! Best known for their concept album Seasons, which was their second album, this was the follow up with soon-to-be Elton John's guitarist, Davy Johnstone replacing Aussie Lyell Tranter full time. (He had played on Seasons as a session musician). I went to see them at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester as this album was coming out and they were absolutely superb.

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Burscough Priory

The other day I was at Edge Hill University and stayed the night before in Burscough.

I remembered a visit way back in 1980 or 81 when I went to find the scant remains of Burscough Priory. More or less all that's left is a couple of stone pillars one of which holds the start of an archway and a few other scattered stones at their feet.

Buried somewhere amongst these ruins are the remains of one of the Stanley family, the Earl of Derby who plucked the Crown of England from a hedge where it had fallen from King Richard III's head at the Battle of Bosworth and he placed it on Henry's head, starting the Tudor dynasty that would lead on to Henry VIII who brought about the dissolution and breaking up of the great religious houses and then onto Queen Elizabeth I whose astrologer, John Dee, is said to have performed Black Magic rites here to conjure up spirits.

When I was there in 1981(ish) it was quite easy to find. Now though the ruins are behind a wall and then a very thick hedge and as it's summer (it is???) the hedges were so full of leaves that it was impossible to get a good view through them and the best view was from quite a way away.

The priory is now on private grounds and there is a caravan site there. it has grown over the years and it is no longer possible to get as close as I did twenty some years ago.

One chap I spoke to said they got lots of people trying to find the ruins "...as they're mentioned in lots of books and local guide books".

By the time I managed to find them and take the photos it was starting to go dark and I didn't hang about as finding my way back across the fields and footpaths over the railway line may have been a trifle difficult in the pitch dark of the countryside.

Happily when I got back to the hotel - the Beaufort - I found there was a music night there, it being the first Monday of the month and we had a great night listening to a succession of very talented musicians and singers playing what they called "gypsy jazz". This included Django Reinhart type stuff and standards such as Caravan.

And finally here's one of the photos from the 1980s. It looks as though it was taken from the other side of the pillars so perhaps there's a view from the road that runs that way. Another visit may be called for. Perhaps on the first Monday of the month...!

Monday, 2 June 2008

Crazy

It's a solo effort on the Billy Fury web site for the month of June.

I've done a laid back version of Patsy Cline's Crazy, one of a number of recordings I've made for a potential new solo album.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s Billy Fury was billed as England's answer to Elvis. Born Ronald Wycherley on 17 April 1940 in Liverpool, he became one of the Larry Parnes stable of artists, appearing on TV shows such as "Oh Boy". During the 1960s he had 24 chart entries, clocking up an impressive 258 weeks on the Top 50.

The website keeps Billy's name and music alive through an excellent collection of sound and video resources, interactive forums and the monthly "Sounds Special" feature which contains an free album's worth of music recorded by artists from all around the world. There are some superb artists amongst the regulars and you can comment on the "Sounds Special" songs using one of the forum topics.

A Wet Day at Myerscough

Well we've been playing Myerscough College's open day events for years but yesterday was the wettest one since our very first in 2002!

Despite that a phenomenal number of people braved the weather to come out to see everything that was going on, but understandably not a lot chose to sit on the row of chairs that had been placed in front of our spot! Some brave souls stood and listened, danced, sang and cheered and we thank you for that.

We played The Kink's Sunny Afternoon, but it failed to do the trick and so we resorted to Creedence Clearwater Revival's Have You Ever Seen the Rain which gave us a certain amount of audience participation...

We played it again several hours after the first playing and David related how someone had yelled "Sod off!" as they passed. Then he did a quick "oops!" and apologised for swearing but was then faced by a very indignant 5-year-old who tore him off a strip to the amusement of everyone around us. "There's lots of children here, you know!" she said, hands on hips. I promised to wash his mouth out with soap and she nodded and, with a final stern look, walked off back to her parents who were killing themselves.

The previous night we played out at Heskin Hall for a steam fair in a large marquee. It was good to hear Fran and Jeannie relate that they had heard someone at the entrance saying to his mates "Oh, great! They were here last year and they're fabulous!" A man of taste!

And yes, I know I'm supposed to be taking it easy because of the old ticker, but we cut down the set at Heskin from our usual 4+ hours and David keeps giving me dire threats if I start to set up or carry anything heavy before he's got there to help.

And finally, our thanks to Peter and Shelagh Cooney who came to Myerscough to do a set and give us a bit of a break. I appreciated it as I'd got a huge blister on one finger which burst and needed to dry up a bit before I could carry on. "Can you still play keyboards?" asked David. Relentless...
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