Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Music I Love - 'A'

This is a first. Not that reviewing music or musical artistes on here is unknown, but this I think is the first series I've transferred to the blog from my Facebook page. There's a thing going the rounds at the moment asking Facebook users to nominate a great album. You do it once, it goes through a few friends and then someone who didn't see your previous one tags you in it again.

So I had the thought that it might make a good alphabetical series anyway and started yesterday with my Album for 'A'. 'A' in this case could have been both for the group Abba or the album name Arrival but I'm going to base this series on the artist rather than the album name. Last night I looked at all the albums I own that would come under the letter 'B' and decided that just choosing one would be a nightmare. So there may be some short articles here ('I' might not exist at all...), but some of them might be somewhat long...! I'll try to limit the number of albums from a single artist to a handful though...

So here was my starter from my Facebook page. Arrival was Abba's fourth studio album and was released in 1976. This was the album that really made them the huge phenomenon they came to be. It contains the singles Dancing Queen, Money Money Money, and Knowing Me, Knowing You. Of the other seven tracks, one (Arrival, the title track and the final track on the album) is an instrumental but any of the other six could have been selected to be a single. It's worth mentioning the track Why Did It Have To Be Me? which started life with that title, was then given a new set of lyrics and backing as Happy Hawaii which appeared as the B side to Knowing Me, Knowing You and finally reverted to its original title for inclusion on this album. There's a whole range of styles from disco (Dancing Queen) to hard rock (Tiger) to romantic ballad (My Love, My Life). Superb album.

It was followed by another great album - called simply Abba: The Album which was released in January 1978 because pre-release orders were so huge that enough copies could not be pressed before Christmas 1977. This included only two British single releases: The Name of The Game and the instantly catchy Take A Chance On Me, but there are once again no bad tracks at all. The "Three scenes from a mini-musical" under the title The Girl With The Golden Hair are worthy of a concept album with a ballad (I Wonder (Departure)), an anthem (Thank You For The Music) and a somewhat theatrical rocker (I'm A Marionette). One of my personal favourites was Hole In Your Soul. Abba: The Album was the top-selling album in Britain in 1977.

The next album, Voulez-Vous had failed to excite me as much as the two featured so far, but their 1980 album Super Trouper provided another gem with two No.1s from the three singles it included: The Winner Takes It All, Super Trouper and Lay All Your Love On Me which reached No.7. The album closed with a live track The Way Old Friends Do which had been recorded during their 1979 tour. The applause at the end of the track was carried into the run-off groove at the centre of the record and so continued until the stylus was lifted. Ha! Do that on an mp3!

Enough of Abba... Although there were still excellent singles to come I stopped buying the albums after Super Trouper. But they are not the only artists of note to come under the letter 'A'. The Reckless album of Bryan Adams may pre-date Everything I Do, I Do It For You, but it does include two awesome tracks capable of burrowing into the brain. These are Run To You and the ultimately awesome Summer of '69. That little apostrophe in the title is misleading. I'm not going to say what the song is about, but it is not about 1969... Listen to the last line! Another favourite track is She's Only Happy When She's Dancin', but I have to admit that it's seldom I play the entire album in a sitting.

The same could be said of this. There are probably only two tracks on this 2002 album that I can listen to without frowning, but both Beautiful and especially The Voice Within, which I used to perform as my solo spot with my own band at the time (although hardly with the same arrangement) were great songs. The image she cultivated at the time along with tattoos and all the sexual imagery was not particularly impressive... I'm not a fan of all the trilling embellishments around each note either - it always makes me think a singer has forgotten the tune!

Back to entire albums I can listen to! Norwegian group A-Ha released the album Hunting High And Low in 1985 and it was particularly the video for the single Take On Me that had me staring goggle-eyed at the TV screen (remember Tony Baker and Jenny Powell presenting the TV show No Limits?). The song itself was good too, I was a little disappointed when the trend for song backings moved from guitar chords to fast sequences of single synthesized notes but hey - there were some good examples. Other notable singles from this album were the title track: Hunting High And Low and The Sun Always Shines On TV and the band went on to record one of the better post-Roger Moore Bond film themes in The Living Daylights. But I still can't get the image of the pencil-drawn motorbike sequences and the troubled beauty of the video heroine out of my head whenever I listen to this album!

Before the advent of music videos I remember watching a TV special featuring Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass which must have dated from 1968 or '69 (probably the summer...) which pretty much used all the tracks of this album threaded together with some short documentary-type looks at America's Deep South on the Mississippi and around New Orleans. The Beat Of The Brass is still a great album with ballads and jazz influences (listen to the knock-out track Slick) and a couple of tracks surprising us with vocals. Most notably again, the final track which is Herb Alpert's wonderful This Guy's In Love With You which reached No.3 in the charts in 1968 and which once it left, kept re-entering the charts over the course of a year, eventually spending 50 weeks in the charts.

Anastacia was to be a short-lived (and aural-only) flirtation but I remember when the single I'm Outta Love first came on the radio and I thought it was Tina Turner. Indeed I remember our local radio DJ saying that Tina Turner could now retire and let Anastacia take over... This album Freak of Nature includes the singles Paid My Dues (somewhat disappointing after the previous single) and the better One Day In Your Life. I can't remember the last time I listened to anything else on the album and it remains the only one of Anastacia's that I bought.

And I'm mentioning Joan Armatrading here solely down to this single track, the theme to the film The Wild Geese which kept me in the cinema long after everyone else had gone. Stunning.

As regular readers will know, I do have a liking for pre-vinyl 78 rpm records and I have several by Winifred Atwell who was a popular tinkler of the old ivories. There were many pianists of my childhood: Russ Conway, Mrs Mills, Liberace and with the most boring delivery of the lot, but with the best nickname: Joe "Mr Piano" Henderson. The popularity of the stand-alone piano-tinkler waned as the sixties got into their stride, though the likes of Bobby Crush and Richard Clayderman were to prove there might still be an audience for such things in the 1970s. Winifred Atwell crossed from the 78 rpm era into the 45 rpm era with many of her records appearing on both media. You will know her work from the theme tunes from sports programmes such as Test Match Cricket and Pot Black.

I also love the old British Dance Bands of the 1930s and 40s and therefore have to mention Bert Ambrose, many of whose 78 rpm records are in my collection. With singers such as Denny Dennis, Sam Browne and Anne Shelton, Bert (he wasn't really "Bert" at all, he was born Benjamin Baruch Ambrose) he recorded throughout several decades. I left two singers out, both of whom Bert Ambrose discovered and both of whom became very famous indeed. The first was Vera Lynn who during World War II became The Forces' Sweetheart. The second, after Ambrose's fortunes had started to slip due to the take-over by rock and roll and beat music, was Kathy Kirby. It was at the recording of one of Kathy Kirby's TV shows that Bert Ambrose collapsed, dying the same night, 11 June 1971. He was 74.

Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Film Review, November 1978 Issue

Money passes hands. You smile hopefully at the pretty girl in the ticket booth, but she never looks up, not even apologetically as she blows a large bubble of chewing gum which bursts messily over her face. She slides your tickets out of the metallic slot and you mumble your thanks and head for the Circle with your mates who are all thinking along the lines of "skanky"...

Lights down, curtains open - Trailer Time! What will be on over the next couple of weeks. Well, heck, if you'd have bought Film Review magazine you would already know!

So here we are in November 1978, looking forward to the Christmas new films. Actually... none of them are Christmas related. Instead there's more of John and Livvy in Grease and an all-star cast for Death On The Nile. The Greek Tycoon with Anthony Quinn and Jacqueline Bisset has been in this magazine for what seems like ages but is finally about to hit the screens.

Inside the front cover is an advert for Bacardi that we haven't seen before. Forgive me for digressing, but does anyone else remember the superb cinema advert of the time for Gordon's Gin that was all industrial sized pipes and reservoirs apparently filled with gushing water and sometimes overlaid with the green Gordon's bottle? I think it was accompanied by the Also Sprach Zarathustra music that was also used for Old Spice aftershave, but I could be wrong in this. The other memorable Gordon's tune was done by Jeff Wayne of War of The Worlds fame.

In this 50th year since Mickey Mouse first made an appearance, Disney releases Pete's Dragon, a mix of live action and cartoon but on a different scale to those snippets from Mary Poppins and Bedknobs and Broomsticks. The effects were ok-ish if you ignored the obvious bits when actors looked in the wrong direction, but the biggest reason the film failed to spark all that much excitement was that it just wasn't up to the standard of story or music that we had come to expect from Disney.

It's not as though there was no talent. Mickey Rooney, Helen Reddy, Red Buttons and our own Jim Dale as a quack doctor were all involved. And now I see that Disney are about to release a new version. Hmmm... With today's CGI effects (and a new story and songs) it may do well... But I think they are brave...

Director Brian DePalma follows up his success with Carrie with another film about people with special powers. Gosh, will we ever see a return of that type of film do you think? Starring Amy Irving and Andrew Stevens as two teenagers with the power to make people bleed and also telekinesis (it had served Carrie so well after all). Kirk Douglas and John Cassavettes also star - being one on the side of the angels and the other being keen to exploit the youngsters. I did see this at the time but can't remember too much about it. Seven years later Amy Irving was to marry Steven Spielberg.

Peter Falk takes on a Humphrey Bogart send-up. A sort of Columbo played for laughs really...

It's all go for Mickey Rooney as apart from acting in Pete's Dragon, he's just got hitched again at the age of 57 to singer/composer, Janice Chamberlin, 39.

I'm sure it's just coincidence that on the facing page is another Smirnoff advert under the by-line "Well, they said anything could happen."

And even after the eight or was it nine-page spread that was helplessly devoted to Grease last month, here's another helping of Luscious Livvy as the one we all wanted, never mind that boorish gang member chappie.

But to show I bear him no ill-will, here's John Travolta with (sigh) Olivia Neutron-Bomb and the rest of the - ha ha ha, no I can't do it... (yes, come on!) No really I, ha ha ha... (You have to!!!) Ok! Ok! The rest of the teenagers - agh! Ha ha ha ha... see... I couldn't do it...

Nothing up my sleeve... Timex quartz with hands... Pink-eyed bunny rabbit optional.

The magazine featured Part One of a series entitled 75 Years of Hollywood. Covering the years 1903-1928, this was a three-page humdinger of an article. Intending to just skim the first bit I've just read it in its entirety, so fascinating is the story of the silent film era. The group pictured are on the set of Don Juan (1926), the first film with synchronised sound effects and music but not, as yet, speech. Included on the front row are Warner Oland (who during the 1930s found fame as oriental detective Charlie Chan, Estelle Taylor, John Barrymore and Mary Astor. On the back row extreme left is 21-year-old Myrna Loy and studio man Jack Warner is third from the right.

Burt Reynolds was one of those larger-than-life 1970s actors. He was everywhere or so it seemed for a while. Smokey and The Bandit, The Mean Machine, Deliverance, Nickelodeon, Semi-Tough, The Cannonball Run, the list goes on. The photo is from Hooper where he plays a stuntman blackmailed into making a dangerous stunt jump over a gorge in a rocket-powered car.

A wagon-load of stars join the cast for Agatha Christie's story of death and carnage in Egypt, Death On The Nile. Starring Peter Ustinov as belgian detective Hercule Poirot, it remains on my "never seen" list...

Here the cast line up on the good ship Karnak (wasn't that Tarzan's son, or was that Kojak?) (No... it was Korak...) Lois Chiles is the one whose performance needs careful attention towards the beginning of the film as - hey let's face it - one of them had to go...

I was stupid enough to smoke during my teens and this was my cigarette of choice. Players No.6. I stopped smoking in 1976 when Miss Franny was carrying our child (and they went up to 30p per packet - outrageous!) In the event I spent all the money on tubes of Smarties to take to keep the cravings away and almost immediately boosted my waistline... No ear patches in those days...

In the next article we reach the end of 1978 and the halfway point in this series of articles. In an advert for subscriptions, Film Review points to a recent sale of a 1969 issue to someone who had been willing to pay £20 for it. This at a time when the cover price was a mere 25 pence. Given 40 years inflation since then I reckon I should be able to get a couple of hundred now for each issue, though if someone wanted to make a close offer I would consider it...

Scarborough With A Hint Of Bridlington.

We had a weekend away this week, travelling to Bridlington on Friday for two nights. We stayed at a nice enough B&B which was just a bit let down by the shower unit in our room. This was plumbed straight into the water supply. This meant that there were separate hot and cold taps and the room was at the end of a long corridor so no matter where or how you set the taps, the water falling on you alternated every few seconds between freezing cold and scalding hot... Ah well, it was cheap and cheerful - if you don't count the owner's Dad who answered the door at night by saying "I hope you haven't woken our granddaughter up!!!"

I had a camera free day on Friday which is when we took advantage of some bright sunny weather in Bridlington. I had the sketch pad with me but I didn't get round to doing anything with it all weekend - Brid was crowded and seating by the harbour was at a premium and there were hundreds of people trying to eat fish and chips before the somewhat aggressive seagulls got them first. Not everyone succeeded... I didn't fancy spending an hour sketching only for a blob of unmentionable to obscure the page, so I apologetically offer this effort from 1994.

If you want to eat fish and chips then Bridlington is your place. There is probably one fish and chip shop for every seagull. This is actually necessary as the amount of repeat trade they get must be incredible from people who have had (helpful hint on seagull fave method coming) a seagull fly down over their shoulder and land in the tray of fish and chips, snatching a beakful and taking off with the probable spilling of the rest of the tray for other seagulls to fight over.

We found an Italian restaurant called Leoz. Highly recommended! I had the chicken stroganoff and it was delicious.

On Saturday we decided to leave the car and take a bus to Scarborough. Between the two bus stations of Bridlington and Scarborough it is 17.1 miles. This should take around 30 minutes or less, but the bus does not exactly go straight there. The timetable suggested an hour and 25 minutes, but it took quite a bit longer than that in the event. We missed out on the front seats going, but managed to get them coming back. Some of the roads it turned aside onto to reach holiday camps were better than a ride on the roller coaster!

When we reached Scarborough the first building of note that I saw as we walked down from the bus station was this theatre. The original Stephen Joseph Theatre was Britain's first theatre in the round and was built on the first floor of the public library. It moved to a former boys' high school and subsequently in 1988 following the closure of the Odeon Cinema it moved here, opening in 1996.

We walked downhill past the theatre and along a shopping street, cutting off down a side road and finding ourselves near the Grand Hotel. There was a funicular railway going down the cliff to the beach but we opted to take the strenuous route - this being much less strenuous going down than coming up - where we did take the funicular!

So we set off down these steps, admiring the litter and the way that, at the bottom, the handrail stopped being black and instead was seagull-poo coloured to the encrusted state that the end of the railing had corroded altogether and had dropped off.

Scarborough has a South Bay and a North Bay. To someone who lives on the west coast like me, directions on the east coast always seem the wrong way round. Between the two bays is a huge but ruinous 12th century castle high on its hill which was once a hillfort from the Iron Age, a Roman signal point and the home of Norse invaders. A busy spot. In fact all of Scarborough seems a busy spot. There was hardly room on the beach for all the families, couples, and sunbathers to swing a bucket and spade. People lean on each side of a windbreak, at least half of them having underpaid for the privilege.

Amusement arcades line the other side of the road, facing the beach and harbour. They look like Blackpool of yesterday - modern fronts on the ground floor of old buildings. Yet sadly, the amusements are the modern boring collection of cranes and two pence piece pushers with the occasional video shoot-out or racing game. Where did all those pinballs go, which I so loved as a boy and which required skill of reflexes and knowledge of the laws of physics rather than mastery of a remembered past sequence?

The harbour holds a collection of boats from working fishing boats to day trip or half-hour trips round the bays. A marina serves those rich folks who like to boast they "have a boat at the seaside" but rarely can be bothered to move them.

It all makes for a very picturesque scene. In fact multitudes of scenes of water, old buildings, modern amusements, the inevitable fish and chips, and families relaxing.

There are so many architectural styles within a short stretch of road that it is hard to make sense of it. Odd little bits strike you as either pleasing or incongruous. Some manage both at the same time.

On the whole I quite liked it. There were plenty of benches to sit on without having to pay to hire a deck chair - though they were well over-subscribed and finding an empty one was usually the precursor to turning away again as some other foot-weary person or group dived upon the few inches of bare wooden slats.

In the harbour, a single formidable chunk of membrane and tentacles was pulsating and moving slowly round in circles, its progress impeded by the strength of the incoming tide matching its ability to swim against it. It may have been somewhat mollified by the steady and continuing chorus of exclamations and excited shouts of "Oh! Look!" that it caused.

We bought a drink at a cafe and sat on the harbour wall whilst we cooled off and rested our feet. Well... rested our feet anyway. There was no shade on the harbour wall and I was turning a splendid shade of bright red on this, our second day in the sun.

Just after the harbour is this delightful Coastguards' Hut. Do a search and you will find lots of photos of it but finding any textual references will take longer than I cared to spend. Very strange - you'd have thought someone would have thought it worthwhile to say something about it...

Crammed into the smallish space between the harbour and Coast Guard Station is a small funfair with a handful of rides mainly aimed at children.

We retraced our steps until we reached the flight of steps and then we stepped smartly on until we reached the funicular railway - known as the Central Tramway Company. The car was full, I wasn't able to get to the window to take a photo of the other car coming down towards us. There's something about funiculars that always appeals to me. The theory is that the weight of the descending car matches as near as possible the weight of the ascending car and therefore the power needed to operate is not as great as might be required for a single lift.

We had lunch and a quick look round the shops (not my idea...) and then caught the bus back to Bridlington. This time we managed to get the front seat upstairs and it was a fun ride back via all the side roads and holiday parks until we arrived back at Bridlington bus station.

We got back to find a collection of classic cars parked near the harbour, their owners sitting by them, listening to a karaoke set-up. Unfortunately as we got there we were "treated" to a man and woman singing Those Were The Days as a duet. It certainly wasn't how I remembered those days... We decided on an ice cream and the young girl serving laughed out loud when I asked for two cones and two pairs of ear plugs. We sat on the harbour wall for a while until a seagull, sated with a surfeit of fish and chips decided to splatter all over Miss Franny's hand... "Ooh, that's lucky!" I said, a second before the backhander...

Tuesday, 9 August 2016

Blackpool Air Show 2016

On Sunday we spent the day with David and Jeannie, going down to watch the Air Show on the Promenade and then going for a Chinese meal at Chu's Phoenix on Whitegate Drive, Blackpool - highly recommended!

We were a little selective in what we wanted to watch - the main attractions being the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (which ended up being cancelled due to strong winds) and The Red Arrows. So the show had already started when we left David and Jeannie's home to walk down to the Promenade. From near their house we kept seeing the Eurofighter Typhoon appear over the houses as we walked.

There were huge crowds as was to be expected, but we found a spot on the inland side of the tram track and the first plane we saw relatively up close was the BAC Strikemaster. They were an armed version of the Jet Provost.

The Calidus Autogyro came next. Highly manoeuvrable, it's probably fun to fly in but only if you are ok in flying in something that would drop like a stone if the engine cut out... I know commercial flights are not known for gliding long distances to safe landings without engines but at least they look as though they have a chance of gliding...!

I've never been in a helicopter either, but I'd quite like to experience that even if they seem to match the non-gliding qualities of the autogyro. This is a Gazelle helicopter. So called because they are "deer" to buy? There are very few helicopters that look pretty but this is definitely not one of them...

Team Raven aerobatic team. The aircraft are an RV-4 (the leading aircraft) with the rest being RV-8s. These are kit aircraft for home-builds although not all of these aircraft were built by their pilot-owners as some were bought second hand. Described as "Quick-Build" by the kit manufacturers, I suspect it takes probably more time and knowledge than your put-together wardrobe and there will be slightly more agonised angst if you find you have several screws and bits left over at the end...

The Twister aerobatic duo. The Silence Twister aircraft were originally designed as radio-controlled aerobatic aircraft but the design was modified and this aircraft is the result. With the beautiful elliptical wings reminiscent of the Spitfire they make for a stunning sight in close formation.

The Red Arrows made a superb entrance, bursting from behind the Tower and flying over the heads of the crowd who roared their approval. It was a much better sky this year than the last couple of years as there was no low cloud. The only bug-bear was that by the time of their appearance at 4:00pm, the sun had swung itself into the line of sight. You can't win. A morning display would be better for Blackpool as the sun would be over the land and behind or at worst to the side of the audience, but it would cause difficulties for anyone wishing to just come for the day to watch.

I took lots of photos, but will limit myself here to just a few!

Now that's what I call a close pass!

A brilliant display by the world's leading display team. At the end of the display, the Red Arrows make one final pass along the front to say goodbye and take applause.

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