Monday, November 24, 2014

New DVD: Jake Thackray and Songs

Thanks to The Jake Thackray Project for the information below.

The Jake Thackray Project is delighted to announce the release of the DVD Jake Thackray and Songs, by arrangement with BBC Music.

Yorkshire-born Jake Thackray (1938-2002) was a unique talent, a brilliant writer and performer
whose songs are full of humour, wit, irreverence and humanity. He became known to tens of millions through his regular performances in the 1960s and 1970s on programmes such as 'Braden's Week', 'The Beryl Reid Show' and 'That's Life'. His distinctive appearance, deadpan delivery, clever wordplay, occasional, artful use of vulgarity and surreal imagination delighted many viewers and outraged some.

Jake is most famous for his comedy songs, such as Bantam Cock (a fowl tale of farmyard lust), Sister Josephine (about a burglar disguised as a nun) and Lah-di-Dah (about marriage and putting up with the in-laws). However, there was much more to the man than clever, surreal comic storytelling: in truth, he was a chansonnier, a singer-poet, in the tradition of his hero, Georges Brassens. He had his own unique take on the world, standing squarely on the side of the underdog, and was capable of writing songs of wit and real depth. 'The Remembrance' is surely one of the greatest ever anti-war songs, whilst 'The Bull' is a song for our times - a hilarious, vulgar attack on authority, hierarchies, deference and celebrity culture.

In 1981 the BBC gave Jake his own six-part TV series, Jake Thackray and Songs. Jake was a brilliant, if nervous, live performer who built a superb rapport with audiences. The programmes capture Jake at the height of his powers and paint an intimate portrait of him, playing to audiences in the small venues where he felt most comfortable. They feature performances of thirty of his greatest songs, along with his inimitable between-songs chat and storytelling.

'Jake Thackray and Songs' marked a peak for Jake. Following this and the accompanying live album (his last and, sadly, not currently available), he continued to be a popular live performer, but his television appearances became less frequent. It is wonderful, therefore, that Jake's performances from this series at last have seen the light of day again, and we can watch this brilliant and truly original performer at work, taking chances on a stage, in front of the punters, with 'no frig', as Jake would put it.

This is the only DVD available of Jake performing. It also includes previously unreleased performances by three of the outstanding guest artists who appeared in the series: Ralph McTell, Alex Glasgow and Pete Scott.

Lembit Opik fails to beat the Liberal Democrats

Lembit Opik was in Rochester and Strood as "media adviser" to fringe candidate Charlotte Rose.

“Charlotte calls herself a ‘sexual therapist’," Lembit told BuzzFeed News, "because it’s less loaded but, yes, she is essentially a sex worker. But she does it in a way which is absolutely open and honest, and I’d say her profession and the way she does it is more honest than a lot of politicians,"

How did Lembit and his candidate get on? Over to Andy McSmith:
In 2010, the Lib Dems lost Montgomeryshire, a seat which they or the Liberals had held for 96 of the previous 110 years. Lembit Opik, the Lib Dem MP who pulled off this rare defeat, has been consistent ever since, in that everything he has tried has turned to disaster. 
His latest in an unbroken run was to act as “media adviser” to Charlotte Rose, the sex worker who contested the Rochester by-election. The target was for Ms Rose to beat the 56 votes she harvested in the Clacton by-election. With Opik’s help, she scored 43.
That's right. He couldn't even beat the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg declares war on Islington

On Call Clegg today, reports the Daily Telegraph, the Liberal Democrat leader waded in to the controversy over Emily Thornberry and her photograph:
“I just think it was a drippingly patronising thing to do by Emily Thornberry. 
“Maybe that’s what happens if you become MP for Islington. 
“I just thought it was a jaw-droppingly condescending way of treating someone who just proudly hanging some flags outside their home.”
A bit over the top, you may think. Nick, after all, chooses to live in the edgy urban jungle that is Putney.

His remarks certainly surprised Terry Stacy, who will be standing against Thornberry in her Islington South and Finsbury next year. He told the Huffington Post:
"I don't know what is behind that comment," he told The Huffington Post. "I have no idea where he was coming from. It may have been a slide-by comment, I am a bit surprised." 
Stacy, who was leader of Islington council between 2008 and 2010, insisted that, unlike Thornberry, he was in touch with the seat's poorer constituents. 
"You can't get more working class than me," he said. "I still live in social housing. I was probably the only council leader that did live in social housing in Islington over last 30-years."
It used to be Hampstead that was known for being the home of rich socialists, but at some point that doubtful honour was passed to Islington.

It is a silly stereotype - I have been guilty of relying upon it myself in at least one column - because much of Islington is not like that at all.

The Huffington Post reminds us that the borough has child poverty rates higher than anywhere else in the country.

I don't suppose Nick comments were based on deep political calculation, but they can be seen as a reflection of the fact that Islington South is a seat that we had real hopes of winning in 2010 and have no hope of winning in 2015.

If this bias against Islington, justified or not, has any long-term effect it is likely to be in scuppering Margaret Hodge's chances of being Labour's candidate for Mayor of London.

So there is something to be said for being unfair about Islington.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Palace of Westminster is falling down

This week's Newsnight report on the £3bn repair bill facing Westminster.

Bobbie Gentry: Ode to Billie Joe

Choosing another track in August, I wrote:
The genius of Blow-Up is that, though the mystery remains unsolved, you feel that if you watch the film just once more you will crack it. The Draughtsman's Contract has the same quality.
And Ode to Billie Joe has the same quality. Listen to it once more and you are sure you will understand what is going on.

Wikipedia claims it know the reason for the mystery:
The original recording, with no other musicians backing Gentry's guitar, had eleven verses lasting seven minutes, telling more of Billie Joe's story. The executives realized that this song was a better option for a single, so they cut the length by almost half and re-recorded it with a string orchestra. The shorter version left more of the story to the listener's imagination, and made the single more suitable for radio airplay.
However, I can find no authoritative source for this claim and the lost verses seem never to have emerged. All of which makes the song even more mysterious.

Bobbie Gentry was 23 when this song, which she wrote, reached no. 1 in America and no. 13 in the UK. This video shows her singing it for the BBC the following year.

I remember it from those days and would still like to solve the mystery.

Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen's Christmas attraction closes: Children leave in tears as Father Christmas is caught smoking and drinking

Thanks to the Independent, we have our Headline of the Day.

Six of the Best 475

"Using a language that is jargon-filled, complex and often baffling, those in charge of our economies have made some catastrophic decisions that only a few individuals really understood." The School of Life draws on John Lanchester's new book to help us 'speak money'.

Jim Armitage reveals how foreign governments make hundreds of millions of pounds a year running British public services.

Does Interstellar owe a debt to the brilliant 1961 British sci-fi movie The Day The Earth Caught Fire? Mark Kermode thinks it does.

The Bradshaw's Guide Michael Portillo brandishes on his travels is not the one that was famous in the 19th century. Turner Railway History explains.

"How do you save a game that demands hours when many people only want to give minutes, that only reveals its secrets slowly when everybody wants instant gratification?" David Hopps on the crisis in recreational cricket in England and Wales.

Caitlin Green discovers a sorcerer's stronghold in Nottinghamshire.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Liberal Democrats deliver Welsh control of rail services

ITV News quotes Eluned Parrott AM, the Welsh Liberal Democrat transport spokesperson, on today's decision to hand control of the Wales and borders rail franchise to the Welsh Government:
"Today's announcement is a landmark as it means decisions on Welsh train services will now be made in Wales. The fact that this power closer to the people of Wales shows just how strong the Liberal Democrat influence is in the Wales Office. 
"Until now, the Governments at either end of the M4 have been able to pass the buck between them over who is to blame when things go wrong. Now we will know absolutely where responsibility lies for making improvements to services and giving Wales the trains it deserves. 
"The Welsh Government have less than four years to decide what all of Wales needs now and in the future, run a franchise competition, select an operator and then ensure they have the trains they need to deliver decent services. This will be no mean feat, but with matters resolved and commuters knowing where to look for answers, our rail services will be properly accountable at last."

Thursday, November 20, 2014

How we made Keep on Running

The Guardian's How We Made series turned on the Spencer Davis Group 1965 number one Keep on Running earlier this week, interviewing Spencer Davis and Pete York.

Spencer Davis recalls:
The first radio stations to play it were the black ones in America, because we sounded black. When they saw pictures of four little white boys, they dropped us from their playlists, but by then the song had taken off.
Thanks to Catalina Island Museum for the photograph of the Spencer Davis Group, which I believe comes from Spencer Davis's own collection. He lives on the island, which lies off the coast of California,

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Matthew Sweet at the University of Leicester

I have just got back from hearing Matthew Sweet lecture at the University of Leicester.

His Centre for Victorian Studies Annual Lecture The Victorian World: Prison to Playground - complete with clips from Doctor Who and Penny Dreadful - looked at our changing view of the 19th century.

We are moving from the view exemplified in Viz's occasional strip Victorian Dad to something more nuanced and playful. But both views tell us more about ourselves than they do about the Victorians.

Afterwards I talked to Matthew about William Hartnell, forgotten child stars and Dirk Bogarde.

I also met Professor Keith Snell, who supervised my dissertation on Richard Jefferies many years ago, and (gulp) the granddaughter of one of the Conservative councillors I was on Harborough District with.

The most unexpected thing about the evening was that, during his lecture, Matthew mentioned one of this blog's other heroes: J.W. Logan MP.

As he wrote in the Guardian this summer:
In August 1895 the MP for Leicester launched a campaign against the "grossly demoralising and corrupting character" of the penny dreadful. By a sweet coincidence, his name was John Logan.
The coincidence is that the television series Penny Dreadful was created by another John Logan.

In fact my John Logan was MP for Harborough between 1891 and 1904 and between 1910 and 1916, but it must be him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Simon Hughes on the Tory and Labour arms race on prisons

Speaking to a CentreForum and Prison Reform Trust event today Simon Hughes said:
The sad reality is that the political consensus needed for real reform remains the victim of an arms race between the two largest parties on who can sound toughest on law and order. 
Michael Howard’s 1993 declaration that ‘prison works’, contrary to all the evidence in so many cases of course, became an ideology which was then enthusiastically embraced by Labour Home and Justice Secretaries including Jack Straw, David Blunkett and John Reid. 
That misguided consensus has been directly responsible for a near doubling of the prison population: from about 44,000 in the early 1990s to the 84,656 people in prison at the end of last week.
You can read the whole speech on Simon's own website.

Six of the Best 474

Gareth Epps celebrates victory over the pubcos: "Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined it possible to win this vote against a Government whip, although reports that half the 56 Liberal Democrat MPs voted for a Fair Deal are equally wonderful."

Yvette Cooper’s speech on immigration means that left and right have reached an illiberal consensus, says Nick Tyrone.

Tim Wigmore, on the New Statesman's The Staggers blog, asks what the point of police and crime commissioners is.

British politics is becoming more European, but that may not be a good thing, argues Ian Traynor in the Observer.

"Archers fans do not want daily death and destruction, we do not want drama at every turn and we certainly don’t want shocking out of our loyalty. We listen because the cast is wonderful, the storylines are believable and entertaining and we’re not left feeling slightly grubby for enjoying it." Biff Raven-Hill fears an institution may be in danger.

Paul Nettleton reviews a new biography of Stevie Nicks.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Norman Baker rocks bus and coach industry awards night

Route One, the bus and coach industry magazine, gave out its annual awards at a gala dinner in Birmingham on 5 November.

The entertainment was provided by the comedian Tim Vine and by the former transport Norman Baker and his band The Reform Club.

Hurry over to the Route One website to hear them sing their single Piccadilly Circus.

Thanks to a reader for the link.

Arc Of A Diver: The Steve Winwood Story

I know, I know.

But this BBC profile from 2004 has some nice interviews - with Muff Winwood and Van Morrison among others - that I have not heard before.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

An otter in the Welland at Market Harborough today

They're back! Or at least one of them is.

Thanks to @solarpilchard on Twitter.

Free seed kits from Grow Wild

Supported by the Big Lottery Fund and led by Kew Gardens, Grow Wild, says its website, is an exciting four-year programme that will bring people together to sow UK native wild flowers.

Grow Wild believes that together we can transform and bring colour to where we live: turning unloved spaces into wildlife-friendly wild flower havens.

It has thousands of free seed kits to share so people can transform their local spaces into beautiful, inspiring and colourful wild flower havens.

Thanks to a tweet from Ludlow's Andy Boddington.

The Wailers: Concrete Jungle

When Bob Marley first toured Britain in 1973 he did not get separate billing. The band did not become Bob Marley and the Wailers until the following year when Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer left because they did not want to tour.

This song, which turns up regularly on BBC compilation shows, is part of a set recorded for The Old Grey Whistle Test in the middle of that Catch a Fire tour. Maybe it shows Marley and his very best.

And there is a random clip of Stanley Unwin at the start too.

Now read about Bob Marley's father.

Friday, November 14, 2014

George Watson remembered

I suggested in yesterday's post on George Watson that his death may have gone unnoticed, but it seems that was not the case.

There were obituaries in Times Higher Education, on the St John's College, Cambridge, website and (though it is no longer easily available) The Times.

And the journalist and former England cricketer Ed Smith devoted an article to him in the New Statesman. This showed him as an academic as well as a politician:
During the upheavals within English studies in the 1970s and 1980s, he was among the first and most strident opponents of deconstruction. He also charted, with mischievous delight, the migration of ex-Marxists towards new creeds that helped them to avoid dealing with awkward wrong turns in their pasts. 
“There is one important respect in which politics is more honest than academe,” he wrote in 2005. “In politics, when you are shown to be wrong, you have to change your mind to survive. Professors are unfortunately under no such compulsion . . . Ex-Marxists took refuge in subjectivism: no perception is false, all values are merely personal. It turned out to be a cosy place for the disillusioned.”
Many thanks to the excellent Backwatersman for sending me the link to this piece.

Thanks also to my Liberator colleague Stewart Rayment for telling me that George Watson stood as the Liberal candidate for the Leicester constituency in the 1979 elections to the European parliament.

I voted in York in that election, so I missed the chance to vote for him.

Six of the Best 473

Birkdale Focus says that foisting mayors on Northern cities is a disgrace.

At the end of October the Liberal Democrats won a significant council by-election in York. On the ALDC site Steve Galloway (who was the city's leading Liberal when I was a student there) tells us how it was done.

Is your MP a potential defector? Dr Alun Wyburn-Powell and his handy six-point guide will help you judge.

As Easy As Riding a Bike on the debate over cycle helmets.

David Rudkin's 1974 television play Penda's Fen is "an unforgettable hybrid of horror story, rites-of‑passage spiritual quest and vision of an alternative England," says Sukhdev Sandhu on the Guardian website.

The Crimson Rambler has a short "film" of the 2014 cricket season.