...of the year

Three times during 2016 my breakfast was sliced through by shock news. Once in January when David Bowie died just two days after releasing `Blackstar`. Once in June when the result of the EU Referendum turned out to be to leave which I was certain it wouldn’t be. Once in November when the US Presidential Election was won by Donald Trump. Had these been the only shocks of the year then it wouldn’t have been quite so bad, terrible though these things were on different levels. However they are merely snapshots that show what a turbulent dog of a year it’s been. Personally, professionally, politically I can’t recall a time when things seemed so adrift and out of my control or my reach. It reminds me of being a teenager when everything is scary or strange and nothing seems to be possible. Adult life teaches you that of course it often is. Yet now all the ideas I had about the country and the world have turned on their head and I have no idea about anything. Oh and lots of icons from my past are dying while my friends and I sit and talk about our ageing parents and austerity rather than anything more fun. It’s grim enough to be a black farce only where’s the jokes? 


Top of the Pops 17 & 24 Dec 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 shown this year on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby.

17 December 1981
Simon Bates: "And what a night on Top of the Pops. It's my birthday, and to celebrate we've got a heck of a line-up for you. Kicking off with Duran Duran. Right over here."
Duran Duran: Go My Own Way [14]. M. C. Escher is the designer this week -although he's credited under the pseudonym Phil Lindley. Duran Duran appear to be performing in an impossible space made out of tinfoil. Bits of it go sideways, and then sideways a bit more. And then there's a bit that goes the other way but somehow connects to a bit round the front. Then, just as you think your brain has come to terms with non-Euclidean geometry there's a low angled camera shot that reveals another bit going over the top. It's all very clever but unfortunately the upshot is that the drummer is wedged in between two angled bits of set and struggles to be seen on camera.


George Michael

The creator of the soundtrack of our 1980s
Wherever you went in the Eighties George Michael was there. Not literally of course but in sound and often thanks to the video jukeboxes of the day in vision too. His Imperial period beginning with Wham! (which was really just him anyway) and carrying on through solo hits is a superb run of songs that defined a decade. Yet after this his career seemed to become less interesting than his off stage life and though he continued to have success it's not clear whether he enjoyed it. Time and again his `private` life became public in a way that suggested a compulsion to saboutage the talent he'd been given. 


Star Wars Rogue One

The Star Wars film for people who don’t like Star Wars films! 
Great though The Force Awakens was it conformed almost totally to the expectations of generations of fans while making plenty of new ones and we were more than happy with that. However you can only really pull off that trick once and there is now a sense that the entire franchise needs to move on and Rogue One is the recognition of that. While still residing recognisably within the established Star Wars Universe it is never content to remain within the templates previous movies have demanded and on many occasions bursts out into somewhere else. It’s not as radical as hard core fans probably think it is but it is definitely a film that people will be able to identify with even those unfamiliar or alienated from the saga. It is very much the Star Wars film for people who don’t like Star Wars films. 
Warning- Major spoilers beyond this point…


The Spectres of Winter

A reminder that my third novel for children, young adults and discerning older adults is available and being set at this time of year is an ideal thing to read at, erm, this time of year. And it's only a week till Christmas....


Top of the Pops 3 Dec 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 showing on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby. 
David Kid Jensen, "Good evening. Good to have your company again. Tonight's Top of the Pops is full of your favourite stars. We're going to begin in a party mood with Bad Manners now and Buona Sera."

Bad Manners: Buona Sera [34]. What's Buster Bloodvessel wearing this week. A bomber jacket and tracksuit bottoms. That's disappointingly mundane. To compensate the stage has been decorated with old chairs, bicycle wheels, and a suitcase. Also the drummer has been set up on the grand piano and there's a man pushing a stuffed badger in a pram. All in a day's work for Bad Manners. The suitcase and bicycle wheels look like trip hazards. I hope the stage has been subject to a risk assessment.


The Father Xmas Dilemma

Warning- don’t read this if you are under the age of 8ish 
It’s a Thing isn’t it? How to explain the complexities of Father Xmas’ gargantuan operation to the overly intelligent child who has suddenly worked out that there is more to the world than just what they experience on a daily basis. For decades parents have struggled with this scenario yet perhaps they need to be more inventive. When you consider it the entire Father Xmas shenenigans makes perfect sense if you modernise it a bit. You can square all those unsquared circles in one glittery swoop. All those niggly questions can be answered with just a little inventiveness. 
"Ho! Ho! Hum..."


Top of the Pops 26 Nov 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 showing on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby. 

Mike Read, "Good evening. Welcome to another thrilling, stunning... action packed Top of the Pops and we're going to kick off tonight with The Jets and Yes Tonight Josephine."
The Jets: Yes Tonight Josephine [25]. The 1981 Rockabilly revival cannot be stopped. It has the momentum of lava flow. Unfortunately for The Jets this performance is better known for featuring a pre-Culture Club Boy George bogling away to the rhythm of the Double Bass. Take note of Boy George's stagecraft. He's barely visible in the opening wide shot of the stage (at the far right of shot, he's effectively obscured by the glare of a spotlight on smoke), but he's carefully positioned to be front and centre of the screen when the camera cuts to a side shot of the audience. Although this does mean leaning forwards to avoid being blocked by another audience member. A girl who's dancing with her back to camera. (The poor dear doesn't have the faintest idea of how to be in the Top of the Pops audience. Where is she today? Nowhere). Everything else just seems to be a matter of chutzpah. Gradually he edges forwards- without ever being seen to do something as gauche as stepping into shot- and suddenly he's in the background of every shot of the lead singer; trespassing onto the forbidden dancing area reserved for the professionals of Zoo. Meanwhile at the front of the stage the lead singer of The Jets does something complicated involving playing the Double Bass while laying flat on the floor. Nobody cares. When the song is over Boy George grins, waves his hands in the air, and then turns to move back into the audience before the Floor Manager (Annie Ogden) can shout at him. And that boys and girls is how you get to be a Pop Star.


Kate Bush Before The Dawn album

More than two years after the event Kate Bush’s acclaimed Before the Dawn show is released in full though only in audio formats.  She’s said in interviews that she feels this is the best way to represent it however the fact that the production was clearly intended to be a rich visual experience and the cd even comes with a booklet of photos showing such a show only underlines how the best way to preserve the performance would surely be visually. 


Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

Is the new JK Rowling penned film series as wizard as Harry?

You can never quite reproduce the thrill of something brand new and I recall some 15 years (!) ago emerging from a cinema in London absolutely bowled over by the visualisation of the first of Harry Potter’s adventures. Time and repetition takes its toll and the simple delights of that first film were replaced by harder times for Harry and friends and familiarity for us. Now JK Rowling has started a fresh wizarding franchise (what other word can there be?) in the form of 1920s wizard Newt Scamanger and his capacious case of creatures. Can it once again excite us? Is this just a way of extending the lucrative fiction? Well we’re in different territory and this is a promising if rather uneven start.
If you don’t want to know the plot details then use an obliviator after reading on…


Top of the Pops 19 Nov 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 showing on BBC4. Being watched by Chris Arnsby.
Steve Wright, "Hello. Good evening. Welcome to another Top of the Pops. I think it's gonna be a mad one tonight. We're gonna start off with Modern Romance.  Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey!"

Modern Romance: Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey [17]. Once again the Top of the Pops studio looks amazing. Ron Bristow is on Lighting and maybe he's illuminating the studio differently because the colours look more vibrant and vivid (although lurid would be a better description for the vile luminous purple shirt the lead singer of Modern Romance is wearing). It's not just the lighting. It's as if someone has tweaked and boosted the colour signal; presumably Vision Mixer Hilary West. The effect reminds me of how I used to play around with the television's colour and brightness because I liked the way it made the picture look. Oh, and someone in the studio (a luckless member of Zoo probably) is dressed in a Moose costume.


The cuts cont...

Cuts and austerity are so common in the UK now we rarely see them make big headlines. Some people –particularly those living in the South- even appear to think the cuts are over. This week our council started a public consultation about the next round of cuts in which they have to save £90m. Part of this involves a Budget Simulator application on their website in which members of the public can attempt to balance the budget by making cuts across all of the council’s services. This exercise definitely brings home the stark choices that remain after all the so called `fat` has been cut. The fact is that our city’s council tax only accounts for 11% of the council’s budget because most properties are in lower council tax bands. 72% of the council’s budget comes from central government and 58% of that has been cut over the past six years. These new cuts are on top of that. So I had a go at the simulator to see exactly what cuts would be needed to balance the books.


Ten years ago in New York City

Ten years ago today in November 2006  a group of us went to New York which I'd seen so many times on tv and film yet ever since it's looked different. I suppose it was sort of in between time to go there, pre Obama but five years beyond 9/11. They were still building the memorial then. Having studied weather forecasts warning of bitter American November weather my case was full of woolies and big coats few of which I actually needed as it turned out to be unseasonably mild.



I don’t know much about the details of US politics but then neither does Donald Trump. The idea that such a character is now to be the next President may have filled some people with horror but we should not be too surprised. It’s nothing to do with 2016 being some sort of hexed year more to do with a worldwide distrust of professional politicians and what a certain tranche of people see as failed ideas. The white fifty plus male seems to have seen Trump as the last great hope to enable them to reclaim their pre-eminence, a position of strength they enjoyed in the States until the voices of minorities became louder and those minorities became larger. In every respect dinosaurs appear to have reclaimed the landscape like some Jurassic Park.


Top of the Pops 5 Nov 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby. 
Peter Powell, "Hello! Welcome to Top of the Pops! And as always we're changing things round just a little bit and we've got something brand new for you tonight! Stay with us, enjoy the show, and for starters Modern Romance! Ay Ay Moosey!"

Modern Romance: Ay Ay Ay Ay Moosey [45]. The opening crane shot of the Top of the Pops studio looks amazing. The camera is fitted with some variant of a star filter and the studio lights appear to be shooting out rays. There's a big enthusiastic crowd waving flags and streamers. And, rather more worrying from a health and safety perspective, people juggling with fire when there's a lot of hairspray and artificial fabric in the studio. Astonishingly at no point during this song does anyone attempt to form an impromptu conga line.


Doctor Strange

Marvel’s mystical medic!
The latest instalment in Marvel’s mighty Universe revolves around an unlikely character. Stephen Strange is a skilled surgeon and doesn’t he just like everyone to know it. Till one day when distracted by his phone he is involved in a terrible car crash which inflicts the most damage on his hands if not his sanity. Refusing to believe his career is over his search for an unlikely solution to his problem leads him to Nepal where he seeks what he thinks will be the cure but turns out to be a mystical cult whose calm skills seem ill matched to his temperamental sarcasm. It does seem a tad familiar albeit buoyed by Benedict Cumberbatch’s identifiably frustrated persona and some neatly planted gags that stop the whole thing being taken too seriously. Oh and then there’s some folding buildings….


10 Television Set Things

It is difficult to imagine a time when there wasn’t television and this Wednesday 2 November marks the 80th anniversary of the start of broadcast television. Television sets however have origins dating back to the 19th century and a tangled history of development. They’ve changed a lot over the years from chunky pieces of furniture to sleek screens and there have been some things about them that certain generations might never quite forget!
The remote!
We love our remotes (though some endlessly channel hopping people like them too much!) but consider just how people fared before they were invented. You actually had to get up out of your chair, cross the room and push a chunky button to change channel. This is why many people used to say they “only watched BBC” because they didn’t want to get up out of the seat. In the 70s people would create ingenious homemade devices to save them the mighty effort of rising from their beige sofas. Any long pole- a snooker cue perhaps or a brush handle - could be used to prod the buttons from a distance. This was in many ways the first remote. The actual first remote was attached to the set by a wire which could prove risky for Tiddles the cat if he didn’t see it or even short sighted Gran who’d be toppling over as she made for the sherry without looking where she was going.


The Great British Bake Off Final 2016

The Great British Bake Off final proved the value of the communal television experience now enhanced by social media. For all talk of on demand tv there is something to be said for everyone watching something unfold at the same time even more so if they can comment live to everyone else about it. Even this year’s twelve bakers watched it together despite knowing the result. Over all more than 14 million tuned in though anyone looking for clues about the show’s impending change of channel would have been unlucky as the final was filmed in June before anyone knew it would be the last BBC Bake Off. As for the result, unlike previous years, it was never really in doubt that steely Candice would take the crown though her reaction to the win was quite unexpected. 


My latest novel is now available!

I’m posting this though the book is not really aimed at adults (except perhaps those in the film industry, ha!) The Spectres of Winter is the third book in the Heart of the World series and can be bought from Amazon in either print or kindle ebook format. Below is a link to the pages.


Top of the Pops 29 Oct 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby.

Simon Bates, "Thursday night on BBC1. Welcome to Top of the Pops and also welcome to Clare, a movie star and a pop star with Altered Images."
Altered Images: Happy Birthday [2]. Simon Bates describes Clare Grogan as a pop stair. He also names the band Altaired Images which makes them sound like they escaped from Forbidden Planet. You'd have to be a really small-minded pedant to pick up on that kind of minor pronunciation flub. Legs & Co stand at the front of the stage and sway along, which is a surprise given that last time I described their dance to The Tweets as a swan song. Apparently I was wrong. Legs & Co are still swinging. But their days are numbered! Flick Colby is somewhere in the depths of the Acton Television Rehearsal Rooms auditioning their replacements.
Altered Images on the pop stair


The biggest threat right now is.....

All around us. I’m not talking about some apocalyptic meltdown or the often suggested idea of computers taking over and somehow getting rid of us. It is something more subtle than those scenarios, a slowly cooking stew that is gradually making our lives as they are now redundant.  Some will view this as a good thing, others as not but it is certainly a Thing that cannot be denied. Some will cite global warming, potential pandemics or war as more serious threats but these are all things we can potentially do something about. When it comes to technological development the plug will never be pulled. What we have to learn is how to live with it.


Top of the Pops 15 Oct 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby.

David Kid Jensen: "Hi there! After my being away for over a year I must say it is good to be back... But right now there's thunder in them there mountains." (John- Now Chris you're not going to mention the edit are you because....oh you are going to mention it. We'll be in trouble for this.)
Gary Glitter: And Then She Kissed Me [44]. Kid Jensen is now credited as David Kid Jensen, that time away in Atlanta working for CNN has matured him. If the introduction seems a little abrupt it's because there's something missing from this BBC4 repeat; Gary Glitter singing a song which limped to number 39. For posterity David Kid Jensen's introduction runs as follows: "Hi there! After my being away for over a year I must say it is good to be back and it's a big welcome back for Gary Glitter." (John- Before anyone moans consider the more alarming fact that GG's film is available on dvd shortly and advertised on Amazon)
Toyah: Thunder In The Mountains [5]. Toyah's not available for Top of the Pops this week. Here's a chance to see the video instead. Watch as Toyah escapes from a post-apocalyptic multi-story car park in a two wheeled horse-drawn chariot made from a cut down car. The shots of Toyah driving this thing around seem surprisingly dangerous. The chariot looks difficult to stop, and there's precious little head room for Toyah; especially with the puffed up orange fright wig look she's got going on. The rest of the video is a little more sedate although the plot is obscure. Toyah drives around on the runway of an abandoned airfield past a couple of nice looking forced perspective miniatures. Occasionally she is psychically attacked by the cruel overseer of the car park before there's some business with a gate. The video ends with her gathering troops by sending messages attached to arrows. The message being a picture of, er, an arrow. Best bit the reverse shot of the chariot, recorded as night falls, which reveals that her dangerous looking vehicle has fully working rear lights. Well, no one wants to be pulled over by the post-apocalyptic Police.
Toyah, on her way to Aldi yesterday.


My New Novel!

Although it's intended readership is young adults and children I thought I'd share the cover of my latest novel The Spectres of Winter. It's the third book in the Heart of the World series.
I'm really pleased with this cover whic has quite an impact and it was designed by Glendon Haddix who also did the covers for the previous book Living Things and the Doctor Who fan article compilation Saturday Night Monsters. I'll post a bit more on here about the story soon as I've been working alot on it this year so if there've been gaps in this blog, the book is probably why! 


Top of the Pops 1 Oct 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby.

Mike Read: "Good evening. Welcome to Top of the Pops. And here's a chance for you to do something you've been wanting to do all week... dance to the Birdie Song with The Tweets."
The Tweets: Birdie Song (Birdie Dance) [7]. The lead singer - that's almost certainly not the right word- of The Tweets, the yellow one, has messed up his costume. At some point in rehearsal to avoid dying of heatstroke he pulled out the bib that goes down the front of the suit and he's left it hanging out. Shame on Jackie Southern, Costumes, and Floor Manager Tony Redstone for not picking up on this costume disaster. It's possible the pair did notice but had been driven mad by this song and didn't want to be the cause of a retake.
Godley &  Creme: Under Your Thumb [6]. Another chance to marvel at the fraught, twitchy performance by Godley -or is it Creme- who emotes like a first year drama student. If the strobe light and glass screen stage decoration seem familiar it's because they were also used on the last performance of this song; on the 17/09/1981 edition. John Coles is credited as Designer on both shows so presumably he just liked the way the set looked, but it's unusual to see such specific recycling between two different editions of Top of the Pops.


The Girl with all the Gifts

Considering just how many zombie stories have been told and the limitations of the subject you wouldn’t think there was anything new that could be done. Though not strictly speaking a zombie film, The Girl with all the Gifts uses the choreography of the genre but in an intelligent new way. In fact the z-word is not even mentioned. The result is a frequently thrilling yet thought provoking British film that is well worth seeing provided you don’t mind some gore and blood of course!


The Inconvenient Truth about Jeremy Corbyn

Nobody was too surprised to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected as Labour Party leader except perhaps those who had vehemently opposed him. Their vigour in doing so failed to achieve anything except both reinforce and strengthen Corbyn’s hold on the post which he seems likely to keep until the next election at least. His opponents’ strategy appeared to be to treat both the incumbent and the Momentum movement as some kind of invading enemy. “They” have infiltrated our party, it was declared and made it unelectable. The inconvenient truth that they failed to grasp- or perhaps did not even recognise- is that Corbyn is the most traditional Labour leader in over thirty years. His and Momentum’s ideals are much, much closer to Labour than anything Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband had to offer. If you flip it over it is Blair and co who were the invaders, changing Labour beyond recognition, and now the party has taken back its purpose and re-linked with its origins.


Top of the Pops 24 Sept 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4 and being watched by Chris Arnsby (and presumably others)

Simon Bates: "Just 35 minutes away from Britain's number one. Welcome to Top of the Pops with a good loud start from Slade. Right over here."

Slade: Lock Up Your Daughters [45]. I was going to speculate on how many years it has been since Slade were on Top of the Pops but its actually only been seven months. They were last on in February singing We'll Bring The House Down. Shortly before the start of the Joe Dolce Music Theatre's reign of terror. Noddy Holder is on fine Tom Baker style eye-bulging form and this is a song which deserved to do better than the number 29 it reached. Vision Mixer Carol Abbott and the camera crew (Top of the Pops has started crediting the Senior Cameraman, this week it's Geoff Feld) are on fine form, and capture some nice images; the best being a shot of the drummer through the guitarist's legs (the one that's not Noddy Holder or Dave Hill... I'm going out on a limb and guessing Dave Lea).
Slade: Lock Up Your Daughters. Clearly an instruction that was not followed by many.


Things you don't see in pubs any more

Pies on plastic shelves

Pub food never used to be associated with good food and generally people did not even entertain the idea of having a meal at the pub. However there was food- of a kind- if you were peckish. Nobody expected a menu because essentially there was one option and that was a pie. These were those pies with very thick pastry which of course makes them look voluminous but doesn’t guarantee the amount of meat inside. The filling itself would be mincemeat and assorted hard to chew bits. People never really dwelt on what they were. These pies could be warmed up in a microwave oven but the real issue was- just how long had they been there? Traditionally they sat on one of three shelves in a plastic unit somewhere on the bar. This wasn’t refrigerated so depending on the temperature you might not even need to have your pie warmed up! You’d go in one week after another and this selection of pies would be sat there and you never knew whether they were the same ones from last week. Or indeed last month. You could opt for a cold pork pie of similar dimensions; you’ll notice the absence of the word `enjoy` there. Nowadays pubs offer properly cooked food of endless variety but perhaps it would be nice if they could have a pie on a shelf display. The pies would of course be plastic – come to think of it, weren’t they always? 



The Great British Bake Off will never be the same again. 
On the face of it a programme moving from one channel to another should not make much of a stir in this day and age. After all we are continuously told that people don’t bother with scheduled TV much now and prefer to watch on demand  However the news that The Great British Bake Off will be moving to Channel 4 next year has provoked quite a furore (plus some witty headlines). More than anything It seems to symbolise the declining power of the BBC which is snared in a trap whereby success is discouraged. Which rather seems at odds with the idea that it is a public service broadcaster therefore should offer what a lot of people (ie licence fee payers) actually want to see. People have (rightly) made a fuss about this yet just a few months ago wasn’t there a call for the Corporation to offload its greatest successes and not try to compete with commercial channels? The BBC cannot do both so which is it to be? Or is this just another cut in a death by a thousand cuts?  


Top of the Pops 17 Sept 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby.

Steve Wright: "Good evening it's another Top of the Pops. Yes it is. We've got a great show for you tonight, and we're going to kick off with this lot over here. It's Gidea Park and Seasons of Gold."

Gidea Park: Seasons of Gold [35]. Who knew that Gidea Park (the biggest bunch of blow-dried nitwits you've ever seen, and this is 1981 you can't throw a stone without hitting a bunch of blow-dried idiots) would make me nostalgic for The Dooleys. Come back Jim, John, Frank, Kathy, Anne, Helen, Alan, and Bob. All is forgiven. This time Gidea Park are "performing" a terrible Four Seasons medley. Yet another one. In a year that has seen  medleys clog the charts. Why were people buying them? Did they just enjoy the tremendous sense of value they offered? Why buy ten records when you could buy one that Frankensteinised ten together? I've decided that one of my reasons for hating Gidea Park is because they feel the need to introduce each record. Beach Boys Gold started, "we'll remember always the golden Beach Boys sound." Now Seasons of Gold starts, "the memories there to unfold, so many reasons to recapture that musical gold, remember the Four Seasons." Did Gidea Park really think their audience was so stupid they needed to be reminded which group's songs they were about to hear, and of the concept of medleys?  Although to be fair, these people would have just brought a Gidea Park record so they are idiots.


What on earth is the Internet of Things?

And will it be a good thing?
There’s always another IT development lurking around the corner and there’s been talk recently of “the Internet of Things” being the next step in our increasingly high tech world. It’s even been called `The Fourth Industrial Revolution`. So what on earth is it? Well it’s described as “a proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.” Which means that you would potentially be able to have your kettle start boiling water while you’re still walking up the road to your home or you could press a few buttons to start your washing machine even if you were hundreds of miles away. Of course you would still have to have put the water in the kettle or the washing in the machine for this to work! IOT is much more than just that though..


Top of the Pops 3 Sept 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby.

Peter Powell: "Hi folks! Welcome to the party! There is a Caribbean atmosphere and nine live acts for you to enjoy.! This is Top of the Pops and everybody salsa with Modern Romance!"
Modern Romance: Everybody Salsa [16]. The studio is insane this week. It's as if Michael Hurll looked at the Japanese/Latin themed Conga line that ended last week's show and challenged himself to go further. Legs & Co are dressed as playing cards. Two people are running around dressed as jesters -or could they be Jokers for the card set? Streamers are being waved. And there is a baffling selection of hats; fez; shiny party hats; crowns; and some bloke at the back wearing a white chef's hat.
John Foxx: Europe (After The Rain) [40]. Europe After The Rain features a piano so Designer John Coles has planned the stage with a right classy look; big white grand piano, some greenery, and classical busts. Shepherds Bush as Athens reborn. Alas, the grand piano is too massive to fit on the stage and has to be left at the awkwardly on the floor at the front where the audience keep leaning on it like philistines. Also, where's John Foxx's drummer gone? (John- Maybe he’s inside the piano?)Unless that statue is playing them?
"Help! I'm in the piano! Anybody?!"


The end of the high street?

British Home Stores closes for good this week leaving another gap in the increasingly slim choice of large UK stores. Not a shop I personally used but one which employed thousands of people and whose large city centre footprint will be difficult to fill. I suppose some of the space will soon be occupied by Costa Nero Republic or student flats but it is another example of a big name being downed by the triple whammy of high rates, Primark and online shopping. BHS was of course a struggling company but more intriguing- and perhaps more prescient- is the decision by Burtons and Dorothy Perkins to abandon many of their larger stores for a mainly online presence. Is this a glimpse of our retail future and if so, what will they do with all those empty shop units? Not that cities are stopping building them. No development is complete these days without a row of shop units in it even though the range of shops is falling year on year. How many coffee shops is too many? 



A few weeks ago I was intrigued by a hefty old queue snaking from the entrance to our city centre Waterstones all the way down the side of the shop and into the next street where it curved around the front of several other shops. In fact there were so many people in this queue that it had actually been split into two with the second part starting in the middle of the pedestrianised walkway a short distance away. All of the queuees were young and mostly female so I assumed that the latest pop sensations were in town. As I wandered to the head of the queue to find out what megastar was in attendance I spotted the book that was the cause of this lunchtime commotion. Turned out it was the new title from vlogger Tanya Burr entitled `Tanya Bakes` in which she does just that. So a book about baking written by a vlogger attracted a crowd this big? Not even Dame Mary Berry would surely command such an army of admirers? Not for the first time it alerted me to the way both media and celebrity have changed. Increasingly where once pop, tv and sports stars were the pin ups of the young, nowadays it is just as likely to be an online star. However these online stars are now migrating like birds seeking warmer climes into traditional media. 


Sing Street

The Eighties and it's music faithfully recreated in John Carney's delightful latest film.
It’s good to know that there are still smaller more personal films that are not depressing or cheap horror still being made and Sing Street, just released to buy, is a little gem. Telling that age old but still engaging coming of age story it is also suffused with the 1980s in which it is set. It’s odd to consider that such an era is now `historical drama` because I remember it well! As it seems does director/ writer John Carney (who also brought us Once) because he has assembled a movie that mirrors the moves of many an Eighties teen film yet relocated the narrative to a Dublin that is a long way removed from the middle class settings of Pretty in Pink and company. It works a treat and as a bonus you also get a clutch of sings cheekily inspired by period hits yet still sounding fresh.


Top of the Pops 27 August 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby

Richard Skinner: [After a slightly awkward pause in which Richard Skinner pulls a face while waiting for his cue] "Yes it's the programme that brings you the cream of the crop of British pop and we're going to start off with a bit of Startrax Club Disco. Just like this."

Startrax: Startrax Club Disco [18]. Who will rid me of these terrible song medleys? This is the crap Bee Gees one; for those of you who might be getting Startrax Club Disco mixed up with the crap Abba one; or the crap Beach Boys one; or the crap sixties one; or the crap one by Enigma called I Love Music (then why do that to it?) which hasn't appeared in the BBC4 run because it keeps falling on shows presented by the forbidden DJs. Pop Quiz: who's the least charismatic member of Startrax? Answer: the curly haired bass player. Observe how he half heartedly shuffles on the spot, and absent mindedly plunks at his guitar strings, and mumbles as if he's not sure how to mime a falsetto. The red shirted singer is clearly the best. Although he has terrible bags under his eyes. My diagnosis, lack of sleep due to remorse for his crimes against music.


Midnight Special

There is something holding Midnight Special back from fully realising its potential. An enigmatic sci-fi slowburn with some superbly visual moments and a streak of realism ingrained in even the most unexpected development Jeff Nichols' film draws particularly from two classic sci-fi movies. Yet lacking the warmth of ET or the sheer sense of wonder that Close Encounters of the Third Kind evokes it just doesn’t reach the same level. Part of that may be because of the times; would we now be so entranced by a film that is not about alien invaders or battles but simply a survival story? Perhaps to compensate for modern day cynicism the presentation is mostly grim and hard edged occasionally interrupted by flashes of special effects. The plot is straightforward in an age when we perhaps expect surprises and spoilers. To say that there are really none makes the film sound dull, which is isn’t, but by the time of the big visual reveal the viewer may well have settled too far into the everyday to accept such a sight.


Suicide Squad

Anarchic gang add much needed colour to the DC movie Universe.

Now we are over-run with superhero movies, the key to their artistic worth has to lie in what new spin each can add to the genre. Some (especially the Captain America trio) have found their own way of threading wider concerns into the fantastical, others (Deadpool, Guardians of the Galaxy) succeed by way of humour. You’ll notice all of those are Marvel films and their carefully constructed run of linked films has been something of a long term triumph from which we are now reaping satisfying rewards. DC on the other hand have managed to succeed more on TV but their big screen adventures have been patchy culminating in the dour Batman vs Superman which was so deadpan it was almost funny but mostly uninspiring. Suicide Squad promises a lot more; the online hype over the new Joker has been percolating for over a year and the word was that this would be a genre film with its own USP. It’s not quite as out there as we might have believed (and the aforementioned Joker is rather a disappointment) but it does show a vitality and reach that makes you think that just maybe this other Universe would be worth sticking with. (SPOILERS TO FOLLOW IN THIS REVIEW!)


Absolute Beginners

Julien Temple’s notorious film is thirty years old!

It’s amazing to think three decades have passed since Absolute Beginners was first released yet I’d never seen it till now. This despite the soaring title song being one of my favourite David Bowie singles. My knowledge of the film has been wholly rooted in the promo video for that Bowie single to the point where I was half expecting the man himself to be wandering around London at night as proceedings open. More than that though the way the video is edited suggested a look that, obviously, is different when it comes to watching the film itself. Then there’s the bad reputation Julian Temple’s movie had had over those decades being panned and flopping having cost over £8m to make and earning only £1.8m. It’s reputation sank so low that it’s been unavailable to buy for years.  Now though it is back in a 30th anniversary edition so time for me to reconcile those fleeting clips slotted into Bowie’s promo with the full film itself. Will I absolutely love it or will I lay down the hard lines?  


Top of the Pops 13 August 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby

Simon Bates: "Welcome to the summer and the Top of the Pops on a Thursday, with Duran Duran and Girls On Film at number six, over there."
Duran Duran: Girls On Film [6]. Wait a minute! Duran Duran started Top of the Pops with this song last time. Oh, BBC4 has skipped a week because of J*mmy S*v*l*. It's unfortunate that two back to back shows should have such similar line ups (*spoiler 5 songs out of the 10 this week also featured on the last BBC4 edition*). Still, it could be worse the skipped show featured Gidea Park with their "song" Beach Boy Gold followed by Tight Fit "performing" Back To The 60s. Two diabolical song medleys one after the other; the survivors must have envied the dead. Last "week" (note to self, don't do "that" again) I rightly criticised Duran Duran for being boring and competent. Luckily this week Simon Le Bon is wearing a hideous stripped shirt and headband combination, and he's skipping round the stage like a tiny child. Oh, and check out the Duran Duran caption at the end of the performance. It's massive. They've taken a regular caption and blown it up to occupy the whole screen. I don't think we've seen that before.


Strange Liverpool graffiti

Over the last couple of years, across Liverpool, unusual graffiti styled lettering has appeared in odd places. It took a while for people to really notice and it’s only since last autumn when there seemed to be more and more of it that it registered widely. The question was- what does it mean? Surely this was some subversive political or social campaign? Under the heading `Sine Missione` there are well known quotes by culturally historic figures such as Martin Luther King, Bob Marley and others.  These appear in a stencil style writing reminiscent of certain types of street art but are uniform in colour. They sit on walls or on the side of those metal cable holders or even on the outside of pubs, exactly where you might expect to find graffiti.  However is it graffiti at all?


Top of the Pops 30 July 1981

Top of the Pops 1981 currently on BBC4. Watched by Chris Arnsby

Steve Wright: "Hello, good evening, welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops. Among the stars tonight, Kim Wilde, Spandau Ballet, Stevie Wonder, and this lot, Duran Duran."
Duran Duran: Girls On Film [23]. It's the day after the big wedding of Charles and Diana and the schedules have quickly got back to normal. At 7.25pm Top of the Pops slots in between Bellamy's Backyard Safari and Citizen Smith giving the discerning viewer a chance to avoid BBC2 and the Six Fifty-five Special. "Songwriters B. A. Robertson and Chris de Burgh perform and discuss the triumphs and failures of the music business." Pass. On the popular channel Duran Duran do great but it's one of those boring competent performances we've been seeing so much of recently; so there's not much to say.
Kim Wilde: Water On Glass [35]. Pity the poor cameraman whose job is to point his viewfinder at some water running down a sheet of glass. All his colleagues get to ogle gorgous-pouting-Kim-Wilde who is lit appropriately in the colour of envy; lurid green. Sexier than Kim Wilde is a new switch on the mixing desk. Vision Mixer Hilary West uses it to produce a very alluring wipe between shots that breaks the picture up into tiles; phwoar check out the alpha channels on that!
Kim Wilde `Water on Glass`: Is that the tap she's got there?