Monday, June 29, 2009

Blue Is The Colour (Of Money)

For almost every football fan on the planet, the 2008 Champions League Final was a nightmare in prospect, featuring Manchester United and Chelsea. Franchise Utd vs Chelski – if only both teams could lose. In reality, there was much to cheer us up with both Ronaldo and England’s Brave John Terry missing their penalties, but the icing on the cake arrived during the presentation ceremony, when Chelsea were lead up to receive their runners-up medals by Peter Kenyon, their Chief Executive, demonstrating a total lack of class to the watching world.

Clearly, Chelsea fans had not suffered enough, as their humiliation was completed by the bizarre sight of Kenyon accepting a medal from Michel Platini and wearing it round his neck without a hint of embarrassment. What made this even more shameful was United’s Bobby Charlton, England’s all-time leading goal-scorer, declining his medal in the knowledge that he had not played a part in the match. What a contrast between Charlton’s calm, dignified stance and the podgy, grinning face of Chelsea’s corporate machine.

"Let me show you how to take a pen, JT"

Of course, this is not the first time that the Uncle Fester look-alike has stepped out of the back-office to get involved in football matters, nor is it the first time he has embarrassed a club that needs no help in the unpopularity stakes. Boasting of his prowess in the transfer market, Kenyon referred us to the astute signing of Deco:

Remember, we got Deco for £8 million and that looks to be the buy of the season.

Deco went on to start 17 games for Chelsea, scoring just one more goal after that ludicrous statement. Kenyon managed to outdo even that when he refused to accept that Andriy Shevchenko was a failure, despite the £30 million striker only scoring nine goals in two seasons. He tried to defend this purchase with a weird economics lecture that achieved the tricky feat of sounding simultaneously both patronising and wrong:

I’m not giving a lesson on accountancy, but you do write money off over the term of a contract. What we pay is an investment. During that period you have a player who is doing a job and in this industry you buy and sell players.

Er, right. But shouldn’t you “buy and sell players” who “do the job” rather better, so that your “investment” does not completely lose its value “over the term of the contract” ? No doubt Kenyon would classify the £28 million signing of Juan Sebastian Veron as good business, because he only had to write-off £13m in the two years the Argentine struggled to establish himself at Manchester United.

As well as being responsible for numerous over-priced transfers for Chelsea and United, Kenyon also possesses a great ability for cocking-up major transfers that appear in the bag. He was so confident that Chelsea had secured Robinho, that it was not enough to brag to the media at any opportunity, not enough to parade the player and his agent at a well-known paparazzi haunt in Madrid, but the club’s official website actually gave fans the opportunity to pre-order Chelsea shirts with Robinho’s name on the back.

Kenyon has form here, having been responsible for letting Ronaldinho slip through United’s fingers and end up at Barcelona. Apparently, he learnt that Barcelona were offering less than United, so he decided to act the smartarse and dropped the price previously agreed with PSG by £1 million. A furious PSG President then sold Ronaldinho to Barcelona for less than United had offered on a point of principle, something that Kenyon is unlikely to recognise.

"You don't know what you're doing"

So why did these transfers fail ? In a world full of double-talking agents, somehow Kenyon has managed to develop a unique reputation for being incompetent, deceitful, disloyal and arrogant. For a man whose career has been all about building the brand, it is strange that he does not seem to understand that his smug visage and slimy conduct are not conducive to promoting a trustworthy image.

When Kenyon was Chief Executive of Manchester United, he made great play of his loyalty to the club and his “dyed-in-the-wool” support for the Reds, and then defected to Chelsea as soon as a significant pay rise was dangled under his nose. The infamous tapping-up of “Cashley” Cole was explained away by Kenyon as Jose Mourinho and him just happening to walk into a restaurant for a meeting with agent Pini Zahavi and just happening to see Cole sitting there. Right.

Chelsea’s managers should get used to a stabbing sensation between their shoulder blades, especially when Kenyon gives them the dreaded vote of confidence. He twisted the knife firmly in the popular Claudio Ranieri’s back while courting Sven Goran Eriksson. He expressed “absolute confidence” in Avram Grant two months before he was sacked. Most recently, Kenyon took every possible opportunity to publicly back Luiz Felipe Scolari:

It can’t be a coincidence that the two most successful teams in England have some continuity in their staff. You don’t want to sack a manager every year. First and foremost, you want some continuity.

This came two months before “Big Phil” was handed his P45, becoming the third manager sacked by Chelsea in eighteen months.

Despite this patchy record, Kenyon’s arrogance is mind-blowing. He condescendingly told clubs like Tottenham, Newcastle, Everton and Aston Villa to pull their socks up:

It should be more about them getting their houses in order rather than us coming down to their level.

This is pretty rich, coming from a club whose balance sheet relies entirely on the largesse of a Russian gentleman who thinks nothing of writing off an interest-free loan of more than £500 million. Talk about throwing stones in a glass house.

But surely the financials are Kenyon’s game ? Maybe not, as last year he had to admit that his five-year plan that the club would be able to pay its own way by 2010 was off target. One obstacle to breaking-even is the ever increasing wage bill, the club’s salaries being handled by the great negotiator himself, Mr. Peter Kenyon.

Admittedly, Chelsea’s revenue places them in the top five of the Deloitte Football Money League, but this is actually one place lower than the previous year, despite Kenyon’s grand plans for “global brand domination” and his desire to monetise all things Chelsea. Although this policy has meant Kenyon pimping his team to American, Chinese and Russian audiences, it did allow him get involved with the Beijing Olympics, courtesy of Chelsea sponsors Samsung. Whether the rest of the world needed to see Kenyon puffing along with the Olympic torch is another question entirely.

"Swifter. Higher. Faster."

In the face of all evidence to the contrary, Kenyon’s self-belief is not dented at all. When asked about the reason’s for Roman Abramovich’s success, his answer was more than a little self-serving:

What has made him a multi-billionaire? He surrounds himself with the very best people. He’s got a lot of good professionals around him.

Certainly, Abramovich surrounds himself with the very best lackeys. What Chief Executive worth his salt would allow Abramovich to appoint his good buddy, Avram Grant, as Director of Football, then agree to him replacing the “Special One” ? What Chief Executive with any pride would remain in position when the club sacked the manager while he was absent on holiday in Barbados ? It would appear that Chelsea need Peter Kenyon about as much as Manchester City need a bank loan.

The poster child for the odious side of modern football, Kenyon is clearly a very fortunate man. Even now, he is still head-hunted by other clubs like City, though any muppet would be an improvement on the absurd Garry Cook. Maybe they are seduced by Manchester United’s success during his tenure, though some argue that he “just happened to be there when United won the treble” and United have hardly struggled after his departure.

Although it is easy to hate a man who describes the beautiful game as “the industry” and sprinkles his conversation with terms such as “delivering eyeballs” and “building communications platforms”, it takes a special kind of man to unite the fans of Manchester United and Chelsea, who in a match at Old Trafford both chanted, “Stand up, if you hate Kenyon”. On your feet yet ?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Flower Of Scotland

Think back to a time when the playground was not an arena for drugs and violence, when schools did not shower pupils with qualifications like confetti (have an “A” for Attendance).

Back in the early 80s, Gregory's Girl gave us an altogether more charming, whimsical look at life in a secondary school where the illegal substances of choice were jam doughnuts and marzipan and the boys’ toilets were not ruled by bullies and smokers, but a schoolboy entrepreneur selling rather demure photographs of the local pin-up.

Directed by Bill Forsyth, like many of his movies (Local Hero, That Sinking Feeling), the story is set in Scotland and is a straightforward comedy, tackling the tried-and-trusted subject matter of young love. Gregory is an incredibly awkward (i.e. typical) teenager. Struggling to cope with his latest growth spurt, not to mention his onrushing hormones, he loses his place in the school football team to a girl, Dorothy, who rapidly becomes the object of his affections:

Gregory: Have you ever been in love? I'm in love.

Steve: Since when?

Gregory: This morning. I feel restless and dizzy. I bet I won't get any sleep tonight.

Steve: Sounds like indigestion.

"And they called it puppy love"

Gregory is a hopeless case, so clueless about girls that he even takes advice from his 10-year old sister, Madeline, though she is more interested in ice cream. Maddy also tries to improve his terrible dress sense, as he constantly opts for unfashionable brown.

Christ, you're worse than my dad. He's old - at least he's got an excuse for being a prick!

Nevertheless, Gregory is an immensely likeable character. All arms and legs and inexperience, he is clumsy to the point of embarrassment. His marvelously accented attempts to speak Italian (“Bella, bella”) only highlight his lack of sophistication (“Arrividerci, Gordon. Hurry back”). With his shock of red hair and unfailing ability to say the wrong things at the wrong time, he desperately struggles to cope with his new-found feelings of love/lust.

All that fuss over a bit of tit.

Acting on the advice of Madeline, Gregory asks Dorothy out and to his surprise she accepts. Of course, we all know that girls are more mature than boys at that age, better able to retain some sense of perspective, while “the lads” are absolutely helpless when in the throes of their first teenage romance. So begins a shameless (but good-hearted) manipulation of Gregory’s night out. Dorothy does not turn up for their date, but a string of other girls lead him on until he arrives at the ultimate goal of the delightfully dippy Susan, who has a secret crush on Gregory and cures him of his infatuation with Dorothy.

There's definitely something in the air tonight, Charlie. That's three women in a row he's had.

Susan is played by Clare Grogan, the utterly delectable lead singer of Altered Images, a band championed by the ultimate arbiter of musical taste, Mr. John Peel. John Gordon Sinclair played Gregory with a perfect balance between teen angst and comic awkwardness, but never really found another role as wonderful as this, ending up in sitcom land.

"I could be happy"

While the plot is a simple romance, the true charm of this film comes not so much from the narrative, but from its quirky characters, awkward situations and witty dialogue. Scottish comedian, Chic Murray, is hilarious in a cameo role as the eccentric headmaster with a liking for pastries and tickling the ivories, “Off you go, you small boys”.

Other rich diversions include an unidentified child wandering the corridors of the school dressed in a penguin outfit, always directed to another room in the building with no explanation provided. It may or may not be some sort of metaphor for life where we all shuffle around looking for where we ought to be, but it’s undeniably very funny.

When Gregory’s friends try to hitchhike to Caracas, where they have heard that women greatly outnumber men, they inevitably fail at that as well:

Charlie: That's not the way you spell 'Caracus' anyway

Andy: What?

Charlie: Caracas. It's c-a-s, not c-u-s.

Andy: We've been standing here for four hours! Why didn't you tell me?

One of the more worldly boys (alright a window cleaner), pays Gregory’s sister a compliment:

She’s only ten, but she has the body of a woman of thirteen.

In the meantime Gregory tells the lad who’s courting Madeline that he’s pushing things a bit, adding:

You’ll run out of vices before you’re twelve.

"Another dodgy Scottish keeper"

While the clothes and hairstyles on display might look dated, the humour and relevance of this wonderful film have not aged a bit. With its delicate sense of humour, this is an under-stated piece of film-making, but it packs a mighty punch (“From a Whisper to a Scream”, as Elvis Costello once said).

Although Gregory’s Girl is a decidedly Scottish affair, which was even dubbed with milder accents for the American release, the film deals with universal themes of young love and sexual awakening. Strong on observation with completely natural performances, it’s about how the awkwardness and uncertainty of youth never really leave us, though it should be dedicated to anyone who was ever a teenager in love.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Projected Passion Review

In the same way that some people only know The Undertones for “Teenage Kicks”, some poor souls are only aware of Dexys Midnight Runners for “Come On Eileen”. Although that is a decent enough song, Dexys were so much more than “these people round here”. This was a proper band with soul, passion and integrity, who two years before “Eileen” had released one of the greatest albums of all time: Searching for the Young Soul Rebels.

The summer of 1980 was a restless time in the music world. Punk was dead, Ian Curtis had killed himself … and depressingly The Rolling Stones and Queen once again topped the album charts. In this fractured post-punk world, the release of Dexys’ majestic debut album caused a sensation. Fierce, raging and passionate, the record perfectly married the anger of new wave with the emotion of soul music.

Emerging from the ashes of punk band, The Killjoys, Dexys Midnight Runners were formed by Kevin Rowland and Kevin (Al) Archer, who named the band after the stimulant Dexedrine, a popular drug on the Northern Soul scene, which enabled the fans to dance all night. Now a fully-fledged soul outfit, the band resembled no other group of the time, dressing in donkey jackets and black woolly hats with a look straight out of Martin Scorsese’s “Mean Streets” – New York dockers via Birmingham.

"I'm a soul man"

The original Dexys line-up was eight strong, featuring a superb three-piece horn section, but this was unmistakably Kevin Rowland’s band. Abrasive and single-minded, Rowland was an arrogant eccentric whose (soul) vision was austere and certain. He was full of contradictions, yet he had an enormous capacity for pure feeling in his songs, searching for the truth in his re-definition of soul. His vocals were often unconventional, but nobody could deny that he meant every single word.

Rowland’s passion and commitment was powerfully supported by the Midnight Runners, whose intensity of performance belied the complexity of the musical arrangements. The vibrant horn sound was pushed to the front and was delivered with the clarity and assurance of the Stax originals. They may have presented themselves as the bank robbers of soul, but boy were they smart criminals, as they sledgehammered their way into your heart.

As the notes on the album’s sleeve announced, “the firm was complete, now for the caper.” They had the vision, they had the look, they had the songs and at one infamous moment they even had the master tapes of the album, which they stole from the record label to re-negotiate their deal.

The album’s opening track “Burn It Down” is an electrifying statement of the utmost self-belief. First, you hear the sound of someone flipping through radio stations, hearing snippets of Deep Purple, The Sex Pistols and The Specials before Rowland dismisses the other music, sneering “For God’s sake, burn it down.” The soaring brass hooks you while the band name-checks a lengthy list of Ireland’s literary giants in an attack on those who demean the Irish, before the final blunt statement of “Shut your fucking mouth until you know the truth.”

The theme of Irish identity and nationalism runs through all of Dexys’ albums. Indeed, the cover of Searching for the Young Soul Rebels features a photograph of a Belfast Catholic boy carrying his belongings after being forced from his home in the sectarian clearances of 1969. The half-Irish Rowland emphasised his background even more on Dexys other two albums with Too-Rye-Ay’s hybrid of soul and Celtic folk and Don’t Stand Me Down’s lyrics (“My National Pride”). Like Morrissey many years later with “Irish Blood, English Heart”, Rowland wore his Irish roots on his sleeve (notes).

Gloriously contradictory, Dexys followed the certainty of the titanic opening track with the exact opposite on “Tell Me When My Light Turns Green”, where Rowland’s quavering voice recounts the torments of his 23 years, as he wonders how he’s ever going to dig himself out of his rut.

The album also features Dexys’ first number one, the inspirational anthem “Geno”, which paid homage to soul singer Geno Washington, while at the same time suggesting that he should step aside for the young pretenders, like Rowland. This song was the first to make use of the gang chants that featured in many later tracks.

"The Last Gang in Town"

Wry song titles (“Thankfully Not Living in Yorkshire It Doesn’t Apply”, complete with falsetto, and “The Teams that Met in Caffs”, a fantastic instrumental) give a taste of the band’s playfulness, but the lyrics demand that the album be listened to with respect. Two little-known tracks “I Couldn’t Help if I Tried” and “I’m Just Looking” speak of Rowland’s anguish: “Holed up in white Harlem/Your conscience and you/You might need sympathy/But that’s not what I’d tell you” and “You gave me your ace card/I gave you my time/In a day of confusion/I said I’d stash it with mine.”

Musically, the group may have been at their strongest on their cover of “Seven Days Too Long”. Dexys actually introduced a number of classics to their younger audience, as their live set included blistering versions of Otis Redding’s “Respect”, Van Morrison’s “Jackie Wilson Said” and “Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache”.

The album finishes with the genius of “There, There, My Dear”, a ferocious cry to all wannabe hipsters. Again showing-off Rowland’s library of great authors, not many writers can get away with naming Søren Kierkegaard and Frank Sinatra in the same song. This was a brilliant, angry single in the form of a letter. Though it had no clear chorus, it contained numerous lyrical gems: “If you’re so anti-fashion/Why not wear flares/Instead of dressing down all the same”, “You know the only way to change things/Is to shoot men who arrange things”, and “I’d listen to your records/But your logic’s far too lame/And I’d only waste three valuable minutes of my life/On your insincerity.”

There, There, My Dear” is also possibly the best example of Dexys’ ability to re-invent and transform their own songs, as it was later re-worked with a slower tempo, replacing the familiar brass riffs with a smouldering, emotional build-up to a powerful climax with the band chanting “Stop” and “Go” throughout. This version was broadcast to great acclaim on Channel 4’s The Tube, when Rowland introduced it in his own inimitable style, “This used to go like that, but then one day something happened, as it so often does, and now it goes like this …”

"Introducing the Celtic Soul Brothers"

Dexys Midnight Runners were an original, contrary and difficult band who enjoyed a difficult relationship with the critics, not helped by Rowland’s policy of not speaking to the music press, preferring instead to take out ads to explain the band’s (dance) stance in a series of essays.

Their constant re-invention with the frequent changes in sound, personnel and wardrobe (from Celtic Soul Brothers to Brooks Brothers) also confused the public, but the band influenced many artists, ranging from Adam Ant, who showed his appreciation of Rowland’s work in “Goody Two Shoes” (“when they saw you kneeling/crying words that you mean/opening their eyeballs, eyeballs/pretending that you’re Al Green, Al Green”), to The Proclaimers, who thanked Rowland for his “help and friendship” on “Sunshine on Leith”.

In all these tortuous twists, Kevin Rowland remains a musical genius, the abiding enigma of his generation. On this album, he implored us to “welcome the new soul version.” And you know what ? I bloody well did.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Lions Tamed

"Close, but no cigar"

A dazzling comeback from the British Lions fell just short of securing victory in the first test against South Africa on Saturday. Not quite the proverbial game of two halves, more like a game of three miserable quarters and one enormously exciting quarter. However, the harsh reality for the Lions is that they lost and are now one-nil down in a three Test series.

The Lions were not quite good enough and may just have let their best opportunity for a victory slip out of their grasp. As a helpful chap, I would like to assist the Lions management in their post-match analysis by offering my own top ten reasons for the defeat:

  • Don’t know how to score tries. Hang on a sec, didn’t the Lions grab three tries (one more than the Saffers) ? Well, yes, they did, but they also got over the try line four more times without managing to properly ground the ball. In particular, Ugo Monye wasted two great opportunities by carrying the ball in the wrong arm. Either one of the Underwood brothers would have finished those chances. In the superb film “Any Given Sunday”, coach Tony D’Amato, gloriously played by Al Pacino, rouses his team with an inspirational speech, which rings so true after this match: “when we add up all those inches, that's gonna make the fucking difference between winning and losing !”

"Ugo Monye mistakes the ball for a bar of soap"

  • Feeble front row. The sight of Phil Vickery popping out of the scrum like a cork from a bottle after the demolition job from opposition prop Tendai “Beast” Mtawarira was the most obvious sign of the front row’s struggles, but Vickery was given little assistance by his hooker, Lee Mears, who has always looked too small for Test rugby. The Lions’ management could have taken the Cornish Bull by the horns and replaced him much earlier with “Hair Bear” Jones, as this substitution steadied the scrum in the later stages. Also, if the players felt that the ref did not understand that the Beast was illegally lifting a player, then frankly they should have taken the law into their own hands and given him a biff. You can’t see Jason Leonard or Brian “Pitbull” Moore putting up with that nonsense for too long.

"Phil Vickery's thousand yard stare after his Beasting"

  • Substitutions made too late. By this, I obviously refer to the South Africans, as coach Peter de Villiers foolishly brought on a raft of replacements for an early lap of honour. If only his attack of arrogance had come earlier, then we could have been celebrating a famous victory, as the previously comfortable Springboks finished the game in some disarray.
  • Tactical injuries. I don’t mean the “shoulder injury” which allowed South Africa to bring back their substituted captain, John Smit, in order to steady his sinking ship. No, I am thinking of the Southern Kings’ shameful display last week, when a series of cheap shots took out Euan Murray and James Hook. Last November, Scotland’s Murray had given the Beast a torrid time at the scrum and the South Africans clearly remembered that working-over (although the Lions’ management appear to have forgotten). Hook has already shown himself to be a match-winner on this tour and boy could the Lions have used his big boot on Saturday.
  • Lightweight pack. The Lions had clearly opted for mobility rather than grunt in the forwards. This policy had some success, especially when the under-cooked South Africans tired, but for most of the match the willowy Lions forwards were on the back foot. Not only was the scrum splintered, but also the pack was humiliated when a lengthy driving maul put the excellent Brussow over the line for the winning try. Although it might seem strange to call Alun Wyn Jones lightweight, when he is 6 ft 6 in and 19 stone, there is no doubt in my mind that the South Africans would prefer to face him than Simon Shaw, who Lawrence Dallaglio described as the best scrummager he has ever played with. Shaw would also bring an appreciation of the harsher qualities required at this level – Danny Grewcock without the sin-binning, if you will.
  • Cannot kick points. The normally reliable Stephen Jones missed crucial kicks at goals, so the Lions did not score a single penalty. A vital kick to touch for a line-out in the vital last few minutes was also woefully inadequate, barely reaching the 22 instead of the 5 metre line, where real pressure could have been applied. The last time the Lions won in South Africa, another Welsh fly-half, Neil Jenkins, was lethal with the boot and a trusty points-scoring machine. The concern is that Jones’ most likely replacement, Ronan O’Gara, would almost certainly be a disaster, as he would kick away all our ball, thus neutering our incisive centres, who would also exhaust themselves making his tackles for him.
  • Lack of leadership. I have never been fully convinced by Paul O’Connell as captain. He virtually disappeared during his last Lions tour and just does not have the dominant, fearsome presence of a Martin Johnson. Geech apparently picked him to bring some intimidation to the party, but the big fella seems incapable of enthusing his team-mates or getting to the opposition, not to mention influencing the referee à la Jonno. Of most concern was O’Connell’s reaction to the defeat, which he seemed to blame on the ref giving so many penalties against his side.

"Paul O'Connell - no Martin Johnson"

  • Lee Byrne’s sore foot. Although Byrne’s replacement, Rob Kearney, had a fine game at full-back, the Lions badly missed the attacking option that Byrne has provided in the previous games with his ability to break from deep. The medical staff need to find some more effective strapping for his foot by next week.
  • Bossed at the line-out and break-down. The Lions were clearly terrified of Victor Matfield’s prowess in the line-out, so barely used this tactic. Hardly surprising, when they lost two out of the first four, one of which led to a South African try. Almost all of the pre-match talk was about the importance of the break-down and it was very disappointing to see the Lions out-muscled here, typified by the moment when David Wallace took the ball into contact, where he was engulfed by Bakkies Botha who slung him over his shoulder like an old coat. As for Jamie Heaslip – was he on the pitch ? At least there’s room for improvement: more aggression, more power, more speed and more running would help.
  • Poor refereeing. Nobody wants to be a “whinging pom”, but the South African superiority at the scrum was certainly helped by a very generous referee. Scrum laws say that players need to pack square and push straight, and the Beast rarely did either. The ref kept getting it wrong even when he came round to Vickery's side and the angled driving of the Beast was clearly evident. It’s by no means the first time that a southern hemisphere referee has demonstrated a poor grasp of the rules, but you have to rise above it, as England did in the 2003 World Cup Final.

Never mind, there are still two matches to go and the Lions can “look forward” to renewing acquaintances with the Springbok pack, though this time it will be at altitude. Even though this should theoretically work against our boys, the records show that the Lions have won three of the four internationals they have played at Loftus Versfeld. You want another encouraging statistic ? Lions coach Ian McGeechan has never lost the second Test in two tours as a player, and four as a head coach.

Can the Lions build on the hugely exciting midfield partnership of the powerful Jamie Roberts and the classy Brian O’Driscoll (“in BOD we trust”) ? Will the potential of the athletic, try-scoring flanker Tom Croft be matched by the rest of the forwards ? In Clive Woodward’s words, will the Lions “front up” ?

Right now, the Lions are licking their wounds, but there’s just a chance that they can roar back and once again be the Lion Kings. Let’s hope so, as the South Africans need little help in their efforts to be acknowledged as the most arrogant nation on the planet.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Big Mouth Strikes Again

"For god's sake, turn it down"

Apparently The Chris Moyles Show is once again riding high in the radio ratings with 7.7 million people tuning in to listen to his moronic mumblings. That’s right, folks. There really are that many idiots in the country. If you ever wanted a statistic encapsulating the state of modern Britain, there you have it.

Of course, you could argue that “Moylesy”, as he is affectionately known by almost nobody, is bound to attract more listeners than anyone else, as he hosts the only show of its kind that is broadcast to the whole country (“national” in his cringe-inducing radio-speak) on “wonderful Radio 1” during the peak breakfast period.

I just don’t see the appeal, I really don’t. It’s the same old tired formula that has been hanging around like a bad smell since commercial radio began. Moyles and his “crew” will chat about what they did at the weekend, often involving some ghastly showbiz event. They will invariably make coarse remarks about some unfortunate celebrity, though if the same celebrity deigns to appear on the show, the approach will switch to major fawning. Moyles will verbally abuse any member of the public stupid enough to call in, using the humour of the playground, which may well be funny at school, but is just plain creepy from a 35 year old grown man. And, of course, there will be speculation on the size of producer Rachel’s breasts.

On and on and on, just like Groundhog Day, except never raising a smile, despite the presence of “Comedy Dave”, whose name is the only thing remotely amusing about him. As The Buzzcocks memorably sang, “Pretty girls, pretty boys/Have you ever heard your mummy scream/Noise annoys”. Maybe it’s the very ordinariness of the show that the listeners love ?

Moyles himself is a deeply unfunny man, though he did manage to hit the nail on the head with his own description of himself as “an egotistical, racist, homophobic, bigoted, sexist scumbag who surrounds himself with sycophants who laugh at his every word and agree with everything he says”. And they say you can’t believe what you read in the press.

"Mike Smash - or is it Dave Nice ?"

More often than not, Moyles proclaims himself The Saviour of Radio 1, which in his own mind is inextricably linked to his beloved ratings. He flails around swinging his arms like an attention-seeking beacon drawing the uneducated masses to his (substantial) bosom. Where the hell were Smashie and Nicey when this second-rate Dave Lee Travis impersonator first reared his ugly head ?

Annoyingly, this talentless oaf has somehow picked up an image of being a bit of a lad: an irreverent, plain-speaking, no-holds-barred rebel involved in numerous controversies, attracting many complaints to Ofcom. Surprisingly, these protests are (usually) not due to the vast sums paid to this belching bully, but are largely reserved for his old-fashioned (being kind) sense of humour.

His various misdemeanours include describing Polish people as prostitutes; offering to take Charlotte Church’s virginity when she turned sixteen; calling Victoria Beckham a whore; and describing the late, great John Peel as Kenny Everett-in-waiting, because “Kenny is dead and it’s only a matter of time before John pops his clogs”.

Probably the best examples, as they offer the most understanding of Moyles’ puerile sense of humour, involved Halle Berry, when the actress understandably took offence at his impersonation of a “big, fat, black guy” in the classic style of the Black and White Minstrels; and Will Young, whose birthday Moyles celebrated John Inman stylee by singing Young’s hits in a high-pitched effeminate voice, changing the lyrics to references on the singer’s sexuality. For god’s sake, why not start stroking Mrs. Slocombe’s pussy, so we can well and truly return to the 70s ?

"Chris Moyles - down with the kids"

Unfortunately for us, despite having a face for radio, Moyles has now branched out into television, launching Chris Moyles’ Quiz Night on Channel 4, where he comes across as little more than a belligerent drunk wallowing in his own ego. Maybe he forgot his early appearance on Never Mind The Buzzcocks in 1998, which pretty much saw the end of Moyles’ TV career before it had even begun. Looking nervous and awkward, the renowned funny man’s lousy performance lead to him becoming the brunt of much of presenter Mark Lamarr’s wit. Moyles proceeded to slag off the programme on his radio show, to which Lamarr replied, “That fat pig. I’d like to rip the apple out of his mouth and fucking slap him”.

For the recent re-launch of Buzzcocks, new host Simon Amstell made an unerring start, “Hello there and welcome to a brand new series. To make sure the tone of the show remains the same, I’ve got some jokes that Mark Lamarr left for me. Chris Moyles – he’s a bag of shit”.

Other television appearances included “X Factor: Battle of the Stars”, where his radio bravado was exposed as little more than a humourless shield, when he tugged his forelock to Cowell and Co in a desperate attempt to show that he was more than a karaoke king (he wasn’t). Obviously, in the back-scratching TV world, the favour has been more than repaid with Louis Walsh and the terrible Sharon Osbourne (wife of Ozzy, huge talent in her own right) being invited onto Moyles’ show all too often.

Moyles has also leapt onto the bandwagon of celebrity books, which sell by the truckload just because they have a famous person’s name on the jacket (My Booky Wook, anyone ?). In a recent TV show, comedian Stewart Lee savaged his efforts, noting that the sequel to The Gospel According to Chris Moyles, was called The Difficult Second Book, a title with “a degree of irony and self-awareness largely absent from the text”. Moyles, he told us, writes that he would like it to be seen as a great toilet book. “Ah, the vaulting ambition of the writer”, murmured Lee.

Moyles’ legions of fans would point to his “charidee” work, most notably when he hauled his fat carcass up Mount Kilimanjaro for Comic Relief. Bully for him, though I would point out that on the same climb the summit was also reached by the likes of Ronan Keating and two members of Girls Aloud.

In April this year, The Sun claimed that Moyles would be axed in September once he had become the breakfast show’s longest –serving host, over-taking fellow Radio 1 legends Tony Blackburn and Noel Edmonds. Unfortunately, the BBC was quick to deny those claims, so it looks like seven million people will continue to wake up next to the man they deserve. God help the rest of us.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Lovely Little Podcast

“Literally the best football podcast around” - not my words, but those of Sky’s insightful, tight-trousered critic, Jamie Redknapp. Not really, but The Football Ramble is definitely my favourite footy podcast, even better than James Richardson’s excellent Football Weekly.

The Football Ramble is a podcast featuring four blokes, er, rambling about football. It sounds just like the conversations you have with your mates in a pub, though sensibly excludes the sound affects and frequent trips to the gents. It is obvious that the guys love football, understanding that the game goes beyond “The Best League in the World” (© Richard Keys), as proven by their frequent forays into the mysterious world of South American football.

Is Sammy Lee’s mouth upside down? Is Fernando Torres the greatest living example of a human being? Why is Frank Lampard no longer called Frank Lampard Junior? These are just some of the questions that this podcast attempts to answer.

Never shy of voicing an opinion, you can be pretty sure that the lads will speak honestly and often hilariously about a wide variety of topics. The show is not afraid to address serious football issues, but is equally comfortable with funny stories. They have even managed to restore my faith in “banter”, when I had believed that the likes of David Bentley had consigned the word to the dustbin of phrases over-used by players (along with “hopefully”, “at the minute” and “to be fair”).

The Guardian got it right when they said that The Football Ramble has proved a welcome antidote to the glossy, predictable and sycophantic outpourings from some of the more established sports media. "People can relate to us just being normal people that take an interest in the game, and happen to be quite funny sometimes".

According to their manifesto, if you love football, the Ramble is here to serve you. Except If you’re a footballer, when they’re here to serve you your arse. On a plate. No-one is safe. Well, apart from Jimmy Bullard, obviously.

Started in April 2007 by a group of university friends, the line-up has undergone a number of changes, losing Chrissy Apples and Chimmers/Chimpo along the way. The current team consists of Marcus, Lukey, James (or Jim) and Pete.

Marcus, Lukey, Pete and James

Marcus Spelling is the anchorman who hosts proceedings with a calm authority. The Michael Palin of the team, he has traveled the world to watch football in many distant lands such as Africa and, of course, South America. Portrayed as the Gennaro Gattuso of the side, Marcus is reputed to be a more than useful footballer himself with rumours of appearances on the bench for Leatherhead Reserves.

Lukey Moore is described on the Ramble’s own website as a “belligerent fool …saying things as loud as possible, hoping that it’ll make him sound funny”. There’s some truth in that, but it’s also true that he’s often painfully funny and is usually right on the money with the targets of his vitriol. Anybody who describes Tim Lovejoy (aka Jim Lovetoy) as a “smug, cretinous fool” is not going to get any argument from me. A Pompey fan, but he quite rightly has little time for that bell-ringing imbecile, John Portsmouth Football Club Westwood.

James (or Jim) Campbell used to be the quiet one in the corner, but now proudly exhibits his own dry brand of humour. Jim managed to avoid the indignity of being stabbed in the arse by Roma fans when he attended the recent Champions League Final, but somewhat ruined the effect when he tripped on a rock, kicking it just far enough in front of him that his knee smashed into it on the way down. His wit is sharp, intellectual and a shade world-weary, which is exactly what I would expect from a stand-up comedian (and fellow Arsenal supporter).

“Producer” Pete twiddles the knobs, regales us with his showbiz tales and makes us laugh simply by being a Newcastle fan. His day job is radio presenter for Xfm, where he’s worked with industry giants such as Alex Zane, Lauren Laverne and Danny Wallace (yes man!). He has few equals when it comes to cutting up pork, though we should probably not mention the spit roast too often on a show about football.

The Ramble has deservedly become a fans’ favourite with over 20,000 downloads a month. Incredibly for an independent production, it has become the most popular sports podcast, topping the iTunes chart of sports and recreation podcasts in June ahead of established (and well-funded) brands such as the BBC, The Guardian and The Times.

This notable achievement was recognized by Sky News inviting Marcus and Lukey to appear on the programme to comment on Cristiano Ronaldo’s transfer to Real Madrid. Understandably more restrained than on the podcast, the lads did announce that the Ramble would be moving from a fortnightly show to a weekly one for the 2009/10 season (hurrah!)

Their success is not surprising when the topics are so wide and varied, including incidents with trannies (from Hartlepool to Brazil); the many dead grandmothers of Stephen Ireland; the Ted Bates statue fiasco; Chris Coleman’s washing machine; and, of course, the Dean Windass Hall of Fame.

As you will have gathered, I love this show, which to date has never put a foot wrong. Actually, I tell a lie, for they have not yet managed to explain why Andy Burton exists. Burton is the tool employed by Sky Sports News on transfer deadline day, when you will see him fielding calls from his numerous football “mates” on a huge collection of mobile phones. Of course, this vast network does not bring us the transfer news any quicker or indeed more accurately. Unlike The Football Ramble, I never want to hear Burton again.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Life Of Reilly

"When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Jonathan Swift

When asked to name my favourite film or album, I enter a full-scale tilt, as I struggle to even compile my top ten. However, it’s a very different story when the same question is put to me for books. In this case, the answer is easy: “A Confederacy of Dunces” by John Kennedy Toole, a work of true (but tortured) genius.

Set in New Orleans in the early 1960s, this is the tragicomic story of Ignatius J. Reilly, an extraordinary slob, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas, all rolled into one. He is a monument to sloth, rant and contempt; a behemoth of fat, flatulence and furious suspicion of anything modern; an intellectual whose numerous failings are blamed on the goddess Fortuna (“you wretch, you degenerate wanton, you vicious slut”).

Our hero may well be the most disgusting lead character ever, a grown man still living at home with his mother, passing his days documenting his disdain for the twentieth century on his Big Chief tablets, while lying in his pit on sheets stained with sweat and fouler fluids. He rarely leaves the house, only to run errands with his mother or go to the cinema, where his despair at the crass modern movies being shown shows no bounds:

What degenerate produced this abortion?

They should all be gassed!

Filth! How dare she pretend to be a virgin. Look at her degenerate face.

When circumstances force Ignatius to seek employment, he embarks on a series of farcical escapades in the French Quarter. His path through the working world is populated by a series of colourful characters: Santa Battaglia, bowling friend of his mother; Claude Robichaux, potential new husband for Mrs Reilly, constantly on the lookout for “Communiss”; Darlene, a stripper with a talented cockatoo; Miss Trixie, the ancient secretary whose desperate attempts to retire are always thwarted; Dorian Greene, the flamboyant gay blade; Lana Lee, the sinister owner of the Night of Joy; Angelo Mancuso, the inept policeman forced to wear increasingly ridiculous disguises; and Burma Jones, the African American night club porter.

However, the two strongest secondary characters in the novel are the women closest to Ignatius. Irene Reilly is his widowed mother, who first panders to Ignatius’ every whim before being persuaded that her son should make better use of his considerable intellect and expensive education by getting a job. Ignatius reacts badly to his mother making a stand:

My mother is currently associating with some undesirables who are attempting to turn her into an athlete of sorts, depraved specimens of mankind who regularly bowl their way to oblivion.

It’s not your fate to be well treated. You’re an overt masochist. Nice treatment will confuse and destroy you.

The other formidable female in Ignatius’ life is Myrna “the minx” Minkoff, a Jewish beatnik from New York, whom he met in college, where they terrorised their professors:

Pray to him, you deluded fool, you “anyone for tennis?”, golf-playing, cocktail-quaffing, pseudo-pedant, for you do indeed need a heavenly patron. Although your days are numbered, you will not die as a martyr (for you further no holy cause), but as the total ass which you really are.

Their backgrounds and views could hardly be more different, but they share a lengthy correspondence, featuring his contempt for her sacrilegious activity and her psychosexual analysis of his actions. Again, Ignatius does not hold back:

This liberal doxy must be impaled upon the member of a particularly large stallion.

What elevates this book to true brilliance is the perfection of Ignatius, who remains one of the all time great comic characters. Toole has achieved the impossible here, creating a loathsome individual whom we nevertheless love. Ignatius is a monster whose excesses horrify and appal, yet equally entertain and enthral. Each job he takes rapidly escalates into a lunatic adventure. While working at Levy Pants, he leads a strike of black workers, naming it “the crusade for Moorish dignity”, then decides that the company should take a more authoritarian line with its distributors:

We are a busy and dynamic organization whose mission needless effrontery and harassment can only hinder. If you molest us again, sir, you may feel the sting of the lash across your pitiful shoulders.

“A Confederacy of Dunces” was a deserving winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981, though the award was tinged with sadness, as John Kennedy Toole committed suicide before ever seeing his great novel published. The reading public should erect a statue to Toole’s mother whose persistence finally persuaded the literary world to take note of her son’s masterpiece.

If you have read this book, then I am sure you will already be smiling at the memory of the larger than life, grotesque, unforgettable Ignatius. If not, waste no time in making your purchase, for “the day before you is fraught with God knows what horrors”, and this might just be the funniest book ever written.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

London Pride

"With a little bit of this, with a little bit of that"

In these nostalgic times, nobody would be too surprised (or even disappointed) if Madness continued to please their many fans by re-visiting old classics such as “Our House”, “Baggy Trousers” and “My Girl”. Instead, some 30 years after their glory days, they have triumphantly reformed to deliver possibly their finest album, the intriguingly titled “The Liberty of Norton Folgate”.

Like Ali against Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle, Madness have ripped up the form book and delivered a knock-out album. The ageing tasty geezers have somehow found enough energy and inspiration to upset the odds one more time.

With The Specials also dazzling in a series of blistering gigs, the 2 Tone revival is alive and kicking. The last time this music was in the ascendant the economy was down in the dumps and the streets were ska’d by inner city riots. This sounds eerily familiar, and the Madness music perfectly captures this mood of sentimentality and rueful realism. People sometimes forget that Madness were not just about fun and hilarity, but were the masters of maudlin, bittersweet music.

“The Liberty of Norton Folgate” is, of all things, a concept album about London, the city of nations, and is a historical and musical tribute to its lively mixed-up mongrel culture. It might be argued that every song Madness have ever written is about London in some way, but this album makes explicit the group’s special relationship with the capital city, especially in “We Are London”, a glorious appreciation of the city’s eclectic mix of cultures, a call to arms for the citizens to come together and a journey through “its inner city to its furthest parts”. The London theme runs through the album with tracks like “NW5”, “Clerkenwell Polka” and “Seven Dials”. Even a song about “Africa” manages to name check Holloway.

"No undertakers required today, thank you"

The album takes its name from an area in Spitalfields, located between the jurisdiction of two police stations, therefore making it impossible to enforce the law. As such, in Victorian times, Norton Folgate was a thriving hub of artists, poets and bohemians, occupying their own ‘city’ under their own rules. It all sounds rather fun and romantic, which probably explains why Madness have used the concept of the Liberty to influence their new album.

All the trademark musical elements remain in place: ska and reggae overtones, tinkling keyboards, mournful sax and the whiff of the music hall (complete with bowler hats!) The boys have always been great musicians, but have found another dimension on this record, which swaggers along with a deserved confidence. The songs have emerged from a veritable melting pot of influences: imagine an impresario asking Peter Ackroyd and Charles Dickens to write lyrics for The Kinks, getting Kurt Weill and John Barry to arrange the music and then inviting Ian Dury to guest on vocals. However, the sound unmistakably belongs to Madness, pure and simple.

This superb piece of musical story-telling features some cracking tales: “Sugar and Spice” chronicles a disintegrating relationship; “Forever Young” laments advancing years; “Idiot Child” is a short, sharp character sketch about the boy who never grew up; “Dust Devil” refers to the party loving woman who refuses to grow old gracefully; “That Close” pines for a summer love; “Rainbows” is about seizing the day.

"Nice whistle, Suggs"

However, the title track is the obvious jewel in the crown, a mini musical about crime, immigration and the hustle and bustle of life in the Liberty of Norton Folgate. It’s ten minutes long, which is unusual for a tune by one of our greatest ever singles bands, but it’s also a bold and brilliant masterpiece, morphing into several different movements. Suggs sits us down and regales us with the history of the Liberty with “a little bit of this and a little bit of that”. Musically, the song features fairground oompah, pub piano, a Viennese waltz and an upbeat jig (“have a banana”) before a rip-roaring climax straight out of Bollywood. The lyrics are exquisite, including Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem, a Chinaman “trying to sell you moody DVDs” and a great argument against racism that makes you proud to be British (“in the beginning was a fear of the immigrant”). Fantastic stuff.

The Nutty Boys have grown up. While this record obviously chronicles London in all its moods, it also maps out adult life in all its complexity, disappointment and anxiety. It’s an exceptional thing – a truly great album in the autumn of the band’s career that will put a smile on your face and a spring in your step. While encompassing everything we thought we knew about Madness, it’s actually gone One Step Beyond.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...