Monday 15th February 2010, 16:29

Everybody Hurts (aka Where was Steve Brookstein?!)

The all-star cover version has always been a popular choice for charities. Only this month, a new version of We Are The World is being released. Mary J Blige alone has featured in Just Stand Up (against cancer), We Are The World 25 (for Haiti), What's Going On (against Aids)...

So now there's Everybody Hurts for Helping Haiti - a some-star, some-I've-never-heard-of cover verstion. All fundraising is of course admirable, but that doesn't mean that the product is immune from all criticism. So let's look at it.

21 performers. 7 of them involved in some way with The X Factor or Britain's Got Talent (1 judge, 3 winners, 3 runners-up). So that's a third of the singers from Simon Cowell's shows. I'm surprised they didn't find a way to get Louis Walsh singing one of the lines.

It's a good song, although not the beltiest of choices. None of the artists excels in the way that Sonia did with her "Well tonight thank God it's them instead of you!" Classic.

Instead we get the likes of JLS (who are apparently a popular beat combo of the day) rubbing shoulders with I-think-it's-a-man Mika and two of everyone's top 4 (or 5?) members of Westlife, Shane Filan and Mark Feehily. Susan Boyle of course gets a good couple of lines, and looking at the video - and I don't know if anyone's noticed this - have you noticed that she's not exactly a looker? This has not been well documented, I know. I get the impression that SuBo is a bit like the Queen - she milled around the studio, didn't recognise or know any of the other famous people, had never heard of the REM song she was singing, then went home to her vast array of pets.

So you've got to feel for Steve Brookstein. And Shayne Ward and Leon Jackson - all X Factor winners but while Leona, Alexandra and Joe have all gone on to international promotion (if not acclaim), the only stars that Steve, Shayne and Leon are likely to see are on their name-badge if they succeed in 6 months good customer service in McDonalds.

Granted, Leona Lewis has a voice on her. Her cover versions of Run and Stop Crying Your Heart Out are excellent, but it makes you think that her big secret is to just give a soul performance of an indie classic. Can't wait for her gutsy versions of Country House and Sorted For Es & Whizz.

As for the others, Michael Buble stands out for his distinctive voice, and for the fact that while everyone else in the studio was all pop, Mr Buble (one half of the former kids party clown double act, Buble & Squeak) stood all alone in the jazz corner, wishing as he always does that he had a career in the 40s and not now. Not that he wishes he could have sung with the Rat Pack, it's more that he hates the emancipation of women and ethnic minorities. Can't stand 'em.

And James Morrison. He's a lucky boy to be included. Cowell must have had a toss-up between him and calling Steve Brookstein, but Brooky was probably backed up on Happy Meals when Cowell phoned up, so Morrison got the job.

I'm being harsh, but largely because of what I heard James Morrison say when he heard from Cowell. He said that when he saw the devastation of Haiti, he didn't know how to respond. Should he donate money? (Yes...) Or should he do a fundraising gig for Haiti? (Again, that would have been a good idea...) But then the call from Cowell came, and he thought, yes, that's the one for me. (But you could still give money AND put on a fundraising gig too as well as the option that costs you the least time, money and effort, and in fact will serve to boost your career...) James Morrison - what a James Blunt.

That said, it's not a bad song they've produced, and it's a good cause. I just hope Steve Brookstein's thinking the same thing.

Friday 5th February 2010, 01:14

Not a car in the world...

Just for posterity, my awful car story from last weekend...

Gigging up country, including two nice gigs on the way up in neighbouring East Midlands settlements Okeham and Stamford. Okeham was a museum gig. A stage, set up among vintage cars and tractors. Odd but nice. Stamford was the 2nd gig that night, and a lovely - just lovely - downstairs comedy room, with low ceilings and great audience members and nice banter and good people and even fine cuisine including Sloppy Joes and Po' Boy sandwiches, which reminded me of our Louisiana and Texas stop-offs in America last year. Yum.

The next day would hold, in theory, two gigs in the Northwest. I opened in Preston, then while hotfooting it to Manchester for Friday gig no.2, my car conked out on the M60. Properly conked, as in wouldn't even make the hazard lights work, which is even more of a hazard, especially on a motorway with traffic accelerating towards you. I managed to get onto the sliproad, but no further. I called the RAC. A minute later, an AA van appeared. Hurray! I thought. But no, he merely yelled through his open window, "Have you called someone?" "The RAC," I responded. "Good luck," he yelled, and drove off. Bstrd (add the AAs to that).

Then an incident support truck arrived (who are not the police), and advised that if the police catch me here, even though the car's broken down, they can charge me 300 just for being broken down on the motorway. With that, the police arrived. I put on my biggest charm offensive, and sure enough wheedled my way out of any 300ness. My car started, the police said "Follow us off the motorway", and my car spluttered a metre before conking out again, as the police accelerated off into the distance.

RAC man arrived, spotted the fault and said it was unfixable tonight, so I'll tow you to where you're staying tonight. I didn't know where I was staying, so spouted various places I thought it might be - Sale, Hyde, Trafford, Rusholme... hoping they'd all be near each other. The RAC man laughed in my face in a "You're not from round here" kind of way.

I don't have good history impressing RAC chaps. The last time I needed one (for running out of petrol on the M1 - they don't take kindly to a basic fault like 'The tick-tock petrol bit pointed at the E not the F, and then it stopped'), he scoffed at me, "Are you ok to rejoin?" "Yes," I replied, "I am very happy with your service, and shall definitely rejoin at the end of the year." "No, you moron," his eyes said, "Rejoining the motorway from the hard shoulder." "Oh. Yes. Thanks. Bye."

So anyway. The next day, up in Manchester, a 2nd RAC man came to fix the problem - drivebelt came loose. 75. Fine. Fixed. That evening, on the way to Preston for my last gig before driving 4 hours home, the car conked out again. Balls. Phoned RAC man yet again, at 6pm, and he showed up at 10pm, to say, a) It's buggered, and will cost 1000 to fix, and b) you need to be towed home, but your RAC membership is invalid because you didn't update your address, so the tow home will cost 500. Tow truck will be here at midnight.

Thus began a night being towed home from Preston to Guildford, including a stop in Birmingham as tow truck man no.1 decided he had to go home (yeah, so did I, keep driving), so after 2 two-trucks, 3 RAC men, 1575 cost, 2 cancelled gigs, and a 7 hour drive home, I arrived back at 7am Sunday morning, much poorer than when I left. And to be honest thinking that those vintage tractors in Okeham Museum on Thursday night, probably would have been a safer bet than me knackered Kerensamobile.

Thursday 14th January 2010, 10:16

Hey Prude, don't make it bad...

Am I getting more prudish in my old age? Earlier this week I watched Disney's 1940 film of Pinocchio, and balked at how the levels of mild horror in it (it's a U). Plus I picked up a DVD of Poirot free with a paper (I know it was the Daily Mail, but Poirot's Poirot. Besides, I live in Surrey, it helps me blend in). And that DVD is also rated U, despite containing blood, murder and some near-xenophobic taunting of a Belgian.

Then in HMV this week, in their sale section I found two porn films: 'Giant Breasts 3' (bucking the trend of many recent trilogies by making the 3rd film in 3d) and 'Student Girls Gone Wild' (I'm not sure just how feral they get, although the picture on the back does involve a harness, so I'm presuming they go rabid or something). These weren't just light adult naughtiness - I could tolerate Doctor In Trouble or Wild Things 2 in the sale section - but these were proper, pornographic nakedity on front and back covers, without I presume plot, characterisation, subtext or even that many deleted scenes or an audio commentary (let alone an alternate ending).

I then dubbed myself an activist for moral decency, and took it on myself to remove these offending items from being sat pride of place in the sale section. Yes they were in the sale, but I don't think that means they should be sat, cover facing outwards, opposite the chart CDs for all sorts of kids and nuns to see. So I picked them up to carry them to the adult section of the store.

I couldn't find it straight away, and then got distracted by the complete boxset of The West Wing (Jed Bartlett would have approved of what I was doing), so suddenly realised I'd been walking around clutching two porn films in a shop frequented by a lot of my friends and neighbours, and both DVDs couldn't be turned around to hide the crotch-out front-and-back cover photos. I briefly tried to conceal the images from passing children by hiding the DVDs in my jacket till I could find their rightful home, but then quickly stopped that when I realised the difficulty of convincing a security guard as to my moral stance. "No officer, not stealing - just protecting the youth."

I couldn't find the Adult section in the end - I don't think they had one, which is probably why they ended up out by the front doors in the sale section. I thought of just dropping them off at the nearest section, but that was Children's Animation, so thought that just makes thing worse. In the end I buried them in Horror. That's not an indication that I think the female naked form is something to be terrified of (I hope), but just because if you're of an age and mindset to be looking through horror DVDs, I think you can take the image shots of Giant Breasts 3 and Student Girls Gone Wild. Or if you're a curious 11 year-old, you'll have think you just struck gold. Even though they should be at home watching Pinocchio.

Thursday 7th January 2010, 11:18

Odd traditions: Dinner for One and a panto

Ein gutes neues Jahr!

What's the most frequently repeated TV programme ever? That Last of the Summer Wine ep when they slide down the hill in a bath? (Little-known fact - they slide down the bath in most episodes, so no, they are different ones.)

No, it's 'Dinner For One', aka The 90th Birthday, aka Der 90. Geburtstag. It's apparently massively popular in mainland Europe, and is shown every New Year's Eve as a locked-down tradition. On Dec 31st, 2003, it was broadcast 19 times on various channels.

Unfortunately, I couldn't remember the title, so I ordered on my online DVD rental list a film called Le Diner de Cons, which is a French comedy. It's not bad, and is certainly the funniest French comedy I've seen (ie. funnier than Amelie and La Haine), but is not the one I was after. Still, I found a good way to watch subtitled films if you just want to get through them really quickly is to watch them on fast-forward. I got through the entire film in 20 minutes, thanks to a good bit of speed-reading.

Dinner For One is viewable on the internet, I've now found, and is a black-and-white sketch from 1963, although originally performed in the 1920s. It stars English comedian Freddie Frinton and is massively popular in Germany, as well as Australia, Norway, Sweden, Finland, South Africa... basically everywhere but the UK. If you haven't seen it, imagine Mr Bean as a butler, and you're not far off. Have a look on youtube if you want to see what the fuss is all about.

But then, we have our own bonkers tradition. I had to explain earlier today what a panto is, to an American friend. And when you write out exactly what one is, it makes you wonder why it ever caught on. Somehow a panto isn't a panto without a cow played by two people, or an ageing celebrity in drag delivering sexual innuendos to an audience of children, or a bucket being thrown at the audience as if it's got water in it when actually it's tinsel. Yet caught on it has.

A factette you can take away with you: Panto has caught on around the world, in Australia, Canada, and others - not as much as in the UK, but with ex-pat pockets making it happen every year. My favourite? The Phnom Penh Players of Cambodia, who always bill a celebrity guest star who fails to appear. 2009's 'Snow White and the Jackson 5' advertises Jude Law as appearing - every night so far 'he's cancelled' and the understudy steps in. Jude, if you're reading this, go on, show up, just for one show...

Thursday 7th January 2010, 05:50

Goldfish! Goldfish - Always believe in your soulfish...

Yesterday we bought a Christmas tree (a Nordman Fir, since you ask, who I'm sure was bass guitarist with A-ha), and while we were there, we bought a goldfish on a whim. You know what it's like at these shops. In Tesco, you've bought your groceries, get to the till and there's a Mars bar, so you buy the Mars bar. Similarly at the garden centre, everyone's buying trees, holly and/or mistletoe, so what's the best accompaniment to go with that that they put near the tills to lure you in? A goldfish.

This one's named Robbie. We have a tradition of naming goldfish after the first name we hear on the radio as we drive away from the pet shop/Christmas Tree outlet. And this time we were foolishly tuned into Magic, so it was only ever going to be Robbie, Ronan or, this time of year, Mariah. I'm thinking this is a tradition we should keep for naming everything from goldfish to dogs to children. I love the idea of explaining one day to a 10-year-old named Spoony, "Well, we had Radio 1 on by accident..."

Given that Robbie is our 9th fish, I figure that any day now I'll sadly forget the names of previous fish, so this blog serves to store for posterity the fish of yesteryear. We will remember them...

Jerry - Jerry was the first to go. Odd since we named him after the character in The Good Life (pre-dating our 'radio name' rule), and Paul Eddington who played Jerry was the first (and currently only) member of the cast to pass on. The fish carried on that curse.

Tom - Again, Tom & Jerry were not named after the cat-and-mouse cartoon, but after The Good Life. We happened to name these two after the men, and true to form they popped their clogs earlier than the women.

Barbara - Barbara & Margot stuck around for a little while, and even survived a house move. For a bit.

Margot - Margot won The Good Life survival stakes. So we got her some friends...

Harriet - It's here we started naming after people mentioned on the radio. We turned on to the news, where they spoke of Harriet Harman and...

Gordon - ...Brown. Typically Gordon stuck around the longest, and far longer than anyone expected. Also typically, he was rather podgy with funny eyes.

Walter - When Gordon was left alone, we got Walter, a giant-finned golder-than-goldfish, named after a character on a Radio 4 play. That took 5 minutes to name him. Frustrating sample dialogue: "Are you going to run off with him?" "Run off with who?" "You know who. Do I have to say his name again?" (Us: Yes!) "I can't bring myself to say his name..." (Say his bloody name!) "Go on, say it." (Please!) "It's... it's Walter, isn't it?" (Oh, is that it?)

Marigold Heyworth - We use her full name, cos that entire name is perfect for a goldfish. Named after someone who wrote a letter to Radio 4. Little does she know that letter prompted a fish to be named after her...

Robbie - And now the latest new fish on the block joins Marigold Heyworth. A fine two-tone red-and-white little fishette. Long may he remain with us, long enough even for Spoony to be able to play with him...