Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Pigs and schools

It has been snowing here... plus short school holidays... plus I'm still knee-deep in the new edition of Shakespeare's sonnets... so for now all I want to say is that this is an interesting interview with writer Alan Bennett. There's a lot of talk in the UK just now about higher education and on a slightly related note I particularly agree with Bennett on schools:

"I don't believe in private education. I just think it's not fair, that's my attitude, and until they get that right, which we won't do now 'til God knows when, the country is always going to be in the same boat – divided down the middle."

There's plenty of good stuff about writing in the article too.

Possibly my favourite piece of Bennett's work is the film 'A Private Function' (1984 - co-written with its director Malcolm Mowbray). Not seen it..? Here are a couple of minutes... perhaps not for hardcore vegetarians...

p.s. Simultaneous Blogging Experiment post is back here.


Saturday, 27 November 2010

Simultaneous blogging = broken conversation


This post is part of Mairi Sharratt's Simultaneous Blogging Experiment (link to the mothership is here... anyone looking for my Poetry Bus poem this week that is back here). This post is in English... to begin with... pero en español a bit lower down... read on, read on...

The theme for today's experiment is broken conversation and this is my poem (in English... with audio file here). Regular visitors will win no prizes for guessing what (or who) triggered this piece...

Abruptly gone

There is no language for us any more
All those words that you knew
That you hunted for crosswords
They're quiet and scarce
And I'm totally clueless

And I look at the photos
And I hear all the funny old ways
And I feel like I can touch your skin
But I can't

RF 2010

There are a lot of Spanish writers involved in this experiment (all links below) and as I did study Spanish and live in Spain (both a long time ago - over 20 years ago in fact...) I thought I would have a go at translating this little piece. My attempt is below – apologies if it's awful but it's been a while (lo siento, lo siento...). I did run it past the one Spanish speaker I know online (this man) and he very helpfully ironed out a couple of lumpy bits but he can't be blamed for the overall piece. Also (just so you can hear my very, very rusty accent) there is an audio file of the translation here (¡hombre, qué cara que tiene esa mujer!). Yes. Sin duda.


Ahora no hay lenguaje para nosotros
Todas las palabras que conocías
Que buscabas para crucigramas
Ya todas se han quedado tranquilas
Se han vuelto escasas
Y yo, al final, sin indicaciones

Y examino las fotos
Y oigo tus manías
Y me parece que todavía puedo tocarte la piel
Pero no puedo

RF 2010

Here are all the links to other people posting right now as part of today's experiment:

JoAnne McKay at Titus the Dog

Russell Jones

Alastair Cook at written in my hand

Peggy Hughes/Scottish Poetry Library at Our sweet old etcetera

Mairi Sharratt at A lump in the Throat

Roger Santiváñez

Cisco Bellavista

Jesús Ge

Ana Pérez Cañamares

Felipe Zapico

Martaerre (Marta R. Sobrecueva) at de las poesia y otras disciplinas en palabras

And finally here's a song with some English and Spanish all mixed up beautifully. I knew this singer way back and in fact she was the person who first introduced me to Madrid and Spanish life in general... but cielos that was many many lunas ago...

¡Hasta luego!


Friday, 26 November 2010

Dana Bug's Bus – home sweet sonnet

I've been working on two blog poetry things this week - Mairi Sharratt's Simultaneous Blog Experiment (due to be posted at midday on Saturday our time - that post of mine now here) and, of course, everybody's favourite - the Poetry Bus. I'm posting my Bus poem now, a bit early, rather than get it all mixed up with tomorrow's Experiment. For this week Dana gave us three Bus options (here) and I chose the second one:

"In the movie 'The Hunt for Red October' Sam Neill (swoon) plays a defecting submarine officer. During a quiet moment in the film he tells Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) that he has always dreamed of living in Montana. SPOILER ALERT FOR A TWENTY YEAR OLD FILM! He dies before he makes it to the United States. Made me cry. Write about the place you dream of living someday. Or if you’re lucky enough to already live there write about home."

Thinking about this task (walking the dog – where I do my best thinking) I had all kinds of things coming into my head (for a start the poem/song "I vow to thee my country" - not even sure where I know that from... maybe primary school... maybe Charles and Diana's doomed wedding service... how timely... ). And then, because I'm reading faber's new edition of Shakespeare's sonnets just now (and I mentioned that on the Bus last week – here), I decided that I wanted to have another go at a sonnet for this task. After all sonnets are so often about love and this is a task about love too, in its way. I have old sonnets here and my “Happy New Hope” one on a postcard (buy now for the 2010/11 festive season!) but here is today's brand new one (and an audio version here):

Trying for home

Let's picture a country that's worth fighting for
A land we can treasure and still want to share
Where no-one can buy themselves higher than law
Close your eyes tight, you might see it, somewhere
With healthcare, sound housing, wide spaces of green
And the money to keep it all ticking along
Kind teachers, prime time-off and nobody mean
To dream a fair home, is that so very wrong?
We count what we're missing and wish it weren't so
The waiting, the pushing, the steal and the con
We know most of all there's a good way to go
That the seats are all full and the engines turned on
We try to find the place hidden from sight
We worry that it's only there at night

RF 2010

As with last week's villanelle you will notice that this poem is the height of low fashion (awash as it is with end-rhymes). What can I say - like old Will S, I just prefer my sonnet efforts with end-rhymes – though that's not (of course!) to say that I think all lines in all poems should end in a rhyme (no, no, no... variety is the key to all good things... is it not? Why, yes it is!). Getting good end-rhymes can be tricky (I had to fiddle with this poem till my brain boiled) but overall I figure something like... if they were good enough for WS's sonnets then they are certainly good enough for mine.

Anyway, hope to see you all on the Bus at some point and don't forget the simultaneous blog experiment thing (including the chance to hear my Spanish accent... a once only offer) is now here.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

More about singing...

A while back I was singing quite regularly - sometimes even in public - but recently I haven't done any singing for ages. After the last post and all that talk of warbling I thought I'd have another go (no warm-up, no practising... I'm just that kind of slapdash gal). So if you go here you can hear an unaccompanied song I wrote a couple of years ago called "Hindsight, hah!" It's a bit ropey at the top end but I did it in one take and after a big meal (and a thousand other excuses). The words are on my website under 'songs' if you want to read them rather than hear them... and oddly I think they too could answer this week's Enchanted Oak Poetry Bus prompt (see last post).

On another (much better) singing note today I came across the most fabulous song whilst trawling Youtube for all things Aristocats (it's a facebook thing... cartoon week). This is Scatman Crothers (Scatcat in Aristocats, hence the link) singing the opening song to a 1975 animated movie called 'Coonskin'. I'd somehow never heard the singer's name (and he was an actor too) or heard of this song or that movie until this week. If you want to read about the movie there's plenty here but this song (written, according to t'internet, by Crothers and the film's director Ralph Bakshi)... it's just such a great set of sounds:


Friday, 19 November 2010

The Enchanted Bus – writing our lives (and save the villanelle!)

I know this is early but it's ready so let's just get on with it. This week's Poetry Bus prompt was suggested by Chris at Enchanted Oak (thousands and thousands of miles from here). It's a straightforward task – no messing around. She gave us this:

Poems that address your existence on this earth. Good, bad, or indifferent, tell us something, anything, about your life here.

I had a couple of false starts on this (won't bore you with all the details... suffice to say writing about me and my life is not something I'm very keen on just now) but then I slapped myself a couple of times in the face and walked the dog again (photo of typical walk this week above and there are many more here). After all that it seemed I was ready to get on and write something. Literal... metaphorical... I'm covering all bases here.

poem temporarily removed

Some of you (maybe even all of you) will recognise straightaway that this poem is a villanelle and this is a poetic form that I use every now and then. I love some villanelles (first loved them via poet Wendy Cope, I think, her 'Manifesto' is good and there's one of hers online here) but I should tell you that they are very unfashionable in British poetry just now. Obviously all the slam/young/hip poets don't bother with them (not as far as I know anyway) but even some of the fogey/literary/academic/respected poets look down on them these days. One of Scotland (and Britain)'s most influential poets, Don Paterson, seems to be running some kind of evil campaign against them as he has slagged them off (again!) in his recent article about Shakespeare and his sonnets (he had a go at them at our Brilliant Poetry event back in April too). There is a long but interesting piece (by Paterson) about his new book “Reading Shakespeare's Sonnets” here and I have bought the sonnets book... because despite his foul smearing of the villanelle I am not anti-Pati (not at all, not at all). In this article however he even quotes that bloody Carol Ann Duffy villanelle about villanelles (again!) and I'd have to say that, from what I've read of it so far, it's not one of her best pieces (even poet laureates have off days, I'm sure...). I mean I just don't understand it (well, I do but I don't agree...) - does a person hate the tango just because ex-conservative MP Ann Widdecombe makes a flying mash of it on “Strictly Come Dancing?” (No, a person does not... but you can see it here if you really want to suffer in the interests of research). So do we blame a poetic form just because some people have used it as a basis for unappealing or just plain crap work? I don't think so, I really don't (and even though I'm here in poetic obscurity I don't think that makes my opinion any less valid... does it?). All this villanelle-bashing makes me feel quite sorry for the poor old form. Even more so as some of my best work has been in villanelles (which probably says heaps of bad things about me and my writing... oh, undoubtedly it does... I like repetition... I said ' I like repetition'...). Indeed if it weren't for the fact that there's so much else to protest about just now (the tories are in power – just that in itself...) I think I might be pacing the streets with a placard reading 'Ring a big bell/save the villanelle!' I might start up a magazine filled entirely (every month!) with villanelles! I might devote my whole life to the cause...

Well, I did say 'might'. In the meantime other villanelles of mine, in case you're interested, are here (Radiohead one), here (Michael Marra one) and here (eating pizza on acid one). And there's one in the next issue of 'About Larkin' (out later this year – I'll let you know when it's available).

Speaking of singing (as I was in the poem before the villanelle declaration) here is one of my favourite singers (though I have a LOT of favourite singers...wrote about some of them a few years ago – back here). I watched the recent TV interview with this singer last night (taped from a few weeks back - "Robert Plant: By Myself") and it covered his highs, his lows, his more popular phases and his times in something more like obscurity. Most of all it was good to watch a programme that was really about the work of singing rather than just all the usual pop/rock biog. nonsense. It was glorious.

Here he is with the old band:

and here he is with a more more recent band doing an old favourite:

I'm not sure how I will manage the Bus next week because I'm part of another writing project next Saturday (details here). I'll try to make it though!


Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Walk with me

These days every weekday morning Zoe (our dog) and I walk our Girl to school and then head off for our morning fresh air. I've been meaning to take the camera with me for ages on one of these walks but I am not exactly a morning person so I'm lucky if I remember the dog and the Girl (never mind accessories...). Today I did remember... and here are some photos of our wander this morning (approx. 9-10am). It was, as you will see, a cracking morning - wintry and bright. And for those of you who live in cities... look how quiet everywhere is! It's so much easier to stay sane with this amount of people-free space around (honestly... take it from one who knows...).

So, first we walk up this road

These farmer's fields are looking different now winter's pretty much here - never seen these shadows look so bold before

There used to be a lovely view of the sea from this path... then someone put a fence up. Luckily the wind (strong on the coast here) has other ideas (dog agrees).

Just one of many lovely bits of woodland

There's evaporating frost in them there hills

At this time of year wherever you go round here the geese are always with you

It's wintry under foot now (I saw the gritter out on the roads this morning too)

All that talk of paths on the Poetry Bus this week... shall we take this path?

Or this one?


This part of the walk used to be the estate of a big house (house now gone). They obviously got themselves some fancy, foreign trees though because ours aren't usually this huge.

Looking up at a giant... a bit Lord of the Rings this one

The shrub in winter

I never get bored of looking at trees...

Winter sun doing its best

One of my favourite bits of the walk - through this pine wood

These fields were looking particularly dramatic today

So I took lots of pictures of them

Another angle

And finally...a close-up.

Hope you enjoyed the walk. Beautiful, isn't it?


Saturday, 13 November 2010

All roads lead to Karen's Bus

I thought I wasn't going to manage a Poetry Bus ticket this time. I've been writing quite a lot on the blog in the past week (all about the best side of pop music – starting with part one here and working right up to part five here) and I just thought enough was enough. I half thought I might post an old poem about making big decisions (that's here) but then in the end I took a couple of minutes to really read the prompt and think about it. Here's the prompt:

"Write about one of the following:
(1) a time you had to choose between two clearly divergent paths; (2) a time you were called to walk a  path you didn't choose for yourself; or (3) a time you refused to travel the path you were called to follow."

Suddenly number 3 made me remember a time (about 12 years ago) when I was working in a crappy job and someone told me to do something that I considered stupid/wasteful/wrong. It wasn't a huge matter of global significance or anything... but it was still one of those moments when you think 'this is a decision I can make – what will I choose? Who the hell am I after all? Do I stand up to be counted etc.' And so the ticket reads like this:


Do it they said
Just do it
No questions
Drop the attitude
You don't need
To know why
Just do it
The way we say
Do it quickly
Do it now

So I thought about it
Long and hard
And then I said


RF 2010

Maybe I should send it to a politician or two (Mr Clegg? Still time to step down, make a stand, be who you said you were...).

Other Bus travellers are here. Unless my records are wrong this is my 50th trip on the Poetry Bus! Can't quite believe that...


Friday, 12 November 2010

Pop picking – part 5 (2000 and beyond – the new breed?)

I tend to be an instinctive writer (is there any other kind?) and that's true whether I'm working on poems or blog posts – I just go for it and I don't worry too much about whether it's a good idea or fashionable or the right way of doing something. This week's series of posts about pop music for example, in true instinctive fashion, was completely unplanned... I just starting thinking about pop music (as a subject) last weekend and hey, presto – here I am at the end of a long week of rambling about what pop music is and can be (at its best perhaps...). I'm sure for some regular readers this little series has been a bit of a turn-off (and for some quite the opposite) but never mind, next week's a whole new week (and the Poetry Bus will be back soon – prompt this week from Karen). And who knows what I'll be rambling on about next week?

But first... for the last pop post we come to the year 2000 (and the decade we seem to have ended up calling the 'noughties'). Again I had an instinctive feeling and in this case my instinct was telling me to post Britney Spears' 'Baby Hit Me One More Time' (written by Swedish writer/producer Max Martin). Why on earth did I think that, you may ask yourself (I know I did). Maybe I thought of it because it's a great pop record (half the world seems to have done a cover version already and that's a good sign of pop success)... or maybe it was because all the other records I've picked this week have been by artists who are also songwriters and I thought that, to really represent pop, I should also pick something that is in the hit factory no-one-here-writes-their-own-songs-but-they're-all-pretty territory... or just maybe it came to me because miraculously all the music I've posted so far this week has been by male pop stars/bands and it seemed time to put a female in the frame. But Britney? Britney? Was that really the best I could do – a song where the singer dresses up as a schoolgirl in the video (I mean really, who needs porn – and while we're on the subject there's a lovely comedy song about substituting burlesque for porn from last week's TV here)? And after all couldn't I have posted something by a woman who does write her own material – something by Carole King from the '60s or '70s (she is one of my VERY favourites and a great writer and I have posted songs of hers before) or some Kate Bush or Blondie, some Tracy Chapman, some Lauren Hill, some Feist... there are so many really great, talented female pop artists that I am crazy about.

Then I looked up 'Baby Hit Me One More Time' (originally written for the band TLC apparently) and realised it was actually in the charts in 1998/9 so it doesn't fit into this post anyway. Ha! So much for instinct. Back to the drawing board. And anyway, it is a song that sounds better when covered by someone else (pick your own version) and that can't be good, can it? Best forget all about it.

So pop of the noughties? Help! Help! At the beginning of 2000 I was 33 and pregnant so this has not exactly been my key decade for listening to pop (I've listened to more Teletubbies than Top Twenty, more folk music than “Now that's what I call music”). I have listened to some pop of the decade though and liked it (White Stripes, Arctic Monkeys, Corinne Bailey Rae, The Gossip, Laura Marling, The Streets' first album...), some of it I have completely missed (Kings of Leon – wouldn't know them from Adam or the Ants, Lily Allen/Katy Perry/Rihanna – all a blur in lipstick, any hip hop after about 1992 – completely beyond me) and some I just cannot stand (anything that calls itself a 'boy band'...and Muse - ugh... plus all that bland Cheryl Cole and X Factor drivel...and Lady Gaga...please god, someone lock her in her bloody endless wardrobe). But what to pick...what to pick? In the end... as an instinctive person... I'm just going to go with my gut. Sure this singer is mad as ten hatters (and she's the songwriter on this one too), sure she looks weird with a capital W and her legs might snap at any minute (but better that than the impossible manufactured perfect of Britters et al – see pic above), sure she's been a little distracted by hard drugs (and that's all a bit sad but not unusual really), sure it's a very retro song.... but one thing I do know is that it's also a song that makes me cry every time I hear it (and that means I love it!). It is pop (from 2007)... excellent pop, soulful pop. Here's... Amy!

And if you like that, you might like this too... also from 'Back to Black' and also written by the little lass with the indescribable hair:

Who knows what this next decade will bring..?


Thursday, 11 November 2010

Pop picking – part 4 (bouncing through the 1990s... and still ignoring Madonna)

After yesterday's huge ramble through the 1980s I'll try to keep this short.

In 1990 I was 23 and already knee-deep in house music, rave culture, warehouse parties... whatever else you want to call it. For most of that decade I listened mainly to all the dance music that was kind of my reason for being in those years and I pretty much missed the rock/indie bands of the '90s (Britpop and all), though I quite like some of them now. Instead it was house (a huge genre in itself), techno, breakbeat, hardcore, hip hop, soul, trip hop, acid jazz, rejigged disco, chill-out... a very varied mix... more varied than you might imagine (it wasn't all just boom, boom, boom... it really wasn't!).

This does mean that picking a pop track from this decade is quite hard for me because I wasn't really paying pop/charts/mainstream radio much attention. Often the dance tracks that made it into the pop charts were not necessarily the ones that were most popular in the clubs (though it did happen). Some bands and singers from other areas got good dance remixes done and this helped them be popular in more than one zone, if you like (mixes of Björk tracks were huge in clubs I went to in the mid '90s, for example). So I could pick a track of hers, I suppose, for my '90s pop... I could... (especially as otherwise this is turning into a bit of boys week) but somehow that would seem fake to me (I do like Björk's music now but I wasn't a particular fan at the time). Or I suppose, with the same problem in mind, I could pick some Madonna today. You can't really ignore Madonna in any thoughts about pop music, can you after all (she's just kept herself there – centrestage - where she likes it, it would seem). And she did have some good singles in the 1990s – starting with 'Vogue' and working right through to the whole 'Ray of Light' thing (you can see them all listed year by year here). But the thing with Madonna is she's been SO ubiquitous that you just never feel she needs any more...exposure, do you? Plus all my favourites of hers are from other decades (1985's 'Papa don't preach', 1989's 'Express Yourself', 2000's 'Don't tell me'...). Luckily in the end an idea for '90s pop did come to me though - a band who were both huge in the dance clubs/festivals and in the pop charts (in the UK anyway). They were cool now and again but a lot of the time they were a bit looked down on, a bit too rough... and you couldn't get further away from the sugary sounds that often get the name 'pop' ('90s manufactured pop like the Spice Girls, they ain't!). No I picked the noisy, ugly, fairly uncompromising dance band that is... the Prodigy. They started as hardcore/rave but by the end they were really anything they wanted to be.

Now which track to go for – they had a lot of hits (more than you might think - names lead to videos if you're interested):

the very odd/ridiculous but distinctive 1991 surprise hit Charly

the 1992 track Fire

1992's Out of Space

1993's One love

1994's Voodoo People or

1995's Poison?

Instead of any of the above I went for this one from 1996 (and ignore all the substandard John Lydon posturing of one of the faces of the Prodge, Keith...in fact the band were really just about the beats...and the man who made them one Liam Howlett - in stripy jumper in this clip). This track was number one - so it must be pop, right? Number one in the UK anyway... and Finland... and Norway...

Back tomorrow for some noughties pop-talk... maybe even a woman or two. Oh and don't forget to listen to poet Ian McMillan on Desert Island Discs (here) if you can. He says some great stuff... particularly the bit about double glazing in the arse.


Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Pop picking – part 3 (trawling through the '80s)

Now I did say this might be tricky...

If you'd asked me last week what 1980s (pop) music I liked I would have laughed and said (not very seriously) 'none of it!' But this week, for some reason, I decided to give it a little thought... a person can't really hate a whole decade of music after all, can they? To help me decide what to post I tried to remember what I really listened to in the '80s (not necessarily what I liked most of all but just what was around me). All the details are below (and though it seems long I've probably missed out loads of stuff). Let's start at the beginning...

1980-83 (at weird Quaker boarding school in the north of England)

In 1980 I was 13 and just moving on from a love of disco/funk/glam/pop in the 1970s. At the beginning of this new decade I found myself mostly listening to a lot of heavy rock (old and new) – partly this was because it worked really well with drunkenness and a bad attitude (and I was good at both of these at this stage), partly it was because I lived in the North East of England and rock was massive there and partly it was because all you had to wear for rock world was jeans, a t-shirt and a denim jacket (so easy and I've never been one to bother much with complicated fashion looks). Of course this wasn't all I listened to - I also remember hearing everything from 'Fame', one-off pop songs like Musical Youth's “Pass the Dutchie' and Olivia Newton John's 'Physical' and lots of stuff by bands like Ultravox, Adam and the Ants, Yazoo, Culture Club, Soft Cell, Human League, Boomtown Rats, Heaven 17, Toyah, Spandau Ballet, Wham, Dexy's Midnight Runners and all those other '80s pop bands (I played 'Dare' to death, for example - hence the picture above). I remember loving The Police for a while too... and having a David Bowie phase (quite brief – though I liked songs from all his different eras). I remember also that there was one kid at school who listened to nothing but the Sex Pistols (I was never a punk though... just wrong place, wrong time as much as anything I suppose because when you think about it it also involved a lot of drunkenness and bad attitude so it could easily have been my thing). There was also a group of older kids (all heading for art school...or something) who wore long coats and liked other moodier bands with interesting album covers (bands like Psychedelic Furs, Bauhaus, Joy Division/New Order...). I didn't mind some of the long-coat music but art was my weakest subject (by miles!) and I didn't fancy the coats/hairdos/black clothes much either so I was never deep into that gang. I also had friends (and one girl I shared a room with) who lived abroad in countries where American soft rock music was cheap to buy on cassette (REO Speedwagon and all that) so I did listen to a fair amount of that too. It was OK... to a point.
Music on TV changed in 1982 when 'The Tube' became a longer, ruder 'Top of the Pops' on Channel 4. I watched it but I think it was the rudeness I liked more than the music a lot of the time (though I do remember liking the Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees). I guess they played some electro... someone must have somewhere along the line... and I think I first heard U2 on there as well (I kind of missed U2 really... it's not something that keeps me awake at night, I have to say).

1983-85 (at weird French school in London)

Somehow I ended up with another group of friends who liked heavy rock music (classic rock from the '70s mainly) so the headbanging life continued (once again usually with alcoholic accompaniment). I also listened to heaps of other stuff though and, for example, regularly went to a club with an older (more sophisticated..) friend up on the Strand that was run by Capital Radio and there we danced to lots of '80s music – Shalamar, Michael Jackson, Talking Heads, Paul Young, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Madonna, Hall and Oates, the Pointer Sisters (oh, the 'Beverley Hills Cop' soundtrack!), possibly even Lionel Richie (well, it's too late to lie now...). Also at home I listened to Capital Radio (it seemed really hip to me – compared to Middlesbrough radio stations of the time anyway) and I remember having a phase of listening to the Smiths (one friend was a big fan...I only ever had a 'best of') and the Jam (a bit after the event). My brother played a lot of Prince..and Billy Joel...and Bruce Springsteen (he worked at Camp America a lot - my brother, that is... not Springsteen).

1985-86 (In Madrid...pretending to teach English, hanging about a lot in bars...)

Mainly I listened to Spanish and Latin American music (Silvio Rodríguez, Joaquín Sabina, a Basque punk band called La Polla Records) but I also had some Beatles cassettes with me (a taste of home?) and I remember the cousin of one of my Spanish friends there listening to wall-to-wall Dire Straits ('the money for nothing...')!

1986-89 (Cambridge...never known for its happening music scene... we were living in a museum after all...)

It was weird coming back to the English-speaking world and to its music after a year away. One of my best friends at uni was much trendier than me though (not hard... really not hard) and she got me right back into British pop music by sitting me in her room and playing me a million cassettes of 'cool' music (of course she was cool – she came from near Manchester...). Some of that music I still like (Billy Bragg, more Prince, Elvis Costello, Kirsty McColl, Communards and by association some old Bronski Beat, more Talking Heads, the Pogues), some of it I've hardly listened to since (Cocteau Twins, Half Man Half Biscuit, Fine Young Cannibals...) and some of it I can't remember at all (again more drink was often involved – I remember she had a cassette with 'The Woodentops' written on it but I can't remember anything about how it sounded). Around the same time another friend played me my first Tom Waits ('The Heart of Saturday Night' though that's from 1974 - it's still one of my favourite albums...again with the '70s...) and I remember another group of students (mainly from Bradford) who wore long coats and who especially liked the Smiths and, again, the Cure (what is it about those coats..?). At college discos (which were pretty dire...) I remember Peter Gabriel's 'Sledgehammer' being a big favourite as well as lots of James Brown. In the second year I seem to recall Whitney Houston and George Michael making an appearance and at the same time I'm aware that the Stock, Aitken and Waterman factory was producing Kylie and Rick Astley and all that and playing them on TV's new music horror 'The Hitman and Her' (I did watch it but, like everyone else, only when drunk and mainly to take the piss out of it). Then in my last year I did even less studying than ever (was very unhappy) and listened to nothing but a local station (Chiltern FM) that played a lot of soul music (old and new) mainly because it felt comforting, I think. My reaction to Cambridge and its atmosphere of academic elitism, it seems, was to blast out Luther Vandross, Alexander O'Neal, Regina Belle and lots and lots of Diana Ross (an odd rebellion, perhaps, but it worked for me). Then at some point in my final year (before exams...) I was introduced to house music and ecstasy. But that's a whole other story...

So, with all this listening in mind... what have I chosen for my '80s pop song this time around? The band I've picked surprised even me because I was never really a proper fan, I don't particularly like the singer and all his nonsense and I never saw them live or anything (there's a live version of one of their big songs here). I guess some people would say they were more alternative than pop – certainly the singles charted in the UK but not very near number one and hardly at all in the big market in the USA (discography here). Still, to me, from this distance it seems like pop (just pop that might last rather than, like the SAW factory, pop we'd rather forget...) so I'm running with it. The song I've chosen to post is a later number (from 1986 – details here) and when you read about it you realise it's really an anti-pop pop song which is kind of interesting too (maybe all the best ones are that way inclined). I've gone for it really just because I like it (the lyrics most of all...the inclusion of words like 'Humberside'...) and I suppose that's one of the things with pop, isn't it - you can just like a song - you don't have to worship the band or anything. We are not those tribes they bang about on sometimes in the press after all - we are individuals... there are just a lot of us.

(added later) Apparently they played this song on the radio this week after the demo in London about student tuition fees (news here)! Maybe I'm psychic...

Tomorrow the 1990s... r u ready..?


Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Pop picking - part 2 (pop has soul)

Yesterday I picked a pop song from the 1970s... and to be honest I like so much 1970s music that I could probably keep picking pop from that decade from now until Xmas and not get near to running out of favourites. I suppose this is partly because it was the decade when I learned to love music (and pop music in particular). I was a kid then (born 1967) so in the '70s I listened with an open mind and I loved songs just because I liked the sound (not because it was cool, or uncool, or mainstream, or alternative, or because the singer was old or young or thin or pretty). OK, there may have been the odd case where my adoration for the pop star intervened too (Donny Osmond, my first love) but all in all I think it was the music I liked most and even now I will be out and proud and say that the Osmonds had a lot of good records, you know. I can listen to them still ('Crazy Horses', 'One Bad Apple'...).

I suppose it would make sense to move on to the 1980s today but instead I'm going to go backwards and pick a track from the 1960s. Because of older half siblings (who left records piled around the house) I listened to and loved a lot of '60s music too. Again there's a lot to consider but here's what I've chosen – a song by Mr James Brown (1933-2006). Sorry the clip cuts off when it does – it had the best visuals of all the clips I could see:

This song ('It's a Man's World') was released in 1966 and, according to the interweb, it was written by James Brown and Betty Jean Newsome (you can read a little about it here). I've picked it for many reasons but partly because I find it interesting how we categorise music (and pop music especially). This song was a pop hit, as were many of Brown's releases, but do we describe him as a pop artist? I don't think we do very often - we're much more likely to describe his music as R & B or funk or soul. This doesn't only happen with black music of course (it happens with very white heavy rock/metal too... Motorhead had singles in the charts but we don't call them 'pop' very often) but it does mean that we end up with an idea that 'pop' music is blander, whiter and more samey than it really is (in fact popular taste is much wider than we give it credit for... though there are cynics who try to keep it narrow, I think). Sure there are black singers and musicians who do get the pop label (Michael Jackson...was he not the Prince of Pop or something?) and to an extent it has changed in recent years but these are just some thoughts... from a middle-aged music fan. I could be wrong.

Now I've got to rack my brains for a song from the 1980s for tomorrow. I hated so much '80s music (just the words Thompson Twins make my ears ache!) so it might be tricky!


Monday, 8 November 2010

Pop picking

When I was a kid I LOVED pop music. I watched 'Top of the Pops' on TV like my life depended on it, I listened to the Sunday night chart show on the radio (in every sense) religiously and I bought as many 7 inch singles as I could and played them over and over and over again. Sometimes I used to fight with my nearest-in-age brother about who would be allowed to buy a particular 7 inch single if it was something we both really loved (and I remember a particularly vicious battle over Slade's 'Merry Xmas Everybody'). For yes, in the early to mid 1970s (aged from about 5 in my case) we loved (amongst other things) glam rock/pop - Sweet, T Rex, Wizzard... One of my very first pop favourites though was this song from 1972 (I had this one on one of those dodgy K Tel LPs... wrote all over the sleeve for some reason... Ortonesque...). Excuse the lack of synchness on this clip... the boots make up for it though I think.

With this in mind I was thinking about having a pop-picking week... might anyone join in? Pop is one of those things... most of us have an opinion on it (what is pop, what makes good pop, is bad pop good pop etc.). If I can manage it I might post a pop song a day this week... and I'll try to make sure they're not all from the 1970s (though current pop music... so much pap... not even my ten year old likes it...). That's something else we might talk about, I suppose.

p.s. Poem of mine today at Bolts of Silk. Watery Poetry Bus poem back here.


Saturday, 6 November 2010

Wet, wet, wet...

This week's Poetry Bus prompt is to write something watery (prompt is here – think baths, showers, swimming pools etc.). As I was considering the task I also decided to bring in part of last week's prompt and make this poem a triolet (because I used something readymade last week - that prompt was here). So, without further rambling around (and no pictures today... let's make the words work harder...), here it is:


There's water first and water last
You watch it fall from hand to hand
So little left, so much gone past
There's water first and water last
The ship's too heavy for its mast
It crashes hard upon the land
There's water first and water last
You watch it fall from hand to hand

RF 2010

This week I posted some Victoria Wood, some Two Ronnies and some David Hoyle. Because there's so much more than poetry in this world.


Thursday, 4 November 2010

The obvious next post

It's funny how things clump together in the head. Last week I posted a poem (here) about something that happened at a Manchester club night called Flesh (years ago). One of the most memorable features of that club was a marvellous performer known as the Divine David (now known more regularly as David Hoyle). David is interviewed in today's Guardian (here) and it's well worth a read so go, go, go. David's material is very... different to the Two Ronnies (who we saw in the last post). It is full-on in pretty much every sense - tightrope walking stuff (my god, he's good though). Here's a tiny taster:

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Water thoughts

So our task for the next Poetry Bus trip concerns water (prompt is here). Trawling for comedy clips has been a good time-waster this week... so here's something slightly related. Not their best work perhaps but apt. And old... so old...


Monday, 1 November 2010

Difficult next post

So how do you follow a post that features a poem about dressing up as a sanitary towel? I am flummoxed... I really like to keep things varied and I hate to feel like the posts ever get samey. So where next?

We've had politics and news on the brain a bit here... some overseas stuff... what with the Jon Stewart 'restore sanity' thing over in the USA... and his Obama interview last week (here)... and then I read an interview today with that old hack P.J.O'Rourke (I interviewed him myself a few years back... he was really very dull in person... right-wingers, I ask you... even the funny ones are dull). And then ('at home') there have been all the 'where to cut next' financial/political stories in the news... and how did Boris Johnson get to be the voice of reason..? Terrifying.

And then someone mentioned Victoria Wood in the comments to the last post so I had a little trawl online and come across the clip below and it seemed appropriate (it's not hilarious or anything but it has its moments). It features Julie Walters too – she really knows what to do with a face.

There was a lovely interview with Victoria Wood in the 'Guardian' not long back (here). She's a smasher, she really is.