The Smash Hits That Weren’t

Reading Time: 7 minutes

top of the pops

It’s Just Not Cricket – the majority of 70s compilation albums contained no authentic recordings whatsoever


Before music streaming sites and endless YouTube videos, the quickest way to get your daily dose of chart hits was to buy a compilation album.

The curated musical juggernaut known as Now That’s What I Call Music cornered the market in the early eighties and, although it now faces stiff competition from the likes of Apple Music and Spotify, it hasn’t lost its appeal just yet.

People still regularly play old and jumpy Now CDs at parties for a bit of drunken nostalgia and you can’t beat picking up a cheap Now album from the bargain bin of a motorway service station to make your lousy trip in a non-bluetooth courtesy car more bearable. Continue reading →

The Single Women’s Churchyard Of Cross Bones Graveyard

Reading Time: 1 minute

cross bones graveyardCross Bones Graveyard near Borough High Street in London is a pauper’s burial ground with a legend going back to medieval times. Prostitutes were buried here in the 16th Century as they were forbidden to be buried with the usual rites. They were often stacked on top of each other, and beggars and thieves used to pick through the graves, gathering what little they could of any value from the deceased.

It was also called a ‘Single Women’s Churchyard’ and between the 12th and 17th Century, the whole surrounding area was controlled by the Bishop Of Winchester, and as it was beyond the reach of normal governance all kinds of things were allowed that were forbidden in other parts of the city.

You can read more about this fascinating burial site and the legends surrounding it at the Cross Bones Graveyard site.

The Lost Art Of The Armchair Treasure Hunt

Reading Time: 5 minutes

armchair treasure hunt masquerade kit williams

Masquerade by Kit Williams – it looked pretty but did your head in

The late seventies gave birth to a very different kind of publishing phenomenon; the armchair treasure hunt. Long before Geocaching was a thing, the book ‘Masquerade’ featured puzzles hidden in beautiful and elaborate illustrations by artist Kit Williams and sparked a national craze as armchair puzzle solvers up and down the country (and later the world) attempted to unravel its mysteries and thus discover the prize; an 18 carat gold hare buried somewhere in the British Isles.

But the contest morphed into its own conundrum as a spectacularly bizarre turn of events mired the competition in controversy and, despite the author’s best efforts, the prize was never officially won.

Three years after the book’s release Kit received a solution by post from Ken Thomas describing the exact location of the golden hare. However, details of its unearthing became slightly sketchy as Mike Barker and John Rousseau, two school teachers who’d dug in the correct place previously, had unwittingly re-intered the hare during their excavation leaving Ken Thomas a fresh dig site with only a few piles of earth to sift through to claim the prize. Even though they had technically solved the puzzle first, by the time Mike and John’s correct solution had popped through Kit William’s letterbox the story was already out and Ken Thomas had been declared the winner. Continue reading →

The Best Worst Music Ever

Reading Time: 2 minutes

wing best worst music everWhat’s the worst music on the planet? It’s a good question. I am a huge fan of terrible music. From Wing to Steve Wilson to Maxine Swaby and Jan Terri and back, I’ve spent so much time listening to terrible music that I know some of it (lyrics included) even better than the music that I profess to love. So this article on the BBC News site caught my attention.

What doubly caught my attention is that my hometown is mentioned via Portsmouth Sinfonia, which was a 70s project to get a bunch of people with no previous musical knowledge or ability to start an orchestra. Nowadays this is the stuff of ‘hilarous and entertaining’ fly-on-the-wall documentaries, but back then it was quite the idea. But even so, they were trying to be worst, and I’m not sure if that can count.

Thing is, I’ve never been that interested in the intentionally bad. I’ve only really got off on stuff that was truly dreadful by complete accident, despite efforts to make it great.

And I include the song McArthur Park in things I deem decidedly terrible, to the extent that the last time I was in The Beaufort Bar at The Savoy I drank a cocktail dedicated to Richard Harris who, to my mind anyway, sang the quintessential bloody awful version which you can hear below. Thank goodness they’ve lost the recipe to this one.

Top Ten Albums With Influence 1-20

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Ok so recently there was a thing going around Facebook to show the ten albums that made the most impact on you, meant to be shared over ten days. Of course this is basically impossible so I decided to keep going. So here’s the first 20. I’ve written a little bit about why each album / track had a place in my life and included a playlist for you to listen to. Hope you enjoy it.

Rite Of Spring / Firebird – Stravinsky conducted Bernstein
This was the first piece of music I really connected with. We only had a crappy old record player and a few records, but I played this one over and over again and used to jump up and down on the bed to it when I was about 5 years old.

Take Five – Dave Brubeck
Brubeck was the guy who first got me into jazz. I wrote some music for a piano recital when I was 14 and some guy came up and asked me if I liked Brubeck. I guess those rhythms had a big influence.

Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack Album – Various Artists
I was living in France when this came out, and my friends were desperate to buy the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack album, even though they couldn’t see the film. There was much surprise when the Bee Gees sounded rather high.

Discovery – Electric Light Orchestra
The first pop album I ever bought (I’m not including War Of The Worlds) and the first time I started wondering how it was all done and reading the sleeve notes of albums. What’s an engineer? And what the fuck is a mellotron?

The Golden Age Of Wireless – Thomas Dolby
This was one of the albums that got me into synths. Thomas Dolby really pushed the envelope with Windpower, and later got pretty funky with Hyperactive which I used to love. Continue reading →

Rattlesnake – King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard

Reading Time: 1 minute

I’ve come across this. I quite like it. It’s a track called Rattlesnake by a band called King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

I’ve not heard it before. It’s kind of bonkers.

Give it a listen.

I thought people had stopped taking those kinds of drugs. Perhaps they’ve started again.

The Determination Engine

Reading Time: 1 minute

determination engineWhilst labouring away at other pieces of long-form fiction, I’ve written a short story so I thought I’d get it out there.

It’s sci-fi / dystopian fiction and it’s called The Determination Engine.

You can grab it for free on the Kindle store between 15th – 16th July here – The Determination Engine On Amazon. It’s a fairly short read, between 20 minutes to half an hour; would go well with a coffee over the weekend.

I hope you like it. If you do, please leave a review on Amazon; it’s one of the few things self-published authors can rely on to help drive engagement these days and I’d really appreciate it.
Continue reading →

Race For The Galaxy: The Greatest Game Of All Time?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Race For The GalaxyOk. Apart from chess. And some other classics. But apart from those, Race For The Galaxy is hard to beat if you can overcome the initial brainache.

So what is it?

Race For The Galaxy is a card game that revolves around creating as large a space empire as possible in the shortest possible time. Why do I say shortest possible time? Because the way you play the game can force the game to end to your advantage.

It has its roots in the game Puerto Rico, a resource / worker placement game. In Puerto Rico, players take turns to choose one of six different actions, the fun bit being that everyone performs the same action, but choosing the action gets you a bonus. (You can watch a video of someone explain the origins of the game here)

In Race For The Galaxy this is taken a step further; everyone chooses their actions in secret, and then each type of action is made by every player SIMULTANEOUSLY once they’re unveiled. This means you can try to second guess what other player’s are going to do to try and get yourself more useful moves each round. And this simple fact is what makes the game so special; you have to watch everyone else’s game like a hawk, and make sure you can leech off their tactics.
Continue reading →