The Smash Hits That Weren’t

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 Lost Art Of The Armchair Treasure Hunt

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

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

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 →

Influences

gaspard de la nuitIn the early years of the 20th Century, Ravel wrote his piano suite ‘Gaspard De La Nuit’ which is widely regarded as being one of the most difficult piano pieces ever composed, especially this movement ‘Scarbo’ which you can see and hear on this YouTube clip.

Based on a rather bleak poem by Aloysius Bertrand, it deals with seduction, death and strange fiends that come in the night and scare you to pieces.

Ivo Pogorelich does a pretty good job of it in this clip.