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Friday, November 17, 2017

Here's a play for people who don't go to the theatre


Yesterday I went to the theatre on my own.  I've never done that before. I'd been telling myself for a while I had to get round to seeing James Graham's play Ink, with Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch. This week I saw a poster on the tube saying that it closed in early January. I decided I had to get on with it.

Yesterday morning, using the TodayTix app,  I bought a ticket in the Royal Circle of the Duke Of Yorks Theatre for just £23 including agents fees.  The view wasn't brilliant but I've had far worse at rock gigs over the years and it didn't prevent me enjoying it.

Ink is brilliant. Fast, punchy, broad, vulgar and thoughtful, it tells the story of the first year of the Sun newspaper from Murdoch's purchase of the failing title from the complacent Mirror group to the introduction of the first Page Three girl. Its climax is provided by the tragically botched kidnapping of the wife of Murdoch's deputy.

The only thing that could improve it would be to see it with an audience more like the Britain the play describes and less like the self-selecting bunch who go to the theatre.

The latter are overwhelmingly white, senior, middle class and would be the first to tell you they have never read a copy of The Sun in their lives and really couldn't understand what anyone would possibly see in it.

Something like Ink should be seen by the widest audience possible. Not because it would be good for them. But because it would make a great experience even better.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Let's not talk about sex, chaps.

The obit of American writer Nancy Friday in today's Times quotes her on why she started writing about sex:
"Men spend a great deal of their leisure hours in pubs, clubs or washrooms talking about their sexual exploits, but women don't say anything at all. Consequently one woman never knows what another woman thinks about sex."
I don't wish to take issue with the recently-deceased but, setting aside the obvious question, "how would Nancy know what men talk about in men-only situations?", it has not been my experience that men talk to other men about their sexual exploits.

I realised this again recently in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein business when, like everyone else, I've been asking old colleagues whether we ever worked with anyone who showed any of the same tendencies.

We quickly realised that what little we knew on the subject was entirely based on what female colleagues had told us.

Obviously been going in the wrong washrooms.

Saturday, October 28, 2017

What Teddy Roosevelt did all day


I've been reading about Theodore Roosevelt. He became President in 1900. I suppose that's a long time ago but since all my grandparents were alive at the time I don't feel it is.

Roosevelt's daily routine as President began with a couple of hours doing correspondence. Between ten and noon he was in the second floor reception room at the White House meeting lawmakers and civil servants. At noon the general public were let in for an hour. Roosevelt, who was a man of exceptional energy, shook the hands of all of them. Then at one he would repair to the barber's chair for his daily shave. During that time newspapermen were allowed to join him, to listen to his plans and to ask questions.

That's four hours a day answering questions in public. During that time he must have said a few things he wished he hadn't but his biography isn't particularly littered with gaffes. I suppose hat's because gaffes are a product of the broadcast age. In the broadcast age politics is a performance first and an exchange of ideas second.


Tuesday, October 03, 2017

It was the fickle, style-obsessed London media that made a star of Tom Petty

Oddly enough, London was the making of Tom Petty.

When their first album came out in 1976 it made no impression in the USA. Their manager Tony Dimitriades, a Greek Cypriot born in London, just happened to be visiting his family here at the time when he read an enthusiastic review of an import copy in Sounds.

He went to see a British agent, showed him the review and he decided he could get the band a support slot with Nils Lofgren, who was due to tour the UK.

They came in Spring 1977 and went down so well that they stayed behind to play headlining shows of their own. They did "Top Of The Pops" and "Whistle Test" and got on the covers of NME, Melody Maker and Sounds, achieving in that short period national prominence that would have taken years to achieve in the USA.

What's more they went back to the USA as the band that the British had taken to and with punk credentials that would never have occurred to anyone over there.

Maybe it was the leather jacket he wore on the cover. Whatever, it worked. Of course it couldn't happen today. You only miss gatekeepers when they're not there anymore.

Monday, October 02, 2017

House price shock 1980s-style

We bought our first house in 1982. It was a four-bedroom place in north London.

An uncle of mine asked what it cost. When I told him he caught his breath and rocked back on his heels. He didn't have much experience of house prices outside Yorkshire.

He thought about it for a moment and then found a silver lining. "Still, I expect you'll also get a double garage for that."

I explained that there was no garage of any kind. Properties on suburban streets in London didn't work like that.

He went away shaking his head that we would ever pay such a ridiculous sum of money for a house, even in that there London.

How much were we paying?

£39,500.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Questions I didn't get round to asking Jimmy Webb

Just got back from talking to Jimmy Webb about his memoir "The Cake And The Rain" at Waterstone's. I'm looking at my notes and realising that while our conversation touched on such topics as Frank Sinatra in a onesie, the night he left a party with Little Feat, became involved in a road race in the Hollywood Hills and totalled an unbelievably expensive motor car, how he wrote his first hit in his head while driving to the beach, what it was like as a 17-year-old to stand in front of the cream of Los Angeles session men and conduct his own arrangement and why there's a solid fiduciary reason why "Hey Jude" is as long as it is, these are just some of the things I didn't get round to asking him about.

* Singing for the first time in public at Hugh Hefner's place for his TV show "Playboy After Dark".
* Why Richard Harris was incapable of properly singing the title of "McArthur Park".
* Watching the Vietnam demo in Grosvenor Square from the penthouse on top of the Playboy Club in Park Lane.
* His disastrous in-concert debut in Los Angeles in 1970 where Le Tout Hollywood turned up to watch him fail – and he obliged.
* His private conversations with Elvis Presley and Louis Armstrong.
* Being sneaked into the control room to watch the Beatles record "Honey Pie".
* Taking part in a naked orchestral concert with, among others, Joni Mitchell.
* Nearly killing himself shooting the cover of "Lands End".
* How he became one of twelve writers credited on "Famous" by Kanye West.
* Lots of other stuff involving famous beautiful women, expensive cars and cocaine.

Still, it's all in the book.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

There's no such thing as new music. There's just old music you haven't heard before.



The other day somebody asked me the "what are you listening to right now?" question. This questions assumes that I'm one of those people who spend their weeks ploughing through the latest releases. There was a time I had to do that and it almost killed my love of music. I envy Bob Harris who always says that his favourite record is whatever he's just heard. I can't do that.

In addition to this we now have access to so much stuff we haven't heard it seems absurd to give any special respect to whatever happens to be new.

There was a live example this morning. I was reading Michael Chabon's "Telegraph Avenue" which starts with a guy in a record shop going through a crate of old jazz records. He's delighted to find one by Melvin Sparks. Because I'd never heard of Melvin Sparks I fired up the album he was talking about on Spotify and really enjoyed it. It was made just before his death in 2011.

I was just enjoying that when my son messaged me to say he was enjoying "Living On A Thin Line" by The Kinks. This was recorded in 1984 but he'd heard it on a Sopranos soundtrack, which came out sixteen years later in 2001.

Like I should have said to the woman who asked me what I was listening to right now. There's no such thing as new music. There's just old music you haven't heard before.