Something for the Weakened

Archive for July, 2010

First Tony Hart & Now Me!

July 27th, 2010 by Alastair

I’ve just been pointed towards this by site designer/hoster and brother of mine. Doesn’t look like anything particularly contentious does it? Well keep scrolling down. About a third of the way down you’ll find some comment on the album design work of David Vigh, which looks pretty good to my eyes. The album he’s designed is for a chap I must admit I’m pretty unfamiliar with named Michael Morph (I assume his albino brother goes under the moniker Michael Chas). Now look ye at the album’s title. Something for the what? Is that a Weakened I see? By jove, I think it is.

Now as you’ve probably guessed, Morph is not one of my pseudonyms – I don’t have any plasticine based ones as far as I know. I should also say that I realise that I own no sole rights to the duff pun that this whole endeavour hangs upon. The Lovely Dan Haythorn was first there in using it as an album title and I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it as a track title used by some dodgy sounding US college rock band (can’t look it up now – writing this on the fly). So, should you be a fan of Michael’s, hello, I am not in any way affiliated with him. If you are him, hello my pun brother.

We should start a gang.

Servile Suggestion

July 20th, 2010 by Alastair

Having conducted extensive tests, I can now report that pork Rogan Josh really doesn’t work. However beef is a reasonable substitute for the lamb.

For Your Consideration Dix

July 18th, 2010 by Alastair

Here we go again. If you don’t understand by now, there are nine more of these things that give an explanation. Have a look at them. Today there’s something which might actually interest people, featuring an appearance by someone well known for actually making music for once. Wrap your lugs round this, my monkey faced children.

Tony Ferrino & Björk – Short Term Affair

As I’m sure most of you already realise, Tony Ferrino was the Portugese Eurovision runner up created by Steve Coogan in the late ’90s. Probably the least successful character in Coogan’s career as character creator, the public never really latched onto Ferrino in the same way they had with Paul Calf, Alan Partridge or even Duncan Thickett. There are probably a fair few reasons for this, though chief amongst these I would say is that the whole thing was played a little too straight – where the writers seemed to think that creating a carbon copy of a particular type of fading ’singing sensation’ was enough, rather than layering some actual gags on top. This was the problem with the TV special Phenomenon, broadcast on New Year’s Day 1997 in a prime time slot on BBC2. The mockumentary that followed two days later, hidden away in a near to midnight slot, is a remarkable piece of work, gag packed and featuring Peter Baynham on some of his best televisual form. Unfortunately, due to the indifference and disappointment the first special was met with, hardly anyone bothered to watch the actual funny performances. As far as I can recall, neither have ever been repeated on terrestrial television and, fairly unsurprisingly, the BBC didn’t commission any more shows starring the character. A video was released, which I think I picked up from a remainder bin eighteen months later for a couple of quid. The shows have never been given an independent DVD release, but do appear as part of The Coogan Collection, which I am forever on the brink of buying, but am still waiting for what I would call “the right price”.

And so we come to the song included. With Coogan’s previous projects being massive hits, there was presumably a lot of expectation of Ferrino following that trend. Thus a tie in album was produced. Released in February of ‘97, it did not trouble the top 40 (I can’t find it’s highest placing) and soon vanished from the shelves of all good stockists. I picked up my copy from my local late, lamented second hand record shop near the turn of the millennium for over twice the price I paid for the video – that’s inflation for you. As the entire character concept seemed to have grown out of Coogan’s ability to bang out this kind of pop tune and (perhaps) some level of love for that musical style, the music on there reflects these tendencies. Like the show that inspired them, the album Phenomenon is not particularly gag heavy, though does feature the occasional piece of lyrical amusement; The Valley of Our Souls’ repeated refrain of “Our Souls,” amuses my puerile mind (say it out loud if you don’t get it); the claim to have “whored my way across Asia/With Sacha Distel” is one of many comical celebrity slanders in What Is Life?; the voice of the object of Tony’s affection in Lap Dancing Lady still elicits a mild smirk from me. There are some pretty much devoid of mirth too – the all too faithful cover of Tom Jones’ Help Yourself contains one joke that’s not terribly funny and Silence of The Lambs, an ode to Hannibal Lecter, seemed dated even then. I would say that Short Term Affair is one of the more amusing, which is a merciful blessing s something without Björk wouldn’t have been as interesting to you.

In the original TV version (I’m going to assume it was recorded before the album was), the au pair’s part was played by Kim Wilde, which intrigues me in light of her having been stung by Chris Morris a few years before. Only a tiny fragment of their interview appears in The Day Today, where Morris asks her what she thinks about the new government measures to clamp the homeless. It’s fairly clear that she’s unaware that she’s involved in a proto-Brass Eye celebrity stitch up, so her later being in on Coogan’s in-character extravaganza makes me wonder whether she’d forgotten his Day Today involvement, disassociated him from Morris’ work or had just been a good sport over the whole thing (not much was used after all and it only showed her as, at worst, being a bit gullible). Who knows, probably only Kim and Steve. Her delivery isn’t quite as impressive as Björk’s – her Englishness and age make her slightly less believable as an au pair, and her closing wails are inevitably far less impressive than the Icelandic piskey’s. The video’s easy enough to find on YouTube, should you be interested in comparing and contrasting.

The album version is credited to Coogan and Steve Brown, a mainstay of the comedy song racket throughout the 80s and 90s. Intriguingly, the music credits on the video go to Brown and Martin Coogan, Steve’s brother and front man of the Mock Turtles. He receives a couple of writing credits on the album, as does former Packet of Three star Henry Normal, who co-founded Baby Cow productions with Coogan. Looking through the musicians assembled to appear, none really stood out as familiar to me, but having done a spot of research, some of them could actually be quite well established.The Jim Mullen credited on guitar could well be a Scottish jazz legend, bassist Gus Goad seems to have been in post punk outfit The Look while other guitarist Paul Cuddeford seems to have gone on to score bits for the Hairy Bikers and Derek Acorah. As one would expect, none of them actually mention their work with Ferrino, though drummer Raymond Weston does mention working with both Björk and Coogan (in that order, obviously). There’s even a nice in joke of giving Glenn Ponder a piano credit – Ponder being the band leader Steve Brown played in Knowing Me Knowing You. Quite where Björk’s involvement came into things, I have no real idea. If memory serves, she was spending an awful lot of time in the UK in the mid90s, so must have been aware of the Iannucci crowd as they were coming to prominence. Whether she was asked to be involved or offered her services, I have no idea, though it’s not especially important.

So what’s to like? The attention to detail is as meticulous as ever in Coogan’s work, so the pastiche is played dead straight, making it almost believable. There are some pretty funny lines – the reference to fish fingers, the repeated imploring in the spoken word section, the line that precedes “Every lie” are all pretty good (trying not to spoil them for those yet to listen, should such people exist). Coogan’s vocals hold up pretty well, but are inevitably eclipsed by the strange sounds emitting from Björk’s larynx. The pair teamed up to perform the song on that year’s Comic Relief, which is also fairly easy to find on YouTube. It’s a decent version, though I prefer it without a laugh track on top, plus it looks a little to me like a prerecorded insert being shown to an audience, rather than a properly live recording, though I could be wrong. Coogan performed live as the character for a few years at the start of the nothingies, but didn’t use him on his most recent live dates. I’m inclined to think the he’s retired Tony for good now. Probably for the best really.

Harvey

July 16th, 2010 by Alastair

I’ve never been to Cleveland, nor is it terribly likely that I will ever cross it’s city limits. Yet I feel like I know it to some extent. This is pretty much solely down to the work of Harvey Pekar, who died at the start of this week. Unsurprisingly the net has been awash with obituaries, tributes and reminiscences since then, so I shan’t try and rehash any of those. For those of you unaware of the great man’s work, I point you in the direction of Tom Spurgeon’s extensive obituary to give you a feel for who the man was and the immense importance of his writing. Here, I shall merely offer a reminiscence of my first encounters with his output.

The local comic shop always had copies of American Splendor in it. From when I first went in, they were there, peeping out of the magazine sized section. Placed amongst the old 2000AD back issues, the moldering copies of Speakeasy, Strip, Blast and the like, were these images of a balding man angrily addressing the reader about some sort of perceived slight or minor grievance/grumble with the world. Being only fourteen or fifteen at the time, these didn’t really seem like the sorts of things I’d be interested in, so I carried on flicking, trying to find the Revolver Romance Special (still looking – if anyone has one, I will gladly take it off their hands).

The years passed and the comics stayed where they were. Going by some of the obit’s I’ve read, I don’t believe Harvey was self publishing by this time so these would be exactly the same comics cluttering up the back issue boxes all this time. As I began to learn more about the underground scenes of the late sixties, early seventies and what they influenced in the late eighties, early nineties, I would have had to have been blind not to have spotted his name cropping up again and again. I found myself reading the likes of Joe Matt’s Peep Show (was it really thatJesse Armstrong who had a letter published in one issue? (or was it Sam Bain? One of them anyway. Potentially)), Seth’s Palookaville and various other autobiographical pieces (okay, Seth was faking it, but I don’t think i knew that at the time), but was still yet to try anything Pekar had turned his hand to. The time had come.

I’m not sure which issue it was that I picked up, but am reasonably sure the cover featured Harvey in a yard strewn with dead leaves, possibly shaking his fist, perhaps just gesturing with his arm in some manner. Whichever, he looked pretty surly. Getting it home, I seem to remember it going close to the bottom of my ‘to read’ pile, it wasn’t published by Vertigo after all, but eventually I got there. If I’m honest, I found it pretty hard going. I’d experienced a fair amount of the underground by then – I managed to pick up nearly an entire run of Weirdo from those self same back issue boxes – but nothing could have prepared me for Harvey’s work. The mundanity of it all unsettled me. At least Seth was on some sort of ‘quest’ (imagined, but still) and Matt’s candor over his selfish and onanistic habits were amusing, but this was so based in the normalcy of everyday life, that I couldn’t understand what the fuss was all about.

Except for one page. It was drawn by Chester Brown, someone else who was no stranger to the autobiographical comic and whose work I was familiar with at the time. Not sure how many times he collaborated with Harvey, this being the only one I’ve seen, but it was rather special. The strip depicted a phone conversation between the pair, Harvey asking Chester to draw a strip for him, possibly about the conversation they were having. All pretty mundane sounding, until you get to the final panel when Harvey asks Chester “You’re not going to bre drawing yourself as a bunny in it are you?” This was something Brown had a tendency to do in those days and indeed throughout the strip Chester had been drawing himself as a tiny rabbit holding onto the phone with both paws. It’s a wonderfully written strip and I almost certainly haven’t done it justice here.

I concluded that there was some good stuff in American Splendor, but that maybe it wasn’t for me. I can’t have been much older than twenty-three and was still wanting escapism from my reading, not the tales of a fifty year old man in the heart of the States. My attitude has changed significantly since then and I’m happy to have several of the American Splendor collections sitting on a shelf next to my bed. It took me a while to truly understand Harvey’s world (as Spurgeon noted, it really doesn’t feel right to refer to him as ‘Pekar’), but it was helped by growing into a similar one myself. It truly is a shame that he’s gone.

Though it is spelt Splendour.

Opening to a really weak sketch

July 12th, 2010 by Alastair

INT. RECORD SHOP. DAY.

A male customer is browsing through the Monkees section. A female assistant approaches.

ASSISTANT: Is there anything I can help you with?

CUSTOMER: Actually, yes. I’m looking for Head.

She looks offended, not that he notices.

CUSTOMER: Isn’t everyone really?

And the rest just fails to write itself.

Tinjury

July 8th, 2010 by Alastair

I am now in possession of a new old bicycle.

On the day of purchase, I realised that the frame was slightly taller than I expected.

Consequently I now have a mildly bruised perineum.

I’ll scan it in over the weekend so you can all share my pain.

Next time someone asks how you are…

July 5th, 2010 by Alastair

…please inform them “There’s no mank in my spindle.” It’s a good phrase and it should be used more, by crikey.
And thus, I shall win.

Number Nine – For Your Consideration

July 4th, 2010 by Alastair

Okay, it’s been a couple of weeks since the last one of these, so I will explain. With this series of posts, I’ve been delving into my vast collection of audio recordings, looking for items that are no longer commercially available in any way that benefits the original artists and which I believe to be worthy enough to share with you, the stinking unwashed masses. This time around, I’ve gone for something slightly different, so I present to you -

Armando Iannucci – Us and Them (click to hear)

This recording comes from the cassette version (hence the mild background hiss) of Iannucci’s book Facts and Fancies, the print version of which was released in 1997, with the audio book coming out the following year.The book is essentially a compendium of Iannucci’s newspaper columns, most of which were written for the Torygraph. Living with my parents in the years prior to the book’s release, their right wing reading habits first thing in the morning led to my often flicking through that particular rag of a morning. Apart from the telly page and the obituaries (morbid, I know, but often fascinating), Iannucci’s weekly columns were often a highlight, if I happened to remember which day they were supposed to appear on. Us & Them is obviously something else altogether. It’s far too long to have been a column piece and I’ve been unable to find any further information about it’s gestation online. Perhaps it was written especially for the collection, possibly it originally appeared in a another anthology, maybe it was just something he’d written, enjoyed and decided to throw it in there. My brief investigations have thrown up no answers, so I shall leave the speculation up to you.

The tape was, slightly oddly, released by the BBC, presumably off the back of the success of the Friday/Saturday/Election Night Armistices. This is in spite of the fact that (as far as I can ascertain) none of the recorded material was ever broadcast on the radio at the time. Portions of the book have subsequently been chopped up into fifteen minute sections and broadcast on Radio 7, but I don’t believe that any of it showed up on Radio 4 near the turn of the millennium. I can’t imagine much of it ever going out on Radio 4 back then as, even though there’s not much of it, the presence of a reasonable amount of coarse language would surely have ruled it out of Book of the Week status. I know 4 do drop the occasional f-bomb when the kiddies are at school, but I’ve never heard one in a long running series with an early evening repeat, such as BotW and can’t imagine Facts and Fancies falling into any other schedule slot. It’s even less likely that Us and Them featured in any of the broadcasts, being twice the length of all of the Radio 7 broadcasts and with no obvious point to pause it in the middle. The total running time of the audio book is two hours, while the five fifteen minute radio broadcasts add up just about an hour and a quarter, so logic dictates (to me anyway) that it never went out.

There are a few things that I really like about this tale. Iannucci’s voice always is one that always seems oddly soothing to me. A soft Glasgow accent, with vague Italian undertones, lilts into the ears, whatever it may be saying. The writing is as witty as one would expect, the splendid use of simile and the slightly peculiar turn of phrase being just two of Ianucci’s trademark flourishes displayed here. There is also what appears to be a gag about twenty-eight and a half minutes in that only works when being read out. I seem to recall it feeling like a minor twist in the tale when first I read it (around the turn of the century), but had to stifle a giggle when I acquired the audio version a year or so back. Whether it’s supposed to be amusing, or just becomes amusing because of who has been reading the preceding twenty-five minutes, I don’t know, but I think it’s great. It’s quite unlike anything else Iannucci’s produced – more sustained than any of his sketch work, though more fantastical than The Thick of It or Partridge, while still being so distinctively his own in tone.

I won’t patronise you with blathering on about Iannucci’s other achievements – if you don’t know what they are, then you really should. Should anyone be interested in hearing the other three quarters of the audio book, the ever excellent Dr. Gitfinger has the whole thing available for download. I can only hope that there’ll be some sort of proper audio version of Armando’s The Audacity of Hype.

So I got hit by a car, right?

July 1st, 2010 by Alastair

You remember that don’t you? It’s a few posts down, you can’t miss it really. Oh, alright, here’s the link then. If you’ve not read it, this might not make that much sense, so I would recommend it. Done that? All the way through? Go on, back then. Right, you see what I did at the end there? The thing is, getting the driver’s name and number wasn’t realy the end of the story.

A couple of days after that I was idly fiddling around online. My eyes fell on the scrap of paper Sarah had given me, so I decided that it might be in my interests to see if I could find anything out about the woman. Not in a horrible, stalkerish fashion – at this point I had her phone number, but had never called it, and hadn’t even considered looking her up in the phone book*, so it clearly wasn’t stalking. Okay? Got that? Good. The problem I had was that her handwriting was fairly indistinct. The surname was double barrelled, so I imagined I’d be quite likely to find something, but what were the actual letters she had written? I tried several combinations in Facebook, but to no avail. I had a couple of quick goes with Google and was about to give in when I received a surprising message. On one of my spelling attempts, I got a ‘Did you mean..?‘ message. Unsurprisingly, it looked similar to what I’d typed so I gave it a go.

There were twenty-five results.

They were all about her.

She is the only person on the whole internet with that name, rather like myself (now that my namenganger (might be a word), who fought in the trenches now seems to have fallen off of Google). Most of these were on employment databases, where professional folk can give out their details to prospective employers. From these I gleaned the facts that she is originally from Detroit, was educated in at least three universities, has worked in various forms of Organizational Facilitation (is that advanced Human Resources? Seems to be something like it), currently for a firm with an ‘i’ at the start of their name who don’t appear to be Apple affiliated, the bandwagon jumpers. I also learnt that she had two children, so anything further than a financial relationship seemed to be unlikely. It also transpired that she sort of resembles Princess Di in photographs, which I’m sure some people like, but put me off a bit. Maybe it’s the concave monitor, I dunno. I felt I knew enough and left it at that.

A few days later it was Sunday. I’d planned to take the bike to be fixed on the Saturday, but instead decided to stay at home to nurse a fairly unpleasant hangover. The bike and my feet being my only means of transport, it soon became clear that I was going to have to push it with it’s immobile rear wheel to have someone look at it. The nearest shop to home was about half a mile away, but someone had recommended one that was closer to a mile and a half away and I’m a sucker for recommendations if nothing else. It was hot, but I was determined. I tried various strategies to try and make my progress easier; balancing the saddle on my belt, so that the back wheel was off the ground – worked in brief bursts, but would always lead to mt trousers falling down far enough that the wheel would come back into contact with the tarmac; lifting the back up by the saddle – tiring; lifting the back up by the pannier – even more tiring. In the end I settled with letting the wheel drag along the pavement.

A third of a mile into my expedition, I experienced my first ever blow out. The same piece of rubber being in contact with the ground over that sustained period was to much for it and the recently resurfaced road I was walking it down at that point was spiky enough to finally penetrate the inner tube. I was surprised by the ‘pop’ it gave out and by the speed at which it deflated. Shortly after that I found myself fairly annoyed by the fact that the air in the tyre had evidently been helping to hold the wheel in shape and that now the buckle seemed even worse – while the wheel had occasionally turned when going over cobbles or other bumpy ground before, providing a moment’s respite in my journey, now it was most definitely locked into one position, unturning and irrevolvable. I continued none the less.

After about half an hour’s stop, start dragging, I reached my destination. I presented the cycle to one of the employees who rather confirmed my suspicions that it would need a new back wheel and now also tyres and an inner tube. I explained my situation, how I was hit, how the nice lady was going to pay for it, but to be honest I don’t think they were particularly interested in my attempts to bring a little drama into their drudgery. They totted up how much this would all cost, including labour, it all sounded reasonable to me and I said I’d pick it up on the Monday. I left, did a spot of shopping, hurried home, scoffed down a plate of baked beans and sausages (not something I do regularly, but they are a bit of a guilty pleasure) then hopped on a bus out of the city so I could watch regular correspondent Mr. Colgesso (formerly of Manchester) fronting an orchestra. While sitting too close to a grumpy teen on a half empty bus (it was quite ful when I boarded, but I couldn’t be bothered to change seats when doubles became available – I am nothing if not Ben Elton), my not quite as annoying as it could be ring tone went off. It was the bike shop calling. They informed me that while taking the wheel off, they’d found a crack in the frame. I later discovered that this was situated directly next to one of the nuts that hold the back wheel on, meaning that had they replaced the wheel and given the bike back to me, the wheel could have fallen off at any time. Thankfully they didn’t try to do that and told me the worst.

I would have to buy a new bike.

I thanked them for trying and mulled this all over. For one thing, I was quite glad that I hadn’t tried to fix it myself. I have performed a few feats of bike maintenance in the past, often with relative success, but the one occasion I changed a wheel ended in varying levels of disaster. I think the problem had been that I was fairly unconcerned by my having an extra washer left over having attached the new wheel. This didn’t begin to concern me until the back wheel began slipping out of alignment on increasingly regular occasions, normally while I was in motion. This was easily rectified by me kicking it back into alignment, while still in motion, which wasn’t too bad until the point where, towards the end of it’s life, I was doing this every hundred metres or so. So what would the likelihood be of my noticing a crack in the frame? I would guess slim at best. I can easily imagine my assuming it was just designed that way, pedaling off and straight under an eighteen wheeler. But would Sarah be prepared to cover the replacement costs? I would have to call her before making any purchases.

Tuesday came around (Monday night disappeared in an alcoholic torpor) and I nipped back to the bike shop. There I saw the machine for the last time, having harvested the pannier from her rear and trying to get the front light fitting off, which resulted in a failure of epic proportions. The shop offered to take the rst of her remains and recycle them onto other bikes, which was a bonus, as I had visions of having to try and drag it the nearest tip (or just chuck it off a bridge in the dead of night). I should have grabbed the gears as well, as they were really rather good, but with the cycle maintenance skills outlined above, you realise that I’d have never actually put the m to any use. Besides which, it was my lunch break and I didn’t have much time to fanny about.

That evening I finally phoned Sarah. I half expected the number not to work at all, my faith in humanity being what it is, but no, it did connect, though just to her voicemail. I’d specially written down my mobile number (I’ve never known it by heart as it’s so rare for anyone to actually want it), so read that out after pointing out it was me and awaited the call back. That came about twenty minutes later. She asked me how I was (after I’d first asked her, gentleman that I am) and I went on to explain the situation as it was, she asked if I had any insurance, I informed her that of course I didn’t (without bemoaning the pittance I call a wage, though I think she’d guessed my poverty by this point anyway), before finally, almost grudgingly, asking if she would buy me a new bike. She seemed reticent on the ‘new’ bike front, but was prepared to replace ‘like for like’ – a phrase that took me longer to understand than it really should have (she would replace my cycle with one of similar worth). We weren’t so crass as to discuss an actual figure, but I said I would try and find something and get back to her with a cost. So with the ball in my court, I said that we would speak soon and bade her farewell.

That’s where the situation has remained for the past couple of weeks. Through a combination of indecisive buying strategies, blocked websites at work, myriad evenings away from home, lack of frame size knowledge and a dearth of decent looking bikes on sale localley, I am still yet to purchase my new mode fo conveyance. But now I don’t even have to speak to Sarah agai, for on Tuesday I received another phone call. It was from a chap named James who works for Fry & Merton trust funders Direct Line. He informed me that Sarah had put in a claim for the incident and that I was to be dealing with them if I wanted to see a cheque. We had a bit of a gas about what I’d have to do, informing me at one point that they’d like to see two quotes for the work that needed doing. Obviously the full story hadn’t got through to him, so I imparted the extra info and he seemed to think that with such a piffling amount (HA! To you maybe, insurance boy!) there shouldn’t be any issues in the transactions being made. So as long as I get a receipt from the private individual I eventually purchase my new bi-wheeled chariot from, everything will be fine.

I hope.

If I don’t, I shall be giving out both Sarah and James’ full details and will expect all of you to commence the spamming immediately. You know you can, my prettys.

*I did eventually consider looking her up in the phone book, but I never did. Honest. It’s not stalking, I promise.

Did Ya Miss Me?

July 1st, 2010 by Alastair

Yeah, yeah…

It’s been a while, for which I can only apologise. I have been mired in a depressing slump/too busy to write/properly launching my alcoholic career/to the moon (please accept whichever reason or reasons you find most plausible). But things should be back up to their usual semi-regular status in the next few days, so please bare with me while I cheer myself up/free up my diary/neck some more scotch/prepare for re-entry. I’ve been rubbish at responding to the comments left recently too, so apologies for that as well. One was to enquiring about the fall out from my auto-altercation (the being hit by a car, not the beating myself up – that’s more or less a constant and you really don’t want to hear about that), which I promise I will get onto when I finally get the whole thing sorted out.

Or will I? Sod it, I’ve got nothing on tonight (both figuratively and literally), so I might just fill in the middle of the story now. See you in the post above.

(will this be the only occasion where I open a post with a variation on a Gary Glitter lyric? Only time will tell)