Tuesday, 27 February 2018

100 Awesome Things - Part 35 - From the Vault 2014

And at last, I'm caught up with all the 'previously on...' 100 Awesome Things posts...


I'm not quite sure how to describe Lonnie Donegan - or his cultural impact upon Britain - to the outside world. A bit like Rod Hull and Emu, if you were to describe him to an outsider they would like blink at you a few times, perhaps scratch their head and say "you what, now?"

Saturday, 25 November 2017

100 Awesome Things - Part 34 - From the Vault 2014

More 100Awe and this time it's muppety...


I never quite get over my amazement at how a piece of music can unite seemingly-unconnected, disparate people. I should hardly be surprised: the power of music upon the human soul is, after all, my life's study. Yet sometimes, something truly extraordinary comes along.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

100 Awesome Things - Parts 32 and 33 - From the Vault 2013

For the first time, 100 Awesome Things takes on two pieces of music at a time... and once more, grief and music are entwined.


One of the things about grief, in whatever form it takes, is how it eventually just is. Perhaps it takes a very long time, but it's something one absorbs into the fabric of one's soul, one's existence, one's life. It simply is.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

100 Awesome Things - Part 30 - From The Vault 2013

For anyone who saw the Entertainment/Culture section of their news this week, or anyone who has ever spoken to me for any length of time, I don't suppose today's subject will be any surprise.

Because Ray Manzarek died the other day.

Friday, 17 November 2017

100 Awesome Things - Part 29 - From the Vault 2013

I was in Milan last weekend. It was my first visit to the city, which is far more 'real' and 'working' than the city-sized museums of Florence and Venice. I liked it very much, though I can't say I loved it as I do amata Firenze.

On the Friday we did some art and wandering around; on the Saturday we had tickets for Da Vinci's Last Supper, which in real life is way more powerful than any print or copy will ever be; and on the Sunday morning we visited the museum at Teatro alla Scala. The deal is simple: if they're not in the middle of rehearsals, you can go into a box and experience the auditorium itself. Given how outrageously expensive tickets to actual performances there are, this was my only chance to see inside.

Milan is the kind of place where it feels like everyone is richer and better dressed than you (in my case this is almost certainly true for almost everyone). La Scala is the kind of place which doesn't like the hoi polloi. This can be gathered from the prices in the gift shop, where fridge magnets were 12 euro and a small cloth bag was nearly 20.

I posed for a pic with the bust of Mascagni, who composed my favourite opera ever, which remains the only time I've seen live opera to date (ENO at the London Coliseum with Pagliacci and it was great)... and then went into a box, joking with my dad about the most inappropriate thing one could sing at La Scala.

I decided on A Hole In The Ground by Bernard Cribbins. So while I took some pictures, I sang it very quietly to my dad, who laughed. And yes, I am the kind of person who knows all the lyrics to comedy records from the 1960s. You expected anything else?

Anyway, as almost everyone who reads this blog (hi, both of you!), I am a singer. I'm not the world's greatest, but I have some skill. My dad had joked about me "singing at La Scala". It was quiet - there weren't many tourists visiting and there were only a few lighting tests going on - so I didn't think it would be the end of the world if I suddenly burst into song. Which to be honest, I do at any given time/place and singing at La Scala would be one of the more relevant places. I almost chickened out, embarrassed and scared that what would come out would be awful.

Then again, while visiting the Motown Historical Museum in Detroit, of my dearest friends pushed me forward to sing into their echo chamber and I sang a snip of "Dancing in the Street" at Motown in front of a large group of black American seniors and didn't offend so...

Something occurred to me: Mario Lanza. As far as I'm concerned, there have been no greater singersCaruso was good, sure. John McCormack was OK. Pavarotti tolerable. I grant that this is very much personal opinion and is not a statement of fact. 

Simply, for me, Lanza is the tenor I love the best. We were formally introduced to each other via a documentary on TV that I watched with my Granddad not long before he was hospitalised (Granddad, not Lanza). My granddad was a lover of things Italian, like food, music and people to marry, and we enjoyed the documentary so much that I went and bought a 3-disc set of Lanza music that same week.

I quickly discovered that some of the songs are utterly execrable. Some of it's that god-awful 1950s schmaltz with the dolcissimoclose-harmony backing singers which I dislike on Dean Martin songs and detest on Lanza's work. Can you say 'surplus to requirements'? However, no matter how crap the songs or the arrangements, the Lanza Voice remains tremendous at all times, though regularly mismatched to the song.

I watched The Student Prince and laughed as Lanza's voice issued from weedy, charisma-free actor Edmond Purdom, and wished Lanza had played the part himself as originally intended. I watched The Great Caruso and wished that Caruso had lived in a time of better recording technology but was glad Lanza was there to fill in the blanks.

Yes, I loved Lanza's voice and grieved for the lost opportunities and tragedies of his life. Stood in La Scala, I wished to have heard his voice using the theatre's rightly-renowed acoustics. And so I opened my mouth, took a deep breath down to the diaphragm and without fully conscious thought, the first verse of "Because You're Mine" issued forth.

Next I thing know, my dad's tapped me on the shoulder. The security guard has apparently told me off for singing in a theatre. All the previous embarrassment flooded back as we shuffle out the box. He scowled and scolded in Italian so I just said sorry and that I wanted to know what it would sound like. He then proceeded to stare at me as I made my way through the rest of the theatre museum (Franz Liszt's piano! Portraits of the great and good of the opera world! Nureyev's costumes!)...

Perhaps I violated some great, sacroscant rule of the theatre, I don't know. I can't be the first museum visitor to do so.

However, most important to me: I SOUNDED FUCKING AWESOME. The acoustics are truly fantastic and I projected right through that damned gilt and red velvet auditorium. I sounded GOOD, man. The nearby English visitors made some such comment to my parents but I was too busy being overwhelmed by the sound of my own voice rising through the theatre.

Lanza didn't sing at La Scala. He bloody well should have, but life can be cruel and we are sometimes our own worst enemies and sometimes even the hugely talented have bad luck. On the sliding scale of singing talent I'm probably closer to One Direction than Lanza: I'm a girl, not a tenor, and untrained... but for some probably mystical reason, it felt only right and correct that his song should be heard in that moment in that place. Maybe I broke some rule or tradition or something but... I'm sorry for disrupting the lighting crew for twenty odd seconds.

So to the security guard, I apologise by quoting a line from A Hard Day's Night"Sorry we hurt your field, mister."

To the rest of you, this video of awesome is of Lanza's performance at Sunday Night at the London Palladium in 1957, which was neatly featured in an episode of the brilliant and prematurely cancelled The Hour. The first song is "Because You're Mine" and is followed by some operatic pieces. I get it if it's not your bag, if you don't particularly dig opera or 'classical music'... but I hope you'll give him a smidge of a listen anyway, because he's that good. A voice heard only once every century, as the saying goes.

You see, those people you hear on those Cowell shows? Some of 'em are OK. Some of 'em have some skillz... but this is what "great" sounds like. I think sometimes we've forgotten what "great" looks and sounds like and so settle for "mediocre" and "tolerable".

I truly don't say this to be snobby or elitist. I mean, I like "A Hole In The Ground"! It's not about 'opera good, pop bad'. 

We deserve great in all things. "Mediocre" and "tolerable" have their place and if you love it then it's all good, but... It's voices like Lanza, Caruso and the rest that are why I don't dig the Cowell stuff, just as guitarists like Green, Kossoff, Hendrix, Gallagher ensure I'm unimpressed by so much/most current guitar music and so on.

We all deserve the best of everything, whether it's opera or rock or pop or any of those things. We all deserve "great".

C 2013.

100 Awesome Musical Things

Part Two - Octopus Jig - The Dubliners
Part Three - Got To Give It Up - Marvin Gaye
Part Four - Who Cares What The Question Is? - The Bees
Part Five - Doctor Who Cold Open - Craig Ferguson
Part Six - Monster Mash - The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
Part Seven -Don't Believe A Word - Thin Lizzy
Part Eight -These Are The Days of Our Lives - Queen
Part Nine - Who Do You Love? - The Doors
Part Ten - The Mooche - The Duke Ellington Orchestra
Part Eleven - I'm Happy Just To Dance With You - The Beatles
Part Twelve - Rabbit - Chas n Dave
Part Thirteen - The Ballad of the Woggler's Moulie - Rambling Syd Rumpo
Part Fourteen - I Found a Dream - Marilyn Monroe
Part Fifteen - FBI - The Shadows
Part Sixteen - A Million Miles Away - Rory Gallagher
Part Seventeen - Mr Cole Won't Rock and Roll - Nat King Cole
Part Eighteen - The Boys Are Back In Town - Thin Lizzy
Part Nineteen - Rock Me Baby - Willie Mae Thornton
Part Twenty - Paint It, Black - The Rolling Stones
Part Twenty-One - The Ghost Song - The Doors

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Philip At 25 - From the Vault 2011

I knew I'd written a lot about Philip Lynott but I didn't realise quite how much until I was going through Ye Olde Blog to find anything worth keeping.

I'm not sure that this post will say much I hadn't already said, or have said since, but it felt wrong to ditch it entirely.

So here goes...


It is twenty past eleven on the night of 4th January 2011. I am sitting in my cold living room, curled up in a duvet and I am watching a DVD called Thin Lizzy – Greatest Hits. At the O2 Arena (the Point last time I was there) in Dublin, a band calling themselves Thin Lizzy are on stage. At Vicar Street in Dublin, my favourite live music venue ever, the 25th Vibe for Philo is in full swing. According to the line-up on the website, the Hoodoo Rhythm Devils & Glen Hansard are playing as I type.

Although his name isn't splashed all over the place, Philip Lynott has not been forgotten today.