Thursday, January 31, 2013

Les Miserables? Well I was!

Took the wife to see Les Mis on 2for1 Orange Wednesday. We’d both been keen to see it based on the moving experience we had in Shaftesbury Avenue many moons ago. Back then, I really hadn’t wanted to go, and after ten minutes I was regretting it even more. But this is a story which slowly sucks you in, such that, by the time the chorus had their chests puffed out as they boomed ‘Tommorow you’ll discover what your God in heaven has in store’ (you know the bit) I was crying into my lemon sorbet!

OK, I’m going to get a bit of a reputation as a proper cynic, particularly after my last rant about Sadie and the Hotheads, but here we go again. Why get actors to sing when they clearly can’t? This film would have stood up on its own if the characters had been played by lesser known actors who were talented in the warbling stakes. But, if compared to a bird, Russell Crowe is as tuneless as a…well, Crowe! It was painful, particularly as his compatriot Hugh Jackman is sensational.

sound the same?

  Russ mate, as a Gladiator, Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife who will have their vengeance in this life or the next there is no one to touch you. You are ‘all man’. But to me, Hell would be locked up in a room with just you and Elizabeth McGovern and a song-sheet.

Amanda Seyfield (She of MamaMia fame) can sing. I always thought that Abba back catalogue was a bit of a laugh and didn’t take itself too seriously, thus the tone deaf JulieWalters and Piers Brosnan was excusable. But in this latest film, why make her sing her songs in a key that got all the dogs across Luton barking like that of a scene from 101 Dalmations!

I’m so disappointed. I’m feeling pretty low about some personal stuff at the moment, and this hasn’t helped. All I need now is to hear Lou Reeds ‘Berlin’ album and I might not be responsible for my actions. (Was that the most depressing album ever recorded?)

Someone emailed Mark Kermode of Radio 5 Live  the other week, and summed the Le Mis story up as follows;

She cries, she dies
She cries, she dies
She cries, she lives.

Pretty succinct huh? But to those of us with a soul, this story is so much more. It’s a wonderful story of redemption, and its all based on a wonderful act of love bestowed on the main character Jean Valjean by a priest. The power of loving acts is also central to a book I’m reading at the moment called Everyday Church by Tim Chester & Steve Timms

This would be a tough read for anyone who is ‘unchurched’ and a must for anyone who goes to church. Basically, it argues that it doesn’t matter what you change within the church service; Contemporary music, multi media, casual clothes and a cool vicar, this country has become so disconnected, that they’re never going to come!

God, the Bible etc is just not a part of a swathe of society’s agenda, and even knowledge of the Gospel story is lost to many. The book anecdotes a teacher who told her class the nativity story, and was asked the question ‘why did the lady name her baby a swear word?.

Statistically 70% of the UK population has no intention of ever attending a church service albeit the 2001 Government consensus states 72% of the same database claim to be Christian! Has it just become an ethnic label, simply to differentiate ourselves from Muslim or Buddhist?

The book argues that Christians need to become community rather than create its own insular movement, and then within community, love it.

Love Luton?

That’s pretty radical.

Imagine if we all committed one selfless act and transformed a Jean Valjean, the ripple effect of that would be incredibly powerful in (y)our town. Just don’t tell Russell Crowe, he might want to sing about it!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Flannagan? Forget Mickey, try Andy!

If you want a lesser known emotional rollercoaster autobiography, you could do no worse than Nic Battle’s ‘Big Boys Don’t Cry’ which is a raw tale of loss, hope, restoration and name dropping! (Nic’s in the music business and has worked with the likes of Gary Barlow, Simon Cowell & the Spice Girls)

However, following on from the death of his first wife, his passion is now his charity ‘Gravel Road Trust’ which supports those who have lost a loved one. Once a year he puts on a show and calls in a few favours. Saturday night was this show. Overall it didn’t disappoint.

I guess the headline was Sadie and the Hotheads who are fronted by Elizabeth McGovern who, in another parallel existence is the genteel, long fused Lady Cora, married to Lord Grantham, the master of Downton Abbey.

First thing: On telly, wearing an evening gown, you have no idea how anaemic the woman is. There’s literally nothing to her! Her guitar appears oversized and therefore looks to weigh her down, limiting her mobility and therefore stage presence. You really can’t help but want to take her on a tour of a KFC, Subway, McDonalds & Burger king. But, wait, musical talent is not based on appearance as Susan Boyle & Paul Potts have so adequately demonstrated, so I’m not being fair. We’ve come to hear you sing Sadie, not to sneer at your lack of litheness.

But here’s the problem. Elizabeth McGovern cannot sing. She joins the list of celebrities with talents elsewhere who are deluded in thinking that they have a career in music. I shall put Lizzie in the same Room 101 as Sam Fox, Arthur Dunne (RIP) Terry Wogan, Gazza and Chris Waddle! She seems like a lovely lady with a kind heart (she’s agreed to become Patron of the Trust) and her acting ability is unquestioned, but when she puts her lips to the mike, opens her mouth and exhales, nothing comes out!!

Two of a kind??

 Part of the problem is that she was sharing the bill with some real musical talent. As well as seasoned pros like David and Carrie Grant, there were a couple of artists who made the evening for me and I’d encourage you to check them out.

The first is a lovely Godly Irishman with a heart, a conscience and a desire to change the world. Andy Flanagans irishness allows him to make the words ‘star’ and ‘power’ rhyme, but that’s part of his charm. He’s disarming on stage as he chats between songs, but once the first chord of the guitar begins, complemented by a solo cellist, I was lost in a moment of mellowness, whilst still conscious of the pertinence and angst of lyrics such as ‘Failure is my fear, and caution is my call, But the surest way to sink is when you don’t move at all.’ There’s a sense that these are not lyrics about a third party. I love being disarmed by honesty, and its all the sweeter when its from a delightfully pleasant bloke! (checkout

In total contrast, The Open Road (checkout are a revelation! I have never appreciated anything from the genre of ‘folk’ but I guess that’s because I was limited in my knowledge to the likes of Lindisfarne and Fairport Convention!

Open road are all talented musicians with a look among some of them of travelling folk, but I’m reliably informed that no gates were damaged, and no scrap metal and empty gas cylinders were left once they departed. There is a little bit of everything including accordion, banjo electric double bass and surprisingly brass!  But it works. To cap it off they are fronted by a very pretty young lady called Heather Hepworth whose dulcet Yorkshire tones compliment the warmth which the band generate. The sound is controlled, balanced and altogether pleasing on the ear.

I’d definitely go and see them again, but here’s the problem: They’re just about to go on tour, supporting Sadie & the Hotheads! No contest!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Killer in the rain!

I’ve just finished my second book of the year, but in fairness I had started it in 2012 but put it down because I was eager to read Danny’s digest.

‘Killer in the Rain’ is by my favourite crime author Raymond Chandler and it was a selection of short stories.

Sometimes, when a novel is ‘telly-visualised’ there’s an immense sense of disappointment at the casting and interpretation of a character which you have a vivid image of in your fertile mind. A case in point would be Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Wraysford in the excellent Sebastian Faulkes novel ‘Birdsong’ (Which, by the way, is the only Faulkes novel I enjoyed) Actually that’s a rubbish example! Perhaps a better one would be Anne Hathaway in ‘One Day.’ No one could have visualised that feminine attempt at being Sean Bean’s compatriot! (Sorry, I’m rambling now but I never knew Sheffield was part of Middle earth! Why is that man so popular?)

Robert Mitchum however, IS Christopher Marlowe. I love the whole image of raincoats, trilby hats, a gun in a shoulder holster, a constant lighting of a cigarette, a drip feed of bourbon and of course a broad with the kinda figure that makes a man look twice.

Nobody gets done for drink driving
Nobody dies of cancer from smoking or cirrhosis of the liver through drinking
Nobody puts the boot in, it’s just a clean pistol whip
Good prevails over evil.

There is a tendency in Chandlers novels to over egg the gangster slang. I wonder who his readers were when he was current, and whether he would have been looked upon as pushing boundaries? I have to say that most of the time I haven’t really got a clue about the plot or what they are saying, but its testimony to his writing that he can create such a vivid atmosphere that it doesn’t really matter.

I couldn’t read a whole series of them, but, if you want a few hours escapism back to 1940’s LA, put your feet up on the desk, poor yourself a glass of rye, light up a cigarette (no don’t!) and enjoy!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

A good read!

I’ve just finished my first book of the year. I like to read, and although most of it is done propped up in bed with my wonderful trusty bedside adjustable lamp (a bargain from argos) my favourite place to read is by the pool, in the sun, covered in oil, with a nice cold cerveza sitting next to me in the shade!

I have a ‘thing’ about young people writing autobiographies. Rooney, you haven’t done anything! Sports people are the worst! Phil Tuffnell has had a chequered career but I wanted to get beyond the ‘then we went to Adelaide and I got 3 for 21’ but I didn’t, and bad boy Shane Warne was no better! I want psychoanalysis and dirt, not contriteness, humility and cricket stats.
A little aside about our friend Shane, and an absolute true story which I sadly fear is the real reason we took the Ashes off them in that blissful summer of 2006: Back in those days, stockmarkets soared, bonuses boomed and the champagne flowed and therefore I found myself at Trent Bridge for a corporate day where I never was without a lager in my hand, fine food in my belly and a morning of watching Freddie become a centurion. We left the ground still buzzing from the continued England dominance as Simon Jones ripped into their top orderthat afternoon.

The Aussies are made of stern stuff and bat a long way down the order, so we all knew this game was far from over as we discussed the days play over a couple more drinks in the ‘Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem’ pub (which professes to be 800 years old and the oldest pub in England) before heading out for a night out at a fine restaurant and, er, more drinks.

Fast forward to the end of the evening. Its late, and we are in a bistro split between a diner and a bar. We are in the diner and I slip off for a call of nature and in my failing navigation end up in the bar. There, flanked by two pretty women (all women looked pretty by now!) was Shane Warne. Whilst his fellow cricketers slept and dreamt of a famous comeback, Mr Warne was tempting the ladies with a short one. Check the records, the following day he strode out to bat and was promptly trapped LBW for a duck. England one the match, went 2-1 up in the series and held out to win it!

Back to biographies: Danny Baker on the other hand, although not a sportsman, is a football fanatic (so, tenuously in that genre) and a few years older than me, so I have just found his bio ‘Going to sea on a Sieve’ an absolute delight as it triggered so many of my memory sensations revolving around music (punk / glam rock of which he adores!) clothes, terraces, tv and early experiences of chasing girls!

I guess it helps if you know who he is. He writes as he speaks which is something I know I’m guilty of. The difference is that when you are a famous radio presenter, that’s pretty much what you want from your book. Commercially savvy, he has left enough in the anecdote bank for a second bio as this focuses on his childhood and youth, and gives us an illuminating insight into the life of a Bermondsy boy in the sixties and seventies. Contrary to folklore, not everyone who lived by the docks spent their days fighting and on the take. No, in truth, some of them were passive, warm, amusing, generous, non confrontational …and on the take! But there is a delightful ‘can do’ attitude which Danny has and this really feeds through. Without becoming slushy and Uriah Heepish he acknowledges that it’s all rather fortunately fallen into his lap, but its penned in such a way that you celebrate this rather than resent it. Danny you’re funnier than me, richer than me, and I’m jolly pleased for you and hope your book is a success!

Running Wild

Ok, I’ve written blogs twice before about specific trips to Dominican Republic, and in both instances, I ceased continuing to write for no other reason than that I forgot my password!

This time, I’m writing simply as a therapeutic download. Work is tough, our country is changing, my body is ageing, my kids are no longer kids. This is simply me writing about me, my observations, views, joys, hurts, rants, frustrations, successes, failings, inspirations, bug bares. There are no rules. It’s just for me, but I warmly invite you in.

I have many joys in life, if I were looking to impress a reader I would doubtless put my family, my faith, my work as a trustee with a Christian charity working with the poor, and, yes these all bring me much happiness, but I believe that from the days that Adam and Eve partook of the apple, we’ve become more broken, and I am in need of fixing as much as the next man, and therefore I have to confess to a selfish streak which manifests itself probably most in my delight for running. It keeps me fit, it keeps me calm it keeps me vain! I’m no elite either, but that’s the beauty of it. I can be running surrounded by 50,000 other marathon runners, and it’s just me against….me.

As the years progress I know I will find it harder to maintain my fitness levels, but as long as I can get out there, I’ll be happy. My fear is witnessed in many people who you meet who say ‘I used to run, but then my…knee/ankle/hip packed in’ or some sorry tale that involves the words ‘cartilage operation’

I’ve run loads of half marathons, and my pb is 1:41;57 which I achieved at the Mablethorpe Half in 2010. I got close to beating it in December last year at Bedford, crossing the line at 1:42:03 but I’ve no idea where that came from as I was plateauing at around 1;45 before that. Halves are fun, tiring, but you’re never going to stop because it only starts to really hurt after ten and then you’re as good as home. Marathons on the other hand remain my nemesis. I have completed five and have felt dissatisfied and dejected on each occasion, albeit I did manage a 4;13 at Rutland. I’ll do another because I don’t intend to go to my grave without a sub four on record.