Monday, 29 September 2008

The beginning of Absolute

Segueing Paul Weller into Phil Collins is a criminal offence. Tell Culture Squad detectives it happened at 10.35am this morning – three hours into the life of Absolute Radio.
The new name on the dial has replaced Virgin.
But the travel is still sponsored by Renault, and they still have the ‘eighties hour.
Over the weekend the station played tracks in reverse alphabetical order from V to A.
The last record on Virgin was American Pie. We all knew the first song on Absolute at 7.45am would begin with an A.
I’ll be back in a couple of minutes with Agadoo quipped star DJ Christian O’Connell.
The new era began with the Beatles’ A Day In The Life from Sergeant Pepper. Good choice.
On Thursday, said Christian, the show will come from somewhere associated with that song.
Wow – a national radio station bringing its breakfast show to Blackburn. In fact he meant Abbey Road studios in, er, London.
Listener John rang to say he liked the new station so much he was speechless.
And then it was on to Absolute Beginners by Bowie.
Elvis Costello, The Who, the Bunnymen, and the Rolling Stones kept things going nicely.
Whoever picked the new stuff loved alliteration - Kaiser Chiefs, Kooks, Killers, and Kings of Leon.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head made a brave change of pace to commemorate Paul Newman and Hendrix’s Voodoo Child was built up as radio rebellion.
In fact it's four minutes of mumbling and showing off.
The promise was “real music” but at ten Absolute changed to Radio Hairdresser.
Van Halen, Kim Wylde, Springsteen, Duran Duran (music by and for accountants from Solihull), and Hall and Oates - before the Style Council’s Walls Come Tumbling Down was merged into Genesis.
Time for the off button.
Absolute Radio is on 1215AM – 1242AM in Staffordshire.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

A wonderful week in Weatherfield

Coronation Street is at its best when there is humour, compassion, and a terrifying psycho.
So this last week has been a Weatherfield classic.
Harry’s humiliation – ending with a walk-of-shame through the pub could have happened to Stan Ogden or Jack Duckworth in an earlier era.
Bookies have replaced window-cleaners as the Street’s would-be Romeos.
The history of the show is dominated by strong and emotional female characters.
But last week it was the men who bonded, hugged, and shed a tear.
Vernon the drummer began his time on the show as a work-shy scoundrel.
He left – still without a day’s proper graft on his cv – but also without a dry eye in the house. His goodbye scenes with flat mate Lloyd were heart-rending.
Well done writers. Liz and Vern were never going to work again.
Humiliated Harry hurried up and left – but not before saying a really touching farewell to son Dan. These northern blokes are suddenly in touch with their emotions.
Capitalist wanna-bes don’t do well on the Street. They are always outsiders.
Baldwin the Cockney was often unpleasant. But Tony the Scottish rags and property magnate is a serial killer waiting to happen.
He is so single-minded he can’t even be diverted by sex – as teenage temptress Rosie found to her cost.
Now he’s on the warpath – with fiancée Carla, her lover Liam, Rosie, Kevin, Sally, Tyrone, and sundry innocent bystanders all liable to hit the mortuary slab.
This man is a proper villain. David Platt should watch and learn.
Oddly for a soap we even have character in New York on business. Everyone else works within five minutes walk – making Coronation Street the world’s most sustainable community.
Coronation Street, ITV1, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The episodes mentioned can be scene on the catch up service.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sketch: Convention of the Left

The star turn was absent but more than 200 people turned out for Left Question Time - the finale of the Convention of the Left, which ran alongside the Labour Party conference.
Perhaps Big Brother and Talk Radio’s George Galloway would have felt uncomfortable down amongst the common people. Because the convention had no platforms.
Well-known panellists - like would-be Labour leader John McDonnell and trade union baron Mark Serwotka – sat at ground level with the audience around them.
Galloway was replaced by Manchester Respect Renewal activist Clive Searle who held his own with the revolutionary elite - despite never having been the victim of a tabloid sting.
Derek Wall of the bourgeois Green Party was easily the most left wing.
He repeatedly called himself a Marxist and gave a clenched fist salute as he left the hall to catch his train to leafy London.
Lindsey German was easily the most reformist – despite representing the Socialist Workers Party, the most prominent far left group in England.
After other panellists had been applauded for demanding free public transport Lindsey struck a blow for moderation by calling for a £15 train fare between London and Manchester.
Robert Griffiths, from the Communist Party of Britain, made everyone laugh with a story about trying to sell Geoff Hoon the Morning Star.
But the anarchists from Ashton howled with derision as he denounced repressive state machinery.
The wounds of the Spanish Civil War are still raw in Tameside.
Red Peppers Hilary Wainwright - a ‘60s-style spaced-out academic – won the prize for practicality by saying the movement should stop making unreasonable demands on people’s time.
And Colin Fox, from the Scottish Socialist Party, sent everyone home inspired when he recounted just how successful his organisation had been. Before the split.
Getting these people in the same room was a massive achievement.
The recall conference is on November 29.
Left Question Time, Friends Meeting House, Manchester, admission £5.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Glee Club, Manchester Library Theatre

The gasping of middle aged ladies filled the theatre as the first male character walked naked out of the shower and onto the stage.
Pulses raced as gradually every cast member (six men) stripped down to full frontal nudity.
The casual nakedness of the pitheads baths is a vital symbol of the intimacy of these characters.
The six - five miners and a mining engineer - perform together as a popular amateur singing group called The Glee Club.
Their humour can be brutal.
But their love is strong too. They talk intimately about relationships, health, and money problems.
Underground they rely on each other for safety. And everyday after work they get naked together.
But their traditional way of life is under threat. Billy Fury is knocking Mario Lanza off the top of the charts.
And attitudes to homosexuality, women, and abortion are changing.
The union is a constant - but can't always help.
Despite the comradeship they all face lonely choices.
This production is funny, moving, well-performed social history.
The Glee Club, Library Theatre, St Peter's Square, Manchester, until October 18. Adult ticket £7.50.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Danny Baker's triumphant return to Radio Five

This is going to be a hilarious season.
BBC Radio Five Live has re-engaged Danny Baker to host 606 – the football phone-in he pioneered.
For 38 Tuesday evenings Baker will entertain us without reference to four-four-two formations or any of the rest of the game’s anorak minutiae.
In his comeback programme Danny was looking for positive stories about Dennis Wise and crazy reason for games to be held up.
After a top tale about a hand grenade on the pitch, we heard how Wise had once been a true gent to someone’s granny.
That prompted Baker to ask for other stories of saintly footballers who had gone beyond the call of duty for fans – and he struck gold.
A caller told of an away game at Bristol Rovers. Burnley’s Jamie Hoyland was warming up when a fan called out and asked the player to visit a van at the far end and buy him a local pasty.
St Jamie took the cash, ran to the far end, climbed over the fence, queued up, bought the food, and ran back with the grub and the change.
We learned that the fan concerned was Selwyn – an ice cream man from Todmorden.
Normally this would be THE call of any show.
But before the hour ended we heard of former Oldham player Alan Groves who returned for a game at a former club. As he stepped off the bus a woman handed him a baby and said: “You have him.”
According to Groves’s cousin, a couple of travelling fans minded the child during the game before Alan took him back on the coach.
Baker’s wit, enthusiasm, and selection of talking-points makes this a uniquely entertaining sports show.
This is our culture. The one thing the moneymen can't take away from us.
Danny Baker, BBC Radio Five Live, Tuedays from 10.06pm and 11pm. Podcast here.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Duchess - saucy and modern

Sumptuous costumes and extravagant hairdos are the stars of this film – just like an Adam Ant video.
But it poses modern questions about the role of celebrity in politics and in fashionable society.
The drama comes out of the sad, loveless marriage between the eighteenth century Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
Keira Knightley shines in the title role.
She is saucier than usual – an early glimpse of Knightley naked is followed by a girl-on-girl love scene, and a domestic ménage à trois when the Duke moves his mistress in.
The real Duchess was a Spencer – and comparisons with Lady Di, Prince Charles, and Queen Camilla are obvious.
The playwright Sheriden is portrayed as the Andrew Morton of his day.
And the Duke even has his own take on Charles’s famous “whatever love is” line.
Women are depicted as clothes horses and broodmares. Their importance and standing rely on their ability to produce a male heir.
The Duchess debates the nature of freedom with the leader of the reformist Whigs. She argues it is an absolute, and this is tested when she has to choose between her children and her personal fulfilment.
The Duke appears to have it all but even he is trapped by duty.
The film is beautifully shot. Odeon Merry Hill - adult ticket £6.20.

Canadian blogger cannot be serious

Is it an art project, is it a sophisticated advert, or is it really an attempt to become the world’s fastest swimmer?
A recently-started blog called Chasing Michael Phelps is certainly intriguing.
The writer claims to be Cedric, a 24-year-old volleyball player from Canada.
Inspired by the performances of Phelps at the Olympics, Cedric has decided to dedicate the next four years to training for swimming glory.
On the blog our new hero discusses his training, asks for tips, and posts videos of his progress.
It’s well done – but can it possibly be serious.
Does Cedric really believe he can start from scratch and rival Phelps?
How is he going to support himself?
Are his friends and family on board?
He needs to find an appropriate training regime. In one video he is trying to swim against a fast flowing river.
In the time he takes to set himself up Phelps would have done half a dozen lengths. And viewers wince as Cedric is dashed against the rocks.
These are rubbish training methods. But good pictures. Is Cedric an art student pulling us in to his performance?
The blogger goes into great detail about his equipment – special suit, training videos, and underwater camera.
Maybe it’s an advert.
If Cedric is serious he has bought big-style into the strange modern desire to give up your privacy and live life in a goldfish bowl.
If this is art how do we describe it? Blogtertainment, reality blogging, blog drama?
Perhaps it’s a multi-media novel.
London 2012 would make a good finale.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Everyone's a swimmer baby

Fulwood Leisure Centre is astonishingly busy.
At sixish on weekday evenings the swimming pool resembles a scene from a Where's Wally book.
Preston City Council should run seminars on increasing sports participation. Or maybe they should build more swimming pools.
In the early evening at Fulwood it is impossible to swim a length without a collision or a near miss.
Crowds of people gather in the shallow end – like participants in a union meeting for centre users.
More hang off the wall at the deep end –watching their friends dive and jump into the melee.
Swimmers of all ages, sexes, shapes, speeds, and races pick their way from end to end.
Bandits appear from below and all sides. Occasionally they swim over the top of you.
And – in the middle of it all – a suicidal lunatic starts to swim backstroke.
But, surprisingly, none of this is off-putting.
Most punters do their best to avoid each other with good grace.
And it’s possible to adapt to the conditions.
Don’t pick a line on the floor of the pool and swim up and down it. There’s no chance.
Stay alert. Drift around the obstacles, and straighten up when you can – like a rugby union three quarter.
This workout builds endurance – but also flexibility, as swimmers slalom down the pool, darting through gaps, adapting strokes and inventing new ones.
It’s swimming as a martial art. Unarmed combat in an atmosphere of respect.
An adult swim costs £2.50, lockers take a refundable pound coin, changing is in a unisex area with individual cabins. The leisure centre has a gym, a sports hall, and a licensed bar that serves food.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sea, sand, spotlights, and a free party

At 8pm when the lights come on it’s a magical moment.
But Blackpool Illuminations isn’t just about bulbs – it’s a celebration of community.
The other people; on the prom, driving by, or in brightly lit trams are part of the show.
Other towns – like Walsall – have illuminations in the park.
But these are the baddest and the best.
Look one way and there’s the cold, brooding northern sea. Turn around and there’s the warmth of the lights, the chip shops, and the children’s smiles.
It’s like a dayglo Dickens.
Everything is normal on the prom. People carry big pink sharks and inflatable aliens – won on the arcades – without a second glance.
The downside is the gradually developing drunkenness. The hens add to the spectacle in their sparkly deely-boppers. But the stags are more intimidation than illumination.
So it’s a sensible move to put all the kids’ displays – Noddy, Treasure Island, haunted houses and the like – half way to Fleetwood and away from all the karaoke bars.
This year there’s an interactive Warholean touch – with some lights made out of pictures of ordinary folk
The illuminations include more than a million lamps, more than 500 floodlights, and spotlights that stretch nearly six miles.
And it’s all free – though there is a non-pushy collection if you want to donate towards the cost.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Babylon AD - a good night out

Maybe Vin Diesel's acting would be taken more seriously if his name didn't sound like a cleaning product.
It's a shame because in this film he more than competently pulls-off the role of a merciless, combat-numbed killer with a hidden heart of gold.
His mission is to escort a virgin who knows everything across an apocalyptic continent. With the help of a ninja nun.
If you enter the cinema with appropriate expectations you can’t fail to be entertained.
Director Mathieu Kassovitz is best known for the critically acclaimed French social commentary La Haine.
And Babylon AD has plenty of observations on the world’s frightening future.
Advertising is everywhere, and the multi-screen multimedia living room console can’t be turned off.
Religions are competing with each other for business and will do anything to win converts.
In post-Soviet eastern Europe ruthless gangsters rule and life and death are entertainment.
Even Canada shoots illegal immigrants on site.
And Mark Strong has hair.
It’s an action movie that can start a conversation.
Odeon Printworks, Manchester - adults £7.