Half term holidays! Busy doing nothing, working the whole day through.

On the radio mainly we have BBC 6 Music, which normally does OK for itself. This week Radio 6 has been celebrating the “20th anniversary of Britpop”… It had me scratching my head a bit.

Time might have been that I would have pounced on such a one-sided 7″ flexidisc single of an idea and torn it a new centre hole. Not only would I have questioned the arbitrariness of the timing, and the wisdom of giving Damon Allbran further opportunity to wreak his adenoidal miseries upon the populace, but also given detailed Mr Agreeable-styled rebuttals for each of the artists featured:

“Gene. Gene?! F***ing dreary knock-off Smiths b*******s – and that’s taking dreary to depths unknown to the hardiest of miners. Couldn’t carry a tune in a f***ing bucket, no-good sh***hawks. Gene. Dear sweet c***ing Christ deliver us.”

Must have been terrific fun writing the Agreeable columns. But for this grand Britpoppish retrospective, I just couldn’t generate enough spleen. Seriously, My Life Story?

Still, something made me want to contribute my experience in some way. “Maybe I could knock out a list of British artists that I was also listening to in 1994 that weren’t really Britpop.” I thought. “It would have had The Divine Comedy (Promenade album) on it (despite a later Neil Hannon work managing to squeak an entry on the 6 Music countdown), or Portishead, Dummy… Therapy?…? Er…” I kind of ran out of ideas. M People? Gah!

Well, OK, “Britpop”, then, seriously, how hard can this be?

I really liked Suede. Metal Mickey in particular. I saw them live at Leeds T&C… the musical shark was sighted when Bernard Butler left, but look, listen (as politicians and footballers often begin their sentences):

Oh dad, she’s driving me mad!

Oasis… I remember very well the day I chose to wade through the hype and buy the Live Forever CD single (from Fopp in Byres Road, Glasgow). Me and me bezzer Jack sat listening to it, roundly unimpressed with the first three tracks, and then just falling instantly for the live version of Supersonic.

Mind you, it was easy to officially lose interest shortly after hearing the perfection of ‘Acquiesce’. What else can a band say? “Roll with it”? Get off.

Supergrass were awesome. If you do not know Caught by the Fuzz, why, reader, you must.

Yes!

But weren’t they supposed to be part of the New Wave of New Wave or something? Was 1994 simply the year someone thought up “Britpop” to describe everything made by a guitar band in Britain? There were all sorts of things that seemed quite acceptable at the time, that with hindsight look tarnished, horribly insincere. Echobelly. Why, even Parklife, which accompanies some happy memories of driving round Glasgow in a friend’s knackered car, singing along with ‘To The End’. That album had been interesting because Blur seemed like a band getting better with each album, constantly prompting the question “wherever next”? The answer to that, of course, was “to a very big house in the c**try and Fat f***ing Les.”

See, that’s how it starts. One could go on. The terrible rest of it, the Sleeper, the Menswe@r… It was actually starting to give me a headache trying to remember them.

There’s that old saying that if you can remember the sixties, you weren’t there. This morning, as we breakfasted with the strains of poll-topping track (and a bona fide classic “Well done, listeners of Britain!” moment of delight hearing it) Common People by Pulp playing in the background – a song I saw Jarvis Cocker introduce at the inaugural T in the Park, 1994, as “A national anthem for the Netto generation.” – I suggested to J that perhaps we need an equivalent phrase for the 1990s. “Such as ‘If you feel like celebrating Britpop then you weren’t really listening to it.’”
J said “That’s… a bit contrived.”

Contrived! Of course! I seized on the notion. Contrivance seemed to sum up both the original Britpop tag – and, in fact, much of the music, which was sloppy second-hand shop versions of better bands or styles – and the need to celebrate any anniversary for it. And certainly this meta-response.

THEN I remembered that Kieron Gillen, Jamie McElvie and Matt Wilson have already inked the definitive look back, not-in-anger-but-a-bit, on Britpop, in 2006, in fact.

phonogramtpb

It is an excellent comic. If you are of A Certain Age, or interested in pursuing research on this matter, I urge you to the publication. Phonogram Vol.1, “Rue Britannia”. It’s equal parts tender-hearted and unsympathetic, and right. Except about Kenickie. They were f***ing s***-awful.

It is the start of the holidays, yet I cannot quite escape the chalkface. First, Britain’s state propaganda news organ the BBC reports on a forthcoming speech by Sir Michael Wilshaw, head of the schools inspectorate Ofsted, to be delivered later today (3rd April 2014).

(I will quickly gloss over the annoyance of news media pre-reporting speeches as having been ‘said’ by someone, an annoyance prompted by five years spent transcribing and editing speeches, scripted and unscripted.)

The meat of the nub of the crux of Sir Michael’s gist is that nurseries, playschools, need “greater emphasis on structured learning”. However, in a related report, the Beeb notes that despite expert advice to the contrary, “play” at playschool is not deemed worth mentioning in Early Years Teacher training.

“While the Early Years Teacher (qualification, EYT) requires the teacher to have a clear understanding of synthetic phonics in the teaching of reading and appropriate strategies in the teaching of early mathematics, there is no mention of theories underpinning structured play.”

There are several hats I could put on to be annoyed by this news – as a qualified teacher, as a parent and as someone who likes playing about, for three.

Any fule in teeching kno about the benefits to be gained from play, if only looking as far as the vaunted Finnish approach to education, which features no formal learning until the age of seven.

This pre-school annoyance sits, second, beside further dismay at the non-news that an “ultra-high grade” will help a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) “shake-up” in England and Wales. Again, I will gloss over my irritation at the term “shake-up”, which rather than actual change suggests snow-globe inversion, cascading flakes for a short time then as you were.

When the idea was first floated last year, I was saying – informed comment in my capacity as a teaching professional, just to waft my certificates at you once more – that the problem of “A*” becoming devalued is not one to be solved by introducing another scheme entirely. As if letters have suddenly stopped being able to do what we tell them. Maybe numbers work better on spreadsheets? Or should we just go for Alphas, Deltas, Gammas? Aldous Huxley gently rotates. The concept of the A* has in any case always seemed risible:

“…these go to 11…”

I will now be thoroughly annoying myself and quote my own commentary on the grades from Twitter, last Jun:

Education is too easily seen and used as a political football… with successive governments and inspectorates also moving goalposts, widening them, or replacing them with giant sausages. I dunno. I do not have ready answers. There’s a lot to think about, and I’m supposed to be on Easter hols as well. All I can say is, people know what Sam Cooke means when he sings of “being an A student, baby”. Do we want A student babies though?

Sometimes I love the career I embarked on. Sometimes it just makes me feel like I’m playing for the wrong side.

Hey! Teacher!

Hey! Teacher!

Having long used the phrase “I’d read the back of a cereal box” to illustrate my keen logophilia, I am gladdened and unsurprised to discover that it is not just me. There is a Facebook group – so it’s official – called “Reading off of cereal boxes”, with five thousand or so people that also “like” to feed their minds while they feed their faces.

When I were studying (he offered his credentials as they peered into a suitcase that was filled with bottles of snake oil), classes in lit. theory suggested this kind of activity was essential. Cereal boxes, drinks adverts, pop videos could, as well as novels, poems and newspapers, be read as having equally profound importance. Everything is a “text”. The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls. Religion is the smile on a dog.

With all this in mind, let us draw our attention to the back of a detergent product container, a box of soapy un-delights that transfixed us with horror this morning. It sat squat on the sideboard, its malignant duck egg blues, baby imagery and fake handwritten verse dragging us to hell as we read:

soft-soap-shadow

‘I’m a little toddler
short, not stout

feel my jumper,
soft, no doubt…

When I get
all dirty,

hear me shout:

“get the box
of liquitabs
out!”‘

The copywriters of Procter and Gamble, household goods conglomerate, display an open contempt for poetry, sense and decency. A burlesque of the touching traditional nursery rhyme “I’m a little teapot”, their doggerel spits in my face, sticks in my craw, deposits jobbies in my smalls drawer. A familiar and trusted rhythm, explicitly linking the joys of laundry with the joys of parenting, the joys of singing catchy songs with trips-off-the-tongue brand loyalty.

“…and pour me out”. Dum dum dum dum. Emphatic. Tea time! “…of liquitabs out!”. Dum dumdumdum dum. Limping. Shoehorn still sticking out the back of the baby booties.

And “liquitabs”! A ghastly and ungainly neologism, a dark demon summoned from the dread realms of Copyright, the sort of tyrannical monster word a diminutive TM or R might hover around, fawning. Across the chamber I stand frozen in horror, one hand scrabbling at the door, the other pointing a trembling finger as I shriek: IT DOES NOT SCAN.

If they called it what it is – a sachet, a capsule – it would scan. Two syllables. Bish, bosh. Lunchy. They could have high fived each other round the flipchart. It would still be awful, yet it would at least fit properly. But NO! They soiled the soft jumper of all that is harmonious and true. “Get the box of ravening lions out!” calls Caesar Augustus, appalled patron of the arts.

P&G’s open contempt for poetry, sense and decency continues, should you be rash enough to check out softeningyourworld.com. Perhaps the clue is in the URL. Here you are, being flannelled into a mindset, a mode of living. The sort of thinking that would be glad to see your toddler pulling a box of Fairy detergent out from under the sink with muddy fingers and a knowing expression, as you all start to hum the “Box of Liquitabs” song. Softening Your World. You want but the fey magic of FAIRY to waft its wand o’er you and your brood.

I don’t think I’m making too much of this. In fact, if a word-loving dad were not already apoplectic about a bit of advertising fluff, the Procter and Gamble-supporting deals and magazine website supersavvyme, linked to from softeningyourworld, might just burst his pipes.

supersavvyme

supersavvysods
“Little wins for you, mum.”
“Hi, dad here! … What, nothing? No little wins for me? But… how am I supposed to recreate the catwalk looks? Is my inner wow not worth freeing? I see. What about my ability to land the perfect on-trend hair colour? …well, I find this very hard to believe. What’s that? “Treat your man to an irresistible shave.” Right, a link to some razors. Not talking to me though, are you? Are you really suggesting that the single male you could find to mention on your 1950s timewarp website is SEAN BEAN? One does not simply walk into a society constructed on gender stereotyping and consumer isolation! Oh, one does. Sorry! Carry on.”

And I back out of the wesbites, the focus groups, the chat rooms, stepping aside to avoid this avalanche of wrongheadedness. Rural-dwelling people, extolling the virtues of Febreze to blot out the smell of earthworms and mud. Really, seriously, though. What are we doing? We are letting these people – with ears of brightly-laundered cloth and the sweet smell of simulated countryside insinuating itself along their spindly fingers and close-shaven armpits – run our lives, persuade us that we are impure beings in need of stuff to clean us, de-hair us, buff us, scent us, that the lumpen, clumping, unlovely words we read should be on-trend, on message, on their forums.

Perhaps needless to add, our little toddler and we shall not be joining in this corporate chorus.

One might even, were one so inclined, go as far as to suggest that Procter and Gamble, and all their little wizards of the dark word arts, can get fucked.

Radio GaGa… Radio GooGoo… Radio UrdleDurdle… It’s a Radio Toddler Queen Special!

This post was actually scheduled to go out the other week, when the closure of Queen musical We Will Rock You was announced, but didn’t, to avoid accusations of fiddling the picks, payola-style. Really, though, one can never have enough Queen, darlings.

Despite taking an early shine to the Flash (AAAH-AHH!) Gordon Soundtrack, our diminutive DJ has most recently been transporting a double entry from Freddie and the boys across the carpet to the turntable.

Hot Space, from 1982. An interesting time for the band, then in an experimental – even more experimental – vein. Fully enjoying the world of squelch afforded by liberal use of synthesizers, it showcased interests in new wave, funk and gay disco, their “new sounds” drawing a mixed reaction from fans and critics. Freddie’s response, playing ‘Staying power’ live at the Milton Keynes Bowl:

“I mean, it’s only a bloody record. People get so excited about these things.”

Under Pressure was the big single, but as well as Staying Power there are quite a few boogie-down numbers else to be had, such as this one:

Apparently, Roger Taylor hates the video.

Oh yeah see what you've done to me

Oh yeah see what you’ve done to me

Can’t imagine why…

The Hot Space album was cited by Michael Jackson as an influence, apparently also, also apparently. Like the vivid yellow of Flash Gordon, Hot Space has a very Toddler friendly cover as well.

Queen-Hot_Space-front

“Right, this is Freddie… John… Roger… and Brian…”

Queen-Hot-Space-back

Next, Radio Toddler (clapclap!) Radio GooGoo toddled back in time to 1974, pulling out the magnificent Queen II album, and its frankly fabulous cover.

Queen-II-front

Queen-II-back

Not forgetting the absurd glossy pouting genius of the centregatefold:

Queen-II-middle

Ah, hair. Perhaps our still-wispy-scalped sweetie is coveting Roger’s locks. Musically, there has been a great deal of frenzied little DJ dancing (and some enthusiastic mum and dad dancing, sort of Michael Flatley meets the dwarves of Stonehenge) to Seven Seas of Rhye, which concludes the delights on an album full of Fairy Feller’s master strokes.

“I challenge the mighty titan and his troubadours,
and with a smile, I’ll take you to the Seven Seas of Rhye.”

All hail Freddie Mercury… and Brian andJohnandRoger.

Next edition: DJ Little Pumpkin gets a leg-up at the record shelves to reach the first half of the alphabet.

Just heard today that Scott Asheton of The Stooges died this weekend.

Two of my favourite songs feature his drumming. In some ways it seems kind of daft to wish that a drummer whose nick name was ‘Rock Action’ should rest in peace, but a moment’s consideration, please…

…now, play these really loud!

Dig the distort-o-mix detonations on this goose-bump inducer:

And the too-cool-for-everything entrance of the drums on this classic:

Rock Action!

If you blog with WordPress, you receive little notifications from time to time, telling you when people “like” your posts, or if you have followers, sort of thing. They also have a virtual trophy cabinet, marking your significant achievements in WordPressery.

The Mortal Bath has been publishing for five years, I discover today. Five years! Hoopla. During which time I also changed career, helped make a child, managed to stay happy in the face of near-constant provocations from The Man and all his little wizards… as well as doing some writing.

Here is a selection of my favourite posts from the last five years:

2009: Fat Duck and Little Chef, an everyday tale of nostalgia and terrible food.

2010: Tiger Feature, Disneyesque Metro parody that also contrives to include reference to Wildlife Photographer of the Year controversy.

2011: Has to be the Iron Maiden Powerslave one, which remains my most viewed post, I like to think for the honest writing although I suspect it’s actually the enormous image of the album cover. I am rather fond also of That rumble in the chest.

2012, the year I wrote a lot of drafts that never saw the light of day: A bit of semi-fictional Dylan-nodding in stompingly yours, Lazy Henry. Or, writing about writing, and a game changer announcement, and a chance to turn the pages over.

2013: Consider her ways, concerning gender bias in kids’ products.

Well, happy browsing. All The Mortal Bath output is solid gold genius, of course.

Having said all THAT… in fact, there is actually only one thing that happens in my brain when I hear the words “five years” – FIVE YEARS!

So here it is: some vintage Derek.

“I suppose it’s another quotation from Derek Bowie is it?”

Happy news today that the Queen musical We Will Rock You is to finish.

we-will-rock-you

My glee is not due to Queen hatred, nor is it cultural snobbery. Well, alright, it is a bit culturally snobbish. Yet it is my culture, so permit me do weird self-loathing and disdain as I please. I wrote an article about We Will Rock You the musical in 2006, on a previous blog (Slalom Speaking).

After some introductory waffling on Del Amitri the band, this was the article, also now featuring some further tidying for links and jokes:

“I was thinking about Del Amitri as I whizzed across Tottenham Court Road on my velocipede recently. Gazing up and shaking my head, as I always do, at the aptly-named Dominion theatre with its gigantic Freddie Mercury fibreglass statue punching the air as ‘We will rock you’ marches triumphantly into a fourth year like the cartoon hammers in The Wall, a Joycean (= fucking annoying) sequence of thoughts along the lines of ‘We will rock you! Whether you like it or not… thing is, I love that tune… I used to like Ben Elton too… bah, pre-packaged nites out… hardly ‘Lifehouse’, is it? Rock n’ popcorn…’ brought me to remembering that Bruce Delamitri is the name of a Tarantino-style director in one of Ben Elton’s later book/play/whatever it is, Popcorn.

This witless combination of hamfisted satire and late 20th century media obsessions (actually, I’m going to put that on my ‘about’ page) kind of exemplifies where it all went wrong for Ben, or Baron Benjamin of Elton as he is now certain to become, thanks to his close links with the Royal Family. A couple of mates and I saw Ben Elton perform live stand up comedy when I was about 14. He was, to our inexperienced ears, brilliantly funny. He wasn’t bad, and actually really funny in places, but hindsight (and knowing a bootlegged dictaphone recording I listened to for ages afterwards virtually by heart) reveals his essentially reactionary jobbing farty persona to be, well, not a persona. Yes indeed.

Align Left (until 1993)

Align Left (until 1993)

I mean, I will let him off to a certain extent because he co-wrote Blackadder. However, his descent into blandness, and, latterly, unseemly collaborations, has been not precipitous but – worse – a leisurely downward amble. Shows like The Thin Blue Line and his increasingly dull novels display an admirable work ethic but detail a corresponding diminishing of content, with little in the way of anything important to discuss, or even a bit daring stylistically, like, say The Young Ones. The later chamber of horrors West End [of London] rock musicals merely lay like a fat grease spot on the napkin undulating over a contentedly stuffed gut.

I’m not just talking about Queen, but “Tonight’s the Night”, about Rod Stewart (Actual quote: “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy sung by groupies, Hot Legs sung by masseuses, Sailing sung by sailors” – SWEET JESUS!) “The Beautiful Game”, about football – Benny, will you give it up? It’s a short step from “Tonight’s the Night” to ‘Ben Elton announces his new project, a musical about T.Rex called “Dandy in the Underworld”, in which Marc Bolan returns from the dead to show people how we can save the world using feather boas and eyeliner…”… and then I’m afraid I shall have to call the police.

Here is my idea for a new musical: “Elton Benny & The Jets”, a rock-musical about a wealthy but washed-up comedy writer in his fifties. Elton Benny has rejected glam glitz and spangly suits and pseudo-political engagement and being funny in favour of novels about banal bourgeois mating rites and doing the book for a succession of feeble yet toweringly successful musicals which allow already insanely, impossibly wealthy 70’s rock musicians to further milk a bored public for their hard-earned readies. Watching some old comedy clips and punk videos on YouTube he rediscovers his political mojo and with a refreshed engagement with reality inspires a new generation of performers, before being tragically, farcically, crushed by a giant eclair.

Featuring the music of Elton John. Starring Jake Shears from Scissor Scisters as Elton Benny. Rik Mayall as The Pinball Wizard (until September). One stalls seat: £274.50.

I can pinpoint the exact moment I knew it was over between me and Sir Lord Benjamin-Benjamin of Eltonia. It was the juncture at which, hosting the Queen’s Golden Jubilee celebrations in 2002, he turned to the crowd at Buckingham Palace with that familiar elbow-out microphone gesture and upturned shiny face and intoned the deathless phrase:

‘Ladies and Gentlemen, will you please give it up for The Spice Girls?!’

Yes indeed.”

Well, I’m sure that told him. Fortunately, all that tide of bile can now ebb, because the ‘jukebox musical’ We Will Rock You has closed, which perhaps might signal an end to That Sort of Thing in general.

Still, I like Queen a great deal – so do lots of people, they’ve sold squijillions of records. Which was why I suppose I always hated the idea of the musical. My sister saw it. She said it was enjoyable crap – terrible dialogue and story, but Queen songs. I’m pretty sure she said there was no way she would have gone if it hadn’t been someone else that paid for the tickets. We-Will-Rock-You-at-The-Dominion always struck me as a bit of a tawdry cheat, when you could just stick on a Queen album. Or, as anyone who has read Good Omens will tell you, any tape at all in a car, seeing as they will over time transmute into a Greatest Hits of Queen.

So, happy news. Besides, whenever I feel sad about anything, I just pop on this version of ‘Somebody to Love’, recorded at the Milton Keynes Bowl in 1982.

Free, I tell ya.

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