Wall #8

I find myself in the mood to compile another of these wall thingies from my Youtube viewings. Unfortunately, the barrel is almost drained of the better content and I could be rightly accused of scraping its bottom noisily, and for that I apologise. Nevertheless, my mood hadn’t diminished enough after some consolidation so here’s a wall,

Following hot and spicy on the heels of my last post on the dangers of Alabama Yoga turning schoolchildren onto Hinduism, this olde worlde cinema advert showed up. For the love of a good curry… washed down with the traditional pint of Indian draught brown ale (say, what?)

It will be nostalgically familiar to any Brit who remembers the flicks before the multiplexes took over. The ad seemed to be a stock film shown regardless in which town’s cinema it featured; only the address card at the end was bespoke and matched the location – “less than 100 yards from this cinema!

A young Bob Mortimer stars in this old telly ad for the new thing that was telephone banking. I remember the long queues in banks: I was paid weekly by cheque as a freelancer and had to traipse to the bank to deposit it, every Thursday lunchtime, along with the rest of hoi polloi.

Since opting for online banking, I’ve rarely set foot in a bank. The last time I did, I had to step aside for the tumbleweed. How times change…

But the thing which caught my attention in the ad was the tune playing in the background. It took me a while but I eventually recognised it as The Theme from Gurney Slade.

So I discovered this ditty was by Max Harris & His Group (I wonder if this was ironic or that they simply couldn’t come up with a name for the combo and thought The Max Harris Band was too cliché).

I wholeheartedly recommend The Strange World of Gurney Slade and would have liked to include a link to the series here. I caught the whole show on Youtube some years back but, disappointingly, it seems to have been taken down. Bad luck!

It was a 60s comedy show made for Anthony Newley and, arguably, as comedy was ahead of its time. Being ahead of its time probably did for it: it comprised only six episodes and in the latter ones, it turns in on itself debating its own existence. Philosophical surrealist comedy. Who else was doing this in the early 60s?

I watched the 60 minute documentary on the history of Slade, the black country glam-rock band. They tried to gain popularity in the States but the Americans found them too exuberant; the country was suffering from an epidemic of pessimism and problems of pathological introspection. Apparently. Unfortunately, it was too early in pop history to send them Radiohead.

You can see the doc on Youtube if you hurry, but here I’ve just included a clip from BBC’s Top of the Pops, 1973, were the guys entertain us with one of their no. 1 six hit singles, Cum On Feel The Noize.

It’s surprisingly well covered this song; even Oasis had a go, but no one sings it like Noddy did.

I’ve noticed a lot of these telly parodies coming up on the recommendation page at Youtube. It seems to be the work of one channel and the target audience is the one who’ll appreciate the Taste of India cinema ad. Millennials will be bemused. Gen Z..well, er, no… Still, anyone can appreciate the made-up names in the phoney chart rundown.

Where did they find those clips of those totally uncool bands? Is “uncool” uncool now? What will we parody in another generation’s time? Does anyone care?

Wall #7

Digging into my saved Youtube clips once more, rediscovering the gems I found over the past decade or so. I think the kind of things we like to watch says a lot about who we are.

When the one and probably the only talent a comedian has to have is an ability to make us laugh, we should perhaps have a special high regard for guys like Bill Bailey. He is nothing short of being superb; broad in scope and insight. And now he can dance too!

The west London I knew has definitely moved on yet I’m aware of some of its changes, youth culture in particular. Here, the juxtaposition of acting cool even in mundane situations expresses the ridiculousness of taking that stuff too seriously.

George Formby is from another era. Not allowed to be overtly indecorous, these comedians relied heavily on innuendo. Ridiculous really as risqué was the humour those audiences wanted.

Unlike Bailey, Formby was poorly educated, left school too early in years and, I understand, was more or less illiterate, a thing he regretted later in life.

While he could play the banjolele, he hadn’t the knowledge to play in different keys. To get around this, he had someone tune a performance set of banjoleles with different tunings and played them the same way, only matching a particular instrument with a particular song.

A beauty of Youtube is when it throws up a performer I probably wouldn’t get to know otherwise; some of the talented people might be amateurs. I don’t know Danny James and I don’t know why the reference is to Hendrix; he does well on his own merit.

In my early 20s, I shared a house with a couple who were in a band, or trying to form one. The guitarist would often practice riffs or just a few bars of a tune, but never playing what sounded like a complete piece. This would annoy me a bit: it sounded good and then he’d just stop and go on to something else, over and over.

I’ve tried to play the guitar but haven’t the patience. If I could, I’d play whole pieces. I think I could no more play bits and bobs anymore than I could write half a sentence or draw half a portrait.

I’m a fan of Commissario Montalbano, both the novels by Andrea Camilleri and the dramatised series starring Luca Zingaretti. The theme tune used is from The Dance of the Macabre composed by Saint Saëns, a jolly sounding piece despite the title.

However, in one of the later episodes, the end theme was replaced by the haunting Malamuri sung by Olivia Sellerio. What a beauty! Sellerio is Sicilian and the song is in Sicilian too, not Italian. I tried to find a translation but couldn’t. I’m sure the title means bad love, or something like it.

Some years ago we took a studio apartment on the Greek island of Zakinthos. The owners took us to a local tavern for an authentic Greek dinner and there was a trio of musicians playing folk music by the side. Knowing no Greek, I ask our hostess what the songs were about; they all sounded feisty, and some sounded really bawdy, like rugby songs. “Oh, love, love, love, always about love, nothing else,” she said.

Further up the Italian coast there’s Venice, and further back in time, there’s Baroque, and in that space there was Barbara Strozzi. I read from Wikipedia how she was the most prolific composer in her time. Not merely for a woman, mind, but out of all composers of either sex.

When I hear this piece, I get the same sense as hearing the blues. It’s profound and soulful, and I love that kind of thing.

As an antidote to the seriously cold weather presently here in England, I’m putting up Third World and 96° in the Shade.

I had a copy of the studio album, bought after the hit single, Now That We Found Love, and it is one of the most musical reggae bands I think I’ve heard, mainly down to the lead guitarist.

Although a protest song, but like all reggae tunes, I find it exudes warmth and energy which envelops the soul and makes you want to move around and sing. Wonderful music.

Wall #6

Billy Liar, actually Billy Fisher, a creation of the writer Keith Waterhouse, is a fantasist- dreamer, much to the chagrin of his father and employers. In the 60s film adaptation, he’s played by Tom Courtney, one of the brilliant young British actors from the 60s who is still with us.

Shadrack, the undertaker-in-charge, is played by Leonard Rossiter, who seems to have had a face which began life in middle-aged and didn’t venture much from it afterwards.

I did have a notion briefly to do a whole wall of cover songs, being always interested in how musicians approach the work of well-known songs. I decided not to though I’ve included two here and a kind of cover-analysis of another.

The first is a version of Hendrix’s Little Wing. This is probably my favourite of his though I’d insist on the live performance at The Royal Albert Hall over the studio recording. That’s a tough one to beat though it’s been tried a few times by eminent guitarists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Clapton. No one is better than Hendrix at the RAH.

You have to approach it differently; I feel this is the secret to good covers. I like this mandolin version. Also, the same musician plays what looks like a bass ukulele, or bassulele, (I may be wrong) and a cajón. So different approach and it works.

In the previous wall, I included a video from the short film channel, Omeleto. Another great short film channel is Future Shorts.

La Migala is a tale about an arachnophobe trying to cure himself by drastic means. Does it work? Watch and see!

Take Five is probably one of the most familiar jazz tunes. It’s melody was composed by saxophonist Paul Desmond of the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Drummer Joe Morello was playing around with beats in 5/4 time as an alternative to the usual standard 4/4; the story goes that he was bored of 4/4 all the time. On hearing the beat, Brubeck asked Desmond whether he could write something to go with it. That is Take Five.

This video isn’t so much a cover – and a pretty good one at that – it’s more an appreciative analysis of the song. Joe Morello was a superb drummer but I like this guy’s style too.

The Five Minute Interview was a pretty good thing in my view. I’m in two minds about so-called chat shows, from Parkinson to Jonathan Ross, they seem such desperate affairs to get disinterested celebrities, out of their comfort zone, to entertain us for fifteen minutes or more under the direction of an inept and ill-informed inquisitor. My two minds are roughly split 70/30 against it.

Brian Sewell was a much misinterpreted man, and he knew it. I suspect he was quickly judged on his voice and his apparent self-confidence. He was though an exceptionally informed art historian and critic. He was also socially minded, winning the Orwell prize for his essays on a wide range of issues other than art; he said he preferred writing about those subjects more than writing about art.

I’m finishing the wall with a third cover version; it’s another familiar song: Running Up That Hill by Kate Bush.

I don’t know much at all about Little Boots but judging by her performance, she can sing and play. What’s more, her voice suits the lyrics and the minimalist piano accompaniment gives something more to the song than the original recording with its many instruments.

Wall #5

Another wall of videos I’ve collected from Youtube. I appear to have saved a lot of videos over the years – decades by now, I imagine – and looking over these I had this idea about theme walls: there were plenty of interesting song covers; clips from feature films; many film shorts; philosophy; art; extraordinary science; ordinary science!

But then I thought, that’s the opposite to how I watch Youtube and how I’ve come across these ones to save. It’s a jumble, a random, some might say eclectic. Homogeneity, it ain’t, so there.

I think I’ve mentioned, and included, stand-up comedian, Stewart Lee, before. The first video, on which Lee narrates, is a sweet little documentary about repair shops in Hackney, a suburb of east London.

Long ago – well, not too long ago – things used to be repaired when they broke or malfunctioned, as a first step before considering a replacement. Somewhere during the past forty years, this tradition diminished significantly and we became what’s sometimes referred to as a throwaway culture.

And now the savvy are saying we’re paying for this careless extravagance. We may need to return to prior methods; it’s encouraging to see not everyone has forgotten the skills.

Geoff Marshall has made a series of these “the secrets of…” aesthetic eye tours of the stations of the lines of the London Underground. The Central Line was my line, the nearest station about a fifteen minutes walk. I could have walked to the Piccadilly Line (25 minutes) or the Metropolitan Line (25 minutes), but the Central, as it’s name implies, got you into the centre of London in the shortest time.

I admit, I took a lot of it for granted and wasn’t too interested in the architecture of stations aa a youth. M has done his homework and delivers a good job.

I’m always fascinated by stop-frame animation (you can keep CGI animation: no skill, not interested), and I don’t believe anyone who hasn’t had a small go at a flip-book, probably drawing in the corner of a pocket book or diary.

This guy from Andymation takes it to another level, even composing a storyline. Follow the dots, it’s amazing.

Ever wondered about that equation giving the area of a circle?

A = 2πr^2

The definition of π is simply the ratio of any circle’s circumference to its diameter (or to twice its radius). But what about that area equation! Dark magic, eh?

I love mathematics and teacher Eddie Woo explains it simply and brilliantly.

Omeleto is one of a few channels on Youtube dedicated to very good short film dramas. I liked this one about the difficulty an orthodox jewish woman has with a secret sex toy during Shabbat.

I’m not Jewish but I understand for the orthodox followers, it is forbidden to work or cause work to be done during their Sabbath.

I’ll finish up with a piece of unusual music; that is, music not normally heard on the mainstream. There’s often something pleasingly mesmeric yet playful about Steve Reich’s compositions, especially pieces for multiple instruments of the same kind. Enjoy two marimbas played by the duo, Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins.

Wall #4

Another wall of rediscovered videos from my Youtube library archives,

It’s an utterly pointless skill to learn for anyone with two working hands but I’ve wanted to be able to crack an egg single handed, with panache, for a long time. I’ve practiced hard with two golf balls (not ping-pong balls) and a coin. That goes okay but replace it with an egg and it doesn’t happen. What usually results is a totally destroyed eggshell and a burst yolk dribbling from my sticky fingers.

I had plans to build a man shed; however, the house we ended up with has no good place to put one. It was going to be a kind of studio retreat, the sort of den everyone needs. Oh well…

I don’t recall this video but it was in my library saves. He’s a proper manic DIYer: in an earlier video, one I don’t have, he claims to have built an underground bunker; this shed is sitting over its entrance. Elsewhere, he has shown how he made a hover scooter and a flame-throwing guitar. No wonder he needs a windowless shed: it was probably his wife’s idea.

I love zoetropes. I must get around to making one of the drum kinds. These were a feature of London’s Science Museum when I visited as a kid. They were inside glass exhibition cases but could be operated by a crank handle on the side of the case. It time, they replaced the crank with a push button which activated an electric motor to drive the rotating drum. Looking through the slit in the side of the drum, it would show an animation through the phenomenon of persistence of vision.

The 3D model version is something else. If you had the patience, you could make one from plasticine and set it on a record deck, rotating at 78 RPM. It may be a problem filming the effect as video cameras operate at so many frames per second, a hell of a lot less than human vision response.

I used to watch woodworking shows on telly and be envious of their workshop power tools; a tool for every job.

Then here’s Grandpa Amu, a Chinese villager, possibly the village carpenter, working with the most basic tools and improvising along the way. And I love improvising.

He has a lot of videos on Youtube, projects large and small. He is an amazing craftsman.

To be British is to know about tea. So here’s a French guy to tell us about it. Alex, French Guy Cooking, was a channel I followed. He experiments with cooking. Also he did it in an unfeasibly small kitchen. I wonder what he’s up to now.

From this video, I learnt to make two mugs of tea from one pot instead of throwing the old tea out. I even made two from one tea bag when at work as I often forgot to bring my preferred brand of tea; it tastes fine on the second cup.

The car journey from London to Bath, made sometime in the early 60s, I think, is fascinating for the stark contrast with the same journey made today.

I don’t know who the narrator is but he seems a stranger to road rage. I wonder if he was in the police or maybe a driving instructor. Some of those other road users are crazy.

I know the City of Bath quite well but haven’t recognised the route taken, only his final destination is familiar.

Wall #3

I’m doing a series of video walls comprising the sort of stuff I pick out on Youtube.

An extended wall this one. On Youtube, I have tried to collect gems over time, putting them into different playlists. The trouble with Youtube is many videos are uploaded without authorisation and eventually the site takes them down or blocks them “in your country”. So I stopped sorting them out and instead simply saved any to a playlist I called Channel Nonno, (with a nod to the Fast Show).

It’s been a while since I played anything from that playlist so I did this last night and selected eight which show the kind of things I listen to, though it’s not an exhaustive sample.

John Martyn with Danny Thompson; it’s one act I regret not seeing. The double bass sound is wonderful in itself but a well-performed solo is something more. I never seem to tire of this song however it’s played.

My first hearing of Anderson.Paak was this tune opening one of Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul Shows on the radio. I think it’s at the exemplary end of a wide spectrum for this genre. Anderson.Paak is the drummer, as well as the singer and composer, and he’s pretty good on the kit too.

I do like percussion. I might have become a drummer in a different life. All the various forms of percussion instruments, found in all different cultures, I find fascinating. The simplicity of banging on any sounding surface – maybe we start off on a kitchen table or a tub of paint – to the complexity of rhythms and tones on virtuoso instruments.

The calabash is a dried gourd; the husk of a vegetable rather like a pumpkin. In Africa, the calabash is used for the sound box of many instruments, some stringed as well as percussive.

These players are Aliou Saloum Yattara and “Cola” Mahamadou Balobo Maiga of the Malian band, Super Onze (or Super 11).

Lonnie Johnson has a remarkably clear and mellifluous voice for a blues singer, I think. It’s good how we can find many of these clips on Youtube now. This one includes an introduction by the inimitable and great harmonica player, Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller).

Bar The Sex Pistols (and a few other individual songs) there wasn’t much that interested me about Punk Rock. Yet, from the mid-70s through into the 80s, it did clear the way for light to shine more on diverse neglected or forgotten genres, many of which I liked.

There was a Teddy Boy and Rockabilly resurgence among this and the Welsh band, Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers, was a key agent (though they had been playing for some time before).

In the London of my youth, busking wasn’t permitted under bylaws and rarely tolerated. On the subways of the Tube, you might pass a tuneless guitarist or a lonely saxophonist; occasionally in the process of being arrested or moved on by Transport Police officers.

Arriving in Sydney, it seemed like buskers’ heaven. Not only were they permitted to perform but areas of the city were designated for them. I’d turn a corner to see a crowd stood watching a synthesiser duo accompanied by a dancer; along the street, there’d be a string quartet; in the park, maybe a guitar band.

It took a long time to see this back home. I’ve worked in the city of Bath on and off and there it seems to encourage street performances. Occasionally I hear one or two in my small local town.

I would love to witness this street band from New Orleans, Tuba Skinny, playing its ragtime swing jazz blues. The singer has the perfect voice for this music. Despite all appearances, I believe it tours around the world. Coming to a gig near you…

I had the pleasure of seeing Bugge Wesseltoft perform at our Cheltenham Jazz Festival, the year before Covid struck our shores. I decided to go as he was in a new trio with Dan Berglund and Magnus Öström, from the Swedish band, Esbjörn Svensson Trio. That was a band I became interested in and wanted to see but, sadly, Esbjörn Svensson died in an accident while scuba diving.

Honestly, I could have an entire wall made from selections from the Seattle station, KEXP. It puts our BBC to shame. Fortunately, by the power of the web, you can receive it wherever there’s an internet connection.

This is The True Loves, also from Seattle, doing a set at KEXP. Now that’s a truly lively lovely sound to finish with.

Wall #2

The kind of stuff we watch of an evening on Youtube probably gives a real insight into what we like and what influences us. Here’s six recent watches taken from my viewing history list,

Public Eye is something I remember from childhood. It was an alternative, if not an antidote, to the numerous PI series on telly, mostly imports from the States, nearly all depicting a heroic pugilistic protagonist living an enviable lifestyle. Not so Frank Marker. He was down-at-heel affordable, principled, altruistic and, in hindsight, possibly somewhere on the spectrum.

The drama ran through ten years between 1965 and 1975, though much of the earliest episodes are lost due to the policy of wiping tapes for reuse. Most of what remains is watchable on Youtube. I think no one cares to much about it to order its taking down. I think its a gem of exemplary telly drama but at the same time I doubt it would have an audience these days.

The later episodes written dealt with social issues. This story deals with homosexuality; lesbianism, though likely not as threatening an issue as gay men at that time. Whatever happened to Susan Penhaligon?

So the world did change but not as the guys in Ten Years After seemed to have wanted it to. “Everywhere is; freaks and hairies; dykes and fairies; tell me, where is sanity?” Extraordinary to think this was popular youth sentiment at the time. Still, he does go on to sing about redistribution of wealth…left wing, then? It’s a good tune though.

Orwell is possibly the most under-read and misinterpreted commentator of his time. And I think he was of his time. The actor playing him here (he looks familiar but I can’t recall his name) bears a good likeness to the author. The comments below the video are way off the mark. It makes me wonder how many have read him and know what he was writing about.

The clip from Monty Python and the Holy Grail is both funny and closer to reality. I’m happy to find a good piece of Python as I think it was over-rated, over-done and desperate. Too many cooks?

I can’t seem to get enough of Brother Insight, aka Br. Thich Man Tue, and his demonstrations of Qigong self-massaging therapies. In this one he is doing a daily stretching routine and it’s like watching a graceful dancer rehearsing a series of moves.

I don’t know much about Qigong. I see parallels with yoga practice, and I once did a term of Tai Chi; some of those moves seem vaguely familiar. I haven’t the discipline to embark on this kind of thing but simply watching Brother Insight puts me in a good mood.

Another regular Youtube event, almost daily owing to lockdown, is Colt Clark & The Quarantine Kids. I believe the girl is Bellamy and it’s curious that such a youngster knows how to do a cockerel strut au Mick Jagger, straight out if the 60s. Warms the cockles of your heart, as they once said.

Wall #1

Having built the wall, I thought I might use it to give an insight into the kind of stuff I watch of an evening on Youtube. Here’s six recent watches taken from my history list,

Alexei Sayle popped up in my recommendations for some unfathomable reason. It was a live-narrated video bike ride through a miserable looking suburb of north London (that must have been why: the bike riding schtick!)

I’d forgotten about him. He was a feature of the 80s, I remembered; “alternative” comedy. I found out just now he had been voted 18th best comedian in Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-ups in a 2007 poll, then only three years after had dropped down to 72nd. The fickleness of the comedy audience!

So, I remembered also about the single, Ullo John, got a new motor, he’d recorded back then. Clearly it’s a parody of London-centric pop culture in the years preceding its release: there’s Londoner Ian Dury’s method of composing and delivering lyrics; the dance routine (and pork-pie hat) of Carl from Madness; and generally the phrase-lingo of lower class Londoners (Sayle is from Liverpool btw). It’s quite a clever song but also extremely irritating in style and there are actually four! parts to this on the record, the mind boggles…

One of the many Sayle videos which came up was an interview with comedian Stewart Lee. From what I’ve seen, Lee must be one of the most interviewed stand-up comedians there’s ever been. Maybe it’s because he’s hard to get a handle on; he is probably the epitome of alternative. By the by, he mentions he was once voted 41st best stand-up comedian; not half as good as Sayle in 2007, but a considerable improvement on him three years after.

I like Stewart Lee. As a comedian, that is; of course, I don’t know him from Adam in real life; he might be horrible! However, from the many interviews I’ve seen, he seems a generous sort of guy.

Is it a safe bet to say Lee is left of centre, politically? Sayle is so far left, he sees the Labour Party as a hateful organisation and probably right wing in his view. The politics behind these recommendations probably explains the inclusion of Enoch Powell explaining to Dick Cavett’s US audience the hot water he got into over the multicultural race speech he gave in the late 60s.

Enoch Powell was a rare British politician who didn’t dissemble, though he lost friends because of it. He was also very smart and articulate which is evidently even rarer in politics these days.

Until last year, I didn’t know Thomas Sowell. His videos popped up around the time of the BLM issues. I understand he is right of centre, and as smart though maybe not as articulate as Powell was. He has this recurring phrase: “equality of opportunity does not create equality of outcome”.

He says also, (and I paraphrase it as I couldn’t locate where he’d said it),

the left wing’s vision of a world is better than the right wing’s vision of a world, but neither take account of the world as it really is.

What he said in the video about redneck subculture holding people back – in particular black culture’s parlance – reminded me of the “I speak jive” scene from Airplane. As if by magic algorithm, there it was on my Youtube homepage! The story is that the actor, Barbara Billingsley, had to retake the scene because the film’s white producers could easily understand what she was saying.

Coming full circle almost, I’m including a perennial on my recommendations: Bitty McClean singing Desmond Decker’s Fu Manchu, with The Lee Thompson Ska Orchestra. Thompson was once of Madness, the North London band Sayle is parodying in his tight suit and titfer getup. Decker would sing – from an average white British PoV – in an almost indecipherable Jamaican patois, as does Bitty McClean to some degree in the intro to his version.

Bitty got his nickname from being quite small, but he makes up for it in his voice.