Monthly Archives: March 2012

Artist Of The Week – McFly

I’m probably going to destroy any credibility I have here – but I’ve always had a soft spot for McFly. I saw them play in Leeds last Saturday and it’s not the first time I’ve seen them live.

It may surprise a lot of people to discover that McFly have been around for as long as they have; they first emerged in 2004 giving them quite a long shelf life for a teen pop act. This is even more impressive when you consider how the music scene has changed in those eight years, a quick glance at the number singles from that year shows how different things were. So why have McFly endured? That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. It might be the music but – given that a lot of people would struggle to name any of their hits (a point I’ll return to) – it may not be.

What’s interesting to chart watchers is that pure pop music, the sort that appeals to readers of Girl Talk and (back in the day) Smash Hits, has become a niche genre that sells out quickly to its core fanbase and never outside of it. It used to be heavy metal that did this (Iron Maiden were notorious for it – their singles would enter in the top 5 and vanish to twenty something next week) but now it’s boy bands who pull off the stunt.

Another point – McFly’s main selling point (a boy band with guitars) was hardly unique when they emerged as Busted were at the height of their success and McFly were riding on their coat tails. Granted, Busted would implode messily by the end of the year but a subsequent guitar playing boy band has failed to emerge. Given that this shouldn’t be overly difficult to arrange, either McFly have the marked sown up or they’ve got something others don’t.

So having spent three paragraphs discussing why McFly shouldn’t be as big as they are – one has to face the reality; and it’s this defiance of the odds that, in part, makes me love the guys as much as I do.  They have re-invented themselves slightly with every album and if the records are spotty they drop great songs in the right places. Listen without prejudice – they’re bloody good. By the time they release and finish promoting their next record they’ll have been selling out audiences for ten years. Who couldn’t give them credit for that?

Oh and the gig … the unreleased songs they previewed were the highlights and that is very, very rare. Unique in my experience in fact. The best IS yet to come. In the meantime, silly dracula intro aside, the link that follows may be their best

Advertisements

Getting it (slightly) wrong.

Okay, maybe my last blog was a little hasty. I’ve since got involved in some debate on the facebook page for Race For Life and now understand a bit more about this event. It does, however, show that you need to look at an argument from every angle – otherwise the square becomes a circle and we all know they say about circles (going round and round).

I responded passionately – I make no apologies about that. My reason was that a lot of the male posters were lads (not blokes – this is a critical point) who were hurt at apparently being excluded from taking part and I upped the ante on their behalf. Sometimes (not always) that’s the best way of doing things.

The point is that Race For Life was founded as a women’s only event (as one poster on facebook put it, the event is about women wearing pink and running around in a field). However the `problem` (and it shouldn’t be a problem) is that the event has proved so successful that it’s now the UK’s flagship fundraising event to the point where it eclipses all other events. A lot of lads are coming to Race For Life and thinking it’s THE only event of its kind. It isn’t – there are events of varying types and difficulty taking place everywhere – and ultimately it’s about setting yourself a challenge and doing it. That said, it does seem that events outside of Race For Life lack the same organisation, infrastructure and (most importantly) community. This isn’t intended as an attack on the organisers who are unpaid volunteers themselves – just a statement that there’s a big opportunity that is being missed and Race For Life is suffering as a result, the same argument comes up every few posts.

Anyway, I have now volunteered to help at the Harrogate event. No point in sitting at my computer chuntering after all.

 

A case of sexual discrimination? – a reflection

Some years ago I stumbled across a facebook page calling for a boycott of the annual Race For Life due to its exclusion of male entrants. I read the arguments for and found myself in some agreement with them. For some reason I recalled the argument tonight and I decided to see if anything had changed.

For anybody who doesn’t know (international readers possibly) Race For Life is a series of seperate events across the UK where women race to raise money for Cancer Research. It is for a massively good cause and here is a link http://raceforlife.cancerresearchuk.org/index.html

However you will note the word women. Men and boys (over five years old at any rate) are prevented from taking part. This has caused some resentment – and not just from males I hasten to add and there are accusations that this is discriminatory.

Just to save anybody pointing them out I’ll provide the counter arguments. First and foremost the Race for Life is a charity event, not a political statement. Men are not prevented from volunteering (a point I’ll return to). There are plenty of other opportunities for men to raise money for cancer research. Perhaps most damningly attempts to start a men only event in recent years have folded through lack of interest – Cancer Research have been accused of a lack of interest but this is unfair; any event such as this is dependant on its supporters.

What feels wrong is this – cancer does not discriminate. It strikes down people of all ages, all genders and backgrounds. You can look on Race For Life’s webpage and look in vain for pictures and stories of men and boys with cancer (for all that many of their participants are running in memory of male relatives). Yes, males can volunteer but ultimately the heroes of the day are the female runners; their male relatives are denied the same sense of pride and achievement. The message is clear, cancer is a female problem and to my mind this shows a massive disrespect to every man and boy who is suffering from cancer or supporting a relative who is.

I’ve browsed Race For Life’s facebook page and there are a few adverse comments about the exclusion of males (not just from males either). The moderators apparently have no answer. I have posted a link to an article I saw in the Daily Telegraph about a young man who lost a lengthy battle against cancer. My aim – apart from promoting another campaign which you may read about in future blogs – was to redress the balance by putting a young male face on a female orientated page. I can’t deny it – I feel a little bit ashamed.

I wrote this blog to focus my thoughts and let off steam. I don’t like getting wound up about something so petty, especially when an extremely worthy cause is involved. However when a mainstream charity has a policy which leaves so many people feeling excluded, something has gone wrong.

POSTSCRIPT – Having written this post the following thought came to me. Among the sub groups excluded from taking part are males aged between 11-16 – leaving aside the fact that many of these lads will have lost friends and relatives to cancer, this is a section of society that has very little opportunity to do anything positive and be recognised for it, instead of being swept to the margins. Surely there is a massive opportunity here?

And if anybody connected with Cancer Research and/ or Race for Life reads this and wishes to comment I will happily publish any reply.

Support for teenagers wrongly arrested

Now my page has picked up a (very) modest following I thought this might be the time to talk about my campaign. I actually set up this facebook page late last year but interest was minimal.

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Support-for-teenagers-wrongly-arrested/172433096184588

This idea came to me while investigating the Valley Gardens incident – for those who didn’t read my post I’ll provide a link which should hopefully send you straight there https://amz1981.wordpress.com/2011/12/16/first-of-all-f/

It’s occurred to me that (quite rightly) we talk about the victims of crime and we talk about those convicted. The people who fell under suspicion early in the investigation tend to be airbrushed out of the story with little concern or interest shown in their experience. Matters are perhaps not helped by our trial by media/ trial by social network culture which doesn’t always adhere to the principle of innocent until proven guilty. If somebody is arrested we assume they have something to hide. The two best known examples are Colin Stagg, acquitted of the murder of Rachel Nickell in 1992 on judge’s orders, the tabloids trumpeted that no woman was safe – many years later the true killer was convicted; and Christopher Jefferies who fell under suspicion in the Joanne Yeates murder case and was exonerated but with his character picked over and trashed by the tabloids. However these are just two exceptionally high profile cases and hundreds more innocent people pass through the justice system unreported.

My focus is on male teenagers (although females and older people are not excluded) because they are often stigmatised by media as yobs and have the misfortune to be part of the demographic that does (unfortunately) commit the majority of crimes. However as anybody who knows anything about teenage males will understand – there is often a lot of vulnerability behind the bravado.

I’ve said what follows a few times, I will put it in capitals so it doesn’t get lost in a rather verbose post PUT YOURSELF IN THE SHOES OF A LAD IN HIS TEENS, CONFRONTED WITH ALLEGED INVOLVEMENT IN A CRIME YOU HAD NOTHING TO DO WITH (AND POSSIBLY NO PRIOR KNOWLEDGE OF), TAKEN TO THE POLICE STATION (POSSIBLY IN HANDCUFFS), SUBJECTED TO THE PHOTOGRAPHING, FINGERPRINTING AND SAMPLE TAKING THAT IS STANDARD PROCEDURE AND THEN LOCKED IN A CELL FOR SOME HOURS WITH ONLY YOUR OWN THOUGHTS AND ANXIETIES FOR COMPANY. This must be at best a frustrating and at worst a deeply demeaning and humiliating experience. Let’s not forget that dirt sticks and it seems to be more controversial to take my view than to assume the lad in question is a yob who probably deserved it.

So that’s the purpose of my group, to create a forum where people can share experiences and find sympathy and support. What it is NOT is a police bashing page.

Which takes me on to an organisation hitherto unmentioned – the Police. The Police do have their job to do, somebody has to do it and there are certain procedures that do need to be followed – if an accusation is made the accusation must be taken seriously and unfortunately this does involved the suspect being detained and held in a locked cell. The one thing I would say about the police is, given the powers they have it is important that they must be able to show they got things right at every stage. That said, if suspicion does fall on an innocent person, just because the police acted correctly it doesn’t mean that there is no injustice (life is not fair – to save anybody pointing that out) or that there is no victim. But this is not an anti police or anti authority campaign and I would actually value police imput.

ARTIST OF THE WEEK – Tasmin Archer

Tasmin Archer had five top forty hits in the early nineties – and most readers (those who remember who she was in the first place that is) would be surprised to discover she had that many. Few people remember now what a buzz there was when Sleeping Satellite got to number one in 1992. Everybody was talking about the emergence of an incredible new talent, the album (Great Expectations – oh the retrospective irony) received enthusiastic reviews and she was proclaimed best newcomer at the Brit Awards. Twenty years later it’s all a bit Ozymandius, the one hit wonder status is all that remains and time has effaced the rest.

So what went wrong? The singles that followed were diminishing returns commercially but that was inevitable. The album was available and mature adult artists tended not to score consistent hit singles in the early nineties – in fact it’s quite impressive that Sleeping Satellite did as well as it did. Obviously recording a follow up took time and unfortunately the timing was lousy; in 1996 Britpop was in full swing and mature adult pop was very much out. With hindsight Tasmin Archer was in the vanguard of the Live Aid generation and found herself swept away with the revolution – except that unlike Mark Knopler, Phil Collins, Sting etc she didn’t have a catalogue or history to sustain her.

There was also another problem, and a most unfair one. At the time of Sleeping Satellite Tasmin Archer was 29, mature by the standards of an emerging new talent. She’d had to graft for it of course, working a succession of low paid jobs and temping as a backing singer. When fame finally called she proved an engaging intervewie; intelligent, modest and mature. It was her misfortune to emerge at a time when those qualities would be prized least.

But at the risk of contradicting myself – there is such a thing as the spirit of rock and roll. Rock music inspires the way it does as much because of ego and attitude as it does in spite of it. Tasmin Archer was never going to able to compete with (for example) the Gallagher brothers and that’s the way it should be. The world would be a duller place if it wasn’t. But that still doesn’t always make it a good thing.

A final point, Tasmin Archer’s second single `In Your Care` which went top twenty was written for and about victims of child abuse with all the proceeds going to charity. It’s no worse a song than Sleeping Satellite but perhaps made Tasmin Archer appear worthy but dull when she should have been at her most thrilling. And Sleeping Satellite is not her best song …

Single number three Lords Of The New Church which stalled at 23 in the charts. How many people have heard this great song? It’s the most direct of all her singles and her point is as relevant today as it was in 1993. Equally important – it’s not the most comfortable of truths and that is another thing rock music has always been about.

Going off at a tangent – the great thing about hiddens gems is that sooner or later someone may discover them. If some X Factor or Eurovision reject is looking to relaunch their career with a bit of a gamble then they could do a lot worse than click the link below. Meanwhile I’ve just discovered that Tasmin Archer released a new album in 2006 – I think a visit to Itunes is in order.

Artist of the week – Meat Loaf

Few artists seem to divide opinions among rock fans like Meat Loaf – possibly because his biker metal image is slightly at odds with music that veers close to rock musical flamboyance. His career is hard to seperate from that of Jim Steinman and one of his hits (It’s All Coming Back To Me Now) had previously been a success for Celine Dion. Put more simply – the cliche `guilty pleasure` was probably designed for the former Marvin Lee Aday.

As usual the story is too well known to waste time repeating here. A  monstrously successful album in the late 70s was followed by a series of diminishing returns until a sequel to the original album proved a surprise hit. This is where I came in – I was twelve years old and at the peak of my Top 40 obsession, I still remember how I’d Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) came from nowhere (8 to 2 to the summit to be precise – singles actually climbed the charts in those days) and held down the number one spot for seven weeks. On the back of the revival `that` song returned to the top 10 and was the single I bought. As an aside I remember lying in bed listening to the four track CD single over and over again on headphones, lost in my thoughts and fantasies – a luxury I long since ceased to have the time for.

The follow up to Bat Out Of Hell 2, Welcome To The Neighbourhood is another record I have fond memories of. The year was now 1996, I was 15 (and extremely unhappy and angry) but this record seemed was great song after great song and Meat seemed even better freed from Steinman and his indulgence. It’s a shame there was no new record for eight years and by 2003 my life was very different (in a good way I hasten to add). However Bat Out Of Hell 3 may have been one Bat too many commercially (lightning can only strike so many times) but it awakened my interest. The next album was rubbish (quite frankly) and Meat should perhaps consider himself lucky that I bought his latest album. However the loss would have been mine – it’s surprisingly listenable.

Meat Loaf – a guilty pleasure but perhaps I should stop feeling guilty.

So what song to choose? I decided to go to that CD single which featured Bat Out Of Hell, a song from the Dead Ringer album and two tracks sung by Jim Steinman. At the time the second track was my favourite of the four – and here it is. Incidentally I was not aware until tonight that it was a hit for Barry Manilow. You learn something new …

Updates

First of all I’m delighted to have received my first comments this week. Up until now I was wondering if I was writing to myself. So thank you to my correspondants so far. This blog exists for me to talk about the things that matter to me, primarily rock music (my driving passion in life) but I’m growing increasingly activist in current affairs. One disclaimer – I do have strong opinions and not everybody will agree. Some may disagree strongly – I’m a firm believer in freedom of speech and may hate what somebody says but I will defend their right to say it. And if you wish to differ I am willing to debate within reason. Abuse will be treated with the contempt it deserves.

I’m curious to know how the case of Chris Tappin, the UK businessman currently in a Texas jail awaiting trial for alleged arms offences, is being viewed in America. In the latest development he was denied bail because he poses a flight risk – the man is 65, walks with a cane and has no passport. How is he a flight risk – okay don’t answer that.

Given that this debate seems set to run and run I would say now that I am not anti American. I have faith in the American justice system as a whole, even if some of their procedures in this case are nothing short of harsh. An extradition treaty is being abused and UK citizens are facing trial for alleged crimes that were neither committed in America or (in the case of Richard O’Dwyer)  against the law in the UK. That is an issue. There are major humanitarian concerns here – that is what I am highlighting.

America is a great country. I have been there and loved it. It is a proud nation and on the whole has much to be proud of. Bruce Springsteen, my all time hero, is an American patriot. So it’s a shame that in this case America is getting it wrong – just as the UK has got it wrong in the past and will no doubt do so again in the future.

Referring back to my very first blog about the Valley Gardens arson attack. Charges have now been brought against three teenagers and due process will take its course. I will make no comment there. What is interesting is that a fourth teenager who has been on bail since October will not face further action. Two things have either happened here. Either he was involved in the incident but there is insufficient evidence to charge him – which is unfortunate but happens – or he was never involved in which case he’s had six months of worrying whether he would be tried and convicted of something he didn’t do (we are talking about a 16 or 17 year old lad here). This is why this issue needs highlighting – his experience is important.

What’s equally interesting is that the press reports on the charges hark back to the original eight arrests. As I understand it, four were exonerated within a few days of the incident. There is a crucial difference between not guilty and not proven. How difficult is it to state that somebody is innocent? `Will not face further police action` stinks of insufficient evidence and smells like that linger.

I’ve run out of time tonight but a new post with some music will follow tomorrow. And for the third time in four posts we’ll be going to America.