Nostalgia for an age yet to come…rage, rage against the dying of the light

So I look up to the sky
And I wonder what it’ll be like in days gone by
As I sit and bathe in the wave of nostalgia
For an age yet to come.

So wrote Shelley – that is Peter Campbell McNeish, not Percy Bysshe – in his 1978 song Nostalgia.

As opposed to, nostalgia not being what it used to be.

Never Mind the Wrinkles DadRecently looking for a birthday card for my niece on online greetings card website Moonpig I came upon this one – Nevermind the Wrinkles Dad You Still Rock. Nevermind the indignities and infirmities of your great age Dad we know that you were once cool, you tell us often enough anyway, it might as well imply.

The album it was spoofing if you do not know was English punk rock album Never Mind The Bollocks…Here’s The Sex Pistols from 1977. Such is the march of time it could have been aimed at Granddads too.

What should we call this? Mainstreaming? Wait long enough and no matter how shocking or ‘out there’ something once was, given enough time it eventually becomes part of the conventional furniture, the very weave of the social fabric

The album title courted controversy itself, (nevermind the contents, twelve songs spitting filth and fury) being prosecuted for indecent display of the word ‘bollocks’ – yes just the word itself! – the prosecution was not successful, the publicity in their favour was. Now we have TV cooking programs with far less quaint names like The F Word and none of us save some self-important hack from a conservative rag masquerading as a newspaper with more time than sense at their disposal would bat an eyelid about it.

Notable too that though the title was the subject of a court case, the name of the band, the Sex Pistols, did not meet the same level of controversy. But we like innuendo in Britain – nudge-nudge wink-wink – we will imply something within an inch of its life but we won’t actually call the spade a spade unless we really must as where is the fun in being explicit! This was still the time of the Carry On films though we were at the fag-end by this time with Carry On Dick and Carry On Behind hardly leaving much to the titillated imagination.

A couple of the songs on the album did court controversy namely God Save The Queen and Anarchy in the UK. Perhaps other songs like Bodies (about abortion but it was so lacking in nuance and coherence it was not clear whether they were pro-choice or pro-life or perhaps both) and Holidays in the Sun caused scandal too but I was too young and even more innocent than my age implied to know let alone care. I was barely a teenager and the only music I knew before punk came into my life was by Abba, the Wombles and I can barely write it G-a-r-y G-l-i-t-t-e-r – he asked us if we wanted to be in his gang and where he would be leader – shudders! – who would have thought that a forty-something man in a shiny golden lame all-in-one-suit seeking out the teenage market was something for those said teens to be wary of! – until one day a fellow school-boy coolly announced from his dormitory bed a new group he had heard called the Sex Pistols. You see I was a boarder at an all-boys Grammar school, cloistered as we thus were in a simmering pubescence of imminently threatening destabilizing testosterone and which thirteen year old boys shared our bedroom term-time with seven other boys.

He went on that they had a song called Problems. How did it go we asked. Blah blah, blah blah – he replied. No literally that’s what he replied! (Actually what was being intoned was not like Ke$ha (the spiritual grand-daughter of Joey Ramone) clearly enunciating, if with bubblegum drawl, Blah Blah Blah, but in another grand tradition of misheard song-lyrics Johnny Rotten drawling out the word Problem hyphenating Prob-lem as if he were saying Blah Blah – like seeing a face in a curtain pattern if you listen hard enough you will hear it too. If you dare to listen. Or even care to listen.

But anyway I was piously aghast and resolute that I would not be giving up Abba for this. They had songs you could sing along to with seriously profound and profoundly serious words like Fernando

There was something in the air that night
The stars were bright, Fernando
They were shining there for you and me
For liberty, Fernando

But call it peer pressure, call it the drip-drip exposure of punk songs every waking non-rote-studying minute, I soon succumbed to the Sex Pistols and the Clash and the Buzzcocks ad punkinitum – what sounds for young barely formed minds! – we were already rebels without a cause most of us, this was legitimizing this wordless feeling in song, gloriously noisy nasty song.

Never Mind the BollocksWhilst God Save The Queen and Anarchy in the UK could and did seriously irk and trouble the British establishment to our young and easily impressed minds Problems just as well hit home as intoning ‘blah blah’ was reveling in its own dumbness and was thus irresistible and we knew it would be if not shocking then at least as irritating as hell to our parents, teachers and any other adults in eye and ear shot nevermind the far more significant but distant nameless and faceless adults of the aforesaid British Establishment. There was coherent rage in punk but the incoherent rage would do us just as well.

And it was Punk’s way or the highway of course. Year Zero – any music made before 1975 was suddenly redundant and had nothing to say to us. I could no longer like Abba. Liking both SOS and London’s Burning – unthinkable! Well at least unsharable.

What is interesting to me now about this was how ‘the year above us’ (as our one year senior peers were dismissively referred too) were completely unmoved by punk. We were pretty much as spotty and indistinguishable a group of seething teenage boyhood as each other to any passing adult stranger and for that matter most of our teachers. Yet they were not going to be swayed from the Seventies Rock music of the time – some of them may have been to the heavier side with Black Sabbath and Deep Purple others the more gentler faux-cerebral musings and noodlings of Prog Rock in the guises of Yes and ELP – this they chided us was proper music where band members could not just play their instruments but aspired to play them very well and for the most part did. We on the other hand admired groups where bandmembers could barely hold their instruments let alone make music from them and could care less either (best summed up in One Chord Wonders by The Adverts) – did they not understand it was all about attitude not technical competence. Our condemning sneering scorn for them was only matched by their deep derision for us. The tribalism of teenagerhood. We were right and they were wrong and that’s all there was to it.

The Clash The Clash

 

But like breakaway religions there were tribes within our tribes too. Whether you really got punk really depended on whether you preferred the Sex Pistols or the Clash – the former courted controversy purely for the sake of it, they did not really believe it, they were just manager Malcolm McClaren’s art-stooges whereas the Clash were political and had a serious world-changing agenda, or so the wannabe Clash City Rockers would have it. And to the Pistol Heads, Clash fans were just a few birthdays away from becoming card-carrying member of the Labour Party – pub-rock aspirants at best.

Though what really mattered was not the bands lyrics and rhetoric but who had the best tunes, the most glorious racket…

The ‘year above us’ were not the only ones in the school baffled by us. So too of course were our teachers. They hoped it was just a phase and that we would grow out of it. Well the more measured calmer ones did anyway. There were the few who feared not just for us but the future of our once great country and the very pillars of civilization itself – that just made us feel even more (self) important of course.

Punk itself did pretty much implode by 1978 – there was its politer well-mannered cousin New Wave who was interested in alien concepts like melodies and careers. Or another uglier idiot cousin who went by the name of Oi and who I think you can guess the rest.

But though Punk as a genre had expired its best-by date by 1978 we teenage grammar school punks were not so easily vanquished of it. It had got into our bloodstream after-all, and a hormonal surging one at that. I said that I was a boarder but most in my year were not – about a third of us were and it was us third that the were the most resolute – we lived, ate and slept punk, and we did so together, encouraging or egging each other on to greater acts of punkishness – the rest of our class alas had given up on Punk for Pink Floyd or at best 10CC.

The initial self-indulgence of our teachers toward us was now giving way to some serious concern towards us, or at least to our professional futures. In particular our careers adviser was very troubled.

Our careers adviser was also our Geography Teacher and in retrospect it is not really clear how qualified he was to offer such specific counsel for our young futures.

The future he had settled on for me if I applied myself to my studies with greater dedication than hitherto was that of a merchant banker. All these years later I am still none the clearer as to what a merchant banker is, what it is they do with their working hours! Except now it might be a euphemism – we are back to the Carry On up the Sex Pistols again!

In the questionnaire where I was asked for my interests I had put simply ‘Punk’! It was who I was. End of! My careers adviser commented that I might need to widen my interests. He himself offered that unlike most of his colleagues he did know a bit about punk and could discuss it with me for at least five minutes but did not think it would be enough to satisfy prospective employers that I was long-term career-material.

We both agreed to paraphrase another Rotten lyric that I had ‘No Future’. But as I was still fifteen I had as little interest in my future as I had in my past. I was all present. All present and incorrect.

And so back to the future and this Nevermind the Wrinkles birthday card for Dads, for your old increasingly dysfunctional dad. This is what memories do to events, they soften the edges, obscure the lines, make a gentle mocking joke of our yester-passions, fears and cares.

And don’t get me wrong. I get nostalgia. The longer we live the more good times and experiences we have to look back with pleasure on if also the more painful times to coax us back to the present.

As we get older indeed we have ever more past and ever less future, until one day we will be all past and no future. Literally. And on that intimations-of-oblivion note I can only leave you with this.

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rage at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The Wolf is Getting Married and he’ll never cry again – Sinead O’Connor

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor

Your smile makes me smile
Your laugh makes me laugh
Your joy gives me joy
Your hope gives me hope

The Voice is back.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - videoSinead O’Connor is not Prince prolific and she is not quite Kate Bush reticent but she takes her time making her music. Her first album The Lion and The Cobra was delivered in 1987, and next month sees the release of her ninth studio album How About I Be Me (And You Be You)? on the One Little Indian label. And this one was overdue – prior to this an album appeared every couple of years but her last album Theology is now over five years old. I was concerned she may have sworn a vow of silence and covers of John Cage’s Four Minutes Thirty-Three Seconds not withstanding this would certainly have not been good for her music career.

There is much hyperbole about Sinead O’Connor’s voice. I though am not prone to exaggeration so let us just say if the spirit of the universe could discharge itself in song and sing along to the music of the spheres its voice would probably sound like Sinead O’Connor’s and leave it at that.

The Wolf is Getting Married is the song that she is back with. And taken from and thus a preview of the alluded to album How About I Be Me (And You Be You) – well how about it reader?!

And what a song it is. A lot for that album to live up to. I hope it does not eclipse it.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - arm tattoo

I have listened to a lot of music in my time, probably too much music in my time. I certainly spent far too much of my teenage years listening to music every waking hour, often non-waking hours too, drifting off to sleep with headphones still welded to me – I was a joy to live with! I wasn’t a joy to live with of course, I was as happy as Larry, as Larry David. At this time I was also a genius, a misunderstood one naturally. The world did not understand me, so how could my parents. My poor parents. And keep in mind that my teenage years did not end on my twentieth birthday but continued well into my twenties, and it was only in my early-thirties that I finally became a grown-up. I think. Anyway you get the picture – well try not to think about the picture too much – I spent a lot of my precious time listening to not always precious music.

And in reaction to that I turned away from music. Though only in to the arms of other obsessions such as film and books. Moderation is I realise my only moderation.

I share all of this only by roundabout way of saying that I am not easily impressed let alone overwhelmed by music these days. Being overwhelmed by a song for me now will mean I will buy it and be entranced by it and perhaps listen to it as much as six times

This song on the other hand I have done something I have not done in decades – I have played it back-to-back non-stop a dozen or so times. And I still cannot get enough of it. And yet I would struggle to explain to you why. I struggle to make sense of it myself.

I don’t know what it is about it the song. It is catchy but no more than say a Pink song is catchy. Her voice is as I modestly described it earlier as singularly evocative-as-time as ever, but there is nothing beyond, beyond that perfection. Perhaps there is though and it is her joy – that she usually has a range of feelings and emotions with a matrix of  melancholy, anger, bitterness, tenderness but not pleasure.

I referred to her album history earlier and which may have implied that with each of those releases I was eagerly expectant. But not so. My first encounter with Sinead O’Connor was with Troy an early song of hers back in the late 1980’s – the first of my song obsessions of hers  – and duly bought the album it came from, The Lion and the Cobra, too. Then shortly after came her extraordinary earth-stopping cover of Prince’s Nothing Compares 2 U – yes Prince, visionary as he was, in the 80’s was using Text-speak before there was even Text messaging to make use of it! Maybe his enigmatic squiggle symbol will come to make sense yet. It is perhaps surprising that Prince did not then pen other songs with her in mind as he wrote  many good ones for other artists but perhaps two giant egos were always going to be kept apart by the monsters envy and jealousy.

Yet despite this early impression upon me I was a fair-weather fan only staying with her as far as 1992’s Am I Not Your Girl? A title unintentionally ironic in retrospect.

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor - video shot

The Wolf is Getting Married is making me catch up on lost time as I start to devour her catalogue between 1992 and now.

Her voice merits a capital v in the same way that Maria Callas, Van Morrison and Tim Buckley merit a V. Okay I have already done the hyperbole!

Your smile makes me smile, your laugh makes me laugh, your joy gives me joy, your hope gives me hope so verses this song, or is it choruses.

These lyrics are pure poetry. Lucid, beautiful. It is strange the artificial distinctions between the genres song-lyrics and poetry as if like two separate species. Poetry is treated with academic seriousness and reverential respect yet by the public at large if not with outright contempt then yawning indifference whereas song-lyrics are treated as frivolous and unworthy of too much academic effort and critical attention with a few venerable wordy exceptions like Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello (and where even then a passage of creaking time must lapse first), yet they are loved by us the great-unwashed at large. Granted many lyrics that seem profound and moving when sung and heard can read banal on the cool of paper and cold of the computer screen – and I will resist going off on another digression about the written versus the spoken word.

The song itself starts with the lines

I used to have no wolves around me
I was too free if that’s possible to be

The main chorus is

But the sun is peeping ouf of the sky.
Where there used to be only grey
The wolf is getting married, and he’ll never cry again

Such a romantic notion this latter line. Sad too in light of her recent separation from Barry Herridge after only 16 days – though like the ‘are they on, are they off?’ of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor – I am sure there must be a more contemporary reference! – I believe they are now as I type this ‘on’ – as you read it they may be ‘off’ again – or ‘on’. Toss a coin.

Though this is a new release she was performing this at concerts as early as July last year and so before her marriage in December of that year. And I should perhaps add her fourth marriage at that. So the never-crying-again-wolf is either a sign of her eternal optimism or foolishness, both of which are anyway eternally romantic notions!

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'ConnorI referred earlier to the main chorus because the opening quoted lyrics of “Your smile makes me smile’ is refrained twice and a third shorter variant of it also. As in The Wolf is Getting Married it is not clear which lines are the chorus and which are the verses – perhaps it is a song only of choruses.

Inevitably there is a video with this song, which according to MTV’s Buzzworthy, is directed by Breton, a multi-media London-based outfit. It might be described as Arty. Well the images from that video punctuate this post so you can make up your own mind about that! Feedback to it has been less positive that the song itself. Not so much hostile as hostile indifference – you know that it is boring like watching the paint dry, on Sinead O’Connor finger-nails.

It is shot in one spacious room. Sinead O’Connor bound into a wooden-chair by her wedding dress – a wedding dress were it designed by a young Alexander McQueen long before he was an international brand and Sarah Burton was making light Royal commissions for Kate Middleton in his name I should perhaps needlessly add, as her head is bandaged invisible-man style, threads of strings radiating out toward the nether-edges of the room.  And to give you an idea of the pace of this unravelling even by the end of the three minutes and fifty-nine seconds of this song we have only progressed as far as revealing Sinead’s eyes and her left shoulder.

I am trying really really hard to resist the obvious metaphor about a marriage unravelling before it has barely returned back down the aisle!

I like the video. It does not distract from the song – it allows me to just listen to it without being distracted by the gee-whiz gizmo tricks pop video directors usually try their hands at with Hollywood in their heart.

l like the fact that it is low-budget too, even a little half-arsed.

Believe it or not I did initally intend a brief uncritical-fan post expressing my love for this song and half-love for the video but here we are – or maybe here I am! – near seventeen hundred-words later still meandering around with no end in sight.

When in-spite of all my words just four of them could instead have expressed it succinctly:

I love you Sinead!

The Wolf is Getting Married - Sinead O'Connor

The Jelly Fox – Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy E4 LogoLike Salvador Dali and Mick Jagger recreating The Jungle Book. Or a William Blake inspired party-time.

Noel Fielding's Luxury ComedySo describes the associated web-page for Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy from production company Secret Peter showing on E4, the new comedy from one half of The Mighty Boosh, the eponymous Noel Fielding, but though the other Boosher, Julian Barratt, is absent the spirit of Boosh is still very much at play.

Not just its spirit though but also some of the Boosh actors. Michael Fielding (is he more than a name-sake to Noel I wonder?!) who played Naboo turns up here as Noel’s anteater butler – yes you read that right! And Rich Fulcher who played Bob Fossil turns up as William Jessop celebrating his one hundredth birthday and being visited by the ghost of a flea. This may start to give you a feel for what this Luxury Comedy is about – or not.

We are warned that it contains adult humour – in the UK that means only suitable for those over 18 – if you are 17 and British sorry but then this is not for you! Though this show may well not be for you however old you might be – more of that later. It may just as well have warned us that it contains childish humour and that if you are serious-minded-adult-type to watch at your peril.  For Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy is for the child in all of us, if, that is, your inner child was expelled from Kindergarten…

Incidentally to establish that you are indeed eighteen and beyond, Channel 4 make the serious demand of you that you click in a box on their online player confirming such and you are then cheerily beckoned in, not a bleary burly bludgeoning bouncer in sight. Anyone seventeen and younger will naturally be deterred by this. Okay that’s enough sarcasm.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox cast

The cast awaits you

The Luxury Comedy starts in musical fashion with the entire cast however significant however insignificant welcoming us to them and their show.

This second episode, The Jelly Fox, then cuts to Noel Fielding in black leather jumpsuit and Aladdin Sane style face-paint dancing around to a nineteen sixties rock song (I could have just said ‘the 60’s’ couldn’t I as I doubt most of you are familiar with the rock music of the 1860’s).

The rock music so alluded is from 1960’s psychedelic group Lysergic Casserole who recorded just one album which ‘no-one has ever heard of’ and described by Noel Fielding as ‘the best band ever’ but then explaining that

they disappeared having took so much LSD they got trapped in their own guitar case

And the episode proceeds from there. There is no linear way to refer to this episode as it is beyond transcription if not description. You will either get tuned in to its own particular madness or look upon it aghast and askance before tuning out toward the lesser insanity of the BBC News at 10 or James May’s Things You Need to Know – James May is very likely in fact Noel Fielding’s TV Uncle – I do not know if that is helpful or pretentious of me – or both.

We see Lysergic Casserole’s guitar-case-trip as they experience Orson Welles having a romantic dinner with a cheese-cake, and then Welles pulling a skipping rope out of his…well I will let you use your own imagination here!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy Lysergic Casserole

Lysergic Casserole – the amount of times I have spelt this wrong over the years

Their music like all the music in the show is provided by Sergio Pizzorno of British rock group Kasabian – I was sceptical when I first heard of this collaboration not thinking Kasabian’s rather masculine swaggering feet-firmly-on-the-ground music would best serve Noel Fielding’s head-in-the-clouds whimsy – Mercury Rev or Polyphonic Spree would have been more fitting I felt – but Pizzorno’s music sits very comfortably with Fielding’s madcap visions.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Diamond Back

Diamond Back

Later Noel Fielding decides to rescue Lysergic Casserole from their Guitar Case bound fate by erecting a ramp made of Ryvita! – it is not just their freedom he has in mind though, he considers that they might make a second album and he could be their manager! But his snouty nosed butler reminds him that the sixties was a half-a-century ago and like Austin Powers their respective mojo’s might not adapt to the transport to the present day…alas they and their Harley’s trajectory is toward the guitar-case of the rock-star they call Diamond Back – Diamond Back having risen from the swamps of Putney, his father a pet-shop junkie and his mother, well she had a hundred eyes. Clear? I hope not.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy has comedy and music, that at least is established. It also has art. Much of the art is provided by Fielding but not all of it. Animation is provided by the show’s director Nigel Coan. Coan is another Boosh connection having provided its animation too.The Luxury Comedy sets are art and there is one scene where Noel Fielding himself is producing art. The most striking and impressing aspect of the program is its look – its visual swagger.

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Keep off the Chest

Artist at work – can you see what it is yet?

And as noted in one scene we see Fielding painting on canvas – we can assume this was done in real-time and condensed into TV-time – Rolf Harris used to do this kind of thing, well not quite this kind of thing!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - press-ups

The finished work

If this show is going to work for you you have to take it on its own terms. Concepts like narrative development and dramatic conventions are only going to get in your way. You have to go with its flow, let it get into your blood and nerves, let Noel Fielding get inside your head. If you are not prepared to do that then the Singing Detective and Celebrity Juice are also scheduled alongside it – their own particular brands of madness may be more accommodating of yours. Though these allusions to other channels imply a world before time-shifted TV of  +1 channels and endless repeats, of online players and PVR’s, and as if the most of you would be watching it during its first E4 Broadcast Thursday evening’s at 10 o’clock!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Andy Warhol

With his cleaner

I alluded to the Boosh lineage but not all of them are from that particular ancestral tree. For example Noel Fielding’s cleaner Andy Warhol. Yes that Andy Warhol. Well is there another Andy Warhol?! He is played by Tom Meeten. In this episode he is planning a vacation with Picasso and Keith Haring and has organised a cleaner replacement going by the name of Frida Kahlo! His suitcase was given to him by Jackson Pollack and his rucksack is borrowed from René  Magritte – not at all art for art’s sake this! – Fielding comments about the Magritte rucksack ‘Yeah it’s a nice design but probably gets a bit annoying’!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy René Magritte Rucksack

René Magritte Rucksack

Though this episode is called The Jelly Fox it is only in the second part of the show that mention is made of him! We see Little Chrissie and Spoon Snake and their crew on their way to meet The Jelly Fox. And who or what is the Jelly Fox? Well

he gives you what you need. He lives in a blue-fabric castle with creases in it. He will give you a tablet that dissolves in wine. To wipe away your past…

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy with Dolly

Dolly and the Warhol-cum-Kahlo Cleaner

We then cut back to Noel Fielding and another new (ir)regular character Dolly. Dolly is played by Doll Wells. Dolly has given him a face-painting of David Bowie. Except that she has painted a Tiger. We then see cleaner Frida Kahlo except that it is Andy Warhol wearing a dress. He wants to wear a dress in public but is uncomfortable in doing so, so passes himself off as Mexican surrealist painter Frida Kahlo! – the usual cowardly recourse of the man in denial of their transvestism! Dolly advises him that he should not be ashamed of this. She then advises that she dresses up as a Fireman and a Baby and calls herself a Firebaby! Noel then wants to know whether she dresses with a fireman top-half and nappy or romper suit and a helmet. She explains the latter, obviously! He considers it a joke, she a serious concept. They then argue over this point. Getting nowhere they decide to consult Hawkeye – the complex technology that resolves the flight of balls in Tennis and Cricket not Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce of M*A*S*H* fame!

Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - Hawkeye

Hawkeye declares

If only all dilemmas could be resolved this way! Hawkeye decides it is a Concept, and that is an end to it!

It is only at the show’s end that we actually encounter the Jelly Fox – the term plot-spoiler has no impact on a show like this but I won’t reveal it all the same.

If you should be watching this on the 4OD online player you may note a ‘More Like This’ option – but other than its previous episode there is almost certainly nothing more like this on E4 or any other TV channel currently….and I am thankful for this.

Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy happily revels in its own wild imaginings. I am happy to revel along in it too – and I don’t have to take anything to do so. The whole psyche-shifting experience is all perfectly legal!Noel Fielding's Luxury Comedy - The Jelly Fox

Pearl and Dave – Isy Suttie

Pearl and Dave - Isy Suttie - BBC Radio 4My last post reviewed a radio show from 2001, The Boosh, that later became a TV show. This post is a review of another radio comedy show broadcast on the same channel BBC Radio 4 but a new 2012 offering called Pearl and Dave. Will it I wonder make its way to TV too? It does not matter to me whether it does do or not but for the sake of symmetry of this paragraph I felt duty bound to pose the question!

Who is Isy Suttie some of you will be asking, well okay nearly all of you will be asking, even more than nearly all if you live outside of Great Britain.

If you do not know her name you may at least know her face. And this will most likely be as Dobby from  British comedy sitcom Peep Show. She played the IT Support bod sometime called upon by the David Mitchell character Mark Corrigan at his place of work. There was an awkward relationship if not romance between the two of them too. I don’t know how helpful this background is to you – many a scene and episode she was not even in.

Whites

Whites – she’s the one on the far right – or is it the far left – I am never quite sure

She also turned up as Kiki in another British sitcom Whites, the Alan Davies celebrity chef soft-satire. I say turned up as her appearances were even more fleeting than in Peep Show. And Whites only lasted one series. I thought it had more potential than that and others clearly think so too as there is a Twitter campaign to recall the show. Isy Suttie is one of its, I am sure not self-interested, signatories.

According to the IMDB she was also in an all-time favourite comedy sitcom of mine Love Soup – can you read my surprise at this? – she played a researcher apparently but I cannot recall her.

So there you have, it she appeared in three British sitcoms from the Noughties of varying degrees of obscurity and for parts varying from blink and you will miss her to at best a flickering presence. So by way of enlightening you all as to who she is I may as well saved you and me these last four paragraphs!

Isy Suttie is a comedian then, both performer and writer of it. And her performances include not just innovative if under-appreciated sitcom characters but perhaps its riskiest and bravest of formats – live stand-up.

Which is where Pearl and Dave comes in. This is a stand-up comedy routine which she wrote and performed at an Edinburgh comedy show in 2011. This is its transcription to radio. Nothing has been changed, the routine is still the same, and there is a live audience too – I wonder why we say live audience, we can assume I think such an audience is not dead, though I suppose such crowds would at least not heckle you. Always an upside.

This show is still available to listen to on the BBC’s iPlayer but not for much longer – January 25 if you really need to know. For those very few of you reading this before January 25, 2011! The sites brief description is as follows:

Isy Suttie recounts a funny and moving love story much of which is told through song.

Oh yes, her performance is not just a stand-up comedy routine but a singer-songwriter routine. This may cause a reflexive shudder in some of you, all but that hardy breed with a rare penchant for both Victoria Wood and 1970’s Billy Connolly.

Victoria Wood is an obvious, very obvious comparison, I know it is, what with them both being wo…wonderful comedians who deliver some of their routine in song. Except that Victoria plays an instrument that you tickle, Isy one that you strum.

I do not know whether Isy Suttie was first a comedian who later came to music or a musician who later came to comedy perhaps experiencing an epiphany at a Tim Minchin show…but she can sing and play guitar as well as she tells jokes and stories. For her style is stories with humour rather than a rat-a-tat joke machine – more Alan Carr than Jimmy Carr.

She is like a Yorkshire version of Regina Spektor, if Regina had developed the comedy side of her material more – more helpful comparisons like this will follow.

Now I do understand that the BBC description of her show as a funny and moving love story does not tell us very much. Perhaps enough to get your interest up but if not they do also elaborate a bit further advising us it is about

a socially awkward childhood neighbour (her first pen pal) and a ‘well-bred’ girl from Surrey ..

Dave and Pearl respectively. Isy Suttie is neither Dave or Pearl. She is the neighbour of the socially awkward Dave, if no less awkward herself.

Pearl and Dave is a folk-story and Isy Suttie its folk-singer but in the way that Jarvis Cocker or Lily Allen is a folk singer without even a trace smell of heritage left lingering in your nostrils – stories about us common – and not so common – folk but in the here and now – well from the 1980’s onwards anyway.

Isy SuttieThis being when the pen-pal friendship commences – the pen-pal being just one of the many undeserving victims of the Internet – and like another 1980’s phenomena CB Radio (remember that?) it was as much about the simple fact of being able to communicate with people in far off distant lands than any deep interest in the life of your fellow communicator – I was obliged to have one in school, as part of my French lesson, so at this time where even communication in my own language of English was chore enough I had then to communicate with a stranger in a foreign language. And I am quite sure adolescent French teenage boys are not very different to their British counterparts – though perhaps giving in to stereotypes he was already well versed in the language of romance and sneered at my polite and frankly idiotic attempts at even the most basic of French sentences. It did not last long. One opening letter each in fact.

Isy and a friend had both read about pen-pals in the then far-flung land of Australia – well it is still far-flung from Britain Internet or no Internet – and so thought they would give it a go too. Think not message in a bottle, think message in a balloon! The balloon though only makes it as far as the next-garden-but one! To the garden of the titular Dave.

The penned message having landed in the garden of their near neighbour Dave it was then considered by Isy and her friend as fate, that Dave himself should become their pen-pal – adding that the letters they would send Dave required them having to walk past his house to get to the post-box!

Then adding that they were 10 and 6 and Dave was 25 – paedophilia she explained not existing in the 1980’s despite being big in Ancient Greece and only having made a come-back recently!

She then shared some of the letters they wrote to each other in the early 1990’s. The most common question, indeed theme, was asking each other what they had for their tea – but as she notes the common ground between a ten year old and a twenty five year old is a limited one.

Dave has a catch-phrase – ‘C’mon Dave’ – which he addresses himself in the third-person by way of encouragement to himself!

She then moves us on to where Dave first met Pearl – at the family holiday camp Butlins which in her words as kids ‘you either went to get chips or to get felt up. And that they went only for the chips!’

Though Dave and Pearl’s Butlin encounter was a significant one for both they somehow still managed to lose contact with each other thereafter. It is only through the later emergence of the Internet in the mid 1990’s and going online and searching for her that he comes upon her again – first by Friends Reunited – remember that she asks us and I ask you? – another undeserving victim of Facebook!

He used to log-in every morning with his hopes up high and log-out again every evening with his hopes re-crushed!

It will be Facebook indeed where Dave and Pearl will become friends reunited.

All of this has been delivered by Isy Suttie as a spoken monologue. But now comes the first song. Its verses and chorus detailing Dave’s first messages to Pearl on Facebook, testing out its waters, discovering her profile  that she is married and musing on how he should phrase his first message to her. And in respect of Pearl being marital toys with ‘I would like to shoot your chappie’ then rewriting ‘I would like to maim your chappie’ then finally ‘I would like to shake your chappie by the hand, if my hands were made of guns and shards of glass and poison hot-cross buns’!

She then returns to her spoken word – mentioning her own relationship of that time where both of them knew it was doomed but carried on anyway

like an old ill dog that just wanted to go in the corner and die with some semblance of dignity but we kept feeding sugary biscuits to for three and a half years and telling it that it was going to be alright until it finally dragged its rotting carcass into the corner and turned around to us to say ‘later, losers’!

Pearl does reply to Dave and this we hear as the second song of the night. In the song she recalls their first encounter – ‘sharing a cigarette dipped in Amaretto!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ – Pearl’s exclamation marks not Isy’s or mine! – where Suttie then goes off on a tangent riffing on exclamation marks and their binary meaning – they either mean humour or peril – the more there are the more humorous or perilous the writer is being!

In typical Facebook style each of them embellishes their times since they last met – he is an accountant who pretends to be in a rockband – she is an housewife who pretends to be…an accountant! We learn from this song that Pearl is married but unhappily.

Isy Suttie - Twitter image

As seen on Twitter

She then returns to her monologue and a tangent about Isy Suttie’s own mum’s disappointment in her choice of career – a stand-up comedian – ‘how she will never meet a lawyer, lawyer’s don’t go and watch standup (!)’ – and how she suggests to her Mum ‘that maybe she doesn’t want to marry a lawyer’ and how her Mum then replies near-screaming ‘That’s not the plan!’.

And then six months go by without Isy hearing from Dave. She has correctly surmised that he has gone deep into an online relationship with Pearl. He finally advises her of this by Email. This cues the third song ‘The Six Month song’ which details the trajectory of that time from initial Facebook messaging – ‘C’mon Dave’ he says to himself as he girds himself to end his message ‘Love Dave’! through to Email – ‘like moving from smash to mash’ – then to trying to get Skype to work then finally getting Skype to work and seeing each other face to face, then seeing of each other what they really wanted to use Skype for – ‘You’re naked, well done, brilliant!’ Finishing off with Dave plucking up courage to ask Pearl out for a meal.

This song sees her delivering a duet between Dave and Pearl not so much Sonny and Cher but obscurely and perhaps perversely reminding me of ‘Lucky Stars’ but where Isy Suttie is both Dean Friedman and Denise Marsa. I told you there were more unhelpful comparisons to come.

The song ends and she returns to the story though again sharing with us her own relationship status now with a Welsh boyfriend who also speaks Welsh. So setting up the fourth song – in Welsh! – she then switches back into English translating it ‘in case we don’t know what it means’! It went ‘I went, you went, he went, she went, we went, you went (formal!), they went’!

The swansong details Pearl and Dave’s relationship since those early awkward Skype times. They had met up but Pearl could not bring herself to leave her husband for Dave or to cheat on him but they decide to continue their infidelity/relationship online. And have continued ever since. Concluding that in a sense ‘they are in a land where no-one is accountable for their actions, like Ikea!’ but in another sense ‘it is more real than Pearl’s own relationship with her husband’.

Pearl and Dave is a one-off special for radio. Though TV as with the aforementioned Boosh may come calling by way of a TV sitcom series yet.

I am quite sure though we have not heard the last of Isy Suttie. Even for those of you who have yet to have heard the first of her.

Good morning midnight, It’s Christmas

Cristina Sleep It OffMy mother said ‘I’m a survivor, I pull together Christmas every year.

Something has to last’ she said ‘Once a year let’s have the past’

And then one year to reach up high to hang an angel from the tree

became a painful thing ‘Besides she’s lost her wing’ my mother said

Thing’s Fall Apart by Cristina Monet-Palaci first appeared pale-faced and defiant upon the world, well New York anyway, same thing they say, well New Yorkers say anyway, back in 1981. Going by her first name Cristina her pop-life burned briefly incandescent before evaporating in a puff of neon-dust several years later.

This post is about Things Fall Apart only, though it itself may tell you very much about Cristina. It was her Christmas song, or rather her concession to Christmas song, which as you should gather already is hinting that for her the spirit of Christmas is the sort that Shane MacGowan may raise a glass to. Except that he is very much likely to be doing so in a downtown bar whereas she in an uptown one.

For many Christmas is to be celebrated, for the rest it is to be, if not endured, then at least carefully negotiated.

There are many Christmas songs that celebrate it – whether it is Jesus Christ or Santa Claus or even some confusion of them both – it would be a long pointless list to make of them as such songs cannot be escaped from – whether in your home, whether out shopping, at a bar, at a party, even for some poor souls in their workplace.

Songs that take a more begrudging approach to Christmas are lesser in number but often find themselves as loved as those more unabashed celebratory ones. Certainly in early December anyway when the Christmas spirit has not yet enfolded us all and we are still resistant and perhaps even resentful of its looming presence so that we can take the likes of the Pogues and Kirsty MacColl’s Fairytale of New York or Blink 182’s Won’t Be Home for Christmas to our still humbug-bosoms before like Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life come Christmas Eve we are finally broken down and such cynical sentiments are cast aside where then even the most syrupy Christmas song is suddenly in heart-step with our own.

There are those though whom Christmas is neither anticipated or resisted, neither cherished or feared rather it is collided with like an uncomfortable fleeting drunken encounter before stumbling on their way into the dead of night. Things fall apart is one such song.

My boyfriend said it’s really sweet the way you go for Christmas cheer

I said we can’t afford the tree

He said ‘Love is free’ so we trimmed the cactus with my ear-rings that we’d meant to pawn

There wasn’t any snow but there was rain

He licked me like a candy cane

Then one day he said I can’t stand in your way. Way of what I asked. But he was gone.

The lyrics do not exactly need anything adding though if you have not heard it you have also to consider it delivered in a spirit of existential nonchalance with a New York  drawl. I am not going to spend too much time on the music because this song’s spirit resides in its words but the music starts with a wonky sounding Music Box refrain of Silent Night before proceeding into choppy guitars – it was called No Wave (by a music journalist no doubt) which was like New Wave but with the melody more of an occasional guest. The guitars dutifully duel along with an electronic underlay that gets vaguely excited upon each passing chorus. It offsets Cristina’s deadpan delivery without distracting from it too much.

Why might you be on a collision course with Christmas? After all it does come every year on schedule wanted or not? Perhaps Christmas can only be welcomed and celebrated in unison with family and close friends but if you are on unspeaking terms with your family and a lone wolf ricocheting through life then you may find that Christmas finds you before you find it.

Cristina’s Christmases are a series of afterthoughts and family something located on the outer edges of her existence. The usual human dramas are in full flow and it just happens to be Christmas too. And with each successive verse the family plays a disappearing role – first spent at home with her mother and as likely to be a latter-year coupling of ageing mother and ageing daughter as a cosy childhood Christmas, second verse the family now an unremembered past just a maybe-future with a boyfriend and its impossible possibility and then the third verse finds her lost in a party, strangers for company. Just as well there is no fourth verse.

The party was a huge success but where should we go next they said

They killed a tree of 97 years and smothered it with lights and silver tears

They all got wrecked. They laughed too loud

I started to feel queasy in the crowd

I caught a cab back to my flat and wept a bit and fed the cat.

Then the chorus refrain

Things Fall Apart but they never leave my heart

Desolation never sounded so alluring. Then the following final defining line

Good morning midnight, It’s Christmas

Suggesting that Christmas Eve is only just getting started, and Christmas Day is only going to be recalled Boxing Day.

If you find yourself alone at Christmas by circumstance then perhaps comfort yourself with Prince’s Spectorish swoon Another Lonely Christmas.

If on the other hand you chose Christmas as your only companion then consider Things Fall Apart as Your Song. Drink eat and generally self-indulge. And be as merry or as unmerry as you damn well want.

For myself though, as much as I love this song and play it a lot each December, I will only venture as far as mid-afternoon Christmas Eve with it. Beyond that time it is too dangerous and I do not want to find myself welcoming Christmas at the strike of twelve with Cristina’s nasal if dulcet tones ringing in my ears. I have six young nieces and two young nephews to attend to and save me from myself. For now at least!

You’ll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don’t be afraid of the dark

So sings, well many actually. ‘You’ll never walk alone’ was written by Rodgers and Hammerstein – Richard Rodgers wrote the rousing tune, Oscar Hammerstein the stirring lyrics. They wrote it for their 1945 show musical Carousel. In the show it is sung twice – as a solo then a later choral reprise. It was first sung on Broadway by Christine Johnson but it has been covered many many times. Not as many times as ‘My Way’, but there must be in excess of a hundred recordings.

You'll Never Walk AloneIt is the sentiment that resonates with me. No atomised anthem, individualistic elegy imagining that we can all go it alone, ‘You’ll never walk alone’ reminds that we always have each other and that each other can take very many forms – the apple of your eye, family, neighbours, friends, work-colleagues, country, or in common cause there is strength in numbers whatever that cause might happen to be. Occupy each others Hearts and Minds.

My Way is the Bizarro version of You’ll Never Walk Alone, with its bombast and bluster, you against the world, enduring by your own unique strength and talent – and of course we the listener are doing it our way too and whatever your way and my way is we are too assume it does not involve anything we might do together, never our way! For My Way Hell is Other People, for You’ll Never Walk Alone Heaven is Other People.

You’ll Never Walk Alone connects between peoples but other listeners may feel it like a modern hymn reminding them that however alone they might feel their God is always by their side. Whether you believe your beginning is Genesis or Big Bang its sentiment stirs deep.

It first came to my attention as a 1960’s pop song by Gerry & The Pacemakers. They were from Liverpool England and I was aware too that fans of Liverpool Football Club sang it at their Anfield football stadium before during and after the match. It was a unifying anthem for them but clearly when they were singing ‘You’ll never walk alone’ they did not have the rest of humanity in mind not even the rest of Liverpool – their local rivals Everton would not have been included in this apparent lyrical embrace! The song, perhaps not surprisingly, was adopted by many other supporters of football clubs all around the world – reminding that what is inclusive is at the same time exclusive.

At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Shirley Jones

Shirley Jones

The next version I heard of this song was to be my favourite and it was from the 1956 film adaptation of Carousel. I did not much care for the film but the two versions, first solo by Claramae Turner then a choral version with Shirley Jones, I found the most moving and magical – even the poor slightly echo-chamber sound recording only seemed to add to its other-worldly feeling.

But even so I did not feel this could be the best version of this song – a more anthemic choral version I felt must be out there.

Must it? I might never be able to find out. Until that is the arrival of the global jukebox that is Spotify.

Now I would be able to type in ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and be presented with countless versions.

And countless versions there were – far too many indeed to list never mind listen to.

Inevitably there was a version by Elvis Presley – Elvis Presley seems to have covered every song that ever existed for no other purpose than giving his golden tonsils a workout. You’ll Never Walk Alone is no different – his heart is not in it – when he sings ‘tossed’ it sounds like ‘toast’ – though your dreams be toast and blown! He does though have a gospel accompaniment which at least gets some of the spirit of the song.

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Johnny Cash

The Man in Black

Johnny Cash was another singer who covered a lot of other people’s songs particularly toward the end of his life with his American Recordings series. His covers usually transformed the originals with his own singular stamp such as his cover of U2’s One – he gets it and then some. Not so it seems with ‘You’ll never walk alone’ which he also covered. And like Elvis he seems to have trouble with the lyrics too – he sings ‘lark’ like he was about to sing ‘lord'(‘and the silver sound of the lark). The musical accompaniment goes church again but this time with its organ not its choir. Though he sounds like he is taking it more seriously than Elvis does, he does not really seem to be swept along by the sentiment merely going through the motions as if he had clocked in for work and was looking to clock out again as soon as he could. From the man who made ‘I Walk The Line’ perhaps his attempt at You’ll Never Walk Alone’ was always going to fail.

Nina Simone

Nina Simone

It turned out that many legendary American singers had covered You’ll Never Walk Alone. Another was Nina Simone – her signature song perhaps is ‘Ain’t Got No (I Got Life) with lines such as ‘Ain’t got no mother, ain’t got no culture, ain’t got no friends, ain’t got no schooling’ – what has she got? – well she has got herself – again like Johnny Cash would You’ll Never Walk Alone prove too much an alien philosophy for  her?! Her version is from her 1958 Little Girl Blue album and the opening minute or so sees her playing in its melody on the piano by way of an introduction – or so I hoped waiting expectantly for Nina Simone’s deep dark voice to appear but it never did. This was a piano version – and she certainly puts her heart into it building it up to a crescendo. But the music alone is not enough – I need the stirring words too.

Nina Simone was a Diva before that term was invented. Next up was another Diva this one though I would be approaching with trepidation, musical trepidation. It was Barbra Streisand – of the tradition of all about me, so all about Barbra and You’ll never walk alone led me to approach this version with much scepticism. Would she kill it with schmaltz? Be far too concerned about hitting all the right and high notes than nailing its sentiment and spirit? I’m afraid my prejudices were confirmed – ‘walk on, walk on’ she sang, she could have been singing a TV commercial for hiking boots…

The next version I saw coming – an Opera version.This one by the Three Tenors of Pavarotti, Domingo and Carreras – so light entertainment opera at that. It had plenty of passion though if too much like a singing contest between the three of them than any feeling of solidarity with the other – more ‘I will always walk alone’!

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you’ll never walk alone
You’ll never walk alone

The Righteous Brothers

The Righteous Brothers

My quest for the golden version was remaining elusive. Next up was a version by the Righteous Brothers – known for their soulful Phil Spector ballads such as Ebb Tide and Unchained Melody they would surely hit the spot? On this occasion though Bill Medley’s deep voice sounded like a bad Elvis cover-version though his ‘brother’ Bobby Hatfield crooned it beautifully but when their voices both joined in harmony with the string accompaniment it was like being bubble-bathed in Mantovani – the only thing missing was the scented candles –  I needed a cold shower afterwards!

I was giving up hope. The next version was an actual chorus being the Mormon Tabernacle Choir – perhaps this would be the one…alas no – too much like a choir practice than a rapturous soaring of souls.

There were still a lot more versions ahead of me and I was losing heart. Three torch singers my eyes next alighted on – Mahalia Jackson, Judy Garland and Tammy Wynette – if one of them can’t nail it then I would be calling it quits!

Mahalia Jackson’s version was not a church one which I was hoping for but a live nightclub one – you could hear the coughs and clinks of wine-glasses in the background – her version is a little too sober though, a little more wine for her may have been in order.

On to Tammy. Tammy Wynette sings it in typical heart on her sleeve style, the sobs stifling in her throat. Had I not known anything at all about this song and this my first hearing of it I am sure I would have warmed to it. But I had heard plenty about this song and like most others singing it she did not seem to realise the magnificence and scale of the song – it was not just another standard to be notched up and crossed off.

Judy Garland

Judy Garland

Well for a start her version would see the chorus changing the lyric ‘Hold your head up high’ to ‘Keep your chin up high’! – not quite capturing the same sentiment I thought! It was a good version though and Judy Garland is one of those who can sing the telephone directory and make them sound like torch-song tablets from the musical mountains but again their version did not capture its hold-hands spirit – she and her chorus sounded like they were in two separate rooms – as in don’t upstage the original diva by standing in my presence! – sort of ‘You’ll never walk alone, just not with me’!

Oh well. So my quest goes on.

You’ll Never Walk Alone was I suppose the We Are The World of its time and I only make that comparison to wonder if a fitting version of it would require a number of singers and groups coming together to do an ‘Hallelujah’ version of it as it were? – Thom Yorke, Scott Walker, Anthony Caleb Followill, Ed Sheeran, Gary Barlow, June Tabor, Van Morrison, Kate Bush, Neil Young, Shirley Manson, Rachel and Becky Unthank…in my dreams!

Should any of you have a favourite version then please don’t keep it to yourself but share in the comments below.