mardi 31 mai 2011

It's our party and the judge's decision is vinyl

On a hot (hopefully) Saturday night lurking ominously somewhere in the middle of next month, girlfriend Claire and I are throwing a bash at our well-belovéd Cafédefa.

This is because, by then, we will both be 50. In a sudden and possibly catastrophic burst of nostalgia, we decided to dig out our old vinyl albums, with a view to giving them an airing.

Actually, it was with some trepidation that I started to flick through a large pile of vintage record sleeves. Not only have my listening tastes moved on, but musically we all reached a state of arrested development when They abolished vinyl. Mind you, I understand it's been making a comeback ever since everyone decided that all digital recordings sound half dead and wholly similar.

I've dug out my copy of Deep Purple's Machine Head on account of it being the earliest album that I still possess. On the back of it is a small figure 5, marked in an early burst of teeny collecto-mania. I think I grew out of that by about number 11, which was probably something by Bob Dylan.

I still remember the disappeared other six of the first seven:

1) The Beatles: Oldies But Goldies
. . . flogged to my mate Andrew because he adored the Fabs.

2) Status Quo: On The Level
. . . flogged for being disgracefully unhip, also played to death when I only possessed two LPs. Being as the dear old Quo are still with us, I suppose today they'd be replacement hip.

3) Queen: A Night At The Opera
. . . flogged for being disgracefully pretentious. Also not enough Brian May in full rock mode; he's a great player.

4) Led Zeppelin: Physical Graffiti
. . . scratched the blasted thing when it was only two days old (five quid was a bloody fortune when I was 14 . . .). Replaced on CD as it remains a great album.

5) The Purps as previously mentioned. Being as I've pinched their cover for the pic, I ought to add that it's still brilliant . . . hope that's OK with you guys.

6) The Who: Tommy
. . . stolen. Can't imagine why as everyone I knew already had a copy. Perhaps I once knew a kleptomaniac who now has 23,684,525 vinyl copies of Tommy stacked up in his back bedroom? Did they sell that many? We did have a kid at school nicknamed Kleppie but he was more into laundering stolen pushbikes.

7) Wishbone Ash: There's The Rub
. . . disappeared. Still a mystery, and a shame because it's a lovely album and had to be replaced on CD. Fortunately I've still got the same band's immortal Argus, complete with wonderfully furry and gungey lo-fi mix.

I was worried that it was all going to be a bit samey as I was indeed an unrepentant bluesrocker in those days. This is not necessarily a bad thing. The first AC/DC Live? Turn it up to 11 and let's party . . .

Fortunately even back then I was showing vaguely danceable tendencies. There's the Motown 20th Anniversary Album, a double with loads of real blinders on it and (Thank you, Lord . . .) The Best of James Brown. So we will be able to bop after all.

Then there's my first reggae: Steel Pulse's Handsworth Revolution and Tribute to The Martyrs, also Ijahman's Haile I Hymn Chapter 1. This is not only notable for its gorgeous melodies. It was the only time I ever impressed anyone in a record shop by being cool enough to have heard of it. Being as I've only ever been cool about once in my life, I figure this must have been the moment . . .

These are classic furry and gungey albums. I never had the heart to buy them on CD; it wouldn't be right somehow. The same goes for live albums like Dr Feelgood: Stupidity and The Parkerilla by Graham Parker and The Rumour. This is ultimate furry and gungey. If your copy's too clean, place the naked vinyl on a gravel drive and run the car over it a few times until it sounds . . . just right. This will save you decades of spilt drinks and fag ash.

I'd also place the first Clash album in this category if some bastard hadn't nicked my copy. I bought it virtually new from a kid at school for two quid, thus marking another moment when I was accidently almost hip.

Like most skint kids of my generation, I was saved from buying too many duffers by sheer lack of cash. Thus I only have one archetype prog rock album, Genesis: The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, because it was two quid brand new at a car boot sale, just after vinyl albums were ruthlessly stripped from the unhallowed shelves of WH Smith in Stafford.

Trying to make the pennies go further is how we all discovered market stalls. It's also how I discovered Joan Armatrading. I was never much into the girlie singer-songwriter thing but I've always adored JA.

I note that my copy of her live is marked Promotional copy: Not for sale. Some corrupt journo flogging off his review copies down the market? Surely not . . . mind you, I was a trainee hack once and the pay was crap.

There are traces of a youth never as mis-spent as I would have liked: The Best of The Faces and Bad Company's Straight Shooter . . . the first Rolling Stones LP which I bought for $7 in Chicago . . . 10cc's Sheet Music, still a class pop album . . .

Best of Slade and T Rex . . . perhaps just mementos of a glam rock childhood but still great bouncing-off-the-walls music . . . as is The Pogues: Rum, Sodomy and the Lash . . . there's hope for the party yet.

lundi 30 mai 2011

Clochemerle: an everyday story of amour et pissoir

I have at last managed to get one of my all-time favourite progs on DVD: The Beeb's wonderful 1972 version of Clochemerle.

The original screening was naturally way past my bedtime but I caught up with it in the 1990s and read the book too. I even went in search of the locations, thus prompting my first visit to France.

Considering that I ended up living here, you might say that Gabriel Chevallier's genial saga of sex, wine, scandal, satire, hypocrisy and more sex has a lot to answer for.

Curiously Clochemerle seems to be better known to English francophiles these days than it does to the French. Girlfriend Claire enjoyed my English copy, having never read the original.

Obvious les anglais are always going to love a comic row about a toilet: we can never resist lavatory humour. The story starts when the left-wing Monsieur le Maire of Clochemerle-en-Beaujolais decides to further his political career by erecting a cast-iron urinal directly in front of the church, to the fury of the opposition.

I have to admit that the series has dated a little. The film is distinctly scratched and there are some strange accents. But it's still an ensemble piece containing many delightful things.

There's an impressive roll-call of English character actors including Cyril Cusack, Kenneth Griffith, Wendy Hillier and Hugh Griffith, who must have adored shooting on location, being, as he was, a legendary piss-artist.

However the producers made a wise decision in casting the Gallic and gorgeous Catherine Louvel (pictured) as Judith Toumignon, belle de Clochemerle. Male Beeb viewers probably didn't know what had hit them back in 1972, though I don't suppose they minded it coming back to hit them again for another eight episodes.

It has to be said that Mademoiselle Louvel's English sounds distinctly strange, but given that her unbelievably stupid and cuckolded husband François sounds like he comes from Glasgow, I think we can give her the benefit of the doubt.

Peter Ustinov's narration remains a joy; that wonderful mixture of apology, melancholy and aristocracy, at once rich but engagingly acerbic when a point has to be made. A bit like the wine really . . .

*I ought to drop in a plug for Messrs Stojo who coughed up the double DVD promptly for a mere eight quid.

mercredi 25 mai 2011

In fact we're all going to be run over by a bus . . .

I had barely finished the previous episode when I learned that dear old Harold, 89, had put the date of Rupture back to October 21.

There was a loose bead on his abacus apparently, or possibly a loose screw . . .

This is his new date for The End Of The World. Of course, I thought, he might get run over by a bus. That was when it hit me (the thought, I mean). This IS how it will End. We're all going to get run over by a bus.

It's as good a theory as any, even if I do normally support L'Equipe Bugarach. I was hoping to find a funky French bus to support my theory but the net let me down badly. The only pics I could find were a few manky old scrappers, parked in a field near Marseilles.

So I fell back on that legendary Beelzebus: The London Transport Routemaster. Actually it's a magnificent creature, and even the Zargatron spacecraft couldn't look more weirdly out of place, should you happen to find it prowling the slopes of Bugarach.

I hope the Press Association won't mind me borrowing their very nice pic, but it's not as if I'm getting paid for this and they did leave it lying around on the net.

Their Routemaster is a particularly voracious one and absolutely ideal for the job. It has already eaten Big Ben, apart from the indigestible spiky bit and may well be limbering up to do a Thelma and Louise straight into the long-suffering River T.

Normally I can't abide conspiracy theories but I thought I'd have to work this one up a bit if I'm going to get you to swallow it. I discovered that on 21 October 2010, students from Lock Haven University, Pennsylvania, ran a bus to attend the Rally To Restore Sanity in Washington DC. Getting warm, eh?

Then I noticed the Routemaster's number: 159. That's almost exactly the same as Harold Camping's age, except . . . more. Then I found out that the last Routemaster in regular service was a Number 159 when it made its Final Journey. It was 26 minutes late, which only adds to the sense of impending death. The Final Journey took place on 9 December 2005, which is just like 12/21 December 2011, except . . . earlier.

That has to be the clincher. I rest my case.

lundi 23 mai 2011

End of the world? Another load of anonymous bosh

Another one bites the dust, eh? That's to say the latest predicted date for the End of the World.

Mr Harold Camping, 89-year-old doomraker, must be feeling sick as a parrot: It is not dead, nor has it ceased to be . . .

I have to say that I'm glad about this, not only for the undoubted pleasure of continued existence, but also because I'm backing our local team on this highly contentious issue (see previous post).

You may recall that our own outstandingly talented local loons, have already staked prior claim with a widely predicted almighty conflagration on top of our highest mountain Pic Bugarach on 12/12/2012. Or is it 21/12/2012?

Actually, I think it's hedging your bets and rather unfair not to make your mind up on the precise date, however local loyalty is a strong point with me. I'm not a big footie fan either, but I was nonetheless saddened when the dear old Potters, AKA Stoke City, from my native Staffordshire didn't win the FA Cup.

I'm keeping the flag flying and adding in the period atmosphere with a little help from Hell by Hieronymus Bosch. That's mostly because he's one of my favourite artists and it's a damned good excuse to use a decent pic.

Apart the benefits of another 18 months of reasonably certain existence here in France, an American End of the World would be too glitzy and commercial. It would all be sponsored and I have no desire to be Kentucky Fried in Hell (KFH), nor is the prospect of super-large extra fries appealing.

Armageddon would be wasted on Britain as well. For a start it would all have to be done on the cheap and we'd probably end up only lightly kippered rather than properly incinerated, in order to save money. Then it would have to be privatised so that all the saved money could given to the bankers, who would also have to be pampered with free share options for Eternal Damnation. There again, that bit might just work . . .

No, France is the place. Not only do we have a wonderful freaky mountain where the famed Zargatrons of Planet Thargs have hidden their spaceship, all ready to escape at the crucial moment, we also have French bureaucracy: l'administration française in all its glory.

This is, of course, all part of my cunning survival plan: Do you any conception whatever of how much paperwork that Total Global Oblivion would generate in France? Or how long that it would take to process?

By my reckoning, the whole event could be delayed not only beyond our lifetimes, but also those of our children, and our children's children, and our children's children's children. By that time, the fonctionnaire (or uncivil servant) who originally compiled Le dossier de la Fin du Monde would be long dead, buried and chewing the roots of the dandelions, as they say here.

Now we all know that, no fonctionnaire can ever deal with any matter which is the job of another. It's more than either of their jobs are worth. Le dossier would never be completed, approval would never be given. QED: La Fin du Monde would never happen. Saved!

Sceptical as I may be, I still like to spare a thought for our valiant loons eagerly waiting near Pic Bugarach. This is because I invented our pet aliens the Zargatrons of Planet Thargs; just my own little dash of colour on the Epic Canvas of Legend. Actually I'm rather proud of them.

samedi 21 mai 2011

The fascination of contemplation of deterioration

Here we are back in Fa, the village ever content at the centre of the universe, the world spinning about its axis, so no change there . . .

The usual signs of summer are all present and correct. The bonking frogs are back in the Faby, their nightly crescendos more deafening than ever. A cool beer may once again be enjoyed on the sunny terrace of the Cafédefa.

Tomorrow we will be overwhelmed by hordes of bargain-hunters at the village vide grénier. I'm always vaguely alarmed at the prospect of people depositing huge piles of tat down at la batteuse (sort of big tin shed for outdoor events) and trying to fob it off on each other for hard cash. Still it's a harmless way to pass a pleasant Sunday so I'm being ludicrously over-critical. I may just succumb to a few "treasures" myself . . .

Once again there are fresh herbs outside my front door. Basil, tarragon, chervil, marjoram, thyme, oregano, chives . . . straight off the plant and into the dinner; you can't beat it. I'm trying to grow as many as possible this year, and I'm rapidly running out of room on le wooden decking très rustique which props up my pots.

Suddenly nothing happened again. I can never quite decide whether this a good thing or not. I suppose I've got all contemplative and philosophical having just passed the alleged milestone age of 50.

I'm not in bad nick apart from eyes, knees, shoulder, back, arthritis, amnesia . . . sorry, what was I on about just then? Here in our hot, happening band Les Malfonctionnaires, we had to cancel a gig due to a hernia op, though it's business as usual now. Cool, eh? Just how rock'n'roll is that!! Meanwhile I realised I was missing notes owing to the fretboard going blurred. Hey man, amazing drugs . . . er no, crap eyesight actually. NB Prospective bookers of the band should not worry: Once unleashed from our Nanny State-sponsored wheelchairs, we still rip it up like there's no tomorrow.

It seems to have taken me a couple of weeks to jot down a few thoughts about the afore-mentioned semi-century. I should really have reported it on the day, as your ace correspondent for this part of the world. But then again, what's the hurry?

Just to make the situation completely Claire . . .

Never being one for a complicated life, I've always thought that one woman is quite enough so just now I'm feeling outvoted. If you actually wish to clone the girl or bloke of your dreams, then I suggest you visit the Salvador Dali museum in Figueras. Girlfriend Claire (pictured-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d) and I felt like a change of scene, so we legged it over the border to Spain. Being as it's only about half an hour away, I can't think why we don't go there more often.

I'm always in two minds about yer man Dali. The man's a total charlatan but an undeniably talented one. Whilst I doubt that there's a single sincere brush stroke in his entire oeuvre, he's also a virtuoso technician, unlike other charlatans that one might mention . . .