Friday, 23 December 2011
Every now and then you get a concept album on which everything pulls together and creates a magical musical experience. I was a bit reluctant to cover what many regard to be Paul Simon's opus but I was cajoled into giving it an in depth listen by one of my friends. From the accordion which opens the album, the tribal drums, chanting backing vocals and fretless bass, this album is steeped in traditional African music fused together with Simon's insistent voice and folk sensibilities. Expansive would be a good word for describing this album as each track seems to be built on a far grander and wide scale than a large number of more introspective albums from the singer/songwriter genre. It has something reminiscent of Pat Metheny's music (especially 'New Chataqua' and 'American Garage').
Quite rightly, it is consistently touted as one of the greatest albums of the 1980s and with very good reason. The marriage of different musical genres id one made in heaven, with stand out tracks like the mega-hit 'Call me Al', the catchy 'Diamonds on the Soles of her Shoes' and the mystical 'Graceland', this is an indispensable album for the collection. Like most of Simon's records there are whole host of accomplished and outstanding session musicians including the prolific Brecker Brothers, Adrian Belew, Steve Gadd, The Everly Brothers and even a guest vocal from Linda Ronstadt. The famed writing talents of Paul Simon and crispness of the production on this album on adds to the other fantastic parts on this album. This album must have been a huge gamble for Paul Simon despite the growing interest in traditional African and Creole music (The Zydeco, whilst an interesting instrument was not something often heard on pop records) and on this occasion its paid of for the artist.
Saturday, 10 December 2011
If there was any album that defined a genre then it was Christopher Cross's chart topping, quintuple platinum debut album. Rarely has a soft rock album sounded so good as it does here… what can I say, I am biased because to me it really is one of the best made and most entertaining albums of its kind. Move over Fleetwood Mac, stand aside Kenny Loggins and 'hit the road' Doobie Brothers, this album is the culmination of many sleepless nights spent at the production desk in the recording studio. If Steely Dan had set the rules for the soft rock genre during the mid 70s then Cross (and a powerhouse team of session musicians) had refined and improved them creating the peak of the genre.
The Album cover does not set the album to a promising start. With what must be one of the worst, yet sterotypical album covers of the late 1970s and early 1980s, Cross (like Toto) had sought to create a symbol for his act by which he could be easily identified in the future. The flamingo (why?) would be used subsequently on his sadly mediocre follow up Another Page (1983) but here it seems fitting - I don't know why. However the naff design is secondary to the fantastic music that this album possesses.
Many critics looking back like to be sniffy about music from the soft rock/AOR genres which I think is remarkably unfair, for this work definitely deserves a place amongst the other fantastic albums that came out in 1979 (A very good year for pop and rock music). The fact is that it didn't sell millions of copies or win the Grammy for record of the year (1980) for no reason, but I guess it was this commercial 'FM' quality coupled with the clean, flawless production from Michael Omartian that made many critics dislike it all the more (similar to the reception that Toto's IV or Phil Collin's No Jacket Required would also receive in comparison to their success).
Looking at the tracks there are plenty of fantastic pop numbers and plenty of fodder for the charts. The first tune that really stands out is the bass driven 'I really don't know any more' with backing-vocals from the king of AOR Michael McDonald (of the Doobie Bros.). This is followed by the subdued 'Spinning', a soft duet with Valerie Carter (Who she?), yes it's a little saccharine but it is saved by fantastic vocal performances from the lead singers and a well placed trumpet solo. The two big hits on the album are the real highlights, 'Ride LIke the Wind' is a rollocking and catchy anthem with a killer guitar solo which you can just imagine listening to whilst speeding to the border of Mexico (a ref to the song for any of those not familiar with this cut). The other is the anthemic 'Sailing' a wistful ballad which just begs to be listened to outdoor whilst waving a lighter above your head.
I know I must sound incredibly gushing about this album but it really is one that, for me at least, has not one dud cut on it - very rare for a soft rock album. It also has one of the most impressive groups of musicians who Cross called upon to help create it: Don Henley, Jay Graydon, J D Souther, Larry Carlton, Victor Feldman, Nicolette Larson and the aforementioned Michael McDonald. But let us not forget Cross, who has a unique and very engaging vocal talent as well and an incredibly good hand when it came to writing pop music and gauging the popular mood at the turn of the 1970s. If I am right this was one of the last albums to be released in 1979 and serves as an exceptional and truly awesome end to the decade.
Therefore, I sincerely urge you to add this album to your purchase list. It is definitely in my top 10 records of all time and as such gets a solid full marks from me (10/10). It is such a shame that Christopher Cross never reached the artistic heights of this album again, but like most of the best albums, they stand solo as an island of brilliance in a sea of mediocrity.
Saturday, 15 October 2011
I wish I could persuade others to like Cat in the Hat and stop them guffawing with incredulity when they find out it is my favourite album, this sadly is very much an album I fear that I am going to be consigned to placing on a pedestal whilst others place it in the charity shop bargain bin. I truly don't know anyone of my peers and contemporaries who own this album, but then again, I guess they are missing out and I will be left to enjoy this pleasure, much like my homemade orange brandy - which I still maintain tastes like Cointreau - on my own!
Cat in the Hat is the sophomore album from the smooth jazz/blue eyed soul songster Bobby Caldwell. To read the glittering if short review on All Music one would be surprised that this album hasn't been snaffled up by more people and to my mind one phrase stands out 'not one duff track on the album'…how true!
A bit like Christopher Cross's debut album that I reviewed a few weeks ago, Cat in the Hat is definitely stuck in the soft rock genre and has probably suffered at the hands of the critics and changing times as a result. But I cannot resist it and if I was to say that there was one album I come back to more than any other then it would be this one.
Each track is a meticulously played, meticulously produced and has real passion. Funky and soulful, Caldwell had already dazzled with his debut album and the smash (and oft sampled) 'What you won't do for love'. This album was different, very slick and soulful lacking the harder edge and resonating chords of Cat in the Hat. Nowhere on the record is this more apparent than on the most famous and sampled track 'Open your Eyes' an oft overlooked 80s pop classic with echoed vocals and rollocking piano chords descending into a dirty guitar riff which will imprint itself on your mind for hours after listening to it.
But the other tracks are great too. The amount of air guitar time I devoted to the rip-roaring solo from 'Coming Down from love' and in time clapping to the infectiously funky 'Mother of Creation' does not bear thinking about. The slower more romantic numbers are also thoroughly please, Caldwell pulls out all stops on tracks like 'To know what I've got' and the disco rhythmed 'Wrong or Right?' giving a truly powerhouse performance… although many of my mates still remain unconvinced, the philistines!
Like Christopher Cross, I maintain the view that some artists make consistently good albums and others have a flash of greatness that seems to reach the stratosphere only to plummet back to earth by the next album. This is the case with Cat in the Hat, a wonderful album that I will unsuccessfully defend for many years to come for it affords me such great aural pleasure on every listen.
Perhaps I have poor taste in music, then so be it, I won't stop enjoying this album all the more on each play through. And Since this is a day for breaking with precedent (See my review of Al Moro on the main page) I am awarding this 11/10, and put it in a class of its own - if you can find me a better album, I'd like to know!
Saturday, 23 July 2011
Whilst listening to Joe Walsh's fantastic album 'life's been good' I was struck by how rare such a glorious day is in England and how spoilt we have been over the last week by the fantastic weather. True I have spent the majority of it stuck behind a desk in the office, but that makes these moments, out in the sun with a pint and a villiger maduro all the more special.
As such, let me turn to the cigar, a lesser known format of the ever reliable Villiger stable, the maduro. To be honest there is little difference between this and the grosseformat pressed variety (readily available from any good newsagent or supermarket) but the maduro is satisfyingly heavier and can certainly match richer drinks for a great, short, affordable smoke.
It has a slighty bitter aftertaste which betrays they lesser quality tobacco that has been used in the blend compared to a fine cuban or high end cigar from another producing nationn but for the price it is hard to complain.
Their longevity is also a prime reason for choosing these, unlike their cheaper behind the counter comparisons. Rather than burning up in a matter of minutes they maintain a steady ember and if you don't drag it down like the marlboro man after a smokeless month in the desert you can spin one out to 20 minutes. This is far more agreeable at social gatherings than puffing away on a corona in the garden for up to and hour if not more.
The price ranges comfortably between the £8.00-£10.00 mark depending on where you shop. I will say that these cigars give you real bang for your buck and are worth checking our if you want to have a noncommittal smoke but don't want to settle for the cheap and shorter lived alternatives.
Thursday, 7 July 2011
60 Horseferry Road
London SW1P 2AF
Cordon du Chap (out of a possible five): ❁❁❁❁❁
I would describe the Horseferry Road and the area that surrounds it as a bit of a no man's land. Sandwiched between Westminster, Victoria and Pimlico it acts as meeting point where awkwardly placed political workers look for something to satisfy their appetites at lunchtime.
Working but a stones throw away on Albert Embankment I often find myself on this stretch of concrete and tarmac pondering that daily conundrum of what to satiate my appetite with. Truth be told, having worked in this area for the last three years for different organisations I know the road and the surrounding area like the back of my hand, and I often curse the fact that I have sampled everything that this thoroughfare has to offer from the greasy spoon served at the iconic Regency Cafe, The Har Gau dumplings at firecracker chinese and the steak and kidney pie at the Tory Party favourite Shepherd's. You name it, I have been there!
However there is one establishment that I feel deserves a special mention as it is somewhere that I consistently return to. Sapori looks like another Italian cafe, of which there are a number in this part of town and judging by the first counter you would be right. Insalata Tricolore and salami sandwiched between Ciabatta is what would greet the untrained eye. However, beyond this sits a majestic array of hot roasted meats, potatoes and vegetables all looking moist and succulent as they entice the potential customer. Whilst the pork is always good, the beef rare and the turkey well….turkey, the best thing you can get - and they have it seldom - is the roasted lamb. Sandwiched between a soft bap with salad, mayo and mustard it is one of those sandwiches I would walk a mile for. The juices of the hot lamb ooze into the bread making the most delicious savoury blend of meat juices, mayonnaise and butter!
But this is not all, if you like you can have the meat with a side of potatoes and vegetables and even sit down to eat in the cafe which thankfully is also fully licensed. As such it is a great place to meat with friends, former work colleagues and business acquaintances for lunch. In addition to the fine roasted meats there are two different pasta dishes (with an emphasis on orecchiette and trofie) always on show, lasagne and something else (which can range from an adequate paella to the most delicious meatballs and rice I have ever had).
I often go their for a takeaway lunch, sometimes to sit down (if you go for the latter they do a number of made to order pasta dishes) and every time there is something new to try. The portions are substantial and what makes it even better they throw in an extra piece of fruit to sweeten the deal!
I don't know how many of my readers work in the Horseferry Road vicinity but I would thoroughly recommend Sapori to anyone who wants something wholesome and hearty to line their stomach before the rigours of the afternoon's work.
Friday, 17 June 2011
It’s been a while my faithful followers, and as such you are within your perfect right to be irritated with yours truly for his lacklustre efforts on the posting front. The only, if poor excuse that I have been ale to give so many disgruntled readers that have approached, called or emailed me is that I have recently started a new job and the desire to do my best there has eclipsed the more leisurely pursuits of writing about what I get up to in my spare time. But rest assured I am back and better than ever. ‘One might call this How to be a Bloody Good Chap: Mark II’ should they be so inclined! Realising that I have a lot of missed time to make up for I will first of all pacify all those impatient food lovers who might have felt that many of my more recent posts had left the culinary arts to one side! So, for your viewing pleasure here is the return of the Bloody Good Chap!!!!
How those words call to mind john wayne's curmudgeonly, ill tempered pilot who saves a plane load of people about to crash land in Hawaii...at least, that's how I thought the film went (do correct me if I am wrong!) But to the delight of my more gastronomically inclined readers, this is not a post about another great mid-western actor. Indeed I am going to talk about a mighty wing indeed (Cheap Trick pun for any Top Gun fan) and simultaneously a humble one. A much neglected ingredient yet such a useful one both for the gourmet and the hard up student alike.
With rich, soft flesh and either crisp or gelatinous skin I could only be talking about the chicken wing. Seen ignobly covered in the colonel's finest coating or smothered with bbq sauce, I feel that this wonderful cut has been so often thought of as poor relation to the meatier leg. Perhaps this explains the lack of adventurous cookery that it comes into contact with. Apart from the roux brother's wing and mussel pie (not a firm favourite) and my regular chinese's sichuan chilli hotpot (intense but addictive) I cannot think and other recipes in my collection of books which make good use of the wings on their own. I must thoroughly disagree with anyone who poo- poos it, the wing done well trumps a leg every time. No barbecue of mine is complete without then.
A wing of quality should have a good proportion of meat and a nice bit of skin. The flesh is on the bone and so suited to slow cooking or roasting and makes a welcome cheap eat in a time when food costs are rising. I purchased 12 from my butcher the other day for a mere 3.00 and was able to make a couple of delicious meals from them for a fraction of the price it would have cost me to use breasts. Going to the supermarket and seeing a large box of the birds' flapper on sale at under £2.00 suggests how undesirable so many find them and how many must go to waste in the production of perfect breasts, thighs and legs. For me the essential mark of a good chicken is the wing, it should be meaty but not flabby and the skin shouldn't be (like January in Chaucer's 'a Merchant's Tale') 'slacke of skine'.
Like Indiana Jones in 'The Last Crusade' make sure you choose your specimens 'wisely'. I will not lecture you like Hugh but at the end of the day we all know good from bad and if needs must needs must, after all we do have an economy (and our own tattered finances) to rebuild! Turning rapidly away from any more food-politico incendiary remarks, let us look at some of the wonderful things that can be achieved with a wing.
Returning to an old post of mine 'Stock dear boy/girl (the latter rarerly used as it sound a bit sinister - something that James Robertson Justice might say!), Stock!', I must briefly say that chick wings, simply roasted with a bit of salt and cracked black pepper make a fine basis for any fonde and are a lot cheaper to boot! I often use them to make a mid-week batch when funds for a really good hen need to be saved for Sunday lunch! Of course, if you cannot wait for the stock then you are more than welcome tuck into the crisp skinned morsels that the roasting produces, decadently dipped into a bowl of leftover gravy!
Another killer use for any wing fan is to use the cut as a substitute in recipes which require more expensive cuts. One of my favourite dishes to knock up is chicken breasts (skin on) roasted with butter, herbs and white wine accompanied with a spaghettini with roasted tomatoes, basil and parmesan. Of course I use the butcher’s best breasts and baby plum tomatoes when I usually make it. However, for those who are feeling the cold pinch of recession might feel that the use of these ingredients is a little extravagant. That is why I devised a cheap and cheerful version which could either be a hearty meal for one or a light lunch for two. I think it also is one of the best ways to cook this cut whilst also flexing your culinary muscles.
Nb. I must stress the importance of using Di Cecco’s Fedelini as your pasta for this recipe as it is just the right thickness for the dish. If you have one extravagance in this dish then it should be this. Also Freshly grated parmesan and not that powdered smegma that you get in plastic shakers!
glug of groundnut oil
6 good sized and plumptious Chicken Wings
Handful of fresh mixed herbs from garden/window box (tarragon, rosemary, thyme, parsley)
generous knob butter
Half glass of dry white wine
Maldon Salt and Cracked black pepper
3 good sized tomatoes cut into 1/8ths
glug of olive oil
2 bay leaves
3 whole cloves garlic
Maldon salt and cracked black pepper
Large handful of freshly grated parmesan
good handful of Fedelini (enough for 2)
Freshly ripped basil
1. preheat oven to 230 Degrees Celsius, chop herbs and lay chicken wings on an oiled roasting tin with plenty of salt and pepper.
2. when oven is at optimum temperature, sprinkle over the herbs and set in the oven.
- Turn down to 190 degrees after 10 minutes and leave for a further 20.
- Chop tomatoes, smash garlic, rip bay sprinkle salt and pepper and give a good glug of oil into a small baking tin and set to one side.
- Set a large pan of salted water on the hob and bring to the boil.
- When wings are crisp and succulent, remove from oven to rest, turn up heat to 230 degrees Celsius and place the tray with the tomatoes in the oven.
- When the water is at a boil, remove the wings from the roasting tin to a warm plate, put it on the smallest ring on a high heat and add the butter and wine, cooking until the alcohol has boiled off.
- Place the fedelini in the pan and cook for aroungd 4-5 minutes until al dente, draining off and transferring to the tin of deglazed juices.
- Stir around and then, removing the sizzling tomatoes from the oven, combine with the pasta in the pan, constantly stirring and add the gated parmesan gradually.
- Plate up and serve with plenty of ripped fresh basil and a green salad with a punchy dressing and of course, some extra parmesan and a large glass of good red wine.
Thursday, 16 June 2011
Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House
London SE1 9AD
Cordon Du Chap (out of a possible five) : ❁❁❁❁
Kicking off the award we have the first of (I hope) many good reviews. Wright Brothers Oyster and Porter House in Borough Market is a fantastic mainstay off one of the liveliest slices of the capital’s food scene. Nestled alongside Monmouth Coffee House and perched opposite the smoky, chorizo selling barbecue of Brindisia this purveyor of fine molluscs is a welcome sight to a weary shopper who has seen just about enough boudins, cured meat, cheese and roti de veau to last a lifetime!
As you can imagine I had a productive morning at the market, I had a list of things to buy but as is so often the case, I ended up straying away from it. I had been in the market, trying samples of fresh local produce and testing fruit and veg for firmness when I felt my stomach let out a faint moan. Smells of frying bacon mingled with mulled wine started to make my mouth water and I realised that it was time for lunch!
I would like to say that I stumbled onto Wright Brothers but unfortunately I am a creature of habit and truth be told I had been there a couple of times before. However, in previous visits I had confined myself to a pint of London Porter and half a dozen Fine Claires! Good oysters are not hard to come by in London and therefore I think it would be difficult to base a review on such a limiting collection of shucked shellfish. Therefore, I have waited until now to give my review as my meal on this occasion was slightly more varied than on previous sittings.
One of my favourite things about this restaurant is not only its location but also the clever balance that it strikes between smart and informal. When I was there a fantastic mixture of city stock brokers and market shoppers mingled to sip ice cold Champagne, gobble fat oysters or large platters of fruit de mer whilst the open kitchen buzzed with activity of multiple orders. Then there were the great, unreserved unwashed who occupied themselves with their respective luncheons at the lengthy oak bar which straddled the whole restaurant. It was a Thursday (the new Friday some say) and the place was packed but a helpful waiter helped me find a lone perch at the bar and immediately helped me to a cold glass of Meantime London Porter – a masterful brew made by one of London’s best brewers.
I thought I would stray into unknown waters. I had never had cooked oysters and had been told by many that they were not worth the effort of the chef, however it was a flavour sensation I was yet to experience so I decided to order the exotically titled Oysters in the New Orleans style. I was presented with three tantalising oysters which had been crumbed and then deep fried until golden brown and a generous helping of Tartare Sauce. I can imagine traditionalists harrumphing at the mere thought of this dish but that did not stop it from being utterly delicious! The Oysters were wonderfully briny which went well with the piquant, gherkin and caper laden mayonnaise. This method of cooking, I suppose, was a homage to the Po’ Boys of the Deep South and I thought how good these oysters would have been between two crisp slices of toast, some shredded Iceberg Lettuce and some more Tartare Sauce (Food for thought indeed!).
I went light for my main course as I feel that solo gluttony is a rather unattractive sight and I had a reputation to uphold (however slight it was) – it wouldn’t do to be a Mr Creosote on this occasion! I opted for the traditional fish soup on this occasion which came with some very crisp toasts and a generous portion of both gruyere cheese and rouille (an emulsified hot sauce flavoured with garlic and chilli). I wish I could judge restaurants merely on the quality of their fish soup because so many can’t seem to get it right. Luckily, this was not the case this time. The soup was thick and smooth with a wonderful flavour from a homemade fish stock and fresh seafood. As with all traditional fish soup there was a hint of aniseed which reassured me that they had added a splash of pernod. There was also a wonderful taste of fresh parsley which added another dimension to the soup and kept it clean and cut through the richness. The toasts were crisp, the gruyere fresh (ie it had not been hanging around too long and allowed to dry out) and the rouille punchy. All in all a great bowl of soup.
So what is there left to say but that my bill was brought speedily and with the minimum amount of fuss! I hope I have inspired you to take a trip there yourselves, the food isn’t fancy but it is fresh and well prepared. The ambience is fantastic and I imagine that it gets quite jolly in the evening when the city breaks for supper! It is not that cheap my meal with one drink came to £18 but I felt that it was worth every penny and there is nothing wrong with treating yourself to a bit of decadence now and then. So hats of the Wright Brothers for a fantastic lunch and a pleasant way to start a string of restaurant reviews rated to the rigorous standards of the Cordon Du Chap
Sunday, 22 May 2011
My foodie followers will be wondering what I have done to them. Post after post is published and yet their hunger for more culinary based posts is frustrated. I am afraid for this week you will have to remain patient as I propose to take this opportunity to write about a paradox amongst men, a man who is both loved and loathed by the general viewing public. This is just one of the many reason he makes it into the Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame. In the style of the great chat show host Michael Aspel: He’s an actor, he’s a poet, he’s a raconteur…he’s Nick Nolte!
I was once asked by a friend who I’d want to play me in a biopic, and the immediate answer was the ‘Olivier of Omaha’. Now, I must make the point that there is not on shred of physical resemblance between the craggy and curmudgeonly Mid West actor and the writer of this blog. I am sure if I met that rugged and imposing figure of the acting community, he would quite easily dwarf me. An ex college football player (gone to seed by the time he entered acting), Nolte typified the rough and ready alpha male of the 1980s. Adding the toughness of Clint Eastwood, he became a staple of action movies over the next 20 years. However, unlike Eastwood, he was actually a pretty good actor, able to play roles other than those that were scripted to his style (anyone who has seen his underrated performance in Cape Fear and Q&A will know what I’m talking about).
Why did I choose him to play me, why choose a handsome rugged fellow to portray a chap who someone once said ‘Had a face for radio…’ and stands at a mere 5.4 foot! Surely Woody Allen would have been a better choice - certainly true if they were going by my fashion sense! I like to think that he would give the best interpretation of me, despite physical differences, I have always been entertained by his acting (even in some of his shockers like I Love Trouble with ‘hammy hammerson’ herself Julia Roberts. They famously disliked each other on set, but I know who I’d prefer to go an sink a few pints with…although I don’t think I would be able to keep up the pace (such is the myth of the great Nolte). Another friend once referred to him as ‘The Thinking Man’s Gary Busey’ and I for one am inclined to agree.
As versatile an actor as he is, he will always be remembered for a handful of roles by a younger generation, such as his fantastic turns in Hotel Rwanda and Thin Red Line, which is a great shame as he has done some wonderful stuff. If you haven’t seen 48Hrs then I urge you to do so as soon as possible. A genre defining picture, it made the careers of Eddie Murphy and Nick Nolte whilst also pioneering the ‘Buddy Cop’ film genre (although some have argued that James Caan & Alan Arkin’s 1974 outing Freebie & the Bean pre-dates this). Entertaining, ultra violent, amusing and incredibly seedy, it has everything a hard-boiled actioner needs and is deserved of a place in my top ten films of all time!
However, it is not just the on screen persona that has contributed to the legend that is Nick Nolte. A little bit like Burt Reynolds and Jack Nicholson, the public life of Nolte has been just as exciting as the one we see in front of the camera. If Nick had a soundtrack to his life it would definitely be the steel drums, saxophone and bass that typified many gritty cop films of the 1980s. Enigmatic to the point of frustration, just watching a Nolte interview is like watching a character from one of Nietzsche’s books. Both pretentious yet at the same time startlingly close to the truth. Let’s be quite clear that this is a man who has made a film about himself, the ultimate vanity for an actor! I can guarantee that you will never see another film where an actor interviews himself… is there anything more self-indulgent? That’s star quality, the only other actor I could see doing it would be Nicholson.
An unapologetic smoker and drinker, Nolte has always courted controversy. Most famously in the early 2000’s where he was charged DUI and the famous mugshot was released of Nolte, hair akimbo and looking distinctly sozzled! Not the man’s finest hour and for one I could never condone DUI, but it certainly gave the viewing public a certain image of Nolte as an out-of-control individual, who was not quite in control. Perhaps…but Nolte bounced back with some fantastic acting, giving his usual gruff, understated performances, which remind us all of what a good actor he is. I was watching Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner this afternoon and saw a lot of the subject of this piece in Spencer Tracy!
When push comes to shove, I don’t want Nolte to enter the hall of fame for these private dalliances and excapades, although I rejoice in how unapologetic he is in the face of a society that prefers conformity and anonymity to individuality and the unique. I really want to pay tribute to one of the finest and most underrated actors of his generation (especially one who is brave enough to embark on numerous independent ventures). So here’s to you Nick Nolte as you are inducted into The Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame!
PS. Foodies fear not as I will be publishing a few tasty morsels over the next week so keep your eyes open!
Sunday, 15 May 2011
Another Album from 1985! Honestly, when will my 80s obsession cease – not here! One of my favourite albums in the world, No Jacket Required contains some of the most enjoyable tunes that I have had the greatn pleasure to listen to in my time. Yes, it is a real product of its time, the production values are somewhat ‘state-of-the-art’ and ever so slightly dated, but it is an album that I defy critics to not enjoy.
Back in the black depths of the mid 80s when the miner’s strike ruled the news feed and Miami Vice ruled the tubes, Phil Collins was beavering away in the studio recording what would become his most successful and iconic album to date. Studio technology had made massive leaps since his debut and with albums like Hall & Oates’s Big Bam Boom, Malcolm McLaren’s Duck Rock and Art of Noise’s Who’s Afraid of The Art of Noise the possibilities that could be explored were endless. Having had reasonable success with Hello, I must be going, various sessioning, production credits and the dynamite duet Easy Lover with Phil Bailey (from Earth Wind & Fire) Collins must have realised that he needed to release something which would secure his place in pop history, and catapult him into superstardom.
If there is any album that really captures the over-the-top excess that so many people associate with the yuppie, America-facing, aspirational 1980s Britain, then it is No Jacket Required. Just listening to the track ‘Inside Out’ confirms this - if the city could be defined by an album it would be this one. The amount of car journeys I had the pleasure of going on when I was growing up (especially those long and stormy holiday ones) that I listened to this album are unquantifiable! Zipping around capital and countryside in my father’s red Peugeot 205, this was a staple on the tape deck, so much so that it was worn out and has to be replaced!
Even the album sleeve reeks of the fast buck, with an atmospheric and unflattering head shot of Collins under a red filter, his balding pate just showing that you didn’t have to be glamorous make it big! On the back there is a full profile of Collins in his idiosyncratic suit and white Converse All Stars sporting one of the strangest haircuts that I have ever scene (which would become even more ridiculous for Genesis’ Invisible Touch Album).
Granted, many of the tracks are pounding, with the hardest rockers being the astounding ‘Only You Know and I Know’, which introduces a theme of paranoia running through the album on other tracks like ‘Don’t Loose my Number’ and ‘Doesn’t Anybody Stay Together Anymore’. But there are dark moments (‘Long Long Way to Go’), slushy moments (‘One More Night’) and plain old-fashioned silly moments (‘I Don’t Wanna Know’). For me – as I cannot account for the taste of others – there is not one duff track on this album, and the structure is so good that the first song sounds like a opener (‘Sussudio’) and the last song (‘Take Me Home’) sums up and closes the album without leaving any open ends.
Compared to other Collins outings there is a dramatic difference to No Jacket Required and both its predecessors and successors, and that is the absence of filler material. As I have already stated above, this is an album filled with a number of classics, most of which would make up the bulk of his Serious Hits…Live tour in 1990. There is not an out-of-place note on the album where some others have had a tendency to include a couple of fun but unnecessary or not terribly interesting tracks (A few from Face Value and But Seriously… immediately spring to mind!). This is the music of an artist who stood on the brink of world conquest and it would be this album that topped the charts in 1985 earning Collins a deserved Grammy for Record of the Year.
I always wonder what it would have been like to buy this oeuvre back in 1985 as I’m sure then I wouldn’t level the popular criticism that No Jacket Required shares with a shed load of other records produced that this time. Over-production was fashionable at the time and, if you were to listen to Collin’s other production credits with John Martyn, Frida (From ABBA), Adam Ant and Eric Clapton it is easy to see why he embraced the new studio technology on offer. Meticulous and arrangement heavy, Collins techniques focused on complex rhythm patterns layered to create a complete sound. Often the basslines and Drum loops would be complex with punchy horns, driving guitars and/or spare keyboard riffs. Using state of the art equipment to achieve these layered arrangements can be risky in the long term as technology moves on, and it would be disingenuous of me to say No Jacket Required hadn’t aged at all. However, I think that the appeal of this album is that it has dated, it serves as a perfect example of the sort of music people were listening to in 1985 and when all is said and done you cannot fault the accomplishment of the musicianship and the strong song writing.
The other factor that makes this album a joy is the associated publicity that accompanied it, Collins’ appearance in a shiny gold suit on the hit cop show, Miami Vice is a definite must for any fans – in spite of his appalling acting! Then there are the various promotional music videos that complemented the album. Sussudio is by far my favourite in which we see a suited Collins and his backing band reversing the fortunes of a flagging band night at the local pub! Then there were his constant chat show appearances and his marathon gig at Live Aid where he played both Wembley and Philadelphia to swathes of cheering crowds. Collins was indeed top of the world and at this point unstoppable. Next year he would return again with another Chart Topper with his band Genesis and his reputation as one of the most prolific acts of the 1980s would be secured.
From the first bars of ‘Sussudio’ to the fading chants of ‘Take Me Home’, No Jacket Required maintains those rare qualities of strength and consistency at a time when most albums were merely a vehicle for a couple of singles. Yes the sound is definitely rooted in the time of the record’s conception, but it is an enjoyable and easy listening experience and I would commend it to anyone who is looking for something which will give them hours of listening pleasure!
Saturday, 7 May 2011
Having never experienced a Royal Wedding before, I am afraid that I really have very little to compare it with. The fuss and furore that accompanied the wedding of the current Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer rather passed me by, chiefly for the reason that I had yet to be born and was at that stage, still a mere glint in my father’s eye. Despite having seen many pieces of archive footage of the pomp and ceremony of that grand occasion, non of it surpassed the fantastic pop-up book entitled ‘A Very Windsor Wedding’ which my uncle produced to wowed guests at the lunch table on Easter Sunday. Forget the spectacle of Charles and Di waving at the cameras from the balcony of Buck Palace, much better to repeatedly pull on a directional tab and control the waving movements of the happy couple yourself. I suppose for me, like the pop up representation of the Queen’s aged corgi jumping over a gate at Balmoral, none of this seemed that real!
I had been reading the build up in the media which had started since last November and by the time the wedding was upon us all, I had become thoroughly bored with it. As the 'gutter' press and a few ‘gutter’ channels started making snide remarks about Kate (sorry Catherine) being a ‘commoner’ an outsider might have been excused for thinking that this was nothing but an update of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As Easter passed and the event loomed great on the horizon, the bunting went up, the flags were raised and all those bored women in the hairdressers were a-gossip about which of the extravagant dresses Catherine would be wearing as she recited her vows to the beaming Prince William. It would be safe to say that London was in a great sense of anticipation.
Having been invited to a party by a good friend of mine on the day in question, I was charged with making a contribution to the food and drink. The theme was British summer and the days leading up to the nuptials had not disappointed. Getting home from the office a little earlier than usual I set to making a range of finger sandwiches that would end all finger sandwiches. Foodies look away, for there was nothing in those sandwiches which had the merits of fine gastronomy. When catering in bulk and on a budget for others, considerations about homemade bread, Bradenham Ham or hothouse cucumbers are all thrown out the window, the food on this occasion was to be fuel and would be treated as such. The phrase ‘Supermarket Own Brand’ would not be out of place in this tale and to go with all the groceries I had purchase I had also procured a bottle of Richmond Gin and a bottle of Pimms.
And so the sandwich cutting began, until the work surface was strewn with crusts, crumbs, offcuts of wafer thin processed ham and waxy cucumber peelings. Of course, throughout these trials, where the top slice slipped of the filling mid cut to bread sticking to the knife I was aided in my travailles by a generous jug of Pimms and an episode or two of jeremy brett's fantastic portrayal of sherlock holmes.
Waking up the next morning to the hearty cheering of my housemate I went downstairs for my morning coffee feeling a little the worse for wares. I had seen friends the night before and the scotch and cigarillos cosumed were sitting less than comfortably as I tried to prepare myself for the lashings of booze which were to frequently punctuate the day ahead. I was asked if I wanted some breakfast, hearing an egg drop lazily into a pan of hot oil. 'I think I'll pass' I said reaching for an orange and my rallying cup of coffee. Besides, thought I, there would be plenty of time to stoke up as the day progressed.
Wimbledon station was buzzing, people were waving union jack flags being distributed by a mobile phone company who thought that they would cash in on the occasion. Yet another renaissance had occured, where the public had once again embraced the royals in their proverbial bosom. And so it was that I arrived at a block of flats in the Clapham area, clutching my provision and hotly anticipating an adventure.
I was buzzed in and directed to the 17th floor only to find the party in full swing - it was only 10 in the morning! Seeing some of the fancies on offer and the huge amounts of booze under which the table noticeably sagged, I felt that my offerings were somewhat paltry. But I needn’t have worried, I was in good company and there was plenty of good cheer. We ate and drank as we watched all the foreign dignitaries entered Westminster Abbey to the cheers and shouts of Britain’s finest. The king of Tonga deserves a special mention here for turning up looking like Mohammed Al Fayed, decked out in a costume similar to the doormen at Fayed’s former business Harrods.
Then a roar went up from the television as our plucky royals arrived in a show of pomp and ceremony. As Harry swaggered down the aisle in his military regalia as if he was on a night out on the Kings Road we all knew that the moment of the day was about to arrive. Soon it had come, the organs went up and the blushing bride, followed by a string of bridesmaids including her sister Pippa, whose understated dress – dare I say it – rather upstaged that of her sister’s!
As more and more bottles went clink-clonk into the recycling bin I could detect that people were getting decidedly tipsy (that is not to say that the author wasn’t enjoying himself to!) and in tandem the food was disappearing rapidly. My cucumber sandwiches had gone down a storm except for the rather soggy specimens which had not enjoyed their train journey that much and were now limp, bready piles of spongy mush. Pimms supplanted the Champagne and numerous toasts went up as the ceremony ran its course. Before long it was all over and as the newly-weds exited the church a massive cheer went up from the crowd on what was indeed one of Britain’s finest hours for a long, long time.
‘Ally-oop!’ said one of the hosts to the merry rabble that was spilling alcohol and fizzy pop all over his carpet, ‘for we now embark on a pub crawl along the Northcote Road’. Another cheer went up as all and sundry filed downstairs. This was my cue, I had been invited to another party and I felt this was as good a time as any to make my excuses and make the hazy and frankly wearisome journey to Hammersmith.
Trains are mercurial beasts and fate is rather more accelerated when a certain amount of Pimms has been consumed. I wanted to get to the other party as soon as possible and so it was that I ran to the station and jumped on what I thought was the right train. It was only when the doors had shut and I realized that I was bound for Staines, Berkshire…
Luckily the train stopped at Wandsworth Town so I was able to jump out and take stock. The one way system, in spite of the many roads that make up this particularly ugly part of London is not the easiest place to hale a taxi especially on a day when I imagine most were in the middle of town. After half an hour of fruitless haling and just as I was about to give up hope, a golden Hackney Carriage turned up to take Cinderfella to the Hammersmith ball.
On arrival, I found the party spilling out into the leafy street and procuring a bottle of Champers from the kitchen, I went out to find my chums languishing in the garden, discussing the day’s events. Wild opinions, smutty jokes and patriotic cheers were the order of the day and I settled in to another few hours of merriment. If there had been a republican in that party there is no doubt that he would have been promptly ejected from the party with a swift boot to the behind. The sun was making great efforts to make itself known that day, but each time was thwarted by another band of grey clouds. But who cares if it was overcast, to my mind the British mentality is at its best on a grey day and it is correct to say that we as a nation are unique in celebrating come rain or shine!
Again it was time to move on, and placing a call to a good friend, I was duly informed that there was a small, select shin-dig at his pad down in East London. Stopping for a cheeky couple of pints at the Phoenix pub (which was a hive of activity) with a few mates, I was afforded a rare sight. Now, the reader must forgive me as by this time I was a little 1 over the 8, but I am sure that I saw James Middleton. When I claimed this to my friends, they have all scoffed claiming that the brother of the bride would by then have been at Buck Palace. Well I stick by my story!
For the sake of keeping this blog post to a reasonable length, let’s just say that I ended the night about £50 the poorer, due – in part - to the overpriced lager at the off license and the scorching (and inedible) doner meat and chips that I purchased as I summed up the celebrations in Stepney Green. But let me just say that it was a fantastic day and leave it there. The city was buzzing with throngs of tourists and locals all very much enjoying an excuse to have a party and for once, in such bleak political climes, the whole of Britain seemed united in the pursuit of having a good time!