Sunday, 22 May 2011

Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame induction: Nick Nolte

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

Chappy's Album Pick: Sleeveless and Backless – No Jacket Required (1985)

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

Up the Hill Backwards: My Royal Wedding Experience

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!