Sunday, 19 October 2014

No irony required: Phil Collins is inducted into the Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame

It’s somewhat surprising it has take me so long to write this post given that everyone who knows me is aware of how much of a fan I am, but i think the time has come for Phil Collins to be inducted into the Bloody Good Chap Hall of Fame! Taking his place alongside such illustrious figures as Nick Nolte, Barry Gibb, Captain Haddock, Jane Grigson, Daryl Hall and many others!

I can hear the collective cheers for this piece countered by a chorus of groans and moans. For many Collins is a marmite figure, you either love him or you hate him. Whatever people may think, there is no denying that he is a musical force to be reckoned with, heard daily across UK radio waves and living on through rhythmic samples so popular with modern rap and R&B artists. As you’ve probably guessed, I think he’s great! For example, nothing quite brings a smile to my face in the office as when one of his tracks is played on Absolute Radio whilst penning a press release or profile piece for some client or other. 

I was first introduced to the magic of this modern-day Mozart by my parents on the long car journeys we used to make to the south west of France on summer holidays when I was growing up. The cassette of Serious Hits Live! (1990) was played so much that we had to replace it twice it was so popular - although we also had to do the same thing with Dire Straits’ Brothers In Arms (1985) and Tina Turner’s Foreign Affair (1989). 

Each listen takes me back, from the dynamite xylophone intro of ‘Who Said I Would’ (superior to the studio one) and the sublime take on his 1985 duet ‘Seperate Lives’ through to his barnstorming, extended version of ‘Sussudio’ and crowd-pleasing drum-fest that is ‘In The Air Tonight’ (with some amazing guitar licks to boot). I am always impressed by artists who can put together a solid collection of chart-toppers and top 40 classice. A bit like Elton John, The Eagles and Queen’s first set of Greatest Hits, each song is a winner, all killer and no filler! Anyway, I digress. 

The enduring appeal of Collin’s music is its originality and diversity, although I am sure that I will find plenty who think exactly the opposite! A musical polymath, aside from his own output he put his stamp on Genesis, produced some cracking albums in the 80s (August by Eric Clapton is a personal favourite) and was a session musician for the likes of Brian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Robert Fripp and John Martyn. He also found the time to perform in a jazz fusion band, Brand X! His back catalogue is truly vast and there is something for everyone in it. 

For me, his best moment will always be his most enduring album, No Jacket Required. A tour de force in every sense, his most enduring masterpiece, if you will, from a time when Collins most certainly ruled the pop music roost. 

Some might be reading this thinking that I have written it with the ever-so-slightest touch of irony and I would like to assure them that nothing could be further from the truth! He is truly my favourite recording artist and I am only sorry it has taken me so long to get him in this hall of fame. So, in his honour, here are my top ten collins moments (in no particular order):

  1. Sussudio - One of Collin’s best tracks... ever. It has it all, drum machines, brass sections and a thoroughly catchy chorus. The accompanying music video is also a stroke of genius!
  2. In Too Deep - Many will remember this from American Psycho and for others it might be a bit to saccharine, but for me it is a brilliantly constructed love song and one of Genesis’ best.
  3. I Missed Again - Written in the aftermath of his acrimonious divorce and pushed out as one of the singles from his debut album, Face Value (1981), this is a funky tune with great hooks.
  4. August (1986) - The whole album, which is an Eric Clapton one. He produced this underrated collection of tracks on which he also played all the drums. Cuts like “Run”. “Bad Influence” and “Behind The Mask” are well worth purchasing this record for. 
  5. Mama - This Genesis track from their eponymous shapes album (1983) is stark, stripped-down and has one of Collin’s best vocal performances. 
  6. I Could Not Love You More -  From John Martyn’s masterpiece Glorious Fool (1981), Collins produces and provides drums and backing vocals - Eric Clapton even steps in to give a killer guitar solo
  7. Easy Lover - What happens when you take a drummer from South London and cross him with Earth, Wind & Fire’s lead singer? Easy Lover, that’s what! 
  8. Tonight Tonight Tonight - The live version of this ten minute epic is something else. From Genesis’s world-dominating album Invisible Touch (1986)
  9. Two Hearts - Yes it’s a little bit cheesy but this is a great love song from the 1988 soundtrack to the less impressive Phil Collins film, Buster.
  10. Take Me Home - Having Sting on backing vocals is one thing, but to also have Helen Terry and Peter Gabriel is just indulgent. The closing track to No Jacket Required is an incredible soundscape and perfect for rounding off this top ten!

Sunday, 12 October 2014

More notes from a blue corner: Whoops apocalypse!

As the dust settles on Clacton and Heywood and Middleton and attentions turn toward Rochester and Strood, I think it is a good time to reflect on this “earthquake”. Being the sad politico that I am, I have read the contrasting views of the pundits and caught up on the coverage. I must say that the whole thing casts a very dim light on the quality of our politicians from across the party spectrum, including UKIP. 

The nadire of the whole thing came when the lightweight Greg Hands MP and the chippy, cracked-record Michael Dugher MP started slugging it out over the UKIP swings in Heywood and Middleton. It was like watching two adolescents in a ‘mine’s bigger than yours’ competition, full of excuses and dominated by Andrew Neil’s loaded questions. If the main parties was to communicate to the country they need to do better than these turkeys. Why are they not putting their most charismatic, eloquent and media-savvy spokespeople in front of the camera to play this down and rubbish the speculation?

For example, if I had been David Cameron, I would have sent my chief whip down to defend his record (this thing after all happened under his watch) and to offer a shot across the bows for any other Conservatives looking to defect. From a Labour perspective? They should have someone who can effectively communicate the party’s policy and stop Tory-bashing with hollow soundbytes rather than concrete reasoning. I want to see some courage and conviction from an authoritative government and a strong, feisty opposition. Sadly I didn’t see this that night. 

Turning to Clacton, the Conservatives seemed lacklustre, with none of the soapbox sparkling of yesteryear. Of course it was un-winnable, Carswell is a highly popular, local MP who has a very convenient, UKIP sympathetic demographic and has invested a huge amount of his personal time building up support for his cause. However, I think it would have set a good example to have fought the election tooth-and-nail despite the pre-destined outcome, rather than simply saying ‘oh, it’s a by-election, the results will be different in 2015’ - maybe, but this kind of complacency is so deeply unattractive and slightly insulting to the people who want to see the party given the respect and recognition it deserves. 

In my last post, I wrote that we needed to take our message to the doorsteps now, wee beed to have a clear, coherent and thoroughly defiant message. If we believe the Conservatives are doing the right thing by the country, let’s enunciate it through actions as well as words. We should have been all over Clacton, making public statements and vilifying a turncoat, showing that the party machine was prepared to mete its full force on Clacton, in a similar vein to Newark. 

Carswell’s defection reflects the feelings of his voters, the result shows it and he is an intelligent fellow. However, when asked to elucidate his view it was something of a car crash (although no-one probably noticed). His interview with Mr. Neil was spent sparring with the deeply unimpressive Hands and then offering vacuous rhetoric filled with platitudes and the word ‘change’, yet I was left wondering ‘what change’. His speech on re-election was even more devoid of content - then again, isn’t that representative of his new party! Anyway, I had better stop before I am accused of ‘negative campaigning’! 

Rochester and Strood will be a tough one for us, but we (The Conservatives) could win! We need to pull our collective fingers out and dominate the area, the media output, everything! The big hitters need to be seen in the town centre, on the doorsteps, in the supermarket and beating UKIP in the battle of both personalities and ideas - we have so much more to offer, let’s get better at selling it! Let’s stop being complacent about these by-elections. In the words of my old chum, Eric Pickles, “Let’s get campaigning and let’s get cracking.”

Saturday, 4 October 2014

Notes from a blue corner: post conference blues...

Rest assured, dear reader that I will be posting on the second half of my trip to Vienna soon. I just felt, as a fellow interested in the political welfare of this green and pleasant land, that I would commit some thoughts to the web casting in another penny to the eternal fountain of the misinformed and the misguided.

So far it has been quite the conference season with Ed Miliband apparently forgetting his lines and David Cameron offering a barnstorming, pre-election rally cry for the rank and file… Of course, this has been punctuated by scandal and defection. It seems that the usual, healthy dose of power, corruption and lies is alive and well in our democracy! 

On the face of it, there is good reason for some optimism from my very much blue corner. Strong policy statements were made, coupled with some tough economic proposals, which directly benefited the rank and file Tory voter. It’s no wonder that Osborne got a standing ovation; with calls to freeze working benefits and to abolish taxes on pension pots it’s the bread and butter that delegates lapped up with glee.

It all sounds so good but, having been to a few Conservative conferences and having worked on the last election campaign we once again risk sacrificing common sense and hard campaigning for a few buzzwords and a large dollop of style over substance.

It has been a tough five years and although I started it on the inside, I have spent the large part of it as an observer in the private sector - at the lower end of the professional pay spectrum for that matter! The Coalition was built on ‘such high hopes and great expectations’ and has, for the large part, been a government of unrivalled reforming zeal, tackling social institution in dire need of fresh thinking and a kick up the arse.

However, it was as much a poison chalice, as reality bit the main actors have found that their popularity has decreased and inherent problems in the system, from weak border administration to failing IT networks, have come to bite them in the goolies through either voter apathy or outright opposition. With the election looming and the threat of fringe parties biting at the heals the main players, especially the Conservatives are desperately looking for fresh appeal! 

As such this seemed to be a conference where the powers that be were intent on making amends with the grass roots and UKIP waiverers for some of their more unpopular policies, offering a portfolio of bread and circuses for those less inclined to the ‘softer’ side of their recent policy making.  

While there was a great deal of nostalgic posturing throughout the conference on past achievements, it seemed that there was little focus on selling it to make a convincing case for the next five years.  At least, that’s how it felt to liberal, middle class muggins like me! I wanted to hear grand strategy, scare-mongering, and some of the dirty-hands ‘ticking tax time bomb’ rhetoric of the days when they employed the likes of the Saatchi’s and Lord Bell – a bit of street fighting. I was in no such luck.

It is also a case that much of the scant tough-rhetoric is a little too late, why wasn’t our leader saying this for the past five years, seeding soundbytes and policy snippets into the hearts and mind? Perhaps as a nation  we are too lilly-livered to hear a few home truths, or maybe we have no taste for it.

Perhaps it has something to do with Cameron’s distinct lack of warmth as a speaker. I do not doubt his conviction, although it is quite idiosyncratic and subtly dogmatic, but he does not express empathy and a robust personality. I think him rather socially blasé (masked by a thin and wearying veneer of  worry and concern) but, I am realistic, he is very much the lesser of three evils. He speaks competently but not engagingly, he’s an intelligent man but, like most intelligent men, he is no salesman and it is this latter quality (backed by sound advisers) that the party needs.

I want to see a charismatic, ruthless leader with some fire in their eyes. This sallow lot don’t have it, at least not yet. I want to see some emotion come to the fore, a leader storm off the stage in disgust, unhooking the microphone using some expressive body language to make their point. All I see at the moment is off the rack M&S suits, hideous one-colour ties (purple or nuclear green – take your pick) on white shirts, nervousness and a distinctly patrician air. Where are the colourful characters like Heseltine and Clarke or the sagely minds of a Whitelaw of a Hurd to back them?

I don’t know about you, but I am sick of seeing Dave, George, Boris and co in high-vis jackets on building sites or pootling around urban centres looking like morons. Right now I want to see them on the soapbox convincing the public why the Conservative way is the right way. It seems not to have hit home yet that Miliband could very easily be elected on default in May 2015 with the appalling Harman, Balls and co as his inner counsel.

Lads, for once can we avoid another f*%! up and make sure we seal the deal on this one once and for all? I’m hopeful we’ll see sense, but don’t bet your money on it!