Random Thoughts

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

On the fifth day of Mozart.

The start of the year has been a very controversial one for that most British of institutions. BBC Radio Three. It has devoted all the airtime for the first 12 days of the year to just one composer. Wolfgang Amadé Mozart.

It isn’t the first time that Mozart has caused controversy during his lifetime he was a very controversial character, the 1984 Hollywood film ‘Amadeus’ fraught with inaccuracy. Not least the spelling of the composers name. He never referred to himself as Amadeus most commonly using Amadé although his baptismal name was Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart. However it is the shear amount of backlash that Radio Three has been receiving in the press that is most startling.

The station isn’t merely playing the composers work in Köchel order (Köchel comes from the name of Ludwig von Köchel who first categorised Mozart’s works). Something that can be done by anyone with 10 gb of space on an i-pod and a copy of Phillips ‘The complete Mozart’ from I-Tunes. Alex Ross wrote about his experience of listening to Mozart in order like this in a piece for ‘The New Yorker’ in 2006 entitled ‘The Storm of Style’ Which was later collected in ‘The best American Magazine Writing: 2007’. In this he points out one fact that must have played on the minds of the programmers of Radio Three. With out the historical context there are an awful lot of rather samey waltzes.

Now this is where the BBC have done well each piece is given some background and some non music but still Mozart shows give the listener a better understanding of the composer as a man. Plus all this fuss has generated a lot of press and a lot of feed back for the station that it wouldn’t normally get. One letter to the ‘Independent’ newspaper bemoaned the fact that one presenter always talks about his backpack, while others and praised the way that until now Radio Three has avoided the dumbing down which they perceive in it’s sister station Radio Four. It has perhaps given the programmers at Radio Three a lot more food for thought than any survey on the website.

Of course there are some drawbacks to this experiment the first being that not everyone likes Mozart. Some people find him too fluffy while others have rather predictably bemoaned the fact that the time wasn’t given to a British composer. It is also worth remembering that Radio Three isn’t just for classical music. When running it’s normal programming it also features Jazz and World music as well as readings and new composers. All of these have fallen by the wayside, although I guess Louis Armstrong could appear with his version of ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ however this perhaps wouldn’t fit the bill, as Mozart didn’t in fact write the tune he wrote a series of variations on it. In fact the old French folk tune, ‘Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman’, wasn’t married with an English poem ‘The Star’ by Jane Taylor till nearly twenty years after Mozart’s death.

Of course it still remains to be seen how this experiment will affect the ratings. However the sheer boldness of the move is refreshing in the current climate of safety first programming.

Maybe for 2012 ‘The Twelve Days of Wagner’?

Monday, 6 December 2010

How bona to vada your eekbook

Today Facebook launched their new profile. Which gives one the option of stating which languages you speak? You only get a list from a drop down box to choose from but some of the more unusual are Klingon, Elvish and Pandoran. Also on the list is Polari.
Polari what is that some of you will be crying out.
Well, Polari was a language used from the 14th century by those on the criminal fringes of British society. Criminals, Prostitutes and Homosexuals. This was when being homosexual was against the law. By the end of the second world war Polari had fallen out of favour with all but homosexual groups. At that point gay men especially were subject to intense suspicion and it was still against the law to be gay. So Polari was the lingua franca of the gay community. It came to a much wider audience through the characters Julian and Sandy two Bona omies encountered on a regular basis each week by Kenneth Horne in the Radio series 'Round the Horne'. Julian and Sandy were played by Hugh Paddock and Kenneth Williams. However it wasn't the first time that Williams had spoken in Polari on the radio. In the pilot episode of 'Hancock's Half Hour' Williams played over half a dozen characters one of them 'Coatsleeve Charlie' was a henchman of Sid James and he and James conversed in Polari. Coatsleeve Charlie has to go down as one of radios most ill conceived characters he got his name because he was always wiping his running nose on the sleeve of his coat. The sound effect of this was a bit off putting to say the least. But this does illustrate the duality of Polari as it was as much associated with the petty criminal world of Sidney Balmoral James as much as with the Homosexual wirlwind of Julian and Sandy. Some of the more common Polari words that have crossed over into English come not from 'Round the Horne' but from the Ronnie Barker vehicle 'Porridge'. Naff off, Basket, Nerk and Prag all come from Polari the latter a term for a turncoat even made it across the pond to find use in American prison drama 'Oz'. The polari word for casual sex, Shag, is very common and of course found it's way into the title of Mike Myers 'Austin Powers: The Spy who Shagged me' Austin Powers himself is bold enough to use a bit of Polari now and again. But Polari is a very old language and was causing people trouble long before the BBC censor realised he couldn't understand Julian and Sandy. The early serialised version of 'Oliver Twist' featured a lot of Polari from Dodger, Fagin and Nancy so much that Dickens had to tone it down for later editions.
Polari did go into a decline in the 80's and early 90's but with the re-mastering and rebroadcast of 'Round the Horne' in the late 90's it has been having somewhat of a revival.

Monday, 28 December 2009

BMI-The biggest myth of the dieting season

With every New Year people start to diet. While Christmas is the party season the New Year is the diet season many people will start a new fitness regime and will check their BMI. Getting fit is always good however why has the BMI or Body Mass Index become the only measurement for success or failure when it isn't designed to measure fitness but famine.
Body Mass Index takes a persons height and weight and calculates the mass, it doesn't take into account muscle density which makes it useless for calculating obesity. This might sound like a fundamental flaw but the BMI was never intended to be used to calculate the weight of wealthy Europeans. The BMI was invented in the mid 19th century in Belgium. It's first use was by groups protesting against the military's treatment of its own troops in Africa. The enlisted men were given a tiny ration of food each week and were starved. By comparing the height and weight of the returning soldiers to healthy mean of the same age it could be proved that their treatment was wrong. The BMI was refined in the 1930s during the great depression an American doctor refined the index this time to present evidence of starvation in the South to congress. It is this version of the scale which is used by most health agencies in the world and this version of scale that you can find on the internet. It did fall out of favour for most of the 20th century it became popular again during the 1980s when Oxfam used the scale during the famine in Africa as it was an easy way to present data to political leaders.
It was after this that the BMI was adopted as a way of measuring obesity and it is behind the rise and rise of obesity. But it was never designed to measure obesity it cannot cope with weight of the muscle mass of a healthy person. If you want to look good the best way to do it is to eat properly, that means at least three balanced meals a day, and to train with weight. You may end up weighing more but be thinner muscle weighs more than fat. If you become fit and athletic you may well find you BMI tells you you are overweight. Jessica Ennis won the Heptathlon gold medal at the World Championship in Berlin and is also the BBC Sport Personality of the year. However the BMI scale would say she is obese to be a 'healthy' woman using the BMI would mean someone of Size 0 who would struggle to lift an i-phone to her ear. Any man of average height over 120lbs would also be overweight. A pro rugby player like Johnny Wilkingson would come under the heading of Morbidly Obese. It makes no sense.
So this New Year when you diet forget about the BMI.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Guitar playing

Joan Armatrading is presenting a program, well five this week, on her favorite guitar players. Which makes me think about my relationship with the instrument which has been long and varied.
I first started playing guitar when I was about ten, when I was given a nice enough dreadnaught acoustic for Christmas. However it was on my thirteenth birthday that I was taken to Music Village in Essex and was bought a Hondo Les Paul copy. This guitar was a lot better than you might think, and it lasted a long time as my main guitar. It was also this guitar which started my fascination with not just playing the thing but everything that goes with it as well, while most of my peers were becoming experts in the world of Sonic the Hedgehog or Super Mario I was becoming an expert in guitars. I can even today tell at a glance the age of a guitar. I also learned all sorts of other nerdy things about them. I even went on to study music technology so I could learn how to build the things myself.
But eventually I stopped being so nerdy and stated to be more of a player. I never owned that many guitars at one time, I am not the sort of person who owns twenty or thirty. Although I used that original guitar up until the mid 1990s in 97 I had the money to buy a really good guitar. I ended up with a Godin LG a which is an understated guitar made by a small Canadian company. Godins are the guitar of choice for session players and they have a lot of sounds in them. At the flick of a switch I can go from full on Death Metal to delicate Jazz sounds. I was also given a Fender Duo Sonic for my 21st Birthday which I set up as a slide guitar. I spent the rest of the 90's and into the early 00's playing regularly and working on more than few sessions. I never earned that much money doing this but it was always fun and challenging. However at that time I was using a lot of effects and the sound was processed to a point that you couldn't really tell what it was. In about 2001 I was writing more songs and decided to do a few nights at a song writers forum. This meant just using an acoustic guitar and no tricks. It was at this time I started to play finger style and I liked the freedom of not having to spend half an hour setting up all my equipment. Things changed for and for a while I wasn't playing music much at all. I had started to fall out of love with the guitar. For some reason I got interested in Fender Telecasters, especially the very early models. I couldn't afford one of these or a reissue but I could put one together myself. I could also make an attempt at merging new and old. Fix the little things that were not right in 1950. This experiment worked and my home built Nocaster, nicknamed Debbie and she is blonde and Debbie Harry and I share a birthday, has become my main instrument. I have got back into the habit of practicing for at least an hour a day and working on some new music. I've scraped the toys and effects and now just use my fingers to change the sounds. Of course as a compulsive tweaker I do have plans to build a more modern guitar with active pickups but that is for another time. I have now after almost two decades of guitar playing found that the best thing to do is just shut up and play.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Christmas TV Love and Loathe

It's that time of year again when the TV is full of festive fun, here is a list of what I love and loathe about Christmas TV.

Love: The Two Ronnies. Classic TV which works on so many levels, you have the word play of Ronnie B and the clever wit of Ronnie C. The Christmas shows are something special. The victorian party is a masterpiece of TV entertainment.

Loathe: Morcombe and Wise. The Goons and Hancock were calling M&W dated back in the '50's and by the seventies they were well and truly past it. The myth is that they had huge ratings but when they went to ITV and the Ronnies got the Christmas day slot they broke all records.

Love: 'Santa Claus: The Movie' Dudley Moore as an elf and the true origin of Santa, it is a charming and well written film that brings the magic of Christmas to life.

Loathe: 'The Santa Clause' Tim Allen is smug, his child is obnoxious and the ex wife is a bitch. It's Disney at their saccharine worst.

Love: 'Only Fools' a great cast and good stories it never goes wrong. You can watch them over and over and they never get old.

Loathe: 'The Royal Family' I guess you have to be northen. But it's just not for me.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Dream Band

This is from a newspaper you have to put together our dream band.

Vocals: Gudrun Gut. I really love the way she sings and makes a point. It's a voice that can handle anything. Plus programming, remixing, percussion and most other things could be handled by her.

Guitars: Blixa Bargeld (Einstürzende Neubauten) and Melissa Swingle (The Moaners). Both of whom can also handle vocals and have very spare guitar styles. It always surprises people that although I'm a guitarist myself I don't like a lot of guitar music. It's what you chose to leave out which is important. Both are skilled with slide guitars as well as regular guitars which can add an extra dimension.

Bass: Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) This will probably surprise people as they don't expect me to go mainstream, but I really do think that Flea is one of the best bass players of all time. I've always rated him but recently when he was in Africa he showed his true class laying down some amazing improvised bass lines linking up a whole host of African and Western instruments.

Drums: Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth) I'm not a big fan of drums, most bands just have them as a glorified metronome but there are a few great drummers out there, Shelley is one he has a light unobtrusive touch which comes from playing Jazz he makes the drums musical and not just a means of keeping time. Another contender here was Johnny Kelly of Type O Negative, New York produces some good rhythm men.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Tory Recycling

Much has been made of David Cameron dropping his green credentials. Today on 'Breakfast' he proved that he still believes in recycling. His 'New Thinking' on unemployment is merely a failed policy from John Majors government in the mid 90's.