Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Super Mario Bros: the 8-bit Opera

This is amusing!

OPINION: Taxation - a new way is needed

I'm watching Nick Robinson's programme "Your Money and How They Spend It" on BBC2. It's very interesting but, I'm afraid, I think it misses the point completely re: taxation.

First. I think that, if we continue to use income tax as a major form of taxation, everyone should pay the same percentage of their income - a flat taxation system. It's wrong that there are bands of taxation. Yes, there should be a personal allowance under which taxation isn't paid and, I'm sure, that would mean some low earners would pay no tax, but to have bands is anti-competitive and anti-success. It's right that everyone pays the same amount. equal contributions make for a fairer society. taxation shouldn't be about class war and, let's be honest, those on the left who defend high taxation for high earners, and yet call themselves socialists, are fighting a class war and/or have a deep-rooted envy. They don't want fairness, they want to beat the successful with a stick as hard as they can. Very, very wrong.

Yes, a flat taxation would mean tax rates going up for many but I've always strongly argued that we, as a nation, pay far too little tax. We should be pleased to pay our bit. We should be proud to contribute to a fair society.

Seond. I'm actually against income tax because, in its current form, it's easy to avoid through exceptions and exemptions and loopholes. I'd like to see income tax actually phased out over, say, 30 years, and replaced completely by sales taxes.

Sales tax are much better: not only are they harder to avoid and evade, but those who use me pay more - it's greener. Highly polluting things could be taxed at higher rates, greener things could be taxed lower, unhealthy foods taxed higher, healthy foods taxed lower... or not at all.

To change to sales tax is a big step and, with our highly conservative (with both a big and small c) political parties it is unlikely they would ever do anything that forward thinking but it would change the way society sees taxation. Success would no longer be seen as a bad thing that gets taxed higher but greed and excess would be hit by higher taxes. Surely that's a fairer system?

It would mean everyone gets all their salary with no tax or NI deductions. They can then choose exactly what to spend that mo ey on. Isn't that better?

Yes, it needs to be done internationally otherwise one nation becomes hugely expensive to tourists but, at a time when many are looking more loosely at the economy, maybe the time is right for a far more revolutionary approach and one which can lead us into the future far more securely than we can ever imagine under the current system.

Miliband's PMQs cock-up

Either George Osborne goes on budget holidays or cleaners and dinner ladies are paid a lot....

... or Ed Miliband is a total muppet!

COMMENT: So what did the strikes achieve?

While the UK is very divided about today's strikes, now that they're mostly over, what exactly did they achieve?

Will the unions have changed the minds of the government? Almost certainly not. In fact, it is more likely that the government will be more entrenched and, if they are good to their word, the improved offer of a couple of weeks ago will be retracted.

Will the unions have picked up more support from the public? There may be some who, while they were unable to work today because the place they work was shut due to industrial action, will have additionally joined the protests but there is no appetite for strikes: not only was there a tiny turnout in most union ballots, but many union members continued to work today and didn't join the action (County Hall in Derbyshire was working totally normally from what I could see). The unions will have caused great problems to man today, disruption, schools closed, child care, etc. Many who were undecided will have, I suspect, found themselves leaning more towards the government position because of the intransigence of the unions and the problems their actions caused.

Will the strikers feel they have achieved something? Not when, in the cold light of day they see the government have not been persuaded, the general public has not been persuaded and, a few days Beirne Christmas, their pay slip comes through with a day's less salary than normal.

Was it worth it? Absolutely not. talks are continuing. If the union leaders are so convinced the government isn't genuinely negotiating they should withdraw from the talks. While talks continue no strike should ever have been called. People were told it was about pensions, but today the union leaders kept mentioning bankers, Tobin taxes and other issues. Occupy London briefly "occupied" a building n London's Haymarket as a general anti-capitalist protest. the truth is, today's strikes and marches were about being anti the current government; the unions lied to try to get more people on board, making out it was about pensions - it never really was. THAT was misleading and shows how little the fat cat union leaders (many of whom earn well in excess of £100k and have benefits like free houses for life) really care for their members. Today was all about politics. Today was all about the extremist left making its voice heard whilst conning the British public. The numbers show that few support them - low ballot turnout, low numbers striking.

The strikes were so idiotic and badly organised they were unable to even get backing from the Labour Party leadership. What bigger sign of failure does anyone need?

It's now time for the government to act to restrict further co-ordinated political protests masquerading as strikes. Today the unions killed their own argument and shot the British public in the foot.

Today achieved absolutely nothing. Strikes, in Western society, are a failure of unions at best and, like today, simply a con.

Unions need to get back to genuinely representing workers when it is needed and stop playing at politics and trying to overthrow governments.

10-Day Music Challenge: Day 7 - my 4 Guilty Pleasures

Guilty pleasures? I tend to be fairly open about my musical tastes, even when some of them are a bit embarrassing!

My musical tastes are fairly broad and include classical and pop, rock and musicals, choral music, operas, brass bands, dance music.... the list could go on. There are some styles I'm not keen on and I could draw up quite a long list of songs that I wish had never been written (this would include Unchained Melody, Memory (from "Cats"), that song from The Bodyguard in which Whitney Houston breaths in all the wrong places, and THAT song from Titanic!

So, what might count as guilty pleasures? Things that someone with a music degree probably shouldn't like?

Here goes:

1. Cheesy pop
Yes, I know it can be cringeworthy but sometimes you do just want to listen to a well-crafted cheesy pop song by the likes of Steps or Kylie. Or is it just me?

I have a soft spot for Stock, Aitken & Waterman when they were at the height of the powers, In the late 80s/early 90s, and even though some of the songs were awful, they certainly knew what the public wanted - and some of the songs were actually quite good!

2. Andrew Lloyd Webber
I know, as a supposedly "serious musician" I'm meant to tut and sneer at the good Lord but... why? Yes, he's written some shows that aren't as good as others but, let's be honest, dud Stravinsky or Mozart never have an off day? Aren't SOME of their pieces not as good as some of their greater achievements?

Jesus Christ Superstar is surely one of the greatest pieces of Twentieth Century musical theatre - right up there with West Side Story and Sweeney Todd.

ALW is a magnificent tunesmith: Joseph is just a string of fantastic melodies (and the original 20-minute cantata is fantastic, a masterpiece of that genre.

I particularly like Tell Me In A Sunday, Variations (though it does sound a little dated now, a new version is needed), and his Requiem. Yes, I like Lloyd Webber's Requiem and would love to conduct it one day.

3. A Very Ally Christmas
Yes, it's getting to that time of year again when this collection of Christmas songs from Ally McBeal (the goofy female lawyer in Boston) gets added to my iPhone playlists.

I'm not sure what it is about this album: the arrangements and performances are good; it's a good selection of songs; I liked the tv series (and in one series, I forget which one, they somehow managed to make Christmas last for several months).

It doesn't do anything than countless other Christmas albums do, but what it does it does well. Definitely worth a listen during the run-in to December 25th.

4. Ludovico Einaudi
It's typically played on Classic FM, it tends to go nowhere, a sort of musical wallpaper... but it's soothing and pleasant!

Simple piano music, minimalistic... Ahhhhh!

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Seven:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line-up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

COMMENT: Sports Personality of the Year? No, SportsMAN of the Year

Yesterday, the shortlist for the BBC Sports Personality of the Year was announced. It's always a talking point between sports fans (as the Americans might say, a "water cooler" topic) and there's always some surprises about who has been included on the list. The 2011 shortlist, however, is more likely to be the topic of heated debate because of who it excludes.

There isn't a single woman on the 10-man shortlist despite the UK having a couple, at least, of noteworthy world champions and other successes.

What has gone on?

Now, I'm. Or one for insisting that there HAS to be a woman otherwise it's sexist (that sort of nonsense should be left with bigots like Harriet Harman) but there are very strong arguments for a couple of women to have been included on the shortlist and very weak arguments to support the inclusion of some of those who made the cut.

The shortlist, which the public can then vote on during the live show in December, includes 2 cricketers, 3 golfers, 2 athletes, a boxer and a tennis player.

There's two questions that list screams to me:

1. Does any sport REALLY justify more than one entry?

2. Why the boxer and tennis player? After all, Amir Khan and Andy Murray have had, what I think it's fair to describe as, journeyman years - achieving little that stands out or deserve major credit.

So, which women should or could have been included?

Well, there's the gymnast Beth Tweddle who won a third consecutive European gold at the bars; there's Sarah Stevenson the taekwondo world champion; and there's Rebecca Adlington returning to winning form during 2011; and I'm sure there are others who've achieved as much in their field as the names on the published shortlist.

The BBC insist the list isn't THEIR list. It's drawn up by consulting the editors of 30 publications, national press, regional press and magazines. Maybe it shouldn't just be editors of publications but organising bodies of sports? Or maybe it needs a wider pool of ideas - 30 is, after all, fairly limited.

In its defence, I guess it avoided having any footballers or rugby players in a year of disappointments. And I, personally, am pleased that no jockeys are listed - animal abuse has no place in sport.

Here is the shortlist (in alphabetical order). I think nobody should vote in protest at the nonsense that this list demonstrates.

*Mark Cavendish (Cycling)
*Darren Clarke (Golf)
*Alastair Cook (Cricket)
*Luke Donald (Golf)
*Mo Farah (Athletics)
*Dai Greene (Athletics)
*Amir Khan (Boxing)
*Rory McIlroy (Golf)
*Andy Murray (Tennis)
*Andrew Strauss (Cricket)

10-Day Music Challenge: Day Six - 5 Bands for my Dream Gig Line-up

This one needs a bit of thought... 5 acts for my own mini-festival...

I need a good opening act, a couple of warm-ups, a headliner and then, maybe, a final act to party on into the night. A bit of a mixture, compliment each other and, yet, contrast with each other...

I'm going to be liberal with "band" and include solo artists too... (yes, I know, but it's my list so I can adapt the rules however I want!).

1. Opening Act: Badly Drawn Boy

An understated start to the gig. Simple, perfect little songs.

2. Second Up: Tim Minchin

A musical and comedy genius!

3. Warm-Up Act: The Divine Comedy

Cynical, comedic and always beautifully orchestrated.

4. Headliners: U2

Some find them OTT and pompous, but isn't that what you want from your headline act? Something exceptional in the staging as well as the music?

5. Party into the Night: Kylie Minogue

It was a close call between Kylie and the Pet Shop Boys... But, for a party into the night, surely it's Kylie that wins through? Who can forget the closing ceremony of the Sydney Olympics?

What would you have included in your ideal gig line-up?

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Six:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line-up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Monday, 28 November 2011

10-Day Music Challenge: Day Five - my 6 favourite song covers

1. My Way - Sid Vicious
(Original: Comme d'habitude - Claude François)

2. Nothing Compares 2U - Sinead O'Connor
(Original: The Family)

3. Don't Leave Me This Way - The Communards
(Original: Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes)

4. Handbags and Gladrags - Stereophonics
(Original: Rod Stewart)

5. Jump - Paul Anka
(Original: Van Halen)

6. Always on my Mind - Pet Shop Boys
(Original: Brenda Lee; other versions by Elvis Presley, Willie Nelson)

And, by way of contrast, 6 DREADFUL cover songs!

1. I'll be Missing You - Puff Daddy
(Original: Every Breath You Take - The Police)

2. Candle in the Wind 1997 - Elton John
(Original: Elton John)

3. American Pie - Madonna
(Original: Don MacLean)

4. Dock of the Bay - Michael Bolton
(Original: Otis Redding)

5. Smells Like Teen Spirit Spirit - Take That
(Original: Nirvana)

6. I Love Rock'n'Roll - Britney Spears
(Original: Joan Jett & the Blackhearts)

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Five:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Sunday, 27 November 2011

10-Day Music Challenge: Day Four - my favourite 7 bands

Ooo a very tricky one! Trying not to double up with too many artists already listed or likely to come up in later lists is tricky....

Oh bugger it!

Here goes. My favourite 7 bands...

1. The Divine Comedy

2. Hothouse Flowers

3. Pet Shop Boys

4. Elbow

5. The Cure

6. Blur

7. Squeeze

That was definitely the hardest day so far!

What bands would you include?

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Four:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Saturday, 26 November 2011

10-Day Music Challenge: Day Three - the first 8 songs to come on shuffle

Day Three of my 10-Day Music Challenge and I may have to bend the rules slightly as I have a fair bit of instrumental music on my iPhone - so, despite regularly having to correct students who refer to a symphony or an overture as a song, I'm going to do the first 8 pieces of music that come on shuffle, whether they be a song or instrumental.

Unlike Days One and Two, at least Day Three involves no thinking!

Here goes..... SHUFFLE!!

1. Up! with end credits (Michael Giacchino)

2. Secret World (live) (Peter Gabriel)

3. Amigos Para Siempre (Friends Forever)(Sarah Brightman & Jose Carreras)

4. Hand Covers Bruise (from "The Social Network") by Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross

5. In Pursuit of Happiness (The Divine Comedy)

6. Skimbleshanks, the Railway Cat (from "Cats" by Andrew Lloyd Webber)

7. The Grid (from "Koyaanisqatsi" by Philip Glass)

8. Les piqûres d'araignées (Vincent Delerm)

What comes up on your shuffle list?

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Three:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

Friday, 25 November 2011

OPINION: Gove sinks to a new low with Bible plan

Education Secretary, Michael Gove, is much-pilloried by the teaching profession and the general public. On occasions, I've thought this rather harsh, but he deserves every bit of grief he will, I hope, receive over his latest plan.

Gove wants to give a single copy of a special edition of the King James' Version of the Bible to each school. Each copy will cost the Department for Education £10, and so the total cost is going to be about £200,000 (apparently, according to The Guardian, the DfE reckon the total cost will be £375,000)! In a time of austerity and budget constraints that seems a bizarrely large amount of money to spend.

After all, haven't all school libraries already got a copy of each of the main religions' holy books? Even if they don't, I'm sure they have the Internet and can access, for free, umpteen different translations of the Bible.

Yes, the KJV is/was a very important book and it is rightfully regarded as a significant part of British history, but, for one thing, the 400th anniversary, the apparent inspiration for the distribution, is this year, 2011. Are the Bibles ready to go? Budget-approved? Waiting to be sent? How much will the distribution, alone, cost on top of the £10 per copy?!

Then there's the issue of the Bible itself. Any right-thinking person knows very little of it has any historical or factual basis. Many of the best stories, including most of the Jesus-myth, are, we'll be generous, borrowed from earlier religions. None of the headlining stories have any basis in history, archaeology, geography, science or fact. Why on earth is the Bible being donated to schools, remember just one copy per school, rather than, say something by Darwin or Dawkins?

One copy will, I predict, sit on a bookshelf in the Headteacher's office, gathering dust for most of the year. The only time a pupil is ever likely to see or use the special Bible is if they use it for readings at the Christmas carol service.

At a time when education is struggling, when schools are scrambling about for money surely there's more important things to spend the £375k on? Should the government, via the DfE, be giving free publicity for one of the biggest, wealthiest organisations in the country.... the Church?

I hope lots of schools simply return the copies to Gove. Or flog them on E-Bay and use the money for something useful, worthwhile and educational.

Mr. Gove, as Secretary of State for Education, your job is to facilitate education and guide and assist schools, keeping an eye on budgets and improving the learning if every child in the land. It is not to help the church manipulate and brainwash a new generation of "believers" and it is not to waste money on pointless baubles that have more to do with you trying to achieve immortality than worthwhile education.

REVIEW: My Week With Marilyn (15)

As the end of the year looms, talk in the movie world will naturally be about awards and, especially, the Oscars. In My Week With Marilyn, director Simon Curtis' version of Colin Clark's memoir, several actors (both male and female) will have put themselves in contention for a nomination.

The movie centres around the real-life backstage shenanigans during the making of The Prince and the Showgirl in 1956. Colin Clark (played by Eddie Redmayne), a young and, to his family at least, somewhat disappointing member of a very wealthy family (his older brother was the infamous Conservative MP and womaniser Sir Alan Clark and his father, the historian Sir Kenneth Clark), wants to work in movies - not as an actor but on the technical, off-camera side of things. Through his family, has all the right connections, but tries not to use them as he wants to stand on his own feet. He gets a job as 3rd Assistant Director (A gopher... Go for this, go for that") to Sir Laurence Olivier, who is both directing and starring in the film, which has the working tile "The Sleepy Prince". The movie documents the tense interaction between Olivier and Marilyn Monroe, who is at the peak of her stardom as well as having recently married, for the third time, to the playwright Arthur Miller. Colin becomes embroiled in the off-screen politics and personal problems in a way that he never expected.

Michelle Williams gives what might be the performance of her career as Marilyn Monroe. She is a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination with a performance that brilliantly displays Marilyn's charm, charisma and sexuality, as well as her fragility and lack of self-belief. Many are talking about Meryl Streep's performance as Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady as the performance to beat - all I can say is that performance, which I have yet to see, will have to be something quite extraordinary to better Williams' Marilyn - so good is her portrayal of the screen legend that there are many times during the film you forget that it isn't actually "Miss Monroe" on screen.

Ironically, Kenneth Branagh has been dogged throughout his career as being a latter-day "Larry" Olivier. In this movie, he actually gets to play "Larry" - at one-turn an acting and directing genius, at another turn a tyrant and womaniser. Branagh is tremendous at showing the perfectionist within Olivier that such an acting legend but, it has to be said, also meant he was unable to see things anyone else's way. Marilyn wants to be the greatest actress and immerses herself is Stanislavski's "Method" - a system of acting which Olivier just cannot understand. Again, this could be the best cinematic performance that Branagh has ever given and the sparks, disagreements, admiration and attraction between Monroe and Olivier seem absolutely genuine and brilliantly portrayed.

Several other actors deserve special mention: Judith Dench is majestic and magnificent as Dame Sybil Thorndike (who does her best to support the nervous young Monroe); Julia Ormond who plays Vivien Leigh, Olivier's wife who originally played the Showgirl role on stage, but is now considered too old, and who is accepting of her husband's various dalliances; Dougray Scott who plays Arthur Miller; and Dominic Cooper who's had a very busy year of film making!

One disappointment is Emma Watson who, in a movie containing so many outstanding and stellar performances, was very ordinary as Lucy, the girl in the production company who Colin Clark initially falls for and plays hard to get. Obviously, she won't find it easy to rid herself of her Hermione Grainger character but, in this movie, seems miscast as an adult and out of her depth.

I don't often say this but this movie is a MUST SEE It deserves to fill several shelves with awards in the New Year.

The National Music Plan - better late than never?

Click here to read the National Music Plan.

Lots of good and positive words in the National Music Plan which the government has belatedly published this morning: hubs for collaborator and in asking opportunities and sharing good practise; additional training particularly in Primary; suppose words for teachers and praise.... Some very big pledges about funding....

But will it work?

I suspect it is more words than anything concrete. Musicians and music teachers will have to battle with Headteachers and Local Authorities to ensure that music is a priority. Will any funding be ring-fenced? And, in reality, will ring-fencing be anything more than good intentions? When a Head is running low on budget or is needs funding for a science lab will the money to implement the National Music Plan really be safe? Hmmm....

If it works, fab but I'm not holding my breath

10-DAY MUSIC CHALLENGE - Day Two: my 9 favourite songs

Continuing with my 10-Day Music Challenge, here are my 9 favourite songs.

As a composer, it's nearly always the music that attracts me to a song first and the lyrics a distant second, if at all. As you'll see there's even a song in my list that I disagree with lyrics but the music is just so amazing....

Click here to hear my favourite 9 songs as a Spotify playlist (minus the Peter Gabriel which isn't available on Spotify!)

1. I Can See Clearly Now - Hothouse Flowers

Such a great song, and I particularly love the Hothouse Flowers version.

2. Leaving on a Jet Plane

A simply lovely song that takes me back to my Uni days for some reason (no, I wasn't at Uni in the '60s!)

3. Come What May (from "Moulin Rouge")

I love the power and OTT-ness of this - a tour de force, a wall of emotion.

4. Finlandia Hymn - Sibelius

Not because of any religious reasons, as is well known I'm an atheist/anti-theist, but just because it's such a magnificent melody. Along similar lines are I Vow To Thee, My Country and Jerusalem - great tunes, somewhat spoilt with religious lyrics. This version is in Finnish so it sort of nullifies the lyrics if you don't know Finnish!

5. Father, Son - Peter Gabriel

I loved the Millennium Dome for so many things but, in particular, the spectacular show that happened 3 or 4 times every day. The soundtrack was written by Peter Gabriel and this is a very touching song.

6. Somewhere (from "West Side Story") - Bernstein

The best song from the greatest musical ever written. By the time this is sing at the end of West Side Story I'm always blubbing!

7. One Day Like This - Elbow

It's overuse as inspiring background music by lazy television producers has made this a bit of a cliché, but it doesn't stop it being a tremendous song and one I'll always turn up a little!

8. Time After Time - Cyndi Lauper

I liked this song a lot, then it was used in Sliding Doors, one of my favourite movies of all time!

9. Jai Ho (from "Slumdog Millionaire") - A. R. Rahman

I never understood why Slumdog Millionaire was promoted as a "feel-good movie" with so many awful things happening in it. However, this song is a amazingly feel-good song and deservedly won the Oscar for best song. It's a shame that the Pussycat Dolls put out a version with them warbling over it and unable to pronounce the title but this version, the original is great!

That was VERY difficult! - so many songs I like - so many that just didn't quite make the final cut! I could easily have included songs by Blur, The Divine Comedy, Philip Glass, Ash, Wheatus, Bill Whelan, Dixie Chicks, Seth Lakeman..... the list could go on and on and on!

Click here to listen to my near misses as a Spotify playlist.

What have I missed? What are your favourite songs?

This is the plan of my 10-Day Music Challenge - I'm currently on Day Two:

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

27 Years Ago: Band Aid recorded "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

Twenty-seven years ago today, on 25th November 1984, 36 British and Irish musicians, inspired by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure, went to SARM studios in Notting Hill, London to record "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

A few days earlier, Bob Geldif had watched Michael Buerk's news reports from drought and famine-stricken Ehiopia. He decided he wanted to do something and Band Aid was the result raising millions of pounds to bring food and water to those suffering in Africa.

Since then, there have been two more "Band Aids" who also released versions of the same song in new arrangements - in 1990, Band Aid II was very much a Stock, Aitken & Waterman collection of pop stars, and, in 2004, Band Aid 20 released a darker, more melancholy cover that both marked the 20th anniversary of the original but also helped raise funds for yet another African drought and famine.

The performers on the original 1984 version were (in record sleeve order):

Adam Clayton (U2)
Phil Collins (Genesis, and solo)
Bob Geldof (The Boomtown Rats)
Steve Norman (Spandau Ballet)
Chris Cross (Ultravox)
John Taylor (Duran Duran)
Paul Young
Tony Hadley (Spandau Ballet)
Glenn Gregory (Heaven 17)
Simon Le Bon (Duran Duran)
Jim Kerr (Simple Minds)
Simon Crowe (The Boomtown Rats)
Keren Woodward (Bananarama)
Martin Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
Nik Kershaw
Jody Watley (Shalamar)
Bono (U2)
Paul Weller (The Style Council, and The Jam)
James "J.T." Taylor (Kool & The Gang)
Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits)
John Illsley (Dire Straits)
Terry Williams (Dire Straits)
George Michael (Wham!)
Midge Ure (Ultravox)
Martyn Ware (Heaven 17, and Human League)
John Keeble (Spandau Ballet)
Gary Kemp (Spandau Ballet)
Curt Smith (Tears for Fears)
Roland Orzabal (Tears for Fears)
Sting (The Police)
Pete Briquette (The Boomtown Rats)
Francis Rossi (Status Quo)
Robert 'Kool' Bell (Kool & the Gang)
Andy Taylor (Duran Duran)
Jon Moss (Culture Club)
Rick Parfitt (Status Quo)
Nick Rhodes (Duran Duran)
Johnny Fingers (The Boomtown Rats)
David Bowie - recorded his part and sent in via the post
Boy George (Culture Club)
Holly Johnson (Frankie Goes to Hollywood) - recorded his part over the phone
Paul McCartney (The Beatles, and Wings) - recording sent in by post
Stuart Adamson (Big Country)
Bruce Watson (Big Country)
Tony Butler (Big Country)
Mark Brzezicki (Big Country)

The iconic sleeve was created by Peter Blake.

The following three videos tell the Band Aid Story with interviews and backstage filming of the recording.

Part One:

Part Two:

Part Three:

The song became the fastest-selling single of all-time selling over a million copies in its first week alone and entering the charts at No. 1 (It sold more copies than all the rest of the chart combined in that first week). It stayed at No. 1 for five weeks and sold more than 3 million copies. Only Elton John's 1997 re-working of Candle in the Wind, released to mark he death of Diana, Princess of Wales has sold more copies.

It, of course, inspired both USA for Africa (a similar venture to Band Aid organised in America) and Live Aid, billed as the "global jukebox", which took place in both Philidelphia and London, in July 1985 and also used to raise money and awareness of the Ethiopian famines.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

20 Years Ago: Freddie Mercury died

Twenty years ago today, on the 24th November 1991, Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of the rock group Queen, died quietly at his home in West London of bronchio-pneumonia, brought on by AIDS, aged just 45.

The day before he had, for the first time, publicly announced that he was HIV positive. He is thought to have had the disease for about two years, during which time he had recorded a great deal of new material which was to be released posthumously. Few had noticed his failing health, and his death came as a tremendous shock.

Freddie Mercury,whose original name was Farookh Bulsara, was born in Zanzibar in 1946. His childhood was mostly spent in India, and then, in 1964, his family moved to the UK. In 1970, Mercury joined with Mike Grose, Brian May and Roger Taylor to form Queen.

Mercury enjoyed a rather colourful rock and roll lifestyle, and was openly bisexual at a time when many still found this shocking.

Many considered Mercury to be the ultimate showman, and he will always be remembered for his, and Queen's, performance at the Live Aid concert at Wembley Stadium in 1985.

He wrote and performed on many classic rock tracks, most notably being Bohemian Rhapsody,which broke all the rules of what a successful chart song could and should be. Queen's songs still have a wide popularity and have, in recent years, been re-worked into both an orchestral symphony and a successful musical, We Will Rock You.

To this day, the gate of his former house is a place of pilgramage for Mercury's fans.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011


I received the following from Friends of the Earth:

'All around the world millions of the poorest people are already facing the impacts of climate change - including floods, famine and severe weather conditions.

The next series of UN climate talks kick off in Durban, South Africa, in a few days.

They are critical if we are to prevent climate catastrophe and protect millions of lives.

The EU and many other rich countries are trying to dismantle the only legally binding climate framework - the Kyoto Protocol. 

Please tell Europe's lead negotiator not to scrap the Kyoto protocol.

Your actions pushed our issues forward at previous summits in Cancun and Copenhagen - and could help to save this round of talks.

Together we can do it - take action for climate justice today.

All the best,
Jenny & the climate team"

10-DAY MUSIC CHALLENGE - Day One: my 10 favourite albums

This list will, I'm sure, be in a continual state of flux. At the moment these are the albums that I'd say are my 10 favourites.

1. A Short Album About Love - The Divine Comedy

The greatest album of all time? Funny, sad, catchy and brilliantly orchestrated.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

2. Different Class - Pulp

A mirror to 90s' Britain. Perfect songwriting.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

3. Bat Out of Hell - Meat Loaf

Still Mr. Loaf's greatest moment. A perfect set of songs written by Jim

Click here to listen on Spotify.

4. New Blood - Peter Gabriel

Orchestral re-imaginings of Peter Gabriel's greatest hits - simply stunning.

5. Symphony No. 3 - Gorecki

Tragic and atmospheric - slow-moving and emotional.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

6. Cosmic Thing - The B-52s

Just great fun.

7. Moulin Rouge - Original soundtrack

Surely the greatest soundtrack album ever?

Click here to listen on Spotify.

8. The Seldom Seen Kid - Elbow

A brilliantly crafted set of songs - more than just One Day Like This.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

9. Strike - The Baseballs

Great upbeat rock and roll covers of pop songs.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

10. Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends - Coldplay

Yes, yes, everyone hates Coldplay and they're really boring.... well, sorry, I quite like them and I particularly like this album.

Click here to listen on Spotify.

What do you think? What are your favourite albums?

Here's the plan for the rest of my 10-day Music Challenge


Inspired by someone I follow on Twitter (@xwidep) I'm going to do a 10 Day Music Challenge starting tomorrow.

I'm going to use the same plan as they did.

Day 1 - My 10 favourite albums
Day 2 - My 9 favourite songs
Day 3 - The first 8 songs to come on shuffle
Day 4 - My 7 favourite bands
Day 5 - My 6 favourite song covers
Day 6 - 5 Bands for my dream gig line up
Day 7 - My 4 guilty pleasures (artists or songs)
Day 8 - My 3 favourite vocalists
Day 9 - My 2 favourite music videos
Day 10 - My all time favourite gig

My musical tastes are very broad (from classical to punk) so it will, no doubt, throw up some interesting answers.

NEWS: Has James Murdoch resigned?

Click here to find out.

Buy Nothing Day 2011

This coming Saturday, 26th November is Buy Nothing Day. In North America it is being marked on Friday, 25th November, which is also known as "Black Friday".

Buy Nothing Day is an opportunity to challenge the consumer culture that dominates our lives by asking us all to spend one day without spending anything.

The aim is to encourage people to consume less, recycle more and insisting that companies that manufacture products have a greater environmental awareness and a greater commitment to fair employment.

You might decide to do it as a personal challenge, or you may wish to make it a public protest. Either way, why not stand up against consumerism for one day?

Click here to find out more.

48 years ago today: the first ever Doctor Who

Yes, it's true, 48 years ago!

Here's the opening title sequence of the first ever episode:

And here is all the different versions of the theme tune:

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

NEWS: Bizarre helicopter crash.... while putting up Christmas tree

MOVIES: Could a silent movie win Oscar?

Could The Artist be the first silent movie to win the Oscar for Best Movie since Wings in 1929?

A lot of people think it might.

NEWS: Bionic eyes a step nearer

Researchers at Washington University are developing contact lenses that can project images in front of the eyes in a way not dissimilar than that shown in the Terminator movies.


It could enable wearers to read texts and emails or augment their sight with computer-generated images, Terminator-syle.

Researchers at Washington University who are working on the device say early tests show it is safe and feasible.

Click here for more info.

OLYMPICS: Volunteers' uniforms unveiled

I'm still eagerly awaiting my letter or email to say whether I have been selected to be a Games Maker at next Summer's Olympic Games.

I got through the first stage and was then interviewed early one Sunday morning at Warwick University. I should, apparently, hear the decision by the end of November (if all is on schedule).

In the meantime, the uniform I'll get to wear, if selected, has been unveiled:

Looking for cards, posters or prints?

Here's my rebubble site - click here


Private Eye gets it so right...

Private Eye gets it so right

The BBC's "Green Book"

The BBC's "Green Book" provided guidance to writers about taboo subjects and other delicate matters for light entertainment programmes during the 1940s and 1950s.

Click here to read.

It's fascinating to see what was politically and socially correct in Britain in the middle of the 20th century compared to what is allowed today.

How to remember the Kings and Queens of England/Britain...

The Eurozone Debt Crisis Explained

Source: Payplan – IVA and free debt advice provider

Punctuation saves lives!

OPINION: Funding of Political Parties

A report commissioned by the government has recommended that:

1. Donations from individuals should be restricted to £10,000

2. Donations from trades unions should be restricted

3. An increase of £23 million pounds (roughly 50 pence per taxpayer per year) should go into state support of parties

Obviously, the Tories object to (1), Labour object to (2) and, because they think the public won't like it, all three of the big parties object to (3).

But why, having commissioned a report, are they allowed to ignore its recommendations? Isn't that anti-democratic?

Personally, I'd limit all donations, outlaw the political levy that the unions do and remove state support for the corrupt system of party politics.

RECIPE: Eggnog

Not for anyone on a diet, or anyone with cholesterol problems!

This is a warming and seasonal drink, an alternative to mulled wine or gluhwein.

6 whole eggs + 2 extra egg yolks
474 ml (1 pint) whole milk
178 ml (3/8 pint) double cream (or even extra thick double cream)
4 Tablespoons PLUS 2 Tablespoons of sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
474 ml (1/2 pint) brandy (or whiskey, or rum)

*Whisk the eggs, yolks, sugar and salt together in a large pan until well-blended.
*Continue whisking whilst slowly adding the milk until it is completely mixed-in.
*Put the pan on the stove on the lowest possible setting.
*Continue to gently whisk ingredients for 25/30 minutes or until the mixture reaches 70°C and will coat the underside of a spoon.
*Remove from heat and strain it into a large bowl (make sure you remove any pieces of cooked egg).
*Stir in the alcohol, vanilla, and nutmeg, and transfer your mixture to a covered dish. *Refrigerate for at least 4 hours.
*When ready to serve, whip the double cream and fold in the chilled mix, pour, serve in punch cups.

Mmm... Eggnog

Eggnog can also be added to coffee to make a great after dinner drink!

48 years ago today - the assassination of JFK

48 years ago today, at 12.30 pm on the 22nd November 1963, John F. Kennedy, the 35th President of the United States of America, was assassinated as his motorcade drove through Dallas, Texas.

Today, nearly half a century later, we're still unsure as to who pulled the trigger. Sure, the Warren ommission found that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone to shoot JFK and Jack Ruby acted alone to kill Lee Harvey Oswald but, as the years have passed, more and more conspiracy theories and potential cover-ups leave us with a situation where it is thought 80% of Americans believe that there was more to it than a lone gunman shooting their President.

Will we ever know the truth? It seems very unlikely now. Most of the main players are now long gone and all the theories seem inconclusive at best and some, well, just crackpot.

What is worth contemplating is what sort of world we might have now had Kennedy lived.

He would, quite likely, have won the 1964 Presidential election, defeating Nixon who might not have ever become President. It's possible that the fall of communism in Eastern Europe might have been sooner than the late 80s/early 90s. If no Nixon, then, possibly, no Reagan and the arms race that threatened the future of the whole world.

Kennedy had his faults as a human being, as do we all, but there is no denying news an inspirational figure, perhaps on a scale not seen until Barrack Obama's election to the White House. Had JFK lived on November 22nd 1963 the is no doubt the world would be a very different place today in 2011.

OPINION: Should swearing be a crime?

Yesterday, the Court of Appeal decided that it wasn't a criminal offence to swear at a policeman. Today, I'm sure, the right wing press are having a field day!

Now, it's not often I find myself on the side of an argument that, no doubt, would include Richard Littlejohn et al but REALLY, it's not a criminal offence to swear at a policeman?

What sort of society have we become?

Sure, everyone swears at one time or another and that swearing varies in the vocabulary that is actually used. I'm not advocating that all swearing is a criminal offence but when the swearing is directed AT somebody, rather than just an exclamation or an insertion into an adult conversation for emphasis, then I think it should be a criminal offence.

Will it be an infringement of human rights if a school bans swearing? If a pupil swears at a teacher, is it no longer permissible for that pupil to be punished? Should that pupil not be put into detention or temporarily excluded or their parents called in?

As a kid, I used to get very embarrassed when I was watching a television programme with my parents and someone swore. The other day, I watched a movie on Sky, The Town, and cringed at the reliance of the F-word throughout. Is swearing really that commonplace that it is a part of every sentence that some people utter?

If the Court of Appeal think that swearing at a police officer is perfectly reasonable behaviour I think it's up to MPs to table a law that makes it clear that it's not acceptable.

Swearing has a place in our ever-changing language but it must, always, remain as something extreme and something that is wrong if it is aimed as a verbal assault on somebody. It's nonsense that using a racial name would see someone in court but to call them an extreme swear word wouldn't.

Context is everything.

This time the courts have got it wrong.

Today is Saint Cecilia's Day - but who was Saint Cecilia?

Today, November 22nd, is Saint Cecilia's Day - the patron saint of music.

It is not known when Saint Cecilia was byear ut she is thought to have died in the year 177 C.E. She was a maiden of noble birth who dedicated her life to God with a vow of chastity. Her family, however, had other plans and forced her to marry Valerian, a young man of Nobel descent.

On her wedding day, musical instruments played and Cecilia sang only to God, asking Him to protect her virginity. Her prayers were answered and Valerian agreed to take her as his wife without forcing her to break her vow of chastity.

Later, Valerian and his brother, Tiburtius, converted to Christianity, which was still illegal in Rome. When their faith was uncovered they were martyred. Soon after, Cecilia met a similar fate.

The executioners took two attempts to kill her: first, they locked her in a bathroom and tried to suffocate her with steam; when she emerged unharmed, they tried to behead her, but the axe didn't completely sever her head from her body and she survived for three more days in excruciating pain. During those three days, Cecilia divided her possessions between the poor and gave her house to be used as a church. It was thought she was buried in the Catacombs of Callistus on the outskirts of Rome.

Seven hundred years later, Pope Pascal I built the Church of St. Cecilia in the Trastevere quarter of Rome. He hoped to transfer her relica to the new church but, at first, however, they couldn't be found and were, therefore, assumed stolen. Pope Pascal then saw Cecilia in a vision. She tolhomie to keep looking and soon her body was found in the Catacomb of Prætextatus. Her relics, along with those of Valerian, Tiburtius, a Roman officer called Maximus, and the Popes Urbanus and Lucius, were taken and reburied under the high altar of St. Cecilia in Trastevere.

In 1599, Cardinal Sfondrato was restoring the church and excavations under the main altar brought to light the marble coffin of Cecilia. In the presence of witnesses, the cardinal himself opened the coffin, revealing her body still wrapped in a tissue of gold; her neck wound was covered with a golden amulet. Pope Clement commissioned an elaborate silver coffin adorned with gold to contain Cecilia's cypress-wood coffin.

The finding of Cecilia's relics created a sensation in Rome, with huge crowds visiting the basilica. Pope Clement sent the Swiss Guards to restore order. On November 22, 1599, Clement celebrated mass at the basilica in honor of the saint's feast-day and, afterwards! Cecilia's body was re-interred beneath the high altar.

Monday, 21 November 2011

10 things I like

After I wrote my blogpost 65 Things I Hate, several people challenged me to come up with a list of things I like - some wondering whether I just hated everything!

So, after much consideration, here is a list of 10 things that I really like (in no particular order):

1. Jellyfish - I think they're beautiful. I'd love to have a room where the walls were an aquarium full of wonderfully lit jellyfish...

Jellyfish at New England Aquarium 6

2. Debating for the sake of debating

3. Old, historic cities like Oxford, York, Bath and Edinburgh

Keble College Chapel, Oxford

4. Composing and conducting

5. Cathedrals and other big churches (which may seem odd as I'm an atheist - but I love the architecture and scale of the buildings - I find nothing spiritual in them)

St. Paul's clock

6. Going to the cinema (particularly when I'm the only person there)

7. The Adagio from Schubert's String Quintet in C

8. Art galleries

9. Silence (or as near to silence as possible)

10. Gadgets - particuarly my iPhone, iPad, MacBook and iMac....

Project 365 - Day 83 - 22nd June 2010 - All set to Work

THE ARTS: The Death of Klinghoffer

Exciting to read that John Adams' political opera The Death of Klinghoffer is coming to London next year.

COMMENT: Nigel Farage.... why?

It is embarasing to think that Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP (a deeply xenophobic and racist political party at the extremes of British politics who have been weedling their way into the mainstream by trying to represent themselves as moderate and the "voice of the people") represents any part of the UK but, sadly, he does.

Here is his latest tirade in the European Parliament where, despite being anti-European, he's happy to claim every Euro possible to fill his pockets.

Ignorant, xenophobic and, let's be honest, rather thick - is this the image Britons want their country to be potrayed as?

COMMENT: The extent of the X Factor fraud continues to unravel

Having been in trouble with OFCOM on previous series for product promotion, amongst other things, and in the current series for a dodgy quiz and the fixed return of a contestant who had been eliminated, the X Factor is now in trouble because of Tulisa's promotion of her perfume at the beginning of every show, as well as a lengthy discussion of it on the Xtra Factor.

Basically, the silly arm gesture she does on arriving on stage, displays her forearm tattoo which is the brand name of her perfume, "The Female Boss".

Yep, truly blatant and idiotic. Greed at its most basic. Her snout is well and truly in the trough.

Having now heard her perform over the weekend of Children in Need performances many might also be questioning how she is qualified to advise others about their singing talents, and her complete lack of music beyond R'n'B suggests she really is a one trick pony at best.

Hopefully the end of X Factor (surely this is the final series) will see the end of talentless Tulisa. Quite why she was chosen to be a will, I'm sure, remain a mystery!

RANDOM THOUGHTS: How do people find my blog?

Ok, looking at blog stats might be (a) dull and (b) rather masturbatory but, I'm afraid I do find them fascinating.

The most bizarre stats always come from the SEARCH KEYWORDS that have lead people to your blog (if you have never looked at the stats on your own blog do have a look, you may be surprised).

In the past 24 hours three searches stand out:

1. Noddy Railway
2. Huge Jacuzzi Bath
3. What do innkeepers wear in a nativity play?

All of which have lead more than one person to the Pimp My Cadence pages.

What a weird world!

COMMENT: Waste in the NHS

A couple of weeks ago my eldest was referred by GP for some treatment at Chesterfield Hospital.

The referral was done online at the surgery. We were able to choose from a list of times and were then given a printout confirming the appointment.

I thought this was very efficient.


Today we had a letter confirming the already confirmed appointment!

It may only be a small amount of money (paper, envelope, stamp and, of course, someone's time to write and send it) but I imagine it cost the NHS a few pounds. If they do this for every appointment the waste will add up very quickly.

And what about the environmental impact on such unnecessary letters?

When people say that there should be no cuts in the NHS they are talking nonsense. This is an example of waste that must be cut immediately.

VIDEO: The demolition of Glencairn Tower, Motherwell

OPINION: The "Tobin Tax" misses the point

Over the past year or there's been a growing call, notably from left-wing politicians, for what's been called a "Tobin Tax" on a variety of financial transactions.

This follows the various bank bailouts and the Eurozone crisis caused, on the whole, by investors gambling, skimming, betting or moving monies from one pot to another at the right time.

The financial markets are, if we were honest, out of control. Millions, billions, trillions are gambled around the world every second and,when things go wrong, banks go bust, governments struggle and the entire world goes into a crisis which could so easily be avoided.

The "Tobin Tax", suggested by Nobel Economics Laureate James Tobin as far back as 1972, would tax all spot conversions of one currency into another. In recent months the call has been to widen the scope of such a scheme into a tax on all financial transactions.

But why? Aren't the transactions, the betting and gambling, the skimming, morally unacceptable?

Instead of taxing the morally corrupt transactions of the world markets why not outlaw the activities?

Isn't taxing something that is morally corrupt just as bad as taking part in it? After all, governments would be financially benefitting.

If a school bully takes lunch money from others in his class the teacher doesn't take a percentage; the bully is punished, the theft is against the school rules.

By calling for a "Tobin Tax" the left has lost the moral high ground and buried its snout in the trough of greed and dodgy dealings it has been objecting too.

Don't tax immoral financial transactions, ban them.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

COMMENT: Basil D'Oliveira and the rebel tours to South Africa

I hope, on the day that Basil D'Oliveira's death has been announced, the members of the two English rebel cricket squads of the 1980s and 1990s to South Africa all hang their heads in shame.

Personally, I find it deeply objectionable that many of them are now used by the BBC and Sky to commentate or given "expert" insight into matches. These men are a disgrace to the human race. Their treachery and greed will not be forgotten.

The 1982 Rebel Squad:
Graham Gooch (captain), Dennis Amiss, Geoffrey Boycott, John Emburey, Mike Hendrick, Geoff Humpage, Alan Knott, Wayne Larkins, John Lever, Chris Old, Arnold Sidebottom, Les Taylor, Derek Underwood, Peter Willey, Bob Woolmer.

The 1990 Rebel squad:
Mike Gatting (captain), Bill Athey, Kim Barnett, Chris Broad, Chris Cowdrey, Graham Dilley, Richard Ellison, John Emburey, Neil Foster, Bruce French, Paul Jarvis, Matthew Maynard, Tim Robinson, Greg Thomas, Alan Wells, David Graveney.

If there were a hell I'd like each of these men to rot in it.

PHOTOS: 2010 Birmingham Christmas Market

NutsClock towerEarly morningVIctoria Square statueVictoria Square fountainLights and baubles
Side streetChurch and decorationsRoof of the Bull Ring Shopping CentreThe Bull Ring BullLettersToys/robots
MobilesChristmas PyramidsToysNew Street stalls and lightsBar/Pyramid 2Bar/Pyramid 1
Shopping at the market stallsHeartsMini pancakesMarket stallNutcrackersHoney stall

Some photos from last year's Birmingham Christmas Market... We're hoping to make a visit to this Year's one soon.