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Alphabet St | Put The Right Records Together And Make A Better Day - Part 2

Ten great George Michael songs for those who miss him

Choose Life. Choose ten songs from the back catalogue to remember him by? Tricky, but here goes...

Everyone, apart from Andy Kershaw it seems, misses George Michael. Someone who could write and sing heart-wrenching ballads and uptown party bangers was someone who will always be loved. As the last song on this list suggests.

Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do)
“Hey everybody, take a look at me/I’ve got street credibility.” With the announcement of those words, everybody decided 1) He had the opposite 2) He had written a hymn to selfishness, shallowness and materialism. It would take a while for George to prove them wrong on all counts, often doing it covertly in terms of his donations. But as far as capturing the blue-eyed funk which only a select few ‘80s bands managed, alongside Spandau’s Chant No 1, Haircut 100’s Favourite Shirts, Level 42’s The Sun Goes Down (Living It Up), it’s a pretty good calling card for George and Andrew.

Freedom ’90 gets all the love because the video had a eating disorder (is that the collective noun?) full of supermodels and it was covered by Robbie Williams but the first Freedom had the same joyous swing that the other singles in Wham!’s imperial phases did – Edge of Heaven, I’m Your Man and Wake Me Up, Before You Go Go.

Boogie Box High – Jive Talkin’
George was a huge Bee Gees fan and released this under a pseudonym which was a very ‘80s/Prince thing to do. The original has a wonderful New York train track style inspired by the commute the Gibb brothers took to work with Arif Mardin. This one though has a vocal from George.

Father Figure
There’s something about the Arabic keyboard, chorus build and the switches in styles – it’s a smouldering R’n’B ballad, it’s a gospel epic, it’s a torch song. It could be to a man or a woman. To clarify: just because GM sings: “Put your tiny hand in mine”, that does not make it about Donald Trump.

Heaven Help Me

From the same era as Faith, this is not a George Michael track but one by his bassist Deon Estus, who also worked with Marvin Gaye. But listen to it. The backing vocals. The pleading sensitivity. The fact it was a hit. (US Top Five US). George Michael fingerprints.

Something to Save
There isn’t really a duff track on Listen Without Prejudice (Vol 1) although the further away it gets from Statement Pop, like Praying for Time, the better it is. This again has GM’s hallmark sound – simple, direct and beautifully sung. And a cello. Wham! Rap doesn’t have a cello.

I Can’t Make You Love Me

Second cover on the list and it takes certain cojones to take on a Bonnie Raitt song. It was this version that convinced countless X Factor and Idol wannabes to think they could do the song justice. The Singing Greek could but the rest of them…

What do you do when you’ve been tarred and feathered by the world’s press with the help of the Los Angeles Police Department? You do a comeback with a disco stormer which doesn’t ignore the whole thing but tackles it head on complete with revolving urinals on to the dancefloor.

The idea of losing love and finding it again when you have written the prospect off is quite inspiring. When you turn it into a song catchier than a February cold, that’s a beautiful gift. Wasn’t just Kenny Goss who was amazing. The person singing it was all right.

You Have Been Loved
The song, version here from 2014’s Symphonica, is tremendously moving in the way that only true simplicity can be. It was about his lost love Anselmo when written. Then it was about Diana when she died. And now it could be about the loss of anyone. Like George Michael.

Just seven of the things which made George Michael so Fantastic

How a boy from Bushey put the boom-boom into my heart and millions of others'


The fact he was pop
Wham!’s first album contained “socially relevant” hits such as Wham! Rap and Young Guns (Enjoy What You Do) which incurred the wrath of Paul Weller and was reversioned by Michael Gove at a visit to a kids’ school. George decided ahead of Make It Big to write the album, and then live up to its name. Club Tropicana, Wake Me Up Before You Go Go, Freedom, I’m Your Man, Last Christmas and Edge of Heaven and the world was a better place for it. As were the charts. Everything She Wants is arguably the best B-side since I Am The Walrus or at the very least Wherever I Lay My Hat. Nah, it’s better than that.

His own songs
After all of the above, he delivered A Different Corner, Faith, Father Figure, One More Try, Freedom ’90, Waiting for the Day, Heal the Pain, Something to Save, Amazing, Fast Love and Outside. Among others. The songs about his dearly departed love Anselmo Feleppa, Jesus to a Child and You Have Been Loved, are as beautiful as any he wrote.

Other people’s songs
It is often said of great singers – he or she could sing the phone book. Although he could have picked up and sung from the Yellow Pages, George had the musical smarts to be able to pick from songs made famous by Elton, Queen, Bowie, Nina Simone, Terence Trent D’Arby, Bonnie Raitt, his idol Stevie Wonder and New Order.
And on the subject of the phone book, before cynics say calling a cab firm may have helped him on occasion, how can he be remembered by occasional screw-ups, which were rare, and to which we’re all prone, over a myriad of great pop songs which only a handful can write. Away from Andrew Ridgley, he only released four studio albums proper, but the best of the songs on those are up there with the brothers Gibb, Anderson and Ulvaeus and The Carpenters.

He was brave
The self-sabotage of a public and long court battle with Sony to escape from his contract (much admired publicly and privately by Prince, who called him often) was extraordinarily courageous and ahead of a period now where pop stars, even those who post clips of their own singing on You Tube, are acutely aware of their rights.
Once he was outed by news organisations after a sting by the LAPD, he didn’t hide. Instead, he fronted up on CNN,  and flipped the script on the haters with the Outside video.
He picked an argument on the second Iraq war when he was still hugely successful in America and in Britain. He took flak, and ploughed on with more interviews, and another anti-war song.
If you want more evidence, look at the people he sought out to sing with on stage or in the studio: Elton, the remaining members of Queen, Aretha, Beyonce, Pavarotti, Whitney, Mary J Blige, Stevie.
For a shy pop fanboy from Bushey, that takes guts too.

He was generous
The papers by now are full of stories of the nurses (collective) for whom he played a special gig, and the nurses (individual, and other public sector workers) for whom he would help out financially. The homeless shelter where he volunteered. Colleagues in the charity sector have given examples to this, and more will doubtless emerge. None, you’ll notice, appeared in any of his own interviews. The pop star who says “I love my fans” is not uncommon. The pop star who backs that up with cash to help them certainly is.

Wham! played China
Anyone who says Wham! weren’t cool might want to reflect on their own tour to China. Pre-1985, there weren’t any. While Paul Weller and Jerry Dammers were slating him, Yog, Andrew Ridgeley and Simon Napier-Bell delivered a coup beyond their dreams. Apparently, Chinese bureacrats regarded pop music, according to Shanghai-based impresario Andrew Bull, regarded pop music as “banal and filthy”. Only the good stuff.

He had star quality
He didn’t want to be a celebrity. He was often spotted at his local Italian restaurant in north London, or pulling pints at his local in Oxfordshire. He didn’t, publicly anyway, date anyone famous. He appeared sparingly at awards ceremonies and TV shows. Star People, from Older, sets out his position fairly openly. And yet, or perhaps because of that, there was an elusive force field around him which added to any public appearance. Having been in the same room as Eminem, Beyonce, Britney, The Beckhams and others, I’ve wobbled a bit but they were only people. But when George and then boyfriend Kenny Goss popped into my local 7-eleven and my flatmate told me, all dignity went out the window and I ran out just to view them from afar, just like the cameramen on Planet Earth do with snow leopards. There was just something about George Michael.


The Heavenly Christmas Records

credit: Elaine Constantine


Nothing Can Stop Saint Etienne’s love of festive fare


This time last year, it was a real treat to interview all three members of Saint Etienne for the BBC Entertainment and Arts website to coincide with a series of Christmas concerts. They’re doing, as they do every year, DJ sets at working men’s clubs around the country (Shipley on Thursday 15th, London on the 19th) but 12 months ago, there were proper gigs. The gold tinselly drapes used in those wheeltappers’ and shunters’ venues form the backdrop of their stage set. Cracknell in particular eulogised about it. The feature is here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-34998057

One part that ended up on the cutting room floor was asking Bob, Pete and Sarah three Yuletide tunes – three singles and one album – of which they are fondest. As you’d expect from three popheads (Stanley’s voracious popdom as chronicled in his encyclopaedically great music book Yeah Yeah Yeah is matched by the other two), the answers were as unpredictable as they were unpretentious. At one point, Stanley rhapsodised about Leona’s One More Sleep and Elton’s Cold As Christmas.

Sarah Cracknell
I Don’t Intend to Spend Christmas Without You – Claudine Longet
It was so brilliantly French and very beautiful.

Maybe This Christmas – Ron Sexsmith
It reminds me of seeing him live in Norway where we were recording.

Driving Home for Christmas – Chris Rea
We still play it live every year.

Album: Phil Spector: A Christmas Gift for You
It’s so Christmassy, uplifting and fun.

Bob Stanley

Silent Night by The Rotary Connection
It’s unbelievable. It has a guitar wigout at the end, which is phenomenal.

I Wish It Could be Christmas Every Day – Wizzard
Roy Wood is the single most underrated songwriter Britain has produced. And the till chiming at the beginning shows he has a sense of humour.

Song of Winter Francoise Hardy
This isn’t a Christmas song but it’s got a nice chilly feel.

Album: Elvis sings the wonderful world of Christmas
It’s his second Christmas album and contains carols. Elvis could pull those songs on his Christmas record because he meant it.

Pete Wiggs

Lonely Pup (in a Christmas Shop) – Adam Faith
That’s one from Junior Choice and my childhood. My nine year-old daughter heard it recently and her eyes lit up. She thought it was amazing.

Rockin’ Robin – The Jackson Five
It isn’t really a Christmas song but it’s the right season. Our manager Martin used to sing it as a warm-up to motivate us before we went on stage – any time of year.

Holly Leaves and Christmas Tree – Elvis Presley
It’s got that warmth to it and makes you slump into the armchair but it’s also depressing and brings tears to my eyes. It’s nice to have some pensive melancholy at Christmas. Especially when you’ve had a break-up, it’s good to have a bit of a wallow.

Album: Funky Christmas – James Brown
This is the signal in my house that Christmas has started. There’s something about the repetitive nature of funk that’s good for wrapping presents or peeling sprouts to – you can lose yourself in that.

Photo credit: Elaine Constantine

A Sacred Offering: Ten of the best from Leonard Cohen


On the dawn of Leonard Cohen’s new album, here in no particular order are ten of my favourites. These may change tomorrow. And for the record, Hallelujah is great too, but not greater (in this opinion) than any of these.

Alexandra Leaving

The work with Sharon Robinson is arguably more conventional than some of his other material (no 15pp fax to John Cale required from these albums, you’d think), but it’s also the closest to soul music – this, In My Secret Life, A Thousand Kisses Deep but it doesn’t stop it being the kind of ballads you can imagine Alicia Keys, Mary J or even Alexandra Burke knocking out the park.

Bird On The Wire

It’s often the opening couplet that gets you. “Like a bird..on the wire/like a drunk in a midnight choir/I have tried in my way to be free.”

There are about three novels, seven poems, four songs and a couple of half-decent chat-up lines in that alone.

Hey That’s No Way To Say Goodbye

Especially Roberta Flack’s version.

Coming Back To You

This simple love song with its evocative images of “closing down the factories just when all the bills are due” turns into a love song and on every hearing, some of us (OK, perhaps just me) think this should be the go-to Cohen standard. Not Hallelujah, not the Marianne Ihlen songs, nor Suzanne, this. Of course, brilliant artists don’t have one song to which you can pin them down. Pick your favourite Dylan, Bowie, Mitchell, Springsteen, Elton, Marvin, Stevie, Anderson/Ulvaeus. Just one. See?

My Gypsy Wife

For personal reasons. And for the version of Field Commander Cohen, where he says “I don’t believe you’ve met Roscoe Beck on the fretless bass.” After that performance, we sure have. If your band is as impeccable as his make the live albums great.

Everybody Knows

For anyone who’s ever switched on the Today programme or Question Time, heard men shouting at each other and immediately wanted to switch off…”Everybody knows the dice are loaded…the war is over, the good guys lost…the fight was fixed…the poor stay poor, the rich get rich.”

And he makes the song jolly! This is what separates the poets from the rock stars (though he’s that, too, as Simon Armitage never sold out the O2).

Ain’t No Cure for Love

Being in love is great. It’s agony. It’s perfect. It’s torture. It makes you smile. Not everyone can nail that in three minutes.

Came So Far For Beauty

There’s something about his love songs, like the great romantic poetry, which makes you understand why women were so often putty in his hands, and he in theirs. There’s no fool like an old fool, and he’s always been a romantic old fool. He only started recording in his thirties, so as an artist has thankfully never gone through The Bieber Years. The romance of a song like Came So Far For Beauty takes on fresh perspective when sung by a female voice (see Jennifer Warnes’ rendition on Famous Blue Raincoat).

Come Healing

It would be remiss not to reflect the recent renaissance with Laughing Len’s most productive period from 2012’s Old Ideas to the new record, and celebrate all of it. This is as beautiful as all his late-periods songs.


“There is a crack in everything/That’s where the light gets in.” Leonard Cohen suffered depression, near-bankruptcy, being told his record (the one with Dance Me To The End of Love, Hallelujah and Coming Back To You!) was no good, working with Phil Spector and keeps smiling. This song more than any sums up why he is the master builder of the Tower of Song.



The Jones no one keeps up with

An wholly inadequate selection of Quincy Jones' greatest tracks

The Quincy Jones Prom hits London Monday and if anyone currently operating in modern music deserves one (and one likely to be a bit less po-faced than the one they gave Bowie), it’s the man whose mates call him Q.

He has been making music at the top end of jazz, rhythm and blues, soul and pop for seventy years (that’s fourteen times the length The Smiths & The Velvet Underground lasted) and turned up at the Albert Hall to hear the fruits of his labours. But if you are talented to produce the labours he does, it really doesn’t sound like work.

How to sum up a 70-year career in five tracks? Well, that’s simple. You can’t. You shouldn’t. But if five songs did give an introduction to the great man, these five are as good as any….

Soul Bossa Nova


In some ways, outside of his work with Michael Jackson, Q’s theme tune. A song so full of the joys of life it contains jazz, samba, swing and the two elements of the title, Mike Myers purloined it for Austin Powers, the Dream Warriors half-inched it for My Definition of a Boombastic Jazz Style and it was also the theme for a German comedy and a Canadian game show (which is where Myers grew up with it) and, most important, Alan “Fluff” Freeman’s Radio 1 show. More than all that, it established Quincy Jones’ credentials as the sultan of swing.



Picking a highlight from his jazz output (which includes work with Lionel Hampton, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gene Krupa and Sarah Vaughan), Quincy coaxed Miles into revisiting his recordings from the ‘60s and record them for his last album, live in 1991. To which all you can say is…thanks.

In the Heat of the Night


If you hear this, do you think of Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger? The words “They call me Mister Tibbs”? The devastating, unmistakeable vocals of Ray Charles? (Jones started in music aged 14 when his friend Charles was doing the same aged 16). Or a lifetime of versatility across music scores from this theme, through The Italian Job, The Color Purple In Cold Blood and The Getaway? One of many reasons why a Quincy Greatest Hits doesn’t cut the mustard unless it’s a box-set of treasure chest proportions.


Betcha Wouldn’t Hurt Me


Before Jeff Bridges, Quincy Jones was The Dude. And after he established his credentials, he released a classic album, establishing his all-pervading Dudeosity. Any track from it is a stone cold soul or funk classic with the likes of Rod “Thriller” Temperton, James Ingram and Toots Thielemans working on the record, but put Steve Lukather’s funky guitar licks, co-writer Stevie Wonder’s synthesizer moves and Patti Austin’s honeyed but heartbroken vocals overseen by the maestro, and you have a sweet slice of something.

Billie Jean


What track to pick from Thriller or Off The Wall? The African inflections of Wanna Be Starting Something combined with a sound of two bits of sandpaper rubbing together. Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough based around a melody MJ hummed in his kitchen or  Louis Johnson’s bass on Workin’ Day and Night. Human Nature later reversioned by Miles Davis and Chaka Khan. Let’s go for the one Michael sang down a cardboard tube. In one take. Engineer Bruce Swedien mixed it 91 times. He ended up going for the second take. But 91!

What, no Spandau?

A Rio 2016 playlist without some of the Gold regulars


Every four years, after the talking and the training are done, pre-match hype over, the games begin. How many times can Spandau Ballet’s Gold be included in a montage of sporting triumphs? Answer: no number is enough. Fans of 6Music are likely to have heard Belle & Sebastian’s The Stars of Track and Field, Gene’s Olympian, Cake’s Going the Distance Shed 7’s Going for Gold, The Chemical Brothers’ Velodrome and The Spencer Davis Group’s Keep On Running over the past fortnight. There have sadly been precious few airings of Spandau’s arch-rivals Duran’s ode to the host city.

In the interests of forming a few new playlists before Gold (Gold!) rings out again (no bad thing), here’s a suggestion for Rio 2016:-


For Tom Daley and Dan Goodfellow
Milk The Bronze Medal
The Bristol acoustic indie act have the perfect name for the men who finished third (Tom for second successive Games). Give Me Land might have a more appropriate title for divers but have gone for this liquid-based song instead.

For Jessica Ennis-Hill
Silver Lady David Soul
Jessica is a big Jay-Z fan so Roc Boys (And The Winner Is) should in general be her theme tune. For a World Champion with a gold medal from London, silver is still a great result taking on a 21 year-old with five out of seven personal bests.

For Louis Smith
Silver Platter Club – John Grant
Silver seemed to upset him but this song would raise a smile, even if it’s 4 minutes and 11 seconds of constant whingeing.

For Nick Skelton and Katherine Grainger
Our Last Summer – ABBA
What has this to do with the Olympics? Well, they’re both retiring after this and it’s from More Gold – even though she won silver.

For Max Whitlock
Make Them Gold Chvrches
To win two gymnastic medals in a day, it was either this or A Horse with No Name or J-Lo’s Get On The Floor but that involves Pitbull.

For Andy Murray
Stay Gold – First Aid Kit
Sweden is cold and full of natural beauty. It’s practically Scotland. Who didn’t just win gold, four years later it stayed on his chest.

For Mo Farah
The Golden Path – Chemical Brothers and Wayne Coyne
Mo could go for Phoenix’s Run Run Run, or Chumbawamba’s Tubthumpin’ after getting knocked down but getting up again to win the 10,000m, or Gold by Prince but the Chems and The Flaming Lips, like Mo and long-distance make a winning combination.

For Usain Bolt and Jason Kenny
3 Is The Magic Number – De La Soul
Three medals in Beijing, three medals in London and in Rio, let’s not jinx it. But Jason got three.

For Sir Bradley Wiggins
Wheels – The Flying Burrito Brothers
Sir Brad already gets soundcheck by some voguish Mod or Nouveau Mod styling like but if we don’t go for The Chemical Brothers’ Velodrome or Edwyn Colllins’ The Wheels of Love, the Burritos would be a great fit for our biggest medal grabber.

For Giles Scott
Ride Like The Wind – Christopher Cross
Because you ride and get wind in sailing. And cos it’s a tune.

For Lutalo Muhammad and Jade Jones
Ain’t That A Kick in the Head – Dean Martin
If you don’t understand why, you haven’t watched Taekwondo. Lutalo could have had Next’s So Close with one second from a gold.

For Ryan Lochte
Dear Lie – TLC.
Earlier in the week, anything from Ryan Adams’ Gold album would have been fine. For a while, The Rescue Blues. Been Caught Stealing or this, from TLC, would be better.

For Bryony James
Take the Silver – Sarah Cracknell featuring The Rails
You could have Trampoline by Tinie Tempah and 2 Chainz but this song is much better.


The book is called Reckless, the life is anything but

Why Chrissie Hynde's book title makes her a true Pretender


Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography is called Reckless.

She didn’t strike me that way having read it.

Sure, there’s the lack of a Michael Heseltine-style five-year masterplan. If LinkedIn had been around in the mid-to-late ‘70s, her profile might have required some creative accounting. Missing all her uni classes.  A load of drugs she probably shouldn’t have taken, some shoplifting, fare-dodging and spells in squats and running from Nowheresville, Ohio to Cleveland to sleeping on floors in London to Paris and back to London doesn’t make for a great resume, as they call it over there.

But definitions of reckless include thoughtless, inattentive and devil-may-care.

Chrissie Hynde’s terms of  her ambition is to be in a band and form enough writing material to make interesting songs, then it’s perfect. And almost unrepeatable.

The admittedly just-repeated “unrepeatable” is apt here because the London Chrissie Hynde encounters is a very different beast from the 21st century mass of crane currently with its balls gripped by eastern European and Asian oligarchy and a manifesto set by the corporations who ruined our skyline.

Rent at £4 a week, putting 5p in the meter, waiting to use the callbox in the hall…. Chrissie Hynde’s prose makes the city look as old fashioned in her own way as Dickens or Peter Ackroyd.

The grit she portrays belies a certain glamour….diving into squats, blagging work at the NME and noising up Neil Diamond fans with her reviews (an early form of trolling), turning up to late for work with Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood and getting fired, nipping over to Mick Jones’ flat in Royal Oak where his gran made her tea, hanging out with The Ramones and The Damned (pictured) in Camden at their Roundhouse gig, modelling in St. Martin’s while rehearsing with The Pretenders in Covent Garden, marathons on speed in a bikers’ clubhouse in Eltham. London, like New York, has always considered itself as the most exciting city in the world. She makes it feel like that in the pages, not writing about her native America with anything like the same affection.

There’s something freeing about how she describes the opportunities of discovering public transport – especially when she perfects jumping over the barriers at Clapham South.

“Public transport! What genius thought that one up?” she writes. Most rock stars are waiting in a corner for their limo. She explores the options of moving around the city while not paying for it.

The book is annoying in some aspects. The story stops just when the band is taking off and ex-boyfriend and band member Pete has died. She’s coy about her relationship with Ray Davies and, as the book ends,  hasn’t married Jim Kerr yet. (If it’s Part 1 of a two or three-part autobiography, have the decency to say so on the front).

But the crucible of Chrissie Hynde as a musician is all in there.

What emerges is of a tough broad who ditched everything else that got in the way of her goal. College, architectural practice, the fashion scene, selling handbags on market stalls, eventually the drugs.

And in the end, you have songs as good as Back on the Chain Gang, Brass in Pocket and Don’t Get Me Wrong.

Chrissie Hynde is not reckless at all. There’s a throughline in her entire story which has continued after the book stops in the early ‘80s. She kept chasing the music.


Darling, You Were Wonderful, You Really Were Very Good

About time Pet Shop Boys were given more love.








IMG_3089_2Pet Shop Boys at The Royal Opera House. (Only Covent Garden’s venue requires the definite article).
To call it a triumph would be to suggest that the people who make motorcycles and bras could compete.
What’s puzzling is that a group with that many hits remains undervalued by so many. Not musicians, not critics, but they don’t feature on the 6Music playlist the way New Order or Depeche Mode do. They don’t headline the main stages at festivals. And although their sales in the UK dwarf what they are across the Atlantic, if Madonna, N.W.A. and Green Day can make the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s probably about time Pet Shop Boys did.
Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe have sold more than 50 million records, are the most successful duo in UK music history (in your face, Dollar) and most music critics worth their stripe likes them as do W. Axl Rose, Sir Elton John, Madonna, Dame Barbara Windsor, Nicolas Winding Refn and countless others.
The Covent Garden residence paid back the love in nuggets of pop gold. Regular collaborators like designer Es Devlin and engineer Pete Gleadall who made their Pandemonium tour such a joy are back with new friends like the extraordinary drummer Afrika Green and Musical Director Stuart “Jaques Lu Cont” Price, producer of Kylie, Madonna and the last two PSBs album. Price once told Spin magazine “To this day, I’ve never figured out if I want to be Neil or Chris.”
Both, surely. The answer to the question ‘Who’s the cool one in Pet Shop Boys?’ can only be “he is”.
Chris, the enigma clad in sportswear from Blackpool who wrote and produced a record for Arsenal striker Ian Wright because he was a die-hard Gooner.
The man who once gave an interview to Entertainment tonight saying:-

“I don’t like Country & Western.
I don’t like rock music.
Erm…I don’t like, I don’t like Rockabilly.
– Rock’n’roll in particular –
I don’t like much, really, do I?
But what I do like, I love passionately”

These words were then sampled and turned into one of their ‘80s B-sides, Paninaro. (Sadly not played on the same stage where Sutherland, Domingo and Callas belted it out).

Neil, who thanked “front of house staff” (which other pop singers know what front of house staff are, or what they do???), informed us that the venue used to be a dance hall in the Second World War (as it was this week). He quotes Noel Coward, Stephen Sondheim & David Bowie as influences and says things in interviews like “especially these days, I don’t think crying is necessarily a sign of sincerity.” He is also cool. In the way that Dennis Hopper and vodka-tonic with ice are both cool in different ways, so are Neil and Chris.

The concert was a joyous experience displaying the breadth of the latter back catalogue with Inner Sanctum, Love Is a Bourgeois Construct, Inside a Dream alongside West End Girls, It’s a Sin and a fair smattering of ‘00s Shoppies like Love Etc, Home And Dry and New York City Boy. The joyous encores Always On My Mind, where Tennant and Lowe were joined by Es Devlin’s inflatable creations who looked like the Michelin Men by way of New Order’s True Faith tyre-men on a diet of jelly babies.
The show was part car-park rave, part-Blake’s Seven, part operatic set of stories with costume changes and a rotating cast list. And lasers.
What was striking is with 32 years or recorded material was what was missing. Absent: Heart, Rent, Suburbia, What Have I Done to Deserve This, Can You Forgive Her and most egregious of all, Being Boring. In fact, nothing from their masterpiece Behaviour. They didn’t do We All Feel Better In The Dark either, but that would have been asking a lot.
Very few acts deserve to be classified as adjectives. Above all, this was a thoroughly Pet Shop Boys evening.


Who Put All These Things In Your Head?

Why the half-century of the Fabs' masterpiece is worthy of celebration


Happy 50th Birthday, Revolver!

The fifty year rock anniversary first hit big in 2004 when Elvis’ That’s All Right Mama was feted and since then we’ve had everything from Motown (2009 or 2010 depending on whom you ask) to this glorious year of Pet Sounds and Blonde on Blonde in the one week.

So by August 5th, it would be understandable if Revolver was overlooked in favour of the 2013 festivities around Please, Please Me, or Pepper next year, bound to have newspaper headline writers in “It was 50 years ago today” overdrive. Particularly if you, like many others, regard the album as the beginning of the break-up of the band, separating to the four corners of the same recording studio.

For any fan of pop, rock’n’roll, Beatlesology, the soft power of Cool Britannia or the hard power of a classic album, Revolver is it. From the moment you see Klaus Voormann’s sleeve of the Fabs drawn from memory and then put the record (or CD as it was for me as a student in 1993) on, you’re blindsided at every turn. The working title Beatles On Safari is arguably cooler.

Taxman sounds like a blistering take-down-all-comers “Ha ha Mr. Wilson” “Ha ha Mr. Heath” – you imagine Corbyn and May getting the same namechecks from a 2016 band like Blossoms? – the album segues into the jolly little ditty Eleanor Rugby. Except this Paul song is no Fab Wacky Thumbs Aloft Macca number, nor a No More Lonely Nights (as great as that is) but a song about a funeral where  “nobody came” and Father Mackenzie is wiping the dirt from his hands because no one was saved. Once again, blind-sided.


You might think by now that this is an angry album but something with Good Day Sunshine, followed by And Your Bird Can Sing could hardly be an entirely angry record.

The genius of the Fab Four is taking you one way then another, such as in the lovey-dovey   Jane Asher-inspired Here, There and Everywhere has its break-up counterpart in another Macca song For No One, a song written on a holiday with Asher in Klosters about a break-up about “a love that should have lasted years”. Jane Asher must have had her mind altered by musical-shaped substances, although they didn’t break up until 1968.

Just when you’re beginning to regard Paul as the midfield general, John, with input from George, comes into his own with She Said She Said, based on Peter Fonda comments during an LSD trip at The Beatles’ LA residence on Benedict Canyon Drive with The Byrds (yes, that is the most 1960s sentence you’ll read today). On hearing the opening line:  “She Said ‘I Know What It’s Like to be Dead’ “ you know that seven albums in, She Loves You Yeah Yeah Yeah is a lifetime away.

Nothing outstays its welcome, no song is over 3:03, there’s no detour into wackiness like Octopus’ Garden or Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da or other non-Ringo, non-beginning with O songs. and the Ringo song here Yellow Submarine would be the crowning glory of another band’s career. Slade would have done a corking cover.

There’s also one of the better George Indian songs (Love You To), the immortalisation of pill-popping Dr Robert and Tomorrow Never Knows. Mad Men viewers wlll remember Don Draper slipping the vinyl out his copy and turning his mind off or on – depending on the way you see it. Five decades later, the song which closes this epoch-changing album are doing the same.

The scope of ambition, the sense of fun, the editing which avoids the pomposity of the seven-minute guitar solo, the wide range of subject matter and the ability to go from dark to light to dark again in the same song…what will it take for a modern rock band to pull this off, heck even try this on one of their albums? I’d rather read a “50 years on” about one of those albums in 2066 rather than the centenary of this. Of course by then, I may know what it is to be dead.

Wannabe. It was always Gonnabe massive

The public were ready for Wannabe from minute one.

Spice Girls

It’s not just comedy. Timing is also the secret to a lot of the best records.

Between 1995’s Common People & Country House vs Roll With It (the beginning of the end of Britpop’s imperial period) and 1997’s Be Here Now (the actual end) & OK Computer (the beginning of something else), The Spice Girls detonated in the pop atmosphere.

Some pop groups, Pet Shop Boys for one, break when the release of a first single fails to land and succeeds months later when the public are ready for it.

The public were ready for Wannabe from minute one.

It stormed the charts like the French National Guard with its introduction of “Em in the place who likes it in your face”, “G like MC who likes it on a…” …what? just got with it…. “Easy V doesn’t come for free, she’s a real lady and as for me, ha you’ll see.” For all three of you not au fait with the lyrics, the “as for me”, is Mel B (see? it all rhymes) who also starts the song with a full-throated hahahaha guffaw.

It is the first and last time that Melanie C would be referred to as “MC” as the nicknames bestowed on the five soon kicked in.

There was nothing pale, male and stale about it.


Richard “Biff” Stannard, who was smart and intuitive enough to co-write and produce Wannabe, told me for a piece for the BBC’s Entertainment & Arts website that if someone says the words “I Tell You What I Want”, then “they start going into the whole song.”

How many other pop records have that? “One for the money” (two for the show), “I’m just a poor boy” (nobody likes me), “you’re the one that I want” (ooh-ooh-ooh, honey).

Only the really famous, or really good ones. Generally, the definition of pop is that if you’ve got both, you’ve got international superstardom.

Wannabe, followed by the irresistible sucker-punch of Say You’ll Be There and Two Become One led to that. The branded Scooters, the OK! magazine “royal wedding”, the faces of Channel 5 (with Jack Doherty and Kirsty Young), the Heart FM breakfast show with Jamie Theakston, and hosting the twelfth series of Dancing with the Stars Australia all followed.
But nothing was exciting as that video in Kings Cross with the pretend-offended posh people, frightened children and slick choreography. (OK, two of these)

Stannard, whose hand was also involved in Five’s Keep On Movin’, East 17’s It’s Alright and Kylie’s Love At First Sight, understands what made Em in the place, G (like MC), easy V and Melanie C so colossal. “Individually, they weren’t perfect, but collectively they were. They grew up in public like Kylie and people like that.”


The fact Wannabe is being discussed two decades on says much about how it introduced a band to the world. It was pop music, but not as we know it, Jim.

“There was a beautiful freshness to it,” reflects Stannard. “It certainly wasn’t over-thought.”

Like the first time you heard What Time Is Love, Reverend Black Grape, Firestarter or Bad Romance, Wannabe sounds like an undeniable pop smash and yet an oddity at the same time. “There was something quite punk about Wannabe,” Stannard says correctly. “All the best pop music, you’re a little bit frightened.”

He won’t elucidate on what a zig-ah-zig-ah is other than saying “it was a word the girls were using around the studio (Strongroom in Shoreditch) at the time.”

The Spice imperial period was splitting at the seams by the spring of 1998 when Geri left but as Dr Eldon Tyrell says in Blade Runner “the light that burns twice as bright, burns half as long.”

Biff Stannard was in the studio when Abs from Five rapped “7-6-5-4-3-2-1, I’m on the microphone, got you hot like the sun.” So he understands what made The Spice Girls work. “It was only three years but they had a lifetime together.”

The interview with Biff Stannard was research was for an article I wrote for the BBC Entertainment & Arts site here - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-36714177