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Saturday, 23 March 2013

1976 was another planet

For those not old enough to remember, 1976 was not just another year in pop music, but another planet entirely.  As evidence to support this statement, I’d like to present exhibit A, a song by Mr JJ Barrie.  JJ was a genuine one-hit wonder who hit the top spot in the charts for a single week in June that year with ‘No Charge’.  Almost without parallel on the cheese continuum, ‘No Charge’ was a paean to motherhood that left mere cloying sentimentality on the starting blocks as it blazed a noxious trail to the far side of Maudlin Central.  The story of the song features a little boy who asks his mother for some extra pocket money after presenting her with an itemised list of all the household chores he has successfully carried out.  Mum, rather than do the proper parental thing and send the little scamp upstairs to tidy his room, decides to make up a bill for all of the things she has done for him.  Her ‘bill’ constitutes the chorus of the song: 

For the nine months I carried you growing inside me – no charge
For the nights I sat up with you, talked with you, prayed for you – no charge
For the time and tears that you cost though the years – no charge
And when you add it all up, the full cost of my love is – no charge 

Yes, ‘No Charge’ was weapons-grade schmaltz, capable of inducing a lump in the throat and something in the eye at twenty paces, but somehow –particularly when the vocal from mum kicks in- this song still manages to elicit at least the flicker of an emotional response in me.  I realise, with no little degree of shame, that this probably says more about my pitiful status as a nostalgic, easy-to-manipulate sucker than anything else.  

It is remarkable to think that ‘No Charge’ got to number one in the charts; it’s not just that they don’t write songs like this anymore, it’s more that anyone who even considered trying to write a song like this in 2013 would probably be locked up, or at the very least laughed out of the early auditions of X-Factor.  

There are some who would argue that pop music in 2013 is trundling along in a rather self-regarding dotage, endlessly regurgitating and repackaging everything it has done before.  This view holds that pop music in 2013 is generally too calculated, too marketed, too buffed to a sheen, too soul-less, too pre-packaged to be anything other than mere ‘product’.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to that, but I do suspect that, whatever else it might be, pop music now can never be less than streetwise, smart and self-aware.  1976 –by contrast- seems like a prelapsarian golden age, an age before cynicism and auto-tuning, an age before the irony cat got out of the bag. 

On the theme of self-awareness, I suspect that some folk will be expecting my next sentence to read something like this: 

“Ah … when I was a lad, it was all fields around here.”       

And funnily enough, the song that knocked JJ Barrie from the top of the charts was ‘(I’ve got a brand new) Combine Harvester’ by The Wurzels.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Song of the week: 'He used to want to be with me'

A few years ago I had the idea that I would write an album of songs for one of my favourite singers, kd lang.  The album would be called ‘Songs for Katherine’ and would feature various vocalists, male and female, singing songs that –in my head at least- would fit comfortably within kd’s oeuvre.  Let’s be clear: I had absolutely no showbiz connection with her and realistically, next to no chance of getting a song into the grubby mits of her people.  And, even if I did, she probably wouldn’t like the stuff anyway.  Whatever.  That didn’t stop me putting pen to paper at various points with a view to writing my big country hit.  Here’s one of the songs from that chimerical project.  It features Kelsey Hunter on vocals and also features some lovely guitar work from Peter McAteer, my ‘go-to’ guitar guy.  The song is written from the point of view of someone who has messed up a situation pretty badly and is left with nothing but their own sympathy, which is worth about twenty-five percent of hee-haw.  I recorded a ‘male’ version of the song (She used to want to be with me), but Peter’s splendid guitar work (and Kelsey’s vocal) gives this one the edge.     

He used to want to be with me

Sunday, 3 March 2013

It's probably a conspiracy. Again.

The level of bile and vitriol on the various radio phone-ins and internet message boards regarding the outcome of the SPL’s investigation into financial affairs at Rangers has been ridiculous, but sadly predictable. You get the feeling that, for some folk, the appropriate punishment for Rangers would be permanent exile to a penal colony on Mars. Others take the view that the Ibrox men should be forced to play in sackcloth and ashes, change their name to Newco Cheating Bastards FC and start all over again in the Paisley and District Amateur League Division 4 (North-West section).
What some Celtic fans require from Rangers is similar to what the aliens required of the earthlings in ‘Independence Day’. For those who haven’t seen that film, there is a scene which takes place in an underground bunker, right in the middle of an extremely hostile alien invasion of earth. One of the aliens has been captured and is under questioning. President Whitmore (played by Bill Pulman) asks the alien: “Can there be a peace between us?”
No peace”, replies the nasty extra-terrestrial. “What is it you want us to do?” asks the president. The alien, not entirely keen to explore the notion of finding some common ground, responds with one word: “Die!

Some Celtic folk hate Rangers more than they love their own club (and this hostility will often be mirrored on the other side). The hatred is visceral and completely beyond the power of reasoning. Some believe that Rangers are the ‘establishment’ team who routinely bribe referees, control the media, bend the rules, influence officialdom and, in all probability, run secret sweat shops and brothels populated by orphans, waifs and strays.
Since the ‘liquidation event’, some Celtic supporters have taken to arguing that there is no such thing as the Old Firm anymore, that there is no such club as Glasgow Rangers. The fact is, of course, that if there is a team playing at Ibrox, wearing blue jerseys and being watched by 45,000 people every other week it is -whether they like or not- Glasgow Rangers. If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck – it’s probably a duck.

There are lots of reasons (some silly, some rather more sinister) for this weapons-grade level of hostility. From a neutral point of view, there are plenty of things to dislike about both clubs, but Celtic perhaps provide the more interesting case study. The club's officials and fans often exhibit a curious mentality which somehow manages to combine a sense of superiority and self-righteousness with a large dose of victimhood.

I first became aware of this peculiar phenomenon many years ago. When I was a lad, Celtic signed an English goalkeeper by the name of Peter Latchford. It was quite unusual in the seventies for a player to cross the border from the English League to play in Scotland and his transfer was quite big news. At one point, Peter came to our school to do a ‘question and answer’ session with the pupils. He was a perfectly charming fellow and handled the questions really well. Being a Catholic school, full of pupils and staff who were ‘Celtic-minded’, he got asked the inevitable question:

"Do you think that referees in Scotland are biased against Celtic?"

His answer, more or less in these words, was: “Yes, definitely. The players and officials at the club told me all about it when I arrived and now I’ve seen it for myself”.

So … here was a club that, within the previous decade, had won nine consecutive league championships, god knows how many Scottish Cups and League Cups, had been to two European Cup Finals (and a few semi-finals), and yet its players, officials and a big percentage of its fans thought that there was a conspiracy against it. Even as a wee lad, I remember thinking: ‘But if everyone is out to get you, how come you keep winning all of these trophies?’

The truth, of course, is that there was (and is) no conspiracy against the club, although there may be sound historical reasons to explain the sense of injustice hardwired into the Celtic psyche. The club has noble origins and strong links –of which it is rightly proud- with the poor immigrant communities of the nineteenth century. It’s fair to say that the treatment sometimes handed out to Irish Catholic immigrants is something that Scotland should be embarrassed about. But that is ancient history; or at least it should be.

Alas, a lot of folk associated with Celtic can’t shake off that historical baggage; indeed, successive custodians of the club have cynically tapped into ancient wells of resentment among a certain element of the faithful, allowing that sense of injustice to mutate into something uglier and sillier, something more like paranoia and a perpetual sense of persecution.
Consequently, this huge club -a global brand that enjoys every conceivable advantage in domestic competition- has often displayed an utterly cynical mentality: it wants to win everything, it wants to be in charge of everything (witness their various campaigns against the SFA) and yet it wants the option of playing the ‘victim’ card whenever it suits.

Celtic’s interpretation is that the SPL’s verdict on Rangers was lenient, so this gives them yet another chance to play that victim card and to send out ‘dog whistle’ messages about conspiracy theories to their supporters. They say that the Rangers case is nothing to do with them, but still issued a club statement stating that: "We are surprised by the parallel conclusion that no competitive advantage was gained from these arrangements"

Just to be clear, I’ll translate that for you: “Those dirty cheating bastards have exploited their establishment contacts to get away with murder once again. We should have been awarded five or six league titles by way of compensation”.

Lest there be any confusion, I should point out that I hold no brief for either half of the Old Firm. I long ago tired of the tribalism and the incessant bleating about how the rest of Scottish football is holding them back and how they would be much better off playing in the English League or the North Atlantic Alliance, or whatever the latest daft scheme happens to be. My preference would be for the Old Firm to join a two-team league (available only by subscription to a satellite TV channel) in which they could play each other thirty times a season and leave the rest of us to get on with 21st century life.

So, like that alien in ‘Independence Day’, my message to the conspiracy theorists among the Celtic hierarchy and support is quite simple.

What do I want them to do? Just grow up.