Monday, 23 March 2009

"Mother doesn't go out anymore ..."

I feel my eyes gently closing. It's fine, it's fine... nobody can see me, it's dark after all. Maybe that's why theatres turn the house lights off during the performance... how many plays have I seen. in my life? Over 500? No, probably about 250... How does that compare with albums I've heard... My thoughts start running together into a scrambled mush and I momentarily lose consciousness. Suddenly I jolt back upright... Shit! It's OK, it's OK, nobody saw. Oh look there's Tony Parsons and Miranda Sawyer sitting in front of us. Wonder what they think of it... Concentrate, concentrate, you're reviewing it too, remember.

Christ this is boring. I mean, really - imagine having paid proper West End prices for this. It's awful. How much longer? This has to be the longest hour and 40 minutes I've endured since, well certainly since that terrible thing on Monday at the Soho Theatre. No, actually this is much worse, because the cast is so good - what the hell were they thinking?!

It's tragic isn't it, that people put so much effort and money into artistic endeavours which fail to produce any joy in the audience. I remember at my first A&R job watching my boss who has spent a year putting together Ian McCulloch's debut solo record ranting at its press reception: "Who the fuck do they think they are? What the fuck would they know about making records? You spend a year making a record only for some c**t to spend 20 minutes pulling it apart..."

The balance is wrong isn't it? All that time producing something should at least be rewarded with some respect by those whose job it is to pass judgement. Yet every music critic has stories of events they have reviewed without necessarily being present. It's easily done, though: at around the same time my boss was ranting about the minimum effort the journalists were making on his McCulluch album, I pretended to attend a ULU show by the Flatmates. I couldn't go for some reason and frankly, I didn't think they were any good anyway. At the time they were at being checked out by the majors in the wake of bands like The Wedding Present doing well. I knew I would be asked what they were like during the weekly A&R meeting, so I spoke to another A&R mate about the show. A good move. It turned out that the band had had a fight and split up on stage.

But reading reviews - particularly the snide singles reviews that are trying to emulate the wittier writers - can be a wholeheartedly tawdry affair: poorly paid, disinterested hacks, trying to quickly wade through a pile of stuff that no one will be buying anyway. Indeed, I am reliably informed that some critics don't even bother phoning the PRs for good quality copies of the tracks to review - they do it all off the videos on Youtube.

But I can always forgive negativity about a band or show or restaurant or book as long as there is some wit - humorous or otherwise. Certainly from having been on the other side of the critics for so long, I never minded if say...oooh let's pick a band out of the blue shall we... Sleeper, got unfavourable reviews as long as they were humorous. Actually I tell a lie, I did use to get quite annoyed at times. Once I wrote to Laura Lee Davies at Time Out when she accused Louise Wener of being sexist when she told feminists to "Shut up and shave". Lee Davies was unfamiliar with the quotation from Alan Partridge. My letter got published in Time Out the following week with the inevitable paragraph by Lee Davies underneath, which somehow manged to put her in the right and illustrate how very wrong I was. Whoever was right though, Louise was funniest - so she wins in my book.

Humour does seem to be the underlying currency in Guardian Guide. And I'm not just saying this because I've had a couple of thing in there recently (one on My Bloody Valentine and one on a well known brand of flu drug). Having said that, I wrote something on the Guardian blog last week and boy, does humour sometimes get lost there. The piece I wrote was pegged on the story about Bob Dylan' stinky portaloo and was about when pop stars seemingly go off-message. I got absolutely Tourretted by a Dylanologist: How dare I? Didn't I know that Dylan never had a message? Had I not seen the films? Read the books? And who the hell did I think I was?

Ah well. You can't please all the people ... And I did in fact have my fair share of people-pleasing over the weekend. It was Robyn's 45th birthday and I organised a surprise birthday party for her - something I have never done before. It was a brief glimpse of what life must have been like for Bob Geldof and I'm still a bit shell shocked. Also I'm amazed that it managed to remain a surprise after the catalogue of gaffs in the run up e.g. someone texting their husband about it but texting Robyn by mistake - a text I had to intercept and delete at 7am while Robyn was in the shower, or another friend who said to her: "see you on Saturday, then!" "Oh, are we seeing you then?" she asked "Ooh er, no... no, actually I'm thinking of someone else - silly me!"

Anyway it worked. As did the idea of everyone bringing a 7" single instead of a birthday card. Again this was astonishing, considering the amount of confusion the sentence, "bring a 45 rpm single" caused. "Can we bring CDs?" was one request. "Can't I give her a record token so she can buy what she wants?" another. I don't know, is the link between between the age 45 and 45 rpm that hard? It's probably me, living in the bubble of pop music these things are second nature to me. Everyone else has grown up and got proper lives.

I expected a slew of Paul Young's Wherever I Lay My Hats but instead Robyn was given some classics, all of them personalised by hand-written dedications on the sleeves and all of which we played on the turntable I set up on the stage. Here are the 10 most popular 45s played- some of them even had kids dancing:

1 Low Rider by War
2 I Want You Back by Jackson 5 (bit scratched this one)
3 King of The Road by Roger Miller (very kid-friendly apart from the line about cigarettes)
4 Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Statton
5 What Difference Does It Make by the Smiths (not in the Terrence Stamp sleeve sadly, but good effort for bringing this one)
6 Nowhere to Run by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
7 Leader of the Park by the Shangri-Las
8 Georgy Girl by The Seekers
9 White Horses by Jackie
10 Cars by Gary Numan

I'm glad the party went so well because it was on Robyn's actual birthday that we went to the boring play I describe above. It was Madame De Sade, the latest of the Donmar's West End productions, starring Judi Dench, Francis Barber and Rosamund Pike. With a cast like that and the Marquis De Sade as a topic what could possibly go wrong? We we both really excited - not least to get out of the house together sans enfants and span some time as a couple. But what a stinker. All that effort, all those hours' rehearsal... And then some badly paid bloke - on his wife's birthday no less! - puts the boot in. Bloody critics.

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