Comical Genitalia

It’s not often you get a chance to use that phrase. I’m deeply grateful to an unsung staff reporter on the Sun for unleashing it on an unsuspecting world in this 2007 article, ‘Rude Buddha’ causes outrage. It was later lifted almost word for word in a Metro article – Cops probe Rude Buddha – a headline so brilliant you can forgive them the plagiarism.

The genitalia in question – a banana and two eggs – are welded onto a bog-standard statue of a seated Buddha. The work, by artist Colin Self, was probably considered rude by the good people of Norwich for a number of reasons. A banana and two eggs are surely innocent objects in themselves, but placed in the lap of a seated figure in an upstanding position, they acquire a whole new meaning. Then there’s the bronze colour of the foodstuffs, which stands out against the black of the Buddha. Finally, there’s the position of the hand curled in the lap – a classic meditation posture – suggesting an alternative activity is taking place. I’m reminded of a greeting card, with the picture of a seated mystic and the caption, “If that’s the sound of one hand clapping, I wonder what the other hand is doing?” Oh, and the statue was facing out into the street.

A Trilogy: The Iconoclasts is actually a witty spoof, melding ideas of sacred art with pop art, and evoking all the metaphorical associations of bananas and eggs. It’s a pity some people were so prudish as to complain to the police, forcing the gallery owner to turn it round so it faced into the shop. But I’d be surprised if it didn’t sell very quickly with all the free publicity. Perhaps Self got his friends to make the complaints.

So thanks to that staff reporter for adding an essential phrase to the English language – I hope it goes viral.

Birthday Songs

Chattanoogie Shoe Shine Boy, by Red Foley, topped the Billboard charts in America on the day I was born. Clearly, my precociously good musical taste forced the issue. Had I delayed until March 11, I would have been lumbered with The Cry of the Wild Goose, by Frankie Laine. While I’m no fan of country and western music, Red Foley is pretty good musically, as opposed to Frankie Laines’s ludicrous orchestral overkill.

There were no pop music charts in the UK until the New Musical Express (NME) introduced them in 1952. Rankings were calculated from sheet music sales, with Dear Hearts and Gentle People topping sales on Mar 10. Godawful sentimental dreck. If only I’d waited, because the splendidly toe-tapping Music! Music! Music!, by Teresa Brewer, claimed the crown the following day.

What can I say? Life’s a lottery.

Bootleg Beatles in Campbeltown

Highlight of this year’s Mull of Kintyre Music Festival was The Bootleg Beatles, playing as Saturday night headline band in the Victoria Hall.  I’ve only seen one other Beatles tribute band – Imagine – at the Puyallup Fair in Washington State, and I thought at the time they were really good.  Certainly had me well and truly blissed out.  Here’s a short clip of them at the Puyallup.

But the Bootleg Beatles win the prize for the best tribute band I’ve seen so far.  Before I talk about them, though, Campbeltown’s very own Twisted Melons deserve a huge round of applause.  The Melons were the support band, and opened with a fine, rocking 60s/70s retro set.  Not their usual territory, but they got the evening off to a high energy start.  Here’s one of their videos.

The Bootleg Beatles are everything they claim to be – the world’s premier Beatles’ tribute band – the whole package, from the accents and clothes to the uncanny physical resemblance.  Paul, John, and George were the spitting image, and only Ringo was not quite as I remembered him.  Still, Ringo is a one-off, it would be strange if anybody else looked just like him.

The Melons played for an hour, the Bootleg Beatles an incredible 2 hours and 15 minutes.  Didn’t finish until gone 1:00 am, by which time I was exhausted and wanted to go home to bed.  Must be getting old, though I still enjoy that good bass rumble from the speakers that moves your internal organs around.

They played just about every song the Beatles ever performed, with perhaps the exception of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and Yellow Submarine.  Pity.  Great memories in those songs.  And they changed clothes, from the original Nehru jackets to the Sgt. Pepper gear and on to the Abbey Road fashions.  Films and newsreels appropriate to each song played against a backdrop behind them.

The sheer professionalism really impressed me.  They gave everything to the performance.  They were canny, too, saving the best for last.  Hey Jude was the last official song, but they’ve obviously built the inevitable encores into their act.  So the first encore was a song guaranteed to take any Campbeltonian to Heaven – Mull of Kintyre, with 2 local musicians playing the bagpipes.  Followed by Twist and Shout.

A great evening.  Here are the Bootleg Beatles playing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band on the BBC.

Secrets of the Pop Song: Anthem (3/3)

Secrets of the Pop Song: Ballad (1/3)
Secrets of the Pop Song: Breakthrough Single (2/3)

Anthem saved the best for last – pop anthems that make you sing along, music that makes you feel really good.  Guy Chambers teamed up with singer, Shingai Shoniwa, and guitarist, Dan Smith, of the Noisettes.  Three days were allowed for writing this song, perhaps in recognition of the innate difficulty of the job.  While the music and lyrics need to be fairly simple, so people can sing along to it, finding the special something that makes an anthem successful is notoriously elusive.  As the narrator points out, “anthems aren’t made, they’re anointed.”

They began with a Sly and the Family Stone riff, using I Can Take You Higher as inspiration.  I was amazed at how quickly and fluidly Shingai improvised the lyrics to the rough outline of the music.  That was ditched in favour of another riff.  By the end of the first day they had the basic musical structure worked out, and Shingai had laid down a vocal track, using some of the lyrics.  This was Precious Time.

On the second day, Guy dropped Precious Time, thinking they needed something more contemporary – the song had a 70s feel to it.  The next idea seemed to work well, but Shingai felt the chorus was “too polite,” so that was changed.  They had the musical building blocks in place, with work needed on the lyrics and a catchy title, by the end of the day.  This is important because without a catchy hook, people won’t want to sing it.

The final day took them outside to work on Hampstead Heath, overlooking London, after being cooped up in Guy’s recording studio.  To see them sitting out on the grass, with families, children, and dogs wandering past, gave a new, open feel to the idea of professional songwriting.  Let’s Play was the result, recorded back in the studio.

As before, interspersed with footage of the creative process in action, the narrator introduced a lot of background information, through clips of bands from the 60s (You’ll Never Walk Alone, by Gerry & the Pacemakers) to the 90s and noughties (Common People, by Pulp).

The interesting thing is how rousing, feelgood music transcends genres and migrates to the strangest places.  Take football songs.  You’ll Never Walk Alone began as a Rogers & Hammerstein song from Carousel, then became associated with the Munich air disaster of 1958, in which many Manchester United footballers died.  Jerry & Pacemakers then recorded the song, and it’s since become inextricably associated with Liverpool Football Club.

Not just musicals, either.  Songs as diverse as gay anthems (I Will Survive), operatic arias (La donna e mobile), and Land of Hope and Glory have all made their way to the football terraces, although sometimes with different words.

We are a musical nation, as Reverend Jenkins says of the Welsh in Under Milk Wood.  This series has been a delight.  I’ve learned a lot about pop music, most importantly the craft that goes into it, and the enjoyment that comes out of it.  It’s been an epiphany.  I’ll leave you with Shingai’s comment on the creative process:

Make good love, and hope for the most beautiful sonic baby.

Here’s the first public performance of Let’s Play, with the full Noisettes line-up and Guy Chambers on keyboard.  I loved it.