Come And See Us again

Published May 27, 2015

As I'm looking through old music papers in search for ABBA reviews, for ABBA - The Complete Recording Sessions, I often stumble across interesting non-ABBA-related articles that I would dearly like to read or make a copy of, if I only had the time. But much as it pains me, I mostly have to ignore it and continue my research.

Except, of course, if it's something really important. Such as discovering "Janet" from the TV series Come And See Us (which I've blogged about before) on the cover of an album entitled First Offence by obscure UK act Bunk Dogger. The ad appeared in the June 24, 1978 issue of the New Musical Express. From what I've been able to hear on Youtube, Bunk Dogger's music has very little in common with the theme music from Come And See Us, Jesse Green's Nice and Slow, to which "Janet" perform choreographed moves (I hesitate to call it dancing) in the opening credits.

As for what "Janet's" supposed to be measuring on that album cover, I dare not even imagine.

Kaj Kindvall retires

Published December 12, 2014

Back in my teens, when home taping was killing music, the cassette recorder was a gods-end for music fans such as me who lacked the financial resources to buy all the music I wanted to own. During those years I was a keen listener to a show called Discorama, which aired on the P3 channel on Saturday afternoons. Hosted by Kaj Kindvall, who has just announced his retirement, it served up an eclectic mix of new record releases, mainly from the UK and the US, but also from other English-speaking countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. From about 1978 up until the show's cancellation in 1984 I don't think I missed a single episode. If I wasn't at home when it was aired, I left careful instructions to my mother to switch on a reel-to-reel tape recorder so that I would catch the show anyway.

Kaj Kindvall was hardly a John Peel-type DJ, where the point was to be a kind of curator - "I like this, therefore I'm going to play it" - but seems to have viewed his job as serving up a little bit of this and a little bit of that, introducing the tracks in a dispassionate, factual manner. Discorama was basically a news show, playing single sides and tracks from new albums by established as well as up-and-coming acts, and it also highlighted current hits on the UK and US charts, whatever their genre. Therefore, while you would get to hear songs from British new wave and synth pop acts, the next track might very well be a slice of American yacht rock, followed by UK chart hits such as 'Clog Dance' by Violinski, 'Luton Airport' by Cats UK or 'Day Trip To Bangor' by Fiddler's Dram (however, I can't recall that they played 'There's No One Quite Like Grandma'; even Discorama had its limits).

I really liked this non-judgmental approach, and I credit Kaj Kindvall and Discorama with a large part of whatever knowledge of popular music history I possess today. If a certain current hit single was a cover version, they would often play a bit of the original recording as well: for instance, the playing of Don McClean's 'Crying' - a UK hit in 1980 - was a preceded by a few bars from Roy Orbison's original. So you learned a little about older music as well.

After Discorama was cancelled in 1984, Kaj Kindvall started a chart show called Tracks, which he hosted until just a few years ago. While I never warmed to this show, the longevity and immense popularity of it means that to most people he is Mr Tracks. For me, though, he will always be Mr Discorama.

So thanks then, Kaj, and enjoy your retirement.

 

Come And See Us

Published September 14, 2013

It's Sweden in the late Seventies or early Eighties. You're sick and home from school. There's only two TV channels to watch. There's nothing on. Except school TV. You're a bit of an Anglophile, so you watch anything that's even remotely connected to England.

And if you're lucky, there it is: an episode of Come And See Us! Produced in 1977 to help Swedish pupils learn English. It's slooow. It's silly. It's...something that can't quite be put into words. But it's utterly delightful. It's cult TV at its most cult-ish. Briefly, two London-based siblings, Martin and Carol, are invited to visit their cousins, Janet and Alan, in the countryside over the summer holidays. They get up to all sorts of not-very-exciting "adventures" and....well, that's basically it.

This was never used in my school, at least not in my English classes. Yet, everyone I knew watched it if they were home sick from school and it happened to be on. A friend of mine even ordered two copies of the booklet that came with the series - one for her, one for me.

Anyway, Nicholas Lyndhurst fans, listen up! The TV series Only Fools And Horses was never broadcast in Sweden, as far as I can recall, but was huge in Great Britain (and possibly elsewhere as well, for all I know). The point is: no-one in Sweden knows who Nicholas Lyndhurst is. I remember being in London many years ago, picking up a VHS copy of Only Fools And Horses and somehow recognising one of the faces. "But...it's Alan!" Yes, dear readers, this is the dark history of Nicholas Lyndhurst's pre-Only Fools And Horses days. In Sweden no-one knows about this series - if they know him at all, it's as Alan in Come And See Us.

Annoyingly, I only ever thought to catch one episode of Come And See Us on video tape, episode two: "Where's Captain?". I've just uploaded it here. Someone else has uploaded episode one, "The 2 o'clock Train". I can only hope that the remaining three episodes, "Martin and the Dog", "I''ll Get You!" and "Have a Sandwich!" will also be uploaded some day. ("I'll Get You!" is the one I'd really like to see again.) I think this series says a lot about Sweden and Great Britain in the Seventies.

P.S. There was another Swedish school TV series entitled Switch On which starred a pre-fame Leslie Ash. And I also remember seeing an episode of another, similar series, the name of which escapes me, in which David Van Day of Dollar (way before his Dollar days) had a bit part. Fancy that!

 

The early Eighties - what went wrong?

Published September 11, 2013

One of my hobbies is putting together my own compilations or even multi-disc “box sets” of a certain artist/band or along a certain theme. It might be everything from a single-disc compilation of the songs of Brill Building era song writers Barry Mann & Cynthia Weil (which turned out to be my favourite CD of 2006) or my 21-disc (whew!) box set of vintage disco tracks.

Lately I’ve devoted some time to putting together the perfect (for me) multi-disc compilation of early Eighties tracks. It’s been quite an emotional project. If you follow my admittedly intermittent blog posts, you already know that the Eighties is not my favourite decade in popular music, but that mostly applies to the mid-to-late Eighties. When the decade started I was 15 years old and really excited about all the new music that was coming out. It all seemed so futuristic and forward-looking, not to mention fun after a decade (the Seventies) that was often a bit drab – or at least seemed to be less colourful than the decade ahead of us.

But as the decade wore on, it turned out to be a disappointment, in so many ways. Not the least of my disappointments were all the bands that promised so much when the decade started and then just failed to live up to all that. Remember, I grew up in the Seventies, when most of the acts released an album EVERY year (a minor distraction such as a world tour sometimes got in the way, forcing them to skip a year). My favourite band, Wings, were among them as, indeed, were ABBA

But look at some of my favourite acts that broke through in the early Eighties. The Human League took three years to follow up their amazing Dare album, and by then much of the momentum was gone. Soft Cell had hardly achieved a breakthrough before they split up. ABC released their fantastic The Lexicon Of Love album – and then destroyed their career by deciding to go “rock” on their next album. Yawn. I could go on. The point is: most of these acts failed to follow up on their initial excitement. Then, of course, as 1984 rolled around, it was all over. Everyone grew a mullet. Everyone started wearing looong coats. Everyone became histrionic, if not always in sound then at least in attitude. Production values (if values is even an applicable concept) turned to (avert your gaze, sensitive readers) overblown shit.

But those first few years of the decade were magic. Which brings me back to my Early Eighties box set. Compiling this thing got me thinking about some of the artist featured heavily in it, and I ended up researching their fates on the Internet. Many of the results made me kind of sad. Take Midge Ure, for instance. Although I loved ‘Vienna’ and liked several other Ultravox hits, I always felt they were, well, a little pretentious, what with Mr Ure’s silly moustache, his somewhat affected/mannered singing style, and the slightly over-blown lyrics. But now, 30 years later, I find myself obsessing on the career of Midge Ure. The sheer ambition of the man, the wanting-to-try-all-kinds-of-things, just impresses me so much. Consider this, from just the first few years of the Eighties: he co-wrote Yellow Pearl for Phil Lynott, joined Ultravox and sang on ‘Vienna’ and all their other hits, was a driving force in Visage, recorded a single with Mick Karn of Japan – and I’m sure several other things I’m forgetting now. And what was his fate? Because of financial mismanagement and a bit of bad luck, he ended up bankrupt. He is also a recovering alcoholic. How unfair is that?

It seems to be the fate of few acts from that era, at least the ones I cared about, to have ended up wealthy and content. None of the acts mentioned in this blog so far are particularly well off financially, as far as I’m aware. And what about bands such as The Thompson Twins? Never a critics favourite, and not exactly my favourite either, I do quite like some of their songs. I looked up this clip on Youtube in which their leader Tom Bailey says that, “We didn’t really deserve to be that successful.” Can you imagine any other star with a string of hit singles and platinum album sales to his credit saying that? It made me feel kind of sad.

But back to Midge Ure and Ultravox (I said I was obsessed, didn’t I?). I never bought their albums back in the day, nor most of their singles, and so this track somehow passed me by. Now it’s something I keep returning to on what seems like a daily basis. Why? I don’t know. I'm not even sure it's such a good song, but for some reason it hits a nerve in me. Probably something about being a teenager in the early Eighties. I’ll save that analysis for another blog. (Note: The video is kind of crap, so ignore the visuals, and just listen to the music.)

 

The Word is no more

Published June 30, 2012


Sad news yesterday: David Hepworth of The Word announced that the magazine will fold after the next issue. Reading news stories about its demise, I was shocked to learn that there were only 25,000 of us reading The Word. I’m not ashamed to admit that I experienced a moment of genuine grief when I heard the news: for me, it was a highlight when this mix of music, literature, film and cultural and media commentary arrived in my mailbox each month.

As Hepworth has written elsewhere, the future of music magazines looks very bleak indeed: too many music consumers these days feel that they can get all the information they need on the Internet, and with diminishing advertising budgets at record companies, meaning that an important chunk of financing has been taken away from these monthlies, it seems to be a negative spiral that can only have one final result. For me personally, the death of The Word means that the world just became a little less like I want it to be, something, admittedly, that middle-aged people probably have experienced since time immemorial.

When The Word first appeared on newsstands back in 2003, I will admit that I ignored it, feeling that I didn’t have the time for yet another music monthly. It was only when I bought an issue in...whatever year it was and read this opinion piece by David Hepworth that I realised that I had to buy every issue of this magazine (I soon started subscribing). I urge you to read it (it has a tiny ABBA reference in it as well). It's the kind of thing you will seldom read elsewhere.