Thursday, 27 September 2007

That eBay Thang

Who else remembers the carefree halcyon days of eBay, when you could get just about anything you wanted; rare bootleg CDs, unofficial DVDs of concerts recorded from the crowd, Nazi memorabilia, even a bit of under the counter smut -- it was all there!

Then two or three years ago, eBay started to get tough, and 'inappropriate' listings were removed….. eventually. To the shrewd seller it was a small inconvenience, as a carefully timed auction (lasting no longer than three days) usually completed before the eBay police spotted it. But in the last year or so, nothing. How did eBay get so shit hot at spotting snide listings? With something like 4 million auctions on the go at any one time, I find it incredible that they can now weed them so accurately and effectively. I don't know what they've done, but I'm pleased to see that there are some sellers out there still trying to get one over on them.

eBay may now have the inappropriate listings sewn up, but the inappropriate accompanying photo appears to be the last remaining thorn in their side. There are always a large number of innocent looking auctions on eBay, but buyers beware, there is a growing trend for sellers to 'accidentally' photograph themselves in the nude in the accompanying picture. The goods in question here are usually (but not always) silver/chrome kitchenware with a high polish finish. Look closer at the reflection in that toaster you had your eye on, are you sure you still want it??!

The craze now even has a name, reflectoporn, a sure sign that incidents are on the increase. eBay are powerless to stop this abuse, as exhibitionist's around the world target the biggest site on the net to, a-hem, offer their wares.

Always good to see the little man (and judging by some of the examples I've seen, the 'not so little' man) getting one over on the corporates, but sadly, the sterling silver sugar tongs that I won last week, will alas now never be used.

I urge you to click on the images posted here for a better view (the dining table is genius!), but beware, you'll never view eBay in quite the same way again!

Piley

Why not check out my second Reflectoporn article Reflectoporn The Return, here

Sunday, 23 September 2007

To The Mothmobile..

I can still remember the initial pride I felt when, flicking through the Sky channels, I stumbled upon some breaking news. This was the sort of reaction to a terrorist threat I wanted. Forget pissing about with scanners, x-rays and sniffer dogs, we now had Captain America, Batman and Robin on a rooftop in Downing Street and Spiderman keeping watch from the London Eye. Al Qaeda? Bollocks! But within seconds I was deflated…bloody fathers for justice.

Still, the thought of a real-life superhero does excite me. As a child in the 70’s, reading my monthly dose of American comic books (at that time, kindly shipped over by my aunt Winnie who had emigrated there), I used to really envy the crowds in those exciting comic strip panels. There would always be a large gathering, looking up from the street at the action going on about their heads. Fortunately (for the story at least), these onlookers were pretty vocal "woh! it's Spidey!" "his superhuman strength has enabled him to catch that aeroplane that had lost control" "he’s captured him single-handedly and is hanging him by his testicles from the flagpole" - well, I might have made that one up, but for regular Joe's, their conversations always seemed pretty descriptive, and who were they talking to anyway? But I digress… The point I'm trying to make is, just how cool would it be to have a real superhero in the neighbourhood? And with the ever increasing advances in technology and the world of science, I wonder just how long it will be before this is a reality?

There have been a few stories in the news recently which must have put a spring in the step of any budding Peter Parker or Bruce Wayne out there.

It’s been over seven years now since pig to human transplants commenced, but earlier this month, news broke that the creation of embryos that are part human and part animal would be given the go-ahead. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) have given the green light for UK scientists to, in layman's terms, place human DNA into an animal's egg. The story (unsurprisingly) caused outrage among many groups, on both moral and religious grounds, but it left me daydreaming of the creation of Pigboy, Mothman or even Tigergirl.

In April this year kryptonite was discovered! (I kid you not!) A mineral that nobody could identify was mined in Serbia, and a London expert was sent out to work on it. After extensive testing, it transpired that the formula of this mystery mineral exactly matched the makeup of the fictional rock that Superman is so afraid of (sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide).

Then, in August this year, perhaps the biggest breakthrough yet, scientists announced that it would be possible to create the gravity defying antics of Spiderman. Harnessing technology used by spiders and geckos (tiny hairs that stick to any surface), a suit that would enable a human to climb the walls of a building or hang upside down from a ceiling is now a reality. Well I'm putting me name down for one of these babies -- not sure if a life of crime fighting is quite me, but with a bucket and a good-quality chamois, surely I could revolutionise the world of window cleaning.

But then halfway through typing this blog it dawned on me, maybe I'm just not looking hard enough. Perhaps the superheroes are already out there, and guess what? They are! Just a few minutes with my good friend Mr Google brought the following to my attention:-

In Mexico City, Superbarrio is on the streets protecting the poor. He wears a fetching red and gold jumpsuit and a Mexican wrestling mask.

Iqaluit in Canada is the patch of Polarman. He specialises in clearing snow from people's drives, and prowls the streets late at night to avert danger for the good citizens of the town.

In New York, heroine Terrifica is the patron saint of pissed up ladies, as she cruises late-night bars and clubs dissuading men from taking advantage of the aforementioned women. Not only does this crime fighter have a pretty nifty outfit (red jumpsuit, golden eye mask, blonde wig, Valkyrie bra, red boots and a cape), she also dons a utility belt containing pepper spray, condoms, a mobile phone, lipstick, digital camera (for photographing any potential predators) and packs of Smarties.

These are just a few of the many real-life superheroes that are out there -- there is even a website where they can register their alter egos:

http://www.worldsuperheroregistry.com/world_superhero_registry_gallery.htm

It surely is only a matter of time now before you and I will be straining our necks to the sky shouting "Woh! Daddy Long-Legs Boy has captured the evil Chav, who was using a mobile phone whilst driving….".

Till then, tune in next time Bat Fans, same Bat Time, same Bat Channel.

Piley

Read more Piley musings on real life superheroes here, in my article 'No More Heroes'

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Marc Bolan - A Tribute

Ever since I can remember, I have been a fan of Marc Bolan. I got a copy of ‘Metal Guru’ on 7 inch single for my sixth birthday in 1972, and used to have a right old rave up on the living-room floor to it (and still do when I can get the air and alcohol mixture just right!). So as a lifetime fan, and on today of all days, I thought it was time for a long overdue visit to the site where Bolan lost his life.

It was in the early hours of Friday, 16th of September 1977, that Bolan and his American girlfriend Gloria Jones (who had a hit with 'Tainted Love' in 1964) were travelling home in his purple mini 1275GT. Jones was at the wheel, she lost control and hit a tree at Barnes Bridge in Barnes, London. Marc was killed instantly, Gloria was severely injured but survived, and once she had recovered, returned to America.

So this morning, my partner Julie and I set off to visit the site of that fatal accident, exactly 30 years to the day since it happened.

We arrived just after midday, and although the shrine hides down a small, quiet lane (you have to park in a nearby road and finish the journey on foot), the closer you got to it, there seemed to be a real atmosphere in the air. The first thing that hit me, was the range of ages paying their respects. Middle-aged men and women, small children, old age pensioners, and even some rubber clad twentysomething cyberpunks - but that just about summed Bolan up, as even in the 70s (a time when there were great divides in music, and you weren't allowed to cross them), his appeal was surprisingly wide. There was a constant flow of people turning up, and apparently they had been doing so since 5 a.m. this morning (the actual time of the crash).

The shrine that has grown here over the years is really impressive, and we were really taken with the look and feel of the site, and the love and care that has obviously gone into its upkeep. But this hasn't always been the case. 12 years ago, the site was described by magazine review as "more like a shit hole than a shrine". The Marc Bolan club TAG (T.Rex Action Group) really should be commended for everything they have done to change all that. In the late 1990s it was announced that the tree was due to be felled, and as a direct result of this news, TAG was formed in 1999 by Fee Warner. Her work has been tireless and within a year of its creation, TAG had become the legal leaseholder of the 'Bolan tree' site, including full ownership and responsibility for the tree itself. In 2002 Fee paid for a bronze bust of Bolan to be created and placed at the site (and unveiled by Bolan's son Rolan, on the 25th anniversary of Marc’s death). Then in 2005, TAG funded the installation of five memorial plaques at the site. 4 to commemorate members of T.Rex who have passed away (Mickey Finn, Dino Dines, Steve Currie and Steve Peregrin Took) and another in memory of June Bolan, Marc's ex-wife.

You couldn't help but be moved by the genuine show of love all around -- notes, cards, flowers, posters, all from fans still touched by Bolan's life, here in the 21st century.

It was only a few weeks ago that we were remembering another legends passing 30 years ago, Elvis Presley. But I wonder how many other artists will still have the love and affection that was obviously on show today, 30 years on.



Weird Stuff

1. Bolan once told Gloria Jones that he didn't expect to see 30. He died two weeks before his 30th birthday.

2. A copy of the NME was found inside the wrecked car, it was open on an interview with Pete Townsend. The headline was titled 'Hope I die before I get old'.

3. Bolan never learnt to drive, as he feared he would die young in a car crash. Indeed he had had visions for most of his life of this happening.

4. In the song 'solid gold easy action' are the following lines:
a woman from the east with her headlights shining,
eased my pain and stopped me crying.
and
Easy as picking foxes from a tree

(the registration of Bolan's purple Mini 1275 GT was FOX 661L)

Below is a quick movie file I took at the site today (you can also click on the two photos above, to see them in a larger format):

video


You can find out more about the work of TAG here:
http://www.marc-bolan.org/

Marc's Slider album made my 'Best of 2007' list, yeah I know that sounds weird! but you can read about it here

Piley

Saturday, 15 September 2007

Frank Skinner Live Review

Frank Skinner Live at The Towngate Theatre, Basildon - 13th Sept 2007.

I will confess, as a comedian, I have always liked Frank Skinner. Having caught glimpses of him without his stage persona on (the South Bank Show special and in parts, his autobiography), I'm not totally convinced he's quite the likeable, happy-go-lucky Brummie that he trys to portray. Indeed, a small slice of tonight’s show seems to catch him with his guard down and confirm these thoughts, but more on that later.

I go back a long way with Frank (real name Chris Collins), and will always have a soft spot for him. He used to be one of the resident comperes at my local comedy club (The Joker) back in the late 1980s/early 1990s (the other resident compere at that time was Lee Evans -- not a bad night out for a fiver!). Frank really got involved with the Southend crowd and there were running gags with certain hecklers that spanned dozens of shows. We saw them all come and go at The Joker, but Frank was one of the acts you always knew would make it. To be honest it was a double edged sword, you wanted him to get on because he deserved it, but in a more selfish kind of way, you wanted him to remain undiscovered, so he could stay at the Joker forever!

By the mid-90s he was doing regular large-scale tours on his own, but these ended abruptly after the 1997 tour (which played over 100 dates and ended with a 6000 seater sell out show at Battersea Power Station). I remember the 1997 tour well -- I went to the first or second night and it was the day after Princess Diana died. If you can remember back to the mood of what seemed like the whole country at that point, it must have been a daunting start for Skinner "I always like to start my comedy tours when the country is in national mourning" were his first words..

So live performances went by the wayside at the first opportunity. Unlike some stand-ups who seem to live to perform live (Ross Noble is a good example), Frank always seemed to be using his comedy act as a route into other avenues. Personally I have always felt that he was a frustrated singer, he never misses a trick, and tries to shoehorn in a song whenever possible (despite that awful nasal whine of his!). So as soon as TV came knocking, his live act became redundant.

So why after 10 years is he back on the road? I'm sure the official answer will be "missing the excitement of a live audience" or "giving my creativity of chance to blossom and write new material", however my guess is, the TV work has dried up a little, and there is a pension fund that could do with a top up.

Indeed it is his aging years that turn up as a reference time and time again throughout tonight’s show. Frank has always seemed one of those people desperate not to grow old, however at 50 he’s looking like he may finally have come to terms with the fact he’s not 20 anymore – he seems comfortable with himself and has even allowed his hair to go grey. If however if you are expecting a more ‘grown up’, age conscious Frank Skinner to deliver more insightful and thought-provoking comedy, you'd be disappointed. This is Skinner as he has always been; rude, crude, outrageous at times, non PC…. oh, and very funny!

His stand-up persona has always been a little at odds with his material, his 'cheeky chappie', mainstream delivery to me, harks back to people like Tarbuck or even Brucey. Yet the content (as was always the case) can be extremely close to the knuckle and uncomfortable at times. Many site Ricky Gervais as the new-age comedian who has instigated the return of the non PC stand up routine (albeit in an ironic way). Yet Skinner has been the master of this all along -- and his new material on display today will make you wince and squirm every bit as much as it ever did.

It was all here tonight -- Paedophilia ("when I grew up in the 1960s and 70s, kids used to run everywhere, they'd never walk. We had paedophiles around in those days, but they could never catch us. Now today with all this childhood obesity….."), his discovery and love of granny porn, having 'one night stand' sex with a fan only for her two-year-old daughter to walk in during the act, Muslims, disability, and indeed, Muslims with disability, as Abu Hamza also came in for the Skinner treatment ("having two hook hands would be too much to bare for many people, but fortunately, he likes corn on the cob"). Like Gervais, it's all about the delivery -- and they both seem to be able to get away with murder by the way they load and fire the gag. You can't take it seriously (although it was interesting to note a number of empty seats in the second half, so maybe some DID) and the irony of it can't fail to hit you in the face - something that was/is missing from a lot of the old school 70s comedians (the Bernard Mannings, Jimmy Jones’ and Jim Davidson's of this world), where the delivery just seemed to confirm they truly believed the bile they spat.

Over two hours of new material flew by, but it was the closing segment that seemed to just peel back a layer or two. Skinner was explaining what an insecure boyfriend he makes, manically fussing over the non-arrival of text messages and then when they do arrive, panicking that the affirmation of love is not clear or strong enough ("no fucking kiss at the end"). As he continued, it was interesting to note that the ever present cheeky grin of Skinner's had gone, and for the first time there seemed to be a genuine look of anguish on his face. His delivery had also changed, from the upbeat 'laff-a-minute' style, to an intense, uncomfortable, tearing at the soul, as though he were confessing to a counsellor rather than an audience. The sketch went on perhaps a little too long (but then tonight’s show is one of the first of the tour, and no doubt some fine tuning is still to take place), and was not particularly funny, but it was certainly very interesting, and I felt there was perhaps more truth in this segment than any of his previous material, and the portrayal of an insecure, manically obsessed, loveless 50 year old may have been closer than he'd like to admit.

Had he finished on that note, I think the audience may have walked out looking a bit bemused, but fortunately he was back for a quick encore, and yes you guessed it…it was a bloody song!

So on the whole, a strong return to the stand-up scene. His material has not particularly matured, but perhaps he finally has?

Details of the tour and ticket availability (not many by the looks of things!) can be found here:-

http://www.frankskinnerlive.com/tickets.php

Piley

Thursday, 13 September 2007

When Bands Go Bad

Marriage\relationships tend to go one of four ways:-

1. It starts off all lovey dovey, but slowly your partner gets bored\disillusioned and bails out
2. As above, but it’s YOU that bails out
3. You stick it out to the bitter end, but neither party are interested or happy
4. It really was the love of your life, and you have fun, fun, fun right to the end of the ride.

Well unfortunately, options 1, 2 and 3 are fairly common, but fortunately, there is real help out there to get you through these tough times (Relate\Marriage Guidance\counselling services, stuff like that). But shouldn’t these services widen their horizons and help out those REALLY in need – the music fan? Ok, let me explain..

It’s a regular story of boy (or girl) meets band (or artist), boy (or girl) falls in love with band. They may be brand new or just new to you, but you discover em and you totally dig what they do -- the songs are fresh, exciting, the band look amazing and there is a real passion that comes across. You get yourself along to as many gigs as you can, and before too long, you are love sick! It’s like they've formed just for your enjoyment. You start, picking up all sorts of merchandise (official and otherwise), and before you know it you’ve got half a dozen T-shirts, a nice selection of badges and a coffee mug and mouse mat for work. Everything is cool though, everyone knows where you are at, and it doesn't matter if others like the band or not, this band represents you and stands for everything you do, so fuck you!

But then…

they do the dirty on you
The first signs that all is not well is the first iffy single that creeps out, causing a mild sweat. Then the new press photos start to appear.. shit! they changed their look, I hate that look! Then, to cement the misery, the awful new album. Of course by then it's too late! Everyone now knows you like that band, cos you’ve been wearing those bloody T-shirts every day and spouting off to anyone who’ll listen about “the connection between me and the band, man”. So now when everyone hears these new songs, they assume you must like them. There's a sudden urge to clarify to everyone you know (and quite a few of those you don't) the exact period of the band's career you are into. You feel betrayed, hurt and cheated by the band, what did you do to deserve this? And you resent the fact they’ve made you look a right charley at work. The shirts go to the back of the wardrobe, the mousemat ends up in the stationery cupboard at work and that mug goes in the guest cups draw for when the area manager turns up (nobody likes him).

you do the dirty on them
Well they think it’s real love, and they want nothing more than to carry on pleasing you forever. But you’ve started to lose interest… that 3rd album DID sound a bit like the 2nd one (and that was a rip off of the 1st). They send you regular love letters (AKA myspace bulletins and e-mailshots), but unlike those early days when you’d even print em off for posterity, you’ve not even bothered to open the last few “stop harassing me ya boring bastards”... Easier to handle than the 1st scenario, as you are calling the shots, you tell them that you can still be friends, and you’ll definitely keep in touch – but within a week you’ve sold all the CDs on e-bay for a quid.

The loveless marriage
The pain can only intensify when bands linger on too long. Refusing to do the decent thing as they desperately hang on, despite having long since exhausted any creativity. Ask just about any fan of a band that’s been kicking around for 30+ years and they’ll tell ya it’s a living hell. I know two big Status Quo fans, and both of them tell me they have been shit since the mid-1980s. But that's over 20 years ago! Yet they continue to sell out their tours and shift respectable amounts of CDs. So who is attending these shows and buying these CDs exactly? Well, mainly long-haired bald men (no, that wasn’t a typing error!), all apologising profusely and clarifying the years that the band “really rocked”. You can’t miss them, they always seem to be looking at the floor, which is either embarrassment, or they’re keeping an eye out for the plug of the life support machine, so they can accidentally kick it out and end everyone’s pain and suffering. To add even further to the turmoil, the anal retentive collectors of us out there (I’m one of em!) will also feel morally obliged to keep on buying any crap they continue to release 'for the collection' and it's all been sitting there for 20 years, unplayed!

When we’re stuck in this position why do we carry on the suffering? Why can’t we just say “well, thanks for the ride guys, but this just isn't any fun anymore. We had a blast but it’s over”. A quickie divorce (irreconcilable differences), but still on friendly terms for the sake of the CDs.

But lets finish this post on a positive note..

the love of your life!
Those bands that have stuck with you, they changed, they matured, they experimented, and you loved every bloody minute of it! Fantastic.


Bands I’ve done the dirty on:-

The Fall - “erm, it’s not you, it’s me. I know I said I loved you, but maybe I was just saying that to try an look cool?? You really are quite dull and fairly unlistenable aren’t you??”

Oasis - ditto

Pet Shop Boys - we parted company a very long time ago now, but it must have been me wot did the dirty, because they sound exactly the same 25 years on!

Erasure - ditto!!!

The Darkness -shit, it wasn’t funny, clever or ironic after all was it?


Bands who did the dirty on me:-
Kings of Leon - I know more people like them now, but the last 2 albums sound embarrassing to me… sent em a text and said they were “dumped”

The Mission - from Goth Gods to Dance Dunces in one easy move. Criminal. I said I thought I’d “left the gas on”, and I’d be “right back”. That was the late 80’s, I guess they are over it now..

Rolling Stones - They seemed to turn into your dad over night

Bands I have a loveless marriage to:-
Alice Cooper - I love the guy, and he was a genius for SO long. Then there was the terrible ‘poodle rock’ era, and some pretty bad metal albums after that. But he JUST does enough to keep you hanging on. 2001’s ‘Dragontown’ album sounded like nine inch nails, and it was actually ok, but was filed away within the week. I still pick up every new album though.

Bands I’ve enjoyed the whole ride with:-
The Damned - more changes (in both line up and style) than you can shake a stick at, but just about every one a winner. 31 years on they are still out there, still doing it. The last album was their 1st official release for over 15 years, and I was dreading it, but it was an instant classic, with nods in style to many of their classic moments

Marc Almond - legend. The guy has been doing it since 1980 and has never slipped into that ‘cashing in on the past’ mode of terrible 80’s nostalgia tours. Always pushing the boundaries and each new album has a new direction. From glam rock to Russian folk songs, he’s done it all. His live shows are hard to beat too

Blur - always interesting, and always innovative. Talk of a reform (with Graham Coxon) in the coming months can only be good news. Hard to believe now that Oasis were considered the ‘big winner’ of the Brit Pop war.

Sparks - again, always entertaining, and never resting on their laurels. Ron and Russell continue to really care about their music

Iggy Pop - has this guy ever made a bad record? Well one or two probably, but what a star. Never sold out, still credible even though he’s in his 60’s. You’ll never see the Igg-ster fall for the lure of money at the expense of his art

David Bowie - we had a little lovers tiff in the 80’s, but he came back, and his last few solo albums have been quality. Another one who still cares about what he does. He cold be like Sting and just bash out any old nonsense and watch the money come in, but he still tries. If you haven’t heard them, recent albums such as Hours (1999), Heathen (2002) and Reality (2003) are Bowie back on form.

So there you have it – it aint easy following a band. What bands are in your lists?


Piley

Monday, 10 September 2007

Hello and Welcome!

Hi there to you,

Maybe you are a personal friend, checking out my blog, perhaps you followed a series of links and ended up here, maybe it was random surfing, or did you MEAN to click on the curvy temptress above me and miss?? however you got here, welcome, why not spend a few minutes clickin around, and perhaps pop back from time ta time.

I have a lot to write about (music, films, books, comics, life...) and some quirky ideas that i'd like to share with you.

Hope to see ya back here real soon!

Piley