Monday, 28 July 2008

Conclusive proof... The Internet is Great!

As a wee nipper in the 70's, I was a bugger for a bit of kids TV. In these days of multiple channels devoted to the little ones, it's hard now to remember what kids TV was like in those days... but 'limited' would probably sum it up quite well. During the week it was no more than an hour at lunchtimes (with programmes such as Rainbow, Pipkins, Little Blue... Issi Noho and Animal Kwackers anyone??!), and a couple of hours after school (Blue Peter, Magpie, How?, Grange Hill, Rentaghost, The Ghosts of Motley Hall, Barbapapa, Runaround, Record Breakers, The Tomorrow People, The Double Deckers etc etc). The Beeb would normally finish off with a five minute'er (like The Magic Roundabout, Ivor the Engine, Noggin the Nog) before that boring programme that dad liked came on. What was it's name again... ah 'The News' that's right.

The only time for a mini TV addict like myself to really 'fill me boots' was during school holidays and sometimes on Sunday mornings, where hours of fun awaited. The love of all things nostalgic has ensured that most of the popular kids programmes (certainly the majority of the ones I've mentioned above) have been preserved for posterity with books, websites and\or DVDs available to relive your childhood. But what about the ones that got away?

I'm sure ITV used to save all the best stuff for weekday afternoons - and any 'ol pony they weren't sure about was palmed off on us committed Sunday viewers (anyone remember the Sunday cracker - The Funky Phantom??!). One programme I vividly remember in that slot was a mad cartoon series called 'Tomfoolery'. Even at the time I don't think many watched it, as nobody at school ever mentioned it. This surreal show featured nonsense rhymes, poems, jokes, sketches and general oddness, that could only have come from the brain of a bunch of whacked out students. In my memory it was like a cross between the Banana Splits, Monty Python and Spike Milligan's Q.

I never found another person who'd heard of this show until a chance conversation with a mate in the mid-80's. At last, someone else remembered it. Who was it? none other than Mr Planet Mondo himself! I had remembered characters such as The Yongy Bonghy Bo and The Unmbrageous Umbrella Maker, where as Mondo was keen on the weekly 'running gag' of some fella wandering around trying to deliver a large plant shouting 'Plant for Mrs Discobolus!'.... erm, you probably had to be there. My chat with Mondo got me all fired up again about this show, but in those pre-internet days, your options were fairly limited.

I'm rather ashamed to admit it, but when i very first got my hands on this new fangled 'inter-computer-web-net' thing (mid 90's?), 'Tomfoolery' was the first word I ever typed into a search engine! But it seemed that bar Mondo and me, the rest of the world had forgotten about it too, and all my searches brought up links to various on-line dictionaries and thesauruses providing me with handy definitions of the word. I continued to search for it every so often, but never with any success, and eventually, even I forgot about it.... Until this weekend that is! On Saturday I was messing around on-line and BING! 'Tomfoolery' comes into my head... no idea where that came from! So i immediately punch it into Google and... yes!! at last, people did remember it after all! Within minutes I'd gained pretty much all the info I needed..

Made by Rankin-Bass, much of 'The Tomfoolery Show' was based on poems by Edward Lear, Ogden Nash, Frank Gelett Burgess and Lewis Carroll. As well as the characters I mentioned above, others included the straw hatted and bow-tied 'Scroobious Snake', the Enthusiastic Elephant (who spoke like W.C. Fields), and the Fastidious Fish (who lived in a goldfish bowl and moved around on stilts!!). 17 episodes were made between September 1970 and September 1971, and although an American cartoon, it was actually made here in England (at the Halas and Batchelor Studios in London and Stroud). Just when I thought it couldn't get any better, I found a full ten minutes worth on YouTube, complete with opening credits! I've not seen this programme for about 35 years, but as soon as I watched that clip it seemed like only yesterday - I remembered it so clearly!

But the best was still yet to come... during my searches I stumbled on a Rankin-Bass historian - Rick Goldschmidt. Rick runs a website devoted to locating and preserving all of the works released by Rankin-Bass (which, as it turns out, it quite some list... they were also responsible for the Jackson 5 cartoon and the Osmonds one too). A couple of e-mails wizz back 'n forth, and within 24 hours, he's sending me a DVD containing the only 4 episodes of Tomfoolery that have so far been unearthed (Rick got these directly from the archives).

The internet may be great for shopping, blogging, keeping up-to-date with bands and global sports events, but this weekend it finally showed me its full potential.

Anyone else remember this show? Or have you got a show that only you seem to remember??

Oh, and here is that ten minute YouTube clip!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Cheesy Choonsday: Salena Jones and John Schroeder

Another couple of winners from the vaults here at Piley Towers.

First up is American singer Salena Jones. Today Salena is best known for her jazz versions of standards and classics (she's still recording and has notched up over 40 albums), but in the 1960's she was a funky hit on this side of the Atlantic. Her first two albums ('The Moment of Truth' and Everybodys Talkin About Selena Jones') were both produced by Cheese legend Keith Mansfield, and he gave both a solid 'swingin London' feel. Have a listen to 'Right Now' from her debut album.

The second track is from John Schroeder, and his Hammond frenzied version of 'Papas Got A Brand New Bag'. I'm not sure how successful Schroeder was in his day (although he did wright 'Walkin Back To Happiness' for Helen Shapiro), but he was one of the big names in the Cheesy Listening revival. This track is taken from his 1966 groove-fest 'Working in the Soul Mine'.


Sunday, 20 July 2008

Who's Gonna Watch the Watchmen?

If you’ve followed my old wafflings for a while, you’ll already know that if there is one thing that makes me jittery, it’s movie adaptations of comic books\graphic novels.

I’m not really bothered about the films that feature characters from comics (your Batman’s, Hulk’s, Spiderman’s, Superman’s etc etc). The stories for these are usually developed especially for the movie, so if they suck, it doesn’t really taint your comic book enjoyment of these chaps. No, the ones that make me nervous are the adaptations of specific stories - fuck those up on the big screen and you also soil the original comic.

Take ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’ for example, one of my all time favourite comic books. A really clever and intelligent story, beautifully written and drawn, and one I’ve re-read many times. Unfortunately the film of it was a ‘dumbed down’ turkey of the highest order. This pisses me off on two accounts….

1) It taints the original comic. I now can’t read the book without thinking of that god-awful film.
2) It gives non-comic readers more ammo to take the piss (like they need any more ammo!), as they naturally assume that the comic was equally as naff.

Nearly 25 years ago, Alan Moore (story) and Dave Gibbons (art) invented the ‘graphic novel’, when their 12 issue masterpiece ‘The Watchmen’ was collected into a 400 page book. This incredible deconstruction of the superhero, revolutionised the comic genre, prising it away from what was until then almost exclusively ‘kids territory’.

In an alternative USA in 1985, superheroes are all but extinct - after a police strike, a law was passed banning all lycra clad do-gooders from interfering with crime solving. Forced to hang up their capes, the superheroes have gone into retirement. One of them (The Comedian) gets murdered, and rebel Rorschach starts to investigate.

Moore pulls out every trick in the bag - flashbacks, autobiography excerpts and magazine articles all go into the mix to bring this story to life. As the story develops, we start to learn that many of these caped wonders were not the all-American heroes they tried to portray. They have skeletons in the closet, hang-ups and personal problems… I.e. they are real people! There is a very clever sub-plot involving a "traditional style" comic book about pirates which merges in and out as the story progresses. You’ve got to keep your wits about you on this one!

And it’s this intricate story telling in the Watchmen, that has kept it off the cinema screen for all these years. 3 or 4 attempts were made, but each one was eventually abandoned as the makers slowly realised it was impossible to transfer it to celluloid. In 2001, Alan Moore said of these attempts "With a comic, you can take as much time as you want in absorbing that background detail, noticing little things that we might have planted there. You can also flip back a few pages relatively easily to see where a certain image connects with a line of dialogue from a few pages ago. But in a film, by the nature of the medium, you're being dragged through it at 24 frames per second."

But it looks like the latest attempt to make it into a film (due for release in 2009) is actually going to make it, and this weekend the very first trailer hit the net. As opposed as I am to the making of this film, I have to say this taster looks pretty decent - but then who ever saw a trailer that didn’t look promising??! Alan Moore is still not impressed, he has already had his name removed from the film, and recently said “I shan't be going to see it. My book is a comic book. Not a movie, not a novel, a comic book. It's been made in a certain way, and designed to be read a certain way: in an armchair, nice and cozy next to a fire, with a steaming cup of coffee."

If you’ve never come across the Watchmen, do yourself a favour and give it a go in the way Alan Moore wanted you to - in the comic medium (and don't forget the fire and the coffee!). It’s still in print, and even the local library usually caries a copy. It’ll change the way you view comics forever.

Here's that trailer:


Monday, 14 July 2008

The Line-Up From Hell

The premier venue in Southend for all the biggest shows is the Cliffs Pavillion (this is no tin-pot affair either, it must be a 1500 seater). Located less than 4 miles away from Piley Towers, it's the ideal theatre to have a few pints and still be home in no time... Well it would be if they ever had anything decent on! I've been going to shows here for over 30 years, but it really is the odd little nugget in a vast field of shite (if I'm there more than twice in one year it's a miracle). The crazy thing is, they are preaching to the converted here - i love nothing better than a night out at the theatre, and where more convinient than the one on your doorstep? Yet they rarely provide me with anything to make me spend my money. Like a fool I always get excited when their booklet of upcoming shows drops through the letterbox... yet minutes later it's thrown in the bin with disgust. Even before you open it you know what it'll contain:

  • at least 4 or 5 tribute acts, one of which is ALWAYS an Abba one
  • a few shit musicals
  • a few old fossils you though had died years ago
  • a smattering of racial hatred (allegedly!)
  • a few shows that just sound terrible
  • and a partridge in a pear tree....
The new booklet that has just arrived is no exception, and the above categories are ably filled by:

  • 'One Night of Queen', 'Elvis is in the Building', 'The Illegal Eagles', 'They Will Rock You - Rod Stewart and Tina Turner' and (of course!) 'Abba Mania'.
  • 'Hello Dolly' with Anita Dobson, 'The Jungle Book', 'Fiddler on the Roof' with Joe McGann, 'Shout' with Claire Sweeney and Sue Pollard, 'All The Fun of The Fair' with David Essex (love the insightful line in the book which informs us that this new musical is "inspired by Davids debut album 'All The Fun of The Fair' as the words of the title suggest" well thanks for clearing that one up for us!).
  • Joe Pasquale, Chas and Dave, Jane McDonald, The Drifters, Derek Acorah, Level 42 and Steve Steinmans 'Vampires Rock' (special guest Toyah Wilcox as the devil queen)
  • Jim Davidson, Roy Chubby Brown.
But this time they have excelled themselves, and i think I've spotted the worst line up ever. Entitled "Best of British Variety Tour 2008", this show is undoubtedly the work of the devil, featuring (and I quote) "the cream of variety entertainment" (surely one for the Trade Descriptions people if ever there was one). So who have we got lined up then??

Cannon and Ball, Paul Daniels, Frank Carson, Jimmy Cricket, Brotherhood of Man and the fuckin' Krankies!!

Tickets for this laughter-fest are a 'fan-dabbi-dozy' £25, but i would genuinely pay someone that just so i didn't have to suffer it.
Anyone recall a worse line up?


Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Cheesy Choonsday: Sandie Shaw

Sandie Shaw will always be best known as the mop-topped, bare-footed winner of the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest, but there is a lot more to her musical career than you might think…

In 1969 she released her 5th album, ‘Reviewing The Situation’, which I stumbled on in a charity shop 20+ years later (I’m sure it was 10p!). It’s an album of wall to wall covers, and Sandie produced the whole thing herself. It’s quite a varid collection, going from the title track (from the Oliver soundtrack) thru to the Stones (a pretty good attempt at ‘Sympathy for the Devil’ but how could she forget to do the ‘woo-woos’??! – you find yourself putting them in to help her out!), via the Beatles, Dylan, Donovan, Lovin Spoonful, Rufus Thomas, Bee Gees and Led Zeppelin! - a stunning version of Your Time Is Gonna Come. In 2004 it finally got a CD release, and is well worth picking up.

By far the best two groovy cheesers are 'Love Me Do' and 'Reviewing The Situation', which are here for you to shake a leg to. I know you’re thinking the Oliver one will be shit, but trust me on this one ok?!

Love Me Do:

Reviwing The Situation:

And whilst I'm on a Sandie\Beatle-y buzz, here she is doing a 'fab four' medley:


Friday, 4 July 2008

Damn Fine Comic!

Earlier this year I was mourning the loss of the British comic (in the traditional sense), so imagine my excitement when on Friday 30th May, a brand new one was finally released!

The DFC is a spanking new weekly anthology comic (collecting strips both serious and funny), and is the brainchild of David Fickling (note: there is no official definition of DFC as yet, but with this piece of information in mind, it is likely to simply be the Dave Fickling Comic). You won't find this title in the local newsagent though... apparently people such as W.H. Smith's wants so much money for the privilege of putting your mag on their shelves, that the venture is simply no longer financially viable... David and Co therefore have taken distribution into their own hands, and the DFC is a subscription only comic, arriving on your doormat each and every Friday -- the perfect way to start the weekend!

So what's it like? Well for me it was a step back in time. If you are a child of the 60s, 70s or 80s you'll no doubt remember a time when kids were given a bit of credit. The anthology comics of our day (titles such as Action, Battle, Valiant, Lion, Warrior, Tiger) provided us with intelligent stories that continued to build over the months, and although they were predominantly aimed at a (male) teenage market, they were written well enough that Dad would often have a crafty read once you were tucked up in bed! Let's never forget that Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta (arguably the best ‘graphic novel ever written) started life as a continuing story in Warrior.

Aimed at 8 - 12-year-olds (boys AND girls), the DFC has tapped into this 'old school' approach, bringing a delightful selection of quality, varied strips, all written and drawn so well that this fortysomething thoroughly enjoyed every one of them to! The main stories are:

John Blake -- This is without doubt the flagship story for the DFC. A real coup for them too, as it's written by Philip (Golden Compass) Pullman. It is already building into a fascinating story, revolving around a ghost ship that sails the Pacific.

The Super Animal Adventure Squad -- delightfully silly story of crime-fighting animals doing battle against the evil Dr Nefarious! Younger kids will love this.

The Boss -- is shaping up to be a 21st-century 'famous five', as a bunch of school kids try to thwart the bad guys…

Monkey Nuts is by far the funniest story -- it actually made me laugh out loud! My all-time favourite 'funny' comic is Sergio AragonesGroo, and the Etherington Brothers certainly capture much of that same fun and madness in this story of good guys 'Monkey' and 'Robot' (who is an unwanted coffee vending machine!), and their efforts to defeat the Amazing Amazing! with some exceptional gags (both visual and written) en route..

Vern and Lettuce is top-quality fun about a sheep (Vern) and a rabbit (Lettuce). Again, sure to be a firm favourite of all the younger readers.

The Spider Moon looks to be an intriguing mystery, set to unravel throughout the summer. As it stands we're still not exactly sure how and why yet, but Bekka looks to be the only person who can save her doomed world and it's all somehow tied in with her sea diving exam. This one has me hooked!

Mo-Bot High follows new kid Asha on her first day at a new school, where she finds playground fights take on a completely new meaning…

Good Dog Bad Dog is the continuing story of two cop dogs (Bergman and McBoo) on a mission to rid the world of crime! Very original and very funny!

Add to this the odd irregular strip, jokes, quizzes and general madness and this is a real find. The production quality is also well worth a mention… This is nothing like the poor black and white newspaper quality comics we used to live on… beautiful, full colour pages on heavy stock paper, and a cardboard cover are the order of the day here... all wrapped up in a striking red and yellow striped envelope – you wont miss it when the postman calls that’s for sure!

It's difficult to liken this little gem to anything that has been before, the great mix of both dramatic and funny strips aimed at boys and girls evokes memories of a classic era (60s - early 70s) Buster. But whereas that title (and most other comics of that era) was aimed at a working class readership, the DFC has a definite middle-class air about it (imagine the stories of Buster mixed with the brain of the Eagle!). The audience this comic is aiming at are the kids (and parents) who are enjoying the new book revolution, the Harry Potter/Alex Rider/Young James Bond etc readers. And when you think what a massive market this is, it's amazing that it's taken so long for someone to tap into it with a comic.

The other thing I love about the DFC is the fact that it has morals (giving it yet another wiff of bygone days). Its sole aim is to bring quality storytelling to our youngsters -- there is no product placement, not a single advert and no tacky bits of 'free' plastic stuck to the front - just cover to cover stories and beautiful artwork. Something I really admire and I hope they will continue with it. In these days of 'dumbed down' culture, it's a breath of fresh air to see something produced for kids that is this good - and it works just as well with adults.

At £3 a week, the DFC is possibly straying from 'pocket money' territory, but if it helps to get kids interested in reading (and keeps ‘em quiet for an hour or two in the process!) that's got to be a bargain, right?!

If you've got little ones in the 8 - 12ish age range (or even if you don't!), why not give the DFC a go? You can buy a single issue to try (and all back issues are still available -- a service we only dreamed of when we were kids!).... but a six-month subscription is where the smart money is, bringing the price down to less than £2 an issue.

DFC may stand for Dave Fickling Comic, but in this household it's definitely Dad's Favourite Comic!

You can find out more about the DFC including how to buy\subscribe here