Sunday 28 February 2010

Podrophenia - Show 8... Family

Well, you may have thought it was safe by now, but just as we lulled you into a false sense of security, Mondo and I are back with our first Podrophenia podcast of 2010! With a new year upon us, it was an ideal time to re-evaluate the format and update some of the features... which we did, briefly, before deciding to keep with much the same 'ol stuff and unscripted nonsense as last year.. This time around the theme is 'Family', so why not invite Auntie Joan and your cousin Fred round for a listen?

As well as all the usual waffle, you'll find 10 tunes (all related by relations), our Newsround (featuring two family (ish) related stories), and not so much a Wood-Watch, more a Watch-Woods-Wood... It'll all make sense when you hear it (possibly).

You can listen to it right here:

Or if you prefer, download it here:
Podrophenia Show 8

You can also pick it up on iTunes here:
Podrophenia Show 8 on iTunes


Sunday 21 February 2010

A Bit Harsh?

Today we went to the Cash and Carry (for which I have a rather dubious ticket) to stock up on the 'professional' size packets of washing powder... They are the size of a small bungalow, but boy do we get through the stuff!!

The outrageous sizes of some of the professional 'catering' packets and containers never ceases to amaze (and amuse) me. I'm easily pleased, and there's nothing quite like a 5 litre jar of seafood sauce or English mustard to make me snigger... Check out these 10 litre (yes, TEN!) tubs of mayonnaise for example! These tubs are the same ones that professional painters and decorators buy of magnolia! I'd love to have one in the cupboard (with a teaspoon inside), just waiting for the day someone asks for a dollop of dressing on the side...

But I digress... whilst walking down the fizzy drink isle (yes, I WAS on my never ending quest for Root Beer!), I spotted these crates of Doctor Pepper... now I have to confess that this drink would never be at the top of my list, but i thought the labelling that the Cash & Carry had added was a little unfortunate, and unlikely to drum up sales either....


PS - sorry for the poor quality pictures, I only had my mobile phone with me...

Friday 19 February 2010

Hugh Cornwell - Live Review

I like to try and document the shows I go to, but there have been quite a few that have slipped under the bloggin' radar for one reason or another... Probably because

a) I had other posts on the go at the time, or
b) I couldn't quite be arsed!

Having now left it too long, much of the detail has now drifted away from my decaying noggin, leaving me with just a general overview of the event - but I'd like to log a few of 'em for posterity, and the delay might give a different slant on my usual style of review... So I'm going to try and drop a few of them in over the next few weeks. I'll start with the oldest one...

Hugh Cornwell Live at Basfest, 4th July 2009

I'll level with you, Basfest is no Glastonbury... hell, it's not even a Reading a Latitude or Guilfest. There is less of the on-site new age hippery and chilled atmosphere you have come to expect, and more undertones of violence and an unhealthy array of sexually transmitted disease tents (I actually did send a text to a mate saying "meet you by the chlamydia stall"). But Basfest is free, and very occasionally they will book an act worth turning out for. In 2008 we popped along to see the Bootleg Beatles (I didn't blog that one either!), which was officially Piley Jr's first ever gig. Basfest 2009 had the usual dire line up of tribute acts and talent show losers, but completely out of character with the rest of the acts was Mr Cornwell.

For all its faults, Basfest is very well run. Not interested in anything other than this one act we arrived around 5.15pm, drove straight on site and was directed by a helpful steward to a (free) parking space very close to the entrance. By the time we'd walked in a found a spot to sit it was about 5.40, and Hugh walked on 5 minutes later! Perfect!

What wasn't perfect though was the steady drift of people disappearing from the site from the moment he came on. Y'see 'ol Hugh has done it all wrong... He couldn't be bothered to apply for the X-Factor or some other reality TV show, and to me (and hundreds of other Basildon-ites by the looks of it) this shows his lack of ambition and lazy tendencies. Instead he took the easy route and cut corners via a 30+ year solid gold career consisting of no less that 26 album releases (incredibly 16 of those from his solo career). If you're not a singing dustman or a bunch of page 3 'stunnas' turned girlband, then frankly, Basildon is going to give you short thrift.

The exodus continued at an alarming rate, and after 3 songs I thought I'd try my luck at getting nearer to the stage to take some photos... and on doing so I walked straight to the barrier at the front of the stage! Scandalous! But those bare-chested red-faced locals heading for the kebab shop missed a real treat, as I have to say this performance was blinding. What a great performer Hugh Cornwell continues to be. His vocals and guitar playing were amazing and his between song banter was spot on. oh and the songs wern't bad either! Close your eyes and it could have been a 1977 Hugh up there... come to think of it, open your eyes (maybe squint just a little!) and it could have been a 1977 Hugh up there... The man can't have put an ounce on in the last 30 years. He's also been canny enough to build a rockin little outfit to support him. Caz Campbell (bass), and Chris Bell (drums) provide a powerful garage noise to complete the sound.

This was by no means a 'cashing in on the past' set either. Sure there were plenty of Stranglers classics on display, but there was just as much new material too. And I have to say the new songs were great. You could really see that Hugh believes in his latest work, as the intensity and passion of the performance of these tracks was very evident. He seemed genuinely excited about what he was doing.

I expected to come away from this gig pleased to have heard some classic Stranglers tunes... I did that, but my lasting memory was actually that I'd seen an artist with some bloody great new material. On returning home I fired up his official website and downloaded his new album (Hooverdam) for free, just as he had told us we could (and you can STILL get it for free there now). It may well have been free, but believe it or not this album is up there with some of the best of his career work.

So, not as good as Jedward or Olly Murs obviously, but if he sticks at it, I think Hugh Cornwell could make a go of this lark...
PS - since this gig took place I've read the excellent book "77 Sulphate Strip" by Barry Cain. The extensive 2007 interview with Hugh therein was a joy to read, and he comes over as a genuinely nice guy who remains every bit as passionate about his music as ever.


If you fancy listening to Hoverdam for yourself, why not pop over to the Official Hugh Cornwell Website, where you can download it for free.


Thursday 11 February 2010

Get Out Of That!

Thanks to bloggin buddy Dan (from the excellent Blog of Eternal Disappointment) who tipped me off about this one. Due to the fact this happened in the early 1900's there is virtually no record of this event. However whilst researching the Southend Odeon and Laurel and Hardy in Southend posts a few months back, I did stumble across a couple of small pieces of information, so for what it's worth, here it is....

The legendary escapologist Harry Houdini was a regular visitor to these shores and appeared in theatres all over the UK almost yearly from 1900 to 1914, giving well over 600 performances in the process. His one and only visit to Essex was in 1911 where he appeared at the Hippodrome, Southend from Monday 27th March until Saturday 1st April. It was a routine performance all week, except for Friday 31st March, when Houdini accepted a challenge by 4 Southend carpenters, who had built their own wooden box for him to attempt to escape from! Alas there is no record of whether he was successful or not, although I'm guessing that as there was a performance the following day, he was!

The Edwardian Southend Hippodrome on Southchurch Road was built by Bertie Crew and opened on the 8th of November 1909. It was built on four levels and the capacity of the theatre at that time was 1750. For a number of years, The Hippodrome was thought of as the best theatre in town, and attracted some of the biggest variety stars of the time including Flanagan and Allen, George Robey and Gracie Fields. Performances were twice nightly (6.50pm and 9.00pm) and admission prices were 3d, 6d, 9d, 1' and 1'6. Boxes were 10'6 and 15'.

In 1928 the Theatre was bought by Gaumont Theatres who used it for both films and live theatre until 1933 when the building was closed and converted to a Cinema only auditorium. The changes made were vast, and as well as the building itself undergoing substantial alterations, the pavement outside the theatre was also relaid, and a huge canopy built. It re-opened on the 15th of January 1934 as The Gaumont Palace with a capacity of 1588. The entrance was manned by commissionaires with peak caps and braided coats... it really must have looked like something out of 1930's Hollywood! The opening film was 'Meet My Sister' starring Clifford Mollison. In 1937 it was renamed simply The Gaumont.
In 1948 the Gaumont achieved its biggest attendance record when 22,000 people watched the Norman Wisdom film 'Trouble in Store' in the space of 7 days! In February of 1954, now under the control of the Rank Organisation, a major fire destroyed the former stage of the building but remarkably the Cinema was back open again the following day... imagine how long it would be out of action for these days! The Cinema closed on 20th October 1956 when Rank modernised the Ritz Cinema in Southend which they also owned. The final film to be shown there was 'A Hill in Korea' staring Stanley Baker.

So what's the classy Gaumont in Southend looking like these days I hear you cry?! Well here it is in all its glory, snapped by me just the other day....

Yes, just like all the other 16 cinemas that used to be in Southend at one time or another, it is no more. The building was demolished in 1958 and a supermarket was built on the site. In the 80's (and possibly early 90's) I remember this building being a Halfords (a serial offender for taking over ex-cinemas in the area), more recently it has been the HFC Bank, Walmsleys Furniture Superstore and a tatty Christmas Shop. Currently an odd YMCA cafe and tat-shop all rolled in to one.
Interesting to see that the building to the left still remains - you can just catch it in the corner of the Gaumont picture above, then a restaurant, now a Slug and Lettuce pub.

Thursday 4 February 2010

The Essex Brothers.... At Last!

Well, finally, here is the last chapter of the saga about those 40+ year old 'reel-to-reel' tapes that were found in a family members loft. The tapes were marked 'Mick and Don' which implied they could contain recordings of my late uncles who were a singing duo in the late 50's and early 60's (the full post of the first part of the story here).

After much investigation I found a place in East Acton who would be able to restore the tapes and transfer any recordings to CD. After baking the tapes for several days, the company phoned me to say they had found approximately two and a half hours of recordings on the tapes and offered to convert some or all of it to CD. No knowing how much (if any) of it was relevant, I asked them to go ahead and do the lot (the full post of the second part of the story here).

At the back end of 2009 I picked up the completed CD's, and I must admit that I was a little nervous when I finally came to play them.... The results were not quite what we were expecting, and it turned out a little bit 'good news\bad news'.... but boy, was the 'good news' part a shock! (for me anyway).

When we were told that there were two and a half hours of recordings on the two tapes, we naturally assumed that it would be two and a half hours of my uncles... sadly, it wasn't. There were family recordings of children reciting nursery rhymes, another family member playing the electric organ, and lots of random shows recorded off the radio... comedy programmes, chart rundowns etc etc All very interesting in its own way, but not quite what I was expecting! After over an hour there was no "Mick and Don". It suddenly dawned on us that perhaps these tapes once had them on, but were subsequently recorded over, leaving only a sticker on the box as a reminder of what they once contained.

I have to say I was getting rather anxious when after and hour and a half, the CD lurched into yet another show recorded off the radio... this time a BBC music show called 'The Talent Spot'. By this time I was only half listening, already convinced that no recordings of my uncles remained on the tapes.... then just as that moment, the host of The Talent Spot says these words....

"1961 was a great year in our business for brother singing teams. Of course the Everly Brothers were always near the top of the hit parade, and the Brook Brothers got into the hit parade. We on Talent Spot hope that 1962 will be a great year for two twin 19 year olds, who are about to make their very first broadcast right now. Ladies and Gentlemen, The Essex Brothers!"

It's them! It's really them!! singing a lively cover of 'Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen"! I never even knew that they had performed on the radio, and even if I had, I'd never of thought there would ever be a chance of hearing it, but here it was!! and considering it had been sitting hidden in a loft for over 40 years, the sound quality was great! But the best was still yet to come... All the acts on The Talent Spot performed two songs, and right at the end my uncles reappeared to play their second song....

"here now are The Essex Brothers with their own composition, and it's a very apt title for such a late stage in our show, Running Away!"

My dads face lights up, and a broad grin stretches from ear to ear.... "I wrote that for them" he calmly informs me!!! How come I never knew my dad wrote a song??!! One that was performed on national radio no less!!

After all these years of being told about my uncles being a singing duo, it was weird to finally hear what they sounded like. The name everyone used to say they sounded like was The Everly Brothers, and as it turned out that was pretty accurate, and the harmonies on these two performances were very 'Phil and Don'.

Since obtaining this recording, I've been busy creating CD's of the whole show for the family. This episode has also resulted in me hooking up with long lost cousin Mark (Don's son). Apparently we had met once before when we were nippers (and my father has the photographic evidence to prove it!), but neither of us remembers it. So it was an absolute pleasure to finally meet Mark and his family, and I look forward to keeping in good contact with them from now on.

In the downtime I've also registered my dad as a member of the Performing Rights Society (PRS), and formally logged him as the composer of 'Running Away'.

Well, there you have it! Not at all what we were expecting, but at the same time, far exceeding what we dared hope for. It was perhaps initially a little disappointing to only get two songs out of all that tape, but not in my wildest dreams did I expect to find a live broadcast of my uncles performing on national BBC radio!! Mondo summed it up brilliantly when I told him the news later that day... he said discovering an hour or two of home recordings would have been nice, but ultimately, may not have been something you would perhaps play over and over. However what we actually uncovered may well have been the highlight of their career, and it's now safely preserved in the family vaults at Piley Towers.

So, very nearly 50 years after it was first (and almost certainly last!) broadcast, here are The Essex Brothers!!

Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen:

Running Away:


Whilst sorting out his old records, my uncle Tony found a 78RPM single recorded by my uncles, as well as a small 5" 78RPM that they made in a recording booth on Southend seafront in the 1950's as teenagers (he also found another that my father recorded in the very same booth!). He also discovered a mini album that Mick recorded sometime in the 1960's.

My Uncle Alan too managed to locate a 78RPM recording of The Essex Brothers, containing the songs 'Takes a Worried Man', 'That'll be the Day' and another recording of 'Running Away'.

Meanwhile my cousin Mark is convinced that a copy of the album they made still exists in an attic somewhere, and has upped his search for it...
Mick's partner Kath has unearthed a collection of 11 cassettes of Mick singing in the 80's and 90's. I'm currently in the process of transferring them all to CD for her, and there is some fabulous stuff on them. Mick really did have a beautifully rich singing voice, which matured as he got older. The sound quality on these tapes is really good too. Kath also found this letter that was sent to the boys in March 1962, thanking them for attending an audition:
My father also recalled that the boys were booked by (and performed for) the Kray twins when they had a nightclub in Soho in the early 60's.


Since discovering these recordings I've done a little research into BBC radio at that time... It's hard to imagine now, but at the start of the sixties there was no commercial or local radio in England. All that existed were just 3 BBC national networks:

"Home" (a legacy that started with the Home Service, launched in 1939)

the "Light Programme" (launched in 1945) and
the "Third programme" (launched in 1946).

That was it!!! The British youth were not catered for at all by these stations, but the boom in 'pop' music forced the BBC to review their strict playlist policy. At the beginning of the 60's, the BBC started to experiment with 'specialist' pop programmes featuring rock n roll music with titles such as The Beat Show, Easy Beat, From Us To You, Here We Go, The Ken Dodd Show, On The Scene, Parade Of The Pops, Side By Side, Steppin' Out, Let's Go, Swinging Sound '63, Teenagers Turn and The Talent Spot. These programmes often featured live music from a selection of acts as opposed to playing records. As most of these shows were broadcast live, a large number were never actually recorded by the BBC.

History remembers The Talent Spot (which was broadcast on the Light Programme) more fondly than some of the others, mainly because The Beatles performed on it three separate times. In fact, the earliest known performance of the Beatles performing Twist and Shout was on The Talent Spot in November 1962... a recording of which alas does not exist.

The Talent Spot was recorded at the Paris Theatre (also known as The Paris), 4 - 12 Lower Regent Street, London SW1. The BBC took over this former cinema during the war and converted it to a theatre. They were particularly keen on it as the auditorium was underground, thus broadcasting could continue when London was bombed. The Paris was the very first BBC performance studio to be equipped with stereo. The Beeb continued to use The Paris right up until 1995, when they finally replaced it with the purposed built Radio Theatre in Broadcasting House.

So what happened to those three BBC radio stations? Well, in 1967 "Home" was renamed Radio 4 and The "Third Programme" became Radio 3. All the 'pop' shows were taken away from the "Light Programme" for broadcasting by a brand new BBC station called Radio 1, after which The Light Programme was renamed Radio 2.

Here's the Beatles outside the Paris Theatre:
This photo was subsequently 'tweaked' to make the cover of the 'Beatles Live at the BBC' album:

And finally..... here's a picture that's been discovered of my dad (obviously on 'shore leave' from the Merchant Navy!) with the young twins.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

SOS (P) ..... Send-Out-Service (Provider..)

Piley Towers is currently back in the dark ages with effectively no internet connection for the last 5 days... From Saturday until Tuesday the connection was dropping every one to 2 minutes, but as of last night it now drops every 1 to 2 seconds!!

This is the joy of TalkTalk I'm afraid. You know that old adage about "you get what you pay for"? Well never was that more appropriate.

This continual dropping of service is something I've had to accept (at least until my 18 months is up and I can escape), and often an evening is rendered a 'no net' night. But this is by far the worst bout, and incredibly frustrating. I've had a post pretty much ready to go since Saturday, but can't stay connected long enough to upload the pics etc.

Watch this space....