Saturday, October 27, 2007

Stephen Merchant: The Greatest Comedy Answer To The Guy From The Mr Muscle Ad...

"....Stalking hesitantly into his quaint local pub, a little late and a lot hungry, Stephen Merchant cuts a disarming figure....." via The Independent

We have seen them come and go, all the Clara Lane's of this world - the continuous roll of comedies from Perry and Croft, yet in this, 2007 we see a lifetime achievement award go to Richard Curtis (which is about ten years over due) and at the same time we find ourselves bowing very low to the ground in front of a geeky guy with floppy hair and NHS specs.

It could be none other than Mr Merchant. Perhaps the time had come for Ricky Gervias to stand aside from his nervously, quake making David Brent and let his side kick take a stand. Through 'Extra's' we have seen a shift in the way we deal with celebrities.

It has occured to me that we may never need to see another Ant and Dec fiasco in an Ozzie jungle again to let us believe that celebs are real people. Stephen Merchant is real, or at least we think he his. His brand of comic talent is the kind we only catch ourselves thinking briefly about in our most private moments, only to snatch ourselves away from the shameful thoughts we have just experienced. Merchant brings forth these embarrassing dreams and shoves them straight into our faces leaving us to cringe slowly leaving a permanent dent in the undentable sofa. Yet if we saw him in the street, we would rather think of him as an assistant manager for the deli counter at Safeway's and not the remarkable, award winning, son of a so and so he actually is.

We can only squerm uncomfortably at him having a play with himself under the desk in his office in one 'Extras' episode. So real was that piece, we could imagine he was probably doing that for real. That's how inspiring his comedy really is. We don't find ourselves laughed at him - we are actually laughing at ourselves...

mduffy 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Metal Gods Of Hope And Glory

Probably the most unlikely successful heavy metal band ever to come out of an unassuming Birmingham was the unbeatable, unstoppable Judas Priest. Named, surprisingly after an early Bob Dylan track (and it is here where the connect between Judas Priest and folk music starts and stops,) this motley bunch of guys looking like scaffold workers in 1980, appeared to us, as rather what Def Leppard would have looked like if they hadn’t discovered setting lotion seven years later.

By 1980, they were already causing madness and complete mayhem across the airwaves since their humble beginnings way back in 1969. In famous rock band style, they went through the usual mixture of line up changes practically every day of the week. Through their haze of sweaty gigs, a new dirty haired miserable face would appear in front of a drunken teenage sea of metal victims. It became common place for the spine of any rock band to under go abrupt ‘surgery’ every once in a while and Judas Priest were certainly no exception.

‘British Steel,’ released in 1980, is still regarded today as JP’s highest acclaimed album. Perfectly polished and beautifully cleaned, despite it’s raw, gritty content, this album still stands firm in the rock album hall of fame twenty six years after it’s release. With five albums already under their hard leather belts, (the first two, were released but didn’t chart) they, unwittingly embarked on the peak of the band’s career. It was to be ‘British Steel,’ that gave the band their yard stick. Notably, due to the charisma of this extraordinary album, it quickly became the same yard stick for every one else…

Perhaps it had been the unmistakeable line up of this band at the time of recording the album that was the key to it’s incredible success. Rob Halford lead the vocals throughout the set with Glenn Tipton on lead guitar, Dave Holland (who left in 1988) on drums, all recruited by the ‘masters of metal,’ the creators, K.K Downing (guitar) and Ian Hill (bass.) This line up lasted another eight years, that’s some record in the hard, cruel world of heavy metal.

Collaborating with Hill and Downing on all the tracks, the mighty, mop haired, studded Halford seemed to give the band it’s urging driving force that was so desperately needed to put the finishing touches to the powerful album. Presenting us with only nine tracks (the usual set of a vinyl L.P in those days) it still only just enough to make us, the listeners, want more. Like a intimidating angry dog, this album shows off quite a bite and to an old rocker like me, it was still just as captivating and exciting to listen to it again. Even the pain of all those head banging headaches seem to fill my head once again.

We can sufficiently lose ourselves in this ocean of thunderous, thrusting rock without feeling threatened by a beast that is unfamiliar. For those of us who perhaps didn’t take Judas Priest into our hearts until the end of the bands’ career, this early mastered album is still appealing to the numbers amongst us who hung up the leather a long time ago. Even the teeny boppers who sit surrounding us will still blush at the shock of actually recognising the odd track here and there within this album. The fast, Motorhead themed, ‘Breaking The Law,’ was used as ‘the’ Beavis and Butthead track and could forget the steadiness of ‘Living After Midnight,’ which always reminds me of The Eagles in forceful mode, will trigger off some foot tapping if not the odd spark of air guitar among us. Even the union moving ‘United,’ will have us standing with pride in an Arthur Scargill kind of way….

‘The Rage,’ perhaps will not appeal to the masses on a reflective note. This dirty, hill climbing track is dipped generously in molten lava with such metal grace that one can almost smell the band from here. Yet if we sit back and let the maturity of this band flow over us, we will no doubt stand at the end of ‘Steeler,’ and sing whole heartedly, ‘God Save The Queen.’ If only those hyper paced drum solos could be tinned, then we would not ever feel an empty feeling ‘metal starvation’ ever again. It is embarking on one of these rock journey’s that I find myself aching, longingly for the music industry toady, to run incredibly hard into a brick wall. There must be a corner to turn eventually, surely we cannot go on churning out such spirit crushing, conveyer belt rubbish for all eternity? This is why I think it is important as well as inspiring to dig up such gems as Judas Priest and give them a damn good airing, whether they want us to or not.

We are so spoilt in this album to be allowed to witness a hard working, beer swigging band create a piece of British rock history. The first track, ‘Rapid Fire,’ virtually says it all, if this isn’t rock’s interpretation of a dozen machine guns firing then I don’t know what is. The speed of this band really is quite worrying. The pace is unimaginable, and I also don’t agree that it is a good idea to visualize the band playing this track, you’ll only make yourself sick. Complete with it’s grinding factory like sound effects like an advert for ‘Terminator,’ the second track, ’Metal Gods,’ is a title that you couldn’t possibly argue with. It was tracks like these that put JP high up on the pedestal of British rock. The only other true fore runner of the sound they pigeon holed between punk and progressive rock, was Iron Maiden. Both bands, it was true had us hypnotised by their leads, high pitched wails, unlike rivals, AC/DC who, had yet to hand over the microphone to an equally high creaming Young. Places like Donnington would not have ever been the same without them…

So, if the album title and the cover (picturing a razor blade, an example of British steel) wasn’t enough to stir up any patriotic thoughts in your head, then perhaps never mind. There are not enough things in this country today that make you proud to be British. What we do have is too many things that make us ashamed rather than proud.

Things were a great deal different in those days. Particularly for bands like Judas Priest. The hard rock members of this outfit, today are fast approaching their sixties. If there is one thing that this album will do and that’s stir up emotion in any Union Jack hugging Brit. There is something very patriotic about this album and about the feeling of it. It’s steady, forth right and dependable like a faithful pet, it will never let you down, and it will always be there in a crisis.

For old rockers, new ones and even those who have never dared to taste the delights of British rock, this album should NOT be in a record collection by any means….

It should be sitting on the mantle piece….

Tracks include;
Rapid Fire
Metal Gods
Breaking The Law
You Don’t Have To Be Old To Be Wise
Living After Midnight
The Rage

All songs written by Halford/Tipton/Downing
CBS records 1980
Bought at a record fair 2005 for three pounds.
©mduffy 2006

From Dino To Funny Bones - The Hollywood Love Affair With Lewis And Martin

I recently acquired a copy of the new autobiography from Jerry Lewis co written by James Kaplan simply titled "Dean & Me."

Told in that familiar all American southern droll, Lewis takes us to a place on a street corner in Manhattan, March 1945 where he was to be introduced to one of the most charismatic singers and certain icons of a generation, Dino Crocetti, or better known as Dean Martin. The Monkey met the straight man - singer versus the slapstick.

Envisage a chance meeting - not unlike the church fete where John Lennon was introduced to Paul McCartney or the throwing together of public school student namely Peter Cook and working class London boy, Dudley Moore - it would seem that such legendary characters simply don't fall into each other's laps any more, not by pure chance anyway, yet in this book, the chance was completely fatal - in it's not so final sense - Lewis crossed the street with a pal and hands shook. History was made.

What followed was to be the most popular, successful and highest paid comedy duos in entertainment history, not just in the 20th Century but for probably this one as well. Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin's reign over the airwaves, concert halls, night clubs including the renown Copacabana, sliver screen and television lasted for ten years, not to mention the decades which followed when even now, a newer generation of Lewis and Martin fans are coming into the world. Watch how a bunch of five years olds go potty over re-runs of The Colgate Comedy Hour.

Their humour was timeless, effortless and still just as exciting today as it was in rigid, tight lipped, post war America. They were to the States what The Goons were to Britain - new and uncharted ground.

What has also contributed to their allure is their tragedy - with ever comic line there comes the darker side - sadness and with Lewis and Martin, their ten year friendship/partnership ended with a three show stint at the Copa in July 1956, after which, they shook hands and went their separate ways. What actually happened after would happen on the very same street where they both lived - a few doors away, but not a word spoken for twenty years. The Rat Pack followed for Martin - and a life and act either drunk or pretending to be. For Lewis, he went on to be one of the greatest solo comic geniuses on film for decade after decade, although critics scorned him for simply making films as "therapy" either focusing on the highs of Lewis or the downfalls of Martin, "The Nutty Professor" (1963) being the most criticised...

The pair did share a brief and happier time in reconciliation in the late eighties, but it was not enough to repair any professional troubles they had parted over thirty years before.

Dean Martin died in 1995.

The book is a, to coin a cliche, a masterpiece, yet the true shock of it is, it is not a story of a comic duo who came and went, but a bond which never broke between them - it is the ultimate love story.....

Friday, October 19, 2007

From Her To Eternity - The Life And Memory Of Deborah Kerr

As the more elder of us would agree, there were some people we grew up with on the silver screen, as it were, who made the world of the cinema more magical and enigmatic than it ever could have been. The golden age of the movies saw not just the greatest scripts ever written, not to mention the best, most quoted lines ("Frankly my dear, I couldn't give a damn...") amongst others but the most alluring faces we could ever wish to conjure up in our own wild imaginations.

Yesterday, we said a tearful farewell to one of our own kind in England - like many other famous future movie stars, like the vacant Bob Hope, we saw Deborah Kerr leave the English shores for a far more glittering career than British films could ever give her, and it was yesterday, we said another farewell to her, but this time, forever.

After reading probably one of the most heartfelt and warming obituaries in The Daily Telegraph yesterday, I felt, (and it is not often I do this...) to print a handful of lines which were written about her and her extraordinary Englishness which appeared in the paper.

To Miss Deborah Kerr - we will miss you....

(Featured in The Daily Telegraph - )

"Kerr was the unfadingly ladylike and prototypical English rose whose red-haired, angular beauty and self-possessed femininity distinguished more than 50 films in four decades of cinema.

Deborah Kerr
Kerr: "prototypical English rose"

She made serenity dramatic; and though her poise might be ruffled at critical moments in scenes of passion (most famously exemplified by her encounter on the beach with Burt Lancaster in From Here to Eternity in 1953), her well-bred airs and social graces made her a model of British womanhood in Hollywood.

Her best-known film was probably The King and I, in which she played a haughty governess opposite Yul Brynner's Siamese monarch; and her principal problem as an accomplished actress was to convince Hollywood of her sensual potential. Although she herself was a more spirited, relaxed and informal person than her image on the screen suggested, producers were reluctant to cast her in passionate roles.

Nevertheless, when they came her way - as they did after From Here to Eternity - her type of refined sensuality proved refreshingly attractive, since it hinted at hidden desires and forbidden feelings, giving her acting an extra edge and interest."

Sit back and enjoy now the original theatre trailer of the film we will remember her for the most, The King And I......

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Silly Things To Do In The Office - Part One....

Figure 1 - the boat race....

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Muzzy - The Furball Who Will Take Over The World (With A Little Help From Your Kids...)

The award-winning, BBC MUZZY program is the most respected children's language course in the world. via Baby Center

There have been some diverse and somewhat disturbing children’s characters along the way ever since Eric Idle thought it would be rather amusing to conjure up a heart-warming tiny tots programme. That, moment of black and white Sixties wonderment worked - but only because Idle and Palin used their natural wit, charm and were A Class rated for eternal smiley faces, but Muzzy? I’m not so sure.

At least the brilliant cast of Do Not Adjust Your Set, amongst other children’s archive celebrities weren’t trying to send subliminal messages to kids to make them chant a different language in their sleep, yet there is something certainly sinister about the over fluffed, slightly stoned Muzzy which to me, as a parent, leads me into reoccurring nightmares of Teddy Rucksbin. I rather get the feeling that Muzzy could well be the type of toy that should never be left at home with a child, alone. There might be, at any given moment when, by pure accident, the head of the French speaking rag doll swivels 360 degrees and tells the child to go and kill mummy and daddy. Perhaps I actually have nothing personally against the character - I just don‘t like the way we are now being told to educate our children.

We should, as parents be reading to our kids, teaching them to rights and wrongs and even, if we are feeling a trifle daring, teach them another language, but to leave it down to a green, furry faced, dazed and a tad too patronising fluff ball, strikes me as being just that little bit too lazy. A bright kid can be irritating at the best of times, particularly a six year old who can speak fluent French. As a self confessed grumpy old git and avid follower of the goddess of grumps, Ms Jenny Éclair, I find such child prodigies at little too hard to take in.

It would seem to me that we should now subject ourselves and our children to a series of intellectual past times to either justify our abilities to rear super kids or simply just to annoy other parents at the school gates. Either way, I have found that the BBC have the ingenious knack of jumping on the parental bandwagon and feel obliged to panda to our every weakness. It is the devil dressed rather charismatically as the Devil, and it works - every time….

PJ 2007

Monday, October 01, 2007

Turn Left At The Isle Of Monty And Gaze Fondly On The World Never To Be Copied

The crew of Monty Python's Flying Circus. Photograph: BBC/PA Monty Python's Flying Circus has been voted by UK Gold viewers the most influential comedy series ever - not just the best, but the most influential.

As I trundle my way through the religion which has become anything to do with the very essence of British comedy, particularly over the last forty years, I find myself quite pink with something along side “peeve ness” when discovering an article here on the good old BB of C about how Monty Python was actually not as influential as we all would like to think it was.

I read on, only to find myself, a devotee of MP, actually agreeing with it’s content… According to UK Gold viewers (and they do know a thing or two about good programmes from the glory days, you know) the most inspiring and influential of all British creations, comedy wise, was indeed Monty Python’s Flying Circus. A sentence which in my mind, does not need to be followed up by an explanation. Yet at the same time, I cannot help but feel that this article is indeed right - it was regrettably uninfluencial - we learned as writers a great many ways to explore a joke and yes, the word “spam” will never have such a comical outlook, but only now stand as that very word to describe unwanted emails.

MP was, as we like to say, a void - all on its own, with no means of setting up a bridge or even a fairly reliable train link to it’s shores - a masterful island which sits happily, surviving all that new writers throw at it, displaying all the greatest points of youth and what a jolly good public school education will get you if your parents had enough money. They were for the poor of us - yet a product of very much, the middle class education system. A dying breed. So therefore, I pose the question - what was exactly influential about them? As individuals, I could sit with legs entwined around a Chesterfield all night long, delighting my taste buds around a selection of the highest wit and childlike play of Palin and Idle or I can sit stern faced and morose and discuss like a University 1977 paper on the levels of intellectual silliness of Cleese and Chapman, but what would be the point, I here you say - none - they were, as a group out on their own, never to be repeated and never to be forgotten.

Perhaps, in hindsight, they were the very pinnacle where everyone since has wanted to reach but can’t - the very article when other writers thought to themselves, “damn - that’s exactly what I was trying to do and now some other bugger has come and done it!” One can also imagine many saying the same about The Goons - as much as they were brilliant, silly and downright funny - they never meant to be anything else - influential? No, just innovative, mind-bending and original. Unique beyond copying. As MP were and are - never copied. Just a giant trunk from which everything else grew….

m.duffy 2007

And now for something completely different....