Friday, January 19, 2018

Land of the giant - Cyrille Regis 1958-2018

The loss of Cyrille Regis weighs heavy upon my heart.

It is fair to say that he was my first true hero. Of course there were dalliances with musicians and actors but none were ever as exciting as Cyrille, nor were they such a regular presence in my life. I could not witness their adventures on a bi-weekly basis as I did with him.
The timing was perfect; I was newly adolescent and unconsciously eager for role models. My first ever live football match was West Brom vs Tottenham on Saturday 2nd October 1976 where, as a misguided Spurs fan, I watched my team go 2-0 up in the first half only to concede 4 in the second to a rampant Albion side. Within a month I’d switched allegiances and the following year I was a season ticket holder at the Hawthorns.

I didn’t know then that those would be the glory years, that the players I’d adore would be the best I’d ever see in an Albion shirt. There would be Statham, Wile, Robertson and Batson in defence, Robson, Cantello, Tony Brown, Ally Brown, Willie Johnston and of course Laurie Cunningham and Cyrille Regis. It’s hard to convince people now that West Brom were an incredibly capable and potent team with real strength and resilience.
Cyrille was the very personification of this. He was strong, quick and lethal. It is fair to say that those of us who stood transfixed in the Birmingham Road or Smethwick end, in the Halfords Lane or Rainbow stand, had never seen anything like him.

They were different times. Buff-bodies and ripped torsos are ten-a-penny now but people didn’t look like Cyrille in the late 70s. Track athletes were skinny, wrestlers were fat and few boxers had defined muscle-tone. Unless you were reading specialist weight-training magazines, no-one looked like Cyrille. It’s little wonder that he terrified defenders still used to sinking pints and smoking fags the night before a big match.

Though I lack the recall prowess of many friends who can spew out specific dates, weather-conditions, pie prices and particular instances in matches, I remember Regis goals as well as anyone. Many have been replayed in the last week and they follow a similar pattern. Cyrille would receive the ball near the half-way line before leaving defenders in his wake and the net practically in tatters. He could hit a ball like no-one I’ve ever seen.

Friday, January 12, 2018


Some weeks ago I unfollowed the footballer Saido Berahino on Twitter. This occurred after what I perceived to be a taunting tweet he’d posted about the victory of his current club over his old one, a victory in which he played no part.

It impacted upon me because his old club is the one that I support and I felt that he owes them some respect for giving him a platform for his talents and nurturing them to the point where he was an England international and a transfer target, something that has undoubtedly enriched him. C’est la vie as they say in non-footballing circles. I’d forgotten that I was following him at all since I am interested in very few footballers, their opinions likely to be witless, meaningless and ‘on brand’ to the point of tedium.
Last week I was tempted to troll him with taunts of my own. This occurred after his current club were beaten by a lower league team in the FA Cup, a defeat in which he did play a part – at least arguably since he was on the pitch.

I managed to restrain myself but still felt the pangs of shame for even contemplating such an act. Likelihood is that he’d never have read it and that my opinion is of no consequence to him, that’s certainly how I feel my opinion is rated by most Twitter users. Still, I knew it and expect better.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The fairytale of excess

We all know that Christmas is a consumerist orgy loosely cloaked in some Christian tradition to keep us all from feeling too guilty, it is frequently a time when we require some excuses for the excesses of our behaviour.

On the big day itself, I’ve become increasingly aware of the quantity of marketing messages I consume. I suspect this is because they’re the only e-mails I’m getting and consequently they’re more obvious. For the last few years I’ve made a note of those companies and a vague promise that I would unsubscribe from their messages. This year I am following through on that vow.

The roll call of commercial entities that were certain I was desperate to hear from them on Christmas Day was:

Bamboo Clothing 
Banana Republic (2)
Body Shop
Coffee Tasting Club
Dr Martens (2)
First Choice 
Honest Brew
London Review of Books 
Marella Cruises
Ribble Cycles 
Richer Sounds 
Secret Escapes 
Teletext holidays 
Thomas Cook

All of them now find they have one fewer customer to sell to. If any have asked why I’m unsubscribing I will send a link to this blog.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

I'm with the brand

When The Killers toured to sell out audiences recently, they did so at half-strength. Two members of the quartet had decided to stop touring. 

Though they are original members and remain on the records, bassist Mark Stoermer and guitarist Dave Keuning, are no longer in the live line-up. When first explaining their absence singer, Brandon Flowers, said that ‘it’s hard to get four people on schedule’.

This caused me to wonder what, more vital, things they had in their diaries other than their day job. Did they schedule the recordings and somehow forget that an act usually tours to support an album release?

Presumably their absence had little effect since many reviews reckoned it ranked amongst their best performances. If I were Stoermer or Keuning this would worry me a little. Aside from their writing contributions it could be argued that they’re eminently replaceable.

Less than a month later Queen were on the same stages also boasting 50% of their original and best-known line-up, though for entirely different reasons. The billing of Queen with Adam Lambert, relatively unknown in this country, does little to deter people from spending £60-80 per ticket.

It prompts the obvious question of what constitutes a band and how many members can you remove whilst retaining the ‘essence’ of what that band is. It can be fairly few bands that survive losing their singer/front-man yet Queen has managed it, possibly due to the ubiquity, depth and popularity of their songs. Would Queen work without Roger Taylor? The absence of John Deacon, missing by choice, seems not to matter much but could it survive the disappearance of Brian May?

Friday, December 1, 2017

Drug of the nation

In celebrating the latest incarnation of The X Factor, Simon Cowell called it the ‘greatest A&R process in the world’. Of course, it’s nothing of the kind.

A&R or artist and repertoire is a function or a department found in record labels whose role is to find and develop artists, acting as their conduit with the label. The success of an artist can depend on the relationship between raw talent and how it is developed, recorded and ‘sold’ – A&R sits in the middle of this process.

Whilst not denying the obvious successes of X Factor and its subsidiaries, it is not involved in the process of developing acts. It is simply a processing plant, a sausage factory where each act is stuffed into a straight-jacket and paraded before the public. The success of X Factor has little to do with talent and a lot to do with television. It is a means of demonstrating how intense and sustained television exposure can sell anything.

Monday, November 27, 2017

The public (dis)interest

I used to despair of those who claimed no interest in politics, as if it had no effect on them. Latterly I’ve wished that I could be the same.

I’d greatly prefer that the pronouncements of Government didn’t send me into an inconsolable rage. That their idiocy, lack of compassion and hatefulness was irrelevant to me, instead of producing an apoplectic, fuming, bile-spewing monster.

Each day seems to concoct something new. Every hour it seems there’s yet another reason to hate them more. Perhaps it’s due to the ‘always-on’ nature of social media, drawing a new outrage to my attention on a minute-by-minute basis.  As they stumble from one pathetic blunder to another I twitch like an inebriated Kevin Spacey in a boy’s only casting session.

Boris Johnson thoughtlessly condemning a UK citizen to spend longer in an Iranian jail, pah! He never thinks ahead (or at all), why would I be surprised? Priti Patel lobbying for cash to fund illegal operations in foreign countries, whatever. Same old, same old. David Davies saying there are no reports on the impact of Brexit on industry when six months earlier he’d claimed there were between 50-60, yawn. They’re all fucking liars anyway why should one more lie matter?

Perhaps it’s the drip, drip effect like a form of infuriating water torture. One that’s more infinitely annoying than Piers Morgan’s Twitter feed.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Cast off

My relationship with radio is broken. Since slipping quietly out of the business I’ve largely stopped listening. I don’t apply my general habits to others so I recognise that I’m an anomaly. Radio is a great medium and means so much to so many, I’m just not one of them right now.

I know I will return to it but currently my listening is dominated by trawling through Spotify and a regular diet of podcasts. It’s been over a year since I wrote about the breadth and beauty of the form and, as a friend recently noted, the recommendation/discovery process for pods is unreliable at best. Note that I never usually call them pods.

Alvaro Serrano via Unsplash
A few that I mentioned previously are still staples – The Allusionist, Freakonomics, Ted Radio Hour, This American Life, The Untold - but, as I’m consuming up to ten episodes a week whilst commuting, I constantly need fresh blood.

Blood has been the basis for many of them. I’ve been a fan of the true crime genre for years and the plethora of podcasts focussed on unsolved crimes or miscarriages of justice have provided a fertile resource for my, often grim, entertainment. Among these you’ll find Someone Knows Something, Convicted, Up and Vanished, Murder In The Lucky House and many others. Some have more to recommend than others and the pace can sometimes drag but find a story that interests you and the narrative can keep you involved for many a long haul.