Saturday, 24 July 2010

I Wanna Be Loved

I can remember seeing Elvis Costello perform this song at Mud Island in Memphis around 1982/83, and I recall he credited the song to a Memphis group called Teacher's Edition, a group I'd never heard of and still know virtually nothing about. Presumably, they were a group of teachers from the Memphis City Schools who somehow managed to cut a side on Hi Records, and I guess if you've only got one shot you might as well try to make a jaw-dropping classic. When I finally tracked the original down years later on this compilation, I was really stunned by what I heard, and I'm really pleased to be able to share it (note - there is no video, just a rather poignant static photo). As a recording, it may not be crafted to the same meticulous standard as Al Green's work of the period, but it still possesses all the fine elements of Hi productions. Enjoy.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

All's well that ends well, eventually, with a little pressure

After a few more days of government inaction over the environmental crime and arson incident which took place across the road from me recently, I escalated the situation last week. First, I stupidly called the general Environmental Services number for Southwark Council, which took me to a friendly, if somewhat baffled, call center employee, who didn't quite know how to direct my complaint. He eventually sent it to the department in charge of fly-tipping offences, before suggesting that perhaps the best way of dealing with the issue was to confront the builders/property owner myself. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps he was just rehearsing his script for our future lives under the ConDem government, where apparently most public services will be handled by volunteers. I told him in no uncertain terms that I don't pay taxes so that I can enforce the law in place of the Council.

Convinced that this call had been a waste of time, I sent my local Councillor an email with a link to my original blog post. This was now three days after the arson incident. He responded to me the same day, and forwarded my email to the head of the enforcement division, who got in touch the following day. Apparently this division had been aware of the rubbish dumped in front of the house, but did not know about the subsequent arson incident.

I was, and am, amazed that an incident requiring the fire and police services' involvement would not be reported to the appropriate local authority immediately, let alone four days after the event. I was also astonished to find that I was only the second person to file a complaint. The first person had apparently called in about five days before the arson, by which time the rubbish had been on the street for nearly two weeks, if my memory serves me well. This speaks of a level of apathy and indifference which even I find surprising. For days I watched people walking past, looking at the mess and shaking their heads, but it seems that not one could be bothered to pressure the Council for action - not even the family resident in the upstairs flat, who could have easily lost their lives.

Anyway, the environmental enforcement division took the extraordinary measure of sending out a crew last Friday, and cleaning the site to an immaculate extent. Apparently the property owner will get the bill, which is as it should be. The question I have is, would this neat and quick resolution have occurred had I not written about it and posted photos to name and shame the Council into action - and crucially informed them of the existence of the blog post? I suspect not.

On the other hand, what this incident suggests to me is that, if people expect their local government to do nothing, and then do nothing to make their complaints known, then indeed, they will probably observe inaction and erroneously conclude that they are powerless, and the local government indifferent or inept. It doesn't have to be this way.

Scenes from London life


Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Another fallen star

R.I.P. Andy Hummel, the third of Big Star's original four members to pass away, and the second this year. Last year, in writing a post on Four Neat Guys, I included a peculiar anecdote about him as related to me by Harris Scheuner, which I reproduce here.

We were all obsessed with Big Star, whose catalog was out of print at the time, though Randy had all three studio albums and a bootleg tape of the radio broadcast from 1974. Harris, in particular, seemed to be way off into a Big Star trip, and I remember him telling me this story around this time. He was in the old Seessel's Supermarket on Union, doing some grocery shopping. An announcement came over the in-store PA system: "Mr. Andy Hummel, Mr. Andy Hummel, please come to customer service." Harris was curious, as Hummel is not that common a surname, and Andy Hummel was the name of the bass player in Big Star. So Harris went to customer service, to see a tall guy there who was unquestionably Andy Hummel.

Harris waited until he had finished whatever business he had been paged for, and asked him, "Excuse me, are you Andy Hummel?" Andy Hummel, who indeed he was, looked a bit startled and said, "Yes." "Andy Hummel from Big Star?" Apparently there was a pause, and the real live Andy Hummel said, "Yes, but how do you know about Big Star?" As Harris told it, Andy Hummel had moved to Texas to work in the aerospace industry, and apparently had no knowledge of the resurgence of interest in Big Star, despite the fact that REM and a number of other high-profile acts had by this time become very vocal public champions of the band. To anyone reading who can't remember a time before the internet, this is the way life used to be - people, relationships, bands just got lost. Unsearchable, un-Facebookable, un-Linked-Inable, just gone.

The curious among you may enjoy this interview with Andy Hummel from 2001, in which he gives his view of life in Big Star and beyond. I fail to understand his vitriolic attacks on Jim Dickinson, but I guess everyone is entitled to be wrong about something. There may be some tension up in Rock-n-Roll Heaven tonight.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Broken Hearts for You and Me

I don't know how many people remember Trio, but for a brief period in 1982 they brightened our world with the equal-parts annoying and irresistable "Da, Da, Da," which I first remember hearing in heavy rotation as a music video at the Antenna Club in Memphis, before it went on to become an international hit via MTV. Like many of my friends, I dutifully bought the EP, and fell in love with this song, which seems to have aged pretty well. I've always wanted to cover it, and I'm sort of surprised more people haven't, though I do remember The Thunder Lizards of Memphis doing a particularly good version at one of their gigs in 1983 or so. Perhaps surprisingly for a group built on minimalism, here we are treated to an airy, psychedelic guitar solo (blindfolded, no less) from Kralle Krawinkel. Perhaps the song is due a revival in the wake of Germany's devastating exit from the World Cup.

Scenes from London life

Express Weaving

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Sunday, 11 July 2010

London's burning

About three weeks ago, the noisy and vaguely antisocial youngsters occupying the ground floor flat of the house opposite mine suddenly were gone. I don't know if they skipped out on the rent, or were evicted, but the owner of the property immediately got to work on gutting and redecorating the entire gaff. Sadly, this apparently necessitated dumping all of the contents of the flat (clothes, books, mattresses, bookshelves) in a very unruly pile in front of the building. The man is apparently too cheap to even hire a skip.

Arson on Upland Road

Since then, Southwark Environmental Services have been out to visit at least twice that I have observed. I spoke to them once during the week before last to give some background and encourage them to deal with the mess, because I was afraid that if it were just left, some opportunistic and unscrupulous builder (is there any other kind?) would be happy to add to the pile under dark of night. The second time I saw them, they appeared to be speaking to the owner, or at least to one of the guys doing the refurbishment work. Yet nothing happened.

Arson on Upland Road

I have had a couple of friends from the States staying with me for the past week, along with their young daughter, and being a decent person, I have ceded my bedroom and connected guest room to them. I have been sleeping in a sleeping bag in my living room at the front of the house. Yesterday, at about 3:30 AM, I was awoken by what sounded like a group of young men, talking and laughing very loudly in the street. In a minute or two, things quietened down, and I dropped off to sleep again, but soon I was disturbed by something I briefly mistook for raindrops hitting the ledge outside my open windows, but soon realized was the sound of fire.

Arson on Upland Road

Sure enough, the rubbish pile had been lit at the front left corner, next to the hoarding surrounding the partially completed new "aspirational" apartments being put up next door. I called the Fire Brigade immediately, and in my sleep-deprived stupor watched as the flames shot 15 feet or so in the air and spread rapidly towards the house, where a family with a couple of young boys and a baby live (fortunately with an entrance to the side and nowhere near the fire). I was just about to run across and awaken them when one of their windows broke loudly from the heat, a light came on upstairs, and one of their neighbors from next door made sure they were up and out.

Not very aspirational, is it?

By this time the hoarding around the new building was on fire, and the flames were licking the windows of the ground floor flat of the house. Fortunately the Fire Brigade turned up at this point, only five minutes or so after being called, because I think a couple of more minutes would have seen both the house and new building on fire. The next day police forensics did a thorough examination, and there was an officer outside most of the day, to whom I gave a statement of what I'd heard and seen.

Arson on Upland Road

However, the pile of partially burnt rubbish is still in front of the building, astonishingly, as a nice trophy, or perhaps a challenge to complete, for those responsible. Having failed to either remove the blight in the first place during the two weeks prior to the arson, or to force the property owner to do so, Southwark Council unwittingly allowed the shits responsible for this to put lives in danger via a stupid and pointless act of vandalism. My visitors, unlike many American tourists who visit London, will not be returning home with misconceptions of what a civilized place it is.

Arson on Upland Road

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Scenes from London life


Just about alright

Fifteen years ago today I arrived in the UK with a couple of suitcases, a little bit of money, and huge hopes for love, adventure, and prosperity - well, of a sort, anyway. The next morning, when my then wife-to-be left our tiny apartment in Vauxhall for work, I switched on the radio to survey the audio landscape of my new home before venturing out into the real world to try to shake off my jet lag. And out came this, the first song I heard on commercial radio in the UK. It's by no means my favorite from Supergrass, but still every time I hear it, I find myself right back in the feeling of that moment.

And the song is probably also emblematic of the general sense of optimism percolating through that era: the rise of "Britpop;" the promise of New Labour; "Cool Britannia;" the approaching Millennium; new technological and economic paradigms; previously unknown prosperity - much of which optimism, we now know, was underpinned by poor planning, poor regulation, and a lack of prudence and foresight which has led us to the nightmare, sorry, "significant challenges and opportunities," which now confront us. Still, on July 7, 1995, it was all there to play for, and I relish the memory.