You’ll Float Too …

Well, Wordpretzels, make my own sauce and call me Barry Norman, yet another film review, this time to see the much anticipated It, based on the novel by Stephen King. Now, Lady BSM isn’t into horror films, so gave this one a miss. I was accompanied by Master Johnny and Miss Cath, his girl friend.

You’ll float too, you’ll float too, YOU’LL FLOAT TOO …

I read ‘It’ when it was first published back in the 1970s – over one thousand pages long and telling a story stretching over 3 decades. It was enthralling, tense, emotional, distressing, uncompromising and terrifying by different turns. King is a prolific and hugely successful novelist and for good reason. I would go as far as to say his novels will be regarded in the same high esteem as Charles Dickens in time. He is one of the greatest storytellers of the century. He’s regarded as a horror writer, but his books are more than that. They’re not all about slashing and blood and guts, but contain many human aspects of hope and dreams, of failings and weaknesses, of fears and misgivings, kindness, love, hate, good and evil. I’ve read a lot of his books and experienced all emotions whilst doing so.

Like a lot of King’s stories, it’s set in Maine – in this case a town called Derry, where an above average number of people, especially children, go missing. The film makes sure you’re aware it’s 1988 – the significance of this becomes clear later. Like the book, the story begins with Bill making his young brother Georgie  a paper boat, which he takes to the streets in the pouring rain to float in the rushing water running in the road gutters. Suffice to say, Georgie disappears and no body is ever found. Move on a year and Bill, a stutterer, is part of the Losers’ Club bullied by Henry Bowers and his friends. The Losers’ club is a group of disparate teenagers: Ben, the obese new boy, Richie Tozier, the cocky one, Eddie, the asthmatic, Mike, the orphan, Stan, the jewish boy practising for Bar Mitzvah and finally Beverley, the only girl of the group.

All the characters fit perfectly into the Stephen King mould, as with “Stand by Me”. Of course, Beverley is a stunningly beautiful redhead, attractive to her male counterparts, especially Ben and Bill.

The whole film is colourful and sympathetic to the King novel, but as we reached the 90 minute mark of a  two hour programme, I began to panic. As far as I could remember (I read the book nearly 40 years ago) we were only half way through the original story. Let’s just say a sequel is not only likely, but essential.

The scary bits are suitably scary, the emotional parts enough to make me feel a little teary, especially the scene where Bill is confronted by Georgie, clutching his paper ship to his chest and pleading with the big brother he adores to take him home. This is one thing a King story can do, pull at your emotions without resorting to the usual American schmaltzy approach.

If it’s all guts and gore you’re looking for, this isn’t for you. Stephen King horror is very much like the monsters he creates – too clever, too wise to be that predictable, which is why they are so formidable and malevolent. Pennywise the clown is the epitome of this, feeding on your fears and the darker side of human nature – death, loss, guilt, physical, sexual and psychological child abuse, Munchausen by Proxy…

The film has its climax, the usual battle between good and evil, but like all good stories, there’s no definitive  girl meets boy, fall in love, good wins over evil, walk off into the sunset, happy ending.

Maybe not even in It – Chapter 2…

 

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Rural Spaceman at the Pictures

Wordpretzels. It’s been a while. Sometimes even the complete rubbish that fills my head gets stuck there like a lamb chop bone in a vacuum cleaner, slowly getting furrier and less appealing by the day.

So, I thought I’d get back in the swing of things with another review of the visits Lady Barton St Mary and I have made to the pictures in the past few months.

King Arthur

This was a Guy Ritchie film, but up until now I’m sure Guy has only made films about London gangsters and dodgy geezers, so surely a retelling of the mystical, mythical legend of King Arthur would be a change of style.

Nope.

Arthur is shown as a young baby being cast adrift in a floating cradle and ending up in some form of cockney medieval London. This prompted one of Guy Ritchie’s rapid scene changes to represent the passing of time, as baby Arthur turns into young Arthur and eventually appears as an adult who wanted to be Tom Hardy but couldn’t quite make it, probably because Tom was already busy/too expensive. Instead, he grew up to be Charlie Hunnam, a Hell’s Angel in panty hose.

Sure enough, Arfer (as he is called) is in true Lock, Stock, Snatch Jack the Lad, finding trouble at every turn. The language of Arthurian Britain appears to be similar, too.

“Ere, Geezer, that’s a tasty cart n’ no mistake. Nar, load it up wiv stuff n’ scarper…”

So, Arfer, on some sort of community service, gets a chance to pull the sword from the stone, supervised by none other than David Beckham, famous footballer, pants flasher and Spice Girl spouse. His character is called Trigger, which must have been some sort of in joke from the production team, naming him after the daft road sweeper in Only Fools and Horses.

“Oi! Just grab it with both ‘ands n’ give it a pull!” demands David/Trigger, a refrain I’m sure Victoria has heard many times over the years.

I won’t bore you with the rest of the story. Basically it’s a video game of sword fights and punch ups leading to a final fight with the boss character. I suggest you stick to Lock Stock or Snatch.

Baby Driver

I went to see this just for the music and I wasn’t disappointed. Kevin Spacey tried his best to give the film a bit of gravitas, but overall, it’s a fast moving, foot tapping, exciting ride of a film with the typically ridiculous story line. Boy loses parents in car crash, left with tinnitus, steals cars from the age of 8 and becomes expert driver, but only when wearing earphones and listening to very loud music at the same time. I see young drivers like this all the time, just begging to be upside down in a ditch. I like the film for its honesty – where else do you see a character tell everybody to wait whilst he lines up the next track?

Edgar Wright, the director, was involved in TV a few years back with comedy actors such as Matt Lucas, David Walliams and Noel Fielding. Take a look at the music video he made for Mint Royale’s ‘Blue Song’ – if this wasn’t inspiration for the opening scene of Baby Driver then nothing makes sense in the world.

Again, another video game of a film, with a love interest called Debra.

“I don’t know any songs about Debra,” she bemoans to our hero, Baby. She must be kidding, I thought, what about Deborah by T-Rex?

“Well, there’s Deborah, by T-Rex,” he coos.

“I’ve never heard it,” she replies, all cow eyed and biting her lip. At this point, I think any rational music aficionado would have given her up as a lost cause, but he was obviously smitten.

A few more car chases, some guns and deaths and that’s your lot. If you love popular music and car chases, go and see it. Just don’t expect The Godfather.

Dunkirk

A quiet street, on the coast of France. A few young soldiers. Leaflets falling from the sky, with a message urging them to surrender. A gunshot, a fallen soldier; another running frantically to escape.

The beginning of Dunkirk, where thousands of British troops were stranded in 1940. The story is close to my heart, since my dad was part of the rescue, loading bombs onto planes going to defend the attempt to bring them all home. Of course, my dad would have been 20 years old at this time; looking at the characters on screen was a constant reminder of this, along with the awareness that I now have a son of the same age. Very humbling. As far as my dad was concerned, at least he was safe back in England. He had his moment in France a few years later in the D-Day landings.

Anyway, this is a good old fashioned war film. Mark Rylance as a middle aged leisure boat owner plays the part with true British stiff upper lip panache and shows why he’s so respected. Then there’s Harry Styles, the 1D star and dreamboat of all tone deaf teenies. Somehow he’d got a part, no doubt so that he could look pretty and sell more records. I assumed he’d be in the background of a few scenes, sweeping back his long lush hair on the beach. But no, they’d given him a speaking part, and guess what? He’s brilliant. Really good, an integral part of the whole Dunkirk story.

There’s not a lot of dialogue, but what little there is tends to be mumbled. Sir Kenneth Branagh, playing the top brass officer, naturally, often has to cope with some horrendous mumbling without having to say pardon? once. He is the obvious answer to actors gone by: Sir John Mills, Sir John Gielgud or Stanley Baker. The film world’s answer as to how public schoolboys can be extremely useful in times of adversity.

I can’t finish without mentioning the role of Tom Hardy, who plays a fighter pilot. The part is just heaven for all those women who love Tom Hardy, except a couple of his fans have complained that his face is obscured for much of the film by his oxygen mask, making him a bit like the character he played in Batman: a sort of Bane in a spitfire.

*Swoon*

However, he’s cool, reassuring, heroic. After Dunkirk, even I’m in love with Tom Hardy.

  • I’ll be back soon with something less lazy than a film review. Until then, be good.
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Dr Gorgeous Makes a Filum

I’d put it off for far too long. Six months, to be exact. I knew it was six months, because I booked the appointment when I received a text reminder.

Hence, I made the appointment to see Dr Gorgeous, the dentist. For those of you who are uninitiated, Dr Gorgeous is a dark, handsome brown eyed Irish man. Think Poldark with a drill. Since he took over the practice, Lady Barton St Mary is quite happy to visit regularly, provided she’s spent a considerable amount of time on hair and make up. Dr Gorgeous is as far away from the smoking, belligerent, anaesthetic avoiding, sadistic sociopath of a dentist I had as a child as you can get. Dr Gorgeous doesn’t just take exercise, he competes in Iron Man competitions. He’s a fan of BBC 6Music and says things like, “Did you see Royal Blood at Glastonbury? Oh, surely you must…”

So, today was the day for my implant, where Dr Gorgeous would make a hole in my jaw bone and screw in a little plug, carefully avoiding all major nerves. Nothing much.

I arrived early at the surgery, the first patient of the day. I was greeted by Pip, who informed me that today was the day they were making a film for their website.

“Dr Gorgeous decided that today would be good, because you’d be the perfect person to appear in his video,” she said, revealing her perfectly white teeth with a beautiful smile. I’ve observed that female dental receptionists and nurses have a similar look to those women you see on the make up counters at major department stores, but with a slightly lighter hue of tanning lotion.

“You wouldn’t mind, would you?” she asked.

I considered. How a rather tired looking middle aged man who has reached that stage in life where he visits the dentist to have teeth put back in is a perfect person, I don’t know. Maybe they wanted something like those property programmes where they take a derelict building and put it right, with my mouth as the ruin.

“No, not at all,” I replied, “in fact, I get involved in this sort of thing at (almost) voluntary work.”

I took a seat.

Dr Gorgeous appeared, bounding into the reception area to greet me and shake my hand.

“Has Pip told you about the filum?” he enquired.

“Yes, no problem, I’d be happy to help,” I said.

He gave one of his most winning smiles, the type that makes Lady Barton St Mary slide off the chair. I imagine. He reappeared with a camera light, followed by the woman who would be making the filum. Film. After some pleasantries, she was ready to roll. Dr Gorgeous turned to leave, in order to prepare for carving a hole in my mouth.

“Emma will be filuming your surgery too, that’s OK, is it?”

I nodded.

“I’ll ask you a few questions about Dr Gorgeous and the practice,” said Emma.

Dr Gorgeous stopped in the doorway and flashed that smile again.

“Remember,” he said, “say nice things about me.”

His eyes narrowed, but the smile remained.

“‘Cos I have a fecking great big knife waiting for you upstairs…”

 

 

 

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Don’t Like The Beatles? Don’t Like Life.

It was a real shock. I’d never really met one before, or, at least, if I had, I didn’t know it.

This was approximately three years ago; a lazy, sunny Sunday morning after a party at a friend’s house. A few people who’d stayed the night were recovering after a reviving breakfast, when the conversation got around to music. Somebody mentioned The Beatles. A woman wrinkled her nose.

“Ooo. I don’t like The Beatles,” she claimed.

I stared at her world-weary face in complete shock.

“Sorry,” I chuckled, “for a minute there, I thought you said you didn’t like The Beatles.”

Her eyes narrowed.

“Yes,” she said, pursing her lips, “that’s exactly what I said. I don’t like The Beatles.”

She meant it. I couldn’t believe it. How could you not like The Beatles? I immediately assumed the role of persuader, a missionary for all things Fab Four. I illustrated the depth and breadth of their musical genre, from rock to folk to jazz to vaudeville to Asian, but, with a rebuttal.

“Nope. Don’t like ‘em,” said bitchy resting face, which she’d become to me by this time.

But I felt justified in my judgement. To not like The Beatles is like not liking life itself. It’s like saying ‘I don’t like breathing’ or ‘I hate fluffy kittens and sunrises and tickles on my back’. It’s an oxymoron. My claim on a smaller scale is: If you can’t stick the four loveable mop tops, you are incapable of enjoying music.

My love for The Beatles started at an early age. I shared a bedroom with my sister, 12 years my senior, in the 1960s. Being a 1960’s teenager, she was a massive fan of The Beatles; actually, a massive ‘fan’ of Paul McCartney, then The Beatles; I’m not sure if the Paul McCartney part had anything to do with music.

Anyway, she had the standard issue ‘Danset” portable record player, which allowed you to stack your 7” records onto the central pole and play one after the other. Janet never bothered with this with the single “Help”. She just played it repeatedly until my dad decided to tell her to ‘leave it out’ and ‘give it a rest’. I loved it. Along with ‘Please Please Me’ and ‘I Wanna Hold Your Hand’.

By 1969, Janet was married and living in her own house, where I could spend some of my summer holidays. No doubt I’d heard it earlier, but I can remember spending much of 1970 listening to ‘Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’. I was nearly 10 years old, but this album blew me away. If that’s an appropriate term to use for a 10-year-old. Of course, now I know more about Sgt Pepper, I can see why it was so significant. Sgt Pepper could possibly be the greatest album ever made, which sounds a bit dramatic, until you realise that Rolling Stone magazine has decided that it is.

As I grew older, I found kindred spirits. I remember as a student sitting in the back of a broken-down car in Worthing with my American friend. We had to wait for the break down services to arrive, so amused ourselves by singing ‘Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ – not the song, the album. We knew the track listing and all the lyrics, mainly because Sgt Pepper was the first to print the lyrics (or ‘words’ as we called them) on the record sleeve.

In teenage years, I followed McCartney and Wings, even when I was a punk. Listening to ‘Working Class Hero’ by John Lennon and realising he was the original punk. Knowing where I was when hearing that he’d died. Being told that he’d been shot as I shaved in our flat in Brighton, the tears streaming down my face, unsolicited and surprising at the time, since it was the first of many signals of my own and others mortality.

Then, a couple of months ago, Lady Barton St Mary, Steeley, the Tinkers’ Friend, She-lah!, Pen, Nancy Cuticles and I went to Colston Hall in Bristol to see Paul Weller. Steeley, Nancy and I made our way to the bar after a friendly chat with a couple of Stranglers fans to get a soothing ale. Discussion turned to Paul Weller and his influences and the obvious subject arose.

“Oh, I’m not keen on The Beatles,” said Steeley. Thank goodness he said ‘not keen’, otherwise I may have had to ex-communicate him as a friend. I assumed The Beatles missionary position, if you’ll pardon the expression.

“How can you not be keen on The Beatles?” I enquired.

“Well, I don’t think they were that good,” he replied.

“But they’ve influenced almost every band that followed them,” I offered.

He thought for a moment.

“Yeah, well, I prefer other bands that didn’t follow the Beatles,” he replied.

“Like who?” I asked.

“Siouxsie and the Banshees,” he said, with a big smug grin on his face.

I gave it a moment as I stared into his eyes, savouring the moment. It only took two words.

“Dear Prudence,” I offered.

His eyes widened as he looked at me.

“Erm, yeah, but they did it much better,” he retorted, but he knew he’d already admitted his mistake.

Don’t like The Beatles, don’t like life.

 

Want more? Live in the UK? Follow this link to watch ‘Sgt Pepper’s Musical Revolution with Howard Goodall.

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Rural Spaceman – Offline in Scotland

It all came about thanks to that nice Richard Branson, who, having owned part of our railway system for 20 years, decided to reward the populace by offering tickets from Birmingham to Glasgow for £10 each way.

I’d never been to Scotland before, which appears to be rather surprising given my age, but many other rather senior people I spoke to admitted they’d never been, either. It’s true to say that if you are born at the bottom end of Britain, you tend to go south for your holidays, or abroad, where it’s usually sunnier and warmer.

Lady BSM went into action immediately, planning the trip:

  1. An overnight stay in Glasgow.
  2. Collect a hire car and drive to Aberfoyle, where we would stay in a castle for a couple of days.
  3. Drive to Edinburgh and stay for another couple of days.
  4. Back to Glasgow for another overnight stay.

“Would you like to go with somebody else or just me?” Lady BSM enquired.

“Oh, I’d really like it to be the two of us,” I replied, “let’s make it a romantic trip.”

“The Sexton would really love the scenery of Scotland, though,” she said thoughtfully…

So, it came to pass that Lady BSM, The Sexton, Pen and I found ourselves on the train to Glasgow via Birmingham, with bulging carrier bags of salad, pies, sandwiches, crisps, beer, gin and a selection of curious looking whisky miniatures that appeared from Pen’s handbag. They looked like the sort of thing I found in the back of my mum and dad’s drinks cabinet when I cleared out their house. We studied each bottle carefully.

“How old are these, Pen?” I asked. She shrugged.

“I don’t know. Just drink them.”

I pointed at one miniature that wasn’t whisky, but some sort of Port that had managed to become clear, with Port coloured flakes floating about in the translucent liquid.

“Are you sure your dad doesn’t mind us having these?”

“Well, they’re not dad’s, they’re from the old lady’s house opposite. She’s in a home now,” Pen explained, looking at the separated Port.

“Best not drink that one,” she advised, as The Sexton unscrewed the lid of another.

The holiday had begun.

We checked into The Glasgow Premier Inn, with a room on the fifth floor, surveying the panoramic view of the multi storey car park with its dazzling air conditioning units backed by a gigantic office block, where no doubt many workers were going about their business behind the tinted glass; however, we needed to get out and see the sights of Glasgow, so duly met up with The Sexton and Pen and made our way to Sauchiehall Street.

It wasn’t what we were expecting – it was no different from any other city or town centre, with a fair amount of litter, beggars in doorways and familiar shops. Globalisation is so lazy; they could at least try. For example, you could have Mc McDonald’s, or C U & A. Sports Direct selling running sporrans and lycra kilts. Although, mentioning kilts, there were plenty of kilt shops everywhere we went, which suggested a demand for them. The looks on the faces of the lonely shop assistants suggested otherwise.

We stopped in a local hostelry whilst researching where the ‘nice’ part of Glasgow was. It turned out to be the west part and a friendly taxi driver took us there, recommending Ashton Lane as the place to be, a short street full of trendy bars and restaurants. We chose to eat in the new Innis and Gunn brewery kitchen, which had a selection of lagers and beers. Very nice too.

On our return to Glasgow, at the end of our trip, we returned to the west end, dining in The Bothy restaurant opposite Ashton Lane. The waiters wore kilts. I ate haggis, neets and tatties and drank Belhaven beer. You couldn’t get more stereotypical.

A Glaswegian friend had recommended The Kelvingrove Art Gallery, in a lovely part of the city, which contains some wonderful artwork, including The Burrell Collection. Worth a trip, if you like that sort of thing.

Aberfoyle-Staying in a castle. 3 miles off the beaten track, in woodland. It was an air bnb, with the owners living next door. Pen looked out of the window of her bedroom where the owner and another workman stood on scaffolding, working on the outside walls.

“I think I’ll take a shower later,” she mused.

Aberfoyle followed the characteristics of a lot of the places we visited. The countryside was stunning, whilst the towns were particularly disappointing. It’s worth pointing out that there seems to be fewer people in Scotland, hence the roads are quieter; it was in Aberfoyle we went to see red squirrels. The Sexton, a huge fan of all things wildlife, was thrilled, genuinely thrilled. There is a drive that takes you around three lochs in the area; the views are stunning. Taking a boat trip across Loch Lomond, we saw Ospreys nesting. Again, The Sexton was in his element.

“Another one I can cross off my wish list,” he grinned, clasping his binoculars to his chest.

 

Stirling Castle was worth the trip too, with a guided tour explaining what an awful bunch of people the English were. To be honest, Stirling Castle probably edged it over Edinburgh Castle as a place to visit, but both gave me more of an idea as to the history and genealogy of our kings and queens; for example, I now know that Mary Queen of Scots was mother to James I of England, VI of Scotland, who wrote his own bible and believed in witchcraft.

We had a long road trip up to Glen Coe and Ben Nevis, more incredible views, breaking up the journey by shouting out other Glens and Bens: Glen Close, Glen Miller, Glen Campbell, Glen DaJackson, Ben Fogle, Ben Shephard, Ben Stiller (you get the idea) and playing traditional Scottish bagpipe music on the car’s sound system via Bluetooth. Again, Fort William’s beauty was inversely proportional to its surroundings.

Back at the castle, the promised wi-fi access was still in absence, along with any form of television. Of course, you should be able to live with this, but what with the final of Masterchef about to be aired along with Gloucester’s rugby team playing in the European Challenge Cup tantalisingly close in Edinburgh, it was a bit of an issue. We managed to listen to the rugby on the radio. We wished we hadn’t. Masterchef could wait for Edinburgh, in our air bnb basement flat.

So, to Edinburgh.

“This basement flat, will it have slugs in the kitchen?” I said to Lady BSM. We lived in a basement flat during the early years of our relationship, where it wasn’t unusual to make a trip to the toilet and tread on a conga eel sized slug on the way.

“No, I don’t think so,” she said, “this flat appears to be a lot better than the flat we had in Brighton.”

Not half. It was enormous, tastefully decorated and near to Holyrood Park and The Royal Mile. What’s more, it had wifi, so we could watch Masterchef. But not quite, since after watching the penultimate episode, the screen informed us that we had used all of our data allowance. Scotland and the internet seemed incompatible.

We made our way up to Edinburgh Castle, having purchased tickets at Stirling.

“Let’s hope I can find the tickets, or we won’t get in!” said Pen.

“From all the talks we’ve had so far, I think English people have been getting into these castles without paying for centuries,” he murmured.

After our trip around the castle included the firing of the one o’clock cannon and a tour of the Scottish crown jewels, which they are extremely fond of burying in times of crisis, such

Michael McIntyre discovers the hidden royal jewels.

as when the evil English wanted it for themselves or, incredibly, during the second world war. I suspect that, with the onset of Brexit, a couple of hardy, kilted souls will be sharpening their spades again soon.

After leaving the castle, we had to take refuge from the rain in The Ensign Ewart, a proper pub on The Royal Mile, with its dark interior and selection of whiskies. It was here we decided to sample some single malt. It’s an acquired taste, one we’re all still trying to acquire. Scotch whisky has the underlying effect of drinking smoky petrol. To be honest, I prefer Irish whiskey, but there does seem to be a certain snobbery around whisky drinking on a par with the wine buffs. In the end, it’s all flavoured industrial cleaner.

Our trip was most enjoyable, with the frequent moves making it even more entertaining. Our last night’s stay in Glasgow was in the curious Alexander Thompson hotel, a rather austere looking hostelry with Glasgow Central Station nearby. Everybody was friendly, except for one miserable taxi driver, who was definitely out of character with his colleagues, who all told funny tales and were quick to mention the rivalry between Glasgow and Edinburgh.

The Sexton sat next to me on the train journey home, holding his carrier bag full of lunch.

“Amazing. It just goes to prove that when you’re deciding to go on holiday, it may be better to head north,” he concluded. I agreed.

 

 

 

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The Day I Met A Saint

It happened by the green outside our house. I was returning from the shops with my mum and we passed a large, black car parked a little way up Dacre Gardens. The rear window was open, cigar smoke drifting out into the autumn air, curling around my mother’s headscarf as she passed the vehicle. She made a double take at the passenger, somebody vaguely familiar to her.

He looked at her directly, before opening the car door and alighting.

“Good afternoon, madam,” he said. She stared back, slightly coyly, before returning the greeting. The man’s eyes then moved to me. Slowly, he extended his hand and took mine, shaking it very gently.

“and good afternoon to you, too, young man,” he said, in his rich, impeccably crisp, well tailored voice, as his chauffeur, our neighbour, returned.

“Ready, Mr Moore?” said his driver.

Roger Moore unbuttoned his jacket and slid back into the back seat, giving my grinning mum and me a wave.

“Cheerio.”

Of course, I can’t remember any of this. I was only three years old.

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Release Roger! Roger Hodgson at Birmingham Symphony Hall

A rainy night in Birmingham – every time I visit, it’s raining. We were travelling back from Glasgow, with the added treat of seeing Roger Hodgson at The Symphony Hall.

Roger Hodgson? Yes, the man who wrote and sang most of the songs associated with Supertramp, one of the iconic bands of the 1970s. Lady Barton St Mary and I have fond memories of Supertramp at their commercial zenith in the late 70s – they were the sound of our sixth form common room at school, a time before we ventured out into the world to make our living, our ideals and dreams still intact.

The Birmingham Symphony Hall is also one of my favourite music venues, where every seat is a good seat and the acoustics are perfect. So, safely ensconced in our stall seats, Roger took to the stage at 8pm prompt.

“Good evening, Birmingham!” he chirped, a 66 year old man with a transatlantic accent and a 1979 hairstyle. Roger is one of those gifted people with a gifted life; a public school education, a musical genius, who’s lived the majority of his life in the sun and tranquility of California. After opening with ‘Take the Long Way Home’, he engaged with the audience.

“The most important thing in life is love,” he explained, a big smile on his face.

” My songs just come to me, I don’t know how. Songs and music are all about my memories, my journey through life. But I also know that this same music is your memories, your journey through life,” he continued, reminding me of those heady sixth form days.

“This song is about an important time in my life,” he said, before his band member Aaron McDonald blew the plaintive harmonica introduction to ‘School’. Whoa. Aaron McDonald. One of those musicians who seems capable of playing any musical instrument. You could imagine him walking into a music shop, picking up any instrument and learning how to play it in half an hour.Heck, this bloke could play a thermos flask. One of those people you wish you could be, because as the night progressed, Aaron played the penny whistle, a funny wind instrument with a keyboard (a melodica – just google ‘wind instrument with keyboard’) and the saxophone solos from all the Supertramp hits, including ‘Breakfast in America’, possibly Supertramp’s (and Roger’s) best known songs. He explained he wrote it when he was 18 years old. This means it first saw the light of day in 1968 – I tried to imagine what it would have sounded like if released in the late sixties rather than 10 years later.

Roger welcomed the late comers with a cheery hello and ‘you’ve missed the best bits!’ – I can’t remember a concert where people turned up late and then drifted in and out to get drinks. I could imagine some famous musicians jumping from the stage and tearing them to pieces. Bizarre, but Roger is so laid back, happy and full of love he couldn’t care less.

“I wrote this when I was 24 and feeling quite insecure,” he explained, before launching into ‘Hide in Your Shell’, possibly my favourite Supertramp song. It comes from the album ‘Crime of the Century’, regarded as one of the best albums of the 1970s. I can only agree. The only problem with ‘Hide in Your Shell’ is that it is a very powerful ear worm. I’ve been humming it ever since.

Familiar song after song – Roger asking us to whistle along to ‘Easy Does It’, the opening track of ‘Crisis-What Crisis?’, then the first half finishing with ‘The Logical Song’, another Roger Hodgson search for one’s purpose and self.

After a refreshing drink at the bar, we all returned and the second half started with ‘Child of Vision’ from the Breakfast album. This time, another musician, band member Kevin Adamson, took centre stage and played the most amazing jazz piano, good enough to turn the head of any leading lady in La La Land. It’s concerts like this where the band members (including Bryan Head on drums and David J Carpenter on bass) display why they are gifted enough to make a living out of playing music.

Roger had no qualms about playing mainly Supertramp songs – there were a few songs from his solo albums, including the romantic ‘Only Because of You’ and the haunting ‘Death and a Zoo’, all about the question – If you were an animal in the wild and about to be captured, would you prefer death or a life in a zoo?

The memories were triggered once more, rather poignantly for me, as Roger played the opening bars to ‘Dreamer’. It was a favourite of my late cousin John. I remembered travelling up to Keele University and spending the night in the student bar, drinking real ale and singing along as ‘Dreamer’ was repeatedly played on the jukebox. Happy days.

Then after 18 songs, Roger left the stage, still smiling, before returning for the encore. What was left?  ‘Give a Little Bit.’ Of course. Then just one more song.

“I think I know what’s coming,” I whispered in Lady BSM’s ear. She looked at me questioningly.

“Well, this is the first gig of our UK tour,” explained Roger, “and since we’re in Birmingham on a night like tonight, I couldn’t leave without playing this,” he continued, before  rousing version of ‘It’s Raining Again’, the crowd brandishing their open umbrellas, throwing superstition to the wind and rain in the great hall.

A big wave and smile from Roger and his band and a big smile and wave back from the crowd, who, by the looks of them, also spent their lunch hours in the common room singing “Take a look at my girlfriend, she’s the only one I’ve got…”

 

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