Tuesday, December 30, 2008

30 December 2008: Parade

Got to see the Doctor Who Christmas special on Boxing Day down in Louisiana.

Some kind soul had recorded it the previous day in the UK and was uploading it in seven parts, about one per hour, to YouTube. With several hundred people, including myself, hanging on each new upload, he got as far as number six before YouTube noticed what was going on and suspended his account. Happily, some other kind soul had uploaded the last five minutes separately so I got to see almost the whole thing.

And what to make of it? The first twenty minutes or so had to rate among some of the best stuff that RTD has written for David Tennant. There were several parallel plot threads unwinding nicely in tune with each other, an underlying mystery of 'who is this other Doctor and why doesn't he remember David Tennant's doctor', and this was nicely tested out with a few suggestions as to what was going on... the first 'pocket watch moment' was particularly tense, the outcome just adding to the intrigue.

But then, rather like Saints, it went vastly normal in the second half. The question was resolved, the 'Doctor' was revealed not only to not be the Doctor, but actually had almost all his questions answered with 30 minutes still left in the show. And then the episode climaxed by the city being attacked by a giant robot machine, which was defeated by the Doctor wielding a powerful ray-gun. Sheesh. No cliches there, then. At least Ghostbusters had a little humour as it did almost the same thing a quarter of a century ago (can you believe it?).

Still, better to have seen it than not.

Meantime, a new CD or two came my way for Christmas. A Hillsong compilation from the last few years was joined by a long-overdue collection item: "Join The Parade" by Marc Cohn.

For whatever reason, I always end up getting Cohn's albums about a year to eighteen months after they are released and this is no exception. And, as usual, I wish I'd got it before. Highlights include the 'radio single' "Listening to Levon", mixing Cohn's soulful sound with a little humour, and "Live Out The String", which covers his car-jacking incident from a few years ago.

Best track for me, though, is "Let Me Be Your Witness", again a soulful easy-listener which crescendos with a descending bassline that I find seriously reminiscent of the final part of Annie Lennox's song "Why". If I were doing this song live, I'd be adding her lines in there too.

But enough from me. Happy New Year to all, and no, I don't plan to add anything else to my YouTube channel. Still, 1500 hits in about a week isn't bad considering I just put it on this blog and only told three people about it.

Just hope Bill doesn't mind the extra publicity...

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

15 December 2008: Traditions

Hands up everyone who's sick of hearing Slade's "Merry Xmas Everybody"?

Hm, surprising number of hands from one side of the Atlantic, and a look of general confusion on the other.

Quick primer for everyone in the US: in 1973 the "battle for Christmas Number One" happened in the UK singles chart for the first time. The contenders were Wizzard with "I wish it could be Christmas every day" and the aforementioned Slade, who won the race, despite the Wizzard song being much better. Every year since then two things have happened: (1) there is interest in who will be number one in the charts at Christmas (these days it's almost exclusively the X-Factor winner) and (2) Slade and Wizzard have their songs played to death at Christmas parties, shopping centres and all over any radio station you listen to, along with a wide selection of other such Christmas number ones.

It's different here in the US: Christmas music usually means Frank Sinatra or Bing Crosby singing "Frosty the Snowman" or "O Come All Ye Faithful". There's some more recent stuff - although often just remakes of traditional carols - indeed Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is you" is a major exception to this rule. But that's about it - no Shakin' Stevens, no Cliff Richard, no Band Aid (any version) and not a hint of Terry Wogan.

And I miss it a little. So, last Friday we had a "British Christmas" at our place. Inviting over our friends from Southport and Luton (actually one family who moved around a bit), we had a fantastic time discussing games, traditions, differences and panto, while munching on home-made toad-in-the-hole (good sausages ARE available - you can buy them frozen from a pub of all places, down in Indianapolis), mince pies, Christmas cake and even some home-made Christmas pudding. Crackers were brought, of course, and we all wore silly hats for the evening. And there in the background was my Christmas CD.

Track listing, for those interested in such things:

1. Merry Christmas Everyone - Shakin Stevens
2. Driving Home for Christmas - Chris Rea
3. Fairytale of New York - The Pogues featuring Kirsty McColl (best Christmas song ever)
4. Saviour's Day - Cliff Richard
5. Merry Xmas Everybody - Slade
6. I Wish It Could Be Christmas Every Day - Wizzard
7. Stop The Cavalry - Jona Lewie (Gloria's favourite)
8. Happy Xmas (War is Over) - John Lennon
9. I Believe in Father Christmas - Greg Lake
10. A Spaceman Came Travelling - Chris De Burgh eeeeeevil eeeeeeeeevil
11. Mary's Boy Child - Boney M
12. In Dulce Jubilo - Mike Oldfield...

and the list goes on, 21 tracks in all but you get the idea.

So we played this through the evening and heard comments from our ex-pat friends such as "wow, I'd forgotten about this one" and "is Cliff Richard still alive?", and it greatly added to the evening, even if in the UK it would be regarded as a load of old rubbish. I suppose that even stuff you take for granted - like Slade and Wizzard - you miss when you move away, and that's where the value in tradition comes in.

To make it better, as I drove to Cincinnati Sunday evening for a final (really?) two-day stint with some friendly clients, I was blessed to be in a hire car that had satellite radio. And that means two things: (1) BBC World Service and (2) BBC Radio 1 (for some reason on a five-hour delay). And Sunday afternoon meant - the chart show!

Along I drove, all 2 hours 40 minutes listening to Fearne and Reggie blabber their way through the top forty best-selling singles of the week in the UK. And there, rising between the variable quality of Beyonce and Kings of Leon, were not one, not two but FOUR yes FOUR count them FOUR tracks from my CD. Shaky in at 36, Slade at 32, Wizzard at 31 (ha! I knew Wizzard were better) and The Pogues slamming in at 13, just below Mariah Carey. Terry Wogan's at number three with 'The Little Drummer Boy' but that's a whole other story. And why are these all in the charts? Because they now count MP3 downloads as part of the sales chart, and at this time of year people go on to iTunes and pay a few pennies to get a copy of Noddy Holder shouting IT'S CHRIIIIIIIIIIIIISTMAAAAAAAAAAS!!!!! And so, in the chart they go.

And that wrapped up a fantastic weekend. Almost like being at home. Except we get snow and the UK gets floods. Still, at least we can all join in the same songs, like the boys of the NYPD choir still singing Galway Bay...

And the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day!