Archive for December, 2010

‘I’m John, and I play the fool’

12 December 2010

John Lennon died 30 years ago this month, and would have been 70 this  summer. One likes to think that the older Lennon would have been more like Neil Young and less like, say, Mick Jagger, still more interested in music than in celebrity.  Watching Nowhere Boy earlier this year, the story of Lennon’s loss-drenched adolescence, sent me the other way, back to The Beatles’ early songs on The Beatles at the BBC compilation. It combines interviews and promotional material with live performances, recorded between 1962 and 1965.

Of course, it’s a cliché now to say that before The Beatles were a great rock band, they were a great rock ‘n’ roll band, their sound honed by a thousand sweaty nights in Hamburg. But the other half of the musical equation is also true; that like Elvis, they also brought the same vigour to the ballads that had been the staple of ’50s crooners such as Matt Monro and Pat Boone. On Beatles at The BBC, this is exemplified for me by the June/moon couplet in the chorus of ‘I’ll Be On My Way’, a song they gave to the Merseyside band Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas:

As the June light
Turns to moonlight
I’ll be on my way.

The other thing which the ‘Live’ CDs show is how cannily their manager, Brian Epstein, played the media in the last great days of radio, just before television came a truly mass medium. In the UK, before the advent of commercial radio, local radio, and music stations, they were on the BBC Light Programme (Radio 2’s predecessor) being interviewed, reading out dedications in the studio, being personalities. And they were on a lot; 52 performances in three years, and most of these in 1963 and 1964. For a while in 1963, they even had their own show, Pop Go The Beatles, for which they had to record five songs a week.

They’d auditioned for the first slots in early 1962, still all but unknown, and with Pete Best still on drums. The producer’s report noted, “An unusual group, not as “rocky” as most, more country and western with a tendency to play music.” Their first radio show was seven months before they released their first single, Love Me Do.

The ratings were terrific; typically ten million for Saturday Club, for example. And much of that is down to Lennon, whose radio personality prefigures the authorial voice he showed slightly later in In His Own Write and A Spaniard In The Works; understated, deprecating, with an ear for the absurd. On an early recording, they’re asked to introduce themselves; the others give their names and instruments, before John says, ‘I’m John, and I play the fool’, though he adds after a pause, ‘and sometimes the guitar’.  On another, later programme, he introduces a song with a Goon-ish flourish: “This is a Dorsey-Burnett number, recorded on their very first LP – in 1822”.  Maybe you had to be there, but given the astonishing stuffiness of early 1960s radio, it would have been a breath of energy.

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Following the Ashes

4 December 2010

The arrival of a new Ashes series always sends me in search of Gideon Haigh, who is probably the best cricket journalist currently writing in English: informative, insightful, illuminating, measured, and with a keen sense of the game’s history and wider context. As in 2009, he’s covering the series for the Australian Business Spectator (free but needs registration). So far he’s hit his usual heights. Here are some extracts from the first two days play at Adelaide.

From Day One, which started a few hours after the FIFA World Cup debacle in Zurich:

Misery loves company, and there is something consoling about tradition too: no matter how many brown paper bags change hands at FIFA, Australia and England will always have each other. So there was something rather warming and reassuring about the preparatory rites of the Second Test: all rise for the national anthem, and let’s salute the red, white, blue and green, the last provided by the Milo munchkins, lined up to mix their corporate message with the patriotic ones.

Day One again, with Ponting coming in at 0-1 with Katich run out in the first over without facing a ball:

Early losses are one thing; self-inflicted wounds another. Katich’s was the sort of death by misadventure that rocks a dressing room, still to seat itself comfortably, still to obtain itself the first cups of tea, maybe still straining to detect early movement on television. Passing a batsman yet to face a ball was certainly not the manner in which Ponting would have imagined batting in his 150th Test.

From Day Two, on Andrew Strauss’ early dismissal after leaving the ball:

Because it is necessarily exploratory, opening the batting is full of such infinitesimal judgements. Strauss could even claim that his non-shot selection was vindicated by Hawk-Eye, which mysteriously pronounced that the delivery would barely have grazed the target. But leaving on length – as Strauss also did to the first ball of the second innings in Brisbane – is frankly better left until a proper evaluation of bounce is made, particularly when one is unfamiliar with the bowler, as Strauss is with Bollinger.

And on Trott’s narrow escape from being run out early in his innings:

Cook turned his partner sternly back, and the fielder at mid-wicket was a left-hander, Doherty, who had to run around the ball before collecting it, and his necessarily hurried throw missed the stumps. When the ball is new and hard, and the ball is likelier to travel square than straight, mid-wicket should really be right-handed: Trott the fielder would have comfortably run Trott the batsman out.

When you read the columns for extracts such as these, you notice two things. The first is how well written they are, with considered sentences and carefully structured syntax. The second is that I could have picked four or five, each as interesting as those above: on Cook’s batting style, on Pietersen playing spinners, on Ponting’s vulnerabilities early in his innings. There is depth along with the richness. Enjoy.

The portrait of Gideon Haigh at the top of this post is from Melbourne Cricket Club, and is used with thanks.