Thursday, 7 November 2013

Issue 16: Down with this sort of thing

On The Prisoner – Patrick McGoohan’s lavish 17-part cult spy series of 1967 – there’s very little precipitation halting No.6’s daring attempts to escape the Village. It’s all well and good proclaiming, “I’m not a number, I’m a free man!” and scowling in a defiant manner whenever a Mini Moke approaches, but when the rain is falling so hard that impromptu tarns are forming around your walking boots and the wind is toppling metal fencing in a furious show of intent, there isn’t much you can do other than flap open an umbrella and hope that you’re not carried into the sky like Mary Poppins. Let it be said that at Festival No.6, the nation’s most eccentric and all-round fun cultural gathering, it knows how to rain.

Now in its second year, Festival No.6 has forced its way into the media crowd’s affections, positioning itself as a boutique retreat at the opposite end of the Glastonbury/V/Reading-Leeds spectrum. Its focal point is the pastel-shaded Portmeirion, the totally bonkers Italianate village that was created by out-there architect Sir Clough Williams-Ellis in 1925. This year, Chic, Manic Street Preachers, My Bloody Valentine, Tricky, James Blake, Johnny Marr, John Cooper Clarke and the ever-spectacular Bryothoniaid Male Voice Choir, among many others, braved the elements along the Dwyryd estuary. Rather than mope about with a wet notepad, I spent the entire weekend in the company of Declan Lowney, the director of this summer’s surprise hit film Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa – plus, in the Nineties, Lowney directed many of the finer episodes of Father Ted. With the idea of thwarted escape, there are definite parallels between The Prisoner and Father Ted. In fact, Dermot Morgan might have made a great No.6 in a re-make of The Prisoner while remaining in his Ted Crilly guise.

Although Lowney is in his fifties, he’s the chief practitioner of the hands-in-the-air dancing technique that had its foundation in New York’s disco scene (this I know, because I DJ’ed the VIP bar on Friday evening). It was decided by Festival No.6’s “No.2” figure, the prolific music writer Luke Bainbridge, that while we were in the neighbourhood, it might make sense to interview Lowney at Portmeirion’s Piazza stage, warming up the deckchair-reclined audience prior to the arrival of Stuart Maconie (whose controlled, tight dancing style on Friday was in stark contrast to Lowney’s semaphore signalling) and Caitlin Moran.

Following a decidedly balmy Saturday, where hangovers slowly evaporated in blazing sunlight, Sunday roared its disapproval with a very capable impression of the Falklands Islands in 1982. My Q&A with Lowney, scheduled for 2pm, was agonisingly postponed till 6.30pm for safety reasons. As our venue changed numerous times during the afternoon, chances are you couldn’t find us. Here’s what you missed…

What’s your opinion of Festival No 6?
I love Festival No 6. I spent time in Wales years and years ago with a bunch of girls who were students at Aberystwyth, around 1979 or 1980, and they took me to Portmeirion. I couldn’t believe the place. I’d forgotten all about it and Jenny, my wife, said, “There’s this festival, we should go there.” It’s a special place. There’s nothing else like it. So in terms of beauty and landscape, it’s fantastic. It’s just a shame that’s it’s held at the top of Wales at the end of September, because of the rain.

Have you seen The Prisoner?

Do you think you’ll get round to it?
No. Is it one of those things from the Sixties that you look at now and say, “F*** me, this is really crap”?

The first six episodes are fantastic, but the rest of it is largely unfathomable.

Countryside and general outdoor living – are you a fan?

Do you like camping?
No, I don’t really like camping terribly much. I have to say the boutique camping thing is the way to do a festival. You turn up and your tent’s already there and you walk away and leave it behind. It sounds like you’ll be leaving your tent behind anyway.

I put a Stanley knife through the canvas when I was getting it out of the box. That storm last night took its toll. It’s not looking good. The zip’s gone on it too, so we’re open to the elements.
So yours is almost as expensive as our boutique camping and you’re going to have to dump it? So it would have been cheaper for you to come into boutique. And you can stand up in our tent, and it doesn’t blow away in the night. 

Does it leak?
No. There’s a lot to be said.

Right, Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa. Historically, British sitcoms haven’t translated easily to film format. Was that something you weighed up when you were asked to direct the film?
Everybody was conscious of not making the same mistakes that a lot of other shows have made when they’ve gone to the big screen. But then, this isn’t like your normal sitcom that’s transferred to the big screen anyway. We didn’t take them all off to America or on a holiday to Disneyland, or anything like that. Part of the reason why I think it works is it stayed true to Alan’s roots and we kept him in Norwich, kept him in the radio station, and then created a situation in the radio station that he wanders into. So it wasn’t taking him out of his normal environment.

Alan Partridge has become the comedy that people quote in offices, taking over from Monty Python. What is it about Alan Partridge that we love?
Well, we’ve all grown up with Partridge, haven’t we? It’s been around for 20 years. All my time in this country, Partridge has been around. Partridge has this ability to say what we’re all thinking of saying, but we don’t say it because it would be the wrong thing to say, or it would be offensive to say it, or rude to say it. He just comes out with this shit. He doesn’t have that edit button. He doesn’t have the pause control that we all have in our brain. And that’s really enjoyable to watch, knowing someone’s going to put their foot in it. But we identify with him, because we often think the same thing.

Is it all scripted, or does Steve Coogan play with ideas as he goes along?
It’s all scripted. He would have thought of all the options at the script stage. But the writers are there all the time. Occasionally they’ll think of something. He’ll sometimes try stuff, and we’ll just keep rolling.

Steve Coogan, Armando Ianucci, Peter Baynham, Neil and Rob Gibbons, these are the best comedy writers in the country – they’re not going to let any poor gags through.
And they’re so bang-bang-bang on it. There’s a lot of communication without even saying stuff. If they’ve got a new idea, they’ll throw it to Steve. Rob will particularly say, “Why don’t we do it like that?” But we tend not to cut for those things. We keep it going. As soon as you stop, on film, everybody’s changing things and tweaking things. Because we’re not shooting on film, because we’re on digital format, you can keep going for 20 or 30 minutes. Sometimes Steve’s takes have run 15-20 minutes. He doesn’t stop, he just keeps going backwards and forwards and the other actors try to work out where he is. It keeps them on their toes.

Have you worked like that before?
Not as madly as that.

Had you tracked the downward spiral of Alan’s career?
I’ve been a fan. Whenever there’s been a Partridge every four or five years, I’ll watch, so it’s been easy to keep up with him. I’ve kept track of the whole downward thing, going back to Norwich, living in a caravan, and digital radio. I can’t think of any other comedy characters that we keep going back to every few years, and seeing them in so many different formats as well. Online stuff, the biography…

I’ve been told that Steve Coogan is a rather unusual character, admittedly by people in pubs, who’ve probably never met him before. What did you make of Steve?
That’s a good line, that. He’s very focused on what he does and the most important thing when he’s working is what he’s doing. And it’s called the Alan Partridge film, so it’s all about him. If he isn’t brilliant in that film, nothing else works. The other actors, he won’t be challenging them, but he will say, “Don’t say it like that, say it like that.” In the heat of things, people might say, “F***ing hell, he’s a bit in-your-face.” But why take ten minutes to say something that can take ten seconds? It’s all in his head – he just gets straight to the point. He’s just incredibly focused on what he’s doing and it’s brilliant to be around that sort of focus.

Now, a director’s job, from what I gather, is to yell “Action!” and “Cut!” and “Do that again with more feeling!”, but with Alan Partridge, was there a different dynamic, because Steve Coogan owns the Alan Partridge character? How did that work?
The poster says “12 hostages, 24 hours, one Partridge”. It should have said “12 executive producers, six writers, one director”. It says my name, directed by Declan Lowney, so it definitely was me. You can’t have more than one director. Comedy’s different to drama. You can’t have the actors saying, “Oh, I think you should do it like that.” It’s all hanging on Partridge. He is Partridge, and he knows better than anybody else what Partridge should or shouldn’t be doing. He’s open to suggestions. Sometimes he says, “Let’s go away for half an hour and write something better and come back and shoot that.” So you stop for half an hour.

When I was at your house a few weeks ago, drinking all your wine, for which I wholeheartedly apologise, at the apex of our drunken state, I asked if you were genuinely happy at the way the film had turned out. What did you reply because I can’t remember?
I said, “Yes, I’m absolutely thrilled.” I think it’s fantastic. I think it’s really funny, even when I see it now, and I’ve seen it an awful lot of times. There are always a few things that you’d change or wish you’d done differently, but I know there’s lots of me in there. I was very happy with what I did on it.

Why were you asked to direct the film, and not one of the TV series directors?
Because they’ve all gone on to do better things… No! Armando might have wanted to direct it himself but he was in the US directing Veep.

He did some of the TV episodes.
He’s done one of the series. I’ve worked with Steve before. I think he felt he had a safe pair of hands. They were nervous about who they gave this to because the wrong director could f*** it up. And although they wouldn't let it be f***ed up, it could have made life very hard for them if they felt it was being taken in the wrong direction. What I seem to be good at is being able to let the comedian/actors/producers all have a voice, to make that work. It’s about juggling people, keeping people happy, and getting stuff done.

Have you plans to go to America after Partridge?
Yes. I’m going to America for some meetings.

What’s your next project?
I don't know yet. I’ve been offered a film but I don’t know if I want to do it or not. That might happen next year. It’s just juggling shit.

You had an unusual big break when you were asked, in 1988, to direct coverage of the Eurovision Song Contest, which was held in Dublin. Was that a bolt out of the blue?
I thought it was a big break at the time, although it could have killed my career. It was a huge show to do, and I was a 27-year-old rookie who’d only been directing a couple of years.

And you put some noses out of joint as well, didn’t you?
Yes, I did an interview for the Irish papers which was published a week before the contest, where I slagged the whole thing off. And I was right about what I said, it just wasn’t politically right to have said it at the moment. You know, they shouldn’t have let me go and sit in the canteen with a journalist for an hour without a minder there.

Who won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1988?
We gave the world Celine Dion.

So it was a comedy of sorts. Do you think that a person from Canada should be allowed to represent Switzerland – there’s a lot of that about in the Eurovision Song Contest.
There’s too much of it going on. Down with that sort of thing. I mean, nobody really wants to win it any more. Ireland was winning the competition every year and needed to not win it for a while.

Would you say that your experience in 1988 in any way influenced the classic episode of Father Ted, titled “A Song For Europe”, where Father Ted and Father Dougal unleash their song “My Lovely Horse”?
Absolutely. And the need for Ireland to not win the Eurovision Song Contest, that’s what that episode is about.

Were you responsible for locating Craggy Island?
Yes. Jenny and I had spent time on Craggy Island a few years before and I knew of the existence of the island but couldn’t shoot the whole show over there. In the opening titles, we did a helicopter pass over the island and we did those sweeping shots. We shot everything else on the mainland. All the other exteriors are on the mainland, in County Clare. All the interiors are in the studio in London. But yes, I found that lump of rock out there. Although, people found it before me – it already existed.

So people can stay on the island?
There’s a few hundred people living there – it’s three islands in a row. We had Jenny’s 50th birthday party there two years ago. We had our 40th there as well and brought a lot of people over. It’s a f***ing amazing place to go if you want to get away from people.

What did you think of the Father Ted script when you first read it?
I got Father Ted straight away. I love Irish humour and that just ticked all my boxes. I was laughing my head off when I read that stuff. And we hadn’t seen anything like that on TV over here, with the Irishness of it all. So I think I got it straight away.

Would you say that your humour matches the Father Ted world?
It’s Irish humour. It’s also Irish humour of that generation – Arthur [Mathews] is closer to my age than Graham [Linehan] is. I think we grew up with a lot of the same sort of things. We’ve obviously got a lot of the same influences.

What I like about Father Ted is that there’s nothing overtly clever going on. If you removed the “feck”s, it could have been shown on kids TV at 5pm.
I disagree, I think the script is very clever. There are layers of cleverness in it.

There’s lots and lots going on in an episode. It’s a bit like The Simpsons in that respect. You go on a long journey, but it’s all in half an hour. There’s no wasted time.
It’s busy on scenes. There are short scenes, which is unusual for a sitcom. The Simpsons was around for a while before Ted. I know Graham was a huge Simpsons fan. All that thing like, “I’m sure this wouldn’t happen in the Vatican…” Phump! You cut and that exact same thing is happening in the Vatican! Phump! Cut back. That’s a two-second cut. That was all fairly new for comedy. And it’s a pain in the arse. It takes hours to set up that two-second shot. But you know, it’s what makes it work.

Were you good friends with Dermot Morgan, who played Ted – I know you named your son after the character?
Yes, I’d known Dermot for years because we’d worked together on Irish TV. I think he felt confident knowing I was there. It’s not like I got him into it – he was always uppermost in their minds. He was the right guy for it, you know.

Did Dermot and Ardal O’Hanlon know each other quite well beforehand?
No, not at all.

Did you see Father Jack [Frank Kelly] on Emmerdale?
No! Is he still on it?

He’s left now.
It’s interesting, because Frank’s a proper actor, a very serious thesp. Ardal was a stand-up. Dermot was a stand-up, but he did a lot of other stuff. It was a real mixture of disciplines there. I know Dermot struggled to learn the lines. Dermot had most of the scenes, and he had tons of dialogue. Frank would learn it. But I know it was tough for Dermot to learn. He’d learn all Ardal’s bit as well. He learnt the whole f***ing script. The only way he knew when to speak next was by knowing everybody else’s lines as well. It was a lot of work for him, to do that on a weekly basis.

So Dermot found it stressful?
Yes, stressful.

How did you hear about Dermot’s death and was it a complete shock?
It was the end of [Father Ted] series three, but I wasn’t doing series three. I was in Manchester about to start shooting Cold Feet. I’d gone to work and Jenny got the call when I’d left the flat. I was on location. We were shooting the first morning of Cold Feet. As the morning went on, more and more people knew, but I didn’t know. I was focused on what I was doing. I was told at lunchtime. “Dermot’s had a heart attack and hes died.” F***ing hell. And I said, “But will he be OK?” You hear the heart-attack bit, but you don’t believe the died bit.

How do you think Dermot’s career might have panned out? I understand he was intending to write a sitcom about two retired footballers who shared a flat.
He had big ambitions. I know he was writing a sitcom about two footballers. Dennis Waterman was going to be the other guy. But I know that Dermot loved that Minder era, because Dermot was a generation older than us. I know he had ambitions to write and create stuff and he would have been a producer.

Might we have seen a Father Ted film? I don’t know that a film would have worked. It didn’t need it. But then again, I wasn’t convinced that Alan Partridge needed a film.
I don’t know. I’m not quite sure what they’d have done with it. A Father Ted film, the instinct would have been, “Let’s take them all off to America,” and do the obvious thing with them. It wouldn’t have worked. I don't know if Channel 4 would have just left them on the island and an event happen there, because that’s really what the Father Ted film should have been, something happening on the island. Maybe the island’s taken over by someone. I don't know. They always said they’d never do any more than three [series], they always said they would never do a film, but had Dermot been alive, it may have been different. But I’m glad they didn’t. It’s more perfect that way.

Have you ever been to the annual TedFest at Craggy Island?
I’ve never been to the TedFest. I’ve been invited and I hope I can go some day. It’s f***ing full of lunatics, ha-ha-ha!

Funnily enough, I’ve got a question from the chief lunatic, Peter Phillips, co-founder of TedFest, and he asks… In Father Ted, how much input did the actors have while shooting. Was there a lot of improv?
I think it’s a mistake that people think there was a lot of improv. There wasn’t. They might make suggestions and bring things to the part, but Graham and Arthur always had a really sure idea, and a lot of the guys in smaller parts might not have fully known where we were going with the humour. So, in short, no.

I’ve got two questions here from Steve Coogan. The first is this… On the film, did you worry that you were the captain on the Titanic?
I knew we were having a tough time. I knew the crew all felt, “F*** me, this is actually tough going.” But it wasn’t like the Titanic, where I felt people wanted to jump off. They were staying onboard because they knew that what we were getting was really, really good. And I think people admired Steve, even though it was tough going, and we had to change things so much. It was frustrating, but we understood why it was happening, and the organic nature of the process, and we were getting really good stuff and it was worth it. So I didn't feel that the crew were going to jump off.

Steve’s other question is this… How did you not lose your temper, like producer Kevin Loader did?
Ha-ha-ha! That’s very specific, Steve. I don't blame Kevin for losing his temper. As a producer, it’s very tough to keep a rein on things. I’m only aware of Kevin losing it once. When I was a trainee, I worked with a director who was a shouter, and I didn’t think it was the best way to get stuff out of people. Sometimes you think, “F*** me, the only way I can get people to do stuff is to shout.” Occasionally, you might snap at people but for the most part I prefer to keep a happy atmosphere on the set. I hate it when an actor loses their temper at somebody, and it’s terrible the way people get bawled out at films. It’s not fair. I just don’t think it’s the right way to deal with people. I don’t think it’s the best way to get the most out of people.

I also have a question from Ardal O’Hanlon. He asks… Why are people from Wexford known as yellow bellies?
There is a myth that Cromwell came to Wexford and did a pretty good job at getting rid of half the town’s population. And a lot of people ran. There was a reputation for Wexford people being cowards. A yellow belly meant you were a coward. But the Wexford hurling team colours are purple and yellow, and the yellow is worn on the stomach, and the purple is above that. Yellow belly, purple chest. That’s where it comes from.

Are there any plans for Alan Partridge 2?
I don’t know. Alan Partridge 1 took a long time coming. Everyone is very excited about the success of it. I think if there was an idea, and an interest in there being a second film, I would jump at it and I think the boys would jump at it. But I don't imagine it will be for some time.

Do you have a favourite band?
Ha-ha-ha. In terms of live bands, and I’ve worked with them a number of times, so I’m biased, I think U2 are spectacularly brilliant as live performers. But I don’t go to see bands. If I see Chic tonight, I might say Chic.

And is your Eddie “The Eagle” Edwards project shelved.
I can't see it happening. It’s a very expensive picture to make. It’s got to be shot in the snow and it involves ski-jumping, which is a very expensive thing to stage, with a huge amount of stunts and trickery. To be shot in the snow is really, really slow. You need American money and they don't seem to get this thing about the guy coming last being a hero. It’s a great story and would be a great film.

What clothing labels do you buy?
Ha-ha-ha. Ted Baker. And Pretty Green! All my shirts are Pretty Green. And I’ve a few Paul Smith items – suits.

Fantastic. OK, that’s all folks. Thanks to Declan for driving such a long way, from Brighton, to spend some quality time with us in Wales. Be seeing you!
Be seeing you!

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Issue 15: Are you dancing?

I was standing outside The Clachan on Kingly Street last Friday dinner, gulping a pint of perfectly drinkable 3.9-per-cent ale with my fellow Vauxhall Conference-level DJ, The Butler. A health-books editor by day, The Butler was in high spirits knowing he’d be DJing over the weekend in a small Clerkenwell drinking establishment surrounded by pals, pals of pals, and a pile of his own felt-tip-marked CDs.

As befits a Non-League DJ, The Butler was yet to sort his playlist, but was adamant about one thing: “Just give people music they already know.” I nodded acceptance to this, having learnt the hard way that an empty dancefloor is a lose/lose situation for punter and DJ alike. Now, nobody’s suggesting that you de-ball yourself by playing top-20 guff by the likes of that newly wild Hannah Montana, lorry-driver-in-a-dress Pink! or those 19th-century canal workers Mumfords, but in every right-thinking person’s iTunes library, there should be more than enough five-star (not Five Star) dance bombs to keep most people happy most of the time.

Like many dads in their 40s, I like to get on the dancefloor at the earliest possible juncture from three pints in, but I find that 99.9 per cent of DJs are unable to connect with me on any level. That’s why I decided to give it a go myself just over ten years ago. The only DJs that I truly enjoy these days are the gadgies that I play parties with – the Non-Leaguers, like The Butler. Us that can’t mix have an instinctive understanding of what constitutes a foot-tapper.

The Butler used to host spectacular parties when he resided in a central-London flat. He rented a double-decker des res above five floors of solicitors’ offices, an accommodation curio with a fair-sized living room that masqueraded twice a year as a maple sprung dancefloor. At the weekend in The Butler’s abode, when the solicitors were in their country piles in the Herts hinterland, nobody could hear you scream. It was a stupendous party venue.

In 2006, The Butler roped me in to play a warm-up slot for a World Cup-themed shindig that he was putting on. The timing of the night was impeccable – England had just gone out on penalties to Portugal, and on the Northern Line journey up to The Butler’s flat, there was an overwhelming sense of menace, as browned-off, fat football revellers directed their ill-judged anger at London Underground staff. I’d watched the match, but to be honest, I couldn’t give a bugger – I was past caring. Once a bedraggled England finds itself lifelessly booting penalties in a quarter-final, you know it’s time to switch the telly off and set about some chores. The players would rather be elsewhere anyway, sitting by a pool on the equator, gazing through men’s-earring websites on their iPads. Spending.

I’d stopped mithering about the national side in Euro 2004, when England were 1-0 up against France with a minute to go and still managed to cock it up, losing 2-1. I had little St George’s flags on top of my telly that day, getting into the spirit of it all. I knocked them flying with the side of my hand at the final whistle. I couldn’t have that sort of grief any more – I took England’s defeats way too personally.

At The Butler’s World Cup party, I played 8pm-11.30pm. Round about 10.30pm you could feel the night starting to hot up – half-ten’s a crucial point for a big-night; it’s when the party reveals its hand. By 11pm, we were seriously straying into the crackers zone and it’s a smashing thing to see strangers writhing to your collection. There was a shimmer in the air and as the dancefloor filled, I knew we were riding a wave. I thought: “This is why I came to London.” I quickly realised it was going to be the best party I’d ever attended.

Now, the DJ who was on after me came out of his trap with “Mr Blue Sky” (1978) by Electric Light Orchestra. I don’t like ELO, nor do I particularly appreciate that track, but it fit the occasion and made me want to get in the middle of the room where the action was. “Don’t Stop Me Now” (1979) by Queen was a similar inclusion – I loathe Queen, but it also worked well. It made my big-hitting “World In Motion” by New Order seem a bit obvious. I’d played “Billie Jean” by Michael Jackson, “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand and “It Takes Two” by Rob Bass & DJ E-Z Rock, so I wasn’t letting the side down too greatly – although the night didn’t really need “My Favourite Dress” by The Wedding Present and could probably have survived without Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”. It’s a learning curve.

It wasn’t like a school disco, or anything sh**e like that – there was no Bon Jovi, “Final Countdown” or “99 Red Balloons”, but you knew every tune that was being played. I left the party at 5.30am and walked through a warm, soft, summer dawn with my mate Chris, a pal from school, thinking: “I’m devastated that the night’s come to an end.” It was that good. I knew I had enough material in my music collection to be able to move forward from that point, and maybe even bring a bit of my own personality into this tight association of secret-party DJs. I started work on my next party playlist that evening. Since World Cup ’06, we’ve been having these parties twice a year, although The Butler’s spectacular flat has long since found new tenants. With nights like that, you only need to go out twice a year anyway. You’d be dead by 50, otherwise.

When I was at Festival No.6 last month, trampling through Gwynedd’s sodden loam, I thought that too many DJs were overly reliant on obscure disco. Fair-dos, it seemed to get a fairly positive response from the audience, like a six-out-of-ten score, but the reaction might have been more raucous with a little more foresight from the DJs. You want to go f***ing nuts at a festival, not sway gently from side to side. If you’re playing disco, harpoon us with it! Give us “Lost In Music (Dmitri In Paris Remix)” by Sister Sledge – don’t pussyfoot about with a 1975 warehouse find that you bought for £15 from Phonica Records in Poland Street, a track that would have been rejected in its day, that Larry Levan would have discus-thrown from the toilet window of the Paradise Garage in disgust.

A few weeks ago, I asked a number of groove-worshipping acquaintances what track would guarantee their rapid passage to the dancefloor. For the results, bypass all this bumf and head directly to the foot of this latest blog, but I think you should stay with me for a bit – you’re on a bit of downtime, after all. What’s interesting is that Deee-Lite’s “Groove Is In The Heart” came out top. I’ve never played this when I’ve been out, but I might do from now on. Back when I was DJing every month at a London soul night, I bought Herbie Hancock’s “Bring Down The Birds”, which “Groove Is In The Heart” borrows from. “Bring Down The Birds” appeared in Blow-Up, a 1966 film about a fashion photographer, played by David Hemmings. The track was re-released in 2008 on MGM with a lively “B-Boy Edit” – it was tight, tight, tight. The thing is, around then, I had an incredible knack of clearing a floor more effectively than a Miele hoover, and to my surprise and abject annoyance, Hancock’s fast-moving, bass-driven brute had the same effect on London’s soul crowd as a well-aimed canister of tear gas. People dispersed rapidly, dashing upstairs to smoke – it was better to have long-term health problems than listen to my dirge! I looked at these Sixties-worshipping empty vessels filing out and thought: “You tw*ts.” I suspect that folk just couldn’t make the connection between “Bring Down The Birds” and “Groove Is In The Heart”. They’d have preferred “Move On Up” on a loop, or just a Take That album played in its entirety.

“Groove Is In The Heart” is undoubtedly a tremendous dance record – better than the Hancock original. I remember watching the video for the first time in the summer of 1990. A few of us were looking after a house for a week – a mate’s mam and dad were on holiday in Switzerland or Austria, somewhere up a mountain anyway, with Heidi passing the window every morning, now aged 40, off to do the cleaning for some rich Germans, no doubt. Back then, The Chart Show, with its Commodore Amiga graphics, was essential viewing on a Saturday morning, a real event. We’d heard the track in the week, probably on the radio when driving to Sheffield to look around the shelves of Warp Records’ own vinyl emporium on Division Street. With cups of tea in hand, we settled in to study the “Groove Is In The Heart” video, and were instantly blown away by a festival of De La Soul-inspired Seventies’ hues. The singer, Lady Miss Kier, age 27, was in a tight catsuit that had a psychedelic print on it, and for the next three minutes and 54 seconds, as she danced like a mad dolly, we remained in situ, glued to the spot, each of us captivated. I was taping it on my music video, so I’d have been sprawled across the floor – I usually was. When it finished, my mate Chris (who was at the World Cup party with me 16 years later) said, “F***in’ ’ell.”

Last week, I asked Deee-Lites Lady Miss Kier why she thought Groove Is In The Heart is such a memorable dance track – as you do. Because it has a relentless groove, which is 50 per cent to making any hit, she replied. And most importantly because its positive, with optimistic lyrics. I really meant every word I sang. And if youre wondering what would make Lady Miss Kier sprint to the dancefloor, theres a Sheffield connection! Its Heaven 17s (We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove Thang”.

I was very proud of my E240 music video; by 1990, I was getting up at 3am so I could record bands on through-the-night TV channel Music Box. I returned from college one weekend in 1991, with my well-travelled video, to stay at my nana’s house. I always stayed at Nana’s – it was the only non-smoking house in the whole of South Yorkshire. Still is! On Saturday night, my brother visited prior to us heading out for a Zulu battle down Doncaster’s high street. We clanked on my music video while sharpening our spears, slapping on a bit of the old Calvin Klein Eternity while helping ourselves to a nip or two from the liquor cabinet. When I pressed play, to my dizzy disbelief, MC Tunes and 808 State disappeared in a haze of grey crackle and the opening bars of Coronation Street’s theme music began. I’ll tell you what, I danced to that tune!

I feverishly fast-forwarded, thinking there must be a colossal mistake, but the realisation that this was now an incontrovertible fact soon descended. It stated clearly on the cover of my cassette, “Lee’s Music Video – DO NOT TAPE OVER”. As I immersed in dismay, my brother rolled onto the floor in paroxysms of uncontrollable laughter, unable to breathe with the purity of this sensational comedy situation, knowing that years of work had been atom-bombed with the quasi-sitcom outcomes of Alec and Bet Gilroy’s Rovers Return. When Nana got back from bingo at half-eight, she said, “Well I didn’t bleeding know – I just grabbed the first tape I could find!” We have a general rule that we don’t get angry with Nana – it still exists today. It was severely tested that evening, though.

Apart from the Coronation Street theme, the ultimate dance track is, of course, “Blue Monday” (1983) by New Order. It will never be beaten, although “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk feat Pharrell Williams gave it a bloody good run for its money this year. “Blue Monday” has it all. It begins with a drumbeat that’s so whopping that it sounds like a German 88mm field gun, beckoning you towards the DJ’s decks. Bump-bump b-b-b-b-b-b-b-b-bump bump… “Blue Monday” never fails in its primary objective of hijacking the night. Its sound is three-dimensional, while its crispness seems to adjust the colour within the club setting, turning up the reds, greens and, obviously, blues. It’s the sensation of coming to life. In its seven minutes and 29 seconds, there is no dead time, no wasted beat, and even today, it still sounds fresh. I’ve spoken at length to New Order’s Bernard Sumner and Factory’s in-house designer Peter Saville (who designed its die-cut 12” sleeve) about this seminal, scene-changing production. So now, like on Play School, let’s have a look through the Round Window and find out what Bernard and Peter have to say about it, shall we?

Bernard Sumner:
It was on the cusp, working with new equipment. It was done with the little sequencer I’d made, and we got a Moog and a new drum machine we’d bought, a DMX. So we were excited about this new equipment. We didn’t play encores at gigs, and we were getting into a lot of trouble over it. So rather naively, we thought we’d write a song that could be played by machines and all we’d have to do was press the button. They’d get what they wanted and we’d get what we wanted. It was an exploration into electronic music, more kind of pure electronic music, so we took the machines to the limit to see what we could do with them. What we could do with them was very basic at the time, so it was making the most out of what little gear we had.

“Stephen [Morris] whacked the drum machine, as I remember. He spent all day programming a backing track and then he caught a power cable to the DMX drum machine with his bloody foot, ripped the power cable out and lost all the drum programming. So we had to start again on the drums. We managed to get most of it back, but out there somewhere is the original. It was different. It’s funny that it’s become one of our most famous songs.

“It’s not really a song, the way I see it. It’s more of a machine that sounds good on club systems. I was doing some work with 52nd Street, a Manchester group on Factory Records, kind of funk music, and I was just doing some keyboard effects with them and occasionally I would produce them, and I was going to a lot of clubs with them, clubs I wouldn’t normally go to. I was just listening to the sound systems in clubs, the sub-bass frequencies. It never occurred to me to listen to that frequency when I was in Joy Division, because we never used that frequency. We never used bass bass really, cos Hooky’s bass was all middle. We never used bottom end. So we went to a club that had a fantastic sound system with all this sub-bass, and we used that knowledge on ‘Blue Monday’. There was a lot of trickery going on in ‘Blue Monday’ that you don’t realise. It’s not just the bass, there’s quite a lot of subsonics.”

Peter Saville:
“When I was at school in the Seventies, you had a choice. Do you like rock or dance music? Not both. ‘Blue Monday’ is made by post-industrial prog-rock guys from an alternative label bravely bringing together what everyone really wanted: thinking beats. We know that Hooky’s bass is lead percussion. There’s Stephen’s automaton drumming. There’s Bernard’s melodic accent. New Order are fundamental to the chemistry that changes Britain’s music, and culture change comes with it. ‘Blue Monday’ is more than an audio experiment, it’s the beginning of a convergence of sensibility. ‘Blue Monday’ changes the way we dress, and our fashion. Through ‘Blue Monday’, drugs enter our culture. It was coming anyway, but ‘Blue Monday’ brings together that moment. When you hear ‘Blue Monday’, it doesn’t date. It’s 30 years old and it still sounds modern. It doesn’t sound vintage. It’s still music of the modern; a signifier of contemporary.”

If 2013 has taught me anything, it’s that a track doesn’t need a fast tempo to fill a room. Daft Punk’s “Lose Yourself To Dance” comes in at a pedestrian 100bpm but has been the starting point to all two of my sets over summer, and even made people squeal with delight at Festival No.6… although maybe somebody had just slipped in the mud. When you’re behind the mixer, your ego is enhanced – the sight of eight people dancing will always be 30 in your mind. At 101bpm, Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” also has a lagubrious groove, but still stands as a rollicking dance anthem. The Brighton crowd tell me that “The Path (Sofrito Edit)” by Concept Neuf was Ibiza’s standout track over the summer – and that’s another slow mover, a re-edit from 1979/80, I believe, featuring that oft-overlooked instrument, the steel drum. Maybe I should play “The Path” at the witching hour – 10.30pm! I’ve come across the Sofrito mob before – they’re an east London collective of DJs and producers. I’ve got a few 12”s by them, back from a time when I was taking an interest in Central African rhythms – I must have thought I was Damon All Bran at the time. I stand by “Manzara” by Soseme Makonde (1977), mind – that’ll ruffle your plumage.

Alas, The Funk Pursuivant won’t be leaving his musical depot until 2014 now – he’s in for a fresh coat of paint – but that gives plenty of time to put together a new set. I’ll tell you what, though, I’ll definitely be playing “I Want Your Love (Wideboys Miami Mix)” by Jody Watley and “Shine On” by Degrees Of Motion & Mark Wilkinson at next year’s Festival No.6. Why? Because the wife has put in a request for them. It’s an insurance policy: include the tracks that Mrs Pursuivant loves and I’ll never face another soul-destroying Miele moment again.

And so, without further ado, here are the ultimate dance tracks that my small poll of groovy (and some not so groovy) pals has thus decided on, with choices from NME, ex-NME and Mixmag (the latter's Sean Griffiths is responsible for Armand Van Helden) among them! I’ve bundled it, to save internet space.

“Uptown Top Ranking” – Althea & Donna; “Sweet Love (M Beat Jungle Remix)” – Anita Baker (Nesha Fleischer, who calls herself a New Order fan, huh!: “Did the trick on Sunday night.”); “Knights Of The Jaguar – Aztec Mystic (Mike Shallcross, Detroit techno editor, Men’s Health: “Roland Rocha and friends on the best label in the world, Underground Resistance. Has a very distinctive intro, a useful pause until the strings tear out – so you have time to put your drink and fight your way to the middle of the dancefloor – and if you love anything from War to Masters At Work to Robert Hood, it will make you dance.”); “Love Shack” – The B52’s; “Stayin’ Alive” – Bee Gees; “Crazy In Love” – Beyonce feat Jay-Z; “Remember Me” – Blueboy; “Rhythm On The Loose” – Break Of Dawn (Mike Gough, former raver of international repute): “Definitely early Nineties. Has all the old-school classic elements. Opening piano breaks… just check it.”); “Cannonball” – The Breeders; “Holiday Road” – Lindsey Buckingham (Mark Service, Indiana Jones-type archaeologist: “Not that it ever has been or ever will be played by any DJ anywhere.”); “Rudy Can’t Fail” – The Clash (Keith Laidlaw, ex-NME subber: “He really can’t.”); “She Sells Sanctuary” – The Cult; “Groove Is In The Heart” – Deee-Lite (Michael Booth, dour designer: It reminds me of when I was young, free and single with my whole life ahead of me, rather than the spent, bitter middle-aged husk I have become.” Cath Goss, Manchester-based kids’ clothes designer: “Danced to this in many a hole! Always had to find any raised bit of stage, chair or, at house parties, hearth. I thought I was Lady Miss Kier. Sadly disillusioned!”); “Build Me Up Buttercup” – The Foundations; “Rock Steady (Danny Krivit Re-edit)” – Aretha Franklin (Keith Laidlaw: “A pounding floor-filler and one of the few reworkings of old classics I would rate high enough to play out.”); “Oops Upside Your Head” – The Gap Band (Doug Harman, tech wizard and one-time DJ at violent gypsy weddings: “You canny beat a bit of rowing with 30 other drunken strangers after a few pints, and it's always fun to see just who can get up again afterwards – or not!”); “Bounce” – Calvin Harris feat Kelis; “(We Don't Need This) Fascist Groove ThangHeaven 17; “Jump Around” – House Of Pain (Dwayne Lewis, lawyer representing criminal tykes and miscreants: “After a few pints, mind.”); “Million Dollar Bill” – Whitney Houston (Kiran Moodley, Fjallraven backpack-wearing GQ contributor: “I'm just going to have to say it because I feel I should be honest with myself and the internet.”); “I Believe In Miracles” – Jackson Sisters; “Billie Jean” – Michael Jackson (Justin McCrae, Asda manager in Barnsley and former nightclub DJ from Doncaster: “It's in the bass, man.”); “Don't Stop ’Til You Get Enough" – Michael Jackson; “Tainted Love” – Gloria Jones; “Tears” – Frankie Knuckles (Dave Dowding, designer and League Two DJ: “Mix it with the ‘I have a dream’ speech by Martin Luther King.”); “Time Will Pass You By” – Tobi Legend; “Expansions” – Lonny Liston Smith; “Got To Be Real” – Cheryl Lynn (Jaye Thompson, world-travelling fashion sort and League One DJ: “That horn opener and disco syncopation is like a spiritual shout out, saying, ‘Dance now sista!'”); “Perfect (Exceeder)” – Mason vs Princess Superstar (Emma Gale, DJ consultant: “Does the job for me.”); “Basement Blues/The Story Of The Blues (Peel Session)” – The Mighty Wah! (Rich Morgan, New York-based designer and all-round Wylie ambassador: “It starts with a rousing call to arms from their bass player, Washington, before launching into a reworking of their 1982 hit which is completely transformed into a driving, urgent Motown-esque stomp. It doesn't get better than this...”); “Tiger Feet” – Mud (Dave Dowding: “A classic. You could mix this in with ‘My Ever Changing Moods’ easily.”); “Blue Monday” – New Order; “Sin” – Nine Inch Nails; “Band Of Gold” – Freda Payne; “Common People” – Pulp (Kevin EG Perry, NME writer and booze associate of Mark E Smith, by all accounts: “Maybe it's something about Jarvis making it OK for awkward men to dance, maybe it's because it's the perfect pop song.”); “Long After Tonight Is All Over” – Jimmy Radcliffe; “You’ve Gotta Show Me Love” – Robin S; “Get Off Of My Cloud” – The Rolling Stones; “Chain Reaction” – Diana Ross; “I’m Coming Out” – Diana Ross (Pandora George, wife of former GQ and NME writer Iestyn George, and a Brighton-based party stalwart): “As played at Festival No.6 by Gilles P.”); “Upside Down” – Diana Ross; “The Bottle” – Gil Scott-Heron; anything by Shakin’ Stevens; “California Soul” by Marlena Shaw (Keith Laidlaw: “Something about it is just irresistible. I can't stay still when it's playing. Plus, it's all about how irresistible the aforementioned Californian soul is, which makes a neat circle. Of course, living in California helps.”); “Thinking Of You” – Sister Sledge (Pandora George: “For the reason that Niles is God.”); “This Corrosion” – Sisters Of Mercy (Chris Harris, Brian Glover-type teacher from Doncaster: “My spine still tingles and foot begins to tap when I hear the opening to ‘This Corrosion’. An interesting time in my first year at uni. Never wore eyeliner though... Honestly.”); “You Got The Love” – Candi Staton; “I Am The Resurrection” – The Stone Roses; “Promised Land” – The Style Council (Ben Chappell, Colin Welland-type teacher from Doncaster: “Or the Joe Smooth version.”); “Solid Bond In Your Heart” – The Style Council; “Walls Come Tumbling Down” – The Style Council. (Liz Horsfield, wife of Guardian subber and rather decent maker of cakes: “I'm there by the end of the third chord of the intro.”); “I Feel Love” – Donna Summer (Che Storey, The Funk Pursuivant's cartoon co-pilot from Argentina '78: Been a classic hit since I was a kid spitting on the waltzers. “The Night” – Frankie Valli (Rob Crane, Che Storey’s valet: “Bassline.”); “You Don't Know Me”Armand Van Helden; “Needle In A Haystack” – The Velvelettes (Gill Mullins, former lads mag sergeant major: “Back to my Wigan roots – although, by the time I was old enough to go to the Casino it was only for indie nights.” Ben Chappell: “I'm on my way, northern-soul classic!”); “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher And Higher” – Jackie Wilson (Tim Harris, banker, partly responsible for the bloody economic mess we’re in now: “Amazing intro, uplifting chorus and it's probably the greatest song ever recorded.”); “Higher States” – Josh Wink (Scott Bentley, coffee-magazine magnate: “Just reminds me of being at college and always brings back great memories. Unfortunately it's not attractive dancing.”); “Are You Ready To Rock” – Wizzard (Rich Morgan: “Fun fact: Mr Wilks from Emmerdale Farm was played by Arthur Pentelow, whose son was the saxophonist in Wizzard. Speaking of which, you should play this guaranteed floor filler. It even has a bagpipe solo!”). Th-th-th-that’s all folks!

Friday, 11 October 2013

Issue 14: Sorting the railways out

The day hadn’t started well. I can now see that informing the wife that the cat was dead, when in fact she was just sleeping heavily, ought to have been more closely investigated. With necessary apologies and consoling completed, a brisk stomp to Palmers Green train station was required and I arrived, at the top of rush hour, to discover that the First Capital Connect service to Moorgate had also seemingly expired. CANCELLED. A confused swarm quickly gathered by the ticket office wondering how on earth it was going to reach the office. Next train: 20 minutes – if it turns up. Annoyance is a familiar sensation on the Hertford North to central London stretch. There are so many trains cancelled that the word has practically burnt onto the destination screen.

This time, the excuse for the no-show was particularly irksome. You see, the same service hadn’t arrived the previous day either. We were told by the lone, overstretched employee at the station that when a driver is ill, or hungover, or has overslept, the service can’t run because there are no replacement staff. “So, can we expect this service to be cancelled tomorrow as well?” a vexed passenger enquired. “Well, probably,” the station employee admitted. Folk dissipated with mouths agape – and you can fully understand the raw disbelief. If a driver doesn’t turn up, tens of thousands suffer. Is there not a substitute crew to call on? This is surely the poorest service on the entire railway network. Nowadays, the hardest part of our working day is getting to and from work.

I’ve just finished Matthew Engel’s Eleven Minutes Late: A Train Journey To The Soul Of Britain (2009), a fascinating alternative history of British rail travel from the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester Railway in 1830 onwards. Engel reveals that rail travel has always been a wretched affair, but his findings on John Major’s rail privatisation in the Nineties makes particularly uncomfortable reading. The taxpayer now stumps up five times as much in rail subsidy – £4.8bn – as it did in the latter days of British Rail. Pre-privatisation, if BR revealed it was having problems, it would be told to go away and come up with its own solution. But when the Conservatives pulled the rug from under BR, the new train-operating and infrastructure companies couldn’t be allowed to fail. That’s why so much of our cash is ploughed into railways.

“But where has all the money gone?” asks Engel. “‘Wages and salaries,' according to John Welsby, British Rail’s former chief executive. ‘Increasing infrastructure costs,” according to Matthew Elson and Stephen Fiddler in a paper prepared for Tony Blair in 2003. ‘£800m a year in dividends to investors,’ according to the Labour MP Jon Cruddas. And they all appear to be at least partially right.”

Surely by nationalising the railway, there’d be an instant saving of almost a billion pounds! Imagine what you could do with that! King’s Cross station has been completely transformed over ten years at a cost of £600m. It’s now a paean to modern rail termini (and more classy than St Pancras across the road). In effect, we’re now paying our fares twice. Train-operating companies (TOCs) will gladly accept handouts to ensure their survival and to sate the voracious appetite of the shareholders, but then they announce they’re raising ticket prices way over the rate of inflation. For me, the biggest kick in the plums comes on the morning of 1 January, when the fares have just jumped up. On New Year’s Day, I usually have to catch the first train out of Palmers Green to see my kids in south London and if it’s not cancelled, it’s laughably late – the first train of the year! Why late? It has to be driver laziness, rolling around in bed on £60,000 a year with a rollicking Scotch headache! It nicely sets the stall for the coming months.

Like most writers, I struggle to make ends meet. The magazine industry’s pay structure stagnated round about the time that Massive Attack released Protection. The day rate for a freelance sub-editor is the same in 2013 as it was almost 20 years ago, and this has an obvious knock-on effect on lifestyle. I now dread the annual price hike of rail fares because I know I’ll have to adjust the amount of lolly I spend on groceries, kids’ clothes and, of course, wine. I’ll be teetotal by 2015! TOCs don’t understand the danger they’re putting themselves in. If they push punters too hard, we’ll rear up and bite. The moment will arrive when people can’t afford to get to work. They’ll either hurdle the barriers en masse or be forced to give up their jobs.

As it stands, being on the dole is starting to look like an attractive career path. We’ve got four kids between us and live in a two-bedroom flat – and before you mither, “You shouldn’t have had so many nippers,” they’re the result of previously failed relationships, so think on before you open that big gob of yours! If me and the wife jacked in our jobs, we’d be eligible for a five-bedroom house in six months. With UK magazine publishers deeming an annual pay rise too kind a gesture, so the prospect of us ever owning a house dwindles. We’re becoming gradually poorer. Now, if everyone reaches the point where they can no longer afford the travel costs, there’ll be a financial backlash more severe than the banking crisis of 2007. The wheels of industry will grind to a halt. Either that, or passengers will mob up and force entry onto train services.

“Tickets please.”
“I’m afraid it’s too late for that now.”

Although Palmers Green has a timetabled weekend service, you’re lucky if you see a train on Sundays. The excuse is usually engineering work, but as I’ve been living in Palmers Green for over three years, you have to wonder if the improvements will ever be complete. All that engineering works is bollocks, anyway. It’s cheaper to have a small crew of orange-vested navvies changing some track in the Enfield area than running a proper rail service. Hiring a few knackered buses from a private operator in Potters Bar for an entire day is probably cheaper than running one half-sized train on a single service.  We’re not simple!

Surely it would make more sense to shut the entire line for five years, upgrade the whole stretch, then have a proper, seven-day service running from that point on. They manage it in Switzerland and Japan. They’ll hand you a sword in Tokyo if you don’t keep the trains running. It’s a matter of honour. I drive everywhere on Sunday now – it’s the only way you can get around London. And the state of First Capital Connect’s trains! Do you know how old they are? My stepfather, Keith, made the bloody things at York Works in 1976 between playing cards and sticking his favourite screwdrivers into sandwich-stealing rats. I’ll be glad when First Capital Connect loses its franchise. You feel that it’s just waiting for the inevitable to happen.

I travel across London more than most. My kids live at the opposite end of town, so I get to see the inadequacies of the rail system in all its glory. When it works, it’s great: one hour and ten minutes door to door. Sunday? Usually two hours. The car was in the garage last weekend so I had no choice but to use the railway. On Sunday, FCC decided it was going to run a train once an hour – not the two on the timetable – but at least it was operating full-sized stock, ie six coaches. The dirty trick that TOCs play at the weekend is to half the size of trains, so you’ve got all these families trying to get out and see some of the city they live in, and all these tourists who’ve travelled thousands of miles to buy an ice cream on the South Bank, and all these weekend revellers and all these sports supporters, and all these dads travelling to see their kids, and they’re packed onto three- or four-car services. There are just as many people travelling at the weekend as in the week. You shouldn’t have to stand at 7am on a Sunday, just so a train company can save a bob or two – money we’ve given them! If you raise fares by a ludicrous amount every year, then run full-sized trains at the weekend!

I make a huge effort to see my kids. I take them to school three mornings a week, give them a bath on Wednesday night and spend all day Sunday with them. Modern dads seem more compelled to be with their nippers than they were in the past. I have to set the alarm for 5.50am most mornings – and I can tell you that’s no easy gig. I’ve worked out that the average distance travelled on my overpriced £43.80 weekly Travelcard is 190 miles, or roughly 850 miles a months. I’ve turned into the Egon Ronay of cross-city travel, sampling the wares of First Capital Connect, London Underground and South West Trains on a massive scale.

What I’ve noticed is, if one line goes down due to a signal failure or the wrong type of electricity in overhead cables, the other lines are quick to collapse. I think there’s a linked-up rail-operator intranet, so when one line changes to red, indicating a problem, the other operators halt their own services to save cash. I have this vision of all these control rooms filled with overweight, sweaty men, mugs of tea and half-eaten doughnuts everywhere, and these rail-system fatties are bent double, laughing like bronchial hyenas, slapping tables and whooping with joy as they conjure inconvenience at the flick of a switch.

In the Seventies and Eighties, my stepfather worked for BREL, screwing trains together – the same ones I travel in today. This meant I was eligible for a “priv” card, which amounted to 32 days of free rail travel a year, and a third off all fares. To a teenager, this was absolute freedom. I used mine to the max. You had to mark off the date in a box but if you used an erasable Paper Mate Replay, you effectively had unlimited rail travel from Thurso to Penzance whenever you needed it. Doncaster train station wasn’t far from our house; after school, sometimes me and my brother would tell Mam we were off out, get a train to Edinburgh, grab a bite to eat at Waverley station, then head back to South Yorkshire and be in bed by 10.30pm.

In a two-year period from 1986, we were basically on a nationwide tour. We had more than a passing interest in the railways by this point. On Saturdays, we’d travel as far as we possibly could in a day, visiting Southampton, Swansea and Chester, and we occasionally travelled overnight, sleeping on train-carriage floors, so we could be in Scotland for an early start. We’d visit Dundee, Perth and Glasgow just to see what these far-flung places were like. We palled up with a 26-year-old dole-ite in Doncaster called Gary. He was a big Beatles and Madonna fan – not gay, although women didn’t just give Gary a wide berth, they gave him no berth at all. He liked James Bond films and got me into Clint Eastwood. He was 6’2” and acted as our protector and valet.

I recall, fondly, when some idle teens thought I’d be an easy picking one afternoon in Leicester. I was waiting by a wall, eating a 30p bag of chips, when these bean-headed would-be brawlers approached. Gary had nipped into a shop to buy 35mm film – he liked photography. He wasn’t a paedo, or anything like that. The chips were whacked out of my hands and I took a punch round the chops. I was probably wearing glasses at the time too – as I say, an easy target. Gary stepped out of the shop, Jessops no doubt, dropped his bag and laid into the lot of them like a dog on a ratting expedition. It was a fantastic spectacle to see these so-called hard nuts s***ing it, screaming, scattering in all directions and panicking like jessies. It was probably Kasabian.

The cat remains alive, but at 14, she’s gone deaf and as a result has started meowing too loudly, especially in the night. She also forgets that you’ve put food in her bowl and sits by your feet going, “MEOWWW! MEOWWW! MEOWWW!”, like a confused old lady. Gary’s nana lost her marbles in her late 70s. She used to leave sandwiches out for newsreaders by the telly and was startled upon seeing a clip of Jurassic Park, thinking it was a documentary rather than a far-fetched yarn. I told her: “Why bring back dinosaurs now – people must be mental!” She said, “Oh Goooood.” I suppose we’ve all got that to look forward – the slide.

It took me two hours to get home last night. The Victoria Line was running with delays – two hours to travel 8.3 miles. You can reach York from King’s Cross in that time. I often wonder what the country would be like if I seized power and became a slightly left-of-centre despot. The likes of Alexa Chung, James Corden and that blaze victim Claudia Winkleman would be disappeared – and if you ask no questions, I’ll tell you no lies. The railway would be nationalised at a stroke and an immediate investigation launched to find out how much money was paid to shareholders. I’d recoup the lot, then set about making a railway we could all be proud of. Won’t you help me?

Kasabian have no future gig commitments planned. But when they have, ask them about the Jessops incident. Serge Pizzorno doesn't look too belting in the G-Star Raw window on Oxford Street at the moment.