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Nov 012013
 

I kept missing things when I was young. Punk passed me by. Probably the untold influence of my parents. Un-Godly and all that. Saturday Night Fever was an ‘X’. Grease was, well, a bit sappy for a thirteenager.

And when I was fourteen there was this film that just about everyone in the years above was going to see. Quadrophenia. So I missed that too.

For anyone other than 15-18 year-olds in the late seventies this film is a minor character amongst Cinema’s starry cast. It’s all about a young man, Jimmy, who hangs out with a load of mods, gets into a fight or two, ends up in court with Sting and gets particularly angst-y. As it turns out, it’s kind of ok – starts pretty well, with plenty of mod-ish style and vigour, then sags like a smelly old parka.

What’s it all about, Jimmy?
One of the reasons it’s not great is because it’s not really about Quadrophenia at all. Not that that’s actually a clinical condition of course. In fact, I only realised having watched the superb BBC 4 documentary what Quadrophenia was supposed to mean.

It’s actually rather a beautiful concept. Pete Townsend, justifiably self-proclaimed leader of The Who and sole author of the album, foresaw Jimmy as literally the personification of himself, Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and John Entwistle.

So, not just two personalities, bi-polar but 4, quad-p.. No, that doesn’t work, does it.

Imagine what that might really be like.

Something Creative as Multiple Personalities
The thing is, that’s often what the creative process feels like. On the one hand it needs cool control to be coherent, to be understood. Then again, it requires chaos to inspire original, disruptive thought. Sometimes it’s intricate and detailed – an investigation of beauty in detail. Other times it’s got to be vague – impressionistic, Blue Sky, The Big Picture.

We all need it. Or we need our teams to be it. Because without it we can never deliver (or be provided with) the right kind of communication for our enterprises, whatever they may be.

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 Posted by at 12:31 am
Oct 272013
 

Lou Reed in Shades

I was about 15. I’d been recently “adjusted” in my musical tastes. Before I was fifteen, life had been mostly Beatles, certainly in terms of what I bought or was given. A bit uncool, you might think. You’d be right.

Then it all happened, almost at once. Punk, Post-Punk, New Wave, all in one fell swoop. The Pistols, Joy Division, The Cure, The Stranglers. All that stuff. Best single ever? Another Girl Another Planet by The Only Ones, of course.

And in amongst all this glorious, speed-inflected mayhem was the old guard. Springsteen. Bowie. Reed.

I was round at my friend Jono’s house. His foster parents were dead rich and their son, Humphrey, was Officially Cool, despite his name. Sussex University, hyper-oxided hair.

Jono was playing Humphrey’s records in his foster dad’s leathery study. The stereo was slim, black, slick – very expensive looking. Must have been a Bang & Olufsen – bit of a step from our Sanyo Music Centre. Jono expertly tee’d the next disc up.

It was the first note – very resonant, very low, very smooth, jazzy – effortlessly cool. Once the brushes got to work it sounded familiar – but not so familiar to make it popular, which was of course the whole point in those teen times.

But it wasn’t just that. What made this different from the usual hectic stuff was that this sound was intimate – close-up. An American alien standing close by, whispering softly (but firmly) into my ear – evoking an exotic, seamy, landscape which, once he’d finished, seemed alarmingly familiar. Alarming because I was, after all, a cosy young Cotswoldian.

Songs are only songs, granted. One had other things to do – even fifteen-year-old boys had other things to do.

But to me these songs made “Strange” accessible, exciting – desirable even. Not because they were different or cool. But because they came to life, became real. Transformer dug up some wild outcasts, brought them in from the cold and made them a cup of tea, right next to you. As a result, the freaks became your friends. No bad thing, when you’re learning to be open-minded.

The irony, of course, is that even though Walk on The Wild Side sounded like it had been recorded in New Orleans in some seedy back alley, it had in fact been recorded in London’s slightly more straight-backed and well off (even in the 70s) Soho, by an almost entirely British ensemble.

So maybe it all wasn’t quite so far out, after all. Maybe they’d all been to the Cotswolds for a break the weekend before.

*****

This is my favourite Lou Reed track. It’s a really beautiful, reassuring lullaby.

YouTube Preview Image

Have a Perfect Day, Lou. Again and again and again.

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 Posted by at 10:50 pm
Jun 242013
 

Something which happened half a century ago recently reminded me, for a couple of distinct but very much related reasons, about the fundamental importance of using sound to express where you’re at and what you’re doing.

Because it’s 50 years, there or thereabouts, since The Cuddly Mop Tops released With The Beatles, their second album. The first one, Please Please Me, had made them British icons. By mid-1963 they were all over the place and everyone, from your wee sis’ to your gran, knew about them, if not perhaps all about their music. With The Beatles, released on November 22nd 1963, boosted them to the toppermost of the poppermost.

Enough of the re-trodden journo-babble already. Fact is, it’s a beautiful, pure, vibrant work that still shimmers half a century later. And, very recently, I rediscovered why.

The curious thing is that if you download the recent iTunes release, which is effectively a stereo re-mastered version of the original mix, it’s almost unlistenable, particularly if you’re listening to it through headphones. Essentially, the vocals are in the left-ear and the chunk-chunk of the instruments is in your right. You just can’t really appreciate it – disappointing, to say the least, particularly if you’re a bit of a Beatle Nut like me.

Put your headphones on and take a listen

You know “mono“? That’s the sound of everything mixed together, “in the middle” of the sound. It’s how you used to have to listen to records. When stereo sound came along, back in the fifties, it was very exciting because it seemed like the sound filled the room. Mono, gradually, got phased out and replaced by the stereo sound.

But not before The Beatles and other poptastic artists had had their way. The thing about popular music then was that people usually liked to listen to it, in all its trebular glory, on a transistor radio. Instead of surrounding you, the sound would hit you direct in the face, with John, say, in the lead and the rest behind him or just next to him.  Separating it all and spreading it round the room was ok when you were listening on your stereo / music centre / hi-fi separates but not when you were getting it in one fabulous adrenaline rush out of the tranny at work or maybe in the car. That’s where the thrill was, after all. In any case, stereos were for rich old squares.

These days, of course, many of us listen on our wee mp3 headphones, a lot of us on our smartphones. So it’s back to the future as we demand instant gratification, music as and when we want it and at the front of our head, not coming in at each earhole.

But that’s not what the good boffins at EMI delivered. When they mixed With The Beatles for iTunes, they put it out as a stereo recording, vocals on the left and the rest of the right. They obviously hadn’t considered their audience properly.

I thought I simply had to do something about “With The Beatles”.  So what I did was drag my iTunes track into my Digital Audio Workstation and slapped things called “stereo spread” and “direction mixer” on it. This not only moved the sound to the middle but I was also able to move John and Paul (and George and Ringo, when it was their turn) back to the front (they’d slipped off to the side of the re-mastered iTunes “original”).

Hear what I mean?

All of which reminded me.

  1. They didn’t half know how to make records in those days – no flies on the EMI boffs in 1963!
  2. John Lennon was gifted with the most fantastic pop vocal. Searing, exciting, it stopped us in our tracks, wherever we were and whatever we were doing.
  3. Sound can be ignored, for the most part, or can inspire, in the most amazing ways. If it’s ignored, that’s because its creators don’t really consider its impact or perhaps have misunderstood their primary audience, just like EMI did in 2009  when they mixed With The Beatles for the iTunes generation. If sound inspires, that’s because someone gives a damn and understands their audience.

Next time you’re putting together some media – a video promotion or a podcast – think about what it sounds like, how music or speech can motivate and stimulate. Churchill did it, JFK did it, Doctor King did it. So did John Lennon and The Beatles.

And you can  too.

I acknowledge that EMI retains copyright in the original recordings from “With The Beatles”. The two reproductions here are to make a point about the overall value of sound.

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 Posted by at 9:24 am
Jun 142012
 

Was tip-tapping away at 3:00am (like you do) and I came across this brand new site from Christchurch NZ, which is almost breathtaking in its simplicity and sense of purpose.

The Ministry of Awesome (or MoA) is a site all about Christchurch and what it’s doing to make itself better again. It’s been set up by Kaila Colbin and her team of 4 trustees.  Kaila plans for it to go global, so expect Awesomeness coming to a city near you shortly!

When you check out MoA out you’ll discover the rather amazing Flatman. Flatman is a resourceful student who’s spreading the love, bruv, (sic) by leaving parcels of food for students less fortunate, outside their flats and under cover of night. Obviously, his identity is kept a well-hidden secret.

Here he is in action.

And he’s so successful that he’s recruited a sidekick, Quake Kid!

Now that is awesome.

Tip-tapping away in the early hours has never been quite so inspiring.

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 Posted by at 3:37 am
Jun 112012
 

Time was when ITV was a fairly heady mix of light entertainment, heavy drama and dense documentary. That was the time that was. For now, mostly because of the amalgamation of all things into ITV plc, it’s all pretty homogenous stuff, even if it is split into its 4 or so channels.

Recently I saw a throwback. An example of a TV form that just won’t go away, thank goodness. An example from that time that was. An example from ITV, but now, in 2012.

Originally commissioned by Granada TV for what was then the ITV network, “7up” was intended to be a snapshot of a social and economic cross-section of children at 7, as they began their conscious path through life. It was assumed that they would each follow a pre-determined socio-economic path.

Since then, there have been 8 sets of updates, each 7 years apart – from “7 plus 7″ to “56up”, the documentaries broadcast in May 2012.

I can remember this programme from when I was really quite young – perhaps my early teens. That makes it about 30 years, perhaps more, since I first saw this.

What struck me initially about watching this is how simple ideas can often have the most profound effect. This is, after all, small crew stuff. A couple of cameras and one director, who also doubles up as interviewer (and who, by the way, has been involved from the start, first as a researcher, then taking the helm for 7 out of the 8 sequences). The budgets have undoubtedly been low, the impact has been high. In 2005 Channel 4 voted the series the best documentary ever made.

And some might say that there are significant faults in the series, both with editing style and the original participation selection process, for example. Not to mention the moral issues often highlighted by the participants themselves. Such as having been scrutinised every seven years throughout the course of their lives. This is, after all, a rather unique example of reality TV. Not just merely the first.

But, for me, this type of TV can’t lose. It’s a mirror, a multi-dimensional and continuous statement by participants of how you should and shouldn’t live your life.

Have a look at each person as they are now, then, if you have time, have a look at the shows as they were transmitted in their original form, from 7- to 49up.

There’s a lot to say about this extraordinary document of life over the past 50 years.

Maybe there are two things that really stand out for me. The first is that there is nothing more satisfying that watching engaging interviews with people without a “performance agenda” i.e. celebrities or wannabes.

The second thing is this. You cannot predetermine anything. Not social standing, not circumstance, not life. And that’s what, for me, makes this almost the perfect piece of television.

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 Posted by at 3:37 pm
Aug 222011
 

It’s really all about understanding how and light and shade create shape and contrast.

Otherwise it all looks a little flat and uninteresting.

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 Posted by at 10:50 am