Category Archives: Retro

Pop has eaten itself

I was pleasantly surprised to read Paul Morley’s feature in the Guardian recently basically about how pop/rock music has effectively nothing more to say and that classical music is the only way forward. Readers of this blog (and I know you are many) will have learned that this has been my sentiment exactly since round about the beginning of this year when i started getting ‘back into’ classical music and finding ‘new’ pop and even re-cycled rock music toatlly boring and pointless.

As Morley says, listening to classical music may “seem like a classic, cliched, late-life move into a conservative, grown-up and increasingly remote world” but i really don’t see it like that at all. Ok, there is a cliché in there parents couldn’t understand what kind of music I was listening to in, say, 1980 although my Dad might have appreciated something ‘with a beat to it’ (no Jean Michel Jarre, eh then Dad?). Likewise I can listen to stuff my own children listen to, only if there’s a decent lyric and a tune. But having said that there’s hardly anything new or interesting around and even “old” rock/pop artists such as Bowie, Depeche Mode and others are just re-hashing old ideas, often with sub-standard results, not to mention U2’s rather pathetic attempt to ram their new album down your throats, or rather literally into your ears, with the free i-tunes issue that came with your latest update. As with theirs, and most new pop music, it is merely what Morley calls “skilfully engineered product design” (never been a U2 fan anyway). I saw that BBC documentary recently about music and fashion, where a famous ‘label’ is also launching a new musician as part of the package. Pathetic.

Sadly the days of Buzzcocks, Joy Divison, Tubeway Army or even Duran Duran are no more (although the latter do have quite a lot to answer for), so let’s find a real alternative and discover some music from 100 or more years ago which can actually tell us something new. I’m not going to make any suggestions or create a playlist like Morley did, you can discover it all for yourselves, just like we used to with pop music back then.


cartoon from – click if you’d like to know a little more.


STOP PRESS! (and edit) Clemency Burton-Hill gets the balance right (somewhat) in this piece just up on BBC Culture.



Voulez-Vous a tipple?

I’m back from a lengthy hiatus mostly caused by the mammoth task that is ‘moving house’ and all that it entails, but what better way to signal one’s return than to celebrate yet another anniversary! this time it’s 40 years since pop-group Abba’s victory at the Eurovision Song Contest. It was in fact on th night of 6th April 1974 that the Swedish entry to the contest, a song with the unlikely title of Waterloo, beat all the competition (including Olivia Newton-John, the UK entry) to come top of the seventeen participating countries.

The rest is history of course, although perhaps just as famously ABBA’s success, especially in the UK, was far from instant, making them initially seem the classic Eurovision one-hit wonders.

Fast forward a good five years later though and despite punk rock, new-wave and all that ABBA were top of ‘the pops’ in more ways than one. They had released seven hit albums, several number one singles and had effectively achieved world domination, on an almost Beatles-ian scale. Amongst all the fortieth anniversary celebrations, marketing and internet paraphenalia I was particularly impressed by these exclusive rare Radio Times pics taken of the group backstage at their Voulez-Vous live shows extravaganza at Wembley Arena in 1979. The black and white pictures show the foursome effectively at their professional peak enjoying the fame and a bottle of bubbly in front of the cameras. Skål Abba!

photo: Don Smith / Radio Times archive



“Good luck needs no explanation”

..unquote: apparently uttered by Shirley Temple, who died yesterday at the age of 85.

I actually felt a little guilty when I heard the news, as I thought she had already died, but I was obviously wrong. Most famous as possibly the first child star of Hollywood, she also entered into politics towards the end of the sixties and even became US ambassador to Ghana in 1974 and subsequently the last ambassador to Czechoslovakia between 1989 and 1992.

By way of coincidence here’s a picture of Temple and her daughter Lori Black taken with The Beatles  in February 1964.

Beatles with Shirley Temple and daughter
pic: pinterest

Like a Virgin..?

…or would you just prefer the usual, sir? … really bad and possibly sexist joke to come back with after such a long time away, but I just had to get it off my chest. Anyway all this to mark the fact that Virgin Records are celebrating their 40th Anniversary this year with a whole lot of special record re-issues, new compilation albums, an exhibition and the like. Details are all given over on the special “40 years of disruptions” site.

richard-bransonI suppose it’s right in a sense to do all this since Virgin has come to be one of the most well known commercial success stories, and brands, of our age. Starting firstly with a student rag (aptly named ‘Student’) then moving on to slightly illegal grampohone record trading, young upstart Richard Branson (right) went on to form the Virgin record label, which then became a chain of record stores, then an airline company, then a mobile phone company, a chain of gyms, and even a bank. Whatever you think of Branson you’ve got to hand it to him – he had great insight and courage, and perhaps most surprising of all knew very little about music.

Although Virgin Records actually issued four LPs on their launch in May 1973, the most famous is of course Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells which bears the all important V2001 catalogue number. Close on its heels came Gong’s Flying Teapot and  Faust’s Faust IV. The label set out to be a flagship for prog rock, much in vogue at the time, even though Oldfield’s debut was almost a genre in itself and indeed, as some may say, was the start of the ‘new age’ genre which materialised much later. Oldfield’s early life  and work and the making of Tubular Bells (and Virgin Records) was the subject of a recent BBC4 documentary. Catch up with it if you can.

Personally I  associate Virgin Records more with the label’s second phase, ie. the punk and new wave years, when they turned their  back on prog, Oldfield et al in favour of the new upcoming bands such as XTC, The Human League, Magazine, Simple Minds and (as they used to say on the telly adverts) many many more.  Flicking through my own vinyl collection from back then it’s surprising to see how much “Virgin” there was, some of the best music often dressed in some of the best sleeves too.

Catch up with Virgin40 celebrations here, and have a browse around their shop (or  “store” if you will) here.

Expo 58

Well I’m slowly getting back into some kind of routine now the August holidays/mayhem/anarchy is over, although due to stuff that will be going on over the next few months (new house – say no more) perhaps I won’t be able to give as much attention to this blog as I would like.

Any road up, this morning – quite by chance – I discovered that Brummy-born novelist Jonathan Coe is about to publish his new novel Expo 58. Coe is one of those authors whose novels I have consistently enjoyed and indeed devoured one by one over the years. What  A Carve Up, The Rotters’ Club (also made into a decent TV drama series) and The House of Sleep to name but a few. I must get round to re-reading those some time or other although right now of course I’m looking foward to Expo 58, described by the man himself as

…… a rather elegaic story, shot through with the sense of regret that seems inevitable when we look back on the hopes and dreams of an earlier era ­ whether these dreams involve the peaceful co-existence of nations, or the possibility of love between individuals. ”

The story is in fact set in 1958, in and around the Brussels Expo of that year, a time when Europe was at last  shaking off the post-war depression and really looking forward to a modern era. A new optimism and The Swinging Sixties were just around the corner. I often wish I’d been a young adult in those years – it must have been very exciting.

Doing a bit of web-researching into (read: googling) “Expo 58”, I see that it was in fact the reason why the Atomium monument / sculpture was erected, and what a wondrous sight it is too.

There are also lots of fabulous retro-graphics from the era , like this advert for the Soviet Union’s pavilion. They were obviously reaching out for a whole brand new world as can be seen in this:


and this:

visit soviet pavilion

I can’t wait to find out if the Soviet Pavilion is featured in Jonathan Coe’s novel! 

Expo 58 is out in paperback on Viking, 5th September (I think) and in Kindle format. Expo 58

More of the Soviet Pavilion propaganda here .

Call Me

Absoloutely addicted to the very wonderful Retronaut site, and here’s their latest addition – possibly the world’s first payphone, located in San Francisco and photographed in 1899. Fascinating.


caption reads: 228 So. Spring St.. The first telephone line between San Francisco and Los Angeles had just been opened, and long distance calls to the Bay City were being stimulated. The young man, Roy E. Jillson, was messenger boy then and was still an employee of the telephone company in 1934.’

I had to have a look at Google Maps and Street View to see what this place looks like now, but the nearest thing I could find to the quoted address is Spring Street  in San Francisco which seems almost like a narrow alley more than a street linking California Street and Sacramento Street. If any readers can enlighten me further, I’d be pleased to hear from you.