Living for the weekend: Saturday kids’ TV

By Alan Gregson

Offered: Subbuteo FA Cup Final set – Wanted: Anything to do with Adam Ant

Up to the late Seventies, our mum used to drag us kids to town and deposit us at the Odeon, where, in exchange for ten bob, we got a morning of cartoons, Fifties adventure serials and maybe a re-run film, along with a carton of drink and a packet of crisps. This was the Saturday Kids Club.

Then mum got a car and started doing the shopping at Asda, so no more trips to town and no more Saturday Kids Club, but around the same time, TV started to provide an alternative source of Saturday morning entertainment for kids in the shape of Multi-Coloured Swap Shop and Tiswas.

Continue reading “Living for the weekend: Saturday kids’ TV”

Inspiral Carpets’ “Saturn 5” for Christmas No.1

If you’re upwards of 40, the Madchester movement may well have defined the person you are today. For the baggy aficionado around 1989-’90, there were four bands that filled our musical Champions League places: New Order, Happy Mondays, Stone Roses and Inspiral Carpets, with, perhaps, 808 State, Paris Angels, The Farm, Intastella, Northside, World Of Twist, The Bridewell Taxis, Flowered Up and The High trailing behind. (And yes, we realise it was the European Cup back in 1989 and only the League champions were permitted to take part – as it should be today!)

Back then, Monday mornings would naturally be spent in local independent record shops searching for indie-dance-crossover nuggets, while the rest of the week, your purchases would supply the soundtrack for everything you did, even taking a bath or fixing a motorbike, repeatedly playing the vinyl until you’d absorbed every word, bassline and beat. Heck, those were exciting times.

Over 25 years later, Madchester fans are not what you’d call particularly “old”, which was why the death of Inspiral Carpets drummer Craig Gill has struck hard. Gill started playing with the Inspirals when he was 14 and was only 44 when he passed away on 22 November. He’d have been 45 on 5 December.

In many ways, Inspiral Carpets were an undervalued force. The band’s emergence in 1989 coincided with the multicoloured, cartoon japery of their peers, meaning that the spotlight was never theirs for long. Despite this, the Inspirals can count a number of tracks that are every bit as mighty as their Sixties, organ-grinding sound-alikes The Doors. “Dragging Me Down”, “Joe” (those drums!) and “Move” may even surpass the finest moments of Jim Morrison and his mischief-makers. And check out the Inspiral’s little-known version of “Tainted Love” – it’s epic.

To mark Gill’s passing, fans have launched an audacious campaign to fire the Inspirals’ 1994 Top 20 hit “Saturn 5” to the Christmas No.1 spot. Getting the Inspirals to No.1 would, under normal circumstances, be a huge task given the dominance of the charts by major labels, but at Christmas, there’s a different market. Inspirals’ supporters believe this could work to their advantage.

A spokesman for the fans’ campaign explains: “Firstly, the song is not being re-released. No major labels are involved. So there’s no need to speak to other labels and come to an agreement as to when to release the song again and start the airplay. It’s simply a case of asking anyone who has ever loved the band to download ‘Saturn 5’ – preferably multiple times – between 16-22 December.

“Streaming the song won’t make an impact given the artist and labels we’re up against. The way we’ll do it is by getting the message out nationwide for people to download in that one week, one giant hit. It would be utterly amazing in this day and age to see a record come from absolutely nowhere to go straight in at No.1. We’re calling on Stone Roses fans, Oasis fans, fans of Madchester music, in fact, anyone with good taste in music anywhere, to hop on board and get us over the line.

David Bowie and Prince died this year and both artists had various songs in the Top 40 in the weeks after their deaths. Not a No.1, though, because fans picked various different songs. If they’d have all picked the same song, they would have had a No.1, definitely. So there’s the template. Make sure people are aware of why we are doing it and make it easy for them to get access to the single. We will also become the anti-X Factor single in many people’s eyes, too.”

If you’ve never heard “Saturn 5” before, it’s somewhat poppier than the aforementioned Inspirals tracks from the Madchester era but it featured all the prime ingredients of the band at its best. There’s the hard-edged organ, the distorted guitars and the almost tribal pounding of Gill’s drums, coupled with Tom Hingley’s ever-assured vocals – the man really had range. Records like this ought to have made the Inspirals a much bigger deal than they were.

“There will be no bottles of champagne if we do it,” the spokesman adds. “It will just be the fans saying, ‘There you go, Craig, that’s for you.’”

What “Saturn 5” lacks in sleigh bells and festive sentiment, it makes up for in power and it’ll sound like a monster at your office Christmas party. “There’s a popular misconception/Says we haven’t seen anything yet”, state the lyrics. Who knows, maybe the next chapter of the Madchester story is about to be written.

Find out why: visit the campaign Facebook page: Saturn 5 for Christmas Number 1 in Honour of Craig Gill.


The generator game: a visit to Drax Power Station

Despite the industrial ravages of the Eighties, the landscape of Doncaster in England’s unfeasibly flat north-east is still one of railway sidings, chimneys and canals. There is, however, a recent exclusion from the horizon. Colliery winding gear, so long a feature of the terrain, has vanished, although from the window of a Hull-bound train you’ll still see the odd slagheap sprawled out like an oversized, fast-asleep Labrador. Coal, which powered the industrial revolution and the engines of the British Empire, is no longer mined in Yorkshire. In 1984, there were 56 pits in the region but the 2015 closure of Hatfield and Kellingley collieries brought to an end an industry that had been active since Roman times.

Continue reading “The generator game: a visit to Drax Power Station”

I was taping that! A treatise on the cassette

By Alan Gregson

In these days of Spotify and YouTube, it’s difficult to imagine a time when your music stayed at home and the only way to listen to music on the move was on the radio.

The birth of the Compact Cassette, commonly referred to as simply the “cassette” or “tape”, kick-started a revolution in music, and possibly in society as a whole. Now we were no longer forced to simply hum the last track we heard on the radio as we walked to school. Now we could block out the rest of the world and listen to The Clash or New Order on our Walkman, or, if our birthday funds couldn’t stretch to the real thing, a £5 Alba personal stereo from Argos or Woolworths. But we’re running ahead like a stretched tape. Let’s rewind a bit.

Continue reading “I was taping that! A treatise on the cassette”

Bills ’n’ thrills and violins: Peter Hook

Clocking in at over 700 pages, former New Order bassist Peter Hook has much to say in his new book Substance, which catalogues, in fan-delighting minutiae, his tumultuous tenure in Britain’s foremost indie four-piece. Intra-group wrangling, love trysts, moodiness, shocking amounts of white powder and hangovers from hell defined the band’s existence. Throw in some jet lag, tax issues and ownership of a loss-making nightclub and you have a story that’s more epic than any film could ever capture (although Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People from 2002 gave it a good try.)

Continue reading “Bills ’n’ thrills and violins: Peter Hook”

Down on the farm: an interview with Andy Diagram

By Alan Gregson

Any James fan will tell you that a vital part of the band’s live show is Andy Diagram and his roving trumpet antics. What they might not know is that over the years, Diagram has performed trumpet duties for, among others, Black Francis, Nico, A Certain Ratio, The Pale Fountains and Pere Ubu.

Diagram was one of the first trumpeters to use effects pedals with his instrument and he took the sound to a new level with his own band, Spaceheads, using loopers controlled from his iPhone, along with percussion from his long-time collaborator Richard Harrison, to produce extraordinary soundscapes, usually accompanied by projections from Rucksack Cinema.

We catch up with Diagram on the Warrington farm of his mate Mark Harrison for the 11th annual Mud Hutters Tea Party.

Continue reading “Down on the farm: an interview with Andy Diagram”

Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell

As autobiographies go, Tony Garnett’s The Day The Music Died: A Life Lived Behind The Lens is as gritty, honest and heart-wrenching as the film and television work that he’s known for. In the Sixties and Seventies, his career was entwined with that of director Ken Loach, a producer on such notable dramas as Kes (possibly the finest film ever made), Cathy Come Home and Up The Junction. In the Nineties, Garnett’s BBC projects This Life, about a group of hedonistic law graduates, and The Cops, focusing on a police station in the fictional northern town of Stanton, were both controversial and strong signifiers of their time. Continue reading “Tony Garnett: the film-maker with his own epic story to tell”

Are music festivals the new Butlin’s?

By Alan Gregson

Like most kids growing up in the Seventies and Eighties, before EasyJet made European holidays affordable to most people, we spent our family holidays in the UK, initially at caravan parks, then Pontins in Blackpool and Butlin’s in Pwllheli.

The first holiday I can remember was at a caravan park in Grange-over-Sands, Cumbria. My memories are not dissimilar to Fathers Ted and Dougal’s experience of a caravan holiday, although I don’t remember Graham Norton turning up to perform the Riverdance. It did, however, rain so much that the whole caravan shifted overnight. My other memory of that holiday is the Laurel & Hardy films shown every night in the campsite bar, possibly a memorial to Stan Laurel who was born close by in Ulverston.

Continue reading “Are music festivals the new Butlin’s?”

808-orchestrate: Rowetta and the Haçienda Classical

When Rowetta joined the Happy Mondays in 1990, not only did she bring the Mancunian masters of indie-dance crossover a more soulful presence, she provided additional visual stimulus to a band that was already pretty watchable in the first place: cos the Mondays had Bez!

With her dominatrix toughness and body hugging bondage attire, Rowetta arrived as an equal partner in this most laddish of lad bands. Here was a woman who was clearly having a ball. With every swish of her whip, Factory Records shifted towards the mainstream: no longer would indie automatically mean an embracing of the mediocre. Soon, Pills ’N’ Thrills And Bellyaches arrived, an LP that was basically a summer holiday on vinyl, reaching No.4 in 1990. Rowetta’s extraordinary vocal range and “Yippee-yippee-yay-yay-ay”-ing perfectly counterbalanced Shaun Ryder’s Nike Air-wearing, couldn’t-give-a-toss cool. We just wished that our girlfriend was hot like Rowetta.

Continue reading “808-orchestrate: Rowetta and the Haçienda Classical”