By Lee Gale
A long time ago, I used to work for Jack magazine which, at the time, was by far the finest men’s title money could buy. Sadly, not many people agreed with that statement and Jack closed in 2004. Nevertheless, each issue would have articles that were lovingly crafted by writers with massive interests in male culture – namely football, World War II, decent comedy, obscure music and old-men’s pubs. You’d come in with an idea and it would be given the green light without question. It was an incredible environment to work in. I loved the Avro Lancaster and set about writing a long-form magazine article about its history as soon as I’d got my feet under the desk. This inevitably led to interviews with wartime RAF bomber crews.
I visited squadron leader Tony Iveson of 617 Squadron at his home in Tunbridge Wells in summer 2003. On the walls of his spotless home were paintings of Lancasters on various missions, and I seem to recall one was of 617 Squadron’s successful raid sinking the Tirpitz in 1944. Iveson was involved in three missions to sink the bothersome German battleship. I’ll put a few of my other interviews on British Ideas Corporation over the next few weeks. I’ve just read that Iveson died in November 2013 at the age of 94, so he would have been 83 when I interviewed him. He was perfectly lucid and a riveting storyteller.
Continue reading “A 2003 interview with Tony Iveson, Lancaster pilot with 617 Squadron”
By Lee Gale
Do you claim to be the best driver on the road? Well, your crown might be slipping. In last year’s budget, Chancellor Philip Hammond proclaimed that driverless vehicles will be seen on UK roads from 2021 – and that we’d better be prepared for it.
There are clear advantages of self-driving cars. For a start, the road would be opened up to people who previously were unable to get behind the wheel. The blind, disabled and elderly would find themselves with an independence that previous generations could only have dreamed about. And Friday nights at countryside pubs would be back on the agenda.
Continue reading “Automatic transmission: is Britain ready for driverless cars?”
By Alan Gregson
For many years I’ve had a love of long songs, not just your five minute 12 seconds extended versions with an extra middle eight and chorus, I’m talking epic storytelling songs or lengthy and complex instrumentals. Songs that need at least seven or eight minutes to tell their story, tunes with plenty of room for the musicians to stretch their legs, show off their new effects pedals and generally do some fancy noodling.
So here’s my journey into epic tracks, enjoy the ride.
Continue reading “And the band played on and on and on: an appreciation of very long records”
By Lee Gale
Writer and musician Simon Wells knows a thing or two about cool British culture. His previous books have covered The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and homegrown cult films, and he’s also co-curated a Sixties film season at London’s National Film Theatre. Perhaps, though, his latest project falls closest to his heart. His new book, In Echoed Steps: The Jam And A Vision Of The Albion, is an investigation into the poetry and literary influences of Jam frontman Paul Weller.
To Wells, the Modfather is more than mere pop legend. He’s on a par with Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Keats and Lord Byron, albeit with a distinct talent for distilling his thoughts into three-minute psychedelic compositions. So take off your green parka, dust down a copy of Geoffrey Ashe’s 1971 tome Camelot And The Vision Of Albion and butter some crumpets using the blade of Excalibur. As you are about to discover, Weller’s words have a lineage that can be traced back to King Arthur.
Continue reading “Home-made Jam: the very English poetry of Paul Weller”
By Alan Gregson
As a teenager in the Eighties, I grew up with records. I started buying music just before the invention of CDs and long before CDs became the dominant music format. My first love was cassettes. I’ve previously written about this for British Ideas Corporation but records are my enduring passion.
There’s many a learned article been written about which music format sounds the best but listening to music isn’t a scientific exercise. Yes, digital audio straight from the mixing desk is probably the purest sound and when pumped through a pair of high-end studio monitors, it will blow your socks clean into the next room. The thing is, music isn’t pure. A piano, for instance, generates undertones and overtones as the strings either side vibrate with each note. These are known as harmonics. Even though harmonics are almost impossible to hear, they give warmth and context to the actual notes, so we are used to hearing imperfections in music. When these are removed, either from digital mastering or from mp3 compression, there is something lost from the overall sound.
I like the sound from vinyl. It may be a placebo effect but being able to see the media, read the sleeve notes without a magnifying glass and physically place the needle on the record, it provides a greater connection with the music.
Continue reading “For the record: why we love vinyl”
By Alan Gregson
My one link to Quentin Tarantino is that we both spent five years in the Eighties working in a video store, although mine wasn’t in California, rather it was in Bury, a town a few miles north of Manchester.
I started there in May 1985, and on my first night I was shown the ropes by a nice lady who was promptly sacked when one of the owners arrived. The co-owner then gave me the keys, showed me how to set the alarm, told me how to cash-up the till and where to drop the cash through the floor into the safe. Then she disappeared.
Great first night on the job. Luckily it wasn’t busy so I coped well enough until it was time to lock up at 10pm.
Continue reading “Be kind, rewind: life in an Eighties video store”
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”
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”
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”
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”