Automatic transmission: is Britain ready for driverless cars?

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.

Car manufacturers go further, believing that autonomous (self-driving) vehicles will improve our quality of life. An hour’s commute could now be used for playing video games, catching up with emails or checking the latest images on your favourite British culture-inspired Facebook page.

Waymo, a driverless-car project in the US that was started by Google, says it has been sending driverless vehicles around Arizona since 2015. Its software processes information from on-board sensors, which allows the car to create a 360-degree, 3D picture of the world. A Waymo vehicle features a small, high-resolution vision system on its roof, a dome that makes it resemble a police car, alongside a radar system and audio-detection system (so it can hear emergency vehicles). The car’s software then selects an appropriate course, choosing direction, speed and which lane to travel in. If the car doesn’t know what to do, it will pull over safely.

The trolley problem
The biggest benefit of driverless cars is that they’ve been developed to be safer than those driven by humans. Around 1,700 people are killed in car accidents in Britain every year and 94 per cent of crashes are caused by human error. Safety is at the heart of self-driving technology. However, although autonomous cars may save lives, the artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the car may, in a cruel twist, have to end life.

This moral dilemma is known as “the trolley problem” and it is an issue that must be faced by all driverless-car software developers.

Here’s the conundrum…

Your family is in its driverless car pootling along a mountain road that has a sheer cliff to one side and a wall of rock on the other. You’re admiring the scenery when, all of a sudden, ten people step into the road and your car will not be able to stop in time. Your vehicle’s AI has to make a choice. Will it save the car’s inhabitants and plough into ten people or will it swerve off the road, possibly killing everybody in the car to save the greater number of lives?

The trolley problem is a moral dilemma that was put forward by British philosopher Philippa Foot in 1967. The basic premise is this…

A runaway trolley (another name for a tram) is running out of control. Five people have been tied to the track and the tram will surely kill them. However, you are standing next to a lever, and if you pull the lever, the tram will hurtle down a different track. But as you have noticed, one person has been tied to the rail and this person will die if the tram hits them! Do you:

  1. Do nothing and let the tram kill five people on the main track?
  2. Pull the lever, which will divert the train and kill one person?

As decision-making goes, this is extreme. In 2011, the question was asked by the University of Michigan in the US and it found that 91% of people would pull the lever and switch the track.

Jaguar F-Type self-driving vehicle
It overtakes me: Jaguar Land Rover would like to see a crash-free future

Gemma Wharton, graduate engineer at Jaguar Land Rover’s self-driving car research team, says:

“This is an area that cannot be left for one automaker to determine. Ethicists, governments, councils and automakers all have a role to play in deciding a set of guidelines. At Jaguar Land Rover we will develop technology in a way that ensures the car is never faced with a dilemma to choose one life over another. However, we are anxious to adopt self-driving technology as soon as possible so we can actively save lives that are currently lost in traffic accidents caused by human error.

“Automating some or all of the driving process allows Jaguar Land Rover to drive towards a future of zero accidents, zero congestion and zero emissions. Making the road a safer place for all road users is the key motivation for development of self-driving technology. However, autonomy also offers a vast array of opportunities for customers. Not having to drive means that users could work more productively, never look for a parking space or simply sit back and catch up on your favourite series.

“There are six levels of autonomy – Level 0 to 5; 0 meaning zero automation and 5 meaning no human input. We will see Level 3 systems in the next few years and Level 5 within the next decade. At Jaguar Land Rover we are involved with many projects to accelerate the deployment of self-driving vehicles. In November 2017, we demonstrated Level 4 on public roads in Coventry. However mass roll-out of self-driving cars will require legislation, insurance, infrastructure, telecoms and other automakers to collaborate to allow fully self-driving cars to become a reality in the future.”

Christian Wolmar, transport commentator and author of Driverless Cars: On A Road To Nowhere (London Publishing Partnership, 2018), says:

“I’m a driverless car sceptic, right. Auto manufacturers are desperate to be at the forefront of technology and they know their existing models are going to wear out, particularly with diesel cars. They need electric cars and they think full automation is the next step. I don’t think it is at all. They are completely obsessed with competing with each other to get the most automated car. They’re sold in this hype – which is what my book is about.

“There’s so much implied: ‘Oh, these cars are nearly ready. They’ll be around soon.’ And then you start to check where they are now, and it’s around Level 2 or 3. Level 4 is the key one, which they can’t reach. Level 4 is a car driving itself in nearly all circumstances with a person taking over only in the most urgent cases. That is a big mountain to climb. Level 5 is with no pedals or anything – you can’t control it and it’s just got a stop button. That, I think, is unimaginable. Two cars on a single-carriageway country road. How would they sort themselves out? There are innumerable problems.

“There’s this pretence that we are bad at driving. We’re bloody good at driving. We miss a million accidents every time we jump in the car. You see these films of all these cars driving along dual carriageways and they’re very unpopulated roads, and they’re driving at 30mph and they’re all fine, but they never show you any real-life context.

“There’s another problem. If you stand in front of a driverless car, it won’t go forward because it can’t kill you. Who’s going to drive through Tottenham or Willesden at 2am when anyone can step in front of it and start pissing about? It’s never going to happen. The social aspects haven’t been properly considered, let alone the economic, political, regulatory, legal and insurance issues.

“They can’t even do the rain yet. Rain, snow and fog. Heavy rain is the most difficult one. You’d think snow would be more difficult but it’s rain. But snow is still a big problem. Driverless cars depend on road markings. So what happens in snow? I’m looking at the Waymo website now and it’s all bollocks. It’s just statements.”

Shared space
Many people believe that roads would be safer if everybody switched to driverless vehicles – but it’s too soon to say when, or if, that might become a reality. In the near future, it is more likely that there will be a mix of human- and AI-controlled vehicles sharing road space, meaning that accidents caused by human error will remain an issue. On the plus side, you’ll still be able to show off your silky driving skills to the rest of your family.





And the band played on and on and on: an appreciation of very long records

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.

In the interests of consistency, all running times below are taken from Discogs

It all started when I had a paper round. Twice a week, I would deliver 250 free newspapers around a nearby council estate. A decent Walkman with good quality headphones was necessary to keep me sane as I trudged around the estate, rain, hail or shine.

This would be around 1982. I always had a few cassettes in my pocket for the round, which would usually take a couple of hours.

At first, my favourite tape was Queen’s Greatest Hits, which opens with “Bohemian Rhapsody”. At three seconds under six minutes, this is a pretty long song. As it tells a story, it keeps your interest, along with the ever-changing time signature to keep you on your toes.

In the days before Spotify and Tidal, radio was the way we found music, and radio stations want to play as many songs as possible, so they preferred songs to be around three minutes long. Short and to the point. So “Bohemian Rhapsody” was different, twice the length of most other songs I heard on the radio.

Around this time, I discovered Dire Straits and bought a copy of Love Over Gold, and what a revelation this album was, opening as it does with the truly epic “Telegraph Road”, 14 minutes and 20 seconds long, a small town history set to rock music.

I remember one month Britannia Music had The Best Of The Doors on offer. This album held two particularly lengthy songs within, “When The Music’s Over” at 11 minutes and “The End” at 11 minutes 43 seconds. The Doors were a new sound to me, simultaneously epic and sinister. I didn’t know music could be so complex.

Electronic music had interested me for a while. Jean-Michel Jarre was my favourite at the time. “Oxygene Part V” was particularly expansive at over 11 minutes long, but it didn’t really do much, just kind of meandered along for five minutes, picked up for another five minutes then died away with some crashing waves. “Magnetic Fields Part 1” (18:07) and “Ethnicolor” (11:41) off Zoolook are similarly spacious tracks.

CD must have been a boon to people like Jarre because not only did they now have a pure digital medium to deliver their music, but they no longer had the 20-minute time limit per side, and Jarre took advantage of this on his 1990 album Waiting For Cousteau, with the title track clocking up a quite magnificent 46 minutes 53 seconds.

With my interest in electronic music piqued by Jarre, I started exploring other similar artists, like the German bands Kraftwerk with their massively influential “Autobahn” (22:30) from 1974, and Tangerine Dream. While much of Kraftwerk’s output is in the four- to six-minute range, Tangerine Dream went with a single track per side on most of their early albums. From the mid Seventies, they started to get a lot of soundtrack work and moved to shorter tracks but their best work is definitely the tracks where they take their time, cruise along for a dozen or so minutes finding their feet, then carry on for another ten minutes, just to see how it feels. “Mojave Plan” (19:55) is one I still listen to a lot. This is side one of their 1982 album White Eagle, and I’ve always thought of it as being the soundtrack to a road movie. It’s awesome and I suggest you pop along to your favourite streaming site, find it and play it right away, I’ll wait…

See I told you, amazing stuff.

While I’m on a German rock tip, I’ve got to mention Can, who are masters at filling a whole side with a single track. For me the rhythmic, hypnotic beats and mantra-like vocals of “Yoo Doo Right” from their debut album Monster Movie are a perfect introduction to their work. At 20 minutes 14 seconds, “Yoo Doo Right” is pretty long as it is, but legend has it that this track was edited down from a six-hour long recording. Now that’s something I’d like to listen to given a spare afternoon.

On the subject of hypnotic rhythms, I think the time is right to touch on Afrobeat, and more specifically Fela Kuti, the Nigerian multi-instrumentalist, polygamy enthusiast, human-rights activist and general thorn in the side of the government. In between spells in prison, Fela was persecuted by the police throughout his life, but he recorded some of the greatest Afrobeat albums, fusing African rhythms, jazz and funk. Many of Kuti’s albums just contained a single track per side. Among his best work are “No Agreement” (15:35), “Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense” (13:45) and “Army Arrangement” (16:31). All these tracks can be found on albums of the same name.

Funk is a source of some extremely lengthy tracks. I was reminded of one amazing track the other day that actually prompted this article. George Clinton led two fantastic funk groups, Parliament and Funkadelic, and they both recorded some spectacular and lengthy funk workouts. The track I’m going to list is “Maggot Brain” by Funkadelic (10:20), which has some absolutely amazing guitar work by Eddie Hazel, obviously influenced by Jimi Hendrix, but equally it influenced Prince.

Prince majored in funk, but covered soul, jazz and psychedelic pop. Most of his tracks are three- to six-minutes long but he stretched his legs occasionally. The full-length version of “Purple Rain” is a case in point at eight minutes 45 seconds, with a nice extended guitar solo. With Around The World In A Day, Prince touched on psychedelia and launched his own Paisley Park label. The album itself wasn’t remarkable for lengthy songs, but the 12” single of “America” was stretched and reworked with several long instrumental breaks. It plays at 33rpm to accommodate its 21 minutes 46 seconds running time.

The last Prince track I’ll mention is from his little-known Madhouse side project. Madhouse was a jazz funk band with most of the music played by Prince, with help from his regular collaborators Eric Leeds on sax and flute, Levi Seacer Jr on guitar and Matt Fink on keyboards. Madhouse released two albums, 8 featuring tracks named “1” to “8”, and 16, with tracks named “9” to “16”. The last track from 8 – I’ll let you guess the name – is almost ambient, ten minutes and five seconds of flute, keyboards and drums, with some heavy breathing thrown in. It’s on Spotify if you want to give it a try.

Prince leads us nicely to Hendrix, who performed many a lengthy guitar workout, chief among which is obviously “Voodoo Chile” (14:59). Hendrix pretty much took ownership of Bob Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, to such an extent that he’s sometimes incorrectly credited as the writer on cover versions. There are live versions that clock in around 13 minutes but I can’t find any official releases with times longer than five minutes, so forget I mentioned it in this paragraph.

But I do have an amazing version of “All Along The Watchtower” by the late, blind guitarist Jeff Healey and his band that clocks in at 11 minutes 15 seconds.

I suppose from a Dylan cover, our next port of call is the Nobel laureate formally known as Robert Allen Zimmerman. Dylan has a number of great, and long, storytelling songs, in no particular order: “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” (11:23) and “Visions Of Johanna” (7:33) off Blonde On Blonde; “Joey” (11:05) and “Hurricane” (8:33) off Desire; “Desolation Row” (11:18) off Highway 61 Revisited; “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” (7:30) from Bringing It All Back Home; and “Lily, Rosemary And The Jack Of Hearts” (8:50) off Blood On The Tracks. This is just his first ten years or so.

One reliable source of extremely long songs is the live album, where the band just takes the ball and runs with it until they either run out of steam or road, like Neil Young & Crazy Horse, who took the quite long “Like A Hurricane” (8:14) from the 1977 album American Stars ’N Bars and made it even more majestic at 14 minutes and one second on the 1991 live album Weld. Or Frank Zappa, who turned “Don’t Eat The Yellow Snow” (2:06) from Apostrophe (’) into 20 minutes and 16 seconds of improvisation and audience participation on 1988’s You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol 1.

Zappa has a ready supply of many long tracks, such as “Billy The Mountain” (24:42), a song about a mountain that manages to assert his image rights and becomes very wealthy from postcard sales, or “Watermelon In Easter Hay” (10:00) from Joe’s Garage Act III, one of the greatest guitar solos I’ve ever heard, or the brilliant reggae cover of “Stairway To Heaven” (9:20) from the 1991 live album The Best Band You Never Heard In Your Life, an artefact of his 1988 band who imploded before the end of the Broadway The Hard Way tour.

Speaking of great guitar solos, what about great riffs? “Marquee Moon” (10:40) by Television springs to mind. In the time of punk, this immensely long track was full of jazz-inspired interplay between the two lead guitars, so it’s essentially anti-punk.

From New York’s Television, I’ll move to New York’s Velvet Underground and “Sister Ray” (17:00) from White Light/White Heat. Joy Division regularly performed this song, and it appeared on their posthumous release Still (7:34), recorded at The Moonlight Club, London on 2 April 1980 (not 3 April as credited on the album). New Order also performed it regularly, with two recordings appearing on official releases; a seven minute 30 seconds version recorded in São Paulo in December 1988 and released on a 1989 compilation called Like A Girl, I Want You To Keep Coming, and a nine minute 21 seconds version recorded by the BBC at Glastonbury in 1987 and released on the album BBC Radio 1 Live In Concert.

New Order, ahh New Order, my very favourite band. They’re the purveyors of some lovely long tracks, including three extremely long tracks. Let’s start with the obvious, “Blue Monday”, the biggest-selling 12” of all time, also one of the worst business decisions ever, allegedly losing 2p a copy due to the complex die-cut sleeve. It’s also 7 minutes and 29 seconds, so nice and long. “The Perfect Kiss” (8:46) was long in its original form but the live version performed on the seminal Jonathan Demme-directed video is a very tidy nine minutes and 56 seconds. For Factory Records completists, the video for “The Perfect Kiss” has its own catalogue number, FAC 321.

These two tracks, though, are mere minnows compared to the next three tracks. First up, “Elegia”. In 1985, John Hughes asked New Order to record three tracks for the film Pretty In Pink. Disappointingly, you only hear tiny snatches of “Shellshock”, “Thieves Like Us” and “Elegia”. “Shellshock” and “Thieves Like Us” received 12” single release, and an edit of “Elegia” appeared on New Order’s third album Low-Life but we had to wait 27 years for the Retro compilation (and buy the limited edition five-CD set instead of the regular four-CD release) to experience “Elegia” in all its 17 minutes 31 seconds glory. And it is glorious, go on, it’s on YouTube, give it a listen.

“Elegia”’s running time is eclipsed by “Video 5-8-6” (22:25). This was an experimental piece originally composed for the opening of the Haçienda nightclub. Elements of the track became “5-8-6” and “Ultraviolence” on Power, Corruption & Lies. The track itself was released in two parts as “Prime 5-8-6” on the cassette magazine Feature Mist in December 1982. It was then re-released intact as a CD single in 1997.

The longest New Order track was recorded as the incidental music for an exhibition of Peter Saville’s work at Manchester’s Urbis gallery in 2003. The track, cunningly titled “The Peter Saville Show Soundtrack”, is 30 minutes and 13 seconds and was sold as a CD single at the exhibition.

From New Order, we’ll touch on another Factory artist, The Durutti Column. Their music is hard to pigeonhole: abstract, ambient, jazz, who knows? Whatever it is, Vini Reilly produces some of the best guitar playing you’ll ever hear, not flashy, but simply stunning. Anyway, their fourth Factory album consisted of two tracks, “Without Mercy I” (18:46) and “Without Mercy 2” (19:35).

As I touched on ambient with The Durutti Column, I’ll bring in The Penguin Café Orchestra, Simon Jeffes’ avant-garde orchestra that covered many genres. This track quietly ploughs the ambient furrow, and while its playing time is quite long, it also has an extremely long title, “The Sound Of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter” (11:41). In another article for British Ideas Corporation, I mentioned Allegri’s “Miserere, Mei Deus” and said it was the most beautiful piece of music ever recorded. Well, “The Sound of Someone You Love Who’s Going Away And It Doesn’t Matter” runs it a close second. It’s on You Tube, you know the drill.

While we’re on a kind of semi-classical tip, I think I’ll bring in Gavin Bryars. “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” started life as a field recording Bryars made in 1971 as part of a documentary of life on the streets in the Elephant and Castle and Waterloo. When he listened back to the recordings, he noticed a section of it included a homeless guy singing a snatch of an unknown song, and it was perfectly in tune with his piano and nicely looped in 13 bars. Bryars worked on this track for a number of years, layering music over the song loop. The first release was limited to 25 minutes, a side of an album, but the advent of CD gave Bryars free reign, and the ultimate version is 74 minutes and 43 seconds, split into six parts, with and without strings, with and without orchestra, and with and without Tom Waits. Again, it’s on YouTube and it’s utterly beautiful.

One of the most famous long instrumentals is “Tubular Bells (Part One)” which is over 25 minutes long. This is the track that kickstarted both Mike Oldfield’s and Richard Branson’s careers, as Tubular Bells was the first release on Virgin Records. Seventeen years after Tubular Bells, Mike Oldfield fell out with Virgin and wanted to leave but he was contractually obliged to deliver one more album, so he gave them Amarok, a single-track LP lasting 60 minutes and four seconds. It’s not an easy listening album. “Amarok” is the longest single track in my collection.

Let’s step back in time to 1984, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Frankie’s label ZTT famously released so many versions of “Two Tribes”, the Official Charts Company was forced to change the rules. Most of the “Two Tribes” remixes were quite indulgent, extended mixes, some running in excess of ten minutes, so really they breach my rule against extended remixes. One Frankie track I will include, though, is the album version of “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”. This is a genuinely interesting track, and it’s 13 minutes 38 seconds.

Now we’ll zoom forward to 1989 and The Orb, and a track with an even longer title than the Penguin Café Orchestra I previously mentioned. “A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre of The Ultraworld (Loving You)” has had a number of incarnations. The original release from 1989 was 19 minutes seven seconds, the 1990 re-release was 19 minutes 15 seconds, while the live recording released in 1993 was 18 minutes 52 seconds. The longest version I can find is from the 1989 Peel Session at 20 minutes 14 seconds.

I mentioned that Frankie Goes To Hollywood forced the Official Chart Company to change their rules. One of the new rules was a maximum running time for a single. For a CD single consisting of versions of the same song, the maximum running time is 40 minutes. The Orb took advantage of this with “Blue Room”, which in CD single form is a single track that is 39 minutes and 58 seconds long. The 12” single is two tracks totalling 37 minutes 46 seconds. You may remember The Orb appearing on Top Of The Pops playing chess whilst the 7” edit of “Blue Room” played to a bemused audience of pop kids.

I’m going to finish this run through of lengthy tracks with a couple of unusual inclusions from William S Burroughs. The first is “The Junky’s Christmas” (15:54), a spoken-word story set to music by The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy. There is a film version that runs to 21 minutes 27 seconds. The film is produced by Francis Ford Coppola and directed by Nick Donkin. The second William S Burroughs track is “The ‘Priest’ They Called Him” (9:41), another spoken-word piece, this time with accompaniment provided by Kurt Cobain and released on a single-sided 10” single. The blank side is laser etched with Burrough’s and Cobain’s signatures.

So there you have it, my journey through some of the longest tracks in my record collection. I hope there’s a few tracks that interest you, and if you were to plug them all into Spotify (assuming they’re all available online, I’ve not checked) it would make a playlist around 15 hours long, with an average track length of 17:10.

Happy listening…

Home-made Jam: the very English poetry of Paul Weller

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.

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For the record: why we love vinyl

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.

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Be kind, rewind: life in an Eighties video store

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.)

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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.

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