Monday, September 24, 2018

"What's this song about? It's about four minutes..."

We are legion – those who, for whatever reason, have a handy compendium of easily digestible chapters on or adjacent to our coffee table, night stand or nightsoil disposal unit. The Meaning of Liff, Does Anything Eat Wasps, All These Little Pieces, any number of amusing anthologies of readers’ letters (until you realise that Telegraph readers aren’t doing it in a sense of irony or mildly-detached whimsy, they really are that bonkers) and/or Dear Mr. Kershaw, a collection of notes sent to musicians purportedly from a Mr. Derek Philpott questioning the logic and syntax of various lyrics. Julianne Regan, I recall was a particularly good sport regarding the perceived inconsistencies contained within Martha’s Harbour and Mr. Fish-out-of-Marillion even hosted his reply on his own Facebook page for a while. These are wrought, as one respondent writes, “ the style of a neighbour’s particularly strident objection to a routine owner-builder development application before the local council”.

This term we receive the difficult second album, more of the same but flavoured ever so slightly with the feel that most, if not all, of the correspondents are now in on the joke* – not least as there is a dedication thanking the various roadies, relatives, personal connections and fans who got responses through ‘the back door of the industry’ at the start of the book. “Oh, it’s you again” begins Saxon’s Graham Oliver’s note. Nevertheless, unresponded entreaties litter the volume, some little more than the sort of clever-clever Tweets that pop stars routinely ignore and some, beautifully flighted deliveries which invite you on to the front foot before fizzing away past the off-stump leaving you batting at air. Christopher Cross and Eddy Grant – and thereby we - are spun particularly delicious leg breaks, for example.

The emphasis here, then, is on the writers themselves – or more frequently their drummers, bass players and retired guitarists – to expand and explain according to their wit, sense of collusion and degree of detachment which some master better than others. Chip out of The Tremeloes deals with tremendous dignity in being addressed in a superb muso in-joke as one of ‘The Whammy Bars’, Henry Priestman overdoes the puns, Dennis Locorriere throws himself heartily into character and Chris Difford reflects acerbically on being hailed at airports as “Glenn”. Although there’s nothing quite so epic as Bruce Thomas’s lengthy exegesis on Oliver’s Army as contained in the first volume, Stan Cullimore’s letter wends at length with the sort of wry observation that got Alan Bennett two series of Talking Heads.

In the midst of all this there are some genuinely intriguing (and presumably) shaggy dog stories which I imagine we’ll all be seeing on Wikipedia before too long. One might well believe that The Big Figure once borrowed Will Birch’s floor tom-tom for an appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test, but what to make of Roland Orzabal’s fond reminisce of an anonymous Scandinavian weather girl, or Verden Allen’s definitive Google fact check-inspiring commentary on All The Young Dudes?

In the end, there are countless hours of amusement to be had dipping in to this fun-filled compendium dotted, as it is, with occasionally inspired philosophical tenets. Who can deny Francis Dunnery’s almost Nietzschean “You can debate with your quick wit and your sharp mind, you can create intellectual pitfalls for us Northerners to fall into, you can outsmart, outwit, out flank and out manouevre all of us at the same time, but at the end of the day, all of your studies and countless hours spent in books and debate will prove themselves useless. Because no matter what you say, we’ll just kick your ****in’ teeth in anyway”? 

How much more bleak could it be?’ you think to yourself.

None. None more bleak.

*They, it has been confirmed, most certainly are.

Thank you to The Philpotts for inviting me to be part of their Blog Tour, and hello to all my new visitors. Welcome aboard, do have a browse through the back catalogue. Here are some suggestions to get you started. 'Moby Dave' always seems to go down well at parties.