Have You Ever Noticed?

I love comedy.  I’ve never hidden the fact that comedy is extremely important to me.  I believe a laugh is good for the soul.  And I’ve also made it quite clear that I believe comedy and music are intrinsically linked.  Rhythms and repetition.  Whether it be Hancock or The Office, good comedy is timed to perfection and is difficult to make look easy.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that great comedy is an art, and should be considered just as worthy of praise as Sgt Pepper or OK Computer.  A comedy series I hold aloft as one of the greats is Seinfeld.  Bar the final episode, I often use Seinfeld as an example of a near perfect comedy.  You’ll hear ‘experts’ telling you that it didn’t really warm up until season 4.  Well, I’ll have none of it.  Some of the finest episodes were very early on, and in my opinion, they were necessary to enable the show to progress.  For the show to be labelled the ‘show about nothing’ it at least had to have once been the ‘show about nothing’.  Parking in a multi-story car park.  Waiting for a seat at a restaurant. Classic episodes.  I could watch Seinfeld on a never ending loop – indeed at times I feel like I have!  It’s that good.  Yet… very few people in the UK have even heard of it.  Such a shame.

So… it was with great delight that I went to see Jerry Seinfeld’s stand up show at Manchester Arena.  To see the legend himself in action – excited was an understatement.  He has stated that this gig will be his last ‘arena gig’.  Hmmm… maybe… maybe not.  Seinfeld certainly doesn’t need the money.  He’s one of, if not the, richest comedian in the world.  He’s got to be up there… with Larry David.  Seinfeld and David… one of the greatest comedy writing teams ever!  It’s weird… when I watch Seinfeld (the TV show) I usually ascribe the best jokes to Larry David.  I assume he must have written them.  Perhaps it’s because ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm‘ has continued in the same vein without Jerry Seinfeld’s participation.  Whatever… it’s easy to dismiss Jerry Seinfeld in his own show.  When you’ve got characters of the calibre of George and Kramer and a writer like Larry David along for the ride it’s possible to wonder what Jerry Seinfeld himself actually did?  It was with all these thoughts that I settled down to watch Seinfeld in action.   No bass slapping music for the entrance…

Seinfeld is a class act.  The majority of the material seemed fresh – at least, it’s not on any DVDs that I own.  Seinfeld is now doing this for fun and he says he’s riffing on topics that he really wants to talk about.  So marriage gets a fair bash.  Lots of genuinely funny moments.  Relationships in general get a good outing.  Seinfeld is obviously at ease with this whole thing.  He’s been a stand up since the beginning of time.  He comes across as a little more hectic than the Seinfeld from the TV show… but he still seems like a friend, (or as he says to the crowd “I’m your little, strange TV friend”).  Funnily enough, the TV show does not get a single mention.  Not one word.  Nor does Larry David or any of his previous colleagues.  This is just a straight stand up show.  Very similar to the skits at the beginning of most of the Seinfeld episodes… but a little quicker, and a little more ‘shouty’.  Some good punch lines and some moments that receive applause.  But all in all I think people were just happy to be watching their idol. I can only guess at everyone else’s motivation for being there… but I would hope the Seinfeld show was higher up the list of reasons than, say, Bee Movie.

Jerry Seinfeld could have been in the Rat Pack.  He has that ‘ease’ about him.  Like he’s swinging through the moves… riffing on comedy like Sinatra would riff on a melody.  And no swearing.  This was basically a PG gig.  Smooth. Yes I think smooth is the word.  The typical subjects get an outing… mobile phones, energy drinks, things that suck and yet are also great.  But, as I said before, he seems to get a kick out of the ‘relationship issue’ gags.  One thing that dawned on me during the night was how much Seinfeld likely contributed to that great sitcom.  A lot of  ‘issues’ that I would have assigned to Larry are, on the evidence of tonight, likely to have originated from Jerry.  This just makes me hold him in even higher regard.

A few negatives…  He can occasionally come across as an old hand going through the motions.  There’s no real sense of danger.  There’s a slightly jaded sheen to the guy.  Perhaps this is ‘Jerry in the UK’.  ‘Jerry get on a plane to another country and switch on the joke-telling-auto-pilot-system’.  And a shame he had to end on a ‘toilet gag’ already referenced in old episodes of Seinfeld and Curb. Most damning of all though… he was only on for about an hour.  That is pretty inexcusable given the price of the tickets.  But… hey… I think we can probably make allowances for one of the all time kings of comedy.  Well… I certainly can.  I’ve seen one of my heroes!!!  And my face hurt from laughing!

Here’s a song written in the midst of my Seinfeld marathons! It’s called ’50s Teen Flick.

Thoughts of the Day on Comedy

Okay, here’s a review I felt I just had to write.  It’s a review for a BBC series called “The Trip”.  It was shown on TV last year, and although I watched it and loved it then… since buying it on DVD it is now fresh on the mind.  I’ve kind of given away the final score by using the word “love” in the third sentence… but that’s not important.  This review is not intended to be a suspenseful review.  It is intended to be a review that mines the soul.  For if you have read anything of my site, anything of my love of music you will know that I already believe that music and comedy are intrinsically linked.  Timing.  Rhythm.  Sheer brutal cleverness!

I have yet to write my full post for my all time comedy hero. The day I get around to writing my ‘essay’ on Tony Hancock will be a long day for you all – for I will wax lyrical.  Until then please accept this snippet of thought on comedy.  My thoughts of the day on comedy!

I found the Trip to be bloody marvellous for a number of reasons – which I could easily bullet point, but I choose to ramble.  I choose to ramble!

This is a comedy series that dwells on one of my favourite elements of comedy.  The repeating of a joke. The repeating of a joke ad infinitum.  This is a technique which looses a lot of people, and many of the haters of this series just didn’t ‘get’ the repetition.  But ignore those haters for they are stupid people.  They do not see the glory of the technique.  The Trip is a hard program to talk about without being all ‘spoilery’… but I will do my best to discuss the show in a way that will not ruin anything.  I will not repeat my “Lost – Final Episode” review error!!!

I think it’s important to know a little of the characters before watching the series.  In fact I’m actually quite surprised that the show has gone down so well around the world as I really think a lot of the comedy is quite colloquial.  This is a show about two people.  Steve Coogan is for me, the comedy genius.  I use that word infrequently, but it certainly applies here.  When he is at the top of his game he is the best in the world.  The best.  But, like Hancock before him, he is a hit and miss kind of guy.  When he’s great he’s great… and when he’s bad he’s really bad!  But for me that is what genius is all about.  A razor’s edge.  A tightrope.  These people will fall.  And they will land hard.  John Cleese, Peter Cooke, Tony Hancock, the list of these geniuses is a long one.  Hit and miss.  The same with music.  Brian Wilson, Paul McCartney, Elvis, Jackson etc etc.  Artists who, when they were at their best, produced the best music ever made.  And when they were at their worst stunk the place out.

Steve Coogan plays an exaggerated version of his self.  At least we guess that it’s exaggerated.  In all actuality it’s very likely that he’s closer to ‘this’ Steve Coogan than he’d like to admit.  But, in any case, he plays an actor in a career lull.  An actor who knows that he has hit dizzying heights… but just can’t grasp them any more.  An actor who has tried his hand at “cracking America” and failed.  An actor who is trying to (wait for it) – find himself. I know… yuk!

Rob Brydon also plays his exaggerated self.  An actor who lives via his impersonations of others.  There is a Peter Sellers like quality to the man.  The idea that in some ways he doesn’t quite have a personality of his own.  Rob Brydon very much plays up to the “populist-fool” and a kind of tabloid paper against Coogan’s Broadsheet.  In actual fact Brydon has been in some pretty clever stuff himself and is a fine comic actor in his own right.

So, we have these two characters slammed together in a chosen/enforced trip around the restaurants of the north of England.  The set-up is that Coogan must write restaurant reviews for a newspaper.  But in reality this story is just an excuse to throw these two lost souls together.  And the sheer brilliance of this move is that Coogan and Brydon are both impressionists.  Not painters!  I mean they both have a history of doing ‘impressions’ of celebrities for radio/TV.  And so the series becomes something of a war between the two.  Battle after battle of impressions.  One trying to out do the other.  And so enters the repetition.  Honestly, when this was first aired I remember spending a whole week having a battle with a colleague over who could do the best Michael Caine.  This wouldn’t have been too much of a problem were it not for the fact that the line we were both constantly saying was “She was only 16 years old…”.  Hmmmm.  Could be misconstrued!

The repetition does not live within a single episode.  It stretches across the series.  The same lines are said again and again.  This is like music.  You have your drumbeat and your bass line.  I know I’m sounding pretentious.  But I really do believe that the best ‘comedy’ is similar to the best music.

So… moments of genius.  Honestly… the discussion of what constituted the perfect Michael Caine had me in stitches.  And this ‘formula’ is repeated throughout the series.  Battles of Connerys, Moores, Hopkins… the list goes on.  Proper dissections of acting technique – the whole Richard Gere section is amazing.

I just loved this series.  It was funny and moving.  The moments when, for all his achievements, Coogan just wishes he could have Brydon’s charm.  Coogan’s attempts to do Brydon’s “Man in a Box” in his mirror.  The emptiness that Coogan portrays even though he is a man with money, fast cars and as many women as he wants.  These are two actors at the top of their game.  Both the improvised and scripted sections melt together and you’re left with a comedy that equals the best of the Office or Curb Your Enthusiasm.  Only at a more relaxed pace.

I mentioned the sorrow.  And this is a really important strand of the show.  For all the ups there are all the downs.  The most poignant being the words Brydon shouts to Coogan when Coogan falls into the river when trying to navigate the stepping-stones.  There are just so many highlights: Coogan speaking at Brydon’s funeral.  The whole “Gentlemen.. to bed!” section. The discussion of what you are actually supposed to do when you sip the wine that the waiter pours for you.  I haven’t given anything away.  I’m just trying to persuade you to give this much maligned show a go.  It is the best British comedy of recent years.  I would hope that people who like my music would also like this show.

Anyway… just wait till I write about Hancock!!!  😉

The ‘Dying Swan’

Just watched the comic relief dance thing.  Adrian Edmondson ballet dancing. Is it wrong that he was actually quite good?  Quite good to the point where he was a little bit boring.  No-one wants to watch an ugly bloke ballet dancing WELL!  Ha ha!  Still, it all ended as it should with Rik Mayall hitting him in the face with a frying pan!  Ha ha!  Takes me back.  The first series of Bottom.  I’ve banged on many times before about my love of comedy.  And I shall bang on about it again I’m sure.

the hooded claw

A decent enemy. That’s what you need. Not necessarily in the movies but in real life too. We all need an arch-enemy! Now, I’m not sure where the arch comes into it? Does it mean the villain does NOT have flat feet??? Excuse me. Yes… you. You’re applying for what? Baddie you say? Hmmmm. In what context? ‘James Bond Baddie’ TM ? Hmmm. Well. Okay, I suppose. But you’ve got to understand sir… we have millions of applications for this position every year! You sure you’re up to the job? Hmmmm. Okay… let’s just nip through a few preliminary questions:
You got a propensity for gold hoarding?
Yes? Okay… good enough start.
You enjoy stroking a cat?
Yes? Really?!? Oh, by the way sir… notice I avoided the obvious pussy gag there!
Okay, okay, okay… hmmm. Okay, here’s a biggy… You got any previous experience with manufacturing fake volcanoes? … No sir, I don’t think you fully understand. Not model volcanoes. I mean full-scale! Yes, that’s right. A hundred feet tall! Well… yes, it could be fibre glass… why does that make it any easier??? Oh, you’ve got a brother who works in the business… right. Hmmmm. Okay, perhaps not a volcano. How about running an island? Yes, we’d give you an island. Well, you’ve got to run it. You know, as a kind of enemy stronghold! Got any experience in building metal dragons? Okay sir, no need to be like that… It really wasn’t a silly question. Can I just ask you… you did read the role profile? Okay… just checking sir!
Now, I’ll be honest with you… so far so bad. Hmmmm. Okay… Henchmen, ah yes, henchmen. Any henchmen sir? Hmmm. 7 feet tall? That sounds good. Anything else? Metal teeth?!? Hmmm, I really don’t know about that. Sounds a bit weird. I was really targeting more for a hitman or something… your mate sounds more like a kid who’s eaten too much Kendal Mint Cake. Er, explain the value of these metal teeth to the organisation. Hey, good answer. Biting! I never thought of that. You’d be surprised how many times I wished I had metal teeth to bite my way out of a situation!!!
Okay sir, well, I think I’m pretty much prepared to offer you the job. You haven’t done too well in this interview… but you are persistent. And persistence is very valued here! By the way… if you were faced with a secret agent, let’s say for argument’s sake, a licensed to kill secret agent – would you:
A) Put him in a shed surrounded by crocodiles and turn your back on him?
B) Clamp him to a table and slowly fire a laser at his groin?
C) Tie him to a chair and whip him with a wet towel?
D) Shoot him immediately through the head?
So… make your choice. Hmmm. Really? I mean… okay, most people go for that option… but I was really hoping you’d go for option D! I mean… the crocodile thing is a pretty good choice, but to be honest… it does have its failings! Still, I suppose it IS quite nasty. I mean… no-one really WANTS to have a crocodile’s teeth in his neck! Still… I was hoping you’d have gone for option D. Oh well, nevermind!
I’m happy to say you’ve got the job sir! Just put your signature here. Yes… that’s it… actually, you might want to come up with an alternate name. What for? Well, you know… to make yourself sound more… how shall we say…. scary? No I’m not sure about that sir. No… really… I’d personally steer clear of the “Doctor”s and the “Finger”s. Okay, I suppose it’s okay if you sleep on it. Oh, just one more thing. Whip your shoes off – there’s a man. Thankyou. I know it seems a bit odd… just one more thing for me to check. Just a formality really.
Oh… Bloody hell!!! Flat feet?!? Out of my office now!!! This just isn’t on!?! The quality of applicants these days! It’s a disgrace!

So… I just watched the final episode of Sherlock.  I thought it was great!  Best little mini-series I’ve seen in a long time and an absolutely marvelous update of the second greatest detective of all time.  The thing that made the final episode for me was the quality of the villain.  A truly sinister creation.  Something that Doctor Who fell so short with in recent years with The Master.  This villain was everything The Master should have been. Genuinely great!  While it’s true that Sherlock Holmes certainly doesn’t NEED an overarching master criminal… it was nice to see one finally implemented well.  An unhinged menace of a man!  And I haven’t given anything away.  If you haven’t seen it I suggest you track it down asap!

I’m gonna spend a bit of time in my studio tomorrow and work on the latest song.  I will keep you all updated, but my first thoughts are that it is going to be a blast!  I hope you are all enjoying Pitfall!  Please keep flicking back to this site to follow the progress of the new one!  When the album’s complete you can then tell your friends that you were “there” every step of the way!

songs are the footprints of a gigantic hound!!!

Sherlock didn’t disappoint.  One thing in life that is always difficult to do is to surpass previous achievements.  This is true in the worlds of TV, film, art, the list goes on.  Was John Cleese nervous when he was (co) writing the 2nd series of Fawlty Towers?  I would expect that he was.  Perhaps that’s an unfair example as I would guess that John Cleese felt he could do no wrong at that point in the 1970s… but, for a normal person, the difficulty of living up to past glories can be a burden.  It drags some down, notably some of my heroes such as Tony Hancock.  But for others it can fire them up, fuelling something special.  John Lennon managed it with Imagine.  Kubrik rarely faltered.

In the rock world it can be difficult to forge fresh metal when you have been involved in previous tin can alleys.  I’m one of those musicians who finds the challenge to topple previous works  a driving force behind my art.  I like to write a great song… because I know the next song will have to be even better.  Okay, sometimes little rays of sunlight glisten in the creative haze and cause problems with the ever upward steps towards “the perfect song”.  In that respect I feel that Escape Plan was a gem that could have been very hard to equal, let alone surpass.  But Bill and myself, as The Eleventh Hour, have tried our best!  The result is a song called Pitfall.  It is a very different beast to Escape Plan, and is certainly a contender for first single.  Please give it a listen and see what you think.  The plan of action for The Eleventh Hour – the mission statement if you will – is to produce the best music we can.  That may seem like a simple, pointless statement… but if you really try to adhere to such a grandiose boast it can be a drain of the senses!  The quest for the ultimate song can eat at you from the inside, can fill your mind and consume your day.  We are not your everyday common or garden people us songwriters.  We are the supreme beings.  Remember that, especially if you ever meet me at the bar!  A songwriter expects to be bought a drink!  And a packet of dry roasted peanuts – and then my friends… and then… we may share with you our world. 😉

Oh, and roll on episode 3 of Sherlock.  Damn fine TV! 🙂

“Elementary.” said he.

Updating a classic. This is a task that has befallen many a writer over the years.  All those old novels that have been transposed to the modern-day. Some hits… some failures. Time after Time, riding roughshod as it does over the slurry of source material, is my favourite as it places Jack the Ripper and H G Wells in THE SAME FILM!!!

So… the man behind the good bits of new Doctor Who has brought Sherlock Holmes back to my TV screen.  Only now it isn’t set in the 19th Century – we’re right here, right now.  A world of mobile phones and texting.  GPS, CSI, all the acronyms you can muster.  I heard that a friend of mine, while watching the first episode, thought to himself “…hmmm, I bet COTWS (that’s C.onfession o.f t.he W.hole S.chool) is hating this”.  Seems he thinks I’d naturally despise a modern update of the great Sherlock Holmes.  Well, how wrong he was.  ‘Cause I lurved it!

This is the second greatest detective of all time we’re talking about here.  Why wouldn’t a modern update work?  Okay, I suppose you’re discarding the Victorian setting, the ambience, the cocaine, Basil Rathbone and the black and white.  But what you gain is the here and now.  Sherlock Holmes pretty much invented ‘frenzics’ as we know it today.  Your CSIs and, yes, even your Columbos would struggle to exist in a Sherlock Holmes-less world.  I loved the update.  What would Sherlock Holmes be like today?  Well, I think the BBC got it right.  I think ol’ holmes boy would embrace the modern.  Embrace technology.  He would be ahead of the game.  He isn’t Miss Marple… He’s SHERLOCK HOLMES!!!

The ‘visualisation of thoughts’, text on the screen, was a novel twist – something I can’t remember seeing done before.  Friends tell me that it has been done in film previously, and I could imagine that something similar must have been pulled off in a CSI series – but for me it was a mighty fine use of the visuals.  To write on-screen a person’s thoughts…  it saved a lot of time and was simply very clever.  Holmes was portrayed again, quite rightly, as the intellectual loner.  Portrayed in the same manner as the serial killer.  Of course, the two are flip-sides of the same coin.  A factor that most Columbo episodes use to their advantage.  If the killer is a genius – it takes an even bigger brain to get the better of him.  Or luck.

So, one episode done and dusted… two to go.  Can the producers pull off the impossible? – Give me three 90 minute episodes with nothing for me to moan about?  Probably not.  But I look forward to the disappointment.

… just one more thing

Any Columbo fans out there?  I watched Dirk Benedict playing the role of the greatest lieutenant tonight at the theatre.  I took to my seat with the dwindling hope the Faceman wouldn’t do any ‘Columbo shtick’…  and Dirk proceeded to trot out ‘Columbo schtick’ (hey, we’re not sure whether it’s shtick or schtick!) turned up to eleven.  To be fair he did it with some panache.  You gotta give credit where credit’s due – How the hell do you play the character after Peter Falk owned the character?  Peter Falk is/was Columbo.  But, play the part Dirk did – and he did enough to earn a pat on the back (if I had been in his vicinity).  Hell, he even smoked a cigar throughout – onstage!  Now, I’ve got to assume they produce special ‘stage-cigars’ for that purpose?!?  A stage cigar!  Ha ha.

Columbo is one of my all time favourite shows.  I can watch them endlessly.  I have done in fact – since I was a boy.  What you’ve got to understand is that good tv/film is like a good song.  No-one says “Why are you listening to that song again? You’ve heard it before!”.  But people will quite happily question why you’re watching a film for a second time.  “You know how it ends!  What’s the point?”.  Wake up!!!

A song is a song.  TV is TV.  Film is film.  Art is art.  “Why are you looking at that Van Gogh again?… you already looked at it before 5 years ago.  Remember?  We were in Paris?”.  Replace Van Gogh with any name you like and replace Paris with any place you like.  The song remains the same.  The score is always on the doors.  The song doesn’t change… and yet people wouldn’t query why you had to listen to Sympathy for the Devil 1000 times over the course of your life.  If a song can get you through the day then so can any other form of art.  Horses for courses.

So…  he mimics the mannerisms, wears the coat, holds the cigar, and even has the exact same moleskine notepad that I use to write my songs.  And you know what… I don’t care!  It’s a celebration of a character who will always be special to me, and a celebration of one of the greatest actors of all time (Falk not Benedict I stress!).  The essence of Columbo is engrained so deep down in my soul that I have a constant urge to become a cigar smoker.  But then the reality hits me.  It stinks!  I will curse the day when your common or garden 3D Holo-TV set comes with smell-o-vision.

I’m inspired by Columbo.  The foundations of the show are so rock-solid.  Reveal the murder and the murderer at the very start.  Then dwell on the cat and mouse interplay between Columbo and the guest star.  You see, no other TV show could pull off the trick up Columbo’s sleeve.  If any other crime show ever had a ‘guest star’ (i.e. an actor you actually recognised) appearing in an episode… you knew it would have to be the murderer.  Columbo thrived on this.  You KNEW the guest star would be the murderer.  And the ‘slowly slowly catchy monkey’ between Columbo and the killer would be TV gold.

It’s not necessarily about surprise.  Or at least not surprise as presented in most other cop shows.  The secret of Columbo is in the fine detail.  What are the flaws in the criminal’s master plan?  These people have all the time in the world to plan the perfect murder… but they ALWAYS slip up.  There’s a great conversation in the play I saw tonight (Prescription Murder) where Columbo explains it in simple terms to the smart-alec suspect.

“You see, the murderer gets one chance.  Just one chance to pull off the ‘perfect crime’… the ‘perfect murder’.  But you see sir. this is my living.  I get 100 of these a year.  This is my bread and butter!  And I’m good!”

I’ve written hundreds of songs in my time (well, tens anyway), and one thing holds true.  You don’t always have to surprise.  You can lay out the fundamentals of the song in the first few seconds.  It’s not necessarily about finding out ‘what’ the song is, but rather the journey towards ‘why’ the song is.  Music doesn’t just exist.  It has been brought about for a reason.  And that reason is far more important than the tricks used to ‘surprise’ you during the song.  We’ve heard it all before.  The new synth sound… new drum machines…  new romantic, old romantic, three bags full romantic, punk, rock, indie, emo, acid, dubstep, folk, trance whatever whatever whatever.  It’s all old news.  It’s not about finding out who the murderer is, but all about how and why.  Keep questioning.  Don’t follow.  An enquiring mind is where it’s at!

… just one more thing.  I have published the new song.  I changed the title to Reconstruct a Memory.  It seems apt.  You’re not supposed to feel you have to like it… more “do you understand why you should like it?”.