Friday 30 December 2016


This year I bought myself a small Christmas present. 

When recently looking through one of the upstairs cupboards in my house, I noticed my extensive collection of vinyl records. With vinyl making something of a resurgence and having nothing to play them on, I decided to invest in a turntable that converts the music into MP3s. The turntable arrived yesterday and I have now started what will be, a very long task of conversion.

Forgetting quite how many 33s, 45s and 12 inch singles I had collected over the years before CDs and downloads took over, it was fascinating to start going through them all, while bringing back memories of people and old friends associated with those memories, many of which I have long lost contact with.

The first pile brought me records by such diverse artists as Lionel Richie, Rufus and Chaka Khan, Bill Withers, Chicago and the Little River Band, but the 12 inch single that brought back most memories was an early 80s remix of “Buttercup” by Carl Anderson.

To Top-40 fans, Carl Anderson is not a name that particularly rolls off the tongue, but for those interested in musical theatre he is fondly remembered for playing Judas Iscariot in the Broadway and film productions of Jesus Christ Superstar.

Written by Stevie Wonder, “Buttercup” was originally recorded by the Jackson Five but never actually released by them until their 2009 compilation I Want You Back!  Unreleased Masters came into being.

In my opinion, the song certainly lends itself to Anderson’s vocal versatility to transform between R&B and jazz and however much of a fan I am of the Jacksons, their slightly slower version although very pleasant, didn’t really do it for me.

Carl Anderson passed away in 2004 at the age of 58 after a battle with leukaemia. 

Sunday 27 November 2016

Musical Irish Englishness?

Ireland is a very gifted nation musically, but all may not be quite as it seems when it comes to a certain three of its music stars.

The Boys are Back in Town

Phil Lynott, the late lead singer and bassist of rock outfit “Thin Lizzy” did not emanate from the “Emerald Isle”. He was actually born in August 1949 at Hallam Hospital (now known as Sandwell General Hospital) in West Bromwich, England, to an Irish mother and Guyanan father.

Christened at St Edward’s church in Selly Oak, Birmingham, he spent some of his early life in and around the city, and subsequently in Manchester when his mother moved there.

At the age of 4 he went to live with his Irish grandmother in Dublin while his mother remained in the UK. Although remaining in contact with his mother, he stayed in Ireland throughout what was said to be a happy childhood.

With his later years taken up with a dependency on drugs and alcohol, Lynott died at the age of 36, of pneumonia and heart failure, due to septicaemia, in January 1986.

In 2005 a life sized bronze statue of the singer was unveiled close to Grafton Street in Dublin (see image above). Since that time it has once been knocked off its pedestal by vandals in 2013 and more recently run into by a van snapping its base. Thankfully it has now been fully restored and it can be considered that “The Boy is Back in Town!”

All Kinds of Everything

In 1970 a fresh faced, pretty Irish girl became an overnight sensation winning the Eurovision Song Contest in Amsterdam with “All Kinds of Everything”

At the tender age of 18 Dana, born Rosemary Brown, became the first of Ireland’s record seven victories in the contest. But Irish Dana was actually born and grew up in the London suburb of Islington.

At the age of five, Dana’s parents decided to return to live in their native Derry in Northern Ireland. London was still a smog ridden city and because of the harmful effects it was having on some of her siblings, the family were convinced they would be better off, for health reasons, returning back over the sea.

In more recent times Dana Rosemary Scallon (as she is now referred to) served as a member of the European Parliament and has twice unsuccessfully run for the Irish Presidency. 

Often controversial with modernist views, it was revealed during her 2nd attempt at the Presidency that she was now a dual US and Irish citizen. She denied hiding this fact from the public, but it did not help her in the vote winning quest where she came 6th to Michael D Higgins.

Dana has four children and lives with her husband in County Galway, Ireland.

The Irish Rover

Shane MacGowan, best known as lead singer and songwriter of the Celtic punk band “The Pogues”, was born on Christmas Day in 1957 at Pembury, Kent, England to Irish parents.

“The Irish Rover” spent his early life in County Tipperary, but returned to the UK at the age of 6, living in many parts of the south-east of England during his youth including London and Brighton.

As a boy he won a literature scholarship into London's Westminster School, but was expelled in his second year at the historic seat of learning when caught in possession of drugs.

Pertinent to his “rock’n’roll” lifestyle, MacGowan has suffered from binge drinking for many years, becoming notorious for performing when under the influence of alcohol. In the summer of 2015 he fractured his pelvis when leaving a Dublin recording studio from which he still continues to experience mobility issues. He lives in Dublin with his long-term girlfriend.

All three artists are/were fiercely proud of their Irish nationality and in turn are proudly celebrated by their nation. 

But even though their heritage and background is obviously Irish, surely we British can also claim a part of them as our own?

Wednesday 16 November 2016

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Flicking through TV channels this afternoon I came across Vintage TV with a show based on music of the 60s.

After a few tracks by such eminent artists as The Four Tops, the Rolling Stones, Tom Jones and James Brown, they came to playing the wonderful “Leaving on a Jet Plane” by Peter, Paul and Mary.

The John Denver penned song became the trios biggest hit reaching no.1 in many countries in the world (though only getting to no.2 here in the UK).

Peter Yarrow, Noel Paul Stookey and Mary Travers were created as an entity in 1961 by manager Albert Grossman who auditioned many singers based in the New York folk scene.

Leaving on a Jet Plane (performed by the trio in 1986)

They went on to have hits with such memorable tunes as Puff the Magic Dragon, If I Had a Hammer, The Times They are A-Changin’ and Bog Dylan’s Blowin’ in the Wind to name but a few.

Yarrow and Stookey continue to this day as solo artists, however Mary Travers passed away in 2009 from complications after a marrow transplant related to leukaemia.

Monday 17 October 2016

Today's the Day - 18th October

Herman Melville
On this day in 1851, The Whale by Herman Melville was published in Britain in 3 volumes. Later to become the story of Moby-Dick, it was published in just a single volume in the USA approx. 3 weeks later.

The novel was a commercial failure and out of print at the time of the author's death in 1891, but during the 20th century, its reputation as a “Great American Novel” was established.

The English edition had an initial print of only 500 copies – significantly fewer than his other books while only 3,200 copies of the novel were sold during Melville’s lifetime.

Birthdays and anniversaries on this day:

Erin (or is it Joanie?)
Legendary American singer-songwriter and guitarist Chuck Berry was born in 1926.

Lee Harvey Oswald, who assassinated of US President John F Kennedy, was born in 1939.

Erin Moran, who played the part of Joanie Cunningham in the 1970’s TV smash hit Happy Days, celebrates her 56th birthday today.

Sunday 16 October 2016

Today's the Day - 17th October

On this day 60 years ago, Britain’s first nuclear power station, Calder Hall in Cumbria, was officially opened.
A clock at Calder Hall registering power
transferred to the National Grid
Opened by the Queen, it actually began operating in August of the same year, becoming the first nuclear power station in the world to generate power on an industrial scale.

The first nuclear power station in the world began operations on an experimental basis 2 years previously in the Soviet Union, but the output generated was significantly lower than that at Calder Hall.

The town of Workington, situated 15 miles up the coast from Calder Hall, became the first town in the world to receive heat, light and power from nuclear energy, and within 4 hours nuclear-powered electricity had reached London.

Birthdays and anniversaries today include:

Rita Hayworth
US actor and dancer Rita Hayworth was born on this day in 1918. She died in 1987 aged 68 with Alzheimer's disease being a contributing factor.

Actor Guy Henry, better known as Henrik Hanssen in BBC’s Holby City is 56 today.

South African golfer Ernie Els, nicknamed “The Big Easy” celebrates his 47th.

Today's the Day - 16th October

100 years ago today, Margaret Higgins Sanger and colleagues opened the first American birth control clinic in New York City. It resulted in their immediate arrest and jailing for the distribution of “obscene material”, although the convictions were later overturned.

Sanger believed that women deserved an equal footing in society and that to lead healthier lives, should be able to determine themselves when to bear children. She also wanted to put an end to back-alley abortions which, even though they were illegal at the time, were commonplace.

She didn’t totally disagree with abortions per se, but considered that contraception was the most practical way to avoid them.

Davina, 49 today
In 1921 Margaret Sanger founded the American Birth Control League, which later became the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Happy birthday today goes to:
Dan Biggar (27)

English TV presenter Davina McCall (49)

South-African cricketer Jacques Kallis (41)

Welsh Rugby Union outside-half Dan Biggar (27)

Tuesday 20 September 2016

Charlie's Angels at 40

It takes some believing but on Thursday 22nd September, it will be 40 years to the day since TV classic Charlie’s Angels first aired on American TV.

The original TV show ran for 5 seasons, producing 110 episodes and making mega-stars of the three angels namely Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith. 

It detailed the adventures of three beautiful women working in a private detective agency in Los Angeles, owned by a secretive millionaire by the name of Charlie.

Despite initially gaining mixed reviews from critics, the world loved it and the show quickly gained a top 10 rating.

Kate Jackson
Kate Jackson was originally offered the part of Kelly Garrett on the back of her performance in The Rookies, but the role of Sabrina Duncan appealed to her more and she successfully requested a change.

Farrah Fawcett
Farrah Fawcett was next to be cast as Jill Monroe and similarly to Jackson she did not need to audition for the role. 

Producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg were so impressed with her performance in the big screen blockbuster Logan’s Run (1976), that they offered her the part on the back of it.

Jaclyn Smith was one of hundreds of actresses who auditioned for the role of Kelly Garrett and won through mainly due to her on-screen chemistry with the other two leading ladies.

Jaclyn Smith
Indeed, Spelling and Goldberg originally intended for the three to be made up from a blonde, a brunette and a redhead, but changed their minds upon seeing how well Smith blended in with the other two.

Unbelievably the show was originally to be called “The Alley Cats” with the three lady private eyes living in alleys, wearing whips and chains!

But Jackson, who had some control over the development of the series, was shocked at the idea and begged the producers to think again. You do wonder about the longevity of the series had it ended up going down that route.

Kate Jackson also came up with the idea of calling them "Angels" after seeing a picture of three angels hanging on the wall in Spelling’s office, and soon enough the name of “Harry’s Angels” came to light. 

But with TV company ABC not wanting any confusion with their other major series at the time Harry O, the Angels very soon became the property of Charlie.

Over its 5 year run the show had a number of high profile cast changes with Jaclyn Smith being the only lead actor to remain throughout. 

Cheryl Ladd as Kris Monroe, Shelley Hack as Tiffany Welles and Tanya Roberts as Julie Rogers all joined the series to mixed success and reviews.

Original cast reunited at the 2006 Emmy awards  

40 years down the line and Kate Jackson is now 67 years of age and is later remembered for going on to star in TV's Scarecrow and Mrs King in the early 1980’s. 

It was in this series, made by her own production company, where she developed an interest in producing and directing. 

After suffering breast cancer in the late 80’s, she has gone on to dedicate herself to speaking on the subject.

Jaclyn Smith (always my favourite Angel if I’m honest) has appeared in a number of TV movies and had a recurring role in the TV series The District. 

She actually reprised the Kelly Garrett role for a cameo in the first of the big screen adaptations Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle – the only original Angel to feature in either version.

Now 70, she also battled breast cancer in 2003 and featured in a documentary about the illness in 2010.

Sadly Farrah Fawcett is no longer with us, passing away from cancer in June 2009 at the age of 62.

Diagnosed with anal cancer 3 years previously, she featured in a 2 hour documentary outlining her battle entitled Farrah’s Story, filmed by herself and friend Alana Stewart (ex wife of both Rod Stewart and George Hamilton IV). 

She died with long-term partner Ryan O’Neal and Alana Stewart at her bedside.

Happy birthday Angels – it sure was fun!

Monday 19 September 2016

Monday, Monday: Mama Cass Would be 75 Today.

The wonderful Mama Cass Elliott would have been 75 today.

Born Ellen Naomi Cohen in Baltimore, Maryland, USA, she was a member of the Mamas and the Papas singing quartet.

There are differing stories as to where she adopted the name of Cass. It is thought that she took the name while at High School as a tribute to actress Peggy Cass, although it has also been said that her father nicknamed her Cass after the Trojan prophetess of the same name. The Elliott surname was to honour a friend who had died in a road accident.

The Mamas and the Papas has numerous hits including Monday, Monday and California Dreaming and after they broke up she went on to develop a successful solo career.

A rather large lady, she was certainly proof that you didn’t need to have film star looks or be as skinny as a rake to be successful. Standing at 5ft 5ins tall and weighing approx. 18 stone, she often went on a variety of crash diets, presumably weakening her body in the process.

She passed away at the very young age of 32 after performing 2 sold out shows at the London Palladium. She returned to the Mayfair flat she had been borrowing (owned by Harry Nilsson), the same flat where drummer Keith Moon would die 4 years later – see post “Moon the Loon at 70”

With Johnny Cash
Her passing was finally attributed to heart failure, although for many years there was an urban legend that she had choked to death (a half eaten sandwich was found at the scene).

Another star who left us far too early, she had an amazing contralto voice and who knows the fame she may have achieved had she lived.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Michael Schumacher - Formula One Debut

Michael Schumacher
Thursday 25th August was the the 25th anniversary of Michael Schumacher’s debut in Formula One.

The seven time World Champion, now regarded as one of the greatest drivers of all time, made his bow as a 22-year-old unknown at the Belgian Grand Prix in Spa

After learning the ropes, initially in karting events where he gained his licence in Luxembourg at the age of 12 (the minimum age in his native Germany was 14), he went on to race in German Formula Ford, Formula K├Ânig and Formula Three, progressing into the World Sportscar championship.

Bertrand Gachot
He made his debut in Formula One for the Jordan-Ford team, replacing the imprisoned at the time Bertrand Gachot, who was serving a 2 month sentence after spraying a London taxi cab driver with CS gas in a traffic altercation.

The Race

At the time Schumacher was a contracted Mercedes driver, but after impressing the powers that be at a Silverstone test drive the week before the race, he was given the drive and promptly went on to learn the intricacies of the Spa track by cycling around it on a fold-up bike he had brought with him.

Testing the Jordan 191 car
He qualified in 7th place on the grid, but sadly when the race came he retired on the first lap when his clutch failed. The late Ayrton Senna went on to win the race, with his McLaren-Honda team mate, Austrian Gerhard Berger following up just behind.

Skiing Accident

In December 2013 Schumacher was skiing with his son in the French Alps when he fell and hit his head on a rock. He was airlifted to hospital and placed in a medically induced coma.

In November 2014, it was reported that he was paralysed and in a wheelchair; was unable to speak and had memory problems. 

In a later interview with his manager, she stated that he was slowly improving “considering the severity of the injury he had sustained”.

Tuesday 16 August 2016

"Moon the Loon" at 70!

Tuesday 23rd August 2016 would have been the 70th birthday of Keith Moon, former drummer of British rock band The Who.

Affectionately known as “Moon the Loon”,  he was renown for his madcap antics and eccentric behaviour, which included driving a Lincoln Continental into a Holiday Inn swimming pool on his 20th birthday (this has often been wrongly reported as being his 21st birthday, being probably due to the legal age of drinking in the US being 21).

As a drummer he had few peers. Voted the 2nd greatest drummer in history by a Rolling Stone poll, he played the skins similarly to his lifestyle, with a sense of wild abandon that blew the minds of fans and admirers alike.

But he is mainly remembered for his life of excessive drinking and partying which eventually took it’s toll. He regularly smashed his drum kit on stage, and became infamous for trashing hotel rooms along with the obligatory throwing the TV out of the window. He was also fascinated with blowing up toilets with explosives (cherry bombs). Is it any wonder that many hotel chains refused to accept him on their guest list.

 Keith Moon drum solo

Moon died on 7th September 1978 at the age of 32 from an overdose of the prescription drug Heminevrin. 

Used to combat alcoholism or withdrawal symptoms from alcohol, he was given 100 tablets to use “as he pleased” but to take no more than 3 a day. 

32 were found in his system with just 6 digested (certainly enough to kill an adult).

He died at a flat in London’s Mayfair, rented to him by musician and singer Harry Nilsson. 

Spookily that same flat was also the location for “Mama” Cass Elliot’s death 4 years previously and Nilsson was concerned about letting it to Moon, considering it to be cursed. 

Fellow Who member Pete Townsend wrongly assured him that “lightning would not strike in the same place twice”. Sadly it did.

Sunday 12 June 2016

The Baird Undersock

John Logie Baird
On Tuesday 14th June 2016 it will be the 70th anniversary of the death of Scottish inventor John Logie Baird. Baird is usually remembered for being the first person in the world to demonstrate a working television system

However it is not so well known that one of his previous inventions was a thermal style undersock, which gained him moderate success around the time of the Great War.

Devised in around 1916, the Baird Undersock was an unbleached sock sprinkled with an anti-fungal compound called Borax, that when worn under normal footwear, kept the feet dry and warm. 

These socks gained positive testimonials from servicemen serving in the trenches in France and eventually they not only helped him quit his mundane job at an electrical power company, but also move away from Scotland to a warmer climate.

Baird had always suffered from poor circulation. He felt cold nearly all of the time and often wore heavy coats even in milder weather, in an attempt to try and keep warm. His cold feet caused him major problems and over time he tried different ways to try and keep out the chill. 

He wrote in his memoirs that a favourite method he used was to remove his socks, wrap his bare feet in newspaper to absorb any moisture, and then put the socks back on again, over the paper.

Taking this idea forward, he managed to get a supply of half-hose socks from a company in Yorkshire, sprinkled Borax on them and packaged them up with a leaflet outlining their advantages. 

They were then advertised in The People’s Friend - a British national periodical magazine - for sale at a price of 9 old pennies a pair, inclusive of postage. However from this original advert, he only managed one sale causing a major re-think to his advertising and sales strategy.

Baird then set out as a travelling salesman, placing the socks in pharmacies and drapers in and around his native Glasgow area and soon enough the repeat orders started to come in. 

It wasn’t long before he was in a position to take on a team of salesmen, supplying not only to Scotland, but down into England as well. 

He also employed a team of women wearing sandwich boards, who walked around Glasgow city centre advertising the socks. This was a masterstroke as it not only took the advertising out on to the street, but captured the attention of the local press thereby creating even more business.

In one advertisement he stated that “The socks are perfectly pure and antiseptic, and, when worn under the ordinary sock, keep the feet beautifully warm in winter. In summer the socks may be worn alone, and worn thus keeping the feet wonderfully cool and fresh in the hottest weather.” 

This message was immediately followed by three testimonials from soldiers serving in the British Expeditionary Forces in France.

In the latter stages of the war the sales of the Baird Undersock started to take off and by that time he was earning the same amount in a week as he would have done back at the power station in a year. 

But as hostilities came to an end, the business slowed down and during a period while Baird was suffering another bout of ill-health, it came to a grinding halt.

Because of his aversion to the cold, he decided to relocate to a warmer climate and with the money made from the Undersock, he went to live in Trinidad where it is believed he secretly started to experiment with bright flashing lights!

After suffering bouts of malaria and dysentery, it wasn’t long before he returned home to the UK and within seven short years his Caribbean adventures resulted in what was to ultimately become his most famous invention.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Chicago Cubs' Anniversaries

Wrigley Field
The next few days sees two anniversaries for the Chicago Cubs baseball team.

100 years ago on 20 April 1916, they played their first game at Wrigley Field (then known as Weeghman Park), defeating the Cincinnati Reds 7-6 after 11 innings. The stadium, which opened in 1914, was renamed Wrigley Field in 1927 after the chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jnr.
The iconic red marquee

Based on the north side of the city, it is known for its ivy covered brick outfield wall, the red marquee over the main entrance and the hand operated scoreboard.

75 years ago on the 26 Apr 1941, the first organ was played in a Major League Baseball stadium when the Chicago Cubs brought one into Wrigley Field as a one-day gimmick. It proved popular and the tradition soon became established.

The War That Never Was!

Scilly Isles off the Cornish coast
30 years ago today, the 335 Years’ War between the Netherlands and the Isles of Scilly ended with a peace treaty being signed. This war had been long forgotten and many people regarded it as a myth until historical records were unearthed showing they were technically still at war.

The origins of the conflict can be found in the mid-17th century with the Second English Civil War, fought between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians.

Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell had managed to push the Royalists out to the edges of the kingdom, leaving Cornwall as the last patriotic stronghold, but in 1648 a further advance sent the Royalist Navy to retreat out to the Isles of Scilly (off the Cornish coast).

Meanwhile after being assisted by the English on numerous previous occasions throughout the Eighty years war, the Netherlands decided to maintain their alliance by entering the conflict on the side of Cromwell and the Parliamentarians, after identifying them as the most likely victors. This act infuriated the Royalists who considered themselves as their long term allies, causing them to avenge their former friends by raiding Dutch shipping lanes in the English Channel.

Admiral Tromp
In 1651 the Dutch, seeking an opportunity to recoup losses incurred from Royalist raids, sent a fleet of 12 warships to the Isles of Scilly to demand reparations. After receiving no satisfactory answer from the Royalists, the Dutch Admiral Maarten Tromp subsequently declared war on the Isles of Scilly on the 30th March 1651.

3 months later in June 1651, Cromwell’s army forced a Royalist surrender reverting the Islands back to Parliamentarian control and subsequently the Dutch fleet sailed home forgetting to ever declare peace with the Scilly Isles.

Netherlands Embassy
In 1985 a Scillonian historian Roy Duncan wrote to the Dutch embassy in London in an attempt to clear up a long talked about myth of a war. Imagine the shock on both sides when they came across a number of documents suggesting the two were still technically at war with each other.

Consequently Dutch ambassador Rein Huydecoper was invited to visit the Islands and peace was finally declared by the signing of a treaty on 17 April 1986, 335 years after the "hostilities" began.