Angry Dolphins Random acts of writing

Monday :::
London Feb 24 2003

More music:

"White Punks on Dope" - The Tubes. Fast, furious, this one bleeds all over the speakers and then comes back for more. If you know the Tubes, you know you can't take this seriously, since they satirised just about everything they came across in their early days, but lord, there wasn't much around in 1977 that came close to this for balls-to-the-wall rock. Two drummers, three guitars and a singer wearing a Bacofoil jockstrap and twelve-inch stack heels, these guys made Alice Cooper look like Moby.

"Surrender" - Cheap Trick: Why weren't these guys huge? They had the nous to take hard rock and splice it to the Beatles, they had the pretty-boy singer, the wacky guitarist and the doleful drummer thing all perfectly arranged. There are so many terrific Cheap Trick songs, this is just one of the best. Fab chorus for "the kids".

"Little Does She Know" - Kursaal Flyers. Right up there at the top of the list of forgotten classics, a mini pop-opera that just gets better and better. This one came out around the same as a lot of pub-rock in the lat 70s, and got a little lost among the Nick Lowe/Dave Edmunds/Eddie and the Hot Rods/Dr Feelgood noise, but it's got one foot back in the 60s when songs told a story - sort of a Jilted John thing.

"Come and Get It" - Badfinger. Absolutely fan-bloody-tastic.

"Downtown Train" - Tom Waits wrote this and no matter how many folks cover it, his sandpaper vocals are the definite take on the song. It's about as close to a straight love song you're going to hear this man perform. Avoid all imitations.

"Don't Come Around Here No More" - Tom Petty's last truly GREAT song. This one is a killer: it's bitter, twisted, the drum/cymbal patter drives gently but firmly, the sitar gives the song a slight left-field feel, and the pain in Tom's voice would squeeze tears from a rock. This one can be handily dedicated to girlfriends who've just dumped you for the nth time.

"All or Nothing" - The Small Faces. I don't think there've been many performers able to convey the passion and anguish that the late Steve Marriott showed: there's always the feeling that this song is just about to spin out of control. The Small Faces were possibly the greatest British band of the sixties, they got the mix between rock and soul spot on, something only the Manic Street Preachers seem to have these days.

"Beasley Street" - John Copper Clarke: It's a poem, it shouldn't even need to be set to a backing track: it's a savage, pustulent, weeping sore of a poem that goes straight to the bottom of the pile of human experience, and it's brilliant.

::: posted by Sun King at 9:50 PM

London Feb 23 2003

Excerpt from a diary kept while on board the "Ross Revenge", home of Radio Caroline, in 1988.

Getting out to the "Ross" is an exercise in paranoia - original travel routes had to be scrapped and by the time we got to the port, the weather had kicked up and the whole affair began to look a little dangerous. Fun way to spend Valentine's Day.

The tender that was taking us out to the ship was about 25 feet long, a glass-reinforced plastic fishing boat: crowded with the usual fishing paraphernalia and the ton or so of supplies we had to take out to the "Ross". Bread, drinks, tinbs, electrical components, gas bottles for the cooker, newspapers, etc etc.

Fist myth destroyed: the tender doesn't go out every month. No daily deliveries of anything. So the SUnday papers we took out were the first the crew had seen in a month.

It tok three hours of battling a heavy northeasterly swell to get out to the "Ross". Once in the area, we had to collect ourselves for the final assault. The "Ross Revenge" is around 180-200 feet long, and the seas were running at about 10 feet. So the little tener had to be loosely tied on, fendered all down the side, and we had to pass over the supplies each time the swells crested annd brought us up to deck level. Stirring stuff. There were two of us going on board, myself and Robbie Jay, and four crew leaving.

The crew had been running short of a few supplies, and the most eagerly-awaited were the cigarettes. Seems we only brought 400 or so, so it'll be cold turkey in a few days.

The arrival an changeover took about an hour (3-4 a.m.) and the seven remaining crew stowed the supplies and generally got to know each other. The station had been off-air for most of the day so the antenna array could be re-strung and re-tuned. Apparently, Caroline had been putting out about 2 kilowatts of signal, but it's thought to be more like 3.5 kW now, all from a 5kW generator.

I went on air at 1 a.m. this morning, did a 4-hour non-stop music show, and tonight I'm on the 9 p.m.-1 a.m. show.

The boat is a revelation. The "Ross" is a former Atlantic trawler, huge and very roomy. Each of the crew has their own cabin, the old mess-room is now a lounge and day-room, complete with TV and video library. The newsroom is in the former chart room behind the bridge. Computer, printer, TV screen showing Oracle and Ceefax for the news and the record library list, from which the shows are picked. The bridge is apparently fully operational, satellite navigation, radio etc.

There are three studios on the "Ross": the Caroline 558 studio and a defunct Dutch station, Monique are side by side, separated by a glass panel, and a third studio is way back towards the stern and not used for much beyond production. The record library is just below the bridge, with 11,000 records to choose from, a stereo and carrier-current speakers to monitor the broadcast.

The programme format is very simple, all music, minimal chat. The music is selected by the producer from the music list and mixes contemporary "heavy-rotation" with classic hits. The CHR stuff is all pretty much Top 40, slightly rock-oriented. For what it's worth, the first tune I cied up on my first show was Marillion's "Incommunicado".

The CHR music is kept in the studio at all times, while the classic stuff has to be picked out from the library. Each show has a strict order of play, mixing in the old with the new. The only slightly disconcerting facet is that the entire record library is kept chronologically rather than alphabetically.

The "Ross" rolls about in the heavy seas, not enough to jump the needle on the turntables, but with the studio chair on wheels, it can be a little like human pinball in there. The chief engineer reckons we've been lucky so far, given the time of year.

Maintaining the equipment takes up a lot of time - we're always shoring up the broadcast equipment and trying to improvise: the insulation for the antenna array is sometimes made out of plastic buckets... at night you can sometimes see sparks dancing along the array and it's quite a sight.

There are constant reminders of the pirate status of Radio Caroline: news cuttings, posters and a vague feeling that we're being monitored. I've looked through some of the listeners' letters, revealing some seriously devoted fans. Caroline has been running a short-wave service as well, that broadcasts religious stuff to eastern Europe and that's been one of the few sources of revenue. There's a storage room opposite the rear studio that's full of what are called "God Boxes", each one holding a mass of tapes of previous religious broadcasts.

There seems to be a healthy bit of support for Caroline, even stuck out here in the North Sea: the Olau Line ferrries pass close by and you get a lot of waves and calling from the passengers, fishermen will come alongside and toss up the occasional fish. And of course there are the weekend visits from charter boats full of Caroline fans.

5:30 p.m. I've just pulled out all the records for my show, and done some intro timing to work out where I can do voiceovers. The policy is "No Dead Air" which gives us a little leeway for chat and the like, but not a lot. And once you're in the studio, juggling with the pots, the masters and the go button, it can get a little hairy. The turntables are operated by "stop" and "gamble" buttons taken from a slot machine.

Upstairs I can hear Peter typing up the news stories for the top of the hour, and they're cooking supper down below.

::: posted by Sun King at 12:30 PM

Thursday :::
London Feb 20 2003

On a totally different topic today, and one I'm going to have to revisit often....

I had a gig once as a radio DJ, which is just about as close to heaven as I think I'm going to get on this planet. Me and 30,000 records in a confined space, the time to explore and the tools to record the stuff I liked. I finished the gig with boxes of cassettes that I'd used to record random songs I came across and sometimes even got to play. I'm not one of those anal types who insist that the record has to be in mint condition, in its original sleeve or whatever: all I care is that I'm into the tune.

So I'm going to bore you with a periodic trawl through the collection. Starting today. But first, a couple of warnings - this stuff is commercial. I'm not John Peel, OK?

"Love Like Blood". They liked their apocalypses, did Killing Joke. An unstoppable, insistent bassline, washes of ominous organ and huge glass shards of guitar. Funky, in a nuclear kind of way. It echoes, it cuts and it glooms big-time.

"Come Back!" - The Mighty Wah! A love song to a city, if there could be such a thing. There's this massive, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink production and Pete Wylie's got this soul thing going to match the passion of the lyric. There's a fantastic instrumental version of this that you can loop into a never-ending mellow bass background track.

"Me in Honey" - REM. The clincher here is the B52's Kate Pierson in the background doing this zombified droning, and it really really works. Michael Stipe plaintively, achingly, wailing "what about me??" at the end is one of those perfect hair-raising moments that I always wait for. Not sure why, but this song makes me think of sex.

"All Is Forgiven" by Jellyfish - I was just about the biggest Jellyfish fan going. They had this Beach Boys-meets-Stevie Wonder in Todd Rundgren's head vibe which made them incredibly fun to listen to. And they wrote intelligent lyrics which is always a bonus. This one's a full-on racket, just about to go out of control, and then they stop for a second to do this amazing "aaaahhhhhhhhh" in perfect harmony.

"Desperadoes Under the Eaves" - Warren Zevon. The most under-rated songwriter/lyricist of the last 30 years, bar none. He's like this scruffy, mumbling street person who picks over the rubbish in the street and stops passers-by to tell them something that they'll remember the next day and think, "You know, he's absolutely right!" He writes angry songs, sad songs, funny songs and each one sticks in your head.

"Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" - The Hooters. It took me about a minute before I realised what song this is, and then I was thinking: "Damn, that's clever!" Deconstructing a classic.

"Ocean Spray" - I never thought the Manic Street Preachers could make a pop song but here's one. They have this passion that nobody else even gets close to.

"One of Those Days In England (Parts 2-10)" - Roy Harper. Never mind he's an ancient hippy, never mind he's always been slightly the other side of bonkers, this is stunning. A rambling but focused epic, stuffed full of philosophy and Olde England references, a treat for the ears as well as for the brain.

"Sweet Jane" - Cowboy Junkies: It's not quite like playing the Velvet Underground original at 33 rpm instead of 45, but it's damn close. There's a groove that you think you can ignore, but it's so insidious and so strong despite sounding like nothing at all. And the voice sends shivers up my spine.

"I Want to See The Bright Lights Tonight" - Richard and Linda Thompson: A perfect three-minute folk opera. It's like listening to an ancient folk song about being down the pub last Friday night. I like the version with the brass band, gives the song a sort of marching feel to it.

"The Great Gig in the Sky" - Pink Floyd. Stately piano, gorgeous swooning guitars, and then Clare Torry's feral, orgasmic keening. A song that proves how sex and death are just opposite sides of the same coin. Every time I hear this I just stop whatever I'm doing and let it wash all over me.

"Superstition". I miss Stevie Ray Vaughan. He did things with a guitar Clapton could only dream about. If you thought Stevie Wonder's original was was funky, this is downright dirty.

"I Saw the Light" - Todd Rundgren's mad-genius ultimate three-minute pop song, just to prove he could do it better than anyone else. So much of what he's done is kind of hard to get into, but once in a while he comes up with something that's just so perfect - plays every instrument, sings all the harmonies, writes the perfect hook. Damn.

"Movin On Up" - Primal Scream. Gospel dance rock. It's as if Sly Stone got religion, discovered guitars and took downers all at the same time. I like to play this one LOUD.

"Say It Ain't So Joe" - Murray Head. The most wondrous singing ever committed to record. He goes from this thin, warbly squeak all the way to serious passion. It's probably one of the saddest songs ever written, and one of the most beautiful. Steer clear of Roger Daltrey's pale imitation.

I'm going to bore for England on this topic.

::: posted by Sun King at 10:40 PM

Tuesday :::
London Feb 18 2003

Central London Congestion Charge - Day Two

Seems as though Our Ken has got away with his Congestion Charge for the moment - so far, the streets are fairly empty in central London. But you really have to admire the balls of the guy - he launched the Charge during half-term, so that traffic levels are anything up to 25% less than normal due to the fact that there are no brainless (and sadly, usually female) twits using their three-ton sport utility vehicles to drive their one kid the five hundred yards to school at the moment. Hey presto! Instant 25% reduction in traffic, clearly DIRECTLY attributable to the Congestion Charge. Ho-hum.

Better yet, there are dark whispers doing the rounds concerning traffic light phasing - folks are suggesting that some time ago, Ken instructed traffic managers to adjust the traffic lights' phasing to add to congestion. And now that the Congestion Charge has been launched, he's instructed the traffic managers to re-adjust the traffic lights phasing to reduce waiting times and hence congestion. Hey presto! Instant improvement in traffic flow, clearly DIRECTLY attributable to the Congestion Charge.

Meanwhile Steven Norris, the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, has said he will scrap the Congestion Charge if elected. Yeah, right. I'm sorry, didn't the Labour party promise an ethical foreign policy, banning weapons sales to dictatorships etc etc, once it was elected? How many promised reverses in policy have actually happened when the opposition is elected? Norris is going to have to justify scrapping a system that cost however many TENS of million pounds to install, not to mention FOREGO the hundreds of millions of pounds in revenues the Congestion Charge is projected to bring in. I somehow think this is one decision he'd find very easy to reverse if he got into office.

One the subject of sport utility vehicles (as I was way back at the start of this), could someone enlighten me as to the point of these cars? They feature four-wheel drive (helping to propagate the myth that London really is back in the dark ages - Yo! Carmakers! We have REAL ROADS HERE!), gasoline consumption somewhere below that of a 747 (Yo! Carmakers! How big a kickback are you getting from the oil companies?), they're wider than the average Thames barge (which makes driving through suburban streets a real lottery when one of these mammoths comes along), they can usually accomodate seven passengers, yet they never seem to carry more than three people at any one time (Yo! Carmakers! Notice how popular the Mini is?). In short, they're an insult to our collective intelligence: better still, they are a completely accurate and infallible way to identify the idiots among us.

Rant over.

::: posted by Sun King at 1:39 PM


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