Friday, 30 November 2007

The Kate Bush Tactics Truck #1

In these fractious and turbulent times (and I sincerely hope someone's enjoying that cream horn I was saving for later, chiz chiz), we look for guidance to the great artists of history. A world of shifting consequences can, we hope, be imbued with some sense of order if we study the classics. And nowhere, surely, is there a greater repository of spiritual and geopolitical wisdom than the video oeuvre of Kate Bush.


Let's start off with something accessible and basic. Nothing particularly legendary about this track, manifestly ace though it is, and positively fantastic for a fourth-off-the-album potboiler. But the Bush attention to detail didn't slack at these moments, as the gloriously overwrought video shows.

1) 'It's a film...'
We start off with loads of dry ice, and various historical figures including a WWII pilot standing about and waving, which is clearly a reference to A Matter of Life and Death. Er, or Close Encounters. Or The History of the World Part One. Anyway, it's a film reference of summat or other. Oh, and here comes Kate. Notice how, at this stage of her career, she somehow manages to be mumsy and girly at the same time. (Furtively adjusts Adidas bag on lap.)

2) Springwatch 2086
What every well-dressed post-apocalyptic twitcher should be sporting as they perch nimbly on a basalt plinth to watch the sky boil away. (Time Machine-style giant scorpions not pictured.) Here Kate's just about to hand over to Bill, who's got some terrific news about the family of house martins in that Swaffham rectory.

3) 'S-T-I-M-I-L-A-T-I-N-G! Stimulatin'!'
A kestrel for a knave, or rather for no other reason than it looks great. This sleek bird of prey is never more at home than in front of the Life on Earth title sequence. (Kate also turns up at about this point dressed as Napoleon while someone empties a watering can over her head, which is self-explanatory, really.)

4) Qua-diddly-qua-qua!
Time to step things up a gear, with the tried and tested gambit of flamenco dancing furiously towards the camera with a bunch of oddly-dressed mates. Ten years later, R&B videos would consist of nothing else, but here it's just another choreographical dumpling in Kate's cultural stew.

5) Taking Tiger Mountain by Dancercise
How many videos during this period ended up in a big warehouse full of rubble with loads of blokes with flags running about? Red Box, Killing Joke, Duran Duran, er... Bad News's Burning, Looting, Raping, Shooting... you can think of a hundred more. The end result: when the Berlin Wall finally fell, those delirious, epoch-defining 'hands across No Man's Land' parties looked strangely familiar.

6) 'Hey, Superman, where are you now..?'
Genesis's Land of Confusion, there's another! Which also featured a bloke dressed as Superman, though not running about as prattishly as this one.

7) Going to a Go-Go
Never let it be said Kate lost her sense of goofy fun at this point. The Ninth Wave may have been a tad heavy on the conceptual song cycle roughage for some listeners, but she wasn't above ending her videos with a joyfully daffy auntie-left-alone-with-the-Bailey's-on-Boxing-Night wig out. 'See you next time, on Blockbusters!'

Friday, 23 November 2007

Kangabang '82

It's 1982! Fun, love and experimentation are in the air! The Space Shuttle is finally working! The ZX Spectrum is teaching us to laugh! And an entire generation of young men are - cough - beginning to come of age. If you could sum up this year in a single image, what would it be? Might it be the one, say, at 2:25 here?

Yes folks, for a certain segment of the British populace nothing says 1982 quite like Kate Bush wanking off a laser beam. And just off camera, don't forget there's Rolf Harris and Percy Edwards, beavering away in their booths. 'Hey, that's OK, Junior. I am confused also.' Tony Benn writes: 'Thish ish exshactly the short of thing I was pushing towardsh when I accshepted the poshition of Poshtmashter General.'

And here's something in better taste - Very Good Taste, in fact.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

No Really, Who IS this Clown?

I’d have mentioned this even if I wasn’t namechecked in it, honest, but Talk About the Passion is a podcast about fandom wherein rubber-limbed former Play School presenter Ben Baker interviews a worshipper of a different area of pop ephemera every single day. If you would like to join in at home you’ll need a candle, some bread, and the 1973 Trumpton annual with you.

Today’s guest is TJ Worthington, the subject is Watch with Mother, and the rest writes itself. One of the points raised was the indefinable scariness of the clown who appeared at the end of Camberwick Green, operating the credit roller. It’s usually agreed by scholars that this terror is down to a mixture of our natural fear of clowns, the slow, deliberate movements of this particular one, and that crashing discord at the end.

But there are a few other horrifying things about this scene. Here’s a summary of the latest research.

Well, we’re not given any clues, are we? That snazzy purple and brown striped wallpaper aside, our poor friend seems to be in limbo, vis-à-vis the geography of the ‘Green. This leads inevitably to point 3).

Well, we do have other clues, but they just make things more worrying. There’s a lute in front of him. Now this must mean a) he’s tapping into the Fairport Convention market; b) He’s Sting; c) He’s fallen through time from the 16th century like some kind of Catweazle-esque children’s-programme-within-a-children’s-programme; or d) Camberwick Green itself takes place in the 16th century, and not modern times like you thought! Ha! Fooled you all along! (Copyright M Night Shyamalan.)

If we take the most rational explanation – ie that he’s the Catweazle of Trumpton – then we must unhappily conclude that the poor sod, fresh out of his own era and maybe a little groggy, has been kidnapped and forced to do toil in the credit dungeon for the term of his natural life. PC McGarry (number 452) is on a Madeline-style quest to find the fellow (Codename ‘lost dog’). When he first arrived in Camberwick (quite an event in itself for a village visited most days by nobody whatsoever) he enchanted all around with his eccentrically medieval ways and delightful ballads detailing his aliases in various European countries. That stripy wallpaper leads to Jonathan Bell being the most likely culprit, luring this temporal immigrant to his go-ahead farm with the promise of easy labour and plentiful beer and wenches, then sending the hapless bloke down below for lifetime of slavery. A Masonic handshake at the farm gates keeps PC McGarry away – but for how long? Paddy and Mary Murphy investigate! Etc.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Telly Selly Time #2: Instant Doggerel

They say time is a two-way street. The further one gets from a specific period, the vaguer memories become, but simultaneously it can be brought into sharper focus. The 1980s are a case in point. By now, there's a whole phalanx of clichés - shoulder pads, big mobile phones, ra-ra skirts, that British Gas share price unveiling ceremony on the side of a skyscraper that didn't quite work - which enable the lazy and the half-bothered to miss the point as effortlessly as they can with any other previous decade. But similarly, little bits of ephemera float to the surface, mundane little noodles which just happen to sum up a time in thirty seconds more accurately and succinctly than a thousand Peter Yorks. And here it is.

You'll have to bear with your ISP as you chug through that daytime telly address caption, I'm afraid. And don't be fooled by that absurdly ostentatious Rover advert - it may look like the commercial in question, but it's the one that comes next which holds the real riches. Let's go!

"I'm a fashion model!
I'm right on top!"

Ooh, there's so much going on here! Well actually there isn't, but it looks like there is, and maybe that's the point. The basics first - it's the mid-'80s, and it's fashion. First thing we hear, naturally, is the frenzied sound of the auto-wind mechanism on an Olympus Trip. Yes, it's been a good five years since Girls on Film, but the old grams are the best. To accompany this, the visuals have gone for that Paintboxy cut-'n'-paste look, a la The Clothes Show when Selina Scott and that woman who makes belts out of Coke cans were still on it. A kind of not-quite-experimental 'let's make the telly look like a pace of Blitz!' effect, which of course never works, and thus adds to the charm.

The only appropriate musical accompaniment to a slightly aimless Paintbox wilderness is, of course, a slightly aimless Fairlight wilderness. Hence the sloppily-applied guitar chord samples. (Nearly two years before Tone Loc, ad fans! And nearly two years more rubbish, but never mind.) And over the top? A rapping model, of course. Despite the best efforts of Whose Line is it Anyway? by 1986 it was still possible to go on the telly and rap in a sort of plodding, Mr Plow way in whatever accent you liked, thus embarrassing anyone under seventeen. (Nowadays of course, you have to try your damndest to sound a bit 'street' and do lots of bits of business with your knuckles, thus embarrassing everybody.) The accent our model friend has chosen, of course, is Squeaky Sloane, a sort of transitionally girlish register somewhere between Anneka Rice and Toyah Willcox. This should make things all the more annoying, but actually it's rather sweet, rendering the opening lines more in the manner of a small child plundering the dressing-up box than a haughty bitch pushing her ill-gotten career in your face.

"Always busy!
No time to stop!"

Of course you are, dear! Never mind the fact you seem to have hit on a job that doesn't actually require you to move a muscle. (In fact, our friend's head, if you look closely, has been severely restrained in order to make that bit of 'changing outfit' telly magic work, seemingly in one of those Victorian neck-braces Henry Fox-Talbot used to screw dowagers into prior to one of his famous hour-long-exposure daguerreotypes.) But what we have here is a daintily rapped example of that great 1980s advertising innovation, The Bird's Eye Fallacy.

Bird's Eye, as the slogan had it, was 'the bird of freedom', liberating people from their busy routines by flogging square lumps of cod in unopenable bags. Of course, everyone knew that to heat up one of these tasty polythene-cocooned creatures, or indeed to pop a breeding pair of its close cousin, the Findus Crispy Pancake, under the eye-level, took as long if not longer than it would to, say, make a nice sandwich or something. The only time you would, logically, choose the former over the latter is if you just plain couldn't be arsed making a nice sandwich, and would be happy with the relative surfeit of starch, red hot parsley sauce and guilt that came from making a pact with the Bird of Freedom as long as it let you off all that daunting business with the bread knife. So it was understood, almost from day one, that 'your busy lifestyle' was flattering code for 'your lazy fat arse', and advertisers and consumers got on with their busy lives accordingly.

"I drink Instant Bovril when my body's on go!"

Now, you might think the incongruity of the product in this fashionable context would constitute a 'steps back in amazement!' reveal. Not a bit of it. There it is, plain and businesslike, in her hand (after she's changed into a weird-looking 'and this is me' leotard ensemble). A lesser advertiser would make more of that incongruity: There'd be a big posh flat in Frankfurt or somewhere international like that, with all the models lounging elegantly about drinking Perrier and Moet and stuff like that. Then, in walks the Head Model (whoever she was at the time - Marie Helvin or Koo Stark or Maria Whittaker - I'm no expert) drinking openly from a mug of - shock on the untermodels' faces! - Bovril! In fact, this was done a few years later, with Jerry Hall being all smugly contrary with her beverage (Your Mum: 'Cuh! Bet she's never touched a drop in her life!'), but that's in the distant future. Here it's just brought out - literally - of nowhere like a cow-based cousin of the Nescafe beans. There's also a doctoral thesis to be written on the linguistics of the phrase 'my body's on go', but that's for greater minds than mine to wrestle with.

"One cup - twenty calories!
That's real low!

And another thesis please, Doctor, on what led her to substitute the winsomely transatlantic 'real' for the more appropriate 'really'. But then we are moving in a mad and confusing world, where you could be strapped to a brace in Milan one day, and screwed to a support in New York the next. Perhaps to reflect this mind-boggling chaos, our man at the Fairlight chooses this moment to unleash his piece-de-resistance, accompanying the pack shot with a couple of bars of The Beach Boys' Help Me Rhonda played on car horns by a performing seal. Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Nigel Ogden combined couldn't have put it better, whatever 'it' is. Less successful is that echoey 'yeah!', presumably meant as a yelp of agreement from The Woman in the Street as to the product's Bovrilly goodness, though it's more likely to put you in mind of the poor girl who had to go on Top of the Pops, stand behind a sweater-clad Bill Withers, and mime to those 'Hey! Hey!' samples that plagued that '80s Lovely Day remix. Even Kit and the Widow would have trumped that.

"It's quick to mix, it's the taste for me!
Instant Bovril: naturally!"

So we've had Point One of this advert - Bovril = slim = models! But the luckless copywriters have been given two points to get over in their allotted thirty seconds by the Beef Corporation of London (or whoever), namely the inherent naturalness of the stuff. That's a mechanically-extracted essence of beef carcasses, a product of the industrial revolution, as repackaged into instant powdered form during the heady, nuclear-powered days of the space race. Good luck with that account, old chap! Oh, and the china cup may provide the requisite modelly glamour, but it's breaking one of the cardinal rules of advertising, which clearly states that all homely drinks - Bovril, Horlicks, Cup-a-Soup, Lemsip - must by law be consumed on camera from a big colourful mug with the product's name emblazoned on the front. You muck about with this sort of thing at your peril.

"Whatever the city, you'll hear my voice!
Instant Bovril, the natural choice!"

Not so much tying things up as floundering with them for thirty seconds in the manner of Clive Dunn trying to put up a deckchair, then giving up and throwing them in a heap in the corner of the room, our model signs off before being wheeled away to the catwalks of Paris, with only her Olympus Trip and Swan jug kettle for company. It's been special. Indeed, this ad holds its hypnotic power to this day, if the likes of this fellow are anything to go by. Ah, those illustrious blue eyes...

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Whoops-ooh! Aren't you looking slim, mum?

There is no significance in this choice of image whatsoever.
In my day, 'milf' was a word used as an abbreviation for 'Milford Haven' when giving hurried written directions to Pembrokeshire boy scouts. Nowadays it has a slightly different meaning.

I won't go into its creepy acronymic derivation here. (Why not Google the word yourself? Don't forget to present your findings to the boss!) Suffice to say it's yet another lexicographical gift bestowed upon us by the world of pornography, they of 'fluff', 'wood' and 'maudling' fame. Its existence, rather depressingly, implies that the supply of pictures of women old enough to have been in the audience for Razzamatazz is now a niche market in the flesh trade, to be filed away alongside one-legged mulatto hookers, Mexican dwarf pimps and other Tom Waits song subjects.

All very grim of course, but yet... what a great word! Clearly no thought at all has gone into its coining, as what could sound less feminine? It sounds like the nickname of a 1930s Sheffield millworker who eats dripping sandwiches and plays overlapping full-back for the factory team on Sundays. ''As thee cleaned them bung-throttles out yet, young Milfred?' ''Appen as not, Gaffer Willoughby. Ahm still up t'me trussies wi' untafflin' yon clag-shunter.' And what about Milf Lunn? Milfred Pickles? Milf Harris? Acker Milf! Milfred Milf!

The more you say it, the more abstract it becomes. (And the more you get funny looks on the bus, but that's a small price to pay.) So, if English is indeed doomed to become the international language of the nasty little dickhead by 2021, at least let's have more words like 'milf', which are funny as well as crass. Make mine milf!