BUSHELL ON THE BLOG
Oct 13. Please note: this blog will be closed for the next three months. I hope to be back in January.
Oct 6. R.I.P. Ray Galton, one of Britain’s greatest ever comedy writers. With Alan Simpson, Ray created two of the most perfect – and popular – situation comedies of all time, Hancock’s Half Hour and Steptoe & Son. They understood that sitcoms work best when they walk the thin line between laughter and tragedy. Recognisable characters were the key. We all knew pompous suburban snobs like Tony Hancock. And we could sympathise with aspiring working class Harold Steptoe trapped in a love/hate relationship with his “dirty old man” Dad, Albert. Galton & Simpson pulled the heart-strings like Charles Dickens, but Dickens never had a curmudgeonly old git having a bath in a sink eating pickled onions. Their writing was rooted in reality, which is why it has rarely been equalled.
*THE first gag Ray and Alan sold the BBC was Jane Russell pontoon – “like ordinary pontoon but you need 38 to bust”.
Sept 30. My teenage self – passionate, gobby and as red as Hell Boy’s horns – would have loved last week’s Labour conference. Tax the rich! Yeah! Restore Clause 4! Yeah! Renationalise trains, water, electricity, gas... Yeah, yeah, yeah! These days I’m harder to impress. My older self knows that when Corbyn and co say “power to the people” they mean power to the State, which in turn means replacing market forces with bureaucratic planning... the kind of top-down decision-making that made such run-away success stories of old East Germany, Albania, Cuba, Venezuela and all the other stale, failed, Stalinist disaster zones. The slogans may appeal, but in practice Corbynomics would cripple the economy. It is a nightmare waiting to happen. But then so is May’s absurd Chequers plan. The Comrades would bankrupt us, but the May-Bot would betray us. There are far smarter Brexit options, not least Canada Plus or the Norway escape route. A comprehensive free trade deal would surely make more sense to a Conservative politician.
Sadly Theresa doesn’t know any. Her government aren’t Tory in any meaningful sense. Free enterprise is not their field. Very little divides the party’s recipe of tax-hikes, cultural cowardice and nanny state meddling from that of Blair and Brown. (What does a sugar tax achieve? It’s just another way to pick the pockets of the poor.) May’s “Conservatives” are the soggy Statist left decked out in the lightest of pale blues. A Tory big-hitter who offered tax cuts, banking reform and a clear and permanent Brexit would probably storm the conference and seize the reins of power in the nick of time. If they threw in a pledge to sort out the housing crisis, cut Stamp Duty, simplify the tax code, get shot of Carney and kick-start the free market (and consequently boost wages) they could clean up at the polls (even though the oh so impartial BBC, mega-corporations and the civil service would rain umpteen buckets of raging hell-fire on them). A solution to our current problems that doesn’t kill off democracy, aspiration and wealth-creation is entirely possible. Sadly, I just don’t think it’s likely. We can’t trust these clowns. There is much talk of a re-alignment of the political centre – either a Blairite or an Old Labour alternative to Corbyn and Cable. But re-organising those who believe in freedom, innovation, and smaller government into a coherent and potent force would be far more rewarding.
Sept 22. Chas Hodges was one of the most genuine, down-to-earth talented rockers England ever produced. He was an inspired song-writer and as common as muck, with an accent that could have been scraped off a goalpost at White Hart Lane. With Dave Peacock in Chas & Dave, Hodges co-wrote a sublime succession of hits including Gertcha, Rabbit, London Girls, Margate and their biggest smash, Ain’t No Pleasing You. Pianist Chas called their sound Rockney – a mixture of rock and Cockney. The London pair started out in rock bands like Heads Hands & Feet and never changed. Chas learnt how to play the “Joanna” from watching Jerry Lee Lewis when he played in his backing band aged 19. He was in the Outlaws with Ritchie Blackmore and once even stood in on bass at a Deep Purple gig. In 1979 Chas & Dave, with drummer Micky Burt, opened for Led Zeppelin at Knebworth Festival, but drugs and ligging were never their thing. They always preferred best bitter. When they became massive TV stars in the 1980s, their biggest investment was a North London pub that served pie and mash.
Their love of beer saw them net a lucrative string of Courage Best telly ads. Bearded Chas loved Cockney culture, lamenting the loss of London slang in songs like Don’t Anyone Speak English Any More? which complained about American lingo. He was a loyal Spurs supporter, penning (to these ears unlistenable) numbers including Ossie’s Dream and Glory Glory Tottenham Hotspur.
I watched Chas & Dave grow from pub venues to TV regulars – their the Xmas special, with Eric Clapton, is still repeated annually by Channel Five, although the sniffy broadcasters always cut out Jim Davidson. (Jim personally chose their Snooker Loopy song as his Big Break theme tune.) They came on my ITV show in 1996, playing my piano for our St George’s Day special, and frequently performed charity gigs for free.
The worst thing that could be said about Chas was his language. When US star Jack Jones complained about his "Lord Mayoring" backstage at the London Palladium Chas shot back: “If you don’t f***ing like the way Londoners speak f*** off”. When they fell out of favour with fashion-obsessed TV bosses they just carried on as before, gigging and touring. By the noughties Chas & Dave had been elevated to national treasure status, they went down a storm at Glastonbury and their fans ranged from the Libertines to Dolly Parton. They were as happy playing to punks and skinheads at Rebellion Festival as they were pensioners and seaside variety crowds. Last year the duo made a TV pilot based on Chas's love of his allotment. Sadly his death means we'll never see it.
Sep 19. R.I.P. Denis Norden, a charming, funny man whose gentle humour will be much missed. It was Hackney-born Denis who wrote the classic line: “Infamy, infamy, they’ve all got it in for me” (famously nicked by Carry On Cleo). With Frank Muir, he also dreamt up “Trouble at t’mill” and created the permanently outraged ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’. The BBC’s on-line obituary covers his rise from RAF wireless op and troops entertainer to TV fame, but no-one seems to know that politically he had long-held anarchist sympathies. I met him a few times in the 90s and he was as engaging as he was smart and self-effacing. Denis’s parents were Orthodox Jews, Once, he told me, he’d been asked to review a book about blue jokes. He spent days writing the lengthy review and was proud when it was published. That night he found his folks reading the paper with it in. They didn’t look happy. “So this is what it’s come to,” his mum said glumly. “My son – the expert on dirty jokes...” which has to be one of the most Jewish things ever said.
Stormy Daniels has likened President Trump’s todger to a toadstool. It’s a shame he didn’t tweet back saying she had two mushroom up there... The US porn star specifically likened Trump’s penis to Toad, a character from Mario Kart, immediately putting a million people off playing Mario Kart. She also said that he has “Yeti Pubes”, and if that’s not the name of a punk band by the end of the week I’ll be sorely disappointed.
Sep 13. So sad to lose Fenella Fielding so soon after Liz Fraser – two actresses forever associated with the Carry On films of yore. Velvet-voiced Fenella was a versatile and accomplished actress but to me she’ll always be the vampiric Valeria from Carry On Screaming. Liz, from the Elephant & Castle, was in three Carry Ons – Regardless, Cabbie and Cruising – and worked with comedy giants like Tommy Cooper, Tony Hancock and Peter Sellers, the latter in the brilliant Boulting Brothers satire I’m Alright Jack (couldn’t we do with a modern equivalent now?). Sellers played communist shop steward Fred Kite, Liz his curvaceous daughter Cynthia. In her memoir, she recalled the day he locked her in his dressing room and whipped off his strides. She writes: “The only way I could get out of the situation — and not arouse Peter’s vindictive nature — was to tell him I found him attractive but couldn’t participate because I knew his wife Anne so well. He reluctantly put his trousers back on.” Years later, with his marriage on the rocks, he’d lured her to his new home and, while giving her a guided tour, into his bedroom. She writes: ‘He started getting mournful about Anne. He couldn’t go on without her, he said. With that he suddenly unzipped his trousers and exposed himself. “You can put that away,” I said. And he did. We carried on talking as if nothing had happened.’ That’s how a good South London girl copes with a celebrity sex pest...
Sep 9. Channel 4’s Massacre At Ballymurphy accused the Paras of executing eleven innocent Irish people in August 1971. Unfortunately Donald Macrae’s documentary was as even-handed as Pravda. The researcher says he spent four years investigating the events and couldn’t find any evidence of IRA involvement. Yet IRA men state in their own published accounts that not only were they there, shooting at the Brits and Prods, but they had also chased the Orange Bs down the road and kept the peelers from showing their faces... The Provos even wrote a ballad about it: ‘When Faulkner showed his hand/He thought that by internment/He could break our gallant band/But the boys from Ballymurphy/How they showed the way that night/How they taught those English soldiers/How Irishmen could fight’.
There was no context to this inflammatory, anecdote-heavy film. There was talk of Catholic houses being burnt out, yet Protestant families used to live in Ballymurphy too, and they had already been burnt/driven out by Republican thugs. This was not mentioned, nor was the IRA’s stated intention of doing the same to the Prods in neighbouring Springmartin. They had been attacking the Springmartin Protestants for at least three nights beforehand (also unmentioned). An alternative and more credible version of the events is that the IRA started shooting at the troops inside the Henry Taggart Hall, then hid behind civilians when the army returned fire. In Springmartin, the IRA started the shooting, then ran for cover. The Brits fired back, alongside local Loyalists who had armed themselves because of the attacks FROM Ballymurphy. The suggestion that 600 trained Paras spent over a thousand rounds of ammo over three days shooting anything that moved and yet only killed eleven people is laughable. (The film also tries to make out that half of the British soldiers spent three days shooting at their own base (!) without injury...) Why did Macrae not investigate the reports made by our soldiers at the time, and local media accounts of battles with IRA gunmen raging for hours? The facts before, during, and after this event, make a mockery of the programme’s account. It had no objective scrutiny. Rather than an impartial investigation it felt like propaganda.
The BBC’s recent Mother’s Day drama was also sadly flawed. It seemed to side-step the fact that the IRA murdered Jonathan Ball and Tim Parry in Warrington in 1993. The Provos planted bombs in iron litter bins outside a McDonald’s branch in the town centre on a Saturday with the intention of killing and maiming as many innocent people as they could, kids and pensioners included. Peter Hitchens writes: ‘The drama made far too much of stupid excuses issued by Republicans for this crime. It gave valuable airtime to fictional mouthpieces and excuse-makers for the IRA cause. It also greatly exaggerated a minor fire at the Irish club in Warrington to suggest it was six of one and half a dozen of the other...’ I can’t be the only one sickened by the continued harassment of retired British soldiers – sent into Northern Ireland by a Labour government initially to protect the Catholic minority, and risking their lives trying to restore peace – while the scumbags who deliberately targeted innocent folk both in the province and on the mainland are given a free pass. No-one wants a return to the bad old days, but history is being rewritten before our eyes. Our old soldiers face criminal charges and are having their reputations blackened by the public-funded media. It’s hard not to conclude that the Peace Treaty was in fact abject surrender.
Sep 5. I spoke to my old friends Neville and Christine Staple following the tragic death of Nev’s grandson. This is the result: NEVILLE Staple is “overwhelmed with sadness” over the murder of his grandson Fidel Glasgow on Saturday. “We are still very numb from this horrible experience,” he told me. “You hear of this type of thing going on in lots of places around the UK and especially London and we have been with other families grieving over a son or an uncle or a friend, who has fallen on the same fate. “But when it happens to one of your own – your own grandson – you feel devastation beyond belief. My heart is truly broken.” Fidel, 21, died hours after being rushed to hospital in the early hours of Sunday morning. He had been stabbed in the stomach and an artery outside of Coventry’s Club M. Neville, who found fame with the Specials and The Fun Boy Three Fidel, said: “Like me, Fidel had been through his own share of scrapes in the past during his teen years, but had fixed up. “He had made plans, business plans and had started a street fashion design project. People loved his artwork and designs and he was due to set up a business plan to set up an online shop. He had a focus. He had taken any negatives from his past and turned them into positives for his future. He was handsome, charming and a bit of a ladies’ man.” He smiles and goes on: “I would say again, ‘like me’ but my wife is in the room!! But there are similarities.”
Neville’s autobiography, Original Rude Boy – From Borstal to The Specials related the Jamaican-born star’s journey from troubled youth to member of one of the most iconic music movements of the 1980s. He said: “Fidel’s story was set to be so similar, where he had come from the troubled streets, to potentially being a young fashion entrepreneur going places. My heart breaks over the loss of the talent, the possibilities and the potential way his future could have been.” Nev, 63, performed with his Neville Staple Band at Coventry’s Godiva Festival last Sunday, just hours after the tragedy – at the insistence of his daughter Melanie, Fidel’s mother. The 2-Tone legend said: “When the initial shock dropped down to a numb silence my daughter asked me to still do the Godiva show and to dedicate it to Fidel. “We discussed getting a message out there to others, about knife crime. To use our band profile to highlight this severe problem on the streets, while it was still so raw. To share our pain and to use that pain to make changes.”
The band dedicated The Specials’ 1979 smash A Message To You, Rudy to Fidel and his mum. Nev’s wife Christine Sugary Staple told the crowd: “Young people have got to learn to give more love and stop the knife crime. It is just wrong. Knives take lives.” Christine told the Daily Star Sunday: “Fidel did not die in vain. My husband couldn’t speak last Sunday, but the crowd sharing the tears and the pain gave me a determined strength to get his message, our message, out there. “It is all our responsibility – mums, dads, grandparents, uncles, aunties and even neighbours. Find out what the youths in your lives are doing, where they are going, what they have in their pocket, why they have such things in their pocket. Get discussion going. Follow them if you have to and see who they are.” She added: “Last week was supposed to be a happy family weekend. We were not only due to put our promotions to our brand new album, we were also set to have a super Godiva Festival show, as a home coming performance in our home City of Coventry. All the family were due to show up and party with us and the crowd. To get the phone call in the early hours and hear that my gorgeous step-grandson was fighting for his life was the most shocking thing ever. It felt like the blood in my face swooped to the floor, then rushed back again almost causing me to pass out. I then had the dreadful task of waking up my husband and telling him. I could barely get the words out. The next next 30 minutes were a blurred mix of panic, until we arrived at the hospital to see a mass of police vehicles, a police dog and various other people rushing about. When we set eyes on Neville's daughter Melanie, we all just hugged and squeezed each other, while sobbing like babies. Melanie is the daughter I never had, I love her to bits like my own, so as a mother too, I just could not bear to see the pain in her eyes, in her body and stance. It was unbearable. Trying to comfort her and Neville was so difficult when I felt so crushed myself, but together, with all the other friends and family, we all willed for Fidel to pull through. We willed for the operation to be a success. We willed for his heart to not stop for a third time. We willed for the theatre staff to come out, after hours of trying to see them smile and give us good news, but it wasn’t to be. Our worst fears were founded. The beautiful young Fidel, who was strong and handsome, who could lighten up a room with a smile, who the girls adored, who had manners, style, politeness and a caring chivalrous nature, was gone. The chorus of screams was unbearable.”
Neville and Christine still believe ordinary people can stop knife crime. She said: “We have to give them advice on signs to look for. Kids need an outlet to speak freely. Get some discipline in their lives. Get some time and love in their lives with family, loved ones and close friends, so they see a safer, more comfortable way to live. Get your schools to address these issues from a young age, don't wait until it’s too late and they are already mixed up in any gang-culture or knife carrying culture. Petition your local counsellors and MPs to address youth services, police cuts, community officer cuts and so on. Push people, push!! It is all our responsibility.”
Neville said: “If I could do a massive benefit concert like the likes of Band Aid, Comic Relief, etc to get this message out their loud and large, while raising money to create real community help, I would. But in the meantime I challenge all fellow musicians in the public eye, to share these or their own messages. It’s the 40th anniversary of 2Tone next year and we had already planned to include themes around the lyrics of the songs that are just as relevant now as they were in the 80s. Last Sunday I was performing the same songs, which relate to the trouble on our streets and specifically, knife crime, but this time about my grandson. It seemed so surreal. Concrete Jungle, A Message To You Rudy are just a couple of the many songs that relate.”
Christine: “We all need to do this together, it can’t be done by one person alone, by one politician alone. It is all of us, we need to take responsibility.”
* Neville thanks the staff and surgeons at UHCW University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire, who battled all day to try and save Fidel. Anybody who witnessed the murders should contact Coventry police or Crimestoppers with any information, no matter how insignificant it may seem.
* The Neville Staple Band this month release a new album Rebel Down, featuring Neville, Sugary and Roddy Radiation from the Specials. They will tour the UK until Xmas.
I love Las Vegas. It’s hot, superficial and shallow... so naturally I fit right in. I first came out here with ZZ Top back in 1982 – see my book Sounds Of Glory Volume One for the full story. And again in 1995 for my 40th when I ended up playing darts with Engelbert (that’s in Volume Two). Vegas still has glitter, glamour, excitement and incredible shows... What’s not to love about the place? Let me tell you... The sleazeballs on the streets handing out porno cards... the nose-to-tail traffic on the Strip – if it moved any slower it’d go backwards... the self-styled “characters” trying to fleece you for cash down Fremont Street... the tourists who stand stock still on the moving walkways. Why? Have they lost the use of their legs? They look like sheep heading for the abattoir... Then there’s the cost of everything. The average show price here is $162! Britney tickets cost 855 bucks last year. Who were they expecting The Kardashians? You won’t get change out of 20 bucks for two beers anywhere on the Strip – and they’re not even pints. Like a beautiful siren, Vegas lures you in and robs you blind. But you only ever remember the good bits...
Aug 15. In their first nine months, new rock band 3 In A Bar have written and released an album, headlined prestigious venues and attracted celebrity fans. Yet when they formed the group last November all three members were just 13years old. Lead guitarist Bobby Sinfield, drummer and singer Joe Pugh and rhythm guitarist Owen Brassel played their first gig on 21st December 2017. The trio, all now 14, were inspired not by Ed Sheeran or Bruno Mars but by Status Quo and the Rolling Stones. And their mixture of boogie and early R&B has attracted a legion of fans including champion boxer Kevin Mitchell, football legend Ron “Chopper” Harris and Brian Conley who hosted their album launch last month. “We don’t really rate shows like the X Factor,” says Joe. “They’re a bit plastic. We like real bands. We want to spread the word to our generation about the wonders of rock’n’roll. “A thumbs up from John Coghlan from Quo would mean more to me than one from Simon Cowell.”
Joe’s hero is veteran Stones drummer Charlie Watts – he has built up a drum-kit exactly like Charlie’s, a Gretsch drumset with Zildjian and UFIP symbols. “My other inspiration is Keith Moon,” he says. “But I couldn’t afford his kit.” Guitarists Bobby and Owen play a Fender Strat and a Gibson Les Paul. The three, who first met at primary school, reconnected via Facebook and started rehearsing in the home bar of Joe’s granddad, the Cockney comedian Micky Pugh. “That’s why we’re 3 In A Bar,” laughs Joe. “We’re not underage drinkers. We met in a bar and we rehearse in one. “We started by learning songs by the best – the Beatles, the Stones, Chuck Berry. But before long we were writing our own.”
There are thirteen original numbers on their debut album, called Two’s Company Three’s A Band. The stand-out track is Sin City, written about Las Vegas after they watched a documentary on it. The lyrics include the verse: ‘Your fibre glass statues all look so grand/Built by gangsters straight out of the Sands/It’s Disneyland for older folk/But would Mickey Mouse send you home broke?’ Bobby comes up with the riffs and Joe the words but then all three work them into songs. “We rehearsed three times a week to begin with,” says Bobby. “When we did our first gig we played 24 songs, only one of them original. “The rest were Quo, Bowie, Elton John, the Stones and Chuck Berry. Now we have a repertoire of fifty songs and about a third of them are ours.”
They have their own tour bus – even though none of them can drive yet. The band were given a transit van by local crane company Nationwide Lifting Solutions. They have their own PA too. They’re based in Hornchurch and Rainham. They gig twice a month on average and attracted 400 fans to their album launch at the Circus Tavern in Purfleet last month. “We played 35 songs that night including eight originals,” says Owen. “We started with covers, just like the Beatles did, then did a set of our stuff and finished off with a rock’n’roll medley.” Brian Conley who introduced them describes the trio as “incredible talents”. Roy “Chubby” Brown says they have “the same spirit as Oasis”. “We just love playing and we love writing songs,” says Bobby. “We’re rock’n’roll,” says Joe. “That’s how we describe ourselves. We’d love to be the next Stones. And we don’t mind working hard to get there.”