Doctor Who

12 Doctors

The First Doctor has been characterised as a crotchety old man but he was so much more, displaying childish delight, great charm, enormous warmth and a wonderful sense of mischief during his many adventures through time and space.

– A quote from the BBC website

It seems my secret identity has been revealed. Yes, Crotchety Man is The Doctor and he returned to his Earthly home, Cardiff (Caerdydd), last week for a few days. Well, when I say ‘returned’ it’s actually the first time I’ve been to Cardiff but, because time isn’t linear, I was able to see lots of artefacts from my future visits. It’s always nice to see a little of your own future – it’s one of the perks of being a Time Lord.

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Back home in the Tardis it struck me that the best TV programs always have good theme tunes and the time had come to feature the Doctor Who theme on my music blog. But that presented a dilemma. Many versions of the track have been recorded and used in the TV broadcasts – Spotify has at least 5. There’s the original 1963 version, composed by Ron Grainer and realised by Delia Derbyshire using analogue electronics and tape recorders. Then there are versions from 1967, 1980, 1986 and 1987 just from the album Doctor Who – The 50th Anniversary Collection (Original Television Soundtrack). The Internet also mentions later arrangements by Murray Gold from 2005, 2007 and 2010. Then there have been a number of cover versions, including one by Pink Floyd¹, apparently.

Do I need to say anything about the tune itself? Its first incarnation was, of course, one of the very first successful examples of electronic music. It pulses and whoops like a time machine spinning out of control, cascading through the universe as it heads for an unknown, but inevitably perilous, destination. In the eighties the tune was given a digital synthesiser makeover that to my (admittedly alien) mind sounds mechanical and colourless. Its regenerations in the 21st century introduced orchestral sounds, while keeping the electronic swoosh as the little blue police box rips through time and space.

The primordial life force of the original had returned but I was still unsure whether to select the analogue electronica of the first series or the orchestral grandeur of the post-millennium runs. The solution, when it came to me, was simple.

While swirling absentmindedly across the fabric of space/time the Tardis stalled on a video that stitches together some 16 different versions of the Doctor Who theme dating from 1963 to the present day. I don’t need to choose; you can have them all. Here they are – over 37 minutes of a short composition that originally ran for 2:21, with details of the composer/arranger and dates of the TV episodes that used it. A bit repetitive for the average music lover, perhaps, but a treasure for Whovians across the galaxies.

Notes

  1. I can only find a 33 second YouTube clip to verify that. It’s from a live show; as far as I know Pink Floyd never released it.
  2. There are some photos from the Cardiff trip here.

Brass In Pocket

money

There’s been a deliberate focus on new songs recently on Crotchety Man so I think it’s now time to remember an old favourite. Brass In Pocket was the first big hit for The Pretenders in January 1980. Chrissie Hynde never liked the song but the public loved it and she still plays it when she’s touring with the current line-up of the band. Here’s a live version from 2009:

This is a rock song for the pop/rock charts but The Pretenders have always been influenced by a wide variety of styles. Their Wikipedia page mentions connections with all the following artists/bands: The Clash, The Damned, Motörhead, Big Country, P-Funk, Eurythmics, Haircut 100, The Smiths, The The, Simple Minds, Sonny and Cher, UB40, Katydids, Blondie, Damon Albarn, Tom Jones, Emmylou Harris and Stevie Nicks¹. Admittedly some of those connections are distinctly tenuous but it illustrates why it would be wrong to confine The Pretenders to a single pigeonhole in the dovecote of musical styles.

Chrissie Hynde came from Akron, Ohio, moved to the UK in 1973 and formed The Pretenders in 1978. They were always Chrissie’s band. She wrote the songs (sometimes collaborating with other band members), provided the distinctive lead vocals and, most importantly, gave the band their striking, macho image. She was a young, attractive and stylish woman, but she had ‘balls’ and the guys couldn’t resist her.

Strangely, though, Brass In Pocket betrays an unlikely diffidence. The song starts confidently enough. The singer has everything she needs: there’s money in her pocket, there’s courage in her heart and she’s feeling inventive today. Tonight she will use her arms, her style, her imagination to make the boy she fancies notice her. But why is she saying this to herself? Is it because she has tried before only for him to look right through her? Or is it because this is false courage and she needs those words to calm her nerves and give her the confidence she is still trying to find?² The song doesn’t say.

the pretenders

Two of the original members of The Pretenders died in the early eighties³ leaving only Chrissie Hynde herself and the drummer, Martin Chambers, to carry the name through to the present day. The latest Pretenders album, Alone, was released last year and it’s pretty good. The tone has mellowed since the early days of the band but don’t let that put you off. If you like Brass In Pocket the recent album is well worth a spin.

Notes

  1. There are several more artist/band connections on Chrissie Hynde’s own Wikipedia page, including: Frank Sinatra, The Sex Pistols, Curved Air, The Specials, Ringo Starr and The Kinks.
  2. The official video suggests the brave words will be in vain.
  3. In both cases the deaths were drug related.

Redemption Song

quotation

I realised the other day that I have sinned. This blog has no mention of Bob Marley! Fortunately, it’s Easter and Jesus died to redeem us of our sins (or so the Christian Church would have us believe). So, by way of penitence, I have chosen Redemption Song as my Track of the Week.

Both the Spotify link (above) and the YouTube video are of the version performed with Marley’s band, the Wailers. It’s not as well known as the solo version but I like the fuller sound and the reggae beat.

Redemption Song is a protest against slavery and racial discrimination. Like all protest songs its appeal lies as much in the sentiments expressed in the lyrics as in the music itself. The first few words transport us back in time and across the oceans to Africa:

Old pirates, yes, they rob I.
Sold I to the merchant ships …

Sold into slavery, yes, but the singer remains defiant and determined to fight for justice and freedom. It’s a message, the song says, that is just as relevant today as it was in the nineteenth century. It calls on us to join those fighting to make the black man the equal of the white-skinned.

How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
. . .
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?

Redemption Song was written around 1979 when protests against apartheid in South Africa were becoming violent and racial inequality in the U.S., although illegal since the Civil Rights Act of 1968, lingered on in insidious ways. The fight was not yet over and Marley adapted the words of the early activist, Marcus Garvey, from a 1937 speech:

Emancipate yourself from mental slavery,
None but ourselves can free our minds.

To a black man in the 1970s these are stirring words. The first step towards freedom from oppression, it says, is to believe you deserve to shake off the white man’s yoke, to believe you really are his equal. It’s not the poetry of Bob Dylan but there’s a passion and authenticity in those lines that resonates with civil rights supporters across the globe – and that’s nearly all of us in these enlightened days. It is that sense of historical injustice, I think, that has made Redemption Song one of Bob Marley’s most popular songs.

Musically, Redemption Song is a simple folk tune with the flavour of a spiritual. It was originally released on the Uprising album and as a single in 1980. On the album it was performed as an acoustic ballad – just Bob Marley and his guitar – with none of the reggae beat for which he is famous. The single included a rendition by the whole band, this time in reggae style, and that second version also appears on the 2001 re-release of Uprising.

head and colours

A song from the Uprising album about redemption seems particularly appropriate at this Easter time when many people believe that Jesus died for us and rose again. I may not share those beliefs but I hope you will all forgive me for taking so long to mention the foremost of reggae artists, Bob Marley, and his call for political change, Redemption Song.

Sledgehammer

Sledgehammer - scrat

Now, where did I put that sledgehammer?

There are at least three well-known songs called Sledgehammer. Top of the Spotify list is one by Fifth Harmony, a five-piece all-female vocal group that came together when the girls entered the X Factor competition individually in 2012. As Fifth Harmony they came third and third is where Crotchety Man places their fairly ordinary pop/dance Sledgehammer. If you have seen Star Trek Beyond you will have heard a bigger and better Sledgehammer. That one is an epic ballad sung by Rihanna and she does a rather good job of it. But the best Sledgehammer, in my opinion, is the one by Peter Gabriel.

The Gabriel Sledgehammer is a pop/dance track the way old man Crotchety likes it. It’s one of those funky soulful songs that makes you want to stomp your feet to the beat, but unlike a lot of modern pop music it also has a catchy tune, some intriguing synthesised sounds and a great production. It’s an irresistible combination that took it to the number one slot in Canada and the U.S. and number 4 in the U.K. in 1986.

The single release was accompanied by a brilliant video featuring animation by Aardman Animations (Nick Park’s outfit that created the Wallace and Gromit animated films). It won  no less than nine of the MTV Video Music Awards in 1987, more than any other video, and may still be the most viewed MTV video of all time. Here’s the obligatory YouTube link:

There’s an even sharper, crisper version of this video on Peter Gabriel’s website here.

They say you shouldn’t use a sledgehammer to crack a nut but Scrat, the sabre-toothed squirrel, has tried everything else. Perhaps Peter Gabriel will take pity on the poor unfortunate creature and lend him his nut cracker extraordinaire.

China In Your Hand

China In Your Hand - cup

Back in 1987 I was a freelance software developer. In the autumn of that year I was working on a contract at offices some 15 miles from Leicester where I lived then, driving north up the A46 in the mornings. It was an easy journey. The road was fairly straight and not too busy. And it wound through some pleasant countryside. As commutes go it was about as good as it gets.

One bright and unseasonably warm October morning, with my mind on autopilot, the car radio began to play pizzicato strings, spitting out the notes like orange pips, as if to say, “Wake up, this is interesting”. As I retuned my ears the violins were joined by grand piano chords and then a woman’s voice began to sing a gentle accompaniment to my rural journey. Soon the sound swelled in a dramatic crescendo as if the low autumn sun had peeped out from a cloud and spread a golden glow across the hills.

Don’t push too hard,
Your dreams are china in your hand.

Suddenly, my routine journey had been transformed into a relaxing road trip and that ordinary working day now felt like a holiday.

Over the next few weeks China In Your Hand was played a lot on the radio. It spent five weeks at number one on the UK singles chart and was almost guaranteed to grace the airwaves during my 35 minute drive to work. I got to know that song very well, singing along to it in the car. It became my anthem of the road.

My software contract ended after a few months and my work took me elsewhere. Then, another ten years on, the Crotchety Couple moved 100 miles away to York and we rarely used the A46 until we moved back to Leicestershire in 2015. In the meantime the stretch of the A46 that took me to work in 1987 has been completely rebuilt. What was a single-carriageway road following the course of the Roman Fosse Way is now a “high quality grade-separated dual-carriageway” making it a fast and effective route between Leicester and Lincoln.

Last week the Crochetys took a day trip to Doddington Hall to see the gardens and sculpture exhibition. The Hall is just outside the city of Lincoln and the A46 takes us almost door to door. Although the road looks completely different now, driving north along it that morning still reminded me of the day in 1987 when I heard China In Your Hand for the first time. A song that stays with you that long is surely worthy of a Track of the Week slot.

China In Your Hand - frankenstein

As is often the case Crotchety Man was never able to make out all of the words and it was only when researching the song for this post that I finally discovered what it’s about. The phrase “china in your hand” suggests a precious fragility and “don’t push too hard” is clearly a plea to be careful. But what is it that we hold? What will shatter like a porcelain teacup if we drop it?

In fact, the song refers to Mary Shelley’s novel, Frankenstein, in which the brilliant science student Victor Frankenstein succeeds in creating a living being from non-living material. But the beautiful creature that Victor had envisaged turns out to be a hideous  monster who is repulsed by his own appearance and rejected by all those who meet him. In his anguish the monster kills Victor’s brother and his bride-to-be. It is a classic story of a man blind to the consequences of his dreams. As the song puts it:

Your dreams are china in your hand.
Don’t wish too hard
Because they may come true

I have no qualms adding China In Your Hand to the track-of-the-week list but I’m afraid I am unable to recommend anything else by T’Pau. I have listened to the first six tracks from their Heart and Soul – The Very Best of T’Pau album and that was as much anodyne pop as I could stomach in one helping. If that is the very best they can do Crotchety Man will be looking elsewhere for fulfilment of his dreams. You never know, though, if I wish hard enough my dreams just might come true one day.

Golden Brown

Golden Brown - seventies

The Stranglers were formed when punk was sweeping away the bland and sickly sweet pop groups of the early seventies. They toured with the American punk band, The Ramones, and regarded themselves as part of the punk scene. But they were never a punk band.

Originally called The Guildford Stranglers the band was assembled in 1974 by Jet Black (real name Brian Duffy), a successful business man and jazz drummer. Unlike many of the punk bands The Stranglers were all accomplished musicians. Jean-Jaques Burnel moved to bass after learning classical guitar. Hugh Cornwell started as a blues guitarist and switched back to the guitar after playing bass with folk guitarist Richard Thompson. Dave Greenfield, who joined them in 1975, was a pianist with a progressive rock band.

Let’s pause for a moment here. That last paragraph mentions jazz, punk, classical, blues, folk and progressive rock. With all those obvious influences The Stranglers was never going to be just another punk band. A betting man would have put good money on a short life and a spectacular firework finale for that band as artistic tension mounted to an explosive climax. But they would have lost their stake. The Stranglers are still going. Hugh Cornwell left in 1990 to pursue a solo career; Jet Black, now 77 years old, is not well enough to perform at live events; but the band is touring the UK this summer and also has a couple of gigs scheduled in Belgium and the Netherlands.

The secret to The Stranglers longevity, I suspect, is that the band members have unusually broad tastes and an easy, laissez-faire attitude to life. Their music evolved over the years from strident, intelligent rock delivered with a punkish sneer to more refined and more melodic songs straddling the boundary between rock and pop.

Golden Brown - noughties

Golden Brown is a fine example of those more mellow, less aggressive compositions. It grabs your attention immediately with its lilting waltz-time harpsichord and synthesiser introduction and then slaps you in the face with a 4-beat bar. “Listen up!”, it seems to say, “I’ve got something to tell you”. And then Hugh Cornwell’s storyteller voice comes in with a soothing vision of suntanned skin and soft pillows.

Golden brown, texture like sun,
Lays me down, with my mind she runs

Never a frown with golden brown.

The tale unfolds in a steady 3-time, allowing the listener to slide back into a comfortable sleepiness before the second verse introduces a sense of pleasurable entrapment.

On her ship, tied to the mast,
To distant lands,
Takes both my hands,
Never a frown with golden brown.

She is taking us on a journey. We are powerless. And it’s wonderful. The jolt of the 4-beat bar rouses us again before another verse. Then a melodic guitar break adds the music of the spheres for our listening pleasure. We have arrived in a golden honey heaven, a caramel taste on my tongue, a chocolate glaze on her soft sweet lips. For a few moments Shangri-La is real but it soon begins to fade away. As the scene dissolves and vanishes the angel choir sings softly …

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

Never a frown with golden brown.

 Golden Brown - beyonce

Tyler

Tyler - Gary

The bathroom in the Crotchety house is being upgraded. Among other things the pedestal washbasin is being replaced with a basin set into a vanity unit. Initially we thought the new vanity cabinet would completely cover the footprint of the old pedestal, hiding any ugliness on the floor. As it turns out, though, the new units are not quite deep enough for that and the cutout in the vinyl floor tiles for the pedestal would be a dark scar on the bright shiny skin of the rejuvenated bathroom.

With a sigh we suspended the work of the plumber/joiner team and called in a tiler to fit new flooring. As I added his appointment to the calendar that old UB40 track, Tyler, came to mind and the song was soon added to the list of candidates for Track of the Week. Then, the following day, another UB40 track, Food for Thought, featured on The Chain on the Radcliffe and Maconie show. “Was this the first time UB40 had been played on the RadMac show?”, I wondered, as fond memories of their vinyl LP, Signing Off, came to mind. That’s one album I never did acquire in digital form and I miss it now sometimes.

The song came to an end and one of the DJs (it’s hard to tell whether it’s Mark or Stuart speaking on the radio) mentioned that his favourite UB40 song was Tyler. In fact, he got quite carried away for a moment. Could this be a sublime coincidence? No, of course not, this was undeniable evidence of the Rock Gods’ guiding hands. It’s time for UB40’s first outing on the Crotchety Man blog.

Tyler - march

Tyler is a song about Gary Tyler, a black 16 year old high school student who was accused of murdering a white 13 year old boy in Louisiana in 1974. Gary was tried, convicted and sentenced to death in 1975 but the case has been widely regarded as a travesty of justice ever since the witnesses who testified against him retracted their statements shortly after the trial. Certainly, UB40 were in no doubt that there had been a terrible miscarriage of justice when they wrote Tyler in 1980.

Police gun was planted
No matching bullets
No prints on the handle, no proof to show

Tyler is a reggae track with a sombre, bluesy feel. It has that lolloping effect that comes from a strong emphasis on the weaker beats in the bar but the prominent bass strides along confidently, a stable platform for the melody carried in the vocals and saxophone. There are nice touches from an organ and electric guitar, too, lifting the song out of the reggae rut and into pop chart territory. Although only ever released on albums Tyler would have made an excellent single.

There’s a helpless anger in the lyrics. When injustice is perpetrated by the very authorities charged with administering the law what can we do?

Tyler is guilty the white judge has said so
What right do we have to say it`s not so

There’s another reason for adding Tyler to this blog, too. Gary Tyler’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment in 1977. In spite of efforts by lawyers and human rights organisations to have his conviction overturned Tyler remained in prison until a change in the law in 2012 enabled a compromise. In return for pleading guilty to murder Tyler’s sentence was reduced to 21 years and, having already served 41 years, he was released on 30th April 2016.

Let me repeat that. Gary Tyler served 41 years in prison for a murder he probably did not commit. (An Amnesty International report from 1994 is available here.) So, do listen to UB40 playing Tyler and enjoy it but ponder on justice as you do so.

Tyler - UB40

UB40

Notes

  1. On 2nd June 2016 Food for Thought became the 5940th item on The Chain. It wasn’t the first UB40 song to feature in that series; item 3119, played on 7th August, 2012 was Tyler.
  2. There’s a Guardian article about Tyler’s release here.