what light?

But, soft! What light through yonder window breaks?

When Crotchety Man was a student studying biochemistry in the early seventies the class turned up for a series of laboratory practicals to be told that we were getting a new supervisor. For the next few weeks, instead of the fully qualified doctor of philosophy we had expected, they had appointed a ‘demonstrator’ who was expected to be awarded her DPhil¹ later that year.

No reason for the switch was given but we were assured that the more junior member of staff was fully up to the job and no objections were raised. It probably helped that she was a pretty, soft-spoken young woman who seemed almost as nervous about running a few practicals as we were about doing them to the required standard. The young Crotchety Man certainly regarded her appointment as a bonus.

Our supervisor was introduced as Liz Press. That’s an unusual surname and it prompted one or two remarks. One of the other undergraduate students had come across Miss Press before and he was able to tell us a little more. Liz, of course, is short for Elizabeth and her middle initial was ‘M’; so our supervisor that term was E. M. Press.

There was some speculation about her parents’ motive for what we assumed was a deliberate choice of initials. Did they really hope she would one day rule an empire? Or did they, perhaps, think that saddling her with a funny name would, like the boy named Sue, help to build a strong character? In the end we concluded that they simply thought it amusing and it couldn’t do any harm.

I was reminded of the lovely Miss Press when I came across this tune from a band called L’Impératrice, which is French for ’empress’. The track is called Là-Haut, which I think means ‘yonder’, but it really doesn’t matter because this is a slowish dance/groove instrumental that gets the hips swaying and the mind carelessly wandering wherever it will go.

Là-Haut is one of those tracks that comes from a foreign country but strays far enough beyond the borders of the artist’s usual material that it infiltrates the Crotchety Kingdom. On the whole there’s too much disco over yonder in the realm of L’Impératrice to appeal this side of the Channel. But I very much like Là-Haut. And I do like that Parisian hat.

Dark Blue Note

  1. Oxford University uses the abbreviation DPhil instead of the more usual PhD for Doctor of Philosophy and it awarded Crotchety Man a Batchelor of Arts degree even though biochemistry is very much a science subject. It’s a peculiar institution.

Fine Time

time expired

A song from 1988 appeared again on the Crotchety Early Warning Station’s radar screen a few days ago and it reminded me of the 7″ singles I used to have. Although I spent my formative years in the days when sales of singles far outstripped those of albums I only accumulated about a dozen of them. I preferred albums for two reasons: if I liked one song by a particular artist I probably liked their other material, too, and with albums you get more boom-bang-a-bang for your buck. So my singles were exceptional songs by artists sitting somewhere outside Crotchety Man’s fuzzy comfort zone.

To give you an idea of what I mean here’s a list of the 7″ singles I can remember buying:

  • Goin’ Back by Dusty Springfield
  • Maggie May by Rod Stewart
  • Homeward Bound by Simon and Garfunkel
  • Time of the Season by The Zombies
  • Ruby Tuesday by the Rolling Stones
  • Wherever I Lay My Hat by Paul Young
  • Down River by David Ackles
  • Fernando by ABBA
  • Wheels of Fire by Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger and The Trinity

In those days of boyhood and adolescence the coppers in my pocket were reserved for the paradigm shift of prog rock from bands like Genesis, Yes, King Crimson and Soft Machine. I did have one Stones compilation LP and in my adult years I added Simon and Garfunkel’s Bridge Over Troubled Water to the collection but those other artists couldn’t generate the level of excitement necessary for the Crotchety Lad to stump up the cash for an album.

And then, as you must have guessed by now, there was also Fine Time by Yazz. That’s Yazz the female English pop singer, not Yazz the male American rapper (about whom I know only that Google can’t distinguish him from her). To call Yazz a pop singer is, perhaps, a little misleading. She had four top twenty singles in the UK in the very late eighties but they owed more to the dance music of the period than to traditional pop. It was, in fact, the UK variant of the ‘house’ music that originated at the Warehouse disco/dance club in Chicago. And that explains why Crotchety Man was never likely to buy a Yazz album.

No, there was never going to be any ‘house’ in the Crotchety house. And yet there’s something utterly fascinating about Fine Time. It kicks off with the rattle of a snare drum, a slow, deep, funky bass line and some sweet soulful vocalisations. Even before any proper words have been sung your ears are hooked on the textures and the reggae-like beat from an electronic organ. There’s a story to be told and you wait eagerly for it to start.

The first verse tells us that Yazz loves her man and then, without skipping a beat, we hear an aching pain in the chorus:

Oh, this is a fine time to change your mind … I can’t go on without your love.

Her voice is clear and expressive. The notes are true, the intonation controlled. She doesn’t scream, she doesn’t curse, she just sings her heart out. And all the while there’s that slow funky bass and the insistent organ stabbing chords into the air. There’s another verse and a lovely little sax break; the mix is perfect. Yazz uses the full range of her voice to give vent to her feelings: sadness, regret, a little guilt, perhaps. It may qualify as ‘house’ music but it is still an essential item for the Crotchety singles collection.

I don’t remember what reminded me of Fine Time. I might have heard it on the radio or it might have come up on a website or playlist. It can be no coincidence, though, that Yazz songs are in the media again now.

After 1989 Yazz only recorded sporadically. In the 90s several singles were released and two albums were recorded but never released. After re-evaluating her life at the end of that decade she decided to “turn her life over to Christ”. Yazz now lives in Spain and uses her music to spread the Christian message in prisons, clubs, churches and schools. Her official website announced a new project just a week ago. She is working on her first “worship tracks” CD, which will be released in the autumn. A free download of one of the new tracks is available from http://www.yazzmusic.co.uk/index.php; I haven’t taken up the offer.

‘Cause I’m A Man

'Cause I'm A Man - video still

Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.

John Gray

Sometimes it seems that men and women come from different planets. Men are tough and strong; women are comparatively fragile and weak, both physically and mentally. Men are insensitive; women are warm and caring. When they are angry men are physically aggressive whereas women are devious and unforgiving. These differences are often exaggerated but there is at least a grain of truth in them. The stereotypes are not completely wrong.

Human personality traits are thought to arise from a mixture of genetics and upbringing in proportions that are difficult to pin down. But, whatever the cause, being male makes you manly in a way you can not control. Tame Impala‘s song ‘Cause I’m A Man recognises the failings of the male gender and offers them as part of an apology for unintentionally hurting his girl.

Saying sorry ain’t as good as saying why
. . .
I have a conscience and it’s never fooled
But it’s prone to be overruled
. . .
Cause I’m a man, woman
Don’t always think before I do

The lyrics are unusually clear and penetrating for a pop/rock song but it’s the music that tickles the ears. ‘Cause I’m A Man is a slow electronic dance track with a deep bass and a dreamy vocal line. It’s getting late, the wedding disco DJ has taken the tempo right down, the multi-coloured lights are sweeping lazily across the floor and a few couples are swaying to their own private rhythm, drifting in and out of sync with the music. The effect is quite hypnotic.

'Cause I'm A Man - band

Tame Impala

‘Cause I’m A Man is a single taken from Tame Impala‘s latest album, Currents. Tame Impala is almost synonymous with Kevin Parker, an Australian musician and producer. Although there are five guys in the band it is exclusively a vehicle for presenting Kevin’s compositions in live settings. The studio albums, including Currents, are written, performed and produced by Kevin himself using guitars, synthesisers and drum machines.

Crotchety Man has always liked Tame Impala tracks when they come on the radio but, strangely, I find their songs soon grow stale when I listen to an album. Perhaps the radio picked the best bits. Or perhaps Tame Impala needs to be taken in small doses. I don’t know. In any case, with that caveat, I am happy to make ‘Cause I’m A Man my latest Track of the Week.


Believe - cher, coy

Cher was 70 on Friday and in recognition of her achievements as a singer I’ve chosen Believe as my Track of the Week. Cher, of course, is not just a singer. Among her many occupations Wikipedia lists actress, author, dancer, songwriter and record producer. She has won an Academy Award, a Grammy, an Emmy, three Golden Globes, and a Cannes Film Festival Award. She is the only artist to have had a number one single in the US in every decade from the 1960s to the 2010s.

Believe - typeface

Believe is the title track from Cher’s twenty-second album released in 1998. It’s a song for singing and dancing to, the second entry on the wedding disco playlist after ABBA’s Dancing Queen. It has a beat that defines ‘infectious’, a funky groove that will pull even the most reluctant shrinking violet onto the dance floor. Cher’s vocals deliver the mixture of pain and defiance of a break-up with such heartfelt passion that you reach out to comfort her and the warble of the auto-tune wrings sorrow from your own heart.

It’s so sa-a-ad that you’re leaving,
It takes ti-i-ime to believe it,
But after all is said and done
You’re gonna be the lonely one.

And then the beat kicks in again and suddenly you understand why something like 10 million physical copies of the single have been sold.

Believe - cossack hat

Crotchety Man wishes Cher a belated Happy Birthday and salutes her barely believable talent.

Dirty Harry

Dirty Harry - Clint Eastwood

There is a comedy slot on BBC Radio 4 at 6:30 p.m. weekdays. One of the programmes is called “I’ve Never Seen Star Wars”. In it the comedian, Marcus Brigstocke, talks to well-known people and encourages them to do something they’ve never done before, especially if every other Tom, Dick and Harry on the planet seems to have done it, loved it and tweeted incessantly about it.

“You’ve never … seen Star Wars/tasted sushi/flown a kite?”, Marcus asks incredulously. “Why not?”. The answers are varied but mostly amount to “I wouldn’t like it”. Ignoring their protests Marcus invites his guests to have a go at several things they have never tried and interviews them again afterwards to see whether they enjoyed their new experiences.

Now, I must confess I’ve never seen Dirty Harry, the famous film starring Clint Eastwood as the tough cop Harry Callahan. If I was a celebrity and Marcus Brigstocke wanted to talk to me for his radio show I’d be glad to watch it – it’s certainly a gap in my education – but, for now, it remains on the growing list of things I missed. Someday, perhaps, I’ll watch it.

Dirty Harry - Demon Days (wide)

There is another Dirty Harry: a track from the Gorillaz album Demon Days. This Harry I know much better. He sits rather awkwardly, though, in the Crotchety Man collection. The album is the only one roosting in the Electronica/Dance pigeonhole tucked away at the back of the dovecote. It’s one of those CDs that only ventures out on high days and holidays but, when it does, it sparkles like the flash of a white dove’s wings in the sunlight.

Demon Days is one of the most original albums I own and originality is the first thing I look for. Well, the first thing I look for after a beat. And a tune. Dirty Harry has all of that. [rap mode ON] There’s a hip hop beat that propels the feet [rap mode OFF] but over the jaunty keyboard rhythm a choir of children sings a simple melody.

I need a gun
to keep myself from harm

What’s this? Cheery kids extolling the virtues of carrying a gun? It would be frightening if it wasn’t so surreal.

The beat plunges on through an instrumental break.

Then some Bootie Brown rapper unleashes a stream of lines that barely scan, words that hardly rhyme and phrases that make little sense. Dirty Harry himself is speaking but he is contradictory or just plain incoherent.

You can’t conceal the hate that consumes ya.
I’m the reason that you fill up your Isuzu.

The rap stutters and splutters over the dulcet tones of viola, cello and double bass, as if classical instruments can give the words some meaning, or perhaps even some genuine profundity. It’s a delightful trick.

When Harry’s gibbering subsides the children return with their message of hope and reassurance. We need guns. Guns protect. Weapons are only for our defence. It stands to reason.

I need a gun
to keep myself from harm

Crotchety Man doesn’t buy that argument. But the music is a work of art, a juxtaposition of utterly contrasting styles that together create something new, stimulating and exciting. A dancing white dove among a flock of cooing grey pigeons.

Dirty Harry - Dove

To wrap up this post, here’s a Wikipedia nugget: In 2008 20th Century Fox conducted a poll of 2000 film fans asking for their favourite weapon from the silver screen. The .44 Magnum, as used (contrary to regulations) by Dirty Harry, came second. Marcus Brigstocke would, I’m sure, be delighted to know that the most popular weapon of all among filmgoers was the lightsaber from the Star Wars movies.