Message In A Bottle

Or, Tales of the River Bank¹.

bottle on beachOne morning in the summer of 1979 Crotchety Young Man was on his way to work. At that time he was based in the Berkshire town of Reading and his route took him over the river Thames at Caversham Bridge. There were rather more people than usual in the streets heading towards the bridge that sunny day, many of them young, dressed in jeans and T-shirts and, seemingly, in high spirits. Where were they going, young Crotchety wondered? Were they students going to college? And why were they so enjoying their march through the wholly unexceptional streets of Reading at this early hour?

I began to wonder if I was witnessing an alien invasion. These creatures looked like humans but they seemed all too perfect. Then I began to notice that, as well as beads and bracelets, some of the invaders were decorated in badges. Actually, by and large, the girls wore the jewellery and the boys wore the badges. But the puzzling thing was that the badges were unappealing dark grey discs with white lettering spelling out ‘The Police’.

Crotchety was confused. Had the British police force updated their uniform? No, that couldn’t be right. Then the sleeping voice of reason woke up and yelled a silent, “Don’t be ridiculous!” in my inner ear. “The kids must be going to the rock festival”, it continued, “and ‘The Police’ must be the name of a band”. It was the only explanation that made any sense. But I’d never heard of that band. A sudden chill descended as I realised that I couldn’t have been more out of touch with current music trends if I had lived for many years on a desert island.

As we approached the bridge the music-loving aliens peeled off to the left heading down Richfield Avenue². Young Crotchety continued on over the bridge to the office, which was on the opposite side of the river, a few hundred yards downstream from the Festival site and just out of earshot of the bands. For the rest of that day ‘The Police’ kept cropping up – in conversation, on the news and on posters – the words mocking a Crotchety Man who, although still in his twenties, was no longer entitled to consider himself young.

the band

After that chastening experience Crotchety Man’s aural antennae became acutely sensitive to any mention of The Police. It turned out that things weren’t quite as bad as I had imagined. The Police had released a single, Roxanne, and the album, Outlandos d’Amour, the previous year but neither had made much of an impact on the charts until Roxanne was re-released in April 1979. It wasn’t until their second album, Reggatta de Blanc, was released a couple of months after that year’s Reading Festival that The Police became a household name.

Two of the singles taken from Reggatta de Blanc soon washed up on the shore of Crotchety’s Desert Island and have been carefully stored in the disc archive. I have chosen one of those, Message In A Bottle, for my Track of the Week³. That link is to the original version on the album. For those who like YouTube and/or live versions here’s Sting and his current band performing the song in 2017.


  1. Tales of the Riverbank was a British children’s T.V. programme originally broadcast in 1960. The first series used footage of live animals dubbed with human voices.
  2. The Reading Festival has been held at Little John’s Farm, Richfield Avenue since 1971.
  3. The other one is Walking On The Moon.

Brass In Pocket


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.


  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.

Where’s the Revolution?

flower bomb

There has been a sea-change in politics recently: Britain is leaving the EU, right-wing ‘populist’ parties have been gaining support across Europe and America has an inward-looking, protectionist president. All the economics experts said Britain will be worse off if it leaves the EU but the people feared immigrants were stealing their jobs and destroying the British way of life. Similar sentiments have boosted the profiles of far right politicians such as Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands. And, as for Trump, he only has to tweet the blame on Muslims, Mexicans or spy agencies to bolster support for his conservative administration; no evidence, it seems, is required to back up his claims.

This seismic shift to the right doesn’t please everyone. It doesn’t please Crotchety Man and it doesn’t please Depeche Mode if their current single, Where’s the Revolution, is anything to go by. Why are we so ready to blame the other guy for our problems? Are ‘they’ really at fault? Wouldn’t we do the same in their situation? Sometimes I want to stand up and shout to the electorate, “No, you fools, you’re wrong”. I hope that many others share my frustration and despair. I hope that together we will soon rise up and drown out the voices of ignorance and hatred. I dream of an unstoppable tide of inclusiveness and friendship that will sweep away the selfishness that I see all around me. But the revolution doesn’t come.

Come on, people, you’re letting me down.

Martin Gore’s lyrics express my feelings perfectly. The sombre tones of Dave Gahan’s voice put the message across with a reflective Angostura bitterness. The dual keyboards of Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore pulse threateningly, driving the point home beat by electronic beat. Those three preachers are tapping into an underground well of opposition to the new world order. And the waters are rising fast.

Depeche Mode were one of the defining bands of the synth pop and new wave era in the eighties. But their star did not fade when the music-buying public moved on to rap and house music. The band released 13 studio albums between 1981 and 2013, all of them reaching the top 10 in the UK album chart. Where’s the Revolution is a single taken from their fourteenth album, Spirit, which was released just two days ago. The album as a whole is quite dark – positively gloomy in places – but there are plenty of bright sparks to keep the listener interested and the single has made an immediate impact on the radio over here in the UK. There’s a full review of the album here on Pitchfork.

Depeche Mode Press Event In Milan

Depeche Mode, 2016

So, readers, are you with us? Shall we answer the question that Depeche Mode have posed? I say the revolution is just around the corner and it lies in the hearts and minds of all who think for themselves and love humanity. Its soldiers are those who get their news from reliable sources and reject ‘alternative facts’. Its armies are those who see all nations as our brothers, sisters and friends, not our enemies. Its impetus comes from those who keep pushing on the revolving door of political opinion. It just needs to turn one more revolution. Words are our only weapons; it’s time to speak up and be counted.

Come on, people, we can do better than this. Stop letting me down; join the liberal revolution. Together we can turn the tide again.

To Rule The World

EWtRtW - risk

The marigolds were blooming in Southwold. Half a dozen friends had gone to the coast for a weekend break and four of us were staying in the aptly named Marigold Cottage where the bright orange flowers had bid us a cheery welcome the day before.

This morning we had decided to walk along the shoreline, cross over the river Blyth and have a leisurely lunch at a pub/restaurant in Walberswick, the next village a few miles to the south. It was a pleasant summer day – sunny, warm and with fluffy white clouds in the sky, but with a cool on-shore breeze. A few showers were forecast for the afternoon but most of us went without a coat trusting in lady luck. If we got miserably wet at least we’d be able to joke about it afterwards over a pint in a pub or a steaming mug of tea back at the cottage.

We met up on the dunes. The sea was a blueish grey in the morning sun, which is as pretty a dress as the dour North Sea has ever been known to wear. Waves lapped gently on the beach and one or two dark shapes on the horizon spoke of fishing boats, ferries, oil tankers and pleasure boats shuffling along the shipping lanes between England and the continent. After the obligatory preliminaries – “Good morning”, “Nice weather”, “Did you sleep well?” – our party began to pick its way along the beach, up onto the dunes, past the beach huts and onto a raised sandy path. From here we could look back to the town of Southwold with its distinctive lighthouse and forward to tall grass and open fields.

For a mile or two there was not much to see. Flat fields of scrub to the right, a flatter sea to the left and the footpath meandering ahead. An artist might have taken inspiration from the scene but our little band of walkers soon lost interest. A man walking his dog enlivened the flagging conversation briefly and then we all fell into our own private thoughts, ambling along the narrow path like a column of ants prospecting for something sweet. Sometimes the sun would go behind a cloud and in this exposed place the wind, though gentle, felt a little chilly. Then the cloud would move away, the sun’s rays would warm our faces and a feeling of quiet contentment would descend upon us again.

The path began to bend, taking us inland, away from the sea and alongside the wide mouth of the river. In the distance we could just make out Walberswick, our destination, on the far riverbank. There were fewer clouds now, the sun was high and it was getting quite warm. It wasn’t long before Walberswick church steeple and the rest of the village came clearly into view. We could see tables in the garden of a pub tantalisingly close by, but separated from us by the deep water of the river Blyth. We would have to walk another mile or so to the bridge, cross over and walk back down into the village before we could slake our thirst and quench our growing hunger.

EWtRtW - tears for fears

Just then a few notes of music drifted in the wind. At first the sound was indistinct and seemed to come from far away but then either the wind shifted or somebody turned up the volume. I recognised the tune immediately; it was Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears and it was (for me, at least) the anthem of the summer. You heard it everywhere you went. Every pop radio station in the country had been playing it. I paused there by the river to listen to it again and, suddenly, our little ramble was lifted from the mundane to the unforgettable.

I think we can safely file Tears for Fears early material under ‘New Wave’ although EWtRtW would fit comfortably in mainstream pop and rock collections, too. Bass and drums give it a beat guaranteed to get a pop festival crowd swaying like ripe heads of wheat in a cornfield. Synthesisers wash lazily on a shingle beach; rhythmic guitar chords pound like surf on the rocks. And over this murmuring sea of sound a voice serenades us with a simple tune – inviting us, urging us, compelling us all to sing along. The singers words are obtuse but no-one cares. The song is one of the sweetest earworms known to man.

After pausing there by the river I quickened my steps. The others were already pressing on, eager for refreshments, and I joined them in buoyant mood. My memory of the rest of that day has faded but it was a good day.

EWtRtW - stubs

On that first visit to Southwold back in 1985 I was unattached but I went back in 2007 with Mrs. Crotchety to celebrate paying off the mortgage. We went to Southwold partly because I had fond memories of the town and partly because the Flying Egg festival, with its theme of alternative umbrellas, sounded fun. Sadly, the Flying Egg festival hasn’t been held since but there has been a family-friendly music and arts festival near Southwold every year since 2006. It’s called the Latitude festival and among the artists scheduled for July 2016 are: Maccabees, John Grant, Half Moon Run and Cloves, all of which have featured in the Crotchety Man blog.

I’m tempted to get tickets for Latitude. If I go it will be my first music festival for over 40 years and my third visit to the small Suffolk town of Southwold. Marigold Cottage seems to be available so the omens are good. But, I don’t know. I’m too old to stay up late and too Crotchety to put up with pesky little kids. Perhaps I’ll just let the Internet be my eyes and ears. As usual.


ViennaBack in January 1981 Ultravox released the single, Vienna. It was played a lot on the radio and shot up the UK pop music chart. I had it earmarked for the best single of the year and a certainty for the number one slot.

After the musical wilderness of the seventies Vienna was a breath of fresh air. In complete contrast to the guitar-thrashing of the early punk bands it builds slowly from a foundation of synthesisers and drum machines. There’s a relaxed, solid beat behind mysterious electronic chords. It reminds us of The Third Man, the post war thriller starring Orson Welles, shot in black and white and set in Austria’s capital city. Atmospheric, shadowy, suspenseful.

A male voice soars over the pulsing electronic sounds singing about cold air, freezing breath. Instinctively, you turn up your collar. Piano notes ring out, echoing through dark streets. A viola scrapes at the mist. And the voice wails unconvincingly, “this means nothing to me”. Something awful has happened and in anguish he cries, “Oh, Vienna!”.

This is new wave music at its best. Although Vienna is often described as synth pop I think that devalues it. The piano and viola parts give it a classical pedigree; there’s nothing superficial here. The production is open, almost sparse, so that each instrument can be clearly heard – more like a string quartet than the Phil Spector wall of sound. And that, says Crotchety Man, is how it should be.

By early February 1981 Vienna had reached no. 2 behind John Lennon’s Woman (a far inferior track in my opinion). The following week, to my horror and utter disbelief Vienna had been leapfrogged by Joe Dolce’s Shaddup You Face. Well, OK, Shaddup was a novelty record and quite fun to listen to, but no-one with any sanity left would actually go and spend their hard-earned cash on it. It was a passing fad, I assured myself; it will vanish like a mayfly at sunset.

The following week the top two positions hadn’t changed. “What madness is this?”, I asked myself. When Shaddup was still at number one as March arrived I was forced to conclude that the record buying public are all morons, and I slipped quietly into the slough of despond. For much of the seventies there had been nothing on the radio worth listening to and when a precious jewel like Vienna comes along it is utterly unappreciated. Has there ever been a better illustration of “casting pearls before swine” in popular music?

Funnily enough the UK’s Official Charts Company seems to have come to the same conclusion. At the end of 2012, in conjunction with BBC Radio 2, they ran a poll to find the greatest track that never quite reached number one. Vienna won the poll beating off competition from the likes of The Beatles (Penny Lane/Strawberry Fields Forever) and Queen (We Are The Champions). The Official Charts Company’s managing director, Martin Talbot, commented:

It is also probably the most apt winner, given the fact that it was kept from the chart summit in 1981 by Joe Dolce’s “Shaddup You Face”, which has long been considered one of the biggest chart injustices of all time.

To mark the 60th anniversary of the Official Singles Chart in 2012, we are delighted to declare it as an honorary official number one single.

And I say, “hear, hear” to that. It’s been a long time coming, but perhaps justice prevailed in the end.

Road to Nowhere


The weather forecast for tomorrow and the next few days is lousy here, but there’s not a cloud in the sky this morning so let’s make the most of it. How about a drive through the glorious English countryside? We don’t have to go anywhere in particular. We’ll just point the car in a random direction and drive. Take a picnic, stop at a pub or two along the way, enjoy ourselves and escape from the real world for a few hours.

Look! There’s a hitchhiker. “Going my way?”, he asks. “Sure”, I reply, “hop in”.

It’s David Byrne and he’s brought his band, Talking Heads. They know where they’re going (but they don’t know where they’ve been).

It’s all a bit cramped in our little car but there’s a party atmosphere and soon we’re all singing Road to Nowhere accompanied by an accordion and a dashboard beat ringing like the tramp of marching feet.

“What’s this song about, David?”, I ask. “It’s a joyful look at doom”, he replies, cheerfully. “At our deaths and at the apocalypse”.

Come on everybody, sing along!

We’re on a road to nowhere,
Come on inside.
Takin’ that ride to nowhere,
We’ll take that ride.


The older I get the harder it is to find new music that stands out. It’s like prime numbers; there are infinitely many of them, but they get harder to find the further you go. Just once in a while, though, mathematicians find a new prime and sometimes, in my wanderings through the soundscape, I stumble upon a completely new sound.

Most recently, at the end of 2013, my browsing on Spotify was interrupted by an advertisement for a new album release. I have a mental advert filter tuned to remove the current rash of rapping and popular drivel but this 30 second clip came through loud and clear. It was the title track of Arcade Fire’s Reflektor. (Curse this spellchecker… The album is called Reflektor, with a ‘k’, dammit!)

Reflektor (the track) has a bongo-driven beat that you can’t ignore, a new wave mix of rhythmic synthesisers and intriguing lyrics. Like a dog hearing unfamiliar footsteps I pricked up my ears.

Listening carefully now, more and more synthesised sounds emerged, blending with each other and the vocals: some strings here, a piano piece there, a guitar break, a few horns. It’s a recipe with many ingredients but they’re not just thrown into a big pot and left to stew. This is food for the ears with room on the plate for every mouthful to be savoured separately. Like a dog I gulped it down in big, hungry bites.

Although Arcade Fire were new to me then, they had already been around for some time. They’re a Canadian indie rock band, originally formed in 2001 and coming to prominence in 2004 with their first album, Funeral. To be honest I wasn’t very impressed with that first offering but the band seems to have been improving with every new release. Reflektor is a double album and there are no bad tracks on it. There are one or two places where the raw guitar offends my palate, a little fat on the prime steak, but overall it’s a meal to relish.

Reflektor is my album of the month for May 2015, a prime example of indie rock with strong new wave influences.