Month: April 2013

And the band played on… The Bevin Boys at The Royal Albert Hall, featuring The Three Belles, 25th April 2013

The Bevin Boys have been working out.  That’s why they’ve got bigger.

Transformed from the hot three-piece they started out as just over a year ago, they appeared at The Royal Albert Hall Elgar Room last night in a more expansive 6-piece line-up, with grand piano, bass, sax, horn, guitar and of course, William Keel-Stocker on drums.

With the change in venue comes a step-change in the music the BBs are producing, with the addition of the horns allowing the subtlety and richness of Will’s arrangements to shine through and giving the band a kind of Vintage feel that takes you right the way back the dance hall days of the 30s and 40s.

And the show works. The Elgar Room sold out, and the audience were richly appreciative.

And rightly so. Will’s exuberance as he takes control from the drum kit and turns out some great classic tunes – including his amazing rendition of “That Old Black Magic” is always accompanied by a smile and witty quip.  Since he dances, is a designer and acts, too, one has to ask: is there anything this guy can’t do?


The night also featured that sparkling harmony trio The Three Belles, who got up and did their stuff – and when they kicked off their first number the table behind me who had no idea what was in store for them spontaneously exclaimed “Oh! Wow!”

This was a great night. Even when the fire alarm warning went off and full lights came up, just as The Belles were about to go on stage, the audience stayed firmly put and the band played on.  With its Vintage vibe and classic tunes, there was a moment of Titanic to the whole event – but only in the fact that it was classy indeed. Because I don’t see the remotest prospect of any of these guys sinking without trace. No sir. Quite the opposite!

“Belles Are Swingin’” by The Three Belles “In Full Swing” Album Track Review

The second track on The Three Belles’ In Full Swing debut album is their bubbly signature song Belles Are Swingin’.

The Three Belles present their new debut album "In Full Swing".
The Three Belles present their new debut album “In Full Swing”.

For those who’ve bought the single, this wholly new version of Belles Are Swingin’ will come as a real eye-opener.  Gone is the stripped-down Bevin Boys trio of the single, to be replaced with the full big band sound of the WKS Studio Orchestra.

From the trumpet riff intro with the bouncing bass line and a foghorn bass horn marking the end of each lyrical line and the start of the next, this version of Belles Are Swingin’ is an extraordinarily catchy gem of a signature song.

After the initial warm nostalgic brass chords that hark back to golden times of sunshine along with a triumphant trumpet’s declaration of the melody, the horns pull back to make plenty of space for the vocals.  In that space, the guitar bounces the song along with a strong bass line punching underneath it all. As the melody goes on, the excitement grows and the horn lines come back in again blending their ’30s dance orchestra feel.

Swinging along with a bass line that underpins the melody perfectly, the song suddenly erupts into a higher level when the chorus kicks in with a luscious harmony and the girls split into a wider harmonic spread telling us they want to “see the whole place jumping” and that we should “get with the rhythm, you gotta learn how”. With this tune, that’s easy to do.

Then, with wonderful attention to dynamics, the song drops down so the girls are singing over a stripped-down rhythm section before the song comes back strong with the finale as the whole orchestra joins in.

It’s a vibrant mix drawing on thirties and forties harmonies, but with a modern drive that pushes the melody irresistibly along.

Thanks to Will Keel-Stocker’s close attention to the arrangement there ere are so many different textures in this song.

It leaves you knowing you’ve heard real class.   And damned catchy class at that, too!

Order your copy of The Three Belles debut Album, In Full Swing.

The Three Belles New CD “In Full Swing” Track Review: “In The Mood”

I’ve been handed an advance copy of The Three Belles’ debut album In Full Swing.

It’s so fresh the cover hasn’t yet been printed, so the piccie below only shows the disc, adorned with the unmistakably vibrant artwork of fourth Belle, Chloe Seddon.

The Three Belles present their new debut album "In Full Swing".
The Three Belles present their new debut album “In Full Swing”.

In Full Swing‘s first track is the Glenn Miller classic In The Mood. It’s a great choice for an opener. Familiar to big band and Belles fans alike, it’s also the name of the super-popular dance night they pack out when The Belles stage their fab, fun recreation of a forties dance.

While the track sounds familiar at first, kicking off with the classic Glen Miller riff,  it also has its surprises, breaking out from the smooth Miller arrangement with unexpected orchestral stabs and with the girls’ close harmonies driving the track along with boundless energy. It’s really cool to hear The Three Belles heading in a whole new direction in this track, fronting a big band as they vivaciously perform this absolute gem of a tune.

What I can say about In The Mood is that with this track the album starts as it means to go on: it’ll come as a familiar friend to forties fans and will also be a welcome bit of joy for the lover of swing and the connoisseur of great sounds. It feels modern and vintage all at once.

In The Mood’s fresh swinging sound is brought to you by The Three Belles and the WKS Studio Orchestra led by the extraordinarily gifted William Keel-Stocker, whose arrangements and energy shine throughout this lovely opener.

For Belles afficionados who know the girls’ work well, there’s more freshness and fun to come. But more of that soon!

Advance order your copy of In Full Swing!


The Irresistible Appeal of Sex With Strangers…

For some sexual adventurers, the idea of having sex with a stranger has a definite frisson. As one dogger puts it:

“Sex with no strings, where you’re never going to see them again, so it doesn’t matter if you’re doing a good job or a bad job – what could be better? Of course it’s addictive.”

That’s the basis of Channel 4’s “Dogging Tales” which lifts the lid on the nocturnal activities of nature lovers with something of a difference.

Terry lives out "every man's dream"in Channel 4's "Dogging Tales"
Terry lives out “every man’s dream”in Channel 4’s “Dogging Tales”

For those in love with the idea of this night time sport, who fancy the idea of stealing into the night and bumping and grinding with a “furry triangle” (“and for free!” as one dogger proudly tells us), this is a perfect test as to whether you’re the right stuff.

The peculiar glass-eyed interviewee who first graces our screens from behind his owl mask, Les, dispels any ideas that this is going to reveal a deep experience. Vapid and everyday in his flat delivery describing ploughing through hundreds of women while untold numbers do the same to his partner in an evening, the only exotic elements in the interview are embodied in his collection of tropical birds.

Of course, it’s the lack of depth that appeals to doggers – who come in the night from all angles, it appears.

“I’ve met people from all walks of life, I’ve met undertakers, solicitors, vicars – the whole lot,” the husband of one dedicated dogging wife with a porn star’s body tells us.

From saddos to addicts, to bored couples, Dogging Tales shows it how it is, but tries not to tell us who it is, adding to the weirdness by getting everyone to wear animal masks for their privacy – simultaneously hammering home that we’re in the kingdom of the beasts, here.

So many people are hunting for something to fill the void, if you will excuse the pun. And although it appears to be a sad exercise at first, don’t let that fool you. It remains one all the way through.

Compulsion, addiction, body dysmorphia and the hit of sex to briefly dispel the surrounding darkness – you are watching lonely people in the midst of existential crisis – surrounded by darkness, little figures of solipsistic, warm softness in the night. It’s philosophical. Jean-Paul Sartre could have been a dogger. He probably was.

There are hilarious moments. Tiny little pipsqueak Terry and his rotund girlfriend are strangely depressing figures pushed to experiment by his 7 day working week and her libido that has lured her to cheat on him. He announces that he entertains “every man’s dream” of wanting two women. Two weeks later, he is interviewed on his sofa again, squeezed between two massive women, a blinking schoolboy flanked by two domineering aunties.

But when he is suddenly confronted with the reality of a stranger fondling his girlfriend, that’s too much for him. He’s a little frightened fellow, who goes home in a tizzy. It’s comedic-philosophic and suddenly profound. Terry, like many men, clearly is uncomfortable when his fantasies come face-to-face with reality in a freezing cold dark wood that he’s nearly fallen over in.

Those animal masks add something else to the proceedings. They make you think of a pagan rite that has suddenly re-emerged in the emptying countryside – a kind of pointless ritual that relieves for a few minutes the emptiness of existence, rather than being an atavistic homage to the phallus/fertility-cult.

Though not entirely – because there is fertility here and something very primal and very basic. Surprisingly, despite his glass eye and adenoidal voice, Les has 18 children and, as he announces, he can’t get a condom big enough to fit.

As for an ordinary member of the public who complains about the condoms in the woods and how the doggers abuse nature, there is no straightforward message about taste and morals here, as he promptly empties his dog over the nature reserve that was previously used as a dogging spot. The countryside is there to be abused, it seems. The image of beautiful Nature fouled is too obvious to comment on.

It’s a strange world, and it’s an odd fantasy. But, if you look at these people and you find nothing peculiar in what they are doing, and you aren’t a little saddened by the way they  have come to this pass, then well done. You just might make the grade.


The Mythology of Margaret – Thatcher And The Myth Machine

When you hear people pronouncing vehemently on a person who came to power before they were born and speaking in terms of utter disgust and anger, you realise that you are no longer in the presence of history or debate, you are in the presence of folk mythology.

Margaret ThatcherJust so with the myriad commentators on the death of Margaret Thatcher, who have for the last 24 hours heaped imprecations and opprobrium on the name. Couple with that the jubilation at her death and the whole “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead” attitude of some commentators who were born after she came to power and who can barely even remember her, and you realise how easy it must be for the reflex of Jihad to be instilled into the minds of the young in the Middle East.

In the folk consciousness, the myth appears to be that a cruel witch really did land in this Happy Island and lay waste to it, without any prompting whatsoever. By this reading, her intentions were utterly malign and everything she did was the spontaneous production of an evil genius. Like The Terminator or a Macchiavellian creature from Dr Who, she materialised on this planet with the sole intention of wreaking destruction, a bizarre anomaly abominating against Nature.

The vilification heaped on her from these quarters undermines the case against Thatcher. Half truth and misinformation from a generation programmed to resentment by university lecturers and resentful parents – that you can expect as part of the knockabout. It is less comical when the national newspapers also fall prey to the same instinct. Yet they do. Thus we have Owen Jones in The Independent telling us:

“We are in the midst of the third great economic collapse since the Second World War: all three have taken place since Thatcherism launched its great crusade.”

Seemingly having forgotten that in 1976 the Labour Government had to go cap-in-hand to the IMF to seek a bailout of billions to prevent the UK from sliding into bankruptcy, Jones imagines Thatcher as a crusader who laid waste to communities that were previously filled with “secure, skilled industrial jobs”.

Partially true, in that we did have skilled workers whose jobs had been secured for years by unsustainable State subsidy, it appears that Jones falls prey to the psychological effect of nostalgia when he imagines Britain prior to his birth in 1984.

Thus from Jones we imagine Paradisia Britannica in which there was no class system (“Britain was one of the most equal Western European countries before the Thatcherite project began”) – and bizarrely no racism existed. Yes, read that last one again. Apparently  Margaret Thatcher invented racism, because here’s what he says  happened under her right-to-buy scheme:

“The scarcity of housing turns communities against each other, as immigrants or anyone deemed less deserving are scapegoated.”

Britain was a big multi-cultural love-in before “Thatch”, it seems. Perhaps the National Front,  in Jones’s world, came into being under Thatcher’s leadership, even though The Battle of Lewisham which marked the start of the neo-Nazi organisation’s decline occurred 2 years before “Thatch” came to power. Jones, it appears, is a good rhetorician, but a terrible historian.

Let me just give a few fleeting impressions of the Britain that elected Thatcher to power.

In 1976, the Labour Government upon receiving their bailout from the IMF were given a series of conditions they had to meet in order to stave off bankruptcy. Sound familiar? In Britain many of us snide quite happily about Greece and Cyprus, while forgetting we were in an analogous situation only 37 years ago.

Wilson and then Callaghan tried desperately to reduce the size of the State. But the unions, who paid for the Labour Party through their membership subscriptions, weren’t having any of it. As soon as cuts were attempted, public service workers went on strike. We had a Government that was impotent in the face of the union power that was inexorably driving the country towards destruction. “We’re all in this together” might equally have been the cry back then. And what we appeared to be in was a sinking ship that the entrepreneurs and innovators, the powerhouses of wealth creation and the creatives had all abandoned to escape the 98% upper tax band.

The streets during the Winter of Discontent really were piled with rubbish, as rats gorged themselves in the streets on the detritus the unions refused to take away. I’ve heard of “refuse collection” but I never thought that was what it meant. To the massive distress of relatives, bodies went unburied because council workers wouldn’t dig graves – another inability to deal with yet more discards, it seemed, as a mythological sense of horror and helplessness built up around those times in the folk consciousness.

Not a myth, but a truth, I remember back at home my mum sitting at the table week after week going though her shopping bill. She used to weep at the prices going up. I can remember her saying to the ceiling with tears in her eyes: “That’s butter gone up another ha’penny. That’s 2 pence this month.” At its peak, inflation in the UK was running at 24.2%, a figure that seems difficult to imagine in the post-Thatcher era, because her number one priority was to stabilise inflation and keep the value in the pound.

Into this scenario steps Thatcher. In the ensuing years she did some terrible things and she did some things that would transform this country into a modern economy. She deliberately set about breaking the power of the unions, yes. But when the unions won’t even let you bury your dead granny, then there is a mythology at play here other than “Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead”.

And that’s the point that I’m making. Thatcher wasn’t Wonder Woman fighting evil union power, just as she wasn’t the Wicked Witch of the West murdering the Munchkins, either. For some reason, we are all prone (myself included, as can be seen above) to fall into half-conscious mythological constructs when we consider this extraordinary figure of female power. Perhaps it’s because we find it difficult to accept and understand her on her own terms. A powerful woman who knew her own mind. Fancy that? Much easier to call her “witch” or “goddess”.

What Thatcher did was neither all good nor or all bad. In fact those terms simply distort her and her legacy. What she was was a product of the most extraordinary times. Britain had been told quite clearly by our IMF backers that the country could not go on spending money it didn’t have. After the failings of Wilson and Callaghan, what she brought to the political scene was strict, rigid fiscal discipline. She was the housewife and dominatrix combined (see how easy the archetypes are to reference?). She looked long and hard at what was costing this country money and failing to give us influence in the world – and got rid of it.

It’s hard. It’s cold. It caused real pain and real hardship. It changed Britain forever, displacing families and destroying industry. It also freed people to think innovatively because it broke the union stranglehold on businesses, destroyed the closed shop and ended wildcat strikes.

To mythologise her and imagine her as the “dark shadow rising in the land of Mordor” is to maintain a child-like sense of good and evil that serves no purpose but to breed more ignorance and more stupidity, just as “Superthatch” is a nonsense, too.  Yet it is easy to do with her because she was such an extraordinary woman who caused such strong feelings.  In the minds of many who were her contemporaries, the emotion resonates. What chance for those born after her, who never experienced the awfulness of the years before she came to power?

With Thatch the psyche is activated. Well-established archetypes buried deep in our brains prevail.

Fairytales, after all, are so much more compelling than history.