Thursday, 31 May 2007

Cat fanciers may not want to read on

The music of Cat Stevens is something I associate with my early childhood. Moonshadow and Where do the Children Play? both conjure up images of Lincolnshire, where we lived before I was five. However, of late, Yusuf Islam has started appearing everywhere I go. If I’m in the car and I scroll through the radio stations, Wild World is the best thing on the airways. In line at the supermarket and Morning has Broken will come over the screechy tannoy system. Even waiting on hold, (Remember The Days of the) Old Schoolyard jumps out at me from the handset almost as if they’d been waiting for me to call before they added it to the hold playlist (and I’d like to point out that after listening to that song in a loop while waiting to speak to someone about why you’ve been charged for services you don’t even have, you start to listen to the lyrics and while Cat obviously enjoyed his scholastic education (he states, more than once that “we used to laugh a lot”) after having the song drummed into me like a member of a 70’s folk revival cult, the only image from my time at school that comes to mind was being too busy hanging from the coat hooks by my underwear to find much time for laughing).

Most call centres in the UK are either located in Glasgow or have a positive discrimination policy when it comes to employing Scots who grew up around the River Clyde because a piece of research found Glaswegian to be the most pleasant and soothing of the British dialects. In the same way, the only logical reason I can think of for the statistically highly unlikely frequency of my encounters with Mr Islam is that a social psychologist has published a paper somewhere identifying the music of Cat Stevens as the least offensive, obtrusive or polarising music on the planet.

I wouldn’t be surprised if this were true as I can’t really see many people hating him, in the same way I very much doubt that there will be a whole load of people who’d name The Artist Formerly Known as Cat as their favourite musician. This is what makes it the perfect music to broadcast on easy listening radio; the type of station that will have distribution agreements that’ll get them piped into shops and played as hold music.

It’s either that or he’s actively haunting me.

Tuesday, 8 May 2007

Flamemaster G. - the destroyer of spoons


I think I must have had a bad experience with a teaspoon when I was a child (with therapy maybe I’ll write about it in “Thinks I did as a kid #52”). I did cookery for two years at school so I’ve had the need to keep a tidy workspace drilled into me. Before the classes, making a broccoli soufflĂ© would leave the kitchen looking like the scene of a vegan liberation front insurgent uprising.

And yet, for some reason I have a compulsion to use as many teaspoons as possible. I’m not sure how I use them up. Just yesterday I managed to use three making a lasagne. I know I used one in the mustard for the white sauce but the other two? As far as I’m concerned the other two sprouted legs and jumped in the sauce themselves.

So consider this a warning should I ever go Iron Chef in your house: hide your spoons.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

I’m with the band

The four walls of a concert venue are like some strange X-Files, other world where the normal laws no longer apply. Once we’re through the door, regular behaviour is checked at the door. As the performers step on to the stage they’re greeted with thunderous applause. We’ve brought the tickets, forked over money for the merchandise with inflated-prices, stood closer to strangers than we would in any other circumstances bar public transport or prison and yet we still cheer just because some lucky music student happened to string 5 notes together in a catchy way?

We also put up with so much pushing and shoving. Why do we hand over the keys to our kinosphere so willingly? Just because some one has dimmed the lights and put some music on? Are we really that easy? The first notes dance across the room and it’s a race to spot the song (or at least pretend to recognise it) and cheering in knowing appreciation. Either we’re soothsayers who can divine how the performance of the song will be based purely on the intro, or it’s encouragement; a cheer to the musicians, as if to say, “This is a good song, don’t fuck it up. I believe you can play it well. I’m behind you.”

Part of the whole pseudo-religious experience is the compulsion to follow the instructions from the stage. The ugly bass player holds their hands above their head and begins a slow clap and before you know it, you’ve joined in. The room slaves to the band’s every instruction: “Jump up and down, echo my words, sing for me when I point a microphone at you.”

What is my point? I think I’m trying to work out why I/we do this. The music is rawer, less perfect than an MP3 so it’s not the music we go along for. It must be the experience. In return for putting up with getting closer to our fellow man than we really want to, subjecting ourselves to a deafening hardship and paying prices that are off the scale, we are allowed to say that we were there. Not playing with the band but standing among the masses, believing that we’re inspiring the performers to higher artistic heights.