Thursday, 28 April 2011

Prince will party like it's...1981!

I am sure we all occasionally experience that rather drowsy ‘half and half’ early morning feeling when you think you are awake but you are not actually 100 per cent sure that your wakefulness is not just part of a strange dream.

I had this experience on Tuesday morning when part of my brain was telling me I was awake but the other half was saying “OK, if you are awake then how come the news is being read by Angela Rippon and the sports bulletin by Dickie Davies from World Of Sport?”.

The moment, however, I heard that the legendary Mr Davies was talking about Arsene Wenger rather than Big Daddy I realised that it was the radio which was going mad – and not me.

For yes, Radio 5 Live was having a 1981 day complete with 1981 presenters as part of its pre- royal wedding celebrations.

This rather odd idea was evidence to me that after a somewhat muted early public reaction, the excitement levels for tomorrow’s royal wedding have really started to rise over the past week or so.As the big day has got ever closer so the level of interest in the event has grown and it all now points to being a spectacular day which will be enjoyed by millions – possibly even billions – across the globe.

In some ways I think the rather under whelmed early reaction to the day was all quite understandable. A couple of the so-called ‘fairy tale’ royal weddings in the 1980s didn’t exactly, ahem, have a happy ending and the fact that we live in challenging economic times has also made some people a little wary of celebrating such an expensive public event.

However, I hope that at 11am tomorrow, all of those doubts will be put aside and the nation will come together as one to enjoy watching the sort of spectacle which Britain does do better than anyone else.

Of course despite the radio’s best efforts, 2011 feels like a very different time to when Charles and Diana stepped out onto the balcony. There doesn’t seem to be as much bunting around and if my mind serves me well, I’m pretty certain the shops had far more royal pre-wedding memorabilia in those dim distant days than it does now. As I recall there wasn’t a house in Britain that didn’t have a tea towel or a mug bearing the faces of the happy couple but such items seem far less prevalent today.

That doesn’t mean, however, that tomorrow won’t capture the imagination. Even a few people of my acquaintance who have feigned total disinterest admit they are quite interested to see what ‘Kate’ may be wearing or which celebrity appears at Westminster Abbey. As such, I think watching the royal wedding will be a bit like watching Big Brother or reading The Sun –- far more people will do it than will ever admit to it.

So, whether you’re having a street party, attending Bath’s Picnic In The Park, having friends around or just having a lazy morning in front of the TV, I hope you have a right royal day on Friday.

And of course best wishes go to the young couple – I truly hope that the rain will stay away from the man who will one day reign...

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Judging talent contests and the odd buzz from being booed

At about nine o’ clock on Thursday night there is a very good chance I might be getting booed.

This is because I will, once again, be one of the three judges at the latest round of Komedia’s Bath’s Top Talent competition which may have some teeny, weeny, relation to a certain TV contest which kicked off in dramatic style on Saturday evening.

The Bath’s Top Talent event is a fun and revealing contest which showcases the wide variety of musical and non musical talent in and around the city.

Along with Chronicle reporter Felicity Crump and the editor of Venue Magazine Joe Spurgeon, I helped to judge the previous round which saw me face-to-face with two very memorable drag dancers, a Frank Sinatra sound-a-like and several other very enjoyable acts. We were not judging in the way that the X Factor/Britain’s Got Talent judges do as the vote very much belongs to the audience but we were there to make comments and it was amazing (and a little bit frightening) how attentive people were to our words of apparent wisdom.

By and large we were able to say nice things about most people and received a smattering of polite applause on occasions. However, as we all know now from so many TV competitions about singing, dancing and entertainment, it is when you make slightly critical comments that people really start to vent their opinion.

And it is especially notable that if the booze is flowing, the boos will too.

The weird thing is – and maybe this is where Simon Cowell started to make his millions – that when you do get a boo it is actually quite an interesting (and not altogether unpleasant) feeling. I felt my fellow judge Miss Crump, for example, seemed to enjoy being booed rather too much but I can see where it can get almost addictive. After all, it is often said that it is better to be booed and vilified than ignored and some talent competition judges clearly adhere to this principle.

As such, these competitions have become the new pantomimes – and the big bad wolf villains are the likes of Simon Cowell, Craig Revel Horwood and Jason Gardiner.

I can’t help feeling it is all a far cry from the first talent competition I remember watching on TV – Opportunity Knocks. Fronted by a man who, in hindsight, was more than a little bit strange (Hughie Green), this was a show that was light years away from texts and internet voting and where careers could rise or fall on how loud the audience clapped, thanks to that highly-unscientific “clapometer”.

The change started to occur when the ultra-cuddly Derek That’s My Dog Hobson (above) fronted New Faces and we had our first experience of judges saying negative things about artists. I seem to recall there was a national outcry at times about things Tony Hatch said but as we kept tuning in just to be offended the seed of a great idea was planted. X Factor, Britain’s Got Talent, Strictly Come Dancing et al were later to watch that seed (the “controversial judges wind up audience for sport” seed), blossom into the most watched shows on TV.

So I really want to like everyone I see on Thursday night but if I don’t, please don’t boo me. Boo Fliss instead because she really likes it. Honest.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Insomnia - it kills your dreams. Literallly.

Captain James T Kirk got it wrong you know.

He said that space was the final frontier, the place to “explore strange new worlds, seek out new life forms and new civilisations and to boldly go where no man has gone before” .

But it isn’t intergalactic space travel that you need to achieve all these goals, it is something far more humble – a solid night’s dream-laden sleep. No sci-fi writer in the world has yet managed to come up with story lines to match what your mind can produce when the imagination is set free during your sleeping hours.

You do indeed boldly go to places where you have never been and face scenarios you can never imagine.

It’s a mystical, magical world.

Sadly, however, for many people like me this dream world is often ruined by the appearance of a Klingon. And he’s called insomnia.

I have written about my occasional bursts of insomnia a couple of times in this blog/column over the years and it always produces letters or comments later because so many people suffer from this demoralising night time problem. A survey in America in 2002 said that as many as 58 per cent of adults in America experience symptoms of insomnia a few nights a week or more. That seems rather a high figure to me but anecdotally I know that a lot of people are just not getting as much sleep as they would like.

My insomnia – which I understand is called transient insomnia – is like a strange uncle who turns up unexpectedly at a do. He stays as long as he sees fit and then just goes. You don’t know why he decided to come but you suspect after he leaves that he will pop back again when you least expect it. He’s not your favourite uncle.

I’ve had a couple of bouts lately – the most recent on Tuesday night. I had no particular issues on my mind, no reasons to stop me going into dream land but not only did I not have 40 winks but I think I hardly had a single (tiddly) wink. People say that is impossible and you must sleep sometime but all I can say is that my digital clock and I became very well acquainted and if there were bursts of sleep, the clock must have stopped while I had them.

I tried all my usual methods to help me sleep – but to no avail. One I would heartily recommend to other sufferers which usually does the trick is to look at the time and if it is, say 11.15pm, then remember what you were doing at every quarter past the hour throughout the day. Normally I am asleep before I get to lunchtime. On Tuesday though even this fail-safe system, err, failed.

The problem with insomnia is that even as and when you get through the night you then carry it over to the following day. On Wednesday morning, as I write this, I still feel alert and ready for action (ish) but I won’t get home tonight until about 11pm because I’m chairing an election debate at St Martin’s Church. To anyone who was there can I, therefore, just say that if I did fall asleep, it was nothing to do with the politicians. Honest.

So to all those who are reading this who are fellow sufferers, you have my total sympathy. I just hope that tonight you can boldly go into your lovely dreamland and leave the Klingon well behind.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Glastonbury + Michael Eavis = Power + Principle

As we now enter a local election campaign where the various parties will be debating about why their principles should earn them power, it was truly refreshing on Monday night to listen to a non-political man who has ‘the power’ but has never lost sight of the guiding principles that inspired him to want it.

Michael Eavis was the guest speaker at a packed Ustinov event organised by Creative Bath which brought together people from all around the city to pick up nuggets of wisdom from a truly remarkable individual.

Mr Eavis, who still regards himself as a farmer who just happens to run the Glastonbury Festival, was as self effacing and modest as ever – something which I suspect the vast majority of those like him named by Time magazine as among the 100 most influential people in the world do not share.

More than 40 years ago having been inspired by the big concert in Shepton Mallet, the Pilton farmer decided he would set up his own (at that stage) free festival event. It has of course now transformed into possibly the biggest festival in the world and it is one that artists clamber to play out of respect for its core beliefs as well as the prominence it gives them.

Mr Eavis spent far more time on the night talking about the pleasure it gives him to raise some £2 million every year for charity as a result of the festival than about the actual event itself. To him the festival is five glorious days in Somerset but it’s real lasting legacy will be the hundreds of thousands of people who will have been touched from Pilton to Peru by the money raised at the South West’s biggest party.

What was also inspiring to hear was that the 75-year-old absolutely loved what he did. Several times he described running the festival as a ‘buzz’ and he said that he thought he had the best job in the world and one which he had always treated with great respect.

But, of course, respect is a two-way street and it is because some of the most famous performers in the world believe in Mr Eavis’s vision of using music to bring people together to do good in the world that they are prepared to forgo their usual commercial rates.

As an example, he quoted the fact that Sir Paul McCartney played at Glastonbury for around a twentieth of what he could normally command at a big stadium event. People don’t do that unless they believe in you and believe in what you stand for–- and people rightly believe in Michael Eavis.

Above all, as he continually told us, he enjoys every minute.

It is no coincidence that when we went into our archive of photographs of him, every one of them saw him with a big smile.

He loves what he does, he loves the feeling the festival gives to people but most of all he loves the fact that long after the last chord has been played, people are benefiting from a festival that uses its power to prove its principles.

Searching for a new 'Song for Bath'

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle of March 31

I have often waxed lyrical in this column/blog about the fact that Bath truly is a city of music.

No matter what tastes you have there is plenty of musical choice out there for you to enjoy.

And, just as importantly, it seems there are thousands of people in our community performing as well as listening. It is a city built on sound.

Even with that as a context, however, I can say that I have been truly staggered over the past few days as I have been listening to the entries for the first-ever Song For Bath competition which has shown what a remarkable collection of songwriters and musical storytellers we have in our community.

I am lucky enough to be one of the judges of this great competition and so a while ago I was handed (by the irrepressibly enthusiastic organiser Paddy Doyle), a box of CDs and a huge catalogue of music and lyrics of the near 100 entries from which to pick my favourites.

When it was set up those of us involved in the contest had no idea if it would take off and capture the local imagination and, indeed, in the early days it did look as though it may be a struggle to get the kind of numbers we needed to make this a viable musical battle.

Well, we need not have worried.

For as the deadline for entries got closer, they poured in and the result is a splendid collection of tunes covering everything from rock songs to choral and classical pieces. And just about everything in between. The idea is that my fellow judges and I (and they are all far more qualified than I am in this process) have now got to whittle down the entries to just ten for our grand final in June (more details of which will be announced shortly).

And it is not easy.

As we all know musical taste is very subjective so I've tried to bring other people into my selection process. But such is the diversity of songs that with other people's input the shortlist is now a very long list.

So, therefore, this weekend I will have to go back to the tunes again before making my final choices. My selections will be added to those submitted by the other judges in the hope that between us we can come up with a group of finalists we can all be happy with.

Overall, I have been genuinely impressed at the effort which people have put in to write and record these songs about our city which inspire both musically and lyrically.

The most important thing of all, however, is that I'm certain we ARE going to find a strong winner as there are plenty of golden nuggets amidst the collection. There are tunes I found myself whistling hours later and lyrics that quickly wrote themselves onto my brain.

A worthy Song for Bath is on those CDs. We just have to dig it out.

Online, offline, onwards and upwards.

This first appeared in the Bath Chronicle of March 24 On a recent Tuesday at about 2.30pm something dramatic happened in our office. Grown men exhibited panic. Frustration levels grew. The air was tense - the mood unpredictable. Why? Because, oh reader, the internet had been switched off. For reasons which (as usual) were unfathomable, none of us could get on to our own site (thisisbath), Google was as impossible to access as the mind of Colonel Gaddafi and, to misquote Frankie Howerd, it was a case of "Twitter Ye Not". That sense of minor shock and awe bought on by the loss of our online contact may sound a bit OTT but as the minutes passed into the hours on Tuesday and people got decidedly twitchy it brought home again just how much cyberspace has affected all our lives. As journalists the "interweb" is an essential tool for what we do but it goes much deeper for people like us than a mere resource. So much of our lives both personally and professionally have become entwined in the nether regions of the world wide web that it is only when it is taken away - as it was on Tuesday - that you see how hamstrung and rather bereft people can feel without it. You get the impression some people think life and communication didn't begin until a bright spark thought it would be an idea to link his computer to someone else's just a few short years ago. But it is worth remembering just how few years ago that was. YouTube may, for example, seem to have been around forever and with an estimated two billion videos being shown every day on the site you could believe it took decades to build up that clientele. But YouTube has only been an entity since February 2005 and it (quietly) hit the world at the same time as, for instance, Charles and Camilla announced they were to marry. And that doesn't seem that long ago at all does it? As for Facebook with its 600 million users, that only became available to us as members of the public in 2006 - the same year as Twitter began building up to its now 190 million users. In industry terms these are baby companies and yet they are the biggest, noisiest and most impact-full babies in history. The phenomenal speed in which these sites and the internet has taken over all our daily lives in such a short period of time is, truly, a source of amazement. Life will never be the same again now we have this astonishing technology and the only remaining question is just how much more of our lives will the all-embracing internet envelop. And yet . . . . Anyone watching Comic Relief on Friday night will have seen that for a world that can get so smug about its massive information technology advancements we are remarkably bad at simple things like keeping children from dying of starvation. So, while the world wide web may be developing at a pace the offline world, sadly, seems as slow to really change as it ever did . . .