Category Archives: Music

Advent Roger

I have a crazy friend. Crazy is generally the best. But even so, I didn’t expect this.

This year for Advent, my friend is giving away gifts to her Facebook friends. You know, if money was no object, kind of thing. So after a safe start of a holiday in Florida and a £2,000,000 house in Devon, this morning it was my turn.

I had had my doubts. I am a notoriously difficult person, and I was mainly settling down to see what inappropriate gift ‘her money’ would provide. I take it all back! This is what I woke up to:

‘If I had money, I would offer so much of it to Roger Whittaker that he would agree to come and sing one last time, especially for you. As one of his signature songs is The Last Farewell, I would hire a tall ship and crew from Topsail to bring Roger over from the nearest port in France, where he now lives, to Leith. You and Roger would have a fine meal on board in the harbour, and Roger would sing The Last Farewell to you, before sailing away into the sunset.’

Roger Whittaker and CultureWitch

What a lucky witch I am, to have a friend like that!

She’s right. It is what I’d want. Well, maybe I’d whisper into Roger’s ear that he could pick a different song, if he felt up to it, but my goodness, what a spectacular gift!

(And for anyone who wants to help my friend get rich, do buy her books. I thoroughly recommend her Belgian trilogy for a good scare. It’s so scary I have recently learned that her husband couldn’t quite finish the last one… Here is a list of all Helen Grant’s books. They are very good. And very scary.)

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75 years of Sir Billy

What can I say? There is a lot of stuff about Billy Connolly wherever you look. I started reading his Wikipedia page and it seemed to go on, if not forever, then for quite some time.

There’s obviously even more in his wife Pamela’s book about him. It’s one of the best biographies I’ve read. It would have been interesting even if I’d never heard of Billy.

Although, it’s difficult not to have heard of Billy. He’s done so much and for so long. And what’s amazing is that he turned out so decent, after all that happened to him during his childhood.

Since his health problems in recent years, there’s been fewer opportunities to see Billy. I reckon my last ‘encounter’ was in the film What We Did On Our Holiday, where he died in the most dignified manner.

What we did on our holidays

What to say?

Happy 75th Birthday, Sir William!

And then what?

When do you give up on the work by someone you’ve liked and admired?

I’m thinking – again – of the latest film producer to have caused a public storm and upset. But – again – it could be anyone discovered to have seriously misbehaved and sometimes not getting found out. These [usually] men have often done great work, in film, music, theatre, literature.

And when the news breaks, some of us find that we have been fans of a monster. If it’s really bad, it’s not too hard to stop watching their films or listening to their music.

But if it’s a bit more borderline? Or they have been involved with so much on the cultural scene, that it can be hard to draw a line, or even to know where that line is.

I was relieved to learn I didn’t have to ‘respect’ Jimmy Savile, so that was no hardship. Likewise OJ Simpson. But it took me a while to know what to do about Rolf Harris. It’s not that I didn’t believe the accusations. I just couldn’t tell how it would affect my fondness for his work. It was gradual, but not slow, and I knew when it was time to delete his albums from iTunes. The books went to the local charity shop, where quite possibly they languished until pulped.

Speaking of books, I have a friend who meets famous people through her work. Luckily I’ve never read anything by the very well known, older male writer she mentioned once. I can’t unsee that unwanted kiss in my mind, and I’m just grateful he wasn’t someone I liked. But whenever I see a photo of this author, it’s all I can think of. No literary merit whatsoever.

And I know what I said in my other post, about being too polite. I was far too polite about the last Rolf Harris concert I went to. It was lacklustre. He was clearly under pressure already, except we didn’t know it.

This Weinstein business is awkward. I have no hesitation blaming the man for anything that’s being said. But he’s been involved in so many films. Good films. Do they need boycotting from now on, or was he too far removed from them, for it not to matter? I mean, I generally don’t even know who produced a film.

To go back to iTunes, I have a couple of albums on there, sung by someone I used to know. Someone who behaved in an unacceptable manner to me about a year ago. I have no problem skipping past the new album, which I didn’t like much. But the really old one; I have always loved it. It’s just when one of those tracks comes on, it’s difficult to forget what she said. It takes the edge off my enjoyment.

So I don’t know.

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday!

Dame Vera Lynn: Happy 100th Birthday!

It was the old soldiers who made the programme. No matter how much fun it is to hear famous people say lovely things about our Vera Lynn on the occasion of her 100th birthday (Wow!), it was the men who fought in WWII, and who are still with us, like Vera, who started the waterworks, both on me and on themselves.

Hearing Vera discuss the past with her daughter was almost like hearing any mother and daughter pair hark back in time. And that’s good in itself, as it proves how normal she still manages to be. Dame and the forces’ sweetheart she may be, but deep down Vera Lynn comes across like that aunt from east London I never had.

The music specialists had much nice to say, as did those famous people dug up to talk. Odd in a way to have Paul McCartney sit there as though he personally remembered listening to Vera on the radio during the war. Maybe he did.

But as I said, the old soldiers, reminiscing about hearing Vera live somewhere in Burma, or on the radio, and crying at the memories; that’s what made this programme. Telling their own stories, and singing along to We’ll Meet Again, before finally wishing their star a happy 100th. There’s not many of them left.

(Photo © BBC)

Rogue or La La

We disgraced ourselves over Rogue One, the Resident IT Consultant and I. Don’t know whether he liked it, but neither of us understood what was going on. This is partly because neither of us are Star Wars fans. And when I saw the original back in the olden days, I didn’t get what it was about; nor even who was good or who was bad.

But it’s not important. We can’t all like the same things, and no one can be a fan of everything. This time we went with Daughter, who is a fan and who wanted company. Although we might not be asked – allowed – again.

If you don’t have to know who is fighting, or why, it was OK as an action film of sorts.

I had more or less decided against seeing La La land, for some reason. And then ‘everyone’ was going on about it and how wonderful it was and how they don’t even like musicals but they’d even bought the soundtrack afterwards.

Which would be why, when I really needed cheering up one day last week, we went to see it. Didn’t even consider any of the other films on, since a musical, praised by all, ought to be what I needed.

And OK, after that first song and dance thing on the motorway slip road (yes, they are probably called something else), I almost felt like applause would be the right response.

But after that, it was downhill all the way. It was boring. I didn’t like the characters, or the actors. The music did nothing for me, and the setting was not my kind of place at all. And the plot? I kept thinking that surely something sensible would happen to it soon?

It seems the Resident IT Consultant was slightly more tolerant than I was, but even so.

Comparing the two films, Rogue One wins comfortably.

Red River Valley

It was an oblivious kind of torture. I never meant to plague my uncle, nearly driving him crazy. I was merely being seven years old. And oblivious to anything but the latest EP I had found in his home.

It didn’t belong to him. Obviously. No, this deliciously red-coloured EP must have been bought by Eldest Cousin, and once discovered by me as we visited over the Christmas holidays, I played it. All. The. Time.

Hence my poor uncle’s despair if he had to listen to it One. More. Time. I heard him, but I still played on. It was so good.

The best of the four tracks was Red River Valley. Except that’s not what it was called in Sweden where it went under the slightly outlandish title Vid foten av fjället, sung by Sven Gösta Jonsson. He was labelled The Rocking Sami, and he performed wearing traditional dress. And he was lovely! I was a fan for quite some time (he now comes across as more mediocre than I was aware of at the time).

And then one day, many years later, I discovered there was a version in English as well! Lots of them, really. My own personal favourite is by Roger Whittaker, but any version will do.

Bing and Bowie

I needed this. Having only heard the soundtrack before, I enjoyed seeing Bing Crosby and David Bowie in this video. Bing, of course, is Christmas for me, even discounting White Christmas. Back in the olden days, when Christmas in the television backwater of Sweden meant that you got old films every day, instead of once a week, somehow Bing was always there with one – or two – of his films.

I took a while to appreciate his singing, though. I arrived in Brighton autumn 1977 and noticed that he was appearing at the Brighton Centre a few weeks later. I didn’t go, because he was an old man and I had no interest in that kind of thing. After Brighton he went to Spain to play golf, and died. And then I regretted it, and I have since bought his albums and learned that he was a marvellous singer.

The same can be said about David Bowie, it seems. I have to admit to not being a fan, and in most cases if you played me one of his songs, unless so well known that even I knew the title, I’d not have recognised him. If you’re a fan, I apologise for my lack of enthusiasm. Back in the early 1970s when my friends at school loved him, I had no interest in Bowie at all, and I never changed.

But this Christmas video helped bring his voice to me. I find that when famous singers sing something completely different to their normal repertoire, you are able to discover their voice for what it is; unfettered by what they usually do. If they are truly good, then that will shine through that ‘other’ song. And this is what happened here, when I encountered Bowie with Bing on social media.

I could even see myself trying some regular Bowie now. Any suggestions of where to begin?