Tziporah Malkah: Some useful #ImACelebrityAU #CelebTziporah background

With Tziporah Malkah bat Isarel instantly the most impressive contestant on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here (runner-up points to Kris Smith and Nazeem Hussain), I want to note this passage from Peter Fitzsimons’ biography of Nene King, Nene, which highlights how Tziporah has always had her feet on the ground:

Kate Fischer was one of the most beautiful women Nene had ever seen. A card-carrying, certified stunner. In person, she was elegantly dressed, as sexy as they come, but warm and wonderful as well. Just a fortnight after James Packer had become engaged to Kate, Nene had gone to morning tea with her, at James’s behest at the swish hotel around the corner from 54 Park Street, the Sheraton on the Park. Kate was an understanding sort of girl, James said, who was really good with advice, and maybe she could offer Nene some wise counsel.
And so it proved, because as the waiters brought coffee and Tim Tams for Nene, and some carrot-sticks and herbal tea for Kate, the two talked until midway through the afternoon. They talked a very little about Kate and her forthcoming married life with James, and a a great deal about Nene’s misery and just where she should go from there. At 24, and less than half of Nene’s age, Kate indeed gave out wise counsel. She was very firmly of the view that the only way for Nene was to go to Narcotics Anonymous, to wean herself off the drugs so she could begin to think straight and see things clearly. At NA, Kate said, Nene could meet a lot of people who had battled against exactly what she was battling, and listen to their experience of how they had beaten it.
And nor did Kate leave it there. Just a couple of hours after Nene returned to her desk, James Packer called and offered to go to Narcotics Anonymous with her.

A telling story. But a note for PF’s editors: no, carrot sticks should not have a hyphen here.

Every Wham! song, ranked

Pedant note: I know ‘Careless Whisper’ and ‘A Different Corner’ were released as George Michael solo tracks, but they both ended up on Wham! albums during the band’s original career, so in my head they 100% count. This ranking is purely personal, other perspectives welcome! And yes, George Michael’s career was much more than Wham!, but right now that’s the bit I’m thinking about.

whamstrip

Wham! only had 24 songs in their career, and the standard was impressively high. But it’s fun to try and sort through them. Go Yog!

24. Piano Outro

This brief instrumental fragment (heard at the end of Fantastic and If You Were There: The Best Of Wham!) doesn’t really count as a song, so it has to take last place.

23. Where Did Your Heart Go?

22. Love Machine

21. If You Were There

All excellent songs, and cover versions remained a crucial part of George’s career throughout, but back in the day, it was the songs George Michael wrote himself (with a very occasional assist from Andrew Ridgeley) that made Wham! stand out. It still annoys me all these years later that ‘Where Did Your Heart Go?’ was actually released as a single.

20. Nothing Looks The Same In The Light

19. Like A Baby

18. Blue (Armed With Love)

Wham! were never seen as a ballads band, and many of the slower songs that they released did tend to be a bit ponderous, as these three examples show. The “solo” ballads from the same era are noticeably better.

17. Come On!

Boppy and catchy but just lacks a distinctive edge compared to the singles of the time.

16. Last Christmas

An acknowledged seasonal classic, and I’ve always loved the cover art. If anything this has been dulled by overexposure and constant inferior covers.

15. A Ray Of Sunshine

14. Credit Card Baby

13. The Edge Of Heaven

Fast and funky is a default setting where Wham! can always deliver the goods.

12. Club Tropicana

My favourite bit of this track is the vocals at the end. Coo-ool . . .

11. Wham Rap! (Enjoy What You Do?)

There are many, many mixes of this song. The 86 remix is fun and sweary.

10. Everything She Wants

9. Battlestations

Both examples of what George at the time considered “mature” writing, and similarly themed around a grasping, acquisitive partner. ‘Battlestations’ is a relatively obscure track (a new recording for The Final but never released as a single), with fun answering-machine sound effects and tasty spoken sections.

8. Bad Boys

George Michael hated this track and occasionally had it excluded from compilations, but it’s a fun romp and I’ve been quoting the line “I’m big enough to break down the door” for years.

7. Heartbeat

This mid-tempo ballad strikes me as fertile territory for a cover, replete with echoing pianos. Conveys an end-of-term feel really effectively.

6. Young Guns (Go For It!)

“Hey shut up chick, that’s a friend of mine.”

5. I’m Your Man

Any song that was designed to persuade Brooke Shields to give up her virginity obviously gets extra points.

4. A Different Corner

The first UK number one written, produced, sung and with every single instrument played by a single person (Prince did it first in the US with ‘When Doves Cry’, trivia fans). Looking back, this set the template for much of George’s subsequent solo career.

3. Wake Me Up Before You Go Go

For most people the definitive Wham! track. 1980s pop never got any more fun than this.

2. Careless Whisper

Following up ‘Wake Me Up’ with this was a master stroke. “Guilty feet ain’t got no rhythm” is perhaps the most amazing six words in a number one hit ever.

1. Freedom

The definitive Wham! song: a Motown feel, amazing vocals, and a lyric about infidelity. If they’d ever finished the video this would have been an even more massive hit.

Would I rather be a Jedi or a Sith Lord?

My colleague Jonathan just posed this challenge to me: Write an in-depth analysis of whether you would be a Jedi or a Sith lord (minimum 500 words).

Quite frankly, I’m insulted that he even had to ask.

No-one in their right mind wants to be a Jedi. Jedi life eats it raw. You’re supposed to worship Yoda, a grammar-mangling piece of green snot who alternates between being a Muppet, a messy piece of CGI and a crappy cartoon. Strong in him the shittiness is.

You know you’re probably going to have to spend your teenage years stuck on some featureless desert planet hoping someone interesting eventually shows up. Or you have to pretend that Jar-Jar Binks would make a good senator, when the truth is that his hide wouldn’t even make a good suitcase. Or you have to incestuously kiss your sister and then never mention it again.

Plus you end up with some ludicrous name like Qui-Gon, and your side completely loses whatever tenuous grip it has on galactic power every three movies or so, if not sooner. Also, you’re likely to be a brain-dead idiot: before trying to hide yourself away so no-one can find you, you figure it would be a good idea to leave behind a map of your exact location. Bitch, please.

Being a Sith Lord beats that hands down. You frequently get to wear black, which is a better fashion choice and also more slimming. Your family name is Darth, which seems cool. Rather than focusing on bringing balance to the force, you can think about your bank balance instead. It’s all good, even when it’s about being as bad as possible.

As well, embracing the Dark Side gives you absolute licence to murder Harrison Ford, thereby reducing the possibility of any more abysmal Indiana Jones sequels. (I refuse to consider this a spoiler, by the way: the damn movie has been out for months and taken billions. And also, adopting tyranny means spoilers are the least of my villainous plans.)

Sure, as a Sith Lord you’ll eventually end up slaughtered by some Jedi jerk to satisfy the apparent sub-conscious demand for a conclusive “happy ending” every three instalments. But we’re all going to die anyway. Years of absolute power in a black robe beats handing out in a swamp or on an island for decades before having to pass on your skills to some little prick upstart and then meeting your doom at the end of a disco-themed lightsaber, let me tell you.

Finally, there’s an important issue to consider which is often overlooked. There has been one constant amongst the ridiculous flip-flopping over what does or doesn’t constitute Star Wars canon: everyone seems happy to agree that the infamous Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978 never happened. I reject this stance as a crime against nature, against history, and — most importantly of all — against Bea Arthur.

As Darth McIvor, I pledge that once I am in full control of the universe, which is merely a formality, the Holiday Special will immediately be restored to its rightful place as the most important Star Wars creation of all. Yes, I’m really that evil.

Time to kill? Like ABBA? Read Chapter 1 of my 2015 #NaNoWriMo novel

I’ve tried to complete NaNoWriMo, which challenges you to write at least 50,000 words of a novel in just 30 days, on five separate occasions. For the last three years, I’ve tried and failed (for reasons I’ll discuss another time). But this year, I dug my heels in and crossed the finish line, with 50,133 words, right on the final day of November.

If you’re curious, you can read the blurb and part of the first chapter below. I’ll publish the whole thing on Kindle eventually, hopefully early 2016, but it needs a lot of editing first!


Hey, Hey Helen: A Novel Inspired By ABBA

ABBA’s vast catalogue of catchy pop songs mentions 17 people by name. In Hey, Hey Helen, Angus Kidman reimagines and connects the lives of those characters.

Whatever happened to Fernando? How has rejection shaped Suzy’s life? Will Alice Whiting ever find true love? Who is Nina, pretty ballerina? Did Carrie ever marry? Does Rikky have any groupies left? Where has Joe been? And what of Harry — and Helen? Over three generations and multiple mistaken identities, from Kent State to the Rio Grande to Skegness, from Top of the Pops to Fake Name Night to MTV Unplugged, there’s a sense of expectation hanging in the air . . .


Prologue: Fernando (1970)

The bullet went directly into his brain. I hope that’s what happened. Death would be instantaneous then. A projectile hitting a crucial nerve, a leaky blackness, then nothing.

TV news won’t show us any of that yet. There is footage of protestors and rioting, but not of the actual killings. Four students have died and many more have been wounded. I feel sad for them and horrified for their parents. A tiny part of me even feels bad for the National Guardsmen. It’s the swampy part of myself I despise and cherish at the same time.

I suppose the soldiers were only doing their job. Yet if it’s obvious that what you’re asked to do is wrong, you must stop. I say that so casually. Actually saying no is often the hardest thing, I know.

One soldier on the TV screen frightened me. His hair was cropped short, his face was a blank. Not angry, not purposeful, not distressed about being asked to shoot a contemporary. You’d think nothing in the world was wrong.

I could imagine him as the one who shot Jeffrey Miller and the others. It’s not at all clear how many guardsmen actually fired their guns. But when I see that face, I feel sure that he was one of those who aimed their weapons, almost without thought.

Before today I had never heard of Kent State University. I fear we have become accustomed to disturbances at college campuses, and America seems such a long way away now. It’s often easy to just skip past the headlines in the paper. Not this time.

There have been incidents at the local university here in Manchester, but nothing like this. I can’t imagine British soldiers willingly lining up for the same task. Student protest seems very civilised in Britain, certainly compared to the US or France. I suppose it helps that we aren’t sending soldiers to Vietnam.

Low-key though they were, Fernando used to grumble about the protests here if they appeared on the TV news. Students were there to study, he would say, and what were they messing around with all these demonstrations for?

Because of what they believe, I would say to him quietly. And then he would go silent and I knew that he was remembering, as I was. Standing up for your beliefs matters, even if the consequences are dire. I don’t have to remind Fernando of the details.

We encountered death together, its chill breath licked our faces, but we were spared. We were spared then. But death isn’t always dramatic. It can sneak up on you. I’m not sure if that’s not worse than it lurching dramatically into view. Then again, I can’t imagine being at Kent State and trying to deal with what is happening there right now.

I understand why the students were protesting. My heart beats in the same way. They want a better world, an end to cruelty. Don’t we all? Some values really are worth fighting for. Liberty, love, equality. Those are worth standing up for — even if you find yourself on the losing side and end up moving to Manchester, as we did.

 

In the hospital waiting room, I look at more photographs of the Kent State students in the newspaper. Several show young people playing guitars around the Commons, the area where the shootings happened. That makes me smile despite knowing the dreadful fate that was waiting for so many of them.

Music gives you hope, it bonds you. This generation of youngsters sometimes acts as if they are the first to discover that. It is not so, of course. Music was all we had on that night long ago by the river.

When you feel powerless, music becomes the best and only weapon. It brings you together, it unites you. It fills your heart with hope. You want to sing your words to everyone. And then you hear the drumbeats in the distance, and then the gunfire, and you have to keep singing so that you can stop the fear from rising up and paralysing you.

At least, that’s how it was for me. I think it was simpler for Fernando. He enjoyed playing the guitar, but it wasn’t to keep away the fear. It was simply something he liked to do. He isn’t troubled by imagination as I sometimes am. He isn’t troubled by anything much anymore.

Sadly, Fernando’s guitar never made it to Manchester. At some point, when every item you carry is precious, you have to focus on the essentials. We left the guitar behind, but Fernando kept the pick. It always hung on a chain around his neck.

It’s not there now. When Fernando went into the hospital, the nurse gently took me aside. “We suggest that you take any of his jewellery home for safe keeping,” she said. “Unfortunately, with so many people coming through, we can’t promise that it won’t go missing.” He was in a ward with five other beds.

What an awful thing! I thought at first. Why would someone steal from a sick man? But I try to see the positive side in everything when I can. And so I firmly told myself: It was kind of her to warn me. Hospital work is exhausting, and I can see the lines of tiredness under her eyes. I grasp her hands warmly and thank her. She smiles absently.

Following her advice, I lifted the chain gently from around his neck. He grunted but I don’t think he really knew what was happening. The chain and his watch went into my handbag. I had to leave soon after that because visiting hours were over.

At first, I thought I would wear the pick myself, as a sort of tribute. Yet as soon as I put it on, it felt awkward and wrong. Yes, I was there, I sang along, but the guitar was played by Fernando. That part is his story. I was only a witness, a vocalist, a frightened girl. So I put it in the bedside drawer at home, wrapped in a piece of shiny blue cloth I found.

I suppose I hope that one day soon Fernando will come home to wear it. But then I think of how sick he looks. I find it impossible to let that hope flourish. It’s hard to see the positive side of your husband dying.


If you’re curious, you can also check out the beginnings for my two previous successful attempts below. I really should e-publish these suckers, shouldn’t I?

Here’s my personal ranking of the 27 Eurovision Song Contest 2015 finalists

  1. Sweden: Måns Zelmerlöw, “Heroes”
  2. Latvia: Aminata, “Love Injected”
  3. Israel: Nadav Guedj, “Golden Boy”
  4. Australia: Guy Sebastian, “Tonight Again”
  5. Norway: Mørland & Debrah Scarlett, “A Monster Like Me”
  6. United Kingdom: Electro Velvet, “Still in Love with You”
  7. Serbia: Bojana Stamenov, “Beauty Never Lies”
  8. Cyprus: John Karayiannis, “One Thing I Should Have Done”
  9. Belgium: Loïc Nottet, “Rhythm Inside”
  10. Azerbaijan: Elnur Hüseynov, “Hour of the Wolf”
  11. Austria: The Makemakes, “I Am Yours”
  12. Montenegro: Knez, “Adio”
  13. Russia: Polina Gagarina, “A Million Voices”
  14. Italy: Il Volo, “Grande amore”
  15. Slovenia: Maraaya, “Here for You”
  16. Estonia: Elina Born & Stig Rästa, “Goodbye to Yesterday”
  17. Germany: Ann Sophie, “Black Smoke”
  18. Lithuania: Monika Linkytė & Vaidas Baumila, “This Time”
  19. Georgia: Nina Sublatti, “Warrior”
  20. Romania: Voltaj, “De la capăt (All over Again)”
  21. Albania: Elhaida Dani, “I’m Alive”
  22. France: Lisa Angell, “N’oubliez pas”
  23. Spain: Edurne, “Amanecer”
  24. Greece: Maria Elena Kyriakou, “One Last Breath”
  25. Poland: Monika Kuszyńska, “In the Name of Love”
  26. Hungary: Boggie, “Wars for Nothing”
  27. Armenia: Genealogy, “Face the Shadow”

Here & Now 10th Anniversary Tour: Opening Night, LG Arena, Birmingham

I delude myself about many things, but I have no illusions about 80s retro concerts these days. The audience will be pushing 40 from both sides and growing fat, because that’s the category I fit in myself. On the upside, I’m in Birmingham, so I’ll still be skinnier than 93% of the crowd.

Obesity aside, who could resist this lineup if, like me, you unexpectedly ended up in England at the last minute? The initial attraction for me was Pepsi & Shirlie (‘Heartache’, Wham! backing singers), who have essentially done nothing since 1990 and thus compelled me with their rarity value alone. I also own both their albums on original CD versions. To quote Daniel Johns: yeah, I’m a freak.

The other acts on this bill I’ve never seen before (no mean feat given my retro tourism dedication) are Jimmy Somerville, Midge Ure and A Flock Of Seagulls. I have witnessed three others previously:

  • I’ve seen headliner Boy George on stage in Taboo, playing the role of Leigh Bowery after Matt Lucas gave it up (I saw that production too). Never seen him live as a concert performer though.
  • I’ve seen second-ranked Jason Donovan on stage in Sweeney Todd in Bromley, a performance that was way more impressive than you might deduce from that description. Never seen him live as a concert performer either.
  • Belinda Carlisle: this will be the eighth time I’ve seen her (five Australian Here & Now performances, once in the London production of Hairspray, plus the Doncaster Shoppingtown Hotel this year, a performance I was too slack to blog about, slap me if you must).

It’s an odd mix of acts. The Seagulls belong in the early new Romantic period. Pepsi & Shirlie scored their hits in the latter part of the decade, but had a presence much earlier with Wham! Midge Ure arguably has the most diverse range of hits. Belinda and George run close behind. Jimmy has a compressed range of success, and Jason doubly so. But I’m looking forward to it all. Here’s a blow-by-blow description with hideous photos:

A Flock Of Seagulls
Setlist: The More You Live The More You Love, Wishing (If I Had A Photograph Of You), Space Age Love Song

A Flock Of Seagulls being nothing more than lead singer Mike Score is no shock, but there are two other shocks to come. He does not have that hairstyle, itself a lazy shorthand for the 80s these days; instead, he has an age-making ponytail. Yes, that was 30 years ago. On the other hand, we have advanced wig technology. He refers jokingly to this — “Does anybody out there miss my hairdo? Yeah, I do too” — but it’s not enough.

Even more annoyingly, he goes nowhere near the band’s biggest Australian success, “I Ran”. I was half-expecting this — the song was only a minor UK hit — but that doesn’t make it right, dammit.

Pepsi & Shirlie
Setlist: Goodbye Stranger, All Right Now, Heartache

22 years after their last gig (as Shirley points out), the ladies are looking good and working hard. The audience definitely perks up when ‘Heartache’, easily their most recognisable track, closes the set, and is perhaps a tad restive otherwise. But that’s about familiarity, not competence.

Outfit-wise, there’s a lot of glitter and sparkles and black (all popular choices for retro ladies of a certain decade). I honestly half-expected a Wham! medley, so it’s good to see the pair mining their first album for the hits. In a modern twist, Shirley also thanks their tweeters.

Midge Ure
Setlist: If I Was, Fade To Grey, Vienna, Dancing With Tears In My Eyes

Midge was, in a word, majestic. ‘Vienna’ was the first track which got most of the audience standing. Midge introduced it by noting that it was “the nearest we’ll get to opera tonight”, a wry reference to his recent brief stint on the TV talent show Popstar To Operastar. Being in a crowd of a few thousand people all singing the last line was well cool.

Remarkably, this was the first time Midge had actually performed ‘Fade To Grey’ (which he wrote and produced for Visage) live in concert. The result was impressive, though I suspect the crowd would have reacted better with a more synth-heavy arrangement mimicking the original, rather than the rockier approach we got here.

Belinda Carlisle
Setlist: Live Your Life Be Free, I Get Weak, Circle In The Sand, We Want The Same Thing, Leave A Light On, Heaven Is A Place On Earth

No surprises here: Belinda is a consistently enthusiastic live performer and always delivers the hits. In her UK career, the Go-Gos really are a footnote, so no songs from them. I would have liked ‘Always Breaking My Heart’ to show up — it was a major UK hit and I’ve never seen her do it live — but you can’t have everything.

Belinda did her typical arrangement of ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’, with a slow version of the first verse before kicking into the familiar version. Quite a few of the crowd took several lines to recognise it. I note in passing that former Bucks Fizz singer Shelley Preston is no longer serving as Belinda’s backing vocalist/musical director. Ah well.

Jimmy Somerville
Setlist: You Make Me Feel Mighty Real, Why, Never Can Say Goodbye, To Love Somebody, Smalltown Boy, Don’t Leave Me This Way

Wee Jimmy was easily the most enthusiastic performer this evening, keeping the crowd enthused the entire time and bouncing from one side of the stage to the other. His falsetto remains impressive too.

Despite having two backing singers, Jimmy didn’t perform ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’ in the familiar Communards duet version, taking on all the lead vocals himself. Still sounded great. The ending of ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’ incorporated a few phrases of ‘Turn The Beat Around’, and Jimmy noted that he was going to sing ‘To Love Somebody’ with “some bitterness” because “I haven’t got a husband”. The Bronski Beat material is just as impactful as it was 25-odd years ago. While I enjoyed everyone, I’ll single out Jimmy as the highlight of the night.

Jason Donovan
Setlist: Nothing Can Divide Us, When You Come Back To Me, Every Day, Hang On To Your Love, Sealed With A Kiss, Especially For You, Any Dream Will Do, Too Many Broken Hearts

For some reason, it took a long while for Jason’s set to fire up. In the first few numbers, he gave the distinct impression he was singing from an autocue. It wasn’t until ‘Sealed With A Kiss’, performed only with acoustic guitar accompaniment, that the crowd got really into it and Jason responded in turn. From then on, things were fine.

It pains me to admit it, but I think this was because of the material. I’m a product of the Stock-Aitken-Waterman era and I love their classics, but there’s no denying that the identikit approach they took to songwriting meant that for every classic, there were a lot of indistinct mid-tempo songs, and Jason seemed to get more of them than any other SAW act. ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ and ‘Especially For You’ are good; the rest simply aren’t the greatest moments in the SAW catalogue, chart success notwithstanding.

‘Especially For You’ was performed as a duet with backing singer Sarah Fearnley ( or “Fern” as Jason called her). No, she’s not Kylie, but he could hardly leave it out, could he? I reckon the whole thing would work better if ‘Too Many Broken Hearts’ got moved up top and he closed with ‘Any Dream Will Do’. When it doubt, save your biggest hit for last.

Boy George
Setlist: Church Of The Poison Mind, It’s A Miracle, Everything I Own, Always On My Mind, Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?, Karma Chameleon, That’s The Way, Victims, Bow Down Mister

Resplendent in a glitter bowler and with much better vocals than you’d expect if you’ve ever watched Culture Club’s ‘A Kiss Across The Ocean’ concert video, George delivered most of the hits you’d imagine, but still managed a few surprises. By far the oddest inclusion was a torch-song rendition of ‘Always On My Mind’ (modelled on Elvis, not the Pet Shop Boys). George sang this well, but I can’t help thinking it was an odd inclusion in a nostalgia show where everyone does their own material. He got the chance to demonstrate his ballad range by singing ‘That’s The Way’ (with singer Lizzie Deane giving her very best Helen Terry) and ‘Victims’, so it wasn’t needed for that.

During ‘Karma Chameleon’, George did manage to forget the words at one point, but everyone was having such a good time that no major panic ensued. The finishing number ‘Bow Down Mister’ is one of his lesser solo hits, but has lots of singalong
George claimed that he would have done more numbers but for the LG Arena curfew (it was 11pm when the show finished, 15 minutes behind schedule). I’m a bit sceptical, as it’s hard to see what else he might have added: ‘Time’ and ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ are the most obvious contenders, I guess. I’d have liked to hear ‘The War Song’, but that seems even less likely. That said, and despite ‘Bow Down Mister’ being his conventional big finish (it serves the same role in Taboo), I think ‘Karma Chameleon’ should get the closing spot. But I’m nitpicking. It was a great performance all round.

Additional random notes:

  • I have to stop getting to concerts early. I was on the arena floor an hour before A Flock Of Seagulls were scheduled to appear. On the other hand, people were showing up halfway through Midge Ure. What is this, Melbourne?
  • “Anyone found smoking in the building will be subject to our ejection policy.” Eject! Eject!
  • There’s a relatively long gap between acts; given everyone is using the house band, I expected faster transits. There was also an interval between Belinda and Jimmy, which frankly I think was a mistake; better to maintain the momentum. Also, no video screens, alas.
  • The program for the event lists the biggest hits for each performer, but mistakenly claims Belinda Carlisle sang “I Go Weak”.
  • Building posters inform me that the mega-fabulous Kim Wilde is touring third-billed with Status Quo, ranked under Roy Wood. Frankly, that’s depressing.