Making my mind up: The Original Bucks Fizz

If you had to pick a single word for Blackpool’s North Pier tonight, it would be “windy”. The lighting along the promenade is spectacular, but I can’t imagine the half-term crowds will be doing much in the way of swimming or sandcastles.

I’m not here for the sights or for outdoor fun, fortunately. I’m here to see The Original Bucks Fizz, which comprises three-quarters of the best-known line-up for the Eurovision winners (Cheryl Baker, Mike Nolan and Jay Aston). Until recently, Baker and Nolan toured with Shelley Preston, who had replaced Aston back in 1985; now Aston has replaced her replacement. Her return seems to have given this lineup a new commercial impetus; yes, getting booked on the end of the pier at Blackpool can be a step up even when you’ve had three UK #1 singles. Proof: there’s a souvenir program (a steal at 8 quid, perhaps), a full band (including the spouses of Baker and Aston) rather than taped backup, and even a support act (Plasticine, who were so good I’ll do a separate post on them later).

The reason for the “Original” tag is that the unadorned Bucks Fizz name is still used by the other original member Bobby G, who has been touring continuously as Bucks Fizz all this time. I’ve seen G’s outfit on three occasions at various Butlins gigs, and the only constant has been him.

That show is consistently slick and professional, but has two flaws. Firstly, the age gap between Bobby G and his much younger co-stars is now starting to verge on the embarrassing. Secondly, in a typical production, you get just five actual Bucks Fizz tracks (the three #1s ‘Making Your Mind Up’, ‘Land Of Make Believe’ and ‘My Camera Never Lies’, plus ‘New Beginning’ and ‘Run For Your Life’ last time I checked). The rest is made up of medleys and covers. Even in their commercial heyday, the Fizz pulled this sort of trick (‘Don’t Pay The Ferryman’ used to pop up at gigs, for instance), but here I’m hoping for a more firmly Fizz-centric set list.

The North Pier theatre employs an unusual seating convention: all the seats in my area have odd numbers. A recent Fizz show at Hanley apparently attracted less than 150 people, but tonight does slightly better without actually being a sellout. While we wait, the hits of the early 1980s (‘Bette Davis Eyes’, ‘Kids In America’, ‘More Than I Can Say’, ‘A Good Heart’) play.

There’s an introductory video (complete with annoying typo) that you can see online, and then the band enter to ‘New Beginning’, long-established as the Bucks Fizz opening song. For about two seconds I’m worried this is going to be too close a copy of the “standard” Bucks Fizz routine, but I don’t have to worry for long. Quite simply, the group are in terrific form and they do every track you could want. Unlike Spandau Ballet, there’s not a lingering impression that they’re just doing it for the money (and the lack of a record company dispute means we do get vintage footage from their videos played in the background).

We get pretty much all of the hits I expect (the only obvious omissions being ‘London Town’ and ‘Heart Of Stone’). This is partly due to a lengthy medley, but I’m not complaining, especially as relatively obscure tracks like ‘Magical’ got a full-length airing. If I had to pick a single favourite track, it would be ‘When We Were Young’, which the group performed masterfully.

A couple of songs (‘I Hear Talk’ and ‘If You Can’t Stand The Heat’) get fairly radical rearrangements, and reputedly there’s going to be a whole album of such tunes next year. The handful of cover versions also slot neatly into the set, and the crowd repeatedly stand, scream, applaud and generally go nuts.

Aside from scrutinising the set list, I had wondered how Cheryl and Jay will interact on stage. Cheryl always maintained she got on much better with Shelley than Jay, but you wouldn’t know it tonight. The ladies duet nicely on ‘What’s Love Got To Do With It’ (which Bucks Fizz actually demoed and rejected prior to Tina Turner’s hit version, so I’m not counting it as a cover), and their voices blend beautifully. The set list is carefully arranged to vary the vocals, which both makes for a good show and ensures that Mike Nolan doesn’t have to spend the whole show carrying both male vocal parts.

My other big question ahead of time was how the ‘Making Your Mind Up’ skirt-ripping routine would be handled, since the classic approach relies on two girls and two guys. The answer is that the girls each rip off their own skirts. Perhaps that’s why the group don’t replicate the Eurovision costumes, which is probably a wise move: if you can’t copy it completely, why copy it at all?

A final note: the band also get points for not pretending to go off and return for an encore, or for doing a dodgy cover after their biggest hit. There’s no way they can end with anything other than ‘Making Your Mind Up’, and I’d much rather have a definitive finish.

Set list:

  • New Beginning
  • Everlasting Love (a Jay Aston composition, not the one you think)
  • If You Can’t Stand The Heat (Spanish-style)
  • Livin’ La Vida Loca
  • What’s Love Got To Do With It (no Mike)
  • Golden Days
  • I Hear Talk (jazz-style)
  • Now Those Days Are Gone
  • Candyman (no Mike but with dancers as singers)
  • Summer Of 69 (Mike solo)
  • My Camera Never Lies
  • Medley: Piece Of The Action/Run For Your Life/Talking In Your Sleep/Rules Of The Game/Easy Love/Love The One You’re With
  • When We Were Young
  • Magical
  • Land Of Make Believe
  • Making Your Mind Up
  • Only when I leave: the return of Spandau Ballet

    Arenas get tatty quite quickly (Acer), assuming that they weren’t already tatty in the first place (Rod Laver). I’ve not been in the O2 in London before, but it’s holding up well. The padded seats are a nice bonus. I’m seated centrally towards the back on the floor, waiting to see if the Kemp brothers can impress me as Spandau Ballet return after far too long.

    Why pick on Gary and Martin? I saw Hadley/Norman/Keeble back in 2000 or so at the Forum, and it was a great show, so now the challenge is to see if a ticket that cost three times as much delivers a show that’s three times as good. I live in hope, and hope was rewarded.

    Tonight’s show is being filmed (the DVD is already being promoted on the advertising screens), so everyone in the crowd gets free glow-in-the-dark wristbands. This is at 2000 hours; the tickets said to arrive at 1830. At 2030, the show kicks off with a filmed overview, the band hits the stage, the crowd rises, and we pretty much stay on our feet for the next two hours.

    I’ll say it straight up: this does not come across as a group of men who have resolved their well-documented differences. It comes across as a group that has realised that such a great group of songs deserves an arena setting rather than squabbling. That’ll do me.

    Spandau is quintessentially a stadium band, driven by Tony Hadley’s powerhouse vocals (better now than back in the day), Gary Kemp’s exceptional songwriting, the driving rhythm section of Martin Kemp and John Keeble, and the multi-instrumental charisma of Steve Norman, who still looks the happiest on stage. Steve and Martin got the most screams, though there were plenty for everyone. And there’s nary a dud song in the set, which was grouped largely by album.

    The legal battles in the band were obliquely addressed when Tony and Gary performed an acoustic version of ‘With The Pride’. “Who would have thought? Me and the big man,” Kemp commented. This was the one song everyone sat back down for, barring four selfish fat cows near me, though they eventually came to their senses.

    Pretty much every song you’d expect was present, save for ‘Musclebound’. Staging highlights included some ancient home video footage for ‘Round And Round’ (more screaming as the boys paraded in Speedos), some Frankie-style graphics for ‘Fight For Ourselves’, an everything but the kitchen sink version of ‘Through The Barricades’, and the inevitable backdrop of stars for ‘True’. Clearly, I’ll have to buy the DVD; these dodgy pics are hardly a souvenir!

    Set list:

  • To Cut A Long Story Short
  • The Freeze
  • Highly Strung
  • Only When You Leave
  • I’ll Fly For You
  • How Many Lies
  • We Are Virgin
  • She Loved Like Diamond
  • Once More
  • Round And Round
  • Man In Chains
  • With The Pride
  • Through The Barricades
  • Instinction
  • Communication
  • Lifeline
  • Chant #1/Paint Me Down
  • True (with artificial encore break afterwards)
  • Fight For Ourselves
  • Gold
  • So famous they don’t even need a name

    I’m clearly in a finicky mood right now. Rather belatedly, I’ve been reading Catalogue, the art book which collates the Pet Shop Boys record covers and other assorted designs from 1986 to 2006. Discussing the cover for ‘Love Comes Quickly’, design Mark Farrow recalls how unusual it was not to feature either the artist or song title credit on the front of the 12″:

    At the time, not putting any type on the sleeve was quite a big thing to do. I’m not sure that anyone had actually done it at that point on something as commercial as this.

    It’s just as well that he uses the words “I’m not sure”, as there’s a really obvious earlier counter-example: Wham!’s 1984 classic ‘Freedom’, which was indeed a much bigger hit than ‘Love Comes Quickly’ and which skipped any front cover identification on both 7″ and 12″ versions. Anyone think of an earlier hit single that skips identifying the artist and the track altogether?

    More non-news about Michael Jackson

    Today’s News Of The World boasts an “ONLINE EXCLUSIVE” with audio tapes of Michael Jackson revealing that he was ” ready to SCRAP the tapes for Thriller .. until a visit to a school playground inspired him to finish the biggest-selling record in history”.

    Having audio recordings of Jackson is obviously a good way of pulling traffic these days, but to pretend that the central thrust of the story and its “lost tapes” is new information in any way is blatantly deceptive. Here’s the account per NOTW:

    “Thriller sounded so cr*p. The mixes sucked. When we listened to the whole album, there were tears… I just cried like a baby. I stormed out of the room and said ‘we’re not releasing this. Call [record company] CBS and tell them they are NOT getting this album. We are NOT releasing this.'”

    In J. Randy Taraborrelli’s excellent biography Michael Jackson: The Magic And The Madness, first published in 1991, we get this:

    It might have sounded terrific in the studio, but once they played the master pressing of the record, it didn’t sound as good. In fact, it sounded terrible. The mix was wrong, and Michael was crushed. He ran out of the room, crying. As Berry Gordy would say, solving the problem would prove simple but not easy. It was a matter of remixing each song — bringing up the level of orchestration and voices and toning down others. Time-consuming, tedious work at the rate of two songs a week, but in the end it proved to be well worth the effort.

    NOTW is stringing out its revelations from the tapes over a number of weeks. I’ll personally be very surprised if further instalments tell us anything Taraborrelli hasn’t already thoroughly documented. Still, as long as they don’t start quoting from his poetry . . .

    Mamma Mia! This time in Auckland

    Tonight I went to the Auckland opening of the latest international touring production of Mamma Mia! That makes it the fourth country I’ve seen the show in since it opened back in London in 1999, and about the 20th time I’ve seen it overall (yes, I’m such a tragic fan of the show I’ve lost count).

    Festering in the bowels of my BlackBerry is a detailed post about the many subtle changes that were made for the US production, which I saw in Vegas in November 2008, a few weeks before it closed there. One day I’ll actually finish that, but meanwhile here’s the few notable changes in the Auckland version, which is destined for Australia in a few weeks. (The cast is largely British and pretty good.) None of this will make any sense if you haven’t seen the show, ideally several times.

  • The overall pacing is very fast, especially when delivering the gags. I suspect this is partly to compensate for the fact that some of them will now be very familiar to the audience via the movie adaptation. Reinforcing that point: the biggest continuous run of laughs came during ‘Under Attack’, which doesn’t feature in the movie at all.
  • One iconic element of the stage set – the jetty which rises up for ‘The Name Of The Game’ and the closing scene – has been eliminated. Fair enough, it’d make shifting the set every few weeks that much harder, but I did miss it. A less automated set and a smaller theatre also means that during the curtain call, the two “set pieces” are still on stage.
  • As happened a few years ago in London, Harry’s reference to the horrors of the London Underground was replaced with a generic comment about the journey to work. And the “get your boat out” bagpipe gag was dropped. Seems a tad heavy-handed — both changes were also seen in the US version, making me really regret being so slack that I can’t cross-reference it. One change not in that show but in this one: Donna drops the word “Catholic” when discussing how she’d have thanked Harry for the guitar.
  • The joke about Pepper being from some hick local town has been removed. I can appreciate this would need changing every few weeks, but is that really so difficult?
  • The sound mix was very bass-heavy, but that might have been down to my positioning in the very front row. (I only booked the tickets last night, so being fussy about seats wasn’t an option!)
  • A pocket full of BS

    The BBC pretty much towed the PR line when it reported last week that a press showing of the ITV Miss Marple adaptation A Pocket Full Of Rye meant that Wendy Richard’s last role had been “screened for the first time”. This is, to be honest, utter rubbish. Not only had the Agatha Christie-estate-needs-more-money program already shown in Australia on the ABC back on June 21 and been watched by 1.1 million people, you can even buy it on DVD down here. I’d have expected slightly more research from BBC News; even a qualifying “first UK screening” would have been enough.

    This man can probably get a salary increase now

    A Michael Jackson impersonator I snapped at the Imperial Palace in Vegas earlier this year. Rumour had it that doubles were going to play quite an important role in Jackson’s planned London concert series, but there should definitely be steady work from now on in B-grade entertainment venues across the planet for anyone unfortunate enough to look like this. (And no apology for that last remark: Jackson’s untimely demise in no way changes the fact that no-one sane would actually want to look anything like his post-surgery self.)

    Much-delayed reflections on Brideshead Revisited, the movie

    When the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited first got shown on the ABC – I think it must have been in 1982 – I stayed up late (lwell, late for a 10 year old) and watched every episode with my mother. I remember feeling vaguely embarrassed when Charles and Julia indugled in graphic (by 1982 TV standards) shipboard sex in the ‘Orphans Of The Storm’ episode.

    But mostly I remember being enthralled: by the acting, the script, the visuals, the gentle yet relentless progress of the story, the sweep of history. I read the book, a fairly dense undertaking even for a precocious library addict, several times, but it didn’t displace the TV imagery from my mind.

    Thus as a minor Brideshead acolyte, I’ve been in no great rush to see the more recent 2008 film version, but knew it would happen eventually. Recently, on a flight back from LA, I got my chance, just slightly ahead of the DVD release. Here’s a few random thoughts.

    Some subtlety is lost through the omission of Charles’ inner life. The film can’t use Waugh’s narration, partly because narration in movies is generally deemed to be ineffective but mostly because the TV series did it first.

    Fortunately, we still have some of Waugh’s dialogue and a plot that demands visual grandeur and glamorous locations. But 25 years on, it’s very hard to erase Charles Ryder and Anthony Andrews and Diana Quick and John Gielgud and Phoebe Nicholls and Laurence Olivier and Claire Bloom and Simon Jones and Nickolas Grace from your mind. Or to stop wanting Sebastian to have blonde hair.

    Apparently, there was one bit of recasting deemed impossible: Castle Howard, which again takes on the titular role of the family home. It still looks great, but hi-def filming doesn’t make it glossier than the memories I have of its original broadcast. On the other hand, using a different location would invite even more comparisons.

    That burden of memory is probably an unfair challenge for any director to overcome. In the same way, the music, though competent in that Hollywood score pro way, is not a patch on the original theme by Geoffrey Burgon. (Having watched the movie, I went out and bought the TV soundtrack on CD).

    The film places great emphasis early on the processes of sumptuousness: grooming, shaving, shoe cleaning. The TV series looked sumptuous, but gave rather less note to how that effect was achieved.

    On the other hand, Sebastian is carefully described as a sodomite on his very first appearance. Apparently these days we can go in hard on the references to gay sex (and the movie does), but we need tuition in grooming, even when we have nine less hours to play with.

    The love triangle angle is played hard, with Julia shoehorned into scenes and placed front and centre much more, Charles and Sebastian’s friendship disintegrating far more rapidly and with dialogue worthy of a soap opera (“all you ever wanted was to sleep with my sister!”), and the religious subtleties effectively reduced to Catholics versus Atheists for Dummies. That’s probably inevitable for a movie, but still, in the end, nowhere near as measured, or mesmerising. (Oddly enough, the shipboard sex scene was rather similar.)

    Despite getting a few dodgy lines, I loved Emma Thompson. “Has this led to an interest in trains?” Magical. And Michael Gambon was pretty impressive too. But then when isn’t he? Lord Marchmain’s mistress Cara got cast as older (or older than I recall; minds might lie) which I liked. Rex Mottram and Cordelia, not so much.

    Bottom line? As a plane time-filler, fine. But I won’t be buying it.

    What happened at the 2008 AVN Adult Movie Awards

    I’m mostly writing this on my BlackBerry from seat N8 at the AVN Awards at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, often described as the “porn Oscars”. Prizes will be handed out in more than 100 categories, ranging from Best Fem-Dom Strap-On Release to Best DVD Menus. Like the Oscars, minor category winners are pre-announced, so we may not get to see the winner of Best Threesome up close. (Even in the on-stage categories, only a selection of the nominees are named.)

    Save for a lot more swearing, the AVN Awards definitely aspire to the Oscars model. There’s allegedly humorous video interludes, a roll call of industry notables who’ve died in the past year, musical moments (“The Star Spangled Banner” as an anti-censorship number) and heartfelt speeches along the usual lines, thanking managers, directors, and, naturally, the fans.

    On the other hand, you don’t often hear Angelina Jolie thanking her fans in the fashion favoured by Female Performer of the year winner Jenna Haze: “I love fucking for you. I will spread my legs forever in this fucking business for you and this is just the beginning of my sluttiness.”

    But I’m getting ahead of myself. N8 is the T-shirt district, where cheapskate fans and observers like me congregate. On the floor, where the industry types pay far more for tables, everyone has their best finery on. Professionally speaking, these women rarely get to wear so many clothes. Some of those sequins must chafe though.

    At 0930pm we hear “please take your seats, the show will begin in a few moments”. I don’t believe it. The tickets say 0900pm, and even I, a professional show-up-stupidly-early type, didn’t leave my dinner, 25 minutes walk away, until 0850pm. I know timeliness is not a priority in the adult industry.

    Rather predictably, Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” plays while we wait. To my right, a couple in their 60s are dancing wildly amongst the impatient crowd. Perhaps they’re swingers. Perhaps they just really liked Busty MILFs of Boobsville.

    Then we’re told “You have 4 minutes to get to your seat”. It’s not a sell-out, so I could probably move forward, but I don’t bother. One row from the back is probably quite close enough to this crowd. The fat raincoaters along from me have moved, which is why I can describe them as fat raincoaters on this screen and not risk them beating me up.

    Several false alarms later, the pre-show video begins. It’s breasts and jiggling galore, though nothing hardcore. The show gets broadcast eventually on Showtime, so while prizes may be handed to movies called Blow Me Sandwich 12, we won’t be seeing any highlights. Indeed, in most categories, we’ll only see a selection of the nominees, thus avoiding too many mentions of titles like Make Her Ass Scream Louder Bitch.

    Censoring the stars is more difficult. Last time I attended this event in 2007, the most memorable line was “God bless anal fisting”. Will that comment be topped tonight?

    Its 0955pm when Flo Rida finally takes the stage to open the show. He’s quite a big (and current) name for a show of this type; clearly them rappers love the porn. He’s miming, which is dull if expected.

    Then the star lineup for tonight is announced, but the sound is so bad I can’t make most of them out. I don’t suppose it matters. Co-host and self-described “big black bitch” comedian Thea Vidale comes on and does a pretty good routine about the industry, which I can only imagine will be cut down quite heavily for broadcast. A few random highlights, most based on abusing the audience:

  • “We’re going to have a presidential couple who are having hot sex in the White House – with each other, no less.”
  • To a starlet who had clearly had breast enhancement surgery: “Miss, if you tried to sleep on your back you would kill yourself.”
  • To a particularly vacant looking starlet: “Pretty house, but no-one’s home. Don’t speak; just keep sucking.”
  • To a creepy looking guy: “Look at this geeky motherfucker. I would have to be on heroin to fuck you.”

    Once official co-hosts (and full-time porn veterans) Belladonna and Jenna Haze take the stage, the handing out of awards begins. I’m not going to run through every one, partly because that’s what AVN is for, but mostly because watching porn stars try and make bad scripted lines funny is even more painful than watching professional actors do it at the real Oscars. The set designers don’t help the cause: everyone walks on via a row of stairs, and bimbo after bimbo in hooker heels has to mince down them to avoid falling headfirst onto the stage.

    Of course, what I’m really here for are the unscripted comments. The unnamed star of The Gauntlet 3 (Best Gonzo Release) went straight to the point: “I swallowed a lot of cum that day.”

    Sunny Lane, whose performance in Big Wet Asses 13 scored her a gong for Best Anal Sex Scene, offered a similar insight into technique that you’ll probably never hear from Meryl Streep: “He definitely knows how to work that soda can cock. I prepared for the scene by using a butt plug while I got my makeup done.”

    Some people were apparently similarly occupied during the show. Male Performer of the Year James Deen was nowhere to be found, and his award was accepted by some random woman from his table who wondered onto the stage: “James, where the fuck are you? He went to the bathroom 10 mins ago and he hasn’t come back.” Draw your own conclusions.

    Other stars were keen to emphasise their normality. Mr Marcus (winner of Best Couples Sex Scene with Monique Alexander) praised his co-star: “You can’t be a good fuck if you’re not good people.”

    But most went for blunt and crude. Hall of Fame winner Tera Patrick emphasised the finance: “Only in America can you make a million dollars from the power of your pussy.” But that takes effort, as Jenna Haze emphasised: “I really worked so fucking hard this year. I sucked a lot of dick.”

    For sheer directness, Best New Starlet winner Stoya thanking “each and every person that jerks off to my smut” took some beating. Apologies for that pun. It’s still not as bad as Clever Title Of The Year: Strollin In The Colon. Yikes.