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Trivial? Who?

Whovention 2005 kicked off on Friday night with a traditional staple of fan conventions: the trivia night. From my own point of view, this had the potential to be highly embarrassing. If you dumped me in a room with 20 random strangers, the odds are good that I’d know more about Doctor Who than any of them. If you dumped me in a room with 20 Who fans, however, I’m likely to be one of the least informed.

I blame the fact that I’m obsessed with so many other things as well — if I could convince myself to just have one major obsession/collecting interest/tragic hobby, I would really be able to specialise. But that ain’t gonna happen. So my normal tactic is to volunteer to write down the answers — I might not know much about the topic, but I can do a reasonable impersonation of a secretary.

In the event, our team table managed to perform quite respectably (we never deluded ourselves we were going to win a prize), and I even came up with a couple of answers that no-one else at the table knew. It helped that all the questions were in fact Who-related: at previous Whoventions, there have been other sci-fi related questions, which always throw me completely. We totally sucked at one of the picture rounds — naming characters from various stories over the years — but did manage the improbable feat of identifying a Portugese translation of a Who Target novel.

India Fisher and Frazer Hines help read the answers.

In truth, half the reason everyone shows up at trivia nights is to get an extra chance to gawk at the celebrity guests. All four of this year’s overseas imports — India Fisher, Frazer Hines, Rob Shearman and Deborah Watling — appeared, and Shearman demonstrated his fanboy credentials by helping his table get the top trivia score (even though he left early and skipped the third round, which was entirely about the 2005 series). India was, as usual, charming and self-deprecating, Frazer always comes alive at these gatherings and Deborah made the customary jokes about being short. The lighting in the room was lousy for photography (as you can see), but hopefully there’ll be more opportunities tomorrow. All in all, a great start to the event.

If at first you don’t succeed, rake up the old stuff

Darren Hayes’ second solo album, The Tension And The Spark, was infinitely better than his first, Spin, but largely failed to set the charts on fire. So now his record company is pursuing the inevitable commercial course: whipping up a Savage Garden greatest hits compilation, Truly Madly Completely, just in time for the ever-lucrative Christmas market.

Cross-promotion ahoy!While the band only released two albums before breaking up, they did actually have enough singles success to make the concept of a greatest hits album less laughable than one involving, say, Sabrina. Indeed, some fans online have criticised the fact that not every single has been included (‘Universe’ and ‘Chained To You’ are the obvious exclusions, though I’m personally not worried by the former’s exclusion).

Instead — and in the absence of any attempt to get the band to reform — what we get are two new Darren Hayes tracks, ‘So Beautiful’ and ‘California’, plus five B-sides which form an almost-complete selection of the band’s non-album tracks. For no obvious reason that I can discern, however, ‘Memories Are Designed To Fade’, one of my favourite SG obscurities, has been excluded.

‘So Beautiful’ is also set for single release, and will apparently appear on a new Hayes album due next year as well. Whether this kind of cross-marketing will help it sell better than Tension is another matter.

Of course, none of this is going to stop me from buying the compilation, but I can’t help but imagine that we’ll be subjected to a more comprehensive anthology in a few years time. In the meantime, this release might finally give me an incentive to update the long-moribund track-by-track listing for the band I started so many moons ago. But don’t let the anticipation kill you.

Rendell speaks out

Updated the Ruth Rendell section of my site with this interview transcript from a recent appearance on NPR. Rendell has been slogging the promotional trail in the US for Thirteen Steps Down (which came out everywhere else in the world a year or so ago), and will presumably face a similar series of tasks for the next Wexford, End In Tears, when she returns to England. The interview itself doesn’t offer much new information — it’s one of those ‘we’ve got a list of prepared questions and we’re not going to deviate just because you’ve said something interesting’ affairs — though I’m sure that Crown (her US publisher) is grateful for the exposure.

Whovention ahoy!

The Chimes Of Midnight, authored by a certain R. ShearmanThis weekend, I’ll be happily attending Whovention 7, the latest in the Doctor Who Club of Australia’s series of biannual get-togethers. Given the success that the new series has enjoyed, I imagine things will be a tad more crowded than at previous Whoventions, which can only be a good thing, really.

One of the special guests at this year’s event is Rob Shearman, who has written half-a-dozen audio dramas for the Big Finish range of audios, as well as the Dalek episode from this year’s TV series. I had a quiet chuckle to myself when I learnt Rob was attending. On my regular trips to the UK, I often attend UK Who conventions — they’re much more frequent over there, in large part because the actors and other Who celebs don’t have to travel very far to get to them. At the Dimensions get-together last November, Rob was one of the guests, and during a rather drunken conversation with him at the bar, I suggested that he should line himself up to be a guest at the next Australian convention. I have no idea if this half-tanked suggestion had any direct influence, but on the other hand, he is showing up . . .

Australia’s technology future

The new issue of the Bulletin that hits stands today has a fairly lengthy article by me on Australia’s technology prospects, complete with a couple of nifty sideboxes that possibly have more news in them than the main overview article. It’s part of a series the magazine has been running on how the land down under will look in the near future. Fun article to write, though I had to complete it to a rather tight deadline only to have it held off for an issue — a not uncommon occurrence in the world of news weeklies.

Keeping pace with payroll

A recent article I wrote for Human Resources Magazine on implementing payroll software has belatedly gone online (and even more belatedly been noticed by me, I might add).

They phunked with my heart

IT journalists rate pretty low on the social scale, so it’s no surprise that most of the time we feel like pond scum. But it was hard not to feel a little bit elite at last night’s Motorola’s ROKR launch, which featured the Black Eyed Peas in a ludicrously exclusive concert for 400 or so people, at least a dozen of whom were humble tech hacks.

I can’t claim to be a Big Black Eyed Peas groupie, but even I can appreciate that it’s a big deal to get a performance on this level by a group which has such current chart dominance. On every previous occasion that I’ve been this adjacent to a major celebrity, they’ve been at least 10 years past their prime. As Val Quinn, who was standing next to me in the audience, a scant four feet from the stage, remarked: “Can you believe we’re this close?”

I was relatively sedate in the face of such celebrity exposure. Nicole Manktelow got photographed with three members of the group, Roulla Yiacoumi got signatures from all four on her concert ticket from the night before, and Jeremy Roche wasn’t going to be happy until he got a photograph with Home & Away‘s Kate Ritchie. I was just happy to be there, as the photos attest. (Thanks to Ian Yates for tidying up my rather dubious original shots and making them more presentable!)

The Black Eyed Peas strut their stuff.

The Black Eyed Peas strut their stuff.

Fergie gets funky.

Fergie gets funky.

Even celebrities pick their noses.

Even celebrities pick their noses.

The boys shake their groove thangs.

The boys shake their groove thangs.

'I can't believe we got $300K for this gig.'

‘I can’t believe we got $300K for this gig.’

Fergie is pursued by avid IT journos.

Fergie is pursued by avid IT journos.

The perils of quotation

When I’m interviewing someone in my professional life, I make a point of either recording the conversation or taking copious notes. This ensures that the information I utilise is fairly accurate. Because blog entries are often inspired by random conversations, I’m not necessarily going to have those kinds of notes or recordings — which is a potential cause of problems.

In my recent posting about my Luddite tech habits, I quoted Roulla Yiacoumi as saying to me: “My God, your phone is black and white!” Roulla was fairly quick to inform me that she didn’t say those words. Her actual comment was: “My god, I can’t believe your phone has a mono screen!”

You might think that’s a hair-splitting distinction, but as Roulla pointed out to me, a phone that could display white on screen could probably handle other colours as well. Quite true. I’ve amended the relevant entry, and resolved to be more efficient about note-taking in future. So if you’re conversing with me and I pause to write something down, now you’ll know why!

In love of Chess

An obsession with Chess, Benny & Bjorn’s musical with Tim Rice, has always been a major element of my ongoing ABBA fandom. So it was only logical that when Elaine Paige — who originated the central role of Florence Vassy both on record and on stage — decided to tour Australia, I would be going along.

I wasn’t expecting to get a night filled with material from Chess when I went to her first performance at the Sydney Opera House last night, and I didn’t. Indeed, my original guess that the only Chess number that we’d get would be ‘I Know Him So Well’ turned out to be almost accurate. I say ‘almost’ because a large section of the main ‘Chess’ instrumental theme was played as part of the overture — a welcome addition, but not really a performance by Ms Paige in the strict sense.

The other challenge in singing ‘I Know Him So Well’ is that it’s a duet. Elaine did an admirable performance of the song, but there’s no denying that to experience its full melodic majesty, you need the interplay of two voices. On the other hand, at least now I can say I’ve seen Elaine do Barbara Dickson’s part in concert, having already seen Dickson do Elaine’s bits during the 1997 Melbourne production of the show.

The ticket. Obviously.

After opening with ‘Don’t Cry For Me, Argentina’ from Evita, Paige then performed ‘Another Suitcase In Another Hall’ from the same musical — a novel concept for her, since she didn’t sing it in the original stage performance. I would have loved it if she’d taken the same approach to Chess and performed ‘Someone Else’s Story’, which was only added to the musical during the Broadway production (though it now gets shoehorned into most performances). Maybe next time.

Chess obsession aside, it was a great concert, even if I was yet again in danger of being the youngest person in the audience by some margin. Over the course of a two hour show, Elaine played with a dizzying array of musical theatre styles, finishing with a version of ‘I Honestly Love You’ which she said she had “only thrown together” that afternoon. I was particularly taken with her performances of Noel Coward’s ‘Mad About The Boy’ and Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.

(Incidentally, if you’re concerned that the heading for this post appears to exhibit appalling grammar, it’s a direct quote from the Chess lyrics. So there.)

The INXS backlash

With all the hoopla surrounding INXS’ recent televised search for a lead singer on Rock Star — a search that’s now concluded with JD Fortune joining the band — it was only a matter of time before someone dug up a comment from Jon Stevens, the former Noiseworks singer who worked with INXS for three years before departing in late 2003.

The Daily Telegraph reports today in its Confidential column that Stevens is none too impressed with recent developments, calling the show ‘Mock Star’ and advising Fortune to get a lawyer, lest he be “raped and pillaged” by the band.

Fun stuff, but Confidential then messes up by confidently asserting that “Stevens spent three years touring as the lead singer of INXS after singer Michael Hutchence’s suicide in 1997, but never recorded with the band.” I’m not a massive INXS fan, but I do know that Stevens did release a single with the band, 2003’s ‘I Get Up’, which emerged just before his departure from the group and was also featured in EA’s Rugby 2004 computer game. Still, why let the facts get in the way of a good sledging?

INXS, Jon Stevens edition

Confidential also has a brief report on yesterday’s Kerri-Anne shenanigans, though it’s rather less detailed than my own account. On the other hand, thousands more people will read it.