Thursday, 19 January 2012

Jukebox jury

I've just finished watching the final part of the excellent "Story of Musicals" on BBC Four. A three-part documentary, it charted the rise of British musical theatre from its revival in the 1960s with "Oliver!", through the mega-hits from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh in the 70s, 80s and early 90s, though to the latest hit shows. And popping up very near the end was the "jukebox musical".

The idea of a jukebox musical is very simple: take a selection of existing music, usually tied together with a theme (songs by the same artist/composer, or of the same genre) and fit a plot around them. Traditionally, this would involve the story of the life of the performer/composer in question ("Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" springs instantly to mind) with their songs incorporated, but all this changed in 1999.

That year brought us the jukebox musical that changed it all - "Mamma Mia!". And it's a musical that I flatly refuse to ever watch. Or even consider to be a "musical" at all. But there was a problem with this opinion of mine; I didn't really know why I held it!

However, after watching the BBC's documentary, I think I now know why - and there are two reasons.

Firstly, the sheer pointlessness of them. The whole idea of a jukebox musical is that you have a pre-existing audience for the show; in the case of "Mamma Mia!", the huge fan base for ABBA's music. "We Will Rock You" followed a couple of years later and, of course, used the popularity of Queen's back catalogue to get bums on seats.

In the documentary, Ben Elton (writer of the book for "We Will Rock You") suggested that it was perfectly logical to take an artist's work and turn it into a musical because people enjoy the music and want to go to a theatre and see it performed live by a high-quality cast. Now, I completely agree with this, and if anyone ever dragged me to see "Mamma Mia!" or "We Will Rock You" I would only entertain the notion because I enjoy the music of ABBA and Queen. But if people are going to see these shows because they enjoy the music, what the heck is the point of thinking up a crummy plot to link them all together?! Why not just get a group of fantastic singers and dancers and simply perform the music as a concert? The effect would be the same.

But as a musician, the main reason I can't connect with these jukebox musicals is not that I don't see the point. It's all about emotion.

When I see "Les Miserabl├ęs", and hear Eponine and Marius singing "A Little Fall Of Rain", I am reduced to a soggy, tearful wreck every time. It is, in my very humble opinion, one of the most emotive pieces of music ever written for a musical, and its setting and the back story behind the relationship (or lack thereof) between the characters singing it make it such a powerful piece of music.

Both ABBA and Queen have a piece of music in their repertoire that could perhaps come somewhere near to this level of emotion: "The Winner Takes It All" and "The Show Must Go On" respectively. But I can't emotionally link them to a contrived storyline in a musical because I know that the setting is not what the pieces were originally written for. The emotion is being forced onto the song, rather that being what you experience as a result of how the song was written. "A Little Fall Of Rain" works so well because it was written to underpin the emotive force of the scene in which it appears; it is perfect for the job because it was written for the job.

The current trend in the West End and on Broadway seems to be creating musicals from the plots of popular films. Indeed, I recently saw "Legally Blonde The Musical" at the Alex theatre in Birmingham - and it was great fun. Because, as with "traditional" musicals, the songs within it were written specifically for it. In that respect, it is no different to creating a musical version of a Victor Hugo novel, or the life story of Eva Peron.

Musicals work when the songs work because they are serving the purpose that they were originally written to do, rather than when you stick a greatest hits album on "shuffle" and see what comes out.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Licence to Drivel

Another post, another Farcebook-related rant. Ho hum, you may think.

But this time, the target of my ire is a Farcebook cause entitled "lets get the uk tv licence abolished", and it has annoyed me more than I thought possible. The reason for this is simple - every single person who has posted support to the thread is a complete imbecile. It would take 12 of them to make a halfwit.

Let's take some of the choicest recent comments, shall we?

Ian Morrell writes: "So people like jonathan ross can earn millions to talk utter garbage the BBC are a disgrace"

Jonathan Ross is no longer employed by the BBC. And you're clearly a Daily Wail reader, so you can piss right off anyway.

Alex Glover says: "the price we pay is only for bbc 1 an bbc2, all the ova channels dont cost."

Erm, no. The price you pay is for BBC1, BBC2, BBC3, BBC4, BBC Parliament, BBC News, CBBC, CBeebies, all of the BBC national and local radio stations and all of the content on the BBC website. It also covers the cost of producing content for BBC HD.

Karen Walker (and others) dribbles: "as i am paying to watch tv to sky.. its like i am paying twice!!"

Don't be a tool. Not a penny of the money you pay to Sky (or Virgin, or BT) goes to the BBC. You can receive all of the BBC's channels/radio stations without subscribing to a TV service.

Sarah Page stops scraping her knuckles along the floor for long enough to bash out: "y the fuck do u need to pay to watch 5 channels"

You. Are. An. Idiot. The TV Licence does not pay for the terrestrial TV channels. ITV, Channel 4 and Five are independent (the clue is in the 'I' in 'ITV') and raise their money from advertisements.

Ray Batchelor uses a crayon to scrawl: "i had a count for ch 1,2,3,4,5, and just for one day on 5 chs there were 65 repeats"

Well, you've just wasted your day then, because that fact has absolutely nothing to do with the cost of a TV Licence for the reasons I've just given.

Katiiee Danielle Claire Breen has more vowels in her name than she has IQ, and proves it by hammering at her computer keyboard with her fists until this comes out: "no offence but blind people cant see the tv yet they dont have to pay 4 one and ok i know they can hear it but it still aint the same so wat is good for one is good for us all!!"

I'm sorry, I don't speak chav. Can I just ask, what the fuck are you trying to say?!

Finally, Andy Cornish uses real words and real grammar to write: "its a bbc licence and bbc aint that good anyway, try advertising to your revenue, it works for itv."

That would be the ITV that has been on the verge of bankruptcy for the last two-and-a-half years, and that only makes one good TV programme every 12 months, would it? Yes, I can see how the BBC would want to aspire to that...

...'cause if the BBC went bust, I'd have to resort to reading the rubbish posted on the Interweb by deluded halfwits for my entertainment.

Friday, 20 August 2010


Vibration hydration.

You've never heard of it, because the marketing department of H2Om water has just made it up. Welcome to the painful world of pseudo-science, or "bollocks" if you prefer.

You see, H2Om is not normal spring water. (Actually, that's exactly what it is. But let's not let facts get in the way at this early stage.) It has "vibration energy" in it. Yes, in it. Have they vibrated the water, I hear you ask. Well, obviously not. Shaking water to get it to vibrate would be far too, erm, logical. No, at H2Om they have better ways.

First of all, they ensure that the bottle labels have the correct vibrational energy. Yes, that's right - the labels. With writing on them and stuff. Special writing, in lots of different languages. And in the correct colour. So it can "vibrate" somehow. And do something. Perhaps.

Then, you have to "think while you drink it". Because most of us completely switch our brains off when drinking water, you know. It's a little known fact that if you drink normal water for more than a minute non-stop, you will pass out because you forget to breathe.

Finally, once they've bottled the water, they play music to it. Sound waves vibrate, you see. Not enough to pass through the plastic bottle and have any effect whatsoever on the contents, of course, but it's the thought that counts. Or rather the lack of thought but the ability to produce marketing blurb based on it. They use "ancient healing scales" to do this. Better that then sticking them near a piano whilst someone practices their grade 3 on it.

Their website says:
we know some people, and politicians, may be skeptical, however we believe that if water is effected by these types of vibrations, then as a bonus, let's provide the water with the purest form of vibration possible
"...And politicians". Because they're not people, and we specifically need to point them out! The swine! And forgive me if I'm wrong, but surely the purest form of vibration is, well, to just vibrate the effing water!

Finally, we come to the names of the waters. Yes, despite every bottle containing exactly the same water as the next bottle, they name each bottle depending on the way they've pretended to vibrate it. So you get such exciting things as Gratitude, Joy, Prosperity, Peace and Love. Yes, "Love water" - who'd not want to drink that?

Sounds suspiciously like a load of wank to me.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Medal-ing with history

Can journalists no longer add up? Could they ever, I hear you ask.

The thought arises after reading this article on Sky News today (click the link while you can - News International want to start charging you for accessing their news online, in what is known as "Operation Send Everyone To The BBC News Website Instead").

The gist of it is that a bloke called Roger Day turned up to the remembrance day ceremony in Bedworth with 17 medals that "military experts" claim it would be impossible to have earned.

Not so, insists Mr Day - who, we are helpfully informed, is 61 years old - they were all earned fair and square.

The most recent medal is from the first Gulf War, at which point he would have been about 40 years old, so no problems there. But the earliest medal was from World War II. Now, even I can perform the sum 2009 minus 61, and discover that Mr Day was born three years after the second world war ended! In fact, he wouldn't have been able to enter military service until 1966.

It's okay though, because Mr Day has the backing of the local vicar. "There are pictures of him in the Armed Forces in his home," he says. Well, that proves it then - he clearly was serving in the army three years before he was born.

After all, you can't fake a photograph...

Monday, 23 November 2009

Computer games in "letting you do stuff you can't normally" shock

I should see about getting some funding for a study. It seems that you can do one on any old crap and someone will pay you for it.

Recently, two Swiss human rights organisations (Trial and Pro Juventute, if you're interested - and yes, they're both charities) have commissioned a study in which they played a load of war games on various consoles. Sounds like piss-easy work to me, but what was truly groundbreaking was their conclusion after this difficult research:
"Certain scenes and acts committed by players would constitute violations of international law if they were real, rather than virtual."
Games let you do stuff that you can't in real life - because it's illegal? Really?! Well bugger me, I had no idea. I was labouring under the impression that not only was it possible to go into outer space and rescue Princess Leia from an asthmatic bloke in a black mask, it was also possible to do so by becoming entirely made of Lego.

Apparently, that's "not possible in real life". I'm truly shocked - and heaven knows how my poor friend Sackboy will take it. He's probably about to find out he's not real either.

Seriously, isn't this the point of computer games? I mean, let's take a look at the child-friendly things you can do in the Grand Theft Auto series:
  • hire a prostitute, take her somewhere secluded in your car, engage in a sex act, then blow her brains out with a shotgun and get your money back
  • steal a fully-laden school bus and drive it full pelt into the front of a police station
  • climb to the top of a high building and take pot shots at passers-by with a sniper rifle
  • steal a bike by kneecapping its owner as he rides past you, then use it to chase an ambulance whilst seeing how many paramedics you can shoot without dismounting
  • buy a nice outfit from one of the upmarket boutiques
Now, we're all well aware that none of the above (well, most of it) is far from legal. But in a computer game, that fair enough. It's escapism - and as far as GTA is concerned, there's a cartoon-y feel to it that somehow removes most of the horror of what you're being asked to do. Think of it as an interactive movie and it makes more sense. I mean, there was some damn gruesome stuff in "Seven", but that still got released.

However, our friends in Switzerland think that games should only allow you to do stuff that you can do in real life. So, get ready for their first fully-approved releases, coming to XBox360, PS3 and Amstrad CPC664 this Christmas:
  • SimDusting
  • Pro Evolution Tax Return
  • Call Of Nature
  • Tom Clancy's Doorbell Needs Cell AA
  • Extreme Bed Maker
It's almost as if they think we can't tell what's real and what's a game any more. And I know that PacMan would agree with me.

Monday, 28 September 2009

It starts at the top, but comes out of the bottom

Many people complain that they have been crapped on by their boss. But they put up with this because their boss is also the person who pays them. Which is fair enough.

How should you respond when you're shat upon by your boss when you're a charity volunteer? That is something I didn't think I'd ever need to contemplate. Surely volunteers are utterly vital to the work of all charities, and when you have a regular group of excellent, hard-working and reliable volunteers, shouldn't you go out of your way to keep them on-board and happy - especially if you're a health charity and some of those volunteers are doctors and nurses?

Soundly pissing them all off via your self-righteous blog is probably not a good idea.

Today, it's a post that confuses "GP" - a doctor trained as a General Practitioner - with "GP practice" - the place where they work, all of the staff within it and all of the services it provides.

If I were to tell you that every GP will get £10.50 for each swine flu jab they give, you would be rightly outraged. If, as is correct, I were to tell you that each GP practice was to be given £10.50 funding for each swine flu vaccination it provides (and the each vaccination consists of two jabs), and that this amount covered all of the administration costs, follow-ups in case of side effects, and actually buying the vaccine in the first place, you'd probably think it was a bit of a bargain.

By taking the completely incorrect first interpretation of this story, quite literally making some other stuff up, and then posting it in his usual "this is gospel" style in his blog, our favourite charity boss has today marked himself out as a Daily Mail-style bullshit peddler of the highest order. He's also massively annoyed his lead volunteer health professional - the person responsible for planning all of the medical training that the charities' team of children's educational holiday volunteers receive. Nice work!

But those volunteers - and especially those at the Edinburgh holiday this year - would expect nothing less. Mr Boss himself volunteered on the Edinburgh holiday, and whist he was there he provided a daily blog so that people could find out what being a volunteer entailed.

So far, so good - it sounds like an excellent plan. Well, here are some snippets from those blog posts:
"We have some excellent volunteer healthcare professionals who will help them keep safe as they enjoy the holiday."

"The fact that asthma nurses are on hand also encourages children otherwise reluctant to try something new."

"The fact we have so many volunteer healthcare professionals here gives real peace of mind."
What's wrong with that, I hear you ask? Well, what about all of the volunteers who aren't health professionals? Don't they deserve a mention? After all, they outnumber the health professional volunteers by a ratio of just over 4:1. It's also worth pointing out that only a small minority of the health professional volunteers are asthma nurses - most are nurses or hospital doctors, although there are some asthma nurses, the odd paramedic and a GP.

But, as shown today, there's no need to let a little thing like facts get in the way of a good soundbite.

Sometimes, I genuinely wonder why we bother.

Friday, 19 June 2009

The Sky is limited

Pop quiz: you need to solve a problem with your Sky TV service. Do you:

a) Call the helpline telephone number that appeared along with the error message on your Sky box


b) Google the fault, and solve it yourself with the aid of the first three results it finds?

I, being in a really silly mood, decided to try option "a" - and that's why I'm blogging today.

To all companies that provide "helplines": if no-one on the other end of the phone has even the slightest ability to "help" me, you're on the verge of being reported for false advertising.

Why was I calling Sky in the first place? It's all John Barrowman's fault.

The dates for series three of Torchwood have been announced. The entire series is being stripped across a week of BBC1's schedule - and it's the second week of our Italy holiday next month. The Sky+ planner only lets you programme recordings up to seven days in advance. Seven days before the series starts, we'll also be in Italy. Bugger.

No problem, all I need to do is set my set-top box up to use the "remote recording" application that I have on my mobile phone. Previously this was done by logging into Sky's website, but now it needs to be done using the Sky Active service on my set-top box.

And here was the problem; the set-top box was refusing to connect to Sky Active through the phone line. I was getting the wonderfully-ambiguous "error 106", and given an 0844-number to call for help.

If I'd just dialled "123" and listened to the speaking clock for half an hour, I'd have received just as much assistance.

After giving my details and explaining my problem, the Sky person said that an error 106 means the problem is with the connection between my Sky box and the phone line. Did I have a message waiting on 1571? No. Oh.

Well, maybe I have outgoing number witholding turned on. No, I don't - when I call my mobile, my number comes through. I ask the Sky person if their system shows them the number that I've called them from. "Yes, sir," they reply, and read my phone number out from their display. Well, it's not bloody blocked then, is it?

"Ah, well, some telephone service providers only stop your number being sent to 08- and 09-numbers."

YOU are on the other end of an 08-number, you bloody prat, and you have my number. So let's stop suggesting stuff that you can already see isn't my problem and try something else, eh?

In the end, the best they could suggest was disconnecting all of my other telephone equipment and ADSL filters, connecting my Sky box directly to the phone line and trying that. Well, sod that for a game of soldiers - if I have to essentially rewire my house in order to access Sky Active, then I'll just not bother.

One quick Google search later, and I have a plan of action of my own:
  1. Do a random product search using QVC Active on the Sky box, and see if that works. If it does, then there's nothing wrong with the set-top box or phone line.
  2. Access the Sky box installer menu, and tell the box to dial using the prefix 1615 - this is Tiscali's "bypass all settings" prefix, and Tiscali are my phone line provider.
  3. Try it again.
Guess what? After following those three steps, it all worked perfectly. In case you're wondering, to access the Sky installer menu, press Services, 4, 0, 1, Select on your Sky remote.

The moral of this story is that Google is more helpful than any so-called helpline. But heaven help you if you're not technically minded.

When the analogue TV signal is switched off, the fun will truly begin...