Friday, 30 September 2011

The Strange Boys

Link Wray meets The Searchers.

There stands the glass . . . .

Last night's set list

At the Big Jug, Durham: -

On The Way Home
Flying On The Ground Is Wrong
Love Song
Mind Your Own Business

Buffalo Springfield, Hank and a sprinkling of home-grown for the punter!

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Strangers on a Film

By Stephen Wyatt. Patrick Stewart plays Raymond Chandler and Clive Swift (who appeared in Hitchcock's Frenzy in 1972) is Alfred Hitchcock in their famous collaboration on Strangers on a Train. In 1950, Alfred Hitchcock invited Raymond Chandler to work with him on a screenplay based on Patricia Highsmith's novel. Chandler was not only recognised as a fine novelist and had also received an Academy Award nomination for his original screenplay, The Blue Dahlia. The omens were good but their collaboration turned out to be a disaster.*

Strangers On A Film by Stephen Wyatt, accompanies the second part of the Classic Chandler season which starts on BBC Radio 4 on Saturday 1 October with The Long Goodbye.

Directed by Claire Grove

Listen to it on BBC iPlayer: until the very precise time of 3:02PM on Thursday 6 Oct 2011

*Uh? Maybe the working experience was a tad difficult, but the resulting film is easily one of the five best movies Hitchcock made.

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York: -

Things We Said Today
Love Letters In The Sand
Tennessee Waltz
Unknown Legend
Human Highway

A quiet night in terms of punter numbers, but plenty of players. I had to follow the crystal ball juggler this week! The old songs went down best, but I was seriously put off by two drunken lasses who sang out of key and out of tempo through the last two songs. It was a case of close your eyes, grit your teeth and go for it!

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

David Croft RIP

David Croft
David Croft, who died on September 27 aged 89, was the joint creator of some of BBC Television’s best-loved and most enduring situation comedies

With his writing partner Jimmy Perry, Croft devised and wrote Dad’s Army (1968-77), the whimsical, affectionate lampoon of the wartime Home Guard which, thanks to unceasing repeats, continues to draw viewers, old and new, a decade into the 21st century.

After Dad’s Army ended its original run, two more of Croft and Perry’s classic series — It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum (1974-81) and Hi-de-Hi! (1980-88), with Croft producing — enjoyed huge success.

With a new writing partner, Jeremy Lloyd, Croft created and scripted Are You Being Served? (1972-85) and ’Allo ’Allo (1982-92), and (again with Jimmy Perry) You Rang, M’Lord? (1988-93). In his seventies, Croft collaborated with Richard Spendlove, a former railwayman, to produce Oh, Dr Beeching! (1995-97).

A nostalgic preoccupation with class ran throughout Croft’s work, intertwined with repeated references to campness, an echo of his early theatrical background. His characterisations of gays often proved controversial; one BBC eminence took one look at Mr Humphries, the mincing menswear assistant portrayed by John Inman in Are You Being Served? and declared: “The poof will have to go.”

Inman, stoutly supported by Croft (“If the poof goes, I go”), quickly achieved stardom and weathered the long-running controversy fomented by gay lobbyists who complained that Croft and Lloyd had portrayed the character in a stereotypical and offensive way.

Croft’s work frequently placed him at odds with his masters at the BBC. Paul Fox, as controller of BBC One, objected vehemently to the basic premise of Dad’s Army . “You cannot,” he told Croft, “take the mickey out of Britain’s finest hour.”

Neither was Croft’s inversion of the old class divides in tune with the 1960s cultural revolution and talk of a classless society: the portrayal of the pompous Captain Mainwaring (Arthur Lowe) as a petit-bourgeois snob and Sgt Wilson (John le Mesurier) as a languid patrician was a stroke of genius.

Inspired by Jimmy Perry’s real-life wartime exploits in the Watford Home Guard, Dad’s Army became one of the most popular comedies ever screened on British television, relished as much by those who had served in the wartime auxiliary services as by viewers still unborn when the 1940s sirens sounded.

Yet initial reaction was mixed. Sean Day-Lewis in The Daily Telegraph identified a “nervous sense of humour” in the portrayal of events which, in 1968, remained well within the memory of most of the viewing audience. At a pre-transmission screening of the first episode organised for the BBC by a market research company, one woman complained: “Haven’t we had enough of this old wartime rubbish?” Even John le Mesurier predicted it would be “an absolute disaster”. But when Croft received the firm’s report — most of it critical — he simply slipped it beneath the pile in his in-tray and forgot about it.

In the event, an initial audience of eight million in 1968 had more than doubled by 1972, and there was critical as well as popular acclaim. When the original series ended in 1977, The Guardian lamented its passing, saying it had “given us finer farces, straighter faces, richer characterisations and a good deal more social observation than most of the more pretentious dramas.”

Despite his patrician air (he arrived for the first day’s filming of Dad’s Army in his 1954 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith), Croft was ever alert to the spirit of the age. As the historian Dominic Sandbrook observed: “[Dad’s Army’s] gaze was firmly fixed on the past. It celebrated a lost era of austerity and collective endeavour, but its appeal depended on the domestication of leisure and the new individualism of the affluent society.”

Against the grain of the times, Croft wove in few references to sex, and his early work with Perry was largely male-dominated; the women in Dad’s Army, for instance, were all marginal and either boot-faced or tarty. But in Are You Being Served? such types moved centre stage in the shape of the middle-aged Mrs Slocombe (Molly Sugden) continually lamenting the state of “my pussy” to the young Miss Brahms (Wendy Richard).

Set in a fading department store called Grace Brothers and launched in 1973, Are You Being Served? was Croft and Jeremy Lloyd’s metaphor for the parlous state of a once-great nation of shopkeepers. “Grace Brothers was Britain,” noted the journalist Stuart Jeffries , “a disunited kingdom that had started crumbling during the war and, against all the odds, against all the laws of physics and of good taste, still kept going, supplying a dwindling bunch of customers with things that they surely could not want.”

In Hi-de-Hi!, Croft’s next collaboration with Jimmy Perry, female characters continued to loom large, notably the terrifying Gladys Pugh (Ruth Madoc) setting her cap at her boss Geoffrey Fairbrother (Simon Cadell), and the poignant figure of Peggy Ollerenshaw (Su Pollard), the would-be Yellowcoat doomed to perpetual servitude as a chalet maid.

Another Croft and Perry series set in a man’s world, It Ain’t Half Hot, Mum, featured characters criticised as racial as well as gay stereotypes, and the series — now fettered by modern constraints of political correctness — has never been repeated. Set in a Royal Artillery depot in India in 1945, it followed the fortunes of an Ensa concert party, a collection of oddballs and misfits overseen by a homophobic battery sergeant major (Windsor Davies) and two ineffectual officers (Donald Hewlett and Michael Knowles).

Croft rebuffed criticism of some of the characters, pointing out that the concert party’s female impersonator “Gloria” (Melvyn Hayes) was not homosexual but a transvestite. In You Rang, M’Lord? Croft introduced the first recurring lesbian character in a British sitcom in the shape of Cissy (Catherine Rabett).

One of Croft’s biggest rows within the BBC was over ’Allo ’Allo, the outrageous farce which poked fun at the French Resistance, the German occupiers of wartime France and the airmen of the RAF, investing everyone with appalling cod accents. Asked how he could countenance equating the heroic French with the evil Gestapo, Croft would patiently explain that ’Allo ’Allo was not intended as a comment on either.

“What we are sending up,” he told an interviewer, “is a whole genre of stiff upper-lip films and TV series like Colditz and Secret Army in which people actually did utter, in deadly earnest, lines like 'Listen vairy carefully, I will say thees only once.’” Despite frequent complaints about its political incorrectness, ’Allo ’Allo found favour with many heavyweight fans, among them Lord Rees-Mogg and (it was rumoured) the Queen Mother. Even more remarkably, the BBC succeeded in selling the series to more than 40 countries, eventually including France and Germany.

Croft’s style of comedy derived from an ensemble of instantly engaging characters and the creation of an enclosed arena in which their antics could be varied almost ad infinitum. In close on 500 scripts, Croft prided himself on never having ventured into the “domestic comedy” field; neither, he maintained, had he written more than a handful of “gags” .

Instead his scenarios exploited the potential of what he described as a “trapped environment”, sending the valiant geriatrics of Dad’s Army on a never-ending round of futile manoeuvres, and the grotesques of ’Allo ’Allo on a series of bizarre missions which everyone knew would end in catastrophe.

Many Croft-Perry-Lloyd characters were caricatures, at least in part, of the actors who played them. Croft himself admitted that Captain Mainwaring was “an extension of Arthur Lowe”; the actor could be as prickly as his character, and often arrived in the studio without having learned all his lines. “He never used to take his script home,” Croft explained. “He’d say: 'I’m not having that rubbish in my house.’ So he’d read it for the first time in the taxi and would finish learning it on the set. I used to field complaints from the rest of the cast.”

Croft was born David John Sharland on September 7 1922 at Poole, Dorset, and brought up in Finchley, north London. His father, Reginald Sharland, was an actor and his mother, Anne Croft, a popular theatrical star of the 1920s and 1930s, who ascribed her fine singing voice to the precaution of swallowing a raw egg in a glass of sherry before every performance. Reginald Sharland went to Hollywood shortly after his son was born and became a radio star in the United States.

David was sent to Rugby, but owing to financial constraints left before his 16th birthday. He took courses in shorthand, typing, singing and dancing, helped out in his mother’s production company, and took bit parts in films . He was planning to join his father in California when the Second World War broke out and the family moved to Bournemouth, where David served as an air raid warden — an experience which would provide much material for Dad’s Army.

In 1942, aged 19, he joined the Royal Artillery. After contracting rheumatic fever in north Africa, Bombardier Croft was sent home to convalesce and then underwent officer training at Sandhurst. Posted to India, he arrived as the war in Europe ended, and was assigned to the Essex Regiment at the Urulli camp outside Poona. He was made brigade entertainments officer, and as a major helped to oversee the evacuation of Japanese PoWs from Singapore.

Demobbed in 1947, Croft produced summer shows at Butlin’s holiday camps, took small television roles, joined the BBC Show Band Singers and wrote songs, sketches and even pantomimes for stars such as Tommy Steele and Norman Wisdom .

With the launch of commercial television in 1955, Croft joined Associated Rediffusion as a light entertainment script editor, and in 1959 moved to Newcastle-upon-Tyne as a producer for Tyne Tees. It was there that he first worked in situation comedy, producing Under New Management, set in a derelict northern pub, and writing a musical sitcom called Sunshine Street.

He remained in light entertainment when he moved to the BBC in London and produced The Benny Hill Show before Hill (whom he could not abide) decamped to ITV. He produced Hugh and I (1962-68), with Hugh Lloyd and Terry Scott, and Beggar My Neighbour (1966-68), in which he cast his future writing collaborator Jimmy Perry as Reg Varney’s flamboyant brother.

When Dad’s Army earned him fame in the late 1960s, Croft was a BBC staff producer, but he soon reverted to being a freelance, although almost his entire television career was spent working for the BBC. In later life he reflected that, had he stuck to his staff job, he would have been retiring at about the time he was writing the pilot programme for ’Allo ’Allo.

Like most successful comedy writers, Croft was happiest working office hours in collaboration with a regular partner. They would sit on opposite sides of a table, tossing dialogue ideas at each other. Then one of them would pace the room while the other made notes. At half time, they would change places.

The essence of Croft’s comedy style was rigorous discipline. Farce, he believed, depended on painstakingly worked-out detail and perfect timing. Even the apparent gibberish of Corporal Jones’s flights of fancy, or the ludicrous mispronunciations of Officer Crabtree in ’Allo ’Allo, were worked out to the last syllable.

More than 30 years on, the appeal of Dad’s Army endures. Repeats attract more than 10 million viewers, and the famous “Don’t tell him, Pike!” scene has repeatedly been voted the funniest television moment of all time. Polls continue to name it the nation’s favourite comedy, and in 2000 the British Film Institute, ranking it 13th in its list of the best television shows of the 20th century, declared that “purely in terms of its sustained popularity the show is without equal”.

Among Croft’s many honours were Bafta’s Desmond Davis award in 1981 for his outstanding contribution to television, and a Royal Television Society silver medal in 1991. In 1978 he was appointed OBE for services to television.

His autobiography, You Have Been Watching..., appeared in 2004.

David Croft married, in 1952, Ann Coupland, with whom he had seven children. One, Penny, followed her father to become a highly-regarded television comedy writer. Another, Rebecca, married the star of one of her father’s comedies, the late Simon Cadell who played Geoffrey Fairbrother, the incongruous holiday camp entertainments manager in Hi-de-Hi!

Love or Theft? Bob Dylan 'inspired' by well-known photographs.

                                                     And a 'Life' magazine front page painting 'copy'...

More 'thieving'...

Men of the Tyne

A taster of the 'Men of the Tyne' documentary. Snippets of some of stories being told by the men who worked on the Tyne and in the shipyards. The four month project commissioned by The Customs House involves Tom Kelly, a local poet and playwright, Andrew Hagan, a local filmmaker and the team from The Customs House. The project is documenting men's memories of life working on or near the River Tyne and the changes they've seen over the years. It involves delivering workshops across North and South Tyneside and interviewing the various ex-workers of the Tyne from Fishermen and Tug boat pilots to Designers and Welders who manufactured the ships, and chronicling their stories to produce the documentary.

Ghosts on the Tyne
Lyrics by Tom Kelly
Music by Ian Ravenscroft

Filmed and Edited by Andrew Hagan
Additional photography by Peter Dixon

Tales and Pictures of the Tyne is the culmination of a project where Ray Spencer will perform monologues based on men's memories of working on the River Tyne. The show will be part of a two hour cruise on the River Escapes Cruise Ship 'The Fortuna' which will start at The Customs House.

Men of The Tyne
Date: 12-14 Oct 2011 Time: 1.30pm
Price: £7.50 (includes tea and cake)
Venue: The River Tyne



Writer Tom Kelly said "I am really excited about the project as it is important we remember that the Tyne led the world and never to forget our great shipyards - I will always remember the Esso Northumbria in 1969 dominating Wallsend streets.

"So much of my writing has been taken up with the Tyne, from Kelly the musical written with Alan Price, to the decline of the yards.

"I am really looking forward to working on Men of the Tyne."

Men of the Tyne

By Kay Pryer

A project launched by The Customs House has already gained worldwide support – despite being less than two weeks old.

The Men of the Tyne is a photography, film and creative writing project that will see local writer Tom Kelly and filmmaker Andy Hagan capture the stories of former river workers memories of life working on or near the River Tyne and the changes they have seen over the years. The project, which is being delivered in partnership with, Age UK North & South Tyneside, and North and South Tyneside Council, will commence with workshops taking place from June to September across North and South Tyneside.

Kay Pryer, Cultural Development Project Manager at The Customs House said: “We've had interest from America and Australia from former shipyards workers who have moved away. The local interest has been huge and Lord Donald Dixon, who is a member of the House of Lords and a former ship worker is very keen to get involved. It's a very positive start to the project but there is still plenty of time to get involved. We want as many people as possible from all areas of working on the river to get involved.”

Men of The Tyne will culminate with a tour of the river lead by Ray Spencer where the men's stories will be narrated on Thursday October 13.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Men of the Tyne - phenomenal demand

AN extra date has been added to a Tyne crossing musical show - due to popular demand.
A further performance of ‘Men of the Tyne’ is now to be staged on Wednesday, October 12, from 1.30pm.
It involves a two-hour crossing from the Customs House in South Shields to Newcastle quayside, aboard the cruise ship The Fortuna.
The show is made up of stories, performed by Customs House director Ray Spencer, songs played and sung by Ian Ravenscroft and Ted Cuskin and a ‘Men of the Tyne’ film, from Andrew Hagan.
The stories have been written by Jarrow-born Tom Kelly, who co-wrote the songs with Tyneside musician Mr Ravenscroft.
Ted Cuskin, a Hebburn lad and folk singer, came along to share his memories of working as a blacksmith on the Tyne and ended up recording the songs for the film and will be singing in the shows.
The ‘Men of the Tyne’ performances are the culmination of a Customs House creative writing and film project with men who worked on the river, managed by Kay Pryer of the Customs House.
For ticket information call 454 1234.
Also see the trailer on the Customs House website at: -

Tom on the Tyne, again.

Others Walk on By but caring Terry helps a Down and Out in Newcastle.

COMING SOON-ish ... The Ukelele Boy DVD cover

Degas at the Royal Academy

Degas and the Ballet: Picturing Movement – review
Royal Academy, London

Laura Cumming
Saturday 17 September 2011

The Royal Academy's mesmerising Degas and the Ballet begins and ends with the artist himself: dark-eyed and wary at the door in a lifesize photograph, half-blind in a tantalising film in the final room. In between are more than 40 years of ballet dancers shifting through a thousand different positions, depicted from every angle, in one ever-changing performance. Yet it is not the dancers but the artist one seeks to hold fast, to grasp the mystery and greatness of his work.

Degas (1834-1917) began visiting the ballet of the Paris Opera in his 40s. Thirty years later, when he had long since made the subject his own, an American collector asked: "Why, monsieur, do you always do ballet dancers?" Degas flashed back: "Because, madame, it is all that is left us of the combined movements of the Greeks." The aphorism appears barbed until one considers that in ballet Degas found an inexhaustible source for his modern classicism with its emphasis on the body. But nor is the question as obtuse as it seems.
For why does Degas keep returning to the backstage hiatus and the weary rehearsals, to the waiting, watching, struggling and straining, to the laborious practice that eventually makes perfect? Convention, abetted by popularity, insists that this is the winsomely traditional side of his art, all those graceful ballerinas flitting across the stage in swan's-down and tulle. But consider how rarely he depicts a full-dress performance.

As if to make the point, the curators have positioned the Courtauld's Two Dancers on the Stage at the start of the show. The painting is justly famous for its ballerinas quivering en pointe in the limelight, shoes shining, tutus gauzy, roses blossoming in their hair. It is an image to spur a million girls to ballet on a winter's day, but it stands in contrast to almost everything that follows.

Degas's dancers are shown scratching their backs, hauling up their bodices, slumping exhausted on the floor. Beginners wait, old hands sprawl, lessons repeatedly stall. There are classes without teachers, rehearsals in which nobody moves, bare rooms in which stretching alternates with inaction, where one girls sits head in hands while the scene rakes to her distant companions awaiting instruction. It is remarkable how few dancers actually dance.
Ballet is an art of perfection, but Degas shows the workings, the ceaseless studying involved; the analogy with his own art is self-evident. Just as he depicts every fractional repositioning of the foot, every degree of bodily torsion from all round and in every medium – pencil, pastel, charcoal, chalk, paint, print and even wax – to get at the truth, so his dancers keep rehearsing to perfect their performance.

And how staggeringly radical he is from first to last. In The Rehearsal (1874), for all its diaphanous tutus and fetching arabesques, the scene is sharply cropped on one side like a snatch of half-heard conversation, while a spiral staircase restricts the viewing on the other. Dancers are seen from behind, so close their limbs are barely in focus or reflected in the mirror as illegible wraiths.

Three Dancers (1903) is built up using pastel and fixative in glowing layers of dot and swipe that resemble Jackson Pollock 50 years in advance. Degas doesn't even confine himself to one kind of mark-making per image. A painting will go many ways – incisive outline, dry stabs, liquid blurs, fingerprints. He will use a soft pastel for something sharply complex, crisscrossing the strokes so that you have to look through them, like traffic, to deduce a figure.

Photographic details are transcribed. Poses are recycled. A single figure repeated and reversed goes to make the mass of forms locked together, like gears in motion, in the Russian Dancers series. Heaven knows how he achieved this feat in fugitive chalk on slippery tracing paper, but that is part of his strangeness.

And Degas is profoundly mysterious. In this respect, the dancers are emblematic: beautiful people, perfect bodies, invitingly ideal forms to many another artist; nothing so facile to Degas.
The crime of popularity yielded to a charge of coldness some years ago. Degas is still portrayed as a heartless taxonomist of human anatomy and the dancers are still cited as evidence: their facelessness, their squat, hunched, splayed and overworked bodies, all observed from inelegant viewpoints.

They are not portraits, to be sure (though recognisable individuals emerge), but nor are they anatomical drawings. Degas isn't analysing the articulation of limbs or the muscle groups involved in each movement so much as the struggle of bodily existence, the drama of being embodied; he is less Leonardo and more Michelangelo.

Movement, the central theme of this show, is investigated with discrimination and insight. Degas's great wax dancers (or their bronze casts) are displayed alongside Muybridge's stop-start photographs of bodies in motion and one sees an affinity: the sculptures as 3D representations of sequential movement. Early films, Parisian panoramas, François Willème's "photo-sculptures" (statues based on multiple shots of sitters in the round, and surprisingly kitsch): all show French art swinging into motion. And yet movement itself is surely not Degas's true subject.
It is in the gallery of his own photographs that the artist comes into new focus (for me) and not just in his well-known portraits of Renoir, Mallarmé and others appearing like visions in a twilight dream. The Royal Academy also presents the rare shots of dancers. Technically flawed, these are aesthetic revelations none the less: the figures oblique and spectral in the gloom, as if trying to escape their own corporeal existence. Degas is already looking for more than the camera can catch.

So it is with this tremendous show, each work imagining the physical life – the inner stress – of the dancer. What it is to balance on one toe or lean precariously close to the floor; what it is to hold a leg at shoulder height or twist until your muscles nearly snap: this is what his images express. Degas goes far beyond observation, as if willing himself into the body of his dancers.

It is said that Degas's art is all climax from the off and so it seems from this show, superbly curated by Richard Kendall and Jill DeVonyar, beautifully designed by Ivor Heal. An early sketch of a child straining to hold a pose carries the same intensity as a late painting of dancers strenuously flexing their limbs and there is always Degas's peerless line, charged with perfect clarity.
But towards the end of his life, he addresses groups of figures with such force that they seem to metamorphose into pure form, something more like the essence of dance. Melting, curving, merging like multi-limbed goddesses in a limelight of violet, sulphur and flame blue, they move towards a vision of the future, towards the pure painting of modern art.

Here, the show itself breaks into motion with the few precious seconds of film captured (without permission) by Sacha Guitry in 1914-15. Degas is seen negotiating a faltering route through crowds in the Boulevard de Clichy, most of his face concealed by a white beard and dark hat. Just as he is getting close enough for you to see his eyes beneath the brim – to see the artist himself – the film expires: Degas is out of sight.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Bruce Johnston on Doris Day's My Heart

When/how did you first meet Doris’ son Terry Melcher? What are your memories of your early days working together?

Back in 1958, the independent record label owned by Doris Day and Marty Melcher (Arwin Records) released a top ten single by Jan & Arnie (my high school friends) and the song “Jennie Lee” went to number eight on the Billboard & Cash Box charts in the US. I thought that it might be a good idea to ‘see’ what was going on at Arwin Records and somehow I was able to audition an original song of mine for the head of A&R, Joe Lubin. I was fifteen years old at the time and I knew nothing about songwriting! Mr. Lubin turned my song down but encouraged me to keep on writing. Arwin Records was located in the same office complex in Beverly Hills as all the other Doris Day businesses and that’s where I met Terry Melcher. Terry and I became friends a year later.

During the mid-1980s Doris made a return to the recording studio. How did this come about and how did you become involved?

Terry and I were young record producers at Columbia Records in the very early sixties and we always seemed to work on music together for the rest of his life. Terry was able to interest Doris in recording a few songs and I ended up co-producing part of the “My Heart” album. Terry and I wrote three of the songs together (“My Heart”, “The Way I Dreamed It” and “Happy Endings”). The album also contains two of my songs that I wrote the words and music for: “Disney Girls” & “Heaven Tonight”.

You wrote a number of new “original” songs for this project. What inspired you when writing these and which out of all of them is your favourite?

Actually, knowing that Doris ‘might’ be recording again created an opportunity for Terry and me to finish some songs that we were ‘slowly’ working on. I really like our “My Heart” song and Terry and I wrote a lot of “My Heart” at Paul Francis Webster’s home two doors down from Terry’s mom’s house in Beverly Hills. [FYI: Doris was living in Carmel at that time and Paul Francis Webster had recently passed away.]

What was the preparation before rehearsals with Doris?

Usually Doris used to rehearse with Bill Miller before recording many of her great Columbia Records albums but I think Terry worked alone with Doris on the “My Heart” album songs before she recorded them. As Terry and I are the producers of what Doris was about to record, we worked out the correct song keys with Doris beforehand and then created the backing tracks.

Did Doris get involved with the actual creative process of this project i.e. with arrangements, song choices etc?

Luckily for Terry and me, Doris was deeply involved in all aspects of her “My Heart” album. Say no more!

What was it like working in the studio with Doris? Do you recall how long it took for Doris to complete her vocal work?

Because of knowing Terry all those years ago, I was able to be a young ‘fly on the wall’ at Doris Day sessions at Radio Recorders and Columbia Recorders and I was amazed at how prepared Doris was when the orchestra began playing in the studio for the run-through of the song(s) about to be recorded. Her seemingly effortless vocal recording was astounding and so natural sounding. When we recorded the “My Heart” songs, the vocals were recorded smoothly and quickly. Doris is such a pro!

What was the highlight for you of this entire project?

To know that Doris was pleased with the songs, the arrangements, and her recorded vocals.

Do you have any idea why the songs never got a “commercial” release during the 1980s?

I never thought about it other than someday these recordings would be released and shared with her worldwide fans.

As you will likely know this project is significant as it was Doris Day’s last to be completed as a recording artist. How do you feel knowing that your songs have now been given an “official” release by Sony Music UK?

I’m very proud to have contributed some of my songs to the legacy of such an important international recording artist.

In 1993, you were part of the “Doris Day Best Friends” charity event what was that experience like?

I really enjoyed watching Doris talking to her old friend, Les Brown, at the event. I only wish she could have sung one song with Les’s band (It was the Les Brown Band for the “Doris Day Best Friends” charity event).

Terry was a very talented man. How will you best remember him?

Terry was my best friend and he (along with Doris) encouraged me to write songs. I owe them my songwriting Grammy! Also, Terry always made me laugh a lot! Terry was a great record producer, songwriter, arranger, and he had a fantastic voice.

What did you think when you heard Doris was to get The Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award?

What an honor & well deserved…..Doris Day’s singing still stops me in my tracks!

Our readers would love to know what projects you are currently involved in. So please do tell us what does the future hold for Bruce Johnston?

As a very long time member of the Beach Boys, I still spend most of the year in concert worldwide but I do plan to put a great deal of focus on writing songs for television & movies over the next ten years.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

M. R. James - by Susan Hill

M. R. James’s dark world

M. R. James died at peace with himself and the world. We can be reasonably confident in claiming that after reading about his last weeks, during which he was ill, tired, weak and bored but probably not in pain, and even more on learning what his sister Grace said of his final days. During the tedious weeks of illness a group of Monty’s closest friends had made him the present of ‘a radio- gramophone of the latest type’ and he had taken to it immediately. Grace wrote:

The radiogram proved such a pleasure to him and I can see him now after dinner … listening so intently, with his pipe in his mouth and matches strewn around.

If you could have seen him afterwards you would have rejoiced, every line gone and looking like a young man again and a most beautiful profile ... and strangely enough … a great likeness to my mother appeared. I feel sure he looks like that in Paradise.

Montague Rhodes James is now best remembered for his two collections of Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, which were — or so he would have had everyone believe — mere light-hearted attempts to entertain friends at Christmas, first at King’s College, where he was Dean and then Provost, and later at Eton, where he was also Provost.

But James, although somewhat unhappily in charge of King’s, was one of the best Provosts Eton ever had and he was also a scholar of distinction, packing more solid achievement into his lifetime than most men who did not have any sort of administrative work to occupy them.

He had studied classics at Cambridge, became assistant in classical archaeology at the Fitzwilliam Museum and later, as a Fellow, then Dean, of King’s, lectured in divinity. He was a bibliographer, palaeographer and antiquarian, and catalogued every medieval manuscript in the Cambridge colleges, a massive work of patience and dedication. His enthusiasm for everything he did carried him on. He had a passionate interest in the Apocrypha and his translation of the Apocryphal New Testament is still a standard work. He was a naturally brilliant linguist and even taught himself Danish and Swedish in order to read writers such as Hans Christian Andersen and the Sagas in the originals.

He travelled extensively in Europe, generally by bicycle, and reckoned to have visited all but two of the cathedrals of France. He did not marry but he had many friends and when he returned to Eton as Provost, with relief, he delighted in the post, was happy and comfortable with staff and boys, down to the smallest and youngest, to whom he was often found chatting happily at the edge of the playing fields on pleasant afternoons.

Here then surely is a man altogether at peace with himself and the world, living a calm and orderly life, working steadily and hard, enjoying his leisure.

We may even decide that the ghost stories are of a piece with his character.

I wrote [them] at long intervals and most of them were read to patient friends, usually at the season of Christmas … they do not make any very exalted claim. If any of them succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, then my purpose in writing them will have been attained.

That sort of story frightens delightfully, giving us a not unpleasant shiver as we glance over our shoulders.

So what are we to make of these extracts?

The hands were of a dusky pallor, covered, like the body, with long coarse hairs and hideously taloned. The eyes, touched in with a burning yellow, had intensely black pupils … Imagine one of the awful, bird-catching spiders of South America and endowed with intelligence just less than human.

He put his hand into the well-known nook under the pillow. Only it did not get so far. What he touched was, according to his account, a mouth, with teeth and with hair about it, and, he declares, not the mouth of any human being.

These and even more vile creatures in M. R. James’s stories are not ghosts, as we know them, transparent figures in softly rustling garments or even headless horsemen. These are beings from the pit of hell and their purpose is always malevolent; they bring a terror that sends men out of their minds and hastens their deaths and are not the merely unnerving sheeted figures of a benign scholar’s invention.

James’s victims usually cause these dreadful creatures to emerge into the light of common day by chance. They commit no sin, though they sometimes make the mistake of being over-curious, as when Professor Parkin, in ‘Oh Whistle and I’ll come to you, My Lad’ blows an ancient whistle he has dug up, to see what will happen. Otherwise, as the James scholar Michael Cox pointed out, people may be guilty of nothing more than ‘a chance word, an unthinking action or simply being in the wrong place at the right time’, in order to spring the trap.

Malevolent beings are disturbed when an old post is dug up, a burial mound investigated, a tree is felled or some item of church furnishing removed. Is James’s message that the status quo is almost always better left alone and if so, can we apply the lesson to a man’s subconscious, which is best left uninvestigated, and are we referring to the subconscious of the author?

His friend Shane Leslie, also an aficionado of ghost stories, believed that below the surface, Monty James struggled with demons. It was Sheridan Le Fanu, Leslie says, who, ‘set the style Monty needed for his own ghost stories if he was to release his mind’s own mystical complex’, for he was bored by the scholarly investigation of classical ruins, ‘far more interested in investigating graveyards and psychical possibilities at home’.

He had lost too many people to death, especially via the scythe which cut through a generation of young Eton and King’s men in the Great War and by the accidental premature deaths of some especially close friends. Monty became darkly obsessed with death and every possibility it opened up, and Shane Leslie is stark in his assessment of Monty’s inner turmoil:

Far from being the issue of a side- hobby, the ghost stories were his relief from a secret madness in his inner soul — the obsession that in spite of all the art and beauty of the world and the unfailing friendships which met him at every corner … the malevolent and diabolical survived around him in the invisible. His friends wished he would believe in fairies instead of the curses, runes and appalling catastrophes he distributed to the innocent victims of his tales.

Yet in spite of it, Shane Leslie believes that James was essentially a happy man. Well, many happy people are conscious of darkness beneath the surface. Perhaps James was able to save his sanity by turning it to good use in his stories which, read aloud at Christmas though they were — and still are — are not successful only because they provoke an innocent and delightful shiver. They are better than mere entertainment, and models for any writer, whether of ghost stories or any other fiction, of elegant, measured English prose, perfectly paced and balanced. How to turn the screw, how to keep the reader on the edge of his seat, how to conjure up a sense of unease by a throwaway reference, a chance observation — M. R. James is a master of it all.

His supernatural creatures have a purpose which is never benign and in the everlasting battle between good and evil James often appears to let evil win out. The dreadful agents which are unleashed are doomed to remain in the hells of their own making and obtain their revenge and satisfaction by dragging the innocent down with them. It does not bear too close an analysis.

But we cannot ignore the verdict of Monty James’s own sister, who lived with him after she was widowed and was close to him all his life. To her he did not end his days in turmoil or torment, inner or outer; to her he was content and at peace, and after death looked like a young man again. By confronting them and writing about them, Monty had surely exorcised his demons and in doing so not only managed to entertain his readers but teach us a rather important lesson.

"We have worked a miracle and produced a book in three weeks from idea to finished copy and I am feeling very pleased.

I discovered by chance that the BBC are showing a new dramatisation of the classic M.R James ghost story O WHISTLE, AND I`LL COME TO YOU, MY LAD.

It so happened that I was writing a piece about James for the Christmas issue of The Spectator and saw that the story was only available in some general ghost story anthologies, or a rather cheap mass produced paperback of some MRJ.

But people might just want to read the one story, before or after seeing the TV version. So I set to and we have made it happen.

Long Barn Books is very fortunate – we work with terrific people who are always up for a challenge. Julie Martin, our designer, set the story onto the page in the handsome Venetian font. Andy English was about to take a trip to the East Anglian coast where the story is set, so produced a wonderfully dark brooding illustration which is also embossed on the cover. The JF Printing found a small store of hand made Italian paper left over from a previous special order which is perfect for just the right number of copies. We have a heavy card in a creamy white for the cover. And it’s done.

But – there almost always is one -mainly because of the special paper, this is a short print run. It’s a super book and a marvellous story, and would make a fine Christmas present, (though please don’t bend and fold it to try and squeeze it into a stocking!)."


Friday, 23 September 2011

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Tell Me Why
Oh Lonesome Me
Once An Angel
Cowgirl In The Sand

After hours: -

There Stands The Glass
Need Your Love So Bad

All Neil for the main show. Acts included a crystal ball juggler; a band with bongos, bass and guitar; and a wonderful female duet at the end of the evening - just magic! Someone broke his duck after threatening to play his first ever gig for weeks & weeks - and very good he was.