Tuesday, April 28, 2009

How should rockers grow old?

Please, enough torture! I confess, I confess everything!

Did you know that at Gitmo they used Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA in their ‘psychological operations’ (along with Metallica and Britney, amongst others)? Given the song's lyrics, it’s an interesting choice. Defiantly self-aware or appallingly the opposite?

Springsteen is one of a group of Grand Old Men of Rock, the vast and continuing prolificacy of which has seriously affected the topography of my CD collection. The other members of this group are Bob Dylan (obviously), Van Morrison (probably too prolific if we’re honest), Tom Waits (consistently excellent), Morrissey (uneven), David Bowie (even unevener) and, more lately and thanks to the persistent badgering of my excellent friend Martpol, Nick Cave.

Admirable old geezers, all of them, their many albums dominate my shelves. Ploughing on against the odds, in and out of fashion, just doin’ it cos it’s got to be done. Dylan and Springsteen have attained wisdom and musical enlightenment. Van still hasn’t found what he’s looking for. Bowie is as Bowie does. Waits and Cave are cunning old foxes burrowing ever deeper into their mad um, foxholes. Morrissey is still whingeing inimitably away.

The greatest of these is of course Dylan, and I’m going to see him tomorrow night in Birmingham’s National Indoor Arena. So if there are any messages you want me to pass on, just let me know and I’ll bellow them during quiet moments.

But Springsteen is generally underestimated. The Promised Land kept playing in my head as I was writing about a Cardiff stag night and the tone infected the post, possibly because I saw Springsteen at the Millennium Stadium in that very city last year. Anyway, the words seemed apt enough.

It’s interesting to compare the ferocity of that performance of the song in 1978 (embedded in the stag post) with a more contemporary performance. The Promised Land is a lame sort of Obama-ish ‘things can only get better’ singalong these days. But in 1978 when Springsteen was 29 years old, it was about something quite different, and it seems Bruce no longer believes in it.

Now that he’s 59 he believes in very different things: cities of ruins and girls in summer clothes. And devils and dust, and rising again.

Nick Cave doesn't believe in an interventionist God, but Van is still trying to. Tom Waits believes in the Devil and Bowie believes in himself. Morrissey believes everyone is out to get him, whereas Dylan, I think, believes in Love and the meaninglessness of Time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Torture and the Non-Obvious Appleyard

I had been musing on Skipper’s comment on Bryan’s post about torture, trying to work out why I disagreed with Skipper when his argument seemed so coherent. Eventually I realised the answer and was going to post a reply but I had too much real-life flotsam and jetsam to clear in the meantime, so now I’m putting it here instead.

A key purpose of Bryan’s blog is to make generalist but non-obvious points. When you read his posts, therefore, you should hesitate before ascribing an obvious position to him. The obvious debate when it comes to state-sanctioned torture is the position torture is always absolutely wrong versus the position torture is regrettable but in some circumstances permissible.

Skipper’s argument – which, as always in his case, is logical and uncluttered – is for the latter position against the former. Skipper shows that it makes no sense to say that torture is absolutely wrong in all cases, because we can always construct hypotheticals (however outlandish and rare) in which the only moral conclusion is that torture is necessary (think 24*).

Skipper believes that he has thus shown Bryan’s argument to be, in his words, ‘piffle’. The first part of understanding why Skipper is wrong is to remember to look for the non-obvious in Appleyard. The second part can be found in Peter Burnet’s brilliantly insightful comment here in which he identifies commonalities between the American and the French philosophical approaches, in contrast to the English tradition, including: “The tendency to deduce from ideological opening premises in politics and law [and] the equation of government with "state" rather than "community"…”

In the American tradition, Skipper deduces policy from first principles. Since he has shown the principle “torture is always absolutely wrong” to be obviously flawed, he deduces policy from the opposite position; thus Goverments should act based on the principle that “torture is in some (rare) circumstances permissible”.

But from the British perspective, whereby policy and law are not deduced but emerge piecemeal and pragmatically from our liberal traditions (bottom up, not top down), then although Skipper’s framework is solid, he has built the scaffolding upside down. For Appleyard, the assumption that state-sanctioned torture is absolutely wrong is just part of what makes the Anglo Liberal West the Anglo Liberal West. It is not a naïve assumption because along with it is the grim acceptance that we will inevitably lapse (or as Bryan has it, ‘revert’ to our ‘fallen’ natures) and turn a blind eye to any torture which incumbent Governments have deemed necessary. But expecting that this will occur cannot itself represent a philosophical stance. Instead, torture must remain an absolute wrong regardless of efficacy, even though wrong things will inevitably happen, humans being what they are.

As well as being just the traditional British way, there are practical advantages to this approach. We resist both right-wing American and left-wing European calls to enshrine a British Constitution or Bill of Rights - even though it seems so obviously reasonable and good - because instinctively we are suspicious of moving away from a default where everything that is not explicitly forbidden is permitted, to one where everything that is not explicitly permitted is forbidden.

And in the torture debate, Bryan’s non-obvious argument for all torture being absolutely wrong avoids some big practical problems which Skipper’s more obvious argument has to deal with. If we start with a Government principle along the lines of “torture is forbidden unless exceptional circumstances demand it”, then the debates about what constitutes torture and what constitute exceptional circumstances open up and the slippery slopes await. Recognising this, Skipper comes up with some safeguards involving expert medical pronouncements for the former problem, and judgements on proportionality of the danger on the second. But the potential for abuse is glaring, because by enshrining a principle that torture is sometimes ok, torture becomes, in the right circumstances, not just respectable but a moral obligation on the state. (Torture's efficacy, note, is just assumed.)

Skipper’s argument seemed obviously right at first glance, but as ever, look for the non-obvious and even the most basic first principles wobble, bringing the whole scaffolding crashing down.

Anyway, the reason I couldn’t write this earlier is that I was putting books into boxes, and boxes into the attic. Mostly philosophical tomes which I haven’t opened since university and thus I’m no longer sure if they’re genuine reading matter or just props. Flicking through my Back Pages –Kant, Spinoza, Leibniz, Marx, even Dawkins – I realised that while I sort of remember reading this stuff, I have little connection with the person who read them. My ‘education’ in the decade since appears to have been a process of stripping away almost everything I once assumed, everything that was once obvious. But I was so much older then....

The books are going into the attic to make way (against the advice of my internet pals) for the nursery. The strange thing is that almost any idiot is allowed to bring up a baby – you don’t need a degree or even a license. In the place of the philosophical texts the shelves are to be filled with children’s books, many of which are coming down from various family attics. So it goes, so it goes, eh?

*Perhaps the biggest disservice that 24 has done to the torture debate is not so much to suggest that good people sometimes have to do it, but to suggest that it always works. The baddies who undergo torture always either resist to the point of death or crack and reveal the truth. Thus the question of efficacy is removed from the debate, and the only dilemma is whether it is morally acceptable to torture one (very very bad) person in order to save many innocents. Since 24 offers up an endless series of Skipper’s outlandish hypotheticals, it’s always a no-brainer. Staying in fiction, contrast Le Carre’s spy novels, in which agents are trained to spew out convincing disinformation when under duress, so that torture doesn’t work.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Work, sport, life

It is the Budget today, and for me that means about a year's worth of work crammed into 2 or 3 days.

In the meantime, allow me to plug The Old Batsman, a blog which has become one of daily life's little pleasures and consolations. I've been meaning for a while to write a long piece about why cricket is the sport that teaches you most about life and death, but OB does it better in posts like this.

And over here, Elberry provides a remarkable dissection of the philosophical implications of the offside rule.

Take it steady, folks.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A pint and six shots with Jase Rooney

Pertinent to our recent discussions about Britain’s weekend city centre issues, I came across this interview feature in the April issue of Kick Off! – the UK’s top-selling binge-drinking magazine – and I thought I’d share it with you.

A pint and six shots with…. Jase Rooney

Every month Kick Off! shares a pint and six shots with one the brightest stars of Britain’s binge-drinking scene. This time it’s the turn of Jason ‘Jase’ Rooney to down the legendary drinks. Rooney, 24, is one of Manchester's most respected bother-starters, and has also represented England in Spain, Portugal and, most famously, Crete’s notoriously difficult Malia resort.

Kick Off!: Ok, Jase, here’s your ‘Pint Question’ for openers. What’s been your favourite moment in your bingeing career so far?
Jase Rooney: I thought you said the first one was always easy! Gosh, you know, there’s been so many. Obviously the one everyone always talks about was the night in Malia when I put away thirteen pints and the ‘fishbowl’ cocktails and then took on a busload of Scousers...well you know the rest.

Of course that night made my name and gets in all the lists and the compilation shows but, you know, Manchester is where my heart is so I’d have to say my favourite moment was my debut on Deansgate in 2002. I was seventeen, which these days is actually quite late to start proper bingeing. Well, I’d just about made it through the night when a guy in the taxi queue smacked my kebab out my hand and landed me a beauty right on the jawbone. I’ll never forget it. From that moment on I knew that this was what I wanted to do and, thank God, I’ve been blessed. I’m eternally grateful to that bloke...Phew, what a right hook! Massive respect.

KO: Thanks Jase, the pint went down nicely. Now here’s your first shot. In interviews and in your column for The Sunday Telegraph you’ve often cited your father Keith as the biggest influence on your bingeing career. Tell us more about him.
JR: Most definitely. I suppose Dad was one of the pioneers of binge-drinking as we know it. He used to do the old Working Men’s clubs back in the seventies – you know: Bolton, Oldham, Rochdale. In fact he was the first man in Rochdale to down ten pints of mild and ten babyshams in ten minutes and then vomit in a policeman’s helmet. Yeah, they named a trophy after him and try to recreate it every year. Not a lot of people know that! [laughs] Of course, it was very different in those days – they didn’t have the light lagers, the late opening hours and above all the training that we have these days. I mean, I’m in the gym all week working just for those few hours on a Saturday night. Nowadays we know a lot more about looking after our bodies. Dad didn’t have all that but he definitely had the talent and if he was drinking now he’d be one of the top boys, no problem.

KO: But did your father help you specifically with learning the binge-drinking ropes?
JR: Oh yeah, he was brilliant with us kids. He used to take me and my brother [Shane – now 22 and a respected binge-er in his own right] into the backyard, give us twenty cans of Tizer to down and then show us how to do basic lunges, shoves and swearing. We used to practice on the cat! Obviously Shane’s boozing in the lower leagues at the moment [Shane lives and binges in Hartlepool] but Dad still looks on us both the same. My drinking in Manchester and the international stuff makes no difference to Dad! It’s great for keeping my feet on the ground and they always take the mickey out of me at Christmas!

KO: And are there any particular tips that you would pass on to youngsters hoping to make the grade as top-rank binge-ers?
JR: The biggest thing I’d say to any kid trying to break into the game is: Believe. The techniques, the tactical side of it, all that will come. Most of all you’ve got to want it, and you’ve got to believe in yourself. And it does mean making sacrifices. That salad in your burger? You may want it now but you’ve got to force yourself to throw it on the street, even from an early age. No top binge-drinker ever ate the lettuce out of his kebab. Remember the old adage: if you have a salad, make sure it’s tossed!

KO: Simon Barnes of The Times once said of you: “Jase Rooney could start a fight if he was alone with a dead Gandhi in a library.” Fair comment?
JR: [laughs] Yeah, I actually phoned Barnesy and thanked him for that one. I don’t know, I guess the fighting bit is what’s made my name, so yeah, there is something in it. Plenty of good binge-ers can do the drinking and puking parts but struggle with the technical side of the scrapping. It’s all about good eye-contact and timing. It’s about picking the optimum moment and if you get that right then even a basic move like “Whatchoo looking at you fkn’ twat?” can get you in there…bang!

KO: You famously use your status as one of the country’s top drinkers to do charity work, most recently Nuts magazine’s testicular cancer awareness campaign “Grab your Nuts for Nuts”, for which you posed nude. Is this something that’s important to you?
JR: Of course. I don’t generally like to talk about it, but yeah, bingeing’s been very good to me and I think it’s important to give something back. Actually I’m doing the London Marathon soon, in aid of books for schools. It’s a joint sponsorship by Fosters lager and the Times Literary Supplement. Me and ten of my mates are running it together in long-sleeve shirts, black Top Man trousers and smart shoes. At every drinks station we have to down a pint and a shot, then at the end we’re having a mass brawl in Trafalgar Square. Anyone’s welcome to join in, and if I can just do a quick plug you can see all about it at www.fightinginthefountain2009.co.uk

KO: OK, Jase, here’s your sixth and last shot. You’re at the peak of your game now, but at some point you’re going to have to retire. Have you made any plans for when the time comes to hang up the Ben Sherman shirt?
JR: Yeah, thanks for bringing that up! [laughs] No, obviously you can’t hide from it – the fact is, our bingeing careers are short and then you’ve got to move on and get on with life. I don’t want to be one of those old boys who’s still going into town at 35, pretending he’s 25. That’s just tragic in my book. But I like to think I’ll stay in the game somehow, even if it’s just some gentle alcoholism and verbal abuse down at the local pub – and of course I’ve got the Telegraph column and there’s my books…

KO: Well done for mentioning the book – don’t worry you’ll get your plug! Almost done, but before we call it a night and grab the taxis, here’s your bonus 'Kebab Question'. With the Olympics coming to London in 2012, there is some talk of trying to get binge-drinking recognised as an official Olympic sport. Where do you stand on that, and above all, would you captain the Great Britain side if asked?
JR: Captain? Now you really are taking the mickey! [laughs] No, I don’t know about all that. I think maybe it’s a bit early for bingeing to be in the Olympics. The fact is that the home nations are way ahead when it comes to bingeing so it would be a bit uncompetitive, like when they introduced basketball so the Americans could enter the Dream Team. Having said that, the Aussies will probably beat us at our own game, they usually do! As for me being captain, of course that’s up to the powers that be. I’d be proud just to be representing my country…that’ll do nicely for me. I’m just a kid from Manchester!

KO: Oh I don’t know about that, but thanks Jase.
JR: Any time, it’s been a pleasure.

Jason Rooney’s second autobiography ‘Puking in the Gutter…But Looking at the Stars’ is out on Monday. 'Crash Bang Vomit!' a binge-drinking bloopers DVD co-presented by Rooney and Germaine Greer, will be released in time for Christmas.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The dogs on St Mary Street howl

Stag party the other week. Wales. Clay pigeon shooting in a backwater not particularly near to Port Talbot, then a night of good old British binge-drinking in Cardiff city centre, a hell hole.

There are so many stag and hen parties running about in fancy dress in Cardiff that, to an observer at a very great distance, St Mary Street on a Saturday night might look like a big fun carnival. Up close one is unlikely to make that mistake; the atmosphere is many things but not fun. Male tribes like dog packs eye each other as they pass on criss-crossing pub crawls. Squawking broken-hearted slags bussed in from the Valleys and the godawful death traps and suicide raps - the Bridgend Massiv – exaggerate their drunkenness.

The stag was a chap I play football with and most of the party likewise. (Generally the non-footballers were significantly overweight, whereas the footballers were merely slightly overweight, which is a neat little snapshot survey of the benefits of regular exercise as youth slips away). He was dressed as a giant Mr Potato Head and carried a bag of charlotte spuds. We, the Tribe of the Bristolian Potato, followed our mascot, our totem, through the throngs. But the real head of the pack was the Best Man. He was an ideal choice: a chain-smoking shoulder-rolling stalker, king of the practical joke and the one-line knockout; a pub accountant always knowing exactly who owes what to the kitty; and a natural at the bar, pivoting and elbowing through the crowds to bellow his round.

The streets boom and swell (the smoking ban has spilled pubs onto the pavements) and the riot vans accumulate. Tension peaks at about 11pm, after which the wave breaks and St Mary’s Street is a Hogarthian nightmare, rivers of hot blood and booze.

It is a buzz, of course, but the drug wears off with the years. Being a chameleon of indeterminate and malleable accent I am able to accommodate myself reasonably well to all manner of social groups from football blokes to dinner party sophisticates, but perhaps without ever feeling fully accepted in any of them. Nothing special about that, most people are the same. Think of England’s First Law of Social Interactivity states that: The character of a group is generally not determined by an aggregation of the characters of its individual members, but rather is set by convention and some obscure process of mutual agreement and, apart from a few hardcore types at the centre, the members adapt themselves accordingly.

Thus we dumb ourselves down or talk ourselves up to suit the occasion.

This has never been a problem for me because I’ve never felt the need to decide whether I prefer high culture (classical concerts, the brilliant and hilarious poems of Geoffrey Hill, Nigeness) or low (football, beer, the background threat of physical violence). But the strict limits on permissible conversational topics in the laddish set is such a bore. Sport, birds, booze. You open your mouth and realise you can’t say it. There’s nothing to say. Somehow, in one relatively quiet pub, I did manage to talk to a fellow. I’d previously known nothing about him except that he plays in midfield and has a ferocious right foot shot. Turns out he’s a Doctor of Chemistry and does full time research at a university. I confessed I had a BA. Our talk was furtive, it felt like we’d broken a social taboo.

Didn’t last, we were soon all following our leader and our tuberous mascot into a deafening madhouse. At least I learned that the appeal of the traditional Saturday night on the town – pub, very noisy pub, club, kebab, taxi home – has moved from zero, which is where it was before the stag party, into the negative. The pub and kebab bits are still all right, but I have, it seems, reached the stage in life where it is no longer possible to pretend that standing scrunched, swigging a pint and failing to have a conversation because the music has been deliberately raised to a volume where conversation is impossible and therefore swigging pints ever more quickly is the only possible pastime, is fun.*

What’s more, I’d been tricked into staying at a backpackers hostel. Frigging bunkbeds. Much worse, communal bathrooms! Next morning I woke horribly early and realised I would have to use one. I’m way too old and well, rich for this, I thought, as made my trepidatious way down the corridor, dreading what might await me in a Sunday morning toilet in a hostel full of stags. But for once my luck was in – the cleaning fairies had been and everything was virgin new and sparkling. The sun streamed in through the windows, bathing a pyramid of new loo rolls in sweet Welsh light. Nobody else in the whole place had stirred. A silence save for some low rumbling snores. I was so relieved and happy I decided to make the most of it and have a shower. Suddenly the prospect of going through the last few hours of stagdom (fry up, hair of the dog) seemed intolerable. I wanted to get back to my life and my wife. So I quietly got dressed, packed my bag and resolved to sneak out of there like Renton at the end of Trainspotting. And, after a quick lie down to let a tsunami of nausea and headache pass, I did.

I walked to Cardiff Central railway station, elated and carrying my hangover about three feet above my head. It was a completely different town. Sundrenched, quiet, washed clean. But Cardiff were playing Swansea in a lunchtime kick-off, and even at 8.45am the riot police were forming ranks again, and outside the Wetherspoons grizzly men with hate-pinched faces gathered in gangs, drinking breakfast from cans of Blackthorn. I was grateful even for the replacement bus that took me a long route back to Bristol, via Newport where Yates’s Wine Lodge is inscribed with the motto: “Moderation is true Temperance”. Ha bloody ha, I thought. Cardiff is bad on a Saturday night but I bet Newport isn’t far off.

What is it about? It’s something to do with the working week, and the blood running cold and finding somebody itching for something to start. Maybe the long absence of a military draft. Something to do with the inaccessible Promised Land. Probably I used to get it but I don’t really any more. But still, the dogs on Main Street howl, because they do understand...

*It should be obvious that the vast city centre pub/clubs like Walkabout and Chicago Rock are purpose-built arenas for binge-drinking and are at the root of the ‘problem’, if that’s what it is. The simplest way to combat the binge culture would therefore be to force these places to have tables instead of standing areas and limit the decibel level to background ambience. This would remove the obvious cause of the weekend free-for-all without infringing on the freedoms of the middle aged, who enjoy their liver-destruction and oblivion-seeking more peaceably than do the youths of this great and lonely nation. Bit of politics for you there.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gather! My wildest dreams have come true...

You'll never believe this, but I have just won a contest at RiffTrax. Bill Corbett wanted ideas for a new Rifftrax obsession, and he plumped for my suggestion of rubbish waxworks.

You can read my acceptance speech here. I tried to mention you all, but I'm very sorry if I forgot anyone, especially Will, who has been instrumental in supporting the Black Lace boys - I was emotional, you see.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Animal Collective

This is strange and beautiful.

It sounds like how I imagine people of the 19th Century would have imagined how music of the 21st Century would sound. Or maybe they thought the climax of Beethoven's Ninth was the climax of music. Maybe it was. Animal Collective still sounds like music of the future even in the 21st Century but so does Beethoven's Ninth.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Monbiot logic

Have you read Monbiot's latest about placcy bags in the Guardian?

Being the most achingly trendy of warmenists, Monbiot is of course now way beyond worrying about placcy bags. He scorns greens who still worry about placcy bags, just as trendy music critics start hating bands as soon as everyone else begins liking them.

Personally I can see the sense in placcy bag-boycotting, because they are ultimately litter, and litter is an environmental problem that seems to me to be obviously a real problem, with an easy solution.

But anyway, the Monbiot piece is remarkable for this passage:

Don't get me wrong – I don't like plastic bags either. We use too many of them, just as we use too many of all the earth's resources....But their total impact is microscopic by comparison to almost anything else we do. As environment writer George Marshall records in his excellent book Carbon Detox, our annual average consumption of bags produces 5kg of carbon dioxide a year. Total average emissions are 12,500kg.

Monbiot, don't forget, is the man who has launched a campaign against Agas because of their carbon emissions. He doesn't seem to have spotted that his logic above undermines every single thing every warmenist has ever told us to do.


Sunday, April 05, 2009

Citation needed

I will be away for a couple of days. A long, meditative and profound post on matters wholly unrelated to Black Lace will appear on Wednesday, probably.

But in the meantime, on matters wholly related to Black Lace, it appears that somebody has suggested that citations are needed on their wikipedia entry. Can't think why.

Think of England has also this week welcomed visitors who have googled the following search terms:

- muggsy spanier black lace
- Black Lace Homage to Homage to Sextus Propertius, and
- Agadoo, with its hard-hitting and thinly-veiled references to the narcotics industry, combines the best elements of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds

Friday, April 03, 2009

Man sues rock legends over ‘Push Pineapple Syndrome’

Page last updated at 10:35 GMT, Friday, 3 April 2009
by Neil Hacksworth

A man is suing 80s rock band Black Lace for £600,000 because of psychological damage resulting from having a song stuck in his head for more than twenty years, BBC News has learnt.

Stewart Sneddon, 46, from Newport Pagnell, claims that the chorus from the band’s 1984 hit 'Agadoo' has been repeating compulsively within his mind since he attended a concert at Wembley stadium almost 23 years ago. He is bringing the case against event organisers Splat!, as well as Black Lace members Terry Tickle, 58, and Dean Smedley, 57.

“My life has basically been a living hell since the gig,” said Mr Sneddon, who compiles classified ads for a local newspaper. “I can’t sleep, I have no confidence and my marriage has suffered as a result. It was completely ridiculous what they did in that encore, there was no need for it and it’s me that’s had to pay the price.”

Chorus repeated 112 times
Black Lace’s Wembley concert on 15 August 1986 is remembered as one of the great events in British rock music.

Over 82,000 people attended the performance, while an estimated 400 million viewers across 60 countries watched on screens in one of the largest-scale satellite link-up and television broadcasts of all time. Amongst the numerous notable events of that day was a world record for the longest human ‘snake’, as some 21,000 people danced to the band’s classic hit Do The Conga.

But the concert is best remembered for the unusually long encore of Agadoo, which lasted for some three-quarters of an hour and during which the song’s catchy chorus was repeated without variation for 112 times in succession.

It was this extended repetition, according to legal experts, that provides the grounds for Mr Sneddon’s case against the band.

“If our client had merely bought the Agadoo single and deliberately listened to it a hundred times, then there would be no case to answer,” said a spokesman for Mr Sneddon’s legal team.

“But in a packed Wembley stadium he was exposed to the full force of the song without any reasonable chance of escape.”

Renowned neurologist Oliver Sachs has supported Mr Sneddon’s case.

“The official term for a song being stuck in one’s head is ‘involuntary musical imagery’ but people commonly refer to these things as ‘earworms’,” Sachs told a BBC reporter.

“However, when a tune is exceptionally hard to shake off we sometimes call it an ‘ear-python’ – like an earworm but bigger. The chorus of 'Agadoo' certainly falls into this category, in fact it may even be the Daddy Ear-Python. A single hearing is enough to lodge the song in your head for hours, so 112 repetitions is far in excess of safe levels. So yes, serious psychological damage is likely to occur.”

Since Mr Sneddon has brought his case, several other attendees of the 1986 concert have come forward complaining of similar symptoms.

Neuroscientists have even suggested that a medical term “Push Pineapple Syndrome” should be formally recognised to describe the condition.

Black Lace vocalist Smedley and guitarist Tickle – who is now a respected music producer – have both so far refused to comment on the case.

However, figures from the rock elite have been speaking out in support of the band. U2’s Bono, who supported Black Lace at the Wembley concert along with Haircut 100, Michael Jackson and Queen, was dismissive of Mr Sneddon’s claim.

“I don’t know who this guy is or what’s his problem,” said the Irish singer. “But he should just be grateful he was at that gig. Black Lace rocked it, I mean they fe**ing rocked it that day. He should be telling his grandkids he was there, not whingeing, the fe**ing gobshoi*e.”

Oasis star Noel Gallagher, who remembers watching the concert on television, echoed Bono’s sentiments: “For me and ordinary working-class people of my generation there’s only ever been four British bands: the Beatles, the Smiths, the Pistols and the Lace. I had that mullet, man. Oasis wouldn’t have existed if it wasn’t for them two.”

Newer rock acts including the Killers, Babyshambles, Vampire Weekend and the Jonas Brothers have also pledged their support for the influential band. All four have agreed to play in a special fundraising gig, headlined by Coldplay, should Black Lace lose the case.

Comedy duo Horne and Corden and compere Jonathan Ross are also penciled in for the event, which is being organised by Pamela Spanks, chairperson of the Black Lace fanclub – or ‘LaceHeads’ as they prefer to be known.

“This whole case is crazy,” said Ms Spanks. “I’d love to be able to hear Agadoo all the time in my head. He should be enjoying every minute of it!”

Mr Sneddon however, is adamant that the song has ruined his life. “It’s just that damn chorus over and over, I don’t even know the words to the verses. If I concentrate on something really hard it fades a bit, but whenever I’m sitting doing nothing and my head is empty it comes back louder than ever. I work in the media so this happens a lot.”

The case continues.

Thursday, April 02, 2009

The Ballad of Black Lace

Bloody hell, I can’t get Agadoo out of my head, and it's all my own fault.

What’s more, Black Lace are releasing a new version of it, with a video directed by Les Battersby off Corrie. Classy. The BBC announces this portentous news by referring to Agadoo as “the worst song of all time”. This description is based on a Q magazine poll a few years ago, but it is plainly wrong. Agadoo is a naff disco song that succeeded in being exceptionally catchy and ubiquitous. To call it the “worst song of all time” is to ignore all the naff disco songs that tried to be exceptionally catchy and ubiquitous but failed and are, therefore, worse than Agadoo. Why, Black Lace themselves must have produced reams of songs that are worse than Agadoo. Agadoo is their best song.

Even though this comeback has a heavy tang of the Professional Wurzel about it (remember that? That was one of my greatest hits on Appleyard’s blog. Glory days, those. Perhaps Professional Wurzel is my Agadoo), it’s heartening to see the Lace back in the Big Time. Their story is as fascinating and turbulent as that of any of the great rock acts of our times…

...Vocalist Dean Smedley (‘Black’) and guitarist Terry Tickle (‘Lace’) met at school in Wolverhampton in the early 1960s. Sharing a love of skiffle and late-period baroque, they became fast friends and performed their first gig as Black Lace in 1972. The nascent incarnation of the band was at the forefront of the prog rock and heavy metal movements, and quickly garnered a reputation for an uncompromisingly loud guitar sound and lyrics influenced by the modernist poets of the early 20th Century. But despite having a small but loyal fanbase, their first three albums Burnt Norton (1974), Homage to Homage to Sextus Propertius (1975) and In for a Penny, in for Ezra Pound (1978) all flopped.

Disillusioned and on the verge of being dropped by Columbia Records, Smedley persuaded Tickle that the band needed to move in a radical new direction if it was to survive at all.

“It was a watershed moment in our careers,” recalled Smedley in his frank 1996 autobiography Push Pineapples? You Bet Your Ass I Agadoo. “We stayed up all night drinking merlot and had it out; real heart-to-heart, balls-on-the-table stuff. It was tough for Terry who really loved his TS Eliot, but he knew I was right. The modernist poet thing was played out. I told him that the future for British music was the Butlins Nightclub/Office Christmas Party/Wedding Disco route. After a few spliffs, some hugs and a lot of crying, he relented. The very next day we went into the studio and recorded Do The Conga. And the rest, as they say, is history.”

The effect was instantaneous. Hits such as Superman and The Music Man propelled Black Lace to national and then international stardom, but it was the seminal 1984 smash Agadoo that really put the Wolverhampton boys on the world musical map. At last, record moguls on both sides of the Atlantic were forced to sit up and take notice. The public worshipped them, and the critics heaped lavish praise on Smedley’s lyrics.

“Agadoo, with its hard-hitting and thinly-veiled references to the narcotics industry, combines the best elements of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On with the Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” gushed the NME’s Tony Parsons, in a five star review. “‘Pushing pineapples’ is LA street slang for selling cocaine, while ‘grinding the coffee’ refers to the act of preparing heroin for injection. Of course, the kids bopping their hearts out on the dance floor are blissfully unaware of this, but their parents can exchange a wry glance over their rum cocktails. Talk about multi-layered… Black Lace have pulled off the trick of appealing to every strata of British society, and for that they deserve all the plaudits that are sure to come their way. 10 out of 10.”

Black Lace’s zenith came on 15 August 1986, when a triumphant performance at Wembley Stadium climaxed with an epic, 45-minute encore of Agadoo, with the chorus repeated no less than 112 times. The standing ovation that followed was over twice that length.

But this golden period was not to last. Smedley was taking full advantage of the easy access to alcohol, drugs and groupies, and while he was preoccupied with living the rock star lifestyle, Tickle – widely acknowledged as the musical genius in the band, but possessing little commercial instinct – took the Black Lace sound down increasingly avant garde paths. The 1987 album Black Lace In Your Face! spawned several top 5 hits, but the long, gloomy spoken-word passages on the second half of the record baffled fans.

Sales plummeted, and the nadir came with Tickle’s triple-album tribute to Muggsy Spanier, The Cornet Players’ Cornet Player (1989), which failed to sell a single copy. The record was even boycotted by the Muggsy Spanier Appreciation Society, who objected to the explicit lyrics and the cover art’s frank sexual imagery.

For almost two decades the Lace lads have been away from the limelight. Smedley spent the 1990s in and out of rehab, while Tickle has reinvented himself as a producer and talent-spotter. Jack White of The White Stripes was amongst the first of the hip new acts to acknowledge their musical debt to Black Lace, and Tickle has produced critically-acclaimed albums for bands including Kings Of Leon, the Arctic Monkeys and Busted.

But those who know Tickle and Smedley know that where they really belong is on the stage, wagging their peroxide mullets and having a blast. The 2009 re-release of Agadoo (complete with Mambo remix and video directed by the acclaimed film-maker Les Battersby) and subsequent reunuion tour will be emotional, and sure to gain them millions of new fans across the globe.

But for the true Lace-heads, Dean and Terry never really went away. Because from the bars of Marbella to the school discos of the West Midlands, whenever that hula melody starts to play, then around calypso sarong, we’ll all, always, be singing this song...

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Emergency Agadoo

In the post below, David informs us that Black Lace's seminal 80s disco smash Agadoo has never reached America. I must do my bit to rectify this gross and inexplicable oversight immediately.

Your challenge is to watch this all the way through. And remember, this was not ironic, it was 'wacky'. Take this, Yanks!

(this is also revenge on Mike Nelson for making me watch 6 minutes and 45 seconds of hambone, which, he tells me, is an endurance world record)