Looks Unfamiliar #2: Garreth F. Hirons - Piers Morgan, I Want My Sizzlin' Bacon Back


Looks Unfamiliar 2 - Garreth F. Hirons

Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim in this episode is writer and musician Garreth F. Hirons, who tells us about his troubling memories of indie band The Bigger The God, Food Fighters, ZX Spectrum game Saboteur, short-lived wrestling sensation The Triangle Of Terror, Sizzlin' Bacon Flavour Monster Munch, and BBC3 sitcom Fun At The Funeral Parlour. Along the way they'll also be finding out why professional wrestlers should never attempt topical satire, why ZX Spectrum owners lived in fear of Ian Durell, and how Piers Morgan caused the decline of the maize-based snack industry.

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Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.



Support Looks Unfamiliar by buying one of Tim's books! Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1 is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. And there's several other books to choose from here...

It's Time For... It's Time For... Comic Relief!


Between 1988 and 1995, BBC Radio 1 made a concerted - and highly successful - attempt at introducing a regular speech comedy slot into its schedule. Designed from the outset to help emphasise the station's distinctive identity, this initiative would give valuable exposure to performers and comic styles that would have struggled to get much airtime elsewhere, and amongst its most significant achievements were Loose Talk, Alan Parker's 29 Minutes Of Truth, Lee And Herring's Fist Of Fun, Collins And Maconie's Hit Parade, Armando Iannucci, Victor Lewis-Smith, Radio Tip Top and The Chris Morris Music Show. What is surprising in retrospect is that they never really staged a speech comedy show to tie in with the then-new Comic Relief event. They nearly did, though.

Reasoning that it made more sense to raise awareness in the weeks running up to Comic Relief night than actually doing anything that would compete with the television coverage itself, Radio 1 had marked the first event in March 1988 with a fortnight of guest appearances by comedians on their regular music shows. The following year, they began even earlier and in even bigger style, with a special hour-long edition of their first ever regular speech comedy show, Hey Rrradio!!!.

Fronted by up-and-coming standup Patrick Marber and comic poet John Hegley with his band The Popticians, Hey Rrradio!!! was recorded in front of a live audience at the Hackney Empire (and later the Woolwich Tramshed), as a sixty minute show which was edited down to thirty for broadcast. Developed by producers David Tyler and Bill Dare, it was a vibrant, raucous effort with the emphasis on edgy rather than topical humour, and in a sense was radio's closest equivalent to Channel 4's groundbreaking standup show Saturday Live. Beginning on 7th October 1988, the show's fast and tightly-edited nature was ideally suited to Radio 1 and to Station Controller Johnny Beerling's vision for its comedy output, and amongst the performers who appeared during its substantial run were Arthur Smith, Arnold Brown, Mark Steel, Paul Merton, Steve Punt, Hugh Dennis, Craig Ferguson, Donna McPhail, Jo Brand (then performing as 'The Sea Monster'), Norman Lovett, Sean Hughes, Phil Cornwell, Jim Tavare and Simon Munnery, with their performances interspersed with contributions from mostly 'alternative' musical acts.


Hey Rrradio!!! found a vocal supporter in Radio Times, which - unusually for a Radio 1 show - regularly carried photographs of Marber and Hegley to accompany its listings. However, not everyone was quite so taken with the show; one senior BBC executive was so disgusted by one of Jo Brand’s routines that he was moved to voice the opinion in a review board meeting that she should never appear on radio or television again. In itself Hey Rrradio!!! did not mark any revolutionary leap forward in comedy programming – as Bill Dare remarked, “in a sense it was simply a cabaret show” – but it did show what was possible within the confines of Radio 1’s output. Keen to build on this, Johnny Beerling commissioned Dare to come up with a new team-based show that would be identifiably Radio 1's 'own' in both tone and format.

In assembling said team, Dare selected two promising double acts that had already been making a name for themselves on the fringes of radio comedy. David Baddiel and Rob Newman had been at Cambridge University at the same time as each other, but had not actually worked together until they found themselves on the writing team of Radio 4’s Week Ending in 1986. Through the reputation that they had gained on the show – not something that was particularly easy to achieve on Week Ending, notorious for its long credits lists and high turnover of contributors – they had been approached to co-write some of Patrick Marber’s material for Hey Rrradio!!!. As such, they were both familiar with, and perfectly suited to, the style of comedy Radio 1 was aiming towards. Meanwhile, Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis had followed a roughly similar career path. They had both been at Cambridge around the same time - in fact, Punt and Baddiel had both served as President of Footlights - and again found work on Week Ending. However, they had also enjoyed a significantly higher public profile, featuring regularly in Jasper Carrott’s Saturday night BBC1 show Carrott Confidential and on a number of radio comedy shows. To complete the lineup, Dare also brought in several performers from the more ideologically charged edge of the live standup circuit; Mark Thomas, Jo Brand and the musical duo Skint Video, otherwise known as Steve Gribbin and Brian Mulligan.


The projected series was named The Mary Whitehouse Experience, in a deliberately disrespectful reference to the veteran moral crusader of the same name. It was intended that this was exactly the sort of programme that Whitehouse herself would not have wished her name to be associated with, and indeed – although the details are somewhat confused and accounts differ – she is said to have threatened legal action against the BBC. The pilot for The Mary Whitehouse Experience was recorded on 20th February 1989, and played to Johnny Beerling on 8th March. Beerling was sufficiently impressed by it to clear a space in the schedules for transmission two days later, coincidentally on Comic Relief night, in what would subsequently prove an atypically early timeslot of 7:30pm. This, of course, coincided with the start of A Night Of Comic Relief 2 itself on BBC1, and it is unclear how many people actually heard the pilot; indeed, some of the cast were under the impression that it had never actually been broadcast.

Nonetheless, this was a fine way in which to end a month's worth of fund and awareness-raising efforts by Radio 1, which had also included a memorable appearance by Lanananeeneenoonoo - in other words, the guise adopted by Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders and Kathy Burke for that year's Comic Relief tie-in single - on Liz Kershaw's Breakfast Show on 11th February. It is only a shame that, perhaps feeling that their efforts were best concentrated in other directions, Radio 1 never attempted a full scale Comic Relief tie-in show again. That said, The Mary Whitehouse Experience's final appearance on Radio 1, and indeed on radio anywhere, Punt And Dennis Sample Mary Whitehouse, was broadcast on Comic Relief night in 1991. Typically, they didn't quite get around to scheduling it while the news was on.




This is adapted from Fun At One - The Story Of Comedy At BBC Radio 1, which is available as a paperback or from the Amazon Kindle Store.

Drahvin Saturday


If you've read my book Not On Your Telly, then you'll probably have seen a piece about when a copy of Air Lock, the long-lost third episode of the 1965 Doctor Who story Galaxy Four, turned up a while back. More specifically, it was a piece about how excited I was by the discovery, yet how different the whole experience was from the time that I got to see a much-copied VHS dub of the similarly recovered second episode of The Evil Of The Daleks back in 1987.

Now, purely on the basis of having thought of a David Bowie-related pun that was too good not to use but which I'm almost certainly not the first person to have thought of and which is of absolutely no other practical relevance whatsoever, I'm going to take a look at what else was on offer on television and radio on 25th September 1965. Despite the excitement that it caused for Doctor Who fans, who could finally see the hot blonde Drahvins in full man-subjugating action, not to mention The Rill finally appearing in something other than a Rare Photo, Air Lock was hardly the most high-profile archive television find of recent times; indeed, even when its discovery was announced, it was overshadowed by the simultaneous turning up of David Bowie's Top Of The Pops performance of The Jean Genie. There's probably a theme developing here somewhere, actually, but let's not go overboard with the attempts at logic and cohesion. Anyway, even so, it's still probably the most celebrated and widely recognised programme transmitted that day, but was there anything else similarly long-lost that would make for an equally astonishing find? Never mind that, what about the possibility that there was the odd programme we all know and love but not in the sort of manner that makes us remotely interested in the transmission date? What about all the complete and utter waffle that sat somewhere inbetween? Well, there's only one way to find out. And it involves making some tea first, apparently.


As you're probably already imagining, BBC1 was more or less goal to goal sporting excitement until Juke Box Jury showed up at 5.15, with Petula Clark, Buddy Greco, Virginia Lewis and, erm, Jonathan King giving their verdict on whether Today, Tonight And Tomorrow by The Chosen Few, Poor Old Johnny by Twinkle, Everybody Loves A Clown by Gary Lewis And The Playboys and the splendidly-titled Gyp The Cat by Bobby Darin would be 'Hits' or 'Misses' (clue - they weren't hits). Following an episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show featuring a guest appearance by Chad And Jeremy - who, despite being just about the most serious and proto-progressive of any of the 'British Invasion' acts, bafflingly seemed to show up clowning around on just about every American TV show in existence - there's a second BBC outing for top Canadian comics Wayne And Shuster. As some of you reading this will no doubt be aware, their inaugural appearance a couple of weeks earlier had featured a sketch in which they traded zingers on the set of as-yet untransmitted Doctor Who story Mission To The Unknown complete with Daleks. Amazingly, this sketch does actually still exist, but it's also quite some considerable distance from being anything resembling 'funny' so perhaps we can be grateful that rights complications prevented it from showing up as a DVD extra. Anyway, while there were definitely no Delegates in the second episode, it did coincidentally feature Johnny Clayton, who had played one of them (let's not even get into that here) in Mission To The Unknown, as a supporting actor. Also hovering around in the background were Petula Clark, Una Stubbs and The Dudley Moore Trio, who on the basis of the available evidence were quite possibly the most entertaining factors in the entire show.


Aside from the time-honoured Saturday Night Western - on this occasion Marlene Dietrich vehicle Rancho Notorious - the rest of the evening on BBC1 was taken up by imported entertainment from comic folk singer of 'Camp Granada' impenetrableness Allan Sherman, and crooning Bear-asking-for-'cookies'-botherer Andy Williams, followed by - more intriguingly - mother and daughter Margaret and Julia Lockwood in The Flying Swan, a comedy drama about a hotel owner and her air hostess daughter. Reportedly somewhat on the surreal side, it sounds very much like a series well worth dusting down and revisiting, and as this week's instalment The Contract - in which Carol finally gets to achieve her longstanding ambition of actually flying a plane - is one of only two known to survive, maybe we might get the chance to do that soon. Oh, was that a hint I dropped just there? Well it pays to be subtle. The evening finishes off with Robin Day, Ian Trethowan and Kenneth Harris reporting from the Liberal Party Assembly, and with everything the way it is right at the moment you're probably thinking that political television coverage of any sort can fuck the fuck off and that you're glad that we won't be dwelling on this. Woah ha ho, just you wait.


BBC2 at this point only had a handful of hours to play with, so why they chose to waste the vast majority of them on - you guessed it - the Liberal Party Assembly is beyond explanation, though at least it would have countered any accusations of MSM BAIS!!!!8. More suitable second channel fare comes later in the form of head-hurting woman-turns-tables Polish subtitled psychosexual proto-Blow Up pop art drama Innocent Sorcerers, an Australian Television Service presentation of The Barber Of Seville from that year's Bregenz Festival, and of course Late Night Line-Up, in which Denis Tuohy, Michael Dean, Nicholas Tresilian and Joan Bakewell were almost certainly talking about Innocent Sorcerers, probably talking about Wayne And Shuster, possibly talking about The Drahvins, and more than likely throwing heavy objects in the general direction of the Liberal Party Assembly.


Over on the Home Service, there's an alarming battery of short individual news shows - amongst them Outlook, Today's Papers, From Our Own Correspondent, a confusing repeat of Friday's Ten To Eight as Ten To Seven, Farming Today and On Your Farm, Sounds Topical, The Weekly World and In Your Garden, presented by one 'Roy Hay' - where you would now just get a single over-arching magazine show. There are a fair few religious shows - indeed, several of the news shorts were disconcertingly billed as having a 'Christian slant', as if one was needed on gas being struck in the North Sea - and some educational broadcasts which must have had the poor unfortunates forced to listen to them on a Saturday morning wishing that the wireless had never been invented. Matters pick up sharply with a repeat of the 30th May 1965 edition of Round The Horne - featuring Kenneth Horne: Special Agent in 'The Eiffel Tower Is Stolen', a visit to Julian And Sandy at Bona Pets, and Rambling Sid Rumpo treating us to The Cornish Lummock Woggling Song - and the previous Monday's Desert Island Discs with castaway Rita Tushingham. Her wide-ranging choices included Sibelius, Peggy Lee, The Modern Jazz Quartet and as was apparently law in the mid-sixties The Beatles, while her luxury was apparently the Albert Memorial. As there is no known surviving recording of this edition, we can only guess at Roy Plomley's mock-bemused witticisms about the sheer impracticality of this suggestion.

At 2.15 Afternoon Theatre presented the thrilling-sounding Encounter In Corsica by J.M. Fairley, in which a mysterious stranger with a secret joins the crew of a yacht who include TV's Cyber-Controller Michael Kilgarriff, while at 8.30 Saturday Night Theatre presented an adaptation of John Galsworthy's The Skin Game, starring Wilfred Pickles alongside that (Cyber)man Kilgarriff again. There's some lively exhortations to dance along at home with the Yearning Saunter and the Royal Highland Scottische in Those Were The Days at 6.45, John Bowen ruminating on Thomas Berger's hilarious Wild West parody Little Big Man in The World Of Books at 10.30, and The Reverend R.T. Brooks offering to Lighten Our Darkness at 10.45. The evening ends with some decidedly pastoral Music At Night courtesy of oboeist Sarah Francis and pianists Wilfrid Parry and Iris Loveridge, followed by the Forecast For Coastal Waters and the sound of Damon Albarn exploding circa 1994. Hang on, though, what's that lurking at 10pm there? Oh it's the Liberal Assembly. Yeah, where was that dial again?


Flipping over to the Third Programme, Hans Keller and company weren't going to be lowering themselves to waste their time on such uncouth cultural barbarians as politicians, so thankfully there's a brief respite from the Liberal Assembly here. Instead it's a non-stop Drivetime-esque diet of hardcore classical music, with brief diversions for a repeat of a 1963 presentation of John Mortimer's A Voyage Around My Father starring Andrew Sachs, Hugh David and Gabriel Woolf and his 'sibilant' voice, and for the truly amazing-sounding Violence In Poetry. This was, it appears, a spirited debate on the subject between outspoken critical types Donald Davie, Anthony Thwaite, Edward Lucie-Smith, Peter Porter, Vernon Scannell and Philip Hobsbaum, centered around extracts from the works of Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Philip Larkin, Thorn Gunn and Robert Lowell; not all of which, warned Radio Times, might actually be permissible for broadcast in the finished programme. As well as undoubtedly being a valuable snapshot of an era when attitudes to freedom in the arts were rapidly becoming polarised, it's also exactly the kind of discussion show that was wont to lead to frayed tempers, raised voices, and on occasion leather elbow-patched scuffling on the studio floor.


As you can imagine, matters were a great deal lighter over on the Light Programme, with upbeat and cheerful sounds pretty much the entire day through. We're up at 5.30 for Morning Music from The Swinging Strings with Jimmy Leach And His Organolians (currently appearing at the Promenade Bandstand, Aberystwyth), and that's really only the tip of the samba-tinged iceberg. Once the BBC's flagship pop show, Saturday Club is gamely holding its own against the onslaught of Top Of The Pops with the aid of Wayne Fontana And The Mindbenders, The Moody Blues and pop-folk latterday cult favourites New Faces, while Lance Percival promises 'some records, odd sounds, odd voices and half an hour of quiet pandemonium' in Lance A'GoGo, Mark Wynter 'sings a song or two and introduces' the dreadfully-titled Wynter In Swingtime, there's a Fanfare from The New Radio Orchestra conducted by Dalek Films soundtracker Malcolm Lockyer, Steel Men hitmaker 'Rog' Whittaker natters to The Alabama Hayriders, The Strawberry Hill Boys and Murray Head in the Folk Room, The Cambrian Male Voice Choir 'and their friends' belt out some songs from Wales in All Together, Moira Anderson Can't Help Singing, Sidney Bowman And His Orchestra with 'MC Stanley Wilson' announce it's Time For Old Time ('Old Skool', surely?), and the brilliantly named Yes, It's Great Yarmouth hurries Matt Monro, The Bachelors, Joe Brown And The Bruvvers, Peter Goodwright, Freddie 'Parrot Face' Davies and whoever or whatever The BBC Summer Show Band might have been on and off a doubtless very cluttered stage. Now THAT's how you do Light Entertainment, Ian Nightly Show. In between, Katie Boyle oversees short-lived Eurovision Song Contest spin-off West German Broadcasting Service co-production Pop Over Europe, probably managing not to say 'suck it up loosers you lost so suck it up whatever the fuck that actually means' along the way, and there's also some up to the minute youth-orientated news, views, comments and up to the minute hit pop discs from Roundabout '65, sadly dating from before Michael Palin's brief stint as a co-host.

On into the night, Francisco Cavez And His Latin Rhythm chip in from the Savoy Hotel, while Eric Winstone of ridiculous Doctor Who theme cover infamy has to make do with Butlin's in Bognor Regis, and DJ before there were DJs Pete Murray takes us off into the small hours with prototype 'music magazine' show Late Night Saturday, boasting an interview with Dusty Springfield about the making of Everything's Coming Up Dusty alongside Pete's pick of the highlights from the latest LP and EP releases. He probably didn't play Look On Yonder Wall by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, mind.


In short, if you'd opted for the Light Programme, then you would have more or less managed to avoid any and every mention of those old school tie bores droning on and on and on and on without letting anyone else get a word in edgeways until they start foaming at the mouth and falling over backwards. If you wanted to see as well as hear your all-singing all-dancing bright brash Light Entertainment fun, though, then you'd have been wanting ITV. Slotted around the inevitable daytime's barrage of sport and regionally-varying repeats of the likes of The Saint, The Four Just Men, Undermind, The Sullavan Brothers (yes that is spelt correctly) and the mysterious Broad And Narrow, about which little is known but hopefully it was a sitcom about Ian Broad and Ian Narrow who are forced to live together and occasionally do something that makes them realise they are more similar than they think and they both look at the camera sort of meaningfully, you could also find ITV's flagship pop show fallen on hard times and shorn of half its title Lucky Stars with appearances by The Tornados, Dusty Springfield, Alex Harvey, The Candy Dates and, apparently, 'Heather', not to mention the hapless hit-deficient Gary Lewis; Opportunity Knocks! saluting some of its recent winners including folky trio The Headliners and jazz trumpeter Bruce Adams; and some last-thing-at-night laughs with It's Bob Monkhouse!, offering "some zany advice on real estate", it says here. And what a fine thing that is to have as the absolute last programme on television anywhere that da... oh.


So, that's 25th September 1965, and while there were plenty of shows that probably sound more interesting as historically adrift titles and billings than they ever would in actuality (oh and Wayne And Shuster), there's also The Flying Swan and Violence In Poetry, both of which sound so potentially amazing that you'd almost want to see them even more than three more episodes of Hot Drahvin Action. Almost. And it turns out there wasn't any David Bowie anywhere on any channel on this day after all, which put paid to a planned joke halfway through. Still, however good that Saturday's television and radio may or may not have been, at least they wouldn't have to put up with the sonorous drivel of bastards not replying to a straight question for the rest of the week. No, definitely not.




Not On Your Telly, which has that Doctor Who feature we were talking about at the start in it, is available in paperback or from the Kindle Store.

Looks Unfamiliar #1: Phil Catterall - Here Is Pyramint, Buy Pyramint


Looks Unfamiliar 1 - Phil Catterall

Looks Unfamiliar is a podcast in which writer and occasional broadcaster Tim Worthington talks to a guest about some of the things that they remember that nobody else ever does. Joining Tim in this edition is podcaster Phil Catterall, who shares his troubling memories of Madballs Comic, Channel 4's youth-orientated consumer advice show Wise Up!, a computer game based on Platoon, ill-advised animated newspaper strip update Phantom 2040, a particularly irritating series of adverts for Birdseye Steakhouse Grills, and long-forgotten Star Wars cartoon spin-off Droids. Along the way they also find out whether R1D1 is 'canon', whether crisps are a vector for healthy living, and just which elements of The Untouchables were considered appropriate for a scrolling platform game aimed at children.

DOWNLOAD IT HERE - SUBSCRIBE IN ITUNES - RSS




Looks Unfamiliar is hosted by Podnose.



Support Looks Unfamiliar by buying one of Tim's books! Well At Least It's Free is available in paperback here or from the Kindle Store here. And there's several other books to choose from here...

London's So Nice Back In Your Seamless Rhymes


It's very difficult to describe from this distance just how exciting For Tomorrow by Blur was back in 1993. It was, though, and like them, hate them, or erroneously write them off as cockernee knees-up chas and dave chimney sweep music and nothing else besides, the fact remains that during a genuinely threadbare and uninspiring stretch for homegrown pop music, it came thundering along like, as the head of their record label put it, "a knight in shining armour". While For Tomorrow stalled outside the top twenty, for better or for worse it set the tone and the template for the much bigger events that lay ahead. You would have to be a currently serving leader of a political party to dispute or dismiss that, frankly.

To be entirely honest, I was already excited enough about the return of Blur as it was. I'd been a fan since their first single She's So High/I Know (nobody ever remembers I Know), and had seen them live three times by the time that Leisure came out. Although I cannot claim that this is how I would have put it at the time, looking back it's clear that - much like a certain Andrew Collins writing in the NME - I had sensed something in their uneven recorded output, particularly in the b-sides, that hinted at a far greater potential when many of the other bands I liked at the time merely left fans hoping that they would scrape together enough half-decent material to make up a worthwhile album. I also - to some derision - stuck with them when the tide of opinion briefly turned against them, and was so keen to get hold of the largely ignored Popscene - still my favourite single of all time, incidentally - that I persuaded my distinctly unimpressed father to pick up a copy on his way back from work on the day of release.

Although they largely managed to hide the turbulent making of Modern Life Is Rubbish from their fans at the time, it was still obvious that Blur had been suspiciously quiet for a long while, and anticipation was steadily building; not least when Mark Goodier announced on Radio 1 very early in 1993 that he had heard some advance tapes of the new material and 'couldn't wait' to play it on the radio. When he did finally give the first public airing anywhere to For Tomorrow, I recorded it off the radio and played it so much that I actually damaged the tape. A couple of weeks later I bought the single - on several formats, as this was the height of 'Part 1 of a 2CD set' marketing madness and I wanted as many new songs as I could get - and then a couple of weeks after that the album. It would probably prove scientifically impossible to even vaguely estimate how often I heard For Tomorrow during that month alone; and even then not only in the same form as I'd taped it off the radio.


Hidden away on Part 1 of the 2CD set was the 'Visit To Primrose Hill Extended' version of For Tomorrow, more or less identical to the shorter radio-friendly version except for a minute-long section towards the end where the band and the brass section go off on a stroll around the chorus chord changes. This is more than just a looped section yanked from elsewhere in the track, and is an entirely new diversion that fits perfectly with the musical mood and the theme of the lyrics; in some ways it also echoes the hurtling-across-London antics of the promo video, despite not actually accompanying them. However, I have long had a theory that this was actually supposed to be the version used for Modern Life Is Rubbish, but was swapped with the more familiar edit at a late stage for not especially clear reasons. And if you'll keep your hands on the rails and try not to be sick again, I'm about to share that theory with you.

First of all, there's the small matter that the version of For Tomorrow that did end up on Modern Life Is Rubbish is exactly identical to the one clearly labelled on the single itself as the 'Single Version'. There is absolutely no variance between the two whatsoever, and they have exactly the same mix, exactly the same length, and exactly the same lyrics. This is, it has to be said, something of an anomaly in Blur's otherwise famously meticulously documented sleeve credits, with the only comparable incident being when some formats of M.O.R. erroneously claimed to feature the 'Road Version' when they didn't. There could easily have been another more obscure reason for this misleading description finding its way onto the finished article, but the suggestion that it originally needed differentiating from the album version in some way is plausible to say the least.

Then there's the conspicuously high profile that the extended version has enjoyed since then. More often than not, extended and alternate versions of familiar songs are - usually entirely reasonably - destined to become the forgotten and dispensible corners of an artist's discography, sidelined once they have fulfilled their intended purpose, and generally left off 2CD Deluxe Editions for 'space reasons'. The 'Visit To Primrose Hill Extended' version of For Tomorrow, however, has been distinguished by so much disproportionate prominence that you could almost suspect someone somewhere was attempting to reclaim it as the official version. Not only did it find its way onto the 2CD reissue of Modern Life Is Rubbish, it's also been the one that they've reached for whenever an official compilation or retrospective was in the offing, notably on The Best Of Blur and Midlife, and was specifically used on the long-lost dawn-of-the-Web 'Blurradio' project. It has also pretty much always been this version that has been played live, even when they haven't actually had a brass section with them. Meanwhile, in notable contrast, the 'Acoustic' version of For Tomorrow that also showed up on one of the single formats didn't even find its way onto Blur 21.

You do also have to ponder on why it would have existed in the first place if it hadn't been intended for a wider audience at some point. Blur rarely did 'long' versions of tracks for their singles, and out of their not inconsiderable discography you could only really point to the actual proper bona fide old-skool Extended Versions of I Know, There's No Other Way and Bang, which date from a time when 'Indie-Dance' was still a viable commercial prospect; full-length remixes of There's No Other Way and Girls And Boys done primarily for promotional purposes; a number of 'guest producer' reworkings fitting in with the musical ethos circa Blur and 13, few of which actually found their way onto singles; and last and by all means least the 'Live It! Remix' of Entertain Me, which was accidentally released as a b-side to The Universal instead of being mounted on a flaming anvil and fired into a bin. On top of this, owing to several failed attempts at recording a second album, Blur at that point were already groaning under the weight of decent potential b-sides - ten spread across the various Modern Life Is Rubbish-era singles alone, and a further half dozen or so shelved completely - so there was no particular need to go creating Extended Versions, especially for a song that was hardly going to be 'crossing over' with dance music DJs. More speculatively, the longer version prominently features top session brass ensemble The Kick Horns - who can't have come cheap, especially at a time when the album budget was rapidly running out - along with a couple of otherwise unused guitar lines from Graham Coxon, which doesn't exactly fit in with his usual waste not want not approach.


So, if it was originally intended for the album, why in the name of all that is rational and logical didn't it end up on there? Well, one quite possible explanation for that is simply a lack of space. As the surplus of serviceable b-sides might suggest, there was no shortage of songs being considered for Modern Life Is Rubbish itself; at least twenty were serious contenders at various points, and Graham has described the process of trying to cram in everything they wanted on there as 'horrible'. Everyone involved seems to have had a different opinion, and right up until the last minute the band were trying to get certain songs (notably Turn It Up and Miss America) removed and certain others (notably When The Cows Come Home and Young And Lovely) added, ultimately to no avail. Already a lengthy track even in its 'Single Version', For Tomorrow came into the equation very late in proceedings, and even then there was to be a further complication; when the complete album was presented to them, Blur's American label demanded an additional track to appeal to a more 'grunge'-orientated listenership, and the result - bizarrely - was Chemical World. For both artistic and commercial reasons, there was never any question of leaving this equally brevity-deficient new song off the album, so is it possible that the shorter For Tomorrow was substituted to free up as much space as possible to accommodate it? It's also worth considering that For Tomorrow might not always have been the opening track of Modern Life Is Rubbish, and the longer instrumental section might well have made more sense elsewhere in the tracklisting.

All of this might well seem like a great deal of thought and effort devoted to something that's not even one of Blur's great what ifs, let alone one of pop music's great what ifs, but even so it's a lot more entertaining than splitting hairs over something you're not actually that interested in. And who knows, would the entire course of the nineties - not just in chart music - have run differently if a longer version of For Tomorrow had appeared on Modern Life Is Rubbish? Probably not, but it's worth thinking about. Possibly. If you want to know why Colours and Pleasant Education were missing from Blur 21, though, then I'm afraid I'm fresh out of ideas.


You can find more of my thoughts on Blur and the road to Britpop in Higher Than The Sun, available in paperback here or from the Amazon Kindle Store here.

The Original Peter


For some reason, the late sixties and early seventies in particular seem to have been full of musical acts who are held in high regard now but went almost unnoticed at the time. When you look into it more closely, though, it invariably turns out that they had a much higher profile than anyone might reasonably have expected, and the reason why they've since been largely forgotten becomes clear. The most significant indicator of their popularity is usually how often they turned up on television and radio, and as most if not all of that will usually have long since been wiped, there's never really been that much around to remind people. They had their moment in the centre of attention, and everyone moved on, without much evidence of their fleeting fame ever remaining.

Part of a movement that could loosely be termed 'Prog Jazz' - blending modern jazz styles with avant-garde and psychedelic influences from the Pop Art scene and acts like The Beatles and The Jimi Hendrix Experience - pianist Mike Westbrook had intentionally moved into the live pop circuit in 1967 with his 'Concert Band'. This outfit could vary wildly in size, although mainstays included saxophonist Mike Osborne, bassist Harry Miller and vocalist Norma Winstone. Signed to Decca's 'progressive' imprint Deram - where, significantly, their labelmates included Cat Stevens, David Bowie and Amen Corner - they released a series of albums culminating in 1970's Mike Westbrook's Love Songs. A remarkable set somewhere between a Michael Caine film soundtrack and Mr. Benn incidental music, the whole album is a minor masterpiece though particular highlights include moodily exuberant opener Love Song No. 1, Winstone yodelling sternly at a wayward lover in Love Song No. 3, and the celebrated Original Peter, in which a catchy abstract funk riff is repeated into a hypnotic dance groove. There was also a single released to accompany the album, featuring a shorter and faster take of Original Peter with the bass funked up and electric piano hammering to the fore, backed by Winstone's hallucinogenic travelogue The Magic Garden, which doesn't appear to have been directly inspired by The Magic Roundabout but frankly may as well have been.


Original Peter, in case you were wondering, was the closest thing that there ever was to a 'Prog Acrobat', who would frequently perform his countercultural handstands as part of music and arts happenings; indeed, on the back cover of Mike Westbrook's Love Songs, there is a frankly alarming photograph of him spinning around on his hands while the band play on obliviously in the background. To call The Mike Westbrook Concert Band's live shows 'multimedia experiments' would be selling them somewhat short, as at any given time they could include theatrical special effects, pyrotechnics, tightrope walkers, high divers, animal acts, back projections, magic tricks and more often than not their gymnastically-inclined associate, all of which were carefully planned and choreographed to fit around the music. The overall effect was apparently basically akin to a giant psychedelic circus, and if you stumble across an online discussion of the album, chances are you will find someone with hazy and slightly bewildered recollections of having seen this dazzling spectacle on television. This, I later discovered when trying to pin down details of something else entirely, was as part of the BBC2 arts show Review; and, not unreasonably, I assumed at the time that this would have been yet another of those long-wiped appearances that nobody at the time imagined anyone would ever want or need to see again.

As some of you are probably already suspecting, Review was exactly the sort of late-night arts show that the Monty Python team took such great delight in subverting and undermining, usually in the brazen knowledge that one or more of them would be appearing on one or more of such shows later that same week. Devised to take full advantage of BBC2's recent move to colour broadcasting, it ran weekly from September 1969 through to December 1972, when it was decommissioned to make way for a series of individual focused arts strands. Presented at that point by the urbane James Mossman, Review was a good deal more high-minded than many of its peers, preferring to concern itself with heavyweight literary criticism and stage plays, although there were lighter moments including an in-studio concert by the pioneering jazz-rock outfit Nucleus, and a poetry competition judged by George Martin and Mike D'Abo. And they did not come much lighter than the 'entertainment for television' devised by Mike Westbrook in conjunction with John Fox, better known as the prime mover in performance art troupe The Welfare State. It's worth noting at this juncture that The Welfare State, Mike Westbrook and indeed Original Peter himself were scarcely off television and radio or the 'culture' pages back then, which makes it all the more significant that most people reading this quite probably have little idea of who any of them were.


During the March to April 1970 sessions for Mike Westbrook's Love Songs, The Mike Westbrook Concert Band, The Welfare State, Original Peter and a whole host of other long-forgotten performers and speciality acts including the esoterically named likes of The Amazing Mas-Kar, The Edmund Campion Gymnasts and, erm, 'Cherokee Indian Joe The Great Leaping Bison' (we can probably safely assume that he wasn't) took part in an ambitious small screen extravaganza somewhere between a progressive rock concert and a down-at-heel carnival, which was captured by the Review cameras in all of its chaotic glory. The film was first broadcast on Saturday 25th April 1970, as part of an edition that also featured a report on the Hayward Gallery's major retrospective on reclusive photographer Bill Brandt, and was subsequently selected for the highlights special Summer Review on 22nd August, where it appeared alongside a lively interview with William Hobbs, 'Fight Director' at the National Theatre. We can only hope that he wasn't the sort of individual to take his work home with him. Shortly afterwards, the ensemble took the entire spectacle on the road as the centrepiece of their lengthy 'Earthrise Tour', which must have caused no little alarm for audiences in search of rock posturing, lengthy soloing and the usual hard and heavy 'serious' early seventies clich├ęs. By the time of the repeat showing, the album and single were both on general release, but despite considerable radio support - notably from Radio 1's Jazz Club which featured them in session twice, as well a feature on the tour on Radio 3's Jazz In Britain (on another edition of which the Concert Band essayed an early version of Westbrook's next album Metropolis) - it does not appear to have vastly improved the commercial fortunes of either.

With tastes and fashions changing, and Mike Westbrook himself promptly leaving Deram and heading off in a more conventional jazz-rock direction, Mike Westbrook's Love Songs soon faded into musical history and drew little interest outside of the jazz fraternity; even the exhaustive artist-by-artist guide to the sixties-to-early-seventies beat/prog/psych/folk boom The Tapestry Of Delights could find literally nothing to say about the album other than that it was "jazzy". More recently, however, the album has started to become regarded as something of a forgotten classic, particularly since Original Peter showed up on the first of the splendid Impressed With Gilles Peterson compilations. One of its most prominent champions has been Jonny Trunk of Trunk Records, who named his range of record bags after Original Peter. When I appeared on Jonny's radio show recently to talk about Top Of The Box, the conversation got around to the Review appearance and the fact that I had recently discovered that it still existed in the BBC's archives. Various attempts at getting to see it, however, had drawn a blank until - literally by accident - I clicked on the wrong link on YouTube and found that the programme's original director Tony Staveacre had uploaded his copy only hours beforehand. One of those incidents that really does make you believe in the interconnectedness of things. Either that, or that I've previously invested far too much time and effort in searching for it.

You can watch the entire performance below, and it really is much wilder than it's actually possible to make it sound. It begins with cardboard cutouts of the band being carried through the streets and lowered into the venue, where they promptly transform into the actual musicians in full flow, and while they thunder through their numbers including spirited renditions of The Magic Garden and Original Peter, we are also treated to wrestling, acrobatics, trampoline acts, puppet shows, hallucinogenically-lit fire-eating, live painting and tattooing, film montages satirically juxtaposing Richard Nixon and Edward Heath with Victorian dancers, pet food cans and The Woodentops, and lifesize playing cards doing lord alone knows what, and of course some of that fabled hand-balancing. Apparently, when she was shown the film recently, Norma Winstone had to confess to having absolutely no recollection of it whatsoever. It must have been quite an evening.