26 December, 2007

Rats Join Sinking Ship

Bloody hell, Doctor Who was good last night. It had the titanic, Kylie, Bernard Cribbins and the funniest Queen-related scene ever. In the words of my favourite film reviewer ever*, 'it made me laugh and it made me cry'.

The Titanic might have been a difficult sell to an audience sandwiched, as this episode was, between two grimfestive episodes of EastEnders, but trust Russell T Davies to find a way to make it tense and exciting without it feeling bleak. Sure, it wasn't the actual Titanic, but a space ship of the same name and design, but the first shots of the ship cruising above the planet Earth have to be the single best special effects ever made for British TV.

I got a bit teary-eyed at a few points - the frustration and shock of the young midshipman, shot by his loony captain and unable to do his duty while the captain lives, was heartbreaking, as were the deaths of the fat couple who wrong-footed me by being instantly likeable (Debbie Chazen is best-known for her co-starring role in the dismal sketch show Tittybangbang so I wasn't prepared for how good she actually turned out to be). But the biggest shock came with Kylie Minogue's character Astrid taking a decidedly active and terminal role in the conclusion to the adventure. I'd heard rumours that her character would turn out to be something a bit magical (based on her first name being an anagram of 'Tardis') but when that turned out to be wrong it was even more upsetting.

Then the final credit: 'Dedicated to Verity Lambert OBE'. I knew it was coming, but it still got me choked.

... and I wasn't pissed either.

So, I had high expectations for the ratings, which I didn't think would be available until tomorrow. The overnights (as reported by BBC News) are suggesting 13.8 million, with a peak just under 15 million at one point. Blimey - this is the show they couldn't get people to make, never mind watch, in 1989.

There are only a very few stories of the original run of episode of this series that managed to get ratings that high. Three stories in 1965 ('The Rescue', 'The Romans' and 'The Web Planet'). 'The Ark in Space' in 1974 and 'The Power of Kroll' each had individual episodes that peaked at around the 13 million mark, and only 'Destiny of the Daleks' and 'City of Death' went above 14 million (the latter reaching 16 million, thanks in no small part to a lengthy strike taking ITV off air).

The TV landscape has changed a lot over the years; the days when EastEnders can pull in over 20 million have long gone. Home computers, videogames consoles, multi-channel TV and home video / DVD have all combined to ensure TV is no longer a medium that can unite a nation. But Doctor Who last night was seen by about a quarter of the population of the UK, about 50% of the viewing public. The equivalent would be something like 25 million viewers in 1979.

It really puts the embarrassment of being a fan for the last 20 years into perspective. A show that was once so niche that even the regular viewers didn't like it now has an audience who might not call themselves fans but still love it to bits. With TV in the state that it is, that's no bad thing. Just ask ITV, whose highest-rated programme peaked at 8.9 million (a 35.4% share of the viewers). Sad though I am about this, Coronation Street can't claim to be the nation's favourite any more. 'Eighth-most-popular' is about as close as they get.

In 1988, when Doctor Who was watched by about 4 million people out of habit, it was scheduled up against Corrie. Some might say revenge is a dish best served cold, and on Christmas Day...


* Some woman I once worked with, whose only criteria for a 'good film' seemed to be a binary opposition of emotions.

18 December, 2007

And Today's Biggest Gobshite is...

... Sky News who, reporting on the idiotic decision by Radio 1 to censor 'Fairytale in New York' by Kirsty MacColl and the Pogues, wrote:

"MacColl died at the age of 41 the same year when she was hit by a speedboat while diving during a holiday in Mexico."

I'm pretty certain she died the same minute she was hit by a speedboat, you insensitive fuckers.

17 December, 2007

Viruses? Got it Taped!

A video cassette tape.

There's an interesting article on BBC News about the first Mac-targetting Trojan viruses.

What's funny about it is the image they've chosen to illustrate 'pornographic video' with. It's been nearly a decade since VHS tapes began to be obsolete, yet BBC News appears to be telling me that the naughty trojan creators are using VHS tapes to break into my Mac.


15 December, 2007

Repeats (that's, Repeats!)

According the the Guardian, Lib Dem culture spokesman Don Foster has criticised broadcasters for scheduling repeats over Christmas.

Which is hilarious as Don Foster made the exact same claim last year, citing the exact same percentages. Looks like TV is doing better than Mr Foster's 100% repeat rate this year...

09 December, 2007

The Stars We Are

Marc Almond.

'Turn the spotlight down! I don't like the f***ing light right in my face!'

After what was a reportedly disastrous gig in Birmingham last weekend, Marc Almond came to London last night at the Indigo venue at the O2 dome. I noticed on the T-shirts of the Indigo staff that the word indigo was suffixed by a 2, which led to me wonder if they chose the name of that side venue just because it has an 'o' at the end, and if so, did they reject 'dingo' and 'flamingo' before choosing a word that almost describes the colour of their logo.

... oh, the colour thing, yeah. That's probably why.

So, Marc's a bit spiky to start off with. He apologises to the audience for being a bit late. 'I got watching the X Factor semi-final,' he explains. 'Oh Rhydian. What IS he? If I were his mentor I'd have him doing "Tomorrow Belongs to Me"!' Later, the guy handling the spotlight gets a tongue-lashing, leading to the next song being performed in near-darkness. 'Okay,' Marc concedes, 'Perhaps I could do with a little more light.

He's doing well for a 50-year-old guy who's still living with the after-effects of a near-fatal motorbike accident. He stumbles with a few lyrics and part-way through 'Tears Run Rings' he rushes offstage in some distress. The band play on for a while, winging it, until they realise something might be wrong and they bring the song to a close. There's a pregnant pause before Marc returns to the stage. 'I've been ill all week and that was just waiting to happen all day,' he says, leaving us tactfully unaware what 'that' was. But in case we feel we're catching a fading star here, he repeats a trick he's been doing for his gigs this year - a breakneck-speed rendition of 'Jackie' that's word-perfect and leaves his younger pianist struggling to keep up with him.

'I'm warming up now - you can put the lights back on,' he laughs.

He points to his violinist and remarks that they've been playing together for 26 years, plays a lot of songs from the album he co-write with former Sigue Sigue Sputniker Neil X, his guitarist, and, as he closes the show, thanks everyone behind the scenes by name, including the super-trooper-wranger, who gets an apology for his earlier crabbiness.

'He's doing one more album and one last tour, then that's it,' my companion tells me. Marc's already admitted that he no longer has it in him to write new material, since the accident, which is a tragedy for a man who's been so prolific. he still has an ardent fanbase who'll follow him into his dotage, but many of them suspect he doesn't want to become a tragic disappointment. This is Marc Almond, and throughout the gig, many of his fans chose quiet moments to shout 'We love you, Marc.'

Apparently, during the birmingham gig (at a venue that left the impression Marc was singing in a small back-street bar), someone shouted 'SOOOOFT CEEEELLLL' and was roundly told to f*** off by the audience. Someone else then shouted 'Days of Pearly Spencer!' at which point Marc said 'Hold on, I'm not a f***ing jukebox!'

I saw him for his birthday gig - and his comeback after the crash - earlier this year, which was an emotional experience to say the least. It was also a better gig and I really appreciate how special that night was for everyone in the room - not least Marc himself. But seeing him not at his best, a little cranky, a bit bitchy and always self-deprecating just leaves the impression that I saw a more real, more honest Marc last night. I have no way of ever catching up with all his recordings, but he's someone I find fascinating. From his early days in Soft Cell appearing on Top of the Pops miming melodramatically to 'Tainted Love', where the next day everyone in school was saying 'what WAS that?' to his subtext-heavy number one duet with Gene Pitney in 1989, his album after album of heartbreak that might have been invisible to the chart-buying public but built a back catalogue that most true musicians would envy, including his Russian folk album and his most recent release of covers, he has never been boring.

And that's all we can ever hope for of our idols.

06 December, 2007

I Don't Want a Lot for Christmas

This is important. Time was, Christmas could be relied upon to send some sentimental saccharine-sweet novelty gush up to the top of the charts, but for pretty much the entire decade, the number one has been in the hands of Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh with either Westlife or whoever won Pop Idol / Pop Stars / X Factor.

This year, the best act in X Factor is Nicky, but fate has tied her to Louis Walsh, who in my not-so-humble opinion is a cowardly worm who really needs to be badly beaten so he can't weasel his way onto our TV screens for his embarrassing 'Simon-notice-me' performances every Saturday. If she gets to number one, HE will be insufferable. Sorry, Nicky, love you really, but that cannot happen.

So - thanks to Boots, we now have a serious contender for alternative number one. See, everyone's favourite high-street chemist has taken up this old blues track by Ernie K Doe.

I do hope we don't have another X Factor Christmas. It just makes the whole Xmas Number One so bloody dull.

02 December, 2007

Who's That Girl?

When Black Box had made it big in the UK, in 1989, my mum caught a glimpse of the band on Top of the Pops and noticed the attractive black woman performing their latest single. 'She's not singing that,' said mum. 'She wouldn't be able to produce a noise like that. That's a fat woman's voice.'

My mum knew nothing of the band - this was the first time she'd seen them, but even she could tell that 'Katrin', the woman purporting to be Black Box's lead vocalist, was merely a figurehead.

Black Box's skinny front-woman Katrin.

And indeed so she was, for the real vocalist on that song was Martha Wash.

The bubbly form of Martha Wash.

Way back in the late-1970s, Martha had been one half of The Weather Girls, whose 'It's Raining Men' had become a disco classic, and she was indeed the voice of all of Black Box's hits (except their first, 'Ride on Time', which had used a sample from Loleatta Holloway's 'Love Sensation'). She later lent her powerful vocals to C&C Music Factory on 'Sweat' and loads of other dance tracks in the 1990s.

So, let's compare the two woman performing 'Everybody, Everybody'. First up, it's Black Box:

And next, it's Martha:

Now, I know this is really unfair, but it does make me laugh. Boy George (that shrinking violet and notoriously shy gentleman) used to host a much-missed chat show on BSB called 'Blue Radio'. Every time they played a video by Black Box, George would mutter 'I'd love to see her birth certificate - I bet she used to be a man.'

Poor Katrin - not only did she fail to convince as a singer, she even failed to convince Boy George she was a woman.

Gotta admit though - she's a bit mannish....