Monday, 26 December 2016


My patience is stretched, now. I find myself wanting to herd all these bleaters yelping about the 'malevolence' of 2016 for 'taking' so many cherished stars away from us, and bang their unthinking heads together.
Let's go again. Time is intangible. It is an illusion, a construct, a concept. It doesn't exist. It was invented by man, just to keep track of all that we are up to. It varies, in fact, depending on your point of view. You can make a day longer than a year whenever you want to. Try it. You can make it last a lifetime in your mind: that's what baby births, wedding days, anniversaries and the so-called 'big birthdays' are about. Time is no more than an abstract measurement, a scale by which we chart our existence. It is supposed to give shape to the way in which we go about things, and to make life easier. As such, it is not to be blamed for the things we would rather had not happened; an excuse for devastation we cannot explain.
So another one bites the dust. Time - 2016 - is, of course, to blame. Get real. We're talking 'timing', not 'time', in this instance. George was always the first to say that 'timing is everything'. The suggestion that he may have taken his own life on Christmas Day, as some are saying, is therefore not so far-fetched. George was an extreme control freak, a planner, an obsessive. The significance of the designated birthday of our Lord will not have been lost on him. He created 'Last Christmas', one of the great modern Yuletide classics, to link his name indelibly with the season. Every Christmas, for evermore, we will now remember and give thanks for George on Christmas Day. The arrogance, though breathtaking, should be forgiven.
I spent enough time with George and Andrew Ridgeley in the Eighties. We worked together on numerous occasions. His former manager, Simon Napier-Bell, and his Sony publicist Jonathan Morrish, remain two of my most cherished friends. I have other close pals who went to school with George in North London. On more than a few occasions, I got to glimpse the real Yog. He was a tormented soul who lived a damnable lie for longer than he was able to be true to himself. He never came out to his family while his mother was still alive. He felt compelled to wait until she died to be open and honest about his orientation.
The self-deception of his youth was a cancer to him. The self-inflicted damage would not be repaired. George admitted to a void, created by his distance from his parents and wider family, which generated unbearable deprivation. He acknowledged that he sought adoration from complete strangers, in order to try and fill that void. The harder he tried, the less he found himself able to compensate. He did not know the true meaning of peace. He accepted that his need to become an artist was a cry for help. He agreed that he was desperately insecure, and that he was addicted to applause. He fell in love with Elton John at a very young age. Performing his Elton favourite, 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' on stage with his idol was, he said, the pinnacle of his career. The pair later fell out, made up, fell out, made up, in that intensely emotional manner that tends eventually to become the downfall of superstars.
George pressed the self-destruct button years ago. He gave in to his desires, and even did time for them. He lost out in love, giving away his whole heart, and having it returned to him in shreds. Few can recover from that, least of all those whose every nerve ending is exposed to and raked over by millions of needy fans, dependent on his music and demanding, ever demanding, answers about love and the meaning of life that he was never equipped to give.
This is how I want to remember him: at Live Aid, 13th July 1985. George was twenty two years old, in his exuberant prime, thrilled to be part of the greatest show on earth, and lapping up every blink of it. I watched him at point blank range that day, getting everything he needed in the giving of so much ... if only in that moment. At least he had that. At least we still have the music. God rest him.

Sunday, 18 December 2016


Twenty-four years ago tonight, our lives fell to pieces when my father Ken Jones fell under a train. He was the Independent’s chief sportswriter at the time, and was making his way home from the office Christmas party. He’d done the sensible thing: he’d left the car at home, and was taking the train. A few had been cancelled. There was a platform-change announcement at London Bridge. A stampede up the stairs, over the bridge and down the other side. My father, a compact Welshman, was swept up in the maelstrom and hurled down onto the rails, just as the train was pulling in. It took them more than four hours to cut him from the wreckage. What was left of his right arm, and his writing hand, was left behind.
He still hears the voice of the nameless paramedic who talked him into holding on, into clinging to life. To this day, he suffers searing phantom pain in the arm that isn't there. He has lived for almost a quarter of a century as a one-armed bandit. He continued to travel the world as one, well into his seventies, covering major prize fights, football matches, summer and winter Olympic Games. He only retired when they made him, and he could still kick them senseless for that.
Ken is eighty-five years old, as sharp as a scythe, and bored, much of the time. On a cocktail of class A meds, he phases in and out of the moment. He spends half the day on an oxygen generator for emphysema. We still have fierce bouts over politics and sport. He never has fewer than five books on the go, everything from Ancient Rome and Shakespeare to contemporary biographies (he's partial to Bowie at the moment), and ever the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
He lost a part of himself, that bitter night. But he became somehow more of himself because of it. In many ways, utterly random and brutal though such accidents are, it was the making of him. I've been looking at that raw, tragic stump for two and a half decades, now. It still shocks me to recall what happened, longer ago than the births of my children. It breaks my heart to this day. But then I remember, he's still a whole dad. No less of a complete, confounding jigsaw puzzle of a man for want of a single absent piece.
Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell. Go easy out there, this coming week. Hang back from the edge. Stay behind the yellow line. Keep off the roads, if you can. Run for the shadows, but not for the train. Never, ever, run for the train. There will always be another. You might not be as lucky as Dad. Which is the way he sees it. Always has. It must be what saved him.
So this is Christmas. A brave and joyous, hopeful 2017 to you all. It's worth keeping in mind that life can turn on a sixpence, be demolished in a heartbeat. All we can do is love passionately, live honestly, and do what we do to the hilt, while we still can.

Sunday, 10 April 2016


It boils down to the ten thousand hours: the time it is said to take to become good at our chosen pursuit. This theory arose out of ground-breaking work undertaken by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson at the Florida State University. You’ve got to put the hours in, and that’s that.

It got me thinking. Ten thousand hours equals four hundred and seventeen days. It may not sound like much, but it sure is a lot. There are only a hundred and sixty eight hours in a week. We spend, on average, around fifty of those merely sleeping. If we devote, say, forty hours a week just trying to get good at something, that’s a little over two thousand hours per year. At that rate, it takes a good five years to become passable at your craft. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise.

But there’s more to it than that. Anyone at all can spend the time. What makes the difference is talent. It’s not just practise that makes perfect. It’s perfect practise. Kids who get a guitar for Christmas, hone a few tunes, give it their best shot, can be as good as anyone who has been doing it all their life, is the 21st Century message. But it’s not true. Most of us are better off fantasising, singing ‘I Will Survive’ or ‘The Power of Love’ into a hairbrush in the bedroom after a hard day’s wine.
It takes guts to get up in front of a roomful of strangers, open your mouth and sing. It’s one of the very hardest things to do. We all know the shows that have deluded the masses into thinking that anyone can do it. They can’t.

Michael Armstrong can. This was apparent after the first time I saw him perform live, as the warm-up act for Leo Sayer at London’s Hippodrome last autumn. Some of the songs were familiar, especially the Billy Joel numbers. Others were new and unique and seemed truly heartfelt, when I heard them after the gig. Eh? I confess to having dismissed Michael at first as any other pub singer - I was gossiping with my friends David Stark and Anita Maguire at the time, and didn’t pay too much attention. But then I took the album home, and actually listened to him.

What comes across with brutal clarity is that here is a man who has devoted his life to music, but who simply hasn’t had the breaks. He grew up on a diet of the Beatles, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, even a smattering of Led Zeppelin when his Mum wasn’t looking. His parents’ record collection, effectively, just like the rest of us. He speaks movingly about music having unlocked his soul when he was still a small child, of his youthful yearning to express himself through songs. But the odds were against him. His family was not musical. Undeterred, he learned to play the drums, scraped together the wherewithal for guitar lessons, and taught himself piano. He began to write, and started his own band. They pubbed and clubbed and rocked around the clock, and wound up eventually with some support engagements at the historic Shepherds Bush Empire, no mean one. Then reality kicked in. It was time to leave school, and to start earning a living. His builder father enticed him into the family firm. Michael pulled his weight, but felt himself beginning to wane. The work sapped not only his strength, but his soul.

A wife, a home, a family. All the usual. The dream grew distant. The economic crash took its toll on his father’s business, as well as on his health. Then, out of the blue, an introduction to music PR Lisa Davies led to the recording of a three-track EP, which meandered, in turn, to positive attention from the been-there, seen-that music media. Michael suddenly found himself moving among musicians he had once idolised, including Paul McCartney and Mark Knopfler. Working closely with Lisa to promote the great artists and acts on her roster, Michael even began performing with the likes of Cliff Richard and Chris de Burgh. With Lisa’s help and encouragement, and with input from Keith Bessey, famed for his work with the Ramones, 10CC and Elton John, Michael set about recording his debut album, mostly in the garage, with less than no money. But then the magic set in. The harder we work, the luckier we get. Not many could persuade musicbiz legends such as Albert Lee, Peter Howarth - current lead singer of the Hollies - Stephen Walters and Elliott Randall to perform on an unknown’s debut. But Lisa Davies can.

Chances are you have already seen Michael Armstrong talking about his eponymous offering on the television, or heard him on the radio. You may have seen him out on the road, with Beverley Craven or the aforementioned Howarth, Vonda Shepard or Carol Decker and T’Pau. But he’s not over-selling himself. He’s not a rich or famous rock star, by any means - and by his own admission is a yellow brick road away from becoming one.

‘It is an industry in decline,’ he points out. ‘Only a handful of artists actually sell records these days. There is no investment in new music. There is no development of  new artists. It is all about instant gratification, reality TV, and here today, gone tomorrow. And yet, despite all this, we carry on. It’s in our blood, it’s in our hearts, and it’s in our dreams.’

Michael put in his ten thousand hours. He’ll put in another ten thousand, and ten thousand more, if he has to. He’s not inclined to give up, he’s not that kind. His integrity and dedication are humbling. It’s the musical equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall, and he knows it. I predict that there will come a time when you'll recognise him instantly, from those precious first few bars. I’ll be there with a bottle of Bollinger, cheering from my front row seat. In the meantime, catch him and the exuberant Peter Howarth. Let them throttle you with their talent. It’s what they do.

Michael Armstrong: The Album is out now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


What is it about rooting for the underdog, cheering for the little guy? We all do it. Perhaps it's because there is something more human, more 'normal', more frail about an underdog. Something more like us. Success often appears to mean more if it's something that's 'not supposed' to happen. It is certainly often the case that the underdog exerts him or herself more. They've had to make so much more effort, even to come last. Perversely, it is because the odds are stacked against such figures that we so often convince ourselves that they can win ... even when they don't stand a chance.

The universal desire for the no-hoper to triumph is the irresistible theme of new movie 'Eddie the Eagle'. I saw it last night, and blubbed buckets. Sentimental it so is, pressing all the buttons to get us behind the protagonist, who overcomes both physical disability and poverty to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian. We all know the true story of Eddie Edwards, the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. Back then, in Calgary, 1988 (my father was there, reporting for the late Independent), Eddie was our record-holder, finishing last in the 70m and 90m events. But his perseverance, courage, lack of backing - other than money filched from his Mum and Dad's savings set aside to buy a new van - captured the world's imagination and gave Eddie his fifteen minutes. A mere quarter of an hour that resonates sublimely to this day.

Eddie never qualified for any championship or Olympic Games again. But he had his moment. Books, videos, commercials and pop records followed. I remember accompanying him to Finland on a press trip (I was there for the Daily Mail) when his single 'Fly, Eddie, Fly' made it to Number One there. He was the most personable, modest and kindly bloke, and we did have a laugh.

The dream faded in a blink. The limelight dimmed by dawn. For all his opportunities, Eddie wound up bankrupt in 1992. His response to that was to study for a law degree, flying in the faces of those he felt had wronged and misrepresented him. He went on to present radio and TV, won the ITV diving show 'Splash', and commentated for Channel 4's ‘The Jump’. Last I heard, his wife had left him and he was back working as a plasterer, reluctantly retracing his father's footsteps. I hope with all of my heart that this movie turns his fortunes around again. He should at least negotiate a new edition of his autobiography.

So they take creative liberties with the story. Nothing new, they do this with Shakespeare. The film's icing is heartthrob Hugh Jackman as Eddie's fictional coach, Bronson Perry, a one-time ski-jumper himself who fell off the side in every sense, and turned to drink. He is reeled reluctantly into Eddie's orbit and given another stab at glory, if only reflected. Welsh young'un Taron Egerton (‘Testament of Youth’, ‘Legend’) captures Eddie's gauche, long-sighted (literally) determination perfectly. Keith Allen, another Welshman, (love it) as Eddie's dad, leaves all the menace of the Sheriff of Nottingham behind to bring working-class long-suffering and acceptance of lot in life to the part. Jim Broadbent delights as the classic BBC commentator, while Christopher Walken, he of the unique face and other-worldly stare ('Pulp Fiction', 'Hairspray') is a wrencher as Perry's old coach. The Eighties soundtrack, curated by Gary Barlow, is perfect. As a 'child of the Eighties', I would say that, wouldn't I. Well it's true. They deploy every trick: 'Cool Runnings', the classic film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the same Olympics, is paid homage to throughout. I could even hear echoes of my all-time favourite flick, 'Field of Dreams'.

'Eddie the Eagle' flew all the way to the Sundance Festival in January, where it received its world premiere. Released in the US first, by 20th Century Fox, it's just out in the UK, distributed by Lionsgate. I'd go as far as to say that it stands as a metaphor for what it means to be British. I am bursting with pride for my old Fleet Street cohort Sean Macaulay, who wrote the screenplay, more than a decade ago. As he says, of Hollywood, 'You never know what can happen if you play the long game.' Eddie's philosophy in a nutshell. We must keep at it.

Monday, 14 March 2016


SIR GEORGE MARTIN CBE  3rd January 1926 – 9th March 2016

He was the world's most celebrated producer and I was an office dogsbody when I met 'the fifth Beatle' in 1980.

He stopped me in the lobby of Chrysalis Records, off Oxford Street, where I worked in the art department. George ran AIR Studios from there. The recording business he'd co-founded owned a huge facility overlooking Oxford Circus, and had been acquired by Chrysalis for a mint.

My leather mini, tee shirt and battered boots were no match for his dapper get-up. George, into his fifties and still an upright 6' 2”, sported a striped shirt and navy tie. Grey hair fringed his collar, and his crinkled blue eyes shone.

'Come into my office and see someone you know,' he grinned.

John Burgess, Managing Director of AIR and former producer of Freddie & the Dreamers and Manfred Mann, played alongside my father, ex-pro footballer Ken Jones, in charity soccer outfit Showbiz X1. The team comprised former athletes, entertainers, agents and managers. Sean Connery, Jimmy Tarbuck, Des O'Connor and David Frost turned out for them during the Sixties,  when the crowds topped 30,000. George and John had been colleagues for years, having met at Abbey Road Studios as employees of EMI. I hadn't set eyes on John, who died last year, since I was small.

They took me to lunch. Typical George, treating management and minions as equals. He was as I'd imagined him: quietly funny, endearingly shy. John was the crowd-pleaser, and they were quite the double act. It emerged during the meal that George and I had something in common. We had attended the same school, Bromley Grammar in Kent. Rockers Peter Frampton and Billy Idol went there too. George recalled our school motto, Dum Cresco Spero: I Hope When I Grow.

That December, John Lennon was murdered in Manhattan. George had weathered with dignity endless vitriol from the former Beatle during the Seventies. John belittled  their producer's 'influence' and input, while Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr 'were always sweet.' Implacably loyal, George was of course distressed by the news. There was not even a  funeral at which to pay his final respects. George went to Montserrat, where he had opened his dream residential recording studio the previous year. He sat staring at the ocean and listening to Lennon in his head, he later said. The studio complex, the whole island, would be flattened by Hurricane Hugo within the decade.

I left Chrysalis for Fleet Street, and submitted several interview requests over the years. George never refused.

I hadn't seen him for ages when we convened at the BRIT School in Croydon, South London in September 2011. George was a founding governor of the school that produced Amy Winehouse,  Adele and Jessie J.  The opening of a state-of-the-art studio in his name was to mark the BRIT's 20th anniversary. Then the fire alarm sounded. Everybody out. George and I caught up in the car park. This is the only photo I ever had taken with him.

The last time I saw him was at the Savoy Hotel, for the Gold Badge Awards in October 2012. Doddering, deaf, an old 86, George was honoured by the British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. For the man world-famous not only for the Beatles but for film scores, Bond themes, orchestral arrangements, best-selling books, 30 Number Ones – his final chart-topper was Elton John's reworked Candle in the Wind in 1997, his tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales - innumerable albums and almost half a century in the studio with more household names than any other producer in history, it seemed an understatement.

'I've had a great innings,' he said. 'I know I look decrepit and past-it. But the brilliant thing about growing old is that while you fall apart on the outside, you don't feel any different on the inside. Is it the Irish who say we all have an age at which we 'stop'? I have been 30 years old all my life. I'm with George Bernard Shaw: “we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”.'

He was born George Henry Martin in Holloway, north London on 3rd January 1926, to 'skint, non-musical' parents Henry and Bertha. His carpenter father was often jobless, selling newspapers on the street to feed his family. When the Martins got an old piano, his elder sister had lessons. George copied her, bagged a few lessons of his own, and taught himself. By the age of 15, he was running a dance band. He attended several schools, including St Joseph's Elementary, Highgate, and St. Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, before his family moved to the suburbs, and George reached Bromley Grammar.

He worked as a quantity surveyor and as a clerk in the War Office before joining the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1943. He trained as a pilot, but never saw active service. He demobbed in 1947 and resumed his education at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he studied piano and oboe.

'I couldn't read or write music,' he confessed, 'but they still let me in. I crammed composition for 3 full years.'

His oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot, whose actress daughter Jane Asher would become Paul McCartney's girlfriend. In 1948, on his 22nd birthday, George married Jean 'Sheena' Chisholm, whom he had met in the bride's native Scotland while George was stationed there. His 53 year-old mother was beside herself with grief over it. She died of a brain haemorrhage 3 weeks after the wedding, for which George never forgave himself. Sheena and George had 2 children, Alexis and Gregory.

Employed briefly by the BBC's classical music department, he joined EMI in 1950 as an assistant to  the head of minor label Parlophone. George inherited Oscar Preuss's job 5 years later. He forged a reputation as a producer of comedy and novelty recordings, working with Flanders and Swann, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Rolf Harris. In 1962, Brian Epstein brought him the Beatles. It was a last-ditch endeavour on the part of the tenacious manager, who had been shown the door by every other record company. The match was obvious. George always declined credit for having 'created' the group,  dismissing the notion that he was ever their 'Svengali'.

'A lot of nonsense was written and said,' he once remarked.

'It was a myth that they were uneducated guttersnipes and that I was this toff who knocked them into shape. In fact, the Beatles and I came from very similar backgrounds. I went to the same sort of schools. Musically, we were all essentially self-taught. As for our accents, mine was as working-class as theirs before I became an officer in the Royal Navy. You can't hang around with such folk without absorbing a bit of posh. I had also belonged to a dramatic society, which helped.  As for the music, I muddled through. I experimented and learned on the job.'

His chemistry with the Beatles arose from the fact that they were enthusiastic Goons fans, he revealed.

'They worshipped Peter Sellers, and knew that I'd recorded him. They weren't exceptional when we began. The magic wasn't instant, it had to emerge. But when they hit the jackpot, it was chaos.'

The Beatles phenomenon was the start of the British Invasion of America, when countless UK acts broke through. Lennon and McCartney were acknowledged as the most important songwriting partnership of the era. It was only the start.

With a backlogged schedule and barely time to go home and sleep - George was also recording Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Bernard Cribbins and Matt Monro  - something had to give. Now that he was embroiled in an affair with Parlophone secretary Judy Lockhart-Smith, his marriage was inevitably the casualty. He divorced Sheena, and married Judy in 1966. They produced a son and daughter, Giles and Lucy

The same year, the Beatles quit touring, and retreated into the studio. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely acclaimed as the most brilliant LP ever made, was released in 1967.  Brian Epstein died soon afterwards. The Beatles needed George Martin more than ever. But they rebuffed him for the Let it Be album, returning sheepishly for swansong Abbey Road.

George, who had challenged EMI over the injustice of producers not receiving royalties, produced the Beatles' later recordings as a freelance. With John Burgess and two other producers, he launched Associated Independent Recordings: AIR. Post-Beatles, George worked with everyone from Jeff Beck and Neil Sedaka to UFO. He likened the experience to 'having been married for decades and suddenly finding myself free to have  affairs.' He and McCartney resumed their relationship in 1982, when George produced his album Tug of War.

When the lease ran out at Oxford Circus, George established alternative world-class facilities, Lyndhurst, in a deconsecrated church in Belsize Park. Just as he was enjoying work as never before, life dealt the cruellest hand. George was suffering from progressive hearing loss, a condition from which he would never recover.

'The damage was done in the Sixties,' he said, 'when I was working with the Beatles. For 12 to 14 hours at a stretch, I'd be listening to loud sound levels. Nobody told me I was damaging my ears. I later told all my engineers, don't do it! Put plugs in! I didn't really notice until well into the Nineties. By then, of course, it was too late.'

The title of his 1979 autobiography, 'All You Need Is Ears', was rendered a horrible irony.

It hastened his retirement from the studio. He stopped recording, but didn't stop, son Giles stepping in to act as 'his ears'. He conducted orchestral concerts of Beatles music around the world, annotated classical recordings, and gave lectures on the making of Sergeant Pepper. Knighted in 1996, he helped organise the live concert to mark the Queen's 2002 Jubilee, and escorted Her Majesty onto the stage.

In 1998, they released In My Life, a compilation of Beatles songs performed by favourite stars including Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams and Sean Connery.

In 2006, father and son scored a show with Cirque du Soleil which became the celebration album Love, 'a mash-up of the Beatles musical lifespan.'

'I've been so lucky, I really have,' he said. 

'I've worked with and enjoyed relationships with great people, and not only pop stars. And I've never worked for any length of time with anyone I didn't like. Life really is too short.'

Wednesday, 24 February 2016


I have known Tony Blackburn forever. I count him as a friend, and I am appalled by the BBC's sacking of him. If Lord Tony Hall and the Corporation think that they can destroy his fine fifty-year career for the most threadbare of reasons - that he couldn't remember attending a meeting - they have lost the plot.
What on earth are they doing? Shooting themselves in the foot, for one thing: Pick of the Pops has a greater audience than anything else on the BBC. The Daily Mail's story about this yet-another-historic-'sex abuse'-scandal does read, to me, as though the poor girl who took her own life all those years ago had self-esteem and mental health issues, and had created a fantasy life which, at such a vulnerable young age, she came to regret - then punished herself in the most tragic way. Awful for her and her family, of course - how do those left behind ever recover from that? - but devastating for Tony that all this should now resurface, tainting his name and robbing him of his job. He is a decent guy, a devoted husband to Debbie, and the proudest of fathers to beautiful, talented Victoria.
Time to do a Gambo and begin keeping a diary,TB. Do it today. Paul said that it was the one thing that gave him a focus, kept him sane, and sustained him through the gruelling months of fear, when at one point he believed that he would end his days in a prison cell. Finally, when charges were dropped and he emerged triumphant, he was able to assemble the whole experience into manuscript form. His acclaimed memoir 'Love, Paul Gambaccini' was published without a hitch last year. It set the public record straight ... and he had the last laugh.

No one is laughing here. Not by any count. But I believe that the BBC has gone too far this time.

Thursday, 11 February 2016


I made it under the wire to this play at Trafalgar Studios last night - it concludes this weekend - and I'm thrilled that I did. Gary Kemp was the point, and I am so proud of him. It seems an age, it is, since we worked with Spandau Ballet at Chrysalis in the mad old days.
 Patience. Everything comes to us in the right moment. David Bowie said that 'ageing is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person that you always should have been.' While no one would wish to wipe the Spandau years from collective memory, nor Gary's enduring songs, he's through the barricade now. What a present, plausible, committed actor he is. He must be mindful of his years at Anna Scher's children's theatre in Islington, where this sophisticated talent was kindled, moons ago.
It's a difficult piece. Oft lauded as Pinter's finest, it bears revisitation in this its fiftieth year, and is none the lamer nor the tamer for it. Set in a working class north London home, all too familiar territory to Gary, its focus is a cracked marriage re-examined against the backdrop of a vicious family who refuse to escape their awful past. The text is cryptic and cruel. Themes of sex and power deafen and haunt. Let it go, this clan of misfits and bitter woebegones will not do.
The spaces between the strokes. The dark beyond the light. Pinter magnifies every splinter, figurative and actual, to the point of exquisite pain. Raw irony that son Teddy, Gary's clipped and stunted character (even his swallowed accent, mannerisms and body language are an escape from himself) is an academic, a Doctor of Philosophy at a college in America, who lacks comprehension of family values and the meaning of love. The symbolism of an invisible mirror on the wall into which the actors peer, looking out into the audience, stuns us with recognition that we are Alice: through the play and out the other side, actually looking at ourselves.
The oppressed woman - Teddy's wife Ruth - has been forced to live a fake life all these years. She finds herself - the true homecoming - and the play is her triumph.

Gemma Chan, Keith Allen, Ron Cook and John Simm enchanted. Bravos. But it was Gary's night, all right.

Thursday, 4 February 2016


In common with every year preceding it, 2015 was one of gain and loss. Some precious pals left us. Their absence cuts deep. Jim Diamond; Jazz Summers; John 'Brad' Bradbury, a very Special drummer. I miss them all. 2016 hasn't been much better, so far, has it: Ed Stewart; David Bowie; Glenn Frey; Terry Wogan; Maurice White, of Earth Wind & Fire, who was supposed to be immortal. 
Isn't death always untimely. Doesn't it cloud and unbalance whatever we are doing at the time. Everything stops, yet nothing does. Not even the departed cease to be. We comfort ourselves that love is undiminished by death; that energy, once created, cannot be destroyed. The spirit lives on. We won't forget them. Thus, they will always be here.
'It doesn't matter how many times you go down,' Jazz said once. 'It's the getting up that counts. How did I keep going through all the failure? I believed. I believed. These days, when the sorrows get me, I don't drown them in drink the way I once did. I meditate instead. I think about nature. I breathe. I stay in the moment. There are no accidents in life. If George Michael hadn't sacked me, I would never have gone on to do all the things that I have done.'
Every ending is a beginning. Every mean goodbye a sweet and hopeful hello.
We'd better live, then. By the F-it List, not the Bucket List. Take a chance every day, but a step at a time. Worry less about what others think. Who cares what they think? Ignore the way 'they' live and what 'they' are achieving, and live our own best lives. Walk it. Talk it. If we want it, we have to prove it. We've got to remind ourselves all the time that love is a verb.
There are no shortcuts, we know that much. No quick fixes. Nobody else is to blame for our failings and shortcomings. We also know that there may be no tomorrow - there wasn't for Jim, Jazz, Brad, Ed, David, Glenn, Terry, Maurice and the rest - so we've got to do it today. Make mistakes, and never regret the past, nor the failures, because those are what give us strength. We must fail forwards. We must let go of yesterday, accept what is, and have faith in all that could be, when we learn to play our cards right.
We can quit feeling sorry for ourselves. Fight for what we believe in. Be patient, and anticipate the moment when the time will be exactly right. We can remember that happiness is in our hearts and minds, this minute - not 'out there', not some other time. We can smile, today, and smile first. Scowl, and the person coming towards you will scowl back. We can spend more time with the right people, who won't be here forever. We can stop wasting time on relationships that bring us down. Even a sister or a best friend must be dumped if you've given them a second chance - and everyone deserves a second, probably not a third - and still they betray you. Blood IS thicker than water, sure. But only in the lab.
But. Forgiving those who have wronged us is a good way to move on. Forgiveness is not weak, nor an acceptance of betrayal. It's what sets us free.
We should forget about 'the journey' - how I hate that phrase - and be present, here, now. We can stop looking for something new and better, and cherish what we have. It might be all there is. We can give up trying to be perfect. We can instead aim to be fearless and resilient, and ourselves.
Peace, truth, love and light, for the time we have left.