#26in26 – 26 songs from the last 26 years, chosen by you.

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So today’s blog post is coming to you on a very special day…because it’s my birthday! Yes, I have officially been on this planet 26 years as of today. Crazy thought isn’t it? So, in light of this, I thought well, I need to give a bit of a gift to you, the readers of this blog, and today you’re getting that gift to celebrate this wonderful, amazing day when I was born. And to the person that I can hear saying ‘he’s a bit egotistical int he?’ – firstly, RUDE, and secondly, this is the one day of the year that I get to celebrate being wonderful, pretty, functional me so NYER to you.

If you’ve been following my Twitter or my Facebook for the last few weeks, you’ll know that I’ve been doing a thing called #26in26 – basically, each day in August in the run up to my birthday, I’ve asked my followers (which hopefully some of you are) or friends to choose a song that was a hit from a given year in the last 26 years. Why? Well the reason why is now apparent because I have compiled all your choices into one totally rad Spotify playlist for you to enjoy today.

It’s a real – and I love this word – hotch potch of songs, sounds and styles from FOUR decades – house, rock, rap, UK garage, R&B, ballads, dance, and of course it wouldn’t be a playlist from me without some full blown pop music for good measure too. Your choices in full were as follows, with the year each of them came from:

  • 1989: Soul II Soul feat. Caron Wheeler – Back to Life (However Do You Want Me)
  • 1990: Deee-Lite – Groove is in the Heart
  • 1991: James – Sit Down
  • 1992: Charles & Eddie – Would I Lie to You?
  • 1993: Ace of Base – All That She Wants
  • 1994: M People – Moving on Up
  • 1995: Ini Kamoze – Here Comes the Hotstepper
  • 1996: Spice Girls – Wannabe
  • 1997: Hanson – MMMMBop
  • 1998: Robbie Williams – Millennium
  • 1999: 5ive – Keep on Movin’
  • 2000: Craig David – Fill Me In
  • 2001: Kylie Minogue – Can’t Get You Out of My Head
  • 2002: Sugababes – Round Round
  • 2003: Busted – Year 3000
  • 2004: Girls Aloud – Love Machine
  • 2005: Kaiser Chiefs – I Predict a Riot
  • 2006: Shakira feat. Wyclef Jean – Hips Don’t Lie
  • 2007: Nelly Furtado – Say it Right
  • 2008: Alphabeat – Fascination
  • 2009: JLS – Beat Again
  • 2010: Bruno Mars – Just the Way You Are
  • 2011: Olly Murs – Dance with Me Tonight
  • 2012: Lawson – Taking Over Me
  • 2013: OneRepublic – Counting Stars
  • 2014: Pharrell Williams – Happy

A big thank you so much to everyone who voted each day on the choices throughout the month. It’s been really good fun and I hope you’ve enjoyed it as much as I have and that you turn this playlist up loud and have a good boogie. I’m off to spend the day with the fam eating cake and unwrapping presents and generally lovely things of that nature.

Much love always,

Alex x

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Roald Dahl: The Finest Works of a Whimsical Genius

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I’ve touched on finding inspiration as a writer in previous blog posts before. Never before though, have I touched on certain authors that inspire me, but in the case of today’s post, I am doing just that. I have been back writing more stories for a children’s series I’ve had in development for nearly two years this week just gone. Usually before I get into lengthy periods of writing new stories for it, I tend to find myself gravitating towards a lot of the books I read growing up to get me into the right mind frame. And one author who featured the most prominently above all others in my reading choices was the one you see above.

Roald Dahl was such a huge influence on me and is the person who, on the face of it, can probably be who inspired me to start writing when I was 8 years old and who gave me such a great love of books. In fact his books came along at a time in my life at school where my ability was being granted with far less justification than it deserved. Anyone of a certain age reading this blog who grew up suffering those dreadfully patronizing ‘Janet and John’ type books when you’re starting to learn to read will empathize.

I often feel like it’s those sort of unexpressive, dull books which are at the root of all the reasons why English and a love of books becomes such a chore for most kids at school, and something to be avoided at all costs. Mr Dahl was such a brutally funny, cheeky and touching breath of fresh air to me, having been introduced to them from visits to the library when I was growing up. Recent charity shop scourings have seen me pick up a couple of my old favourites of his cheaply again and rediscover a love for his use of language and character portrayal so brilliantly. So today I’m going to take you through what I believe are Roald Dahl’s finest hours as one of our most gifted, celebrated and darn right whimsical writers ever.

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1. MATILDA

Of course, this one has come to be defined by the 1996 film with Mara Wilson and Danny DeVito and the stage musical in the years that have passed, so it’s quite easy to forget that this one was actually a book, but it was. I identified so strongly with the neglected child genius Matilda Wormwood, and felt like her plight of being recognized for her great brain power by her odious, telly addict parents and masochistic headmistress Mrs Trunchbull was something I understood.

Not that I had that issue with my own parents, thank God, but surrounded by video game obsessed classmates when I was buried deep in a book I felt that way certainly. It gave me a tremendous sense of feeling like I wasn’t alone reading this book, and I loved her kindly class tutor Miss Honey, who she eventually decides to live with when her own family go on the run from the law when her wheeler dealer car salesman father is exposed for his wrong doings.

2. GEORGE’S MARVELLOUS MEDICINE

If there is one book and one book only I am intent on taking to my grave, it would be the battered old ex library copy of the very first Roald Dahl book I had read to me, by my eldest sister Helen. I loved her reading books to me when I was growing up, because she always used to have such a calming, mellifluous voice and an ability to switch in and out of voices of characters that immediately leapt into one’s head when Dahl was describing them, particularly the villainous ones, with unabashed glee and relative lack of censuring. The late Rik Mayall’s famed reading of this on Jackanory is particularly worth investigation for the same reasons.

Dahl’s fantastic description of George’s cantankerous, witchy grandmother as having ‘pale brown teeth and a small puckered up mouth like a dog’s bottom’ sends me into hysterics even now, and is often the one line above all the others in the book I can recall by heart when it’s mentioned to me. It also of course, despite Mr Dahl’s own warning to avoid making his marvellous, homemade concoction myself, persuaded me to make my own medicine in the sink of my parent’s ensuite shower room. Thankfully it wasn’t ingested but I shall let you guess for yourself how that was met with their approval!

3. THE BFG

I think this is probably on here as a result of the – brilliant – animated adaptation by Cosgrove Hall screened on ITV during my first Christmas in 1989, and which was subsequently rerun in the years that followed when I was old enough to watch it, with Sir David Jason voicing the Big Friendly one himself. It’s also probably on my list as a result of temporarily gaining that nickname myself when I was at school – an odd juxtaposition that I was both the tallest and youngest not just in my class but in my year.

The BFG’s friendship with Sophie is really rather endearing to behold – the sort of father and daughter relationship that was so lacking in her old life stuck in a girls’ orphanage. I always used to fall into hysterics at the chapter ‘Frobscottle and Whizzpoppers’, and be gripped by their mission to inform the Queen of England about the monstrosities his blood thirsty inhabitants of Giant Country were inflicting upon the ‘human beans’ of the world.

4. ESIO TROT

Often criticized for not having the same macabre tones as his usual work – see ‘James and the Giant Peach’ or ‘The Witches’ as a basis of comparison – ‘Esio Trot’ has always had a special place in my heart. It’s one of his shortest works admittedly – you can get the whole thing read in half an hour if you’re a quick reader – but if you’re failed to be warmed by the endearing tale of Mr Hoppy’s mission to win over his neighbour Mrs Silver via her pet tortoise Alfie then, quite simply, you have no soul. There. Said it and don’t care.

The book itself is a great showcase towards some of Dahl’s work for teenagers and adult readers, which I think have been sadly forgotten about and overlooked in recent years. I have a collection of such works that he did under the compendium ‘The Great Automatic Grammatizator’ and if you can track down a copy of that second hand if you loved this book I’d highly recommend it.

5. DANNY, THE CHAMPION OF THE WORLD

Again, another one which I associate with the film adapatation of, starring Robbie Coltrane, Jeremy Irons and his then 9 year old son Samuel as the title protagonist, this is again probably a lot more cosy in feel than some of Mr Dahl’s other works but this is my dad’s favourite because of its mention of Austin Chummy cars so I feel I have to put it on here if for no other reason. Regardless, this is a real page turner, and one of the few books of his (outside of his two autobiographies, ‘Boy: Tales of Childhood’ and ‘Going Solo’) written in the first person.

Danny and his father’s thrilling, page gripping escapades to poach pheasants off the bloated and self important Mr Hazell’s country estate before hunting season begins reads like the same kind of exciting adventure reminiscent of ‘The Great Escape’. And again, Dahl’s wonderful use of imagery and language comes into play here. Hence why, even when I got this read again on my commute the other week, I got off the bus at half 7 in the morning suddenly craving a roast pheasant meal. Anyone who says books don’t have the power to do that sort of thing is obviously a fool.

 

Dear Cat & Fi: The One Where I Spin at 45

Dear Cat & Fi,

Hello. Firstly apologies for no blog these last couple of weeks. I had plans to write it early last week i.e. Tuesday, and then those plans kind of fell through. Reasons of which I shall go into as this blog progresses. Rest assured I am deep in blogging once again and even with a fortnight’s no show, had a pretty rad time all things considered.

So. Why my no show? Well, I can’t entirely place blame on this, and I’m sure Mum’s mentioned this in passing to you both, but last week, I decided to invest in a brand new toy… *drum roll please*

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Oooh yars. I have only gone and got myself an Audio-Technica, all purpose, fully automatic, USB compatible vinyl record player. Isn’t it gorgeous?! The reason I decided to invest in one now was partly for a couple of reasons. Firstly, because a lot of artists that I’m a fan have bought out assorted releases of theirs – singles, picture discs and the like – over the last 10 years, of which I have obtained a few. I sold some of them off last year to raise money for the Movember campaign, including my prized signed 12″ picture disc of Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s “Me and My Imagination” (which I sweet talked the press lady at her old label out of via email in 2007. Sch-weet).

At the time, I thought it was a bit of a shame I never really got to properly listen to any of them as Pa Mac does have a record player downstairs but it’s A) incredibly difficult to get to and B) very very old and it’s not automatic like mine and I would probably rip and fuck it. And also, even though I have Spotify playlists that I post on here from the free account I have, I generally find that proper music streaming is expensive and leaves me cold. Hence my decision to go vinyl. Well. Not completely. I mean Olly Murs for example hasn’t released anything on vinyl yet (I will be lobbying his management for one with the next album, naturally).

But I have, however, already accrued a very fine collection of my own from previous purchases as well as eBay, charity shops, some donations from Mum and Dad’s collection, the fabulous website Discogs and even HMV, where I purchased a brand new vinyl of Paul Simon’s greatest hits. In said collection so far, along with Mr Simon, is the following:

  • Pet Shop Boys – Actually (LP)
  • Enya – Shepherd Moons (LP)
  • Now That’s What I Call Music Vol. 10 (Double LP)
  • Eurythmics – Be Yourself Tonight (LP)
  • The Beatles – 1967-70 (Double LP)
  • Kylie Minogue – Rhythm of Love (LP)
  • McFly – Obviously/That Girl (7″ Picture Discs)
  • Girls Aloud – The Promise/Love Machine (7″ Picture Discs)

Oooh yes. So Tuesday. After going to pick up my record player after work I met up with Mum, Mairi and the little ‘uns for a coffee. It was so nice having a bit of that unprecedented uncle time, especially because Mia’s starting school soon (I still can’t believe that time has come around to be quite honest, bless her cottons). I think recently I’ve been valuing family time more and more. You forget even being an uncle and aunt like we are (and a mum in your case as well Trina) that they don’t stay certain ages forever and it’s important to treasure that time whilst you have it.

Hence why I take silly selfies with them at every opportunity:

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So what else have I been doing…? Oh yes, there is one more thing I’m doing. It’s my birthday coming up in a couple of weeks as you both know. And as it’s my 26th on the 26th, I’ve decided to do a little fun thing on my Facebook and Twitter called, appropriately enough, #26in26. Basically, this’ll be for a future blog post which I intend to post on my birthday, in the form of a Spotify playlist, and each day in August I am picking a year from the last 26 years.

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Then I’m getting my followers and friends to pick their favourite from a list of three songs that were hits in the year I’ve chosen for that day. We’ve got as far as 1997 (tomorrow’s is 1998), and the playlist is already shaping up very nicely with everything from Spice Girls to James to Soul II Soul to Dee-Lite. A veritable hotchpotch of sounds from four decades, and something that’s proving to be great fun already. Any of your votes sisters Mac would be greatly appreciated 🙂

Trina – glad bro in law had a nice birthday recently. Mum showed me the new videos of Indi, bless her cotton socks. I have a surprise for her when you come down next.

Fi – glad to hear your new job is going well hun, it was nice talking to you the other night as well Patricia Nelson hehehe. Can’t wait to see you when you come down at end of the month.

Until next week, in the words of Paul Simon, if you’ll be my bodyguard, I can be your long lost pal.

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Luv-oo, Alex

x x

 

 

 

#CrazyStupidPlaylist: 80’s Number Ones

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Last Sunday saw the airing of a countdown of The Nation’s Favourite 80’s Number Ones, hosted by Zoe Ball, which revealed that the UK’s best loved chart topper from the decade that bought us legwarmers, shoulder-pads and tight perms was ‘Every Breath You Take’ by Sting and the Police. A good choice, but not necessarily the one we would have picked. And this is coming from a writer who was born during the dying months of the decade.

So I’ve taken it upon myself to curate my own Spotify playlist of the decade’s finest number ones – some of which were in the countdown of the show itself and some which I felt were cruelly overlooked – so sit back, stick your headphones on and listen along as you read my thoughts on each of my choices…

1. PET SHOP BOYS – ‘West End Girls’

(#1 for two weeks in January 1986)

When Neil Tennant, the then editor of the most important music magazine of the decade ‘Smash Hits’ and keyboard and programming whizkid Chris Lowe formed Pet Shop Boys in 1984, few could have imagined they’d go onto become one of the most successful duos ever in UK chart history. 40m records sold worldwide later, and that’s exactly what they became, and this moody, part rapped T.S Eliot-esque debut was the first of four chart toppers they’d accrue in the 80s.

2. EURYTHMICS – ‘There Must Be an Angel (Playing with my Heart)’

(#1 for a week in July 1985)

The band that introduced the world to the soaring, soulful tones of Annie Lennox, the Scots songstress and her collaborative partner Dave Stewart owned the 80s with such delights as ‘Sweet Dreams are Made of This’ and ‘Here Comes the Rain Again’ to name but two. But the top spot seemed to elude them – that is until on their 13th attempt, when this appropriately named, heavenly feel good track (with a harmonica solo from one Mr Stevie Wonder, no less) finally sent them to number one.

3. THE HUMAN LEAGUE – ‘Don’t You Want Me?’

(#1 for five weeks in December 1981)

With the launch of MTV, the 80s ushered in the concept of the music video as an essential tool in the marketing mix of any self respecting pop act. The Human League were no different, and with ‘Don’t You Want Me’, the third single from their fourth album ‘Dare’, this brooding, synth laden call and response mourn to a lost love between Phil Oakey and Susan Ann Sulley was backed by an elaborate and iconic ‘video within a video’ visual that ensured it spent just over a month atop the charts.

4. RICK ASTLEY – ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’

(#1 for five weeks in September 1987)

It’s fair to say that the legendary team of Stock, Aitken & Waterman, with their hi-NRG, soulful dance pop productions were to the 80s what Brian Higgins and Xenomania were to the 00s. Their work for Kylie Minogue, Jason Donovan and Bananarama soared to the top of the charts worldwide as well as in the UK, and Rick Astley, Pete Waterman’s former tea boy at the studios soon found himself at number one too with 1987’s biggest seller of the year – this remains a veritable pop classic with a chorus to die for.

5. THE BANGLES – ‘Eternal Flame’

(#1 for four weeks in April 1989)

Fronted by the glamorous Susanna Hoffs, US all girl guitar pop rockers The Bangles bought some serious sass to the charts with hits like ‘Walk Like an Egyptian’ and ‘Manic Monday’ (the latter written by another 80s legend in the shape of Prince, no less) – but also more than proved their sensitive side with this stirring, heartbreaking power ballad, and were duly rewarded with a chart topper on both sides of the Atlantic.