#SongoftheWeek: Martine McCutcheon – Say I’m Not Alone

  • ARTIST: Martine McCutcheon
  • SONG: Say I’m Not Alone

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

2017 has proved to be quite the year for those ruling the top end of the charts in 1999 to make surprise returns. Steps knocked Ed Sheeran off number one on iTunes with their first single in 15 years. Geri Halliwell released her first new solo effort in 12 years. And now, the lady we all once knew as Tiffany has made a grand reappearance.

Yes, it was just 18 years ago in 1999 that, following a particularly brutal new scriptwriter’s regime, and a subsequent plot line which involved falling behind the wheel of Frank Butcher’s car to an untimely end, the role that bought Martine McCutcheon to public adoration on the BBC soap opera EastEnders was finished.

What immediately followed however, was a million pound record deal with Virgin’s pop offshoot, Innocent, and an instant UK number one smash with classy ballad ‘Perfect Moment’. All went quiet however, on the music front, after her third album of musical theatre covers in 2002 stalled.

There’s been the well publicised highs – her starring role as Natalie in Love Actually in 2003, for instance – and lows (which we won’t discuss here) in the time since. But now after a 15 year break, Martine has returned this week with her fourth studio album, ‘Lost and Found’.

Produced largely with her husband of five years, singer/songwriter Jack McManus, the album boasts a contemporary pop rock feel, whilst sounding to the ear like something Texas or Natalie Imbruglia wouldn’t be out of place singing – none more so than on this, its first single. 

One thing that does strike you listening to ‘Say I’m Not Alone’ is what a powerful voice Martine still has, and how at home she sounds rocking out on the chorus – ‘Kicking the stars around the constellation / Nothing’s as wild as my imagination’. It’s the kind of song, with enough weeks of summer left, that you could imagine blasting with the top down on a hot day. A sneakily fine come back indeed.

‘Say I’m Not Alone’ and Martine’s new album ‘Lost and Found’ are both out now on BMG. She tours the UK in November, starting in Guildford at G Live on 8th and finishing at Islington Assembly Hall on 14th. Twitter: @MartineOfficial

Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!

#CrazyStupidGig: Olly Murs – Summer Tour (Singleton Park, Swansea, 12th August 2017)

I’m pretty sure it was Simon Amstell and Miquita Oliver, hosts of the true leading light of smart, funny 00s pop telly, Channel 4’s Popworld, who openly breached the subject in one episode c. 2004/5 that they had McFly on the show that week, despite the fact they were on the week before. And were on again the following week. Their reasoning? ‘Yeah, we know what you’re thinking. But we get good stuff from them. So don’t judge us.’

This theory applies to the same extent with this here blog and a certain Mr Olly Murs. For anyone keeping count, this is the second week in a row he’s had a post on this blog – true, last week’s one was shared with Kungs – and this is his tenth appearance overall since we launched this blog three years ago this week (Happy Blogaversary to us, etc). 

And regular readers will also know that not only does he regularly provide this blog with ‘da clicks’, as the youth say, but that we can also usually not form any stream of coherent logic when it comes to Olly other than ‘OH YAS HE IS THE BEST SO DON’T EVEN TRY TO TEST’, such is our dedicated loyalty to him and all that jazz. It’s a win win all round, so in the words of Amstell and Oliver, ‘don’t judge us’.

Now here’s the thing. Mursy boy has been on one hugely successful tour already this year in support of his fourth UK number one album – and our Album of 2016 in our End of Year Prizes – ’24 HRS’. That was his fourth arena tour back in March, the Bournemouth International Centre date of which we attended. But we never got round to reviewing that, awesome a show though it was. But his current open air summer tour – of which he has two more weeks left before he takes a well earned break – is essentially that same arena tour but A) outdoors and B) with bells, whistles and hell, even the kitchen sink on. We shall explain forthwith.

After the last arena tour in 2015, we made a conscious decision to actually, y’know, make the touring and fanboying an actual experience, and see him in places outside of London and Essex. Hence why we saw him in Cork last year, and Bournemouth this year, and why we didn’t go to the earlier summer show of his in June at Colchester Football Stadium. Instead, we joined some very good friends of ours 200 miles away in sunny Swansea, Wales, at the historic Singleton Park.

It’s been a while since Olly last did summer shows in support of an album – four years ago in fact (we saw him in Peterborough that time, along with Diana Vickers and Ed Drewett). But there’s something about it being summer, outdoors and all that jazz that adds a special air to an already quite amazing live experience – carnival-esque, if you will. But before the star attraction must always come the lesser floats, the ‘Cub Scouts’ of the entertainment world.

So first up on stage were a local breakfast DJ team from a station called 96.4 The Wave. It was a fairly passable ‘MAKE SOME NOISE SWANSEA’ affair, with an hour of ‘C’mon on down ladies, its wine o’clock’ 80s and dance hits, with an odd bit of recent EDM/Tropical house bobbins thrown in here and there. And all made slightly unintentionally amusing by the fact that as the female DJ got the crowd to do the ‘Olly Olly Olly’ chant, the man himself was visible but a few feet away from where me and my friends were stood (albeit backstage).

Then following this was not Louisa Johnson, owing to a throat infection, but instead a two piece ‘guys with guitars and a session drummer’ outfit from nearby Blackwood, called Into the Ark, who were apparently on the revamped ITV series of The Voice this year. To say that they sounded like one interminably long ‘jam session’ of the worst kind is putting it mildly. Still, they weren’t caterwauling all over ‘Unpredictable’, so small mercies etc.

And then, after half an hour’s wait – Murs time! The ’24 HRS’ countdown clock intro from the arena tour was all still in place, as he blistered into an opening salvo of ‘You Don’t Know Love’, ‘Wrapped Up’ and – perhaps more amazingly – his single that more or less never was and the still rather amazing ‘Stevie Knows’ – mashed up quite appropriately with Mr Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ that he auditioned with on The X Factor all those years ago.

It’s safe to say by this point he had all 8,500 people in attendance eating out the palm of his hand. ‘It’s Saturday night Swansea!’ Murs hollered. ‘Are you going to sing? Are you going to dance? Are you going to get naked?’ The answer was a progressively louder whoop and cheer with each new question.

Our favourite cut from the new album ‘Back Around’ got mixed with Tina Turner’s ‘What’s Love Got to Do With It’ to amazing effect, as did ‘Heart Skips a Beat’ receiving a 90s banger makeover, as it was mashed up with Gala’s dance classic ‘Freed from Desire’. But he also found time to slow things down, as old favourite ‘I Need You Now’ from his second album got an airing as he invited ‘all the single people in here tonight to put their hands up – even if you’ve come on your own and your partner’s at home, just bring me back with you!’

Another of our favourite tracks that was missed off the earlier arena tour set got an airing, as ‘Love You More’ (again, not the JLS song of the same name) was played, with Olly sounding all remorseful and heartbroken and just generally superb. He also touchingly found time to pay thanks to the emergency services and stewards at the event, and the importance of their job in light of the horrific events at Manchester Arena earlier in the summer.

This led into what was by far one of the emotional points of the night for us, as he invited everyone to sing along and think of those they’d lost whilst he sang the evergreen ‘Dear Darlin’ (during which he pointed to us and gave us a thumbs up). It was a special moment because of that, but also because it made me think of my dear auntie in Australia, who sadly passed away in June after a long battle with cancer.

The atmosphere didn’t remain too emotional for long though, as Olly instructed everyone to put their phones away and ‘just go mental for 10 minutes’ whilst he and his band did a mashup of old skool floorfillers, taking in the likes of KC and the Sunshine Band’s ‘That’s the Way I Like It’, Luther Vandross’ ‘Never Too Much’ and Ini Kamoze’s ‘Here Comes the Hotstepper’, rounding off with a spirited cover of the song he was mistaken for releasing last year and which he absolutely smashed – namely Justin Timberlake’s ‘Can’t Stop the Feeling’. It was the kind of thing that had to be heard and seen to appreciate how awesome it was.

Resolutely an entertainer throughout, the penultimate three songs of his set – ‘Troublemaker’, ‘Dance with Me Tonight’, and an especially saucy rendition of ‘Kiss Me’ (where, to the delight of all female contigency present, his shirt came off to a snatch of ‘The Full Monty’ tune. Suffice to say from all his tyre lifting antics on Instagram that the dude has got ripped), upped the tune factor – Bam, Wham, Slam!

But he then rounded off with a touching tribute to the fans who’ve got him to the success he has had and who have kept him there, eight years on from where it all began – leading fittingly into the closing number of ‘Years and Years’: ‘It was X Factor 2009, Swansea, where we met!’ And with that, one of the best shows of his I’ve ever seen came to its spectacular finale.

There’s a reason why Olly is continually referred to as the nicest and hardest working man in pop – and not just from these quarters. This show – and the Bournemouth one we saw in March – are proof that eight years on, he still has drive, determination, likeability and the hit factor in spades. And I’ve a sneaking suspicion that he’ll be delivering the hits and shows for many more years to come – and I’ll continue to be at as many of them as possible.

RATING: 5/5

Olly Murs’ summer tour continues this Friday, 18th August at Newmarket Racecourse, and concludes with his headlining slot at Victorious Festival in Portsmouth on 27th August. Twitter: @ollyofficial

#BlastfromthePast: Derek Griffiths

Apologies for no weekly hop in my blogging DeLorean otherwise known as #BlastfromthePast last week – partly because I had my special blog I wot wrote for my sister’s 30th birthday to get up. 

All is back to normal though you’ll be glad to hear. This week, it’s time to celebrate a true legend of British stage and screen…

Ask most people who grew up watching kids TV in the 70s, 80s – heck even a bit of the 90s – to name a few presenters/voices they recall, chances are this man would be chief amongst them – and to my delight, I discovered was on Twitter this week. Starting out as a primary school teacher, Woking born Derek Griffiths is a quadruple threat in a world of triples: actor, singer, multi instrumentalist and mime artist.

It was this set of talents that landed him the gig on the BBC’s Play School, and later Play Away, which saw him work with the late Brian Cant, as well as Chloe Ashcroft and Johnny Ball. His work on this led to more projects with the Beeb, including Heads and Tails – a wildlife/nature show with his zany narration and music accompanying it – something he’d do again for modern young audiences on the Channel 5 series Animal Antics in the early 00s.

He also voiced three animated series for the BBC that I remember fondly from my youth (pictured above, from top left) – King Greenfingers, Christopher Crocodile (from which I gained my sisters’ nickname for me of Crocodilious), and perhaps best known of all, SuperTed. He also made the move after Play School to ITV, where he hosted Film Fun, a series of amusing continuity links set in an old style cinema between assorted Looney Tunes cartoons.

He was also a regular guest feature on various comedy and light entertainment shows, including (but not limited to) Terry and June, Till Death Do Us Part, Blankety Blank and Don’t Ask Me. He also did a notable public ad campaign in the 80s promoting the awareness of bike theft (this along with several other fine works of his can be found in my YouTube playlist below).

Following West End turns in the likes of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and Beauty and the Beast, Derek recently cropped up on the nation’s favourite soap, Coronation Street, playing retired mechanic Freddie – a role he left in March this year to star in another new theatre role, this time in Driving Miss Daisy which is currently touring the UK.

Now he’s also campaigning for a reunion of the Play School cast – before, he says, “we all go senile”. Here’s then, to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, Derek Griffiths. A Jack of all trades, but a master of all of them.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

#SongoftheWeek: Kungs featuring Olly Murs and Coely – ‘More Mess’

Ever heard the one about the French man and the English man walking into a recording studio? No? Let me tell it then…

  • ARTIST: Kungs featuring Olly Murs and Coely
  • SONG: More Mess

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

France has a great tradition for many things. Spiky, slightly brilliant electronic dance music being one of them. Kungs (or Valentin Brunel as sa mere would call him) has only just turned 20, but is already shaping up to be a great to reign with the likes of Daft Punk, Sebastien Tellier and Neïmo, after coming to worldwide attention via his reimagining of the Cookin’ on 3 Burners track ‘This Girl’, a number 2 hit last year in the UK that has shifted 600,000 copies hence.

Olly Murs (more on whom in another blog next week, readers) has not long turned 33, and his most recent campaign for the chart topping (and still brilliant) ’24 Hrs’ that was our album of last year, has just been rounded off by a lazy and unnecessary reworking of one of its best tracks, namely, ‘Unpredictable’, the single mix of which had the caterwauling – sorry, vocals – of his current support act and 2015 X Factor champ Louisa Johnson bolted on to it.

But now, here to make us forget that umpteenth sorry attempt to make one of the show’s less memorable winners relevant before the inevitable ‘SyCo can confirm they and Louisa have parted ways’ speech in January, Mursy boy has wound up guest vocalist alongside newcomer rapper Coely on a late contender for our summer 2017 anthem.

In a bit of further cross continental sound switching not seen since Emma Bunton covered the Astrud Gilberto bossa nova standard ‘Crickets Sing for Anamaria’, ‘More Mess’ is actually a partial cover of an obscure South American funk number from the 90s. The result is a sharp but smooth, bustling little single that all but makes us want to shake our stuff like we’re on Copacabana beach in a thong. Arriba. Here’s to hoping this isn’t the last time Olly heads for the dance floor.

‘More Mess’ is out to stream and download now on Sound of Barclay Records. Olly Murs is currently on his summer tour of the UK, playing Sandown Park Racecourse this Thursday, 10th August and finishing up as headliner at the Victorious Festival on 27th August. Twitter: @KungsMusic @ollyofficial

Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!

Three Zero

Friday, 7th August 1987. 

Los Lobos are at number one in the UK charts with their cover of Ritchie Valens’ hit ‘La Bamba’. 

Dynasty and the late Sir Terry Wogan’s chat show are on TV that night. 

Sylvanian Families are the must have toy of the moment. 

And you, Mairi, my dear sister, are born that day too.

As I write this, I’m remembering little things that reminds me of us growing up. 

Like how you always found the best places to play hide and seek in, a skill you still own to this day.

Our teenage keyboard accompanied duets of Samantha Mumba’s ‘Gotta Tell You’ and Bryan Adams and Melanie C’s ‘When You’re Gone’.

Making school discos at home with the copy of Now 39 that you won at the actual school disco.

Our shared love of Friends, and our ability to quote most episodes of it word for word.

Me buying us matching rubber ducks when I moved out of home to go to uni.

Us swapping beds one night as kids to try and fool Mum into thinking we were each other (it didn’t work. Using your Barbies as hair probably gave the game away).

You casually hanging out with Thom Yorke from Radiohead on an Amnesty International march with school and appearing on Newsnight.

Your invention of crisps with melted cheese, the best naughty after school snack we invented behind Mum’s back.

You never suffering fools gladly and having the best comebacks.

You always making me laugh with your (dead on) impressions of Claire from Steps and Madonna in her ‘4 Minutes’ video.

How we always do a little hand jive dance (totally improvised) to ‘Last Nite’ by The Strokes.

I tried to do something poetic for this, but that wouldn’t do justice to what an amazing sister you truly are. 

You have always been, and continue to be, so caring, warm hearted, deliciously witty and gifted at all things art and creative (seriously, I owe you a drink at least for all the years of doing my art homework).

And most importantly, you’ve always been my bookend and one of my closest friends to boot.

Happy birthday Village. Here’s to another 30 and beyond, and many more laughs and memories to come sis.

Love from your little brother with the pen,

Alex 

xxx

🎂😄🎉🎈🍸🎁

#SongoftheWeek: Nerina Pallot – ‘Stay Lucky’

It’s always nice when you get a little thanks of recognition for your what blogs. Which is precisely what we got from one George Ezra for last week’s #SongoftheWeek ‘pon the Twits. Glad you liked it George if you’re reading.

It reminded us of when, whilst running an old pop blog of ours a few years ago, we did a live Tweetalong session for Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s then new album, only for the lady herself to join in whilst discussing one of its quirkier tracks. I think a Russian Gregorian choir might have been involved. Happy days. Anyway…shall we?

  • ARTIST: Nerina Pallot
  • SONG: Stay Lucky

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

The story of the artist behind this week’s essential new song, and my love of them, starts about 11 years ago. On the very rare occasions I let anybody have access to my iTunes library (yes I still have one, yes I’m still stuck in a decade ago. Deal with it), they’ll look a bit confused when they see I have pretty much every album this lady has released, and go ‘Who is she?’ or better still ‘You never told me you were a fan of them!’

I feel therefore, in some ways, like I am disclosing some closely guarded secret in this week’s blog. I first heard of Nerina Pallot whilst on a sixth form outing to a university open day in the spring of 2006. Local radio was playing on the school minibus whilst we hurtled down the A12 on a windy March day, and at the time, I mistakenly thought the person singing the song that had just come on the airwaves was Sheryl Crow.

I then realised quite quickly it wasn’t the ‘All I Wanna Do’ hitmaker. Certainly not with the observant, at times witty lyrics in her modern day anti-combat protest anthem, ‘Everybody’s Gone to War’, which remains a certified lost gem to this day. After seeing the single’s accompanying video of her, caught in the crossfire of a food fight in an American farmers market, I was hooked and keen to find out more.

And I was even more pleasantly surprised to discover that ‘Fires’, her album from whence it came that went onto receive platinum sales and nods at the Ivor Novellos and Brit Awards, was actually the Jersey born Pallot’s second LP, and that she’d released her debut, ‘Dear Frustrated Superstar’ some five whole years prior to that to, criminally, virtual disregard. I bought both albums and thus I was a fan of Nerina’s from thereon in.

Never one to stay stuck to one style of music – particularly true of a lot of lesser singer/songwriters than her – she has always demonstrated her versatility and love of a clever pop sensibility throughout her career, even whilst writing songs for the likes of Kylie Minogue and Diana Vickers, with her husband, record producer Andy Chatterley.

This has happily continued into ‘Stay Lucky’, the title track off her forthcoming sixth studio album. A lush but simply produced number, it’s evocative of Joni Mitchell (one of her heroes) and, somewhat chicly, late Dusty Springfield with its 60s bluesy leanings.

In a further genius move, Pallot has also made like Girls Aloud before her and recorded a version of the single in French, under the title ‘Ta Chance‘, which makes it sound ten times more brilliant and like it should be best accompanying grainy footage of Brigitte Bardot in Nice and St Tropez c. 1967. It is thus building my excitement for what is sure to be another corker of an album from Nerina – even if she remains the best kept secret in my iTunes library.

The single ‘Stay Lucky’ is out to stream and download now, and the album of the same name is released on 13th October, both via Idaho Records. Twitter: @ladychatterley

Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!

#BlastfromthePast: Sesame Street

Before we delve into this week’s #BlastfromthePast, a little scene setting for you. Cast your minds back to three days ago. Ah, the start of the weekend. And the time for most people to be clocking off and winding down for the week.

If viral videos are your thing, chances are you’ll have already seen the big hit that was doing the rounds on social media. No, not of some trailer for Game of Thrones or of some vlogger denouncing their former clean cut Disney associations for a more ‘mature’ direction a la Christina Aguilera.

No. This viral video that at time of writing has had 2,000 retweets and 3,000 likes on Twitter, is in fact some very familiar faces to those of a certain generation (chiefly, my one, and several others I’m sure) covering some 80s pop classics in a new style. But enough about the Bros reunion. 

It is strange really, that even though it is still alive and present on US television and much of the rest of the world, that the characters on Sesame Street – the educational but entertaining Muppet led vehicle for pre-schoolers from the late genius that was and still is Jim Henson – are still so well loved and recognised here, despite it being 17 years removed from its last regular broadcast slot here in Blighty.

The colourful inhabitants of the fictitious New York street – Elmo, Cookie Monster, Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Grover and Oscar the Grouch, to name but several – are now a couple of years shy from having been on television for five whole decades, making them second to Sooty as the longest running children’s programme in the world.

Back in 1969, following the show’s first airing, however, both the BBC and ITV were strangely oppositional to a UK broadcast, being dismissive of the show’s educational methods and creation primarily for an American audience, favouring their own successful creations at a pre-school format in Play School and Rainbow respectively.

Only Channel 4, launched in 1982, were willing to take a punt on it for UK airing, and it duly took up its regular place in the lunchtime schedules at 12pm on weekdays to great success. My sisters had all grown up watching it after nursery, and I was no exception. Its mix of education, humour,  larger than life Muppets, animation and live action film clips made for an engaging watch.

An afternoon spent on YouTube to compile a playlist for this blog (which you can find below) this weekend confirmed that even clips of it from when I watched it in the late 80s/early 90s have lost none of their appeal. If anything, they are just as captive for young minds today. 

My nieces and nephew have all been able to love and enjoy the clips they’ve seen of the show thanks to the beauty of modern day technology as well (my eldest niece, in particular, when she was just a year old, could only be kept quiet by a clip of Kermit the Frog singing a doo wop song about hopping).

In the years since Channel 4 shifted it off terrestial air for good in 2001, several segments of the show – chiefly Elmo’s World and Bert and Ernie’s Great Adventures found a home for a few years on Channel 5’s Milkshake strand. And more recently, Elmo and Cookie Monster have been found on the co-produced Sesame Workshop/BBC show The Furchester Hotel that airs daily on CBeebies, which retains a lot of the wacky charm of its origins.

In our ever increasingly multicultural, diverse world, and with a broader broadcasting palette for today’s younger viewers, is it time one of the big five channels taught a whole new generation how to get to one of the world’s most famous streets once more? I certainly think so.

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

#SongoftheWeek: George Ezra – ‘Don’t Matter Now’

Just before we start today’s blog – firstly congratulations to The Vamps, holders of last week’s #SongoftheWeek as their new album ‘Night and Day’ did indeed become their first number one album. Congratulations and all that lads.

Anyway. Time once again for my weekly piece about a brand new song I have been listening to non stop and believe that you, dear readers, should as well. This is, quite literally, my #SongoftheWeek…

  • ARTIST: George Ezra
  • SONG: Don’t Matter Now

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

If there’s one thing that grinds my gears more than anything, it’s what-I-call ‘one album wonders’. Artists who are so full of promise with such a fantastic, in some cases iconic debut, but then fall away to nothing by releasing absolute drivel for their second offering two years later. Franz Ferdinand, hello to you.

Thankfully, on the basis of this new single, what was the case for Alex Kapranos and co, isn’t the case for George Ezra. One of 2014’s brightest and best new talents, his chart topping debut album ‘Wanted on Voyage’ was one of my albums of that year, as were it’s two storming top 10 hits ‘Budapest’ and ‘Blame it on Me’.

Now after a year’s break, and following a blinding last minute set at Glastonbury last month, the singer songwriter is back with ‘Don’t Matter Now’, the first release from his (as yet) untitled sophomore LP, due for release later this year.

Building on all the elements that made his first few singles a joy – that wonderfully husky, gravelly blues voice, the jaunty guitar stylings to go with it – it’s a real summer anthem (even if the actual summer appears to have gone awol in the last few days).

Written just as he came to the end of his 2015 world tour, ‘Don’t Matter Now’ is a self affirming song that, George says, he wrote as a reminder to himself to pay attention where needed to world events and awful occurences, but not to get too wrapped up in them.

Certainly, in our plugged in age where we’re on a constant looping news feed of tragedy and pending doom, it’s also a gentle reminder for us, the audience, to show concern and take action where we can, but to not forget to enjoy life as well. And I am confident life will continue to be (relatively) sweet for Mr Ezra if the singles keep on with this rate of consistency.

‘Don’t Matter Now’ is out now to stream and download on Columbia/Sony. Twitter: @George_Ezra

Don’t forget to let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!

#BlastfromthePast: Challenge Anneka

challenge-anneka-1992-600x403

Time for another new weekly feature to the blog. As a lover of all things retro and nostalgic, these new blogs are entitled #BlastfromthePast, and will be showcasing – in some cases introducing to you, the reader – a classic old favourite of mine from music, television, film or books, and having a little catch up on what’s become of the people behind them. First up this week, we’re heading in our metaphorical DeLorean back to the year I was born – 1989 – to a real classic TV gem from the turn of the late 80s/early 90s…and I suggest you hit the play button on the video below before you start!

Ah yes! Who could forget that theme tune? There are no bad TV theme tunes that contain saxophones. Fact.

Following her six year run on Channel 4’s Treasure Hunt, the lovely Anneka Rice made her first ‘Challenge’ some two years before this in 1987, on one of the BBC’s first ever ‘Children in Need’ appeals, before the first series finally got the green light. The premise of the series was a simple one. Anneka – in her jumpsuit and ever trusty blue buggy, along with sound man Dave and Martin the camera man – would turn up at all manner of locations across the UK after being given a tip off prior to starting filming.

A classic example usually went along these lines. Anneka would turn up at a derelict building in a semi rural location, that looked like it might’ve been a village hall at one point. After a few minutes wandering around trying to work out where her challenge lay, she’d catch sight of an unusual object amongst the dereliction, on which was a card that read as follows:

‘This village is having a village hall again for the first time in 30 years. To celebrate, organise and invite major celebrity names and entertainment for the grand re-opening party…’

(and then, on the back of the same card)…

‘…PS You also need to completely renovate and redecorate the hall before the party on Friday at 2pm – you have three days!’

46316597_-18-1320x742

OK. So probably not the best example, but it gives you an idea. Anneka almost always achieved these challenges set before her in the tight turn around supplied, and such were her powers of gentle persuasion (her opening gambit when phoning very important people to help her complete the challenge was always ‘Hello, I’m sorry to have to do this to you, it’s Anneka Rice from the BBC Challenge programme’) that everyone was always willing to chip in and offer their time and services (‘Oh thank you, you are a star!’).

There was always something so pure and good hearted at the centre of Challenge Anneka. It had community spirit at its heart that made it feel like one great national bring and buy sale crossed with a street party. It was ushering in a new wave of television that saw the greater good ‘giving something back’ that still stands in existence even now, with shows like DIY SOS: The Big Build or 60 Minute Makeover.

Not only because of its philanthropic values, but the show has a particularly fond place in my heart from one of the challenges in particular. For the third series in 1992, when I’d just turned 3 years old, Anneka was challenged by Tommy’s Campaign, the charity based at Guys and St. Thomas’ Hospital in central London, that offers support and research into premature births, to produce Tommy’s Tape, a cassette tape of numerous famous names of the time performing nursery rhymes, children’s songs and poems.

tommystape

10,000 copies were produced in just four days – and the resulting tape was produced by none other than the legendary late George Martin. It included Anneka herself putting in her version of ‘The Teddy Bears’ Picnic’, as well as Joanna Lumley’s reading of Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’, Right Said Fred singing ‘Nellie the Elephant’, and even the cast of Birds of a Feather (which almost always followed Challenge Anneka in the schedules on BBC One on Friday or Saturday nights and that I feel equally fondly about), offering a rousing version of ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’.

My mum bought me one of the 10,000 copies, and it was always on the car stereo on the rare times that ABBA, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles or Dire Straits weren’t, and for pure sentimental reasons I loved it and played it frequently throughout my early childhood long after the series came to an end in October 1995. I was pretty delighted therefore, to discover that the album was recently digitally remastered and re-released for download.

The full episode of this particular challenge (video above) has recently reappeared on YouTube and is worth a watch to see the tape come together – if not for the endearing sight of Anneka and the buggy rocking up at Earl’s Court to try and persuade the late, great Prince to appear whilst he was in London for his world tour.

So as mentioned, the series disappeared from our screens in October 1995. But what became of it after that? Well, ITV bought it back in 2007 for two 18th anniversary specials, the first of which saw Anneka and the team head to Sri Lanka to help rebuild a community affected by the devastating Indian Ocean earthquake of 2004, and the second, in a nod to the Tommy’s Tape challenge of 15 years previously, saw her produce Over the Rainbow, an album of musical theatre songs released to raise money for children’s hospices up and down the UK, featuring everyone from McFly to Curtis Stigers.

Anneka_Rice_3533593b

These days, Anneka is still broadcasting, and can be found behind the mic on her weekly BBC Radio 2 show The Happening, that goes out every Friday night at midnight. However, she still occasionally digs out the jumpsuit and buggy for one off challenges – recently she completed one during Channel 4’s annual Stand Up to Cancer telethon, and another for ITV’s This Morning – and this last year, she has also spent time revisiting some of the challenges around the UK that she helped to complete all those years ago.

Here’s to this week’s #BlastfromthePast, Challenge Anneka. A show that challenged us all to give a little something back!

What are your memories of this week’s #BlastfromthePast? Tweet me now @ThePensmith10 using the hashtag #BlastfromthePast and I may feature some of your Tweets in next week’s blog!

#SongoftheWeek: The Vamps with Martin Jensen – ‘Middle of the Night’

Time for a new regular feature on my blog. As I’ve been somewhat lax in recent months with frequent blogs, and have needed a bit of motivation in myself to get things going again, I thought I would introduce a few new weekly slots on here. The first of which is starting right now.

In #SongoftheWeek, I will be talking about a new song that I’ve mostly been listening to this week, me telling you why I am loving that song in that week’s blog right now, and the general gist of things will be me, advising you all to listen to it. Got it? Good…here comes the first one then!

  • ARTIST: The Vamps with Martin Jensen
  • SONG: Middle of the Night

SO ALEX, WHY IS THIS YOUR SONG OF THE WEEK?

I will put my hands up now and confess I wasn’t that fussed by The Vamps when they first started in 2013. At the time they released their first few singles, Lawson were still around and that was fulfilling my ‘lads with guitars singing pop rock’ quotient, thank you very much.

Then about a year later, in 2015, they released a single and a second album, both of which were titled ‘Wake Up’ and which I really rather liked. Then I saw them perform its follow up, ‘Rest Your Love’ on TV and I really rather liked that one too.

In short, they started releasing some really great singles, a tradition that has proudly carried on to this, their current single, which is a collaboration with dance producer Martin Jensen. It’s a great track, really atmospheric and almost evocative of OneRepublic (who I also rather like).

I feel to appreciate this song also requires watching its excellent video. It follows a deaf couple acting out the story of the song through sign language. I’ve always been fascinated by sign language since I was a kid, so it’s nice to see it being represented on such a huge scale as a pop music video.

If the midweek figures are correct, then their new album ‘Night and Day’ (which is being released in two parts – the first this month, then the second in November) is all set to become their first number one album in the UK this weekend. With singles this good, I sincerely hope Brad, James, Connor and Tristan manage it.

‘Middle of the Night’ and the first part of The Vamps’ new album ‘Night and Day’ are both out now on Virgin EMI. Twitter: @TheVampsband

Let me know your thoughts of my song choice this week on my Twitter using the hashtag #SongoftheWeek!