Old Grey Mayor

You won’t remember this but, instead of weird psychedelia with top bands going ‘gabba gabba’, or gibbering stocky puppet simpletons with screens in their stomachs, kids would happily sit in front of the TV and watch stories about talking animals that had adventures in primarily human settings. One such animal was animated Sunday lunch Larry the Lamb, and when he had exhausted all his mint saucey options he’d go to see the head honcho. “M…M…M…Mr Mayor” he’d say, and a fella in a tricorn hat would sort it all out. Sweet. And decidedly tasty with mashed potatoe

Where do the lambs of Birmingham go when the wool hits the fan? Well at the moment they’ve no Mr or Ms Mayor to trot along to see—but might well have later this year. This is a round about way of saying that on May 3rd this year there’s a referendum in Birmingham to decide if the city gets to elect it’s own mayor in a similar way that London gets to be presided over by Boris Johnson—although we probably won’t have any blond, bumbling, biking, bonking Borises in the running.

A ‘yes’ vote and in November brummies will get to pick their leader, and while we won’t know who’ll stand for a while it’s worth looking at some of the most famous mayors the World has had and see if we can guess what they’d do if we voted them in here.

 

Famous Mayor: Dick Whittington

Mayor of: London, three times.

Would they work in Brum?: Panto fave Richard Whittington was indeed mayor of London three times, and apparently loved his pussy as much as the current incumbent. Dick’s best days are behind him, and once a man has been mayor three times there’s not much chance he has another term in him. Not your turn again, Dick Whittington. We’re one hundred miles from London, puss, and there’s no sign of Dick here. Oh no there isn’t.

 

Famous Mayor: ‘Diamond’ Joe Quimby

Mayor of: Springfield

Would they work in Brum?: Mayor Quimby rules the city where the people are yellow with a rod of wads of notes wrapped in brown envelopes. No method of corruption or mode of bung is too obscure for ‘Diamond’ Joe to have a finger in, even though he only has six. His womanising ways wouldn’t sit well with the Birmingham electorate who are already confused enough by local MP John Hemming’s lovelife. That said, he his modelled on the Kennedy clan so Brummies could be turned by his celebrity connections—after all we’ve only really got Jasper Carrott.

 

Famous Mayor: Mayor McCheese
Mayor of: McDonaldland

Would they work in Brum?: The nuemero uno, the big cheese, of McDonaldland, Mayor McCheese has a beefburger for a head and sports a top hat, a diplomat’s sash, and a pair of pince-nez glases. So far so much like many of the current councillors, and the official McDonaldland Wikipedia page says he is “portrayed as a giggly, bumbling, and somewhat incompetent mayor” so maybe not one we’ll be voting for any time soon. His record on crime (or ‘hamburgling’) is poor.

 

Famous Mayor: The mayor off of 60s batman
Mayor of: The camp version of Gotham City from the 60s TV programme

Would they work in Brum?: You know, in Batman with Adam West there was a white haired old gent who basically stood around looking confused with Commissioner Gordon. His decisions ran like this: there is a problem caused by a supervillan, he’s not really sure what’s going on, Mayor Linseed turns on the bat signal. In Birmingham how would that really work? If an evil genius is draining the canals or turning everyone that touches the canapés in Glynn Purnell’s restaurant to stone, I’m not sure that flicking the switch on a giant lamp its going to do much.

 

 

Famous Mayor: Clint Eastwood

Mayor of: Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

Would they work in Brum?: I don’t think he’s played one on screen, but ol’ Dirty Harry himself was the real life mayor of a tiny place in California—voted in by this fellow movie stars and artists. The town has—seriously—a ban on wearing high heeled shoes without a permit, so we’d like to see him tackle Broad Street on a Friday night with his Smith and Weston. Did he fire six shots or only five? And how many did he fire in Spearmint Rhino?

 

Originally published in Area Magazine, about Birmingham’s Mayoral Referendum.

Redeveloping redevelopment

Last weekend I was lucky enough to have an excuse to stay at Urban Splash’s (responsible for the Rotunda update) recently redeveloped and re-opened Midland Hotel in Morecambe. The Art Deco seaside retreat got a huge amount of publicity on reopening, Guardian features, Culture Show specials, asking the question of whether the redevelopment of the hotel could spark a renaissance for the whole town.

It is stunningly beautiful at first glance, although the view is spoilt by the car park packed with monster trucks that I’m sure Mrs Simpson (of Edward and… fame) didn’t have to put up with. The rooms are also fantastic, and a great deal of time and effort has been spent reflecting the style of the building through nice bits of design. A particular favourite touch of mine was the beer mats in the style of the Marion Dorn rugs that once graced the reception. The spiral staircase just begs you to take photos of it, which I did:
But there’s something a bit wrong. There are already stains and signs of rust on the roof of the rear terrace, there is the odd bit where the floor titles have worked loosed are in need of repair. Some of the doors are marked with signs obviously made with Microsoft Publisher, blu-tac’d on, saying “staff only”. The way to the toilet from the function suite is past a pile of mops and buckets, primed for use with already dirty water in them. Not huge problems, and ones I’d have probably not even noticed if it were not for the 1920s decadent vibe I was trying to buy into.

As far as I can guess there’s no way that buildings can be maintained in the same way now as they were in the 1920s. Labour is much more expensive. It’s right that we can no longer subjugate people into working so hard that they present a sheen of constant shininess to the paying guest. I don’t want some poor worker constantly on call to clean roofs or touch up tilings, I don’t want someone to have to stand in front of doors that we’re not meant to use “helpfully” pointing us in the right direction. But this means that it’s not possible to create a sheen over the real workings of a building, so there has to be another way to do it.

The Rotunda Bar in the hotel, but open to the public, (named for our Rotunda, I don’t know) is another sumptuous, but somehow wrong setting. I expected, no wanted, a Noel Coward-esque piano artiste (he stayed in the hotel for a time, and is one of my heroes) serenading residents with bon-mots and frightfully clever lyrics while we sipped our iced tea. What we got was pumped in chart music, slightly too loud, while people dressed for Morecambe’s sea-front (waterproofs and fleeces, it is Lancashire) drank pints of beer. It’s my problem, I’m a snob I know—but it jars with the idea of the redevelopment.

The second problem with trying to cling to this past is this: exclusivity can only be maintained by price, not by societal “rules”. Attempt to bar entry (to the bar) by lack of tie, or bearing, with result in people demanding their “rights” or (that dreadful word) “respect” –àand since they’re coming in anyway, why not switch the entertainment to lowest-common denominator (and cheapest) stuff anyway.

So, I’m thinking, you can’t really redevelop for the past as it was and an attempt to sit betwixt two eras is doomed to disappoint (well, disappoint me anyway). Again in Morecambe the palatial Winter Gardens are falling down, and in need of £10M of refurbishment (according to a guy from the society trying to save it I chatted to). If they get the money, the only real plan is to make it look how it did in the last century, when Freddie “Parrot Face” Davies and Max Bygraves trod the boards. I can’t see it working, it’s gorgeous now in it’s faded and falling down state – to put back the gilt will be to chocolate box it (they, for some reason, won’t allow photos to be taken, but imagine the theatre at the start of Terry Gilliam’s ‘The Adventures of Baron Munchausen’). If it could be made safe without cleaning it up too much it would look wonderful, but where’s the maverick willing to do that?

So redevelopment for the present or future? It seems that the current trends are for soulessness, identikit bars attempting to price out the lower classes—which is what everybody is assuming that is planned for “Baskerville Wharf” in the stead of the Flapper.
Over a thousand members of the ‘Save the Flapper’ Facebook group, plus supportive articles in the Mail, seem to suggest that a fair number of people think that there must be another way.

If an area is underused, why not make it more accessible with bus routes, friendlier – and safer seeming – with better lighting, why not build some flexible shop units with low rents for creative types, how about housing for families rather than young professionals? How about redevelopment that doesn’t start with ideas of exclusivity, or a scorched earth policy of destroying everything that was there before?

Oh, and if you can find room for a little bar with a witty 20s pianist I’ll be even more happy.

Originally published by The Birmingham Post.

Sweet Surrender

If pop stars were sweets, which ones would they be?

Noddy Holder — Cadbury’s Crème Eggs

Zooming out of Birmingham, wrapped in shiny paper, our Nod is a cultural icon. He is only seen once every year, re-appearing with monotonous regularity before a major religious holiday. (It’s Cerrristmasssssss! ) Can be found all year round in obscure places, dusty old Confectioner / Tobacconist / Newsagents in out-of-the-way suburbs, and for Noddy, musty old independent local radio and obscure satellite TV gameshows. It’s great to be reminded of Slade, but too much swiftly makes you sick.

Lightning Seeds — Mars Bars

No one can remember a time when they weren’t around, solid, sell a vast amount of sweet stuff to the middle aged, and Mars Bars are quite popular too. For some unknown reason they became associated with sport, leading beery thirtysomethings to try to recapture lost youth. Both are a uniquely British experience, difficult to swallow a lot in one go, and are well liked without being anyone’s actual favourite. Also come in king size, or The Beatles are they’re known.

New Order — Kit Kats

Built to be separated into four parts, providing an enjoyable but not satisfying experience. The separate fingers, Hooky, Bernard, cannot produce something as good when apart, leaving you wanting more. Comes in a variety of special editions, ‘True Faith ’98’, mint, and orange, all interesting but without the class of the original. Monaco are of course the Time Out bar, a poor imitation that fills a gap without ever coming close to being essential.

Paul Weller — Wurther’s Originals

The beige, butter sweet could be Weller’s doppelganger, and not just because of its popularity with grandparents. Paul is obsessed with keeping it real and old fashioned and light brown corduroy, tending to evoke the same memories of trees and slow train journeys. He seems to think that he’s passing something important down the generations, but all right-minded people prefer their sweets / music a bit more interesting. The modfather will also have the same problem staying popular as his fans contract Alzheimer’s and forget how to shop.

Happy Mondays — Flake

Stuffed with innuendo, the Mondays are the Flake of the pop world. Inherently sexy but difficult to keep in one piece, they are best taken mixed, with Paul Oakenfold as the vanilla ice cream to stick them in. They are both packaged in an unusual way, dancer Bez being analogous to those twisty bits at the end of the wrapper. Does current reformation indicate that Cadbury’s are launching a Flake with Nuts?

5ive — Penny Chews

Cheaply manufactured and struggling to keep their own identity amongst a glut of similar products, 5ive are sold in Woolworth’s nation wide. They are put together in ‘mix-ups’ (“I’ll have a singer, a rapper, a good looking one and the one with spiky hair, please mister.”) and are far too sugary and bad for you. On closer inspection they are surprisingly old, and have been left on the shelf in unsanitary conditions, but were strangely popular with kids. Far too cheep for solo success.

Oasis —  Space Dust

Explosive in a chemically enhanced and slightly toxic manner, Oasis have got to be the musical equivalent of ‘popping candy’. It all seemed great when you were younger, but had no real content and very little taste. Didn’t have the staying power of a sherbet fountain and now are increasingly difficult to find. Stories abound of their volatile nature and are especially dangerous when mixed with fizzy drink.

John Lydon — Spangles

Johnny Rotten will be forever associated with the seventies, fluorescent colours and acting like you’re on a sugar rush. His commercial potential cannot be ignored amongst the nostalgia generation so he periodically relaunches for financial gain. Despite changes in content, remixed versions or strange packaging neither the Pistols, PiL, nor the sweet can ever hope to capture anything like previous status.

I wrote this back in 1997 or thereabouts for now defunct music weekly Flipside. I discovered it on my laptop the other day along with a few other pieces from the era. 

Beards in Rock

Facial follicles in popular music, is a hairy chin an indication of greatness or does the music deteriorate along with the increasing number and luxuriousness of beards in bands?

George Michael

The only pop star to have patented two styles of facial hair, the designer stubble Wham! look and then his solo half-finished goatee, (beloved of those whose beards won’t grow in a proper circle). The first was more a case of five o’clock shadow, 9am TV appearances, and looking back it’s the hand clapping and skipping antics (akin to Morris dancing) that have become a source of embarrassment. However, the smoother the beard, the cooler the artist and George’s Ming The Merciless look elevated him to celebrity status. But with embarrassing toilet liaisons ensuing, will the beard return?

Bob Dylan

The solo artist is always prone to chin growth, lots of time spent alone creating in basements with few mirrors, personal hygiene can go out of the window. Although Bob has toyed with various degrees of wispy beard throughout his career, the angry peoples’ poet disappeared, as did his lower face, on Infidels. A dull album of Christian rock with all the musical invention of a person who models his face fungus on Brian Blessed. Enjoyed creative revival as soon as someone got him a shaver. (See also Costello, Elvis.)

The Who

The demise of The Who was more due to Pete Townshend auditioning for Planet Of The Apes than his invention of the rock-opera. You’d have to be deaf, dumb and blind, to walk round looking like you’re being attacked by a couple of loose mink. From fresh faced young mods to indulgent prog-rockers in the time it took to grow whiskers that even eight out of ten cats couldn’t prefer. John Entwistle grew one too, looking more like a buffalo than an ox. Thankfully though, Roger Daltrey had used up his hair allocation on top of his head and Keith Moon was too busy learning to drive underwater.

Liam Gallagher

While the smart money was on Noel attempting to be John Lennon, it only took the overnight growth of thatch around Liam’s gob to possess him with the spirit of the great walrus. Within no time at all he’d married a publicity-seeking woman who threatened to split up the band. It must have been catching as well because, despite Liam not writing the songs, all Oasis music since has been self-indulgent shite.

Bee Gees

The toothsome trio have flirted with face fleeces in the same way they flirted with disco. That is smoothed them over and added populist appeal long after fashion has moved on. Giving hope to all men with weird mouths, and harming Victor Kiam’s profits into the bargain. Their current popularity has lead to many pop acts covering their songs, fine as long as they don’t cover their chins at the same time.

U2

The Dublin dad-zone were always going to be prime candidates for confusing serious art with serious beards. The band is at it’s most pompous when Bono’s lost his bic. The Edge can be excused, at least his ‘tache provokes discussion of the Zaptta/Village People variety. When Bono lets his chin pubes get out of control disaster, and looking like Robin Cook, is only an Eno collaboration away. The terrible Passengers album included Pavarotti, a man using a huge expanse of hair to hide his huge expanse of chins.

ZZ Top

Without doubt the most famous rock beards, (and currently challenging Madonna’s breasts for all time top musical appendage). They solved all problems of the band ageing gracefully, since they looked a hundred to start with. It’s a fantastic ploy, there could be anyone under those neck warmers, forget Kraftwerk sending mannequins to gigs, ZZ Top could send Bill Clinton, Richard Whiteley and Cher and no-one would notice. No matter how many times you hear it it’s still hilarious that the clean shaven one is called Frank Beard.

Manic Street Preachers

Not so much beards as a collective decision not to shave very often, the Manics have been rocking the sports casual wino look since the release of Everything Must Go. Less ‘Australia’, more chins that look like a dingo’s backside. It’s worked in terms of record sales however, proving that looking a bit old, fat and scruffy is no barrier to a number one hit (take heart Peter Hook and Monaco). If only they’d thrown away their razors earlier, Richey might still be around.

Barry White

The walrus of lurve’s beard is a classic of sorts, and can be imitated by shaving around a saucer, combining with a thin chinstrap motif. It’s a high-maintenance goatee though, and the many copyists (Huey out of the Fun Lovin’ Criminals for example) haven’t the time or the army of ‘personal assistants’ to carry it off.

I wrote this back in 1997 or thereabouts for now defunct music weekly Flipside. I discovered it on my laptop the other day along with a few other pieces from the era.