Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /homepages/7/d77222135/htdocs/thebounder/wp-content/themes/thebounder/header.php:1) in /homepages/7/d77222135/htdocs/thebounder/wp-content/themes/thebounder/header.php on line 21

As if you needed another reason to respect Tom Watson MP

Sometimes anger is both justified and honourable.

O2 New Street Birmingham Insurance Rip-Off

Boring post this, it’s just for Google to in case any other people are looking to see what’s happened.

I popped and got an iPhone 4 the other day, it’s nice (and it won’t cost me much once I recycle the old 3G – and the battery was dying).

I decided to stay with O2, I’ve not had problems with them and changing providers is fraught with hassle. The guys in the shop made it quite easy — except that I’ve discovered that the salesman lied to me to sell an insurance policy. This is a proper O2 shop (the receipt says Telefonica O2 UK Ltd and everything).

The salesman told me that insurance was compulsory on iPhone4 upgrades. That sounded fishy and I said I did not want it, only to be told a that it was free for 14 days and that I could cancel without being charged. I asked how, just to confirm, and they said by phone.

Then received my bill via email this am and that charged me for insurance at £15. The customer service rep on the telephone has refunded that and cancelled the insurance — confirming that there’s no such thing as compulsory insurance. But as it is credited in the next month’s bill,  how many £15s are O2 receiving and getting interest on for one month? How many people don’t check or cancel. How much commission is the liar (fraudster?) making.

Watch yourselves.

One Sunday, and Saturday, with Sidie

I really can’t put my finger on where I first came across Frank Sidebottom, logic would dictate that I’d have spied him on one of his regular appearances on Number 73 but there aren’t any memories I can dredge up. I know I watched it every so often, but apart from the theme tune there’s nothing on any cortex I can connect to, maybe the ungodly presence of both Sandi Toksvig and Neil Buchanan has led to a form of repressed memory syndrome.

I guess it may have been one of the famous (how many other TV guest spots have songs written about them?) Match of the Day episodes — both when Altrincham were doing “well in the F.A. Cup” — or perhaps it was when he was booted from The James Whale Show, I used to watch all sorts of crap. Getting the Spanish archer from what was such a disorganised show was an achievement that later touring partner Charlie Chuck never managed, proof perhaps of an anarchy of spirit belied by the colouring pens and deference to his elders.

I don’t remember the first time I saw or heard Frank Sidebottom, it’s sort of like he’s always existed. But I do remember the first time I met him, or Chris Sievey to be pedantic.

The battered leather aviator’s jacket didn’t identify him, nor did the mess of black oiled curly hair or the ever so slightly bulbous nose — mind you I had absolutely no idea what Chris (as opposed to Frank) looked like at all. However there were no other middle-aged men sitting outside New Street Station with luggage big enough to house a Casio keyboard, and the boxy suitcase had a suspicious papier-mâché head shaped bulge. “Chris?”, I said. It was him

The Reading Festival has always been the strangest mainstream gig in the British summer calendar, a three-day festival where the rock hangover meant that it was completely possible to go and find yourself after two days of indie’s finest suddenly confronted with a sea of plaid shirts and not a single discernible tune. So that’s the reason I was in the comedy tent that Sunday evening in 1995 and instead of seeing Neil Young muscularly backed by a lumpen Pearl Jam, was shouting “spiders!” in an attempt to put off the apparently arachnophobic singer. Frank was leading that, and I was as smitten as one man can be with another who has a perfectly spherical fake head.

Variery Is Back poster

So that was why, almost ten years later I’d bullied — apparently — the man out of semi-retirement to play a hugely shambolic gig upstairs in a pub in Moseley. We, mate Gavin and I, were intent on “bringing back Variety” and after one, equally shambolic but way less good, night (band, comedian, raffle, bingo essentially) we’d decided that the only act that could top it was Timperley’s finest. I’d stumbled on a fantastic set of arty pictures of Frank online and established a route in via the photographer.

So, after a gushing phone call in which the subject of money was only lightly touched upon, Chris reckoned that Frank would be able to make it, that he was looking to get back into showbiz, and that £250 and a cut of the door was plenty.

As I drove him to the venue he talked non-stop: about other gigs he’d done in Birmingham, asking after Dave Travis, about Tony Wilson and the Channel Four show Remote Control. There was one anecdote about how he’d made an African tribesman Frank and it hadn’t gone down well with the director, it was brilliant stuff that I couldn’t do justice even if I could remember it.

The show was the most disorganised I ever saw Frank perform, crawling along the floor pushing his suitcase, interrupting my weak-assed comedy turn as a camp NUM shop-steward (don’t ask), going off after a couple of songs so as to encore all night — fantastic. He even pinched my backing band Wedge Grundy and the Big Rons for a medley of hits where they didn’t know the chords. That was okay though, because Frank didn’t know the words and it became the funniest jazz-funk work-out I’ve ever seen — as well as the only one I’ve ever watched all the way through.

Frank at the Pat Kav

Frank was out of practice, not unprofessional, although Chris had definitely had a good drink. We had too, the night was wet with booze, and I even — whisper it — got to try the head on, it didn’t fit. At this stage I hope it doesn’t break any illusions to tell you that without the head it was Chris, with it, Frank. Supremely method, but there was one other piece of preparation — Chris would wind electrical tape around his nose, presumably to get the nasal voice just right. I didn’t have the heart to mention that it made almost no difference to pitch or rhythm.

After the gig we went to the curry house over the road, where Chris held court. He ordered twenty-seven poppadoms, as the World Record was “twenty-six actually” — he’d apparently eaten twenty-five in an restaurant before where he was told of the record: “I could have  eaten two more but… I couldn’t be arsed”. He then picked up the tab for the whole crew, costing almost all of his fee I’m sure.

But the best Chris moment didn’t come then, nor the next day when he regaled us with tales of Manchester City which drinking shandies made with coke instead of lemonade, nor even when clinking with bottles of Bacardi Breezer he climbed into the back seat of Cookie, our bassist’s wreck of an MG for a lift back to Timperley and promptly fell right asleep. No, the story that I’m proud to tell most happened back at Woody (née-Wedge)’s flat where there was nothing but Prince’s Purple Rain that would satisfy him — it was played many time that night, and the following morning too when Chris discovered that he needn’t have slept sitting on a stool in the kitchen “oh you do have other rooms then”.

I only met Chris that once although we talked on the phone and over email a bit, most recently to arrange a slot for him on my radio show. But when I heard of the cancer I was upset, and upon hearing the news yesterday I felt an hollowness that I can only match with deaths of people I’ve known and really cared about, so I think I was touched. I saw Frank quite a bit though, each time at a bigger and better organised gig: Little Civic, Jug of Ale, Wulfrun Hall and on Manchester’s Channel M and heard him in recent months on Manchester Radio Online. He’d finally got that second Greatest Hits compilation out, the marvellous E,F, G. & H, and seemed to be heading back to something like his peak.

me and Frank

In truth he was rediscovering an old audience, one with more opportunity to enjoy him and more money to pay, rather than developing a huge new one — but it was growing again and he was playing regularly again.

More importantly he was creating again, I’ve been searching iTunes over and over these last weeks waiting for Three Shirts On My Line (his World Cup anthem) to go live for download. At the moment it hasn’t yet, but there are Internet People awaiting to propel it into the charts.

Frank never got to do Guess Who’s Been On Top Of The Pops, although he outlasted the programme, and while the power of the number one has long since faded you can bet that Frank Sidebottom would have loved it. He was pop all the way through.

A giant of light entertainment, and a man I’m proud to have spent time with. You know I am, I really am.

Thank you.

(John Robb’s tribute is well worth a read, as is ex-Oh Blimey Big Band-er Jon Ronson’s article for the Guardian of 2006, video of the Variety Is Back gig does exist, I shall try to dig it out.)

The Passion of the Cripes

If you’ve watched an England game on telly this World Cup, apart from a feeling of ennui matched only it seems by Emile Heskey as he spends another match mostly inhaling the pitch, you’ll have gained two things:

Except that they’re sort of the same thing. One is an ex-player’s easy statement on a team’s failure without having to do such things as explain tactics, the other a Danish lager PR machine’s attempt to associate themselves with football, without having to understand anything about it bar the jingoistic assumptions made by sections of the press.

Passion is an odd thing, it’s the only piece of the gamut of emotional reaction to sport that advertisers and the media will attempt to engage the public over. You’ve seen John Barnes, a player torn apart by the press during his playing career for a perceived lack of it held up as someone to connect over just how much of it he has. If it can be whipped up to involve some cheap nostalgia so much the better. Barnes’s appearance is linked to the current wave of re-imagining the golden era of Italy 1990, there’s even a film out One Night In Turin based around the tournament — with the tears and kisses and penalty misses that do nothing so much as remind me how much the video from only twenty years ago has degraded.

It’s not quite how I remember that World Cup, the headlines were about how bad things were, not how memorable. It existed as one of the great last sorties of English hooliganism abroad, there was constant footage of it raining plastic glasses and plastic chairs in picturesque squares all over Italy. The film is based on a book by Pete Davis called All Played Out (now re-issued as One Night in Turin), which is a fantastic, if depressing, read about how Planet Football is divorced from all reality and the lives of the fans. Davis quotes a distressed Englishman — no doubt dressed in too-small shorts and one of those headache inducing plastic flat-caps we used to have — after a disappointing draw against North African opposition: “fight you bastards” he says “like we fight for you”. Sound familiar? The film doesn’t touch too much on that.

Do players really have less passion now than two decades ago, and if so can that role-call of famous English help. Can a naked-from-the-waist (up, thankfully) Jeff Stelling inspire, does our greatest living World Champion — The Power — chucking a ‘good arra’ mean anything to our current team? I’m not sure it goes far enough, these are media savvy young men who will assume well wishes from the stars of stage and green (and have you noticed Steve Davis CGI’d into recent transmissions?). What they need is inspirational figures alongside them when it really counts.

It’s said that the great Liverpool team of the 80s could afford to play Sammy Lee as they “could have covered for Thora Hird at left back”, never mind a player who’d just been transferred a little above his ability. So with that in mind, can’t the England team cover for the lack of experience or fitness of a sententious Englishman who will lead them in all things passion?

If Beckham can travel without being fit to play, surely the presence of a great who can play (without them being able to really play) is a possibility. And we could stick them on the wing that Gerrard doesn’t seem to be using anyway.

Of the advert crew, we have to excuse Dames Holmes and MacArthur for FIFA are not enlightened enough to allow a female winger, but surely Ian Botham could do a job? Beefy is so English that supposedly preferring the charms of the West Indian dressing room to that of his own team hasn’t dampened his iconic status, and he had a few games for Scunthorpe and Yeovil too.

He can’t do everything of course, but not every game needs so much of the passion and we have a lot of national treasures around. An easy qualifier against the Faroes for example might only need the passion of a Bradley Walsh or a Jonathan Wilkes, a friendly against a local side pre a tournament could be the opportunity to rest the big guns and use a Duncan Norvelle or a Stan Boardman (who pioneer Fat Ron Atkinson used extensively in the build up to big Villa games in the nineties).

A vital qualifier away in Turin might be the time to use Brian Blessed, where you could use a home game to blood David Mitchell, maybe he and Robert Webb could be twin raiding wing-backs.

Roy Race knew all about the power of celebrity, and also blow-driers, when he picked Steve Norman and Martin Kemp of Spandau Ballet for Melchester. Imagine the faces of the opposition when we bring on The Actual Mayor Of London for a corner. And BoJo has experience.

It’s the World Cup and we need to show that passion, so we need to lay every card we have. Princes William and Harry were in the stands on Friday, and the dressing room after — luckily before anyone touching cloth came in to ask to use the bog — why were they not in the room before, kitted and booted, three lions over their royal right-nipples ready for battle. Where their ancestors lead England into the breach, they could be leading Aaron Lennon onto the bench and playing themselves.

Forget Gaddafi’s son somehow making the Libya side (and oddly the squad at Sampadoria), forget Kevin-Prince Boateng. We might just have found a use for our Royal Family, just not Fergie in charge of the sponsorship deals please.

World Cup Willies

I had a little bit of a paddy on Twitter yesterday after a slew of people were moaning about “the football”. “The football” in this instance being a fairly easily avoidable pre-World Cup friendly (the pubs would not have been packed, it was isolated on ITV). I just didn’t see how it was worthy of the disapprobation poured on it.

You wouldn’t dismiss all of ‘art’ or ‘science’ (or at least not easily or seriously), but the cultural, historical and social elements of the most popular sport in the World (and its global celebration) are okay to be sniffy about it seems. It’s disrupting your television viewing, or making your surrogate living room a little too busy for your liking, and that’s reason enough.

But, dismisser of “the football” is that the root cause? Because you seem to associate the sport with the event, the event with the supporting, and the supporters with a conflation people you don’t much care for.

Because not all football supporters are racist, boorish, loud, suntanned, drunk or even English.

And not everyone will be “supporting”.

Some will be watching, sharing, discussing and enjoying the best players in the World — playing for once without too much financial imperative and on a fairly level playing field (no transfers, no buying success). It can be beautiful.

Football exists not only as a sport, but as a metaphor and conduit for society. Ignore if you will, but don’t dismiss. It’s not clever.

NYC Wifi

Some time ago I spent a a while collecting the wifi network names I saw while on my travels around Brum. It’s an interesting insight into the minds of those who set them up.

In New York for a week and without being able to afford to use 3G on my phone I was sniffing for wifi a lot — and again became obsessed with the names given to the wireless access. I tried not to let it overtake me though, so I only wrote down the good ones. NY’s grid system of streets would facilitate a great psychogeographic experiment of walking the grids and laying the names on a map — but until I get a chance this little snippet will have to do:

Of course, I’ve mocked this up, but you could at times see this many networks at once — and they were almost all locked.

Haircut Menu

Haircut Menu, Broadway on Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

Spotted in the window of a barbers on Broadway (hence poor reflection and that). I’ll have a number 24 please.

The curious case of Masal Bugduv

The curious case of Masal Bugduv: a made up Moldovan footballer is “about to sign” for Arsenal, Liverpool and Reading(?) but is the work of a fine prankster.

How Does Homeopathy Work?

How Does Homeopathy Work?.

Someone Once Told Me

Here I am, looking a little grumpy, as part of Mario Cacciottolo’s really rather lovely ‘Someone Once Told Me‘ project.

Someone Once Told Me - Gallery - 19022010