Avenging The Ashes: The 12th Man

Cricket is probably a bit like jazz or religion – if it gets you when you’re young, you’re probably in for life (and yes, it can also turn people off as quickly as jazz or religion…). For me, it was seeing the touring West Indies team at Hove in 1980. Botham’s Ashes a year later sealed the deal. 

And I confess: until a couple of weeks ago, when the Ashes were relinquished, over the last few months my first waking thought had generally been: what’s the score in the cricket?

Alas, ‘we’ have been out-played, out-muscled and out-thought by the Aussies. Miserable England fans can move onto other more important things (if there are any). For now, I’ll console myself with ‘The 12th Man’, Billy Birmingham’s irreverent comedy sketch series born in the early 1980s when Australian cricket was in a less-than-cockahoop state.

Inspired by Channel Nine’s popular and extensive cricket coverage on Australian TV, ‘The 12th Man’ features Birmingham impersonating respected broadcasters (Richie Benaud, Bill Lawry) and then-current players (Javed Miandad, Geoff Lawson, Allan Border, Steve Waugh) alike, ripping the p*ss out of all and the state of Australian cricket in general. But you always feel the love and respect behind the mockery.

A ’12th Man’ tape was briefly passed around my mates at school and had the cache of something really illicit, almost forbidden. Listening back now, it still raises a titter though one wonders how Birmingham got away with some of the more un-PC stuff. Judge for yourself (swearing alert). It’s scant consolation for another Ashes mullering on their patch, but so be it..

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Stevie Nicks says Happy Birthday

cakeTwo years ago to the day, I published movingtheriver.com’s first piece on Prefab Sprout’s SwoonAuspicious beginnings, you know what I mean?

But seriously, folks, it’s been fun to focus on lots of good (and not so good) music, movies and TV shows, and also to share stories and comments with readers and fellow music-heads. So thanks for dropping by this year.

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Spitting Image: We’re Scared Of Bob

In the ’80s, there was no shortage of pop coverage to inspire conversation in the playground, whether it was Boy George’s first appearance on ‘Top Of The Pops’, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video or Matt Bianco being verbally abused live on children’s TV. Of course it really helped that there were only four terrestrial channels to choose from, breeding a feeling of community and sense of occasion.

But one TV show absolutely guaranteed to get the creative juices flowing and rescue many a depressing Sunday evening was ‘Spitting Image’. Just a cursory look at a show from its mid-’80s peak leaves one stunned at the craftsmanship and production values on offer (especially as they only had a few days to write, build and shoot each episode), and quite honestly it shows up the state of television these days for the sad farce it is.

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There were some good musical spoofs too, composed by Philip Pope, fresh from UK comedy classic ‘Not The Nine O’Clock News’ and his parody band The Hee Bee Gee Bees, who even managed a few hits in the early ’80s. ‘Spitting Image’ also featured some memorable Phil Collins, ZZ Top and Madonna skits, and they even managed to rope Sting in to re-sing this.

But ‘We’re Scared Of Bob’ is full of surprises and surely the best spoof. Its sheer potency is still a shock to the system. You also suspect that Sir Gandalf was watching, so unmissable was the programme in the mid-’80s.

Why isn’t there anything like this around now? Oh, lack of money and talent, probably. A show like ‘Spitting Image’ also highlights the paucity of genuinely interesting musical (and public) figures these days.

Great Brit Swearing: Ian Dury, David Bowie & Up Yaws

487px-Ian_Dury_1Those of a nervous or sensitive disposition, look away now/cover your ears…

But I must confess: I’ve always had a penchant for good swearing in music. And long before those Parental Advisory stickers, there were some real humdingers.

Ian Dury’s oeuvre was of course an early landmark – his ‘Plaistow Patricia‘ became a kind of forbidden, blasphemous classic as did Marianne Faithful’s coruscating ‘Why D’Ya Do It‘. They both sounded like they really meant it.

David Bowie’s ‘It’s No Game (Part 2)‘ would also have us in stitches. His rather random four-letter word, sung in Iggyish baritone, enlivened many a dull afternoon. Cue the violins…

But then my uncle (it’s always uncles) passed me the following curio and the world of muso swearing was never quite the same again. Initially coming on like a first-rate pastiche of early-’80s UK jazz/funk as played by the likes of Shakatak, its gradual insertion of four-letter words, delivered Barry White-style, never fails to provoke a titter.

It’s puerile, silly and childish, and I absolutely defend it as a valid piece of music… Rumours abound as to who’s responsible – the most likely candidates have emerged as sundry members of The Damned.

And then there’s the whole sub-genre of bands-getting-it-wrong-in-the-studio-and-swearing-alot. The Troggs Tapes are of course the industry standard, but a Culture Club outtake from 1983 recently came to light on a career-spanning box set. We join our four heroes (plus poor pianist Phil Pickett) trying to record ‘Victims’ with the underlying pressures of expensive studio costs, an out-of-tune fretless bass and Boy George/Jon Moss’s corrosive love affair.

Suffice it to say, things don’t go too well. But imagine trying to produce this lot. Come to think of it, producer Steve Levine is possibly the one voice we don’t hear in this clip. Had he given up the ghost or was he all-too-aware of not getting involved and spoiling an audio verite ‘classic’?

(Ed’s note: In their infinite wisdom, YouTube have removed this video. It was obviously too ‘offensive’ for public ears…)