Sunday, 24 June 2012

One of the Greats

There comes a time when a man must declare his love for another man. I, Idle, of sound mind, do here declare my love for Thomas Earl Petty.

I was one of the lucky ones who managed to get tickets to the Royal Albert Hall this week to see and hear the best American band of its time, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Lord alone knows why he hasn't played here for 13 years. I last saw him at Wembley in 1992, on the Into the Great Wide Open tour. He was great then, and I do believe he is even greater now. He has mellowed, yet his voice is just the same as in the late 70s. He and his hugely accomplished band seem tighter than ever, clearly loving their job and each other.

Petty himself displays the charming good manners of a well-brought-up Southern boy, thanking the crowd as though humbled by the roars of approval and standing ovations (but he's had them at every gig of this tour). "Thank you. Thank you so very much. You're so kind". His introduction of his band members is warm and sincere; the "newest member of the band joined us in 1989". At the end of the concert, the band applauded the crowd, strolled along the front of the stage shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with people who had just seen the best concert of the year, maybe of their lives. They were still doing it when a fifth of the audience had left the arena. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers are an awesome live band, and we were drunk and happy on their music.

The elder Idle brother gave me the eponymous Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album in the sixth form at school, which marked me out as one-of-the-guys-who-discovers-bands-early, an important badge of respect from those who were then forming their musical tastes by what was played on Top of the Pops by such Olympian opinion-formers as Dave Lee Travis and Jimmy Saville.

Well, I loved them at once, was blown away by that truly great early album Damn the Torpedoes, which I played incessantly as a cadet at Sandhurst, and have remained a fan since. But there was something about the concert this week which franked it all. When rock stars reach a certain antiquity, they are given extra marks - for surviving a murderously competitive industry, indeed for surviving at all (Keith Richards, Eric Clapton) - but this is often cancelled out by waning powers. Sir Elton John, for instance, is forgiven his often grossly selfish and foolish behaviour because, well, he was a genius writer of popular music, and had the good sense to team up with a superb lyricist, and he still staggers on. But can he hit a note in the upper half of the register? Can he hell! He doesn't even try, which makes his live performances an uncomfortable experience, never knowing in which direction he will head off when the chorus comes around - a chorus, incidentally, that we wish to sing along to, but it's impossible. He really isn't any good any more, not even making an effort on his piano playing, but rather just bashing it like the chimp in the PG Tips ads of the 1970s. McCartney can still play his guitar, and his hazlenut barnet gives him, from afar, a hint of his past youth, but the Jubilee concert reminded us that he can't sing for toffee, either.

So when you have a performer who has been at the top of his game as long as Tom Petty, who has written so many memorable songs, who is so highly regarded by his peers (The Wilburys? Orbison, Harrison, Lynne, Dylan, and........ PETTY), and who still plays and sings quite wonderfully well, despite the fags and the booze, I say three cheers for him.

Tom Petty is one of the Greats, and I'll tread on your toes with my Texan boot heels if you even consider disagreement.

PS For the uninitiated, here is the trailer for Peter Bogdanovich's masterful four-hour documentary of Petty, made five years ago, Runnin Down a Dream. Woo hoo!

Saturday, 23 June 2012

"Are we lost, Eurodaddy?" "Shut up", he explained. Part II

Okay, let's try again.

The joke is a variation by Mark Steyn on an original by Ring Lardner. Typically, Steyn was prescient in noticing at the start that the Euro banknotes featured make-believe architecture and heavy-imagery bridges (to.... er, destiny!), rather than great buildings which had endured over centuries.

"Are we lost, Eurodaddy?" "Shut up", he explained

Monday, 18 June 2012

Compare and Contrast

Imagine yourself as a public servant. No, not a civil servant, that smug, indolent and oh-so-protected species, encouraged to 'work from home', to relax in chill-out zones expensively built-in to their 'work environment', obstructing the British people in the name of rules-compliance and homogeneity in all things.

No, I mean one of the 'good' people - the doctors. Aren't they splendid? Is not the health of Britain better than ever? A nation of butchers' dogs, no less. Should we not pay them the earth?

Well, no. They, more than anyone except the quangocrats, gorged themselves upon the public teat during the Blair/Brown Terror, and have become very, very comfortable. With pensions to match. I know, I know, Melanie Phillips is as much fun as a turd in the simming pool, but she is coldly logical and intellectually coherent. I have not a shred of sympathy for well-upholstered public servants going on strike, ever. They should realise their luck.

Compare them to the poor bloody infantry and their corps of support. Loyalty, queen and country, no union reps, no strikes, no bleating on the BBC. But being fooled around with over their pensions. Not good enough. I rate Philip Hammond and I think he'd be eight times better than Boy George as Chancellor, but this is own-goal stuff. Expect the non-combatants of the Labour front bench to wade in.

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

U Turn on a Railway Track

Hurrah! It was idle wot won it! The blog, the letter in the Torygraph, the cunning slogan: H2O, Not HS2, the opinion-forming at every drinks and dinner party (you know you've got them when their eyes glaze over and they start muttering about getting home, I think).

Effectively dead. Effectively bereft of life and lying in peace. Effectively a dead parrot. Hurrah again! That's about three hundred square miles of prime hunting country back in play, and £30 billion of our children's and grandchildren's taxes saved for other, slightly less brazenly stupid projects.

In other news.......

After their brilliant banking bailout, here is what they now call a Spanish Revolver:
"The way the system should work is when you fail, you fail, and competent people are required to come in and reorganise the assets. What we are doing in the West now is taking assets from the competent people, giving them to incompetent people, and saying 'now you compete with the competent people with their money'. It is absurd economics and it is absurd morality” 
Jim Rogers, co-founder with George Soros of the Quantum Fund, the grand daddy proto-hedge fund

Thursday, 7 June 2012

The View of the Master

One shouldn't break into a run in order to jump on a passing bandwagon, though in the case of the BBC one would normally make an exception. But the fact is, I don't need to; I have original material.

On Sunday, the Lady Idle's mother entertained 70 of her best friends to luncheon in her wonderful sixth-floor flat on the Thames, looking from its wide balcony deck across the water to the Hurlingham Club. With the massed ranks of row-boats for the river pageant approaching from Putney Bridge and skulling towards Wandsworth Bridge, a finer view in all England would be hard to imagine. If only the sun had shone! Nevertheless, it was utterly splendid. The Mother-in-Law had come to terms with the bitter disappointment of discovering that Her Majesty would board downstream at Cadogan Pier, and with the weather forecast in mind had prepared her drawing room for an INDOOR party. Idle himself stood ready with twenty gallons of Pimm's and an acceptable Cape Chenin Blanc; he knew where the gin bottle was, to enhance Commander Idle's Pimm's with more spirit, if necessary.

Anyway, we watched the rowers, the Dunkirk boats, the leisurecraft, the longboats and the assorted flotsam and jetsam of this glorious and unrepeatable fleet come by. Mercifully, the rain stayed off for our deck-bound spectating and we repaired inside for lunch and to watch the progression of the fleet on a large telly.

It was at this stage that Idle found himself in conversation with the first and great man of BBC outside broadcasts, Peter Dimmock CBE CVO. Peter it was, who after covering himself in glory as an RAF pilot and instructor in WW2, joined the BBC, one of many 'can-do' types who revolutionised Auntie in the post war years, in all the right directions. This is the man who was responsible for broadcasting Her Majesty's Coronation in 1953 and the first televised Grand National in 1960. He started Sports Personality of the Year in 1956, Sportsview in time for live coverage of Banister's 4-minute mile and also Grandstand, presenting the first shows himself before handing over to David Coleman. He is, to use the Highland terminology, a horse's cock of a man, and I am proud to know him.

We watched and listened in horror as the BBC's pretty imbeciles made the most dreadful hash of it all. I turned to Peter and asked him if he felt that they had somewhat misjudged the occasion. "Utterly", the great man replied. "If there was ever an event where pictures speak louder than words, this is it. Anything else one would wish to add should be informative, delivered by experts. The link-man should be authoritative, respectful and of good spirits, but unseen. It's not about the BBC people, it's about the Queen". This quote may not be word-for-word, but an honest representation.

This is the man who employed Harry Carpenter, Henry Longhurst, Dan Maskell, Bill Maclaren and all of the other brilliant commentators who survived at least twenty five years in their jobs and won thousands of plaudits and barely a criticism. One thing they didn't do was witter inanely.

At 92, sharp as a tack, Peter has forgotten more than the current overpaid meeja generation at the BBC have ever discovered.

He knows.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Picking up the Tab

Woody Allen wrote a gag which I have remembered through the decades:
"The food here is terrible!" - "I know, and such small portions!"

I was reminded of this when reading the estimable Mark Steyn, who always makes the point, when writing about Europe, that it's one thing having an expensive social and welfare state, but quite another when you also have an ageing population and the unemployed youngsters have given up breeding. To re-write Woody:
"The people aren't paying their taxes!" - "I know, and there aren't enough of them!"

The demographics are important, yet no one apart from Steyn mentions them. If there really are only 42 Greek or German grandchildren per 100 Greek or German grandparents, the system is irredeemably buggered. You may say that the shortfall will be made up by immigration, and you may be right. But, putting this as delicately as I can, these immigrants may come from cultures even less inclined to pay their taxes than the Greeks, if such cultures exist.

This, truly, is what it all comes down to: if the current crop of Germans are loath to pick up the tab for those people in Europe who don't get up in the morning, how is the next, smaller generation of Germans going to feel about it? And the next, smaller one after that? Perhaps most Germans will be Turks by then. I wonder what the future Frau Ataturk, Chancellor of Germany, will say to Monsieur Mohammad, President of France, or to Mr Lukanov, president of Greece (but Bulgarian by origin, of course), as they discuss who picks up the tab for welfarism in 2050s Europe?

Don't worry, it'll all have blown up by then.We're headed back to a pre-WW2 Europe, with the same living standards.