Dancing Queen

Another one bites the dust: Pan’s People choreographer Flick Colby has died.

Maybe not one of the “greats” but someone who had a big impact on British pop culture and on every man in the country of a certain age. Even though the routines were sometimes a bit silly, Flick and the girls only had the time between the Tuesday when the new chart came out and the Thursday when TOTP was filmed to pick a song and work out a dance routine so they did a pretty great job considering. She probably didn’t need to work so hard though, most of us would have been happy to have watched them standing there opening tins of baked beans as long as they wiggled a little bit while they were doing it.

Before she went behind the scenes Flick was also a member of Pan’s People herself, she’s the blond wearing the orange hot pants in this routine (I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed typing the words “orange hot pants.”)


Pieces of a Man

Another one of the great ones has gone: Gil Scott-Heron.

I had tickets to see him at the Town & Country Club back in the 80s but the concert was canceled at the last minute because of “illness.” At the time I had no idea that the man who wrote songs like “The Bottle” and “Angel Dust” had addiction problems of his own and shows often didn’t happen as a result. His death is doubly sad because it seemed like he had put his troubles behind him and was making a comeback.

A lot of obits have been referring to him as the “Godfather of Rap” which seems very reductive and not true to the real depth of his talent, to me he was a brilliant songwriter and a really wonderful soul singer with a gorgeous, smoky voice. And judging by this track he was storming live too, pity I’ll never get the chance to see for myself now.

Download: The Bottle (Live) – Gil Scott-Heron (mp3)

Just Like The Girl in Dr. No

Despite being inspired by a rather kitsch advertising campaign I think “I’m Mandy, Fly Me” is the greatest thing 10cc ever did, better even than the sublime magnificence of “I’m Not In Love.” Those of us old enough to remember will know that the title comes from the National Airlines campaign of the early 70s (though I could have sworn it was it was Pan Am) featuring pretty air hostesses like Cheryl and Jo urging you to “Fly Me” which wasn’t in the slightest bit suggestive, no sir.

The song shouldn’t work so well at all given those origins but somehow they turn this unlikely source into a beautiful Pop Art mini-movie packed with great moments: the swooning, pillowy-soft beginning, the scorching guitar solo, and then the line “I felt Mandy pull me up, Give me the kiss of life, Just like the girl in Dr. No, no, no” which makes no sense if you’ve actually seen or read Dr. No but still sounds quite beautiful and evocative. The only thing that spoils it for me is the silly “you’ll never get me up in one of these again” bit at the start which undercuts the mood of the song somewhat (though this explanation for it makes me dislike it less) as if 10cc just can’t help being clever dicks and packing in the jokes.

I don’t really like flying that much myself anymore. It’s not the thought that the plane will suddenly plunge into the sea (to the sound of a guitar solo), or the security checks and the cramped seats, but it’s the white-knuckle anxiety I now feel when the plane is taking off and you feel the scary power of the roaring engines, and as it climbs into the sky you can really sense that this monster vehicle is just hanging in the air, in those moments the slightest bump or shake will give me kittens and make my heart skip a beat. I never used to have the willies about flying and actively enjoyed it, but now that spoils the whole experience for me. I’d much rather take the train these days, pity those don’t go to England from here though. Maybe I just need a Mandy to soothe my anxiety with hot towels and peanuts

Download: I’m Mandy, Fly Me – 10cc (mp3)

Something for the Weekend

70s dolly bird overload!

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Make Mine Marvel

One Saturday afternoon in 1972 my mum came back from the shops with a comic she’d bought for me: the first issue of The Mighty World of Marvel. This was a weekly that reprinted the early (movie-length!) adventures of The Hulk, The Fantastic Four, and Spiderman in glorious two-colour, bringing real American superheroes to us deprived English kids if not exactly for the first time, at least the first time properly by Marvel themselves. It was so popular that it soon spawned a whole family of other Marvel UK reprint titles like Spiderman Comics Weekly, The Avengers, The Titans, and eventually our very own superhero Captain Britain (who was a bit crap really).

Until then my comics reading had consisted of cheeky English funnies like The Beezer, Cor!!, and Whizzer and Chips (I was a Chip-ite, and my sister a Whizz Kid) but these swinging and clobberin’ superheroes seemed far more exciting to 10-year-old me than Colonel Blink and The Bash Street Kids and I pretty much gave up all those and started getting the Marvel UK titles every week. The character that seriously grabbed me was Spiderman whose alter ego Peter Parker was a bit of a loser despite his super powers: his family was poor, he was shy and hopeless around girls, and he was often picked on at school (mostly by that twat Flash Thompson) — just like me! In British comics, on the other hand, it was the bully or the bad kid who was usually the hero and the weedy, bookish kid was the figure of fun who was laughed at, kicked in the shorts, or shot at with a pea shooter.

I never wanted to be Dennis The Menace (who now seems like a bit of an arsehole, a thug with a nasty dog) but I really wanted to be Spiderman and would daydream about having his super powers so I could beat up whatever knuckle-headed bully was picking on me at school at the time. I got quite emotionally invested in Peter Parker’s personal life too and, I have to admit, I cried when his girlfriend Gwen Stacy was killed. I think I was more upset by that than I was by Ian Curtis dying a few years later.

Back then we had to get our Marvel fix through these reprints because actual American comics were hard to come by at your local newsagent. Every now and then my mum would see one and bring it home for me and I felt like I had come into possession of some precious, rare document from another world. For a start they were in colour (or “color”) and they were full of ads for exotic things like X-Ray Glasses, Sea Monkeys, a newspaper called Grit, and all kinds of other strange curiosities — even your own nuclear submarine! — what an amazing place America was!

Then I discovered the legendary Soho book and comic shop Dark They Were And Golden Eyed and, when that closed, the original Forbidden Planet shop on Denmark Street, so I was able to stop buying the reprints and get the real thing — which I bought lots and lots of every month, especially Daredevil and The X-Men which were going through classic runs in the late 70s and early 80s. Both places had a similar atmosphere to a record shop (where I was also spending a lot of money at the time), being like secret boy’s clubs with their own cliques and mythologies, and needless to say there are a lot of similarities between comic and music fandom: both are overwhelmingly the province of obsessive young males with insufferably smug opinions, a love of arcane trivia, and difficulty with the opposite sex (though there may be rather more virgins in the comics world).

I eventually stopped reading comics sometime in the mid-1980s, the last one I bought regularly was Love & Rockets which wasn’t a superhero comic at all, but even so-called “adult” ones like that weren’t doing it for me anymore and frankly started to seem a bit pointless — if I was going to read something “adult” why not just read a novel? It might be simplistic to say I grew out of them but I think that’s basically it, it’s the same reason I stopped listening to gloomy post-punk. I sold my comic collection in the 1990s which got me a lot more money than the records I also sold at the time (those Daredevils and X-Men had become quite valuable) and haven’t had the urge to pick up once since.

I’ve actually been into a few comic shops recently for the first time in nearly 20 years because my daughter has developed a love for Wonder Woman through watching the old TV series, but I have a hard time finding one suitable for her as they’re all so relentlessly dark and violent now (and expensive — $2.99!) with none of the Pop-Art fun they used to have — even a Supergirl I looked at was as bloody as a Tarantino movie. Personally I think it’s all Alan Moore and Frank Miller’s fault, ever since Watchmen and The Dark Knight they’re all trying way too hard to be grown-up and gritty but to me they seem even more juvenile as a result — only adolescents take themselves that seriously.

Download: Comic Strip – Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot (mp3)