Sunday, October 06, 2019

"A Stage Where Every Man Must Play His Part. And Mine, A Sad One ..."

Once again, dear blog readers, From The North has been dragged from its - temporary, work-relate - hiatus by the need to report (and comment upon) the deaths of in this case a trio of people whom yer actual Keith Telly Topping really rather admired.
We start with Ginger Baker, one of the most innovative and influential drummers in rock and/or roll music, has who died at the age of eighty. A co-founder of Cream, he also played with Blind Faith, Hawkwind and Fela Kuti during a long and varied career. His style combined the lyricism and subtlety of jazz with the power and volume of rock. One critic said that watching him was like 'witnessing a human combine harvester.' Ginger was also a temperamental and argumentative figure, whose behaviour frequently led to on-stage fights and broken friendships. Nicknamed Ginger for his flaming red hair, the musician was born Peter Edward Baker in Lewisham shortly before the kick-off of World War Two. His bricklayer father was killed in action in 1943 and Ginger was brought up in near poverty by his mother, step-father and aunt. A troubled student, he joined a local gang in his teens and became involved in petty theft and violence. When he tried to quit, gang-members attacked him with a razor. His early ambition was to ride in the Tour De France but he was forced to quit cycling when, aged sixteen, his bicycle got 'caught up' with a taxi. Instead, after some recuperation, he took up drumming. 'I was always banging on the desks at school,' he once recalled. 'So all the kids kept saying, "Go and play the drums" and I just sat down and I could play. It's a gift from God. You've either got it or you haven't. And I've got it: time. Natural time.'
The strong legs he had developed on long bike rides helped him play the double bass drum set-up he favoured and Baker soon talked his way into his first gig. He played with jazz acts like Terry Lightfoot and Acker Bilk but his style - fragmented and aggressive, but articulate and insistent - was often an odd fit in such surroundings. Instead, he gravitated towards London's burgeoning rhythm and blues scene and, in 1962, joined Alexis Korner's Blues Incorporated on the recommendation of their departing drummer, Charlie Watts who was leaving to join The Rolling Stones. Ginger gained early fame as a member of The Graham Bond Organisation alongside bassist Jack Bruce - with whom he enjoyed a near telepathic musical partnership though the personal relationship between the pair was always volatile. It was their subsequent partnership with Eric Clapton in Cream that made the trio superstars. One of rock and/or roll's first supergroups, Cream fused blues and psychedelia to dazzling effect on songs like 'Strange Brew', 'Sunshine Of Your Love', 'Tales Of Brave Ulysses', 'Badge', 'White Room' and 'I Feel Free'. They sold more than thirty five million LPs and were awarded the world's first ever platinum disc for their LP Wheels Of Fire (though, arguably, its predecessor, 1967's Disraeli Gears is their true masterpiece. It's certainly one of this blogger's favourite records).
Along with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and The Who, Cream expanded the vocabulary of heavy rock, especially during their incendiary live shows, where the three musicians would stretch simple riffs into long, exploratory improvisations. 'It was as if something else had taken over,' Baker once said of playing with Cream. 'You're not conscious of playing. You're listening to this fantastic sound that you're a part of. And your part is just happening. It was a gift and we three had it in abundance.' But the volatility that fuelled their performances was rooted in animosity. Baker and Bruce's arguments were frequent and sometimes violent, sometimes driving the more introspective Clapton to tears of frustration. Once, Baker attempted to end one of Bruce's solos by bouncing a stick off his snare drum and onto Bruce's head. 'So I grabbed my double bass,' Bruce later recalled 'and demolished him and his kit.' The band eventually split after two years and four LPs, with a farewell concert at London's Royal Albert Hall in late 1968 which was filmed by Tony Palmer for the BBC's Omnibus strand. 'Cream came and went almost in the blink of an eye, but left an indelible mark on rock music,' wrote Colin Larkin. Bands who built on Cream's template included Deep Purple, Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin - not that Baker was overly impressed by any of these. 'I don't think Led Zeppelin filled the void that Cream left, but they made a lot of money,' he told Forbes. Following the band's demise, Ginger teamed up with Clapton and Steve Winwood to form Blind Faith, followed by the ambitious ten-piece Ginger Baker's Air Force, which combined his interests in jazz and Afro-fusion.
While the musicianship was of a high standard, the eclectic mix of jazz, blues, African music and a surfeit of drums - there were three percussionists - was never going to inspire a wide following. After one studio LP and a live concert at the Royal Albert Hall, Air Force, undermined by personnel changes, were finally grounded. The drug-related death of his close friend, Jimi Hendrix, persuaded Baker that it was time to get himself clean. He left Britain to live in Nigeria, where he recorded with local legend Fela Kuti and built his own recording studio. He helped Paul McCartney record the classic Wings' LP Band On The Run at the studio in 1973, although their relationship subsequently soured over claims that he was never paid. Financial problems of one sort or another dogged him throughout this period and he eventually lost control of the studio. Away from music, he took up rally driving and, somewhat incongruously, developed a love of polo, building up a sizeable collection of ponies, despite his tendency to get injured. 'I've had a lot of falls which have wrecked my body,' he told the Torygraph in 2013. 'They had to take a piece of my hip bone out and screw it into my neck.' In the 1980s, he played with Hawkwind (on 1980's Levitation), Atomic Rooster and Public Image Limited (John Lydon - an equally volatile character - was another huge admirer), while continuing to form and discard new bands that combined his African and Western musical influences, like African Force and Middle Passage. While commercial success eluded him, his reputation, particularly with a new generation of drummers, remained high. 'His playing was revolutionary,' said Neil Peart of Rush. 'He set the bar for what rock drumming could be.' Cream were inducted to the Rock and/or Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, briefly reuniting to play three songs, then teamed up again in 2005 for a series of concerts in London and New York. Almost inevitably, the performances ended with Baker and Bruce fighting on stage. 'It's a knife-edge thing for me and Ginger,' Bruce said afterwards. 'Nowadays, we're happily co-existing in different continents although I was thinking of asking him to move. He's still a bit too close!' Baker had, in fact, relocated to South Africa, where he spent the Cream reunion money buying polo ponies and funding a veterinary hospital.
In 2012, he became the subject of a hugely enjoyable film documentary - Beware Of Mister Baker - which illustrated how his jaw-dropping drumming was neither as wild nor as extraordinary as his complicated personal life. In the opening scene, the musician was seen attacking the film's director, Jay Bulger, with a metal cane, declaring: 'I'm going to put you in hospital.' He later settled down to reflect, cantankerously, on the trail of broken bands, ex-wives and neglected children that he had left in his wake. Contributors marvelled at his talent, but little else. 'He influenced me as a drummer, but not as a person,' recalled Free's Simon Kirke, who toured with Cream. In later years, Ginger was beset by ill health, breaking most of his ribs and subsequently being diagnosed with a degenerative spine condition and the onset of emphysema. 'God is punishing me for my past wickedness by keeping me alive and in as much pain as He can,' he told Rolling Stain at the time. The musician fought osteoarthritis to record his final CD, Why?, in 2014. Two years later, he underwent open heart surgery and announced his retirement from touring. 'Just seen [the] doctor - big shock - no more gigs for this old drummer,' he wrote on his blog. 'Of all things I never thought it would be my heart.' Baker's death will see him feted as one of rock's most influential musicians, but he scoffed at such accolades, insisting: 'Drummers are really nothing more than time-keepers.' He told Rhythm magazine: 'It's the drummer's job to make the other guys sound good.' He is survived by his three children, Kofi, Leda and Ginette.
Of the many news bulletins Peter Sissons read over a forty five-year career with ITN, Channel Four and the BBC, the one he will probably be remembered for is the Easter Saturday broadcast in 2002 when he told the nation that the Queen Mother had died aged one hundred and one. The programme showed Sissons, who has himself died this week aged seventy seven, at his best: able to react immediately, live on-air, to changing news. The fact that he did so while wearing a burgundy-coloured tie instead of a black one, however, produced a - wholly manufactured - furore in the tabloid press, which scummishly used this trivial issue of the supposed 'insensitivity' of his neck wear to indulge its traditional sport of beating the corporation with a stick. The veteran newsreader was scarcely to blame, though the BBC allowed him to shoulder most of the responsibility. 'Their first reaction was to land their presenter in it,' he recalled, bitterly. The news had broken only a few minutes before the bulletin was due to be broadcast - an earlier message from the corporation's royal correspondent had not been passed on - and he had been told by a producer to 'skip the black ... she had to go some time.' It irked him that his sensitive live interview during the broadcast with the Queen Mother's niece, Lady Margaret Rhodes, who had been present at the death two hours earlier - a fact he only learned about as they spoke - got lost in the subsequent row. A former colleague at Channel Four News, the Gruniad Morning Star journalist Anne Perkins, recalled: 'He was absolutely professional. We would often go into the studio not knowing who the main interviewee was or news would break while we were live on-air and I never saw him flummoxed. He had a capacity to live on his wits and communicate directly with the viewer. On the programme after the Brighton bomb in 1984, I was handing him handwritten notes and he read them, never fluffing.' On the day of Princess Diana's death in 1997, Sissons was on-air for more than ten hours, reacting to the story and conducting live interviews. 'I made up the editorial policy as I went along,' he said later. 'I ignored the guidance which was that it would be inappropriate to ask awkward questions rather than just reflect grief and shock.' He was understandably annoyed by BBC executives' subsequent self-congratulatory away day gathering to discuss the success of the coverage, to which the editorial staff were pointedly not invited.
Born in Liverpool, Peter was the son of George Sissons, a merchant navy officer and his wife, Elsie, who worked in a department store while her husband was at sea during the war, bringing up four boys. Peter was educated at Dovedale Primary School, where the future alcoholic wife-beating Scouse junkie John Lennon and Jimmy Tarbuck were fellow pupils and, then, at the Liverpool Institute alongside Paul McCartney and George Harrison, leaving in 1961. (In later years he enjoyed a memorably terse interview with his old classmate Macca on Channel Four News after having the temerity to give a less-than-flattering, if entirely deserved, opinion concerning Give My Regards To Broad .)
Peter then went to University College Oxford, where he obtained a degree in philosophy, politics and economics and had his first journalistic experience, writing football reports for Cherwell, the student newspaper. That was not enough to get him his preferred job on the Liverpool Post & Echo, but it did win him a place on the ITN graduate trainee scheme in 1964. Starting as a bulletin subeditor, he became a general reporter in 1967, where his career - and indeed his life - was nearly cut short during the Nigerian civil war, when he was shot through both legs. The wound shaved his femoral artery and left him in lasting pain thereafter. Returning to Britain, Sissons became ITN's industrial editor during the union militancy of the 1970s and, from 1978, a news presenter on ITN's News At One bulletin. Following the chaotic launch of Channel Four News in 1982 with its experimental range of presenters, he was employed to restore some order and gravitas and led the evening bulletin five nights a week for the next seven years. In 1989 he was poached by the BBC to present the Six O'Clock News, being warned as he did so by David Nicholas, ITN's editor, that the corporation was 'only doing it to harm its rival.' The lure was that he would chair Question Time in succession to Robin Day, which he did for four years, a move that was not regarded as a success by either the BBC or Peter himself. But he also presided in turn over the Nine O'Clock News then its transmogrification to Ten O'Clock News in 2000. Told in 2003 that the corporation was seeking younger presenters, he spent the final six years of his career presenting bulletins for BBC News Twenty Four. In later years, Sissons would become frustrated by the BBC's management and bureaucracy and, after his retirement, he railed against its editorial standards to sympathetic conservative newspapers. 'There's this belief that there's this magic lot of young people who will watch more avidly if you put younger presenters up front,' he told The Sunday Times. 'Never believe you can't go out of fashion.' In 2013 he wrote in the Sunday Torygraph: 'The BBC today for all its high salaries is woefully short of great managerial and editorial talent, the sort of leadership you would follow over the top or into the jungle.' He left the BBC in 2009 - 'without a pang of regret', he told the Scum Mail on Sunday. A lifelong supporter of Liverpool FC, Sissons was a member of the Hillsborough Disaster Independent Panel: 'It was the most worthwhile thing I have done because its work corrected such a mammoth injustice,' he said. He also lectured on Saga cruise ship holidays and published his memoirs, When One Door Closes, in 2011. He is survived by his wife, Sylvia Bennett, whom he had met at a Liverpool youth club, in 1965. The couple had two sons, Jonathan and Michael and a daughter, Kate.
Anna Quayle, who has died aged eighty six, was a multi-talented and versatile actress with a flirtatious smile and a sardonic touch that she frequently deployed to devastating effect. She could be both playful and deadpan and was as adept at a sly aside as she was at delivering a musical number with wit and gusto, whether on stage, film or TV. It was as the Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) that she broke through on the big screen, duetting with Gert Fröbe on the number 'Chu-Chi Face', where the couple declare undying love for each other as he attempts to kill her by various slapstick means. More than twenty years later she was still a familiar face on British television screens, as the eccentric but kind-hearted teacher Mrs Monroe in the children's drama Grange Hill. But it was on the stage that Quayle's many talents were honed and shone brightest. In 1960, Anthony Newley came to see her in the revue ... And Another Thing, alongside Bernard Cribbins and Lionel Blair and thought her perfect for the female lead in his musical Stop The World - I Want To Get Off (1961). Written and scored by Newley and Leslie Bricusse, it was an odyssey following its lead character, Littlechap (played by Newley himself), from cradle to grave. Quayle was cast as the four women in his life - his wife Evie, the Russian Anya, the German Ilse and the American Ginnie - showcasing her vocal dexterity and mastery of comic, dramatic and musical material. The show began in Manchester but soon transferred to The Queen's Theatre in the West End and Quayle won the London Critics Circle award for her performance. She accompanied the show to Broadway in 1962, where it ran for over five hundred and fifty performances. At the 1963 TONY awards it was nominated in five categories (including best musical) but won only one - Quayle herself winning best performance by a featured actress in a musical.
     Born in Birmingham as Anne, she was the eldest child of actor-manager Douglas Quayle and his wife Kathleen and was educated at the Catholic girls' Convent of Jesus and Mary Language College in Harlesden. A theatrical career was inevitable: she had already made her stage debut, aged three, in one of her father's productions, the first of many such engagements.
Whilst studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in 1955, she decided that her future career was more likely to be in comedy than tragedy. Immediately upon graduation she was at the Edinburgh Fringe in the revue show Better Late (1956), before providing comic support for Cyril Fletcher in Summer Masquerade at the Sandown Pavilion, Isle of Wight the following year. Other revue appearances followed, in Do You Mind? (Edinburgh Palladium, 1959) and Look Who's Here! (Fortune Theatre, 1960, her West End debut), which led to ... And Another Thing at the same theatre later that year. After Stop the World - I Want To Get Off she appeared in Homage To TS Eliot (at the Globe Theatre, 1965), Full Circle, her own one-woman musical show (Apollo Theatre, 1970), Out Of Bounds at the Bristol Old Vic (1973) and Pal Joey, as Melba Snyder, at the Oxford Playhouse (and later in Edinburgh, 1976). She hit the West End again in Anthony Shaffer's The Case Of The Oily Levantine (Her Majesty's Theatre, 1979), played Madame Arcati in a 1980 tour of Blithe Spirit, Madame Dubonnet in Sandy Wilson's The Boy Friend (Old Vic, 1984) and Marigold in After October (Chichester Festival Theatre, 1997). Her first notable film role came in Dick Lester's A Hard Day's Night (1964) as Millie, the delightfully scatty (if, somewhat short-sighted) actress who recognises but cannot quite place John Lennon.
Other big-screen appearances included opposite Tony Curtis in Drop Dead Darling (1966), the swinging London musical Smashing Time (1967), the James Bond spoof Casino Royale (also 1967), Up The Chastity Belt (with Frankie Howerd, 1972) and The Seven-Per-Cent Solution (1976). On television she was in classics including Not Only... But Also (1965) and a memorable role as a Russian spy in The Avengers (1967) and was just as comfortable in high-end fare such as BBC Shakespeare adaptations (as Alice in Henry V, 1979), Brideshead Revisited (1981) and Mapp & Lucia (1986) as she was opposite Basil Brush (1977) and Sooty (1987). Quayle was Anna was also familiar enough to audiences to appear as herself, in the likes of Juke Box Jury (1963), Call My Bluff (1967), What's My Line? (1973, as a regular panellist) and Give Us A Clue (1983). Her final appearance on screen was in 2002, in Things They Said Today, a DVD documentary on the making of A Hard Day's Night. She is survived by her younger brother, the actor John Quayle and by Katy, her daughter from her 1976 marriage to the agent and theatre producer Donald Baker.
Lost footage of The Be-Atles (a popular beat combo of the 1960s, you might've heard of them) has emerged after - allegedly - being found in a bread bin in Wales. What it was doing there, we just don't know. Going mouldy, presumably. The film, which has been valued at ten thousand knicker, was found during a clearance of a house and shows the band being interviewed in Cardiff in 1965. The find comes a day after a woman found signatures from The Fab Four which had been left in a cupboard. Paul Fairweather, from Omega Auctions, said the lost reels were a 'great find.' In the footage, the band are seen joking with a journalist attempting to interview them, with alcoholic wife-beating Scouse junkie John Lennon saying that yer actual Paul McCartney has five children in Swansea and Ringo Starr joking their next film could be a Western. They also break into a rendition of 'There's No Business Like Show Business' and pull a series of funny faces throughout the interview. Other footage, from 1967, shows spiritual guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and The Be-Atles being questioned about their adherence to his teachings. Lennon says in the clip: 'Of course it's not a cult and if we didn't take it seriously we wouldn't be here.' And, six months later he was writing 'Sexy Sadie' to prove it. A third sound recording captures Lennon giving an acoustic rendition of his post-Beatles song 'God' and has also been valued at ten grand. Fairweather said: 'All four Beatles are in fine form throughout both of the Cardiff films, laughing and joking, while the interviewer tries to remain serious. The sound and image quality is fantastic. I expect these have never been seen since 1965.'
Matty Longstaff capped an impressive Premier League debut with the winning goal as this blogger's beloved (though, tragically, unsellable) Newcastle moved out of the relegation zone and continued The Scum's troubled start to the season. Longstaff, nineteen, drilled home a lovely, low finish from outside the box to leave The Red Devils just two points above the bottom three and with two wins this season. Longstaff, playing in midfield alongside older brother, Sean, could have scored in the first half but rattled the crossbar with a thunderous twenty five-yard drive, while Fabian Schär flicked a header narrowly over from a corner. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side looked bereft of ideas in front of goal: Andreas Pereira's curling strike was comfortably saved by Martin Dubravka, while Harry Maguire sent a free header wide from four yards out. The visitors' tally of nine points after eight games is their lowest since the 1989-90 season. These two Uniteds had some tremendous title tussles during the 1990s, but the situation is different these days with both sets of fans deeply unhappy with their respective owners. Though big money was spent in the summer - Newcastle signing striker Joelinton for a club record forty million knicker and their opponents bringing in defender Maguire for eighty million - both face the prospect of a difficult season ahead. The Magpies are fighting to remain in the top flight and while The Red Devils are, in theory at least, attempting to claim a European place, they currently find themselves in twelfth place in the table a mere point ahead of Th' Toon. The Scum last won away from home in the league in February and extended that run to eight games with another lifeless and uninspiring showing. Their defence has improved from last term, conceding eight times so far which is the third-best record in the division, but it is in attack where the major problems lie. Solskjaer's men failed to get a single shot on target against AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League on Thursday and, again, struggled to carve out clear-cut chances in the final third at St James' Park, the best opportunity falling to Maguire, who should have converted his close-range header in the first half. Playmaker Juan Mata contributed little, while in attack Marcus Rashford received no service in a side that has not scored more than one goal in a game since hitting four against Moscow Chelski FC on the opening weekend. Newcastle boss Steve Brucie (nasty to see him, to see him, nasty) had tried and failed to beat his old employers as a Premier League manager on twenty one previous occasions, but that all changed with this result. His job was under considerable scrutiny after an embarrassing  five-nil capitulation at Leicester in their previous game, but Newcastle's first home win of the campaign moves them up to sixteenth place with eight points. Brucie, managing in a Premier League game for the four hundredth time, gave a first top-flight start to Matty Longstaff and his impressive showing was rewarded with a delightful goal. Longstaff did not look out of place alongside his brother and Miguel Almirón in midfield, making more passes (thirty nine) than any team-mate and contributing in defence by winning the ball back four times. He told BBC Sport after the game: 'I think getting to play with Sean was unbelievable. We used to kick each other in the garden growing up so to be on the same team, for our hometown club, and to win against Man United, who are a good side, is a bit surreal. I found out I was in the team after training yesterday. Your belly starts to turn a bit, you get a bit nervous and then you don't sleep much. I dreamed about it last night, this is kind how it of went.' The lively Allan Saint-Maximin dragged a shot wide, Almirón - who played well - continues to seek his first goal for the club as a low shot was brilliantly blocked by Maguire and substitute Andy Carroll steered a diving header over the bar. The expression on Brucie's face at the end of the game confirmed that a week really can be a long time in football.
Odious full-of-his-own-importance slapheed Mark Lawson has written a half-way decent piece on the fiftieth anniversary of the first episode of Monty Python's Flying Circus for the Gruniad Morning Star which is worth a few moments of you time, dear blog reader. You can check it out, here.
And, finally, a recreation of a long lost Doctor Who episode is to be released on the official Doctor Who YouTube channel, exactly fifty four years after it was screened for the only time in the UK. Mission To The Unknown was broadcast on BBC1 on Saturday 9 October 1965. It was a prequel to the upcoming twelve part story The Dalek Masterplan and is the only Doctor Who episode in the history of the BBC's long-running family SF drama in which neither The Doctor or any of his companions are featured. The original episode was destroyed by the BBC many years ago, but the story has been faithfully recreated by a team of students, graduates and staff of the University of Central Lancashire. The new production will be premiered on the Doctor Who YouTube channel at exactly 5.50pm on the 9 October to mark the anniversary of the original broadcast. The project was masterminded by Andrew Ireland, Pro-Vice Chancellor of Digital and Creative Industries at the university and brought together a dedicated group of students from a wide range of disciplines including film and television, acting, fashion, music, design and dance to recreate the episode from the original script as authentically as possible, carefully researching and reproducing as faithfully as possible the original 1960s production techniques to re-create the look of the series. The recreation caught the imagination of several Doctor Who luminaries including Nicholas Briggs, who has provided the Dalek voices for the recreated episode and stars including Peter Purves, who played 1960s companion Steven Taylor and Edward de Souza, who played Marc Cory in the original episode, visiting the new set to lend their support. You can watch the trailer here.
Edited to add: One from the I Will Not Celebrate Meaningless Milestones column: On Sunday evening, this blogger spent three whole minutes of his life on this blog clicking 'reload' every ten seconds just so that he could capture this moment! Keith Telly Topping is, genuinely, not sure which is the saddest aspect of the situation; him caring enough to do this or the fact that there have been six million page hits on From The North across the last thirteen years. This blogger could go either way on this one, dear blog reader ... Thank you for allowing this blogger into your homes.