Trev and Simon’s Stupid Video


It breaks my heart that my young children don’t get the opportunity to waste their Saturday mornings in front of the television. Each week I started the weekend slumped on the floor, usually wearing velour pajamas and a dressing gown, watching the flickering screen.

I was very much a devotee of the BBC. I found Tiswas somewhat vulgar, preferring the more organised and civilised Swap Shop. I occasionally watched Number 73, even a bit of Get Fresh, but would much rather join Mike and the gang on Superstore.

My appointment with weekend children’s television continued well into my adult years. I even used to watch Dick and Dom In Da Bungalow, for heaven’s sake. In the early nineties my perfect Saturday meant staying in bed until noon, more often than not nursing a hangover, watching Going Live before turning over for The Chart Show, with the occasional visit downstairs for toast and a disapproving look from dad.

And of course, Going Live meant Trev and Simon. I thought they were hilarious. Their remit was clear – keep it clean, but do whatever you think is funny. Which meant their comedy had a delicious ‘stupidness’ to it, which chimed well with my love of comedians such as Reeves and Mortimer at the time.

In fact, it seemed to me that much of the humour probably soared over the heads of the children watching, the ideas aimed more at the likes of me and my peers. It was the one of sketches I enjoyed the most, more so than their character pieces, where they were silly for the sake of it.

And they could do surrealist silly very well. They had fantastic chemistry together, with nice Northern accents and no ‘Footlights’ pretensions. They took a hiatus from Saturday mornings in the year 1991-2 and their replacements Nick Ball and James Hickish seemed posh and awkward by comparison, trying too hard and coming across like the sort of drama group that used to visit your school.

Stupid old Ray. So there was much rejoicing when Trev and Simon came back the next year.

They released two home VHS compilations, and I bought both of them. They bought together all their best sketches along with newly recorded inserts. These filmed pieces don’t feel particularly planned, and are mostly the two of them mucking about. I even went to see them live. They toured towards the end of the their tenure at the BBC and were very good, doing the greatest hits in front of a University age crowd.

It’s always nice to see them pop up on television these days, even if it’s just on Pointless. As far as my finances go, I got both their videos and a live ticket, so I’d say I spent about forty pounds on them. But they gave me lots to laugh at, and good advice on what to do if I ever found myself stuck in a bog with a jacket potato.

Eden Burning – Live in Session on BBC Radio Leeds cassette


I love it when bands engage with their fans. It all seems so impersonal these days, most groups using emails and social media to keep you up to date on their activities. Without sounding too much like an old man it somehow seemed better before the internet came along and spoiled things.

In the early 90’s almost every CD single came with a little postcard you could fill in and send back to be put on a mailing list. Some bands went one step further, setting up elaborate fan-clubs and sending out detailed newsletters.

The best in my mind were sent by little known folk band Eden Burning. They were unlikely to trouble the pages of the NME and so relied on postal communication to let people know what they were up to.

Eden Burning came out of Cheltenham, and became reasonably big fish, left to wallow in the small stream of Christian rock. They became a fixture at the Greenbelt festival and toured incessantly, mostly in Church halls but occasionally in proper venues. I saw them live at least a dozen times and they were always tremendous, as were their studio albums.

They had a brief foray into the mainstream, realising two singles eligible for a chart position, but they failed to make an impression. The single choices were rather misguided – two rather twee tracks that sounded thin and overly romantic amidst the bluster of Britpop.

But they were really good at keeping the fans happy – for a small fee you could sign up for their newsletter, The Caper. It was more of a fanzine, a beautifully put together round up of recording activity, tour dates and general whimsy. Me and my wife seem to have somewhat unwittingly become unofficial curators for the band as we still have every newsletter, as you can see from this picture.


They also offered exclusive products, including this tape. It featured an interview the band did with a local radio DJ who took an instant and lasting dislike to them. The tone soon turns frostier than a branch of Iceland. It’s a brave release, funny and honest, with three excellent live songs.

Eden Burning released four albums, although one, Thin Walls, is more or less a home-made effort. They are all great but the best in my mind is their swansong, Brink, a polished collection of songs that shows considerable depth both musically and lyrically. However, after this they made the decision to call it a day and you can understand why. They’d been full time for a number of years, but families and commitments made it difficult to sustain without the support of a record label.

Another highlight is their live album, Smilingly Home, which captures the band touring their second album, Vinegar and Brown Paper. It’s a raucous affair, in front of a home crowd, a rip-roaring gig of jigs and reels amidst a heady atmosphere. They were always excellent live, evidenced on their one and only concert video, Through the Looking Glass. And those with a keen eye and access to the pause button can even spot me and my wife having a dance in the crowd.

They really looked after their fans, and you often saw familiar faces at concerts. The bloke with the hat in the video above used to be at every gig it seemed. It’s a shame they never crossed over but they were out of step with the time, more like The Waterboys than Menswear. They announced their demise during the promotion for Brink, headlining Greenbelt as a final hurrah.


I really loved Eden Burning. From time to time I’ll get the albums out and feast on them. And as you can see from the above photo, between myself and my wife, we’ve got almost everything, maybe even bits of paper the band themselves don’t have in the scrapbook.

And all members of the band are still happy and well. In 2010, The Decemberists released their album The King is Dead which really reminded me of the album Brink. I was driving home from a works meeting in Newbury and played it on the journey home. Upon arrival I plucked up the courage to look lead singer Paul Northup up on Google and sent him an email, explaining how this album I bought that day reminded me of his old band and extending my praise for his music.

He sent me a lovely, charming reply full of modesty and self-deprecation. He said he was a fan of the Decemberists and thanked me for the comparison and for my comments. It had been many years since I looked up to him, brightly lit on a stage. To be honest, he’s probably not much older than me. But I still felt like a fan.

As I said, I saw them at least a dozen times, and I bought every album, tape, CD, EP, even a couple of t-shirts. And I subscribed to their fan club at a fiver a year. I estimate a spend of £300, which in my mind is an absolute bargain.

The Beloved – Happiness VHS Tape


As I’ve said before on this blog I used to waste my money on a lot of music VHS tapes. In my youth I clearly had a lot of time on my hands and was happy to spend it watching pop videos.

These days of course every single promo ever made is available at the tap of a keyboard, but that wasn’t the case back then. It was always exciting to see those little fairground horses bob up and down, heralding the Indie top 10 on ITV’s The Chart Show, as this was a rare opportunity to see bands I liked. Here is an absolutely fantastic example, millions sitting through My Bloody Valentine whilst waiting for Saint and Greavsie.

So I bought a lot of VHS tapes, one of which was Happiness by The Beloved. The duo of Jon Marsh and Steve Waddington had a string of hits in the late 80’s and early 90’s from the album of the same name. However, they are probably best known for the video to the single from the follow up album Sweet Harmony. By now, Waddington had left, and Marsh’s wife Helena joined.

The back of the VHS album of Happiness lists only four videos, but had a running time of 30 minutes. It also had an 18 certificate, which struck me at the time as strange. I’d seen their videos on the aforementioned Chart Show and didn’t remember there being anything particularly saucy about them. What was also odd is that after the four promos had played, the tape seemed to be over.

It wasn’t.

What followed after is bizarre to say the least. A remix of single ‘Your Love Takes me Higher’ begins to play, whilst out of focus images shimmy and shake in the background. Every now and then the focus sharpens, and you can make out two bodies. The lighting is subdued and it’s hard to work out what’s happening, but eventually, you realise what you’re watching. It’s Jon Marsh and his wife Helena, engaged in what could only be described as foreplay.

I’ve often wondered what they were thinking. They’re certainly the only band I can think of who’ve voluntarily released a sex tape. After ten minutes of music and rolling around I can only assume they took it to the bedroom, as the video ends.

After Happiness the band released two more albums, 1995’s X failing to reach the heights of it’s predecessors. Maybe he should’ve made another skin flick. I still enjoy their music, particularly the singles that feature on the video. Your Love Takes Me Higher is brilliant, a dizzying rush of excitement and energy. Hello is also great, particularly the references to late 80’s celebrities which fix it to a point in time perfectly.

This tape cost me about eight pounds. I have in my time bought two Beloved albums and a couple singles, so I’d say they’ve had about forty pounds off me. Not forgetting the fact they let me see them naked of course.

A ‘Biker Style’ Leather Jacket

Brando leather biker jacket_small

These days, I have very sensible tastes in jackets. I have a plain black one I wear for warmth in the winter, and a light one for Spring. But in my youth, I made the terrible mistake of trying to look fashionable in a jacket. I purchased a leathers bikers jacket.

I was 19. I bought it from Carnaby Street, haggling the man down from ninety quid to about £89.50. I wore it to youth club that night, providing much mirth to my peers.

To this day I’m not entirely sure what I was thinking. Although there are a number of clues along the way.

I’m not gay, and I’ve never had a homosexual experience, but around this time I did have a crush on Michael Hutchence, lead singer of Australian band INXS. I could completely understand why woman found him so attractive. If me and him happened to be at the same party, and in the unlikely event he started coming onto me, I would get off with him.

He wore such a jacket in the music video for Need You Tonight, and I think this is what I was trying to emulate. Not withstanding the fact that he looked amazing, and I didn’t, and never would. I mean, look at him in that video. Has a man ever looked sexier?

The above track can be found on album Kick, one of the most accomplished, complete albums of the 80’s. I have no interest in anything they produced before and after, but think this album is a classic. It contains no less than five singles, each one of which is utterly wonderful in their own way, despite all being entirely different from each other in sound and style.

I became mildly obsessed, but from a distance. I would never admit my devotion to anyone. Thanks to the Chart Show I can tell you the name of the rat in the video and that Never Tear Us Apart was filmed in Prague.

My interest intensified when I saw Australian film ‘Dogs in Space’. Set in 1978, it follows the adventures of a group of young people sharing a house. It features an exhilarating opening sequence which sets the tone perfectly. As a film it’s a mess, and Hutchence as an actor is pretty weak, but he looks incredible. I had it taped from the television and used to watch it again and again.

Hutchence’s character is the singer in a band who comes across as almost a simpleton. There is a poignant moment when his mother appears at the house, to provide fresh clothes and give him a hot meal. He rips the foil away from the plate, sniffing the food while she fusses and clucks about. It shows perfectly that despite his illusions of Bowiesque stardom he’s still a mother’s son and weak in his own way.

I even went to see them live, on the tour for follow up album X. In that pre-internet age we went to Wembley on the day the tickets were released to get good seats. The concert itself was mesmerising. I spent two hours looking at this god-like figure, wondering how one man could be so cool.

Like most I was saddened when he died. He passed away on my 27th birthday. It felt such a loss that this beautiful human being no longer existed.

So possibly that is why I decided to purchase a leather jacket, something I almost instantly regretted. I hated the way it creaked every time I moved, and how tight it felt when I zipped it up. It also made me boiling hot and uncomfortable.

Soon after I bought it I had to go away on a week’s training with work and wore it there. The course was in Caerleon, Wales, and I wished I’d left it at home the moment we got to the M4. It was freezing in Wales and was stuck with it for a whole five days. I don’t think I wore it much after then, only for posing in the mirror to INXS records.

So that’s about £90 on a stupid jacket that made me look ridiculous. A very poor financial decision, even if it was a tribute to a wonderful rock star.

Thousand Yard Stare’s Back Catalogue and Tales of the Slough Festival 1991


When you think of Slough, you might think of David Brent or John Betjeman and his bombs. But when I think of Slough, I remember a wonderful day out in July 1991. Slough once had its very own music festival, so in tune to my tastes at the time I could have claimed to have curated.

Me and my then girlfriend took the trip that sunny day, getting the bus from nearby Amersham. I’m not sure why – I was both a car driver and owner, but for whatever reason we took public transport, a long, arduous ride winding round the Chilterns. It would have been quicker to go to a festival in London. We were the only passengers, apart from a tramp who took a shine to us and chatted about drinking. We half-feared it was all a ruse and we’d be dropped off at an empty field.

But upon arrival there were plenty of like-minded souls, and we had a great time. I bought three t-shirts and we heard some wonderful music. I thought Slowdive were terrific, as were Curve. Headliners Ride though were magnificent, playing as the sun went down to clear skies. Its sounds like a cliché but when they played Vapour Trail, a plane did soar overheard, leaving its mark as guitars churned and throbbed around us.

Also, it marked the moment where the people on stage were mostly my age. That tipping point where pop stars are either the same as you or younger. It’s a curious shift in the paradigm. People bang on about policeman looking younger but there’s nothing like a young musician to make you feel old and a waste of brain and skin.

I find it hard to think about the Slough Festival without a sense of underlying sadness, which is a shame as it should have been one of the greatest days out of my life. The two most significant bands in my life at the time were playing, and the rest of the line-up looked fantastic as well. But the relationship with my girlfriend was destined to fail, and despite our best attempts to make the best of things we both knew, even though I desperately didn’t want it to be the case.

During Slowdive’s set, with the most beautiful music spiralling around my head, I looked over and saw another couple, so similar to us, the boy standing as she knelt back on him, his arms resting gently round her stomach. She leaned into his neck and they looked so romantic, yet still so indie. I wanted to hold my girlfriend like that, but knew that she wouldn’t let me, that she would squirm away, that any attempts would be awkward. I knew in that moment that after three years, it would all be over in a few weeks, which made me so sad I could have cried. Video exists of Slowdive’s set, so watch knowing that at some point during this, at the age of 21, my heart was broken for the first time.

The biggest revelation of the day were homeboys Thousand Yard Stare, who quickly became a firm favourite of mine. They sounded great, chippy and upbeat, with some great songs. So I duly set about buying as much of their merchandise as possible, both t-shirts and records.

I saw them live on numerous occasions, the best of which was on the 5th October 1991 at the Reaction club. This was an indie night they used to have at The Well Head Inn, a pub in Wendover. Proof of my ‘never throw anything away’ policy can be found in me still having my membership card (member 2204 if you’re interested). This was an incredible night, beer soaked and sweaty, one of the best live performances I think I’ve ever seen. They were playing to a home crowd and were superb.


At the start they released records on their own label Stifled Aardvark but were soon signed to Polydor, the home of the Wonder Stuff. They were a band with an over abundance of material and released a brace of EP’s, mostly on 10″ vinyl in a variety of different colours. I seem to have bought almost all of them, as evidenced below. My favourite of these was the Keepsake EP, on yellow vinyl. Title track Buttermouth is a burbling treat of guitars whilst its companion track Twicetimes is about as twiddly indie as its possible to get.


Really good b-sides poured out of them, in particular Happenstance?, from the Spindrift EP. It has a pace to it, crashing in with the vocal, with a middle interlude of snappy drums and frenetic guitar work. As this was the last single from the first album, it gave great promise for album number two. Sadly, those hopes were short-lived.

It was almost as if there was a switch inside my head which someone had flicked off. My interest in the band fizzled out as soon as the second album Mappamundi was released. I bought it, on tape, but I remember switching it off after track two and never listened to any of it ever again. I still listen to the first album from time to time, even now, but never their swansong.

They were dropped by Polydor, and that was it. Or rather, was, because like most bands they’ve reformed and are playing some gigs this year (2016). I’ve often wondered though what it is about that second album, why I put so little effort into listening to it. Part of me wonders if it was a reaction to events at the time. The girl I was seeing at the Slough Festival had finished with me, despite an curious on and off relationship that tiptoed into 1992, and part of me thinks Thousand Yard Stare died with that relationship. So today I tried again. I got the cassette out of a box in the garage, put fresh batteries in my walkman and had another go.

And I can see why I gave up after track 2. God’s P45 is terrible. The whole album could be immeasurably improved if they ditched that track and went from lead single Version of Me into Tragedy No. 6, which is actually really good. But nothing on this album comes close to their debut. They sound like a band who have forgotten what they want to be, rather like Neds Atomic Dustbin on their second album. They try too hard to sound polished and come across as a facsimile of a band.

But in 1991 and 1992 they were amazing and I was a huge fan. And paid the price. I spent a good £40 on concert tickets, £20 on shirts and, judging by all these records, about £80 on tapes, vinyl and one CD. Which is all fine. If I hadn’t spent it on them I’d have only wasted it on some other band. I’m sure they enjoyed their brief moment as rock stars and hope they have fun doing it again.

So here I am, nearly 30 years on from the Slough Festival, in a relationship with my beautiful wife for the past 25 years, married for 20 of those. So if I won the lottery, I would put a sizeable chunk of the winnings into recreating the Slough Festival. I reckon I could get the same bands, as far as I know they exist in one way or another. I may struggle to get Ratcat, but I reckon I’d get there in the end. So I’d repeat the festival, same bands, same line-up, and during Slowdive I’ll hold my wife and have a better memory to carry me forward. Who wants a ticket?

Tie In Novel for the Children’s Programme Graham’s Gang


In recent years BBC4 in the UK have been broadcasting old editions of Top of the Pops in sequence. I have enjoyed these immensely and hope it never ends. If I had my way, when they get to the last episode it would start all over again, but every night, and maybe twice on Sundays.

One edition had a performance from The Rah Band, performing ‘The Crunch’. As a band they found wider fame in the early eighties with ‘Clouds Across the Moon’, but in 1977 had a brief stay in the charts with this wonky instrumental.

‘Ah,’ said my wife. ‘I know this.’ Her face scrunched up as she struggled to retrieve a memory. ‘I think this is the song that plays at the party in Graham’s Gang.’

And so from that brief statement, my mind filled with memories of something I hadn’t given so much as a second thought in nearly 30 years. Graham’s Gang.

The BBC used to make fantastic children’s drama (probably still do, I’m not really their demographic), and odd little comedies. I was never a fan of broader farce such as Rentaghost, but loved the more realistic comedy dramas; Mike Leigh for middle schools. Grange Hill naturally ruled the roost, but I also enjoyed the likes of Seaview and of course, Graham’s Gang.

The latter actually came before Grange Hill. First broadcast in 1977, it followed the exploits of a group of children – Graham, William, Lux, Robert and Keith, and Mildred, a girl who for no obvious reason wanted to join in with the fun. Most episodes revolved around the boys trying to stop this happening, with Mildred’s rather coarse extended family applying pressure to reinforce her membership.

Episodes were all very ‘Whizzer and Chips’, in that they involved children freely roaming around very ordinary streets, in very plain weather, getting into mischief. You got the impression the gang had very little parental supervision and were hurled out of the house in the morning and told not to return until teatime. Adults were only there to shake the occasional fist and tweak the ear of miscreants. Occasionally big boys would pop up to spoil the fun. There was a lot of slapstick, teasing, and mucking about.

It ran for two series, the second shown in 1979. By then it had probably run its course and would run the risk of morphing into Tucker’s Luck, Graham and the aging gang shuffling along the dole queue, Lux forgetting to sign on. And after its last transmission it was swallowed up into a televisual hole.

After Top of the Pops I went to my one stop shop for all things nostalgia, TVcream, and they had a short paragraph which released more memories. But that was more or less it. Nothing on youtube and little else. I assumed Graham’s Gang had been wiped, lost forever, part of the BBC’s policy of reusing tapes from the 1970’s.

So imagine my surprise one day when I found out that you could watch an episode at the British Film Institute, at their Mediatheques. And not any old episode. You could watch the one with the party. I had plans to go to London to see Interstellar at the IMAX cinema, and decided to swing by here first, to treat Graham’s Gang as the B-movie. Therefore, I became probably the only person on the planet to watch a double-bill of ‘Mildred’s Party’ and Christopher Nolan’s sci-fi epic.

And it was wonderful. I got my headphones and sat in the booth, buzzing with excitement. And yes, the song played during the party scene was indeed The Crunch. I took this still with my phone and sent it to my wife to validate her memories.

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Since then, an episode has popped up on youtube, which is marvellous. There has never been so much as a hint of a DVD release which is a shame. Three years ago, I saw the novelisation on Ebay and bought it for my wife as a Christmas present. It cost me a pound. I’m not quite sure what was going through their mind when they designed the cover. Personally, I’d have gone for a picture of the gang. It might have sold a few more copies.

So Graham’s Gang has not cost me much so far. But I have £20 for whoever decides to bring out a DVD one day, on day of release.

Head Over Heels for the ZX Spectrum


By 1987 the ZX Spectrum was more or less on its last legs, as was my love for it. I was getting older, a 16 year old with a larger appetite for music than chasing pixels round a screen. I still bought magazines about games, purchasing Spectrum title Crash more out of habit, but rarely bought or played anything.

But then along came Head Over Heels, one of the most celebrated games of the machine’s era. It’s not particularly original – the ‘Filmation’ style had been around since Ultimate’s Knight Lore – but the introduction of two characters with different abilities was innovative for its time.

The game was devised by the pairing of Ritman and Drummond, two veteran programmers who had an extensive back catalogue of wonderful games. The two characters were Head, and of course Heels, spies from the planet Freedom. Their mission was to escape and defeat some evil ruler taking over other planets.

To say I saw little of the end of the game would be a gross understatement. I did however see a lot of the first few levels. It was very rare that a Spectrum game gave you the ability to save so if you lost all your lives you had to start the game over from the beginning. Worse was when things were going swimmingly and you had to switch off the machine for some reason. I once had three pieces of the Sabre Wulf amulet and had to switch off to go to visit my grandparents. I never achieved such progress again.

I would estimate that I’ve seen the first level of Manic Miner 1,000 times, the second 800 times, the third 600, and so on into a reductive number of encounters the higher the level up to about level 14. Watching a walkthrough of the game on Youtube opens up all its exotic later levels, places I’ve never visited before. It’s like being played songs by your favourite band you’ve never heard.

The lack of a save function was particularly frustrating on Head over Heels. I managed to unite the pair, but didn’t get much further after that. The game was hard and I had little patience. The opening screen is as familiar to me as the opening swirl of Ghost Town or the cartoon titles of Grange Hill, such is the frequency by which I’ve encountered them.

Needless to say Head Over Heels was a Crash Smash, awarded 97%, quite an accolade. It has been given an HD make-over and can be played today without waiting five minutes for it to load. To me, it marks my last hurrah with my Spectrum, a very special machine which I’m sure will get another mention in this blog at some point.

Head over Heels cost me about £7.99. I spent hundreds on games, some good, some bad. But few as excellent as this one.


Toshiba HDEP30 DVD Player


We had two small children, both under 3. I was the only one working. Money was tight, each month carefully budgeted on a series of spreadsheets. Yet for some reason, in 2010 I decided I needed an HD DVD player.

Not a Blu-ray, you understand, but HD-DVD. Which by 2010 was already the failing format. Amazon were selling the Toshiba for the rock bottom price of £50, with a two free discs, and I couldn’t resist. Never mind of course the fact we didn’t particularly need a new DVD player. I went ahead and bought the damn thing, plus a copy of movies.

History has thrown up occasions where two similar pieces of technology have gone head to head. The most famous of these is the battle between VHS and Betamax, and it probably won’t come as a surprise to hear that in my household, we had the failing system. Not that I was bothered at the time. I was only 11, and Star Wars was due to be on the television for the first time the following Sunday. My dad came home one night, beaming, the box under his arm. I nearly burst from excitement at this technological marvel.

Each member of the household was given one tape each for recording, but Star Wars stayed on mine until the Betamax was consigned to history. Pausing the adverts meant I had about an hour of tape left at the end for odd episodes of The Young Ones.

Luckily my mum hadn’t a clue how to operate the machine so I used her tape as well. And yes, before this strays too far into a Peter Kay routine, they were housed in plastic cases designed to look like hardback books.

So HD-DVD was definitely on the way out by the time I got a player, but what it represented was a cheap way of finding out what high definition looked like. And to my eyes, the answer to that question was ‘pretty much the same’. I wasn’t that impressed to be honest, never have been, even to this day.

I purchased a few discs. These were also really cheap on Amazon, about £5 each, so I got half a dozen. From what I remember I had the first two Superman movies and Apollo 13. Oh, and that classic of modern cinema known as Ang Lee’s ‘The Hulk’, which I don’t think I even watched. These were put on Ebay a year later and actually did good business.

The player itself was connected to my television for about two years before being replaced by a Blu-Ray player.

What this story demonstrates is my weakness when it comes to buying stuff. I had absolutely no need of an HD-DVD player. I did need nappies, food, and maybe a decent night out, but that didn’t stop me. The whole folly cost me about £100, including the discs. Not a massive amount in the grand scheme of things, but a waste of money none the less.

Twelve Palitoy Snowtrooper Action Figures


On my kitchen windowsill are twelve, identical toy Star Wars Snowtroopers, standing around a toy Darth Vader. It’s like a twisted version of Jesus and his disciples. Let me explain.

In the town where I live there is an excellent junk shop. They sell everything – old vinyl, Dinky cars, DVD’s, weird ceramics, thimbles, the works. It’s a collectors dream. A paradise maybe. And they have hundreds of 1970’s and 1980’s Star Wars action figures for sale.

I already owned a Snowtrooper, given to me a child when Empire Strikes Back was released. Passing the shop one day, I noticed there were two in the window. This got me thinking how fun it would be to have three together, a Snowtrooper boy-band. They were only £4 each, but I talked the man down to £7 (I’m quite the negotiator).

Since then, every time I walk past and see one in the window, I buy it. My wife does the same if she spies one on her lunchbreak. The man in the shop comments to her that there is another collector, and he will be annoyed to have missed out. He says the same to me. He doesn’t realise that these rival collectors are actually a double act, and we’re too embarrassed to tell him.

And I’m now up to 12. I like the fact it’s a dozen, like our Lord Jesus and his friends, and am unsure if I will buy anymore. What’s tempting me at the moment is the fact the shop currently has five General Madine’s for sale. The thought of a dozen of these occupying a space in my house amuses me as well, and so I may well start another collection.

Obviously, this is madness, and I am unsure what compels me. Why on earth would anyone want a dozen little bearded action figures stood next to the microwave? My wife certainly doesn’t. But it’s taking considerable willpower not to march in there with £20 (which I should be spending on food and shoes for my children) for all five.

As a child, the Star Wars action figures were my favourite toys. I was six when the first film came out and like all boys I was quickly smitten. Of the original 12 figures that came out in 1978 I had eleven, which are still in my possession. I never had Ben Kenobi, not sure why. My friend Adam did and I viewed this figure with envious eyes. I also had the Sandcrawler playset (which meant I owned two Jawas) and Luke’s speeder.

I was still crazy about these toys when Empire Strikes Back came out. These are my favourite figures. I sent off box-tops to get a mail order Dengar to complete my collection of bounty hunters. I didn’t have any Ugnaughts but did own Lando and Lobot, plus scores of rebels in differing costumes. I didn’t get any playsets, only figures.

Then along came Return of the Jedi, but my interest in toys had waned. I didn’t get any, not even an Ewok. My son now plays with my original action figures, all safely stowed in a shoebox. In adult life, I toyed with the idea of collecting all the figures from my childhood, but never got round to it. And so instead I have collected multiple versions of the same figure.

All in I estimate this has cost me £60. Does this represent excellent value for money. NO. Has it been fun collecting them? You know, I’d have to say YES.

The Twenty Fifth of May – Lenin & McCarthy


In the early 1990’s I had a ‘buy anything’ policy when it came to music. So around the same time I purchased classic albums such as Loveless and Screamadelica I also bought this, the one and only long player from Merseyside band The Twenty Fifth of May.

Quite how I first heard about them I couldn’t say. I imagine I was reading NME, Melody Maker, or even Sounds, and read a single review. And I’m sure that review said something along the lines of ‘they sound like Pop Will Eat Itself’, which was enough to send me scurrying to the record shop.

In a year dominated by baggy shorts wearing scruffy hair shufflers and effects pedal laden noise merchants, The Twenty Fifth of May were a white hip-hop band, similar to PWEI in that their songs were collages of samples and beats, with a rock sensibility. Guitars featured prominently amid the clatter of drum loops and sequencers.

It would be a massive understatement to say that they were a political band, not entirely happy with the then Tory government. They derived their name from the date of the May revolution that began the Argentine War of Independence. But the name goes deeper than that.

During the Falklands conflict the British Navy was attacked by an aircraft carrier called ‘ARA Veinticinco de Mayo’, a vessel of the Argentine Navy. But the ship had a more interesting back story. Built by the British and then sold to Argentina in the 1970’s, it was used to support the initial invasion of the Island but during the conflict returned to port for safety after the sinking of the ARA General Belgrano.

So history lesson over – you can see how this was a contentious name for a band. Thatcher’s Tory government was particularly unpopular in Merseyside, and the album Lenin and McCarthy (itself titled as a Scouse pun) alludes to many real events, particularly Hillsborough in a track which is more documentary than music.

They released a brace of singles ahead of the album, with a variety of 12” mixes, and I bought most of them. The most notable was 12” single F*ck the Right to Vote, released independently in an assumed attempt to court controversy. Packaged in plain brown cardboard, its low key release was designed to look as if it was in some way blocked by management. See below, I still have it. Amusingly, when they recorded a Peel session the track changed name to ‘Stuff The Right to Vote’, their singles also having to undergo hefty radio friendly edits.


But they were really good. They used every trick in the book to make their songs as innovative and exciting as possible. They were signed to major label Arista (so part of Sony, now known as RCA) who to my ears funded the band handsomely as the record sounds expensive, extremely well produced with careful attention to craft a well ordered, cohesive album. You get the impression though that Arista were not entirely sure what they’d signed, as the politics do dominate. Others mixed social commentary with pop music – Carter USM for example – but often with slyness and humour. The Twenty Fifth of May were more serious and unlikely to be invited to the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party.

The stand out track is single ‘What’s Going On’. It has a similar sound and structure to Beloved’s ‘Hello’, the song building layer upon layer giving it considerable clout when it’s all over. ‘Crackdown’ is also stunning, a breakneck clatter of beats and PWEIesque Buzzard guitars. But as a band they were clearly a handful. During his session John Peel makes a wry reference to how a member of the band was on remand for assault, commenting how he was not sure if that information was given to impress him or not.

It was over after one album, and despite being on a major they are all but forgotten. You cannot purchase their music as MP3’s. At the time of writing they don’t even have a Wikipedia page. It’s unlikely we’ll see a double CD 25th Anniversary re-release in 2017 (though if they did, I’ll probably buy it).

Most of the band resurfaced in the mid-90’s as Manbreak, with another expensive sounding album produced by no less than Stephen Hague, but chart success eluded them. It’s a pity. They obviously knew what they were doing, were skilful song arrangers, and deserved better. I reckon they got about twenty five quid out of me, which they’re welcome to.