Archive for the ‘frank sinatra’ Tag

In memory of Gary

This time yesterday I went to the funeral of my old friend Gary Watson. This could be him…


…but actually it’s not. This could be him…


…but actually it’s not. But it is in essence – sharp dresser, a bit of a geezer, totally committed to music, tall, swept back black hair, a wild side – these are him.

My favourite memory of him is at a party at a squat where he was living in Stamford Hill. I got there early evening and not much was ready – it was the end of a fine summer’s day and so a barbecue was in prospect. But the transformation was nigh on miraculous. First the speakers went out into the garden to get the groove going. Then the couch and all the living room furniture was taken outdoors. Next Gary and John Hand between them built a whole set of tables in a horseshoe around the garden – from scratch, off-cut timber. As they went about their work little heads started to appear over the fences and in the windows of the surrounding houses which were mostly home to orthodox Jews. Who are these strange men with their hucking and knucking and their music, living life to a different beat? Every kid in the neighbourhood started to come out of the woodwork. The tables and temporary furniture were constructed so swiftly and a fire lit with typical Irish efficiency (John using tried&tested techniques from Athlone of rolling and folding newspaper to help get the flames established) that there was plenty of time for artist and set constructor/designer John to also construct wooden sculptures on the trees to complete the outdoor decor. In under an hour an entire outside room was created for the evening’s shenanigans. As the sun set dozens of little bright eyes looked on with amazement and pleasure.

I got quite fucked up that night. In a good way. Didn’t sleep a wink. Had to go see my dad in Brighton the next day, when one of my favourite photographs of myself was taken. I’m standing by the breakwater wall of Brighton Marina with my dad, leaning on the concrete in a nonchalant way in a lilac jumper and tan austen boots. He’s beside me looking pretty relaxed. Little does he know how fucked up I am inside but a broad smile belies that. And I was happy thanks in large degree to Gary’s party.

I have only one thing connected to Gary – a beautiful thing. It’s a second-hand Frank Sinatra record he bought me – a propos of nothing I think. Not only had he clearly chosen the music with care (60s bossa nova Sinatra which I like for its cool stylish swing) but he’d decorated the cover with great care with a collage centred on the word “Incognita” from an old map. ‘Terra Incognita’ is ‘unknown territory’ in the world of cartography. And that’s where Gary is now.


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The last time I listened to this record (before using it to herald the funeral yesterday) was the last time I saw Gary, when he came round to our place for dinner. Una and I had been out for a walk along the canal near Clapton and I’d parked at Watermint Quay, HQ for the best of our partying in our late 20s with a Hibernocentric crowd of friends. It was through John’s sister that Gary came into our lives. As we walked from the car down to the canal past the door behind which all those parties took place the door swung open to reveal Gary. We promised to pull by for a cuppa on returning from our walk and then invited him over that same Christmastime evening to join our dinner with friends. A lot of talk was talked, a lot of drink was drunk, Frank sang and it was a fine night to go out on as things transpired.

At the funeral yesterday one of Gary’s brothers sang one of Gary’s songs – beautifully, full of the kind of feeling you can only get on such an occasion. And a recording of Gary singing was also played – he had real talent, even more obvious now. The event was enriched with a variety of stories about Gary’s generosity and kindness, things even his parents didn’t know about because he was quiet and no-nonsense in his giving. The single mum’s house he did up across the road at his own expense and effort. The Rolex he gave away to a waiter just because it made the man so happy. The muslim co-worker he joined on fast for Ramadan for 28 days as soon as he became aware of the rules (no tea etc.). But the story I liked most was Gary lying in the middle of a long straight road in the middle of nowhere in the north of Scotland as his pal sped by on his huge motorbike just feet away at 100 mph so Gary could experience the Doppler effect in a big way. So Gary. Risk life&limb for a good sound effect.

We finished the funeral day yesterday at a concert by Wynton Marsalis’s jazz big band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, at the Barbican. The encore turned out to be an old-style New Orleans funeral march. Meant to be. Music, soulful, sharp suits – very Gazza.


Me & Alfonso & The Dying Girl

I’m writing this one in a colourful armchair in the Soho Hotel off Dean Street. It’s around the corner from an innocuous newsagent, the locus of my first movie industry memory. I was about 6 and I got out of the car, looking up at this particular sign with scrolling. It’s still there – I took a photo on the way over here:

We walked down Dean Street – me, my mum’s friend Brenda and Sarah-Jane (her daughter, my age) – down to De Lane Lea sound facility where Louis Elman, Brenda’s husband, was localising Eastern European puppet shows and we’d been brought along to enjoy the spectacle (I remember it being more technical than entertaining).

So directly in that heritage here I am just off Dean St having just attended a BAFTA screening. It was my second viewing of Me & Earl & The Dying Girl – one of the best 2015 contenders in my humble opinion – and a massive hit at Sundance. I’ve just had a chat with the director, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon, formerly an assistant of Martin Scorsese. His producer, Jeremy Dawson, was also in attendance. They shot this beautiful, dynamic film in 24 days.


Me & Earl & The Dying Girl

There was a Q&A by Kevin Macdonald (Last King of Scotland, Touching the Void – both Film4) and his brother Andrew (Trainspotting, ExMachina – both Film4) was also present. In honour of my nephew Jake I asked a question about casting. Me & Earl is Jake’s favourite book so I asked about the disparity between the main characters – Greg (chubby), Rachel (plain) and Earl (short) – in the book and in the final film. Could it have been cast like the book, rather than Greg (Thomas Mann – charming), Rachel (Olivia Cooke – cute) and Earl (RJ Cyler – 6’2″ & cool) as in the movie? Alfonso explained they tried the chubby Greg route but it skewed the script in a particular direction and he got better chemistry from Olivia with Greg – they had to have a particular type of relationship which was largely non-sexual. RJ was a late addition – never acted before and showed up just as things were getting desperate in closing the casting.

Kevin and Andrew of course are the grandsons of Pressburger, as in Powell & Pressburger. Greg and Earl make little movies in the film using the target & arrows logo of P&P’s The Archers film company. And Alfonso was Scorsese’s assistant earlier in his career, a great champion of Powell & Pressburger.

Scorsese made Raging Bull and that chain links me to something else special about today. Frank Sinatra considered (another Jake) Jake La Motta, the bull in question, “lower than whale shit”, “the worst living American”. “He dumped the fight to Billy Fox and never told his father, who bet his life’s savings on Jake.” As low as you can go in Sinatra’s eyes. I believe in the fundamental goodness of Frank and above all in his music. Today is his hundredth birthday. Now I’ve written this I’m going to relax in this here maroon, yellow and orange deco armchair and read more of Pete Hamill’s Why Sinatra Matters. Hamill writes about the quality of great art which makes the listener/viewer “more human” through connection. Frank does that – and so does Me & Earl & The Dying Girl. Both represent “the ultimate triumph over the banality of death”. Happy Birthday, Frank.


Alfonso Gomez-Rejon questioned by Kevin Macdonald

Postscript: On the way home I listened to more Frank on my new little red iPod and dropped in to Alan’s Records on our drizzly, dark, cosy, getting-Christmassy high street. I leafed through a fairly healthy Sinatra/Rat Pack section and picked out these two beauties. Essence of Frank. That perfect middle period – not too skinny, not too fat, of face and voice. I won’t go into the whole story but suffice it to say Alan gave me these two LPs out of kindness. That’s the kind of place it is. Frank Sinatra secretly paid for Sugar Ray Robinson to be looked after in the fighter’s old age. That’s the kind of guy he was.



To celebrate Frank’s birthday – from Alan’s Records, London N2

Caught in Session

Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered  a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.

Here’s what was on the menu…


Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils.  The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):

The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love. 

Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.

Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:

tube couple underground red

double bass man tube

For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s  Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:


At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.

Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) – she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).


She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).

pints of stout in a triangle

All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).

Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.


All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).


Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…

Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?

100 Greatest Songs

curtis mayfieldmarvin gayefrank sinatra

Ever wondered what the 100 greatest songs of all time are? Well trouble yourself no longer – here they are…

(only one song per artist/band; songs with words, not instrumental)

Hells Bells – AC/DC
The Stars We Are – Marc Almond
Uptown Top Ranking – Althea & Donna
Ventura Highway – America
The House of the Rising Sun – The Animals
What a Wonderful World – Louis Armstrong
Across the Universe – The Beatles
Harrow Road – Big Audio Dynamite
Hyperballad – Bjork
The Last Month of the Year – Blind Boys of Alabama
In the Sun – Blondie
Everything I Own – Ken Boothe
Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed – David Bowie
ESP – Buzzcocks
Folsom Prison Blues – Johnny Cash
White Man in Hammersmith Palais – The Clash
Do you really want to hurt me? – Culture Club
Ninety Nine and a Half – Dorothy Love Coates
Alison – Elvis Costello
Just Like Heaven – The Cure
Eloise – The Damned
Knowledge of Beauty – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Soolimon – Neil Diamond (from Hot August Night)
The End – The Doors
Fruit Tree – Nick Drake
Ballad of a Thin Man – Bob Dylan
That’s Alright Mama – Elvis
This is the house that Jack built – Aretha Franklin
Sometimes – Michael Franti & Spearhead
Inner City Blues – Marvin Gaye
My Sweet Lord – George Harrison
Sonny – Bobby Hebb
The Wind Cries Mary – Jimi Hendrix
Winter in America – Gil Scott Heron
A Town Like Malice – The Jam
Jerusalem – hymn
Tainted Love – Gloria Jones
Atmosphere – Joy Division
Danny Boy – Brian Kennedy
Batonga – Angelique Kidjo
Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks
In My Time of Dying – Led Zeppelin
Oh Yoko – John Lennon
Freebird – Lynyrd Skynyrd
Jealousy – Geraldine MacGowan [County Clare’s finest]
Fairytale of New York – Shane MacGowan & Kirsty MacColl
The Snake with Eyes of Garnet – Shane MacGowan & the Popes
The Prince – Madness
Like a Prayer – Madonna
Shot by Both Sides – Magazine
My Little Empire – Manic Street Preachers
Natty Dread – Bob Marley & the Wailers
Don’t Want to Know – John Martyn
Wandrin’ Star – Lee Marvin
Move On Up – Curtis Mayfield
Amazing – George Michael
Monkees theme – The Monkees
Moondance – Van Morrison
Police & Thieves – Junior Murvin
Jerusalem the Golden – Effi Netzer singers
Smells Like Teen Spirit – Nirvana
Raglan Road – Sinead O’Connor
West End Girls – Pet Shop Boys
Julia Dream – Pink Floyd
Public Image Limited – PIL
Fanciness – Shabba Ranks & Lady G
Try a Little Tenderness – Otis Redding
Cold Water – Damien Rice
Sympathy for the Devil – The Rolling Stones
Chase the Devil – Max Romeo & the Upsetters
Street Life – Roxy Music
In a Rut – The Ruts
Anarchy in the UK – The Sex Pistols
If I Was a Bell – Jean Simmons (in Guys & Dolls movie)
One for my baby – Frank Sinatra
Icon – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Because the Night – Patti Smith
Ghost Town – The Specials
For What it’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield
Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen (MTV Plugged session 1992)
Down on Mississippi – Mavis Staples
Father & Son – Cat Stevens
Runaway Boy – The Stray Cats
You’re the Best Thing – The Style Council
Forbidden Colours – David Sylvian & Ruichi Sakamoto (from Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence)
No Scrubs – TLC
Listening Wind – Talking Heads
Fire & Rain – James Taylor
Treason – Teardrop Explodes
Ain’t Too Proud to Beg – The Temptations
The Boys are Back in Town – Thin Lizzy
One – U2
Ivory Madonna – UB40
Mannish Boy – Muddy Waters
My Generation – The Who
Armagideon Time – Willie Williams
That Girl – Stevie Wonder
Old Man – Neil Young
Freedom Suite – The Young Disciples

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