On Middle Eights

Gary Barlow
And we’ll be toge-he-ther…go on, you know you want to click.

I am, right this second, listening to a R4 programme on musical middle eights. It’s interesting, and you should listen to it when you get the chance, but it’s made me wonder what the definition of a “middle eight” really is. (I looked it up on the internet, but nobody on the internet agrees with anyone else on the internet.)

Obviously it needn’t be eight bars long (and if you feel sniffy about that, you can get around it by calling it a bridge), but it does probably need to be somewhere in the middle of the song, which is to say it can’t be the intro or the outro. And yet one of the first examples given by Helen Caddick, a composer and lecturer in songwriting at Goldsmith’s College, was Eleanor Rigby, which I don’t think has a middle eight at all, but Caddick thinks the “Ah, look at all the lonely people” section is a middle eight; and if your definition is that it’s not the verse or the chorus (I think that bit is part of the chorus, but I’m not a lecturer in songwriting) and that it has a different melody or theme from the rest of the piece, then I suppose she could be right.

But then her second example was Pulp’s Common People, and her middle eight was this section:

Rent a flat above a shop

Cut your hair and get a job

Smoke some fags and play some pool

Pretend you never went to school

Still you’ll never get it right

Cause when you’re laying in bed at night

Watching roaches climb the wall

If you call your dad he can stop it all

Now, the vocal is certainly different, and emotionally it’s the punchy centre of the song for sure, but the music playing behind it is (I’m going by memory, I can’t seem to be bothered to give it an actual listen; feel free to tell me I’m wrong) the same as the rest of the song.

So I’m still not sure what a middle eight is, but I do know what my favourite middle eight is (today). What are yours? And what’s your definition of a middle eight?

Bath rant

John Cleese in Clockwise
There is almost no situation in which this picture isn’t appropriate

I had a bath this morning, which is very unusual on a weekday but I was cold and aching from running in the rain a couple of evenings before, and – well, frankly, I wasn’t ready to be vertical.

Having a bath meant I listened to the Today programme, which most mornings I don’t any more, and listening to the Today programme reminded me why I don’t any more. I can’t have listened for more than 15 minutes but in that time it made me feel quite separately cross about three things, and I came out of the bath less relaxed than I’d gone in, which is all wrong. So to make me feel better, I’m going to make you cross about them too.

NUMBER ONE. John Humphrys exclaiming that nobody in authority had shouldered the blame for the child sex abuse gang uncovered in Rotherham last year. Nobody, that is, apart from the PERPETRATORS WHO WENT TO JAIL. I can’t bear the journalistic tendency to assume that when vulnerable people are harmed, it’s social services’ fault, as though the social care system isn’t full of desperately overworked and underfunded people trying as hard as they possibly can to stop people from coming to harm. Do the job yourself, Humphrys, and live on a social worker’s salary for a year, then start blaming them for organised criminal activity.

NUMBER TWO. David Cameron, on Letterman last night, was asked what “Magna Carta” meant, and apparently didn’t know the answer. Now, I didn’t know the answer either, but I know what Magna Carta is, and I speak English which means I can understand some Latin, so I was able to work it out. If I can do it, bloody David Cameron should be able to. I knew he was stupid, but I didn’t think he was stupid.

NUMBER THREE. A piece on Jamie Oliver’s new 15-minute dinners book, in which the nonsense argument was made for the sake of controversy where none existed (this technique will be  familiar to regular listeners) that the target audience for the book was owners of Jamie’s earlier 30-minute dinners book, and good grief, were we really so desperate for time that we needed to claw back another fifteen minutes in the evening, and what was wrong with spending an extra quarter of an hour doing something useful and enjoyable like cooking? Somebody (I have no idea who was being interviewed about it, except that none of them was Jamie Oliver) tried to make the OBVIOUS POINT that the book is aimed at people who don’t cook at all, and not at people who already enjoy cooking, but this was shouted down in the general frenzy.

I think tomorrow I shall return to comforting silence.


For a week or two

I am going on holiday tomorrow. To here:

Last night, I dreamed that it was tomorrow morning, and I’d forgotten to print the boarding passes before leaving work. Then I realised, in my dream, that we were flying from King’s Cross, which meant we could print everything at the beloved’s nearby workplace, so it was all alright. Then the alarm went, and I realised we’re not flying from King’s Cross (I think you have to have special permission to fly anything out of N1) but from Gatwick. Shit, I thought: we won’t be able to print the tickets and now we can’t go on holiday. It took a couple of minutes’ early morning panicking before I realised it was still Monday, so I hadn’t missed my chance after all.

I think I really, really need this holiday.

That aside, this Monday morning was better than most, partly because today is my last day at work for a bit and partly because I had accidentally left the radio on Magic FM, which I’d turned over to on Saturday when I was feeling exuberant and in need of something to sing along to. Being woken up by Islands In The Stream is one hundred times less stressful than having to listen to John Humphrys being unnecessarily aggressive at half past seven in the morning. But if I don’t listen to Today, what will I blog about? One to ponder from that terrace over the next few days.

Early morning rage

I think I need a new radio station to listen to first thing in the morning. On the days when I leap out of bed like the lark it’s not so bad, because I only get to hear the weather forecast, which is all I really need. But on the days when it takes me a little longer to emerge, blinking, from under the duvet, the Today programme is capable of rousing me to a state of apoplexy that isn’t healthy before breakfast.

I have always been bemused by the programme’s apparent remit to challenge everything their guests say, no matter how apparently uncontroversial. Fighting for the sake of a fight seems an unlikely position for a magazine show to take, although some presenters (I’m looking at you, Humphreys and Naughtie) are worse than others.

But a couple of times in the last week or two this stance seems to have tipped over into something a bit more disturbing. After the imprisonment of Metropolitan Police Commander Ali Dizaei earlier this month for misconduct in a public office and perverting the course of justice, John Humphrys interviewed Alfred John, current chairman of the Metropolitan Black Police Association, of which Dizaei was once president. Fair enough, except that a disproportionate amount of time was devoted to whether and to what extent the MBPA had been “discredited” by Dizaei’s conviction.

If a former police officer breaks the law, it’s the police service itself which is discredited (if anyone but the offender is), and not an association his membership of which had nothing to do with the crime for which he was convicted. What was really happening here was that Dizaei had rubbed a lot of people up the wrong way while at the helm of the MBPA, leading to a distrust of the association in some quarters, and this was a chance to smear it by insinuating that Dizaei’s criminal activity was somehow related to his insistence that the Metropolitan Police is still institutionally racist, when the two things are quite seperate. Just because he’s a criminal doesn’t mean he’s wrong about everything. Both Alfred John and the other guest, Brian Paddick, agreed that there is still racism within the police service, and that the MBPA has a legitimate and important job to do.

“Given that you have tried and failed by your own admission”, responded Humphrys, “there must surely be a better way of dealing with this.”

This was a novel twist. The MBPA should be disbanded not because there isn’t racism in the police, but because there is. Alfred John dealt with this silly challenge quickly and easily, but he shouldn’t have had to. I’m not sure that emphasising Dizaei’s relationship with the MBPA was the way to go at all in this feature, but the suggestion that there’s a problem with the existence of the association itself because of the actions of one officer, no matter how high-profile, makes me uncomfortable and I think reflects very badly on the programme and its editors.

Then a few days later the Church of England got into another one of its wrangles about gay members of the clergy. “It’s a moral question, isn’t it?”, opined James Naughtie. Well, Jim, not really. Not unless you actually think there’s still a question to be answered about whether it’s OK to be gay. If there isn’t, it’s if anything a legal question about whether the church is breaking employment law by discriminating against a particular group of people. You ridiculous man.

Which made me wonder, incidentally, why we don’t prosecute religious organisations which don’t allow certain groups to do particular jobs, or religious figures who incite hatred by speaking out against certain groups or individuals. Why can’t we ban the Pope from the UK unless he stops attacking equality legislation, or take him to court if he comes? I am fervently hoping Peter Tatchell will rise to the occasion, but he shouldn’t have to. We should oppose discrimination wherever we find it and not avoid confrontation at the risk of offending someone. The Pope is just a man.

So as you can see, I need something calming to wake up to. Birdsong, possibly, or classical music. If you have any suggestions, please let me know before I burst a blood vessel.

Another advent calendar

Radio 4’s Today programme also has an online advent calendar, with each day’s offering an “audio treat” from the past eleven months of early morning broadcasting.  Although as I write it’s after 7pm and today’s entry isn’t available yet.  But I mainly want to draw it to your attention because it will almost certainly feature the moment several months ago when Charlotte Green suffered a fit of the giggles whilst announcing the news of a death, and if you haven’t heard it already you really ought to.

You’ll be delighted to hear that I eventually found a real-life advent calendar which didn’t feature chocolates, although it is a bit godly.  But I suppose that’s forgiveable.  It’s from Oxfam – are they to do with god?  I can never remember.