Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Desert Island Discs

Well it all started with a conversation I had with Nick Lawrance after the Top Eight Books were published. It went along the lines of:

Nick: So, can we do top ten albums next, then? Can we?
Me: Oh, go on then.

So, here we go then. The rules are:
1. No greatest hits or compilations or various artists except for item 2 below.
2. Soundtracks are allowed (I relented after a serious onslaught by Orlando over a full weekend away in Brisbane).
3. Where possible, be specific about the version of the album you are talking about (eg, the original on vinyl, or the 2004 remastered edition).
4. Albums don't have to be in order (ie favourite at number one), just the ten last albums you would like to be left with in the world.
5. Give a reason as to why it makes your list.
6. List your favourite track on each album if you have one.

Answers by email or comment please. You have until 31 October 2006 to respond, then I will collate the responses and publish here.

I have created my top ten for starters. You will find a link to my list on amazon.co.uk here.

1. Boz Scaggs Silk Degrees 1976

This album reminds me of my brother. More specifically, it reminds me of my first ever trip to new York in 1989. I stayed with Bernard and Naomi in their house in Amityville, Long Island (it was right around the corner from the Amityville Horror house) and played his records for three weeks. Almost twenty years later – and a full thirty years after its release - I still listen to this album in its entirety probably every month or more.
Favourite track: Harbour Lights

2. Buena Vista Social Club Buena Vista Social Club 1997
I first heard this album on a hot summer’s afternoon in a friend’s London garden. Even now, the first bars of “Chan Chan” make the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Pause and allow the richness of the music to transport you to Cuba. A genuine masterpiece.
Favourite track: Chan Chan

3. Earth, Wind & Fire All ‘n’ All 1979
This was a toss-up between I Am and All ‘n’ All (in the absence of a Greatest Hits). In the end I simply counted the tracks on each I couldn’t do without, and this album won by a hair. EWF make joyful, intelligent, soulful, uplifting music capable of lifting anybody’s spirits.
Favourite track: (if I must) Jupiter

4. Maxwell Urban Hang Suite 1996
This is one of those albums I played on constant loop for months after I bought it. Maxwell’s voice is angelic, and the full-band, heavily-produced R&B sound is rich and sweet.
Favourite track: Whenever Wherever Whatever

5. Michael Jackson Off the Wall 1979
Probably one of the best albums ever made. Destined to make you get up and dance, this was, in my opinion, the best album Michael Jackson ever made. The depth of emotion he conveys in this soulful, funky album is complete: his unselfconscious whoop of laughter in the middle of “Get On The Floor” is completely infectious, and contrasts with his tears whilst singing “She’s Out Of My Life”. The remastered version you can buy now has interesting interviews with Quincy Jones, and a couple of demos where you can hear Michal bickering with his siblings.
Favourite track: sorry, can’t choose

6. Missy Elliott Under Construction 2002
This was the first Missy album I ever bought. I’m not a natural hip-hop fan but I love Missy’s in-your-face attitude, her confidence, her humour. Under Construction is a lot mellower than most of her previous work (she was grieving for her friend Aaliyah at the time) and there are some great old-school-sounding songs on there.
Favourite track: Work It

7. Planxty Live 2004 2004
Never mind U2: Planxty was Ireland’s very first super-group. They broke up in the early 80s and we thought we would never hear them play together again. Twenty years later, they got together for some low-key sessions in Lisdoonvarna, and finally played the tiny Vicar Street in late 2004. It wasn’t enough. The Point Theatre was booked and six nights sold out in one day. Hearing these men play again is like a homecoming for most Irish people: we are privileged to have lived when they collaborated. When Liam Og O'Flynn chimes in with the uileann pipes about a minute into the first track, it's magic.
Favourite track: The Starting Gate

8. Prince Sign o’ The Times 1987
It’s hard to pick just one Prince album when you possess his entire back-catalogue. This is one of his most eclectic albums, from the pure funk of Housequake to the pure romance of Adore. His humour shines through, he doesn’t take himself very seriously, and, above all, his musical genius is all over this album.
Favourite track: Housequake

9. Talking Heads Stop Making Sense 1984
The 1983 movie Stop Making Sense played a midnight show in Dublin’s Ambassador Cinema for years. This was break-through New York conceptual art meets the Top 40 and we loved it. The album (re-released in 1999 with almost all movie tracks on) is still a classic. David Byrne’s reedy voice adds a weirdness to the already complex funk of the melodies. And who can forget the Big Suit?
Favourite track: Girlfriend is Better

10. Luther Vandross Give Me The Reason 1986
Ah, Luther. What will we do without you? This was almost the point at which I broke my own “no greatest hits allowed” rule. How do you choose when considering an artist who was better known for his individual hit singles than his albums? How do you select only a tiny handful to listen to for all time, and forget the rest? This was almost an arbitrary selection in the end, but as seven out of the nine tracks were released as singles, it was the best value I could find. Nobody will ever sing a love song like Luther.
Favourite track: So Amazing

Monday, September 11, 2006

Roy Webb MBE 1945 - 2006

A great friend, a trusted mentor, a bon vivant
and a sharply-dressed gent
It is a year, almost to the day, since I last saw Roy. It was my last day at London Ambulance Service. Not trusting even our CEO do to the job, Roy delayed one of his early chemo sessions to give the official farewell speech at my leaving do in the boardroom.
As usual, he held the audience in the palm of his hand while he spoke off the cuff, regaling us with tall tales, most of which had Roy in the starring role. He loved the limelight and he was a natural showman. He would have loved the big fuss being made of him today.
At work Roy was no less of a superstar. When Roy said he was passionate about patients, you believed him. He broke all the rules over the years, in the name of better patient care. He often exasperated the rest of us who followed along behind, tidying up after him, and doing the necessary paperwork. But you could never question his motives.He knew more about excellent patient care than anyone, and was known all over London for it. Once we did a survey of hospitals whose contracts we had lost, and asked what they missed about the LAS. One hospital simply replied “Roy Webb”. To many in south-west London, Roy Webb was the LAS.
Last July, we had a managers’ away day which conveniently coincided with Roy’s 60th birthday. Roy turned up in his new Porsche, baseball cap at a rakish angle, grinning from ear to ear. He looked every inch the man who had decided to grow old disgracefully. Roy continued to be the star of the show that evening at a formal dinner in his honour, complete with champagne and birthday cake. Naturally, he lapped up all the attention, and was one of the last to bed.
Two days later was the 7th of July, the London bombings. Roy was the lynchpin of the PTS response. He spent all day running up and down to Gold Control in the boardroom, offering PTS up for anything he thought we could do, then relaying it to us for execution. He was personally responsible for the broad role PTS played on the day, volunteering our ambulances to rescue stranded schoolchildren and elderly people, to get HQ staff home at night and to ferry equipment all over London. He was the one who suggested putting PTS ambulances alongside A&E in the response cells we set up.
He worked over 14 hours straight that day, finally leaving for home at almost eleven o’clock at night. It was for these actions, and many more like them, that Roy was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.
Here he is with Sue on the day.
Outside work, he was a great friend. Most of all I will remember Roy’s tremendous support when my own father died: Roy was in constant contact, sending me daily, sometimes hourly, text messages, helping to get me through the tough days.
I will always remember Roy’s infectious laugh – he somehow managed to sound roguish and sheepish at the same time.
I will also remember Roy Webb, the Michael Caine impersonator – recently Roy chose a Mini as his new car just so he could pretend he was starring in a remake of The Italian Job. His favourite line was “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off!” and he worked it into every conversation. He even took a photo of it at Buckingham Palace the day he got his MBE.
I will remember Roy as the ultimate sharp-dressed gentleman, his taste in clothing getting more and more expensive and exquisite as the years progressed. He wasn't above doing what it took to hide the baldness, though.

But most of all I will remember Roy’s resolutely upbeat and optimistic take on life. He wrote to me a few months ago telling me how he was getting on. He quoted his doctor who had said “Roy, you know I can’t make you better” to which Roy’s response was “But you can make me better than today”.
The Roy Webb Appreciation Society has a worldwide membership. Sue’s daughter Jo, who also lives here in Melbourne, will be lighting a candle for Roy round about now, to commemorate his life. As for the rest of us here who knew and loved Roy, we will be marking the occasion exactly as Roy would have wished. We have booked a table at an expensive restaurant. We will get all dressed up in our designer gear. We will order a ridiculously expensive bottle of red wine. And as the sun sets across the bay, we will raise our glasses and toast the most wonderful bloke in the world.
Goodbye, mate – we will miss you.

New Food Blog

Continuing my obsession with all things food and wine, I have started a new food blog where I will be keeping a record of all my favourite recipes, and my epicurean adventures. I would love to hear from you with your signature dishes. We spent this weekend at the Slow Food Festival here in Melbourne, and you can read all about it here too.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Sad News

We learned this week of the sad loss of my friend Keith’s wife Jan to cancer. Keith was our Director of PTS at the London Ambulance Service for a number of years, and he is a great guy. We have kept in touch since both moving on, and he dropped me a note yesterday to tell of his very sad news. Many of you who read this website will have known and respected Keith – if you wish to drop me a note I will make sure that any messages of sympathy are passed on.

Food & Wine

We have the annual Taste of Slow festival on in Australia at the moment, organised by the Slow Food movement. It all culminates in Melbourne this weekend with a Slow Food event over two days. There will be a market place, a honey room and a tea room. There will be an Ark of Taste Crypt, where we can go and taste foods that are in danger of becoming extinct, and learn how to save them. There will be a wine library and a cheese tasting area. There will be a slow food canteen and a beer garden. There will be a Generations Room dedicated to the sharing of inter-generational stories, foods and recipes from across the country and across all cultures.
I will be there of course, with an empty backpack to fill with food, and I will tell you all about it when I return.

More Food and Wine
I have updated the website's Melbourne Living pages with more restaurant listings, for those of you who live local to me.

Brisbane, Bollywood, Opera & Jazz

Orlando has been away interstate (Brisbane and Sydney) for the past month, and you would think I would have found time to update these pages. But no, my diary filled with dinner dates and more. I haven’t had a minute for weeks.

It’s all good, though. I took the opportunity to fly up to Brisbane one weekend instead of Orlando flying home. It was a bit like going to Spain or Italy for a spring weekend in terms of weather, but of course no matter how far you fly you are still in Australia when you get there.

We had great food, and wandered the tiny city on foot (and on river catamaran) seeing the sights. Unfortunately Sunday lunch with friends resulted in a bout of food poisoning for me, but despite this set-back it was good to get out of Melbourne for a few days.

Opera and Jazz
Culture-wise we have had opera at the State Theatre: Porgy and Bess performed by an all-American cast. Dianne Reeves last Sunday evening was probably a little more accessible to me. I have finally soncluded that opera is not really my cup of tea, not even Gershwin. The Diane Reeves concert was brilliant; she was backed by a simple trio and sang a broad range of songs, from the ones made famous by her in the movie Good Night, and God Bless, to a handful of Ella tunes and even a bit of Marvin Gaye. Easily the best gig I have been to all year.

Bollywood Nights
Meanwhile, Eileen and I have taken up Bollywood dancing on a Wednesday night. Somehow I thought it was going to be all form and style and carefully-placed feet. However the focus seems to be on grand extravagant gestures, especially with ones hips, eyes and head, and the whole session is more barefoot high-impact aerobics than dance studio. By the end of the hour we are drenched with sweat, breathless with exhaustion and laughter, and applauding ourselves wildly having vaguely managed to follow the teacher. We have even signed up for performances! Afterwards we go to the little Indian place around the corner for supper and put the world to rights. I love it.