Tubeway Army – “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”

(Re-posted from Freaky Trigger’s Popular)

afe-ta“I don’t think it mean anything to you.”

This song’s four-week stay at Number One coincided with the first (and second, third, fourth, fifth…) occasions where my passions were – at least in the strictly physical sense – requited. He was fair, athletic, pretty-boy handsome, and frankly well out of my league in the normal scheme of things – but in the cloistered all-male confines of the English public school, one took one’s pleasures where one found them, and I took considerable pains to signal my availability.

Darkened hallways, knocks on doors, cigarettes, shadows on bedside walls, sly touches, white lies – these were the symbols of our encounters, which eventually and inevitably brought far more suffering than pleasure.

Running simultaneously with all of this nocturnal furtiveness, my daytime existence had never been happier. Once our A-levels were over, our school in Cambridge became transformed from prison to boarding camp. Seemingly endless days were spent lounging by the river, or drinking in The Anchor, The Mill, The Fountain and The Granta, where we pumped our pennies into the jukeboxes, soundtracking our first tastes of freedom and independence with selections from the best singles chart since… well, since the last time I was in the senior year, five summers earlier.

For all of these reasons, the singles charts of June and July 1979 remain my absolute favourites. Dance Away, Boogie Wonderland, Pop Muzik, Shine A Little Love, Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now, Boys Keep Swinging, Hot Stuff, Number One Song In Heaven, We Are Family, HAPPY Radio, Masquerade, Roxanne, Up The Junction, The Lone Ranger, Say When, I Want You To Want Me, I Fought The Law, Love Song, Accidents Will Happen, Light My Fire/137 Disco Heaven, Silly Games, Babylon Burning, Space Bass, C’mon Everybody, Good Times, Girls Talk, Born To Be Alive, Breakfast In America, Bad Girls, My Sharona, Chuck E’s In Love, Death Disco, Playground Twist, Can’t Stand Losing You, If I Had You, Voulez-Vous, Beat The Clock, The Diary of Horace Wimp, Kid, Morning Dance, Harmony In My Head, Reasons To Be Cheerful, After The Love Has Gone… hell, even the also-rans such as the Beach Boys’ “Lady Lynda” and (most especially) Voyager’s “Halfway Hotel”… I’d challenge anyone to find a better soundtrack to teenage life, love, laughter and longing.

And topping them all: only Tubeway Bloody Army, if you please! Having previously dismissed them as bunch of third-rate fag-end-of-punk chancers who had been lucky to get a Peel session, nothing could have prepared me for the template-setting WTF Future Shock of “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?”, whose length and lack of chorus didn’t stop it from being THE defining pop record of that early summer. Everyone I knew loved it, a good half of them owned it, and you couldn’t spend more than a few minutes walking our corridors without hearing it (or its excellent B-side “We Are So Fragile”) booming out of somebody’s study.

Of course, and like most of us, my interest in Gary Numan rapidly waned – and it took a full 29 years and a freelance assignment for me to re-assess both the man and AFE’s parent album Replicas. Numan turned out to be one of my favourite interviewees: frank, forthcoming, perceptive and grounded, the worst of his demons long since laid to rest, happy to see his influence finally acknowledged, and – on the eve of his fiftieth birthday and his thirtieth anniversary in the music business, profoundly grateful for his survival within that business.

By way of a thank-you to his fanbase, Numan broke his anti-nostalgia rule and toured the Replicas album this spring. I had never seen him live before, and was astonished by his performance. As for his rendition of AFE, “ambushed by unexpected emotion” scarcely begins to cover it, as the the symbolic significance of those lyrics coupled with the overall mood of alienated longing hit harder than they had done in decades.

“It meant everything to me.”

My fabulous week.


You know it’s Autumn when the Monday morning journey back to Nottingham takes an hour and twenty minutes. I blame Derby. More specifically, I blame the University of Derby – who have installed queue-building gatekeepers, checking everybody’s ID upon entry – and the dreaded traffic lights at Five Lamps.

As usual, I dozed off from the minute we hit the A52, the new Lindstrøm album (beautiful, atmospheric, custom-built for travelling) ably soundtracking my dreams.

An interview opportunity with Kim Wilde materialised. I’ll be talking to her next week. Perhaps I’ll ask her for some Autumn gardening tips.

The usual Monday night telly: University Challenge (there’s usually at least one contestant per week with “Just K’s Type” written all over him; he likes them pale, skinny and earnest); Only Connect (a delightfully old-fashioned lateral-thinking panel game on BBC4, of which my late grandmother would have approved – especially since it’s hosted by the daughter of her beloved Alan Coren); the last part of that police thriller with Juliet Stevenson in it (CBATG the title, but K loved the book).


For various reasons (a poorly Plus One; no room in the newspaper; a declining interest in the band), I gave the Hot Club De Paris gig a miss. Another telly night ensued. Not the most memorable of days.

Oh, but wait! I forgot! Today was the day that I discovered the Best Bottled Beer Ever: St. Peter’s Golden Ale, which is brewed near Bungay in Suffolk and comes in rather beautiful oval bottles. I’ve been going through a major Bottled Ale exploratory phase lately, and this really is the best that I’ve tasted.

Update: Having just fished the empty bottle out of the recycling bin, I now realise that it was the Organic Ale, not the Golden Ale. Please accept my apologies for any inconvenience caused.


After much diddling around with calendars, I finally sorted out the rest of this year’s holidays: a series of long weekends, stretching from early November to the start of January. For nine consecutive weeks, I’ll be working four days or fewer. There may be trips to London. There may be podcasts. I might even buy some new clothes; my trouser situation borders on the disgraceful.

Subscribed to a couple of new blogs: Advanced Style (a photo-blog dedicated to snappily dressed senior citizens in New York City) and Musicophilia (absolutely superb extended MP3 mixes, compiled with skill, passion and exceptional attention to detail).

As has become customary, our team (myself, LB, Sarah, Suburban Hen and SwissToni, aka The Shadowy Cabal) thrashed the competition down at the LeftLion Pub Quiz, romping home to victory for the sixth week running.

(If truth be told, it has all got a little embarrassing – but what can we do? Accept bungs to throw the match?)

There was, however, one question that no-one in the pub guessed correctly.

“What eight-syllable word will get you automatically fired from the BBC if you use it on the TV or the radio?”

I’ll stick the “answer” in the comments.


Thursday was not the greatest of days. Work-wise, it was a day of chasing impossible deadlines, of trying to accommodate shall-we-say challenging last minute demands, of fevered instant messaging, dizzyingly complicated phone calls to the US, hold-your-mouth-right conference calls, of cock-ups averted, of managers placated… in short, the sort of day which would have stressed me to breaking point a few years ago, but which I seem to be able to cope with pretty well these days. Keep calm, take notes, don’t be afraid to ask questions, hold your mouth right, adopt a tone of unflappable authority, and you’re halfway there in this job.

(Sidenote: I was browsing through some of my archives this week, and was surprised to find several references to a tendency to self-subordinate in work-related or semi-formal situations. Surprised and also rather gladdened, as it dawned on me that, somewhere along the line, self-subordination has ceased to be a problem. 46 years old, and I have finally mastered the art of self-confidence! Such progress!)

The day’s biggest disappointment: having to turn down a last-minute interview with Mary Wilson of the Supremes. Dammit, I just know she would have been good value. Always the most “real” one, the tell-it-like-it-is one, and the best singer to boot. Instead, I had to content myself with feeding questions to Simon, chasing that “additional research by” credit.

The day ended on a suitably crappy note, with SwissToni and I – hot, tired, bored, pissed off – bailing out of Rock City fifteen minutes before the end of the Seasick Steve show (see below), only to stumble into an ugly drunken brawl outside the Rescue Rooms. Once inside the bar, we observed a couple of trendy student DJs on a retro-ironic kick, playing George Harrison’s “Got My Mind Set On You” and Dire Straits’ “Walk Of Life” to their equally trendy mates.

I always swore that Dire Straits were ironic-revival-proof. Clearly, I was wrong.

The Death of Blogging Poll – results.

1. Book deals. 15
2. Blogging ain’t dead! Get with the programme, Grandad! 14
3. The death of the blogroll. 13
4. Facebook. 12
5. RSS feeds. 10

6= Twitter. 9
6= Weight of numbers / critical mass. 9
8. Blogging awards. 8
9. Spammers. 7
10= All of the above ( give or take the odd one or two). 6
10= Perez Chuffing Hilton, and all *that* lot. 6
12= Assimilation by Old Media. 5
12= Blog ads. 5
12= The Web 2.0 dis-aggregation effect. 5
15. Farming your links out to 4
16= Other (please specify). 3
16= Permalinks to standalone posts rather than bookmarks on the archive page. 3
18. Post titles. 2


A poll for the terminally jaded. (Multiple options permitted.)

The Death of Blogging Poll.
What killed blogging?

Post titles.
Permalinks to standalone posts rather than bookmarks on the archive page.
Farming your links out to
RSS feeds.
Blogging awards.
Book deals.
Blog ads.
The Web 2.0 dis-aggregation effect.
The death of the blogroll.
Assimilation by Old Media.
Perez Chuffing Hilton, and all *that* lot.
Weight of numbers / critical mass.
All of the above ( give or take the odd one or two).
Other (please specify).
Blogging ain’t dead! Get with the programme, Grandad!

Village pub gets on the telly AGAIN, good grief…

Our village pub has become quite the Local Media Hub this year.

Firstly, when our local TV celebrity opened our new village shop, conveniently situated up the passage from the lounge bar…

Secondly, when freak flash floods devastated the ground floor and the car park

Thirdly, when it won “Best Community Pub 2008” and “Best Midlands Pub” in the national Great British Pub Awards…

And most recently – and if you tune into BBC1’s East Midlands Today at 18:30 this evening (Monday), you’ll be able to see this for yourselves – when a few dozen villagers crammed into the bar on Saturday evening, in order to cheer on the aforementioned local TV celebrity as he danced the jive on Strictly Come Dancing.

I do keep forgetting to mention this at the right time, but for future reference:

Troubled Diva says: VOTE FOR TOM CHAMBERS!

Update: For the Flash-enabled, here’s the village pub footage on the BBC website. Please note that K and I are discreetly hidden by the landlady’s mum (in the pink cardie) and the chap with his arms in the air. As regular readers will be aware, we do like to keep a low media profile.

Beyond Limits sculpture exhibition at Chatsworth House.

The tiny cluster of readers who still arrive at this site by typing the address into their browsers (ah, bless!) will already have noticed this, as I have temporarily re-instated my Flickr feed at the top of the page… but for the rest of you (*), might I direct your attention to K’s splendid photo gallery, taken at the third annual Sotheby’s Beyond Limits sculpture exhibition in the gardens of Chatsworth House?

The exhibition runs until Sunday November 2nd, and we can highly recommend it – particularly on a clear, bright afternoon, when the sunlight displays the works to their best advantage.

2912510336_f335b992e3 (1)

The same images can also be viewed on the village blog, where I’ve squashed them all together onto one page. You might find this a more convenient way of viewing them.

(*) Unless you’ve already picked up K’s Flickr stream via RSS, or via the link which I posted on my Facebook profile, or… sheesh, this brave new “multiple points of entry” paradigm doesn’t half get complicated at times…

Lazy Freaky Trigger comments box repost (tidied up a bit for wider consumption).

I’m a little hazy as to the respective dates, but Gary Numan’s “Cars” is one of three candidates from the charts of September 1979 to qualify as the first record I ever danced to at a disco. (If we discount Cockney Rebel’s “Mr. Soft” in a marquee at a traction engine rally in 1974, and I rather think we should.)

The other candidates? I’m glad you asked.

Candidate #2: “Gangsters” by the Special AKA, after a half-term gig by The Jags at Retford Porterhouse. “Back Of My Hand” was in the charts, and the band were staying a few miles away in our local village pub.

(A popular rock and roll stop off point, as it happened; my step-sister once spent an evening chatting to a pre-fame Billy Idol, and the Psychedelic Furs scandalised all and sundry by smoking weed on the landing.)

The post-gig disco took place in a separate night club area, complete with a totally authentic Saturday Night Fever style dancefloor, laid out with the statutory multi-coloured illuminated cubes. Thrust into the midst of such sophistication, I felt a little out of my depth.

Candidate #3: “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” by Michael Jackson – in its first week on the Top 40 – at the Friday night teenage disco at the Cambridge YMCA. We blagged our way in without paying while the trendy vicar’s back was turned, nipped upstairs, and soon found ourselves quite the centres of attention.

“You’re the new John Travolta!”, beamed a starry-eyed fifteen year old (curly perm, horizontally striped sweater dress, thick black belt), as I galumphed around the dancefloor in my ghastly tweed sports jacket.

“You should have been in Saturday Night Fever, or Grease, or something!”

(I am quoting this strictly verbatim. As I suspect was she, perhaps from some “How To Pick Up Boys!” guide in Mirabelle.)

As the strains of “Bitch” by the Olympic Runners started up, another all-to-easily impressed chancer (dark crop, pencil skirt) tried to muscle in.

“Oy! Get off him! He’s MY boyfriend!”

A tussle ensued. Fingernails flew. Five minutes on the dancefloor, and I was quite literally being fought over.

Oh, this was the best night out ever! It was like being in a photo-love story in my sister’s My Guy, or something!

Eager to stay in role, I leant between them and uttered these immortal words:

“Now then, girls. Break it up.”

The effect was instant. Oh, the power! I swear they both simpered.

Nothing like this ever happened to me again.

At least, not where the ladies were concerned.