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It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

Electronic – Getting Away With It

Whilst I still have the chance to do so I shall continue my oversupply of blog writing that no-one wants to read. And for this entry I shall return to the world of music and for what I see as one of the best pop songs ever written, and for that I will accept no argument. The song – Getting Away With It by Electronic.

Electronic started out as a solo project for Bernard Sumner as he was frustrated with New Order’s lack of reception to his synth and programming ideas. Deciding not to go it alone, he but enlisted the help of Johnny Marr (The Smiths) with whom he had previously worked. Signed to Factory Records, who Sumner was already signed with New Order, the first creation of their collaboration was Getting Away With It.

It was released in 1989, a full 18 months before the debut album. It was written by Sumner, Marr and Electronic’s occasional collaborator Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys). Sumner and Tennant wrote the words, Sumner and Marr wrote the music. It received critical acclaim and was certainly popular, selling around a quarter of a million copies on its initial release. There were many versions of the song on a multitude of formats – different 7″ and 12″ vinyl versions and CD versions were available with remixes and instrumental takes of the song, scattered here and there. Two different videos were made, once of which you can watch at the bottom of this page. Don’t go there just yet, I haven’t finished boring you! Get back here! Thankyou.

With lead vocals sung by Bernard Sumner and backup vocals from Neil Tennant, it is quite a simple song with a piano and synthesized bass intro with live drums kicking in a moment later. Johnny Marr adds a lovely bit of understated rhythm guitar, and also gives us a rare guitar solo. The production is very glossy and is pretty typical of late 1980s/early 1990s. There’s also a full orchestra on the record, conducted by Art of Noise’s Anne Dudley. It has to be said though that the song and its sound has dated very well indeed.

It’s also got pretty dry lyrics too. As mentioned previously they were written by both Sumner and Tennant, but the story goes is that they are an attempt to parody the public persona of Marr’s old musical collaborator, good old fun-loving, smiley-smiley Morrissey.

So, we’ve established that it’s a pretty simple pop song with simple ingredients and dry lyrics. But that’s what makes it so compelling. I’ve played this song so many times since I first heard it and I have never, ever grown tired of it and never likely to. The verses are memorable and the chorus makes you want to play the song over and over. Which I do, probably to the annoyance of everyone around me but I’m not particularly arsed about that. Listen to it once and I defy anyone who won’t sing along with this song, or have at least the chorus stuck in their heads for weeks, maybe even years after. I still am twenty years after I first heard it.

The version to listen to is the original version. Don’t bother with the remixes, although the instrumental version is good to just hear the music. Original is best, so here it is ladies and gentlemen (why I’ve pluralized there I don’t know, that should read “so here it is my one regular reader”), the video for Getting Away With It. Enjoy…

May 17, 2011 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Chevrolet Matiz 0.8 SE

I like small, basic cars if done properly. Stuff like the original Mini, the Fiat Panda, Suzuki Swift. Honest-to-God, no frills motoring but with an added factor of zest and fun. Unfortunately, not everyone gets it right. Every now and then, a real turd chunk of a car comes along that has no real business existing. And this is one of them.

What is it then? Well, a Chevrolet Matiz is actually a Daewoo Matiz with different badges. General Motors owns both Daewoo and Chevrolet and once upon a time, someone in GM thought Daewoo had an image problem. Daewoo was synonymous with making microwave ovens and that wasn’t on. The idea was to make Daewoos appeal to young people. Sadly, the idea of making cars in the first place that actually appealed to anyone was lost on everyone. What they did though, and this is genius, is decide to keep the entire Daewoo range of turd chunks and rename them as Chevrolet! Result!

So, the scene is set. You’re young, you want to get girls. To most young blokes’ thinking, the best way to get a girl in your bed is to pull them with a decent motor. So when you’re throwing your keys in the air whilst saying “Want a ride in my Chevvy?” be prepared for some laughter when the girl realises you do not have a Corvette and in fact what you have is a poxy little Korean car with a Chevrolet badge sellotaped to the bonnet. You may as well say “I’ve got herpes”.

So, now you’ve embarrassed yourself enough to never, ever pick up a girl again, what is the Chevvy like then? Horrid. Absolutely horrid. It handles like a Daddy-long-legs, has as much performance as a tortoise and what is the deal with that interior? Surely it must take more effort to get something that looks that abysmal. Daechevroletwoo must have scoured the earth for the materials. I’m talking literally here – it feels in some places as crumbly as mud. The dashboard itself feels like it’s made out of tracing paper.

I will grant that the Daechev is a relatively practical car, with five doors. But the cabin is narrow and the boot space is not particularly big. You will also find that the little Matiz is cheap to buy and cheap to run. But answer me this, are you so desperate for a cheap car? Do you really need something this cheap? Yes it is cheap, but so is walking. So is buying non-biological washing powder, and after the roadtest I was thinking as a mode of transport, non-bio washing powder would make more sense. Buy a second hand Fabia or Ford Ka if you want cheap. If you want new and I know I keep coming back to this, but buy a Fiat Panda. It’s a much better car than the Daechev could ever be. You have been warned…
Plus points: It’s cheap….
Minus points: …. it’s crap.
Best model in the Matiz range to buy: Erm, Fiat Panda 1.1 Active.

May 14, 2011 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

Skoda Octavia Ambiente 1.9TDI

In the United Kingdom, seemingly more than anywhere else, image to some is an important thing. Image is greater than life or death, and be honest there is a bit of it in all of us. You can buy an affordable handbag that would more than likely survive a nuclear holocaust and fit everything from coinage to the entire stock of Boots in there. Or you could spend your hard earnt on the latest offering from Gucci – it will look nice and fancy but will offer no functional advantage over said run of the mill handbag. The only difference is the image it portrays.

It’s not limited to handbags, obviously, as limiting it to handbags would be sexist and stupid. Clothes and shoes are included. Electronic gizmos have fallen foul of this aswell. If you’re not seen with an Ipod or Blackberry or something similar, you are a complete and utter failure.

The one thing though that speaks volumes about yourself more than any one thing is your car. In the UK especially, if you don’t have the correct badge on the front of your car that’s worse than having your testicles removed, served on a plate and garnished with balsamic vinegar and presented as a main meal. Which brings me neatly on to the Skoda Octavia. In particular, the Octavia 1.9TDI Ambiente. Finished in dark metallic blue. Sounds as appealing as the aforementioned dish doesn’t it? And that badge – Skoda, what sort of image does THAT portray?

Years ago it meant you would be the butt of all jokes. The image now seems to be that they are Volkswagens for mean people (which I have a problem with and I’ve touched on this before – read the Skoda Fabia road test). To me, however it means you know your stuff, quite frankly. The Octavia is pure Volkswagen Golf under the skin which means excellent reliability and unparalleled perceived quality. But the Octavia is a fraction of the price of a Golf, and in many ways a far better car. You will also find owners of the Octavia are far happier with their car than equivalent Golf owners. And the biggest upside? I think it’s a quietly stylish, well proportioned shape. It’s a good looking car.

Despite its Czech origin and bargain basement price, the fit and finish in this particular car is absolutely top notch and all the VW parts bin-sourced switchgear operates smoothly and with precision. The interior makes logical and ergonomical sense and is a nice place to be, in a kind of Germanic, austere way. There is masses of space, and despite looking like a saloon the loadspace in this hatchback version is immense.  You could move house quite easily in the estate version, and I don’t just mean the contents, you could fit your house in the back and still have room to hold a board meeting.

The driving experience is very Golf-like, which means it has a reasonable chassis and copes with most stuff very well. The 1.9TDI engine is responsive if a little noisy on start up. However on the road it turns into an extremely refined unit. The ride is compliant due to the chassis being more focused toward a soft set-up, but it still handles well. Coupled with extrememly comfortable and supportive seats, it’s a good car to drive. The steering communicates with the driver well enough, and the brakes have a good, progressive feel. Equipment levels are generous with air con, CD player with MP3, electric mirrors, windows and remote locking. In short, this car has everything you need and no junk. Quite frankly I’m finding it hard to find any fault with this car at all. Which is a bugger, to be honest.

Running costs and expenditure won’t cause your bank manager to suffer a coronary attack of the heart. Depreciation, once a bugbear for Skoda, is solid. If you go for a diesel such as the 105bhp 1.9TDI tested here, fuel consumption is as miserly as Rigsby the landlord and long service intervals really do mean this car is a very complete package.

It all boils down to image. You’ll buy the Skoda because you’re far from interested if something is cool or not. You don’t need to because if you’re the kind of badge snob that would rather pay the premium for a VW Golf, or even Audi A3 when the Skoda does everything far, far better then you’re missing out on a great car.  For me, as I don’t give two hoots about image (my everyday car is a Fiat Stilo, that should speak volumes) and badge snobbery on cars, the existance of the Octavia makes it very hard to justify buying a Golf or A3. It’s better to drive than the Golf, better to look at, bigger, more comfortable and certainly as an everyday family car, there isn’t much out there to beat it. The kind of person that buys the affordable holocaust-surviving handbag that can hold everything, rather than the Gucci form over function nonsense.

Plus points:
Driving experience, practicality, refinement, comfort and I like the styling.

Minus points:
I’m genuinely struggling really to find any… but there is one. It isn’t old, Italian and likely to fall to bits.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

Fiat 124 Sport Spider

Sometimes my job is just that – a job, a means to end which results in a pay cheque the end of every week serving as a reminder of how comparatively low my wages are and how much the tax man takes off me. The remaining amount gets swallowed up by keeping a roof over my head and paying various but ultimately necessary bills.

There are days when it is nothing but paper work and sitting at the desk answering such inane questions as “why has my engine blown up? I know it’s got no oil in it but I didn’t think that would cause a problem”.

However, other days are just perfect. I would normally say that would be a day off, but on this particular day it would be because I was behind the wheel of a 1974 Fiat 124 Spider for quite some time. And, I will accept no arguments on this, it is prettier than its Alfa Romeo Spider rival.

Launched in 1966 at a time where Fiat would make a boggo spec saloon car and make sports alternatives from them, the Spider was one of two spin-off models, the other being the Sport Coupe. The Spider, in typical Italian fashion, was both styled and manufactured at one of the great styling houses – Pininfarina. Production ended in 1985, the last three years the car was badged as Pininfarina and not Fiat.

Engines installed would be the celebrated range of Fiat twin cam engines, designed by ex-Ferrari engineer Aurelio Lampredi. The Lampredi-designed family of engines would remain in production well into the 1990s and a version of this engine could be found in the Lancia Delta Integrale.

The car I’ve driven belongs to where I work. It’s an ex-Californian import which has had a right hand drive conversion. This meant it was pretty free of rust. The engine fitted to the car I drove was the 1438cc twin cam which develops 96bhp which sounds as daunting as a plate of salad by modern standards, but was perfectly acceptable in 1966. This is mated to a slick five speed gearbox and sweet handling from its rear wheel drive set up. It’s had a photographic rebuild and feels tight and taut.

The Spider made a decent case for itself at the time with its road manners. Reports at the time tell how it was respected in the same breath as rivals from Alfa Romeo and Porsche, only being a humble Fiat cost a lot less. Now I’ve driven a few of the cars that were rivals at the time, so I can gauge the competition. Its chief British rival was the MGB, which I’ve driven in coupe GT form and roadster form. This is a car which has all the dynamic abilities of a drunken woodlouse, and later so-called rubber bumper models handle like a hippopotamus on ice. On the other side, the Triumph Spitfire had all the performance of an asthmatic fat man.

Now as we know, old cars will always be beaten dynamically by more modern cars. It’s simply progression – improvements through the years. The Spider does feel quite dated in comparison with newer machines but even now still makes a decent case for itself. It’s not fast and it’s not Lotus Elise precise but still feels quite nimble, balanced and certainly enjoyable. The gearchange is fantastic, except for reverse. The brakes felt reassuring, in small part due to having disc brakes all round but mainly due to needing a complete overhaul before I took it out on the road!

Sure, it has its flaws, like nearly every car I like. For instance, it has a very Italianate driving position. That means long arms, short legs – you have to be shaped like an ape to drive it. The glovebox is suitable for one glove, the sunvisors are useless and getting into reverse gear is an arse. The steering is a little vague, probably due to this particular car being ex-Californian and having a right hand drive conversion.

However, these flaws really, really don’t matter. It’s easily pretty enough and the interior stylish. The engine is such a gem, it pulls well and sounds fantastic all of which add up to make the driving experience so entertaining. Especially on this particular day, sun out, roof down, shades on and the Cornish roads. After driving so many modern cars – some excellent, some average and some terrible, I’ve driven some old cars that I really like only to come away totally disappointed. To be honest I’d still love the 124 if it drove like a horse and cart. But thankfully it didn’t disappoint and doesn’t drive like a horse and cart, it’s a truly entertaining car. I love it even more.

May 10, 2011 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

   

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