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It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

It’s not a Mini adventure, it’s a gargantuan pile of horse manure

A proper Mini

Literally millions of years ago, the British Motor Corporation launched the Mini. It was launched as the Austin Seven Mini and the Morris Mini Minor. Later versions would be launched such as the badge engineered Riley Elf and Wolseley Hornet, which were Minis with a hideous grille and a shoebox blue-tacked to the rear. Later we would see Cooper versions. In the late sixties BMC became British Leyland and the Mini Clubman was launched to replace the existing Mini. It failed.

In the early 80’s, BL launched the Metro to replace the Mini. It failed as the Mini outlived it. Nothing, it seemed, could capture the magic of the original. However, whilst the Mini (and especially the old Clubman and 1275GT) remains a firm favourite car of mine, we must remember the fact that the Mini lived on well past its sell-by date. True, it was technically a brilliantly packaged car. Front wheel drive and a transverse mounted engine it was far ahead of its time. It handled like nothing else and took on corners with consummate ease.

However, it was cramped, cold, noisy, bumpy, rusty and unreliable. In a few words, a little bit rubbish. And yet I still love the Mini so. About five years ago I managed to borrow a mid-sixties Cooper S, and it was without a doubt about the best fun I’ve had with my clothes on. Certainly one of my favourite drives, it was across the North Cliffs Portreath to Hayle road in Cornwall. Its steering, suspension and sheer eagerness gelled and this thing came alive. Certainly my daily hack (a nearly new Punto Sporting) seemed desperately dull in comparison. I’d subsequently driven 80s Minis and I got out with the same Cheshire Cat grin I’d gotten with that Cooper. To an extent I got the same sensation when having a go in an MG Metro.

I urge you to take an old Mini out, if you can get the bloody thing started that is. Chances are, when you eventually do, something will then break, the headgasket will go and the clutch will implode. But once all of these things are fixed and you’ve reattached the rotten subframes that fell off in the night, you will think why hadn’t I done this before?

All this preamble is supposed to get to a point, though as is my want, have managed to avoid it like an Anthony Gerrard penalty. I love the old Mini to bits. I even love the much-maligned Clubman. Hell, I’m even quite liking the early Metros these days. All of their flaws I’m prepared to overlook for the grin on my face I get when I drive one. The new BMW Minis though?

I’d like to drop a Top Gear piano on those, as much as I would a Marina. I drove a Works Cooper, and couldn’t understand the fuss. Sure, it handles nicely. Sure it goes around corners nicely, but there are lots of other cars that do so better, the old Mini being one of them. Sure it’s popular, but then so is the Clap and I’m not suggesting that’s good. It’s not a packaging miracle, like the old one. My Punto is smaller on the outside and bigger on the inside. It’s more comfortable too. The switches in my 12 year old Fiat feel more substantial and less flimsy than in the new Mini.

There are a few similarities to the old Mini, namesake apart. Size isn’t one of them, they’re bloody huge. Being cramped inside, however, is. The one thing BMW have managed to engineer in to the new Mini is its propensity to rust like the old one. And to burst into flames. And to break. They’ve also managed to make the supercharger sound like the whine from the sump-mounted gearbox from the old Mini. So, if I want a car that is cramped, fun, whines like a banshee and is likely to rot or fail as I’m driving along, I’ll either have an old Mini or stick with my Italian stuff.

Look at the size of that fucking thing compared with the original. This is the Mini "Cuntryman"

Just don’t get me started on these Mini spin-off models, the Clubfoot and the Cuntryman (sic). Oh bollocks, I got myself started. Oh well. Why make the already big Mini bigger? And uglier? The Clubfoot is a new interpretation of the old Countryman Mini estate, which essentially was a Minivan with windows and seats. It’s dreadful. Then there’s the current Countryman which is the modern interpretation of a bucket of sick. It’s bigger than bloody Redruth and it looks so bad it could scare children and scar them mentally for life.

BMW have launched a “Coupe” version of the Mini, which basically looks like someone stole The Stig’s helmet, melted it in the oven and the remnants poured over the car to create the roof. Now they’ve launched a van version, called the, erm, Clubvan. I wonder if they can do a GPO special edition finished in grey?

I’m just wondering how low BMW will now stoop, as they’ve passed scraping the bottom of the barrel, gone through the tarmac and are located somewhere within the Earth’s core. It smacks to me as they are in a situation where they’ve run out of ideas. There’s only so far you can go with retro design, and BMW have gone above and beyond the realms. Perhaps they’re now thinking of a reboot of the Mini pickup? Perhaps a Mini MiniMetro that will look a bit like the old Metro but will be the size of an articulated lorry. Every week there seems to be a new model in the line-up, a new concept. What’s next, the Mini NCC1701? It has to stop!

But it’s not just the car that I’m pushed away from. The owners, or at least those I’ve met, all have this air of superiority about them. Arrogance and smugness. People who seriously need to get over themselves, and their Mini. Estate agent types.

So, this was the story of one of my favourite cars and one of my least favourite cars. For me, the old “proper” Mini will always be a legend. Whereas the new, cheap (actually fucking dear) knock-off Mini will always be a bit of a leg-end.

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March 9, 2012 Posted by | Motoring, Rants | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Terry Hall – Home

This is the first in a series I intend to keep up and write about and will probably never actually get around to, well, keeping up. I intend to write about some of my favourite albums. When I mean write, I mean waffle on endlessly like I normally do and the material within will be of no interest to any living being at all. So, with that in mind, I shall continue.

There are albums that are accepted as being some of the greatest albums of all time. I agree with most of them to be honest and some I think should be included. Some of what I write about won’t neccessarily be brilliant, revolutionary albums. They’ll just be the ones I like the most. This issue deals with an album that slipped under just about everyone’s radar. The album is Home, Terry Hall’s debut solo album. This is an album that upon release gained lots of critical acclaim but alas stalled in the charts. But if sky-high melodies, towering choruses and jangly guitars are your bag, which they are mine, then pray read on.

Now, most people know Terry Hall as co-front man of The Specials and The Fun Boy Three, then onto The Colourfield and then part-time collaborator with the Lightning Seeds. He has done so much more than that, but it’s Terry’s involvement with the Lightning Seeds that interests me the most and it set the scene for this album. Terry’s involvement began with the Lightning Seeds during the recording of the 1992 album Sense. Ian Broudie, chief Lightning Seed, had cited Terry as one of his favourite lyricists and requested to work together. Terry co-wrote a few numbers on the album one of which, the title track, became a top forty single. Terry even made a cameo appearance in the video. Fast forward a couple of years and we see yet more collaborations between Broudie and Hall. Hall co-wrote and sung on what would become Jollification, which included the co-written single “Lucky You”. We also see the recording of Terry’s debut solo album that would become Home.

A band of musicians, which included Ian Broudie on production duties and some guitar work, was assembled. Chris Sharrock (Lightning Seeds) on the Tupperware, Craig Gannon on guitars (The Smiths) and Les Pattinson on bass (Echo and the Bunneymen) provided the noise from the instruments. Add to the mix a select few co-writers such as the aforementioned Broudie and Gannon, but also Nick Heyward (Haircut 100), Andy Partridge (XTC) and Damon Albarn, and the album sounds intruiging.

Essentially, the album is ten (eleven on the 1995 re-release) well-crafted, well polished pop/rock songs. Now pop is a dangerous thing. When done properly, pop is fantastic. However, sometimes pop can turn out to be nothing more than pap. Throwaway nonsense. Thankfully Home is an example of pop music done properly. There’s little in the way of filler. Terry’s voice, which let’s be fair isn’t the most versatile in the business, is on form on this album thanks in large to songs with arrangements that suit his range. The dynamics and production work exceptionally well throughout. Yes it’s a well polished production, but it wouldn’t have worked any other way.

Powerfully kicking the album off is the lead-off single, Forever J. Written about Terry’s ex-partner Jeanette, it’s a highly infectious number and starts the album with a bang. Myself and She Who Must Be Obeyed have kind of nabbed it for ourselves, thanks in part to the lyric “She’s a bee with honeyed thighs, a living hell, a slice of heaven”. We’ve often joked about that. What’s more she’s called Jayne which is handy, quite frankly. Watch the promo video for the single here:

The next song is the first of two co-writes with Ian Broudie. “You” features an unmistakable Broudie guitar to introduce proceedings, and the song also features my favourite lyric of the entire LP. “If ifs and ands were pots and pans, you’d be a kitchen.” The next Broudie co-write comes next in the form of Terry’s version of Sense which is, if I’m honest, a better version. It’s a bit heavier and more guitar based than Broudie’s original even though Broudie’s presence can be heard quite distinctly on this. Watch the promo for the single here:

No No No and First Attack of Love are as good pop songs you’ll find on a record anywhere, and I Drew A Lemon is worth a listen if not for the lyrical content alone. Moon On Your Dress slows proceedings down a little, but plods along nicely with a bouncy bass line courtesy of Les Pattinson, galvanised as ever by Chris Sharrock’s drumming.

My favourite moment on the whole album must be track eight. Grief Disguised As Joy remains the most played song from the album. When I bought the album back in 1996, it was the song that stood out then and remains the song that sticks out to me now. The song has all the right ingredients. I love the mood, the sound of the guitars, the lyrics and Sharrock’s drumming (as always). It’s just the best song on the album by a country mile. End of.

However as much as I love this album, it isn’t perfect. The original 1994 release just about is, but in 1995 it was re-released with an extra song. A collaboration with Damon Albarn resulted in the song Chasing A Rainbow, which was initially found on the Rainbows EP. It did later find its way onto the reissued version. To be honest, the record company needn’t have bothered and should have kept it as an EP. It’s by far the weakest song and doesn’t really fit with the rest of the songs on the album. And whilst we’re on the subject of weaker songs, What’s Wrong With Me is pleasant. It’s not a bad song, don’t get me wrong, it just doesn’t really get going.

If you’re a Lightning Seeds fan, this album should already be in your collection. If you like well crafted, well performed pop/rock songs, you need a copy of this in your collection. That is if you can get hold of it as it’s long since deleted. It won’t be in your local Tesco. It won’t be in HMV. You’ll need to go to a good second-hand record shop (if there is such a thing still in existance) or look on the internet to find it. Trust me on this though, once you’ve found it, it’s worth it. Not many people really know about it which is a crying shame, as it peaked at 67 in the charts back in 1994.

So, to sum up: Home – pop done properly, and remains one of my favourite and most played albums.
Final rating: 9/10

March 2, 2012 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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