Captain Misery's Miserable Mishaps

It's all a load of bollocks, quite frankly

Special K

10469728_10152254959811378_1715836080619826648_nThe K series engine. It’s a bit of a misunderstood and maligned beast really. Talk of it on internet forums or “daaaaaaaaan the pub” and it will it will be met by OMGHGF (Oh My God, Head Gasket Failure in internetz speakz) and OMGALLROVAZISSHIT. This is because Armchair and Pub Mechanics know more than anyone whatsoever.

True, they have their issues. Yes, some suffer from head gasket failure but the way you hear the so-called experts harp on about it, you’d think the K Series is the only engine to ever suffer from head gasket failure. Aren’t we forgetting certain VW, Vauxhall, Renault, Fiat and Peugeot engines enjoy blowing them for a past time? The garage I worked at for ten years used to look after a lot of K series Rovers. Cornwall is retirement country and there are lots of people who probably should be dead already bought these K series Rovers. I found them as reliable as anything German that we looked after, but like anything they need routine maintenance. Keep on top of them and take care of them, they’re fantastic. Caution should be applied if no maintenance has been carried out.

A brief history of the K series
It was launched in 1988, fitted to the brand new Rover R8 200 series, then later powered the 400 and the Roverised Metro that appeared in 1990. Available in 1.1 single overhead cam and 1.4 twin cam versions, but later the range increased to 1.6 litre and 1.8 as Honda began to limit supply of their engines to Rover. The K series lumps were held together as a sandwich of components using long bolts which which held the engine under compression. The 1.8 was available with a Variable Valve Control (VVC) device that allowed more power, torque and performance. The VVC unit allows some form of witch craft to happen which allows the engine to be incredibly flexible and gives it a pretty much flat torque curve. And it red lines at 7,250 rpm! Later additions included the KV6 in 2.0 and 2.5 litre, 24 valve quad cam variants. Both the K and KV6 are still in production today, following the sale of MG Rover to China corportation SAIC, though they have been revised and renamed N Series and NV6, respectively.

My K-Series
My particular K Series, pictured above, is a 1.6 16v twin cam unit fitted to a Rover 25 of varying shades of blue and black. Today it clicked over to 119,000 miles and was treated to a service, its first service since 98,000! When I bought the 25 just over a year ago it was on 103,000 miles and has pretty much been neglected ever since. But to be fair, it has wanted for nothing. Up until today, the only attention the engine has needed is a tightening of the alternator belt. The cooling system is in fine fettle and the rest of the car has fared pretty well too, needing precious little to keep it going. It has performed brilliantly and reliably – it genuinely hasn’t put a foot wrong in the time I’ve had it. It’s a revvy, peppy, responsive engine and the service it had today has made it just that little bit better. I think the K series, especially the one in my car, is a cracker.

Really, if caught in time, a head gasket is not the end of the world. If repaired properly with good quality materials used, these units will soldier on. Like all cars there’s good and bad, but I still see a heck of a lot of K series Rovers on the road. Would I buy another? You bet your bottom booby I would.

OMGALLROVAZISSHIT? I won’t hear a word of it, thank you please.

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July 6, 2014 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

Dodgy Accent – Another car purchase

20140411_181010

A car at a car wash

I suddenly found myself without a car. The thing is I ended up selling the 205/family pet and that all happened rather quickly. Reasons? It was in too good condition to keep using everyday, needed a teeny bit of TLC to make it perfect but more importantly I was getting worried about someone denting it wherever I parked it. Something that hit home when it was bashed twice in one week whilst doing the nursery run. I decided to sell it and replace it with something that I really don’t mind parking anywhere. I put it up on evilBay expecting the usual “OMG WILL U TAK 30 QUID 4 IT N MY SISTER? WIL COLCT 2NITE” mongs that eBay seems to breed. Thankfully, none of that happened but the previous owner I bought it from contacted me and wanted it back. Within a day he’d bought it and driven it off.

So, armed with a small budget and a large mug of tea, I went on Autotrader, Scumtree and eBay to look for a set of wheels. Ideally, I was looking for something Italian, well looked after and cheap to run – what I really wanted was a Panda, Punto or Uno, but they’re all few and far between these days. I wasn’t prepared to travel very far to get a car, so most of the Pandas and Puntos I’d seen were too far away. I’d ruled out Fiestas and Polos on account of them being shit, so I began looking at Peugeots, Renaults and Nissans. All the Nissans were rusty, the Peugeots too expensive but there was a little Clio that looked rather tidy in the pictures. I knew where it was parked so I went to have a quick look before contacting the seller, did my usual checks and ended up walking away with a bit of the rear wheel arch, so I walked away. I then saw another car on evilBay, went and had a look at it and chucked in a sly bid. I ended up winning the auction the same day and picked it up two days later.

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Prince really sang about a Little Red Accent

So what is it?
It’s a Hyundai Accident 1.3i something or other. It’s that low in the Accent range that it doesn’t actually have a trim level designation. It’s not the car I envisaged buying, but it was pretty much given away, has tidy bodywork (albeit with some paint fade in places) and the interior is unmarked. More importantly, it came with a full twelve months MoT and six months tax. Wear and tear stuff has already been done including the timing belt, clutch, tyres and a recent full service so other than putting petrol in it and insuring it, I shouldn’t have to spend any money on it any time soon (in theory anyway). Under the bonnet is incredibly clean with just enough dirt to not make me suspicious. Boot floor is clean and traces of any rot under the carpet. I’m the fourth owner in fourteen years and it has just clicked over to 44,000 miles.

It’s the most basic of basic cars and one that years ago I would have dismissed as nothing more than disposable white goods. To think that, though, kind of misses the point. True, this car is miserable in every way with a body that looks like a cheap knock-off Astra/Escort, equipped with an interior formed from many, many different shades of grey. Its most redeeming feature is that it has no redeeming features whatsoever. But as far as a design brief goes, it does everything a car should do. It’s not something that I can get particularly enthusiastic about, and I very much doubt that if it gets to 27 years old, people will be looking at it with the affection as they did my 205. Still, it’s an honest, unpretentious little car and for that reason it has a certain charm.

How does it drive?
Erm, yes, this will be brief. Okay, so its equipped with a responsive 1.3 12v engine that develops somewhere in the region of 85bhp. 0-62 is rumoured to take 12.8 seconds and it tops out at 108mph. Respectable figures for a basic 1.3 shopping trolley, but none of which I have bothered to test. Handling? Yes it nearly handles. Steering? Yes, it has got steering. Brakes? Got those as well. They work. Gear change? There is a lever in the middle of the floor that allows you to change gear. To be fair, it does everything asked of it and it’s very easy to drive, just doesn’t have any pizzazz. All the controls are very light and easy to use.

Fifty shades of misery

Fifty shades of misery

It is comfortable and the ride is pretty good, but after wafting about on French suspension for nearly two years (that 205 really rode well) it doesn’t quite live up to that, but then modern French stuff doesn’t either. Driving position is pretty good.

So, to do an Auto Express (I feel dirty at the mention of those two words mentioned together) conclusion, here’s the plus and minus points.

For:
– Seats not made from plastic
– Has an engine
– Has doors to keep you closed in. Novel feature, this.
– Has a gear lever, pedals, handbrake, suspension and a steering wheel to aid driving.

Against:
– Uninspiring to drive
– Interior plastics made out of plastic
– Plastics have been used in some places inside the car
– Plastic used in the boot area of vehicle
– Plastic used in some places where plastic would be used, and the quality of the plastic used in these areas where plastic is used is a bit plastically
– Uninspiring plastics

My summary is it’s a pleasant enough car with no redeeming features at all, isn’t particularly entertaining to drive but at least is easy to drive, it’s likely to be reliable and economical. It’s a bit shite and it’s a miserable little thing and do you know what? I really rather like it. It’ll never compare with the 205 it replaced, but then to be honest nothing will. Unless I buy that 205 back in a couple of years.

April 27, 2014 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

Second listen: Split Enz – Conflicting Emotions

conflicting-emotions-504c7be878820Split Enz – one of my favourite bands of all time. They’ve had some fantastic albums, songs and singles whether head of creativity were the brothers Tim and Neil Finn or original co-founder Phil Judd. Early Enz takes a few listens to appreciate, later Neil-inspired work is more melodic and immediate. Conflicting Emotions falls into the latter camp. Largely claimed to be the Enz’ poorest album release throughout their long and ever-changing career, it’s also an album I always left on the shelf and never bothered to play more than once. I’d generally play a couple of the songs that were available on the excellent “Spellbound” retrospective compilation instead and basically ignored its existence. However, when looking for something different to play in the car on a journey this was one the LPs I picked up for a spin.

Conflicting Emotions would become the final Split Enz album to feature Tim Finn, and the album title was decidedly apt. Earlier on in 1983 Tim had released his debut solo album “Escapade” to commercial and critical acclaim. With some rumoured resentment over Tim’s solo success and tensions between band members, cracks were beginning to show. Tim had kept back most of his songs for his solo album and as such saw a shift toward Neil Finn as primary songwriter. Neil had already proved himself a pretty nifty writer with hits such as I Got You, One Step Ahead and History Never Repeats. However, this album seemed to lack focus especially when compared with the fabulous Time and Tide released in 1982. It also failed to crack the Australian Top 10

None of that really came to mind when I put the disc in the CD player. The album starts off with Strait Old Line and I’d forgotten what a funky little opener that song it is, and how catchy it is. You WILL be singing it for days after. And let’s not forget that this album also contains Message To My Girl, one of Neil Finn’s finest songs ever. It’s a heartfelt love song that McCartney would probably have wished he’d written. Another Neil-penned song The Devil You Know happens to be one of my favourite songs by anyone. So with that in mind, why did I bloody ignore this album?

Simple – Tim Finn! His songs on this album are bloody rubbish. I’m used to him belting out stuff such as Charlie, Bold As Brass, I See Red and all his songs on Time and Tide are superb. That and his solo album Escapade that came out before this album is very good. But here, with the exception of the bouncy Working Up An Appetite, which is a catchy number with an interesting rhythmic beat going on, they’re nonsense. I despise the title track, especially the introduction. Bon Voyage is equally hateful, and I Wake Up Every Night is okay to a point, but the brass sounds reek of cheap Casio keyboards. Neil isn’t exactly safe from criticism either with No Mischief being rather annoying, though through repeated playing I found myself warming to it and quite enjoy it now. Same thing happened with Bullet Brain and Cactus Head. Our Day, though, is brilliant.

So, to conclude, this is one of the most frustrating albums I have in my collection. Upon fresh listening, I absolutely love just over half of it but the rest of it isn’t even good enough for B-side material. However, there is a turn of events that make me appreciate this album a little bit more. To promote the album, The Enz needed to tour and to inject a bit of life into the band they held auditions for a new drummer. They ended up hiring the bloody wonderful and very sadly missed Paul Hester. Tim left shortly after, leaving the Enz in the control of Neil. The album See Ya ‘Round was released which had no content from Tim at all, and it wouldn’t be long before Neil disbanded Split Enz. Neil took Paul with him and formed a band which would later become Crowded House. Tenuously you could say that without this album, there wouldn’t have been Crowded House. I can’t (or won’t) imagine life without Crowded House, quite frankly.

Incidentally, the album artwork was created by Phil Judd, co-founder of Split Enz who left (for the last time) in 1977.

Enjoy Strait Old Line:

Enjoy Message To My Girl:

March 8, 2014 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment

My case for the Fiat Tipo

An early Tipo

An early Tipo

Largely gone from Britain’s roads and largely forgotten, the Fiat Tipo was a game changer not just for Fiat but for the whole market sector. Furthermore, it was built with a galvanised body shell to help prevent rust and to replace the Ritmo/Strada. This couldn’t have been better timed as not only had the Ritmo/Strada become rather pensionable but also a car that gained the unenviable reputation for being one of the most rot-prone cars built.

Launched in 1988 to universal praise, it was a modern looking, crisply styled car, though back in 1988 the Tipo’s styling was considered “controversial”. A range of strong engines including 1.1, 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8 petrol lumps and a fantastic 1.9 turbo diesel (which, for a time, was the fastest car in the Tipo range) coupled to a brilliantly thought out and superbly packaged interior ensured this forward thinking car won the Car of the Year Award for 1989. It had a good size boot and three proper sized seat spaces in the rear, high-end models had a full digital dashboard and it was so far ahead of the competition it was embarrassing. Think of Mk4 Escort, Mk2 Golf, Maestro, 309, need I go on? The only car that got anywhere near it for a while was the R8 Rover 200 series, that car also a bit of game changer for Rover.

A couple of years into production, a high performance Sedicivalvole (sixteen valve) version was launched with the engine from the Lancia Thema which was good for 130 mph. The Tipo also marked the proper beginnings of platform sharing within the Fiat Group. The Tipo lay the foundations for the Tempra and Tempra SW, the Lancia Dedra, the Nuova Lancia Delta from 1993, the Alfa Romeo 155, 145 and 146, the 916 series Alfa GTV and Spider, the Fiat Coupe, Fiat Bravo/Brava and Marea and it provided the basis for the Alfa 156 (though this had been modified quite significantly) which in turn leant itself to the Alfa 147 and GT.

Tipo 3 door Sedicivalvole

Tipo 3 door Sedicivalvole

A three door version was absent from the launch, however in 1993 Fiat gave the Tipo a facelift and a three door option and the digital dashboard had been dropped. The Tipo gained some tweaks and improvements as newer rivals had been launched. However, to my humble and totally biased opinion, none of them were as good as Tipo. Mk5 Escort, Mk3 Astra, Mk3 Golf, need I go on? True, it started to age and was replaced by the Bravo/Brava (also based on Tipo platform) and although the Bravo/Brava may have had more striking and interesting styling, the packaging genius of the Tipo had been diluted at least in the form of the Bravo. I have also owned a Stilo (which replaced the Bravo/Brava) and there’s nowhere near as much room in that than in the Tipo! Don’t get me started on the current Bravo.

Why am I making a case for a largely forgotten car that no one is interested in anymore? Well, other than what I’ve just waffled on about and the fact that I may possess a pair of spectacles with a rose tint, everything about the Tipo was right (except perhaps build quality inconsistencies) from the off. They looked great, they were spacious, they handled and rode very well, they were fun to drive. Mainly, though, it’s because I’ve loved the Tipo ever since my Dad bought one to replace his Uno back in 1992. It was a three-year old 1.4 DGT, registration no. F62UAF,  finished in white – I even remember the colour code – 210. I was ten years old and my Dad had just bought a car with what appeared to have a dashboard from the future. It was comfortable to me back then, and my Dad recalls that car with a lot of affection. To him, it was reliable, good to drive and became part of the family. He part exchanged it some four or so years later for a new Punto (more on that car another time). The dealership delivered the new car and collected the Tipo, and to date it’s the most emotional my Dad has been about getting rid of a car.

Tipo3doorMore than that, I’ve had a Tipo – a 1.4 i.e. S facelift model. I very briefly had a Tempra saloon before selling it to a mate who desperately wanted a car. It gave him three years sterling service before it had to go. The Tipo history and derivatives are compelling, the original car is much underrated and under-appreciated. Shame, really. A lot of people don’t know what they’ve missed.

 

 

 

January 18, 2014 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

The Dealership

The Apprentice Lad's bicycle, parked correctly

The Apprentice Lad’s bicycle, parked correctly

I’ve not seen this programme The Dealership. Apparently it’s a fly on the wall documentary about a, erm, dealership. Even though I haven’t watched it I think it should have been filmed at the garage I used to work at.  In fact I remember the salesman saying it would be a fantastic idea to make a fly on the wall documentary about where we worked. I think the best way of describing what the experience may have been like can be summed up in one word: unique.

We were a main franchised dealership for Fiat and Alfa Romeo. I no longer work there and since the dealership no longer holds the franchise. Some of the people I worked with were great, some not so. I’ve focused in on the people who I liked (except the General Manager), and the rather amusing anecdotes. Most of the recollections are “you should have been there” moments, but alas none of you were so I’ll have to tell them.

Day one at the dealership: Tall lanky salesman (who is a top bloke) says “Weellllll, what a load of old shit. What a fucking liberty” as a customer pulls up. I, the service manager, shares same level of enthusiasm and says “what does this prick want now.” On the same day, a second person turns up wanting to do something strange such as buying a car. Prospective customer number one sees the tall lanky one and is sold a car instantly because the customer has interrupted his online Scrabble game. Prospective customer number two makes the fatal mistake of dealing with the sort, dumpy one (General Manager – likes to tell many many tales of rallying, hearing aids and SAGA holidays. In fact, he used to rally hearing aids) drives in an Alfa 156 and leaves in a hearse. Post mortem later revealed customer died of boredom upon listening to stories of rallying, hearing aids and SAGA holidays. His Alfa 156 is in the customer parking spot for so long, it takes up root in the tarmac. (Some poetic licence in this bit, obviously. He hated SAGA holidays)

Day two:  Our beloved Jaguar XK140, one of the many classics for sale, is sold. The new owner, who was rallied by the General Manager, paid cash and like most people had a part exchange which were, unlike most part exchanges, an old tractor and ride on lawn mower. The lawn mower was taken on by someone who “used to rally lawnmowers” and the tractor served its purpose as a backup rally vehicle, after being fitted with a souped-up A+ Series engine from a 1983 MG Metro, the front brakes from a Ford Granada and the indicator stalk from a Peugeot 104.

Day three: Owner’s son shouts at the back my chair (I’m not there because I’m on annual leave): “Yoooouuuuu! You’re going down the road when you get back!” Our Welsh Mechanic stumbles home to his caravan, falls through a hedge into a stream. General Manager says “Oh my!” a lot

Day four: The owner’s son chases the trainee salesman, known to everyone as Ginger Tosser, around the premises with an air rifle. Can’t say I blame him as he really was a tosser. And ginger. Later on, Police are called to arrest a man for and it takes three to take the owner’s son down. General Manager used to rally Police cars, it turns out.

Day five: Chief mechanic, MoT tester and Mexican Freddie Mercury impersonator says to the Ginger Tosser sales trainee “ah well, at the end of the day, in all fairness I’m going to lock you in the fucking boot of that car.” And he did, good man. Chief mechanic glued radio dial onto Classic FM to stop people changing the radio station. Rebuild on Twin Spark engine interrupted by me talking in his voice to him, and the YTS lad speaking to Welsh Mechanic in his voice. Told many, many stories on how “I used to rally Datsun 120Ys” other enlightening rally stories by General Manager. I fall asleep for a while. Before falling asleep, we all talk to General Manager in his voice, because he used to rally it.

Day six: This day didn’t happen as I was still asleep from the rallying stories. Oh, wait, hang on… The owner’s son used to wash the cars and sometimes had to scratch “himself”. Police were called to investigate a man “masturbating into a bucket.” General Manager used to rally buckets, it emerges. News comes from Dealer Principal who has had to go to London for a meeting with Fiat. Travelled by Motor Cycle rather than car, something happened to his luggage – it fell and caught fire on the exhaust. Luggage found at side of the road on fire. Problem solved, new suit from Savile Row. News also filtered down that he opened the wrong door to use the toilet and ended up opening the front door to the hotel room rather than the bathroom and walked into the hallway stark bollock naked. Without a key. General Manager used to rally keys.

Day seven: Son of service manager of other branch steals my office chair. Wondering where it is I launch a full scale investigation to hunt down whatever bastard stole my chair. Its whereabouts are soon discovered. It’s at the back of the yard with a hoover and a photocopier smouldering on a bonfire. Fire brigade called out by the bunch of ejits at the council yard. Fire officer who knew the cheeky arsonist bastard what set fire to my chair, looked at it, basically said DILLIGAF and fucked off. General Manager used to rally chairs, photocopiers and Fire Engines.

Day eight: I try my best to get General Manager to swear and say “fuck”. I try all sorts of things and none of them successful. Closest I get is “bastard” and “shit”. Apprentice mechanic opens bonnet of a car and says “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” a lot. Instantly declares that the air filter on this JTD likes men. Then declares that all his colleagues like men and we’re all going on a trip to The Isle of Men, via a concert at the MEN Arena. General Manager apparently used to rally men.

Day nine: Fiat/Alfa DET “strategically places” airbag onto battery to see what would happen. It shoots across the floor underneath several scooters, fills the workshop up with smoke and causes Dealer Principal to come out of his office shouting “Who the fuck is letting off guns in the workshop?” General Manager says “shit!”

Day ten: I steal Apprentice lad’s bicycle and Chief Tech and MoT tester parks it in a tree (see picture). General Manager never rallied bicycles, strangely. Trees, however…

August 8, 2013 Posted by | Motoring, Other Stuff! | 2 Comments

French car in “reliable for a year” scandal

A Peugeot named Edgar, literally some time ago

A Peugeot named Edgar, literally some time ago

I own a French car, so rather predictably I get the “all French cars is well shit lol don’t buy them cos dey break lol how many times your car broke LOL”, which is utter bollocks. The fact of the matter is, my French car is 26 years old, still on the road and is showing no signs of giving up yet.

The French car I’m talking about is Edgar. The name was chosen by my wife, and some friends have agreed this car is definitely an Edgar. I am, of course, talking about my 1987 Peugeot 205 Junior. I’ve had to tax it today, which means I’ve had it for a year now. It’s been a good year with the car. I love it to bits, it’s fun to drive and puts a smile on my face, is reliable and very cheap to run. It’s in fantastic nick for its age and is kept as much as possible in that condition. However, it is also a daily driver and first and foremost a work horse.

Quick it ain’t, only having 45bhp from its 954cc suitcase engine, but it’s lively enough around town and will cruise at about 65ish. But bloody hell is it economical and cheap to run. Sod all insurance costs, next to nothing on fuel and running repairs? Ha! Bugger all.

In fact here is a break down, if you’ll pardon the expression, of what has been done to Edgar the little Pug in a year:

– First week of ownership, it got a new set of wiper blades all round and a small engine service – cost £30
– Nothing until Christmas where for the first time it wouldn’t start. Damp HT leads and a fouled spark plug were the culprits. Nothing serious, no time to fix and zero cost.
– January: MoT time. Pretty much mate’s rates at the garage, so £25 for the test. It failed on one rear wheel bearing and one brake pipe. However, the other rear wheel bearing was an advisory and another brake pipe was getting a bit crusty. I had both brake pipes done as the fuel tank had to be lowered anyway. Whilst they were at it, the other wheel bearing was sorted out. A perishing CV boot was advised. Cost: £150
All quiet on the western front until April where for only the second time ever, it wouldn’t start properly. A new distributor cap and rotor arm sorted that at a cost of £11.00
Had a puncture a week later, hardly the car’s fault and whilst the wheel was off, had the CV boot done. Tyre: £25, CV boot: £30.

Excluding fuel, insurance and tax, the little 205 has cost me £671 in a year. That includes the purchase price of the car – that’s cheap. Factor in zero depreciation and it’s a winner. I’ve known people pay more than that for MoT repairs (usually on German stuff). Not bad for a French car, you know, the ones that continually break and fail. A French car that has got under my skin, become rather endearing and if it carries on like this will be with me for a very long time. I’m quite attached to it really.

 

 

August 3, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

My Top Albums: Jeff Lynne – Armchair Theatre

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The Preamble

Ah hello! Pull up a chair, have a cup of tea and welcome to my latest blog post. This week I have been mostly listening to Armchair Theatre, the debut solo album by Jeff Lynne. It has been given the remaster treatment, a freshen up in the packaging department and available on CD for the first time in well over ten years. Never heard of Jeff Lynne? Where have you been? Multi-instrumentalist, singer, song writer, producer and collaborator with some of the biggest names in music. More than that though, he was the creative force in the Electric Light Orchestra. He wrote, arranged and produced all the songs.

As we’ve established, this is Jeff’s solo debut. While there may have been a little over four years since the Electric Light Orchestra quietly disbanding after contractually obliged final album Balance of Power and the release of this album, Lynne was far from idle. He had written and produced with George Harrison on the Cloud Nine album which led to him becoming a Traveling Wilbury along with George, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan and Roy Orbison. Co-writing and production duties on Full Moon Fever, Tom Petty’s fantastic first solo offering, beckoned soon after.

Upon its original release, Armchair Theatre contained eleven songs. Eight original compositions – one of which co-written with Tom Petty – and three cover versions. It also featured a stellar cast of musicians. First and four-most we have Jeff, who plays guitars, keyboards, bass, pianos and drums. In addition, George Harrison guests on a few numbers playing a cracking slide guitar and providing backing vocals. Ex-ELO band mate Richard Tandy appears throughout the album providing keyboards, guitars and backing vocals. Jim Horn provides saxophone on a couple of songs, Mette Methiesen drums on the songs Jeff doesn’t and Del Shannon crops up on backing vocals. And it was all recorded in Lynne’s home studio in Warwickshire, England.

My regard for the album is incredibly high. I originally bought the album over a decade ago on vinyl and had been searching for a copy on CD ever since. I had to “back up” the vinyl copy onto CD as the record became very, very worn as it became one of my most played albums in my collection. I’d spend many hours in second hand record shops (when they existed) looking for a copy to no avail. So, Christmas came and the gifts bestowed upon me included Mr. Blue Sky (I’ve already reviewed that) and Long Wave (I will be reviewing that). Within both of these was an advert card for forthcoming Jeff Lynne related releases. ELO Live, a remaster and re-release of Zoom and, at long last, a fully remastered Armchair Theatre. Release date here in the UK – 22nd April, the day before the birthday of yours truly. Excellent!

The package arrrived containing Armchair Theatre and Zoom (I’ll review that another time) and it’s been repackaged in a gatefold card sleeve more reminiscent of an old LP with a picture disc and full booklet. It also includes two extra songs that were recorded around the same time as the rest of the LP but didn’t make the cut.

What I do like are the sleeve notes by Eric Idle. Well, I use the term “sleeve notes” in just about the loosest term possible. It’s actually Eric Idle recalling a story about him trying to write the sleeve notes, coercing Billy Connolly into helping while all the time trying to convince Lynne that they had really done them. All whilst the three of them are having a meal in a restaurant eyeing up the waitresses.

One little quip from the liner notes: “How about we say originally it was a Virgin record? It had no hole in the middle.”

The songs

It’s a typically Jeff Lynne sounding album, with his trademark production sound, which is something I’m a big fan of. It’s more of a stripped back sound than many of the earlier ELO songs. The album kicks off with a bang. Well actually, it kicks off with Every Little Thing, which is a fantastic start with powerful drums and bass and then kicks into the verse with an effective saxophone refrain throughout. Good choice for the first single, too, though commercial success for the album and singles was never great despite the generally positive reviews received at the time. If the miracles of modern technology are, by some miracle, actually working then you should be able to see the video placed above. The real life and animated video contains cameo appearances by George Harrison and Tom Petty.

Next up is the first of three cover versions on Armchair Theatre, Don’t Let Go. Catchy, short rockabilly number originally written by Jesse Stone and featuring some great saxophone by Jim Horn. The other covers are excellent versions of September Song and Stormy Weather, the latter of which was recorded as a tribute to Jeff’s late mother. Both of these feature George Harrison at his slide guitar playing best and all three covers demonstrate that Lynne can do a decent cover version, simultaneously keeping the mood of the original but adding a little something.

Lift Me Up is a contender for one of the best songs on the album. The second and final single from the album, it is a piano and guitar-led ballad  and again showcases George Harrison’s soulful slide guitar. Hopefully, by the miraculous miracles of modern miraculous technological miracles, the video should appear at the bottom of the blog entry. If it doesn’t I’ve wasted my time writing this.

Nobody Home is, as far as I’m concerned is a bit of filler. I like it, but I do find myself reaching for the skip button every now and then so I shall cease writing about it. Now You’re Gone is an Indian tinged song, complete with Indian percussion and harmonies and a fantastic violin solo. Don’t Say Goodbye is a pleasant song that could have quite easily been recorded in the early 196os.

What Would It Take is, along with Lift Me Up, my favourite track on the album and is a fairly straight forward guitar-led song. Simple bass, simple drums, great vocals and a smidge over two and half minutes long. Blown Away was co-written with Tom Petty and wouldn’t have been out of place on Full Moon Fever. Has quite a hint of Beatles about it. Final song on the original album running order is Save Me Now which is a very short ecologically-minded acoustic number which did end the album perfectly. However, there are two bonus tracks that were recorded around the same time. Borderline is an acoustic strumalong, and would have made a welcome addition in the original album line-up. Forecast is, rather predictably, a song about the weather and is more than just a little Beatlesque. This too sounds too good to have been left off the album in the first instance.

I’ve bored you for long enough now, but it’s great to hear the album fully remastered and not just a “back-up” of a very worn out record. It rates in my top ten albums ever, and I haven’t grown tired of listening to it yet. My rating out of ten? Well, I have to skip a song so I’ll be fair and call it nine. I’ve kept you for long enough, go and make a cuppa and watch the video for Lift Me Up, below.

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Pass the blanket and slippers, I’ve bought me a Rover.

A Rover 25, yesterday

A Rover 25, yesterday

So, we’ve bought yet another car, though this time it’s not through choice or wanting to. Some inconsiderate cow of a woman-person decided it would be a good idea to have a game or Russian Parking Roulette. What would have been a routine visit and lunch at the local supermarket turned out to be a total twat of an occasion, as the aforementioned woman-person in her Renault Laguna caved in the rear door of our “beloved” (ha!) Corsa, and the insurance company declared it a write-off. The fact that this wrote off a 10 year old car is deeply frustrating and needless, especially as we’d spent a small fortune on the Corsa just before Christmas and got the thing mechanically just so. As working for a franchised Fiat and Alfa dealer when the scrappage scheme was in full force made me cringe as to what good cars were sent to the crusher, so to know this little Corsa was being sent to an early grave was a bit of a bitter pill to swallow. However, things change and move on, and so it had to go. But what to replace it with? We needed something to carry us and a toddler approaching his terrible twos. Oh, and all his crap – literal and metaphorical.

We were due to go on holiday, typically, and two days before we were due to drive from Cornwall to Teesside the Corsa got collected by the insurance company. True, we had Edgar the 205, but I wasn’t about to do nigh-on 500 miles in a 954cc French buzzbox with wife and child on board. If I was doing the journey myself, I would have done! So, we were going to hire some brand new peace of Korean misery, but quotes were flying in excess of £350 to hire a car so bearing that in mind, we set to work to find a car that most people on Autoshite would be proud of. There wasn’t much for what we wanted to spend and the decent stuff was too far away. Plenty of stuff on Gumtree, again too far away. So we thought sod it, we’ll hire something and buy something when we’re away.

The following day we took a walk and at the end of the road was a 1999 Rover 25 in metallic blue, with 8 months ticket on it advertised at £475. My wife, knowing that I’ve gone on about the renowned OMGHGF of the K Series engine, asked if these are the ones that go pop regularly I confirmed it. We contacted the seller man-person, who turned out was a trader man-person who I’ve sold a few motors to in the past. We had a good look at it, looked at the vast amount of service history which included a replacement head gasket with the modified parts done within the last eight months. So we slept on it (not literally, that would be stupid) and reconfirmed how much it would cost to hire a car.

The following morning, the wife-person says something along the lines of “Well, if we beat him down in price, buy the car, it’s going to cost 100 quid maximum more than hiring some little box. If we don’t like it, we can sell it on and if it breaks we’ll bin it and grab another one.”

I liked her train of thought, so we thought sod it, we’ll buy it. Wife-person phoned up man-person, haggled a bit and got it for £430. We picked it up Wednesday evening, bearing in mind we were going away Thursday.

So, what is it?
Well, it’s a dark metallic blue Rover 25 1.6. Three owners from new, one of them clearly blind as one of the previous owner-persons fitted it with ghastly Lexus lights. SWMBO-person likes them and alas they’re staying put. If they meet with an “accident” then so will I, I’m told. Its interior has been relatively well looked after, got four good condition alloys, a pretty much full 14 year service history and (after the holiday) 107,000 miles on the clock. The bodywork has a few rust spots and in some places on the bonnet the lacquer has seen better days. Other than that, it wears its years well.

Equipment levels aren’t bad – leccy sunroof, mirrors and windows. It also has occasional central locking, ABS, airbags, power steering and comfortable multi adjustable seats. Rover definitely engineered this car for the older person-person. People with lumbago as there are so many different lumbar support positions. People with glaucoma or some other sight related deficiency as the steering wheel is the same thickness as the average German saloon, the gear knob is the size of a desert and all the switches are chunky and easy to read. Oh and there’s wood! Wood!

“Hmmm hmmm heh. He said wood, hmmm hmmm heh.”

However, the way it drives is totally different. It doesn’t drive like a 107,000 mile car, feels about half that. It’s quite sporty. That 1.6 K series lump is smooth, refined but an absolute gem when you apply the right foot. Indeed, it’s a very rev-happy unit. The steering turn in is a marked improvement over the Corsa, being a hydraulic system rather than the ball ache electronic unit. It handles nicely, corners well, though the gearshift is a bit too clunky. Boot is a good size and the front is roomy enough, however because of the sloping roof, the rear headroom is a wee bit clip.

So, to summarise: Corsa gets side-bummed by stupid woman-person, nasty man-person in transporter takes it away, we buy a 14 year old Rover with a K Series engine instead of hiring a new car with full warranty back up and breakdown cover. WHAT COULD POSSIBLY GO WRONG?

Well, ye of little faith, nothing so far. In just over a week it did a trip from Cornwall to Teesside and back again and including the driving around the North East, that’s 1200 miles. 1200 fault free, comfortable miles. It hasn’t missed a beat. Plus for the wife to go to work and back everyday since getting back home (35 mile round trip). For the moment, this car is a keeper, but hopefully we’ll keep it longer than for the moment as we’ve grown quite fond of it. It has minor irritations that need sorting, such as the dreaded water in the boot, which just so happens to coincide with the rear screen washer not working, the central locking sorting and a quick engine service. But for what we paid, this is a seriously good little car.

Looking for a cheap car? If you’re prepared to accept that at some point you’ll have to have the head gasket done, you could do a lot worse than a 25. The interior build still seems solid after those years and miles, the whole car still feels tight. It’s good fun to drive and refined at the same time. Try one, just don’t believe that they’re only for old people!

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April 12, 2013 Posted by | Motoring | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Electric Light Orchestra – Mr Blue Sky

mrbluesky_300dpiI’ve been meaning to write about this for quite some time now, as it was one of two albums bought for me for Christmas – the other being Jeff Lynne’s Long Wave LP. I’ll deal with that one another day.

Now, I already own at least one ELO Greatest Hits compilation, the original releases from the seventies and eighties on vinyl and one from the late nineties on CD. Since then, a million and eleventy seven Greatest Hits compilations have been released. So why do we need yet another? This one is a little bit different as Jeff Lynne has, almost single-handedly, re-recorded the songs because the old ones didn’t sound as good or as tight as he remembered. Which started alarm bells ringing straight away. I’ve never really liked the idea of artists re-recording their earlier work. Indeed, this collection already has its detractors who have stated that this is nothing but a cynical marketing exercise. Would I think it to be the same upon listening?

I’ve always been more of a Jeff Lynne fan rather than out and out ELO fan and I find myself listening to less early ELO than I used to. The later synth-driven and stripped back stuff appeals to me far more. ‘Secret Messages’ and ‘Balance of Power’ are two criminally underrated albums, as is Jeff’s debut solo album ‘Armchair Theatre’. Same again with ‘Zoom’, which despite being released under the ELO banner, is essentially Jeff’s second solo album with help from fellow ELO bandmate Richard Tandy, George Harrison and Ringo Starr among others. I find the production of the earlier stuff a bit too over the top these days, especially the orchestral arrangements. Whereas I like the latter day “Jeff Lynne sound”, and the production work he has done for the likes of George Harrison (Cloud Nine), Tom Petty (Full Moon Fever, Into The Great Wide Open, Highway Companion), The Beatles and as a member of the Traveling Wilburys.

Anyway, back to this compilation.  The running order: Mr Blue Sky, Evil Woman, Strange Magic, Don’t Bring Me Down, Turn To Stone, Showdown, Telephone Line, Livin’ Thing, Do Ya, Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, 10538 Overture and new song Point of No Return. A line up of classics, basically. I’ve listened to this collection a couple of dozen times now, which must be testament as to what I think of it as if I hated it it’d be in the bin. I should have trusted Lynne and his production know how really, as the re-recordings are amongst his best work. Remember how bad the demo tape of the Beatles Free As A Bird was? The job Lynne did with the surviving Beatles was fantastic. He’s managed similar here.

What Lynne has basically done is use modern production techniques, modern tools and equipment to reinvigorate these old tunes. To my ears, and I’m not expecting everyone to agree (though granted, those who disagree are stupid) , he’s done the best possible job he could. He hasn’t buggered around with the arrangements at all, they are as you would remember them from years ago. There’s just an added clarity and they seem more focused. The production is brighter and clearer, which would be what Lynne was aiming for. With the exception of the strings and a piano bit here and there, Lynne plays all the instruments and to be honest does as good a job as the members of ELO did back in the day. The bass sounds more pronounced, the guitars are far clearer and the drums sound tight. His voice has matured a great deal and seems better on these recordings now he’s older. Christ, he sounds good for a 64 year old. Most of all, the orchestral arrangements don’t overpower the songs. Watch the promo video for Mr Blue Sky:


Mr Blue Sky doesn’t seem totally over the top anymore, though hasn’t lost any of its charm. Don’t Bring Me Down seems to pack a bit more of a punch and the guitars seem rockier. Can’t Get It Out Of My Head, a fantastic song that I always found spoilt by its production is given a new lease of life here. Same with Livin’ Thing, a song I never got on with that much before has somehow become my favourite Lynne-penned song. Then there’s 10538 Overture, the song whose main riff Paul Weller pinched for his song “The Changingman”, really has been given a good buff and shine as it sounds clearer than you could have imagined. And if anyone thinks Jeff Lynne’s creative juices have run out, there’s new song Point of No Return hinting at what we can expect in the future It’s a cracking little pop song that wouldn’t sound out of place on A Hard Day’s Night.

Whatever you may think of this collection, it’s put ELO back in the public psyche and that’s a good thing. We need songs and musicians like this, something that isn’t a load of pre-packed nonsense. Lynne has managed to score three top ten albums in one week, with his solo album Long Wave, this compilation and people buying the old compilation, presumably to see just how much difference there is between the songs.

Still not convinced? Watch Jeff Lynne and Richard Tandy live from Bungalow Palace Studios (Jeff’s house) here:

March 5, 2013 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Austin Metro 1.0 City x 5 Door 1985 B reg | eBay

Now, I like a bit of Italian exotica, as you know. What I’d do for a 246 Dino or a Delta Integrale is anybody’s business. However, I’m more intrigued by and interested in boggo standard, basic shite cars from the 1970s and 1980s. Cars from the eighties moreso as that’s the decade of my childhood as I were born in 1982.

The Austin Metro was a reasonable car when launched and was the best British Leyland could do with their limited budget at the time. However it was quickly outclassed by newer rivals.

None of that really matters thirty years on. What does matter, despite the Metro’s propensity for rusting before your eyes, cars like the one in this this eBay listing survive. Much like my own 205 Junior, the Metro City X will never be regarded as a fully fledged classic and that’s a good thing. They’re pretty low down the pecking order compared with 205 GTis, even MG Metros and certainly anything with a VW logo on it. However, it means what you have is a useable and enjoyable car that if maintained well enough will provide fun motoring. The best thing about cars like this is you can pick them up for next to nothing, they’re easy to fix and still modern enough that if looked after could be used as a daily driver.

The Metro in this eBay listing is rather splendid. I love how BL or Austin Rover as they were called made everyone know you were driving the basic model. The recessed headlamps, the iron gurder bumpers and CITY X in great big letters down the side. Excellent stuff. You could probably get a Metro cheaper than the one in this eBay listing, but this one is a little beaut. I like it a lot.

Austin Metro 1.0 City x 5 Door 1985 B reg | eBay.

January 30, 2013 Posted by | Motoring | Leave a comment

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