A Lifetime’s Love of Neil Diamond

Neil Diamond celebrates his 78th birthday today (24th January 2019) and I first heard his gorgeous vocals aged four. It was instant love at first listen when my Dad brought home a double 33rpm album of Neil’s called “Diamonds”. A Google search has informed me this album was released in 1974 in the Netherlands, which fits in with my merchant seaman Dad bringing it back whilst on leave, and my feeling Diamond’s music has been virtually ever present in my life. Until I was an adult, this album was my only exposure to Neil’s music other than seeing his film The Jazz Singer on TV.

                                  Diamonds Album Cover

But what an album “Diamonds” is, from that first fun happy sounding song “Cracklin’ Rosie” to the last gut wrenching heartbreaker “Morningside”. Between these came every style of music genre, from the rock inspired “Cherry Cherry”, the storytelling ballad about “Mr Bojangles”, the country sounding “Kentucky Woman”, spiritual “Holly Holy” and the beautiful emotive love song “Play Me”. I may have been very young, but I recognised the lyrical genius of Neil Diamond immediately. His music, words and delivery evoked in me just about every emotion possible. I could be singing and dancing one minute, playing hard rock air guitar the next, listening attentively mesmerised by the poetic quality of his lyrics, and breaking my heart sobbing uncontrollably to finish.  “Diamonds” was an emotional rollercoaster.

It wasn’t until I was at university and met the man who became my husband that I found another Neil devotee. Looking at Rob’s music collection I knew he had good taste when I spotted Abba, at a time when it wasn’t fashionable to admit being a fan of theirs. Spotting several Neil Diamond albums that were all new to me, I realised Rob was a keeper. Although we both loved Neil’s music, neither of us had seen him in concert. So we shared the experience together, going to our first show in 1999 followed by several more, until the final one in 2017 celebrating Neil’s 50th anniversary.

That first concert showcased “The Movie Album: As Time Goes By” and I was enthralled listening and seeing Neil perform. His rendition of “Unchained Melody” (a favourite of mine from The Righteous Brothers) was the best I’d ever heard sung, as it’s not always easy to make out the words. I told Neil the same thing in a note I wrote in my hotel the next morning, using the stationary in the room. I posted it to the venue and thought nothing more about it. A few months later I was surprised to receive a thank you card from Neil, which I have to this day.

                                        Neil Notecard

For posterity my Neil Diamond Concert Portfolio details 7 concerts spanning 18 years:

First Ever Show:  Wembley Arena London Tuesday March 9th 1999 at 8pm

  1. Earls Court London Saturday 27th July 2002 8pm
  2. Ipswich Football Stadium Thursday 26th May 2005 8pm
  3. NIA Birmingham Tuesday 10th June 2008 8pm (Home Before Dark tour)
  4. LG Arena (formerly NEC) Birmingham Tuesday 28th June 2011 8pm
  5. Genting Arena (formerly LG Arena) Birmingham Saturday 11th July 2015 8pm (no Rob)
  6. Manchester Arena (formerly MEN Arena) Sunday 1st October 2017 (50th Anniversary tour)

What I’ve always admired about Neil is that he performs his concerts solo without reliance on warm up acts. Diamond certainly has enough in his repertoire to perform several shows without repeating songs. It’s incredibly gruelling on the artist though, and I’ve been mindful these last few years that Neil and other singers I enjoy (Sydney Devine & Dolly Parton) are all on the wrong side of 70 now. Each of them give their all on stage, and I’ve increasingly thought “will this be the last concert”.

Watching Diamond’s 2017 show there were two or three fleeting moments when I thought Neil’s age maybe catching up with him. Strangely at the same moment an old work colleague’s name popped into my head for the first time in years. Her mother had Parkinson’s disease and she had been to a Billy Graham meeting in Glasgow, where I was singing in the choir. Within minutes of Graham coming to the stage, my colleague’s mum muttered “he has Parkinson’s same as me”. My colleague laughingly said “mum sees it everywhere now, the tell-tale signs, which she then described”. It wasn’t until many years later it was revealed Billy Graham had been diagnosed with the condition. Therefore Neil’s announcement of his retirement from touring, after a diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease somehow didn’t shock me the way it should have. Remembering that wonderful final concert, and those odd feelings, I realised I’d had a weird kind of premonition. Every fan only wants Neil to be healthy and happy and his well-being is of paramount importance, so although the 50th anniversary tour ended prematurely his disappointed fans understood.

Neil Diamond’s anniversary show in Manchester was one of the first big events at the re-opened Arena following a terrorist attack.  Neil performed five songs I’d never heard before, so huge is Diamond’s back catalogue of work. I had to turn to Google again, to discover the song titles and which album they came from. One song in particular, Neil dedicated to the memory of those killed in the MEN bombing after the Ariana Grande concert of May 22nd 2017. The song “Dry Your Eyes” from the 1976 “Beautiful Noise” album was very emotional to hear, the lyrics sounding as if they had been written especially for that night. When Neil announced that he would be making a donation to the victims’ fund (I think it was the evenings merchandise revenue), it seemed the entire audience rose to their feet and applauded for a long time. Then almost total silence in that vast arena as Neil sang that emotive song. It’s a part of the evening I’ll never forget.

Neil’s setlist for my final concert was: In My Lifetime-In My Lifetime compilation; Cherry, Cherry; You Got To Me; Solitary Man; Love on the Rocks; September Morn; Play Me; Song Sung Blue; Beautiful Noise; Jungletime-Beautiful Noise album; Dry Your Eyes- Beautiful Noise album; He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother; Forever In Blue Jeans; You Don’t Bring Me Flowers; Red Red Wine; I’m A Believer; Brooklyn Roads; Girl, You’ll Be A Woman Soon; Be; Lonely Looking Sky; Skybird; Jazz Time-September Morn album; Crunchy Granola Suite; Done Too SoonTap Root Manuscript album; Holly Holy; I Am…I Said. Encore: Sweet Caroline; Cracklin’ Rosie; Brother Love’s Travelling Salvation Show.

The show was a celebration of Neil’s musicality and lyricism, the songs at times distinctly spiritual or poetic in nature. I relate to his music because it touches me deep within and puts into words everyone’s need for expression. Neil’s voice is that soothing balm in times of strife, a source of advice and inspiration and that friend who vocalises your inner thoughts with complete understanding.

To the boy who walked on “Brooklyn Roads” with his imaginary friend “Shilo”,  who grew to be a “Solitary Man” writing “Beautiful Noise” knowing to “Leave A Little Room For God”, my message is “I’m A Believer” and always will be full of “Delirious Love” “If You Know What I Mean”.  Happy Birthday Neil Diamond you are a real gem of a guy, it’s been a delight knowing your music.

                                              Concert Tops
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Art Impressions Over The Last Two Years

There have been five exhibitions I’ve viewed over the last two years that have made a distinct impact on me, and it’s about time I write about them. All evoked emotions within that I didn’t always expect and I’d like to articulate and acknowledge that fact.

Three exhibitions in 2018 all have a definite French flavour: Impressionists in London-French Artists in Exile 1870-1904 (Tate Britain); Monet & Architecture (National Gallery); Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece (British Museum). I realise today that my love of the Impressionists (especially Monet) & Rodin stems from my first visits to Paris with my fiancée/husband Rob. I recall my first visit to the Pompidou, a vast chasm to traverse, and not being particularly keen on what I’d viewed, except for a fun Henry Moore sculpture on the roof. My feet were killing me, I was tired, hungry and grumpy, and I was led into a small annexe. My eyes fell upon the Impressionists and it was love at first sight, I was totally enchanted. I understood these “dotty” pictures of colour (Pointillism) and was transfixed by works of Monet, Sisley, Pissarro etc. My mood lifted immediately and I remained in the annexe for some time, taking it all in. Another place we visited was Rodin’s home now a museum, where I encountered his wonderful sculptures including The Thinker and The Kiss. Once again I was enthralled and couldn’t help but notice the distinct “classical” fundamental basis of Rodin’s work. The similarity to the art, architecture and sculpture I was studying at degree level with Classical Studies was uncanny. So the chance to see my French favourites within defined contexts was too good an opportunity to miss.

Stepping into the “Impressionists in London” I was surprised to discover the historical backdrop to their “exile”. In 1870 France unwisely declared war on Prussia, Napoleon deposed, three month siege of Paris, a popular uprising (Paris Commune) and a brutal government response. No wonder artists left in droves desperate to avoid the war, conscription, famine and political reprisals if you were deemed “on the wrong side”. Apparently and I quote “these artists faced no entrance restrictions: anyone, regardless of nationality, could come and stay indefinitely, including political exiles”. How different Britain approaches the idea of “refugees” today! My dismay at this thought mingled with the knowledge of the conflict backdrop, and I viewed the exhibition with a deep feeling of melancholy that I hadn’t expected. There were a few gruesome paintings depicting the ravages of war and some views (I think early photo’s) of a decimated Paris, which was very sad to see. These acted almost like picture bookends to the remainder of the exhibition which displayed portraits, scenic views and depictions of “society life”. I loved the paintings showing the countryside around London (Pissarro-The Avenue Sydenham 1871 & Saint Anne’s Church Kew 1892, Hampton Court Green 1891), the portraits (Tissot-Empress Eugenie & Prince Imperial 1874-75) and the elements of Victorian society life (Tissot-Hush 1875, London Visitors 1873, The Ball on Shipboard 1874). Of course London featured prominently as well particularly the Thames, Westminster and fog (or should I say smog from pollution). Monet’s House’s of Parliament series cover all these bases well and I also appreciated the lovely subtlety of Whistler’s Nocturne: Blue and Silver-Cremorne Lights 1872. I viewed these more endearing paintings with an added appreciation, having been made aware of the tumultuous circumstances that brought the artists to London in the first place.

The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot     The Ball on Shipboard 1874 Tissot

The “Monet & Architecture” exhibition brought together paintings the artist made of   buildings in London, Venice and various parts of France. It was thrilling to view so many works that have rarely been seen, never mind all together. Although the Thames and the Venetian canals were well documented, other less well known delights were on display. I was captivated by the Cliffs at Varengeville 1875, The Ball-Shaped Tree Argenteuil 1876, Antibes, Morning 1888 and Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers 1874. All had that unmistakeable Monet “touch” of dancing colour and a wonderful play on the light. I much enjoyed seeing the architecture within the larger context of its more natural framework. It was somehow soothing and definitely was nourishment to the soul, especially in these dark politically troubled days in Britain.

Sailing Boat at Petit Gennevilliers 1874 Monet Sailing Boat at Petit-Gennevilliers

“Rodin and the Art of Ancient Greece” was terrific and explained exactly WHY the Frenchman’s work had that “classic” feel. Throughout his life Rodin looked toward the ancient sculptures for inspiration, buying them from dealers, studying them and then making his own interpretation of the various forms. Suddenly all the headless torso models and limb fragments made sense, and the flow of movement and dynamics of form become easier to understand. Pallas With The Parthenon shows a beauty (Athena) the deity of sculpture seemingly wearing the Parthenon like a crown. The Age of Bronze looks incredibly lifelike and uncannily similar to an ancient Greek boy carrying a spear. Being able to view The Kiss and The Thinker up close and from various angles was a very moving experience. In fact seeing The Thinker in various sizes including a miniature version on the Gates of Hell, reinforced the idea of motifs being reused in various guises, just like on the Parthenon marbles. It also made you question the context in how you viewed a piece, as Rodin seemed to play with the emotion, gender and meaning of his classical muses. Seeing the Parthenon marbles in the British Museum clearly had a profound effect on Rodin, who until then had relied on photo’s and plaster copies at the Louvre as reference points. To see Rodin’s work alongside the classical masterpieces that inspired him was magical for me.

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin.jpg                                  The Thinker Rodin

Pallas With The Parthenon Rodin               Two Thinkers Rodin

In 2017 I viewed an unexpected delight at the National Portrait Gallery The Encounter Drawings From Leonardo to Rembrandt. I thought I’d go along to see it as I’m a member of the NPG but had no great expectations. It was absolutely fantastic and I was somewhat awestruck. Here I was face to face with exquisite portraiture of extreme clarity produced with a deftness of touch that at times used nothing more than simple charcoal on paper. Pictures that were intimate, so delicate in form and nature (the oldest artist was born around 1394) that I marvelled they still existed. Paper was a relatively new and expensive medium to use during the artists lifetimes, and it was prepared with washes to produce different effects, before charcoals, chalk and inks were used to draw the picture. I just couldn’t get over the idea I was viewing something created as much as 550 years ago (Study of a Young Man by Pisanello (c.1434-8). Mind-blowing is all I can say. I marvelled at two Metalpoint drawings Woman Wearing A Hood by Domenico Ghirlandaio (c1485-90) and Boy With Curly Hair by Benozzo Gozzoli (c.1460). The latter one made me think of a photograph negative due to the way the paper had been prepared. It was near black but then the boys form seemed to come through in shafts of silver to beautiful effect. Young Man In A Hat, Probably A Self Portrait by Peter Oliver (c.1620) made me think of Shakespeare in style. And Young Man Wearing A Cloak by Francois Clouet (c.1560) and Francesco Salviati Young Man Looking to his Left (c.1540) were simply gorgeous with photographic type clarity.

Young Man Looking To His Left                        Under the Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Young Man Looking To His Left   Under The Wave at Kanagawa Hokusai

Finally the Hokusai beyond the Great Wave exhibition at the British Museum was possibly the most emotional and biggest highlight for me. I’ve known Under the Wave off Kanagawa commonly known as the Great Wave picture since I was nine years old, when I spotted it in an encyclopaedia section describing volcanoes/earthquakes and the possible after effects including tsunamis. The chance to see the real Great Wave picture was amazing and I viewed the exhibition twice. It was incredibly busy the first time, much quieter for the second which allowed me the chance to soak up the experience better. What overwhelmed me was the amazing intricacy of Hokusai’s work and that of Japanese woodblock art in general. After producing detailed drawings, these were painstakingly carved onto woodblocks, a different one for each main colour, and together the woodblocks would be used to print the overall picture. Eventually the woodblocks would wear out, the original picture form was usually destroyed during the carving process, and the mass produced product that sold for a nominal sum wasn’t usually of the highest quality. So the fact these pictures still exist in any number is quite miraculous. The nature, flora and fauna pictures were beautiful, the landscapes sublime, mesmerising and evocative, and then I came upon the Great Wave. Compared to my encyclopaedia motif (large postage stamp size) this was huge, and yet I found it oddly small for such a gargantuan iconic symbol. Of course I seen details I’d never noticed before, three boats not two, Mount Fuji so small in comparison to the stormy sea and monumental wave with fronds of foam. It appeared to emphasise how mother nature can destroy both her own creations as well as manmade ones.  As I stood taking in this iconic scene I was silent, aware of the beauty, intricate detail, simple colours and the powerful statement being made by this fragile artwork about our own tenuous hold on life, and the tears rolled down my face.

ANGIES ALLSORTS SHOW 220 RADIO LEIGHTON 14TH NOVEMBER 2018

7.30-9.30pm: Part 1-56m 46s Song 1-11; Part 2-57m Song 12-23

When Radio Leighton began officially broadcasting to patients on November 14th 1968 Hugo Montenegro topped the UK music charts with The Good The Bad and the Ugly. In football, England was half way through its tenure as World Champions, Manchester United were the  European Cup holders and Crewe Alex had division three league status, having gained promotion in the summer. The UK was between Eurovision wins, Prince Charles celebrated his twentieth birthday as a university student, neighbour BBC Radio Stoke was only an 8 month old baby and man had yet to walk on the moon.

To celebrate Radio Leighton’s golden birthday   I’d like to take you on a nostalgic journey playing music and looking back at some of the news and sports headlines from over the years. Welcome to my Angies Allsorts News/Sports & Music Archive, and listen out for my Golden Team references throughout the show.

  1. ALSO SPRACH ZARATHUSTRA (GT 1: 2001 A Space Odyssey film 1968 release)

Elvis Presley used this tune to herald the start of his concerts after he returned to the singing stage following his 68 Comeback Special. Here’s a song from that TV broadcast

  1. ELVIS PRESLEY with IF I CAN DREAM (GT2: Elvis 68 Comeback Special)

Evocative lyrics sung at a time of racial conflict and inequality in the USA when Elvis’s nation was embroiled in the Vietnam War. Back here the Race Equality Act was invoked and the Dagenham Women walked out demanding equal pay rights. Considering the tensions in our society today and seeing people still fighting for equal pay NOT A LOT SEEMS TO HAVE CHANGED.  But something that did change for Elvis in 68 was he became a father for the first and only time, when his daughter was born on February 1st. Thanks to modern technology our Golden Team member Lisa Marie sings alongside her Dad:

Rarity Record of the Week: 3. ELVIS PRESLEY/LISA-MARIE PRESLEY with WHERE NO ONE STANDS ALONE (GT3: Lisa-Marie born Feb 1st 1968)

The loneliest people over Christmas 68 were the crew of Apollo 8 who became the first humans to see the dark side of the moon and to witness how beautiful and fragile planet Earth was. Just 7 months after Apollo 8 paved the way to the moon Neil Armstrong took his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” when Apollo 11 went to/ Eagle landed on the moon in July 69

  1. CLIFF RICHARD with FROM A DISTANCE (GT4: Apollo 8 over Xmas 68 became the first manned space flight to leave low earth orbit and travel to the moon)

Extra audio from Stewart: Countdown & “Houston The Eagle Has Landed” announcement

Another man taking a giant leap that summer was James Bond when he got married to Tracy in the film On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Who can forget George Lazenby in his only Bond film being widowed in a drive-by shooting on the way to his honeymoon?

  1. LOUIS ARMSTRONG with WE HAVE ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

I mentioned James Bond because Daniel Craig the 6th actor to play the role was born in Chester on March 2nd 1968. So Daniel is another Golden Team member/ GT5. Somehow I don’t think his parents would have dreamed their son would grow up to play such an iconic film role, or be called upon as Bond to escort the Queen to the 2012 Olympics.

I’m reminded when I think of the 2012 London Olympics of the many events that have brought a tear to the eyes, such as military conflicts which have been seen on a wide scale throughout the worlds regions. In the sporting world football has had its share of tragedy since 1968 with fans perishing on the terraces of Ibrox in 71, Hillsborough in 89 and Bradford & Heysel in 85, and of course the Munich massacre of Israeli athletes in 72 deeply affected the Olympics that year. Our vulnerability has been particularly exposed when Mother Nature has vented her wrath through volcanoes, earthquakes, famine, flash floods and wild fires. Human error was behind disasters such as the Piper Alpha fire in 88, the Exonn Valdez in 89 and the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. But it has been human malice that has caused the most devastation with bombings during the troubles, Lockerbie in 88, the Manchester Ariana Grande concert and Westminster Bridge both in 2017, the World Trade Centre in 2001 and the London bombings in July 2005 the day after the city was awarded the Olympics. A small moving tribute to that dark time was included in the opening ceremony in 2012 and I think the hymn is a fitting memorial in acknowledgement to all those lost:

  1. EMELIE SANDE with ABIDE WITH ME

Of course it’s sad to think of those no longer with us but I think it helps to remember the joy and love those people brought into our lives. Celebrity alumni of the November 14th birthday club certainly live on through their achievements and include artist Claude Monet born 1840, US composer Aaron Copeland 1900, first Prime Minister of India Nehru 1889, discoverer of insulin Frederick Banting in 1891, and former first lady Mamie Eisenhower 1896.

There are tears of joy as well as sadness and during 2012 I didn’t half well up at times. Never in decades of watching gymnastics or the Tour de France did I think I’d witness Great Britain achieve the ultimate success in these activities. Bradley Wiggins became the first British winner of the Tour in 2012, since then Chris Froome is a four time winner and Geraint Thomas won the 2018 Tour de France. British Gymnastics Olympic success that began in 2012 has rolled on unabated to my utter delight. Other happy British sporting moments I recall from Leighton’s 50 years include boxing world champions Jim Watt, Alan Minter, Barry McGuigan, Frank Bruno. Olympic success for Torvill & Dean in 84 and a young rower Steve Redgrave won his first Olympic gold in rowing that summer. He went on to win 4 more golds in the following 4 summer games. I think Sir Steve’s 5 Golds from 5 games surpasses Sir Chris Hoy’s 6 Golds from 3 games for cycling. Lewis Hamilton won his fifth Formula One Drivers Championship this year. In 1985 Boris Becker become the first unseeded and youngest player to win the men’s singles at Wimbledon. And Dennis Taylor won the World Snooker Championship 18-17 frames with the last ball in the last frame, defeating Steve Davis. A good song to summarise the effort and emotion behind all these sporting achievements is:

  1. WHITNEY HOUSTON with ONE MOMENT IN TIME

The birth of a baby is a special moment in time and Radio Leighton shares its special day with French cyclist Bernard Hinault 64, former US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice 64, the Prince of Wales 70, British actor Russell Tovey 37 and Apollo 13 astronaut Fred Haise 85 and reporter Katy Kay 54.

Through medical innovation parenthood became a greater possibility in 1978 when the first test-tube baby Louise Brown was born. The lyrics from my next song I feel sums up parent love of a child very well.

  1. ANASTACIA with YOU’LL NEVER BE ALONE (GT6: Anastacia 50 on September 17th)

Another famous birth of 1978 changed the land of soap drama forever when the Ewing’s and Barnes entered our homes in the American soap Dallas:

  1. DALLAS THEME TUNE

Yes JR, Bobby, Miss Ellie & Co became household celebrities and The Who Shot JR saga made the national evening news headlines. Until JR and Southfork came along most people would have probably associated the city of Dallas with the assassination of John F Kennedy on November 22nd 1963. He was elected the 35th President of the United States in 1960 and was the youngest to reach that office. He later declared that man would go to the moon by the end of the Sixties. Alas, Kennedy never lived to see his vision fulfilled and the days of “Camelot” with Jack and Jackie ended. Another American couple who captured the world’s imagination were Danny & Sandy from the 1978 film Grease:

  1. JOHN TRAVOLTA & OLIVIA NEWTON JOHN with YOU’RE THE ONE THAT I WANT

40 years after Grease, it wasn’t Danny & Sandy making headlines but Prince Harry and Meaghan Markle when they married at St George’s Chapel Windsor. Here is a song from the wedding ceremony:

  1. THE KINGDOM CHOIR with STAND BY ME

Another “Get Together” that got people talking in 2018 was the impromptu appearance of Jason Donovan alongside Kylie Minogue during Proms in the Park. There little dance on the stage had the crowd ecstatic. You know both Jason and Kylie turned 50 this year, as did the musical Joseph:

Linking Lyrics Theme GOLDEN 50 YEAR OLDS (all show)/ Artist of the Week JASON DONOVAN

  1. JASON DONOVAN & KYLIE MINOGUE with ESPECIALLY FOR YOU (GT7 Kylie born May 28th& GT8 Jason Donovan born June 1st 68 both 50) [Note: I said Especially For You the third best selling single of 1988, it was actually fourth. I forgot Kylie’s I Should Be So Lucky was third, Yazz & The Plastic Population with The Only Way Is Up was second and Cliff Richard with Mistletoe & Wine was the top seller of 1988]
  2. JASON DONOVAN with ANY DREAM WILL DO (GT9: Joseph & His Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat performed in its embryonic form Easter 68 thus aged 50)

Extra audio from Stewart-HRL birthday greeting from Alan Harding & the wedding song for Scott & Charlene Robinson in Neighbours. Almost 19.6 million UK viewers tuned in to see this TV soap spectacle in 1988.

  1. ANGRY ANDERSON with SUDDENLY

The Marine Broadcasting Offences Bill 1967 changed radio history. The act was brought into being in the hope of killing off the pirate radio broadcasts that competed with the BBC services by playing pop music for a younger generation. The BBC decided to bring in Radio 1 to play pop music, whilst Radio 2 would update the Light Programme, Radio 3 would be similar to the Third Programme and Radio 4 the Home Service. Eight regional BBC centres would also be established including a Radio Stoke-on-Trent which began transmissions in March 1968 (GT10). The 1970 elected Conservative government of Heath allowed the concept of commercial radio to begin, and so the transformation of our national radio service was complete.

  1. RAY STEVENS with TURN YOU RADIO ON

Back in 67/68 when radio was being revolutionised an unknown horse that would become a household name began his racing career. As a two year-old Red Rum took to the flat circuit at Aintree in 1967, the day before Foinavon became the luckiest Grand National winner at 100-1 after a melee at the 23rd fence. After a year of flat racing Red Rum took to the fences instead and became a champion steeplechaser becoming the most prolific horse to run the Grand National. Rummy won in 1973, 74 & 77 coming second in 75 & 76. Here’s a little known fact, in retirement Red Rum was the first horse ever ridden by comedian Lee Mack who turned 50 on 4th August (GT11). Lee became a stable boy as a teenager because he had the idea of becoming a jockey.  A song that came out a few months before Red Rum’s first National victory was:

  1. THE OSMONDS with CRAZY HORSES

One of the most heart warming stories from the Grand National is that of Aldaniti and Bob Champion in 1981. The jockey had been given months to live after being diagnosed with cancer and Aldaniti had been treated for tendon trouble and a fractured hock bone.  By winning the event in 81 having overcome such life threatening hurdles proved that both man and beast had triumphed over the odds. Britain that year won the Eurovision Song Contest with:

  1. BUCKS FIZZ with MAKING YOUR MIND UP

1981 saw a young 19 year old by the name of Lady Diana Spencer making her mind up to accept the marriage proposal of Prince Charles. The happy couple married in St Paul’s Cathedral on July 29th 1981. The birth of two sons Prince William in 1982 and Prince harry in 1984 seemed to complete the fairytale story. Sadly their marriage did not survive and they divorced. On August 31st 1997 Diana Princess of Wales was tragically killed in a traffic accident, and the world mourned her loss.

  1. PAUL ANKA with DIANA

Extra audio from Stewart-Anthea & Shirley singing Happy Birthday

A hit in 1957 the year the Treaty of Rome established the Common Market (EEC, EU) with members Belgium, France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. The UK came to the party late becoming a member on the 1st January 1973. Unlike Radio Leighton there will be no 50th birthday celebration of EU membership for the UK as the nation is on the brink of withdrawal.

  1. EUROPE with THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

I’ve heard concern over Brexit with regard to the Eurovision Song Contest and football’s European Cup participation. An odd priority in my opinion, but fear not, because we took part in these long before 1973. In 1968 the year Radio Leighton was conceived, Man Utd became European Champions and Cliff Richard with Congratulations came second in Eurovision just one point behind Spain’s entry La La La sung by Massiel. No one probably heard of the Spanish contestant again. At least when Scot Fitzgerald sang Go for the UK in 1988 and suffered the indignity of losing by a point to Switzerland, the young winner Celine Dion became a world-wide sensation.

  1. SCOT FITZGERALD with GO

Extra audio from Stewart-the 1988 UK Eurovision song & Lets Party from Bob

Celine turned 50 on March 30th and sings a song with lyrics we can all relate to in today’s unsettling and turbulent world:

  1. CELINE DION with A WORLD TO BELIEVE IN (GT12: Celine 50 on March 30th)

Extra audio from Stewart-birthday greetings from Leighton Hospital Chief Executive Tracy Bullock

It’s time for me to sign off now and I hope you’ve enjoyed my nostalgic trip down memory lane celebrating some of the highs and lows over Radio Leighton’s 50 years of broadcasting. My Allsorts show tonight began with a 1968 film tune and I end with one here

  1. BARBARA STREISAND with DON’T RAIN ON MY PARADE (GT13: Funny Girl 1968 film release)

Good night and Congratulations Hospital Radio Leighton for 50 wonderful years.

  23. CLIFF RICHARD with CONGRATULATIONS (GT14: UK Eurovision entry 50 years   ago!)

Downtrodden Towns Depressing

Look along any high street In Britain, especially after the 5.30pm closing time for most UK retail stores and the view is largely bleak. There is a “sameness” involved in the types of big name shops you see and a similar amount of dereliction as well. Sadly many properties are closed permanently and boarded up; there is a plethora of charity and coffee shops and small independent stores are a rare commodity to find. Pubs if they have managed to survive high business rates and rents tend to be open for business.

Recent news of the difficulties House of Fraser and Debenhams have endured has sent shock waves through the retail sector. John Lewis has admitted a reduction in their profits as well. With such big department stores “feeling the pinch” it’s a worrying time for the little shop on the corner (if such a thing exists anymore).

Say what you like about McDonalds and Wetherspoons pubs, but they can offer a ray of light on the high street. They offer a reliable, quick, consistent menu and usually dependable service wherever you go, and are normally open quite late into the night. Take them away and a place like Crewe town centre is immediately “dead”.  Look along the main road in Stoke after 5.30pm on a week day and you see boarded up premises, charity shops closed for business, some takeaways not yet open, a bingo/games arcade and the Wetherspoons pub lights shining brightly, offering a refuge from the bitter winter weather. In nearby Hanley, the main thoroughfare between the bus station and the relatively new cinema/restaurant development behind the Potteries Shopping Centre is closed for evening business. The exceptions are McDonalds, Wetherspoons and some other smaller pubs. There are a few places to eat dotted randomly around in the direction of the theatre, if you know where they are. Many of these establishments have opened in various guises only to close fairly quickly. It’s quite a walk from the bus station to the cinema/food court and then onto the theatre. So the well known fast food chain and pub both situated closer to the bus station and theatre, offer the only quick way of getting an “easy on the pocket” meal before a show.

The bus station in Crewe town centre is in a somewhat dilapidated state and all the shops backing onto it have closed. Even charity shops with 25/30 years of business in the area have gone. The desolate air isn’t helped by the reduction of buses using it after shop closing times due to outlying areas suffering transport cuts. The whole site has been subject to redevelopment speculation for years, and I think work was finally due to begin this summer. The promise I believe is a big retail/multi cinema/restaurant complex, but of course nothing has happened yet! In January 2018 the Wetherspoons pub closed and McDonalds was gone by Easter. Suddenly my late night refuge after doing hospital radio shifts (pub), and reliable eating joints before/after events were gone. Having tried three different places to eat at various times of the week and day, I know how bad things are in Crewe. During a shopping trip on a weekday afternoon my lunch order was forgotten, and I was sitting beside the till! In two other places I did get fed eventually, but almost missed a football match and theatre meet and greet, despite ordering 2.5 hours before the event. Having spoken to other theatre goers they had experienced similar problems around the area in different establishments. The Lyceum theatre does have a small restaurant inside, but the catering isn’t always available for performances. So the whole area is desolate once the big coffee shops and Subway close (by 6.30pm), with only some pubs and Asda open late. People have no doubt already changed their shopping patterns since shops like BHS folded and M&S moved to a retail park, and it will take a lot to bring them back into the town centre. I’m not sure if the new development (if it happens) will be enough of an incentive.

It’s much the same scenario around the country, with more and more shops either relocating to out of town retail parks or simply closing altogether. Of course this means that the choice people have is vastly reduced, as shopping options are minimised and access to a car becomes a necessity. Inevitably this does mean that towns will develop that downtrodden look and air of desolation. Perhaps if more people actually LIVED within the vicinity of the high street things could be improved.

In saying that however, a report out on November 2nd suggested that “unhealthy high streets” can reduce life expectancy by about 2.5 years! Stoke-on-Trent ranked fourth worst in the areas surveyed (70), which I’m not surprised about, but I think Crewe is far worse. Libraries, pharmacies, health food outlets, coffee shops and pubs (for sense of community) gave a higher ranking, whilst betting shops, tanning salons and fast food outlets gave lower scores. Again not surprising, yet a distinct sense of wealth or lack of it comes into play here. When you look at the highest ranked areas Edinburgh comes out top, with Canterbury, York, Brighton & Hove and Cambridge all in the top ten. Many have a thriving tourist industry and/or are university cities. Knowing some of these top areas have quite impoverished districts makes the report somewhat skewed. So not everything is quite as it may seem, but what is indisputable is that the British High Street is down at heel and in need of help.

Britain a Two-Tier Society

I’ve always known that the UK is a two-tier society, yet recent news reports and discussion programmes seem to suggest the issue is a new concept, or worse ask if the country is about to slip into this state of affairs! Seriously get real, just look around you, the stark economic contrast between people is vast. And I can’t see the imminent new budget announcement (Oct 29th 2018) bringing much consolation.

One report I read concerned young home owners trapped in a “car culture” due to living in new build estates on the periphery of towns. These areas had and I quote “no doctors, no pub, no schools, no jobs”, and so the use of a car was essential to have access to any kind of meaningful amenity.  I know of a few areas just like that built in the 60s and 70s so that’s nothing new, although quite possibly these houses were initially “council estates” with rented properties. And they may well have been serviced by a reasonably decent public transport system at the time. But neither statement is true anymore, with many council properties having been bought up (and never replaced) and public transport links slashed due to government cutbacks. So the young home owners find themselves saddled with extortionate mortgages and tethered to their private ownership transport. Some living in the older styled estates may well be original tenants of the area, are older now with much reduced income, and could find themselves in less well maintained properties, trapped by a reduced public service, with no means of owning their own transport. Two sides of the same coin, although the younger group have an element of choice in the matter.

Closures of post offices (even those small kiosk ones in shops are going now), the disappearance of bank branches and even cash withdrawal machines, are making it ever harder for people to have easy access to financial amenities. Not EVERYONE has access to, or uses, online banking (an urban myth). Then add in the closure/amalgamation of schools due to falling numbers, libraries, doctors’ surgeries, pubs and shops all shutting their doors forever. The heart of communities are  ripped out as a result, and you end up with areas that seem suspiciously like the new build estates, with transport being the crux to getting access to anything. Areas become backwaters with regard to access to amenities in comparison to larger towns and cities.

I grew up in the 70s and 80s on a Scottish council estate, two working parents, neither of whom could drive. Public transport was the only way for us to get around. The idea of “choosing a high school” was broached for the first time just before I was due to move on from my primary class in 1981. My Dad, who had never shown any interest in my education before, suddenly wanted me to go to his old high school; my mammy wanted me to move on with my classmates to the “catchment area” school. When Dad discovered the free bus pass offered for Coltness High was not transferable to his beloved Wishaw High, he dropped his argument. So today’s ideal of “having a choice of school for kids” still rings hollow with me, because many decisions will be down to family economics/dynamics. When I left school and was looking for work, my choices of jobs (area/hours) was directly influenced by public transport access that fitted with the job description. The reason I ended up working in Glasgow was that my village had a good late night running train service, including Saturdays, so I could work overtime in the bank when needed. Local buses and local jobs were not necessarily compatible.

The only way for a good majority of people to get to work/leisure activities/visit family is by having their own transport, and it’s a good job they do.  Looking at bus timetables (I don’t drive) and seeing the ever growing reduction of services is alarming. Some areas don’t have any bus services at all, whilst others have seen weekend/evening services cut off. This has resulted in people needing to get home before dark, and giving up activities (even jobs) they can no longer attend. Personally I can still get to my volunteering in Crewe, but it requires my husband to collect me in the car at night.

A Victoria Derbyshire show last week (Thursday Oct 25th) discussed the issue of disability and ethnic minorities being disadvantaged and marginalised in British society. The question seemed to be “are we heading for a two-speed society? I think it’s fairly obvious that we already are in one, and have for a long time.  Both groups certainly have to fight much harder for their basic rights and needs to be met, although a general decline in benefits and public spending within education and the NHS exacerbates the problem and affects everyone, particularly kids, the elderly and those with disabilities.

New house builds usually cost far in excess of what the average wage earner can afford, and “private” rents have ever increased, especially with the reduction in building affordable rented housing. Combine this with general low wages, zero-hour contracts and benefits becoming more inaccessible due to threshold changes, and you have a perfect storm. Homelessness and the use of food banks are rising exponentially and many feel caught in a poverty trap, even those in work. And until everyone has the same basic level of access to amenities for housing, work, transport, health, education and play, Britain will continue to remain a two-tier, two-speed society.

World Cup Finalists Eleven

Croatia became only the thirteenth nation EVER to secure a place in a World Cup final, and they faced France in the twenty-first showcase. From the previous twenty tournament finals only twelve nations have participated, and a mere eight of them were victorious. I thought it would be fun to create two all-star WC Finalists XI teams, comprising of a player from each winning country and a player each from three losing nations.  All squad members must have played in a World Cup final to qualify for selection.

Winners

URUGUAY (1930, 1950)-Defender Nasazzi (30); Goalkeeper Maspoli or Midfieder/Forward Ghiggia (50)

ITALY (1934, 1938, 1982, 2006)-Forward Meazza (34(/38), Goalkeeper Zoff (82) or Defender Cannavaro (06)

GERMANY (1954, 1974, 1990, 2014)-Defenders Posipal (54) Beckenbauer (74) or Midfielders Klinsmann (90), Schweinsteiger (2014)

BRAZIL (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)-Forward Pele (58 & 70) Defender Cafu (94, 02)

ARGENTINA (1978, 1986)-Forward Kempes (78), Defender Ruggeri (86)

FRANCE (1998, 2018)-Midfielder Zidane or Defender Thuram (98); Forward-Griezmann or Defender Umtiti

ENGLAND (1966)-Midfielder R Charlton or Defender Moore

SPAIN (2010)-Midfielder Iniesta (winning goal scorer) or Defender Ramos

Losers

HUNGARY (1938, 1954)-Goalkeeper Szabo (38) or Forward Kocsis (54-Golden Boot0

CZECHOSLOVAKIA ((1934, 1962) Forward Nejedly (34-Golden Boot) Midfielder Masopust 62

SWEDEN (1958) Defender Bergmark or Goalkeeper Svensson

HOLLAND (1974, 1978, 2010)-Midfielder/Forward Cruyff (74) or Defender Krol (74/78 final) or Midfielder Sneijder (2010)

CROATIA (2018)-Midfielder Modric or Defender Vida

Players from the same nation will be in separate teams, and everyone will be used in some capacity. Here is what I came up with for my Ultimate WC All-Stars Final:

Squad 1: Goalkeeper MASPOLI (Urg) or ZOFF (Ita): Defence-MOORE (Eng), CAFU (Bra), ROGGERI (Arg), CANNAVARO (Ita) or NASAZZI (Urg): Midfield-INIESTA (Spa) ZIDANE (Fra) KLINSMANN/SCHWEINSTEIGER (Ger) Midfield/Forward-CRUYFF (Hol) Forward KOCSIS (Hun), NEJEDLY (Czech)

Permissible combinations are either Maspoli & Cannavaro or Zoff & Nasazzi. In midfield Klinsmann and Schweinsteiger could play one half each, as could the combinations above.

GRIEZMANN could replace Zidane and MODRIC or SNEIJDER for Cruyff

Squad 2: Goalkeeper SVENSSON (Swe) or SZABO (Hun): Defence-RAMOS (Spa), THURAM (Fra), BECKENBAUER/POSIPAL (Ger), KROL (Hol) or BERGMARK (Swe): Midfield-CHARLTON (Eng) GHIGGIA (Urg) MASOPUST (Czech) Forwards-PELE (Bra), KEMPES (Arg), MEAZZA (Ita)

Permissible combinations are either Svensson & Krol or Szabo & Bergmark. In defence Beckenbauer and Posipal could play one half each, as could the combinations above.

VIDA could replace Krol or Bergmark and UMTITI for Thuram

Simply the Best World Cup Final Goals

From twenty one finals of the World Cup there have been seventy-six goals scored from open play and thirteen penalties converted in deciding shootouts. Solitary goal wins are by definition “best goal” deciders, so Germany’s Brehme in 1990, Spain’s Iniesta in 2010 and Germany’s Gotze in 2014 are uncontested. Here are my goal show stoppers:

1930 Uruguay 4 Argentina 2Final goal for Uruguay by Castro who smashed the ball from distance (I think) high into the net in the dying seconds of the game.

1934 Italy 2 Czechoslovakia 1– Italy were behind until 8 minutes before the whistle when Orsi equalised taking the game into extra time. Footage is very grainy but most reports seem to agree that Orsi dummied the ball with his left foot hoodwinking the defenders around him, and shot the ball toward goal with his right. Apparently it glanced off the outstretched glove of the Argentine keeper Planicka before curving into the net! With Italy as host and the spectre of Mussolini in the background, that equaliser had a LOT of meaning.

1938 Italy 4 Hungary 2Piola’s first goal making it 2-1. Choice made by seeing some good footage of the excellent ball control and close passing skills in the box by Italy that enabled Piola to score. The team looked unflustered, in charge, and knew exactly where they wanted the ball to be. From written goal descriptions I’d have chosen the Colaussi effort which opened the score, as it appears to have involved a lung busting run along the length of the pitch by Biavati, who displayed nifty over ball footwork before connecting with Meazza who assisted the Colaussi goal.

1950 Uruguay 2 Brazil 1Winning goal by Ghiggia broke the host nations heart.

1954 Germany 3 Hungary 2 First goal from Rahn for Germany making it 2-2 the first time the German’s were on equal terms with Hungary since kickoff. A high corner kick dropped inside the six yard box where Rahn was standing near the by-line. From such an acute angle he managed to steer the ball into the opposite corner of the net. After taking a quick 2-0 lead Hungary had so many chances to increase their score but the post and crossbar aided the tough German defence.

1958 Brazil 5 Sweden 2Pele’s second goal to make the score 5-2 a wonderful high cross from the wing into the box where Pele rose majestically (with a defender on his shoulder) to head the ball into the net.

1962 Brazil 3 Czechoslovakia 1-Czechoslovakia opened the score with a well executed goal, but Brazil responded quickly to make it 1-1 when Amarildo scored from an impossibly acute angle to hit the side netting of the far corner.

1966 England 4 Germany 2Hurst third goal made it 4-2. A tremendous ball was launched up field by England not far from their own 12 yard box. Hurst standing inside the German half in-line with the centre circle periphery used his chest to control the ball, let it drop to his feet and just ran unopposed toward the German goal area. As he got to the 12 yard box with a challenge imminent, Hurst unleashed a left footed volley into the top of the net. This effort put the result beyond any doubt.

1970 Brazil 4 Italy 1Final goal for Brazil by Alberto (4-1) was the culmination of superb on the ball skills and pinpoint accurate passing displayed by the TEAM. As this skills showcase happened on one side, Alberto went unchallenged down the opposite flank and thundered a cannonball shot into the net thanks to a Pele assist.

1974 Germany 2 Holland 1 Winning goal from Muller the only goal scored from open play as the others were both penalties.

1978 Argentina 3 Holland 1 aetKempes second goal for Argentina is outrageous in the extreme, and proves you should just keep trying. Somehow Kempes evaded two Dutch defenders and made an attempt at scoring which Jongbloed smothered.  But the loose ball hit Kempes before bouncing off the keeper again and going high in the air. The Argentine and two Dutch defenders charged after the ball as it came down, and Kempes scored.

1982 Italy 3 West Germany 1Tardelli goal (2-0) he received the ball on his right foot, knocked it slightly high enabling a nimble switch to his favoured left foot for a powerful shot. Terrific build up play ensuring a real team effort goal.

1986 Argentina 3 West Germany 1 Brown opened the score for Argentina (1-0). Maradona heavily man marked by Matthaus was fouled on the right wing. The resulting free kick was a long diagonal ball from Burruchaga that travelled to the far post beyond the German keepers reach. Unmarked was defender Brown who headed the ball into the net. This was a hard game to call as I thought all the goals were good. But an obvious pre-occupation with nullifying Maradona’s influence, a lack of awareness in defensive matters and over reliance on the keeper, all contributed to Argentina winning the game and every aspect was involved in the first goal.

1990 Germany 1 Argentina 0Brehme converted a penalty awarded for a foul made on Voeller by Sensini.

1994 Brazil 0 Italy 0 (Brazil 3-2 pens)-first World Cup decided on a penalty shootout. My choice for best goal is Romario for Brazil. After both nations failed to score their first efforts, Albertini scored for Italy and Romario made it 1-1 hitting the ball very wide causing it to ricochet off the post and swing behind the Italian keeper.

1998 France 3 Brazil 0Zidane first goal for France (1-0) was a lovely header from a corner kick. Positioned on the six yard line facing away from goal, Zidane rose high in the air and with a powerful header put the ball in the opposite corner of the net.

2002 Brazil 2 Germany 0Ronaldo scored both goals but the second one was truly a team effort whilst the first was opportunistic as the keeper spilled the ball.

2006 France 1 Italy 1 (Italy 3-5 pens)-Italy gave a master class in penalty taking. But it is the audacious chipped penalty off the crossbar by Zidane to make it 1-0 that stays in my memory.

2010 Spain 1 Holland 0-the winner from Iniesta came deep into extra time.

2014 Germany 1 Argentina 0-the winner from Gotze came deep into extra time.

2018 France 4 Croatia 2 three of these goals came effectively from mistakes, an own-goal, a penalty and keeper error. The others were all sublime, but my choice is Perisic making it 1-1. A free kick floated the ball toward the edge of the 18 yard box; it was headed around a bit before finding Perisic at the D where he smashed the ball low into the net. Looking at video replays I counted ten French players in and around the box, not to mention the Croats, and I admired the sheer skill displayed in finding the net at all under those conditions.