Posts Tagged ‘Danny Baker’

Is cycling rock or pop? (Answer: it’s pop.)

March 14, 2014

I like pop. Big pop. Enormopop. The type of pop it’s usually not OK to like – the synthetic, bright, ebullient kind which sounds as if it could’ve been assembled on the sort of machine you are reading these words from, because it usually is. I like voices – typically, women’s voices – that sound as if they have rocketed across oceans to reach your heart, and in an age where a song could have been recorded anywhere, they probably did. I like Sia, Robyn, Scherzinger, Gaga, the Aloud, that sort of thing. And as a committed bicycleperson, that puts me in a very small minority. Possibly a minority of one.

One of the shortest conversations I had in the Rouleur office was about the 2009 Eurovision song contest, even though I was raving about the spiralling, doomed romanticism of Patricia Kaas’s Et S’il Fallait Le Faire, which I thought would be right up their rue. A few years later at a Dynamo Christmas do, a fellow member asked me, in a manner which suggested he wanted reassuring that this was the case, if my frequent tweets about the X Factor were meant ironically (they weren’t). I can understand his concern: cycling, at least the type of cycling I enjoy, has more in common with the appreciation of rock, which hardly makes it the ideal environment for a TV-talent-show-loving nincompoop like myself. There’s an old belief, the lead singer of the Kaiser Chiefs recently noted, that you’re not in a bona fide band until you’ve gone “up the M1 500 times”; similarly, there are those who believe that you’re not a proper cyclist until you’ve got a few thousand miles in your legs (which, of course, have to be hard miles, up hills and mountains). Road cycling is about paying your dues and observing tradition: drop handlebars, 700c wheels and a diamond-shaped frame are its guitar, bass and drums. Cycling wears a serious face in monochrome, often amid a remote, enveloping natural landscape, like Joshua Tree-era U2 (a sullen aesthetic which, Raphaistas should note, even the world’s most ludicrously earnest band eventually had to abandon). The message, as crushing as a powerchord, is clear: cycling has a deep, inscrutable meaning; cycling is tough; cycling is 4 Real.

Or is it? Throughout my musical life, I’ve often felt excluded from the seriousness of being a rock fan – its various modes of rebellion, the accumulation of arcane knowledge, the penetration of the obligatory veil of mystery. The world of club cycling, on the other hand, I’ve found to be welcoming and jolly, despite – or maybe to mitigate – the physical pain you have to endure to be any good at it. And whereas rock can often feel like an exclusive club in which its members are obliged to venerate the ‘right’ artists and the ‘right’ albums, cycling won’t show you the door if you can’t tell your Coppi from your Bartoli, although it might point you in the direction of a detailed, hardback tome.

Watching a key moment in a race, such as Froome attacking Quintana on Mont Ventoux, gives me the same rush I get from pop. How could it not? Because, at its very core, cycling has a throbbing pop heart.

For a start, cycling, like pop, is a bastard form. Pop is a magpie nicking ideas – sounds, melodies, riffs, looks – from whatever genre it can find and repurposing them in a new form. Cycling did this when it pinched the downhill tuck from skiing and came up with the aerobar. The manufacturing know-how that produces many of the groupsets in the peloton came from golf and fishing equipment. Some of the training principles that put the current champion of the Tour de France on the top of the podium in Paris originated in swimming. Pop is manufactured, and so to is the constantly-evolving object at the core of cycling, the bicycle. There is no room for a blues-like purity in such a modern, inquisitive sport.

On an immediate, visual level, cycling is also identifiably pop. The rush of colours that constitute the pro peloton has an unabashed, gaudy, Roy Lichtenstein look about it. From a less artistic standpoint, the Tour’s post-stage shows became the inspiration for the Radio 1 Roadshow after station controller Johnny Beerling stumbled across them while on holiday in France. And, fundamentally, cycling shares pop’s commercial instincts: even though a race can make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up, it nevertheless exists primarily as a sponsors’ billboard.

Pop’s message, if it has one, is that the most thrilling place to be is the present. And is that not the feeling you experience when you’re completely immersed in a race – any race? Whenever I come across enthusiasm for a relatively obscure non-European event, I’m struck by how the more committed type of cycling fan exists at an emotional frequency as high as their pop counterparts. Compare this to football, where pre-season friendlies – the equivalent of the tour of Oman or Dubai – are considered so uninteresting that the great Danny Baker recently suggested that they should be held behind closed doors.

So let’s abandon the mythologising, tradition-heavy, rock-like paradigm we use to frame our perception of cycling. Pop is unhip. Pop requires no chin-stroking expert’s permission to exist. And those, to me, are the qualities that are at the very root of why we love cycling.

Can we sign two petitions? Yes we can

November 9, 2012

“The bucks stop somewhere around here, Hillary!” I imagine this is what Obama might be saying if this was actually Richmond Park.

As a British person, you may have felt left out as you watched our American chums preparing to choose their president. And now they’ve made the right choice, perhaps you’re wondering how, in your own small British way, you too can make a difference. Well, fear not! For I have found a couple of petitions with which you can express your idealism, good nature and sound judgment.

The first petition aims to increase cycling access in Richmond Park by excluding motor vehicles from the seven-mile loop on Sundays. The giddy dream is that the proposal will be debated in parliament if it gets enough signatures.

At first, I thought the concept isn’t a bad idea. Cyclists who don’t yet feel confident riding among cars would get their own mini-Sky Ride every weekend. Then I posted a link to the petition on the London Dynamo forum, and now I think it’s a great idea. Because, perversely, it seems my cycling club – one of the largest in the country – is not keen on this particular plan to promote bike riding. And if there is one defining hallmark of a great idea it is the mood of fearfulness with which it is greeted.

You can’t read the thread I started unless you’re a member, so I will try give a fair précis of the objections and provide my counter-arguments. The main fear is that with lots of beginners and children pootling along at 10mph, more serious cyclists such as myself wouldn’t be able to use the park for training rides on Sundays. Well, I’m fine with that. Dynamo’s group ride in the park is on Saturdays; everyone heads for the hills of Surrey on Sunday. Under this proposal, less experienced riders would get to enjoy the park for one day a week, ’Mos and other club cyclists would get the other six, and maybe at some point a few of those beginners would gain the confidence to ride with us. We all win!

Another objection is that it fixes a non-existent problem: you can still use the park early in the morning when there is almost no traffic. I would suggest the almost total absence of pootlers at that time of the morning shows this is a lousy option that has, in effect, already been rejected. If I had kids, I wouldn’t relish waking the family up at the crack of dawn and getting to the park to ride for a measly hour or less before the cars showed up. The other alternative is sticking to cycling on the straight strip of car-free tarmac bisecting the loop, which is an excellent plan if you want to be bored out of your mind. You’ll never get more people cycling if you make the activity seem unappealing.

Some Dynamo members appear to be thinking of other people’s concerns. What about the residents surrounding the park? Surely they won’t like golfers parking on their doorstep to use the park’s course, and they’ll be miffed at the increase in traffic on the roads in their neighbourhood. Also, if fewer people visit the park, then there will be an economic impact on the cafes within its grounds. But then there is no guarantee any of these eventualities will occur. Sunday golfers may have a round on Saturday instead. Roads surrounding the park do not become insurmountably clogged when it is closed for deer culling. The custom of hungry cyclists in cafes could replace that of motorists.

There was one alternative suggestion to car-free Sundays: a congestion charge, levied in the park throughout the week. I suppose this ambitious plan could reduce the traffic, although it can’t weed out the worst drivers, which is what really puts people off riding. So it’s only a partial solution.

Basically, it comes down to this: I would like less confident riders to experience of the same simple pleasures I have enjoyed in the park over the years – things like the big, long descent or the nonplussed deer watching you on the small climb to Richmond Gate. So if you think this a reasonable and commendable aim, then please add your name to the list.

The second petition I signed aims to reinstate Danny Baker’s weekday afternoon radio show on BBC London 94.9. You’ve probably heard what happened to the Candyman after coverage of his magnificently funny and defiant two-hour swansong last Thursday made just about every news outlet you care to mention, including the front page of The Times.

And yes, regular dwellers of this blog will have already noticed me gabbing on and on about how much pleasure Danny’s show has provided. Nestled amid the phone-in topics and chats with his co-hosts Baylen, Amy and the inimitable David Kuo was a central idea: that the kinks, quirks and fleeting moments of oddness in popular culture and people’s everyday existence are what gives these things life. So if you value originality and good humour – which, of course, you must surely do – then sign now. If you do, I promise to stop gibbering on about how much I love Danny Baker. You can’t say fairer than that.

Apple’s greatest thingamyjigs

March 9, 2012

Over the years, I have owned and used many items emblazoned with the familiar silhouette of a bitten apple. But my two favourites are probably the least technologically advanced, which is probably why their praises aren’t sung too often. So I would like to offer my own faint warble to them here.

The first device which holds a special place in my heart is this little marvel:

It looks like a Nano that’s grown a tail, but it’s actually an FM radio. Plug it into the old version of the iPod and the screen becomes a transistor receiver dial.

Now, doesn’t that look nice?

I’ve written before about my unbounded love for Danny Baker’s show on BBC London 94.9, but without this beauty, I wouldn’t be able to indulge in the simple pleasure of listening to the great man every day while I cycle into town. Having used the TuneIn app, I’ve learnt that radio via 3G is simply a means of disturbing your listening pleasure with random silences, and I’ve heard that DAB radios have the same problem. So for the foreseeable future, I’ll stick with this fantastic analogue oddity.

My second thing of wonder is the remote control for the iMac.

It enables you to adjust the volume, pause or skip tracks, and switch playlists or albums. All of which you can do with a mouse or a keyboard, but not when you’re slogging away on the turbo and you suddenly realise that you need to go one louder or change to a completely different playlist if you’re going to last until the end of the session. Essentially, by combining this simple infrared device with a pair of good speakers, you’ve turned your Mac into a less fiddly, turbo-friendly iPod.

Yes, these wotsits are merely accessories, humble sequins on technology’s shimmering raiment. But rather than launch the third incarnation of the same tablet in less than two years, I really wish Apple would instead come up with more of these unusual objects. The sort of objects that say, “I can fit neatly into your life,” not “Fit all of your life onto me.”

The Dynamighty No.2: “Danny Baker, Monday to Friday for instance Thursday.”

January 10, 2011

In the realm of grand oddities, there is a small hamlet nestling in the green nowhereland inhabited by Lewis Carroll, Douglas Adams, the Bonzo Dog Do-Dah Band and Vic ‘n’ Bob, and it doesn’t take the form of a book, a play, a film or a TV series, but a radio phone-in show. It is a humble work of unalloyed joy which has been broadcasting from three ’til 5pm every weekday on BBC Radio London. It has its rules – because every tea party, no matter how giddy, must have rules. Proceedings always begin to the tune of The Candyman, and the host, avoiding the “self-regarding nonsense” of standard radio practice, never tells listeners they’re tuned in to Danny Baker (the pre-recorded faux-serious voice of Chris Morris, as quoted above, sometimes pops up in the middle of records to do the job for him). There are also central tenets of the Baker canon: the Jerry Herman show tune Mame contains the most awkwardly rushed line in recording history (“The whole plantation’s hummin’ since youbroughtDixiebacktoDixieland”), the instrument plinking out the theme to I Dream Of Genie shall forever remain a mystery, and the only hit song where everything starts all at once is, of course, Pulling Mussels (From The Shell) by Squeeze. You might get to hear Chicago’s 25 Or 6 To 4 or even Party In The USA by Miley Cyrus, or more typically Fountains Of Wayne, Erin Bode, Todd Rundgren, Dylan, The Beatles, or some obscure prog rock oddity. But the true genius of the show is the contributions Danny elicits from listeners, such as the exasperated doctor who commanded a Spanish patient to remove his trousers with the immortal words “Adios, pantaloons!”, the fella who turned on his desktop printer to prove its whirrs and beeps sound exactly like the intro to Are “Friends” Electric?, and the terrified young man who heard Fire and thought The Crazy World Of Arthur Brown was speaking to him directly with the line: “YOU’RE GONNA BURN!” (His name? Conor Byrne.)

Yeah, it’s just a radio show, but Danny Baker makes radio shows a bit like Woody Allen used to make films, pitching just above the audience’s heads, so the enjoyment comes from reaching towards his encyclopaedic level of pop cultural knowledge or witnessing others matching his inventive sense of whimsy. I love the way he can make me laugh out loud with a simple yet unusual turn of phrase, and I love the obvious warmth he has for his co-presenters Amy and Baylen. But he hasn’t been around for a few months, and it looks like he’ll be gone a while longer, so I hope he makes a full recovery. Broadcasting is a poorer place for his absence.

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