Thursday, June 08, 2023

 "What would you do if you got to him?"

I had just returned from a night out at the BFI Mediathque. I meet Glynne there from time to time and we generally watch a lot of 1970s television together. Weird stuff mostly, some puzzling game shows, some awkward children's television. We had recently been preoccupied with a show called London Bridge. It was a Saturday morning TV show, designed for teenagers, made between 1974 and 1975. It's hilarious and stilted, quite often, featuring a cavalcade of stars and heartthrobs that would have made the average 70s teenager wheeze.

Calm thyself...

The distinction between adult and teenager becomes increasingly apparent when watching this show. Every segment is a kind of heavy-handed suggestion of something kids can "do" with their lives, whether that's journalism, nursing, veterinary science or acrobatics. They have a team of teenagers, sitting on the set, politely waiting their turn to ask their carefully-crafted question in a soft cockney whisper. Occasionally they are forced to step up and volunteer themselves for garish haircuts and/or makeovers by overbearing adults, often pushing weird or problematic agendas.

The sacred clapperboard

One specific episode struck me and I promptly made notes about it as soon as I came home. It was an episode where the Bay City Rollers were guests in the studio. The girls on set were especially jittery, their cheeks glowed a purplish red as they pawed nervously at their tartan scarves. They were, after all, sitting thigh by thigh with their favourite pop stars. You would have thought it would have been like any other interview, but then the bodyguards of the Bay City Rollers were introduced to the show.

The host cut to clips of the Bay City Rollers stepping out onto the tarmac, being greeted by legions of hysterical fans, just as if it were ten years before with John, Paul, George and Ringo (or maybe six months before with Freddie, Brian, Roger and John?). You couldn't help but cackle at the sheer scale of it. No offence to any Bay City Rollers fans but the hysteria seemed disproportionate to the actual handsomeness of the musicians concerned, but then, I am especially shallow and hard to please.


Instead of asking any questions to the fans or the group, the host looked to the band's bodyguards, questioning them about how you become a bodyguard and what it is like to travel from city to city, protecting pop musicians. The discussion turned to the rabid behaviour of the fans, throwing themselves onto cars and crying. One of the bodyguards turned to one of the girls and said, "What would you do if you got to him?" She stuttered, almost tearfully, "I don't know, I just love him..."

It was a diabolical scenario, what maniac thought this up? What would it have been like to be seated with your favourite musicians, only to be confronted by thuggish henchmen? How could you possibly account for the rabid behaviour of other teenage fans, when you're containing your lust so calmly? "What would you do if you got to him?". I wouldn't dignify that question with a response, after all, such a prompt is worthy of scrutiny only among the closest of friends, lying in the darkness on the floor of a sleepover.

Such discussions would no doubt involve detailed scenarios, dreams of what it'd be like to be face to face, hip to hip, cheek to cheek. Such admissions featured in Fred Vermorel's sociological study, Starlust: The Secret Lives of Fans. Published in 1985, the anonymity of the admissions revealed the depth, the meaning and the clarity of those daydreams. Usually, but not always, that fangirlism provided solace against the backdrop of terrible grief and loneliness.

If I could go back and advise those girls on London Bridge, I would tell them not to be rattled by those bodyguards, not to fazed by their bullish interrogation tactics. I would give them permission to obliterate their calmness and scream, scream their lungs out, just like the girls on the tarmac. They had just met their favourite band! They had just sat alongside them! Knees touching knees! Feet touching feet! This will be a day they'll remember forever. 

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk Baroque Pop Podcast #72
Jethro Tull - Bourée
Amazing Blondel - Highwayman
Cat Stevens - Moonstone
Carpenters - Mr Guder
Paul McCartney - Dear Boy
Andrew Bird - Roma Fade
Vashti Bunyan - Come Wind Come Rain
Enya - Caribbean Blue
Lindisfarne - Lady Eleanor
Jacqueline Taieb - Ce Soir Je M'en Vais

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Monday, May 08, 2023

I was listening to the audio commentary of PG Roxette's latest album, Pop Dynamo and Per said something like, "I'm a melody guy..." and I agreed enthusiastically, "Yes, yes, I know what you mean, Per. I, too, am a melody girl."

I approached the prospect of making a 1980s Eurovision episode with the mindset of a "melody girl". I perpetually seek out catchy vocal lines and synthy hooks, but I also lack the patience to watch whole competitions. So scrubbing song after song, competition after competition, I realise that I am looking for something super specific. I want something upbeat in a minor key. Needless to say, my favoured entries came from Belgium, Finland and Turkey.

Turkey in Eurovision, 1989

A more naturalistic approach would be to watch the whole competition among my friends back home in Australia, and cackling heartily with a bucket of hummus on my lap. There'd be sarcastic comments, but it would never be mean. After all, we're on the same mission to find some perfect Europop. We'd have our phones out, making notes on our favourites, perpetually reminding everyone of who we liked until the voting process destroyed our pop hopes and dreams.

I did attend Eurovision one year, back in 2016. It was a surreal, awe-inspiring affair but nothing like the hummus-cackling. The smallest things transfixed me like the speedy changes between acts and the LED lanyards that illuminated in sequence with the rest of the stadium. The first semi-final, I found a perfect piece of pop: If Love was a Crime, Bulgaria's entry by Poli Genova. Since then it's been my go-to recommendation for any doubters.

Eurovision, 2016

I'll be going up to Liverpool for this year's competition soon. In typical ritualistic fashion, I haven't listen to this year's entries and perhaps that's a part of being a "melody girl". For me, Eurovision requires another kind of pop sensibility, "dethroning the serious" as Susan Sontag would say. "Camp taste is, above all, a mode of enjoyment, of appreciation - not judgment." The month of May is my time for just that, for the campness and the revelry, for friendship and that earnest search for perfect pop.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk 1980s Eurovision Podcast #71
Bucks Fizz - Making Your Mind Up (UK, 1981)
Ofra Haza - Hi (Israel, 1983)
Pas de Deux - Rendez-vous (Belgium, 1983)
MFÖ - Didai didai dai (Turkey, 1985)
Pan - Bana Bana (Turkey, 1989)
Sandra Kim - J'aime La Vie (Belgium, 1986)
Liliane Saint Pierre - Soldiers of Love (Belgium, 1987)
Sonja Lumme - Eläköön elämä (Finland, 1985)
Vicky Rosti & Boulevard - Satasalamaa (Finland, 1987)
Cadillac - Valentino (Spain, 1986)

Download (77.8 MB)

Listen to the C&CM Mixtape - Eurovision Favourites (2008-2014)

Explore C&CM Podcasts 1-70 here

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Whenever I queue up the YouTube of Oingo Boingo, live at the Ritz in 1985, I'm typically met with a familiar feeling that I shouldn't be doing this, not again. Yet, whatever sense of dread I feel is aligned with the doom-laden humour of Oingo Boingo Struggle Tweets 2. Incredible awe is met with inevitable dread. I carcrash my passions. I overindulge and reach a saturation point with my listening practices.

"Live from the Ritz, Oingo Boingo..."

Unsurprisingly, I first came across Oingo Boingo at a Halloween party years ago. I shazammed Dead Man's Party not once, but twice, and it seemed that my fascination with that one song sustained me for a long time. I still haven't tired of its bombastic horns and the snide Frakenstein-cries: "Don't run away! It's only me!" I make it my business to shoehorn it into every FOTW Halloween Listening Party x C&CM show.

Saying that, I fell in with Boingo slowly, mostly finding one-off tracks and listening to them on solitary walks around Hampstead Heath. Grey Matter, Only a Lad and Just Another Day became so apart of that rona-ritual of walking, thinking and keeping the hell away from other people. When Spotify Wrapped comes round with ever-increasing frequency, I tend to foreshadow it with the obvious, "I mean, surely it's just all Oingo Boingo?"

Nowadays, I make it a habit to listen to the Oingo Boingo Secret Appreciation Society, a podcast which dives deep into its recurring lyrical themes and connections, and it's a humbling thing to be at the beginning of my Boingo fandom. The episode of Not My Slave especially had this fascinating analysis about relationship dynamics. I love how they cooed over the poetics of the line: "With deafening sound, whisper, "I love you"..."

I like to listen, not to be an expert, but to figure out where these songs sit within myself. Finding whatever aspects that resonate, holding them to the light and thinking about why that is. It's much like walking on the Heath and pursuing whatever paths I want to take. I present interesting Boingo bits I find to my friend, Bec at Mild Scribbling. She also watches that performance of Oingo Boingo, live at the Ritz in 1985.

We talk about the gestures and Danny's maniacal expressions, how maddeningly raucous it is. I feel grateful that despite my predilection to carcrash everything, I can share my thoughts with my very own Boingo friend.

Oingo Boingo at the Ritz by Bec 

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk Disco Podcast #70
Vivien Vee - Alright
Patrick Cowley - Tech-No-Logical World
Miquel Brown - So Many Men, So Little Time
Michael Zager Band - Let's All Chant
Tim Curry - Paradise Garage
Bucks Fizz - Shine On
Village People - Magic Night
PFO Pilgrim Fathers Orchestra - Touch Me Don't Stop (12" Extended Mix)

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Wednesday, March 08, 2023

It hadn't been the most active research pursuit, but I had always willed a connection between Freddie Mercury and the V&A Museum. Perhaps it was a fanciful wish to link the two, since it's the museum I love and work for. It wasn't an implausible link either, there was that story about him taking the band to the Tate Britain to see Richard Dadd's The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, so why wouldn't Freddie drag his friends to the V&A? I think we've all done it.

I was watching a Freddie documentary earlier this week when the anecdote I had longed for materialised. In A Life in Ten Pictures, Freddie's former girlfriend, Rosemary Pearson, spoke of their visit to the V&A together to see a ballet exhibition. It was a part of a project they had been working on at the Ealing School of Art. I had to wind it back a couple of times to see if I hadn't misheard anything. Had I found my story of Freddie at the V&A?

I looked back at the history of the V&A's exhibitions and calibrated the dates - the only ballet exhibition that could have coincided with Freddie being at the Ealing School of Art was Ballet Illustration: 1581-1940, which was on between 13 April and 1 October 1967. I checked the catalogue out at the British Library that night.

When I sat down at my desk, I wondered what on earth I expected to find exactly. Through all these elaborate set designs and elegantly drawn lithographs, there was some desire for an uncovered link, a moment that hadn't been fettered by some other fan or documentarian.

Page after page, there were smatterings of familiarity, but that was to be expected. So much of it seemed to be connected with Queen's aesthetic, whether it was sumptuous rococo stylings or the checks of the Harlequinade. I turn the page: Scharamuza. I flip back to the description: "Scaramouche brings on to the stage two small baskets, in which are concealed two small scaramouches. He then dances a measure, at the end of which he opens the baskets and is surprised to see what they contain..." Could that be the Scaramouche from Bohemian Rhapsody?

Johann Georg Puschner, Scharamuza, 1716

As I approached the end of the catalogue, towards the early 20th century designs with the Ballet Russes, I came across a costume design by Alexandra Exter from Don Juan in 1927. It was black with a band of white, assymetrically cut across the chest. The resemblance was startling, it's just like a costume Freddie wore on stage in 1973. There were slight modifications to the trousers and the right sleeve, but it looked almost the same. The influence was there and I couldn't deny it.

Alexandra Exter, Don Juan stage costume, 1927

Freddie Mercury at Imperial College, 1972

I sought out Rosemary Pearson, now known as Dr Rose Rose, and asked about her recollections about their visit. She kindly sent over her memoir, but there wasn't any detail about gallivanting through the Cast Courts, not as I had imagined it. Instead she wrote about the two of them poring over that same exhibition catalogue. She described how Freddie became entranced by its contents, crying out: "Bakst, Balanchine, Diaghilev, the names sound so delicious – so are the costumes! God, there's so much androgyny here. I'm going to swoon, DARLING! Catch me in your arms as I faint, it's all too perfect... and so CAMP!" 

In what seemed like a living scene in the middle of the studios of the Ealing School of Art, Freddie became entranced by the costumes of Nijinsky's Scheherazade and Diaghilev's Après-Midi D'Une Faune. He pretended to pass out on the studio floor, swooning: "Dancing in that gear must have really challenged male-female boundary stuff, even in the theatre!" The chapter ends with a painting of that moment of inspiration at the Ealing School of Art, mythical figures spring to life in the middle of the studio floor.

Dr Rose Rose, Painting of "Taking inspiration from the V&A Exhibition visited with Freddie: Ballet Designs and Illustrations: 1581-1940"

In the documentary, Dr Rose Rose wrote about Freddie's fascination with Eadweard Muybridge's photographic series of two semi-nude men wrestling. In an odd coincidence, I just written about Muybridge at work. I hadn't realised this photograph represented another pang that Freddie's sexual curiosity, but there are many moments like this in the memoir. Suddenly you are very close in to this relationship filled with contradiction and nuance. 

It became very intimate, and whereas before I asked, did they even come here? I was left asking, should I even be here?

Addendum: Here is a portrait of Freddie in Rose Pearson's V&A travelling exhibition poster, Gothic Woodcarving in England. It was submitted as an end-of-year-project at the Ealing School of Art in 1969.

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk Italo Disco Podcast #69
Vivien Vee - Americano (12")
The Creatures - Hard in the City
Retronic Voice - Deciding the End
Alter Ego - Just Like a Star
Dua Lipa - New Rules (Initial Talk 80s Rules Remix)
Den Harrow - Mad Desire
The Hurricanes - Only One Night
Vanelle - Tell Me (Radio Remix '22)
Vincenzo Salvia - Night Signs
Michael Maltese - It Isn't Changed

Wednesday, February 08, 2023

When I visit Liverpool, I'm prepared to go anywhere Teatle Huw is willing to take me, and on this occasion, it's the exterior of an abandoned tea warehouse where the Beatles once posed for a photo shoot. He furnishes the photographs of the Beatles in question, like we are gumshoe detectives familiarising ourselves with the case at hand. I don't recall ever seeing these photos before, but I clocked that it must have been early, and it was, 1962, in fact. There they stood in their suits, amongst the overgrown grass and the rubble.

The backdrop is cold and austere and were it not for the Beatles, it could be a photograph from the 1890s. There are variations of the photo at hand, in one they look more taciturn, standing several feet apart from one another, Ringo holds his drum sticks in vain, I imagine he is ready to attack if any unscrupulous characters were to approach. In another shot, they are much more lighthearted, John is mansplaining something to George, Paul is visibly cackling and it's just beautiful. Ringo looks on in amusement. You wonder what they were talking about, you wonder why they were there... 

A magical Teatle time for all...

We approach the site in question. It isn't far from the docks. We quickly realise the sightline is obstructed by the back of one-storey industrial estates on Saltney Street, so we take a closer look on Dublin Street. Teatle Huw informs me that this was not only a Beatle location, Bob Dylan came here too - his photos reveal a much more Victorian outlook, interacting with the scene and posing with street urchins. The building itself looks more dilapidated - sprigs of greenery appear from the jail bar windows and corroded copper doors. There's illegible graffiti tags, but it's a million miles from the loving inscriptions at the wall at Abbey Road Studios.

Teatle Huw takes a photo of me by the factory, allowing a sunflare to dramatically filter through. Teatle Huw would later use his stealthy Photoshop handiwork to scale himself down so he is very, very far in the background, gleefully photobombing the band. I tweet: "Today we investigated an abandoned tea factory where the Beatles made their own Teatle pilgrimage!" It's a thoroughly farcical prospect, but posing it in such a way seemed rather plausible, especially given their undeniable love of tea.

Less than a month later, I am in the audience for a preview of Mark Lewisohn's talk, Evolver '62. Late in the talk, this very photo comes up on the screen (although Teatle Huw is unfortunately omitted from the background). I hold my breath as I hear the truth behind this rare Teatle pilgrimage: it was actually a photoshoot to promote their first single, Love Me Do, which had just been released by Parlophone in October 1962. The curious thing about this photograph is that although John Lennon is actually standing in the spot where his great-grandfather James Lennon had settled with his future wife, Jane McConville. Around 1849 they had settled in Saltney Street. There, they lived in cramped squalor, where typhus, dysentery and cholera swept through the community.

But why were the Beatles there in 1962? Lewisohn said something to the effect that it looked cool, and I suppose that's reason enough to do anything. Despite the lack of tea in their real motive, the photoshoot suddenly take on a poetic dimension: The Lennons survived, this is who John became, little did he know what he was about to become...

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Yugowave Podcast #68
Neki to vole vruće - Teška Vremena, Prijatelju Moj
Data - Neka Ti Se Dese Prave Stvari
Oskarova Fobija - Beli Dekolte
Videosex - Videosex
Max & Intro - Beogradska Devojka
Oliver Mandic - Smejem se a plakao bih
Denis & Denis - Ja sam lazljiva
Stil - Fiks Ideja

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Saturday, January 28, 2023

C&CM Conversations: Shaun Micallef

 "What happened when you talked to Shaun Micallef, did you combust?" What a term! I took note of it because, yes! I was reduced to a big pile of ashes!

What was nice about interviewing Shaun is that I've managed to live through it a couple of times, editing out the half-second pauses and some of the more disruptive cackles. It's a little faster now and marginally less shambolic...

Timing comes up a lot, whether it's dealing with an uncertain Channel Nine audience or film dialogue from 54 years ago. It's an aspect of rapport I didn't really appreciate before. Speed comes into it. Wit, speed and responsiveness.

It could have all gone terribly wrong. You only need to think of the name, "Gigi Rosetti" to remind yourself of the agony of the Micallef Programme interviews. They were fake, sure, but it's better to observe conversational cul-de-sacs and poorly-managed snobbery from a safe distance.

I'll leave you with the conversation I had with Shaun (or at least a sped-up version of it), as well as a selection of songs from his ancient iPod.

Sunday, January 08, 2023

"Crafted music negates genuine emotion..." I flip through my notebook to see who said this. John Lydon of the Sex Pistols. Ah.

It reminds me of an interaction that happened in 1977, down the road at Wessex Sound Studios in Islington. Queen were recording News of the World when the Sex Pistols' bassist, Sid Vicious stumbled in and said, "So, you bringing ballet to the masses then, Fred?", to which Freddie replied, "Ah Simon Ferocious! We're trying our best, dear..."  

It's a story that's been told so many times that the tone of the encounter varies from the playful to the menacing. Sometimes Simon Ferocious is Stanley Ferocious, sometimes Freddie mocks the safety pins on Sid's jacket. In some versions, Sid steps up: "So what you gonna do about it?". Freddie then grabs him by the collar and throws him out of the control room.

Queen may have been the less authentic group, according to John Lydon's exacting standards, but Freddie, the delicate underdog, had won this time... 

It would appear that they're two groups in musical opposition, both in class and in style, but it's more complicated than that. Queen delve into different musical genres and place unsuspecting songs side by side, even exploring punk at one stage. Their efforts never felt cod or inauthentic, Brian breaks a guitar string from all the thrashing, live in Paris 1979. Freddie even knocks over a speaker stack.

"Genuine emotion" doesn't mean much when you look at Queen's lyrics and see how the emotional and the analytical sit side by side. I don't think anyone has really analysed that in Queen's lyrics before, how they describe what you should feel (pietas) compared to what you do you feel (furor). They're good at those contrasts, how for every heavy song, there is a frothy and frivolous romp. The meaningless sits alongside the meaningful. It makes for interesting listening, but it's hard to convey to mansplainers.

Those contrasts and contradictions are a part of me, somehow. They play into my humour and sensibility, my desire for high culture to mix with the low. It all reminds me of a story from when I approached a group of punks hanging out by the play equipment in Burnham Park. I was five at the time, but I was compelled to ask them, "Do you like ballet?", they were bemused and gushed back at me, "Oh yeah, we love ballet!"

I was thrilled. Finally, I had found some kindred spirits.

My guess is I'm in for a cloudy and overcast

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: 1980s Australian Podcast #67
Boom Crash Opera - Great Wall
Australian Crawl - White Limbo
INXS - Black and White (Extended Mix)
The Models - I Hear Motion
Midnight Oil - Sleep
James Reyne - Fall of Rome
Darryl Braithwaite - One Summer
Split Enz - Doctor Love

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Wednesday, October 19, 2022

C&CM x FOTW's Halloween Listening Party returns for 2022

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk returns for Halloween 2022 for FOTW's Halloween Listening Party. There'll be much synth-pop, jangly '80s music and macabre tunes to get your hearts racing. Tune it at

For listeners in Sydney, you can listen in on Monday 31st October at 11pm. See your local time here.

For listeners in London, you can listen in on Monday 31st October at 10pm. See your local time here.

You can listen to the 2021 show here.

You can listen to the 2020 shows here.

[UPDATE] You can download the 2022 C&CM x Halloween Listening Party for FOTW here:

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Missy El on I Am The Eggpod

Missy El and Chris Shaw return to 13th January 1969 and discuss Day 8 of Peter Jackson's Get Back on I Am The Eggpod.

Listen on

Edit: You can also read an interview I did with Music Musings and Such on the occasion of Paul McCartney's 80th birthday here.

Monday, October 25, 2021

The return of the C&CM Takeover Hour for FOTW's Halloween Listening Party

Join Cassettes & Chocolate Milk for the premiere of a new episode created for FOTW's Halloween Listening Party.

For listeners in New York and London, you can listen in on Saturday 30th October at 11pm.

For listeners in Sydney and Melbourne, you can listen in on Sunday 31st October at 11pm.

You can also listen to the 2020 episodes of C&CM x FOTW here.

[UPDATE] You can download the C&CM x Halloween Listening Party for FOTW here:

You can read all about the best of the Halloween Listening Party for 2021. Thank you IJ Wilson for letting me be a part of the fun!

Thursday, July 29, 2021

 "The listener memorises a performance as a revelation, a phenomenon, while the artist only terms of skill and sound." - Mateusz Torzecki and Łukasz Słoński

This line appeared in a chapter about female performers in the 1980s Polish rock scene. It was specifically about Kora, the lead singer of Maanam, one of the bigger groups of the era. It followed visceral descriptions of their performance at the Opole Festival in 1981. Witnesses described how Kora sang with such confidence that it completely redefined how local punk musicians should act and present themselves. Comments on YouTube would reinforce the idea of this performance as a complete revelation, and they would all be balanced by Kora's own assessment of the show: "The sound was terrible but more to the point, I just couldn't hear anything."

I watched the clips and the sound is screechy and atonal, far too raucous for my sherbet-sweet tastes. A person commented how they had this song on a cassette, a friend bought it for them from a music shop in Shinjuku and they listened to it over and over again. They never thought they would be able to see this actual performance but it was here! I understood that shock and that overwhelming gratitude, seeing your "perfect song" materialising from the archives with a video you never knew existed. Suddenly, the chasm between perfect and imperfect could never seem greater than the fan and the artist's impression of their own performance.

I love the absurd idea of a career-defining performance that the performer couldn't even hear. However, I find it irksome to imagine that Kora, as a leading punk figurehead, would be preoccupied by notions of "skill and sound". It's just so crazy and neurotic, it superimposes this perfectionist attitude that clashes with basic punk ideology. I truly believe that you can tell when someone is performing from an entirely free and unconcerned state. That's what makes performances like Maanam at Opole 1981 so extraordinary. You are witnessing an artist in a supreme state of commitment to their own artistry. When you see something like that, you finally realise that perfectionist angst is for amateurs. It is more important to show up and will your art into existence.

Maanam at Opole, 1981

Cassettes & Chocolate Milk: Polish Pop Podcast #66
Papa Dance - O La La
Roxa - A ona tańczy
Maanam - Lipstick on the Glass
Tilt - Mówię Ci że
Kapitan Nemo - Twoja Lorelei
Andrzej Zaucha - Byłaś serca biciem
Papa Dance - Czy ty lubisz to co ja
Ex Dance - Powrót Donalda

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