Nightman Listens To – Marillion – Market Square Heroes!

cover art for Grendel!

Greetings, Glancers! In my introductory post, I neglected to mention that Wikipedia states there have been, what, 19 Marillion Studio Albums. Maaan, this is going to take a while. And Market Square Heroes is merely a non studio single. For those wondering – I’m taking Mr Biffo/Paul Roses’ lead on this and listening to whatever his episodes suggest. Episode 1 of his Podcast covers only this single – maybe the B-sides – I haven’t listened to the episode or the song as of writing this intro, but those are what I will be listening to before returning to this post and giving my thoughts.

But before any of that, I wanted to learn a little more about the band, their history, members, success etc. Is that cheating? Should I go in cold? Perhaps, but I like a little early context before doing these things. Given that I’m not an uber-nerd about the band, I’m not going to go hunting down books and interviews and forums, or do any sort of real research beyond the ever reliable Wikipedia – so if any of the following information is incorrect – forgiveness, please.

Marillion is a British Rock band. They were formed in Aylesbury in 1979, emerging from the Post Punk scene of the era. I’m never sure precisely what that ’emerged from’ phrase means – it can mean anything from ‘it was a reaction against’ to ‘it was an evolution of’ to ‘the members used to be in punk and post punk bands but decided to form something else’. I don’t know which, if any, of those statements are accurate. There seems to be two distinct phases of the band, following their frontmen, with the Fish era from beginning to 1988 and the Steve Hogarth (Hogwarts?) continuing to today from 1989. That seems like a good time to to check on the members of the band. Fish was the lead singer and lyricist, has been said to sound like Roger Daltry and Peter Gabriel, has been called one of the great frontmen, he was inspired by the more experimental artists of the 60s and 70s, and he joined Marillion in 1981. He has since gone on to make spoken word albums, which sounds terrible.

There are a bunch of ex-members with little info and I’m not going to go down that rabbit hole – Brian ‘Hartley’s Jelly’ Jelliman, Doug ‘Eddie’ Irvine, Diz ‘Innit’ Minnitt, John ‘I already have one of these funny names “Martyr”‘ Marter. There was also Jonathan ‘Sofa’ Mover who was a drummer who went on to form a Prog Supergroup and also worked with my mate Alice Cooper, there was Michael ‘No Sisters’ Pointer who was described as ‘awful’ by Fish. The current lineup features Hogwarts – he has worked with lots of people and been in other bands I’ve never heard of, Steve ‘Can’t think of one’ Rothary on guitar, Mark ‘Matthew’ Kelly on keyboards, Pete ‘Goldeneye’ Trewavas on bass and guitar and keyboards, and Ian ‘Bill’ Mosley on the sticks.

In spite of some early success, the band has never been fashionable or popular with the media, yet fans are loyal and they have managed to sell around 15 million albums. I’m seeing quite a few parallels with some of my favourite bands. If I take the Manic Street Preachers – their timeline can generally be split into two phases – Richey and Post-Richey, and while they have consistently courted the media to their own ends, beyond a specific era of success they haven’t been popular in the mainstream. They’ve sold around the same number of albums too.

Righteo, that’s about all I need to know about the band for now, but what about this song I’m about to listen to. It was their debut single, released in 1982, and it doesn’t appear in any subsequent album. Again – the Manics did this with Suicide Alley, Suicide Is Painless, and Motown Junk. Actually, let me just listen to the thing, then I’ll come back at some point in the future and give some more details and my thoughts.

INTERMISSION Stock Photo - Alamy

Alamy! Okay, I’m back. I’ve listened to the song a few times now, over a period of a few hours. Obviously that’s better than my usual one and done approach, but nowhere near on the level of association that a fan would have. The song is roughly four minutes long, and it reached 60 on the UK charts – not the best performance, but enough presumably to get them some recognition. The title ‘Market Square Heroes’ evoked a series of images in my scattered brain before I listened to the song – images of folks like Mark from Eastenders forking over pennies for change from a blue pouched straddling his navel; of bearded, red-cheeked men screaming what sounds at once like ‘five pears for a pipe’ and ‘comb your hair around’ but was actually ‘three lighters for a pound’, and Preachers handing out ‘Ye Must Be Born Again’ tracts to folks trying to get their Saturday shopping done before Football Focus started. I grew up in a Northern Ireland town which had a town square and which would have a Saturday market with all of your usual stores, but also those additional Northern Ireland Only variants where paramilitary regalia was freely bought and sold, alongside posters of King Billy. Unfortunately, those particular stalls had all the best stuff – so my friends and I would buy fireworks and rude and obscene material while the seller probably eyed us up as potential recruits into whatever shady jingoistic business he was involved in.

According to Wikipedia, Aylesbury town square was a little different. The song was inspired by a bloke named Brick, because in Aylesbury around this time nobody had a normal name, who must have been some… Manic Street Preacher type. I’m sure this drawn out analogy will end at some point. In any case, the song is about an outspoken, charismatic leader, a revolutionary but someone without any clear direction or purpose to their vociferations and anger. It is also quoted as the band trying to write a commercial song without losing the entire sense of their more progressive, expansive leanings. I have nothing else to compare it to yet, and I don’t know what other songs they had written or performed until this point. I will say this; I quite like it.

What do I like? I giggled a little at the fake out intro; it begins with a series of slow, fat chords, and descending bass lines. Then the vocals join and the song goes off in a completely different direction. I laughed because it made me think like Slade or some other 70s glam rock band, prancing about in flares with general disregard for facial hair grooming. There’s a synth/guitar piece running through the verses which is quite jolly, and the repeated calls of ‘the day’ match the sudden shift of the drum beat. This is all amusing to me. The vocals… my first thoughts were that it reminded me of some of the more deliberately theatrical moments on The Wall, and also a cross between Bowie and Johnny Rotten and that dude from Talking Heads. With each listen, those comparisons fell away. I can’t get away from the fact that musically it reminds me of Slade, but as the song progresses a definite streak of NWOBHM emerges. It sounds like early Iron Maiden – maybe it’s the general production, maybe it’s the guitar tone, but it has a very similar vibe.

It’s all very theatrical too – apologies (not really) for the constant mirroring to Metal or other artists, but it’s not quite in line with the vocal shenanigans of a Dio or Dickinson or Kursch, where it can often feel like a Play is being recited rather than a song being sung. But certain words do have additional inflections or are sung with a whispered lilt or a subtle shriek – it’s those little dramatic flourishes which you tend not to hear in mainstream music. There’s a middle section which didn’t do a lot for me, apart from remind me about Johnny Rotten (I am your Antichrist), but some of the guitar is both nifty and groovy – grifty? It does end in a fade out, which I’m rarely a fan of.

Lyrically, I can see what Fish was describing when we spoke of the charismatic leader. It’s difficult to get such notions over in a single four minute song. I like the opening line – ‘finding smog at the end of a rainbow’ suggests that you’ve been following a lie, or that your purpose was meaningless, which then makes the rest of the song somewhat ironic as the narrator asks others to follow him, given we know his track record of failure. There’s religious stuff in their – suffer the little children to come onto me – as a whole it is a poetic approach, if a little scattered and unfocused. At least to me. The song moves from images of industrialism to rebellion and protest, though there are plenty of notable juxtapositions if you’re into that – golden handshake/rust upon my hands, peace signs/war in the disco etc.

Now, I wonder what Paul and Sanja have to say about it. At this point, I’m going to go off and listen to Episode 1, then I’ll be back to finish off this long-winded post ABOUT A SINGLE SONG.

That was a fun opening episode – mostly what I was expecting given that I’ve watched Paul and Sanja’s Lockdown Youtube content. They spar well off one another, and the whole Knight/Padawan thing is always interesting. Does it need a third party to intercede and make jokes about Marillion being crap, or someone who actively dislikes the band, like a certain Ghostbusters fan? Nah, I think we’re good.

I only took some scattershot, very basic notes as I listened. Well, I say ‘took notes’, but it was more accurately me telling my brain ‘ooh, that’s worth bringing up when I go back to the blog post’.  So here is what my brain thought was worth bringing up – blame it, not me. Paul calls the song ‘A proper pop rock song’. So it’s obviously one he enjoys. I liked it too, and I did find myself humming parts over the weekend, but I don’t think it’s amazing. It’s their first song so I can only assume they’ll get better. Paul resorts to looking at Wikipedia at one point- what sort of fan are you? Grewcock. We all know that Paul loves his artwork, and I didn’t pay attention at all to the cover when I was listening to the song. After checking out the single artwork – it’s fine, I guess. It makes me think of Twin Peaks The Return, when various characters begin peeling their faces open like a swinging door. It doesn’t spring out and seize my attention, and I’m sure by the time I post this I’ll have forgotten most of the detail. They talk about Brick. There’s a nice explanation of the lyrics and ‘plot’. Apparently the style, the overwrought lyrics, combined with Fish and his stage antics meant the band had plenty of detractors yet gained a cult following.

That’s about it then. God help us when we get to covering an entire album. Do you like Marillion? Why not go listen to the Podcast and follow Paul and Sanja on the Twitbox and Insta-thing, @BYAMPOD? Next time round, I’ll be listening to three songs so you can expect even more rambling from me and by the time we get to the first album I’ll have given up. See ya there and then!

Tennessee

Tennessee: 2/Okay

One of several tracks from Generation Terrorists which could easily have been cut or replaced. This one simply feels like another directionless rock song, and while there are plenty of good lyrical moments, the only truly worthwhile moment is the great ‘his pain forgets her agony’ middle section. Everything else feels too basic and lacks the emotion, invention, and raw power of the better tracks. The band recorded this as a B-Side to Suicide Alley long before Generation Terrorists, a more loose and punky version but still not very interesting.

Misheard Lyrics: Tennesse not some zip code law

Actual Lyrics: Tennessee nights just zip-code love

To Repel Ghosts

To Repel Ghosts: 4/Great

Another terrific song from Lifeblood which expertly welds together the guitar based rock sound of yore and the more experimental electronic sound (of more?). Filled with glorious harmonic touches which feel at once Christmasy, ghostly, and warm, the chorus is one which soars effortlessly and is served by yearning, haunting verses. Again the melodies hide the lack of lyrical depth, meaning we latch onto the strong lines rather than the repeated ones or uneventful ones. With wonderful production filled with lots of lovely little moments, it raises the tempo and energy of the album and hides a multitude of treats which are only uncovered on repeated listens.

Misheard Lyrics: And unsire Bamford’s lies (?)/ and run, sigh, and run for lives (?)/ and outside blindfold lies

Actual Lyrics: And untie our blindfold eyes

Australia

Australia: 4/Great

The band at their most shamelessly commercial, their most joy-filled musically, and sounding like they love every minute of it. Quite where songs like this came from after The Holy Bible remains a mystery – perhaps the only way was up, in desperate need of some light, some poppy, peppy melodies that could crack apart the darkest thought. One of the band’s finest, most recognisable riffs, a stadium-tearing chorus, and brilliant verse melodies and simple lyrics for even the most distant fan to latch on to, the song’s content may sound joyous but of course there is a darker core, with Wire writing the song not as an ode to the spider-filled, murderous continent, but as a desire to escape his home and the memories it had become infected with – simply to get away, to be free from everything, and live a kind of non-life for a while. Meaning behind, it remains a wonderful song to bounce around too, filled with warm harmonies and immediately infectious.

Misheard Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m air.

2. I’ve been before much too long/I’ve been defiled much too long.

3. I want to fight and run.

4. Slip for a while.

Actual Lyrics: I don’t know if I’m tired. I don’t know if I’m ill.

2: I’ve been here for much too long.

3. I want to fly and run.

4. Sleep for a while.

This Is The Day

This Is The Day: 2/Okay

In honour of the release of their latest Greatest Hits compilation National Treasures the band recorded this authentic, yet humdrum cover of a song by The The. It’s telling when the video of a song gets more interest, given that it has many shots of the band’s younger days and acts as a nice visual representation of the lyrics and where the band was at the time. The song is a bit of a non-event though, a mixture of bland synth and light guitars. Bradfield does an okay job with the vocal, and while the song feels apt and while the chorus tries to be an anthem, it all feels far too plain and average. Its sound doesn’t hint at what was to come next, nor does it recall a particular sound in the band’s past. I’ve listened to it many times now, but I still struggle to remember much about it a few minutes later. Oh yes – the original is terrible.

Facing Page Top Left

Facing Page: Top Left: 3/Good

One of the softer, more acoustic based songs from Journal For Plague Lovers is also one of the weakest. It’s still a good song, with a lovely, tender mix of harp and guitar that recalls Small Black Flowers, but it feels too light, too much like an outtake, and while the lyrics are as cutting and brilliant as you would expect, neither the verse or chorus have the melodic impact of other songs on the album. It’s short though and doesn’t fall into the trap of needless repetition, simply comes in, does its job, and fades away as if it was never there in the first place.

Misheard Lyrics: Clean fashion lines

2. This beauty is dipping neon phobia?

3. Here is oblivion babe does it rest/Here is oblivion babe that’s it wrecked.

4. Mutually discolour

5. Sugar pills – the lack of healing

6. Fragrance my ass caught up no meaning

Actual Lyrics: Clean flesh and lines

2. This beauty here dipping neophobia

3. Here is oblivion bathed acid red

4. Mute oily discolour

5. Sugar pills the flak of healing

6. Fragrance my escort of no meaning

1979 Academy Awards – An Introduction

52nd Academy Awards - Wikipedia

The 52nd Academy Awards were again hosted by Johnny Carson and saw three movies taking most of the glory – Kramer Vs Kramer, All That Jazz, and Apocalypse Now. All three movies will make multiple appearances in my nominations, with one of them being a more obvious category winner for me. However, some other notable films of 1979 will also appear as frequent nominees and winners in my picks, so stay tuned for some large variances.

Honorary Awards were presented this year to Alec Guinness, Hal Elias, Ray Stark, Robert Benjamin, John O Aalberg, Charles G Clarke, and John G Frayne. Presenters included William Shatner, Jamie Lee Curtis, Steven Spielberg, and Farrah Fawcett, while performances were from Kermit, Miss Piggy, and Paul Williams, Dionne Warwick, and others.

Come back over the next few weeks to see my picks in each category, and be sure to share your own thoughts and choices!

Litany

Litany: 3/Good

Another sleepy, piano led B-side from the Lifeblood sessions, and another one which succeeds thanks to poignant melodies which catch hold and don’t let go. James is still singing in that careless manner where you don’t know if he is creating a genuine mood of disinterest for art’s sake, or if he seriously doesn’t want to be there. Even with that approach he still manages a few golden moments outside of the melodies – the high note in the chorus being particularly notable. Lyrically there is still a tonne of repetition but what remains careers between standard fare and the odd moment of clarity. There is a more guitar leaning sound as the song continues, becoming almost like something from U2 towards the end, moving away from the synthetic nature of the majority of the album tracks.

TTT- Top Ten Gameshows Which Need To Make A Return!

Big Break - Wikipedia

Greetings, Glancers! It’s a strange time we find ourselves in, and the natural instinct is to withdraw into simpler times – when the skies were blue, when the music was better, when our only responsibility was deciding whether to roll out of bed at 10am or 11, and for some people, when you could be a racist dick and get away with it.

All your favourite distractions have been put on hold – movies have been pushed back due to Cinemas being shut down, and filming has stopped on even the most successful TV shows. Those shows lucky enough to have finished recording pre-Lockdown are being drip-fed to us in the UK, and one of these is Alan Carr’s Epic Gameshow. It’s an hour long format which sees the annoying buck-toothed imp prance around and relay famous catchphrases from days of yore. Each week, Carr and his team bring back a classic ‘British’ gameshow which has been off our screens for years for a nice bit of nostalgia. It’s not the first time this sort of thing has happened, and indeed many of the gameshows included have already seen multiple reboots over the decades, but each time it happens my wife always asks ‘why don’t they show gameshows like this anymore’ – to which I always reply ‘because you and all the other chumps killed them by watching Reality TV shite’. 

It’s something I’ve probably written about here before, and it’s definitely something I’ve misspent a lot of time thinking about – having my own TV channel and bringing back all of my favourite Game Shows. Game Shows were a big part of my youth – growing up in an era of four (count em) TV Channels where choice was extremely limited. While time has clearly moved on, and most Prime Time Game Shows now are an excuse to shove already famous people into nostalgic settings, the range of channels out there now surely allows for a few of these to be brought back. Sure, the prizes might not be as awe-inspiring as before due to limited audience figures but who knows, maybe the tide will turn and people will get sick of Reality TV shite such as I’m A Celebrity (No I’m Not), I’ll Sell My Own Baby To Be Famous, and Anal Island, and people will demand a return to 30 fun packed minutes of questions and games. If not, we can always dream. Here are ten Game Shows I’d love to see make a return (and there will be a part two coming soon).

Big Break

Big Break was a show which centered on the sport of Snooker, or as they call it in the USA, The Pointy Stick Coloured Orb Game. Like many Game Shows, our host was a trained stand-up Comedian, in this case Jim ‘I’m not sure if I’m allowed to say this’ Davidson. He was the perfect man for the job, always ready with a quip, a pulled face, or a frantic grab at a contestant’s balls (snooker balls). Ably backed up by his sexy, glamourous assistant – John Virgo – sort of a less sexually threatening Paul Hollywood, Jim would invite three contestants each week to join up with a famous snooker player to compete for the top prize of… a holiday? Usually? I can’t remember.

The show was split into different rounds – the first finding the contestants answering questions so that their professional compatriot could try to pot as many balls as possible – each correct answer giving ten seconds at the table. Whoever scored lowest was booted off. Next up saw coloured ball co-ordinated questions – pink for sport, green for music etc. The player would attempt to pot as many balls as they could within a time limit (again), but if they missed a shot the contestant would have to answer a question on the missed ball’s colour and the player couldn’t continue until the contestant got the right answer. The winner would proceed to the final round where they had to answer five questions against the clock (90 seconds for the whole round) – each correct answer meant a red ball removed from the table, and once all questions are answered the player had to pot the remaining balls on the table within the remaining time. Each non-red ball corresponded to a prize, with the star prize coming only if the black was sunk.

Big Break seemed to drop at a time (it ran from 1991 to 2002) when Snooker was very popular and had a lot of famous personalities in the sport. It was always exciting to see which player the contestants would get – would you be lucky and hit a Stephen Hendry or Jimmy White, or fall on your arse and get a Willie Thorn? The show was spiced up by the humour and antics of Virgo and Davidson, with lots of prat falling and cheating if a player was struggling, and an addictive Virgo’s Trick Shot Round which saw the first contestant eliminated trying their hand at the table, and having to pot a Trick Shot – amusingly Virgo would explain the shot and sometimes miss himself, and Davidson would usually use his hands to pot the ball if it looked like the contestant was going to miss. Would the show work nowadays? Honestly, I don’t watch too much snooker anymore and don’t know a lot of the top names, but it’s a format which succeeded for over a decade and which always managed to keep me entertained. The unique format of having the contestant and player rely on each other was interesting – sometimes the professional would have an off day, or sometimes the contestant was an idiot -and I can imagine a variety of other sports which could follow the style of Big Break. I’m not sure if it would be much use now without a duo of Virgo and Davidson’s chemistry, but I’d love to see it return.

Theme Tune: ‘I’m gonna be snookering you tonight!’

Catchphrases: ‘Say Good Night JV/Good night JV’. ‘Pot as many balls as you can’.

Cyberzone

What the hell is Cyberzone you may ask. In truth, I barely remember it, and for years I wondered if it had been a dream, as no-one I explained it to ever seemed to think it existed. Once again though, I prove all you fools to be the fools you are, as Cyberzone did in fact exist outside of my barely functioning mind. Created by famed quiz creator dude Tim Child, Cyberzone was helmed by famed ‘always starring in weird futuristic shit dude’ Craig Charles and was one of the first examples of VR being used for TV entertainment. Naturally, this being the early 90s, the technology was terrible – yet still made an impact on little old me as I imagined a future of virtual exploration, adventure, and quite probably boobs.

The game featured two teams of contestants tackling virtual challenges by stamping on pads on the ground to walk, and shaking their arms to simulate shooting or completing some other challenge. Craig Charles dials it up to fifteen and brings much needed energy while he tries to explain computer speak for the ignorant masses while an all too white Colonial Cowboy Gamesmaster hybrid introduces the games, but unfortunately the games now look less early 90s Doom and more late 80s The Vindicator for Spectrum. Not heard of that one? Google it. Yes, the virtual world is blocky and barren, but again for a kid in an era of 2D sprites this was like chicken soup to a Measles sufferer, and I gobbled down every second, wishing I could take part.

VR has seen recent resurgences and it’s now sort of affordable to get much more innovative and immersive VR experiences in the comfort of your own’s momma’s basement. So why bother with a Virtual Gameshow? Well why not? A money rich studio could pump cash into this and make something which doesn’t hurt our tech-cultured 21st Century eyes, and games could be a lot more entertaining than ‘walk over there and pick that box up’. I’d recommend making this a kid centric show, upgrading the rather nifty set of the original, keeping the ludicrous hype of the original, but showcasing a technology that looks the part and doesn’t move at a single frame per second.

Theme Tune: I don’t remember the theme tune, so it must have been muck.

Catchphrases: Awooga! Cyber filth!

Fun House

Keeping things in the realm of Kids TV shows, for a moment, is there a more fondly related kids gameshow than Fun House? The show ran for ten years, was a staple of afterschool TV for multiple generations, and a source of wish fulfilment and escapism for people like me who wanted nothing more than to race down a slide into a coloured ball pit where a pair of gunge covered blonde twins waited to offer me their ‘prizes’

Pat ‘yes, this is a mullet’ Sharpe brought such much needed, barely veiled dry sarcasm to proceedings, proceedings which saw two teams (each made up of a boy and a girl) who represented a particular school tackling a variety of slimy, slippery games all for the opportunity to enter the Fun House and win some top top prizes. The games always led to people sliding on their arse and getting covered in foam, and eventually racing around in go-karts. I don’t know anyone who didn’t want to be in the show, and once similar giant indoor play parks started to pop up in Northern Ireland, we finally had the opportunity to recreate our fantasies.

There’s no good reason why Fun House wouldn’t work today – there have been several calls to bring it back and at the height of its popularity there was talk of an adult spin off. While that does sound fun, I don’t think it would work in practice – maybe the odd one-off special. One thing I didn’t like was the School representation – winning prizes for your School? Balls to that, you earn them, you keep them. A modern game would likely be watered down due to health and safety nonsense, but kids always want an opportunity to play in places like these – a new version with more entertaining games could be souped up to be more exciting than their local play park. My kids enjoy watching the original – no reason why they and others wouldn’t love a new one.

Theme Tune: ‘It’s wacky/it’s fun/it’s crazy/it’s outrageous’

Catchphrases: Lets re-run the fun.

Knightmare

Knightmare was a staple of my childhood after-school routine and, well, Nightmares. The show’s melding of mystery, puzzles, pantomime, mythology, real world contestants, and nifty special effects, all capped off by setting it in a swords’n’sandals world was perfect. I still watch any re-runs that are shown periodically. It was the show for nerds before nerdom became the all-encompassing bullshit it is now. You had to be intelligent, and lucky, to stand a chance on this gameshow, and if you weren’t the results were nasty.

This kids show featured a team of four friends entering a dungeon where they had to complete a quest, avoiding traps, monsters, giant spiders, wizards, witches, all to earn the lifelong respect of your peers and fellow humans. One poor sole donned a knapsack and helmet – blinding them – and set off into the dungeon, while the other three would sit hunched with notepads near a medieval fireplace under the watchful guidance of the Dungeon Master Treguard, and his cryptic clues.  I’ve talked about it before, you get the idea.

Kids TV, as mentioned, doesn’t have a lot of interesting gameshows like this anymore. In the Nineties there were a host of Virtual Reality themed gameshows with similar tasks, though none so atmospheric or brutal as Knightmare which could see contestants’ efforts spanning multiple episodes. With the improvements in Virtual Reality Technology, there’s no reason why something like this couldn’t be done again. The key would be to make it genuinely creepy, and difficult, and make those brave enough to step up to the challenge question their every decision.

Theme Tune: A classic

Catchphrases: Oooh, nasty.

Steal

I’m guessing none of you remember, or have heard of Steal. Like Catchphrase, Steal pits contestants against each other using a giant computerised board. Also like Catchphrase, it was hosted by a Walker – Mark Walker, son of Catchphrase legend Roy. It’s a show I loved at the time it was aired (1990-1992) and is one I spent years trying to find as I couldn’t remember its name. Thanks to various sites and the internet, I found it again. Now we should take the next step and bring it back to TV.

In truth, catching old episodes on Youtube reveals the show’s flaws. It was based on technology which didn’t really work even then, and was hampered by games which were a bit rubbish. Two teams would face off against each other to win both money and spot prizes by answering questions and then attempting to find a hidden symbol on the big TV board – Cash, Swag, or Jools (I used to think the show was called Swag). The 16 square grid would be shown to the contestants with the associated symbols, then hidden and rotated. The contestant would have to find the correct symbol by saying ‘top row, third from the left’, or ‘middle square’ etc. Its called Steal, because the other team can steal your squares/prizes if they get a Steal Square. The fun part was when they landed on the Jools square (the mascot of the show), and had to play a mini game. These were very basic computer games, played with a huge joystick, and involved digging up prizes or avoiding a dog etc. That’s where modern technology could come in, and spice the action up. Hell, you could even do some official game tie-ins and use the biggest blockbuster games challenges and make the whole format a mixture of Gamesmaster and prize-winning competition. It wasn’t the most exciting show looking back, but as a youngster into gaming at the time, it was fun tea-time viewing and made me want to play along.

Theme Tune: A fairly typical, jangly muzak type theme tune, nothing memorable.

Catchphrases: Take a bow, Jules. Our Feline Felon. Lets fill up the board. Remember what you saw and where you saw it.

Pets Win Prizes

As a kid, I spent a lot of my Summers at my a Caravan Park nestled between the sea and the mountains. Days were spent playing football, going on bike rides through country roads, evenings were spent wooing young ladies and eating gravy chips, and nights were spent camping and watching TV shows we probably wouldn’t normally watch given we were all sandwiched in the same space. Pets Win Prizes was one of these shows, always seeming to be on during those Summer Saturday Nights when I was filling my face with fart fuel (gravy chips). Obviously there’s nostalgia talking, but everyone still loves cute, furry pets, right? Look at recent Britain’s Got Talents, and look at all the rescue dog shows which are always on TV. Crufts still gets a huge audience, and it’s awful. A gameshow which sees talented pets, and their embarrassing owners being ridiculed by a quick witted host for the sake of some prizes should be simple TV gold. The series back then was hosted by Dale Winton, and before him Danny Baker, and saw pets being put through some often bizarre agility and skill based games, while their owners answered animal trivia questions. It wasn’t high art, but I’d say there’s still life in the old dog. So sorry. For anyone wondering why the hell I enjoyed this – I think I just enjoy anything with obstacle courses.

Theme Tune: Hardly a classic, but jaunty enough to be memorable. I was certain someone sang ‘Pets Win Prizes’ over the top of the music, but turns out that didn’t happen, and must have been my adding the words and singing myself.

Catchphrases: A succession of terrible animal based puns to go along with the badly behaved cats and dogs.

Takeshi’s Castle

There’s a solid argument to be made for Takeshi’s Castle being the greatest TV show of all time. The problem with it is… you have to be very careful with how it is presented and portrayed. For example – the original Japanese show is hilarious and bizarre, and the British Craig Charles presented clip type format is even better. HOWEVER, once the yanks got their hands on it and converted it to MXC or Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, it became almost unbearable due to a couple of dickhead co-presenters delivering the most hatefully unfunny commentary and complaining draining the show of its natural humour. Likewise, when the UK crafted Rebooted and brought in the normally amusing Dick and Dom instead of Craig Charles, it just wasn’t the same. Sure, the best clips had already been used, but the commentary and format simply wasn’t as strong.

So what is Takeshi’s Castle? It’s a Japanese show, the brainchild of the legendary Takeshi Kitano who wanted to make a live action Super Mario level. This quickly morphed into a gameshow/sketch show which saw Kitano and pals playing a range of strange characters who defended a Castle from intruders – the contestants. To storm the castle and defeat Takeshi for a fat cash prize, roughly 100 contestants had to complete a range of physical challenges which tested their limbs and skills, with dozens being eliminated each round until only a few survived. The final round, always a bit of an anti-climax, was a bumper car type water pistol battle. The best thing of course, aside from the characters and the contestants and their costumes, were the games – and the ever present chance of people being seriously injured.

I could list all my favourite games and moments, but I’d be here all day, but there was such a variety of challenges, even before factoring in the ‘Special Episodes’ that you always had something new balanced alongside personal favourites. Given the runaway success of, the frankly rubbish, WipeOut, and the vastly inferior modern versions of Ninja Warrior there is absolutely zero excuse to not bring back Takeshi’s Castle. It was a show which focused much less on the physical skill of the individual and instead highlighted to mayhem and creativity of the games and the mixture of luck and skill, as well as being one huge insane pantomime. Crucially, in today’s overly safety conscious world, shows like Ninja Warrior or The Floor Is Lava or Beastmaster – all those shows which copied Takeshi’s Castle – contain zero life or death threat. People gently flop into water with not even a scratched knee, while in the original potential snapped necks, twisted ankles, and new ribs were expected. For any new version to truly succeed, you’d need to leave yourselves open to potential law suits, health and safety concerns, leave shin guards and helmets aside, and just get stuck in.

In truth, I see a couple of formats for a true revival of the show. Much of the sketch side of things could be dispensed with but you could still have a cast of wacky characters following the general plot of ‘try to make it to the end without dying’. An hour long show could perhaps give a quick glimpse of every contestant and highlight the more quirky, more successful ones so that audiences can follow along with their endeavours, while a follow-up thirty minute show would be more like the Craig Charles version and feature just the best bits and smashes along with hilarious commentary. Naturally, you need to have Craig Charles doing it. Now that I think about it – think about the money pumped into shitty reality shows like Big Brother, X-Factor and the ilk, and the sheer amount of TV hours they take up, from auditions to live shows to backstage shows after each main show. I say have your main Takeshi show, follow it up with panel discussion and hidden clips with contestants and Takeshi guards as guests, then have your weekly 30 minute format too. If I was boss of the world, this would be top of my list. I could write an entire blog based on bringing back Takeshi’s Castle, so I’ll stop.

Theme Tune: The Craig Charles version is a beast.

Catchphrases: Too many to mention, again from the Craig Charles version.

Bullseye

A staple of Sunday night TV since the early 1980s, Bullseye always seemed old fashioned and a bit odd to my childhood eyes, yet there was something addictive about it. In fact, it was one of those rare TV shows which managed to break the Sunday curse of my childhood – 99% of TV shows which were shown on Sundays in my youth, I associate with how much I hated Sundays and therefore almost never like those shows. Nowadays, it’s all about making fun of the either naff, or strange top prizes – like speedboats, caravans, or a Mini Micro and they ignore how much fun the game was. Hosted for decades by the late Jim Bowen, it has been brought back a couple of times – in the aforementioned Alan Carr thing, and by Dave Spikey in the Noughties, as well as various celebrity one-off specials – it’s a simple gameshow based around darts. Three pairs of contestants, three rounds, darts and questions. It sounds rubbish, but it somehow works, and I see no reason why it couldn’t slot neatly in to regular Sunday night rotation in the Autumn or Winter when there’s feck all else on worth watching.

The great thing about the format is that you don’t need to change anything – you have your contestant pairs – one a darts player, the other there to answer questions – and at the end of each round the lowest scoring team is knocked out. In round one, each player tries to hit a category requested by the other player on the dartboard – they get bonus money for hitting the correct category and getting the question right. If they get it wrong, another contestant can buzz in for money. In Round 2, it was a case of each player getting three darts and the team with the highest score got to answer a question for more money. There would then be a charity round where a pro tried to earn as much money with 9 darts as possible, before moving into the final round where the winner tackled Bully’s Prize Board with the chance to win up to 9 prizes with 9 throws – both players in the team taking turns. Once their prizes were won, they could decide to go home with what they had, or gamble on the top prize – either winning or losing it all. This was a nice twist, because often the winning team would turn down the chance at the top prize, meaning the second, and then third place teams would be offered the same choice. If one of the teams did decide to go for it, they had to score more than 101 points with six throws – three for the darts dude, and three for the quiz person. More often than not, people would fail.

With this simple format, you could easily bring the show back – prizes need not be bank breakers, and you just need an affable host to run the show. Darts as a sport I feel has rarely been more popular, and surely a show like this would increase popularity and drive revenue towards some of the Sports Channels who host Darts Championships. There are plenty of near household name Darts players out there, at least for UK audiences, and of course you can still have your fancy pants celeb specials to grab more attention. I’m sure there are plenty of famous faces out there who grew up with the show and would want a chance to play on it while earning cash for charity.

Theme Tune: A nostalgic favourite, wouldn’t need much, if any updating.

Catchphrases: One hundred and eighty! It’s a bullseye! Keep out of the black and in the red – there’s nothing in this game for two in a bed’.

Full Swing

Keeping with the Sports theme, this was another one of those Summer time Caravan TV shows of my youth. Ostensibly a cash-in on Big Break, it never had anywhere near the same level of success and didn’t last long. Maybe it’s because my Caravan Park was opposite a Pitch’n’Putt and Driving Range which we played on at least once a week, maybe it was because Golf also always seemed to be on TV during the Summer hols, but I enjoyed Full Swing at the time.

Affable Scouse golf fan Jimmy Tarbuck hosted the show, often entering in a golf cart and telling his usual brand of family friendly jokes before introducing the guests. Like Big Break, three contestants would be paired with a celebrity – though typically not a golfer. Now, golf is a little more difficult to play within an enclosed space than snooker, meaning computer technology needed to be employed. Players would have to whack a real ball, which would translate to a virtual reality shot (think Wii Golf), and then contestants would answer questions for further shots. The second round saw contestant and celeb playing on a indoor mini golf course, complete with bunkers and water hazards, aiming to get as close to the hole as possible, with the final round being a beat the clock putting game. Again, like Big Break there was a consolation game for the first contestant to be knocked out, which involved a Mouse Trap esque Crazy Golf trick shot. This was probably my favourite part, because I used to love those Rube Goldberg type contraptions. And of course, it was a type of obstacle course.

This is one of the more unlikely shows to ever see a return, given how bad its ratings were. Honestly, I don’t think it was a bad attempt at porting the Big Break formula to sport which didn’t naturally suit it. Golf is still a highly popular sport and there are zero golf gameshows out there, so with a bit of tinkering a remake of this could be a minor hit. Once more, technology has improved to as to make the virtual golf better, more realistic, or alternatively you cold film the whole thing on location at a genuine golf course. I would maybe change up the first and second rounds, or even shake the whole thing up and have the whole thing (or one round) based around an indoor Crazy Golf course rather than the miniature pitch n putt style round. There’s plenty here to work with, and the fact that you would have celeb guests in each episode would keep things interesting for people not really invested in the sport. Perhaps a co-host or lively voiceover would improve entertainment and humour value.

Theme Tune: I remembered nothing of this and had to check Youtube to remind myself. It’s not great.

Catchphrases: More a host of Tarbuck specials and golf puns.

Small Talk

I loved Small Talk. It seemed like the perfect mixture of mirth, irreverent humour, and quiz fun and Ronnie Corbett was the perfect host. I believe the US had their own version too. Once more, three contestants faced off against each other, this time contending with a giant board filled with children. Yes. There were 9 squares, each with one child inside (though sometimes there would be a pair), and the kids had pre-recorded answers to questions which the contestants would be asked – the twist being that the contestants had to correctly guess if the particular child (or the majority) knew the correct answer. The children were amusing little characters themselves, often giving hilarious incorrect answers to the questions and nonsensical asides spurred on by Corbett. The final round would see Contestants trying to reach a score of 500 by picking five kids (each kids holding a particular points card from 50 to 500), and then guessing whether the kid would get a question correct or not. If the contestant and kid were in sync, the points were theirs. Sometimes things could be ruthless, with contestants not having a lot of faith in a particular child and expecting them to get everything wrong, but it was all done with the best intentions and was always light-hearted fun. One of my school teachers featured in an episode once – he didn’t win. I wonder if any of the kids are famous now. I bet one of them is Pixie Lott or some shite.

I see no reason why this wouldn’t work today. Sure, there would be some child safety protection bullshit going on, but kids will never not be funny. Look at all the memes and internet challenges which do the rounds each year – parents will know these – things like filming your child answering 20 random questions and then sharing their results, or leaving them alone with a chocolate biscuit for 1 minute and filming them to see if they can resist eating them – that was a big one in 2020. It’s the same idea, but less perverse. Who wouldn’t want to see their own kid on a show like this, and which mums and dads would not relate to the often bizarre responses to simple general knowledge questions? It’s the perfect show for early evening mid-week TV.

Theme Tune: A classic

Catchphrases: Oooh, nasty.

There you are – some random bloke’s list of TV shows he used to like and would like to see make a return. There is literally nothing omre important happening in the world right now. If you would like to see these make a comeback – please send me money and I’ll see what I can do.

Everything Will Be

Everything Will Be: 4/Great

One of my very favourite Lifeblood era B-sides, Everything Will Be has all the hallmarks of the lack of inspiration which Wire was suffering at the time – childlike, basic lyrics spun on repeat, and a very simple musical approach that seems like it was thrown together in a few minutes. Why the love then? It’s the melodies again, and the emotion behind them – that coldness which permeates so much of the era is blown up to the max here, the scratching lead guitar riff sounds heavenly and pained, there is a lot of empty space between the notes and sections with jarring pauses and sudden interruptions. But it’s the vocals melodies that make this so strong for me, a glorious chorus that extends its reach far beyond what is expected, and served by a detached verse where Bradfield sighs his way through the silly lyrics as if he has given up completely.

Misheard Lyrics: Torn between walls/still makes us carry on

2. Your sleepy eyes can no longer care

Actual Lyrics: Torn between what still makes us carry on

2. Your sleepy head can no longer care