History, Mystery, Music and Pop…

Random thoughts on books and events.

The double dissolution 

Mr Turnbull, having flagged his intentions about a month ago, has just announced he has the consent for a double dissolution 
This is political suicide for him. He’s coming off the back of a branch stacking scandal; a submarines announcement that has not been that well received; the imminent arrest of mal Brough; and the probable loss of warringah, Indi (and Sophie Mirabella is high profile whether she deserves to be or not); the probable loss of the leader of the national party’s seat and a tax regime that has favoured his own seat 
Now anything can happen and elections aren’t that easy to predict. But at this stage it seems that Mr Turnbull will lose and lose badly. His poorly esteemed predecessor Mr Abbott might crow that he would have won. This is arrant nonsense. Mr Abbott is part of the problem of Mr Turnbull’s issues. But Mr Turnbull has failed the trust test. Not only has he not provided better government he’s not provided anything. 
Internal liberal party polling allegedly shows a landslide against them. All this remains to be seen and with an ALP with a leader who hasn’t yet win back public trust, it is too early to call. Nonetheless I wouldn’t bet on Mr Turnbull to stay in the Lodge this week. 

Australia: a republic worth living for 


Moss doesn’t grow: an alternative universe appears

‘Sir Michael, they’ll be here shortly. Do you want a press spokesman?’

‘No, thank you, Angie, I’ll talk to them before I go’

Sir Michael sat in a big office in Whitehall. This was, perhaps, not the best time to leave, but politics was a tough game, and it eventually caught up with everyone. He’d been the conservative member for Sedding Vale, a fairly safe semi-urban seat, since 1975. Seen as one of the party’s bright young men, his full lips, penetrating voice and blue eyes cut a fine figure on television. Some called him ugly, but there was no doubt he caught the female vote. He progressed quickly, especially as one of Maggie’s favourites. His landmark speech, in which he’d started ‘I speak for those who live on the ninth floor and above of their unit blocks. You are the backbone of Britain….’  He’d finished it, ‘and to those I love, those dreamers, those doers, I want them to say to government, get off my cloud.’

Maggie loved it, of course. Next cabinet reshuffle, he got a junior ministry, arts and recreation, and then soon was sworn in as a cabinet member: first as defence minister, then foreign secretary, and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer. His then wife, Virginia Makepeace, was proud of him, and when they moved into 12 Downing Street, she nearly burst with excitement. Ah, sweet Virginia. Beautiful, sexy, but dumb. They caught her with amphetamines in the soles of her shoes in Customs. The divorce was quick and saw him return to the backbench for a time. When Maggie was rolled (and he never really forgave them for it, though he remained under their thumb), he retained the Exchequer.

He stood for the leadership after Major bit the dust, but lost by two votes. The new leader squared some deal with Blair to make him Speaker, a role sir Michael played with dignity, probity and fairness. It was a good clip. A firm knowledge of parliamentary procedure, a firm hand and he was able to exact revenge on his enemies. One of his proudest moments was the knighthood. Or maybe becoming a Privy Councillor. A long way from the economics and politics degree he’d received from the LSE.

He occasionally thought back to his youth. The band he’d joined with his primary schoolmate, Keith. They were a blues band, a sound he’d liked, though he really wondered why any Englishman would play it. Muddy Waters was a particular favourite, though he hadn’t listened to it in years. He wondered what might have happened if he’d stuck with it. Keith was still plugging away in a band down Surrey way. It was a little sad, Keith with an old telecaster, playing old licks. Stu would have been there, but he’d died, of natural causes, after running one of the UK’s biggest logistics companies. Charlie was the best musician they’d had, and still did sessions.  Perks (what was his first name?) married some young girl and settled down. And that bum, Jones. What an awful individual.

Sir Michael felt he probably should go down one weekend and sit in with harmonica. After all, it was, when you got down to it, only rock and roll. He liked it. But it would never do, seeing the speaker of the house gallivanting around as a 65 year old, playing rock music. He’d feel foolish, and it was a young mans game.

‘Sir Michael, they’re here.’

‘Thanks, Angie. I’ll be right out.”

Of course, it was his need for companionship, and his high stress job. He must have had 19 nervous breakdowns. Or at least would have, if it wasn’t for the odd spot of cocaine and occasional affair. Chemical enhancement kept him going, and the women were a added bonus of the job. The fateful night came at the end of a hellish week. The press had decided, as they did from time to time, to target him because he’d caught out one of their favourites in the House. This New York divorcee: one of the world’s most prominent women had put him in touch with a professional lady who was supposed to be discreet. But one of her clients, who himself was trying to avoid jail, confessed to the police. All Sir Michael was after was a little Coke and sympathy. The client list was spilled to the press. And now the police were on their way.

He stepped out to the press. He was not going to break down. He’d be a fool to cry.

‘There’s a storm coming’ he said. ‘It’s threatening our very lives today. War, a civil war is just a shot away. While I am paying for a minor mistake, I implore the government and the opposition to not focus on this distraction and keep safety paramount. Before they make me run, let me beseech you, I’m not happy.’

‘Michael Phillip Jagger. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am detective sergeant Michael Taylor’, said the policeman, obviously, thinking Sir Michael,  loving the time in the limelight. ‘You are under arrest for …’ The voice trailed off as Michael tried to fathom what had happened. As he got in the car, he dreaded the cell. Maybe he should have stayed in the band. He remembered Keith’s abuse. ‘You don’t leave here till you die, you moron.” Keith stayed, and while he never really got anywhere, he had stayed true to that vision.

The cell was the worst night he’d had. As he said to Angie, ‘you should have heard them, just around midnight.’ The court was brutal. Stripped of everything, titles, prestige, job and freedom, all he wanted was his precious time. Rolling Stones gathered no moss. And apparently, 100 years ago, he’d have gotten away with it. Now, he was 2000 light years from home. And time waits for no one. It was no longer on his side. You can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need. And sometimes not even that.

Malcolm Turnbull: Prime Minister

Well, Mr Turnbull did it: fairly easily, though not as easily as Ms Bishop, who got 70% of the vote. Mr Turnbull won by 10 votes – not comprehensive, but solid. One wonders if Mr Abbott punched the wall next to Mr Turnbull when the result was read.

The next few days will be consumed with who will be what in the new cabinet. There is very little Mr Turnbull can do to change the party’s fortunes: the public may forgive, but they do not really forget.

We will see, I think, more women brought into the Cabinet. We will see same sex marriage back on the agenda. Refugees will continue to be used as political punching bags, though maybe the rhetoric will sound more human. We will still bomb Syria. And if not Syria, somewhere else. The GST will rise, continuing that ineffective, unjust tax on the poor. Scott Morrison will be rewarded for his thuggery. Joe Hockey will be punished for,well, being Joe Hockey. Christopher Pyne will receive the reward he deserves. Bronwyn Bishop will remain a backbencher, and her bitter, sad, unnoticed end will be even less heralded.

Given Mr Turnbull’s underwhelming performance as Communications Minister, I suspect it will take some time for good government to begin. Again? Or for the first time?

Mr Abbott will not be missed by many: his style did not suit most people’s conception of how a Prime Minister should behave.

Times have become interesting again.

The End of the Abbott?

As I write this, a vote for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Australia is about half an hour away. A quick sketch now as I ponder how it came to this, and perhaps more analysis after the result is known.

Mr Abbott has not settled well into the job: even allowing for political differences, Mr Abbott does not communicate well. He seems to lack sensitivity. He has a reputation of flying by the seat of his pants. He makes short term decisions for short term political gain. He has not espoused policy beyond slogans.

Mr Turnbull has not impressed either. Once the Liberal candidate the left could live with, his destruction of the NBN, his seeming lack of principle, and the opinions of other senior liberals (which are not high) sees him as yesterday’s man – a Rosebery, perhaps.

Mr Abbott came to power on a negative campaign. He lucked into the leadership – the foolish Joe Hockey split the moderate vote (Mr Hockey’s own lack of competence is well documented.).

What should the ALP think? Mr Shorten was the candidate brought in to prove to the membership that the factions still wielded power – he is not well regarded at least in NSW: social media is full of people hoping Mr Abbott loses so the ALP can get a ‘real leader’…

It’s the end of Murdoch. Murdoch, who destroyed his own reputation in the UK (and subsequently everywhere) thanks to the Lewison inquiry, still sees himself as a kingmaker. A tweet last week is seen as  a coded instruction or encouragement for Mr Abbott to call a double dissolution. Mr Abbott did not, and now faces consequences. But Mr Murdoch has finally lost his influence in Australia. The Australian people are stopping listening to him. Declining sales, declining ratings and a generation who prefers a more diverse media has killed him.

About 10 minutes to go: Andrew Hastie (who spoke well, though a closer examination would show a superficial and naive view of the world) has taken the approach that he wants to win Canning – a not unreasonable approach.

Julie Bishop will either end her career or become deputy leader to her third leader. (Nelson, Turnbull, Abbott). She’s not really impressed in the role of Foreign Minister, but she has seemed to settle into it adequately. I suspect she’s learned to take the advice of her department.

Mr Abbott may well win: he is, I suspect, ringing round (or his whips and supporters are) reminding people that the instability in the ALP was what cost them the last election. Differences abound though – neither Ms Gillard nor Mr Rudd were able to hold the confidence of the press. Both were competent (all of our prime ministers were – except McMahon and Abbott – even Whitlam was able to achieve major policy victories – the fact that the Liberal and Country parties didn’t like them didn’t stop them being major. Both Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard had the respect and admiration of foreign leaders in a way Mr Abbott has never managed.

The ballot has started. The atmosphere in the room must be thick with tension. There are those who are betraying a man who has been personally good to them, but who, either for selfish or altruistic reasons (or both) have made a very hard decision. There are those who are sticking with Mr Abbott, and hoping the gamble pays off. There are those who are looking to see what advantage they can wrest… What they all have in common is that they want it to end quickly.

Mr Turnbull’s speech from earlier is being repeated. I don’t believe him. A lot will. Mr ABbott again fails to impress.

It’s a no win situation: if Mr Abbott wins, he’s destabilised, and he’s lost two senior ministers (if not more). If he loses, well, so does Hockey, Pyne, Brandis, Abetz, Brandis…

Sue Boyce is now talking – she’s against the spill. It’s really just filler. She disagrees with a lot of Mr Abbott, but ‘we will rue (knocking off a sitting Prime Minister)…’ Quite possibly that is true.

My guess is that the counting has begun – it will be counted a couple of times….

The telecaster

just a few random thoughts on that marvellous guitar, the telecaster. 

Essentially  developed by Leo Fender in around 1949, the telecaster is one of those inventions that get it exactly right. A solid block of wood, carved in the rough shape of an acoustic guitar with a single cutaway, 21 or 22 frets, two knobs: one for volume, one for tone. Pickups: initially one, when it was the Esquire. Two  for a Tele. Most teles have single coil pickups.  The stratocaster brings in the third one, and the Nashville has that. Unlike most guitars, the strings go through the body, giving a very different tone. The body gives the strings a particular resonance.    
That sound: the snap. The twang. Despite its seeming limitations, the telecaster is the most versatile guitar there is. Comfortable in country, blues, rock, jazz, metal, fusion, folk, et centra et cetera. A greater tonal range than the les Paul or the stratocaster, the telecaster fits and enhances. 
For years I played a Yamaha. I chose it over a telecaster! I’m still not sure why, but there was a sense in which I thought I wasn’t ready. Now, I love the Yamaha. But three years ago, I finally bought a 2012 fender Nashville   deluxe telecaster.  It has an extra stratocaster pickup. I got it modified so it switches to the vital bridge neck sound, and I’ve put a wilkinson tempered three saddle bridge on it. The bridge improved tone and sustain. 
So, why a telecaster? Why not a strat? Or a Paul? Or a 335? Basically, teles change your sound. They change your style. The cliches are true – you can’t hide on a telecaster. Yes, I use all types of pedals. But, as Sam Bush States in the John Hiatt song: ‘I like country music, I like mandolins, but what I need right now is a telecaster through a vibrolux turned to 10’. 
The best history is Duchoissoir’s, which is full of details. Tony Bacon does some good work. There’s also the telecaster manual.  Great discussion can be found at This site
My deluxe. Albeit with the original six saddle bridge. 

Danny Gatton signature telecaster. The most expensive signature model made to that point. 

The telecaster thin line. Perhaps the only great thing of the CBS years. This is a 1972 reissue: note the humbuckers. The 1969 version had single coils. The chambers are a brilliant innovation. Used by players like don rich, it can still snap and twang, but it has a warmer range. 
Keith Richards micawber. 

Love the silver sparkle of don rich

Jimmy Bryant was the first major player of the telecaster. His jazz inflected country leads were fast, flashy, skilled and lay the template for later players. 

Steve the colonel Cropper. Unusually,he preferred the neck pickup. 
To be continued. 

More toppermosts. 

My latest two. Do make sure you read the whole site 
http://www.toppermost.co.uk/beach-boys/ The Beach Boys. Done with Rob !organ and Peter Viney. I’m in very good company. 

http://www.toppermost.co.uk/traveling-wilburys/ the traveling wilburys. 


The marvellous website, Toppermost.co.uk, run by (who I like to think is) my good friend Merric Davidson has documented the most representative, best, favourite ten tracks of various acts…

Here are some of mine: most done very quickly (or I’d never get them done), all done of bands or acts I love, all wrong, of course… Hope you enjoy.

The Monkees: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/monkees/

Queen: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/queen/

Sam Bush: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/sam-bush/

Bill Monroe: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/bill-monroe/

Boomtown Rats: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/boomtown-rats/

New Grass Revival: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/new-grass-revival/

Led Zeppelin: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/led-zeppelin/

Jeff Beck: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/jeff-beck/

Jack Bruce: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/jack-bruce/

“Weird Al” Yankovic (with Ian Ashleigh): http://www.toppermost.co.uk/weird-al-yankovic/

B. B. King: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/b-b-king/

Eric Clapton: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/eric-clapton/

Midnight Oil: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/midnight-oil/

Bee Gees: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/bee-gees/ (boy, did I cop it for this one… )

Cold Chisel: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/cold-chisel/

AC/DC: http://www.toppermost.co.uk/acdc/

As I continue to do them (with the editor’s permission, of course), I’ll add them here.

Meanwhile, lots of reading for all of you….

Fifty Stories for Fifty Years: Andrew Hickey

Adams, Douglas

One of the great writers (quite oddly, but that’s another story) of the 20th century. He wrote, of course, Hitchhikker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and the Dirk Gently novels (which have a lot in common with Shada). Given his association with Dr Who, which this book is about, I was hoping for a little more on him. But then, after Shada, what more can be said that hasn’t been said elsewhere?


What this book isn’t: it’s a collection of critical essays, taking one story from each of the years Dr Who has been active. It’s not just the TV show, though: the novelisations, comics, and audios all get a guernsey


Those who travel with Dr Who: of course, they’re also called companions – but in the 60s and 70s, Dr Who had to be a figure who was authoritative, with no equal. This was somewhat of a shame, as the best companions were his equal, as Hickey points out.


In Hickey’s view, those who undermine the whole meaning of Doctor Who by really being obstinate and refusing to let the story unfold organically. He believes (and I agree) that you can have contradictions and incompletion. Dr Who, at his best, is about the joy of learning, of science, of adventure. Sticking things into a box tends to undermine all of these.

Baker, Tom

Longest serving and immensely popular actor who played the Doctor in the 1970s and 1980s. Described, rightly, by Hickey as one of the most charismatic actors ever, Baker is the definitive Dr Who for many people. Hickey himself prefers William Hartnell, but there are a lot who would put David Tennant or Matt Smith above both of them.


The greatest of television science fiction villains. I was fascinated to find out Tom Baker only faced them twice. Only rivalled by the Cybermen, who aren’t quite as interesting, though if the Daleks had never been thought of, the Cybermen would be in their place.

Davies, Russell T.

Showrunner. Hickey ‘leans towards not a fan’: he defends this position. I lean towards ‘a fan’ because he brought it back, and the idea of the show (and Hickey shows the genesis of these ideas) and got it to more or less work. Not every script that Davies has done has worked, and neither have those of his successor, Steven Moffatt, but in my view, the concept has.  There was a sense that they don’t quite know their own strengths. I agree with Hickey when he disparages the ‘story arc’ – the Bad Wolf one was particularly disappointing and bathetic, and made no sense after some thinking – was Rose really that influential? Since when? How? etc.

Dicks, Terrance

Writer of scripts, but also of many novelisations. As Hickey says, rather workmanlike, but effective. Dicks has a claim to have shaped the literacy of a generation of English (and Australian) readers.

Doctor Who

Iconic television, book, radio, comic figure who has just celebrated 50 years of broadcast. One of the great science fiction ideas, the scripts, as Hickey points out are often ridiculous and just plain bad. Just as often, though, they are revelatory and transcendent. Dr Who is a Time Lord from the planet Gallifrey. Instead of dying, he stems entropy by regeneration: hence the character, like Sherlock Holmes, but in a much more practical way, having never lived, can never die.

It’s also the title of the programme which features the character. If you like science fiction, you must have at least a passing acquaintance with the Doctor. A stunningly good program at its best, when it worked within its limitations, it enhanced imagination. When it kicked against them, it was often disastrous. Given that the show has a boundless brief (time travelling alien can travel anywhere at any time) and has had some of the best writers in the business and most creative crew) it is surprising how much of it is just plain. Nonetheless, at its best, its one of the best shows of all time.


See Baddies

Hickey, Andrew

Author of at least half a dozen books: of the six I own, I’ve found them all unputdownable. His book on the Beatles is among the very best on the subject. his Monkees book is definitive  This book is just as personal, intelligent and well-written as the others I’ve read. He is about my favourite current author.

Holmes, Robert

By common consent, the best scriptwriter Dr Who has had.


Hickey’s books are infused with this: for example – he describes a ‘meme’ as a term meaning an idea, coined by someone who never had one.

Levine, Ian

Massive fan of Dr Who, record producer and DC Comics collector. Levine has managed to save many episodes, but Hickey broadly disagrees with his approach to continuity, use of old monsters and restoration of missing scenes.


Hickey’s entry  for this and the Book of the War inspired this format for this review. It allowed him to bring in concepts like entropy and Teilhard De Chardin and other large concepts. He deals with them excellently. Read Hickey’s book, rather than ask me.

Moffatt, Steven

Current show-runner: Hickey tends to the ‘not a fan’ side of things, whereas I tend to the ‘am a fan’ things. But there are some worrying trends – there is, often, a lack of imagination – the scripts I found brilliant tended to be those in which the Doctor is somewhat fallible. Moffatt has a worrying tendency to pander to the largest fan base (look at Sherlock, where most of the scripts now seem to be aimed at the ‘single female 22 year old librarian’ demographic, whatever that is. If he’s not careful, he’ll lose 60% of the audience who don’t reasonably fit that, and I suspect a great deal of the audience who do will get offended. Nontheless, the best of his stuff is among the very very best.

Nathan-Turner, John

Showrunner of Dr Who from 1980-1989: although he preferred variety tv, and seemed not to ‘get’ Dr Who, as Hickey points out, his flaws were not necessarily worse than any other showrunners’ flaws. Terrance Dicks compared Nathan-Turner to Hitler and Himmler. Most fans dislike him, but Hickey is, as always, fair.


Of course I have some with this book, but they add to the enjoyment: I think Davies and Moffatt have added to the show more than they have detracted from it.

Hickey critiques the use of the Gen-X ‘so’ intensifier. While it does suggest a lack of imagination (would anyone else in the galaxy speak that way?) I’d point out that the show has always had the values of its time and place.

I think that John Pertwee was a better doctor than Hickey thinks. Hickey dismisses Pertwee’s doctor as a bully – I think it was a much better performance than that.

I also think that the best of the post 2005 series is the one with Charles Dickens, but I also think Matt Smith will go down as an underrated doctor – when the scripts are good, Smith was perfect. He, like Colin Baker, was lumbered with some terrible ideas that he made the most of.

There are a few typos. Big Deal.


The great ‘missing’ Doctor Who episode: written by Douglas Adams, it has been recreated by fans (including Ian Levine) from existing footage and augmented animation or sounds. Its ideas later turn up in Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Hickey also points out that it is very similar to the Beach Boys album Smile, in that it almost collapses under its own weight of expectation. And when it is finally done, it doesn’t reach these expectations. and nothing that follows does either. (Although see Moffat)

Time Travel

A surprisingly little used plot device (until after 2005, and in the novels, etc). The Doctor of course can travel throughout time and space effortlessly, but few plots concentrated on the ramifications of this. Watching this as a child, and later as an adult in repeat, I never noticed…


The person reading this: and what you should do? Read this book if you are a Doctor Who fan – you will get a lot out of it.

Elvis and the Band

A popular repeat

History, Mystery, Music and Pop...

1971: noone could quite believe it: not his father, not his now-unemployed band; not any of the hangers-on. Not Priscilla, who was quite relieved, really. But Elvis, sick of the exploitation, the mistrust, and, really, sick of not being in control, sacked Tom Parker. It was the Memphis sessions. Chips Moman had told him he was fat and lazy. A man had a choice. Accept it. Or change. The Colonel was comfortable and wanted Elvis comfortable to ensure his own continued comfort. So the break came.

Parker tried fighting; but as Elvis’s attorneys dug into Parker’s past, they found stories that Parker didn’t want told. Once they realised that 1) he didn’t have a US passport; 2) he didn’t have a US passport because he wasn’t eligible for one 3) he wasn’t eligible for one because he was illegal immigrant and 4) he was an illegal immigrant for allegedly terrible…

View original post 1,226 more words