Fading Out

Quiet here of late isn’t it?

In truth, I suspect I’ll be sunsetting this site sometime in the new year. It has long ceased to serve a purpose as a means of promotion and self-expression and the Chart Watch UK site is my main online presence and indeed will be going forward. I’ll make sure all the most memorable content is migrated to other platforms though. I’ve put the hard work into creating it in the first place, so I’ve no reason to hide it away again.

In the meantime you may want to check out:

No Tongues – It’s Daytime. My recounting of an Ofcom strike against an East London radio station for playing an instrumental when kids might be listening.

The Christmas Number One Liveblog. An annual tradition, my analysis of the runners and riders for Christmas Number One taking pride of place on the Chart Watch site this year.

Bob’s Badges

Rolling The Jack

I only knew my great-grandfather for a vanishingly brief amount of time.

Robert Aitken Masterton was his name, and for much of the early part of my childhood, he was all but invisible to us, living away in Belfast with his second wife. My younger sister and I only really became aware of him following the tragically premature death of his son, my paternal grandfather. He suddenly became a Grandad substitute,  a new kindly old man in our lives, one who we once visited at his home in Northern Ireland (where he’d lived since the end of the Second World War) and who then became a frequent house guest of ours for the last couple of years of his life.

He passed away, well into his 80s, in the summer of 1983. I accompanied my father to the house near Edinburgh where he spent the final part of his life and kept him and his uncle company whilst they went over his personal effects. I’ve no direct memory of it, but I can only presume it was on that trip where I came into possession of an extraordinary collection of artefacts by which he is forever defined in my memory.

Tin Can Alley

Politis Creme de Menthe

They’ve lived for years inside this tin, itself steeped in history. From what I can gather from some rudimentary research, Politis Creme de Menthe Turkish Delight was sold in these green tins during the 1950s and 1960s. Even they are seen as collectables and intact examples such as this regularly trade on eBay for a few pounds each time. Even this is a container all of its own and surely a concept lost to later generations. These days if you have stuff you want to store, you go buy a plastic container from Robert Dyas. If you were a child in the 1970s and your parents didn’t have things kept for safekeeping inside repurposed sweet or tobacco tins, were you even there at all?

So what is inside, I hear you ask. Take a look:

The tin opened

Inside the tin are badges. 92 different multicoloured enamel badges, mostly representing crown green bowling clubs across Northern Ireland and Scotland. It was, and indeed for those clubs which still survive still is, a tradition to have lapel badges made of your club crest for sale to members and visitors. For many players, it became a tradition to collect one from each club you visited through league or cup competition as if to assemble a drawer or even a display cabinet full of playing memories. Quite how my Grandfather came to possess these is something of a puzzle. My father has no memory of him being a bowler and there was nothing in his personal effects to suggest he ever had been. He was however employed as a groundsman, and it is more than possible he was responsible for the upkeep of bowling greens. An avid collector of trinkets, it isn’t beyond the bounds of possibility that he took the opportunity to acquire a collection of badges from visiting teams. Maybe in the hope one day they would be of some value.

Treasure Of The Sierra Madre

Maryfield Bowling Club DundeeSome have a simple design, such as this Scottish one from Dundee. Although the gold thistle alone makes it quite the work of art as it is.

Coleraine Bowling ClubOthers are more ornate, the Coleraine Bowling Club in Ulster (suffering from flash glare sadly) featuring a more colourful crest.

Windsor Bowling ClubHere’s the crest of the Windsor Bowling Club in Belfast.

The location here is important, as there are a number of “Windsor Bowling Clubs” across both the British Isles and across the world, as a quick google search reveals. Interestingly all have the stag and shield logo in common, although the castle motif seems unique to this Belfast-based badge.

My Grandfather’s collection also contains some genuine curiosities too. Mementoes of what were clearly two visiting tours from teams predating sporting and cultural boycotts.

South African Bowling Tour

This pair of badges turned out to be quite useful in helping to date the collection. Whilst there’s the cliche that lawn bowls is only played by elderly people (leading to the awkward statistic of it being one of the most dangerous sports in existence due to its high proportion of in-game fatalities), dating these badges to the 1950s puts my Grandfather in his late 40s or at worst early 50s when he was collecting these. That’s also in keeping with the vintage of the tin in which they are kept.

Whilst sorting through them for this piece, I did stumble across one curiosity:

Civil Defence Bowling Club

A bowling club clearly formed back in wartime and centred around those men (and women) forming part of the civil defence. There are precious few clues online however as to who V Group were and precisely where they were based. No team of this name appears to still exist. Unless anyone reading this knows otherwise.

Eyes Right

Such collections are far from uncommon and sets are regularly traded by collectors on eBay. The badges themselves aren’t particularly rare, alhough they have some value for collectors and individual ones will often fetch a couple of pounds each on the traders market. I’m no trader or collector, but somehow it seems important to me that I have these and have hung onto them for 35 years. My link to a kindly old man who not only eased for me the transition of dealing with the first death of a close relative but who will always be the oldest living ancestor of mine who I was lucky enough to meet.

Also, there’s one final badge in the tin which isn’t from a bowling club but which has a greater significance than I used to appreciate when examining them as a child.

Royal Army Service Corps badge

His old regimental cap badge. To be pinned to the beret and worn above the eye. The inscription reads HONI SOIT QUI MAL Y PENSE, the old French Maxim losely translated as “shame be to he who evil thinks”. It’s the motto of both the Royal Order of the Garter but also over the years that of various service branches of the British Army – in this case, the Royal Army Service Corps to which Robert Aitken Masterton was attached during his time as a soldier. He never saw active service, being too old to fight in WWI and too old by the time of WWII. But he was posted during the latter war to Belfast, which was where he met the lady who would be his second wife and how he came to settle there rather than back in his native Scotland. The badge is battered and careworn, but possibly close to a century after it was first issued to him, it has passed down to me.

Links To The Past

As a child, I’d sometimes spend time browsing through the contents of the tin, never quite appreciating how they had come to be in the possession of my Grandfather or indeed the historic link they represented. In truth, the act of writing this piece is probably the first time I’ve even contemplated their sentimental value. But they are my important link to the past of a kindly old man who appeared to treasure the time he spent with my sister and I in the final years of his life, as much as we were glad to know him.

For Robert Aitken Masterton, Royal Army Service Corps, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and, as it turns out, collector. These are the fruits of his hobby, and ones which mean I can retain a physical link to his memory.

Now Hear This

I think it was worth the wait in the end. Now! 100 is finally here.

Now That's What I Call Music 100

The dedicated band of people behind the production of the thrice-yearly Now That’s What I Call Music albums did a masterful job of not only building up the anticipation to the release of Volume 100 but also skilfully managing the PR campaign to ensure it was treated as a genuine major event. In the process thrusting the venerable compilations brand to the forefront of public discussion in a manner it hasn’t achieved for some considerable time.

Links Ahoy

One possible downside of the true extent of the coverage is that it exposed the way that the story behind a series of pop music compilations isn’t all that involved. Really there are only so many ways to spin the tale. Once you’ve heard one set of executives explaining about the Danish advertisement for bacon which hung on the boardroom wall at Virgin Records and which gave the collection its name, you don’t really need to hear it from five other people. But over the past week or so that’s precisely what has happened.

Amongst the many debates, discussions and documentaries that have appeared online there’s been:

A BBC Radio documentary on compilations, with a particular focus on Now!

A Virgin Radio UK documentary covering similar ground. Richard Branson telling the story of the pig poster included, naturally.

A Monocle 24 culture show on the same topic.

The BBC news website went behind the scenes to sit in on the process of putting together the celebrated 100th edition of the series. A piece which to my amusement and fascination featured identical contributions from the same individuals who appeared in the simultaneously published Guardian piece detailing the production of the 99th volume from earlier this year.

A search of online newspaper archives also turns up articles from past milestones, such as this one from a full ten years ago celebrating the series as it reached the 25th anniversary and which needless to say contains many of the same facts as the current swathes of admiring coverage. 2008 was also the last time I had cause to write about collecting Now That’s What I Call Music albums, prompted by a special CD re-release of the very first volume and one which I wrote about track by track on this very site. That re-release turned out to be so successful there were apparently tentative plans to continue with later volumes until it was noted that there was a Gary Glitter track on Volume 3 which was not so easily sidestepped. So plans were aborted, or so the rumour goes.

We All Have A Favourite

The Now! 100 hype has for me thrown into sharp focus the peculiar need for Britsh people to elevate the mundane to a beloved tradition, irrespective of whether it has ever been viewed that way. Aside from the one or two dedicated collectors, of which in all fairness I am one, I’m not sure anyone really had cause to fetishise the purchasing of a compilation album until this anniversary was released. Yet when prompted to do so, everyone can produce their own memories of the first one they were gifted, the volume which means the most to them for being the soundtrack of a particular time in life, or the particular moment all modern pop music started to sound rubbish and not like it was back in their day.

In that sense, Now That’s What I Call Music compilations kind of mirror the approach the average person has to the pop charts in general. Every single one of us intersects and engages with them at a certain point in life, and those are the only time that counts for us. We may not care much for the rest of our lives, but it is always nice to know they are still there. 35 years after the release of the first edition, suddenly everyone has been made aware that Now! is still around and in relative terms going strong. That may go some way to explaining the huge sale with which Volume 100 is set to debut at the weekend, early sales flashes suggesting it sold 105,000 copies in its first three days one sale alone. Compare that to its predecessor which posted 115,000 sales across the whole its first week back in March.

Disc 2 Disappointment

Not that the production of Now That’s What I Call Music! Volume 100 hasn’t been without its critics. I was amongst the many voices who reacted with some bemusement at the announcement that only the first disc would be filled with contemporary chart hits, the second featuring a selection of what you might call “Now’s Greatest Hits” with selected tracks from the collections from the last 35 years. This in spite of plans later in the year for a separate 100 track “Now That’s What I Call Now” retrospective. Which naturally will cover much of the same ground.

I suspect in the first instance this was done this way to broaden the appeal of the special edition. 100th volume notwithstanding, ramming it full of recent chart hits alone still would not have encouraged older generations to revert to old habits and make a souvenir purchase. It also allows the makers to sidestep what is fast becoming a major issue. The slow movement of the singles charts (despite best efforts to speed it up) meaning that locating 45-50 tracks to feature on each successive edition is becoming ever more of a struggle. By only having to fill a single disc this time around the compilers have more material to bite on for Volume 101 at Christmas.

Still, if it still meant the opportunity for my friend Bob Stanley to select his own playlist of the most eclectic deep cuts from the history of the series, who are we to complain? In any event, if those casual purchasers take the time to listen to Disc 1 they will discover that even the limited selection of current hits in contains just throws up how fabulous pop music is sounding right now. Shotgun, Solo, No Tears Left To Cry, 2002, I’ll Be There, If You’re Over Me, Flames, Better Now and Rise is a mouthwatering sequence of pop hits. Almost every one a Top 5 smash and every one of them the kind of single that will cause future generations to look back and mark the summer of 2018 down as a vintage era for pop music.

This Took Bloody Ages

As I admitted above, I’m a collector. Having been gifted the first volume and proceeded to obtain each subsequent one by fair means or foul ever since. How best to show off that collection? Well, three days before Volume 100 was released I decided to lay all the others end to end just to see how far around the house they would reach. It turns out I may need to buy a bigger one before too long.