After a lull yesterday I am back listening to Everything But The Girl and learning from them to help raise money for Comic Relief. I am part of Team @tracey_thorn, aiming for a #twittermillion. I have set myself a target of £1986, in honour of EBTG’s 1986 album, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. So far I am 17% there, with £350.

I have two EBTG albums to pick tracks from, and today’s choice, Ballad Of The Times, comes from 1985’s Love Not Money. (Struggling to reach my target I may have to lower my aim to £1985).

Frank, aka @eph_bee, picked this one. He also made a donation to Comic Relief, for which I say a big thank you. x

Ballad Of The Times is the first song choice to be solely written by Ben Watt (that’s the first thing I’ve learned).

It sounds jolly, and, like a lot of Love Not Money, it makes me think of the jangly guitar sounds of The Smiths (which I mean as a good thing). And, also like The Smiths, behind the joyful sounds there’s a sadness.

The times it ballads are, I guess, the early to mid 80’s; Thatcher at her best. It could be a song swinging between the end of The Falkands War and the beginning of the Miners’ Strike.

Then again, it could be a song about now.

Because Billy has gone off to war/ And God knows what he’s fighting for/ But wartime will make him a man/ Work that one out if you can

It’s also about hard times when promises were not enough to pay for shoes. And in hard times we can turn inwards too:

Narrow streets breed narrow minds/ And care for kin but not for kind

The 80’s? Or now, Mr Nigel Farage?

What am I learning? What am I on about? All I know is good songs can affect us way beyond the times in which they were written. Perhaps it’s a Ballad Of Times.

It reminds me of another 80’s song of war and hard times; Shipbuilding by Elvis Costello.

Is it worth it?/ a new winter coat and shoes for the wife

That’s Elvis. But it resonates with Ben’s line:

When did a promise ever pay for shoes?

And that makes me think of Comic Relief with its mission to “tackle the root causes of poverty and social injustice”.

If you can give to Comic Relief please do. You can sponsor me here.

At first I couldn’t find Ballad Of The Times on youtube and so I made my own video, looking out from our flat. Since then I’ve found a live version. Let’s have both.

Here’s the live version, with some Morrissey-like dancing from Tracey and a big jacket from Ben:

And here’s my home made thing:

I failed. I’m sorry. Yesterday got the better of me and I didn’t listen. I didn’t learn. I took a day off after writing my update. I drank too much. It was all too easy; off to the in-laws for Mothers’ Day, off to the pub for football, and, before I could even know it, I was home, drinking wine to the final of Mr Selfridge (don’t ask me who won. Or lost).

And so my Comic Relief Challenge as part of team @tracey_thorn came to a temporary halt.

Come hell or high water/ You never will be/ A goddess or a genius/ A drunkard at twenty three/ And all that you yearn for/ Is attention I guess/ Come hell or high water/ You deserve nothing less

Sounds about right.

But, nevertheless, I did get a sponsor yesterday. @marksemczyszyn sponsored me pushing my total up to £330. he’s doing his own thing for Comic Relief too. You can sponsor Mark here.

I’ve a long way to go to meet my target. Quite a few country miles. Yesterday I wrote about some bonus things that will happen if I get nearer the target. I also wrote about how it can be difficult giving money when we have no money to give. So, as always, it’s a polite, almost apologetic hector. If you can, that’d he great.

And if you can, you can here.

And later today I will write about another song. At least one. Maybe two to make up for yesterday.

Happy Monday. x


Happy Mothers’ day to all you mothers out there. Happy Day to all.

It’s a Sunday and in a bit were off to Zoe’s mum’s for some food, some family fun, walking the dogs in the park, going to the pub… not necessarily in that order. More likely in reverse order.

Which is a long-winded way of saying that today’s Comic Relief Team tracey_thorn Challenge will not happen until this evening.

But, if you can, I’d love for you to keep sponsoring. Big thanks and lots of love to yesterday’s sponsors, Simon, Matt, and Lisa. And good luck to Matt, who is running 10km today to raise money for AgeUK.

I’m up to £320 and 16% of my £1986 target. It’s a very high target, and, let’s be honest, one I am unlikely to reach. I’m good at urging people to give, but not that good. Times are hard. And I’m not some comfortable P-list celebrity just making the right noises here- part of the reason I have set up my challenge is that it gives me the chance to contribute to Comic Relief in the best way I can, because for sure my money would not go far at all.

Having said that, I am going to sponsor @marksemczyszyn. He’s on a rival team, not team Tracey Thorn but Team Emma Kennedy. But hey, at the risk of getting all We Are The World on you… let’s face facts folks! We’re all on the same team!

Anyways, I’m sponsoring him because he’s come up with a great idea for Comic Relief, and a cheap one too. He wants you to buy him a ‘drink’ for his birthday. Of course it’s not a drink, it’s a donation to Comic Relief.

Like I say, it’s a great idea. When you look around the world of Comic Relief giving you see donations of £10, £15, £20, sometimes more. I’m sure some people hold back from donating because giving £2, or £1, seems too small, seems like it won’t make a difference… even could make someone worry that it makes them look mean.

Well, that’s just only so much shit. if you can give £1, please do. Mark has 356 followers on Twitter. Imagine if they all gave £1. If all my followers gave £1 that would add a bit more. And if all of Tracey’s and Emma’s followers gave £1… Between the four of us we’d have raised over £100,000.

£100,000. Imagine.

Give £1 if you can.  Buy mark a pint for his birthday (this Saturday). I’m going to get him a pint of Sierra Nevada Ale. They sell it at the East Dulwich Tavern (where I sing with a choir every Monday night). It’s £5.50 a pint! Can you believe that!

If we all bought Mark a ‘pint’ he’d be horribly ‘drunk’, so buy him a soft drink from the shop and donate £1.

Done. And I’m Mark’s first sponsor! You can sponsor him here.

And if you wish to sponsor me too you can do that here.

That’s enough begging for today.

Oh no… sorry. I forgot. It’s not.

My wife Zoe said to me; “Why don’t we recreate the cover to Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.”

Hmmm. That’s a thing. I’m not sure how we’d do it, but I’m up for having a go. And then I said to Zoe; “Ok, we’ll do it… when I hit the 50% mark of my target.”

So there. All we need today is for lots of people to give Mark a pound, and one benevolent fat cat (I use that term kindly, I like cats) to give me about £650.


I did point out that recreating the cover of Love Not Money would be easier; just an average Saturday night out for us two.

Oh, just realised I haven’t sorted my song for later. If anyone wants to pick one from either Baby, The Stars Shine Bright or Love Not Money, please do and let me know through Twitter (@simonmhickson) Oh, and don’t pick one I’ve done.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for giving. Happy Mother’s/Mothers’ Day. x

It’s been a crazy few days, and, what with Ugly Little Dreams and Little Hitler, we’ve been to some pretty dark places. But it’s a Saturday now and time to put on our dancing shoes.

Today’s choice for my Comic Relief Team @tracey_thorn Challenge comes from my wife, Zoe. She ummed and aahed between Don’t Leave Me Behind and A Country Mile, before settling on Don’t Leave Me behind.

I’ve learned something new already. Shockingly, Don’t Leave Me Behind only reached 72 in the charts. Sweetly, Zoe was born in ’72.

Sweetly, I was born in ’62, and so were Tracey Thorn and Ben Watt. Shockingly, that makes the three of us all 50.

Don’t Leave Me Behind has trumpets! It’s a mid-80’s trump-fest that makes me think of Elvis Costello when he went trumpet loopy. Before we enjoy Don’t Leave Me Behind let’s have a laugh with Mr Costello in what is one of the daftest videos of the 80’s (possibly of all time).

Did you spot any familiar faces in there?

You’ll also spot some familiar faces in the video for Don’t Leave Me Behind. Look! Annie Lennox on piano!

This video is less daft than Elvis’. It’s just Ben and Tracey and the band enjoying themselves.

And I have learned two new things from watching this video; sweetly, Ben likes stroking cats, and, shockingly, he likes sniffing pencils.

I like to think that Zoe picked it for these lines:

But you’ll always be a fool/ So I will catch you when the world is cruel

I hope you enjoy Don’t Leave Me Behind. Why not have a dance around the lounge. And, if you can, please help me reach my £1986 target for Comic Relief. You can sponsor me here.

Five days in and 14% towards my most ridiculous goal of £1986, in honour of the release year of Everything But The Girl’s great album, Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.

Each day I listen to a track from one of my two EBTG albums (Baby and Love Not Money) and I learn. Then I write. And then, ideally, very kind people donate to Comic Relief.

Yesterday, in honour of International Women’s Day, and at the request of @tracey_thorn (our esteemed team leader) I listened to Ugly Little Dreams. I knew it was about Frances Farmer, but I learned that at the age of 17 she won an award for her essay, God Dies.

I also, in honour of women the world over, called David Cameron a ****. Someone had to. And the joy of asterixes means that if the word that the asterixes represents is offensive to you, and it was that word, then you can substitute it very easily; just put a cock in there.

I didn’t call him a **** willy-nilly. It was for his take on Hilary Mantel’s speech, which somehow seemed appropriate in relation to Frances Farmer and International Women’s Day. Shame on him for helping dumb the world down.

I don’t know what today’s will be yet. I will let my wife, Zoe, pick. She has already sponsored me, and, she’s at home, so she’s going to have to put up with me constantly saying “sorry baby, in a minute, just got to do this”.

Big thank you’s to yesterday’s fantastic contributors; Janetta, gdpreston, redorbrownsauce, and Clare who has given an amount that should cover the ‘two kids’ that aren’t as lucky as our two…” Thank you all very much. x

Today’s song challenge will appear later, but if you would like to give to Comic Relief, or if you can give, you can sponsor me here.

Today’s choice for my Comic Relief  Team Tracey Thorn Challenge has been picked by none other than @tracey_thorn. The choice was between Ugly Little Dreams and When All’s Well from 1985’s Love Not Money. Tracey tweeted; “Ugly Little Dreams deffo. International Women’s Day innit, you can go all feminist on our ass. Or something.”

Let’s face it, it’s going to be ‘or something’.

Ugly Little Dreams, like yesterday’s Draining The Bar, is another of Everything But The Girl’s country & western tinged songs.

The song is dedicated to Frances Farmer.

In 1985 when I was 23 I had no idea who Frances Farmer was (despite the film Frances, starring Jessica Lange, having come out in 1982).  Somewhere down the line, before Wikipedia, before computers, I found out*. Way back then my best understanding of Ugly Little Dreams was garnered from these lines:

What chance for such girls/ How can we compete?/ In a world that likes it’s women/ Stupid and sweet

Way back then. Of course, 28 years later (or 60 odd years later from Frances’ time), the world is a vastly different place isn’t it. Just ask Hilary Mantel.

Now, I’m not saying that David Cameron called for Hilary Mantel to be lobotomised (beheaded?) for her thoughtful and intelligent critique of how the media mould(ed) and shape(d) Princess whatsername, but… well, he kind of did, didn’t he? Had he even read the article?

What chance for such girls/ How can they compete?/ In a world that has a Prime Minister/ So stupid and… neat?

They’re my words, not Tracey’s.

What is he up to? Let’s be frank. Let’s put (party) politics to one side. David Cameron is not stupid. He’s, I guess, oh go on then, if we must… he’s clever.

He’s more of a disingeuous **** than stupid (call me a coward for using asterixes, but it is International Women’s Day, and, being frank again, that’s a whole new argument I’m just not getting into).

Yeah, he’s just a shameless **** who, for the sake of votes, is afraid to show his true intelligence; is afraid to say what he knows in his heart; that Hilary Mantel’s article was just fine.

I bet he read it. I bet Ed did too. He can’t get away with it either. He’s a **** (please substitute some different consonants and vowels for variety’s sake).

They’re all cowards afraid of being true to themselves, afraid of showing a little intelligence, in case, just like Mantel, they become ‘hate figures’; little knowing they are already on their way. They are Frances Farmer negatives.

I could be losing you. I’m no good at polemic and I almost undoubtedly take short cuts in my attempts at an argument. And you may have come here for jokes. ‘He wasn’t like this when he swung his pants’, someone in my head says.

Perhaps Wikipedia can do some of my work for me. If you can spare the time, have a read about Frances Farmer and then come back.

Are you back?

I’ve been watching Frances on This Is Your Life, from 1958. Astonishing stuff. Here’s part one. In it Frances wins an award at the age of 17 for a school essay entitled God Dies. Her teacher at the time, Miss Belle Mackenzie, comes onto the programme and Frances is very happy to see her again, giving her a big hug.

And then Professor Glen Hughes comes on. I’m not so sure Frances is quite as pleased to see him. Glen says: “Well, of course, the first place, she was very lovely. Secondly, she was intelligent and (unclear). She always had a sort of intellectual chip on her shoulder.”

It’s enough to make you mad/ But it’s safer just to break down and cry



Part two is hard to watch. Frances is clearly uncomfortable with the host’s simple-minded summing up of her life, but there’s some fight left in her; “If you’re treated like a patient you are apt to act like one.”



Here’s Ugly Little Dreams.



If you can, please give some money to Comic Relief. You can sponsor me here.

(* It’s thanks to Tony Wilson that I started to look up things. He was being interviewed on TV once about the Situationists. The interviewer asked him what it was and he told him, and anyone interested, to go and look it up. He wasn’t being arsey (well…), he was just making us all do our homework.)

Today’s choice for my Comic Relief  Team Tracey Thorn Challenge has been picked by Paul Tyrer who very kindly donated £10. He’s chosen Draining The Bar, the B-side of the 12″ single of Come On Home and available on disc two of the special edition of Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.

But, before we get on to that, here’s a little something to get us in the mood.

Draining The Bar is a Country & Western song; heck, Tracey even references the ‘jailhouse’ and throws in a ‘darn’ for good measure. It’s a perfect tribute to the songs of the Honky Tonk Angels; Loretta, Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Tammy Wynette, Dolly Parton… but not Cliff Richard’s version (he apparently withdrew his version of Honky Tonk Angel when he found out that a Honky Tonk Angel was a prostitute).

Oh, my goodness. I’ve just realised… I’m not in any way suggesting any of the above women are prostitutes, ok? Nor Tracey Thorn.

This is just getting worse. Here’s something lighten the mood.

Now, where were we? Yes, Draining The Bar.

It’s a Country & Western song. And it’s a drinking song.

And, like most Country & Western songs, and drinking songs, and Country & Western drinking songs it’s… I’m going to use a word I don’t want to use now… it’s a word that will make everything sound a bit cliched… but then Country & Western has never feared saying it like it is, even if saying it like it is is a little like saying it like a cliche… here goes… the song is…


I love Country & Western. I love drinking. I love this song.

In the song Tracey sings of having to collect her drunken man when he has fallen from the bar stool. Again. It happens over and over but this time he’s ended up in the jaihouse and she’s had enough.

So far, so bitter.

But she does go and collect him, leading to this line:

So you go on home and get out your guitar/ Write some more songs about draining the bar

We will get to hear it. In time. I’d like to go on a diversion. Think of it as a song crawl.

The line above made me think of the King of the Drinking Song, Paul Heaton. Why not get a drink and enjoy the music? It’s nearly 4 o’clock, that’s reason enough.

One of my favourite Paul Heaton drinking songs is The Ring From Your Hand from The Cross Eyed Rambler. I’d love to play it to you but the only youtube version I could find didn’t do it justice. It’s not just a drinking song; the drinking happens in passing. I love these lines:

First time we caught each other’s eye/ Was at the bottle bank/ Dropping off three times the amount/ Our partner’s knew we drank

Bitter. Sweet.

And how about this for a line, from Old Red Eyes Is Back:

Old Red he died/ and every single landlord in the district cried

Sweet. Bitter. Let’s raise our glasses.

Ok, back to Draining The Bar.

I used the dreaded word, bittersweet, but where’s the sweet? It’s in the last two lines of the song:

And if I’m so wise why don’t I show you the door/ Cause you make me laugh and maybe that’s what god made men for

It’s always been my defense.

I couldn’t find the song on youtube and so I’ve made my own video for it. That’s most likely illegal. Heck, darn it, send me to the jailhouse if I’ve gone and done wrong.

Here it is. And if you like it, have a drink, and, if you can, give some money to Comic Relief. My sponsor page is here.

Yesterday I said I wasn’t sure if I fully understood the rules behind #twittermillion and Team @tracey_thorn. Now I’m sure I don’t! It seems there are lots of teams out there. Who knew? That’s the thing with the Twitter timeline, you only see what you see. And I saw Team Tracey Thorn.

Who knows? If I’d looked five minutes earlier or five minutes later I could have been part of Team Olly Murs, or Team Kirstie Allsopp, or Team Emperor Rosko.

Now, please, don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I’m part of Team Tracey Thorn. I’d have picked her over the other lot any day.

I’m just a little worried that she’ll be thinking ‘why me’? Why couldn’t he pick apart the 1985/86 back catalogue of Allsopp instead? Or pick on Murs? Troublemaker is ripe for a nitpick.

It’s just the way it all happened, and that’s that. I promise I am not a stalker. I promise I am not mad.

Isn’t it funny that the people who say “I’m mad me” are always the least mad people going? (Please read that in the style of a shit observational comedian from… well… from now!)

If you’d like to sponsor me, thereby encouraging me to continue, please do so here. I am £175 towards my £1986 target.

Thank you to all my sponsors so far; Radha, Charlotte, Braggovic, anonymous, Ian, Tony, Zoe, Kirsten, Paul, Belinda, Jim, Ben, Sophie, Ian, and Quaristice. You are all great. x

Later today I will be writing about Draining The Bar, the B-side of the 12″ single of Come On Home, and suggested by @paultyrer who very kindly donated to Comic Relief.

It’s Day 2 of my Comic Relief Challenge, wherein I try to raise £1986 for the charity. I’m proud to be part of Tracey Thorn’s #twittermillion team. We’re going to raise a million pounds! At least! And I’m going to do my part by listening to some EBTG tracks and learning from them.

Today’s choice was between two great ‘littles’; Ugly Little Dreams and Little Hitler. @Execcer chose Little Hitler. Hitler beats Frances, which, given the subject matter, is perhaps appropriately phrased.

Little Hitler is the closing track on Baby, The Stars Shine Bright. Like a lot of my favourite songs, from artists such as The Beautiful South or Jacques Brel, Elvis Costello or (at a push) The Jam, it’s a fierce song wrapped up in the most gorgeous of melodies. (Why ‘at a push for The Jam?’ Well, I guess it’s because sometimes they twist it around into a gorgeous song wrapped up in a fierce melody).

When Baby, The Stars Shine Bright came out in 1986, the 24 year old me would almost faint when, just over three minutes into Little Hitler, the big orchestral sound would be snatched away into a vacuum to be replaced by the gentler piano and bass. Have a listen and see if you too are overwhelmed by Stendhal Syndrome.

I’m hopeless at remembering lyrics or even understanding them. Some of my favourite Elvis Costello songs have been listened to for over 30 years and I still will have no idea what he means. But that’s ok. Music. Songs. To paraphrase Michael Haneke (who was, at the time, paraphrasing Truffaut) “if I wanted to send a message I’d have gone to the post office”.

So when I try to understand Little Hitler I think of it as being about the tyranny of men.

Not all men. Just men who have to be men.

In today’s guardian’s g2 Jane Martinson has written a piece about politician’s encouraging other politician’s to ‘man up’. Harriet Harman, whilst acknowledging the term as being sexist, urged David Cameron to ‘man up’ on a recent Andrew Marr show. She couldn’t think of an alternative. Jane Martinson thinks of an alternative; “Doing the right thing… is the most gender-neutral thing you can do.”

Little Hitler‘s men ‘man up’, yet do the wrong things.

Behind every big man there’s a small boy/ Drink to Stalin and Hitler and Jimmy Boyle

It’s an interesting move, linking Jimmy Boyle to Hitler and Stalin, and one I’m still trying to understand.*

Jimmy Boyle, the Glasgow hard man, the killer, the man who was sent to jail for murder. He spent time in H.M. Prison Barlinnie special unit (now no longer in operation); a centre putting rehabilitation, over punishment, at it’s heart. He was given a pair of scissors by a warden who then turned away from him. And Jimmy Boyle didn’t stab him. This was a move in the right direction.

The first verse of Little Hitler could be about Jimmy Boyle:

Little Hitler, don’t come round here again/ With your renegade politics, redder-than-thou-disdain/ Thought we were on the same side/ But with a fistful of nails and your knives from the Clyde

The song came out in 1986. At that time Jimmy Boyle was out of prison and a reformed character. He ran an art gallery called The Gateway Exchange in Edinburgh, aimed at helping drug addicts and, I would hope, anyone finding themselves troubled enough to want to change their life for the better.

I know this because in 1985 I met Jimmy Boyle. We were doing a show at the Edinburgh Festival, and our venue was The Gateway Exchange. Here we are:


Who do we think we are? The Kray Twins?

We were young and we were foolish. I’m still one of those things. I’d read Jimmy Boyle’s books,  A sense of Freedom and The Pain of Confinement: Prison Diaries. I was surprised when The Gateway Exchange gave us permission to perform at the venue and I was terrified about meeting Jimmy Boyle.

All was fine though. He was polite and charming. Every evening, when we trooped up to the venue for our performance, Jimmy would be standing outside. He said he liked being outside.

I can’t remember much of our time there. We did a show with Simon Bligh and Fred n’ Ginger (Anne Rabbit and Doon Mackichan).

Jimmy Boyle was very much the ‘man’ there, but he also had a team of helpers, one of whom went on to achieve some notoriety by getting crucified, without painkillers, in the Philippines. Perhaps this act relates a little to the ‘fistful of nails’. That man was the self-proclaimed dandy Sebastien Horsley who died from a cocaine and heroin overdose in 2010. We also met Sebastien’s then wife, Evelynn Smith. She was lovely, and I was saddened today to learn that she died from an aneurysm in 2003.

Here we all are, Jimmy Boyle on the left, then Sebastien, Anne, Simon, Evelynn… and I’m sorry to say I cannot remember the names of the next two… then me and then Trev.


And I must apologise to the woman who’s hair I am holding up. You are clearly uncomfortable with my foolishness. All I can remember is that I liked you, and, for someone incapable of expressing that at the time, I chose, instead, to lift up your hair. Sorry.

And if you’re heartless and hard/ Well this has made you what you are

At the age of 14 Jimmy Boyle stole a cash box at a fun fair and was sent to a school run by the De La Salle brothers ( a Catholic order of monks). in 2001 Jimmy said; “Today, I’m still haunted by the sound of breaking bones as a monk deliberately smashed a child’s leg to smithereens or the footsteps in the night that heralded yet another horrific rape of a terrified, crying child.”


Little Hitlers.

Do I understand it? No.

Does it matter? I’m not sure.

Do I like it? I love it.

Here it is.

if you would like, or are able, to give to Comic Relief you can find my sponsor page here.

* Tracey let me know, through Twitter, that the song is not about Jimmy Boyle but about a bully she met who idealised him.

Well now, I’ve set myself a ridiculous challenge for Red Nose Day.

Perhaps not fully understanding the rules, I joined @Tracey_Thorn’s #twittermillion team. All I had to do to be part of the team was raise £50 for Comic Relief. The good news is I have gone past the target and raised £70! A huge thank you to my 7 sponsors who have been so generous.

But the bad news is I’ve set myself a target of £1986. I’m 3% there.

Perhaps I’m meant to stop at £50.

But I’m not going to. £1986 is the target and I’m going to do my best to achieve it. With your help.

I have time on my hands, so you’ll have to forgive me if I keep pestering you.

My plan is to listen to a track a day by Everything But The Girl, and then write about it here. I’m calling it listen and learn. I’ll attempt to learn at least one new thing a day and also bore you with other stories, jokes, and anecdotes along the way.

I only have two EBTG albums on CD (more on vinyl, but that’s all locked away in storage); Love Not Money and Baby, The Stars Shine Bright.

Today is the Little day. I will write about Ugly Little Dreams or Little Hitler.

And you can choose. The first person to pick one and send me the title on Twitter, @simonmhickson, will be namechecked in my blog post. And hopefully (if they can)they’ll also make a donation to Comic Relief.

You can sponsor me here.

Come on folks, let’s make lots of money.