I feel a bit grubby. I've just watched the actor Stephen Mangan murdering Who Know Where The Time Goes on SkyArts and I'm left wondering just what is this obsession with people doing things half cock?
The schedules are filled with bunches of all dancing, singing, ice skating amateurs and idiots. How long before the ante is upped and we have celebrity eye surgery, amateur midwifery or Lawrence Llewellyn Bowen depping as an air traffic controller because "it's always been my dream"? Well, just so long as he's going to give it 110% (or 200% even because that seems to be the going rate at the moment.)
No one wants to see anyone doing anything expertly anymore. They're far happier watching Joe Public (or worse still, a celeb) having a half arsed go. Come Dancing got axed years back, yet Strictly Come Dancing continues to thrive. An Alison Moyet lookalike did a sell out tour after winning Stars in their Eyes, while the real Alison Moyet couldn't get arrested. Would a programme about a concert orchestra have ever been commissioned without Sue Perkins agreeing to have a spirited bash at conducting it?
I yearn to see people who have achieved excellence. Real tunnel-visioned fuckers who've enriched the planet by sacrificing domesticity, financial stability and sometimes their sanity for their art. Grafters who've put in the hours. But everyone wants a shortcut. Everyone has a sense of entitlement. "It's always been my dream Simon..." Well we all have dreams and it entitles you to nothing mate.
I have a friend in California who's a distinguished record producer, a real old school maestro - you know the sort who struggle to find work these days. Anyway his daughter was challenged by a teacher who noticed she had nothing to contribute to a debate on 'American Idol'. The teenager admitted that her family didn't watch the programme because "MY DAD HATES AMATEURS." Brilliant. One can only imagine the shock horror of an LA classroom trying to get their dumbed down heads around that particular concept.
Thing is, I hate amateurs too. While watching Mangan butchering Sandy Denny's classic in a semi-serious bit of SkyArts programming (because by the usual standards of this type of bollocks this was positively high brow) I was struck by how many really interesting documentaries this nearly could have been. When Richard Thompson said that Denny wrote this song at the age of 16 but 'demons got her in the end', I wanted to know more. But there was no more. Just back to Mangan noodling on his guitar.
Then we see about 15 seconds of virtuoso folk guitarist Martin Simpson showing Mangan how it's done and I'm hooked. But again it's back to the actor, by now scared shitless at the realisation that he has just four weeks to fast track his way to musical excellence before a showcase at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Simpson gives tips on finger work and tuning, advising him to practice, and perhaps unsurprisingly Mangan improves ever so slightly. But he never gets above fair to middling. And why would he? Martin Simpson got so good through sheer bleeding persistence and dedication. He's been doing it 40 years see whereas Mangan has only ever dabbled. Then, as if to prove the futility of the Pygmalion task ahead, a singing masterclass from June Tabor reveals the actor can't sing for toffee either. One can only hope that Tabor got paid handsomely for this waste of her valuable time.
Nowadays hours of scheduling are devoted to the dilettante with a dream. But I have a theory. I suspect that every school has a kid with a belting voice. They are ten a penny. Go to any West End audition for a chorus line and you'll find 50 hoofers a hundred times better than any X Factor winner. But John Lennons and Aretha Franklins are really thin on the ground, whatever Simon Cowell will have you believe.
I ought to point out that I have nothing against Stephen Mangan as such. As an actor, he is extremely gifted. I loved his creepy Guy Secretan in Green Wing. I almost fancy him a bit, and would enjoy a documentary about Mangan the thesp. But as fine an actor as Mangan is, even he couldn't disguise the bleeding obvious. Mangan is not and never will be a great musician. I can't blame him for whoring his sorry arse this way - we all have to make a living and I suppose performing at the festival alongside his heroes was a blast. In the event there was a happy ending of sorts. We see that the crowd are kind, if a little non-plussed, and his sisters at least thought he did a great job. Me? I just felt grubby.
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