Month: November 2018

He likes me. And vice versa.


Declaration of interest: I’m friends with Philip’s husband Tommy. Nevertheless, the following is my true view.

We buy more music than straight people, we are more loyal to the artists that inspire us than straight people, we are more vocal in our support of tunes we love than straight people… but us LGBT+ people are rarely the target for album releases.

Yeah, there are some specifically gay artists out there – Matt Fishell, who is enthusiastic but not always good; Steve Grand, who is good but not always enthusiastic – who aim for a gay (male) audience. But they do it more through YouTube and ‘going viral’. They leave less of a real footprint because of it. They’re not mainstream.

There are also mainstream gay artists – Cliff Richard, Elton John, Morrissey – who specifically avoid aiming for us directly and look more to selling albums to straight people.

There’s a sub-genre of male artists who take songs usually sung by women and sing them afresh, usually changing the gender of the object of the song. And there are those that leave the gender alone, but turn a happy song into one of frustration and persecution while they’re at it.

Where are all the happy songs, sung by a mainstream artist, where the object of the song and the singer are of the same sex? It’s pretty rare, alas, alas.

For this reason, Philip Chaffin’s new album, Will He Like Me?, immediately stands out. These are (for the most part) happy songs, songs that celebrate finding love. They’re from Broadway/West End musicals, so they’re crowd-pleasers (this is not a criticism, quite the reverse) and we’re likely to already know at least some of them.

And it’s a man singing about how much he loves another man. Songs originally written (often by gay writers) for women to sing about men. And here they are, finally providing some romance, longing and delight to a gay male audience who, just once, would like a gay romantic song that wasn’t all heartbreak and despair.

I couldn’t help but sing along (thus drowning out Philip’s gorgeous baritone with my own wavery caterwauling) with this album.

My husband, who long ago gave up seeking anything useful from mainstream artists that would speak to him personally, was enraptured by this album. It worked for him. He was delighted by it. And not just for ‘gay rights’ reasons – he specifically noted that Philip was one of the best singers he’d heard in years and that the album would’ve worked for him even if the roles were reversed and it was Philip singing about a woman.

Tommy Krasker’s production on the album is spot on. He knows where the music should come first and where the lyrics are most important. He knows when the whole sound should be quiet and refined and when it should blast our ears (in a good way). This seems to be a rare skill these days, and I last heard it used this well in the soundtrack album to the brilliant musical ‘Fun Home’… which Tommy also produced.

I bought Will He Like Me? on CD because I’m old fashioned, and also because that seems to be the way to give the most back to the people behind albums these days – streaming is basically worthless to the artist whilst being lucrative to the streaming company.

Nevertheless, however you choose to listen, it’s worth you listening. Enjoy.


Not waving

I’m standing in the kitchen of my grandma and grandpop’s little house on the Bransholme estate in Hull. It’s about 1985 and I’m 10.

Already a budding historian, I’d been digging around in a junk shop and had found a couple of items that thrilled me. One was a map of British India – the Raj – and the Princely States, dating to the late 1930s.

My grandpop had been in India during the Second World War, so I thought he might be interested and brought it with me on our visit.

Grandpop got up impossibly early. He always did. Every job he’d had – and there were many, none of the permanent, none of them well-paying or respected – had required him to get up early. It was a habit and now, impossibly old to my eyes but actually a mere 72, he wasn’t going to change.

He started each morning by having a full wash in the kitchen sink, lathering up his face and his tattooed arms and his chest, getting himself ready for the day ahead. They had a bathroom in this house, but hadn’t had one before and the kitchen had previously been the only source of hot water. He wasn’t going to change his habits just because there was now a room for such things, not least because he wanted to use the rest of the hot water to make a pot of tea, just as he always had.

My presence didn’t change this. He made us both a cup of tea, and had his wash. I continued to babble on as I always did and still do, filling the potential silence with a stream of inconsequential words. He chatted idly with me as he washed, not really listening but not blanking me either. Your typical grandparent.

I got on to the subject of my Raj map and that he would know all about it because he’d been in India during the war. Was that great? Wasn’t it exciting? What was it like? Was it fun? Did you enjoy it, grandpop?

And then, slowly and quietly, he told me about the troop ship that took him there.

He was conscripted with his best mate. They went through basic training together and were assigned to the same regiment. They were posted to Undivided India together and were both on the same troopship. It was too hot and the waves made them sick but they were young and it was an adventure.

And then the Japanese navy torpedoed their ship.

Grandpop and his best mate were plunged into the Indian Ocean. Grandpop could swim. Not well, but enough to keep himself afloat.

His best mate could not swim. He flailed and panicked and splashed about.

And he kept grabbing grandpop and pulling them both under. His panicked weight around grandpop’s shoulders was drowning both of them. A lifeboat or some other rescue was approaching, but the guy kept flailing and dragging them both under. They were both going to drown before it reached them.

Grandpop held his best mate’s head under the water until he stopped failing. Fifteen, thirty minutes later – a day, a week, a year, it doesn’t matter – and the boat picked him up. Alone.

At least one of you survived, people said when they heard that the other guy had drowned.

At least one of them survived.

I may be the only person he ever told about that.

He finished washing, made us both another cup of tea, and talked about what we were going to do for my birthday that day. Did I want to come with him to The Centre? I did, because the betting shop, where he played 2p bets on the horses was smoky but fun. And The Centre had a supermarket with an automatic door, triggered by standing on a lumpy rubber mat in front of it, something I’d never seen elsewhere.

We’d go to the betting shop and then we’d go to the supermarket and both take turns jumping on to the rubber mat.