Where did the time all go...?
Monday 31st December 2012
Regular passers-by of this site will note that I haven't updated it in ages. Thanks for your concern. I was underwhelmed at the flood of emails I've had. To be honest, I've been busy at work, on and off, with a whole suite of software products having to be documented for various releases and I just got lazy. I do post occasional updates on Facebook, but even there, I'm hardly prolific. I've really just been drifting, which is very poor. So this year's resolution is to do more on the website - at least a weekly update - and to get out and see more gigs, because I've hardly been out to see bands at all over the last six months. I'm off now to work on a proper update, so see you next year!
The Music Update
Wednesday 25th January 2012
I have to confess that I haven't been out to see that many live gigs over the last few months. The intensity of the Crewe Live experience back in May 2011 probably had a bit to do with that, but I also realised that I'm not really that interested, any more, in standing around in a pub or club waiting for something to grab my attention. I still want to hear something I haven't heard before, but I've got fed up with the waiting around and the slight disappointment if bands don't deliver. So thank the baby Jesus that the Internet means I can usually check out bands before venturing out. Time and money saved, and also much less chance of me getting so drunk watching the two or three Kasabian-cum-Raconteurs wannabes that are on before the band I want to see that I miss the band completely... I have to be honest though, I haven't heard that much which has inspired me to leave the comfort of my sofa. I was, briefly, tempted to try to get tickets to see Morrissey (a personal favourite, you understand) on his last tour, but decided against it. The early dates that were announced were all miles away, and by the time closer dates were announced, I'd seen a live performance on the TV and heard some of his new material, which put me off - I'm not that interested in paying 35 quid to hear Moz doing a greatest hits tour, or his lumpen band destroying all the subtlety and nuances of 'This Charming Man'. Anyway, here in no particular order of preference are some of the musical highlights of the last six months or so, both live and recorded.
- The Fall - My mate Charlie scored some cheap-ish tickets to see the band on the first night of a three-night residency at Liverpool Guild of Students back at the start of July. The residency was ostensibly to try out new material for their next album (more of which in a moment). I saw some sniffy pronunciations about the likelihood of new material being trotted out on the Fall forum, but frankly, I wasn't that bothered - if they played new stuff, bonus, but you can't knock paying 20 quids to see The Fall. They were supported by The Temps, who made me think of The Rutles' manager Leggy Mountbatten - he would have loved the singer's tight trousers, although he might have been put off by the apparent wet spot on his crotch... He certainly wouldn't have enjoyed their music. John Cooper Clarke was sadly absent, so in place of his comedy spot Charlie and I had plenty of time to chew the fat. The Fall came on a bit late and immediately launched in to new number Nate. I was right at the front and ended up pinned there all set. They mixed the set up and threw in new tunes Cosmos 7, Laptop Dog, Greenway and I've Seen Them Come alongside old faves like Muzorewi's Daughter, Strychnine and Psychic Dancehall and a few tunes off the last album, Your Future, Our Clutter. Top gig, with MES in top form, and looking like he was enjoying it, and the band stoically enduring his regular amp-fiddling and mic manipulation. Top night and some top tunes from the Smith-meister and band. it was a bit of a shame that I then had to wait 4 months for the promised new album to surface. 'Ersatz GB' is a stomping beast of a record and well worth checking it out, although don't go expecting silky smooth vocals - MES turns in some of his roughest yet, which is a) no surprise and b) no bad thing. Musically, it's the same sort of grinding, repetitive, riff-based rock as the last couple of albums, but that's no shock given that it's largely performed by the same personnel.
- Swim Into Scarlet - I've been sort of stalking this lot this year and have seen them four times since their stint at Crewe Live and each time they've been excellent. First up, in August, was a double header with label mates Proud Proud People (more about them ina minute) at the Outside Edge Wine Bar in Whitchurch. Whitchurch is a bit of a one-horse town and the gig hadn't really been advertised that well so the audience, apart from the bands, consisted of me, two friends I managed to whistle up from Crewe and the pub drunk. The venue (at the back of the pub) was also quite compact, so much so that I was almost as much a member of the band as a member of the audience. A good time was had by all though and I thought both bands were very good. If either achieves success, I suspect this will be their "two men and a dog" gig. following that, in September I combined business with pleasure on a trip to London and saw Swim Into Scarlet playing at the Monarch in Camden. Again they were very good - certainly a cut above the other bands on the bill (yes, Screama Ballerina and Voodoo Rays I'm looking at you...). I was pleased that the music journalist that I'd dragged along to the gig with me concurred that they'd got what it takes. In October I caught the band a lot closer to home - headlining a show at The Box in Crewe. At this remove I'm struggling to remember the supports, but a quick Google suggests Kill The Doctor, Robin Pierce band and Hex. Think I missed Hex, didn't enjoy Robin and Kill The Doctor were good but not really my cup of tea, from what I recall. I enjoyed Swim Into Scarlet though, it goes without saying. Finally, in November, I travelled up to Manchester to see the band as part of a Butter Bridge Records Happening. Now admittedly the prospect of a "Happening" set on a spaceship in the future had already slightly put me off, but when I got to Manchester I had a bit of trouble finding the venue. If you should ever happen to have to go there, I ought to warn you that the KRAAK gallery is located down a passageway off an alley off a side street. Definitely not the sort of place you could accidentally stumble into, unless you were in search of a dark corner for a discreet piss or a quick knee-trembler with some local slapper... Anyhoo, the band told me they'd be on about 7, I turned up about 6 to sample the atmosphere and the band were on stage by about twenty past. They were just finishing their set when labelmates Proud Proud People arrived to offer some moral support. D'oh! The set was unfortunately hampered by some technical issues and (for me anyway) by one or two proud parents obscuring the view. The technical issues were symptomatic of the somewhat shambolic nature of proceedings and, having endured some sub-Mighty Boosh-style comedy sketches, I opted out of the spacecraft, taking the first available rescue shuttle back to the relative normality of 21st Century Nantwich... In the midst of all that, you'll be delighted to note, the band have also put out an EP - 'Trophy' that you can listen to and download from their bandcamp page. Get on it, these guys will be big soon. Especially if I've got anything to do with it.
- Proud Proud People - Aforementioned label-slash-stablemates to the aforementioned Swim Into Scarlet. I saw them at the aforementioned "two men and a dog" gig in Whitchurch. I also took time to catch them headlining a show at the Box, the night before the Butter Bridge happening in Manchester. I'm sure they'd hate to be pigeon-holed as folk-rock, because they're certainly more than that, but that's the closest description I can think of at the moment. Anyhow, you can check out their Christmas video on youtube or hop along to their soundcloud page to listen to (and perhaps even download) some of their recent works. They have an EP in the pipeline so keep an eye out for that too.
- The Crookes - New to me, and I only saw them because I went to watch me old muckers The Lockdown and Proud Proud People who were the support acts. Hailing from Sheffield in terms of geography and 1980s indie-land in terms of musical sound, these guys were excellent. Now, admittedly, the likes of the Monochrome Set and the Brilliant Corners and that have all trodden this path beofre, but that doesn't make The Crookes any less enjoyable and it was somewhat thrilling to hear a band that take their cues from a different time and place. Have acquired their album and can thoroughly recommend it. Check out their website video page for more tuneage.
- WU LYF - Go Tell Fire To The Mountain - First in this list of my album-only involvements. Can't remember where I saw them, first, might have been on the telly, might have been a Facebook link (although I doubt it as I don't click links in FB anymore), but was intrigued by their sound and, having checked them out, invested in the album. It's worth it. It is (as with most stuf f I like) a little different - plenty of keyboards, idiosyncratic vocal stylings and Eastern influences (of sorts). Musically they're a bit like Spiritualized, but vocally nowhere near. Good stuff tho, as can be seen-slash-heard on this video of theirs.
- Pulp - His'n'Hers/Different Class/We Love Life - Following the announcement that they were getting back together, I thought I ought to expand the Pulp section in my CD collection. Having only actually bought 'This Is Hardcore' when the band were a going concern, it was about time. So I bought the aforementioned albums in one Pulp splurge, as it were. They all have their moments, although a harsh critic (me) might point out that there's a bell curve of moments centred around 'Different Class' with the albums either side having a bit of a drop-off.
- Tom Waits - Bad As Me - Seven years after his last studio album, Tom finally gets round to another one. Not that he's been idle, having put out the Orphans triple CD collection, done a tour and put out a live album, and turned up in a few films in the intervening years. So I feel a bit of a curmudgeon (and totally out of step with just about everyone else) when I say that actually I was a bit disappointed. It is, of course a trillion times better than anything I've ever recorded but... well, let me explain. Having been encouraged to re-visit his Tom's catalogue by Barney Hoskyns excellent biography 'Low Side Of the Road', I'd been listening to a lot of Tom before this came out. And frankly, compared to Mule Variations, or Alice or Blood Money, it's not consistently hitting my spot, so to speak. There's some damn fine tunes on there (Get Lost, Pay Me, Hell Broke Luce for example) but some of the lyrics are a bit, well, predictable and two of the three tunes on the "bonus" CD are recycled from earlier songs.
- Bonnie "Prince" Billy - The Letting Go/Wolfroy Goes To Town - The first I bought myself and the second (Wolfroy) was a present. Both are indeed fine examples of Will Oldham's brand of American folk-slash-country. Well worth checking out. If you've no idea what I'm on about, then get thee hence to the rest of the Internet and find out for yourself.
- David Bowie - Diamond Dogs - Upping the 'metrosexual' quotient of my music collection, I've added a fifth Bowie album. I know, shocking. Here, from 1974, is the third in his glam alien trilogy. (alright, I just made that up, but come on, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Halloween Jack, they can be shoe-horned in to my concept. Honest.) A mix of songs featuring Halloween Jack and songs from Bowie's aborted musical project based on George Orwell's classic work, 1984. Decent, but probably not the most essential of his 1970s albums.
- William Shatner - Seeking Major Tom - The generally-barking-mad, Shatner returns with a concept double album. Inhabiting the character of Major Tom (from Bowie's Space Oddity), Shatner takes us on a journey from lift-off to the surface of the moon to mental meltdown and thence to his eventual death and descent to Hell. Yep, it's that barking. Features Shatner's usual talk-sing style all over tracks by artists as diverse as U2, Bowie, KIA, Pink Floyd, The Byrds, Thomas Dolby and Kurt Weill. Hilarious, if you get the point; terrible if you don't. I've got a soft spot for the Shatner, so love it. Of course.
- Arctic Monkeys - Suck it and See - Fourth (yes, fourth!) album from the Sheffield quartet, and largely heralded in the music press as a "return to form". I really should have known better... As per my comment on Tom Waits, it is still a trillion times better than just about anything I've ever recorded, but compared to their first two albums, it's a bit drab and doesn't have too many memorable tunes on it. It's also missing that sparky, snarky, sarky edge of the first two albums. And if they'd released this instead of their first two albums, I'm not sure it would have received the same critical acclaim their debut did. But hey, what do I know...?
And that, my fine feathered fiends, is about the extent of it. I'm off out to see Swim Into Scarlet at The Box this forthcoming Friday eventide. They're supporting Kill The Doctor, who are playing their final gig. There may be other Swim Into Scarlet gigs to report. I'll also be trying my to get some of my own music down, but I said that this time last year, so probably won't. Whatever happens, I'll be trying to get out and catch more live music than I did last year. Already got my eye on Wilko Johnson and The Beat, who are playing at the Nantwich Jazz Festival over Easter, for example. There's also the Crewe Live festival to consider, as well as the consistently excellent work that's going on at The Box. Just got to find the time and money to get it all done!
The Film Update
Sunday 15th January 2012
Only taken me almost four weeks but here's the second of those updates I promised you. I have, of course, spent much of last year indulging my love of cheap and trashy films. Well, mostly just cheap fiilms to be honest. Think I've paid full price for a couple of things in the following list, but not many. So here, in some sort of alphabetical order, is a tedious list of more recent purchases:
- The Banana Splits & Friends - The entire first series of a staple of Saturday morning television from back in the day when we only had two the major broadcasters, BBC and ITV. These are the 36 half-hour episodes created from the original 18 Banana Splits Adventure Hour episodes for syndication. As a result they're a bit disjointed and somewhat confusing, with some of the drama serials seeming to only pop up every other show, and some of the joke set-ups having a pay-off in the next episode.
- Big Train - Series 1 & 2 - Oft-overlooked comedy series from back in 1998 and 2002. Written by the guys who did Father Ted, this sketch-based show failed to catch the audiences attention but was an important staging post for plenty of comedy actors. Simon Pegg, Rebecca Front, Mark Williams, Catherine Tate and Mark Heap all made strong appearances here. And the first series features the barmy animation of the World Staring Championships, with commentary from Barry Davies.
- Blakes 7 - Series 3 & 4 - Having watched the first two series, it was only right to get the third and fourth. Series 3 is somewhat hampered at the start by the fact that Blake and Jenna (or rather the actors that played them) have left and there's a bit of faffery explaining their absence. Once they've been dealt with/forgotten though, the series takes a turn away from Blake's crusade against the Federation to the self-interests of the crew, now under the leadership of Avon. At the end of Series Three, their trusty ship, The Liberator, gets detroyed and our heroes spend the early part of Series Four getting rescued and finding a ship of their own. After that, it's off on a series of raids to thwart the Federation and trying to avoid getting killed by Servalan. The series finale sees a reunion with Blake and an ambush by the Federation which finally kills them all off. Or does it? Well, if the Federation didn't get them, the Corporation certainly did. The BBC decided against commissioning a fifth series and that was that.
- Blakes Junction 7/Ant Muzak/World of Wrestling - A trio of comic short films from the pen of Tim Plester and directed by Ben Gregor, that made a DVD release to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Blakes 7. All three films feature recognisable characters in unusual situations. Blakes Junction 7 features the crew of the Liberator, now in a volvo and a caravan, stopping off at Newport Pagnell services, Ant Muzak sees Adam and his Ants make a late night trip to the supermarket, and World of Wrestling sees a bunch of iconic 70s British wrestlers on the night bus as they make their way home from a night out. All three films are charming, and there's some decent extras on the DVD too - including an interview with the actual, real Avon, Paul Darrow.
- Bunny & The Bull - From the team that brought you The Mighty Boosh, but not starring Noel and Julian. They make appearances but not as the main protagonists. Poor old Stephen is trapped in his flat by his agoraphobia. Through a visit from his outgoing friend, Bunny, and a series of flashbacks, we find out he came to be this way and how he gets over it. Probably not one worth going out of your way for, but well worth checking out when it gets a run on Film 4.
- Catterick - Overlooked sitcom from Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer. Overlooked because it's actually a bit grim. Bob returns home after years away determined to track down his long-lost son. Enlisting the help of his idiot brother (Vic) they set off on a series of surreal adventures - some hilarious, some gruesome and some romantic. Needless to say, the search doesn't go well, although not everything turns out badly.
- The Day Today - Chris Morris' news show parody. Guilty of confusing viewers by sticking very close to the style of the actual news shows, this is clearly a work of genius. See it and remind yourself how good it was.
- Dinocroc vs Supergator - As if one giant mutant dinsoaur crocodile wasn't enough, here comes Dinocroc and his close relation, Supergator. Both created/evolved at the Drake Industries Research Lab in Hawaii, they also both manage to escape. After some summary killings, the two "mortal enemies" are lured into a face-off back in the lab. Dinocroc wins but is then blown to pieces and that's the end. Or is it? Are there some Dinocroc babies still lurking out there...?
- Ferris Bueller's Day Off - classic 80's teen movie, directed by John Hughes, natch. Not much of a plot, to be honest - Bueller skips school, and has some misadventures whilst trying to avoid getting caught skiving - but still an absolute belter.
- Good Morning Vietnam - Very loosely based on the true story of Adrian Cronhauer, who had been a DJ for US Armed Forces Radio, Robin Williams hams it up as the anti-authoritarian DJ, sticking it to the Man and bolstering troops morale in Vietnam, despite the best efforts of his superiors.
- The Goodies - At Last, More Helpings, or something - somehow managed to miss this when it came out last year, but have caught up now. This is the third release by the BBC and like the previous two, contains 8 episodes plucked from their various series. I have to say the BBC's treatment of these shows is a bit shoddy - the episodes are from all over the shop in the 8 series that they did for the Beeb and in no particular order. I'd much rather the Beeb released all the episodes, either in one massive boxset or as separate series sets to collect.
- Here Come the Double Deckers - More Kids' TV nostalgia for me with this 1970s series featuring a gang of friends who have a headquarters in some sort of abandoned junkyard, as you do. The clean-cut youngsters feature a number of stereotypes - the clever one, the street smart one, the fat one, the token black one, the sensible girl and the whiny younger hanger-on - and have any number of capers-cum-adventures. Most of which seem to climax with them running around in fast-forward for five or ten minutes. Not as good as I remember.
- Meatball Machine - In some sort of near-future Japan, people are being infected by some strange alien parasite that causes them to mutate into something called Necro-Borgs and then battle with other Necro-Borgs, usually resulting in gallons of blood being sprayed everywhere. Boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy accidentally infects girl with alien parasite. Boy infects himself and goes off to find and win back girl. Buckets of blood are sprayed everywhere. Typical Japanese gore-fest rom-com, as you'd expect!
- Megashark vs Crocosaurus - Having survived his battle with the Giant Octopus, Megashark now faces a new challenger in the shape of Crocosaurus, a recently-re-awakened beast, thought to have been extinct. A hardy beast this - not only has it survived stuck down a mine for thousands of years, it is at home in both fresh and salt water environments. Face-off they do, eventually, although not before the two monsters have apparently changed size a couple of times at least, thanks to some dodgy CGI. Both apparently bite the dust, although one or other or both is bound to be revived for another sequel...
- Mirrors - ex-cop Keifer Sutherland takes a job as nightwatchman at some creepy old store that mysteriously burned down in a fire. His predecessor spent his time obsessively polishing the mirrors in the place (which were equally mysteriously untouched by the fire...) before killing himself. During his night vigils Kiefer discovers the secret of the mirrors and must resolve the issue, although, he doesn't really get serious till after his girlfriend gets killed. With the mirrors now after his estranged family, Kiefer gets on with it, scaring his ex-wife and kids witless in the process.
- Monkey Dust Series 1 - Animated comedy show from 2003, shown on that there BBC3. Not likely to get a re-run any time, especially while they're running the likes of Family Guy and American Dad in the same sort of time slots. It's all pretty dark and mostly focuses on the broken side of Britain - plenty of dysfunctional characters here. My favourite character is Ivan Dobbsky, the meat safe murderer, who "never done it", and is released every week, only to end up back inside. There are two further series but they haven't been released on DVD (yet).
- 9 - Somewhat bleak animated movie, in which mankind has been destroyed and the only creatures left are small knitted doll types that have somehow been sparked into life. And one of them manages to restart the evil machine that killed off mankind. D'Oh! The creatures then have to destroy said machine before it kills them. Visually stunning, as you'd expect from something produced by Tim Burton, it's a shame the plot is a bit weak and that some of the voice-overs are a bit pedestrian.
- Operation Good Guys Box Set - All three series of the police mockumentary featuring a hapless squad, put together to take down some villain. They are almost utterly incompetent, botching surveillance jobs, failing to notice that their civilian accountant is ripping them off and generally getting into all sorts of scrapes. At the end of the first series, the squad is disbanded, only for them to be re-united in the second series when they are sent for re-training. In the third series they're still together but largely kept at arm's length from proper police work. Capers ensue all round.
- Paul - In Steven Spielberg's telling of the tale, the alien that lands on earth is lost, bewildered and needs the help of a young boy and his mates to get back to his home planet. In Nick Frost and Simon Pegg's telling the alien is a hard-drinking, wise-cracking, know-it-all who, against his better judgement, enlists the help of a couple of English nerds to get back to his home planet. Plenty of laughs from the team that brought you Shaun of the Dead.
- People Like Us Series 1 & 2 - Another comedian beating Ricky Gervais to the mockumentary punch, this, from 1997, features the now-disgraced Chris Langham as documentary maker Roy Mallard. In the style of Nick Broomfield or Louis Theroux, Mallard spends time with each of his subjects, filming their "ordinary" lives. Except Mallard rarely strays from behind the camera and his subjects are usually in some way deluded.
- P'Tang Yang Kipperbang - Gentle coming-of-age drama that Channel 4 used to be so good at before they managed to dilute their public service broadcasting remit. Cricket obsessed young chap gets lead role in school play, which involves kissing female lead. Uh-oh! Hormones, insecurity, John Arlott and best mates all conspire to put the lad through Hell before his redemption at the end.
- Sir Henry At Rawlinson's End - Not exactly easy to describe, this film is largely based on Vivian Stanshall's LP of the same name, which features a rambling account of a day in the life of Sir Henry Rawlinson and his strange family.
- Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy - Not the current film remake with Gary Oldman, but the original TV series featuring Sir Alec of Guinness. Spread over five-and-a-quarter hours and seven episodes, the story lazily unfurls yet somehow manages to be absolutely gripping. There's little of the thud-and-blunder action that would be demanded today and none of the episodes ends on the sort of cliffhanger that is almost de rigeur for modern drama. However, once you get drawn in to the game of cat-and-mouse, you can't tear yourself away. Superb.
- Tokyo Gore Police - In some sort of near-future Japan, a mad scientist (aren't they all?) has come up with anew genetic modification, which causes people to grow grow bizarre weaponry from their bodies when injured. The newly-privatised police force have a special unit designed to track down and kill the mutants. One member of the unit just happens to be a rather attractive girl, who is pretty handy at dispatching the mutants. She's also searching for the man who killed her policeman father. Anyway, turns out the man who killed her father was the father of the mad scientist, but he acted on orders from the Chief of Police, who then had mad scientist's dad killed too. Mad scientist then slips the virus into attractive girl. She kills him anyway, then nicks off to face down the Chief of Police. There's plenty of blood and gore. It's great.
- Tron - Picked this (and the recent "sequel") up cheap in Morrisons. Good old Jeff Bridges goes sneaking around at his former employer's place, trying to find evidence that his rival swiped Jeff's work. In the course of this he gets zapped by some sort of digitizing laser and injected into his rival's computer. Once in there, he has to team up with the good prgrams to defeat the evil master control program and free himself and rescue his company. To be honest, the plot is a bit pants, but the CGI was amazing for its time, and it still stands up fairly well in these more cynical days, but probably because of its very stylised nature.
- Tron Legacy - And lo! twenty years later, Disney finally got round to cashing in by making Tron: Legacy. I expect they made it in 3D too, but I only got the 2D version.The story is pretty much the same as the original - guy gets zapped into computer and has to defeat evil control program - but the characters are swapped round a little. This time it's Jeff Bridge's son that gets zapped into the computer and Jeff Bridges is already trapped in there and has to help his son.
- The Ultimate Fast Show Collection - A little more up-to-date here, with top-quality 90s sketch show nonsense. There's a few clunkers in amongst all the fondly-remembered catchphrases, and sometimes it can be jarring to watch a skit that doesn't hit the mark, but with nothing lasting more than three minutes, there's a funny sketch along pretty quickly. Scorchio!
Quite possibly one or two things missing from that list, but hey ho, them's the breaks. Anyway, having finally got this update done, there's a 'Music' update to come and then it's on to thinking up new stuff for this website-cum-blog.