Thursday, 19 March 2015

What he said...

I can't really believe it, but it was two years ago today that I finished my radiotherapy treatment. It was a very short, but very intense period in my life  -  four weeks of intensive, high-dosage treatment to ( hopefully ) destroy a rare kind of blood cancer called plasmacytoma. This all left me feeling far weaker than I'd expected and suffering from some nasty side effects but with time and support from my wonderful family and friends I got through it. The quote and photo above from Ang Lee's fantastic Life Of Pi really resonated with me at the time  -  above all, don't lose hope...
Peace.

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Recent Gigs: Slow Club and Pond

Two weekends ago. Two gigs. Two nights. Both very different. Both amazing...
First up, some sophisticated indie pop enlivens a dull Thursday evening. My good friend and fellow blogger  Tom Wiggins had very generously bought me a ticket to see Slow Club at my fave venue, Gloucester's Guildhall. I didn't really know the band but I'm always ready to try something new and I trust Tom's taste in music.We got to the venue just before the support band, Happyness, began their set, only to find the place was virtually empty. This didn't bode too well... and neither did the fact that there were chairs and tables set out in the hall, like it was some WI meeting or something. Very odd. Happyness are a very young three-piece band who played some low-key indie, nothing too exciting, but well done. Their set meandered and was in danger of losing the small crowd's attention, despite some decent tunes and accomplished vocals, but they managed to inject a bit of enegy into the last couple of songs to recue it. Tom and I had a chat with the drummer afterwards ( mostly about other bands like the Flaming Lips and The War On Drugs ) who seemed a very nice guy and told us about the band's upcoming dates in Europe and the States. Living the dream...
 Slow Club ambled onto the stage and started with the slow burning Tears Of Joy, a quiet intro building to pop perfection as the song uncoiled around Rebecca Taylor and Charles Watson's sublime vocals. Like many of the songs from their latest album, Complete Surrender, this opening number brings subtle touches of '60s Soul to a modern pop sound  -  never quite an obvious pastiche, more of a colouring that adds extra class. The sparse crowd began to warm to the band but had to be coaxed by Rebecca to come nearer to the stage. Tom and I, of course, were first down the front. Inbetween the full-band songs they dropped in a couple of solo slots, Rebecca's unaccompanied take on Not Mine To Love being absolutely spellbinding. Occasionally her vocals almost hit on a Country sensibility, as her voice catches, as if she can't bear to go on but forces herself to face the emotion of the song. To be fair, Charles has a fine voice too and it's great to see that the couple work so well together, but the sultry Ms. Taylor is the star of the show, with a great line in wry banter and a sensual shimmy across the stage which is approximately 1000% sexier than most pop stars' animalistic twerking.
( Wow, I've never typed the word "twerking" before. And probably never will again. )
 After finishing the set with a storming charge through Suffering You, Suffering Me, with its Motown / Phil Spector vibe, the band came back on for a couple of encores and then sat at the front of the stage and serenaded us with a beautiful acoustic version of The Pieces, a wonderful song made even more special by the up-close-and-personal delivery. The unusually poor turn out for this gig actually worked in our favour here, making this an unexpectedly intimate ending to an excellent night. Slow Club are a great band with some soulful, heartfelt songs  -  hopefully their big break will come soon; they deserve it. Thanks to Tom for introducing me to their world...
The next night saw an entirely different gig experience:
James and I went down to Bristol's famous Fleece to see Australian psychedelic loonies Pond doing their cosmic thing. After a detour to the other side of the city ( we were dropping Sophie off after she'd been home a few days to do some dancing / filming at Gloucester College ) we got to the venue just in time to catch support band Younghusband. They played some decent, jangly indie pop, influenced by the likes of Teenage Fanclub and early Blur, but without any real identity or standout songs. A pleasant enough way to pass the time but hardly memorable. And then the venue began to positively crackle with electricity as the sell-out crowd surged forward and a bunch of ( mostly ) hairy men took to the stage. Looking like an Antipodean Grateful Dead or MC5, Nick Allbrook's band of misfits plugged in and proceeded to melt our brains...
Pond's sound is one of total cosmic chaos and inspired the same loopy wildness in the crowd. It was one of the maddest nights I've seen in the Fleece as wave after wave of psychedelic sound splurged over the pogo-ing crowd until it felt like the grimy old rock 'n' roll barn would levitate and float across Bristol. From the Zeppelin-esque guitar blasts of Giant Tortoise to the more electronic, keyboard-dominated new material, the set was a fantastic sound collage, now heavy, now grooving, now lighter than air. A cover of Brian Eno's Baby's On Fire was one of the few concessions to the verse-chorus-middle eight-chorus model of pop song  -  everything else seemed to be a massive melting-pot of psychedelic psounds, vocals and all thrown into the churning mixture. But, somehow, it all made sense. And the flowery-shirted kids and beret-wearing hipsters all dug it, maaan. The biggest grin of the night came from the keyboard player who dominated centre stage with his mad profesor experiments and looked to be loving every second.
It was certainly eye-opening for James  -  the music was outside of his usual dance comfort zone
( although there were some pretty slippery grooves in the psychedelic gumbo ) and the crowd was far wilder than he'd been used to at previous gigs. I was concerned about his reaction ( particularly to the claustrophobic push and pull of the crowd ) but he absolutely loved it. Me too.
Far out!

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Terry Pratchett

Very sad to hear that the great Terry Pratchett has died today. We've lost a fantastic storyteller and a very witty, wise and brave man. Flags at half-mast on the Discworld tonight...

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Careful now... they're watching you...

According to the Blogger Overlords "certain sexually explicit content" is now banned from this corner of t'internet and they will strike down upon us bloggers with great vengeance and furious anger if we post such things. As ever with these situations there's no real guidance about what constitutes "sexually explicit content" or even what constitutes the vague qualification of the word "certain". I've never posted anything here that  I would consider to be explicit but, of course, that's just my opinion and other, more enlightened, censors  killjoys fascists moral guardians may have differing opinions. So, I really hope the Blogger Big Brothers have fun trawling through all those thousands of posts out there for the occasional stray nipple and  -  just for them  -  here's a big cock...
 ( It's childish, I know, but I really take exception to this heavy-handed prudishness... )




Sunday, 22 February 2015

And now... the world's crappiest Dalek


Move It 2015

Last weekend Sarah and I went down to that there London to see Sophie taking part in Move It 2015 at Olympia. ( That's her above in mid air. ) Move It is the premier UK expo for the dance / performing arts industry and Sophie's dance college The Big Act were performing and promoting themselves over the course of the three day event.

Olympia is a beautiful Victorian building and Move It and Perform ( dance and theatre respectively ) dominated the huge space.
After watching Sophie and her friends put on an excellent showcase in one of the smaller venues, we were lucky enough to watch her teaching a Hip Hop class in one of the many workshops dotted around the site. It was fascinating to see how a dance routine is taught and it was great to see her leading the workshop, alongside the Big Act dance teacher.


( Although, after hearing it over and over, I never want to listen to Sam Smith's Stay With Me ever again... )
We also watched a few other performances throughout the day which were all very impressive. I can't say I'm really a fan of contemporary dance or musical theatre but I've definitely become more appreciative of such things while following Sophie's dance education.
 One very proud dad and his talented daughter...
And here's a shot of Olympia's exterior. It really is a cool place...

Soundtrack: various tracks by Everything Everything and The Maccabees

Monday, 26 January 2015

Recent Gigs Part Two: The Beat and From The Jam

My last gigs of that long-lost year 2014 included a couple of old favourites at my local rock 'n' roll Mecca, Gloucester's Guildhall. First up were The Beat ( Ranking Roger pictured above ) bringing their now-traditional Christmas party to the Shire. And when I say "Christmas party" I mean red hot, summery, skankin' ska action... in December. Sarah had wanted to come along to this gig ( mostly for the chance to see Roger take his shirt off... ) but wasn't feeling too good, so I persuaded James to fill in for her. He's always said he "doesn't like reggae" but I told him that I couldn't imagine anyone with a pulse not enjoying The Beat's exuberant, addictive rhythms   -  and, anyway, this is SKA...
But, before that Black Country beat we had to enjoy, sorry that should read "endure", support band Boys From County Hell. I always try to be positive on this 'ere blog and if I see a particularly bad band I tend to just not write about them... but this lot were something else. Aside from the fact that a Pogues-y folk band seemed a strange fit for supporting The Beat ( it seems to be a thing lately  -  The Levellers recently supported The Selecter too ) I thought I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. Oh dear. They played some of the worst hey-nonny-nonny drivel ever, with some incredibly poor vocals and doomed, desperate attempts to urge an uninterested crowd to sing along to songs that no-one knew. When they started to murder the peerless Fairytale Of New York I had to leave the room. Luckily the Guildhall has a separate bar and an art gallery so James and I managed to escape with our ears and sanity intact and checked out some proper culture.
Then The Beat came on and all was forgotten. If not forgiven. As ever, the band were excellent  -  pumping out so much energy, positive vibes and righteous rhythms that the whole venue felt like it was moving. Which, in fact, it was as we all bounced around on the sprung floor of this former ballroom. Hit after hit came skanking our way: Save It For Later, Too Nice To Talk To, Stand Down Margaret, the immortal Mirror In The Bathroom, the Roadrunner-soundalike Two Swords and, of course Tears Of A Clown. One of the best moments of the night was a slow and soulful Doors Of Your Heart, the band ably demonstrating they can master a mellow groove as well as uptempo, uptown, top rankin' ska beats. The father and son partnership of Ranking Roger and Ranking Junior are some of the best frontmen you're ever likely to see, both fantastic singers and performers, literally bouncing off each other as they criss-cross the stage with boundless energy. And, much to the dismay of many in the audience, Roger didn't actually take his shirt off, even in the cooking temperatures of the stage lights  -  he only rolled it up to partly reveal his impressive physique. I took the blurry photo below for Sarah but it doesn't quite do him justice :-)
And with the traditional final song, the rousing Jackpot, The Beat were gone, leaving us all knackered but happy... and leaving James a convert to their warm, sun-kissed sound. See you next year, guys!
A week later I was back in the Guildhall again, this time to see From The Jam, playing the classic Jam album Setting Sons in its entirety, on its 35th anniversary. Support came from Stroud's finest, the mighty Chinese Burn, legendary frontman Ben Rigsby above. As any long-time reader of TGWS will know I'm a major fan of the Burn and have probably seen them perform more times than any other band. I'm also glad to say that they're friends of mine but, even if I didn't know them, I'd still turn up for their gigs because they are just one of the best modern practitioners of melodic, intelligent Punk, on a good night easily a match for any classic '77-era group. They've got the sound, the tunes and the effortless charisma and idiosyncratic lyrics of Mr. Rigsby  -  a killer combo. Anyway, they went down a storm at the Guildhall, as they always do, probably one of the best sets I've seen them play. Below is a view of the audience, photo taken by Ben, with me front and centre, looking very red-faced in the heat. It didn't help that I was wearing my pin-stripe blazer to fit in with the Mod vibe of the headliners.
 ( My mate Rob said I looked like I was running for prime minister... )
From The Jam came on stage to the sound of a ringing phone ( and a cheering audience ) with Bruce Foxton asking "Should we answer that?" and then, of course, ripped into Power Pop classic Girl On The Phone, with its cheeky lyrics about groupies and stalkers. From then on, with us in the palms of their hands, FTJ ripped their way through such fantastic songs as The Eton RiflesThick As Thieves, Little Boy Soldiers and Smithers-Jones, each one a fizzing cocktail of great tunes, stinging hooks and acerbic lyrics. These songs of class warfare, suburban desperation and willing cannon-fodder still sound as pertinent today as they did 35 years ago, when Foxton and the long-absent Paul Weller first wrote them. From The Jam are the nearest thing we'll get to The Jam nowadays  -  the original band will never reform but Foxton's version are a credible alternative, fiery and passionate, avoiding the dreaded tribute band status by actually recording and releasing new material. Lead singer Russell Watson may not have Weller's voice but is a fine frontman who knows when to lead and when to let Foxton ( the real focus of the group ) claim the spotlight.
As you can see from the blurry photo above, From The Jam are very enthusiastic and energetic on stage... which doesn't make them easy to capture with a camera phone :-)
After the Setting Sons set they fired off a selection of The Jam's greatest hits, much to the delight of the crowd  -  Going Underground, Start, This Is The Modern World, The Butterfly Collector, Strange Town  -  so many classics! All in all, a great gig and I even got to meet the band backstage too, which was an added bonus. ( It helps to have friends in the support band. ) They seemed pretty worn out but were happy to chat for a few minutes and thanked us for coming  -  although I made sure we didn't outstay our welcome. I've seen From The Jam three times now and I'll definitely have to check them out again....
Sound Affects next time...?

Thursday, 15 January 2015

More Bronze Age Covers

In my previous post on this 'ere blog I shared with you a recent acquisition from Bristol's Excelsior Comics, a copy of Creatures On The Loose #21 with that cool Gullivar Jones cover by Steranko. I also bought a few other £2/ £3 bargain bin classics and now, after literally one request ( I'm talking to you, John Pitt ), I've scanned them too and present them here for your viewing pleasure...
Worlds Unknown #8
This is the second part of Marvel's adaptation of The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad and has some nice artwork by George Tuska and Vinnie Colletta  -  clear, uncluttered comics story-telling, of a kind you rarely see nowadays. I nearly bought this back in the day but funds were tight for the seven-year old me and I had to choose between this issue and X-Men #89 ( "Now Strikes The Sub-Human" )  -  I bought the X-Men but that's now long gone. It's good to finally catch up with Sinbad. Just need to get part one now...
Marvel Two-In-One #1
Well, I like The Thing... but I like the Man-Thing too. Which is better? There's only one way to find out  -  Fight!!! ( Thanks, Harry Hill. ) Steve Gerber starts his short run on MTIO with a faintly ludicrous tale of Ben Grimm travelling to the Everglades for a scrap with Manny because he "ripped off" Benjy's name, only to end up in a three-way tussle with the equally ludicrous Molecule Man.The art team of Gil Kane and Joe Sinnott aren't the best fit for the Man-Thing and his swampy environs but produce some slick, action-packed visuals. And this comic earns bonus points for sneaking the word "porno" past the Comics Code...
Doctor Strange #8
Now you're talking! The Steve Engelhart / Gene Colan Doctor Strange is one of my all-time fave comic strips and it's good to fill a gap in my collection with this issue. This is the, er, climax of the Dormammu / Umar / Mother Earth story which is surreal, philosophical and quite sensual in places and features dialogue like: "But I am more human than you. And I am woman... in the womb of a world of a goddess!" It was the 1970s...
Werewolf By Night #6
The fact that the star of this comic, who turns into a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright and all that jazz... the fact that he is called Jack Russell always cracks me up. Anyway, this is a minor shaggy dog tale of the Werewolf ending up as a sideshow exhibit in an evil carnival, see above. Len Wein's story isn't a patch on the superior supernatural shenanigans he cooked up for Swamp Thing over at DC, but the early Mike Ploog artwork is crude, energetic fun with an Eisner influence shining through.

And that's it for my Bronze Age haul  -  all great bargains at a few quid each. I also picked up the latest issue of Neil Gaiman's Sandman: Overture but you're not interested in that, are you...?

Soundtrack: Come Together, I Think I'm In Love, Cop Shoot Cop and others by Spiritualized

Updates:
Sadly, the screenwriter of Golden Voyage Of Sinbad, the multi-talented Brian Clemens, has recently died. He made a major contribution to film and television fantasy and his passing is a great loss.
On a happier note, full scans of the Thing / Man-Thing brawl above can be seen at the ever-fab Diversions Of The Groovy Kind. Check 'em out, True Believers!

Monday, 12 January 2015

Creatures On The Loose!

It's been a while since I've bought any Silver or Bronze Age comics but I couldn't resist this early1970s Marvel monster mag with its lovely Steranko cover. I picked it up for the bargain price of £2 from Bristol's premier independent comic shop, the mighty Excelsior. Although slightly water-damaged / rippled it's otherwise in pretty good condition, with the cover's bold colour scheme undimmed by age. And what beautiful artwork by Jaunty Jim! A quintessential Sword and Sorcery image: barbarians, babe, blades and blood all present and correct. The comic's contents are worth a look too, with some fine, moody artwork by the late Gray Morrow.
( Ahh, this all takes me back to the long-gone days of Steranko Saturdays, gone but not forgotten... )

I also got hold of the following vintage beauties, all for around two or three quid:
Doctor Strange #8 ( Engelhart and Colan, the Dread Dormammu on the cover )
Werewolf By Night #6 ( great Eisner-esque artwork by Mike Ploog )
Marvel Two-In-One #1 ( Ben Grimm vs Man-Thing, cool Starlin / Sinnott artwork )
Worlds Unknown #8 ( the underrated George Tuska adapting The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad )
Great stuff! Excelsior!

Sunday, 11 January 2015

The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies

My first trip to the cinema this year and my last journey to Middle Earth. Peter Jackson's final installment of his Tolkien adaptations is a suitably epic finale which still finds the time for the small moments. As in the last movie we crash straight into the action with no time for a catch up  -  Thorin Oakenshield's band of dwarves have reclaimed their homeland but in the process have caused Smaug the dragon to attack the human settlement of Laketown, while various forces converge on the Lonely Mountain for the titular punch-up.
Although the Hobbit movies haven't had the depth and richness of the LOTR trilogy ( hardly surprising, given the slimmer source material ) they've been good fun and this last installment is probably my favourite of the three. The opening scenes of Smaug burning Laketown are excellent, convincingly showing the chaos and panic that can be caused by the average giant, fire-breathing lizard on a night out, with a chance for Luke Evans to shine as Bard the ( dragon-slaying ) Bowman. And the metaphors come thick and fast as the humans flee for their lives from the scaly WMD to become bedraggled, starving refugees. Which all leads to a further, Iraq-sized metaphor as the death of Smaug brings pretenders to the throne, all after the gold horde under the mountain.
Richard Armitage gives probably the best performance of this series as he descends into paranoia and madness, his arrogance and stubborn behaviour leading to the clash of orcs, dwarves, elves, men and eagles.
And the final battle, when it comes, is very satisfying although still not a patch on the greatest dust-up in all the six films  -  the awesome, rain-drenched spectacle of the assault on Helm's Deep. But the USP of this film's five-way fight is the focus on the individuals caught up in the fray: the various strands of story all converge here and not all the characters survive. Bilbo, unfortunately, seems to be just an observer for most of the time and Martin Freeman only just manages to rescue his performance from becoming a collection of tics and mannerisms. But rescue it he does and his simple, honest hobbit proves again that the smallest characters can have the biggest hearts. Elsewhere it's exciting to see old friends and foes return as Christopher Lee, Cate Blanchett, Ian McKellen and Hugo Weaving all reprise their roles and take on the ghostly Nazgul in a thrilling, if short, supernatural slug-fest. The trilogy is wrapped up and linked to LOTR by a lovely last scene appearance by Ian Holm as the elder Bilbo. An old wizard is knocking on his door...

Soundtrack: Hounds Of Love by Kate Bush
"Take my shoes off and throw them in the lake..."

Saturday, 3 January 2015

Post no. 800: Welcoming a New Year and looking back at the old one...

I don't know... two days into 2015 and I still haven't got my hoverboard yet. It's a disaster!
OK, that's the obligatory Back To The Future / hoverboard reference out of the way. It had to be done. Hopefully the year people are already calling "not 2014" will be memorable for more than failed predictions from a 1980s movie...
So, what's been going down in Groove Town lately? Things have obviously been quiet here recently on the blogging front, due to my complete lack of energy / inspiration / commitment ( delete as applicable ) and the intrusion of a certain holiday season but I hope to put that right and resume more regular blogging. ( I know, Dear Reader, that you've heard all this before... but, it's a new year  -  you can't begrudge a blogger some good intentions can you? Can you...? I recently read a fascinating post on blogging over at Kid Robson's ever-wonderful Crivens! which made me stop and think about what I'm doing here and why. No real conclusions as yet but it certainly got me thinking. Watch this space. ) Where was I? Oh yeah... Christmas...
We had a pretty good Christmas ( thanks for asking ) although Sarah has been ill and that's limited us somewhat, but we made the best of it. Here she is, relaxing in our gracious drawing-room, politely ignoring the fact that the servants have dropped straw all over the carpet yet again. You just can't get the staff. ( I know I posted this photo last time, but I like it... ) Sophie also came home for a couple of days over Christmas, so it was good for us all to be together on Christmas Day. After the usual presents and food shenanigans we all went out for a walk in the afternoon. It was a lovely, cold, bright day and we wandered around Gloucester's beautiful Cathedral...
Here are Sophie and I in the Cathedral's courtyard...
And here are Sophie and James being their usual quiet, reserved selves back at home...

I've still got some unfinished business with 2014 ( blog-wise ) so expect more posts looking back at the year of Ice Bucket Challenges and gun-toting space raccoons...


Thursday, 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas from The Glass Walking-Stick

Here's wishing all of you good people out there in the Blogosphere a happy and healthy Christmas. Peace.




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