So, what's happening in cerebusville as the year winds down?
I've just got back from my last gig of the year: another night with the mighty Chinese Burn! The venue was the Cafe Rene in glamorous Gloucester - a cosy, French-themed pub with friendly bar-staff and a decent jukebox. The Burn played two sets which went down well with the fairly small audience, the sound was surprisingly good, Ben's voice stayed in tune most of the time, and a good time was had by all. I made some new best friends in the shape of a couple of Cheltenham pissheads who bent my ear at great length about their lives, drinking habits, ex-wives etc. etc. All fascinating stuff :-)
Anyone interested in Chinese Burn's own brand of melodic Punk can look them up at:
And yesterday we went to see our last movie of the year, Spike Jonze's adaptation of Where The Wild Things Are. The kids wanted to see the Jim Carrey version of A Christmas Carol but I convinced them to swap Victorian moral lessons for a boy in a wolf-suit and his feral friends.
It's a brave movie: not the usual, saccharine Disney fare with everything handed to the viewer on a plate. Instead you get the story of a literal wild-child ( Max Records ) who runs away from his single-parent mum ( after throwing a major tantrum which culminates in his biting her ) and finds himself in the land of the Wild Things. He becomes the creatures' king and joins in their mad, destructive games but also tries to keep the group of Wild Things together when their own childish mood-swings threaten to break up the group. The different Wild Things obviously represent different parts of Max's psyche - his loneliness, his anger, but also his caring side and creativity. Sarah found this a bit hard because it's close to the bone for us and our own wild-child, but that's another story.
Although light on plot, Where The Wild Things Are is a beautiful film: the creatures' island is bathed in Autumnal light, the seascapes and forests and deserts contrast well with the suburbs of Max's home, and the Wild Things themselves are a triumph of integrated costumes and CGI - you believe them to be real. This realistic approach to fantasy is what makes the movie stand out for me. From Max Records' wonderfully naturalistic performance to the pathos of the Wild Things' personalities, nothing seems contrived. This isn't just a film about children, or starring children - it's a film about what it's like to be a child, with all the joys and frustrations that entails.
I've been tagged by Saranga at http://paiwings.blogspot.com/ to contribute to an End Of The Decade meme. ( I won't go into my thoughts on when the decade really starts and ends, 'cos I've covered that at Saranga's blog, and I could be here all night... ) The meme in question was originated by Ami Angelwings at http://ami-rants.blogspot.com/2009/12/amis-of-decade-meme.html and the idea is to "basically come up with 3 categories and who you think wins that category. Be creative!" I've never been sure if memes are just another form of chain-letter, but this one seems harmless enough. So, here goes:
1. Best Cup Of Coffee Of The Decade.
( I've helpfully posted a photo of two cups of coffee above, just in case. ) :-)
OK, Paris , April 2007. Sarah and I were having a long weekend, staying in Pigalle - near the burlesque theatres and the Sex Museum! - and enjoying some fantastic Spring weather. One evening we walked into Montmartre and had an espresso outside a little cafe, at the foot of the hill below Sacre Coeur ( see below ). The combination of the surroundings, the beautiful weather, the lovely company and the industrial-strength espresso made this my Cup Of The Decade. Sorry Starbucks, you just can't compete with that!
2. Movie Series Of The Decade.
The so-called Noughties has been a great decade for movies, from Bourne and Bond, to Shaun and Hot Fuzz, to Eternal Sunshine and Atonement. But for sheer spectacle, for intelligence and emotion, for beautiful landscapes and ugly Orcs, for hairy Hobbits and flawed humans, for all these and more..... Peter Jackson's Lord Of The Rings Trilogy is The One Series To Rule Them All.
3. Local News Of The Decade.
This is quite a self-indulgent one ( And the others aren't? ) 'cos it relates to my home town of Gloucester. Like a lot of people, I imagine, I have a love/hate relationship with my local area. It's easy to feel bored and stifled by familiar surroundings and to only see the negative side of things. Also, as I've lived in the country and the suburbs ( did I mention that? ) and not actually in the city, I often feel disconnected from Gloucester itself, and possibly think of it like this:
The above is a view of the arse-end of Gloucester docks; not very pretty is it? Luckily, the city has received a multi-million-pound regeneration package and the docks area is first to benefit.
The above is a view of the new building-work going on. New shops, restaurants and hotels are revitalising this part of the city and hopefully bringing in more tourist-trade. The bloody recession can't have helped but it seems like a first step in dragging Gloucester into the 21st century, with more to follow for the city-centre, and not before time!
So, that's my extremely random contribution to this meme. I'm sure other bloggers can produce much more interesting work than me, so I'm laying down the gauntlet to the following good people:
I've had this picture of a very festive superhero since I was knee-high to a Space-Hopper. It came with some mail-order comics from the SF and Comic Book Co. ( whoever they were - I can't remember them ) and appears to be signed "Brendan 76" - an early Brendan McCarthy perhaps? Anyway, I've always loved it for the talking lamp-post and the glumly realistic sidekick ( named Snowy? ) as well as the shivering hero. He's here to save Christmas!!
The battle for the Christmas No. 1 single is over and Killing In The Name is - incredibly - the winner.
With a total of 500,000 sales RATM's re-released single is not only the coolest ( and loudest! ) Christmas chart-topper since forever, but also the first single to reach No. 1 on downloads alone and also the new record-holder for most one-week download sales in UK chart history. According to the band £64,726 ( at the latest count ) will be donated to Shelter, the homeless charity. So, if you've bought a copy and been part of this historic victory, you've not only wiped the smirk off Simon Cowell's face but also helped a good cause too.
Congratulations to RATM and a big "Well Done" to the British public for striking a blow against manufactured, middle-of-the-road, karaoke pop. The last word goes to Rage:
"We've shown that we can make a difference and that you don't have a right to Number One just because Simon Cowell says so, especially with a bad cover! We gotta take the power back - Rage Against The Machine - Merry Christmas!"
You know what it's like: one minute you're catching up with some paperwork, then you're starting to drift off.....
The next thing you know, some gold-skinned alien lands on Earth, promising a New Age of peace and prosperity. Earth rejoices! But it turns out he's really a tentacle-y alien and his "Prism Of Miracles" is a world-killing machine, already activated by greedy humans. Earth is doomed!
( Hey, Doctor Who fans - Claws Of Axos? Sounds familiar... )
But you wake up in a cold sweat; it was all a dream. Phew!
But then you're told of a UFO spotted over New York.....
Nick, I know how you feel. That Christmas holiday can't come soon enough!
Today I had the radio on in my office, which I don't often do because you need to stand on one leg, face East and balance it on your nose to get a decent signal. ( Who needs DAB? )
Anyway, throughout the course of the day the teen-demographic-chasing Radio One played the following surprising choices:
Killing In The Name by Rage Against The Machine ( twice! )
Orpheus by Ash ( a lost classic )
Stairway To Heaven ( really! ) by Led Zeppelin
- which all helped to brighten up the day.
They're obviously playing the RATM song because the Facebook campaign to get it to Number 1 at Christmas is well under way. It's probably doomed to failure but wouldn't it be amazing if this sweary, shouty, punk-rap derailed the dreaded X-Factor juggernaut? I bought my copy from iTunes and crossed my fingers. You never know.....
It was my birthday yesterday ( yeah I had a good day, thanks for asking ) and what better birthday treat could I have than to see a scary movie? Sarah and I went along to our local purveyor of blockbusters and over-priced popcorn to see "found-footage" fright-fest Paranormal Activity.
I took Sophie to see this a couple of weeks ago with a bunch of her school friends. It seriously freaked her out - no more scary movies for you, young lady! So, obviously, what scares a 14-year old will seem pretty tame to a cynical old veteran of horror movies such as myself, right? Well.....
As everybody knows by now, the set-up of the movie is very simple: a 20-something couple move into a new house, experience a few odd goings-on, start documenting the events on a digital movie camera, things escalate, terror follows. The build-up is slow as we see Katie and Micah try to figure out what's going on, set up a camera in their bedroom to record anything unusual, bicker and fight, reach out for help from a psychic, deal with poltergeist-like activity, and finally confront the horror head-on. The Blair Witch-style format works well here: the couple are convincing as ordinary people at their wits' end, not just Hollywood teen cyphers. Very little is seen or understood of the apparition tormenting them - it has been following Katie since she was a young girl, they identify it as a "demon", and that's about it. The genius move the director makes is to lock off the camera in their bedroom each night in one static position. The audience finds itself studying every corner of that room as the couple sleep and the slightest movement of a shadow across a door heralds another attack. It reminded me of the scenes in The Exorcist when the characters would run upstairs to Reagan's bedroom as the demon kicked off again, and the audience would brace themselves for what would be found on the other side of the door.
The gradual escalation of the story pays off at the end with some genuinely creepy final scenes as the demon finally takes control of the situation and things don't end well for Katie and Micah. Sarah and I were both gripped by this payoff but it was slightly spoiled by a group of teenagers who seemed to find it hilarious and laughed uproariously, probably in an effort to cover up the fact that they were scared. Stick with Scary Movie, kids!
Soundtrack: The '59 Sound album by The Gaslight Anthem
Just for a change of pace: no loud guitars, no stage-diving, no hyperactive frontmen. Instead we have two nondescript physics students, lurking behind rows of samplers and decks, dropping some block-rockin' beats.
It's July 1996 and I'm at the ( short-lived ) Phoenix festival with my mate Glenn. It's a baking hot day, temperature around 30 degrees, we've seen a few good bands ( Echobelly, Specials ) , a few dodgy ones ( Senser, Ian Astbury ), drunk orange juice with Hare Krishnas, enjoyed the sunshine, and now we're counting down the last couple of hours until the Sex Pistols hit the main stage. ( A future post beckons, methinks. ) Glenn goes off to watch Terrorvision while I head to the Megadog Tent to see the Chemicals.
I'd first heard Tom 'n' Ed on some NME compilation, along with other exponents of the Big Beat like Leftfield and Fatboy Slim. The Chemicals had made an instant impression so I went out and bought their first album Exit Planet Dust. It might sound a bit primitive now, when compared to more recent tracks like Galvanize and Do It Again, but the grooves are awesome.
So anyway, I force my way into the tent, past all the people hanging around outside, and push into the heaving mass at the front. The dry-ice is working overtime, lasers and strobes fire out all around, hideous papier-mache sculptures rotate above our heads, the basslines slam into our spines, whistles are blowing, there's no air but nobody's bothered, condensation rains down from the tent roof. Many people are to be seen performing the ancient art of "big fish, little fish, put it in the box" - ah, for simpler times! Without the distractions of a typical rock band preening and prancing on the stage ( the Bros bounce around a bit and wave their arms occasionally ) we can concentrate on the music: bleeps, pulses, washes of synths, slamming drum samples, melodies weaving in and out, sirens blaring, fantastic! Superstar DJs, Here we go!
The Pistols are gonna have to work hard to beat this. Will they do it? Stay tuned...
Above, the Brothers, workin' it out.
Let Forever Be, Leave Home, Galvanize, Block Rockin' Beats by The Chemicals.
Good to see some new posts by That Baldy Fellow, Edward and the long-lost Pete Doree. Quite a few bloggers I Follow have been quiet of late ( damn that interfering Real World! ) so it's a relief to see that some of the best are still keepin' on keepin' on. Perhaps it'll inspire me to post something a bit more interesting than this lame effort :-)
Yeah, we're back in the Spiegeltent Majestic in freezing cold King's Square, Gloucester, last Monday night. ( When I say "we" that's me, Glenn and about 300 or so other Damned fans, in the unusually plush venue that is the S/Tent, a welcome change from The Damned's usual haunts such as the dreaded Rock Cafe, Stourbridge, and other such dives. )
After a seemingly-pointless website competition to find a support band ( what about Chinese Burn?! ), The Damned are now playing 2 sets, the first one featuring new material and their more psychedelic side, the second slanting to crowd-pleasing punk rock. This is an extra gig, tagged on to the end of their tour with Motorhead and Girlschool ( is it 1981 again? ) so there's a definite end-of-term vibe to the gig. Much banter between the band members and the band/audience members. At one point Sensible's guitar goes wildly out of tune, he spends ages tuning up ( wot no spare? ), Dave Vanian takes the mickey mercilessly, someone in the crowd shouts "It won't make any difference!"..... Poor Captain! Later on he starts to sing his party-piece, Happy Talk, but the rest of the band bundle him up in a roll of carpet (!) and drag him offstage.
In amongst all this lunacy the band play brilliantly, digging up a lot of rarely-heard gems from back in the day: Generals, Fanclub and Curtain Call all get an airing, along with the expected New Rose, Neat Neat Neat, Love Song etc. etc. And the sound is amazingly clear for what is basically a big tent - even 'though the band manage to blow up the PA at one point, leaving the drummer bashing away by himself.
Before we know it, it's all over. As this is a council-run venue there's a strict curfew of 11:00pm on the dot ( fun-suckers! ) so no encores ( Boo! ). We do get the traditional last-song anarchy of Smash It Up, preceded by the Captain's plea that we don't take the lyrics too literally and rip the lovely Spiegeltent apart. Vanian, Sensible and co. say their goodbyes to a happy but knackered moshpit, the drummer throws some drumsticks into the crowd ( I got one! ) and that's yer lot. On the way out we stop for a chat with Mark, ex-demon guitarist from the almost-mythical Death Planet Commandos - good to see him! - and end up talking dodgy punk bands and dodgier comics. Just like old times in Massacre House, the charitable institution caring for threatening, ugly men with guns and unstable personalities :-)
Here's a great slideshow of images from last night's Damned gig, courtesy of Bri from the Official Damned Forum. Cheers, Bri! ( How the Hell did you manage to take such excellent pictures in that mad mob of an audience? Respect! )
Proper gig review to follow when I'm more awake.....
This is the centrepiece of this year's Christmas festivities in Gloucester, the Belgian Spiegeltent. After the rather pathetic ice-rink we had last year, this is a definite improvement. It's part of a "Winter Wonderland" set up in the city's King's Square, featuring Santa's Grotto and a fake snow landscape.
The city council's website describes the Spiegeltent as "an ornate, early 20th Century travelling ballroom, complete with velvet-lined seating booths , mirrors and stained glass panels." The tent is set to host "Dickensian" feasts and cabaret dinners in the evenings. Bands are also lined up to play there, including up-and-coming indie rockers Stornoway, the bloody Wurzels ( God help us! ) and, tomorrow night, living-dead goth-punks The Damned - I'll be there!
We went in yesterday afternoon for coffee and Belgian waffles: very nice!
Soundtrack: Soul Shakedown Party by Bob Marley & The Wailers I'll Sing A Love Song To You by Candi Staton