Sunday, 7 February 2016

True Believers Comic Festival 2016

Yesterday, James and I went to the second annual True Believers Comic Festival at the Cheltenham racecourse. After braving some horrendous weather and a chaotic entry "system" we found ourselves in The Centaur, usually the home of horse and jockey-related events but, on this Saturday, given over to artists, writers, comic peddlers and cosplayers.
We had a great day, wandering around all the stalls, marvelling or sniggering at the cosplayers and meeting with loads of cool people. We chatted with veteran comic artists Mike Collins and Lee Sullivan  -  mostly about their stellar Doctor Who work  -   and also with the up-and-coming artist Emma Vieceli who is currently producing some sterling work for Titan's Eighth Doctor comic. And, keeping up the Doctor Who connection, we also chatted with the wonderful Paul Cornell who was very welcoming and happily signed a couple of his books for us. ( A copy of Human Nature we bought from Paul for £3! and my old and well-thumbed edition of The Doctor Who Discontinuity Guide. )
We also talked with the lovely guys from Big Punch Studios about their exciting new multiverse of science fiction comics. Check out the link  -  they've got some great stuff on the go and loads more planned.
As I said, we had a great day and found the whole thing very relaxed and welcoming. Here's James, posing in front of the inevitable Tardis...
Same time next year?

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Alan Rickman

This has been one hell of a week for bad news  -  first the shock announcement of David Bowie's death, and now the world has lost another talented and much-loved entertainer, the actor and director Alan Rickman. At the risk of turning this 'ere blog into Obituary Corner, I just wanted to say how saddened I am by this and how much I'll miss this highly talented man who could always lend some class to any project he was involved in. ( Sarah is a big fan of his too and was really upset. ) Whenever I think of Rickman, as I obviously have today, I always go back to his breakout performance as the silkily evil Hans Gruber in Die Hard. Rickman wrote the Hollywood rulebook here for "Brit actor plays European villain" and created a truly iconic role.
Of course, he went on to phenomenal success as antihero wizard Severus Snape in the Harry Potter films but he had a hell of an acting range and was fantastic in such diverse movies as A Little Chaos, Snowcake, Sense And Sensibility and the outrageous Dogma...
RIP Alan Rickman
21st February 1946 / 14th January 2016

Monday, 11 January 2016

"His song went on forever..."

"News guy wept and told us..." I still can't get my head round the fact that Bowie is gone. And not just gone to another planet / dimension / Berlin... but really gone.
I bought ( what has turned out to be ) his last album on Saturday and haven't played it yet. It's still in its plastic wrapper, also now wrapped in more meaning than it would have had before today. It's going to be hard now to open it and play it. But I will.
But first... The Rise And Fall of Ziggy Stardust & The Spiders From Mars... played fucking loud.

RIP Thin White Duke...

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

New Year, New Star Wars. Yep, being fashionably late as ever, I saw the rebooted Star Wars last weekend, about a week after the rest of the world. James and I visited the Imax cinema in Cheltenham for the first time because... well, it's Star Wars innit? JJ Abrams' invitation to return to that galaxy far, far away was too good to pass up and seemed the ideal film for the large format.
I'm guessing everyone who reads this blog ( all  3 1/2 of you ) has either already seen the film or absolutely will not see it ever, it's a betrayal of the original Star Wars etc. etc. so I don't need to go into proper review mode here. The net is overflowing with such reviews anyway and there's little I can add except to say...
I loved it! From the nostalgic sugar-rush of the opening crawl to the last, tantalising shot of that returning character I was absolutely hooked. Abrams and screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan have done a spot-on job of recreating the fun, adventure and tone of the Original Trilogy ( no trade disputes or Jar Jar bloody Binks here! ) while adding some suitably modern flavours. The special effects looked wonderful  -  many, many practical effects and sets added the verisimilitude that the CGI-heavy prequels lacked, while the none-more-Star Wars spaceship dogfights were present and correct and thrilling. I have to admit to going slightly watery around the eyes when the Millenium Falcon soared over the sands of Jakku and TIE fighters screamed their iconic scream.
And, while it was lovely to see the return of such beloved characters as that scruffy-looking Nerf-herder and his walking carpet co-pilot, the new characters were instantly engaging and promised much for the future. John Boyega and Daisy Ridley had a genuine chemistry and were totally convincing as ( respectively ) runaway Stormtrooper Finn and scavenger-turned-potential Jedi Rey; Adam Driver made his petulant, rage-driven Kylo Ren an interestingly emotional villain and Oscar Isaac was charismatic but underused as ace pilot Poe Dameron  -  let's hope we see more of these characters in episode VIII.
The main grumble many people have had over this movie is its reliance on familiar tropes from the Original Trilogy  -  desert planet, droid with a message, Death Star-like super weapon, shock death of father figure ( Spoilers! ) etc. etc. I can't say I'm too bothered about all that. JJ Abrams was obviously in a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation here and his reworking of old themes ( with a new energy ) seems an appropriate way to tie this new series into the original stories. The fact that these characters are facing such similar situations lends the new movie the kind of mythical, cyclical feel of The Lord Of The Rings. After re-establishing the Star Wars universe as it once was ( without ditching too much of what made it so special as George Lucas did with his misbegotten prequels ) future film-makers can now take it... anywhere...

( Oh yeah, the Imax experience was well worth it, too. It all looked gob-smacking on the huge screen and the 3D was wonderfully imersive. I'm not usually a fan of 3D and will tend to avoid it but this was the best use of the format I've seen since Life Of Pi  -  it was really that good. )

Soundtrack  -  The White Album by the Beatles

Friday, 1 January 2016

Happy New Year, people of Spaceship Earth

Here's wishing peace, love and good times to all you wonderful people out there...

Thursday, 31 December 2015

Songs of 2015

This last year, which I'm contractually obliged to refer to as "not 2014", has been an absolutely cracking one for new music. Although the UK charts have mostly been clogged up with middle-of-the-road, granny-friendly performers like Sam Smith and Adele, or identikit-sounding pop princesses like Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift, if you dug a little deeper into 2015 there was a lot of good stuff out there. And most of it came from Australia...
My favourite solo performer of the year, Courtney Barnett produced an instant classic album in Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Hard to choose favourites but I'll go with  -
Pedestrian At Best ( see-sawing riffs and tumbling, incandescent wordplay )
Elevator Operator ( power pop... but in a good way )
Depreston ( suburban melancholy, beautiful Antipodean diction )
 Staying with Australians ( albeit ones from some acid-fried, parallel universe Oz ), Nick Allbrook's mighty Pond proved to be an awesome live band with their outasight, psychedelic psounds  -
Zond
Sitting Up On Our Crane
Elvis' Flaming Star
Pond's fellow astral plane traveller Kevin Parker aka Tame Impala was very busy this year  -  working with Mark Ronson and releasing his third album, Currents. Largely ditching the psychedelia of previous years, Parker hit the big time with this collection of synthpop and funk-inspired tunes  -
'Cause I'm A Man
The Less I Know The Better
Let It Happen
 Back in this rain-lashed corner of the world, my fave band of the year Everything Everything pulled an absolute work of genius out of the bag with the album Get To Heaven, a record that edged them towards the mainstream but still managed to be a claustrophobic howl at all the evils of the world... with some great tunes. I saw them live for the second time at the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall but didn't review the gig here for some unknown reason. They were on sparkling form and frontman Jonathan said they were having the best year of their careers  -  the album had just reached number one in the charts and they were all set to play Glastonbury a few days later. Key songs:
No Reptiles ( epic! )
Regret
Distant Past
 And, speaking of Glasto, one of the musical events of 2015 was Florence + The Machine's amazing Pyramid Stage headline set. A last minute promotion to headliner after Foo Fighters' Dave Grohl famously broke his leg and couldn't appear, this was an epic, sky-scraping performance, with Florence at the absolute peak of her powers. ( Somewhat ironic as she was also recovering from a leg injury. ) This set must have been a thing of wonder to witness live, especially after so many nay-sayers had dissed Flo before she'd even stepped on stage for not being a "typical" Glasto headliner. Well, bollocks to that! A fireball of energy, pirouetting around the stage, Florence sang her impressive lungs out and spread some suitably hippy-fied love around Worthy Farm, proving her step up to the big leagues was well deserved. Her fantastic new album, How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful, had slightly dialled back the pomp of her first two records, upped the personal, and delivered such instant classics as:
Ship To Wreck
What Kind Of Man
The title track itself
Mother ( I wrote here about how this song reminds me of Hawkwind )

By complete contrast, for those in need of some harsher sounds, the extremely gobby and noisy two-piece from Kent known as Slaves released their first album, Are You Satisified? Thirteen short, sharp sonic shocks  -  thirteen aural assaults taking in urban anger, relationships and, er, traffic. Best songs:
The Hunter ( "You keep it / We don't want it!" )
Cheer Up London
Feed The Mantaray
Also rocking my world this year:
You're A Germ by Wolf Alice ( video of the year and a great, grungey sound )
No One's Bothered by Sleaford Mods ( Oi! meets the Fall meets grime? )
Marks To Prove It by the Maccabees ( excellent comeback single )
Love Me Like You Do by Ellie Goulding ( yep, she's still got it! )
I haven't listened to a lot of radio hits / mainstream pop this year. No real reason really... but not a lot of it has grabbed me in 2015. However, one song was inescapable this year, in the same way as Daft Punk's Get Lucky or Pharrell's Happy in previous years. As much as I'm not usually a fan of Bruno Mars, his collaboration with Mark Ronson was a slick, irresistible slice of Prince-funk... so I'm awarding
Earworm Of The Year to Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson feat. Bruno Mars :-)

So... come on, 2016  -  let's see what you've got...


Friday, 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas from The Glass Walking-Stick

Season's Greetings to all you lovely people out there in the Blogoverse. Here's hoping you have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas.Cheers!

- cerebus660 ( Simon )

Thursday, 24 December 2015

Christmas Fantasy 2015 at Clearwell Caves

Yesterday, Sarah and I went for our now-annual trip to Clearwell Caves in the Forest Of Dean. Every Christmas this ancient iron mine is transformed into a Winter Wonderland, complete with Father Christmas dishing out toys for the kiddies and a children's story to follow as you walk around the caves.This year's tale is Evie's Aeroplane, about a young girl who falls asleep and dreams that she flies off for magical adventures in her toy aeroplane. Here are some photos of the absolutely charming models that illustrate Evie's story:

After the story is over and Evie's found her way back to Earth by sliding down a moonbeam, there's still time to browse the underground craft market or have some festive food in the underground cafe...
A visit to Clearwell Caves is highly recommended at any time of year, but it becomes something truly magical at Christmas. We often brought the kids here when they were young and they always enjoyed it, even when standing in some fairly horrendous queues to see Father Christmas. Nowadays, it's just us two big kids :-)
It certainly gets you in the Christmas spirit...

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Why does the internet do this to me...?

Just when I thought I'd got over the trauma of watching that movie...

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Recent gigs: Courtney Barnett / Buzzcocks

Last weekend saw a couple of great gigs  -  one from an up-and-coming Antipodean and one from some legendary Mancunians. On the Friday I headed up to the Black Country with my good friend Tom to see Courtney Barnett rock Wolverhampton's Wulfrun Hall. Due to dodgy weather and motorway pile-ups we arrived at the venue too late to see support band Big Scary but luckily didn't miss any of the headliner's set.
Courtney is gaining a reputation as an incisive songwriter with her sardonic slacker anthems which will surely soon propell her into the big leagues. She has the ability to imbue the most mundane subjects ( gardening, moving house, swimming ) with an intensely personal, coolly ironic viewpoint. The set started almost hesitantly with the laid back Avant Gardener ( "I'm not that good at breathing in" ) but appropriately changed gear with the relationship-as-roadkill boppiness of Dead Fox and then the pulverising blues of Small Poppies ( "I used to hate myself but now I think I'm alright." ) It was in this latter song that Courtney first unleashed her full arsenal of guitar firepower  -  thrashing at her instrument with just her fingers ( no guitar pick in evidence ) like her life depended on it. She seemed to have an effects pedal marked "Extreme Sonic Death!" or something like that because the volume rocketed every time she pressed it. The quiet / loud dynamics of her heavier songs often remind me of Pixies or the Breeders ( yep, there's definitely a Kim Deal influence here ) although I'd described her to Tom as a "cute, female Australian Lou Reed" which might be nearer to the truth. ( I flicked through the latest issue of Q Magazine recently which pretty much described her the same way. But without the word "cute", them being professionals and all. )
Courtney didn't have a lot to say to the crowd at first, but it was obvious from the grins she was flashing at the other two members of the "Courtney Barnett Three" that she was having a blast. After a lovely version of  the melancholic Depreston ( my fave of her songs ) caused some mass audience singalongs, she became more talkative. Someone yelled out "I love you, Courtney!"  -  to which the bemused singer replied "I love you too, stranger". Depreston itself is a perfect example of her songwriting skill: a deceptively trivial tale of a young couple house-hunting in a grim suburb which slowly, through the deadpan listing of estate agent waffle, describes a relationship that's stale and based on convenience. Well, that's my take on it anyway...
The main set ended of course with a storming version of razor sharp minor hit Pedestrian At Best and then the CB3 encored with a rockin' cover of an old Saints song ( apparently ), Know Your Product  -  with added back up from support band Big Scary  -  and a triumphant History Eraser ( "In my brain I rearrange the letters on the page to spell your name " ) to send us home convinced we'd just seen a major star of the future.
So, that was the Friday night  -  Saturday was a closer to home gig as I went over to the Stroud Subscription Rooms to see my mate Glenn's band Borrowed Time supporting the mighty Buzzcocks. I hadn't seen the 'cocks ( as nobody calls them ) in over twenty years so I was definitely looking forward to it. The gig was sold out and I didn't have a ticket but having friends on the inside helped  -  I sneaked in through the stage door and got in for free. Bargain!
Those Borrowed Time boys were on fine form, playing probably the best set I've seen from them. Although they started as a quite generic, shouty Punk band, they've grown hugely in a couple of years  - more tunes, more harmonies, more confidence  -  until they've now become a credible support band for acts such as Stiff Little Fingers and Sham 69 and now the Buzzcocks. BT played a strong, punchy set and songs like Nervous Reaction and Under The Radar went down a treat with the crowd.
The Buzzcocks came on stage and proceeded to rip through their set in an almost Ramones-like display of urgency, starting with classic first single Boredom and barely letting up from then on. Not bad for men who aren't exactly spring chickens. Guitarist Steve Diggle doesn't seem to change too much but lead singer Pete Shelley, who was once yer archetypal skinny Punk pin-up, is now bearded and portly and looks like he'd be better off playing Dubliners covers in some dodgy pub  -  luckily he's still got that distinctive, sneering vocal style and attacks every song as if he's still twenty-something...
And what songs! The Buzzcocks were always Punk's premier pop crossover band with a treasure trove of short, sharp, eloquent songs about life, love and relationships. And they all got an airing at this gig  -  What Do I Get, Noise Annoys, I Don't Mind, Fast Cars, Promises, Love You More  -  so many classics! Highlights were a lightning-fast Autonomy and Diggle taking the spotlight and rocking out to Harmony In My Head. In fact, Diggle rocked out throughout the set  -  watching the more reserved Shelley rolling his eyes good-humouredly at Diggle's rock star shape-throwing was hilarious.
They encored with Harmony..., the inevitable, irrepressible Ever Fallen In Love ( With Someone You Shouldn't've ) and a shout-along Orgasm Addict... and the crowd went wild. A great gig  -  and bloody loud! I was down the front with my good friend and former Death Planet Commandos guitarist, the mighty Mark B, and we were directly in line with Shelley's guitar amp which meant our ears took a serious pounding. Yep, my ear drums were buzz(cock)ing for about three days afterwards...
The only down side to this gig was that the Buzzcocks were very stand-offish backstage and wouldn't mix with Borrowed Time ( which is hardly Punk Rock is it! ) and a lot of Glenn's friends were turned away from the venue after being promised extra tickets following the sell-out. On a more positive note, Glenn's girlfriend Beki was organising a collection to aid refugees in Calais and they raised quite a lot of money for that worthy cause.
And here's a free plug for Borrowed Time:

Friday, 27 November 2015

FF Fridays: Black ( Panther ) Friday

The dreaded Black Friday is here again, the day when many of us offer up a silent prayer of thanks  to our deity of choice that we don't work in retail. With the first cinematic appearance of T'Challa, Prince of Wakanda ( the Black Panther to you ) being teased in the recently dropped Captain America: Civil War trailer it got me thinking of the MCU's regal African prince. ( Yeah, I know... my brain works that way. ) Above is the original, unused cover by King Kirby ( of Brooklyn ) for the Panther's debut in FF #52...
and below is my copy of that issue as published, with an absolutely gorgeous Kirby / Sinnott cover...
And here's Chadwick Boseman as T'Challa from the upcoming Marvel slugfest. Can't wait to see this one!
And, seriously... consumers  -  just be careful out there...
Black!


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