Saturday, 25 July 2015

After a day working in the garden...

I feel the Jungle Lord's pain...
( From Jungle Action no. 15, May 1975  -  by Don McGregor, Billy Graham and Dan Green )

Saturday, 11 July 2015

Nights at the theatre

I've never been a regular theatre-goer but, because our daughter Sophie has been training for a career in musical theatre, we've spent some time sampling the ubiquitous smell of the greasepaint and roar of the crowd in recent years. Prior to that my only theatre experiences have been limited to a few pantomimes, school trips to Shakespeare plays, two performances of The Rocky Horror Show and falling asleep during Cats. Last year we saw Sophie's dance school The Big Act do a very brief performance at the Bristol Hippodrome  as part of the city's Cary Grant Centenary celebrations. Since then she's also appeared in two Big Act shows at Bristol's Alma Tavern and one at Bath's Rondo Theatre. ( Wow! I've gone link-crazy in this post! ) The Bath show was particularly impressive  -  an off-Broadway musical called I Love You Because...  -  a New York-set comedy of relationships with some cracking tunes, which showed off Sophie's talents really well, especially when she brought the house down with the funniest ( and rudest! ) line in the script.
All this was a prelude to the grand finale of her year with The Big Act, a performance of the Queen musical We Will Rock You at the Hippodrome. This charity performance, in aid of The Mercury Phoenix Trust, was produced after only 48 hours' rehearsal, a huge challenge for the cast who are used to weeks and weeks of rehearsals for most other shows. In support of this show The Big Act also performed a half-hour showcase of song and dance, which Sophie also choreographed. No pressure! :-)
( That's Sophie at the bottom right of the above photo with her fellow Big Act students Joe, Edd and Jess. )
To add a little offstage drama, Sophie suffered an injury whilst rehearsing and ended up in A&E the night before the show, and was advised by doctors not to dance. Did that stop her? Hell no!
( "Determined" is her middle name. Well, only metaphorically speaking... actually it's "Jasmine". )
The show itself was a great success, with a packed-out Hippodrome watching over 100 local performers singing, dancing and acting their socks off. Although I'm not a great fan of musical theatre, I thought We Will Rock You was fantastic -  a little cheesy but great fun, with the added bonus of all those wonderful Queen songs and Ben Elton's often very funny script. The principal cast were all excellent. It's hard to believe they weren't professionals! They all gave 100% and more than earned the standing ovation they received. For Sophie and her friends it was a dream come true to perform on the famous Hippodrome stage and a fitting end to their time with The Big Act. Now the big, wide world beckons!
Below are Sophie and co. at their very last ballet lesson:
Also on the subject of musicals, I meant to write a post last year about another show we went to, but never got round to doing it. ( Like so many other things...) This was a trip last March with our friends Helen and Shaun to Cheltenham's Everyman Theatre to see Fiddler On The Roof, starring the legendary Paul Michael Glaser. The actor that I will forever think of as Starsky was returning to the story he starred in way back in 1971, when he had played the student Perchik in the Norman Jewison movie version. This time around, however, the 70-year old was of an age to portray the iconic milkman ( there can't be many of those ), the  long-suffering patriarch Tevye.
This version of Fiddler was an absolute triumph with a highly-talented cast playing multiple roles, singing, dancing and playing instruments, all with passion and enthusiasm. The cast even shifted the intricate, multi-purpose sets themselves! Glaser was fantastic as Reb Tevye, the hard working man trying to keep his family together amid various disasters, but always retaining his sly wit and keeping up his humorous ( one-sided ) dialogues with God. Full of a startling energy for a man of his age, with a strong singing voice and charisma virtually oozing out of every pore, Paul Michael Glaser was a pleasure to watch and his performance certainly stands up against the definitive take by the great Topol. ( Interestingly, Topol was only in his thirties when he starred in the film but was made up to look older. ) It was a lovely night out with some good friends. What more could you want?
OK, so I'll never be a "luvvie" but, every now and then, a trip to the theatre can be something special.
L'chaim! To life!

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Happy 4th of July!

Best Wishes to all of The Glass Walking-Stick's friends on the other side of t'Pond...

Sunday, 14 June 2015

Favourite Gig Fridays: V Festival 2004 snapshots ( re-posted... see below )

Pixies: reformed, rejuvenated, "doing it for the money" says Frank but we know differently, classic song after classic song about bones and incest and UFOs, Kim Deal's Cheshire Cat grin, that guitar sound from Joey, swearing in Spanish, ecstatic crowds loving every second. Awesome.
The Strokes: effortlessly cool, even their roadies are cool, Julian so drunk he can barely stand but still singing like a demi-god, every song from the first two albums, serious crush down the front but we don't care, a cover of The Clash's Clampdown for us old gits, extreme volume, did I mention they were cool?
Weston Park, Staffordshire, a lovely country estate setting. A strangely family-friendly, middle-of-the-road vibe. I sit in the sunshine and eat a hotdog while Badly Drawn Boy is on stage, go and check out the skateboarding at the Red Bull Vert Ramp while Jamie Cullen bores the pants off the main stage audience.
And then these guys turn up:
NERD: bringing the noise, Pharrell prowling the stage like a panther, everyone wave their hands in the air, everyone SCREAM, jump up and down, Paaaaarrrtttyyy!!

The Zutons: Scouse nutters, great tunes, Abi on sax, harmonies and melodies, Zuton Fever!
More fun than Snow Patrol.....

*Update 14/06/2015*
Dear Reader, there was previously a lovely photo of Abi from the Zutons here but somebody complained that it was infringing on their copyright so I've removed it. I now seem to be on some copyright infringement list with people who produce posts with titles like "Six porn stars show how to suck some mean dick"  -  obviously my sharing a photo of the comely saxophonist ( on a blog that has no commercial profile and is just here for entertainment ) is in the same league. Here are some words from the Google Overlords on the subject:

We have received a DMCA complaint for your blog, The Glass Walking-Stick. An email with the details of the complaint was sent to you on 13-Jun-2015 and we have reset the post status to "Draft"; you can edit it here. You may republish the post with the offending content and/or link(s) removed. If you believe you have the rights to post this content, you can file a counter-claim with us. For more on our DMCA policy, please click here. Thank you for your prompt attention.

Soundtrack: Surfer Rosa by The Pixies.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Calvin, King of the Cat Captions

Just a quick shout-out to my good friend Calvin, of Canadian Cave Of Cool fame. He is THE master of clever, witty captions and I always love to see what he does with photos of our cats. Here is Jasper, photographed by Sophie a couple of days ago when she came home for the weekend. Sophie posted this on her Facebook page and said "Don't know why my cat was being seductive..." The mind boggles! Calvin, of course, turned this ridiculous picture into comedy gold. If you're reading ( or even, who knows, Following ) this 'ere blog you probably already know about the Cave Of Cool  -  it really is a wonderful place to visit. Calvin has recently, incredibly, passed the 5 million page views mark. That's some achievement! If you have some time to spare, Dear Reader, please drop in on the Cave and soak up some of the awesomeness there. And tell Calvin that cerebus660 sent you :-)

Soundtrack: De Stijl by the White Stripes

 ( And here's Jasper again, chilling out on his 6th birthday last week. )

Saturday, 6 June 2015

A Little Chaos

Because there aren't enough films about gardening...

Last week Sarah and I went to the Gloucester Guildhall to see Alan Rickman's second film as director, A Little Chaos. This is the highly-fictionalised account of the creation of the formal gardens for Louis XIV's palace of Versailles. Belgian actor Matthias Schoenarts plays the Sun King's chief landscape artist, Andre Le Notre, who hires the headstrong but troubled Sabine De Barra ( Kate Winslett ) to build an outdoor ballroom for the palace. Sabine challenges Le Notre's sense of order with her radical ideas, finds herself the victim of snobbery and Court intrigue, gains a surprising royal ally and  -  inevitably  -  falls in love with her "master"...
This is a very slight story and the film obviously suffers from a low budget but, after a slow start, A Little Chaos finds its feet and portrays a sweet, slow-burning love story among the pomp of the royal Court. Schoenarts is quietly convincing as the artist struggling to finish his project and satisfy his king's demands, while dealing with his unfaithful and manipulative wife ( the ever-wonderful Helen McCrory ) and slowly falling for Sabine. Director Rickman gives himself the plum role of Louis XIV but resists the temptation to ham it up or overshadow the main story, instead giving us a glimpse of the man beneath the wigs and the robes. There's also fine support from other dependable Brit character actors like Rupert Penry-Jones, Danny Webb and Phyllida Law, with Stanley Tucci adding some transatlantic camp, but the film really belongs to Kate Winslett...
Winslett's role of the fiesty woman forging her own ( garden ) path in a man's world, while haunted by the death of her husband and daughter, could have been hackneyed and obvious but she pours so much pain and sadness and anger into the role that she forces you to believe it. There's a beautiful scene where the usually-reticent Sabine opens up about her past trauma to the collected women of the Court who all, one by one, recount their own tales of love and loss, before metaphorically putting their masks back on to face the King and his cronies. Winslett only shares a few scenes with Rickman but the best of the lot sees her mistaking Louis ( sans wig ) for the royal gardener and sharing a few horticultural tips before discovering his identity. The love story between Sabine and Andre also defies the Mills & Boon-type material and becomes something more real and deep, but tinged with sadness.
Not a classic by any stretch of the imagination, A Little Chaos is still a fragrant little bloom...

Friday, 29 May 2015

Recent Gigs Part Two: James Atkin and Miles Hunt

The '90s revival continues:
Only three days after the fantastic Super Furry Animals gig I was back in the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall to see former EMF frontman James Atkin on his first solo tour. I also dragged along my good friend Tom of Tom Wiggins Blogs! fame. ( It's Tom's blog. He blogs there. It does exactly what it says on the tin. Check it out. )
Support for this gig came from Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls, playing an acoustic set of Wonder Stuff songs. The Wonder Stuff are yet another of those bands that I always liked but never got round to seeing, so this is as close as I've come. This was a low-key, warm performance with Miles chatting away happily between songs, regaling us with rock 'n' roll tales and telling us how The Size Of A Cow always crops up on Come Dine With Me when steak is served... which makes him a few quid. They didn't play that bovine epic but did perform some quite wonderful songs like Welcome To The Cheap Seats ( dedicated to the sadly-missed Kirsty MacColl ) and Don't Let Me Down Gently. Miles was in fine voice, although he had some tuning problems with his Gretsch acoustic, and Erica's fiddle-playing was lively and soulful, elevating the songs from any potential hey-nonny-nonny-ness. And she looked very striking too, as if she'd just stepped out of a music box. I'll defintely have to see this duo again.
The last time I saw Mr. Atkin was at EMF's legendary two-albums-in-one-night gig at the same venue back in 2012, immortalised on the Long Live The New Flesh DVD. That was one of the best gigs I've ever seen and, although I didn't expect this one to reach similar levels of awesomeness, I was looking forward to James' new material.
James and his two-piece band took the stage to a hearty hometown welcome and kicked off with the insistent throb of My People, its catchy indie pop and relationship-breakdown lyric setting the tone for the set. While James' new sound is necessarily more stripped down than his former band's, it shares a certain DNA, with most of the songs having a propulsive groove over which he adds some stinging guitar. Although it's early days for The James Atkin Band ( I don't know what else to call them ) they have a definite ability to lock onto a sound and pound it out. The keyboard player was having plenty of fun on stage  -  many of her synth parts were pre-recorded, allowing her to dance around the keys, sing backing vocals and beat hell out of a tambourine. It was nice to see an old-skool "Acid" sign on stage too ( see above ).
James Atkin isn't the most garrulous of frontmen but he seemed happy to be back in his old stomping grounds and had a couple of chats with the Forest Of Dean elements in the crowd. ( He was even seen hanging out in the bar prior to the gig. ) His breathy vocals and wide-eyed style are as engaging as ever and, with his omnipresent woolly hat covering his newly-greying hair, hardly seems any older than the lad in the Unbelievable video  -  filmed in this self-same venue. After hitting us with some future favourites like the mellow Love Blind and the anthemic The Silence Is Deafening, James ended the set with a couple of old favourites  -  EMF's Unbelievable and I Believe  -  what else? The hardcore ravers partied like it was 1991 again and everyone went home with smiles on their faces.

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Recent Gigs Part One: Super Furry Animals

In an unofficial '90s revival I've recently been to two cracking gigs at my fave venue, Gloucester's ever-groovy Guildhall, starting with a mid-week excursion into the wild and wonderful world of Welsh wizards the Super Furry Animals. The Super Furries were probably the quintessential festival band of the 1990s and even managed to bother the charts occasionally with their resolutely odd take on Britpop. ( They'd probably hate to be labelled as such but they were definitely the wierder alternative to the likes of Blur and Oasis back in the days of  "Cool Britannia". ) I've got a couple of their albums and always meant to see them live but never managed it so, when they announced they were doing a warm-up gig for their first tour in years at the Guildhall, it was a must for me... and for about 400 others who packed out the venue.
 There was no support band, only a DJ spinning some bangin' choons ( as I believe they're called ), and there was a buzz of excitement as we waited for the boiler-suited band to appear ( above is a pic of them backstage just before the gig started ). This tour was based around the 10th anniversary re-release of Mwng, the band's ground-breaking Welsh language album, so I wasn't sure what kind of gig to expect. Was it all going to be songs in Welsh that I didn't know? Not that there's anything wrong with that but I was hoping for one or two familiar tunes I could sing along to...
I didn't need to worry: SFA came out to rapturous applause and proceeded to play half an hour of hits  -  ( Drawing ) Rings Around The World, Do Or Die, God! Show Me Magic, Bad Behaviour, Demons and Northern Lites  -  wow! All perfectly-formed, slightly off-centre nuggets of pure awesomeness; all Number One hits from an alternate universe where great tunes, melodies, lyrics and strangeness combine to keep this world's usual factory-farmed pop at bay. Then the slightly-creepy cover of Mwng ( a pipe-smoking, bearded animal skull ) was projected onto the backdrop behind the band, signalling the next stage of the two-hour set.
In contrast to the psychedelic pop of the previous songs, the Mwng material was predominantly melancholy and more stripped back, with excellent use of a two-man horn section ( ooh, er! ) and highlighting Gruff Rhys's plaintive, heart-on-sleeve vocals. Unsurprisingly he gave an absolutely beautiful vocal performance in his native tongue  -  I've got no idea what he was singing about but the pure emotion of it all shone through like a ray of sunlight. After barnstorming versions of Hometown Unicorn and Ice Hockey Hair ( yay! ) we were into the home stretch and things got more and more raucous and surreal...
The set closed with huge singalongs Fire In My Heart and Mountain People, the band left the stage... and the famous SFA yetis, reborn for 2015, stomped back on for a final, pounding surge through protest anthem The Man Don't Give A Fuck. The fairly restrained Guildhall audience went absolutely nuts for this one, the whole venue shaking to the repeated, expletive-laced blitzkrieg of the chorus. And then it was all over and I drove home with Ice Hockey Hair still ringing through my head, knowing I'd just seen one of the best live bands ever. SFA OK!
Next time in the '90s revival slot  -  solo gigs for EMF and Wonder Stuff frontmen...

Thursday, 7 May 2015

UK Election Day 2015

This may be cheating but I'm going to re-post something I wrote 5 years ago on the eve of the last UK election. You know, the one that left us with the ridiculous coalition government who've spent the last half a decade cutting services, inspiring civil unrest and leaving the back door open for Farage's xenophobes. Yeah, them...
As I said, I'm revisiting that post because, sadly, things haven't really changed in the last 5 years... except for the fact that the biggest threat to this country may not now be Dalek Dave but a certain beer-swilling, "man of the people" Little Englander...

This is a public service announcement ( without guitars )

Please vote today. This could be one of the most important elections in many years so please don't waste your hard-won right to vote. Please vote with your conscience and don't be swayed by others, no matter how well-intentioned. And don't listen to biased, uninformed bloggers...

But for God's sake don't vote Ukip ;-) 

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Avengers: Age Of Ultron

It's here at last  -  the age of The Age Of Ultron, the next step in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the sequel to The Biggest Super Hero Movie Ever ( TM )  -  so what's it like? Well, it's pretty good actually. ( How's that for an incisive critical appraisal? )
The movie starts at a gallop with our heroes busting up the castle stronghold of evil Nazi throwback Baron Von Strucker ( who gets one of the funniest lines in the film ) and attempting to recover Loki's sceptre, which happens to contain yet another Marvel Universe McGuffin, the Mind Stone, one of those pesky Infinity Stones which will no doubt cause all sorts of problems in future movies. ( I still think of them as Infinity Gems as they were named in the comics but I'm old-fashioned like that. ) From this almost-generic scene the various plot threads spin out  -  Tony Stark likes the look of Strucker's AI experiments and thinks nicking the tech to create an army of police-bots is a neat idea
( it isn't ); embittered, super-powered twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff are freed in the chaos to plan revenge against the West in general and Stark in particular; and an unlikely romance begins to blossom between the Black Widow and the Hulk.
It will come as a surprise to absolutely nobody that Stark's plan for "a suit of armour around the world" to protect us from intergalactic menaces like the first movie's Chitauri is a spectacular failure, resulting in the genesis of Ultron, this installment's Big Bad. The metal maniac quickly decides, only seemingly moments after his "birth", that the human race don't need defending, so much as wiping from the face of the Earth, starting with his "father" and the rest of the Avengers. Cue many, many action scenes...
Now, don't get me wrong, a lot of this is great fun and very exciting but at times AOU almost strays into Transformers territory, with lightning-fast cutting and multiple points of view making for a lack of focus in some scenes. With more than the usual burden of expectations placed on any movie sequel it seems that Joss Whedon has lost some of the clarity of the first movie. And, as in the first movie, there's quite a flabby middle section. ( I know... there's no need to get personal, is there? ) But on the plus side...
The new characters  -  Quicksilver, the Scarlet Witch and the long-awaited Vision  -  all add interest and a level of unpredictability which shakes up the Avengers status quo in a very welcome fashion. Paul Bettany's Vision receives the least screen time but probably has the most potential. I'm hoping for a lot more from this enigmatic character in the future. The Widow / Jolly Green Giant romance is quite touching and gives Mark Ruffallo a real chance to shine. In fact, Whedon ensures that all the sprawling cast of main characters get their time in the sun, with Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye far better served this time around. And there are a ton of cameos from MCU regulars like Sam Jackson, Cobie Smulders ( love that name! ), Anthony Mackie, Don Cheadle and even Hayley Atwell. Plus the inevitable Stan Lee in possibly his funniest appearance yet. And then there's the big bad robot himself:
James Spader absolutely runs away with the movie through his voice performance alone  -  not an easy task when the likes of Robert Downey Jnr and Scarlet Johansson are up there on the screen. From his first appearance as a walking scrapyard, slowly gaining sentience, to his marshalling endless legions of Ultron-bots to swarm over the Avengers, Ultron is the quintessential super villain  -  intelligent, sarcastic and witty, nearly always one metal step ahead of his foes and never quite tipping over into AI insanity, but always delivering his lines in Spader's purring, mocking tones. A worthy successor to Loki and definitely one of the best and most believable villains yet to stalk the MCU.
While inevitably not feeling as fresh as its predecessor, AOU is spectacular entertainment and sets the scene for future Marvel movies, from the passing reference to Wakanda ( home of the Black Panther ) to the final scene appearance of a certain mad Titan. And, with the traditional-for-the-comics roster change now introduced into the movie ( "The Old Order Changeth!" as Stan would say back in the day ) the future's certainly looking interesting for Earth's Mightiest Heroes...


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