Sunday, 20 March 2016

So what's been going down in Groove Town lately?


 Alien sex!
No, not really. I just needed an internet-ready, clickbait phrase to grab your attention. It's shameless I know. ( Plus, I've been having that dream about Gamora, Nebula and a bath full of warm custard again. When will it ever end? )
Ahem! Now that we're all here ( who am I kidding? ) I thought I'd just zip through some random rubbish from recent months to hopefully atone for the pathetic lack of blogging activity around these parts lately. I'm going to start with

Oscar Bait: Recent Movies
 The last two films I saw at the cinema are, on the face of it, very different but on closer inspection have much in common. The main thing they share is an obvious hunger for awards, specifically Academy Awards. And nothing wins Oscars so much as suffering  -  something these two films have in abundance...
 For those who've been off-planet in recent months, The Revenant is the latest movie from Birdman director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu. Based on a true story / tall tale ( delete where applicable ) of the 1820s it stars Leonardo De Caprio as frontiersman Hugh Glass, who is attacked by a bear while on a fur-trapping expedition, then betrayed and left for dead by his colleagues. The film is mostly concerned with his fight for survival in the wilderness of the American north and his quest for vengeance. And snow. Lots of snow.
After the almost claustrophobic, limited theatre-set environment of Birdman, Inarritu goes in the opposite direction and films the majority of this movie in the open air. Characters are dwarfed by vast landscapes, half-drowned in rapids, frozen by snow, warmed by steaming animal carcasses, fall off cliffs, and all the while are followed by the camera which twists, turns, ducks and dives to keep up with them. It's a gruelling enough experience just to watch so it's hard to imagine how much proper thespian suffering Leo went through on the path to his well-deserved first Oscar. Tom Hardy, Will Poulter and Domnhall Gleeson also give fine performances underneath all the whiskers and frost. Although overlong The Revenant is a truly epic movie with a surprisingly emotional core and lashings of testosterone... something that's in shorter supply in my other recent movie experience...
The Danish Girl is another loosely-based-on-a-true-story film with added, Academy-approved suffering. As I'm sure most of you know, Dear Readers, Eddie Redmane plays transgender Danish artist Einar who struggles with his / her art and identity, while his wife Gerda struggles with loving a man who is changing and growing apart from her. There's a lot of struggling going on here. It's all very tasteful and sensitive but probably could have done with a bit more verve and transgression. Redmayne is perfectly fine as both Einar and his alter ego Lili but I have to admit I'm never totally convinced by the actor. I found him to be a bit of a wet fish in My Week With Marilyn and he was hopelessly miscast in the BBC's version of Birdsong. Maybe that one great role which will justify all the hype is just around the corner? Alicia Vikander, however, is a revelation. Her bruised, loving, steadfast Gerda is the most fully-rounded character here and is the warm, beating heart of the film.She more than deserved her Oscar here... but for Supporting Actress? Surely it should have been Leading Actress? Anyway, I hope to see far more of her in the future.
So, the lesson here is Suffering = Oscars  -  tune in next year for more misery :-)

PunkSkaFolk: Recent Gigs
 What better way to cure the Winter blues than to see The Beat bring a taste of the Caribbean to grey old Gloucester? ( Specifically my home-from-home, the wonderful Guildhall Arts Centre where I also saw The Danish Girl ) I've seen The Beat about half-a-dozen times and they never fail to entertain or get me to move my feet and shake my arse. ( Not a pretty sight! ) After some fairly underwhelming reggae from locals King Solomon's Band, the Brummie ska heroes bounded onto the stage to a hero's reception and promptly raised the Guildhall's temperature to 1000 degrees. Approximately.
Their music was as exciting and infectious as ever, with Ranking Roger and Ranking Junior clearly having a ball as they raced around the stage and bounced up and down like hyperactive toddlers, bringing us their good vibes and messages of unity. ( Although some in the crowd were disappointed that Roger didn't take his top off this time... ) They played all their hits  -  you know the ones!  -  and other live favourites like Two Swords, Monkey Murders and their skankin' cover of Rock The Casbah. And we loved it! All too soon, after the familiar closing rave-up of Jackpot, they were gone and we stumbled, steaming, out into the freezing February night.
 Here are me and my gig buddy and great friend Caz, down the front  -  where else?
The next night, Caz and I were out again, this time to see local Punk superstars Borrowed Time at Gloucester's grotty Lower George pub. Rob, Glenn and the other BT boys get better each time I see them, writing new songs and always pushing their sound forward. They seem to be giging constantly and, with the addition of human drum-machine Marcus, only sound tighter and tighter. Here they are at the Lower George ( formerly known as The Pig Inn The City... ) giving it some welly. ( Or not in Rob's case as he's always barefoot... )
Headliners that night were Eastfield, a strange Punk band with an Anarcho sound whose songs are all about trains. Yep, trains. Although I think one was about Burt Reynolds but I couldn't swear to it. Anyway, it was all good fun. Here are Eastfield in all their glory...
( These last two photos aren't mine  -  I nicked them from the Facebook page of local photographer John Plane. I'm sure he won't mind as the back of my head features in many of his shots and I haven't asked for any royalties... )
Following this gig I headed up to the lovely Cafe Rene with various other people who should know better ( Caz, Mark, Sam, Nicky ) to see a band with the unpromising name Johnny Kowalski & The Sexy Weirdos...
 This is a band who describe their music as "ska / balkan / punk / rock 'n' roll / mariachi / carnival"  -  phew!
  -  which pretty much sums them up. They were fantastic! An absolutely insane mash-up of genres and styles played with infectious glee and boasting some superb musicianship. But, most of all, fun! The Rene was completely rammed with punters and became an inferno, everyone was dancing, spinning round, spilling drinks, girls were taking their tops off, somebody grabbed the mike to start a debate about Jeremy Corbyn, it was chaos! In a good way. Definitely the most fun I've had at a gig for a long time, I'd highly recommend Johnny & Co. for anyone who wants to dance the night away while grinning insanely. And who wouldn't?

 Two nights, three gigs, five bands! Phew! That's enough for one catch-up post...

Soundtrack: Complete Surrender by Slow Club
( I'm going to see them again in May with my good friend Tom. Yay! Also lined up for this year are Muse in London, Bruce Springsteen in Coventry and  -  get this!  -  the Dandy Warhols in Amsterdam! So excited! )


Saturday, 12 March 2016

Save the NHS

Three years ago this week I was finishing my last week of radiotherapy at Cheltenham General Hospital.Today I marched through Cheltenham in support of the NHS in general and junior doctors in particular. The NHS has helped all of us*, has touched all our lives, whether we realise it or not. Don't let the Tory profiteers degrade and dismantle this wonderful British institution. Stand up and be counted!

*Obviously this applies to UK readers of this 'ere blog :-)

Check out the links below for more info on the people who are trying to destroy OUR national health service and the people who are trying to preserve it:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/kepp-nhs-public-not-private
http://cheltenham-gloucesteragainstcuts.org/
http://www.stroudagainstcuts.co.uk/




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 the latter 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 familiar 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...

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