Thursday, 29 July 2010
Monday, 26 July 2010
In the dim and distant past ( the 1980's ) when I was a teenager, the most exciting musical movement was the ska / 2 Tone explosion ( I was just that bit too young for the first wave of Punk ) - which brought us such great bands as The Specials, Madness, The Selecter and The Beat.
And Bad Manners.....
2 Tone was the product of a bunch of pissed-off, often unemployed, kids taking inspiration from classic 1960's ska and bluebeat and welding it to some Punk speed and attitude. In those dark days of rampant Thatcherism, rising unemployment, and growing civil unrest, 2 Tone was positive, challenging, political, danceable, and - crucially - multi-cultural. The most commercially successful bands were The Specials and Madness, but just behind them were The Beat, a band who were often a more authentic, "roots" alternative.
Fast forward 30 (!) years from their first album, I Just Can't Stop It, and The Beat are playing to an adoring crowd of old rude boys and young kids in Gloucester Park. ( Well, a lineup of The Beat without original singer, Dave Wakeling, but with most vocals handled by MC / toaster Ranking Roger. ) I'd seen Madness waaaay back in 1985 and The Specials (AKA) about 10 years later, but I'd never seen Roger and the boys. Now they're here and they're pumping out the songs and skanking like a band half their age. It'd be rude not to join in.....
They play all the old classics like Mirror In The Bathroom and Hands Off... She's Mine, songs I'd completely forgotten about like Best Friend and Doors Of Your Heart, and even anti-Thatcher tirade Stand Down Margaret. ( Presumably the old witch has enough trouble standing up nowadays, but we'll ignore that for the sake of nostalgia. )
Ranking Roger is still the charismatic and cool frontman he always was, even whilst wearing a cavalry jacket on a muggy July evening. His son, Ranking Junior ( really! ), steps up for a few songs and impresses with some motormouth MC-ing which edges the band towards a more modern, drum 'n' bass sound.
Things are getting hotter, the crowd are getting wilder, and Roger realises they've forgotten a song: "How could we forget this one?" It's their cover of Smokey's Tears Of A Clown.....
And the place goes mental!
Before we know it, it's all over. Roger has thrown his T-shirt into the crowd, causing frenzied scuffles, and we're left with a message of "Peace, Love and Unity" - well, why not? It's been a great, sweaty, feelgood gig: even Sarah who doesn't usually like this sort of music has had a good time, but like I always say - you can't Beat a good gig!
Wednesday, 21 July 2010
Just a few pics from last weekend's Fairford Air Show, the largest of its kind in Europe. Sarah and I went along with my cousin Paul, who is very knowledgeable on the subject of aviation and was a great guide. He also got us into the exclusive Civil Service enclosure - free tea and coffee all day and a laminated pass! ( I'm easily pleased. ) The weather was quite grey unfortunately ( as pictures show ) but we still had a great day.
The first two pictures are of the Avro Vulcan B2, "The Spirit Of Great Britain". This venerable Cold Warrior has been painstakingly restored to full flight capacity and was absolutely stunning to watch taking to the air.
Next up, another iconic ( and infamous ) product of the Cold War, the Boeing B-52H Stratofortress. Watch the skies!
Bang up to date now, with the Typhoon F2 Eurofighter, a truly awesome piece of kit, which performed its own fantastic display and also a "heritage flight" with the Supermarine Spitfire LFIXc. This was the climax of the day's programme and brought a real lump to the throat.
This beast is the Boeing C-17A Globemaster III, a surprisingly nimble transport plane.
The Swiss Acrobatic Team in Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs, the second best team of the day before the French and the Jordanians, but beaten by a certain patriotic crew.....
The nose of the B-52.....
.....and two strange people posing in front of it.
And here they are: the Red Arrows, the RAF's Display Team in their BAe Hawk T1/T1As, the finest display team in the world.
Another shot of the Vulcan, graceful but deadly in flight, with bomb bay doors open, but thankfully no bombs :-)
And finishing with the Red Arrows, bringing a bit of colour to the grey English skies.
Possibly the biggest hit of the show was the awesome Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor, star of Transformers and Iron Man. Unfortunately I haven't got any really good photos of this incredible plane..... mostly 'cos it was so damn fast! Suffice it to say the Raptor was an unbelievably loud, exciting, thunderous bolt from the blue ( well, grey... ) and came complete with a cheesy commentary from an over-excited USAF captain/carnival barker. There's plenty of footage of the Raptor on YouTube if you want to check out its stunning power and speed.
We'll definitely have to go back next year, for the show's 40th anniversary. Let's hope for some blue sky next time around :-)
Saturday, 17 July 2010
"Dreams feel real while we're in them. It's only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange."
In my dream last night I drove to a house I'd never seen before to pick up someone I've known for over 20 years, then we drove to some waste ground where we saw a rat appear and disappear, then I joined a queue to be given a kids' Shrek soft-drink cup, and then we climbed some stairs in the dark to watch Chris Nolan's new film.
And then I woke up and it was all real.
Let me first say that Inception is a bugger of a film to review, especially without giving too much away. I could say it's a Bond/Bourne movie by way of Eternal Sunshine with a dash of Matrix, but that would be selling it short. And I wouldn't dream of doing that.....
The ( high ) concept of the film is spelled out in the trailer in an exchange between Dom Cobb ( Leo Di Caprio ) and Ariadne ( Ellen Page ) :
Cobb: "We create the world of a dream. We bring a subject into that dream and they fill it with their secrets."
Ariadne: "Then you break in and steal it?"
Cobb: "Well, it's not strictly speaking legal."
Cobb and his crew are experts in extraction, the process of stealing information from people's dreams. They're offered a tantalising job offer by Ken Watanabe's corporate king, Saito - plant an idea in his major competitor's dreams, a subconscious instruction to dismantle his own business empire. This is the supposedly impossible art of inception. Cobb is sure it can be done; he's done it before. What his associates don't know is the price Cobb paid before, and what price they will all pay this time.
If this all sounds too cerebral, forget it! The concept is a hook for Nolan to hang on some of the most exciting, outrageous action scenes and gob-smacking dream sequences you've ever seen. Or ever dreamed of. There are car chases, foot chases and shoot-outs that out-perform Quantum Of Solace; there are beautiful, surreal images of landscapes twisting, bending and shattering around the protagonists ( including a dream-Paris being destroyed yet again ) ; and the mind-bending concept of dreams-within-dreams - Cobb's crew all fighting different enemies whilst ascending and descending seemingly endless layers of dreams, with the "real" world at the top and a subconscious "limbo" at the bottom level.
Nolan masterfully orchestrates all this mayhem - the zero-gravity battles, the Bond-esque assault on a snowbound fortress, the collapsing dreamworlds - and grounds it in the simple plot-thread of Cobb's desperate desire to return to his estranged family and country.
"I think I found a way home. And this last job, that's how I get there."
Well, it's not that simple. Cobb's wife, Mal, is an initially enigmatic character whose explosive appearances throughout the story lead up to the shattering emotional truth about Cobb, his family and his world. As played by the luminous Marion Cotillard, Mal is a dangerous and heartbreakingly sad character, the walking, talking, borderline-insane testament to the perils of inception. Di Caprio, who is surely now one of America's finest actors, is at his intense best in his scenes with Cotillard. No matter how surreal the dream worlds become you care for these characters and hope against hope it will work out for them in the end.
There are also fine performances by Cillian Murphy, Ellen Page and Tom Hardy, with a seriously under-written Michael Caine turning up to do very little.....
.....And then I write some more, but my fingers become clumsy at the keyboard, my eyes start to close, my breathing slows, I start to dream.....
I'm writing a blog about Chris Nolan's new movie. Do I call it "Inception Inspection" or "Inception Dissection"? What's my perception of Inception? Why is the room starting to move around me? I look out of the window..... things start to collapse.....
Soundtrack: Life's Rich Pageant by REM.
( Remember when they were one of the best bands in the world? A long time ago?)
Saturday, 10 July 2010
Exciting, intelligent thrillers coming out of Hollywood? Pinch me, I must be dreaming.
Of course, if the best thing about these movies turns out to be the trailers, I'll change my name, start wearing dark glasses and a fedora, move to a fleapit hotel, and resume blogging by scrawling on the walls in some indeterminate fluid or other.....