Thursday 30 June 2011

Prom Night: School's out forever!

Sophie's Prom last night:

Starting with some back-garden posing...

Then, the arrival of friends and transport...

And then it's paaartaaay time!!

I'm sure you'll agree with my biased view that Sophie ( and her friends, of course ) looked absolutely lovely as they headed off to celebrate the end of school and exams.

( She's doing it all again tonight as it's her boyfriend's Prom this time. Somebody might be a wee bit tired tomorrow... )

Sunday 26 June 2011

Primal Scream at The Eden Project

Last Thursday the mighty Primal Scream and the groovy Horrors rocked the UK's unique eco-enclave, the Eden Project.....

The Eden Project, as well as being a fantastic place to visit, with its enormous domes ( or biomes as they're known ) filled with exotic flora, is also the perfect setting for an outdoor gig. The surreal, Logan's Run-reminiscent biomes, nestling in a former china clay quarry, overlook an amphitheatre which has a capacity of around 1000.

So, it's an ideal location for a mini-festival: the crowds aren't too massive, the bar's never too far away and..... no mud! Always a bonus.

First up were The Horrors, previewing their new album, Skying.
( Actually there were a few acoustic performances earlier in the day but my mate Glenn and I were at the beach... )

I wasn't sure what to expect from The Horrors, really. I remember they made quite a splash a few years back with their Goth/garage racket and silly names ( Faris Rotter? ) but I don't think I could name so much as one of their songs. By all accounts they had since moved on from their punkier leanings, so I was interested to see what they were all about. Their set at Eden turned out to be a mightily impressive amalgam of Goth, psychedelia and ( I apologise for the phrase ) shoegazing, very intense and veering off into the experimental at times. Faris Badwan is a man of few words but is a charismatic frontman with a fine, Ian McCulloch/Jim Reid-style voice. Songs like Sea Within A Sea, Moving Further Way and the fantastic Still Life bring to mind bands as diverse as Killing Joke, MBV, The Damned and the Psychedelic Furs, with a large debt owed to Joy Division at their toughest. I'll definitely have to track down their albums.....

Then it was time for The Scream.....

Bobby and the boys were playing the classic Screamadelica album in its entirety, to celebrate its 20th (!) anniversary. Hard to believe that album's been around for so long: it doesn't seem that long ago it was considered cutting edge and a way forward for guitar groups who tried to emulate its mash-up of rock, dance, gospel and dub. But, of course, this is the voice of advanced age speaking - the curious way time seems to speed up as you get older plays tricks on the memory. In the same way it only seems a couple of years since I last saw Primal Scream live, when it's actually been 11 years - bloody hell!

I'm glad to say that Primal Scream kicked arse! With Denise Johnson on hand to provide gospel harmonies, a silver-tinfoil-shirted Bobby Gillespie led his band and the crowd through the raving highs and chilled-out lows of Screamadelica. And check out the psychedelic backdrops.....

Groovy, baby.....

Primal Scream are a band who have had their ups and downs, both personally and musically; but, when they're on form, they are an amazingly tight, funky, powerful unit. From the singalong gospel groove of Come Together, through the blissed-out dub of Higher Than The Sun to the try-not-to-dance-to-this-one, shuffle-beat of Loaded, the Scream had the audience in the palms of their hands. We danced, clapped, shouted, cheered, pulled hair and scratched with fingernails - hang on, that last one was a girlfight that broke out nearby - and then did it all some more. Every face had a huge grin, every voice was shot away from singing.

The lynchpin at the centre of it all is Bobby Gillespie, a man who logically should have ended up just another rock 'n' roll drugs casualty years ago, but is still kickin' it live and putting many of his contemporaries to shame. You can tell he loves and lives the rock 'n' roll dream. Part Jim Morrison, part Iggy Pop, all skinny Scottish livewire, Bobby is one of the great frontmen, his occasional vocal weaknesses more than compensated for by his huge enthusiasm, attitude and plain coolness.

After the classic album had been reinvented and reinvigorated, the Scream ripped through their Stones-y blues-rock classics, Jailbird, Rocks and Country Girl as encores, proving yet again that when they're on fire nobody can touch them. After the show was over and the crowds made the long trek back out of the Eden Project to the car parks, groups of fans sang Come Together over and over, echoing through the Cornish landscape. We had indeed all come together to see what was, if just for one night only, the best rock 'n' roll band on the planet.

Soundtrack: Still Life by The Horrors
Loaded, Country Girl and Rocks by Primal Scream

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Steampunk Hero Of The Day

Courtesy of the ever-wonderful Daily Mash: Jaw Bridge, one of the ( sadly imaginary ) Victorian Engineering Mutant Heroes.....

Gloucester Graffiti

My City Of Ruins.....

Gloucester is a city that was eviscerated in the late 60's / early 70's by so-called "town planners" who replaced historic but crumbling buildings with hideous, modernistic concrete blocks. My generation never saw the city at its best and can only rely on old photos to convey its past. In recent years millions of pounds have been spent on the city, mostly renovating the tourist areas such as the historic docks. Which is fine, but the inner city is suffering in comparison.

The old Gloucester College was shut a few years ago and a shiny new purpose-built college was erected near to the docks, yet again in that tourist zone. The old building has been left to fall apart until now when, in an echo of '60s "civil improvement", it's been earmarked for demolition. It was obviously easier for the powers-that-be to allow the historic building to deteriorate, rather than spend money to keep it viable. This has provoked a rash of angry graffiti around the site.....

Apparently the building will be replaced by flats or apartments but, as with the docks' redevelopment, these will be out of the price range of most people, whereas what the city really needs is low-cost, affordable housing. And if that would mean less of the outlying countryside being torn up by developers, all the better.
( BTW the soulless concrete lump behind the college will go too... not such an outcry over that one... )

The graffiti has been painted over more than once but keeps returning. There were some interesting Banksy-style stencillings there too ( maybe the work of the great man himself? ) but they've now gone. What remains is the anger. The words below seem to sum it all up.....

Sunday 19 June 2011

Clarence Clemons

I was very upset to hear today that the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, had passed away on Saturday at the age of 69. Clarence had suffered a massive stroke on the 12th of June, but recent news had indicated he was showing signs of improvement. Unfortunately, as is often the case with that terrible affliction, things took a turn for the worse and the world lost the second of the original E Street Band ( after Danny ( Phantom Dan ) Federici who died in 2008 )

Clarence was truly an iconic figure in rock music, even though "just" a side-man. He's there on the cover of the Born To Run album ( out-take from the photo session above ) with Springsteen leaning on his shoulder, the camaraderie of The Big Man and The Boss, ready to take on the world, there for all to see.

Clarence's saxophone playing was a joyous, lusty and beautiful sound; a vital component of the E Street shuffle, connecting the band to the heartbeat of rock 'n' roll. He plays like a titan on Thunder Road, like a rock 'n' soul god on Tenth Avenue Freeze Out, like a ghost on Jungleland. Of course, Clarence made exciting and funky contributions to all the albums Bruce recorded with the E Street Band ( even the folk-rock compromise first album ) but it's on Born To Run where he can be heard at his most expressive and ambitious: just listen to his epic sax solo on Jungleland - absolutely spine-tingling - or the smoky, bluesy ending to Night, which finishes far too soon, leaving you begging for more.

And, of course, Clarence was well-loved as a fantastic live performer ( even while struggling in later years with the effects of hip operations ) and comedic onstage foil to The Boss. From Bruce's overblown, gleefully hyped-up introductions to The Big Man, to their chargin' around the stage routines, the Bruce and Clarence Show was a huge part of the live E Street experience. Cheers from ecstatic crowds were ( almost ) as big for Clarence as they were for Bruce. As I said to my mate Edward today, I just can't imagine the E Street Band without Clarence.....

And here's Clarence with Lady Gaga from her Edge Of Glory video, still reaching out to new audiences, 50 (!) years after his first giant steps into the world of rock 'n' roll.

But it's for his work with that scruffy young rocker, Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen, that Clarence will be forever remembered. Let's let Clarence ( via Wikipedia ) tell us the story of their first, fateful meeting.....

One night we were playing in Asbury Park. I'd heard The Bruce Springsteen Band was nearby at a club called The Student Prince and on a break between sets I walked over there. On-stage, Bruce used to tell different versions of this story but I'm a Baptist, remember, so this is the truth. A rainy, windy night it was, and when I opened the door the whole thing flew off its hinges and blew away down the street. The band were on-stage, but staring at me framed in the doorway. And maybe that did make Bruce a little nervous because I just said, "I want to play with your band," and he said, "Sure, you do anything you want." The first song we did was an early version of "Spirit In The Night". Bruce and I looked at each other and didn't say anything, we just knew. We knew we were the missing links in each other's lives. He was what I'd been searching for. In one way he was just a scrawny little kid. But he was a visionary. He wanted to follow his dream. So from then on I was part of history.

RIP Clarence Clemons 11th January 1942 - 18th June 2011

Friday 17 June 2011

X-Men: First Class

"Mutant and proud!"

X-Men: First Class is the long-awaited prequel to the X-Men movies, but is also in some ways a reboot, taking the characters back to their roots in the Cold War and preparing the groundwork for a "new" franchise.

We start with a recap of Erik "Magneto" Lehnsherr's origin from the first movie. We're back in the rain-soaked Hell of a Nazi concentration camp, watching Erik learn what his powers can do, but also watching is Sebastian Shaw ( Kevin Bacon ) a Josef Mengele-alike doctor who has plans over and above those of the Fuehrer. And he doesn't mind murdering Erik's mother to get what he wants. Cut to a 12-year old Charles Xavier stumbling across child shapeshifter Raven " Mystique" Darkholm stealing food from his parents' mansion in Westchester County. This is Xavier's first meeting with another mutant and sets him off on his life's work of studying and aiding his fellow "Children Of The Atom".

The film follows the developing lives of the future Professor X and Magneto, as Charles goes to college to learn about mutation and chase women, while Erik tracks Shaw and his Nazi cronies around the world, bent on revenge. This glossy, globe-trotting section is the most successful part of the movie with the wonderful Michael Fassbender playing Magneto as a kind of James Bond with super powers. Licence to Bend Spoons. James McAvoy, however, gets stuck with more exposition than action, but coasts through on sheer charm. The two mutants' lives intersect when Xavier ( now working with the CIA after being recruited by Rose Byrne's Moira MacTaggert ) rescues Erik from a nearly fatal failed assassination attempt on Shaw. They discover that Shaw himself is a mutant and is planning to engineer nuclear war between Russia and America, with a view to creating a mutant-dominated dictatorship from the ashes. On his side, Shaw has enlisted other embittered mutants like Jason Flemyng's teleporter Azazel and January Jones' telepath Emma Frost.....

Realising they're outnumbered Charles and Erik start recruiting mutants too, including Nicholas Hoult's Hank "Beast" McCoy and Zoe Kravitz's Angel.....

The comparisons with '60s Bond movies becomes more evident as Jones, Kravitz, Byrne and Jennifer Lawrence as the grown-up Mystique all slink around in lingerie... and... I've forgotten what my point was here... must concentrate... look away from lingerie pics.....

Anyway, all this points towards the big confrontation between the two groups/viewpoints as the Cuban Missile Crisis looms, sides are swapped and two friends become enemies. It's all great fun and possibly the best-looking X-Men movie yet, with director Matthew Vaughan ably handling both the huge set-pieces and the quieter, human moments. There's also an outrageous cameo appearance about halfway through which provokes the biggest laugh in the movie, with a line of dialogue that might be more at home in Vaughan's family-unfriendly Kick-Ass. I only had a couple of minor problems with the movie - the seriously under-developed trainee mutants who seemed far too modern in character, and the mangled chronology which makes little sense when seen from the perspective of the original trilogy - but these are just quibbles. X-Men: First Class is an exciting, action-packed super hero / spy film hybrid and I would love to see more of this world. Maybe a move into the 1970s, the era of Watergate, Kent State and the fall of Saigon?
And, of course, more of the mighty Magneto.....

Oh yeah, I went to see this movie with my mate Glenn who is a major fan of the X-Men movies but has never read an X-Men comic, so is in the fortunate position of being able to watch the film without decades of mutant continuity messing up his head ;-)

Tuesday 14 June 2011

The Big Man

"When the change was made uptown and the Big Man joined the band

From the coastline to the city all the little pretties raise their hands

I'm gonna sit back right easy and laugh

When Scooter and the Big Man bust this city in half

With the 10th Avenue Freeze Out"

I was sorry to hear that the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, suffered a serious stroke at the weekend. The latest news is encouraging, so hopefully he'll be able to make a full recovery - fingers crossed! I know from first-hand experience how devastating strokes can be for people's families, so my thoughts and love go out to Clarence's nearest and dearest.

Get Well Soon, Big Man! Hopefully those sparks will fly on E Street again...

Friday 10 June 2011

Missing you...

It's a year ago today that we lost my wonderful Mum. If I may be totally self-indulgent for a moment, here are a couple of photos of Mum from probably some time in the late 50's.

The handsome man in the picture below is my Dad, Pete, also sadly missed, and the young girl on the far right is my Auntie Carol, who I'm glad to say is still going strong.

We've drunk a glass ( or two ) to your memory tonight, Mum and Pete.....

"When I need strength to take bad on
I just look back to where I came from"
- Kevin Rowland & Dexy's Midnight Runners

Wednesday 8 June 2011

This one's for Cal.....

Further evidence of the ever-growing Cephalopod Menace. They're now even infiltrating South Devon holiday resorts.

In the words of everyone's favourite ( but strangely AWOL at the moment ) Canadian Coolster: "This is how they getcha..."

So get yourself back to the front line, Cal. The Cause needs you :-)

Monday 6 June 2011

Doctor Who: A Good Man Goes To War ( review with spoilers )

"I wish I could tell you that you'll be loved. That you'll be safe and cared for and protected. But this isn't the time for lies....."

Poor Amy. The last time she was "pregnant" she was attacked by alien pensioners, watched her husband turn to dust, and was harassed by a smarmy figment of the Doctor's id. And then it all turned out to be a dream of the "psychic pollen" variety. Don't you just hate those?
This time Amy's "real" life was the dream. While a Ganger/flesh avatar was taking her place on board the Tardis, Amy was actually in the clutches of midwife-from-hell Eyepatch Woman, imprisoned on Demon's Run, an asteroid guarded by more of Steven Moffatt's soldier-clerics.

Now a terrified Amy has given birth to her daughter, Melody, knowing that the two of them are just pawns in a cosmic game of cat-and-mouse. Amy's holding out for a hero.....

Rory Williams, the Last Centurion, is on his way to save his new family, facing down Cybermen with a snarl of
"Where. Is. My. Wife?!"
Meanwhile, the Doctor, somewhere in the background, is quietly raising an army to fight the Battle Of Demon's Run.....

This mid-season finale certainly packs a lot into its 50 minutes: a crime-fighting Victorian Silurian and her maid, the Headless Monks, the ( semi-ironic ) return of The Gay Agenda, a Sontaran doing penance as a battlefield nurse, armies of Judoon and Silurians, the Doctor's cot (!) and the revelation of River Song's true identity.
Amongst all this we are again asked to ponder the consequences of the Doctor's actions. Has he ( as in The Waters Of Mars ) gone too far this time? His almost casual tricking and defeat of whole armies is seen as further inspiring his enemies to create even more armies and traps to defeat him. And the effect of the ongoing Doctor Myth is shown to not necessarily be a good thing as, yet again, a human whose life has been touched by the Doc ( newly-introduced character Lorna Bucket ) dies in his name. Matt Smith is, as ever, fantastic in the scenes where he flips from self-righteous rage to disbelief at the effects his extraordinary life has on ordinary people.

Smith also demonstrates his comic side as he finally figures out who River Song really is. He's at his most Troughton-esque as the mighty Time Lord turns into a giddy schoolboy and retreats into his Tardis, to again pursue Melody's kidnappers.

Of course the major revelation of the episode, and the season, is that ( MAJOR SPOILER! )
River Song is Amy's and Rory's child. But, all growed-up like. Melody Pond = River Song.
This does seem quite fitting really, and Alex Kingston's sincere performance goes a long way in selling the concept. To mangle my metaphors ( ouch! ) - now that the cat's out of the bag, it opens a whole new can of worms. How long has River known this? Why does she have to tell them now? And what was that "regeneration" all about?

Maybe we'll find out in the Autumn, when the Doctor returns in Let's Kill Hitler ( coming after all those emotional scenes, that title earned itself a big laugh in this household )

Four And A Half Bow Ties Out Of Five


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