Friday 28 October 2011

FF Fridays: Power Records Book And Record Set

Who remembers this oddball exercise in story-telling from Power Records? A condensed version of FF #126 ( a re-telling of the foursome's origin and first encounter with the Mole Man ) issued in a set with a dramatisation of the story on a 45 rpm single? All good, corny fun. I've got a copy of this somewhere, as well as two others starring Captain America and Dracula. Might have to dig 'em out...

Here's "The Way It Began", courtesy of Secret Cavern.....

Thursday 27 October 2011

Music Year Zero

1981 was the year I fell in love with music. Of course, I'd liked a lot of music before then but none of it had really grabbed me. When I was primary school age in the mid-Seventies I enjoyed the Glam Rock of the Sweet, Slade, Bowie and co. as well as the poppier sounds of Abba and 10CC, but I really had little interest in music beyond whatever song took my fancy on Top Of The Pops in any given week. In 1976/7 Punk Rock passed me by ( I'd catch up later ) but, as the '80s dawned, I began to listen to Rock ( Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Hendrix ) and Two Tone ( The Specials, Madness ) and the vaguely-defined New Wave ( Blondie, Squeeze, Undertones ) and even began to buy some of the stuff. My first single was Pink Floyd's mega-hit Another Brick In The Wall... not the coolest choice, I know, but I still love it.

Then I became an Antperson. Really. Punk underachiever Adam Ant had reinvented himself as some sort of Glam Punk Pirate and was making waves with his ludicrous-but-catchy musical blend of Glam stomp and Burundi beats. Songs like the mighty Dog Eat Dog and Antmusic bowled me over with their freshness and colour and I started drawing Adam's "Warrior Ant" logo on all my school books, bought all the Ants' back catalogue, and, er, wore a feather in my hair...
Adam's 1980 Kings Of The Wild Frontier album was my Bible and, as my musical Year Zero arrived, I eagerly awaited the follow-up. I bought the first single from the album, the title track Prince Charming, in HMV on the day it was released and had to endure the shop assistant's scorn, as he thought me an empty-headed teen pop fan: "Have you even heard this song?" ( What a twat! ) Although, to be honest, Adam's 1981 music wasn't as good as the previous year's - he was becoming too much of a showbiz "entertainer" for my liking - but it didn't really matter. I was now officially a Proper Music Fan. I had begun to buy music magazines ( starting with Smash Hits, progressing to Sounds and Melody Maker ) and was listening to Radio One every spare minute I had.

1981 was also the dawn of the Electropop era. Instead of buying guitars and Play In A Day books of chords, bands were grabbing cheap synthesisers and plundering the works of Bowie and Kraftwerk to create new, electronic sounds. And a lot of crap was produced. But the main movers 'n' shakers of the scene, the Human League, were way out in front. They, like Adam, had ditched their earlier cult sound and look, and were heading for the Pop big leagues. The Dare album was a massive seller, overflowing with classic song after classic song. The League may seem cheesy nowadays as they haul themselves around the nostalgia circuit but, in 1981, they had the tunes, the confidence and the ridiculous haircuts that would propel them to stardom.

Speaking of ridiculous haircuts...
The League's splinter group, Heaven 17, made their debut in 1981 with the wonderful single We Don't Need This Fascist Groove Thang, an irresistibly funky call to arms in a time of worrying Right-wing thuggishness. I bought the ensuing album and enjoyed it at the time but its sound dated as much as the band's ironic, Yuppie image, and it didn't survive my later Vinyl Purges...

Meanwhile, over in the world of Sensitive Boys With Guitars, here's Faith by The Cure. I actually went out and bought this album purely on the strength of a review in Sounds, without having heard a single track. ( Very trusting of me. ) Faith is probably the quintessential early '80s Goth album: doomy, gloomy and claustrophobic. Songs like All Cats Are Grey and The Drowning Man are as atmospheric and pretentious as you'd imagine, but not without their own certain, spectral charm. Little did I know that 6 years later I would meet a young girl called Sarah who was a massive Cure fan, and we would end up seeing the band play live many times...

In a similar ( jugular ) vein, The Cure's contemporaries The Banshees spawned this side-project by singer Siouxsie and drummer Budgie, a percussion-driven e.p. of overheated sexGoth torchsongs. It's all good stuff and, as a teenager, I was seriously impressed by the sleeve photos...

I went through a Heavy Metal phase at the time ( I wore my leather jacket to Punk gigs, my denim jacket to Metal gigs ) and there was no-one heavier than Motorhead. The classic Motorhead line-up were now big stars on the back of the awesome Ace Of Spades LP ( the title track was the second single I ever bought ) and they consolidated this popularity with the ear-destroying live album, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith. It pretty much sounds like having your head stuck inside a washing-machine full of bricks on spin cycle, which is obviously a very good thing. I always wanted to see Motorhead live back in the day, but I saw also-rans like Vardis instead. Which is probably why I still have my hearing today...

The tribal drumbeats popularised by Adam Ant ( which also cropped up in Other Voices from The Cure's Faith ) are given a Post-Punk, artrock twist by John Lydon's Public Image Ltd. on the deeply strange album, The Flowers Of Romance. Lydon and his cohorts blend surreal, nihilistic lyrics, splashes of synth and deep, cavernous drum sounds to spooky effect. "Reptilians... I won't let you in..." indeed! A long way from butter adverts.....

I didn't actually own the above Blue Oyster Cult album back in 1981, but bought it years later. I just had to include it 'cos I love the cover art...

1981's pop charts were certainly diverse! Former Elvis Costello wannabe Joe Jackson ditched his bedsit New Wave ruminations for zoot suits and horns as he put out a wonderful album of Swing-era covers. My Mum bought this album for my Dad, Pete, who loved the Big Band sound of Glenn Miller and the like, but I ended up playing it more than he did :-)
Reap this righteous riff!

As any regular reader of this 'ere blog knows, I'm a major fan of Bruce Springsteen. Back in 1981 The Boss helped out one of his idols, Gary "US" Bonds, by writing and producing his comeback album, Dedication, featuring the retro pop-soul classic This Little Girl Is Mine. A great, swinging r'n'b production with cool, call-and-response vocals and the unmistakeable sound of the E Street Band, this lost classic sounded like a blast of fresh air as it burst from radios in the Summer of 1981... own Music Year Zero!

( If anyone else has similar thoughts on this year or any other year in music, I'd love to hear them... )

Wednesday 26 October 2011

Thor, the God of Lego

It's only fitting for a Viking God to be immortalised in the ubiquitous Danish plastic bricks...

Courtesy of James, our very own 12-year old Lego Master...

( Featuring our UPVC window-ledges standing in for the icy wastes of Jottunheim )

Saturday 22 October 2011

Ash at Bristol O2 Academy

It's been 2 years since Ash last came this way, on their A-Z Tour, and rocked the good ol' Gloucester Guildhall. This Friday they returned to Bristol for the first time in a long while to play the Free All Angels album in its entirety, plus a greatest hits set. The doors opened at the ridiculously early time of 6:30 so we had missed the two supports by the time we got to Bristol. ( "We" being me and my good mate and fellow Rock 'n' Roll addict, Glenn, of Chinese Burn fame. )

Ash came on stage to a rapturous reception which didn't let up for the entire gig. As it was the opening night of their mainland UK tour, the band must have been happy with the reaction: the crowd were enthusiastic... OK, bloody mental actually... and very, very loud. Free All Angels proved to be a wise choice to play all the way through, being packed as it is with such classic teen-Punk singles as Walking Barefoot, Shining Light and Burn Baby Burn - the latter being the clarion-call which dragged me down the front to be pushed and pummelled in the crush of rabid Ash-fans. The band's enthusiasm and sheer joy was infectious as they blasted through their mixture of razor-sharp riffs, unforgettable melodies and emotion-laden lyrics, invigorating lesser-known album tracks like the Ramones-y Pacific Palisades and World Domination, and the more fragile ballads like Candy and Someday.

Highlights are hard to choose from such a fantastic set, but I'll just mention the anthemic Shining Light, the beautiful Star-Crossed, the heartbreaking lyrics of Oh Yeah, and an absolutely manic encore of Kung Fu. ( The only song which I really hoped they'd play, but didn't make the set, was the peerless Envy. Maybe next time. ) One other song which stands out is A Life Less Ordinary, with the following lyric:

Take me in your arms again
Meet me in my dreams again
So, what is it worth?
I'll sell my soul, what is it worth?

...which a large percentage of the males there ( including me ) were seemingly singing to one person on the stage. Yes, that's right, the lovely Charlotte Hatherley is back with the band, for this tour at least. It's great to see Ash as a four-piece, with Charlotte's effortless guitar solos and keyboards adding immeasurably to the boys' sound, something that seemed missing the last time I saw them. Managing to be both ice-cool and smokin' hot at the same time, whether jamming back-to-back with a grinning Tim Wheeler or just playing away, eyes closed, lost in the music, Charlotte is a joy to watch and listen to. Gratuitous photo follows:

So, a great gig, probably one of the best I've been to in a long time. Hopefully Ash will pass this way again soon. And hopefully Charlotte will still be with them.

On the way out I had to blow 20 quid on a Free All Angels T-shirt and then Glenn and I headed to a pub on Park Street for a quick drink before heading home. Some bland, Maroon 5-type student band were playing, further reminding us ( if only by comparison ) of what a classic Rock band we'd just witnessed in full, ear-shredding, life-enhancing effect. You really can't beat experiences like that...

Soundtrack: Free All Angels, naturalement

Sunday 16 October 2011

Fabian Perez

As well as going for a meal at Jamie's Italian, as mentioned in my last post, our other reason for going to Cheltenham yesterday was to visit Whitewall Galleries. We had been invited over by the lovely manager, Rachel, to have a glass of bubbly and have a nose at Fabian Perez' latest collection of artwork, mostly of his signature beautiful women.

Above is "Blue Rabbit Lucy", one of the new collection, and below are a couple of old favourites from Mr. Perez' "Balconies" series.

A taste of Italy in Gloucestershire

In our continuing quest to eat in every one of Jamie Oliver's restaurants ( starting with Fifteen in Cornwall... ) we had a meal tonight in his Italian restaurant in Cheltenham.

This restaurant, only open since this July, is located in the town's former Courthouse, a lovely Regency building, dating from 1870.

Many of the original features of the Courthouse have been kept, as you can see below. Diners can sit and eat where formerly the juries deliberated, the accused shivered or the men in silly wigs passed sentence. And you can even visit the cells when you navigate the 42 steps down to the toilets... best not attempted after a few ales

It certainly makes for an unusual dining experience. And the food's pretty damn good too.

If you're in the area ( Regent Street, near the Everyman Theatre ) I'd definitely recommend a visit. Good food, interesting location, excellent service... but... no pizza on the menu?

( And while you're there, why don't you check out Whitewall Galleries too? )

Bloody Hell, I should be on a commission from Cheltenham Tourist Information ;-)

Soundtrack: On How Life Is by Macy Gray

Wednesday 12 October 2011

Friday 7 October 2011

FF Fridays: FF UK

In 1972 Marvel Comics were looking to expand their presence into the British comics market. After licensing some of their characters to the Odhams' Press Power Comics range in the '60s, they now started their own UK publishing operation to handle reprints of American strips. The first title they brought out was the much-loved Mighty World Of Marvel, home to The Hulk, Spider-Man and, of course, the FF.

I always think I was incredibly lucky to be a Marvel fan in the early '70s because I experienced the Silver Age ( through
reprints ) and the Bronze Age ( through contemporary comics ) simultaneously. And MWOM's early covers were often a meeting point between those two Ages, with new artwork by up-and-coming artist, Jim Starlin, depicting scenes from Marvel's past...

The FF featured in MWOM for a few years, but then were bounced around from one comic to another as the comics industry fell into decline, before finally receiving their own title, the short-lived Complete Fantastic Four. This was so called because each issue featured a "new" FF story ( well, a recent reprint ) and yet another printing of a classic Lee/Kirby story. Even though I predictably thought this comic was, er, fantastic, the British comic-buying public ( what was left of it by this point ) didn't, and the mag soon folded. UK Marvel was still struggling on through a seemingly-endless round of cancellations and mergers ( see this link for a fascinating look into Marvel UK's history ) and the FF tended to get lost in the shuffle.

Marvel UK eventually wound down, leaving Panini Comics to pick up the licence for the Marvel range in the 1990s. The FF eventually resurfaced in the new century with two volumes of Fantastic Four Adventures, in a format virtually identical to The Complete FF. So, as well as Lee/Kirby reprints yet again ( but this time in colour! ) I managed to read some modern runs on the title by the likes of Mark Waid / Mike Wieringo and Mark Millar / Bryan Hitch. Good stuff...

And, as far as I know, FF Adventures is still going strong and, hopefully, staying fantastic :-)

Soundtrack: Station To Station by David Bowie


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