Saturday 31 December 2011

Whatever Happened To Steranko Saturdays?

No, I'm not bringing them back. I just thought I'd give a quick shout-out to blogger extraordinaire The Groovy Agent who has posted that psychedelic Steranko classic Nick Fury, Agent Of SHIELD no. 5 in its entirety, over at the ever-wonderful

If you're interested in mind-blowing visuals, hard-bitten super spies, crazy gadgets, cool dames and insane villains with astrology fetishes ( and who wouldn't be? ) ...then check it out!

And, while I'm here, have a great New Year's Eve! Peace, mister!

Friday 30 December 2011

The Beat / Chinese Burn

To finish off what has been a fantastic year for gigs, here are two of my favourite live bands doing their thing in two great local venues. Firstly The Beat at Gloucester's Guildhall...

Ranking Roger and the boys brought the warmth of their Caribbean-via-Coventry blend of ska and reggae to a wintry Gloucester city centre. All the old classics were revisited, bringing smiles to faces and feet to the dance floor:
Hands Off... She's Mine, Too Nice To Talk To, Tears Of A Clown, Stand Down Margaret ( not updated to Stand Down Cameron, unfortunately ), Best Friend and - of course - Mirror In The Bathroom. And, as they say, many more...

The Beat are a highly efficient, purpose-built groove machine, firing on all cylinders. Just try and stand still when they're playing! Go on, I dare you! The rhythms are infectious, the tunes sublime and the interplay between Roger and his son, Ranking Junior, is a joy to behold. Even a strangely "straight" crowd ( the type that probably only go to one gig every couple of years, get absolutely hammered before a note is played, and are ready for trouble as soon as someone looks at them wrong or steps on their toes... ) ...even a crowd like that are helpless before the good time vibes of The Beat and their message of Peace, Love and Unity.

I'd bought my mate Glenn his ticket to the previous week's TV Smith gig as a birthday present, so he bought me my Beat ticket in return for my birthday. Cheers, Glenn!

Jump forward in time to this Wednesday night and Stroud's finest, the mighty Chinese Burn, are rocking Bristol's famous Fleece...

The other bands on the bill are a very promising Kooks / Vampire Weekend-inspired group of youngsters called The Fixed, an uninspiring Punk/Pop/Teen band with the yawnsome name of Area 51, and headliners The Baronesques.

They're an all-girl Rock band with a fairly dated Runaways / Bangles sound, who also do covers of groups like Red Hot Chilli Peppers and The Gossip. Not bad, but not too exciting either. However, from a totally sexist, male chauvinist perspective, the bass player, Becky, is a goddess...

As you can see.

On to another bunch of sexy young things now, the mighty Burn...

Unfortunately, the guys were first band on so that meant only a half hour set with no encores. But what that did mean was a streamlined, "Greatest Hits" set, bursting with the kind of tunes, hooks and energy that got them such a favourable review from Goldblade's John Robb. He knows quality Punk Rock when he sees it...

Here's Ben, one of the most eccentric, charismatic frontmen you'll ever see, recently recovered from falling down between two monitors and nearly off the stage...

And here's Ed and Glenn striking a suspiciously Status Quo-like pose...

And Glenn again, having a great time! When I posted this photo on Facebook he said it "sums up what it's like to play in the Burn really..."

And, to finish, a quick look at the audience, starting with hardcore fans Wendy, Carol, Rob and Helen...

Me, Andy K from the legendary Demob and Noise Agents, and that man Glenn again...

And my rock chick ( for one night, anyway ) daughter Sophie and her boyfriend Jon, who was experiencing the joys of live Punk Rock for the first time. Makes a change from Dubstep :-)

So, another great evening at the Fleece and, on the strength of this gig, the Burn have been offered a support slot with old Punkers 999 later in 2012. Sounds good!

Tuesday 27 December 2011

Doctor Who: The Doctor, The Widow And The Wardrobe ( review with spoilers )

"Where are we?"
"In a forest in a box in a sitting-room. Pay attention..."

This year's Doctor Who Christmas Special is the now traditional brandy-soaked, mince pie-stuffed collision of sentimentality, good ideas, not-so-good ideas, Christmas iconography and budget-busting effects. With holly on top. And, old seasonal softy that I am, I loved it. ( Sorry, but if you're looking for a harsh, nit-picking fanboy's deconstruction of Steven Moffatt's failings, then, please... look away. )

The story starts with a bravura special effects setpiece, as the Doctor literally becomes The Man Who Fell To Earth, plummeting to pre-war England in a stolen "impact-suit" from an exploding spaceship ( a very impressive CGI wonder, equal parts Star Wars and Hitch Hiker's... ). The Doctor's helped on his way by quintessential, take-charge war-time Mum, Madge Arwell ( Claire Skinner ) and promises to come to her aid if she ever needs him. When her pilot husband, Reg ( Alexander Armstrong ) is lost over the Channel ( doing his best David Niven impression ) it looks like she'll need the aid of her Fallen Angel...

The story cuts to three years later when Madge and her two children, Lily and Cyril, are evacuated during the Blitz and end up in an empty country manor house with an unusual caretaker...
Of course, it's the Doctor, who's doing his best to make Christmas special for the family but ends up, inevitably, placing them in danger. Young Cyril is tempted to open his Christmas present early ( see? that always spells trouble... ) and finds himself drawn into a frozen Narnia-esque forest. But he's not there on his own...

Cyril follows an unseen figure deeper into the forest, while the Doctor and Lily chase after him until they find a lighthouse containing wooden statues of a queen and a king and discover the secret of the forest. Madge, meanwhile, encounters some heavily-armed forest rangers who inform her that the whole, planet-spanning forest is about to be destroyed by acid rain. And so will her family if they stay there...

This story is visually stunning with its locations ranging from the warm visuals of the war-time family home to the frosty forest of "naturally occurring Christmas trees". There's an authentically folkloric feel to the images of the lonely lighthouse, the creaking wooden figures, the life-force "stars" rising up from the trees. That Alexander Armstrong's lost pilot / father will be returned to his family by the end is not exactly a surprise, but it still comes as a suitably heart-warming conclusion to the tale, and the Lancaster's flight through the Time Vortex is typical of the juxtapositions of the realistic and the fantastic that Doctor Who does so well.

The performances of the main cast are fine, Matt Smith again showing his ( and the Doctor's ) natural empathy with children, Claire Skinner and Alexander Armstrong doing sterling work with their admittedly limited roles. Not so good, and my main gripe with the episode, are the characters of the Space Marine-styled forest rangers. Bill Bailey, Arabella Weir and, er, the other one are wasted as some Douglas Adams-inspired characters who are there only for exposition and comic relief, but are a serious misjudgement.

All in all, an enjoyable and visually lovely story which, as ever, probably works best at Christmas when you're quite content to overlook minor niggles ( the way the Doctor is accepted as "caretaker", the lack of a focused threat beyond the impending ecological disaster ) in a haze of post-Christmas dinner good vibes. In that ( Christmas ) spirit I'll give the episode:

4 out of 5 Bow Ties ( or mince pies )

Friday 23 December 2011

FF Fridays: Have a Fantastic Christmas!

Festive FF fun from artists Evan "Doc" Shaner and Michael Cho, courtesy of the Kirby Museum. Check out their Kirby Vision blog here...

Soundtrack: Family Friend by The Vaccines

Thursday 22 December 2011

Joe Strummer in black and white

Incredibly, it's now 9 years since we lost the great Joe Strummer.

"All we want to achieve is an atmosphere where things can happen, to keep the spirit of the free world alive. We want to keep out that safe, soapy slush that comes out of the radio. "

"All we've got is a few guitars, amps and drums. That's our weaponry..."

"Well so long liberty, let's forget you didn't show
Not in my time
But in our sons and daughters' time..."

"White youth, black youth, better find another solution
Why not phone up Robin Hood and ask him for some wealth distribution?"

RIP Joe Strummer 21/08/52 - 22/12/02

The future is unwritten

Soundtrack Yalla Yalla by Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros

Thursday 15 December 2011

Joe Simon

RIP Joe Simon, legendary co-creator of Captain America...

And many other heroes...

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Sunday 11 December 2011

TV Smith and The Valentines play the Best of The Adverts

OK, this is where any remaining shred of objectivity goes out the window. I've been a fan of The Adverts for nearly 30 years and their debut album, Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts, is one of my all-time favourite records. Typically for me I got into the band long after they'd disbanded and frontman TV Smith had moved on to his not-hugely-successful solo career.

The Adverts are remembered, if at all, for their topically tasteless 1977 single, Gary Gilmore's Eyes and for the "Punk Pin-Up" status of female bass-player, Gaye Advert. But they really had much more going for them. Tim "TV" Smith was a sardonic, intelligent frontman in an era of often deliberately dumbed-down Punk personalities, as well as one of the finest lyricists to come out of that time. His songs were often ironic commentaries on the UK in general and the Punk scene in particular, dressed up in a unique world-view of crumbling decadence.

So, there was no way I was going to miss the chance to see Smith perform his classic Adverts songs at Bristol's grimy rock 'n' roll emporium, The Fleece. And on my mate Glenn's birthday, too. Perfect.
But would TV live up to expectations? I mean, I would count The Adverts as my favourite Punk band after the Pistols and The Clash; I'd first bought their debut album on cassette when I was a teenager, wore that out , then bought it again on red (!) vinyl; bought every second-hand single I could get hold of; spent literally years hunting for their ( ultimately disappointing ) second album; etc. etc. That's a lot to live up to...

I didn't need to worry. After sinking a few pints in the pub next door ( with a bunch of friends including, bizarrely, Gaye Advert's sister, Wendy... ) and watching a lackluster support set by Charred Hearts, I headed down the front to the sounds of Punk classic No Time To Be 21.

TV Smith is a wired, wizened, lightning-bolt of barely-suppressed energy. With his hair left to go grey and his strange, slow-motion stage moves he's like a Punk Albert Steptoe , albeit a Steptoe singing some of the sharpest lyrics ever, in a voice still clear, strong and distinctive.

The Valentines are a fine, no-nonsense band from Italy who capture the scratchy, slashy sound of The Adverts perfectly. There will never be an Adverts reunion ( the bass-player's retired from music, the guitarist's dead, the drummer... who knows? ) but this lot are the next best thing and clearly love what they're doing. And so does Mister Smith. He treats us to classic after classic, screeching Punk rock bombshells bursting over the crowd...

( That's my copy of the set-list, nicked from the stage. )
I have to admit to becoming quite emotional as the set went on: I never thought I'd hear songs like On The Roof or Newboys played live by their author and I found it quite overwhelming. TV thrust the mike into my face so I could "sing" along to Bombsite Boy and Great British Mistake - my absolute fave Adverts song:

The great British mistake was looking for a way out
Was getting complacent
Not noticing the pulse was racing
The mistake was fighting the change
Was staying the same

The venue properly erupted for the last three guttersnipe anthems, as TV took the Adverts story full-circle to their first single, One Chord Wonders. They encored with Coming In To Land, the title track from his new album ( pretty damn good! ), the festive-but-funny whinge of Christmas Bloody Christmas and Adverts classic Cast Of Thousands.

Here I am at the front of the stage, looking as happy as a dog with two dicks. ( And that's pretty happy! )

And here with the man himself, Mister Tim Smith, who turned out to be a lovely, funny guy, who was quite happy to have a drink and a laugh with starstruck fans like me and seemed genuinely happy that he'd made my day...

Here he is again with me and birthday boy Glenn...

And with the same two reprobates, but with added Punkette glamour from Angie and Carol.

I've heard it said many times that you should never meet your heroes, they'll always disappoint. Well, not in this case. It was a pleasure to meet such a proper gentleman after half a lifetime of enjoying his music. Maybe I shouldn't leave it so long next time...

Friday 9 December 2011

FF Fridays: Fantastic Four 600

FF no. 600 is a 100-page celebration of 50 years of The World's Greatest Comic Magazine. Written by regular series scribe Jonathan Hickman, illustrated by a host of artists and featuring variant covers by the likes of John Romita Jr. and Joe Quesada, it's quite a package.

The main story sees the FF and the Avengers trying to save the Earth ( well, New York ) from an attacking Kree armada. And while the assembled heroes deal with death rays from above and Sentinels in the streets, in the alternate reality known as the Negative Zone, Annihilus is preparing his insect hordes for invasion...

Hang on! The Negative Zone? Isn't that the last resting place of the late, lamented Johnny Storm aka the Human Torch? Well yeah, and as expected this issue sees the return of ol' Match-head to the Marvel Universe. It turns out that Johnny has been resurrected by Annihilus ( life and death being somewhat different in the Neg Zone ) and forced into a gladiatorial arena to do battle with all manner of creepy-crawlies, only to be killed again. And resurrected again. It's a tough life in the Negative Zone.

Eventually, with the aid of some new-found alien allies Johnny defeats Annihilus and his army, opens the portal back to our universe and finds himself back in the main plotline...
( Of course, the images above are by Jack Kirby from waaaaay back in the FF's past, and as previously seen here. )

Jonathan Hickman manages to pull off the inevitable return of the Human Torch with some style and the scenes of insectoid horror in the Negative Zone are suitably icky. Johnny Storm certainly shows rare heroism and determination in his struggles to return to our reality, but it still seems more of a marketing campaign than a storyline to me. However I am intrigued to see where this all leads, so I might drop in on the FF again. So, er, that marketing strategy must be working...

A couple of FF-related links to finish:
Doctor Strange fan Ptor is seriously pissed off about Stephen Strange's appearance in this issue... and I don't blame him...
And, on a lighter note, Steve W talks about robots, gas and the Master Of Planet X...

Soundtrack: Crossing The Red Sea With The Adverts


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