Saturday 28 January 2012

Glen Matlock / Chinese Burn


"I saw one of those Sex Pistols down the pub last night..."

Well, it was last Sunday to be accurate. The second M4 Music Festival in aid of the Alzheimer's Society at the Old George Inn in sleepy South Cerney.


Living legend and original Sex Pistols bass-player Matlock played an acoustic set covering his career from the Pistols days through the Rich Kids, Dead Men Walking and more obscure solo stuff, as well as covers of songs that have influenced him. It was a very intimate, low key gig with a really warm interaction between singer and audience. Matlock had us all singing along to Stepping Stone, Ghosts Of Princes In Towers, God Save The Queen, Pretty Vacant ( of course! ) and more.


The songs were all preceded with anecdotes and stories from Matlock's 4-decade career, as well as examples of his personal philosophy of positivity. He told us which songs he loved as a teenager; which songs he wrote after he "fell out with the Sex Pistols the first time"; and that, if he had his own radio show , he'd have a feature called "Matlock Murders" where he'd play his favourite covers. ( In fact, any "murdering" that night was perpetrated by the God-awful support band Operation 77 who dribbled out lame, passionless karaoke versions of classic Punk and Ska tunes. But the less said about them the better... )

It was a great set by a much-underrated artist who has a fine, powerful voice and charisma to spare, and is actually a damn good guitarist - just watching some of the chords he was playing made my fingers ache! And singing along to All Or Nothing just a few feet away from a Sex Pistol was one of the coolest things ever. And so was shaking hands with a Sex Pistol...


Also playing were legendary Stroud disco-Punks ( remember that description, guys? ) Chinese Burn. Not much Disco in evidence but plenty of fantastic, melodic Punk instant-classics, played with the band's usual passion and very LOUD!


Poor old Ben somehow cut his lip open and proceeded to bleed over the mike, his shirt, the floor, the audience etc. Still, it's Punk Rock innit?


...but it certainly looks painful :-)


I've never seen the Burn boys put on a bad show, but this was definitely one of their best. A short, sharp shock of a set with no time to breathe as they banged out great song after great song. And for a band playing an unfamiliar venue to a mostly new audience, they pulled the biggest crowd of the evening.


And did I mention they were BLOODY LOUD?


We ( Sarah and I ) missed most of the bands from earlier in the day but we did see the Go Go Cult, rabid rockabilly rebels who looked like they'd just robbed a bank.


A very raw, ragged but powerful set of ( I think ) original songs in a Punked-up Rockabilly stylee, but stopping short of the dreaded bat-on-a-string cliches of Psychobilly. Well worth seeing, I'll have to catch them again.


And here's me and Sarah enjoying the Burn experience. Long live the underdog!

Thursday 26 January 2012

War Horse


After watching a couple of small-scale movies at Gloucester's Guildhall ( Midnight In Paris, My Week With Marilyn ) it's time to head back to the multiplex for Spielberg's latest blockbuster, War Horse.

Based on the classic children's novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is a deceptively simple tale of a young boy and his horse. Teenager Albert Narracott ( Jeremy Irvine ) is growing up on a dirt-poor Devon farm on the eve of the First World War with his alcoholic father ( Peter Mullan ) and long-suffering mother ( a wonderfully weary but tough Emily Watson ). His father returns from market one day, having blown his money on a horse which, at first glance, seems totally unsuitable to the hard task of ploughing stony Dartmoor fields. Albert names the horse Joey and takes it upon himself to break in and train the reluctant animal. But even with all Albert's hard work and love for the horse, a combination of ruined harvests and an unscrupulous landlord
( David Thewlis having a great time ) means that Albert's dad ends up selling Joey to the army when war is announced.


The film then follows Joey's adventures as he passes from owner to owner and witnesses firsthand ( firsthoof? ) the horrors of war.


First, Joey becomes a cavalry mount for thoroughly decent chap Captain Nicholls ( Tom Hiddleston, vying with Michael Fassbinder for title of hardest working actor in showbiz ) but then, after a disastrous raid on a German camp, along with another horse - Topthorn - he falls into the hands of the German army. Two young deserters take Joey and try to escape from the front line. Inevitably, they are caught and executed and Joey is then taken in by an old Frenchman and his sickly granddaughter.


Eventually, Joey finds himself amongst the mud, barbed-wire and bloodshed of the Front, again at the mercy of the German war-machine. At this point in the story, now near the end of the war, Albert too is in the trenches, still dreaming of being reunited with his horse. If he can stay alive...


War Horse is a return to old school film-making of the family-friendly kind for Spielberg. You won't find the bleached-out, shaky-cam action scenes of Saving Private Ryan or War Of The Worlds here. Instead you get expansive, wide-screen compositions, with the camera lingering over landscapes like the clouds drifting over the Dartmoor hills. From England's green and pleasant land, to a thundering cavalry charge ( referencing Lawrence Of Arabia's attack on Aqaba ), to the swampy hell of No Man's Land, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski paint their backdrops with the skill of an Old Master.

And in those landscapes they show us people ( and horses ) struggling to stay alive, to get back home, to make sense of it all. Albert and Joey are two of a kind: innocent but headstrong and loyal. They are both buffeted by fate, both lose friends to the war, and their eventual reuniting is as moving as it is inevitable. Spielberg pulls the audience's strings in a way he hasn't since ET but you don't mind: this is a proper, old-fashioned epic which asks you to invest in the characters and leave your modern cynicism at the door. There are so many beautiful moments along the way: Mrs. Narracott's speech about her husband's traumatic experience in the Boer War, the touching friendship between Joey and Topthorn ( who said "Get a stable"? ), the hissing goose that chases after anyone setting foot on the Narracott farm, the luminous French landscapes only miles from the Front, the English and German soldiers uniting to save a trapped Joey, and the titular horse's exhilarating gallop through the trenches.

War Horse is a film that speaks of the horrors of war but also of the importance of friendship, loyalty and love. It's that simple and that powerful...

Soundtrack: Dark And Long, Mmmm Skyscraper I Love You, Surfboy by Underworld

Wednesday 18 January 2012

Midnight In Paris / My Week With Marilyn


Sometimes you need to get away from the multiplex, away from the boy wizards and robots-in-disguise, and away from the twenty-first century altogether.

I've seen a couple of films recently at my favourite venue, Gloucester's Guildhall Arts Centre, a place where I've spent many a night jumping up and down to loud rock music, but haven't frequented as a movie-house. Which was my loss, obviously.


First up was Woody Allen's latest, Midnight In Paris. Although I've been a fan of the Woodster ( as nobody calls him ) for many years, I've never seen any of his movies on the big screen before. I was too young for the glory days of Annie Hall, Manhattan etc. and a lot of his later films haven't really grabbed me. Midnight In Paris, however, is something different: a romantic comedy / drama / time-travel movie (!), somewhat in the vein of his earlier A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy.

Young(ish) engaged couple, Gil ( Owen Wilson ) and Inez ( Rachel McAdams ) are holidaying in Paris with her awful Republican parents. Gil is a successful Hollywood screenwriter but feels he's just a hack and longs to be a novelist, preferably one living in the Jazz Age of Gay Paree, while Inez is mostly concerned with buying hideous objets d'art and hanging around with her former tutor / lover, Michael Sheen's pompous Paul. One evening, while his companions head out to a club, an inebriated Gil decides to walk the Parisian streets to clear his head, only to find himself picked up by a bunch of champagne-swigging revellers in an old car and somehow whisked back in time to Paris in the '20s. Here he meets a veritable Who's Who of Jazz Age stars: Hemingway, TS Eliot, Gertrude Stein, the Fitzgeralds, Picasso, Dali, Man Ray, and many more. Gil can't believe his luck as he gets to meet and party with his heroes... but he also starts to doubt his sanity. Over a few nights of time-travelling he falls in love with Adriana, muse to the stars, as played by the luminous Marion Cotillard...


Midnight In Paris is a beautifully shot, warm, witty and romantic fantasy. The footage of Paris itself is exquisite ( if a little "chocolate box"-y ) and had me reaching for my passport. Owen Wilson ( an actor I've never been too bothered about before ) is fine as poor, romantic Gil, in way over his head; Marion Cotillard is as elegant and full of life as ever; Michael Sheen is wonderfully slimy as the pontificating professor who meets his match in Carla Bruni's museum guide; and there are some memorable performances from Kathy Bates as Gertrude Stein, Corey Stoll as a testosterone-fuelled Hemingway, Adrien Brody almost stealing the movie as Dali, and a beautifully vulnerable Alison Pill as Zelda Fitzgerald. Although a fairly lightweight movie ( especially compared with some of Woody's more serious works ) Midnight... is not afraid to make the point that nostalgia is all well and good, but it's too easy to idolise the past and forget to live today. Gil sees the Jazz decade as being a Golden Age, but '20s socialite Adriana yearns for the turn of the century Belle Epoque, and when they are both transported further back in time they discover that artists such as Matisse are similarly misty-eyed about the days of the Renaissance. And so it goes.


Last week we again went to the Guildhall ( it's becoming a habit! ), this time to see My Week With Marilyn, the allegedly-true story of a young Englishman's affair with Marilyn Monroe. Colin Clark was a would-be film-maker who got a job with Laurence Olivier's production company in 1956 and wound up working on the limp comedy The Prince And The Showgirl. As Third Assistant Director he was basically "Larry" Olivier's gopher but soon became confidant and lover ( so the story goes ) to the biggest female movie star in the world...


My Week With Marilyn chronicles the disastrous meeting between two schools of acting: the old, theatre-based style of the great Olivier and the modern, "Method" style as attempted by Marilyn. I say "attempted" because Ms. Monroe, at this point in her career, was notoriously incapable of learning her lines or turning up to set on time. The film shows Olivier trying to deal with a Marilyn whose marriage to her third husband ( Arthur Miller ) is on the rocks after only a matter of days, who is constantly doped-up to combat her nerves and insomnia, and who is accompanied at all times by interfering Method guru Paula Strasberg ( Zoe Wanamaker ), much to Olivier's fury.

The scenes of film-making - the Rank studios, union in-fighting, constant delays, tea and biscuits - are a wonderful peek into a drab, post-war, very English movie world, a million miles from Tinseltown. The usual thespian suspects are present and correct: Judi Dench as a warm, ever-considerate Dame Sybil Thorndike, Derek Jacobi as a royal librarian, a feisty Emma Watson as Colin's put-upon girlfriend, and Kenneth Branagh in probably his dream role as England's greatest Shakespearean actor.


But the film belongs, of course, to Michelle Williams as Marilyn. By turns vulnerable, flighty, neurotic, funny, harsh and very sexy, without being the cartoon-Marilyn of a thousand impersonations, Ms. Williams' performance is spookily accurate, and it's only her slightly slimmer physique that stops her from being Marilyn reborn. She perfectly conveys the disconnect between Marilyn's public and private personae ( facing a crowd at one point, she says to Colin "Shall I be her?" as she puts on the Marilyn glamour for their approval ) and her yearning for a family life she was fated to never have. The only weak link here is Eddie Redmayne as Colin. The character comes across as naive and wide-eyed, but still strong in his desire to protect and love the American beauty. However, there is very little else to the character beyond his obsession with Marilyn; and his treatment of Emma Watson's Lucy doesn't endear him to the viewer. He's really there to stare in wonder, on our behalf, at one of the greatest stars of her time...

( While I'm on the subject of the Guildhall Cinema, I'll just mention that this week I went to the first meeting of the Film Focus Group, a monthly meeting to decide which films will be shown at the Guildhall in coming months. I didn't know what to expect, really, but I'm always interested in movies and I'm a keen supporter of the Guildhall, so I thought I'd give it a try. It turned out to be an interesting evening with a real cross-section of people there, from young film students, to bloggers, to former projectionists and amateur film-makers. The ages ranged from early twenties to one very outspoken 81-year old. The selection of films under consideration wasn't too hot, but we watched trailers and debated them, and also talked about ourselves and our interests in film. I definitely enjoyed it and plan to go again next month. )

Tuesday 10 January 2012

Songs of 2011


Ludicrously late I know ( it's an annual tradition! ) ... but here's my pick of 2011's musical delights.
Yet again, female artists have dominated the charts ( these are the UK pop charts I'm talking about here, can't really comment on anywhere else ) which is A Good Thing, especially if they can combat the germ-like spread of boybands like The Wanted, One Direction etc. Surely the world's had enough of these cloned pretty boys? I certainly have.

Probably the most ubiquitous, ever-present song of the year was Lana Del Rey's doomy, haunting Video Games. The first time I heard it I was a bit non-plussed but its retro romanticism grew on me until it became a real favourite. There's been a lot of talk recently on t'internet ( and in the "real" world ) about the lovely, permanently-pouting Ms. Del Rey's "authenticity" or lack thereof. As if that's ever mattered in pop music. What does matter is that Video Games is a great song and is seemingly resistant to the endless streams of remixes that have washed over it. It remains to be seen if the singer herself has any more tricks up her designer sleeves...


For yet another year, everything Rihanna's touched has turned to gold. Or red. For instance:
You Da One
We Found Love ( with Calvin Harris )
Take Care ( with Drake )

...dancefloor-conquering monsters all. Is there no stopping her? Let's hope not.


For now, Rihanna walks that walk and talks that talk, and no-one else comes near.


When it comes to Adele you have to wheel out that word "ubiquitous" again. It's been scientifically proven that, in 2011, nobody in the British Isles was more than 75 seconds away from hearing an Adele song. ( Although I may have made up that statistic it sounds about right. )
While I like Adele's amazing, earthy voice more than a lot of her songs, which are often too easy-listening for my liking, she did bring us these cracking singles:
Someone Like You
Rolling In The Deep
Set Fire To The Rain
Rumour Has It

...which was good of her...


And then there's Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta or Lady Gaga to you and me. Last year ( still can't get used to 2011 being "last year" ) saw the diminutive diva launch her second album with more huge arena shows, more outrageous costumes, more wigs, more saxophones ( RIP Clarence ), more everything. And probably more cowbell, too. And these wonderful songs:
Born This Way
The Edge Of Glory
Marry The Night
Judas


Florence and her Machine finally made a comeback with the long-awaited second album, Ceremonials. In a similar vein to Gaga, Ms. Welch confounded anyone who might have expected a more stripped-down sound this time by turning everything up to 11 and then sprinkling the results with cyber-mutant-pixie-dust. Or something. I haven't listened to the album as much as I'd like as it's permanently welded into Sarah's car stereo, but it does sound amazing, especially the head-spinning Shake It Out. Sarah, Sophie and I are going to experience the Machine age later in the year when we go and see Flo and co. play live in Cardiff. And supported by The Horrors, too! Can't wait!


Meanwhile, in the blinged-up, shot-up, spliffed-up world of Hip Hop the biggest, baddest rappers of them all, Jay-Z and Kanye West, teamed up to become a fire-breathing Raposaurus
( Rap-tor? ) that stomped over all opposition with their album Watch The Throne.


I only got round to buying the album itself last weekend, so I'm still trying to take it all in: a dark, powerful set of unconventional songs and raps, with some awesome production and the feeling that here you have two rappers still at the top of their game, still with much to give and to prove, even after all this time. Standout tracks:
Why I Love You
Otis
No Church In The Wild
N****s In Paris


Why is this man covering his ears? Perhaps he's trying to keep his brain in place after melting it with hypersonic Dubstep. This is Skrillex and he's been bringing the noise this year with:
Scary Monsters And Nice Sprites
Breakin' A Sweat
Bangarang

Dubstep is an almost unexplainable subgenre of Hip Hop / Grime / Drum 'n' Bass / whatever you want to call it, and can be the most exciting or most irritating sound around, with its seemingly-random bloops and bleeps and time-changes. James is just getting into Dubstep ( and music in general ) and it'll be interesting to see if he sticks with it.

Also burning up the dance-floors in 2011 were:

Hello by Martin Solveig & Dragonette
Bounce by Calvin Harris & Kelis
Louder by DJ Fresh
Good Feeling by Flo Rida
Go by Delilah
Earthquake by Labrinth ( yes, he spells it like that ) & Tinie Tempah ( can any of these guys spell? )
Youngster by Rizzle Kicks ( great Clash sample! )
Levels by Avicii

"But what of guitar bands?" I hear you say,"Where were they in 2011?"
( Actually that's just the voices in my head talking, but I'll try to answer them anyway... )


It seemed to me to be yet another dull year for guitar bands. I heard lots of bands on the radio - You Me At Six, Band Of Skulls, Bring Me The Horizon, to name a few - who sounded pretty good for the duration of a song, but who I instantly forgot once their 3 minutes were up. One exception were The Vaccines, indie's Great White Hopes of 2011. Their twangy, windswept sound reminded me of The Strokes, The Ramones and The Jesus & Mary Chain, with a dash of very English fatalism... and some cool song titles:
Wetsuit
Post Breakup Sex
If You Wanna
Wreckin' Bar ( Ra Ra Ra )


...they also looked like a proper band, not just a bunch of straight-out-of-Uni chancers...


And they had gratuitous pictures of girl drummers flashing on their album sleeve. What more could you want?


But the best band of the year for me were The Horrors, former Goth Punk revivalists turned purveyors of epic soundscapes, creators of the instant-classic album, Skying. Blending Psychedelia, Goth, '80s Indie and even the dreaded Shoegazing with their own louche attitude and intensity, Faris and the boys make it all look easy. But it isn't. It takes a band of exceptional talent and vision to produce songs like
I Can See Through You
Changing The Rain
and my favourite song of the year: Still Life


The Horrors were fantastic supporting Primal Scream at the Eden Project ( gig of the year! ) and I'm looking forward to seeing them again, supporting Florence, as mentioned above.

Before I wrap this list up with the now-traditional admission that I've probably missed out loads of good stuff, I'll just give a shout-out to a few random songs that caught my ear last year:

Rope by Foo Fighters
L.I.F.E.G.O.E.S.O.N by Noah And The Whale
Don't Sit Down 'Cos I've Moved Your Chair by Arctic Monkeys
Rewired by Kasabian

Thank you and good night...

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