Wednesday 30 January 2013

Life Of Pi

"My name is Pi Patel. I have been in a shipwreck. I am in a lifeboat, alone, with a tiger. Please send help..."

Ang Lee's latest movie, an adaptation of Yann Martel's "unfilmable" novel, is a beautiful, thought-provoking piece of film-making and ( more importantly ) story-telling. The story's main character, Piscine "Pi" Molitor Patel, is a sixteen-year old in 1970s India, whose zoo-owning family are forced to sell up and move to Canada and a new life. Their ship is sunk by a storm in the Pacific, leaving Pi as the only human survivor, clinging to a lifeboat with only a hyena, a zebra, an orang-utan and a Bengal tiger for company. After a brutal lesson in natural selection the only remaining survivors are Pi and the tiger, Richard Parker. Pi has to not only learn how to train the ferocious beast but also to survive starvation, thirst and loneliness on the open sea.

Life Of Pi is a magical film, combining beautiful visuals, seamless CGI, a thoughtful script and a stunningly naturalistic performance from first-time actor, Suraj Sharma. And, unusually for such a "big" movie, it works as an allegory and a commentary on story-telling ( in a similar fashion to Atonement ) while tackling themes of belief, love, humanity and friendship. At the core of the film is the relationship between the boy and the tiger which, in a strange way, turns out to be one of Ang Lee's perennial themes  -  that of an unusual love story. As seen in Brokeback Mountain or Hulk, Sense And Sensibility or Crouching Tiger... Lee returns again and again to relationships that are doomed or frowned upon. The gradual change from savagery to dependence in the bond between the two species is the heart of the story.

Life Of Pi is wise, funny, heartbreaking, visually ground-breaking and has one of the best, and most subtle, uses of 3D I've seen since Avatar. In short, go and see it... it's grrrreat!

Tuesday 29 January 2013

Master Of Magnetism

OK, I'm not actually Magneto but I have been in contact with some serious magnetism recently.

I went for my second MRI scan at Gloucester Hospital today, this time of my whole spine. ( The last time was just of my neck. ) Previous results had been clear and apparently this second scan was a standard procedure, which isn't expected to find anything nasty...
Fingers crossed...

MRI, of course, stands for Magnetic Resonance Imaging and is a technique for building up a picture of the body's structure which goes further than X-rays in its examination of soft tissue. The link above gives the full, jargon-heavy explanation of how it all works but I like the version I was given at my first scan a couple of weeks back. Magnetic waves pass through you, turning every atom in your body by 45 degrees, then flipping them back again; the changes to the regular patterns this causes are measured and that builds up the picture. That may be an over-simplification but it sounds cool to me...

I spent about 35 minutes inside the scanner today. After removing all metal items ( and debit cards, which can be wiped by the magnetic field ) I laid down on the bed and was trundled into the machine on a conveyor belt, like an oversized oven-ready turkey going through a checkout. It's a strange experience, once inside. You're given earplugs before going in because the process is incredibly loud. The scanner gives off a few clicks to start with as it sounds like it's being aligned, then begins a barrage of sounds, alternately like a pneumatic drill or an automatic rifle. The sounds seemingly randomly slow down, speed up, change pitch... and then stop. After a long gap it all starts again. Over and over. Coupled with the claustrophobia of being in such a confined space the whole process is quite disorientating.
My way of dealing with it is to play a load of songs in my head while I lie there. I got through all of Born To Run during my first session, and most of London Calling today... which isn't easy with all those competing rhythms in your skull. Strangely enough, even with all this racket going on I still managed to drift into a kind of half-sleep, with scraps of dreams and images coming and going. But then, I'm like that: Sarah always says I could sleep on a washing-line. ( Whatever that means. )
I finally emerged, bleary-eyed, and must have seemed suspiciously out-of-it to the nurse :-)

And it's not over yet. Tomorrow I'm going to the Oncology department at Cheltenham to discuss my forthcoming radio therapy and to have a CT Scan. ( Oh yeah, I also had a dodgy wisdom tooth taken out yesterday because radio therapy can have adverse effects on your teeth and jaw if there's any existing problem there. ) It's all go round these 'ere parts :-)

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Songs of 2012

In the time-honoured tradition of The Glass Walking-Stick this post is devoted to my favourite songs of last year... even though we're already four weeks into the New Year. Usual terms and conditions apply...

I seem to have been listening to a lot of Psychedelia-influenced music lately, starting with a couple of songs from my fave album of the year:
Feel To Follow / Pelican by The Maccabees

( I could have chosen any tracks off Given To The Wild to be honest. It's a fantastic album, showcasing a band freeing themselves of indie shackles and spreading their wings. Each song is a masterpiece in mood and construction, with the band effortlessly controlling the pace -  unleashing some dazzling guitar pyrotechnics, as well as knowing when to drop the volume down to a whisper. )

Also on a Psychedelic trip:
When It Explodes by Pond
Even If You Knew by Six Organs Of Admittance
Feels Like We Only Go Backwards / Elephant by Tame Impala
( The latter's Lonerism is another great album, like The Flaming Lips jamming on Syd Barrett / John Lennon acid fantasies with some truly inspired, gonzo freak-outs... )

Yet again, the pop world in 2012 was dominated by fabulous females...

Anything Could Happen by Ellie Goulding
Diamonds by Rihanna
RIP by Rita Ora
Starships by Nikki Minaj ( the only song of hers I've liked )
...and from the Guilty Pleasures vault here at TGWS:
Wings / DNA by Little Mix
Black Heart by Stooshe
Call Me Maybe by Carly Rae Jepson ( yes, really... I think it's a great little pop song )

Dancefloor detonations last year came courtesy of:
Spectrum by Florence and Calvin Harris
Titanium by David Guetta featuring Sia
Hot Right Now by DJ Fresh
Feel The Love by Rudimental

Out on his own ( sitting on a brick wall ) was Ben Drew, one of the most exciting artists in British music. He seemed to be everywhere in 2012  -  acting, rapping, causing controversy and defining a generation of post-2011-riots kids with the incendiary single that was  -
Ill Manors by Plan B

It was another great year for The Boss as Bruce Springsteen embarked on yet another mammoth world tour, helped out a certain Mr. Obama, and still found time to release one of the most vital and surprising albums of his career, the pugilistic Wrecking Ball, from which came these standout tracks:
We Take Care Of Our Own
Rocky Ground
Wrecking Ball
I didn't make it to any of Bruce's gigs last year but I've booked my ticket for the extended leg of the Wrecking Ball Tour when he hits the Ricoh Arena in Coventry this June. Should be awesome!

Fellow Noo Joisey rockers The Gaslight Anthem are also touring this year and I've already got my ticket for their gig in Bristol on March 21st. I haven't seen them since Bruce's Hyde Park gig a few years ago so, as long as my health problems don't get in the way, I'll be down the front for some maximum rock 'n' roll. Standout singles from Brian Fallon and the boys in 2012 were
45 / Handwritten ( top anthems! )

Just a few odds and ends to finish with:

In Distance by Blue Angel Lounge ( see above, at Heaven supporting the Dandy Warhols )
Teenage Icon by The Vaccines
We Are Young by Fun.
Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg
Cool Zombie by Adam Ant

Aaaaand I'll leave you with a couple of totally gratuitous pics of Rihanna :-)

Sunday 20 January 2013

Snow days

Winter finally arrived in my corner of England on Friday, after weeks of rainy, gloomy weather. A snowstorm swept up the Severn estuary and hit Gloucester at about 05:30 in the morning. I headed out to work at 06:45am ( allowing more time than usual ) trusting the main roads to have been sufficiently gritted by the local council. Of course, they weren't. This is England after all...
I managed the 13 or so miles ( unlucky for some! ) to Nailsworth on the icy, snow-covered roads but, on the A46 above the town, my car decided it would rather slide sideways than carry on up the hill. After much slipping, sliding and swearing I ended up abandoning my car to the snow and decided to walk to work...
The above photo was taken on my trek through the snow, along the Nailsworth / Avening / Tetbury road which borders Princess Anne's estate. Strangely enough I didn't see her along the road... or anyone else much, to be honest, just the occasional 4x4 or tractor...

And here's a pic of me on the road, looking like a fat turtle, reflected in this convex mirror :-)
Apart from the blizzard blowing in my face the hike through the snow wasn't too bad  -  beautiful, almost Scandinavian scenery and the crunch of fresh snow underfoot. After stopping off in Avening for a medicinal Mars bar I trudged on up the hill to Tetbury. Up there on the top the blizzard was howling and it really wasn't too pleasant. At about 10:00am I met a bloke coming from the opposite direction who said he'd been walking from Devizes in Wiltshire since 05:00am that morning  -  I thought my journey was far enough! I was getting a bit bored of it all by this point so stuck my thumb out at the next passing Land Rover and, luckily enough, the guy stopped and gave me a lift for the last mile or so. Phew! As I'd expected, hardly anyone else had made it in to work and, after I'd only been there for about an hour, one of the managers gave the few staff a lift home in his 4x4. It was good to get home... even without my car :-)

Yesterday Sarah and I caught the bus into Gloucester and I took a few photos of the snow-covered city, starting with this view of the docks. The white stuff was starting to melt by this point but still looked, er, cool...

This is St. Mary De Crypt church, just along from Cafe Rene, one of Gloucester's premier rock 'n' roll venues, as seen in this post...

More views of nearby buildings and faces...

And below are a few glimpses of Gloucester's beautiful Cathedral...

We also had a quick look around the shops, including the currently-ailing HMV, where I picked up a few albums which I wouldn't be able to find in bloody Tesco's if HMV do go under. ( For the record  - ho ho  -  I got The Beatles' "Red" Album, TV Smith's Last Words Of The Great Explorer, John Cale's Paris 1919, the Floyd's Meddle, Jane's Addiction's Ritual De Lo Habitual and Television's Marquee Moon. A few of these I already have on vinyl, but what the hell... )

This morning my father-in-law and I managed to free my car from its icy tomb ( melodramatic, moi? ) and Sarah and I brought it home. But with fresh snowfall forecast for the next couple of days it remains to be seen if I'll be going anywhere...

Soundtrack: Last Words Of The Great Explorer by TV Smith's Explorers

Wednesday 16 January 2013

The River Severn at Epney 13/01/13

Just a few pics from last Sunday, when Sarah and I went for a long walk along the Severn in the Winter sunshine. A very tranquil scene  -  no-one around except us, gulls out on the water and the corpses of some old boats...

Sunday 13 January 2013

Recent gigs, Part Two: Penetration, The Twang and more...

As part of my continuing mission to cover gigs I forgot to blog about in 2012 ( remember that far-off year? ) I've now reached the 14th of September and Punk legends, Penetration, at Bristol's Fleece. Pauline Murray's band were one of those idiosyncratic outfits that the Punk scene produced in its early days, before things became too standardised. They had some highly intelligent lyrics, memorable tunes and Pauline's breathy vocals all going for them. They also had a suspiciously trad rock / HM guitar sound, courtesy of future Tygers Of Pan Tang guitarist, Fred Purser, which upset the purists at the time. ( Personally, I think it's cool in a sub-Jimmy Page kind of way but things were far more polarised and ghetto-ised back in the day. )

No upsets tonight, though. Penetration start the set with the first two tracks from their excellent  Moving Targets album  -  Future Daze and the wonderful Life's A Gamble -  both minor classics, with the latter being one of my all-time fave Punk songs. A great, kick-ass intro if ever there was one. Even though Pauline seems a surprisingly hesitant frontwoman and the band are fairly nondescript, they produce a fine, tight performance, very direct and melodic, with their cover of Patti Smith's Free Money being another highlight. Unlike many of her contemporaries, Pauline has kept her distinctive voice in good condition, making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up when she launches into the "Painted puppet / Clockwork clown" lyric of Lovers Of Outrage. As is usual for the Fleece's audience, most of the the old-skool Punks play it cool until the band wheel out the big guns, namely classic singles Firing Squad and Don't Dictate   -  then the place erupts. Penetration apparently don't play live very often, but I'd definitely like to see them again.
"Sometimes I'm optimistic then you disappoint..." Not tonight :-)

Also on the bill were local legends Noise Agents ( yes, them again ) giving their usual passionate, committed Street Punk aural assault...

...and the mighty Chinese Burn, killing the Fleece yet again with their pop-Punk excellence. ( Ed's bass wasn't actually on fire... but it's a great image. Anyway, he's more into blowing up amps... )

And here's some of the Rock 'n' Roll debauchery going on backstage :-)

Back to August now... and back to Gloucester Guildhall. I'd just been in the venue's cinema, watching insane Belgian animation A Town Called Panic with my mate Tom ( of The Sensitive Bore fame ) when we saw crowds of indie kids heading into the main hall and thought we'd join them. The band were The Twang, a Birmingham-based gang of scoundrels on the comeback trail after being flavour of the week for a while, but now unfashionable. ( The NME had compared their second album to, er, dog excrement. Which was a bit harsh. )
I didn't know The Twang's music at all, but they turned out to be a hard-partying, funky second-cousin to The Happy Mondays in their prime. With two very enthusiastic frontmen and highly danceable rhythms  backing some monster tunes, they pumped out an irresistible indie-dance ( that phrase again! ) groove. Somewhat dated, admittedly, but good fun and well worth checking out when they come round again.

A couple of smaller local gigs to finish with, now.

This is Wayne, otherwise known as Lost Soul, a one-man-band Punk protest singer, from Burnley via Berlin, playing at Gloucester's Cafe Rene. Wayne used to be lead singer in a band called Kings Of The Delmar but now tours incessantly around Europe on his own, spreading his firebrand gospel of anti-racism / sexism / homophobia, telling tall tales and dropping names. Wayne is a 100% committed, passionate singer with cracking, anthemic songs in an early Billy Bragg-stylee and a neat line in banter. Check him out if he comes to your town... just don't mention the nuns...

Wayne was supporting Gloucester's legendary Demob who played a storming set of old skool Punk and turned the small pub into a seething mass of bodies and spilt beer. It got very messy, with myself and my mate Glenn yelling out backing vocals to the classic No Room For You... into an unplugged mike. See below for a pic of me wearing a pint a bloke called Graham had spilled all over me. It was one of those nights...

We had an amazing night, carrying on the party in the venue's underground bar long into the early hours of the morning, getting back to Chinese Burn HQ just as the sun was coming up.

And finally, Esther, another gig from August  -  the very scary Isolation at Gloucester's The Brunswick...

Seemingly fronted by a Metal version of Hannibal Lecter, Isolation are one of the heaviest, loudest bands I've seen in a long time, with a bruising, punishing sound and killer riffs a-go-go...

And here's my mate Cliff rockin' out on bass. Isolation probably aren't the kind of band I'd sit at home and listen to ( not without earplugs, anyway... ) but live they are a different proposition: a crushing, black wave of  noise which you can either choose to be pummeled by... or run away from. There's no other option ;-)

So that's it for my "forgotten" gigs of 2012. I've got my first gig of 2013 lined up for this Friday: Chinese Burn ( who else? ) and The Sex Pistols Experience at the good ol' Fleece. Looking forward to it.

*Update: the gig at The Fleece was postponed until April because of the bloody snow :-(


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