Friday 21 April 2017

Purple Reign

"I was dreaming when I wrote this / Forgive me if it goes astray / But when I woke up this morning / Coulda sworn it was judgement day"

It was a year ago today that the world lost Prince Rogers Nelson, the pint-sized musical genius whose songs were the soundtrack to so many people's lives. Whether it was the early perv-funk of Dirty Mind, the rock histrionics of When Doves Cry, the '60s pop of Raspberry Beret or the social commentary of Sign O The Times, Prince had a song and a style for every occasion. In the mid to late eighties if you were into American R&B / dance it often felt like there were only two ultimate choices  -  Michael Jackson or Prince. Jacko of course was one of the biggest stars in the world, a phenomenal singer and dancer with a shed-load of pop classics to his name, but he never captured my imagination like Prince did. Prince always seemed cooler, edgier and more self-mocking and weirder than MJ   -  of course we didn't know at the time just how weird Jacko really was!
I remember seeing photos of Prince in music mags in the early '80s, in his dodgy flasher-mac and underwear phase, but not actually hearing his music until the likes of 1999 and Little Red Corvette hit the charts. However, it was the Purple Rain album that really did it for me. An exciting, over the top collision of rock and R&B, this was the record that Prince used to grab the mainstream audience by the unmentionables. Hugely, insanely over-produced with pounding beats, squealing guitar solos and packed with hits ( the title track, When Doves Cry, Let's Go Crazy ), this album was an absolute monster. Just don't mention the terrible film! My mate Paul ( Death Planet Commandos drummer ) and I played the Purple Rain album to death at ear-frazzling volumes and it became an obsession for us  -  before being replaced by other musical obsessions involving Grandmaster Melle Mel and the Beastie Boys. I was now officially a Prince fan and followed his career for many years until his star began to wane in the '90s. At one point Paul and I had tickets to see the Purple One at Wembley Arena but there was some trouble with the local council over the gig's licence and it was cancelled, so that was my one chance to see Prince lost. I really should have made more of an effort to see him on a later tour...
And now, of course, it's too late. Although Prince's latter career saw him endlessly regurgitating inferior takes on his original funksplosions, he will always be remembered as that singing, dancing, twirling, guitar-playing Sexy MF who always partied like it was 1999...

Monday 17 April 2017

Doctor Who - The Pilot

"What's the one thing you never see when you look at your reflection...?"

The tenth series of Nu Who finally kicked off on Saturday with The Pilot, an episode showcasing new companion Bill Potts, the Doctor's new job as a university lecturer and, in the words of a previous story, a "sinister puddle".
As the episode begins the Doctor appears to have given up the old time and space travelling and has settled into quarters in the fictional St. Luke's University in Bristol, even hanging an Out Of Order sign on the Tardis door. ( There is, of course, a Mysterious Reason for this. ) He's noticed that kitchen worker Bill has been turning up to all his lectures even though she's not a student and he arranges for an interview with her, via his PA / batman, the possibly-cyborgised Nardole. Seeing something promising in this under-appreciated young woman, the Doctor offers to become her private tutor  -  an Educating Rita-like relationship, except this lecturer is an alien not an alcoholic.
A chance meeting between Bill and Heather ( a girl with a strange star-like marking in her eye ) and the discovery of a strange puddle of something that looks like water but isn't propels the Doctor, Bill and Nardole into a desperate chase across time and space. ( I knew that Tardis wouldn't stay Earthbound for long... )
Surprisingly, considering the show will be rebooted next year with a new Doctor and new showrunner, this opening episode already seems like a reboot. In a similar way to Rose, the very first episode of 21st century Doctor Who, this story gets back to basic principles: a young woman with a lousy job but much potential meets a madman in a box who whisks her away into a far more dangerous, but exciting, world. There are a couple of nods to previous characters ( River and even Susan Foreman ) but, beyond that, there is no hint of backstory or need for prior knowledge. This is a fast-paced and colourful episode, fizzing with style and energy, not bogged down by arc plots or continuity. The menace of the week is briefly sketched but effective ( even if it is yet another example of the "broken spring" plot ) with a lovely turn by Stephanie Hyam as Heather, the unwitting Pilot of the title.
Of course, the most important aspect of this story is the introduction of the new companion. The first glimpses of Bill in Friend From The Future ( the sneak preview from last year ) weren't too encouraging  -  she just came across as irritating. Luckily, this proper introduction shows that Pearl Mackie is more of an accomplished actress than previously suggested. Bill is bright, lively and very down to earth, and her unrequited love affair with Heather is both sad and sweet. After Amy and Clara seemed to be inextricably linked with the madness of the Doctor's world from day one, Bill seems more like one of us  -  a normal person whose life could do with just a little bit more excitement. Her role seems to be that of the companion who asks the questions everyone else has missed. Hopefully this won't become irritating ( there's that word again ) but will flow naturally from the character. Welcome on board, Bill!
All in all, a very promising start to the Twelfth Doctor's final run, so I'm giving this:

4 out of 5 Sonic Screwdrivers

Sunday 9 April 2017

Recent Gigs: The Jesus & Mary Chain and The Dandy Warhols

Special international edition! Bournemouth and Barcelona!
Last weekend Sarah and I had a trip down to sunny Bournemouth to see one of my all-time favourite bands, the Jesus & Mary Chain. It had been 25 (!) years, almost to the day, since we previously caught them on the fabled Rollercoaster Tour with Blur, My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. so I was well overdue for a follow up...
The venue was the Bournemouth O2 Academy  -  which is actually in the slightly more low-rent suburb of Boscombe. It's a lovely venue: a converted theatre with an impressive, cathedral-like look to the buttresses holding up the roof, as you can see above. In fact it reminded me of the Tardis interior from the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie but that's just my Whovian imagination overreacting as usual...
Or is it? We found this familiar blue box in the street, just yards from the venue...
Anyway, back at the gig, we got there too late for the support band, Is Bliss, literally arriving as they were finishing their last song. They seemed to have a very expansive, Shoegaze -type sound but I couldn't comment any further. Maybe I'll catch up with them another time. After what seemed an age of pre-gig sounds ( the Velvets, Chuck Berry, and many more J&MC inspirations ) the house lights finally dipped, the smoke machine was cranked up and the brothers Reid took to the stage with the latest incarnation of their band.
Yep, somewhere behind all this dry ice is the Jesus & Mary Chain. They started with the first track from their new Damage And Joy album, Amputation  -  a real statement of intent as Jim Reid intoned over and over "I'm a rock 'n' roll amputation"  -  yes, they're back after all the drugs, fights and solo projects, still chasing that impossibly romantic rock 'n' roll dream. As I said to fellow blogger Elektra Luxx recently, the Mary Chain may stick to a formula... but it's a great formula.
Next up was the first oldie of the night, a perfect version of the classic April Skies, very appropriate for a glorious first day of April. The set had a fine balance of new and old with four or five tracks from the recent album slotting in well with the older material  -  although the classics got the best reactions, of course. And, for me, the highlights were the songs from debut album Psychocandy
( which you can read about here at my fossilised 15 Albums blog )  -  The Hardest Walk, Taste Of Cindy, The Living End and my absolute fave You Trip Me Up. Of course, Just Like Honey got the biggest cheer of the night. Although not quite the feedback-drenched monsters they were back in the day, these songs are still classics of noise-pop and show off the much-underrated song-writing skills of the Reid brothers. One of my favourite lines in all pop music is still You Trip Me Up's "Love's like the mighty ocean / When it's frozen / That is your heart" and Jim Reid still sings it with all the melancholy it deserves.
( These photos aren't brilliant, I'm afraid. We started off quite close to the stage but at one point the crowd went a bit nuts and somebody stamped on Sarah's foot so we moved further back. )
The J&MC were never the most visually dazzling live act  -  William Reid still hangs around the back of the stage, summoning up squalls of guitar chaos and looking like a mad professor with his bird's nest hair, while brother Jim doesn't move too much but still commands the stage with his intensity. Before bubblegum noise classic Cherry Came Too, Jim said he hadn't sung this in years and wasn't sure if he was up to it  -  he was, his voice still that classic American-by-way-of-Glaswegian rock 'n' roll drawl. The backing band were fine but anonymous, with William's girlfriend ( sorry, not sure of her name ) adding some suitably ethereal vocals to the handful of duets scattered throughout the set. Although there were a few songs they didn't play that I would have loved to hear like Sidewalking or Never Understand, the set was a triumph, climaxing with a vicious Reverence, Jim spitting out "I want to die, I want to die" in full-on Iggy Pop mode.
Hopefully the brothers have managed to put aside their past differences and this newly revived Mary Chain can continue bringing us their idiosyncratic Velvet Underground / Shangri-Las mash-up...
Back in February the Dandy Warhols were on yet another European jaunt ( when do they sleep? ) and, as my mate Glenn and I are on a semi-serious mission to see them in a different country each time they tour ( Amsterdam last time of course ) we booked up to see them in the beautiful city of Barcelona. And this time we took Sarah and Beki along too so we could all have a mini-break in the Catalan capital. We had a fantastic time in Barcelona but that's a post for another time...
The venue this time was the Salo Apolo, another of those converted theatres we seem to end up in, very similar to the Bournemouth O2. It was about a twenty minute walk from our apartment which was ideal  -  we wandered down world-famous thoroughfare La Ramblas and followed the trail of mustachioed hipsters until we found the venue.
Support came from Welsh indie band Telegram who were okay really but not too exciting. They had a ramshackle, Libertines vibe and mostly incomprehensible vocals but some reasonable tunes and a cool, band-as-gang style  -  ones to watch in the future, methinks. ( Considering how close we live to the Welsh border we had a hell of a time deciphering the singer's between-songs banter. God only knows what the Catalonians thought of it! )
The Dandy's themselves were on top form, cool as feck considering the heat and pulling classic song after classic song out of the bag. Over the last few years they've become one of my most-watched bands ( I've seen them three times since last May alone ) and I've only grown to love them more. Although still occasionally self-indulgent they seem to have become more direct recently  -  even perennial one-before-the-closing-song Pete International Airport was edited down this time, catching me out when I thought I had time to get to the bar before ( also perennial ) last number Boys Better. The songs from the recent Distortland album are becoming more familiar and now fit perfectly alongside faves like Get Off, Godless and the inevitable Bohemian Like You. In fact, these newer songs work much better in a live situation, their sound boosted in comparison to the thin production on the record. Some Things You Gotta Get Over ( STYGGO ) and Catcher In The Rye are fast becoming mass crowd singalongs which must be gratifying for the band.
So, another great set from Portland's finest with each member of the band getting their chance to shine  -  the Dandy Warhols always give the impression of being a totally democratic band, a group of friends who love being together and just happen to make great music.
( I love this shot  -  it looks like Brent's being beamed up to Planet Hipster! )
No DJ set / after show party from Zia this time, unfortunately, and no chance to chat to the band after the gig like on the last couple of occasions. In fact, the mood was slightly dampened by the extremely unfriendly Apolo staff who ushered everyone out of the building only minutes after the Dandy's had left the stage, even preventing people from using the toilets before they left the venue.
Apart from that it had been a great gig, made even more enjoyable by its setting, the fantastic city of Barcelona  -  more to follow on that subject :-)


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