Tuesday 27 June 2017

The Skids at the Bristol Bierkeller

Things have been very quiet on the blogging front here at TGW-S recently for no real reason, so I thought I'd better try and catch up with a few recent events. First off  -  a truly fantastic gig by long-lost Punk heroes The Skids. I've been going to see bands since I was 14 years old, way back in the dark days of 1981, and I estimate in that time I've seen around 200 bands ( some multiple times ) but I have to say that this gig was truly, genuinely one of the best I've ever seen.
The Skids were one of the first Punk / New Wave bands I really got into, even though by the time this happened they were pretty much over  -  typical for me! They were quite a unique proposition at the time  -  a very young group of musicians from Dunfermline who played a very different, art-rock version of Punk. No three-chord thrashes here, but a multi-layered strangeness built on Stuart Adamson's unique guitar sound and Richard ( Jobbo ) Jobson's cryptic, poetic lyrics.
I bought the band's first three albums ( Scared To Dance, Days In Europa and The Absolute Game ) on second-hand vinyl and played them to death but The Skids had already split up. Jobbo, ever the aesthete, tried his hand at poetry, TV presenting, film directing and even had another shot at rock 'n' roll success with the short-lived Armoury Show. Adamson, however, founded Big Country who went on to briefly become one of the, er, biggest bands of the '80s with their epic, windswept Celtic rock. Tragically, Adamson committed suicide in 2001, another great musician sadly lost to alcoholism.
After all this I never expected to see The Skids live  -  they became just another lost band, their records remembered by the faithful few, occasionally popping up on repeats of Top Of The Pops on BBC 4. But then... it was the band's 40th anniversary ( this year! ) and, amazingly, a new tour was announced. I had to be there! I snapped up tickets for myself and my mate Glenn and we headed down to Bristol's dingy Bierkeller for one incredible gig...
( Apologies for the blurred photo  -  believe it or not, this was the best one I got! I've been suffering with sciatica lately so didn't want to get too close to the front and get caught in the crush. This goes against the grain for me but, for once, I was sensible and kept out of harm's way. )
We missed Charlie Harper's solo set ( not too upset... I've seen Charlie loads of times with the UK Subs ) but did manage to catch the legendary Tim"TV"Smith, former livewire leader of The Adverts. Tim was on top form, bashing away at his acoustic guitar as if his life depended on it, and singing his increasingly political anthems... on the eve of the disastrous General Election. He finished with some crowd-pleasing Adverts songs ( Gary Gilmore's Eyes, One Chord Wonders ) and then it was time for the main event.
Bounding out onto the stage ( well, Jobbo did ) The Skids plunged into first song Animation and the crowd, as they say, went wild. This track from Days In Europa set out the band's stall from the first minute: obscure lyrics wedded to massive, terrace-friendly tunes, plenty of "Whoa whoas" to sing along to, Jobbo's commanding stage presence and an absolutely note-perfect take on the original Skids sound. They then jumped straight into the stop-start lunacy of first-album cut Of One Skin  -  Glenn and I gave each other a look  -  a "this is going to be awesome" look, and it was. The band were clearly loving this as much as the audience. At one point Jobson confided that he'd been unsure about this reunion tour, wondering if The Skids were still wanted. I think he got his answer in Bristol. The cheers that greeted each song nearly blew the roof off the place as the band pulled classic anthem after classic anthem out of the bag. Circus Games, Out Of Town and Masquerade ( Jobbo's fave Skids song apparently ) were Punk / art / rock Godzillas, crushing all before them, and the segue from Melancholy Soldiers to Working For The Yankee Dollar was sublime and inspired. The avuncular and self-deprecating Jobson regaled us with a few tales from the old days ( like how he auditioned for the band and got the gig by telling the other applicants to "get tae fuck" ) and dedicated the beautiful Scared To Dance to his lost comrade, Stuart Adamson. This, coupled with a stunning version of A Woman In Winter, brought a tear to this hardened gigger's eye.
Although no-one could truly replace Stuart Adamson, his compatriot from Big Country, Bruce Watson, did a sterling job in recreating Adamson's  guitar sound, aided by his guitar-playing son Jamie Watson. Along with Skids stalwarts Bill Simpson and Mike Baillie they played with power, energy and subtlety, as though this band had been touring for years. And Jobbo was a legend! Constantly involving the audience, telling tales, cracking jokes, twirling and shadow-boxing around the stage like a man half his age, and booming out that still mighty voice, he was a delight to watch. I had a stupid grin plastered to my face for the entire set  -  just like the front man.
All too soon the gig came to a close with the inevitable TV Stars ( updated to include the names of Tory and UKip MPs  -  who didn't come off too well... ) and closing anthems ( there's that word again ) Into The Valley and Charade, with a final treat  -  a fine new song called World On Fire from their upcoming new ( NEW! ) album. What a fantastic gig! I think the real reason I loved it so much ( as I remarked to another blogger recently ) was that here was an absolutely cracking band playing beloved songs which I never, ever, thought I'd get to see played live.
World On Fire? Band On Fire!

Soundtrack: Come on! What do you think?

Wednesday 21 June 2017

Doctor Who: Monks and Warriors

These Doctor Who reviews have slipped down a wormhole in the time / space continuum to become monthly ( -ish ) instead of weekly, so I have five (!) episodes to catch up on, starting with:

This was a bold, challenging episode with a very divisive twist ( which I personally loved ) and some memorable new monsters, the ( meddling ) Monks. These corpse-like creatures were trying to get their claws into the planet Earth with the help of the Veritas, a fabled ancient text in the Vatican's restricted library which causes anyone who reads it to commit suicide. Quite a dark theme for a Saturday evening TV show and one which strangely reminded me of that old Monty Python sketch about the funniest joke in the world, which no-one could read or tell without instantly dropping down dead.
And the Doctor was in the dark too  -  still blind after the previous story's shocking final scene and managing to get by with the aid of the dreaded sonic glasses... and a little help from Nardole. Apart from a hilarious scene of poor Bill's latest date being interrupted by the Pope himself, this was a gloomily Gothic episode with some head-spinning twists and turns. Moffatt says this was his last chance to push at the boundaries of the format and I think he did a fine job. The final revelation that all this story had taken place in a computer simulation may have borrowed from The Matrix ( and possibly Warren Ellis' Planetary ) but I loved the audacity of it, and also the idea that even Sim City versions of our heroes can be heroic when it counts. I'm giving this one
Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or VR headsets )

The Pyramid At The End Of The World
Part Two of the "Monk Trilogy" saw the red-robed revenants return and this time actually put one of their world-conquering plans into place. Even though it was a bonkers one. A 5000-year old pyramid suddenly appeared from out of nowhere, in a disputed region of Absurdistan ( or something like that ) where the Russian, American and Chinese armies were facing off against each other, while the President of Earth ( aka Doctor Twelve ) was called upon to help decide the future of the planet. Meanwhile scientists in a bio-research lab had inadvertently created a substance that could kill all life on Earth. And the Doctor was still blind...
While the script ( by Moffatt and Peter Harness ) didn't always hang together  -  there were a lot of unanswered questions  -  the scale and sense of impending doom made for a slow-burning but intense episode. And Pearl Mackie as Bill yet again played a blinder ( sorry! ) when she was forced to choose between condemning the Doctor and subjugating humanity to the Monks' rule. I really think Pearl brings a breath of fresh air to the show and it would be a shame if she were to leave along with Moffatt and Capaldi... although I suspect that's what will happen.
Three And A Half Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Sonic Glasses )

The Lie Of The Land
The finale of the Monk Trilogy saw Toby Whithouse ( sort-of ) tie up the loose ends of the walking cadavers' story as Bill and Nardole found themselves lost in a grim Dystopia where the Monks ruled over all ( and had done since 1975 apparently ) and the Doctor appeared to be their propaganda mouth-piece. A kind of Lord Who-Haw if you will... and you won't see a more obscure reference than that ladies, gents and Gallifreyans...
Reminiscent of Martha's night journey way back in Season Three, this story took Bill across a subjugated world, and across a sea, to point a gun at a Time Lord. But this time the Doctor and not the Master ( remember him? ) was the supposed bad guy. Of course, this all turned out to be a double-bluff with the Doctor playing the Monks at their own disinformation game, and making some acid observations about democracy on the way. While not terribly convincing ( would Bill really shoot the Doctor? ) it still gave our Tardis companions some meaty drama to chew on and held up a distorted mirror to our own post-truth times. ( The biggest disappointment of the episode was the surprisingly passive portrayal of the Monks themselves  -  they didn't put up much of a fight and didn't utter a single line of dialogue... ) The final showdown, with Bill's love for her long-lost mum beating the cynical manipulations of the Monks, could have been corny but was in fact quite moving as it reminded us that love is really all you need...
Three And A Half Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Levitating pyramids )
Empress Of Mars
Mark Gatiss! Ice Warriors! Mars! I was hoping for a lot from this episode and thankfully it delivered. Gatiss has had his ups and downs on Who in recent years, from the dull and juvenile Night Terrors to the campy Gothic of The Crimson Horror, but the Ice Warriors obviously bring out the best in him, as seen in the tense and claustrophobic Cold War.
After a fun pre-credits sequence involving Bill and Nardole bumbling around NASA HQ, the story got its ass to Mars where a jingoistic platoon of displaced Victorian redcoats were digging for treasure under the Martian surface. Supposedly helping out "last of his kind" Ice Warrior "Friday", the soldiers were in fact being used to uncover an Ice Warrior hive full of the resting reptiles... and also a new Martian  -  Iraxxa the Empress of Mars.
This was a proper, old school Who episode which wouldn't have looked out of place in, say, Season Nine ( home of the Ice Warriors-starring Curse Of Peladon )  -  except for the budget of course. The Doctor's attempts to broker peace between the Earthmen and the Martians had a definite Pertwee vibe about it, although in this case the Empress was more interested in Bill's opinion than those of young soldiers or old Time Lords. Add to this a very post-modern running gag about science fiction movies and some deftly-sketched character work, and this hybrid of The War Of The Worlds and The First Men In The Moon ( or Mars ) was a hugely enjoyable slice of Saturday night entertainment.
Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Mars bars )
The Eaters Of Light
The Tardis trio go on an educational trip to find out what actually happened to the fabled Ninth Legion of the Roman army  -  were they wiped out by Pictish warriors or maybe slaughtered by some tentacled, chlorophyll-loving alien creature? It's an age-old question...
I'd been looking forward to this one as it was written by playwright Rona Monroe who had scripted Survival waaay back in 1989, the last episode of "classic" Doctor Who. Survival hadn't been the greatest Who story and has certainly gained stature because of its end-of-an-era position in the canon, but it had some great moments and in many ways anticipated the form of Nu Who. Unfortunately, this story didn't reward the wait as far as I'm concerned. Again there were some lovely moments ( Bill's scenes with the young Legionnaires, the Doctor's "Grow the hell up!" speech ) but the episode just didn't hang together for me.The justification for the Doctor and co. to be in ancient Caledonia in the first place was very weak and ( just for a change! ) the nature of the alien threat was poorly realised. I'm still unsure of what the locust-like creature was actually doing to the humans it killed. It supposedly ate light but how was that killing the humans? And I did expect to see the creature's light-eating abilities having more impact on the environment but this again was very poorly explained.
I've only seen this episode once ( I usually watch an episode twice before blogging about it ) so I may be being unfair here and there were indeed some nice images and ideas in this story, especially the theme of the Romans and Picts uniting to stand forever at the gate to the other dimension, but ultimately I will have to give this one
Three Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or Roman coins )

And next Saturday... Old Cybermen, New Cybermen, Two Masters, a Black Hole, a 400-mile long spsceship...
Really looking forward to this two-part finale!

Thursday 1 June 2017

It was 50 years ago today...

Sergeant Pepper taught the band to play...
Yep, it's been a whole half century since the Beatles' classic album came out and arguably changed the face of pop music, if not that of popular culture itself. It's hard to imagine if you weren't there at the time what an impact this piece of vinyl had on the world. ( I was 6 months old at the time so wasn't too aware of it... ) Their previous album, Revolver, may have been more innovative, their first step into the unknown, but Sergeant Pepper was The One  -  the concept album that sound-tracked the Summer Of Love ( baby! ) and brought the world such amazing songs as Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, When I'm Sixty-Four, A Little Help From My Friends and, of course, A Day In The Life. I think I'm contractually obliged to use the phrase "acid-drenched" at this point...
I think I need to take a trip to Pepperland... I've been there before...
"Thanks very much and I hope I pass the audition..."


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