Tuesday 23 October 2018

Two nights in Bristol: Ash and Dylan Moran

A busy weekend, live events-wise, saw me taking two trips down to Brizzle ( that's how it's pronounced, honest! ) to catch two of the greatest exports from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland respectively: pop-rock-punk power trio Ash and wild-haired surrealist philosopher Dylan Moran.

The Ash gig on the Friday night was at SWX, a venue that was new to me, just around the corner from the former Bristol Bierkeller. None of my usual gig buddies were available for this one but, after a chance remark to my daughter Sophie that I was coming to her adopted home city of Bristol, she said she'd join in the fun. And here's a very grainy photo of the two of us at SWX...

The support came from Norwegian band Death By Unga Bunga ( and I thought I used to be in a band with the world's worst name! ) who played a knowingly over the top and quite camp brand of '70s / '80s metal. We only caught two or three songs but their performance was lots of fun  -  playing guitars behind their heads, breaking into a brief tribute to Thin Lizzy, the very macho looking drummer and bass player sharing an ostentatious mid-song snog...

And then it was time for those Ash boys. I've probably seen them live half a dozen time and they never disappoint. They started with the upbeat, poppy True Story from their recent album, Islands, and then motored straight into crowd-fave Kung Fu, unusually moved from its usual kick-ass place at the end of the set. And the crowd went wild. Well, sort of. The audience seemed quite reserved for Bristol ( which suited me in a way because we could get near the front and I didn't have to worry too much about Sophie being caught up in a mosh pit ) but they eventually warmed up. The fact Ash played such fizzing power-pop bangers as Oh Yeah, Shining Light and Cocoon certainly helped...

Of course, there's a romantic, sentimental side to Ash and the likes of Walking Barefoot, Incoming Waves and Annabel ( another great song from the new album! ) highlighted this dreamier quality, with all Tim Wheeler's classic, elemental pop song tropes of young love, moons and stars, tide and time coming to the fore. There was a fantastic segue from A Life Less Ordinary into Goldfinger, and then things got rockier as they blasted their way through the likes of Orpheus, Jesus Says and newly-minted sweary classic Buzzkill  -  waking up the sleepy Bristollians at last...

It was a cracking gig with the band clearly having a blast  -  the grins on their faces when they took their customary final bow saying it all. Although out of her usual live event comfort zone of musical theatre, Sophie enjoyed herself and it was lovely to share the evening with her. ( Although she seemed somewhat non-plussed when Ash broke into the Star Wars Cantina Theme ahead of Angel Interceptor. ) We went for a quick drink in Bristol afterwards and then I had to zoom back up the M5 to Gloucester to get some rest before heading back down to Bristol the next night...

...for the wonderful Dylan Moran! It had been many years since Sarah and I last saw Dylan  -  at Gloucester's Guildhall in those dark, pre-Blogger days  -  so we were well overdue to catch his act again. We're a whole family of Moran Fans, so James also came with us but, unfortunately, Sophie had a hen night to go to, so couldn't make it and was gutted. The gig was even at the Bristol Hippodrome where Sophie works so it was even more frustrating. Anyway, we turned up at the theatre, along with hundreds of other Moran Maniacs ( I think that's what we're probably called ) and proceeded to our box.

Yep, Sophie had reserved us three seats in a box, something we've never had at a theatre before. Although quite small it was fine for the three of us and gave us a pretty good view of the stage, as can be seen in the photo below. It was also good not to have to clamber over twenty other people whenever you needed to get to the bar / toilet. Plus it made us feel like royalty...

Dylan came on to the stage to some wild applause ( the place was pretty much sold out ) and said he'd have to mention Brexit, just to get it out of the way, you know. At the mention of that ridiculous omni-shambles most of us groaned but he proceeded to rip it apart and actually make us laugh about it. An early highlight of his set was his observation that Theresa May is the only person he's ever seen whose face appears to be backing slowly away from their body...

And then, politics done, Dylan went on to ramble in his own absurdly surreal way about his usual topics  -  growing up and growing old in Ireland, the lunacies of organised religion, and just being generally useless at everything. And apparently he's now given up the drink ( after being told to by a "12-year old" doctor ) which would explain the prominent tea-pot on stage instead of the former glasses of whisky. The main theme of the show ( named "Dr Cosmos" for some inexplicable reason ) was that of getting older and not understanding the world any more  -  but, to be fair, this is what he was talking about the last time we saw him, well over a decade ago. Dylan Moran ( or his stage persona at any rate ) is the kind of man who seems to have been born old and puzzled... which could be very sad but is actually hilarious. He mentioned at one point how we watch all those skincare and shower product adverts on TV, showing us those idealised, perfect bodies bathing in golden light  -  "When you know what you really look like is a pig in a typhoon. In a phone box. Having a panic attack." Similarly, on the subject of being told by a personal trainer that he needs to protect his core:
"Core? I don't even have a core! Everything's on the outside. It's your job to scaffold all this shit back in...!

And so it goes. Dylan's absurdist views on life, death and the cosmos had us all in stitches and maybe, just maybe, gave us a few things to think about too...

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Doctor Who: The Ghost Monument ( review with spoilers )

The second episode of Series 11 finds the Doctor and her friends facing almost certain death in the depths of space before being temporarily rescued... but then crashing onto a planet where the entire environment is toxic to all life. And there's no way home. It's one of those days.

Following a very traditional Who template this new series goes from "Modern-day Earth under threat" to "Outer space adventure" to next week's "Celebrity historical"  -  so this second episode is following in the footsteps of The End Of The World or The Beast Below as a way of introducing the latest set of companions to the joys and terror of space travel in the Whoniverse.

As this review is ( typically ) on the late side and the "spoilers" mentioned in the blog title above are all out there, as well as tons of reviews that are better than anything I could scribble down, I thought I'd just go with some quick thoughts on the episode...

Things I loved about The Ghost Monument:

The new title sequence at last! Wonderfully new but retro with a Pertwee-era vibe
"This is my Tardis" ( proper shivers down the spine )
That bass-heavy theme tune 
Stunning South African location footage 
Ryan and ladders :-) 
The return of Venusian Aikido ( but no "Hai!" )
Jodie of course 
Custard creams in space
( I never thought I'd say this but ) I really like Bradley Walsh

Things that were less than lovely in The Ghost Monument:

Why have Art Malik as a guest star then completely waste the opportunity?
Far too much exposition
Fairly useless robot enemies
We really need to see more of Yaz...

All in all, this was a solid adventure which looked stunning, with some lovely moments ( "Come to daddy!" ) but didn't quite have the adrenaline-rush of The Woman Who Fell To Earth ( and again this is in keeping with the previous "Space adventure" episodes I mentioned above ), so I'm giving this one:

Three And A Half Sonic-Screwdrivers ( or tiny crystal Tardises )

Soundtrack: Kablammo! by Ash ( going to see them in Bristol on Friday! Yay! )

Saturday 13 October 2018

Gloucester Comic-Con 2018

Last weekend Sarah, James and I went to Gloucester Comic-Con because we had nothing else to do really, and anyway it's just on the doorstep, so why not? Oh, okay... we went because *Paul McGann* and *Colin Baker* were there :-) Yep, the Eighth and Sixth ( respectively ) Doctors themselves. In Gloucester of all places.
In fact, it was a very Doctor Who- styled day as the new series began that very evening. But first there were two former Doctors to meet. And these guys...

I'd had to twist Sarah's arm to come along to this con because Paul McGann is such a hero ( and heart-throb! ) of hers that she was worried she'd be tongue-tied if she met him and make a fool of herself. Of course, that kind of thing never stops me ( I'm always making a fool of myself! ) so I somehow persuaded her to turn up. Only minutes after we entered the venue I saw Paul signing at his table and dragged Sarah over there, saying the queue was really short, there's no time like the present etc. etc.  -  and then, there we were, chatting to THE Paul McGann! And, guess what?, he was really lovely...

Paul spotted Sarah's flowery blouse and went straight into anecdote mode, telling us about a trip to Kew Gardens with his wife, where every woman he saw there had some kind of flower motif on their clothes, almost as if it were some unconscious urge to dress that way for the gardens. I asked Paul if he rocked the flowery shirt look himself but he said no, he had to draw the line somewhere.
Sarah took the chance to thank Paul for his Doctor Who work and especially his part in keeping the show's flame burning through the "wilderness years", from the TV Movie to his Big Finish audio adventures. We told him how we had been so excited by the Eighth Doctor's debut, even though it had turned out to be a brief false dawn, and we chatted briefly about his time filming in Vancouver for the show. Paul kindly signed an old issue of Doctor Who Magazine and also my copy of the Withnail & I screenplay  -  this is one of our favourite movies, so it's not ALL about Doctor Who  -  which was nice. Sarah asked if she could have a photo with Paul and he said he'd do anything... within reason. I think she almost fainted at that point...

So, yeah, it was great to meet Paul and Sarah found she could speak to one of her heroes without clamming up or embarrassing herself. Easy. In the photo above you can just see the top of another Doctor's head...

And that Doctor was none other than the mighty Colin Baker! James picked out one of Colin's publicity photos and asked the great man to sign it. ( He said to me later he wished he'd brought his DVD copy of Attack Of The Cybermen and had that signed... ) Colin didn't have a lot to say but was very gracious and when James told him that he was his favourite Big Finish voice actor, Colin said "That's great  -  tell everybody you know" or words to that effect. Bless him!
Oh, yeah  -  see that guy behind Colin? That's only Brian Cox, one of the greatest living British actors, just shooting the breeze with Paul McGann. What a cool moment!

And here's James and friend with the signed photo  -  I think someone may have been inspired by the Sixth Doctor in his larger-than-life performance here :-)

We had a fun time at the rest of the con ( even though actual comics were in short supply ) but the highlight for me was meeting, and shaking hands, with two Doctors. It doesn't get much better than that!

Soundtrack: old and new tracks ( from their new album Wide Awake! ) by the fantastic Parquet Courts

Monday 8 October 2018

Doctor Who: The Woman Who Fell To Earth ( review with spoilers )

"We don't get aliens in Sheffield..."

Until now, that is. Yes, it's finally time for the Thirteenth Doctor to crash to Earth and start her new adventures.
But first of all we meet Ryan Sinclair, a young man struggling with a boring job and dyspraxia, and Yasmin Khan, a trainee policewoman who's looking for more interesting work than domestic disputes. And when a strange, freezing-cold alien pod lands in Sheffield they both find their lives suddenly get more interesting... and far more dangerous.

The disorientated, post-regeneration Doctor literally drops out of the sky into the story and enlists Yaz and Ryan ( along with Ryan's nan and step-granddad ) to help her solve the mystery of strange murders across Sheffield. Something is killing people and then bizarrely taking teeth as trophies...

"We're all capable of the most incredible change. We can evolve while still staying true to who we are. We can honour who we've been and choose who we want to be next. Now's your chance  -  how about it?"

This quote from the Doctor is pretty much a mission statement for her character and the show itself. There's been a massive change this series  -  new companions, new theme tune, new look, new locations and, most importantly, a new and ( shock! horror! ) female Doctor. ( "Sorry, half an hour ago I was a white-haired Scotsman." ) And, from my point of view, all this change is immensely positive. Constituting an almost-total reboot, this new series has been eagerly awaited by many ( and reviled by some, even before they'd seen it ) as a fresh start for the show. Don't get me wrong, I was a huge fan of Peter Capaldi's era, and wished he could have done another series, but Doctor Who as a show thrives on change, and this radical change is an ideal jumping-on point for many who hadn't given it a chance before. It's pretty awesome for us old Whovians too...

For a start, it all looks stunning  -  the new camera lenses and altered aspect ratio really do lend a filmic quality to this first episode which should help the show punch above its weight in the overcrowded TV marketplace. The cast are all great, with Tosin Cole and Bradley Walsh standing out in some very emotional scenes. I'm hoping we'll see a lot more of Mandip Gill in future episodes because she gets a little lost in the mix here, but there is a lot to do in terms of establishing the characters, so it's early days yet. The story is very pacy with an excellent balance between plot and dialogue, horror and humour. The alien threat is fairly sketchy but visually appealing... and the explanation for the missing teeth is suitably grisly. I'm sure many little ones would have scuttled behind the proverbial sofa at certain points. And then there is the Doctor herself...

Fizzing with energy, a force of nature with a Yorkshire accent, Jodie Whittaker instantly convinces as the battered, bewildered but quickly recovering and learning Thirteenth Doctor. She has some lovely moments of gentle humour, an instant rapport with her new friends and is suitably steely but compassionate when facing down the alien predator with the dental fascination. There's obviously some way to go in establishing her character but this new Doctor has fallen to Earth and landed on her feet. I really loved this episode and I'm excited for the rest of the series to come  -  and we still haven't seen the new Tardis yet! Next Sunday can't come soon enough!

In the time-honoured Glass Walking-Stick tradition, I'm giving this one
Four Out Of Five Sonic Screwdrivers ( or wet weekends in Sheffield )

*Oh yeah  -  as well as watching a Doctor on TV tonight, earlier in the day we actually met two other Doctors. ( We did achieve peak Who-ness today, I think. ) But which two, I hear you ask, you voices in my head? All will be revealed...*


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