Saturday 30 December 2023

The Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials

Doesn't time fly? Well, it certainly does when you're a chronologically challenged, quantum-entangled mysterious traveller with an uncertain future and ever-changing past. But, enough about me. It's, er, time to talk about the Doctor Who 60th Anniversary Specials and the long-awaited appearance of the 14th AND 15th Doctors... ( Spoilers lurk ahead, obviously )

The Star Beast

I'd been dubious about the return of Russell T Davies, David Tennant and co. ever since hearing the news. I always think going backwards, in art or in life, is a bad move and this return of the Who old guard seemed a regressive nostalgia-grab to me. As it turned out, I enjoyed the 14th Doctor stories more than I'd expected, and I was never the biggest fan of Ten / Tennant. 
Based on a well-loved Doctor Who Weekly comic strip by graphic storytelling titans Pat Mills and Dave Gibbons, this first Special was a breezy, full-tilt romp, deftly reintroducing Donna Noble and her now-extended family, as well as The Meep ( cutesy action-figure-in-waiting turned intergalactic villain voiced by Miriam Margoyles ) and the pleasingly panelogical Wrarth Warriors. It was good to see appearances by the wonderful Ruth Madeley and British TV legend the late Bernard Cribbins in his final role. Lots of colour, action and spectacle, with hints at the ongoing storyline to come. All of RTD's expected strengths and weaknesses were on display, but it certainly gave the show the kick up the arse it probably needed.

Wild Blue Yonder      

After doing a splashy "Earth in danger" story, the second Special flipped to science fiction weirdness. Trapped on a giant spaceship at the very edge of the universe, Donna and the Doctor found themselves alone, without the Tardis, and up against a uniquely terrifying enemy. More or less a two-hander, this episode gave the stars a chance to bounce off each other and act their socks off, as the characters faced distorted versions of themselves. A cool concept, some very unsettling tea-time body horror, and plenty of chewy dialogue for Tennant & Tate to get their teeth into. "My arms are too long!"

The Giggle

The finale ( or was it? ) of the 14th Doctor era, this third Special finally saw the arrival of The Toymaker, the ancient foe of the First Doctor, now regenerated into Doogie Howser. This was a suitably crazy episode, taking in creepy puppets, John Logie Baird, dance routines to the Spice Girls and, oh yeah, the end of the world again. Neil Patrick Harris was great fun as the immortal, games-obsessed villain, while there was some satisfying closure to the "lonely alien" aspect of the 10th / 14th Doctors' personalities. Easter Eggs abounded throughout the episode and, for all those fans constantly harping on about a multi-Doctor story for the 60th, this came about in a roundabout fashion as the Doc "bi-generated", with the 15th Doctor splitting away from his predecessor. This was a canny move as it opened up the chance of Tennant's Doctor returning yet again someday ( and, surprisingly, I wouldn't be too upset if he did ) and also gave some proper screen time to Ncuti Gatwa, making a big impression ( in his boxers! ) as the next Doctor.

The Church On Ruby Road

And so this is Christmas / And what have you done? / Another Doc over / A new one just begun
( Sorry. ) 
Christmas Day saw the ol' blue box show returned to its rightful place in the festive TV schedules with the proper, full-length debut of the 15th Doctor. ( Yeah, the whole Timeless Child storyline ensures this numbering is irrelevant but we still seem to be calling him the fifteenth, so I'll go with it. ) And, what a debut! Fizzing with energy, colour and vigour, this "soft reboot" of the show saw the newly-regenerated Doctor meeting up with new companion Ruby Sunday and her family, some hungry goblins and... Davina McCall? 
From the first glimpse of Gatwa's Doctor, spinning deliriously around on a dancefloor, he was a whirlwind of charisma and style, with a grinning, positive energy that pumped an injection of sheer exuberance into this 60-year old show. Equally adept at the quieter, more reflective moments ( although there weren't many of those! ), he more than lived up to the promise of The Giggle. Millie Gibson's Ruby was a sparky, warm character, with an underlying melancholy due to her "foundling" status. Ruby's mysterious past will obviously play into future stories and RTD instantly connected her rootlessness with the Doctor's own recent discovery of her / his own uncertain origins. The Church On Ruby Road was hugely entertaining and firmly placed Doctor Who back in the mainstream with its unabashed Labyrinth - meets - It's A Wonderful Life vibe, and with all that Disney money up on the screen in the form of a huge goblin ship floating over London, and a full-on musical number for Ruby, the Doctor and those pesky goblins. ( A lot of fans hated that, but I thought it was a blast. )
After my misgivings about the RTD2 era, these Specials turned out to be a lot of fun and I'm really excited for the next season. May can't come soon enough...

Monday 25 December 2023

Merry Christmas from The Glass Walking-Stick

Wishing peace, love and light to all you gorgeous people out in the Blogoverse. Have a cool Yule!

Sunday 24 December 2023

End of year gigs: The Unthanks in Winter and a bunch of old punks

A couple of Wednesdays ago, Sarah and I met up with our good friend Tom in the People's Republic of Stroud (TM) for a very seasonal concert from Northumberland's finest, The Unthanks. The venue was The Sub Rooms ( formerly and formally The Subscription Rooms ), where I'd previously seen the likes of Tenpole Tudor, Buzzcocks and the Poison Girls. This time, however, the recently-restored ballroom wasn't hosting crusty Punk rockers ( more of them later! ) but some good old folkin' folk music. It was a very civilised affair: an all-seated venue with signs forbidding us from taking photos or filming the concert. At least this means you're spared more of my blurry gig photos...

Support came from Katherine Priddy, a young folk singer / guitarist with a gorgeous voice ( and face! ) and some gently confessional songs. Apparently, her recorded work features more instrumentation but, for this tour, it was just her and a guitar. She said the song Does She Hold You Like I Did? should feature some mariachi-type horns, but we'd just have to imagine them. Songs like that one and First House on the Left were quietly lovely and showcased Katherine's virtuoso guitar-playing, which really was something special to witness. Her set was a short, sweet treat and expertly set the scene for the main event.

The show was billed as "The Unthanks In Winter" and that was exactly what they delivered as all the songs were themed around Winter and Christmas, with familiar tunes and carols expertly weaved into the folk music, old and contemporary. The band's instruments included saxophone, fiddle and vibraphone, and many of the 8-piece ensemble swapped instruments throughout the evening. The music ebbed and flowed, from joyous to melancholy, taking in echoes of jazz and classical, always impeccably played and with a lovely, counterintuitively warm sound. Of course, the main feature of the show was the gorgeous sound of Rachel and Becky Unthank's voices. Their Tyneside burr brings a naturalistic, conversational tone to their songs of love, work, family and history, and it was also a pleasure to hear them talk candidly about themselves, their music and their father, who is a huge influence on their career. 
At times they encouraged the audience to sing along, which many did with gusto, especially the woman sitting next to me who is apparently part of a choir. ( I kept quiet. ) Those more connected to the folk world would probably know which songs were new and which traditional, but I'm ignorant of such things, and thought they all sounded wonderful anyway. The sisters told us how cool they thought Stroud was, which obviously delighted the ageing-hipster "Stroudie" audience, as they're always up for some back-slapping. It was a lovely evening, with some fantastic, emotionally-charged music, only slightly marred by the bloody uncomfortable "school chairs" we had to sit on...
After the show, the sisters stood and talked to the punters as we filed out of the venue. Sarah spoke to Rachel, telling her they were "beautiful girls with beautiful voices"  -  can't argue with that. Sarah, Tom and I sloped off to The Lord John, Stroud's cheap 'n' cheerful Wetherspoons, for a post-gig catch-up and then we all headed for home. It was, after all, a school night...

As a total change of pace, we went to our beloved Gloucester Guildhall on Friday night to see legendary Gloucester punks Demob play their 45th anniversary celebration show. Lead "singer" Andy K came back from California for this one, and a load of old punks turned up in support. We picked up our friend Caz and roared into town for some rock 'n' roll action...

We missed the first band, The Youth Within, ( probably no great loss ) but were of course down the front dead on time for Stroud Disco Punks (TM), Chinese Burn! Ed from the Burn had got me in on the guest list, so it was the least we could do ;-)

Chinese Burn surprised absolutely no-one by being the best band of the night. Their melodic R&B-inflected Pop Punk was as fun as ever, and the short set meant they played ( most of ) their best songs with a minimum of fuss. I hadn't seen them for a few years so it was an absolute pleasure to catch them yet again. Ben emotionally dedicated the set to the late, great Shane MacGowan who passed away recently, which was a lovely touch. They closed with the epic Defending Stalingrad, which I still think has one of the greatest lyrics I've ever heard from a Punk band, famous or otherwise.

Next up were Cheltenham "Horror Punks" The Screaming Dead, a local band who've seemingly been going forever but whom I've strangely never seen. They were average Goth fare, entertaining enough but not too memorable. I did remark to Sarah that the singer looked like Alice Cooper if he'd been dead in a river for a couple of weeks... which was probably a bit harsh.

At last, Demob themselves hit the stage, following a video about the band by my mate Glenn, which was sadly a failure as one of the Guildhall techies had turned the sound off. Oops! Demob kicked off in true Street Punk style with early-80s anthem Anti-Police, its lyrics about police brutality still sadly relevant. They pounded out their meat 'n' potatoes, no frills Punk with a surprisingly ferocious energy for a band who hadn't played together for a couple of years and had had only one practice. Never the most subtle of bands, Demob can still be relied on for some raw, angry music, and certainly got the crowd going nuts down the front. I definitely enjoyed this kind of thing more when I was about 16, but it was fun to relive the days of Teenage Adolescence, to quote another Demob song title. After their best song No Room For You, the set kind of fizzled out but I think Andy and the boys ( including half of Borrowed Time ) did themselves proud and certainly pulled the biggest crowd I can remember them having. After the gig I asked Andy how his California accent was coming along  -  he said he's still a Gloucester boy at heart: "You can take the boy out of the Shire, but you can't take the Shire out of the boy."

It was a good night out with some great music, and some half-decent music, but mostly it was lovely to catch up with a whole load of people I hadn't seen in ages. A great evening to round out what has been an outstanding year for live gigs.

Sunday 10 December 2023

A Swift in Time


A couple of days ago, Time magazine named Taylor Swift as their Person Of The Year, so what better, er, time to post some gorgeous photos of the beautiful and super-talented Ms Swift ( and, of course, her cat Benjamin Button. )

( Photos copyright Time / Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin )

Saturday 9 December 2023

The Wedding Present at the Gloucester Guildhall

( Just over ) a week ago ( trust this blog to always be current ), Sarah and I returned to our favourite venue, Gloucester's Guildhall, to catch indie legends The Wedding Present on their 24 Songs Tour. We hadn't seen TWP since they'd supported The Cure at The Great British Music Weekend at Wembley Arena, waaaaay back in 1991, so it was a long-overdue catch-up. ( In fact, it was so long ago that Sarah couldn't even remember seeing them before. ) This was a last-minute decision, with me managing to buy tickets on the day, which turned out to be a great decision...

First of all, we had to enjoy endure support band West Wickhams. A Gothic synth / guitar duo who came across as mature students playing navel-gazing whinge-pop they'd written thirty years ago but had only just got round to performing, they were embarrassing in the extreme. The singer's Emo Phillips - cosplaying- as- Robert Smith persona turned the venue into one big cringe, while the keyboard player's dominatrix death stare was about as convincing as Skeletor's. ( On a purely superficial note, though, she was wearing a very short dress with fishnet stockings, which gave me something to look at whilst waiting for the set to end. That sexist interlude was brought to you by the 1970s. ) It was surprising that a band as successful as The Weddoes ( yes, people really call them that ) had taken such a hopeless group on tour with them... but maybe it was just charity.

It wasn't long, however, for the main event as David Gedge and the latest iteration of The Wedding Present came out to blast our ears off. ( TWP's ever-changing lineups reminds me of the late Mark E Smith's comment about The Fall - something like "If it's just me and yer granny on the bongos, it's still The Fall." ) ( Oh yeah... more brackets required here... the photos above are nicked from The Weddoes' Twitter page and the blurry ones below are, of course, mine. Curse you, Samsung! )

Gedge first of all said how glad he was to be back in Gloucester after many years ( TBH I didn't realise they'd been here before ) then they powered into opening song, Broken Bow. Like many of their songs this shot past in a blur and then David was telling us that they'd just come back from touring in Spain where they'd been wearing shorts in 25 degree heat but now they were back in chilly England feeling the cold and this next song's title should be in kilometres but it isn't but you might get the reference anyway let's go...
Phew! Yes, it almost felt like an indie Ramones set as TWP then hit us with a couple of early-career bangers in the form of A Million Miles and You Should Always Keep In Touch With Your Friends. Gedge and co-guitarist Rachel thrashed their way through these songs, seemingly unconcerned at the possibility of shredding their fingers as they pummelled their guitar strings, and set the full-on tone for the night's musical pyrotechnics. Introducing amorous anthem Loveslave, Gedge implored us not to watch the video for the song, and I can confirm his horror, because it shouldn't be watched under any circumstances. No... really... don't watch it.

I must admit to not being overly familiar with TWP's output but I was impressed with the quality of songs and how tight the band were - super tight and super fast. The energy and power they displayed would put many punk bands to shame but, of course, most "punks" ( and I know a few of the sort ) wouldn't touch an indie band with a bargepole. If they had a bargepole. Seriously, though, who actually owns bargepoles? People with barges I suppose. I clearly haven't thought this through. Anyway, the point is, they were frakking great! I was also very taken by Mr. Gedge's vocals. I remember the early Wedding Present songs as being very conversational, with the vocals almost spoken rather than sung, but Gedge now sings with an increased a range, which certainly suits some of the slower material. Yes, occasionally they slowed down the frenetic pace and the likes of Palisades ( an "intense song" in the words of Mr. G ) benefited from this approach, as the band and singer could stretch out more and let the music breathe.

Set highlight for me was the epic, emotional Science Fiction, a break-up song ( and TWP have a few of those! ) which uses alien invasions and suchlike as a metaphor for relationships crashing, and sees Gedge in vulnerable form as he casts his mind back to happier days. A wonderful, gorgeous song which has swiftly become a fave for me. This was followed by Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft, another ( you guessed it! ) break-up song. Sarah thought the 1980s-style school lingo of Gedge's introduction to this song was hilarious, as he described being "packed in" by somebody and, as if that wasn't bad enough, being replaced by someone who "looked ridiculous", hence the title.

Another late set instant classic was I'm Not Going To Fall In Love With You, a beautifully poppy song about denying reality as you slide down the slippery slope into romance. Or something. Anyway, it's gorgeous, and prompted me to buy the 24 Songs CD after the gig from Mr. Gedge himself.
 After this song, David asked "Any questions?" and a couple of women in the crowd called out for My Favourite Dress. His response, with a sly smile, was: "We don't do requests. What do you think I am? A jukebox? Anyway, here's My Favourite Dress..."

They finished the set with a ferocious cover of Come Up And See Me ( Make Me Smile ) and a fan-pleasing duo of Kennedy ( "Too much apple pie!" ) and Granadaland. No encores, as they'd warned us, but still a rousing finish to a frenetic, fast and fun performance. Definitely one of my gigs of the year, I came out of it a Wedding Present fan, determined to search out more of their music. Not bad for a wintery night in the Shire!

Update: Sarah's just told me that, even though she enjoyed the gig, she didn't find any of the songs memorable and couldn't understand a word David Gedge was singing. You win some, you lose some...

Sunday 26 November 2023

Inside the 14th Doctor's Tardis

( Warning! Space and time spoilers ahead if you haven't watched the show yet. )


Thursday 23 November 2023

Happy 60th birthday, Doctor Who!

 "One day, I shall come back. Yes, I shall come back. Until then, there must be no regrets, no tears, no anxieties. Just go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I am not mistaken in mine."

"There are some corners of the universe which have bred the most terrible things. Things which act against everything we believe in. They must be fought!"

"Courage isn't just a matter of not being frightened, you know. It's being afraid and doing what you have to do anyway."

"Oh, so you're my replacements. A dandy and a clown"

"Homo sapiens: what an inventive, invincible species. It's only a few million years since they crawled up out of the mud and learned to walk. Puny, defenceless bipeds. They've survived flood, famine and plague. They've survived cosmic wars and holocausts. And now, here they are, out among the stars, waiting to begin a new life. They're indomitable. Indomitable!"

"When did you last have the pleasure of smelling a flower, watching a sunset, eating a well-prepared meal? For some people, small, beautiful events are what life is all about."

"Change, my dear. And it seems not a moment too soon."

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on Ace... we've got work to do."

"I love humans: always seeing patterns in things that aren't there."

"I can feel it. The turn of the Earth. The ground beneath our feet is spinning at 1000 miles per hour, and the entire planet is hurtling around the sun at 67,000 miles an hour, and I can feel it. We're falling through space, you and me, clinging to the skin of this tiny little world, and if we let go... that's who I am."

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but, actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly-wobbly... timey-wimey... stuff."

"Hello, I'm the Doctor. Basically... run!"

"I'm not doing this because I want to beat someone, or because I hate someone, or because I want to blame someone. It's not because it's fun. God knows it's not because it's easy. It's not even because it works, because it hardly ever does. I do what I do because it's right! Because it's decent. And above all, it's kind. It's just that. Just kind."

"None of us know for sure what's out there. That's why we keep looking. Keep your faith. Travel hopefully. The universe will surprise you, constantly."

Splendid fellows, all of them...


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