Sunday 23 June 2024

Restore Nature Now 2024


Sarah and I are so proud to have been part of Restore Nature Now, in London yesterday. 300 organisations and 60 - 80,000 people marched in celebration of our beautiful natural world, and with a mission to take leaders to task over their failures to protect our environment. It was just a small step ( well, about 20,000 steps in our case ), but it was a beginning. And *what* a beginning!

We'd previously taken part in the Walk For Wildlife back in 2018, but this was a much larger gathering. Six years on and things have only got worse ( rivers full of shit, habitat being destroyed, animal populations in decline ), so we had to step up and join in with this huge event...

It was a wonderfully inclusive, family-friendly day where groups of people from all walks of life came together for a common cause - even the likes of The National Trust, the RSPB and WWT joined in with the more radical groups like Just Stop Oil and Extinction Rebellion. The only way we can force effective change is for us all to unite in defence of the environment as one voice.

We assembled at Hyde Park Corner, then marched down Park lane and into the heart of London, passing through Piccadilly Circus, Trafalgar Square and Whitehall to all assemble in Parliament Square. Here we heard speeches from various concerned naturalists, young and old, including host Chris Packham, Megan McCubbin, Dale Vince ( my mate Kev's boss at Ecotricity ), Feargal Sharkey, Dr. Amir Khan and Nemonte Nenquimo, an indigenous activist who has secured environmental safeguards for areas of the Amazon. This last speaker ( and her interpreter ) only highlighted how environmental destruction is indeed a global problem that the whole world needs to address.

We made a lot of noise and turned a lot of heads. Many people laughed, cheered, took photos and honked car horns as we passed. Many more also looked bemused and / or dismissive, but nobody said this would be an easy struggle. So many people have other issues in their lives in these days of a cost-of-living crisis, and the plight of the environment may not be at the forefront of their minds. We're aiming to remind people how crucial nature and the environment are for their lives and for the life of the planet. Extinction Rebellion's Red Rebel Brigade ( above ) dress in Masque Of The Red Death-style robes to symbolise the blood we share in common with other species. After all, we're all in this together and there is no Planet B...

It was a fantastic day and we've pledged to return as often as possible to keep up the fight and to
Restore Nature Now!

Saturday 11 May 2024

I've just seen a Face: Retro Magazines & Film Posters

It's like the 1980s never ended! Here, for your delectation and delight, are a few covers from long-gone fashion / lifestyle magazine The Face. I never bought this mag back in the day, as I thought it was just a style Bible for pseudo-intellectuals. I mean, it was really, but these issues I picked up in a junk shop recently have some great articles and interviews, plus some *very* of-their-time photos, which are fun to see from a 21st century viewpoint. And isn't that Human League cover the most '80s photo ever?

An absolutely gorgeous pic of Siouxsie...

And another gorgeous pic, this time of the legendary Rankin' Roger ( RIP )

And, yes, another gorgeous ( in a mean 'n' moody kind of way ) pic of the Godlike genius that is Kevin Rowland.

Staying with an '80s theme ( and with some '70s and '00s thrown in for good measure ), here are some cool reimaginings of movie posters that we saw in an exhibition in Stroud a couple of months ago. Aren't they lovely?


Tuesday 30 April 2024

Recent(ish) gigs: Echo & The Bunnymen and The Beat

It's been a slow start for gigs for me this year, so I played catch-up last month with two cracking gigs and only one day of rest ( I didn't rest ) between them. First up: a Wednesday night in Bristol with Liverpool's legendary Echo & The Bunnymen.

The Bunnymen had only a few days before played a warm-up gig for this tour at my fave venue, the Gloucester Guildhall, but I'd only found out about it after it had sold out. Bugger! I quickly snapped up a couple of tickets for the newly refurbished and renamed Bristol Beacon ( formerly the Colston Hall ) and Sarah & I soon found ourselves heading down that familiar M5 route to the city of Aardman and Banksy.

My first impression of the Beacon was... wood. Lots of wood. Everything seemed to be wood-panelled, which was... nice, but a bit bland. They're obviously going for a very upmarket, concert hall vibe. Sarah pointed out that this was Bristol ( as said above, the city of cartoon critters and iconic graffiti ) so, she'd expected it to be a bit funkier. Oh, well! It was still cool to be there. We only caught a couple of songs from support act, violinist Erica Nockalls, but weren't too bothered, as what we heard was pretty dreary and tune-free. I'd been looking forward to seeing her, after catching her with Miles Hunt at the Gloucester Guildhall some years ago, and being impressed by her talent and statuesque image, but this performance drifted into the murkier backwaters of art rock and was just a big yawn.
But then it was Bunny Time. Sorry, that sounds too much like a CGI-ed kids' TV show. It was "Bunnymen" Time...

Mac and the boys played two sets, the first comprising deep cuts and new material, the second slanted more towards old favourites. They kicked off with two very Goth-y Crocodiles-era stompers, Going Up and All That Jazz, before they wheeled out the first big, singalong anthem of the night with Rescue, and a cracking new song called Brussels Is Haunted. Not sure how accurate that statement is, but we'll believe them. All My Colours ( Zimbo ) and Never Stop were from the more pop-y end of their spectrum and were fun fun fun.

The first set ended with an immaculate version of Bring On The Dancing Horses - "Shiver and say the word..." - and the word was "loo break", which came in very handy for an audience of a certain age. Some of the punters seemed a bit non-plussed by this intermission ( wot, no choc-ices? ), but previous nights on this tour had apparently followed the same pattern. It was, however, a far cry from the time I saw The Dandy Warhols have a mid-set break in the Bristol O2 Academy and spark up some ciggies...

The second set saw the Bunnymen pleasing the hardcore fans with a pummelling Over The Wall, before an anthemic Seven Seas had us all "kissing the tortoise shell", and why not? And then a gorgeous Nothing Lasts Forever became a monster singalong as the song morphed into Walk On The Wild Side. Mac, who had been hilariously incomprehensible throughout, told us of his repertoire of accents: he can apparently do Scottish and Irish, but if he tries Brummie then nobody can understand him. Most of us agreed we can't understand him at the best of times. But, through the linguistic haze, he came across as somebody who loved the music and was thoroughly enjoying himself, albeit in his own too-cool-for-school, lugubrious way. The main set ended with an unstoppable duo of The Killing Moon and The Cutter, both absolutely euphoric. They encored with a sprightly Lips Like Sugar and then, after another gap in which a few people left for the last bus / train / camel home ( The house lights were still up! A rookie mistake ), a beautiful Ocean Rain to finish a superb evening.

Two nights later and we were in our aforementioned fave venue, Gloucester's gorgeous Guildhall, for a contrasting but equally fantastic gig. This time it was the turn of The Beat, bringing some Caribbean-via-Birmingham sunshine to our grey Shire. Our good friend Caz also came along and it was lovely ( as ever! ) to share the experience with her.

This was our second time of seeing The Beat minus legendary frontman, Rankin' Roger. It was five years to the month since Roger's sad and untimely passing, and it was still a wrench to realise he wasn't on stage. Happily, his son, Rankin' Jr, still carries the flag for his dad ( as one of their songs puts it ) and does a terrific job.

The Beat essentially played the same set we saw them do at the Wychwood Festival last year, but what a set! Kicking off with Stand Down Margaret, they instantly upped the energy levels in the venue by 1000% ( yeah, maths was never my strong point ) and soon had everybody dancing and grinning. Rankin' Jr was on winning form, hurtling around the stage, his passion and joy infectious, his shirt and waistcoat short-lived as he soon discarded those in the Beat-generated heat. For your dancing feet. Alreet?

As ever, a Beat set served to remind us just how many perfect pop songs the band had up their sleeves: Too Nice To Talk To, Hands Off... She's Mine, and their cover of Prince Buster's Rough Rider were all singalong, danceable treats. Carry The Flag, as mentioned above, was Jr's beautifully heartfelt tribute to his late dad, while Twist & Crawl was pure, old skool Ska magic. Complementing Rankin' Jr's livewire stage presence, the band themselves were on fine form, cooking up a heady brew of Ska and Reggae, with flavours of Jazz, and hints of Punk anger in the condemnations of the bad vibe merchants out there.

No Tears Of A Clown this time ( I don't think they played this at Wychwood either ) but the overwhelming positivity, the joyous calls for love and unity, and the red-hot music, more than made up for this. The final duo of an extended Ranking Full Stop, in all its stop/start glory, and ( of course! ) a final Mirror In The Bathroom ( pop perfection! ) finished the set in a sweat-drenched, smiling from ear to ear, kind of way. As expected, the encore was perennial set closer, Jackpot, a perfect end to the evening: "I'm sorry to say I'm on my way / Won't be back for many a day / So goodbye everybody"

 Well, that wasn't quite the end of the evening: most of the crowd moved on from the Guildhall and piled into the Cafe Rene, just down the road, for the "unofficial aftershow party", where we all danced to more Ska 'n' reggae classics into the small hours. A wonderful night!

Sunday 18 February 2024

Steranko Sunday: X-Men 51

Long-time readers of this 'ere blog ( pauses for hysterical laughter at the thought of such mythical creatures ) may remember I used to produce a semi-regular feature here called Steranko Saturdays, devoted to the works of that comic book maverick, Jim Steranko. In the spirit of that long-lost series, I thought I'd do a quick post about a recent acquisition: X-Men 51 ( December 1969 ), the second issue of the Jaunty One's brief, two-part stint on the mag. So, it's Steranko. On a Sunday.
To be honest, this comic was never going to win any awards. The lead strip, a 15-page story featuring the X-Men facing off against their mortal enemy, Magneto, and his army of henchmen, is a bit of a mess. Arnold Drake's script features a lot of "down with the kids", late-1960s groovy dialogue, which is often painfully over the top, but also has much heavy lifting to do as Steranko's story-telling powers seem to have deserted him, frequently leaving the dialogue and captions to fill in the blanks. This is the continuation of the previous issue's introduction of Lorna Dane's alter-ego, Polaris, who starred on the iconic cover of issue no. 50 but gets lost in the mix this time. There's a lot of mutant-on-mutant action ( spicy! ) and a minimum of coherence. Steranko's artwork itself has its moments ( he draws a foxy Marvel Girl! ) but the scratchy inking by John Tartaglione lessens its impact.
The back-up strip is another in the series of untold origins of our merry mutants, this time a Beast story by Drake, Tartaglione and long-term X-Men penciller Werner Roth. Average super hero fare which looks staid when up against the Steranko work, even if it's one of Steranko's weaker efforts for Marvel.
I've not been too complimentary about this comic, but it's still good fun and the cover is wonderful: this is what most attracted me, as I've always loved it, and I used to have a black and white copy of it stuck on my bedroom wall when I was a kid. Typically for a Marvel comic, the cover depicts a scene that doesn't actually happen in the issue, but it's a terrifically moody and atmospheric slice of Steranko goodness.

I bought this issue ( graded at VG, cost £20 ) from the amazing Out Of This World in the fair city of Worcester. I'd meant to visit this shop for quite some time and finally got round to it last weekend. The shop is a real Aladdin's cave of Silver and Bronze Age treasures and I could have easily spent hundreds of pounds in there... luckily, I reigned it in and just picked up this one comic, but I'll have to get back there for another look when funds allow. The owner, Gary, is a friendly guy, very knowledgeable about comics, and we had a lovely long chat, until Sarah arrived and reminded me I should have met her in Costa 10 minutes ago. Oops! Comic fans, eh?

Thursday 8 February 2024

Christopher Priest

I was sad to hear recently that the great science fiction author, Christopher Priest, has passed away at the age of 80. Priest was one of my favourite writers and his haunting, deceptively complex novels had a profound impact on me.

His novels were disturbing, chilly views into unreliable realities: always technically brilliant, always thought-provoking. Priest made his name as a science fiction author with such novels as Fugue For A Darkening Island and Inverted World, but his fiction quickly moved on to become uncategorisable, nearer to the "mainstream" ( whatever that is ) but, paradoxically, further away from standard literary fiction with its seemingly-endless supply of navel-gazing. Priest's characters always seemed trapped in hostile landscapes, puzzles and mental mazes, always searching for meaning which proved to be slippery and contradictory.

While this all sounds a bit dry, Priest's coolly deliberate prose allowed his characters' emotional states to slowly work out on the page, especially more so in recent novels like The Separation and The Adjacent. Recurring themes of magic, illusions, split / double personalities and, above all, the unreliability of perception gave his stories an eerie, fable-like quality. At the same time, he was unafraid to tackle such current issues as terrorism, climate change and xenophobia, grounding the fantastic in our own uncertain world. The term "slipstream" could almost have been coined specifically for his illusive, allusive work.

I don't think Christopher Priest has ever received the praise and attention he really deserved, probably because of the very nature of his work, but there are certainly a lot of fans who have enjoyed puzzling over his intriguing fiction. His passing is a great loss to the literary world, but I'll leave the last words to his partner, Nina Allan:

Chris’s physical presence may have left us, but as readers we are lucky: a writer’s soul is immortal, instantly present and accessible through the stories, essays, criticism and novels they have left for us to find. As I said to Chris many times these past weeks and months, in this most important and essential of ways, he will always be with us. The work goes on.

Friday 26 January 2024

First gig of 2024: Dub Catalyst in Bristol

Three weeks ago ( this blog is nothing, if not current! ), Sarah and I went to our first gig of the year, and it was a belter! Our good friend Caz plays trombone for Gloucester's premier Reggae / Dub / Hip Hop outfit Dub Catalyst and we surprised her by turning up at this hot, sweaty gig in good ol' Bristol.     ( Hopefully it was a nice surprise! ) The venue was Mr. Wolf's, a very hip 'n' groovy pub / nightclub in the St Nicholas area of the city. Support came from Yuzu Coulis, a Jazz / Soul three-piece who seemed very talented but whose music was just a little too laid back for my liking. I'd probably see them again but Sarah wasn't bothered. As they weren't the most exciting band to watch, we spent a bit of time catching up with Cazbo before she had to take to the ( extremely tiny ) stage...

Dub Catalyst somehow squeeeezed all ten band members ( including the probably superfluous tambourine player ) into the narrow space allotted them and proceeded to blow the roof off the gaff.

Their music is a red-hot gumbo of reggae/dub/hip hop/jazz groovyness, with positive vibes just beaming out of them. All incredibly talented musicians who clearly love what they do, Dub Catalyst instantly won over Mr. Wolf's clientele with their good-time dance music and mellow energy. Highlights were Coffee ( a hymn to staying caffeinated ) and the epic Return Of The Samurai, with some wonderful "rhyme saying" from rappin' / toastin' frontman JPDL. ( No, I don't know his real name, although Caz just calls him Dave. ) Pretty soon everyone was dancing, with Sarah and I bagging a spot at the front, until it got too hot for her and she had to duck out.

It was a fantastic gig to start the year and we're hoping to see the band again as soon as we can. In fact, only tonight the first bands were announced for this year's Wychwood Festival ( where we had such a great weekend last year ) and Dub Catalyst will be playing at that cool event in the Summer. Get your tickets now!


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