Category Archives: music

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

2017 EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL – CULTURAL ROUND-UP

You may or may not know this but the comedy you see on television via the sitcoms, panel shows, live performances etc. plus the Netflix or Amazon specials which are streamed online are just the tip of the iceberg in regard to stand-up, sketch and narrative comedy shows. Because, underneath is a huge population of individuals writing, rehearsing, directing, editing and performing their works live across the clubs, theatres, pubs, basements and attics of the world.

These unsung creative heroes and the occasional lunatic are, on the whole, slogging their guts out following a dream to hit the big time in their chosen stage craft. Either that or they simply revel in performing and delivering their stories, jokes or narratives to the public live. It’s a cathartic experience to release their heart and soul to the world in comedic, theatrical or musical form and most of these people should be saluted for their creativity.

One of the best places to find these purveyors of dance, comedy, performance, mime, acting, music and sometimes science is at the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. This year I went, with my wife, on holiday there for a week to check out some shows and sites and lovely restaurants and pubs!  Here’s a uncritical round-up of some of the things we caught up with. Amazing fun it was too!

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LODGINGS

Like many cities Edinburgh has many great places to spend the night including hotels and other bed and breakfast digs. Many of the acts performing at the Fringe have budgets so will use rented accommodation, hostels, vehicles and ditches too to sleep in. My wife likes some comfort when we stay places whereas I have been happy in the past with the gutter; well, a cheap B & B. So she chose Millers 64 on Pilrig Street and what a lovely place it was too. Run by Louise and Shona Clelland, we experienced some of the best hospitality we have ever had so they are highly recommended. Check out their website here.

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FOOD

Scotland and the North in general has been the focus of stereotypical gags at the expense of unhealthy living including: bad diet, alcoholism and drug abuse. I guess characters such as Rab C. Nesbitt and novels/films like Trainspotting only serve to strengthen such ideas. Of course, if you search it out you will find junk food and drink in any place the world over but I actually ate pretty healthily during my week in Scotland.

Of the places we visited I can definitely recommend La Favorita pizza place on Leith Walk. Moreover, the tasting menu at the Gardiners Cottage was beautifully presented and I very much enjoyed the Indian cuisine at Mother India. There are also hundreds of pubs, cafes and burger restaurants all over Edinburgh.

I enjoyed watching Tottenham Hotspur FC defeat Newcastle FC in the Kilted Pig on the Sunday but my favourite pub was probably The Pear Tree House on West Nicolson Street. It had great beer, food, a massive garden and a constant stream of lively entertainment and music.

Having said that the greatest epicurean treat I had was on my birthday at The Kitchin. The food was absolutely exquisite and what made it all the more amazing was my wife treated me to the meal just for getting a year older. I imagine it was very expensive but the whole experience was fantastic as we also visited the kitchen and met the aptly named owner/chef Tom Kitchin.

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MUSIC

As I only had a week and there is SO much going on at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I did not see any theatrical presentations, which, if I’d been there for another week would certainly have been on my cultural agenda. Similarly with musical performances I chose the more comedic acts over others but enjoyed an excellent set by jazz guitarist Graeme Mearns despite this. However, the real humdinger of a show I could not miss was the one by gothic chanteuse Camille O’Sullivan. She is a dark storm of a performer who hails from Ireland and sings haunting and very dramatic versions of tunes written by Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Arcade Fire and Nick Cave. In the elegant tent where I saw her show I was bewitched by the spine-tingling performance borne of fire, shadow, light and ice.

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COMEDY

I love comedy. It is a noble craft which on occasions can be propelled to the heights of art and was to the fore of my cultural menu in Edinburgh. In fact, on Monday 14th August I watched SEVEN shows beginning at 11am with the last one finished at 10.30pm.  It was a brilliant day and encapsulated all that is great about the Fringe Festival.  This is NOT a review of the comedians I saw during the week as all the shows I witnessed were BRILLIANT! I don’t believe in comedy competitions or star ratings as comedy is too subjective for that. But rather, it’s a round-up of and a shout out to a very talented bunch of individuals I saw; and there were thousands I missed too but there was just not enough time alas.

Musical comedy is something I have been really getting into and the alternative genius Robert White presented an exhilarating off-kiltered-joke-a-second-Gershwin-inspired operetta of his life in a show called Instru-mental. Equally energetic was the wonderful Pippa Evans in Joy Division; while the very talented Harriet Braine delivered some excellent cover songs which also educated us about the history of Art!

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I also saw some excellent club and storytelling comedians such as: free-wheeling Russell Hicks; Irish mirth-maker Rory O’Hanlon; Cheetah Adam Greene; intelligent Scot Stephen Carlin; conspiracy theorist Don Biswas; witty and frantic Nathan Cassidy; the brilliant comedy-swap laughs of Sketch Thieves; the crafty humour of Ben Clover; plus the ferocious, clever and frantic comedy of Fringe stalwart Richard Herring.

Of the shows that arguably had longevity in terms of their narratives then Darius Davies’ Road to Wrestlemania was really funny. It’s a fast-paced narrative of how, when a naïve teenager, he tried to become a World Wrestling star.  Successfully employing multi-media, costumes and music to tell the story it made me laugh (and almost cry) throughout. I also really enjoyed Dominic Holland’s very funny and touching Eclipsed. Holland, who has been a very successful author and comedian found his career eclipsed by his son Tom Holland who last year became the new Spiderman!  It’s a brilliant story about success and family togetherness amidst some excellent comedic observations of everyday life.

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Of all the comedians I saw I was transfixed by the mercurial delivery and off-centre ideas of Tommy Tiernan. A comedy veteran and Grandmaster of the comedic dark arts, he flits around the stage nimbly while his rich Irish brogue delivers a stream of jokes, observations, non-sequiturs and the occasional barmy rant. He covers many subjects such as: life, death, religion, sex, family, immigrants, football, age and so on. An hour in his company is not enough as I could have listened to him for hours.

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OVERALL

So, that was my first Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The whole experience was fantastic to me as I was around the things I love such as comedy, music, food and booze for an intensely concentrated week of pure culture. If you’re like me and hanging around watching shows and feeding off the energy of a cultural oasis then I highly recommend it. I would say a week is definitely not enough for what’s on offer in bonnie Scotland during the month of August!

EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2017: PHOTO MONTAGE REVIEW

EDINBURGH FRINGE FESTIVAL 2017 – PICTORIAL GALLERY

I attended the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last week for a holiday and had a brilliant time. I saw loads of comedy shows, ate at some great restaurants, witnessed some great architecture, experienced some fine nature and drank a fair amount of fermented water i.e. booze!

I will doing a little write-up of some of the shows I saw and places I went but for here a just a few of the photos I took while there.  I would definitely recommend visiting Edinburgh in general and during the Fringe Festival as it a culturally rich city. Here are just a few images to support that view.

As I say, it’s a fantastic time to go and a week just was not enough!! There are so many talented people there and some lunatics too but all told a great time was had by all!

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MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #10 – CARTER BURWELL

MY CINEMATIC ROMANCE #10 – CARTER BURWELL

To continue the My Cinematic Romance series of filmmakers, genres, actors who I absolutely love, I give you my praise to composer Carter Burwell.  His soundtracks are usually SO good I can watch a film that I don’t even like if it has Burwell’s music. He has a knack of not only capturing the emotion of the characters and story but also being intelligent; using the genre and style of the film to infuse the soundtrack.

Burwell has provided the score to many films including: Conspiracy Theory (1997), Hamlet (2000), The Spanish Prisoner (1997), Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead (2007), The Blind Side (2009), Rob Roy (1995), The Chamber (1996), Being John Malkovich (1999) Gods and Monsters (1998), This Boy’s Life (1993), Wayne’s World 2 (1993), Airheads (1994), Before Night Falls (2000), A Knight’s Tale (2001), Intolerable Cruelty (2003), The Alamo (2004), Legend (2015), The Kids Are Alright (2010), Mr Holmes (2015), Hail Caesar (2016), No Country For Old Men (2007) etc.

I don’t know much about music, other than playing the guitar to a very average level; however, I know what I like. And I love Carter Burwell. Moreover, having worked consistently in all kinds of genres from big Hollywood productions to auteurs’ and arty films, Burwell is held in the highest regard within the industry. Esteemed filmmakers like: Spike Jonze, Charlie Kaufmann, Todd Haynes, David O. Russell and the Coen Brothers have all employed his fine musical abilities. Thus, here are seven breathtaking compositions which really stand out. Indeed, his work with the Coen Brothers is legendary so I have limited those choices to just two films; just to make the piece more of a challenge.

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CAROL (2015) – TODD HAYNES

Burwell finally won a well-deserved Oscar for this beautifully constructed score.  It captures perfectly the emotion and period and the light and dark of this “forbidden” fifties romance story.

FARGO (1996) – THE COENS

As the music rises to crescendo the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The mood and atmosphere are literally chilling. When I see this I think of snow, cold, blood and murder.

THE GENERAL’S DAUGHTER (1999)

While this army-police procedural drama is not a classic the music is haunting and beautiful adding a fragile counterpoint to the violent nature of the content.

IN BRUGES (2006)

Burwell does death exceedingly well. This score is less orchestral with a pared down piano and cello to the fore, prior to launching into an alt-rock guitar sound. The notes skip and rip about giving us a dark insight and backing to the off-centre characters and setting.

MILLERS CROSSING (1990)

This lyrical Irish-tinged score is another beautiful score. While the Coens’ superb gangster drama had its fair share of blood, the music pushes against the grain somewhat providing light and uplift amidst the plotting, double-crosses and chaos.


THE FINEST HOURS (2016)

This Disney disaster movie set in the 1950s is a very watchable human drama sensitively directed by Craig Gillespie. It flopped at the box office, yet as soon as I heard the score I knew it was Burwell. This is epic music of the highest order for a film which deserved a bigger audience.

TWILIGHT (2008)

I haven’t seen any of these films although I know the Twilight saga is a cultural phenomenon. Yet, I found this piece called Bella’s Lullaby on YouTube and it is just exquisite; it even makes me want to watch the films!

PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. LONDON PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW

PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW                

“I was blind. Now I can see. You made a believer – out of me!” Primal Scream

My very first discovery of Bobby Gillespie was when I, as a teenage idiot working in a dead-end office job, saw a video by the fuzz-bombing, guitar anarchists Jesus and Mary Chain on the telly for their spectacular single Never Understand. I recall thinking who the hell is that twig-skinny-black-mop-haired-bastard-with-sunglasses smashing hell out of a snare drum? He’s cooler than fuck! Plus, THAT band is phenomenal too! As punk rock was just out of my age range here was loud, noisy and tuneful rock and roll I could really get into. In fact, the 1980s gave birth to so many great independent-minded-guitar-based bands that I was in my element! While the “indie” scene eventually got assimilated into the mainstream a main flagbearer of these halcyon times continues with much creative passion and – based on the gig I went to last Friday – Bobby Gillespie is still as relevant and cool as ever. He’s rock and roll’s Dorian Gray who shows no sign of aging OR dying! Gillespie is one of the great frontmen and true a rock and roll immortal!

Primal Scream are one of my favourite bands of all time! I have literally grown up watching them from virtual birth and any release of theirs is welcomed with heart-stopping brain joy. After Gillespie left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front them they released a series of jangle-pop records and Peel Sessions in the 1980s, notably the wonderful It Happens and Velocity Girl. Subsequently they released their debut album Sonic Flower Groove to a lukewarm critical reception and were swiftly dropped by their major record label. I LOVED their first album. It was a heady mix of jangle guitars, power-pop riffs, flowery lyrics and dreamy vocals from Gillespie. Listening to it today I still recall the beauty of those chiming twelve-strings reverberating around my Roehampton bedroom as Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish falsetto sang melodies such as: Sonic Sister Love, Imperial, May the Sun Shine Bright for You and other classics.

Alas the album flopped but Bobby’s comrade and compatriot Alan McGee signed them to his own label Creation and the band set about, not for the first time, changing their sound and look, for their second album. McGee deserves praise for championing passionate-alternative-young-musicians-with-attitude with a desire to see the underdogs challenging the ruling classes. His ardour and eye for talent meant McGee would be rewarded with chart success with Primal Scream and a little known Manchester band called Oasis; who are now the Guinness World record holders for the most successful band of the 1990s.

Second album Primal Scream was a ballsy-Stooges-inspired rock-out full of dirty guitar riffs and basslines to match. Arguably, Gillespie was still looking for a musical identity and worked further through the rock and roll menu with their sophomore release. While it suffered mixed reviews I love it! It has some right royally rocking tracks including one of my favourite songs of theirs: the mercurial I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. This song and Primal Scream’s fusion with the acid and rave culture of the early 1990s would shoot the band into the mainstream. Loaded was a bastardized version of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and with Andrew Weatherall’s ingenious production and quotes from Peter Fonda and sparse vocals from Gillespie, the band had a massive hit record. Furthermore the wonderfully titled Screamadelica would be a global hit and win them the Mercury award for that year.

Further hit singles from Screamdelica would follow, notably the sublime Movin’ on Up, Come Together and Higher the Sun. The album was a triumphant fusion of dance, electronica and rock and critical acclaim followed the commercial success. Personally, I’m not a fan of Loaded as it lacks the heart of the original song it’s taken from, but the track and subsequent album had summer and zeitgeist stamped all over it. Primal Scream were suddenly riding the crest of a wave and much was expected of their next album Give Out but Don’t Give Up!

When the single Rocks soared to number seven in the charts in 1994 the band once again had a hit. However, this slice of bluesy, Stones-influenced rock wasn’t welcomed by all music critics; some even stating the Scream had sold out their dance roots. This though is a fucking ridiculous idea because first and foremost they are a rock and roll band and secondly they’ve never followed trends. In fact, one of the major reasons I love this band so much is they do what the hell they want. I loved their third album and despite its mildly derivative underbelly, songs like Jailbird and the beautifully written I’m Gonna Cry Myself Blind are bona fide classics which still sound fresh today. Overall, Give Out but Don’t Give Up is a funky party album which doesn’t take itself too seriously and will lift even the most sullen of moods. Yet, the party mood was soon to shift as Primal Scream were about to move into much darker territory.

Vanishing Point was Primal Scream finally finding, amidst the postmodern machinations of their rock and roll brain, a signature sound. The record is drenched in amphetamine and smacked-up tunes and with the introduction of Mani from Mancunian legends Stone Roses, the speed-freak awesomeness of the album was one to behold. Gillespie stated it was an alternative soundtrack to the 1970s counter-cultural-narco-road movie of the same name and dub-punk tracks such as: Burning Wheel, Kowalski, Medication plus the trance melody of Star proved him right. It’s a cracking album which sounds both original and dunked in the blood of Lemmy; there’s even a song called Motorhead on the damn thing! Vanishing Point’s brutal, poetic, cinematic, dirty, thudding basslines, drum loops, guitars and lyrics make it one of their most complete and fresh sounding releases.

If Vanishing Point was a classic then their next album XTRMNTR is, in my view, their masterpiece. It takes the speed-ball from its predecessor and jams it into the brain with a burning syringe; and you’re left in no doubt this is a group at the top of their game. I think the band’s drug use and abuse is well documented and of course narcotic addiction will rip a hole in the soul of one’s humanity; however, the mixture of hedonism, anger, guts, passion and despair you get from being on drugs can give us great art such as this. Because instant classics such as Kill All Hippies, Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light and the majestic industrial disco epic Swastika Eyes proved that Primal Scream had written and produced one of the finest albums of all time. It’s angry, political, personal, dark and desperate, but also amidst the vampires and shadows there’s some incredible rock tunes in there and it remains for me their finest sixty minutes and twenty-four seconds.

After XTRMNTR the band toured the world. I caught them at a particularly blurry gig at the Hammersmith Palais, which was one of those nights I’ll never forget; mainly because I can’t remember too much about it. I recall dancing and falling over joyous and drunk on: life, music and chemicals. It was a stunning culmination for me of a band and die-hard fan coming together in perfect ecstasy. But how do you follow not one but TWO classic smashed-up tour-de-force albums?

I think in all honesty Primal Scream’s creative purple-patched hearts dipped in the next few years. Evil Heat from 2002 and Riot City Blues (2006) were punctuated by the royal remixed release of “Best of” album called Dirty Hits. Having said that any Primal Scream album is better than no albums at all and songs including: Autobahn 66 from Evil Heat and Country Girl, Hell’s A Comin’ Down and the touching Sometimes I Feel So Lonely demonstrated the band’s continued ability to write a cracking tune. But overall these two albums were inconsistent and unfocussed compared to the manic genius of their predecessors. Having said that Country Girl was another chart hit and it was great seeing the Scream in the charts, appealing to the globby masses again.

Released in 2008 Beautiful Future was a marked improvement in terms of songwriting consistency. The powerful pop electronica of the first seven tracks suggested a classic-in-the-making; however, the quality dips slightly toward the end. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful poppy soufflé drenched in pathos with grandstanding tracks including: Uptown, Zombie Man, Can’t Go Back and Beautiful Summer. In fact Beautiful Future is indeed a bright temporal glimpse forward as the band’s current album Chaosmosis is an even sharper sonic pop album and brimming with startling positivity in songs like: Tripping on your Love and the exquisite When the Light Comes In.

Sandwiched in between these two albums is the experimental, jazzy offerings of More Light, which found Bobby Gillespie clean and sober for the first time forever. He opined when the album was released:

“We are trying to create transcendent, euphoric, ecstatic experiences. That’s always going to be part of our aesthetic. We like making druggy-sounding psychedelic music. It’s just that since we stopped taking drugs we got better at it.” Bobby Gillespie (2013)

Unlike the delectably titled Chaosmosis – which isn’t chaotic sounding at all – More Light is the blended process of Primal Scream shedding their rock and roll skin once again. The scales that scatter in the wind find the music all over the shop; psychedelic 2013 and bluesy-pop of Its Alright, I’m OK meld with punk bursts of Culturecide and Hit Void, and the moody ballad Walking with the Beast. What the album lacks in discipline it makes up with some cracking songs and a mass collection of musical personnel producing an artistically satisfying smorgasbord spikily overseen by uber-producer David Holmes.

To celebrate the release of the sparky power-pop classic Chaosmosis, the Scream booked themselves into the London Palladium for one night only. I was surprised by their choice of venue as the Palladium is historically a home for Royalty, middle-of-the-road entertainment and the bourgeoisie. Plus, it was April Fool’s Day so I wondered if perhaps it was some grand prank and the gig would be prove a sham. It was anything but as Bobby Gillespie and his crew of old stalwarts such as keyboardist Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes on guitar were ably backed up by young bassist Simone Butler and Hannah Marsden on support vocals. When you have almost thirty years of material to choose from then karmic chameleons such as the Scream are a banker to deliver the rock and roll goods. Every song was beautifully rendered as crisp light and video show melded pristinely with the soaring choir in the shadows; all the while sonic brother Gillespie begging the crowd to come together toward the light.

Movin’ On Up was an incredible opener and the hits just poured out from the stage and my personal favourites were Tripping’ On Your Love, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Kill All Hippies and the rarely heard original Come Together replete with acid-dance remix of course. The whole night was a cascade of nostalgia and cracking showmanship and I felt at one with the world and a group of musicians who are part of my psyche and who I consider, culturally speaking, part of the family. I was blind. I can see. Primal Scream made a believer out of me. We’re MOVING ON UP!!

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Dedicated to the memory of Robert Young (1965 – 2014)

NOSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

NOZSTOCK FESTIVAL REVIEW

I was going to include my Nozstock experience in my latest collective cultural review, however, I had such a great weekend that it earned kudos enough for a sole entry into the Captain’s blog.   So, myself, Melissa (the girlfriend) and Rhys (my son and heir) drove up to the Midlands on the Thursday and camped out under the stars amidst wonderful countryside, a sea of tents and a bonanza of musical, artistic and comedic entertainment. Alas, it pissed down with rain on the Friday but Saturday’s glorious sunshine dried out the mud precipitated by nature’s will the day before.  We left the Festival on Sunday but saw so much in our two full days there it’s worth sharing some images and positive words.

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ABOUT

Nostock is, what I would class, one of the smaller festivals I checked out when booking – maximum 5000 punters – but it was big in ideas and heart.  The comparative smaller size works in its’ favour as it felt local, family oriented and friendly. And definitely NOT part of the big corporate machine where bands perform as part of contracts to shift units. There were local bands for local people as well as bigger name acts such as De La Soul and old-school Motown act Martha and the Vandellas. This was essentially small but a perfectly formed set-up.

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THEME

Nozstock takes place on a working farm in Bromyard, Worcestershire but this year they went for a science-fiction theme with which to decorate the various stages and tents and being a sci-fi fan it was quite amusing to see pictures of futuristic robots against a backdrop of verdant pastures.  I mean, it’s not everyday you see a wicker Dalek. But somehow it worked as the design was done lovingly and with much humour. It all added a certain post-ironic charm to the whole affair as these photos show.

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THE ENTERTAINMENT

This had everything you’d want from a festival including: theatre, rock music, dance, rave, cabaret, cinema, food, arts and crafts and you know what apart from a few names on bill (excluding comedians) I knew hardly ANY the artists or performers – and that was fine!  I was more than happy to be surprised in a good or bad way and find fresh artists and musicians to entertain me.

There was a great mix of international, local and new singer-songwriters and bands and a couple really stood out:  Leeds-based Jenova Collective lit up the Friday gloom with their jolly Electro Swing and Raptor rocked the bandstand with an old-school-retro-rock-and-roll!  Beardyman was on WAY too late on the Saturday night but the four tracks I saw of him were fantastic.  Big plus were hip-hop legends De La Soul who stepped into fill the headliner’s Wu Tang Clan’s shoes after their Euro-Tour was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances. Great to hear the tunes from Three-Feet and Rising played live and loud!

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We tasted some of the cabaret and cinema stuff including a musical mime adaptation of Holst’s The Planets at the very punny Bantam of the Opera tent.  Furthermore, the comedy I watched on the Saturday was top quality with the gags of Mark Simmons, madness of Phil Kay and everyday yet sharp observations of Seann Walsh being highlights.  There was just a cornucopia of other delights like rap and reggae at the Raveyard; pilled-up rave-hippies at the Tree of Frogs and some really harsh beats in the Bullpen which were like a musical Magnum 45 and took my head clean off.

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It was just a great selection of joy and artistry on show. I just felt free from responsibility and even if I didn’t like something there just round the corner was an alternative stage to savour. So many artists and performers to choose from that the organisers deserve great credit for a fantastically curated festival.

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OVERALL 

I had an exciting weekend overall. Despite the rain the energy and fun of the proceedings never dulled and big praise to all concerned.  I must add that the food choices were pretty decent too and we had a lovely cooked English breakfast from the Oatcake stall. Plus there was enough bars serving tasty beer and cider to keep everyone happy!  Incredibly the Portaloos were very clean throughout with none of the horror stories I’ve been experienced at Glasto!

I’ve always loved the Festival experience. You just get a real sense of freedom camping  while at the same time experiencing a cultural oasis of entertainment.  Nozstock is nowhere near as big as say, Glastonbury, BUT who knows one day it may be.  I hope it doesn’t though as it is perfect as it is: a real local, eccentric and energetic bag of fun! Highly recommended!

Here’s their website – do check it out: http://www.nozstock.com/

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TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE: A CULTURAL REVIEW

TO BOLDLY BLOG WHERE NO BLOG HAS GONE BEFORE:  A CULTURAL REVIEW

Culturally speaking the title is a lie; I haven’t actually been that bold with my choices this month.  I’ve re-seen a comedy favourite; ventured to a well-known London market; re-watched episodes of a classic TV show and read about a comedic hero from the past. However, sometimes it’s good to review things both nostalgically and with a more mature set of eyes as it often gives a fresh perspective.   In any case the prime directive of this blog is to mainly seek out new stuff and I have done that as well with the playing of a new Zombie videogame and experiencing music I hadn’t heard before. Read on and prosper!

BILL HICKS:  LOVE ALL THE PEOPLE (BOOK)

Bill Hicks is a genuine comedy legend.  I grew up watching his growling, sarcastic, intelligent and damned hilarious comedy routines on Channel Four and subsequently VHS/DVD.  His comedy had this rare ability to take serious subjects and gain great laughs from both ridicule and merely stating honest common-sense truths. Moreover, he delivered his world-view like a raging preacher who, in despair at the world, is willing and begging us to see humanity as he does.  People may say its edgy but it’s done out of a desire for peace and love and Hicks is just incredulous at the insanity of what the more negative aspects of the human race have done to the world and each other.

The book essentially covers his routines, poems, lyrics and interviews in chronological order. Reading his words in print still carries much of the power and many of the ideas as hearing Hicks spit them out live.  In fact, reading in between and outside of the lines I sensed a real pain in a man who was tired of preaching to the morons who just dismissed his grander concepts of peace and equality in the hope of hearing dick jokes.  Hicks did great dick jokes too though as well as the biting political and sociological satire. A black-belt comedian who was not afraid to hit his targets head-on he would cause much controversy when alive and of course it is one of the great cultural tragedies he died so young. This book is NO substitute yet it is far better to have an echo of Bill Hicks’ reverbing in the world than nothing at all.

CAMDEN MARKET, LONDON

I like Camden Market. For me it’s as London as red buses, pie-and-mash and Buckingham Palace. While it’s very much a tourist trap with overpriced grub and general tat it’s a fun trap which has many varied colours, pubs, scents, music, tattoos, clothes, hair-dos, people, weirdos, food and cultures on show that lure you in and distract you before hitting you hard in the wallet. Of course, one can eschew the spending and just take in the sights and that’s pretty much what I achieved when I re-visited the place with my son and had a good look about.  Because as another archetypal Londoner Micky Flanagan says:  “I like a look about!”  And if you like a look about then why not try Camden Market one weekend.

DYING LIGHT – VIDEOGAME – XBOX ONE

First person World War Z type actioner set in a fictional Middle-Eastern city is absolutely brilliant fun. Bit of a slow-burner this game but I have become utterly immersed in the story and missions of this kill-crazy-parkouring-bombing-booby-trapping-zombie-slice-and-dice-fest!   What impressed me most is the expansive nature of the storylines and the intricate tasks at hand plus imaginative ways with which to wipe out the constant stream of zombies. While the human villains are a bit cartoony the actual plot is better than most Hollywood movies and I would recommend this game for anyone who loves fighting monsters and mercenaries equally.

FELIX FOX: A MODERN FOP (ONLINE SCRIBE)

A quick shout out for mate of mine’s blog  http://modernfop.com/   It’s a fine and dandy online novel set on the mean, boozy, cocaine-fuelled, contemporary streets of London and features the anti-heroic antics of fashion assassin and retail worker Felix Fox. Posts go up on a regular basis and they are extremely funny with some dark sarcasm thrown in for good measure. Our pretentious “hero” attempts to further his career and escape the hoi-polloi-working-class roots he was born into while damning the variety of fashion victims he encounters.  If you like the writings of JG Ballard, Chuck Palahniuk and Irvine Welsh then there will be something here for you. Do check him out before he’s gets that book deal he surely deserves and you have to pay for the reading pleasure.

NICK MULVEY, SOMERSET HOUSE, LONDON

I was thinking the other day that what my life lacked was access to more young, multi-talented-middle-class-solo-male-singer-songwriters-pouring-out-their souls-on-stage-to-a-mediocrity-seeking public-who-desire-to-be-anaesthetised-and-have-their-thoughts-numbed-by-banality-and-unthreatening-wonder.  And then, just then, my lovely girlfriend said she had tickets to the very fine musician Nick Mulvey.  It was a soppy gig at Somerset House with Mulvey’s twee tones drifting out over the London skyline putting me in a trance like musical methadone.  He has a mercurial voice and is a brilliant guitarist and while I prefer my musical tea a lot stronger it was a blissful night set in architecturally gorgeous surroundings.

PAUL FOOT, SECRET COMEDY SHOW, LONDON

Thought I’d give the wonderfully silly Paul Foot another mention as he is consistently funny in every show I see him in. So do check him out if you like your comedy unpredictable yet structured; silly yet intelligent and seemingly off-the-cuff yet imaginatively written. The latest little secret show I saw him at was a kind of run through some older and newer material and on a scorching hot evening Mr Foot once again delivered a delightfully absurd cacophony of comedy musings, epithets and physical skips down laughter lane.

STAR TREK: THE ORIGINAL SERIES (BLU-RAY)

Having rewatched the whole of the new Doctor Who and delved into the Time Lord’s back catalogue of great episodes via the Horror Channel I gained a thirst for classic televisual Sci-Fi, thus, decided to boldly go back to the original series of Star Trek!  Aah, watching the space adventures of Kirk, Spock, Uhuru, Bones, Chekhov, Sulu, Scotty etc. brought back interstellar memories from my youth and as entertainment now the show definitely stands the test of time (and space!)

It is a terrific show. This, in no small part, is down to a solid premise and rules of the world, wonderful writing and committed performances by an awesome cast notably the Enterprise’s yin and yang: James Tiberius Kirk and Mister Spock played perfectly by Shatner and Nimoy. The storylines and characterisation are always intriguing and on reflection the show was pioneering in regard representations of gender, race and sexuality.

Episodes are deftly written with high concept sci-fi ideas, imaginative alien races and a zeitgeisty approach to the themes of the day which still maintain their power now. I’m halfway through the first season (of three) which has too many fine episodes to mention, including: The Enemy Within (Kirk splits into two different personalities); Mudd’s Women (a critique of quick fix drug therapy and plastic surgery); Miri (a strange world which holds host to children who never grow old); The Menagerie (thrilling episode which foreshadows ideas featured later in The Matrix) and The Conscience of the King (a Shakespearean influenced drama dealing with the pursuit of an intergalactic war criminal.)

Given the show has given birth to all manner of prequels and sequels, and continues to be a multi-billion dollar franchise today, demonstrates the genius and long-standing quality of Gene Roddenberry’s Wagon Train To The Stars or as it came to be known: Star Trek. 

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

THE LAIGHTOLOGUES: A CULTURAL REVIEW

The last month or so I have been out and about doing bits and pieces from a cultural perspective and jolly good fun was had by all. Here are some of the highlights.

DEMONOLOGUES – COURTYARD THEATRE

Having tasted the greasepaint of such theatrical productions, Oppenheimer and View From The Bridge earlier this year I took in a lower-budget- off-off-Fringe production written and directed by Wendy Metcalf. It was performed by a talented cast of the Boxroom Theatre Company including such thespians as: Rosie Angeni, Tyrone Atkins, Asif Channa, Enid Gayle, Kim White, Mike Stewart and Rob Widdicombe.

Structured within seven magnificent monologues the piece was delivered with palpable conviction by each performer as they embodied the various characters with impressive commitment.  One hears of horror stories of indulgent plays which go on for what seems like days but this theatre production rattled by with energy, humour and pathos in equal measure. I would have loved each monologue to somehow be linked in a narrative sense; however, thematically it was very powerful as a series of outsiders contend with matters relating to:  death, obsession, performance, existential crisis, age, abuse, homelessness and rather peculiarly boxes.  Overall, the writer conjures up some memorable dialogue and characters as the piece delivers moments of humanity which stay with you long after the stage lights have dimmed.


ROTTEN: NO IRISH, NO BLACKS, NO DOGS (1994) – JOHN LYDON (with KEITH & KENT ZIMMERMAN)

John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten WAS and still IS one of my heroes.  The working class lad from the deepest darkest London would emerge from the crumbling council houses of Finsbury Park and wreak havoc on the “Establishment” and sacred cows of Western Capitalism; firing a rocket into the cultural vacuum of the late 70s music industry.  This book charts — in his own and other individuals’ words — Lydon’s progress from sick young child to enfant terrible as he became the face and guts of the movement that would become known as PUNK!  No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs is structured in linear fashion via a set of interview transcripts as Lydon and the likes of Paul Cook, Steve Jones, Billy Idol, Chrissie Hynde, Richard Branson and many more give their perspectives of the lies and times of the era.

Lydon doesn’t mince his words in attacking those — notably The Sex Pistols manager Malcolm Mclaren — who he feels done him wrong and that anger propels the book. What struck me was the fragmented set of events and shattered points-of-view which spat and crackled at the time; making one realise that punk rock was not a movement of harmony. Instead it was a splintered faction of ideas, styles, influences that exploded from the depressing financial and social climate of the United Kingdom.  There was no fixed plan or collective movement or love or heroes but a detonation of unrest and youth in revolt and above all else a spark; and the chief spark being Lydon. You may not agree or even like the warts-and-all personality he presents in the book but one must respect Lydon for his vicious honesty. He’s forever the angry iconoclast and one of the great heroes/anti-heroes of British culture; at times infuriating but above-all-else bloody entertaining.

PEAR-SHAPED COMEDY SHOW – FITZROY TAVERN

This comedy night mixing pros, semi-pros, newcomers and general nutters has been going for donkey’s years and proclaims itself to be the “London’s 2nd worst comedy club”!  Despite this P-S has always been one of my favourite and dreaded places to perform comedy.  I have been funny there and also died a few comedy deaths as well but that was part of the fun too.  Run by the legendary comedy duo Brian & Krystal, Antony Miller and a whole host of comedians down the years it came to an end at its current home: The Fitzroy Tavern in Charlotte Street. I went along to say goodbye and thank the club for supporting my comedy ramblings over the years. Safe to say it was all done it the best possible taste and it was a brilliant send-off.  There have been some desperately empty times in that room but this was not one of them as hosts, performers and audience (yes – it had an audience!) all joined together for a fantastic last hurrah. Well, until it starts up again in another room (here’s hoping!)

POLESDEN LACEY, SURREY – NATIONAL TRUST

This gem of a place has all the desires of a lovely afternoon out:  beautiful grounds; pretty gardens; impressive stately home; and over-priced gift and coffee shop.  It’s also got some leg-stretching walks where you can almost taste the serenity. What’s great too is it’s not that far from London either. So you can drive a reasonable distance from the fuel-spluttering-gaseous-urban-corporate-city-poisoned-capital and find yourself in a place of relaxation and historical value. My teenage son said it was “gay” so clearly not a place aimed at kids of his age but younger children, adults, ramblers and history buffs will find something pleasant in this beautiful space lovingly maintained by the National Trust.

RUFUS WAINWRIGHT – ROYAL HOSPITAL CHELSEA

I knew very little about Rufus Wainwright when my American girlfriend suggested we go to his live concert. I had heard of his musician-father Loudon Wainwright III and became aware that he was a young musical protégée and in a way a member of American musical royalty, so to speak.  Thus, having brushed up with a “Best-of” album bought on ITunes we headed to the impressively staged outdoor venue set-up at the home of the Chelsea Pensioners: Royal Hospital Chelsea.

Despite the heavens opening and rain bleeding onto a sea of plastic-covered bodies Mr Wainwright delivered a sterling set of beautifully constructed songs from his current and back catalogue. He’s a nervy, neurotic character with a wicked laugh, eager to please and a divine twang in his voice which would suggest he could probably be a great musical comedian too. While containing humour, lyrically, his songs bare his soul while wrapped in a mournful voice which quivers with emotional depth. Safe to say his piano sings a haunting melody although Mr Wainwright certainly picks up the pace with his faithful guitar in hand.

It was a fantastic and memorable performance in the London rain which had scattered by the time he sang the trusty classic Hallelujah.  I have since found out Mr Wainwright’s life had it’s fair share of troublesome situations including drug addiction  and while I didn’t not know this at the time, the way this soulful troubadour sang his heart out you knew. You just knew.