Last of the Light Brigade – Last Laugh

Last of the Light Brigade - Last LaughTen years on since forming as Stratosfear, Guernsey indie-rock three-piece Last Of The Light Brigade released their third album, Last Laugh on Saturday 19th April 2014 with a gig at The Fermain Tavern.

The album was recorded over the previous year and was preceded by singles The Door, Walking Blind, Can’t Go On, You Go On and Stimulator as well as two brief tours of the UK.

Last Laugh also marked a turning point for the band as they bid farewell to their bass player Ben and went on hiatus.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 19th April 2014:

Last of the Light Brigade - Last Laugh scan - 19:04:14The album is available now through iTunes and here is the video for Stimulator put together by another Guernsey native, who also did the album artwork, designer Josh Fletcher:

 

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The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

The_Hobbit_The_Desolation_of_Smaug_7As with its predecessor I’m a bit late to the dance with The Hobbit: The Desolation Of Smaug, having picked it up on Blu-ray rather than catching it in the cinema, but either way, it had a lot to live up to with An Unexpected Journey having been one of the films I enjoyed most last year.

Unlike the previous movie this one drops us straight into the action with Bilbo, Gandalf, Thorin and company immediately on the run from the same band of orcs who were on their tail in the last movie and really this pace rarely lets up for the next two hours and forty minutes or so.

This is both its highlight and its downfall. With An Unexpected Journey the world building and development of all of these characters was one of things that pulled me in and kept me interested as the story and action developed in the films second half.

Here however, of course we already know the characters coming in, but, six months after last watching, it takes a while to get back into who each of them is so I found the first couple of sections of the movie, which don’t slow up the new characters or exposition at all, lost a little for me, leaving the likes of the excellently expressed Beorn a little lost in the shuffle.

spiders-video-image-articleLarge-v2Once the party enter Mirkwood though things hit their stride and we are treated to set piece after set piece which feature some of the most inventive and genuinely exciting fantasy action work I’ve seen in a long time, continuing the trend Jackson started in the Lord of the Rings films.

One element that had caused a lot of discussion prior to the movie’s release was the inclusion of the elves, and Legolas and the newly created Tauriel in particular. As someone not so familiar with the books their inclusion didn’t really cause any problems for me and actually led to one of the nicest moments so far that link this with the previous trilogy, however the teased ‘romance’ between Tauriel and Kili felt more than a little strange and tacked on.

SmaugmoviestillThe major highlight of the movie comes in its final third as the titular dragon, Smaug, is finally unveiled in all his glory. A work of computer generated art combined with motion captured performance leads to a creature that fits seamlessly in with both the sets and the real actors and, in his scenes alone with Martin Freeman’s Bilbo, manages to exude a real chemistry, much like Gollum in the previous film, but with an enormous dragon rather than a basically humanoid character.

With a bunch of other new characters introduced and a whole subplot with Gandalf on a quest to find out what’s going on a Dol Guldur, The Desolation Of Smaug manages to justify its running time by keeping busy throughout and, while I possibly didn’t find it quite as consistently engaging as the first movie, its cliffhanger has left me waiting eagerly to see the final instalment and find out what happens not only to our main company but the residents of Laketown and Smaug himself.

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Fermain Fest 2014 – The Fermain Tavern – 12/04/14

Brunt

Brunt

On Saturday 12th April 2014 The FutureShock presented their second annual all day ‘mini-festival’ at The Fermain Tavern.

Across the day 10 bands played with the show headlined by Jonny Lives! Also playing were SugarSlam, Robert J. Hunter, The Glazzies, To The Woods, The Ok, Brunt, Lydia Pugh, The Doomsday Project and The Black Vote with DJ Four-Q playing some tunes in between as well.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Thursday 17th April:

Fermain Fest 2014 scan - 17:04:14Here’s a video of Jonny Lives! thanks to Plumb, you can see a load more videos of the show on his YouTube Channel:

 

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Jonny Lives! Interview – Guernsey Press – 10/04/14

Jonny Lives!

Ahead of the 2014 Fermain Fest I had the chance to chat to the events headliner’s frontman Jonny Dubowsky.

Jonny fronts New Yorkers Jonny Lives! who have played several gigs in Guernsey over the last couple of years are will be sharing the stage at Fermain Fest with their brother band The Glazzies along with a host of local acts including SugarSlam, Robert J. Hunter, Brunt, The Black Vote, The OK, The Deadbeats, The Doomsday Project, Lydia Pugh and DJ Four-Q.

The event is once again being organised by The FutureShock and takes place on Saturday 12th April at The Fermain Tavern.

Get an idea of what to expect with my review of last year’s Fermain Fest.

Here’s my interview with Jonny (click on the pictures to enlarge them):

Jonny Lives interview scan 1 - 10:04:14Jonny Lives interview scan 2 - 10:04:14

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Nirvana Tribute Night – The Fermain Tavern – 05/04/14

Nirvazon

Nirvazon

Last Saturday marked 20 years since Kurt Cobain’s death at his home in Seattle and, I think it’s fairly safe to say, that he has cast a long shadow over the music world since the early 1990s. With that in mind local drummer James Le Huray had an idea sometime last summer to hold a “grunge night” and this has now come to fruition.

Before the band took to the stage James admitted a certain nervousness on two levels, first was the usual for anyone playing a gig, but second was whether the show would work as a celebration and whether there would be an appetite for celebrating a bunch of songs more than 20 years old.

Well, as the band took to the stage, following a great set from DJ Vauvert Underground – taking in grunge and whole lot else besides (it’s always a nice surprise to hear Cheap Trick and Danzig through a loud PA) – The Fermain Tavern already had a nice crowd growing and it seemed James had nothing to worry about.

Tom Bradshaw and James Le Huray

Tom Bradshaw and James Le Huray

Nirvazon (as they were calling themselves), comprised James (more often seen with Tonight The Skies) on drums, along with SugarSlam’s Plumb on guitar and vocals, Tantale’s Matt Smart on bass and Twelve Tribe Mansion’s Tom Bradshaw on lead guitar, and across two sets they blasted through 29 Nirvana songs spanning the bands entire career from early demos to the posthumously released You Know You’re Right and the crowd lapped up every note.

As it was their first (and only) gig together it wasn’t surprising that it took Nirvazon a few songs to hit their stride, but as they headed into Heart Shaped Box it all seemed to fall into place. From that point on every one of the ‘hits’ had the audience singing along, with Plumb at times just leaving the crowd to sing, while even the more obscure album tracks were greeted with a big reaction.

Ending their first set with Sappy and Tourette’s left the audience certainly wanting more and they were far from disappointed as 15 minutes or so later the band were back on stage with School, In Bloom and Sliver kicking off the second session.

Tom Bradshaw and Pete 'Plumb' Bretel

Tom Bradshaw and Pete ‘Plumb’ Bretel

Again it took a couple of songs to get properly going but soon the dancefloor at the Tav was packed and moving and as the set went on it began to resemble the crowds seen in videos of Nirvana’s own gigs, which was a relief following a few moments of ‘dad dancing’ that I’d witnessed earlier in the night.

Across both sets Nirvazon put in a great performance and, while there were a few minor slip ups, for a band making their first live outing it was very impressive and showed a side, particularly of James and Tom’s playing that, hasn’t been seen in a long time, if at all before.

With You Know You’re Right and Aneurysm ending the set it wasn’t long before the band were back launching into Breed to start their encore, followed by (inevitably) Smells Like Teen Spirit at which point the already energetic audience erupted and even crowd surfing was witnessed – is that a first for the Tav?

NirvazonWhile commemorating the death of an icon such as Cobain could fall into the realms of the morbid if handled wrong, and I think James was right to be concerned, what tonight became, for the most part, was a celebration of the music. It was clear to see from this that while Kurt’s songs had an effect on people who ‘were there’ in the early 1990s, that effect is still being felt today and, while Kurt may have become the icon, the music of the likes of Pixies, Sonic Youth, Soundgarden and Mudhoney (amongst others) still has a lot to say.

There is a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and Plumb has posted some videos from the show on his YouTube page, this is Breed:

The review was also published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 12th April 2014 (not my photo of Kurt):

Nirvazon Nirvana Tribute night scan - 12:04:14

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The Peace Tent Xmas Party – The Fermain Tavern – 29/03/14

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

Only the decidedly wonky denizens of The Peace Tent (Chaos’ ‘other’ stage that has taken on something of a life of its own over the past couple of years) would organize their “Office Christmas Party” for the last weekend of March, but with the photocopier set up in the corner and cine-film of a 1970s Christmas running on the big screen, along with crackers, party poppers and paper chains, it was clear that last Saturday night, it was indeed, Christmas party time.

Following a game of “how many milk cartons can you fit in the milk carton” (apparently the answer is 9), and a set from the slightly wooden (or cardboard) looking but excellently lo-fi sounding Nick Mannequin, the first live act of the night took to the stage.

Citizen-X

Citizen-X

Citizen-X has made something of a name for himself for his soundscapes posted to Soundcloud over the last year or so, but it is only recently he has taken his work into the live arena and this was my first chance to catch his act.

Armed only with an iPad strapped to a mic stand the music was created through a mixture of live performance and samples all marshaled through the tablet. The sounds evoked feelings based around interplanetary travel and themes from TV shows, including Game Of Thrones and Doctor Who, all backed up with projections based around the same ideas.

While the performance aspect was interesting to see, and the music a fascinating new sound on Guernsey’s live scene, interest from the growing crowd fluctuated, but it seemed that, in the end, Citizen-X went down well and I for one am fascinated to see where he takes both his music and his live act in the future.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

While a slimmed down version of Buffalo Huddleston got ready on stage we were treated to more cheese-y disco anthems from DJ Ormer and a game of blowing up balloons…

With both violinists Becky and Sarah otherwise engaged, the first part of tonight’s set took Buffalo Huddleston back to its roots with Mike Meinke and his guitar being the focus. What this served to do was show just what Mike can do with the acoustic guitar as he used it for melody, rhythm and percussion, along with a suitcase-cum-kick-drum and a selection of genuinely great songs.

The second half of the set took a more freeform and experimental turn that, while not to the taste of some, grasped the essence of the night excellently. Joined by MC Jull-Z and using a guitar with special ‘tap’ boxes built-in, the duo ran through a few of their standard songs, along with some playing around with various sound effects in between, and Jull-Z being given a few chances to shine with some freestyle MC-ing.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Space Pirates Of Rocquaine and from the off tonight they delivered one of the tightest sets I’ve seen from them.

With old favourites like Witch of the Longfrie, Edge of the World and Bad To The Core rubbing shoulders with new songs like Prosperity, Folies D’Amour and The Variouf the set summed up the breadth of songs the six-piece have to draw from.

As the set went on a few began the dancing that carried on to the upbeat folk-rock until the sounds of encore Sarnia Cherie faded and during Mountain Man I even overheard a comparison being made between The Space Pirates and The Arcade Fire! (High and, certainly tonight, suitable praise indeed.)

Undeniably tonight was a real highpoint of a set for The Space Pirates and rounded off the fun, relaxed, upbeat vibes of the night excellently as The Peace Tent once again presented a night of entertainment as only they can and left me very much looking forward to their main event of the year at Chaos in June.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins posterDisney’s interpretation of P.L. Travers’ stories of a nanny and the Banks family has gone down in history as a classic of the studio’s canon, and, upon rewatching it, I can see why as it seems to work on different levels for children and adults while also having parts that work for both. However, having recently watching Saving Mr. Banks, a few extra questions were also raised about the nature of Mary Poppins.

Primarily among these was how true (or I’m assuming not) the film is to the source material and quite whether its message is one that comes from the books, or is one put in their by Disney. Either way its message is something that I found surprising coming from the often-conservative Disney studio as it is, largely, subversive, albeit still based in a love of family and children.

It is this, more message based, reading of the film that I think is where part of the appeal for adults comes. Despite the title it is the story of Mr. Banks, showing his development as he starts the film as a stiff and highly strung bank manager weighed down by the worries of the world and wanting everything to run to precision. But, as Mary Poppins influence takes hold, we see him change and loose these cares.

David Tomlinson as Mr. Banks

David Tomlinson as Mr. Banks

This really comes to the fore in the second half of the film as Mr. Banks takes his children to ‘his’ bank and discovers that maybe saving money is not the be all and end all of life and, actually, something of worth can be found in the mischievous anarchy of Dick Van Dyke’s Bert and notions like feeding the birds.

For younger viewers the first half of the film is a more traditional Disney experience with dancing animals and an extended live action/animation hybrid sequence that, I imagine, would have been truly wonderful to behold as a child in the 1960s as it used, for the time, cutting edge technology that would have seemed an impossible feat to young eyes not used to CGI.

Bert, Mary Poppins and the Banks children

Bert, Mary Poppins and the Banks children

While this first half of the film is, at times, a bit on the baggy and undisciplined side and feels more like a series of episodes than a coherent story as I watch it as an adult, it does set the scene of Poppins’ philosophy very well. As the film reaches the crossover point into the direct story between Mr. Banks and his children, these episodes set up the dénouement very well, without being entirely obvious about it.

What brings these two sides together to make Mary Poppins a top rate family film are the performances and some of the songs. Julie Andrews and Dick Van Dyke undeniably steal the whole show with Andrews’ voice and Van Dyke’s dancing being the real high points. The much maligned “cock-er-ney” accent is a little distracting at times but, let’s be honest, this never really feels like real London, so it is easily overlooked if you want it to be if you let yourself get lost in Disney’s world.

While he’s no Gene Kelly (who is?) Van Dyke does a great job in his solo dance moments keeping the character of Bert going while moving seamlessly, both interacting with animated penguins and real life dancers. The highlight of this is the Step In Time sequences as Bert’s band of chimney sweeps tap and leap across the rooftops of London, and the Banks’ house, and bring the films two worlds into an abrupt meeting.

Step In Time

Step In Time

While some of the songs feel a bit twee in comparison to more modern films, the Shermans’ best tunes still stand out and are another highlight. I’ll admit there are many more of them than I remembered, but the likes of Let’s Go Fly A Kite, Chim Chim Cher-ee and Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious remain Disney classics and the hint of old English music hall amidst the Sherman’s own sound is what elevates them into being something different and so effective.

Disney’s Mary Poppins, more than 50 years after its original release, remains a solid classic of Disney’s golden age and, while some parts have dated, it retains something special in terms of both message and entertainment for anyone looking to spend a good couple of hours with a movie and is a truly quintessential family film that seems custom designed for a Sunday afternoon in front of the TV as much as a cinema.

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Saving Mr. Banks

Saving Mr. Banks - posterWhenever Disney aim to release something based on a real life subject alarm bells ring, so notorious is the company’s ability to sugar coat and twist previously established tales to their own means its even earned its own (sort of) word, ‘Disney-fication’.

Well that is just what P.L. Travers, author of Mary Poppins, suspected when she became involved with the company, and that is how I felt going into Saving Mr. Banks.

So, it was with a pinch of salt (or should that be a spoonful of sugar) that I headed into this movie that, ostensibly, tells the tale of the making of, or at least the pre-production, of Disney’s Mary Poppins.

More than that though the film sheds some light on the source material’s author, the aforementioned P.L. Travers, and what led her to create Mary Poppins and quite why she was so famously reluctant to give up the rights to the story to Walt Disney.

While the story is somewhat ‘sugar coated’ with a lot of the emotions appearing to be heightened and, in some moments, manipulated – particularly by the music – there does seem to be a core of truth in there, alongside some genuinely excellent performances, particularly from Emma Thompson as Travers and Tom Hanks as Walt (never Mr.) Disney.

Emma Thompson and Paul GiamattiThompson really is the film’s highlight as she totally inhabits the character of Travers in an incredibly irascible and forthright manner so, even an actress as well-known as Thompson, becomes lost in the character – until a few scenes nearer the end based around the film premiere where Travers appears very out-of-place.

Hanks as Walt is similarly gone and it is refreshing that a film put out by Disney treats the character as a real human and does let us see some of the man’s faults, including being caught smoking, although ultimately it is a very flattering portrait.

This leaves the impression that somewhere between these versions of Travers and Disney lays 99% of humanity, and suggests that their coming together to create Mary Poppins is what made the film the classic it surely is, as their personalities temper each other through the medium of the film.

Tom Hanks as Walt DisneyThe other thing that struck me again goes back to the “Disney-fication” of events as the film opens with a shot of the sky over Hollywood (well Burbank, but close enough) and suggests that, while this is reality, it is the kind of reality that only exists in that small part of Los Angeles hand prints line the sidewalk and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre stands iconic.

This also ties in to the flashback scenes, of which we are given no sense as to how true to life they might be, but they do tie in with the 1961 sequences well. While they occasionally border on being a bit too much ‘show and tell’, they shed a light on the reasons for Travers’ behavior, without which she would soon become almost entirely unsympathetic, and add a slightly darker hue to the story that is much-needed in the otherwise bright LA sun.

In the end, across its 120 or so minutes, Saving Mr. Banks hits all the right marks with laughs, tears and a look at some interesting people I think most of us won’t have seen before, certainly in this light, and almost becomes more than the sum of its parts into being something great, albeit at times well coated in Disney’s trademark sweetness.

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: March 2014 – Hartebeest and Sark Folk Festival

BBC Introducing Guernsey March 2014On the March 2014 episode of BBC Introducing Guernsey I began the journey towards summer festival season with the announcement of the headliners for this year’s Chaos weekend in June and I was joined in the studio by some of the organisers of the Sark Folk Festival who told us about who they have coming over in July.

Also electronic duo H A R T E B E E S T came in for a chat and told us about their journey from CourageHaveCourage to where they are now and their plans to take their music into the live arena and why websites like Soundcloud are so important to new musicians.

You can listen to the show on the BBC radio player by clicking here.

Tracklist

 

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Wilko Johnson and Roger Daltrey – Going Back Home

Going Back Home - Wilko Johnson and Roger DaltreyGoing into this record it is clear from just looking at the track list that, while Daltrey’s name appears as one of the headline artists, this is, in essence, a Wilko Johnson record.

Backed by Wilko’s band of some years, Norman Watt-Roy (bass) and Dylan Howe (drums), and playing a selection of Wilko’s songs (along with one Bob Dylan cover) this presents possibly Wilko’s most complete album since he left Dr. Feelgood, and that is where Daltrey’s input really comes in.

During his time with Dr. Feelgood it was Lee Brilleaux that brought Wilko’s words to life with a force and attitude that grabbed you by the throat and let you know that these were a bunch of guys not to be messed with.

What Daltrey brings here is, understandably, different, but you can hear in it something of the attitude and power Brilleaux had, tempered by age and experience and given a new twist all with a sense of the Maximum R&B that pervaded the music of both Dr. Feelgood and The Who.

Wilko Johnson and Roger DaltreyThat said the album doesn’t just feel like a retread either, it starts out with real power on Going Back Home and this pervades the album with I Keep It To Myself, Sneaking Suspicion and All Through The City all keeping that rolling.

Alongside this the album has some slower moments in the middle in Turned 21 and Keep On Loving You, that balance things out, adding dynamic and demonstrating Johnson’s varied songwriting abilities.

What is really striking here though, compared to Wilko’s straight solo records, is how well Daltrey’s voice and Johnson’s guitar work together. On the solo recordings it was the guitar that was the star whereas here, once more, the balance is complete at the front of the band.

Dylan Howe and Norman Watt-RoyAdded to this, along with the always-exceptional Watt-Roy and Howe, is the piano and organ of Mick Talbot and harmonica of Steve Weston that build on the standard three or four piece band to create a package of some great rhythm & blues/rock ‘n’ roll music.

With all of the background story going on of Wilko’s health over the last year it is hard to view this album totally impartially but, if this is to be his swansong, it is a fine celebration of a career that has included some excellent songs and having Roger Daltrey bring the vocals back to life in such style really tops it off to create something that has the potential to be a special record in years to come as well as a great listen right now.

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