Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes!

Daniel Bryan - Just Say Yes Yes YesEver since I first caught a few glimpses of ‘American Dragon’ Bryan Danielson in his ‘indie’ days in Ring Of Honor I was intrigued by this mild-mannered seeming grappler from Aberdeen, Washington who came across as this generation’s ‘Man of a thousand holds’ but with the speed and athleticism of an HBK thrown into the mix as well.

So, when he appeared on the scene in WWE (after a bit of a misfire in the original version of NXT) I was excited to see if those glimpses could pay off in the longer term and in the so-called ‘land of the giants’ of pro-wrestling.

Well, the new Blu-ray/DVD collection from WWE demonstrates that, across his tenure with the company, the renamed Daniel Bryan certainly lived up to the hype. He took whatever was given to him and did it to the best of his ability so, whether it was the laughable angle with Kane in Team Hell No or the more serious feuds with John Cena and The Authority, Bryan was consistently worth watching in the ring.

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

Daniel Bryan and Triple H at WrestleMania 30

This set then seeks to put that across over 8 hours of interviews and action. Initially I was skeptical as what appeared to be the ‘main feature’ documentary was barely an hour-long and glossed over a lot of Bryan’s history, though references to his days in Japan, England and Ring of Honor were nice to hear.

Largely though it focused on his path to WrestleMania 30 where he walked away with the WWE World Heavyweight Championship, marking a high point for his 15 years in ‘the industry’. A lot of this was interesting and featured input from many superstars, most notably John Cena (who came across as a very nice guy and genuine Bryan fan) and Bryan’s wife, then fiancé, Brie Bella along with long time friends and rivals William Regal and Seth Rollins and Bryan himself.

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Daniel Bryan and William Regal

Though brief, this section did offer some interesting insight into the life of a ‘main eventer’ as it followed Daniel and Brie to the various media appearance in the build up to WrestleMania.

This made me wonder how WWE expects its performers to deliver like they do in the ring and shows why so many wrestlers get burned out by the schedule (I may not be a fan of him in the ring but John Cena must be a superman to have been doing this for a decade).

The other aspect that made this a fun watch is something that spans the set, that being how it straddles ‘real life’ and so-called ‘Kayfabe’ (wrestling lore) to keep up aspects of Bryan’s character while still showing us something more of the real man than we see in the ring. That said this approach can work for Bryan who’s character has developed (like many of the best of them) as an extension of his real self – this approach would be unlikely to work for The Undertaker for example.

CM Punk and Daniel Bryan in Ring of Honor

CM Punk and Bryan Danielson in Ring of Honor

Ending with Bryan’s win at WrestleMania 30 and a title card explaining his subsequent injury the feature documentary portion of this collection is ok but nothing spectacular.

It is in the rest of the set that things really come into their own.

Across 14 matches spanning Bryan’s career from his first, un-televised, tryout match in February 2000 to his clash with Roman Reigns in the build up to WrestleMania 31 in 2015, we see the development of a superstar and pro-wrestler – and Bryan makes no bones about the fact that what he loves is pro-wrestling and I don’t think once utters the words ‘sports entertainment’.

Between the matches we get further insight from Bryan as to where they fit into both his real life and ‘sports entertainment’ life and every one demonstrates his ability in the ring excellently, even when in the ring with far less experienced and, dare I say it, less talented performers.

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Chris Jericho and Daniel Bryan in NXT

Highlights of this include the early tryout and ‘jobber’ matches for curiosity’s sake, a match with CM Punk that shows two former ROH legends performing on the world stage and of course Bryan’s triumph at WrestleMania 30.

However a couple of matches are real standouts. First is a ‘gauntlet’ match from Raw in 2013 that goes beyond the 30 minute mark and sees Bryan go up against Jack Swagger, Antonio Cesaro and Ryback. While the sections with Swagger and Ryback are some of the best of those two men, it is the middle portion with Cesaro that really stands out as the two wrestle like the WWE Universe rarely sees, especially on the weekly TV shows, and tell a hugely dramatic story packed with great moments.

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Daniel Bryan and Antonio Cesaro

Secondly is Bryan’s match against John Cena from SummerSlam 2013 that I didn’t remember as being a classic, but, with the benefit of hindsight, I think really could be described as such. Across a long match (for WWE) the two deliver everything that is the essence of pro-wrestling; drama, varied maneuvers, and a genuine sense of breaking down the boundaries of sports and entertainment.

Throughout it is hard to tell where the match might go and the crowd are invested throughout whichever side of the ‘Lets go Cena… Cena sucks’ divide they might fall, or whether they are out-and-out American Dragon fans. The conclusion makes for a genuinely triumphant moment that is astonishing to relive, despite what comes after.

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Daniel Bryan and John Cena

Across the collection the ever-present WWE propaganda machine is, as always, in effect, but it seems less obtrusive here than in other sets, but, knowing where Daniel Bryan is now there is a bittersweet tone to the whole thing.

The collection ends with Bryan returning from a nine month absence due to a neck injury and sets up the beginning of another great run (something that seemed to be happening at WrestleMania 31 where he won the WWE Intercontinental Championship), but of course, we now know that injury has caused further complications, once again putting Bryan’s career and health in jeopardy.

Whether we see Bryan back in a WWE ring or not, and while his career hasn’t been as legendary as some, what Just Say Yes! Yes! Yes! shows is a man with a real passion and love for what he dedicated his life to and a man with an uncanny talent in the ring, showing that, even in the land of the giants, skill and in-ring, pro-wrestling, ability still has a place and can shine through.

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The Shadow – Need To Consume

For my first review of pop-culture website Need To Consume I took a look at the new Blu-ray edition of the 1994, pulp fiction, superhero movie The Shadow.

Being a film I remembered both from its huge publicity campaign (at least that’s how I remember it (it was the centre piece display at a big video games and movie event I attended at Earls Court London at around the same time) and from it being hugely enjoyable in a somewhat knowing way it was a cornerstone of my youthful movie watching along with the likes of Batman Forever.

To read my full review click on the image below:

The Shadow - Need To Consume grab

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: June 2015 – 20/06/15 – Live special, Mura Masa and Robyn Sherwell

Rentoclean

Rentoclean

Click here to listen to the show

For this month’s BBC Introducing Guernsey I presented a bit of a live special taking a look back at highlights from our live stage on Arts Sunday.

So, there were live tracks from Chloe Le Page, Buffalo Huddleston, Blue Mountains and RentOClean. On top of that there was a special live session from mura masa and Nao taken from Huw Stephens’ show on BBC Radio 1.

And I heard from Robyn Sherwell following the announcement that she would be playing the BBC Introducing Stage at next weekend’s Glastonbury Festival.

You can listen to the show for 30 days on the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Tracklist

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Robyn Sherwell – Islander EP

Robyn Sherwell - IslanderRobyn Sherwell is a new, young, British pop artist who’s star has been well on the rise over the first half of 2015.

Her music has received airplay across the UK and Ireland, appearing on the trailer for the movie Suffragette and being championed by BBC Introducing both in her home island of Guernsey and by BBC 6 Music’s Tom Robinson and BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens.

All of this has led to her being selected to appear on the BBC Introducing Stage at the 2015 Glastonbury Festival.

This success has all come about through a string of live shows, honing her craft, in London and off the back of debut EP, Islander.

Things start out with the pounding, tribal drums of the title track that Robyn referred to in a recent interview with BBC Introducing Guernsey as her ‘battle song’, and it’s clear to see why.

As the drums build her haunting vocals echo across a sonic landscape inspired by her home island and grow in power to a surprisingly strong and potent sound, issuing a statement of intent through the story of someone fighting their way from the depths – all accompanied by a chanted refrain of ‘Sarnia’, the ancient name of Guernsey.

Robyn SherwellPale Lung follows with a much less rhythmically intense feel and showing off more of the dynamic in Robyn’s voice. Across the track elements of electro-pop and acoustica merge with layered vocals in the form of a precise, low-key, pop package.

Third track Tightropes pulls things back even further with simply a piano underscoring a vocal track that, while seemingly all Robyn, is layered in such a way as to give a big choral effect. Once again this is another abstract story that delves beyond some more standard pop into the heart and soul of the matter, while sonically the track has hints of Sigur Ros at times.

The EP is rounded off by Sherwell’s take on Fleetwood Mac’s Landslide and continues the collections increasingly sparse sound. This track is almost entirely based around layered vocal tracks, once again giving a ‘solo-choral’ effect (if such a thing can exist). This sums up one of the real highlights of the EP, the perfect marriage between performance and production to create an overall sonic effect and atmosphere.

From the sonic diversity displayed on the Islander EP, but all with an overarching style, its clear to see why Robyn Sherwell is being picked up for higher things and, in today’s pop landscape, this has every chance of breaking into the mainstream with it’s serene sound which covers something deeper hidden just below the surface.

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BLAKALASKA – Machine EP

BLAKALASKA - MachineAfter several years gaining a healthy reputation on Guernsey’s live circuit electro-dance-rock five-piece BLAKALASKA have released their debut EP, Machine.

The sound emanating from the speakers on this is custom-built for cavernous dark spaces with lasers strafing over a sweaty audience, while listening to it through headphones delivered at once a fantastically oppressive and hugely expressive experience.

The EP kicks off with title track, Machine, which sounds like a floor filling monster from the start, merging the sounds that have clearly influenced the band that can get bodies moving and heads banging in equal measure. It acts as a prime example of what gained the band the closing slot at the Vale Earth Fair a couple of years ago (under their previous moniker), but with extra added clarity.

In the live environment the balance between Ollie McVey’s leading synth charge and Oliver Farrimond’s counterpointing high-gain guitar slashes can be hard to discern, even with the best soundmen, but here the different instruments are crystal clear.

BLAKALASKASecond track Some Kind of Crime brings an atmospheric edge to proceedings as layers of bass rumble away under brittle high frequencies in a song that feels like its fallen from some near future sci-fi dystopian nightmare, while still having a living beating heart beneath the tech.

This heart, as well as being evident in the performance, particularly from vocalist Lee Rosette and drummer Barney Bean, comes through strongest in the lyrics that, now I can hear them more clearly, bring big emotions to the BLAKALASKA mix. These words, taken as a whole, deliver a surprisingly inspirational, positive, message of personal empowerment, once they coalesce from what sound like some fairly dark and bitter inspirations.

The EP is rounded off by Take Me, one of the band’s biggest numbers live and the first track they released, in demo form, sometime ago. Again being slightly slower and more atmospheric than the opener, it continues to develop the dynamics both within the band and in their sound which give a great balance that should go down just as well with a dance crowd as in a mosh pit.

BLAKALASKA liveBLAKALASKA have been at the pinnacle of Guernsey’s live electronic based music scene for some time and, on the strength of the Machine EP, they are heading in the right direction to stand alongside Mura Masa and W\ on record, albeit with a slightly darker, heavier, hue.

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Robyn Sherwell heading to BBC Introducing at Glastonbury

Robyn Sherwell - BBC Introducing GlastonburyAmongst the bands and performers announced by Huw Stephens on his BBC Radio One show to play the BBC Introducing Stage at the 2015 Glastonbury Festival was Robyn Sherwell, an act supported by BBC Introducing Guernsey.

I caught up with Robyn shortly after the announcement for an article for The Guernsey Press that was published on Saturday 13th June, you can read it below.

If you are making new, original music and want a chance to play on a BBC Introducing Stage at one of several festivals or just on your local BBC Introducing radio then you can upload your music at bbc.co.uk/introducing

Robyn Sherwell Glastonbury interview scan - 13:06:15

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Journey To The Centre Of The Cramps by Dick Porter

Journey To The Centre Of The Cramps book coverA band like The Cramps are certainly one deserving of a thorough investigation. For the best part of 30 years they traced an enigmatic trail across the rock music landscape consistently at odds with anything else going on and never really offering much in the way of explanation beyond of a string of rocking records and a reputation for genuinely chaotic live shows.

So, in Dick Porter’s Journey To The Centre Of The Cramps, a revised, updated and expanded version of his earlier book The Cramps: A Short History of Rock ‘n’ Roll Psychosis, I hope to find out some of this and, for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed.

Its clear from the cover, and something that is never hidden by the author, that this really isn’t the story of a band, but of a couple, of Poison Ivy Rorschach and Lux Interior (aka Kirsty Wallace and Erick Purkhiser) and their 40 year relationship and the fruits of it, which was The Cramps.

Lux Interior and Poison Ivy

Lux Interior and Poison Ivy

Through interviews with his two leads along with friends and relatives we get an insight into where these two unique souls came from and how they first got together and indulged in, amongst other things, a huge passion for 1950s rock ‘n’ roll and 60’s garage rock that became the corner stones of their musical endeavours.

This thread of their love of rock ‘n’ roll and, specifically, record collecting is something that runs through their story as they seem to almost use their love of music as a test for their various band members commitment.

Along with the music we hear about their early dalliances with psychedelics and when things move to New York, Ivy’s part time job as a dominatrix of some kind.

It’s here though that the main issue I have with the book comes in.

The Cramps 'classic' line up

The Cramps ‘classic’ line up with Bryan Gregory

While I’m not the sort to want to know all the lascivious details of their lives in a tabloid expose kind of way, a strong thread of The Cramps music hints strongly at quite an appetite for not only rock ‘n’ roll but sex and drugs as well.

Here though, whenever it seems some modest revelation might be made relating to Lux or Ivy things are shied away from in surprisingly coy fashion, considering the openness of other aspects of the book and revelations about other band members and associates.

This though is a minor gripe and, on a different level, this not being a ‘tell all’ does maintain some of that essential mystery that is a part of the appeal of The Cramps music for me.

As well as telling the story of the band, with most of the focus being on their first ten years, though this was their most prolific period by far, we also get an insight into many of the people they worked with from various band members to producers, inspirations and bands they shared bills with over the years.

The Cramps with Kid Congo Powers

The Cramps with Kid Congo Powers

Particularly interesting in this are sections on Ivy’s inspiration Link Wray, the producer of their first album Alex Chilton and two of their early second guitarists the enigmatic Bryan Gregory and the much more down to earth sounding Kid Congo Powers.

Along with the story of the band we get a fine selection of photos of Lux, Ivy and assorted other Cramps spanning their career and complementing the text by showing they developed while at the same time staying intentional still and true to their original inspirations.

The book rounds off in surprisingly touching style as it takes us right up to Lux’s untimely death in 2009 and goes back to how it started by painting a portrait of, to use Porter’s own words, “a great America love story” that just happened to spawn an entire sub-genre of music as well as an entirely singular musical career the likes of which is highly unlikely to ever be seen again.

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Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

foo fighters sonic highwaysMuch like many concept albums that came before it the idea of Foo Fighters’ Sonic Highways could, on paper, sound massively self-indulgent. Across eight tracks the band travelled around the USA visiting eight cities and in each city visiting a different iconic studio to record a song.

What sets this apart from being an exercise in pure self-indulgence is two-fold. First is that the album they came up with in these unique circumstances is, somewhat bizarrely, one of the Foo Fighters’ most consistent albums to date.

Second is that as well as visiting these cities band leader Dave Grohl continued his new-found love of film, first seen in Sound City, by making a documentary TV series focusing on the musical culture of each city, while taking a behind the scenes look into the album’s recording.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways album cover

Sonic Highways album cover

The album itself is a great modern rock record, combining everything that has made the Foo’s reputation so far, but with an added sense of exploration and maturity.

As with much of their previous material there are hints here of where the band came from with grungy overtones and screamed vocals still present. These are tempered with huge melodies that feel custom-built to fill stadiums and festivals come the summer.

Along with that comes the more conceptual end of things where stylistic flourishes, lyrical nods and guest musicians related to each city are added to the usual Foo Fighters mix to create something extra.

While these could be overlooked on a quick listen they are there and reward re-listening brilliantly, like references and ‘Easter eggs’ in movies, just in appropriately sonic form.

Dave Grohl

Dave Grohl

While Sonic Highways is certainly the closest the Foo Fighters have come to so-called ‘Dad Rock’ it retains enough of the edge of the band members’ shared musical history to set it apart and make it a great album.

While it may not have stand out ‘singles’ like many of their other records, this new-found consistency is refreshing in an often ‘shuffle’ centric musical world.

While the album is very enjoyable by itself, it really comes into its own after absorbing the accompanying documentary series.

Foo Fighters - Sonic Highways TV series

Sonic Highways TV series poster

It would be very easy for Grohl and his crew to have taken the easy approach here by telling the obvious stories of each city, but, while these are reflected, each episode adds a personal level.

This varies from the intense connection the band has to Washington DC, Seattle and Los Angeles to the more exploratory links to Chicago, New Orleans, Nashville and Austin while the series’ climax in New York City brings it all back together.

Across the series a real insiders view of the band in the studio is also presented as we see their crew rigging the studios and the band working out the songs and recording them over the course of a few days in each location, while producer Butch Vig gives some brief but surprisingly in-depth insights into the nature of the work he and the band are undertaking.

Much like the album this comes together into something fascinating and highly enjoyable whether your interest lies in the musical heritage explored or the behind the scenes glimpse into the world of one of the rock’s biggest bands.

Butch Vig

Butch Vig

The real highlight of the whole project comes in its conclusion where Grohl, during an interview with US President Barrack Obama, puts the work into the context of a wider American culture and the notion of the ‘American dream’.

Alongside this comes a more universal idea of how the perception and value of music and culture seems to be evolving for good or bad depending on your point of view

While its conclusion is, possibly, a little on the positive and sugar-coated side (as you might expect coming from a band making millions from their art) it also leaves questions open and introduces ideas that leave the more adventurous viewers with a starting point from which to explore many new avenues of music and culture.

This makes Sonic Highways a genuinely successful conceptual, multi-media, work from a band firmly planted in the current mainstream – though I got the feeling each episode had a lot more to say that their hour run time allowed.

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BBC Introducing at Arts Sunday with Rentoclean, Blue Mountains, Buffalo Huddleston and Chloe Le Page – 07/06/15

Buffalo Huddleston on the BBC Introducing Guernsey stageEvery summer the St Peter Port Seafront in Guernsey gets taken over on Sundays by a range of different events.

One of the most popular of these is the Guernsey Arts Commission‘s Arts Sunday, a celebration of all the arts the island has to offer.

For the 2015 event, which saw 10,000-12,000 people head into town, BBC Introducing Guernsey put on a stage of live music for the first time with four varied acts who have been featured on the monthly radio show.

Chloe Le Page

Chloe Le Page

First on the stage, following the BBC Radio Guernsey arts and culture themed Sunday Phone-In special, was singer-songwriter Chloe Le Page.

Chloe started off strong with a couple of her original songs, including Heartbreaker which was recently featured on BBC Introducing in both Guernsey and Devon.

Unfortunately technical problems with her guitar got the better of her and Chloe’s set had to be curtailed, but, for the few songs she did play, she went down well with those passing by.

After a short break Buffalo Huddleston took to the stage and as they did a crowd was already beginning to form on the closed road in front of the stage.

Buffalo Huddleston

Mike and Jull-z of Buffalo Huddleston

After a few songs of their unique blend of self-styled ‘folk hop’ the road was all but blocked by the audience and the number enjoying the music continued to grow across the set.

Once again the five-piece played a relaxed set that saw them having fun on stage while delivering a note perfect performance with older number Chillin’ and newer track Waiting For The Right Song being a couple of highlights.

Buffalo Huddleston rounded off their set with brand new song Mr Cloud, a track inspired by last year’s less than ideal weather at the Sark Folk Festival. The song once again saw the band elevate their game to a new height, much like it did on Liberation Day, and left the audience calling for more.

Blue Mountains

Blue Mountains

The third band of the afternoon was Blue Mountains, with the usual two-piece of Colleen Irven and Mike Bonsall being joined by James Le Huray on mandolin.

After a bit of a wobbly start on Henry Lee, the trio’s versions of traditional Appalachian folk songs and murder ballads was back at its fine standard and they soon attracted an audience from those passing along the seafront.

The addition of a mandolin certainly added an extra depth on some tracks and gave a hint at some of the sounds we are likely to hear on Blue Mountains upcoming debut album.

Including original song Born In The Fire alongside the traditional numbers made for a fine performance that once again showed off Colleen’s strong vocals and Mike’s excellently dynamic guitar work.

Rentoclean

Rentoclean

While Rentoclean set up on stage an expectant crowd began to grow in the road and, as the four-piece launched into their set of punky reggae, it was clear many enjoyed what they heard, whether they were familiar with the band or not.

Despite playing a somewhat differently arranged set to usual, based around songs that saxophone player Brett could play without the use of his broken middle finger, Rentoclean didn’t miss a beat combining upbeat bouncy tracks with a ska vibe with extended slower reggae jams, all to a great reaction.

A highlight for me was a chance to hear Opium War from their debut EP again and they rounded off a sunny and warm afternoon with some suitably summery vibes that also made for a great end to the first BBC Introducing Guernsey live stage.

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

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The Recks, Ray and The Guns, Blue Mountains and Citizen-X – The Fermain Tavern – 30/05/15

Ash and Richey of The Recks

Ash and Richey of The Recks

After their return to the stage on Liberation Day, Sark based alt folk five-piece The Recks put on a gig at what really feels their spiritual home in Guernsey, The Fermain Tavern, on Saturday 30th May 2015.

Along with the The Recks live music came from returning rock ‘n’ rollers Ray & The Guns, murder balladeers Blue Mountains and iPad warrior Citizen-X.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 6th June and can be read below.

The Recks, Ray and the Guns, Blue Mountains, Citizen-x review scan - 6:6:15

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