Twice Dead Records present Lifejacket, Zoohair and Sick Men – The Town House – 06/02/16

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

As Storm Imogen prepared to batter the Channel Islands with force 12 winds I hopped onto a small plane with indie rockers Lifejacket to head over to Jersey for a show with a pair of bands at The Town House in St. Helier organised by Twice Dead Records.

Having not been to a live music event on ‘the other island’ for a number of years (the last time was when Nemesis stormed The Live Lounge with Jersey metallers Salem’s Lot) I was curious to see not just what the bands were like, but the venue and the audience as well.

Arriving at the venue in the afternoon I was pleasantly surprised. From the outside The Town House looks like an old cinema but inside it’s a nicely decked out pub, not too modern, not too shabby but the right mix of the two. The venue itself was an upstairs room with its own bar, a decent (for a Channel Islands venue) stage and plenty of room for an audience.

The walls may have been decorated with various posters of old bluesmen, but it gave the place something of an authentic feeling and, while not perfect, certainly had the feel of a venue and was decently appointed as such. Later on, with the lights lowered a few drinking and waiting for the bands, this atmosphere increased further and I can imagine it working great when its packed and the crowd is bouncing.

Sick Men

Sick Men

Having missed soundcheck and only arriving at the venue two minutes before their stage time, opening duo Sick Men took to the stage 15 minutes late and in rushed fashion.

This was, unfortunately, followed something of a false start due to a broken drum pedal so, by the time they got going, they were already fighting a losing battle.

Once they got a little momentum going the drums and electric bass pair had some interesting ideas but they never quite coalesced, while making a joke of their tardiness felt unprofessional, as only one of their friends seemed to get the humour.

While the small but growing audience stayed hanging back they seemed at least appreciative but, doing a noisy rock bass and drums act on the home island of FalenizzaHorsepower is always going to be a risky move and here Sick Men felt just a bit too primitive and unrefined – though showed some promise had things not been so rushed.

With quite a reputation behind I was looking forward to seeing Zoohair, who I have vague memories of seeing a decade or so ago. Certainly their multi-faceted indie rock was delivered with a slick confidence that showed a band with a long history and it was nice to see a band deliver a tight set with no baggy waffle or extended stops for tuning and the like.

Zoohair

Zoohair

While the bass guitar may have been a bit on the quiet side it’s very hard to find much to criticise about the band and they were warmly received by the now somewhat larger audience.

With that however, there wasn’t a lot that stood out either which, combined with some poor lighting that made it hard to see the frontman as he sang, made it a challenge to actively engage with the band and his voice was a little too weak for the musical backing at times.

Over the last couple of years Twice Dead Records have invited a series of bands over the small (but surprisingly expensive) stretch of water between Guernsey and Jersey and, by all accounts, they’ve all gone down very well. Added to that list now are indie-rock three-piece Lifejacket and, while Zoohair may have had the biggest audience, most stayed around for the visitors despite it being only their first gig away from home.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

From the start the difference from the previous bands was as clear as a kick to the chest as Lifejacket launched into their noisy, raging take on indie with a purpose. Having felt somewhat ‘safe’ at their recent outing at Sound Guernsey, something more edgy was back in the feel of the band here. This, combined with their comfort with their older songs and sense of excitement in the new ones, made for one of their most powerful performances in a while.

Guitarist and vocalist Andy Sauvage was on fine form between songs as well as during them, with succinct but entertaining introductions to some numbers (and referencing the recent Islamophobic Guernsey scandal) while during the songs he showed a good dynamic in his vocals.

He and Mox (on the drums) were, necessarily, somewhat rooted to their positions on stage, but bass player John McCarthy seemed more freely moving than ever, giving a visual focus but never over stepping the mark to take away the spotlight when it needed to be elsewhere and, in repositioning his microphone to be able to hear the lone monitor, gave the band a much more gang like image than previously.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

It was clear I wasn’t alone in enjoying the performance as the Guernsey trio received the most enthusiastic audience response of the night and, while it wasn’t a night for a packed dancefloor, many in attendance made a point of saying they would like to them back over soon while picking up copies of Lifejacket’s debut album.

While the crowd could have been bigger, my first experience of The Town House as a venue, and first show in Jersey in several years, was definitely a positive one. While it was Lifejacket who came out on top (not that this was a competition) it was great to get just a small taste of the clearly vibrant and varied music scene the other island has to offer and it would be great to see more pan-island shows spreading the Channel Islands’ music not just from Guernsey to Jersey but coming back the other way as well.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here

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Vale Earth Fair: Unplugged – The Fermain Tavern – 30/01/16

Ramblin' Nick Mann

Ramblin’ Nick Mann

For the last few years the new year of live music in Guernsey has really got going with the Vale Earth Fair’s ‘unplugged’ nights at The Fermain Tavern where as many acts as they can squeeze in play acoustic (or semi-acoustic) sets in a showcase style event of non-stop live music.

Once again Tantale drummer Graham Duerden was compere of the night doing his best Jools Holland impression while hyping up each of the acts and the first was one launching his debut album – Ramblin’ Nick Mann.

While some of his songs feel a bit half-formed this was the most together performance I’ve seen from him – his homemade guitar even worked for the whole set. With a slightly knowing nod he grabbed the attention of those who wanted to be grabbed and, other than the indignity of the bass player from the next band tuning up while Nick was still playing, it was a good fun set paying homage to old blues with a unique twist.

With their bass tuned up, new band, Borderline Puppets, were first on the ‘main stage’. They delivered a set of suitably raw, grungy, acoustic rock including a mix of covers and originals drawing on the sound of the mid-1990s.

Borderline Puppets

Borderline Puppets

While the very nature of the music is rough and ready, they fell just the wrong side of this and came across as slightly unrehearsed and reliant on a book perched on a stool between guitarist/vocalist Danny Machon and vocalist L-J Turnbull.

As the set went on they seemed to relax into it somewhat and for a first gig by a brand new band it certainly could have been worse and it’ll be good to see another band inspired by these sounds develop.

Another relatively new band were up next, and it was my first time catching them live, Wondergeist. On record they feature a range of guest artists but live they are an acoustic duo and their brand of indie-folk suits that well. Between Steve Wickins and Peter Gilliver they have a good contrast of sound and style which work together well, Steve playing with a laid back air and Peter a much more intense, jittery presence.

Wondergeist

Wondergeist

Later in the set Wondergeist were joined for a few songs by Gregory Harrison on the violin which added some extra dynamic to the set that went down well with those on the now busy ‘dancefloor’ area at the Tav.

Over the years at these unplugged nights some bands take their usual set and change it around to fit a more acoustic style, others however just do what they usually do on less amplified instruments, and it was this second option that Honest Crooks chose to go with.

In this case that worked just fine as they had the dancefloor packed with gently jigging and skanking bodies as Raddy strummed his acoustic guitar and Andy bashed the cajon, rather than a full drum kit, in particularly effective style. Otherwise things were pretty much as we’ve come to expect from Honest Crooks as they continue their rapid ascent in popularity.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

Gregory Harrison had hoped to be launching his new EP tonight but the physical copies of it had yet to arrive, but he didn’t let that stop him as he delivered a set of his acoustic, modern-folk inspired, songs that not only went down well as he played, but had many talking afterwards as well.

As always Harrison’s rich, soulful voice was an immediate highlight of his performance and this combined with some fine technical guitar displays to grab the attention of the increasingly noisy audience.

The subject of noisy audiences has come up a few times over the years, particularly in relation to folk gigs and at the Sark Folk Festival, and for the most part it’s not something that has bothered me – after all most of these events are social occasions as well as music events.

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

Here though things seemed to go a little too far the wrong way at times with audiences members not just chatting at the back or getting raucously involved with the music but being actively (if probably not intentionally) disrespectful of the performers and other audience members.

While Honest Crooks earlier in the night had just played what they normally do on acoustic instruments, grunge-rockers SugarSlam went the other way and slightly rearranged some of their material to fit the nights ‘unplugged’ feel.

Being their first acoustic based show in their near 30 year history it worked rather well, particularly as it showcased a bit more of the power-pop aspect of their sound, doing what gigs like this should in exposing the other side of the same coin, so to speak.

As well as new numbers State and Luck from their upcoming EP, the band played a few old classics, including Wonders from their early 90s debut record that hasn’t been heard live since then, along with a great cover of Sacred Hearts’ Adorable.

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

This was before rounding the set off, in tribute to Lemmy and Philty Animal Taylor, with a run at Ace of Spades that saw drummer Brett’s ‘Cool Rod’ drumsticks splinter with a good dose of speed-country-rock’n’roll.

Regular visitor to the Vale Earth Fair, Grant Sharkey was back next introducing seemingly every song with the line, “This is a song about the 2008 financial crisis”. As always his loyal group of fans were down the front and lapping up his mix of humour, songs and politics, while the rest in attendance found a lot to like as well.

When limited to a specific set time Grant is at his best as it leaves less time for the political points to shift from thought-provoking to hectoring and the limitations of one man and a double-bass become less obvious – though Grant always does a lot more with that combination than most would think possible.

Grant Sharkey

Grant Sharkey

This led to an enjoyable set that, while not quite as fun and engaging as his last visit to Guernsey just before Christmas, was still good and had the crowd singing along as well as earning an encore in the form of ‘the Onesie song’.

Having enjoyed their outing at Chaos back in the summer I was looking forward to see what Near Bliss’ take of Nirvana unplugged might be, but, from the off it was clear this wouldn’t be quite the classic that performance was. As great as much of Nirvana’s music is, it would be very hard to argue that it is particularly happy, so when, early in the set, Near Bliss frontman Steve Wickins grinned his way through Rape Me, it was clear things were on shaky ground.

Added to this the three-piece hadn’t done anything to rework their sound other than Steve playing an acoustic guitar which left the drums thundering over the top in far too heavy fashion, while showing the gaps that can be found when fuzz and distortion are removed from grunge without other augmentation.

Near Bliss

Near Bliss

While those on the dancefloor seemed to be enjoying themselves with the familiar songs, the rest of the venue emptied as the over-long set went on and Near Bliss’ performance grew looser until it climaxed with a sloppy take on Smells Like Teen Spirit to close the show.

While it may not have ended on a high, the Vale Earth Fair’s unplugged night was one of their busiest fundraising events I remember in some time and, with this being their 40th anniversary year, set things off to a great start in the build up to the August Bank Holiday weekend festival.

You can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: January 2016 – Robert J Hunter and Flexagon

Robert J. Hunter on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Robert J. Hunter

Click here to listen to the show

A new year on BBC Introducing Guernsey started with a lot of new music spanning everything from folky jangliness to raw hip hop to dirty blues to psytrance.

The dirty blues came from Robert J. Hunter who came into the studio to record a four track acoustic session and tell me about his second album, Before The Dawn, and the release of a pair of new EPs coming up in the very near future.

Flexagon provided the psytrance and Goa style sounds as he told us about his debut album Helios and we premiered a new track of his remixing BLAKALASKA‘s Machine.

As well as that there was new music from Atari, Ukuladeez, Citizen-X and Ramblin’ Nick Mann and we took at listen to the three artists nominated for the Guernsey Ambassador of the Year Award; mura masa, Of Empires and Robyn Sherwell.

Click here to listen to the show or download it on the BBC iPlayer Radio App

Tracklist

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The Hateful Eight

The Hateful Eight posterHeading into the film billed as ‘The 8th Film From Quentin Tarantino’ it was inevitable that a lot of questions would be floating around The Hateful Eight. While I have enjoyed all his movies, its hard to argue that he peaked way back in 1994 with Pulp Fiction and, with this coming with the extra added bonus/burden of being shot and screened in 70mm Ultra Panavision/Cinerama and in a so-called ‘roadshow’ format.

Of course, not all screenings feature the ‘roadshow’ edition with the 70mm projection, not many cinemas are equipped to deal with such, but either way, I couldn’t help but wonder if all of this paraphernalia might be designed to distract from what was actually on screen.

That said, as I headed into the Odeon Leicester Square’s huge ‘Premier’ screen, it was hard not to feel a sense of anticipation. This was only further heightened as the lights dimmed and the vintage, stylised image of snow-capped mountains and a stage-coach, along with the word ‘Overture’, appeared on screen and Ennio Morricone’s specially written intro music blared from the speakers.

After some typically Tarantino opening titles that set the stage of this being not only an attempt at evoking elements of Leone’s ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ but also Tarantino’s own big budget exploitation movies, we get some genuinely fantastic snow-covered vistas introducing us to the semi-mythical winter mountains where we will spend the next three hours.

Kurt Russell and Samuel L Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Russell and Jackson

As the name suggests the main body of the cast is something of an ensemble, but it is the first two major players we meet who really lead the pack, in the form of Major Marquis Warren, aka The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson) and John Ruth, aka The Hangman (Kurt Russell).

As soon as these two begin their discussions its clear that, while the settings may change, there’s no mistaking Tarantino’s unique dialogue and we are firmly in his universe once more.

As we meet Daisy Domergue, aka The Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and Chris Mannix, aka The Sheriff (Walton Goggins) more of the Tarantinoisms come to light with the typical controversial language and a particularly nasty streak of violence directed at Domergue. Coming from one of the characters who seems to be the movie’s hero these are shocking and brutal, though as the film continues and we realise the title certainly holds true, and the violence is, at least, in keeping with the character and some level of comeuppance is had.

Tim Roth, Kurt Russel and Jennifer Jason Leigh in The Hateful Eight

Roth, Russell and Leigh

Following some more impressive landscapes we arrive at Minnie’s Haberdashery where we meet the rest of the titular cast and, thanks to a convenient blizzard, all are marooned on their journey and things take on something of the feel of a period set Reservoir Dogs with the players stuck in kind of limbo.

It’s while at the Haberdashery that the ingenious use of the 70mm format really comes into play as we are constantly aware of the finite confines of the location that really helps in building the pervading sense of isolation and paranoia needed to drive the plot.

As the paranoia and uncertainties pile up Jackson really takes the lead and is hugely impressive. He manages to do what many struggle with in taking Tarantino’s cartoonish characters and dialogue and imbuing them with a real genuine presence that here plays on ideas of racial tension (somewhat fitting for current real world political events, though that feels coincidental) as well as building a kind of analytical streak for the character that really pays off as the film goes on.

Tim Roth and Walton Goggins in The Hateful Eight

Roth and Goggins

In the roadshow edition an intermission cuts the action on a real cliffhanger and, along with the overture, added to the sense of this being something special and a cinema event like few others.

15 minutes later, following another mini-overture to get us back in the right mood, we get a recap voiced in knowing style by Tarantino that reveals a fairly major plot point and I’m interested to see the movie in a more standard screening to see how this is dealt with without the intermission.

With the paranoia and tension suitably elevated things descend into a fairly typical Tarantino style Grand Guignol Danse Macabre. Every time I thought it might become predictable some twist or other came to play and it managed to balance this to lead to satisfying dénouement that lived up to the title’s suggestions excellently.

Samuel L. Jackson in The Hateful Eight

Samuel L. Jackson

While surrounded by much pomp and circumstance The Hateful Eight is just what you’d expect it to be from Tarantino as it plays with cinematic cliché and convention with a rich seam of knowing exploitation and controversy baiting violence and language.

Along with that Jackson and Russell steal the show while all the other members play their parts in solid fashion with Goggins and Tim Roth as other standouts in that regard.

In all though it once again feels like simply just another Quentin Tarantino film with him almost playing to his own reputation rather than building on it. So, while enjoyable and in places technically impressive, its falls short of his best, but I’d say stands strong alongside Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained and Reservoir Dogs in his second tier of films.

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Highly Suspect, Of Empires, Critics – The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch – 27/01/16

Highly Suspect, Of Empires, Critics - posterHeading out to The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch on a Wednesday night I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite having been to plenty of shows at bigger venues, from the Mean Fiddler (under the old Astoria) to the O2 arena, I had never been to a London pub gig.

Upon arriving I found a surprisingly authentic, old-fashioned looking pub, that despite the overly trendy looking clientele, looked like it had been there for decades (if not more) and it was instantly obvious the night’s live music would be taking place in a separate room upstairs.

Heading up the narrow old staircase I emerged into a dark room packed with, at a guess, just over a hundred people, stood watching and listening to Critics who were midway through their set. The London-based band, who are set to support Theory of a Deadman in the near future, delivered a selection of bass and groove driven pop-rock with a good layer of synth included.

Frontman, Lynn Paignton, displayed a friendly charisma in his performance that was confident but not over bearing while bass player Carl Warren delivered the grooves with an admirable cool, smoothness. This all combined into something the crowd in the busy venue really seemed to be enjoying.

Critics

Critics

As the bands switched over, not an easy task with the only way on and off the stage being off the front into the crowd, it was interesting to see many of the audience stay put, waiting expectantly for the next band to start, not something commonly seen at pub gigs in Guernsey where drawing the audience away from the bar is often a big challenge.

Having seen them many times on their home turf, I was interested to see Of Empires in front of a less familiar crowd, and it was clear from the start that this wasn’t phasing the four-piece at all as they launched into a set made up almost entirely of new material. The new songs continued the band’s development with their cool, slick, rock ‘n’ roll swagger now being matched entirely by the music.

Liam Bewey and George Le Page, as the engine room-like rhythm section, may have provided the power but much of the essence of what makes Of Empires sound came from Matthew Berry’s dexterous, reverb laden, vintage guitar sounds that bring to mind a slowed down version of classic rock ‘n’ roll mixed with something of The Doors and 60s counter-culture vibes.

Of Empires

Of Empires

As always their stage presence is focused and transmitted through frontman Jack Fletcher, who, despite the small stage had all the stances, shapes and poses you’d expect to see from someone like Bono in a stadium, but in this case all driven with a barely contained frantic feel that proved infectious.

While the audience’s response to Of Empires started positive but polite it grew as the set went on and by the time it came to middle-eight of Carla Jack had many singing back to him, ending the set on a high, suggesting this could be a band on the brink of taking the next step.

Despite the positive reception afforded the two opening acts it was clear, as the already busy and hot venue, filled up even more, that many had come out to see the headliners, Brooklyn three-piece, Highly Suspect.

From the start the trio came on with a soulful power in their mix of blues, garage and rock ‘n’ roll, tinged with the infectious energy of punk. Even though this marked their first appearance in London the crowd were clearly already familiar with the band and this gave guitarist/lead vocalist Johnny Stevens already positive stage presence an extra boost.

Highly Suspect

Highly Suspect

Stevens’ jagged and fractured punk-blues guitar brought to mind the likes of Jack White but with an extra speed and intensity which was nicely offset by Rich Meyer’s smooth, progressive bass lines all backed by the strong, thundering drums of Ryan Meyer that brought to mind Teaspoonriverneck’s Brett Stewart.

As the set went on Highly Suspect showed a real dynamic sense to their music with more traditional power trio blues (featuring a lead vocal turn from bassist Meyer) along with a semi-solo track from Stevens that showed a dark side within the band’s positive presence driving home their already honest and authentic feeling.

Having been unsure what to expect at the start of the night I headed back to the tube station having seen three good bands and two stand out performances and, while I assume not every pub gig in London is of such a high-caliber, it certainly was a good one to start of with.

See a few more photos from the show on Facebook

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Sound Guernsey present Lifejacket and Lord Vapour – The Venue – 22/01/16

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

After hip-hop and reggae last month and punk-ska and folk-hop the one before, things got undeniably more rocky for the third Sound Guernsey live music event for under-18s as they welcomed stoner rockers Lord Vapour and ‘hard-indie’ troupe Lifejacket to their stage at The Venue.

Lord Vapour started things off with their brand of groove fueled, vintage-tinged, rock and immediately seemed to engage the young crowd getting more than a few heads nodding.

With new songs mixed in with those we’ve been hearing for the best part of the last year they have extended their range somewhat to include a slightly broader mix, but it’s certainly the more groove based tracks that work best compared to more the more heavy metal flavoured numbers.

The trio suited the small stage well with Joe Le Long and Christiaan Mariess really rolling with the rhythm on bass and drums, while Henry Fears lead guitar wailed impressively over the top (though his vocal moments were less impressive).

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

As the set went on the audience began to drift somewhat and I’ll be the first to admit that there were points where Lord Vapour’s sound did get a bit ‘same-y’. At just over an hour their set felt over long no matter how well delivered their lose, semi-improvised, jams were.

Far more to the point were Lifejacket who blasted out of the blocks in their usual intense fashion. Seemingly fuelled by a barely contained ire at the world in general, they too grabbed the attention of the crowd and held it in probably a more sustained way.

With a few newer songs laced through the set the trio were at their slickest tonight and there were points where the performance was almost too slick for its own good, losing a bit of the intensity they have at their best. Nonetheless they gained cheers and applause after every song, I think much to their own surprise given the fact this was an audience most of whom had never had the chance to hear them before.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Even with the good response the audience remained largely static and maintained a polite distance from the stage. This is something that has come up time and again with regards to many gigs on the island in recent years (with a few notable exceptions) so its hard to tell if the reason for the lack of interaction from the audience is down to this crowd being less experienced gig goers of if it’s just something to do with audiences in Guernsey in general. It could of course be the music, but all of it seemed to be eliciting a strong positive reaction.

Back to Sound Guernsey though and once again both bands put in great performances that were generally well received and  more youngsters seemed to appreciate what they were experiencing than previously (with the notable exceptions of Buffalo Huddleston’s wildly received set a few months back) and the organisers seemed confident they are now reaching the untapped audience of young music that exist on the island.

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The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers and Alan Lovell – The Golden Lion – 09/01/16

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers

A couple of weeks ago I headed down to the newly refurbished Golden Lion for a night of busking old-time skiffle street music from The Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers.

Being the first weekend properly clear of the holidays the place was packed with many hoping to escape the cabin fever the festive period can bring on and the Skillet Lickers music was a perfect accompaniment to this.

Along with them Alan Lovell of the Swinging Blue Jeans was playing but to say the Skillet Lickers blew him away with their energy, inventiveness and honesty of performance would be an understatement.

My full review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 23rd January (you can read it below) and you can see my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Rectory Hill Skillet Lickers - Golden Lion review scan 23:01:16

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IWA Japan: Kawasaki Dream 1995 – King of the Deathmatch

King of the Deathmatch DVD coverIn the summer of 1995 professional wrestling was in the midst of a transition. The then WWF was trying to recover from Hulkamania with its so-called ‘New Generation’ being led by Kevin Nash’s Diesel feuding with arguably their worst King of the Ring winner Mabel. Meanwhile in WCW Hulkamania was doing its best to run wild but was, at best, faltering a year before the major impact of the nWo began to change American wrestling forever.

While North America was in the doldrums, in Japan business was booming, with the stalwarts like New Japan and All Japan leading the pack and new promotions such as FMW, Michinoku Pro and the then brand new IWA Japan doing a very reasonable trade as well.

With that in mind IWA Japan staged their biggest show to date, Kawasaki Dream, at Kawasaki Baseball Stadium in August 1995 and, inspired by OSW Review’s look at the show, I thought I’d give my slightly shoddy DVD of it another watch as well.

The DVD kicks off with some terrible heavy metal overlaid on the introduction of the show’s competitors (this kind of soundtrack is a strong negative against this version of the show). The main bulk of the card is made up of the titular tournament and entrances of note come from Leatherface (waving his chainsaw through a terrified looking crowd), Terry Funk in cowboy mode complete with horse and Cactus Jack dragging, appropriately given his role here, a barbed wire wrapped crucifix.

Aside from the tournament there are a few other matches highlighted by an NWA World Title match pitting champion Dan ‘The Beast’ Severn against Tarzan Goto, so we see Severn arrive in a not-quite-limousine and show off his gold (also including the UFC #5 championship strap).

Cactus Jack with barbed wire crossCactus Jack with barbed wire cross

Cactus Jack with barbed wire cross

The matches start off with the quarterfinals of the tournament and Tiger Jeet Singh (a Japanese gaijin veteran in the vein of The Sheik and more recently Sabu) against Mr. Gannosuke. Within seconds the match heads out of the ring for an extended crowd brawl, despite the fact this is supposed to be a chain match, and very soon Gannosuke is bleeding in particularly nasty looking fashion.

After about five minutes they do make it back into the ring, not that any actual wrestling happens, and the chain eventually comes into play in fairly typical choke and fist fashion. Throughout its clear Singh either can’t, or isn’t willing, to sell or bump in any real fashion and he eventually picks up the win with his signature claw hold forcing Gannosuke onto a bed of barbed wire for the pin to end a lifeless brawl.

Before the next match we get an excellent old-school Terry Funk promo; serious, considered and respectful before it all kicks off, that shows just why Funk is the legend he is. This is followed by a promo from ‘Leatherface’ (a low-level American veteran in a bad mask) that is in no way suitable to his character and really spoils his potential mystique before he even leaves the dressing room.

The match itself is another Chain and Barbed Wire Board match and is a much more structured affair. Impressively Leatherface hits an early moonsault before the hardcore stuff begins with chainsaw blows to the head (from the body of the device rather than the clearly false blade) before they head outside the ring for a bit of walk and brawl.

The high spot of this match comes as the competitors climb a fence dividing the stadium seating from the arena floor but it’s largely anticlimactic and is followed by a very safe and disappointing table spot from Leatherface before a bloodied Funk connects with a chained fist for the win and we get the more usual for the time ‘middle aged and crazy’ Terry Funk promo as he heads back to the locker room.

Terry Funk and Leatherface

Terry Funk and Leatherface

From there we cut straight to Cactus Jack and immediately Foley’s most extreme alter-ego shows he’s a cut above the other performers on the show (with the exception of Funk). The speech is exactly what a promo should be and makes this whole show sound like the biggest event ever while really getting his slightly unhinged character across. Then Terry ‘Bam Bam’ Gordy rambles something far less impressive that really demonstrates a man out of time and out-of-place following the dissolution of the Freebirds.

The match itself, a Barbed Wire Baseball Bat Thumbtack match, starts with the wrestlers running to the ring to race for the bat and after a few reasonably safe shots both men are brawling on the floor (you’ll notice the theme here I’m sure).

Cactus and Gordy go back and forth out and in the ring with some decent teases of thumbtack spots that do a decent job of building the psychology and mystique of the weapon before Cactus takes a nasty slam from the ropes to the arena floor that is classic Foley of giving far more than he ever needs to.

As the match goes on it becomes obvious Gordy isn’t going to be taking any big hits or falls so Cactus bumps around for him, starting a trend for the whole show, and eventually ends up taking a nasty looking curb stomp face first into the thumbtacks. This is followed by a pair of poorly performed powerbombs that Cactus was lucky to walk away from as Gordy clearly can’t muster the strength to lift the 270 pounder, before Jack hits a DDT into the thumbtacks on Gordy (Jack takes all the impact on his back) for the win.

Cactus Jack and Terry Gordy

Cactus Jack and Terry Gordy

The last quarter-final pits Shoji Nakamaki against Hiroshi Ono in another bat and thumbtack match. Starting off with some back and forth barbed wire bat shots to their well padded chests.

The duo then exchange some seriously stiff looking punches before its back to the walk and brawl which takes them from ring to ring (three are set up around the stadium). While outside both men get busted open in particularly nasty looking fashion before, back in the ring, we get a real wrestling hold, an STF, much to the surprise of everyone.

That out the way the match concludes with a series of thumbtack spots including a brutal looking headfirst back suplex into the tacks before a full nelson facebuster into the tacks gives Nakamaki the win.

In all the first round was hugely underwhelming with little in the way of story or psychology and very few genuinely impressive spots and if it hadn’t been for Cactus and Funk would have been all but unwatchable.

That done we get a break from the tournament with first a lightweight title match that is very loose and features a few good suplexes but sloppy high-flying, culminating in Takashi Otano getting the win over Kid Ichihara to win the WWA Light Heavyweight Championship.

Kamikaze and Iceman

Kamikaze and Iceman

This is followed by a sloppy not-quite-lucha match from a masked duo that has little story or psychology and not even any real high spots to make up for it, before it ends with a series of botched roll-ups giving Iceman the win over Kamikazee (nope, me neither…).

With Cactus Jack in one match and Terry Funk in the other there seemed to be a bit more promise to the semifinal matches of the tournament but, as the first starts out with Tiger Jeet Singh attacking the referee with the handle of his sword it’s not a good sign.

From there Funk interferes and another crowd brawl ensues that soon seems to step over into genuine brutality as Singh jabs and gouges at Funk’s arm with a broken metal chair leg. This all looks hugely unprofessional and, judging by the rest of the night, does seem to do Funk some real damage which is never a good thing to see.

The gimmick for this match is a Barbed Wire Board and Glass match and its Funk who ends up going back first into the bed of glass which, thankfully, the camera spares us a close up of. Its clear throughout that once again Singh is either unable or unwilling to sell or bump, even for Funk, and the end comes with a fairly run-of-the-mill interference spot from Cactus Jack that allows Funk to pin Singh.

Despite Funk’s excellent selling and genuine professionalism in the face of Singh’s ‘work’, this is another sloppy mess of a match.

Cactus Jack delivers his flying elbow

Cactus Jack delivers his flying elbow

For the second semifinal it’s a Barbed Wire Board and Spike Nail Match between Cactus and Nakamaki that follows the now standard routine of brief in-ring section before bailing to the floor for a scrap.

Unlike the other semifinal, this is a very give and take match with both men feeling the barbed wire before the nail board comes into play and both men feel that too. This looks particularly nasty, though seemingly more due to selling than actual injury.

One of the first proper big ‘spots’ of the night comes as Cactus hits his diving elbow from apron on Nakamaki who is under the nail board before some more back and forth barbed wire spots in the ring culminating in Cactus’s trademark double arm DDT on the wire for the win.

This is the best match so far by a country mile and potentially match of the night that once again shows Foley’s innate ability at telling stories and bringing psychology into even the most full-on brawling hardcore matches and is followed by yet another exceptional Cactus promo.

For another interlude in the tournament we are ‘treated’ to a pair of championship matches.

First up The Headhunters (a pair of enormous twins) take on Los Cowboys for the IWA tag straps in a match that, save for one big plancha spot from one of the Headhunters, is near pointless as the twins do very little while the Cowboys sell and bump. It ends with a Headhunters win but the whole thing is messy and unconvincing and at 17 minutes vastly overlong.

NWA and UFC Champion, Dan Severn

NWA and UFC Champion, Dan Severn

Following one of the worst wrestling promos I’ve ever seen, courtesy of NWA champion Dan Severn, and a good look at the horrifically scarred forehead of his challenger Tarzan Goto, the world championship match gets underway. It actually starts off like a conventional, if stiff, wrestling match which shows promise, but as ever it’s not long before Goto heads outside followed by Severn and what looks like a genuine fight ensues and somewhere along the line Goto tries to use a bottle as a weapon!

The fight soon gets sloppy and overlong before both men are back in the ring and Severn hits a nice and legit looking suplex, but then its back outside and chairs flying around with no real purpose.

Back in the ring again it’s a sloppy sequence that seems as if its meant to look like a shoot, but clearly isn’t, before a lengthy sleeper/choke spot gives Severn the win to retain followed by another terrible promo almost word-for-word repeating his earlier effort

This looks as if it could have been a decent match had it been more structured and booked with more consideration, but ultimately it ends up being a mess like nearly every other match on the show.

From there we head straight into the now legendary tournament final of Cactus Jack vs. Terry Funk in an over gimmicked Barbed Wire Rope, Exploding Barbed Wire Boards & Exploding Ring Time Bomb Death Match.

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

The duo excellently play the psychology of the barbed wire ropes, teasing interaction with it before both taste it in different ways. Following this Funk is the first to taste the pyro board which looks spectacular and must have been astonishing to see in person.

As the match goes on the duo head outside, but unlike the other matches every moment feels built to (if at times slightly rushed) and there’s a real story of rivals really fighting for something along with the sense of a torch being passed from one generation to the other.

Despite the brutal nature of the match they still find time for Funk to use his signature spinning toe hold before an unnecessary run in from Singh hasten things toward their conclusion, but not before a hugely anticlimactic time bomb moment that gets a lot of heat from the otherwise surprisingly polite crowd.

Cactus elbow to Funk

Cactus elbow to Funk

Cactus and Funk win them back slightly with back suplex into the exploding barbed wire that seems to be the source of a severe cut to Cactus as well as major burns to his arm as recorded in later photographs. The match concludes with what feels like a slightly botched ladder spot that sees Cactus collapse into the barbed wire ropes before getting the pin on Funk.

In the end though this is, for the most part, the best match on the show and a fitting end to the tournament. That said if it weren’t for where this launched the career of Mick Foley the whole event would have been long forgotten as, despite he and Funk’s best efforts it really doesn’t deliver in any meaningful way and left me wondering if it was really worth it for any of the performers many of whom seemed to be legitimately injured in one way or another for very little gain – especially Cactus Jack who earned his win by taking the nastiest looking moves of the night and getting the worst looking injuries.

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

Cactus Jack and Terry Funk

The show ends with another excellent promo from Cactus – quite how Foley delivers this given the state he’s in is beyond me – while Terry Funk is shown climbing into an ambulance making for a great ending that keeps the storyline strong, showing respect between the two finalists but maintaining their respective positions of face and heel and selling the events legendary brutality.

Really though, unless you are a completest there is little to recommend here that you couldn’t see in a 10 minute highlight package of which I’m sure many exist floating around YouTube.

Anyway here’s the OSW review of the show which I’m sure is more entertaining than mine…

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Tromeo and Juliet

Tromeo and JulietIn 1996 Baz Luhrman and his leading man Leonardo DiCaprio shot to mainstream international recognition with the release of a new retelling of William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet. A couple of months later, keeping with the long-held tradition of exploitation cinema, Troma Films released their, rather more unique, version of the story, Tromeo & Juliet.

From the off we are in fairly familiar Troma territory, albeit with what looks like a far higher budget than most of their output, as Motorhead’s Lemmy welcomes us to “Fair Manhattan, where we lay our scene” and introduces the principal players (then the less principled ones… that’s the level of humour we’re dealing with, for the most part).

Then we head to Lloyd Kaufman’s vision of a punk club where we meet various members of the Capulet family and a piercing and tattoo parlour where we meet various of the Ques (this film’s version of the Montague family) including Tromeo.

From there the film takes on a very loose version of the origin story, albeit with extra gore, body modification, sex, bondage, penis monsters and drugs that induce transformation into a cow-human hybrid… as anyone who’s knows Troma’s work will recognise its almost pointless trying to explain how most of that fits into the story.

Tromeo and Juliet - Will Keenan and Jane Jensen

Tromeo and Juliet – Will Keenan and Jane Jensen

As you’d expect Kaufman’s direction is at best bad and at worst atrocious, especially when a slightly clever attempt at montage is attempted and things become momentarily impossible to follow (this happens a few times, particularly when we go into a dream sequence).

Probably the best attempt at ‘clever’ editing comes when we are introduced to our two leads romantic situations as we cut from Juliet and her nurse/housekeeper, Ness, in bed and Tromeo watching a porn CD-ROM (it’s definitely the 90s, folks!) – again this pretty much tells you everything you need to know about the movie.

What makes this film stand head and shoulders above most other Troma movies I’ve seen, such as their legendary Toxic Avenger series and the likes of Class of Nuke Em High, Surf Nazis Must Die and Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD, are the contributions to the script from James Gunn. Gunn would go on to write the Dawn of the Dead remake and write and direct Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy and hints at his slightly off beat, irreverent style poke through here.

Lemmy - House of MotorheadA highlight of this is the intertwining of the original text with a more Troma sensibility which range from the obvious (a blind drunk Monty Que asking the whereabouts of his son) to the, comparatively, clever.

For example, to Juliet’s “Parting is such sweet sorrow” Tromeo retorts, “Yeah, it totally sucks”, this ‘couplet’ somewhat sums up all you need to know about the movie’s ‘bard-sploitation’ ambitions as it clashes the text with the basest of things in its own style.

As the film climaxes with a twist on the original tale (though West Side Story this isn’t) I couldn’t help but be entertained by what is not just on paper, but for the most part on film, a fairly awful movie but what seem to be Gunn’s contributions helping elevate it, slightly, above the rest of Kaufman and Troma’s oeuvre.

This review is based of the 16:9 version of the film included on the 2015 88 Films edition of the movie that gives a very good visual transfer with generally very good audio, this trailer isn’t…

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Elliot Falla – Screaming At The Sky

Elliot Falla - Screaming At The Sky EP coverFollowing the success of the likes of Ed Sheeran, James Blake, George Ezra and more, the world has hardly been short of well turned out, young, male, singer-songwriters and one at the top of the list of those coming out of Guernsey right now is Elliot Falla. Having gigged as a solo acoustic act his debut EP, Screaming At The Sky, takes four of those songs and expands them to have a full band sound.

Opener, Say Goodbye To Our Minds, starts things off strong with that acoustic sound as other instruments gradually build behind it until it becomes a nice slice of fresh, young sounding, middle of the road rock.

You’re My Way Out builds on this with hints of blues added to the template (it’s no surprise Falla has shown himself to be a devotee of fellow islander Robert J. Hunter). This is followed by the EP’s potential misstep, Mystery Woman, that lands just on the wrong side of the balance between naïveté and immaturity, while its mix of sounds doesn’t coalesce as well as the other three songs.

Elliot Falla

Elliot Falla

Closer, You’re All Gone, however is possibly the record’s strongest track and, for me, has the feel of being a ‘lead single’ to it.

Across all four tracks Falla’s rich voice is generally impressive, though there are a few moments where it’s slightly mid-Atlantic sound feels put on and it sounds like he’s maybe trying too hard to sound like those who came before.

Musically the songs mix a few styles to create something that, while familiar, also has its own feel. Through the singer-songwriter template, comes hints of indie, blues, pop punk and MOR rock which is combined with some great production work and additional backing vocals to create an impressive full band sound.

For a debut EP Screaming At The Sky lays some solid foundations from which Falla can, hopefully, build a more coherent sound of his own as he and his writing mature and he adds a full live band to the mix, both on stage and in the studio.

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