BBC Introducing Guernsey: May 2016 – Fly Casual and Lord Vapour

Fly Casual on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Fly Casual on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Click here to listen to the show

As we near the start of Guernsey’s festival season the May edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey was packed as I looked ahead to what was coming in the next month and had a look at was going on now.

Fly Casual joined me in the studio to play an acoustic session and talk about their return to the stage over the last year, including performing at Vale Earth Fair and Jonah Beats, as they gear up to play the main stage at Chaos 12 at the end of June.

I also spoke to Lord Vapour who have just released the digital version of their debut album, Mill Street Blues, ahead of a release on vinyl later in the year.

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

I also played new music from Sons Of CainSugarSlamGregory Harrison and a special live track from Robyn Sherwell recorded at a recent BBC Radio 1 show ahead of Big Weekend.

You can listen to the show by clicking here

Tracklist

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Hank Chinaski, Static Alice, Burning at Both Ends and Rogue – The Fermain Tavern – 21/05/16

Static Alice

Static Alice

After nearly a year gigging in pretty much every other venue in Guernsey, Static Alice returned to The Fermain Tavern last Saturday with a line up of new bands in tow as well as a Jersey quartet making their second visit to the island.

Newcomers, Rogue, started things off with some reasonable middle of the road style rock sounds that saw them looking and sounding a little lost. As the set went on things became a little more metallic and they seemed far more at home in this territory, particularly drummer Luke Corbin and lead singer Carmen Stella Tippett who seemed far more relaxed with this material and had the feeling of a less ‘emo’ Amy Lee.

Mid set she took a back seat for a cover of Rage Against The Machine’s Killing In The Name that was far too polite for such a potentially incendiary track and the closing drums and guitar instrumental metal duet, while well executed, left the set with an oddly disjointed feel.

Rogue

Rogue

It’s always hard to criticise a band so new to the public stage and, with a little more self-assurance, I think they could be onto something good, particular Tippett who seemed to poses a latent stage presence behind the nerves – though I couldn’t help feeling if the guitarists invested in a tuning pedal each it might help the whole thing appear a bit more slick.

As Burning At Both Ends launched into their set it was hard not to think I was being transported back to the L’ancresse Lodge, circa 2008, as metal-tinged, emo-ish pop-punk leapt from the speakers. Added to this was the presence of guitarist Martyn Brown and bass player Adam Dawe who were stalwarts of the young bands of that scene.

Completed by frontman Peter Mitchell and drummer Andy Nicholson the four-piece delivered a set of well executed covers (including the likes of Lit, Good Charlotte and more) and solid originals all matching their chosen style to a tee.

Particularly impressive was the opening pair of their own songs as well as Mitchell’s obvious range of skills not only on guitar but also switching from melodic vocals to hardcore inflected shouts with ease.

Burning at Both Ends

Burning at Both Ends

Though there was definitely a sense of nostalgia to Burning At Both Ends’ set with this came the beginnings of something new and, currently, a bit different to anything else on offer with a definite crossover potential.

Though not playing last it was clear that, if there was a headline band tonight, it was Static Alice as they launched into one of their rockier sets with a track that highlighted their debut album, King Kong.

With the crowd firmly onside throughout they rolled through a set that, while probably the heaviest they could offer, still found dynamic in its pop-rock sounds that came in multi-song volleys with little break between. This more rapid fire delivery did trip the band up a few times but never in such a way as to derail their energy and, if anything, this extra looseness benefitted their performance as a more fun example than you might get from them in front of a regular pub crowd.

Static Alice

Static Alice

Closing the set with Hurricane from their Beautiful Mystery EP Static Alice left it as it began, with a rocking blast that made for a very enjoyable performance.

While every other band on the bill had included a heavy dose of pop in their sound, Jersey quartet Hank Chinaski (named for a literary alter ego of Charles Bukowski) dispensed of it entirely to present a wall of hardcore inflected noise for the best part of an hour.

The belligerent assault, led by a frontman who barely set foot on the stage preferring to stalk the floor, had a feel at times of the kind of anti-music discussed, but rarely practiced with sincerity, in many punk circles and in that found a raw kind of energetic commitment that spewed forth from amps, drums and mouths.

Unfortunately, while all this was impressive and commendable, the lack of any dynamic beyond this tantrum-like rage, especially for the first half of the set, did start to become rather one note and, in the face of the energy on display, somewhat boring. This wasn’t helped by a lack of direct engagement with anyone but a few friends from the frontman who was shrouded in hood, cap and hair throughout, rarely looking up or eliciting any kind of real connection rather focussing on fairly standard ‘hardcore frontman’ poses.

Hank Chinaski

Hank Chinaski

As the set neared its end other elements began to creep through in Hank Chinaski’s sound and the final track finally coalesced into something certainly more palatable.

I was left, though, with the impression that palatable was far from the aim and the intent was to alienate as many as possible, in a somewhat clichéd old punk way despite this not being a band of old punks. If this was the case the rapidly dwindling audience certainly demonstrated the performance to be a success, but it left the end of the night with a rather odd feeling in comparison to the three engaging performances that had come before.

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Chaos For Jonah – The Mariners Inn – 14/05/16

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

Following the runaway success of the Jonah Beats all-dayer and compilation album back in March, the guys behind that decided to stage a more Chaos flavoured fundraiser for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity as they invited SugarSlam, Honest Crooks and The Phantom Cosmonaut to take to the stage at the Mariners on the Bridge.

After some typical heavy and eccentric musical choice from DJ St. Ace, the live music go going with The Phantom Cosmonaut, now in two piece form with Brett Stewart’s drums backing up the fiercely overdriven guitars, but for obvious reasons that’s all I’ll say about that.

Honest Crooks continued from where they left off on Liberation Day, launching into their set of ska (should be) floor fillers in fine style. A slightly wobbly new song seemed to trip the trio up a little but it wasn’t long before they were back on form, if in a little more of fun-filled mood than on the big stage on Monday.

Honest Crooks with Bobby Battle

Honest Crooks with Bobby Battle

Even if the dancefloor wasn’t packed with skanking bodies the audience in the now busy pub still seemed to be enjoying things and having To The Woods’ main man Bobby Battle join Honest Crooks on kazoo for their take on Gentlemen’s Dub Club’s High Grade just kept the spirits getting higher.

With encores called for and provided, in the form of Sublime’s Date Rape and Reel Big Fish’s Beer, Honest Crooks continued their string of great shows.

Between sets Jade took over DJing duties with a selection ranging the well-known like David Bowie to obscure French gypsy punk style acts that, given the varied live music on offer tonight fit perfectly and showed why she was so successful in booking the Vale Earth Fair’s Stage Against The Machine last year.

SugarSlam seemed a little worse for wear as they launched into The Cult’s She Sells Sanctuary to start a set combining their own grungy power-pop tunes with a few classic covers.

SugarSlam with Stace

SugarSlam with Stace

While it may have been a bit loose and sloppy the set was, none-the-less hugely fun and energetic with older song Psychobabble, new number State and Sacred Hearts cover Adorable providing the highlights.

Their now customary takes on Motorhead’s Ace of Spades and The Stooges I Wanna Be Your Dog filled the dance floor as the SugarSlam neared the end of their set.

This came when former Mechanical Lobster frontman Stace Blondel joined the band on stage for an intense run at Guns ‘n’ Roses It’s So Easy which brought to a close another great Jonah Beats fundraiser that saw more than £600 donated to the charity.

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Live Music on Liberation Day – 09/05/16

Equilibrium

Equilibrium on the Albert Pier stage

Every year on 9th May the island of Guernsey comes together to celebrate the island’s liberation from occupying Nazi forces in 1945.

A big part of these celebrations has become the live music that takes place around the island in pretty much any venue capable of hosting it. For the 2016 Liberation Day I headed into St Peter Port where the ‘official’ celebrations were taking place to experience 8 hours of non-stop live music.

My review was first published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 14th May – you can find an easier to read version below the cutting – and you can see my photos from on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here.

Liberation day music review scan - 14/05/16

Full review

It seems more than ever music was part of the Liberation Day celebrations in 2016 with gigs pretty much everywhere they could be all weekend, from a storming night of hard rock at The Fermain Tavern on Saturday to Market Rocks on Sunday to Vale Earth Fair’s annual all-dayer at The Last Post on Liberation Day itself (and countless gigs all over the rest of the island). With St Peter Port being the traditional focus of festivities plenty of music was on offer there too so I headed down, first to Castle Cornet, during the afternoon, then later to the Albert Pier.

The Crowman and The Fiddling PixieThe Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie

The Crowman and The Fiddling PixieThe Crowman and The Fiddling Pixie

With the music getting going at three o’clock the morning’s rain had begun to clear by the time The Crowman stepped onto the stage in the castle’s middle ward. Starting off a bit slow he seemed to pick up after breaking a string on his acoustic guitar, though this didn’t stop him playing two more songs on the same instrument without batting an eyelid before switching to the banjo.

As ever the performance was as lo-fi as they come and, while I’m not sure all in the steadily growing audience quite got it, The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie got some feet tapping and heads nodding and got a good response to their songs. A particularly nice moment came with the addition of Lemmy and Philthy Animal Taylor to their song Mystery Train.

The music continued round on the Castle’s South Battery with a very well-played but a bit too quiet set from guitarist Chris Taylor before a slow and soulless run at a selection of ‘1940s style’ songs from vocal trio Les Blondettes and an mp3 player (or CD player, or similar). The phrase that sprung to mind was ‘it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing’, I’ll let you work out quite how this performance fitted that statement.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

Back on the middle ward I had a chance to catch a couple of songs from Buffalo Huddleston who, as ever, had drawn a big crowd and were sounding great, though the audience were a bit more sedate than I’m used to seeing for them – maybe something to do with the rigidly enforced alcohol free zone stretching as far as the castle for the day.

A bit of awkward booking meant I had to split my time between the two stages at the castle to also catch some of The Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s set. Being short Lisa Vidamour meant the performance was maybe a little more sedate, but none-the-less Mark Guppy, Tim Corbett and Jess Nash carried the vocals excellently while the whole band played a great set despite fighting a lack of on stage monitors.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

As they played the sun even came out for the first time that day and, with their originals alongside a cracking cover of Billy Bragg’s You Woke Up My Neighbourhood, they brought a real sense of fun to the afternoon.

While the music was rounding up Castle Cornet it was just getting going on the Albert Pier with Equilibrium kicking off things off with a tightly delivered set of pop, rock and pop-punk songs.

This was my second time seeing the band (who it transpires are all only 14 years old!) and, while they were still a little on the polite side, they seemed much more confident and at home on stage, largely un-phased playing to a few hundred people.

The lead trio brought a great presence to the songs with some fantastic harmony work on Dancing On My Own, while the bass player had some impressive, if understated, moments and if they continue on like this and can add some more originals to their set they will worth keeping an eye on in years to come.

Matt and Marcas of The Secret Smiles

Matt and Marcas of The Secret Smiles

After a few years of seemingly being a bit on-again/off-again The Secret Smiles presented a united front here with a set of 60s/90s folk-indie hybrid sounds that perfectly complemented the now warm evening sun.

Frontman Matt Ward strikes the quintessential image for this type of thing, somewhere between Dylan and a Gallagher (or maybe a more Liverpool based equivalent) complete with 12-sting acoustic guitar and confident swagger.

As the set went on some more raucous elements started to come out, particularly on To The City, but throughout their were hints of The Stranglers, The Jam and others in amongst the lighter tones where the melodies led the way.

It all culminated in their final song that combined everything that had come before perfectly and had the feel of what could be a great single and went down very well with the now big crowd on the pier leading to an encore of New Order’s Blue Monday.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

With the crowd nicely warmed up and the earlier bad weather and power cut seemingly forgotten, Honest Crooks hit the stage to continue their now year and a bit long ascent. Their upbeat ska-punk was spot on for this event and James Radford really looked the part, and seemed far more confident, in shades on the big stage, much more so than at other venues.

With lots of top-notch original songs rubbing shoulders with covers from Sublime, Gentlemen’s Dub Club and more their music, that contains a non-self-consciously political streak along with an upbeat sense of fun, had people dancing and singing along throughout before an encore was demanded that came in the rather brave form of Sublime’s Date Rape! (thankfully I don’t think many were listening to the lyrics)

Following this performance I’d say Honest Crooks have taken the spot of Guernsey’s premier summer party band, and really they only just seem to be hitting their stride.

Element 6

Element 6

Following that was going to be a challenge for anyone and, while their set of pop-rock covers was pretty well delivered, Element 6 were facing quite a task.

Their performance was solid, as you’d expect from the now well experienced function band, but their funk-reggae take on The White Stripes Seven Nation Army was a misstep from which they never really recovered for me, though they did get a good number singing along to the hits.

As several thousand pounds were detonated in the sky above the castle, Sons of the Desert were setting up on stage and, as the fireworks finished, they launched into a great set of highly skank worthy ska. The nine-piece band captured the feel and style of the musical excellently with Colin Leach and Chris Pearson leading from the front and involving the energetic crowd from the off.

Sons of the Desert

Sons of the Desert

For a band like this it would be very easy to stick to the mainstream classics but, while all the big hits of Madness, The Specials, et al appear, room is made for more left field choices such as a track from the Tokyo Ska Orchestra and a ska’d up Nirvana cover that were great to hear and helped round off the day in excellently, partying style.

Not only was the selection of music on offer for Liberation Day 2016 impressive but also served to show the breadth of talent Guernsey has for this particular art, far more than our 60,000ish population really should have.

From upcoming youngsters to longstanding veterans there was something for all tastes and from all ages with a real sense that people can do whatever they want with their talents, which is a great message to take away from a day celebrating liberation.

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Songs And Words – Ginger Wildheart (DVD)

Ginger Wildheart - Songs & Words DVDA couple of years ago Ginger Wildheart announced a new campaign via his now well established channel on Pledgemusic to write and release a book tracing the story of his career song by song, Songs & Words. As seems to have become customary with these things the project expanded from a simple autobiographical book to a live stage show and then this DVD of that show – a kind of ‘Audience with… Ginger Wildheart’.

Recorded on the London leg of the tour, at the Leicester Square Theatre (apparently where the Sex Pistols played their first gig with Sid Vicious, according to Mr. Wildheart) it’s a lengthy affair, as anyone who’s brought any of Ginger’s recent albums would expect, but comes with an impressive air of intimacy as Ginger leads us through his career and life from the moment he was fired from the Quireboys by Sharon Osbourne to the beginning of what became the 555% triple album.

The first half of the show tracks the first run of The Wildhearts, the band for whom Ginger is, of course, most well-known, and while their exploits are fairly legendary, hearing them from the horse’s mouth is something else. This is where the show’s real appeal comes in that it really doesn’t seem as if Ginger is out to hide anything or cover anything up and he is brutally honest about a lot of aspects of his life – far more so than most other musicians you’ll find.

Jase Edwards and Ginger Wildheart

Ginger (with Jase Edwards)

So, we get stories of a fairly astronomical drug intake, misadventure when trying to record a music video in New York, squandering record company money on bizarre video projects in an attempt to get fired and more.

I’m sure that all sounds like a thousand other rock ‘n’ roll stories, what makes this feel a bit different though is the unassuming air Ginger has on stage that makes him come across like a ‘local musician’ (for want of a better description) – someone you could know playing shows in small venues, who happens to have stumbled into this world of excess and somehow managed to survive it for the best part of 30 years and counting.

The second half of the show charts the more musically eccentric side of Ginger’s career with solo albums, joining and leaving various bands and diversions in a Thai prison, punctuated by occasional reformations of the band that gave him his name. In some ways this less rock ‘n’ roll stereotype period (though there’s still plenty of drugs and related misdemeanours) is the more interesting and is where Ginger seems more relaxed – though that could be the brandy he’s swigging throughout the show.

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

A surprise highlight of this is that Ginger even discusses his most unusual album, World of Filth, that he released under the name Howling Willie Cunt, and even plays extracts from a few songs from it – these are not for the weak of heart (or stomach).

It’s not just the country & western abomination that we hear music from as, across the show, Ginger and long time musical collaborator Jase Edwards play acoustic medleys of tracks from most of the albums from Mondo Akimbo A-Go-Go to 555%.

While some of these sound as you might expect or as they do on Ginger’s acoustic albums (such as Kiss Alive II), others are something a bit different and a bit special to hear, especially the material from Endless, Nameless and The White Album which is general less heard to start with, let alone in this stripped down form.

While even three hours isn’t enough to fit in all the trials and tribulations of Ginger’s life (as the accompanying book goes into much greater depth) this is a fascinating watch for any fan and, I would say, for anyone with an interest in stories of musicians and dealing with the music industry as well as the more traditional rock ‘n’ roll debauchery side of things along with some great musical interludes.

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X-Men

x-men movie poster16 years ago, in the wake of Blade, the first bona-fide Marvel comics based blockbuster movie hit the screens in the form of director Bryan Singer’s version of X-Men. Since then the franchise has gone on to become a long series of sequels (some good; X-Men 2, First Class, Days of Future Past, Deadpool – some less so; X3: The Last Stand, X-Men Origins: Wolverine – some a bit average; The Wolverine), but what was its origin like?

The film traces the story of what seems to be the X-Men’s first clash with The Brotherhood of Mutants and their leader, Magneto (Ian McKellen), through the eyes of new recruit Logan, aka Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) and young mutant Rogue (Anna Paquin). This structure cleverly offers an audience potentially unfamiliar with the comics an easy way into this already established world on two levels, though both with the sense of the outsider.

This outsider nature is one that Singer laces heavily throughout, making it into something of a motif from the opening prologue showing us the origin of Magneto in the Nazi concentration camps of the Second World War, to the introductions of Wolverine and Rogue to the whole notion of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children.

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Anna Paquin as Rogue

Echoing the comic books’ 1960s origins that, supposedly, dealt with issues surrounding the civil rights movement, Singer incorporates a broader version of this theme more suited to a millennial audience, showing the two sides of the divide on the argument of integration and isolation/hostility that is still relevant now.

At barely an hour and 40 minutes Singer doesn’t deeply explore these issues but they are evident, what he does do in that time though is create a fast paced action movie. Unfortunately the short run time (something of a blessing compared to some of the over long movies that now populate this genre) means the large number of characters are, for the most part, underdeveloped; Wolverine, Magneto and Professor X (Patrick Stewart) get a decent amount of time to become slightly more than 2D but really the rest of the pack are fairly weakly painted hero or villain types.

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

Hugh Jackman as Wolverine

A highlight scene comes early on that sets the ground for Magneto and Professor X as they attend a debate on mutant rights and meet afterwards outside the meeting hall. Here the chemistry between McKellen and Stewart that has become the stuff of legend sparks and they certainly provide the most convincing aspect of the film and are amazing to watch just talking – though McKellen does go on to ham it up a bit too much later.

The action across the movie feels like a hybrid of what had come before, with a particularly physical feel often in the vein of an 80s action movie (prior to these things becoming almost entirely computer generated spectacles) and what was to come later with hints of the CG smash-fests of more recent movies. This gives it a split feel that isn’t entirely effective, but serves its purpose and we get great signature moments from all the main heroes and villains even if these do feel a little gimmicky.

The film’s climax, based around the Statue of Liberty, lacks a certain weight within the story which is something that marks the whole of this first X-Men film giving it the feeling of being at best the start of something, at worst a hyper-extended trailer for the franchise. That said, its enjoyable enough on its own merits and certainly at the time was successful enough to warrant the superior sequel that really allowed the characters and story more room to breathe than they had here.

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Lord Vapour, To The Woods, Lifejackt and Gregory Harrison – The Fermain Tavern – 07/05/16

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison

With a three-day weekend for Liberation Day this year the sheer amount of live music going on over the three days was huge. My musical weekend began at The Fermain Tavern where three varied but heavy rock bands took to the stage across the course of evening, following a lower key acoustic opening.

That acoustic kick off came from Gregory Harrison accompanied by his double bass playing friend. The addition of the double bass to Harrison’s usual deep and soulful acoustic rock did bring a new musical depth, but, given their lack of rehearsal time before the show meant they stuck with the more down beat material from Greg’s repertoire. This somewhat compounded the lack of engagement from the mostly distant audience most of whom stayed chatting around the back of the venue.

None-the-less Greg and his bandmate played very well and with a brand new track rounding off the set did, eventually, up the energy in their music and in the room getting a highly positive reaction from those who cared to listen.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

After a fairly long break from a Guernsey stage (they did play a show in Jersey a few months ago), Lifejacket were back tonight and their time away seemed to have increased the intensity pouring from all three members of the band.

Coupled with this heightened intensity of performance came a now familiar but at times slightly reworked set of songs that drew a crowd down in front of the stage from the off.

While band leader and frontman Andy Sauvage very much focused on the songs as Lifejacket played, bass player John McCarthy provided something of a visual focus, but I have to say my only real criticism of Lifejacket tonight, particularly in comparison to the later bands, is the lack of audience engagement and showmanship during the set.

If Lifejacket were a band to focus on the technical side of their music as they play, from the off it was clear (as if I didn’t know already) that To The Woods were very much the opposite – particularly in the case of their larger than life frontman, Robert ‘Bobby’ Battle.

Bobby of To The Woods

Bobby of To The Woods

Starting the set with a new song, and dotting a few more throughout, its clear they aren’t a band resting on their musical laurels as the new numbers all develop on their grungy formula, one even brought to mind the likes of Pearl Jam from rhythm section James Ogier (bass) and Dan Garnham (drums) as Battle raged over the top in his own inimitable style.

As the set went on mosh pits and attempts at stage diving came and went, while Fire even encouraged a bit of a shout-along (though Bobby isn’t quite Freddie Mercury yet, despite his poses). The crowd did begin to drift a bit towards the end hinting that possibly To The Woods do the opposite of Lifejacket in coming across as too much about the personality as they perform – though they certainly have the songs to back it up.

A special mention has to go to Dave Riley (formerly a bandmate of Bobby in Iron Cobra) for possibly the best/worst stage dive and crowd surf the Tav has seen to date.

After a bit of a protracted break, during which much of the audience drifted away, Lord Vapour launched into their set with a wall of fuzzy, phase-y noise that just about coalesced into a slightly too loose version of their sensitively titled song, Sugar Tits.

Lord Vapour

Lord Vapour

With Island Man they seemed to get back into a nice groove for a few songs before the lead breaks and jams grew and grew to the point where the structure of any songs fell apart.

As this happened, and midnight neared, they once again began to lose many of the audience and, while there were some great riffs and impressive moments from all three members that showed a great potential, it was hard not to see their stoner grooves as becoming unstructured noise with guitar posing from Henry Fears and Joe Le Long’s vocals descending into an uncontrolled wail.

With a few calling for an encore after a bit of a break Lord Vapour rounded their set with what may or may not have been a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Foxy Lady that closed the show off on an odd note given the very impressive performances that had come before.

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

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CJ Wildheart – Robot

CJ Wildheart - RobotOver the last few years many of the musicians and artists who have, over the years, been associated with Ginger Wildheart have made something of a microcosm of the music industry through the crowdfunding system of Pledgemusic. One of the latest to come out of this is from Wildhearts’ axe-man CJ continuing on from his Mable album with Robot.

Over the years, with his solo material, The Jellys, Honeycrack and others CJ has shown a knack for penning pop-driven rock music that draws on hints of punk and indie to create an harmoniously enjoyable whole, and Robot is no different.

From the outset though there is an extra edge to many of the songs on offer here. The opening title track adds a metallic edge to the guitars, that, combined CJ’s pop-punk clean vocals make for a sound that harks back to The Wildhearts while being clearly all of his own.

The Robot itself deals with the monotony of a day job, something that comes with a bit more believability from this rock star given the fact he doesn’t appear to be a full-time performer anymore, and set the scene for much else to come.

CJ Wildheart

CJ Wildheart

As the album goes on we get to see both sides of CJ with songs about ‘wannabe’ rock stars and the trouble sleeping that comes with having a new baby. All of this mixes and merges to create a nicely varied record that rocks it way through 10 songs including the aforementioned pair, the punk driven F.U.B.A.R. to the singalong poppy closer Sasquatch.

While it’s probably unfair to directly compare, the ‘surname’ does suggest it, and while things here aren’t as wildly extensive and at times experimental as Ginger’s output Robot is, arguably, a far easier and more immediately gratifying listen, like a sugar-coated pill of rock ‘n’ roll that is all the more impressive for all instruments (save the drums) being played by CJ himself.

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Blade

Blade movie posterAround the release of Deadpool in February 2016 a lot of fuss was made by some about its ‘R’ rating in the USA (15 in the UK). This ranged from surprise at a ‘comic book movie’ being given such a certification, to claims that it was the first of its kind.

Long before Deadpool though, before Marvel’s Avengers assembled and even before Fox launched their still ongoing X-Men franchise actor/producer Wesley Snipes and director Stephen Norrington unleashed what could be credited as the first new-style Marvel movie on the cinema going audience, Blade, in 1998, with its own hard R rating (18 in the UK).

First appearing in comics in 1973, Blade is a vampire hunting half-vampire, leading to his nickname ‘Daywalker’. Snipes and Norrington realised him here in the midst of a kind of race war between the vampires, who have existed in a loose peace with humans for thousands of years, and Blade and a few (largely unseen) humans fighting to maintain the peace while an upstart vampire, Deacon Frost (Stephen Dorff), is hell-bent on shattering it and the tradition of the blood suckers.

Wesley Snipes as Blade

Snipes as Blade

The story is pretty run of the mill for this kind of thing; Frost claims leadership of the vampires from ‘pure blood’ leader Dragonetti (the always eccentrically marvelous Udo Kier) and sets out to turn himself into legendary ‘blood god’ La Magra.

Blade is out to stop him while at the same time constantly seeking vengeance for his dead mother while being assisted by Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) who makes his weapons and it all ends up pretty much as you’d expect.

What really makes the film though is the style it is made with. Placed almost equidistant between the heyday of shoot ‘em up action in the 1980s and the emergence of the MCU, it somehow seems to fill this space perfectly.

Stephen Dorff as Deacon Frost

Dorff as Frost

As Blade, Snipes is all moody poses and action hero quips (complete with a suitable amount of ‘f-bombs’) while the fight sequences are based around martial arts in the way of the action stars that began with Bruce Lee and continued (with lesser success) with Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal et al but has become a bit passe these days.

Alongside this Norris paints a gritty and dark city that may be Detroit (though it’s never explicitly stated) and looks like visions of New York seen through the 1970s and 80s that, for me, is highly reminiscent of Russell Mulcahy’s Highlander. This gives the film a great setting that I can see as something akin to the Hell’s Kitchen seen in Marvel and Netflix’s Daredevil and Jessica Jones which in a loose way connects it with the current MCU.

Within all of this it seems the film wants to deal with a few issues, specifically to do with race and drugs, but it never really pays these anything more than lip service. I think this is to the movie’s benefit though, and keeps it more in the sphere of a pure action film without getting bogged down in anything more.

Blade and Frost

Blade and Frost

As the film reaches its climax some early CGI does give it something of a dated feel but, with the expectation of this it didn’t spoil it for me (you can’t expect a film from 1998 to have special effects as good as today and I’m sure in 20 years we’ll be saying the same about Captain America: Civil War and its ilk).

Alongside Tim Burton’s Batman, Blade stands as one of the clear building blocks that led to the glut of comic book movies we have today (for better or worse), but still stands strong not only as an exponent of that genre but also as a great, supernatural, hyper-violent, action movie in its own right that has clearly influenced films like The Matrix and others since.

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The First Third by Neal Cassady

The First Third by Neal CassadyNeal Cassady; off page progenitor of Beat, Dean Moriarty or Cody Pomeray to Kerouac’s Sal Paradise et al, inspirer (and more) of Ginsberg and Howl, godfather of psychedelic counterculture and The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test… or so legend would have it, but could all that possibly be the truth?

In The First Third, Cassady himself sets out his story in his words, or at least some of it, and proves, as you might expect, that it is both truth and a kind of fiction.

Published by City Lights, the original home of the Beat Generation, the book combines a partial autobiography with collected other autobiographical moments, poems and letters that go some way to show the man behind the myth, while backing it up at the same time.

Cassady’s story is one that could only have existed in its time, trapped between the expansionist, pioneering American Dream of the 1800s and the post war malaise that became the Great Depression. The main chunk of The First Third explores Cassady’s youth, following a fascinating if at times fractured exploration of his heritage as the offspring of two families who emigrated to the US as part of that mid-1800s boom.

Neal Cassady

Neal Cassady

His story, while one with a hint of typically romanticised nostalgia for childhood, is about as dysfunctional as they come; skipping between homes, ‘homes’, lodging houses and parents, mostly around Denver, Colorado, along with trips that would prefigure the story that would make he and his alter-ego Moriarty so famous.

Cassady’s style of writing comes in the form of a kind of precursor to the ‘spontaneous prose’ he inspired from Kerouac and, while clearly falling into the Beat aesthetic, has a naivety to it that suits the tales of his childhood adventures and make this section of the book fly by.

The second half of The First Third is more of a mixed bag dipping in and out of tales from Cassady’s teenage and adult life that, as they go on, become increasingly concerned with a seeming obsession with sex and bragging about his sexual conquests. Here his naïve style becomes at odds to the content and often feels repetitive ably demonstrating that an addict talking about his addictions (it seems not only sex but drugs, alcohol and anything else that comes along) are certainly far from the most interesting of subjects.

Ginsberg and Cassady

Ginsberg and Cassady

This continues in the books final section containing a series of letters to Jack Kerouac and then Ken Kesey that bring us up to 1965, three years before Cassady’s death, which at least give the whole a kind of vaguely rounded complete autobiography feel.

In amongst this mixed bag of the books second half is its highlight, a short prose-poem Leaving L.A. by Train at Night, High… Subject wise, it’s all in the title, but Cassady paints a vivid picture from a late 1940s perspective, now lost to the sprawling metropolis the city has become, but with hints and suggestions that even now bring it back to life.

In all, Lawrence Ferlinghetti sums it up in his 1981 Editor’s Note when he describes The First Third as being written in ‘homespun, primitive prose’, but this seems to capture the spirit of the writer and his truly unique story from potential drop out bum to cult icon and hero of a new kind of American Dream that has also since been lost to history and nostalgia leaving in its wake some great literary art.

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