Monthly Archives: June 2013

FutureShock at The Jam – 29/06/13

The Killing Floor

The Killing Floor

The Jamaica Inn is doing a good job of adding itself to Guernsey’s list of regular pub venues, with the added bonus that, generally speaking, the crowd it attracts are their for the gig, rather than just passing through, giving it a feel somewhere between the likes of the De La Rue in Town and a more dedicated venue like The Fermain Tavern.

Tonight it certainly attracted a crowd for the bands and, by the time Of Empires took to the stage, it was already getting busy and, certainly getting warm as the summer sun made an all too rare appearance overhead.

Of Empires

Of Empires

Of Empires may have been on early but this didn’t stop them giving it their all and, clearly playing to a partisan crowd tonight, they had the audience engaged from the off.

The band themselves seemed to be looser and freer on stage than I had yet seen which gave the show an added boost and brought out the fun side of what they do to a greater degree and with Carla and I Am The Night becoming sing-a-long songs too this was the best I’ve seen Of Empires yet and is very promising as we head into summer festival season.

Thee Jenerators continued the high energy, high temperature show in their own inimitable style. Kicking off with new number In The City and adding yet more new material to the set tonight, alongside crowd favourites such as Yellow Fruit Pastille and Crazy Little Love Machine, the garage rockers showed exactly why some of their best gigs have been in the island’s smaller venues.

Thee Jenerators

Thee Jenerators

Their set tonight took me back to shows in The Golden Lion in 2006 and 2007, but with the added bonus room for the audience and a whole load more great songs. Mark Le Gallez once again showed why he’s better off not encumbered by a bass guitar as he spent most of the set in front of the stage with the crowd while Steve Lynch seemed to be in charge of marshaling the psychedelic troops on stage as their leading man partnership continued to hit new heights.

Before the music continued there was a brief interlude while Hannah Saul had her head shaved outside the bar. While this may sound like a fairly random occurrence for a rock ‘n’ roll gig, I should make it clear Hannah has been raising money for the last few months for Cancer Research and this was the culmination of her campaign which raised upwards of £700 for the charity.

The French Electric

The French Electric

Back inside, and once Hannah’s hair was off, it was time for Londoners, The French Electric, to take to the stage. The band certainly wear their 80s influences on their sleeves as they mix the dark gothic tones of Sisters of Mercy, particularly from vocalist Simon Board, with a more pop end sound of the era, well as pop as The Human League’s non-Don’t You Want Me output got.

While the band’s performance tonight could have been tighter, tracks like debut single Pharaoh showed this lot will certainly be worth keeping an eye on as they try to make their mark on the UK indie scene, and having Guernseyman Jim Rhesus on bass guitar certainly adds an extra interest for the local crowd.

Having already made their mark in Guernsey when they played The Fermain Tavern last year, tonight’s headliners, The Killing Floor, were starting from a strong point as it was clear many in attendance tonight had come out to catch this band again.

Marco of The Killing Floor

Marco of The Killing Floor

From the off the band showed why they recently got a slot at the Download festival at Donnington as Marco Argiro’s amazing charisma blasted from the stage, capturing anyone in its path while the band’s excellent pop rock songs brought to mind both the more American style of the Foo Fighters as well as the British end of the 90s pop rock movement with bands like 3 Colours Red being mentioned in the crowd, but all with The Killing Floor’s own extra twist.

The bands power didn’t take long to get to the crowd with many singing along to many of the songs and more and more dancing as the set went on and call and response number Shout really striking a chord with the bands fans, and winning them many new ones as well it seemed.

Certainly tonight’s gig had that special feel to it and, heading into festival season, acted as a great warm up, especially to Chaos which is famous for being the more rock ‘n’ roll end of proceedings on the islands and I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the last time we get to see The Killing Floor in a venue this size as they seem to be on the rise to much bigger things – but I hope this isn’t the last time we get to see them over here.

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

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Twelve Ton Trouble album and launch – The Fermain Tavern – 22/06/13

Twelve Ton Trouble album launch set times

On Saturday 22nd June 2013 blues rockers Twelve Ton Trouble launched their debut album, Weights and Measures, with a gig at The Fermain Tavern also featuring Tonight The Skies and Lifejacket.

While the crowd was somewhat on the small side they were non-the-less enthusiastic as all three bands played excellent sets which saw them step things up a gear.

You can see my photos from the night on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my full review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 6th July 2013, click on the scan below to read it:.

Twelve Ton Trouble album launch - 6:7:13 scan

My review of the album is now up on Niche Showcase and you can read the whole thing by clicking on the screen grab below:

Update: The Niche website has now been taken down, scroll down the page to read the full review

Twelve Ton Trouble grab

Having followed the musical career of Rob Hunter since he first came to the island from Alderney as the surprisingly young guitarist and singer with garage-blues act Rawcuz Crowzz, and on through his solo work, it felt good to finally get my hands on his first full blown outing with his own band, Twelve Ton Trouble.

Stylistically the album is just what you’d expect if you’d seen any of Rob’s previous performances as it pulls in the blues sound he has always preferred, with a healthy dose of hard rock thrown into the mix, creating something that is both clearly influenced by the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Cream while also pulling in the likes of Led Zeppelin and other 1970s rock acts.

Of course, just making these comparisons makes some grand claims and I’m not going to say Twelve Ton Trouble are the new one of any of these acts, but, equally, that isn’t to say they are bad either. Combining these styles as they do, along with some remarkably accomplished playing from all four members of the band, certainly sets them up for great things to come.

The addition of the band, Mike Le Huray, James Gray and Oliver Baxendale, has clearly developed some of the songs which have appeared on Rob’s previous solo releases and given them a new lease of life, while new songs, such as Weeping Willow, add some extra sounds with country influences on show adding a more upbeat element.

The other thing that comes across on Weights And Measures is how Rob has grown as a performer into his own being. In the past he has, on occasion, seemed to be almost trying too hard to be the atypical bluesman, but here, he comes across more as the being that he’s always wanted Robert J. Hunter to be than ever before in much more assured and confident tones.

Singles Chosen and Repair are certainly the albums high points (as is to be expected) and they act a fine example of exactly what Twelve Ton Trouble are capable of, ranging from softer and soulful tones to raging passions along with genuinely great songs.

Entirely locally produced and mastered Weights And Measures also sounds very impressive with first time produce Elliott Mariess having handled recording and mixing duties and Andy Sauvage mastering the album to create a full package that, in the age of single downloads, is a refreshing thing to see as this is certainly a complete album.

With work already beginning on new recordings it seems Twelve Ton Trouble are not resting on their laurels and I would strongly recommend picking this album up if you like your sounds rocking and blues-y but, rather than the staid sounds those words can often conjure up, with a shot of refreshing youth that gives the music an extra level of raw power.

Guernsey Gigs were also at the album launch and got these videos:

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: June 2013 – Chaos, The Black Vote and Twelve Ton Trouble

Twelve Ton Trouble

Twelve Ton Trouble

BBC Introducing Guernsey returned to the air on Saturday 29th June 2013 for another show packed with music from the around Guernsey and the Channel Islands.

This month I took a look a forward to Chaos with Greenman MCC’s OzyChris and Dexy as they get ready to bring three days of music and motorcycles to the Pleinmonth headland with Mallory Knox and [Spunge] from the UK headlining alongside The Recks, Teaspoonriverneck, Big Machine, Sugarslam and loads more.

I also spoke to Twelve Ton Trouble on the show just days after the release of their debut album, and the launch show for it, as they get ready for a summer of gigs and already prepare for work on some new recordings.

And The Black Vote told us about their new split album with Jersey’s Bulletproof.

You can listen to the show online until 7 on the 6th July here.

Tracklisting

And here’s a taste of Twelve Ton Trouble recorded by Guernsey Gigs at the band’s album launch:

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Django Unchained

Django Unchained posterI’ve been a fan of Quentin Tarantino since I first saw Reservoir Dogs one Sunday evening in the late 1990s on Channel 4, through a sea of interference on my little old 15” TV, with his second movie, Pulp Fiction, standing out as a highlight among highlights once I had seen it and only Jackie Brown failing to ignite my interest (possibly I need to give it a rewatch and study up on Blaxploitation first).

So it was I came to Django Unchained with high expectations, but thankfully tempered by the time between the hype and controversy around its release and my watching.

Starting off as it means to go on we are introduced to Django (Jamie Foxx) and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz) right away as Tarantino demonstrates he’s not lost any of his ability to create a tense standoff that he seemed to perfect in Dogs and has continued to develop since.

From this scene on the film really does belong, for the most part, to Waltz, as he leads the first half of the movie, carrying most of the dialogue, which as ever from Tarantino is a unique mix of current and period that is at once perfectly suited but also hugely incongruous, but then the same goes for the style of many of his movies, especially since Kill Bill.

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz

Christoph Waltz as Dr. King Schultz

Waltz really is only challenged once Schultz and Django arrive at Candyland and meet Leonardo DiCaprio’s Calvin Candie and his manservant, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson) who stand up in both performance and charisma with Waltz.

As ever with Tarantino what we get a mixture of extended dialogue (that in other hands could feel too long), stylistic montage and obscenely over the top action and violence, which, here, he balances as perfectly as he ever has making for a film that, while certainly never short, never seemed to drag and kept things tense throughout.

Leonardo Di Caprio as Calvin J. Candie

Leonardo Di Caprio as Calvin J. Candie

Of course, as with all his films, this is Tarantino’s version of a previously tired genre, and its here he seems to have missed the mark a bit. Supposedly aping the Spaghetti Western what we get here is a movie that keeps many of the conventions, revenge, gunfights and the old west, but actually locates them in a recognisable America, something that Spaghetti Westerns really never did, in my experience, as they were famously made in Europe, generally in Spain and financed by Italy, hence the name.

This though is a minor thing as, for the duration of the film, I was swept along in its action-adventure-revenge plot so all the other trappings are only things brought to mind after the film is over.

Another Tarantino mainstay is the way he courts controversy and, once again, here it’s through his use of language and, specifically, the use of “the N-word” (to use the standard euphemism). While I understand why this word is loaded and a challenge, in Django Unchained its use never felt uncomfortable due to the context, and simply, the fact that this is what we’ve come to expect from Tarantino and he’s pretty much created his own universe now where the standard rules don’t really apply.

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen

Samuel L. Jackson as Stephen

To me this is a major achievement as he manages to create a total sense of escapism like few others outside of the sci-fi or fantasy genres – after all, how else could the ending of Inglorious Basterds worked in any other way.

After watching Django Unchained I am intrigued to go back and watch Sergio Corbucci’s original Django, just to see where Tarantino started from to create this, and also rewatch some of Tarantino’s own earlier work, but, for now, this has entered the list of his works certainly above Inglorious Basterds and possible almost reaching as high as Pulp Fiction – certainly this was all round an excellent movie combining action and performance with real visual style.

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American Adventure – Part Ten: Los Angeles Days Four and Five and coming home

Manhattan Beach

Manhattan Beach

My fourth day in the City of Angels was something a bit different as it was the birthday of one of my hosts, so to start the day we headed out to Manhattan Beach for breakfast at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House and my first real experience of a proper ‘American breakfast’.

Being one who normally goes for something simple like a bowl of cereal, I chose one of the menu’s more modest sounding options of scrambled egg and bacon with two pancakes and, I should have guessed, my plate arrived stuffed with enough food to feed a small army. While my general experience hints that large portions often leads to lower quality that certainly wasn’t the case here as it was all delicious, including the large mug of hot chocolate, and should you be in the Manhattan Beach area at breakfast time (or anytime really), then Uncle Bill’s is well worth a look, especially if you can get an outside table like we did as you get a (partial) beach view to go with the food.

On the way back from Manhattan Beach we went past LAX and just peeking up over a rise along the road was a very recognisable blue tail fin, so we headed up and around a side road to get a great view of Air Force One, which had flown in that morning, so the military plane we had seen the previous day had indeed been carrying “the Beast”, certainly an unexpected extra to my trip.

Surfers at Malibu

Surfers at Malibu

For the afternoon Nick and I left Shannon to put the finishing touches to her birthday party which was coming up the following evening, and we headed out in the car to check out Santa Monica and Malibu beaches.

As someone who lives five minutes walk from the beach, visits to beaches can be a mixed bag as, unless there is something particularly special on offer they often feel much like driving around at home, these beaches however certainly had something different.

While it was an overcast day some areas of the beaches were still busy as many surf breaks lined the coast as waves broke on the many small headlands. Between each of these headlands the road snaked at the bottom of a cliff, often behind a row of yet more beach front houses.

The further away from the city we got the sparser the buildings on the land side of the road became and we entered a strange area of beaches lined with houses but then comparatively open land on the other side, with more spectacular houses lining the hills just back from the road.

The beaches in this area looked like they would have been great to visit on a sunny day, though I also got the impression they probably get very busy when the sun is out, it was just this day’s ‘June Gloom’ that was keeping people away.

After the beaches we headed into Santa Monica itself, another of the many towns that make up the vast sprawl of LA. Unlike many of the others though it seems this one has managed to maintain something of a semblance of being a separate community, albeit one mostly consisting of very high-end residences along with a very nice central shopping street where I found a Hot Topic and picked up a couple of t-shirts including a CM Punk one and a Loki one – take me to the fanciest shopping mall and I’ll still find the pro-wrestling and comic stuff…

For dinner we headed out to meet a few more relatives who had flown in the weekend’s celebrations at the In-N-Out Burger in the shadow of LAX. While appearing from the outside like any other fast food restaurant, I have to say it lived up to my expectations from the recommendations I’d had as the food tasted far fresher than I’ve ever encountered at McDonald’s or Burger King and with their unique menu certainly added something extra to the standard fast food model – and sitting outside with 747s and similar landing across the roads certainly added a different element to the meal.

With more relatives arriving my last full day in Los Angeles was mostly one large celebration in honour of Shannon’s birthday and it started out with another huge breakfast back in Manhattan Beach, though this time at a different place that didn’t quite have the same amount of character as Uncle Bill’s.

Manhattan Beach Pier

Manhattan Beach Pier

After breakfast we headed for a walk down the seafront where people were playing volleyball as signs warned against swimming near the pier where waves were breaking with quite some force on the shore.

We followed this with a quick visit to another comic book store, The Comic Bug, which once again featured friendly and knowledgeable staff as well as having its own gaming area at the back, something I generally see as a good sign in comic book stores, even though I don’t play anymore and I picked up a copy of the hardback edition of Hit Girl (the follow-up to Kick-Ass) to complete my set of Mark Millar’s fine, ultraviolent series.

The remains of the cake

The remains of the cake

The rest of the day was taken up with the party and assorted preparations which I won’t bore you with other than to say it was a great bash and featured the most amazing birthday cake I’ve even seen or tasted before things continued into the small hours which meant Sunday involved simply packing and heading to LAX for my flight home.

After such a great time the trip back was always going to be a sad affair, but thankfully Virgin Atlantic once again managed to make things easier for me with a double seat to myself and some more great movies and TV shows on offer on board, before traversing the outskirts of London and making it back to the little rock int he English Channel a few hours early.

It’s somewhat clichéd to say a trip to the other side of the world, even a largely touristy one like this, is a life changing experience, but I think this one probably has been for me on at least some level, with great thanks to my hosts Nick and Shannon in LA and Ashley in San Francisco, and I have to admit, two weeks on from my return home, I’m already beginning to plan my next adventure…

Read about my third day in LA, featuring Space Shuttles, Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper, here.

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American Adventure – Part Nine: Los Angeles – Day Three – Manson, The Coop and Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour

Space Shuttle Endeavour

My third day in Los Angeles started with a quiet morning the main highlight of which was spotting a huge military transport plane with a lot of security around at LAX and a throwaway comment from Nick about it being the sort of plane President Obama’s amour super-limo gets carried in – more on that tomorrow.

The afternoon and evening however were a different affair as we headed first to the California Science Centre where the Space Shuttle Endeavour is housed within an excellent science museum complex.

SR-71B - Blackbird

SR-71B – Blackbird

Before we even entered the museum both Nick and I were excited to see a real (decommissioned) SR-71B, more commonly known as the Blackbird, on display alongside the centre’s car park. Both of us had fond memories of having toys of these aircraft as youngsters and seeing one in the metal was quite something, but only a hint at what was to come inside the museum.

Inside the museum we headed upstairs and into the Space Shuttle Endeavour exhibition. Before we got to the Shuttle itself the Science Centre lead us through an exhibition about its creation, much of which took place in California, and some of the general aspects of the Shuttles including a set of used wheels and an amazing montage of all the shuttle launches running at the same time – notably including the tragic Challenger launch from 1986.

Endeavour in LA

Endeavour in LA

The other part of the pre-shuttle exhibition took a look at how Endeavour was transported from the VAB in Florida to the Science Centre in Downtown LA. This involved a flight for the shuttle riding on the back of a Boeing 747, with a dual fighter escort, that saw it fly over San Francisco leading to some impressive views of it and the Golden Gate Bridge before landing at LAX and being transported on a huge ‘truck’ through the streets of Los Angeles with thousands turning out to watch the enormous shuttle’s progress.

After the preliminary exhibition it was time for the main event in a specially constructed hanger. Upon entering Endeavour fills your field of vision on its gantry holds it no more than 10 feet above the floor so you can read the markings and serial numbers on each hand positioned heat-resistant tile.

Endeavour

Endeavour

Neither words nor photos can really do justice to Endeavour as, while it is clearly very impressive in pictures, in person she gives off an air of something extra that I can only put down to being one of the few things you can easily see that has spent an extended time in space and is on of man’s greatest scientific creations.

Should you ever make a trip to Los Angeles going to see Endeavour is a must as it is a real marvel and an experience I can only compare to seeing the Saturn V at Cape Canaveral in Florida and even then this is something extra as that Saturn V had never actually launched.

As well as Endeavour the Science Centre is also home to artefacts from the history of space travel from Gemini and Apollo to Hubble and Cassini all of which made for an amazing afternoon.

After leaving the Science Centre I got my first (and thankfully only) real taste of LA traffic as we headed from Downtown towards ‘The Valley’ and Universal Studios for an evening of hard rock and heavy industrial metal from Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson.

Picture Me Broken

Picture Me Broken

Support at the show came from LA band Picture Me Broken who, at first, seemed to be a fairly generic dance/metal crossover with a sequencer replacing their bass player.

As their set went on though it became clear this band had something extra, particularly in the form of the presence and charisma of singer Brooklyn Allman and, even though they were playing to a half empty Gibson Amphitheatre, they played a great set that, by the end, seemed to be getting through to the crowd, most of whom seemed largely unfamiliar with the band.

Marilyn Manson

Marilyn Manson

In the lead up to this show I’d been wondering what order Manson and Cooper would go on in as, while Cooper is clearly the godfather of what Manson does, in terms of energy I thought Manson’s music might make for a bigger finish, well my questions were soon answered as the man who used call himself The God Of Fuck hit the stage with Twiggy Ramirez back by his side (now on guitar) and a bunch of anonymous but suitably gothed up chaps filling out the rest of the band.

It was soon clear that, compared to my previous experience of Manson live, this was going to be a cut above and dedicating second track Disposable Teens to Paris Jackson (who had hit the headlines for attempting suicide and wanting to attend the show the day before) Manson was on blistering form both musically and in his usual media baiting role.

Highlights of the set including the aforementioned track, The Dope Show, Personal Jesus, Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) and The Beautiful People all of which came with a spectacular selection of sets and costume changes that made for more than a gig, but a full production show rivalling many pop acts and toeing the line between rock ‘n’ roll show and full on theatre.

Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper

So, how would the godfather compare to the arguable pretender?

Well, as he launched into Hello Hooray with a backing band including true guitar heroine Orianthi, it was clear that Alice Cooper was at least a match for Manson. Across the set Cooper acted the ring master for both his band and the crowd who lapped up his performance and sang back every song from hits like Poison and Feed My Frankenstein to the slightly less well-known numbers – though it was clear both headliners were giving us a mainly greatest hits set.

With the first half of the set being a comparatively straight performance spanning Alice’s 1970s and 80s tracks the second half went into full theatre mode as Alice was electrocuted, turned into a giant Frankenstein version of himself before being bound in a straightjacket, trying to kill his nurse and, inevitably, being decapitated live on stage by a guillotine in a spectacular bit of stage trickery.

The show was rounded off with Alice returning for School’s Out (including an extract of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall) and then a duet of I’m Eighteen with Marilyn Manson which brought the show to a suitably high conclusion as two generations of ‘shock rockers’ shared the stage to end a truly extraordinary show.

Read about my second day in LA here.

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American Adventure – Part Eight: Los Angeles – Day Two

Day two of the my time in LA kicked off with a drive down the beaches south of Playa Del Ray with Nick as tour guide, so we headed down the Vista Del Mar and took in Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach which have a feeling of little seaside towns caught up int he sprawl of Los Angeles but still managing to retain something of their own sense of self – along with some more very impressive beach front houses.

The beaches themselves look fantastic and I can imagine for those who like relaxing on the beach there is plenty of room as the sands are so huge, however I’m told on clear and sunny days they still get busy, particularly in these areas.

The Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory

In the afternoon we headed out towards Hollywood and the hills overlooking the famed area which features Hollywood Boulevard, Sunset Boulevard and Melrose Avenue to the Griffith Observatory which is perched opposite the famous white letters and affords great views across the whole city as well as a fascinating museum of astronomy.

The observatory itself is a spectacular 1930s building that fits in with much of the classic architecture found around the city. Still featuring a pair of classic observatory style telescopes the complex is now more a tourist attraction than a genuine science facility with the central dome housing a large planetarium.

Downtown LA from the observatory

Downtown LA from the observatory

The show we experienced in the planetarium took us through the history of the universe with a great live commentary as the stars, planets and the stories about our relationship to them swirled in the air above us in spectacular fashion – unfortunately I have to admit that the combination of a warm day, a dark room, a comfortable reclined seat and anti-allergy tablets led to me dozing off a couple of times during the show, but I guess I just have another reason to go back (as if I really needed one).

The rest of the museum featured various displays on the planets as well as some pieces of meteor recovered from the desert areas of Southern California and Nevada with some pieces having been dated as being older than the Earth and continuing the mind-boggling facts that still amaze me no matter how many times I hear them.

The Dolby Theatre

The Dolby Theatre

Heading down the hill we soon hit the junction of Hollywood and Highlands where the Dolby Theatre and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre mark the iconic centre of the movie industry in the midst of one of the most crass and touristy streets I have ever seen.

The Dolby Theatre itself (and its adjacent shopping mall) is impressive as it echoes the sets built in the 1910s for D.W. Griffith’s epic Intolerance and other Hollywood greats and theatres entrance hall lists all the Best Picture Academy Award winners with space for 50 more years of winners to come.

Grauman’s is even more impressive with its famed Chinese design and courtyard packed with hand and foot prints of stars ranging from Harold Lloyd and Cecil B. De Mille to the cast of the Harry Potter and Twilight movies. Despite the somewhat novelty approach of this seeing the indelible marks left by great movie stars over the years does demonstrate the lasting effect they’ve left on out culture and society, though as it was the likes of Potter and Twilight that seemed to be the most popular prints I wonder how long the old stars will really remain shining.

Grauman's Chinese Theatre

Grauman’s Chinese Theatre

Before heading down to Melrose Avenue for the Groundlings improv comedy show we stopped off at the Guitar Centre on Sunset which was an amazing yet overwhelming store for a guitar enthusiast with a selection of vintage guitars that was like nothing I’d ever seen, including a 25th Anniversary Gibson Les Paul Custom which falls firmly into my ‘dream guitar’ territory.

Also before The Groundlings we headed for dinner at Roscoe’s, where the speciality was the initially strange-sounding combination of chicken and waffles – well in for a penny in for a pound, as they say, I ordered the Scoe’s, and the mix of sweetness from the waffles and maple syrup worked excellently with the southern fried chicken, even if the whole thing had the distinct air of a heart attack on a plate, but I’d certainly recommend trying it out if you’re near a branch of Roscoe’s.

The Groundlings are a comedy troop who have been performing their brand of improvised comedy since the mid-1970s and have featured comedy stars such as Will Ferrell and Kirsten Wiig having been members. Tonight we got to see The Crazy Uncle Joe Show which, at first, seemed it might be a little too ‘zany’ for my tastes, but once the improvs were rolling it was a great show full of genuine laughs and certainly more hits than misses amongst the ‘on the fly’ skits which linked together to tell surreal stories.

The Groundlings theatre

The Groundlings theatre

Tonight’s show was packed, and this seems to be a common occurrence, so while I would recommend checking out a show if you are in the city, it seems booking is fairly essential.

After leaving the theatre we stumbled upon a small but perfectly formed comic book store, Melrose Music and Comics, which boasted a fine and broad selection of comics and associated ephemera as well as, on this night at least, an exceptionally friendly and knowledgeable member of staff who was also an Arsenal fan like Nick which I think helped lead to the discount I received, so I guess I found a use for football at last!

A visit to Amoeba Records and a drive down the Sunset Strip rounded off another packed day in Los Angeles that continued to demonstrate how astonishingly huge this city is as I still attempted to get to grips with it geography and gain a sense of it as a place.

Read about my first day in LA featuring Kubrick at LACMA and Venice Beach.

Day three in LA featured the Space Shuttle Endeavour and a double headline gig from Marilyn Manson and Alice Cooper.

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American Adventure – Part Seven: Los Angeles – Day One

Los Angeles

Los Angeles from the Hollywood Hills

My evening arrival in Los Angeles (following an epic railway journey) and subsequent car trip from Union Station in Downtown to my cousins’, Nick and Shannon’s, apartment in Playa Del Ray, was something of a whirlwind experience that afford me a great view of LAX and my first taste of the sheer scale of this vast conurbation.

Waking up on my first morning in the city I hoped to gain something of a sense of perspective of the place so headed out with Shannon to run a few errands. It was during this that I realised Los Angeles is a city where, for much of the time, a sense of perspective isn’t really something that exists as, shortly after leaving the house, we were heading down a fairly standard sized road (six lanes) and passing by three movie studios, including where Gone With The Wind was shot and Sony’s movie HQ.

View from Laurel Canyon to Hollywood

View from Laurel Canyon to Hollywood

That said, it wasn’t long before we were in a haven of green among the city’s sprawl in the form of Laurel Canyon which, while it didn’t seem a neighbourhood in a community sense still had a welcoming feel and some amazing landscapes looking across to Hollywood and within its own steep hills with houses seemingly clinging to the sides. The connections to the entertainment industry remained strong even in this residential area though with the Laurel Canyon General Store being familiar from several films about music in LA and, currently being in my consciousness as one of the major locations in the founding of the Rumours era line up of Fleetwood Mac.

In contrast Downtown LA felt much like any business centre in a major city (albeit with taller buildings and wider roads than I’m generally accustomed to seeing) so arriving here and then heading to the nearby Mexican district for lunch was back on more familiar ground.

Clearly a slightly more tourist-centric section of the Latin communities in the city this outdoor street market was bustling with everything from food to souvenirs to novelty Lucha masks on offer alongside the supposed oldest building in Los Angeles. The combination of genuine Mexican fare with a touristy edge reminded me somewhat of the Grant Avenue section of San Francisco’s Chinatown, albeit with a slightly less intimidating air to the souvenir stalls and restaurants, though I think this may have been due to the pedestrianised nature of the area and its a place I’d recommend checking out for some great Mexican food and if latin novelties are your cup of tea.

Alberto Giacometti sculptures at LACMA

Alberto Giacometti sculptures at LACMA

Whilst driving around in the morning I spotted a sign for an exhibition relating to the work of Stanley Kubrick at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), so we headed there for the afternoon. The museum itself was vast and, in a few hours we only had time to take in a tiny portion of the whole, seeing a range of works including those by the likes of Warhol and the Bauhaus movement, which were fascinating, before heading into the Kubrick exhibition.

Spanning his career from cub photographer to film making titan the exhibition included props and costumes from all his movies and camera equipment used on them, including the custom-made, modified NASA lenses used on Barry Lyndon.

Photo from The Shining

Photo from The Shining

For me the highlight came in seeing the original costumes and props from A Clockwork Orange and The Shining which possessed a surprising power despite being on display in a museum away from their filmic context – especially the photo of the ball at the Overlook Hotel used in the closing shots of The Shining featuring Jack Nicholson.

I believe the exhibition is a touring one that has since moved on from LACMA so, if you are reading this and happen to spot it elsewhere, I would seriously advise you to check it out if you have an interest in movie making or photography.

The early evening took us to Venice Beach which had an odd atmosphere that I can only describe as combining a beach resort with a sunnier, less goth-y version of Camden Town and was worth visiting but in actuality there wasn’t a lot of substance to the place (unless you were looking for a knock off t-shirt).

Canals in Venice

Canals in Venice

More interesting was slightly away from this part of Venice, behind the clearly expensive and elaborate beach front houses, where a series of canals show where the area found its name. Previously I had no idea there were actual canals in Venice, California and seeing them, like streets between houses in a very nice residential area was something of  revelation and found another area that managed to feel away from the near non-stop concrete and tarmac of the rest of the city.

It was a busy first day in LA, that, while not really adding much of a sense of perspective beyond the size of the place, did feature some fascinating places… coming next, its stars of both kinds as I head into Hollywood

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The Sacred Hearts Return – Fermain Tavern – 21/06/13

The Sacred Hearts

The Sacred Hearts

After eight years absence psychedelic indie band The Sacred Hearts reformed for a show at The Fermain Tavern on Friday 21st June 2013.

Following such a long break from public performance anticipation for the six-piece band’s return was high as DJ SilverVespa got everyone in the appropriate musical mood as the doors opened and the venue was soon busy with punters spanning generations from those certainly too young to even remember the Hearts first run in the early 1990s to those who have been fans since the band first took to the stage.

Before The Sacred Hearts though Party In Paris treated the crowd to a set of their pop rock sounds.

Party In Paris

Party In Paris

Much like their last show I caught the band took a while to warm up, but by the second half of the set presented a punchy sound that engaged many of the younger crowd who had lined the front of the stage.

This wasn’t the first time this crowd had struck me when watching Party In Paris as they are, predominantly, made up of one of the island’s groups of heavy metal fans, adorned largely in black with t-shirts and patches ranging from Machine Head to Cannibal Corpse, all rocking out to a far lighter form of rock ‘n’ roll than their attire might suggest. I’m not criticising this, after all my tastes span at least a similar breadth, but it is a both a striking and surprising sight.

Party In Paris themselves were their usual proficient selves and, with an expanding brass section, seem to be trying to add something a bit different to Guernsey’s music scene, which is always to be applauded, but it was when they hit the more rocking numbers and stripped things back to their more straightforward line-up that they seemed to really be at their best.

Colin and Mark

Colin and Mark

Originally formed by Mark Le Gallez and Colin Leach in the aftermath of their time as The Risk, The Sacred Hearts rode the wave of British indie in the early 90s that was popularly headlined by the likes of The Stone Roses. Well it may be at least 20 years later now, but this band, completed by Colleen Irven, Mark Guppy, Matt Hutchinson and Chris Denton, seem to have lost no sense of energy or power.

Listening to them was something like falling through a psychedelic timewarp and, despite a few guitar based technical in the first couple of songs things were soon firing on all cylinders with Mark Le Gallez seemingly channeling Lux Interior and doing his utmost to destroy as many microphones and leads as possible (it’s a good job SM58s are tough).

The varied age range in the crowd packing to the front of the stage with some singing the songs back at the band and carrying the rest (such as myself) along safe in the knowledge that many of these songs were undeniable classics and still had the same ability to make people now as they always did.

Colleen and Guppy

Colleen and Guppy

While the man otherwise known as Hillbill was, as always, a centre of manic energy, Colleen did her best to match him and, along with Colin Leach and Mark Guppy provided an excellent front line all of whom were clearly enjoying themselves as much as the crowd with Colin in particular standing out for a more effects drenched guitar style only hinted at from his work with The Risk.

Chris and Matt were a more understated but none the less formidable rhythm section as they provided the power over which the others could lay their sound and style and help keep the dancing going throughout the set which rounded off with a storming quartet of Adorable, All Fall Down, Love Bomb (including Hush) and Motorbike Beat which left the audience calling for more.

Whether we get more or not remains to be seen, but I certainly hope we do as The Sacred Hearts managed to combine nostalgia with genuine fresh energy in a way rarely seen and they have a selection of excellent songs that deserve to be heard.

You can see a full gallery of my photos of the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and here’s a taste of The Sacred Hearts from their Broken Dream album:

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American Adventure – Part Six: The Coast Starlight

The train snakes out through the countryside

The train snakes out through the countryside

Most people who have lived in the UK for any amount of time will be more than familiar with travelling by train, in the USA however, it seems things are a little different. So it was with a mild sense of trepidation that I had chosen to make the journey from The Bay Area to Los Angeles by train, and specifically the AMTRAK Coast Starlight route.

My trepidation wasn’t aided by the slightly hidden AMTRAK office that marked the start of this journey, hidden behind a fairly run down looking building next to the Ferry Building, where I would be picking up the coach service across the Bay Bridge to Oakland, famously one of the Bay Areas less friendly cities.

The coach however was a fine service (if a little late, but in rush hour that’s always forgivable) and there was plenty of time before the train made its way through Oakland anyway, and the journey across the Bay Bridge, even on its lower carriageway, afforded some spectacular views back across San Francisco that, while having a tinge of sadness at leaving such a great city, were still majestic.

Oakland station

Oakland station

The train station in Oakland was also a pleasant surprise, clean and modern, if smaller than I expected with only two ‘platforms’ and a waiting room-cum-ticket office that was big enough, but far from the size of stations in big cities in the UK so when the frankly enormous Coast Starlight pulled up to the platform 45 minutes late I was nicely relaxed ahead of the near 12 hour journey ahead.

Having had an early start I decided to spend the first part of the journey, which mostly took us through the suburban areas around the bay, in my reserved seat where it was a little bit darker and I could rest surprisingly well while catching up on the Kermode and Mayo Podcast, but soon I thought it time I see what the cafe/sightseeing car was actually like and headed towards the front of the train.

What comes next is why I would recommend the Coast Starlight to anyone heading down the West Coast of the USA, particularly the Oakland to LA stretch of it.

As the door to the sightseeing car opened, rather than the slightly gloomy and subdued mood in the coach carriages, I was greeted with bright sunshine and a general sense of a friendly, busy, cafe, just with the view from the panoramic windows continually changing.

Coast Starlight sightseeing lounge

Coast Starlight sightseeing lounge

Much like the adage from the Divine Comedy song I mentioned in an earlier post there was a real feeling that “all human life is here, from the feeble old dear to the screaming child…” but all with a general air of friendliness, topped off by a duo from the National Park Services giving us a largely unobtrusive commentary on some of the more interesting things we could see from the windows.

Once we were through the urbanised area around San Jose and heading towards Monterey the views became somewhat more interesting, to an island boy like me at least, as we had a vista of vast tracts of agricultural land from hills on the west to mountains on the east with the odd hamlet or village made up of, what I can only assume, are the homes of the people we saw working in the fields, which gave a view of another aspect of life in California.

Central Californian oil field

Central Californian oil field

Highlights during this roughly first half of the journey included the salt flats in the Monterey area as we skirted the edges of the Pacific and saw both sea lions who had ventured slightly inland and some spectacular seabird life, an enormous open face quarry along with the railway works that formed part of its several square mile area that, surprisingly didn’t really blight the landscape as much as add an extra element to it and smaller things like the houses that appeared sporadically along the rail side, including one we were reliably informed was built so close to the tracks as the owner is a keen train enthusiast, as was demonstrated by the pair of renovated vintage carriages in his ‘front yard’ (which was probably roughly the size of a parish in Guernsey).

Once the vast valley, which runs from San Jose to just before San Luis Obispo, was done we headed up over a series of hills and, possibly, mountains to head onto the real coastal part of the journey.

Tunnel 10, no longer used

Tunnel 10, no longer used

The views in the mountains were truly spectacular as we traced the same passes as Highway 101 for some parts and at others went through areas with little to know road access affording us views of the truly wild countryside and, bizarrely, a working prison complex, though I guess it had a similar idea to Dartmoor in terms of isolation.

During this part of the journey we also went through a series of impressive tunnels built in the early 1900s, showing how California developed as LA and San Francisco became the cities they are today, as well as a string of extinct volcanoes with lined the track for quite a while.

Lonely Pacific surf

Lonely Pacific surf

Before the train headed back inland and into central LA, the journeys final stage in the sightseeing car took us along the isolated coast from Santa Maria to Santa Barbara, most of which is inaccessible by any other means thanks to a vast airforce base. This stretch featured views across unspoilt sand dunes and salt water lakes to the Pacific Ocean on one side of the train and rocket test launch sites and a huge runway built to accommodate emergency landings of the Space Shuttle on the other which felt like a contrast you’d only be likely to find in this part of the world.

So after almost 12 hours we pulled into Union Station in the heart of Los Angeles which is more like I’d envision the train station in a large city to resemble when down on the platforms, but in the main building is a spectacular work of architectural art dating from the pre-war period when LA was growing into what we know it as now.

All I can really say in summation of this trip is that I would urge anyone travelling this route with the time to spare to take the Coast Starlight as it is a journey like no other, and for a very reasonable price, and for not much more can be upgraded to a full first class experience too, which, if I do it again, I would seriously consider as well.

Read about my last two days in San Francisco.

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