Monthly Archives: August 2013

Vale Earth Fair 2013

Buzzcocks headlining the show

Buzzcocks headlining the show

On Sunday 25th August 2013 the Vale Castle once again became home to the Vale Earth Fair music festival with six stages of live music over 12 hours spanning everything from folk and country to psytrance and stoner metal.

As ever the event was raising money for charity with Burma Campaign, Free Tibet and Bridge2Haiti being the main charities being supported and represented at the festival.

You can see my full gallery of photos from the festival on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 31st August.

Here’s my review from the Press and a highlight video from Guernsey Gigs and you can read my extended review below that.

Vale Earth Fair 2013 - 31:08:13 scan

Extended Review

With six stages and more than 50 acts packed into 12 hours the Vale Earth Fair remains one of the most densely packed festivals, in terms of music, going, so seeing everything was never an option, but here I hope to give an overview of my view of the day, largely focused on the Castle Stage and the Stage Against The Machine.

Izzy Sheil

Izzy Sheil

That said my day started off chilling out on the grass at the bottom of the hill where the festival’s smallest stage was located and I enjoyed the sounds of Izzy Sheil first followed a little later (after The Phantom Cosmonaut’s musical foray of the day) by Marco Argiro.

While both played very different styles of acoustic tunes, between them they captured the vibe of the stage with pop-folky things rubbing shoulders with rockier stuff but all stripped back to the absolute basics while people relaxed on the grass verge or brought their tickets for the festival.

Up in the castle the first band I caught were The John Wesley Stone who launched into their usual exuberant performance from the start as the crowd largely stuck to sitting down, but none-the-less seemed to appreciate the music on offer and the effort put in, which included bloodshed from Hillbill thanks to his double bass, but as ever, he soldiered on with the aid of ace tunes and gaffer tape.

The Surfin' Birds

The Surfin’ Birds

Meanwhile, on the Stage Against The Machine, there were more retro sounds, though this time of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, with The Surfin’ Birds. With vintage guitars and tones they mixed their take on classics from the likes of The Cramps and The Novas with great originals to create something a bit different but greatly appreciated that seemed to be one of the highlights of the festival for those watching.

Following their gig at the Tavern the previous night New Yorkers Jonny Lives! were fired up for the show today and their mix of new wave pop and garage-y rock went down very well with the still static crowd who were sticking around in the open of the main castle despite the drizzle that had begun, but Jonny Lives! managed to keep the show going and not let the weather dampen any spirits.

Another band who played the previous night were Lifejacket and today they played one of the best sets I’ve seen them deliver as they stormed through a very confident performance of their original post-punk/post-rock to a large crowd. With the backing vocals in particular coming through clearer than ever today Lifejacket once again proved why they are one of my favourite bands in Guernsey at the moment and, I think, won over many new fans as well.

The Recks

The Recks

They were soon followed by The Recks, for whom the crowd grew even more to probably the biggest I’ve ever seen at the Stage Against The Machine in any of its incarnations. As they launched into their set it was clear to see why this band has gained such a reputation and following as their mix of schizophrenic indie folk soon had the crowd bouncing, dancing and singing along and the band themselves played their usual tight but flowing show with Richey Powers continuing on his path of being a true rock star style frontman and the band becoming a firm highlight of all three of this summer’s local festivals.

As the sun came out the dancing also began on the Castle Stage with MynieMoe’s combination of upbeat swinging sounds that followed on excellently from The Recks. With a sousaphone instead of a bass and a mix of brass, wind and electric instruments the band were a perfect representation of the Earth Fair’s musical styles and began the transition into the evening in the finest of styles.

Sons of the Desert

Sons of the Desert

It was time for some skanking and moon stomping next as Guernsey’s own ska hit machine Sons of the Desert hit the stage with their take on classic ska tracks from across the years which encouraged even more to get up and moving as they took us on a journey from 60s Jamaica to the modern day via 2-Tone.

While it was firmly dancing time inside the castle back outside things got heavy and slow with Brunt. While their stoner grooves are still in the process of finding their niche, they attracted a crowd of headbangers to the front and impressed many with their extended jam-like tunes.

SugarSlam

SugarSlam

The energy was soon back up though as SugarSlam stumbled onto the stage. The band may have already been feeling the effects of a day at a festival but rode the wave of this making for one of the loosest and most fun sets I remember seeing them play that had the crowd involved from the start – and the intro to JagerBomb was something more akin to a Motley Crue show than the Vale Earth Fair which made for a nice contrast.

Heading back into the castle to await the headliners I had the perfect festival moment of encountering an act of whom I had no prior knowledge and preconceptions and being blown away.

The Correspondents

The Correspondents

The act in question are two piece swing-jazz-drum’n’bass duo The Correspondents who combined genres and sounds with frankly amazing movement and vocals to create the perfect hybrid that set the crowd alight and heralded the night time festival vibe to perfection.

Following The Correspondents would be a task for any band but, with a reputation like theirs, it was something we all thought Buzzcocks would pull off with aplomb… sadly this was not to be.

From the start the band felt very imbalanced with original pair Pete Shelley and Steve Diggle standing out front while newer members Chris Remmington and Danny Farrant were largely relegated to supporting roles.

As the set went on this imbalance grew further as Diggle seemed to force himself and his guitar to the front aping Pete Townsend but, rather than having well crafted solos, simply extended good three minute pop-punk songs to eight minute marathons which, in honesty, led to the set feeling dull, while Shelley simply looked like he didn’t really want to be there.

Their encore may have brought a little more of a kick to proceedings but sadly it was too little too late and left me, and many I’ve spoken to since, feeling disappointed.

Bright_Lights

Bright_Lights

Thankfully Guernsey’s own Bright_Lights were on hand to redress the situation and close the Castle Stage on a real high.

Having only embarked on their dance rock revolution a year ago the band hit the stage with a new energy and confidence as their mix of electronica and noisy guitars had the still busy castle dancing straight away.

Seeing this band on this larger stage really showed how they have developed a sound all their own that deserved to have a rammed castle bouncing as they closed the days main stage on a real high.

Last of the Light Brigade

Last of the Light Brigade

While Bright_Lights were closing things in the castle, outside the job went to Last of the Light Brigade.

Riding a wave of momentum they headed into tonight’s show at full force and their natural camaraderie on stage combined with Tyler’s growing confidence as a frontman and performer made for a great set which rounded off an excellent day and, with a few obvious exceptions, made for one of the most consistently enjoyable and musically satisfying Vale Earth Fairs I can remember.

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Vale Earth Fair Warm Up – The Fermain Tavern – 24/08/13

Jonny Lives!

Jonny Lives!

Every year the Vale Earth Fair takes over the Vale Castle for 12 hours of music on the Sunday of the August bank holiday weekend, but, around that weekend, loads of other gigs take place as warm ups and wind downs from the main festival.

One such gig took place at The Fermain Tavern the night before the Earth Fair as The Future Shock presented US rockers Jonny Lives! alongside Guernsey’s Lifejacket and The Crowman and Jersey’s Any Given Sunday.

The night started out with The Crowman, as always accompanied on violin and some backing vocals by the Pixie aka Emma Weldon. Switching between banjo, acoustic guitar and electric resonator guitar The Crowman was on fine form tonight with a selection of new songs due to appear on an upcoming new album, alongside some of his now more familiar numbers.

The Crowman and the Pixie

The Crowman and the Pixie

The highlights of his set came from two directions, first were the couple of slower numbers where Emma added backing vocals which showed off a side of The Crowman’s songwriting often lost in the more rock ‘n’ roll aspects of his other songs with the extra vocals adding a real new depth to his sound. Secondly was a couple of those more rock ‘n’ roll numbers with the resonator sounding better than ever so Mystery Train, which pays tribute to many influential musicians from Kurt Cobain to Dave Fuller, and The Cramps-esque Lucifer Lady which rounded off the set which went down well with the small crowd.

I guess this is an appropriate point to mention the ‘crowd’. Being the night before the Earth Fair, and with so many other gigs, both VEF related and not, going on, the Tavern was disappointingly quiet tonight so the atmosphere was sadly lacking across the night despite the best efforts of all four acts.

Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday

Any Given Sunday are a four piece from Jersey but for tonight were playing an acoustic three-piece version of their usual show. Mixing funky bass lines with intricate guitar work and some great upbeat vocals they managed to get a few of the more enthusiastic people at the Tav moving while it seemed everyone else was more quietly enjoying the show.

The closest thing I could compare them too locally would be Pushang, but with more rapped vocals and beatboxing, which is what really made their already good sound come to life tonight.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Once again tonight Lifejacket put their all into a show that saw the crowd drop possibly to the lowest point of the night, which I’ve yet to understand as once again their combination of blistering music and well constructed lyrics showed a band who put more thought into what they say on stage than most and play it with real passion. Tonight’s show in particular saw them blast through their set with more energy than I have seen from them in a while – now they just need Guernsey’s gig goers to catch up with them.

US rockers Jonny Lives! were up next and they are becoming familiar faces over here, especially bassist Marco Argiro and drummer Peter Landi who have visited the island several times with their band The Killing Floor.

Jonny Lives!

Jonny Lives!

Combining garage-y rock and new wave tinged pop in great style Jonny Lives! certainly attracted the biggest crowd of the night and got people dancing though the set itself seemed to get lost in technology a couple of times as Jonny Dubowsky had a few issues with effects – for the remainder of the set though he was a consummate frontman and guitarist and his songs seem custom-made for venues like the Tav, but ideally when they are packed.

Despite the small crowd, this show acted as a fine pre-cursor to what was to come the next day and certainly managed to get me in the mood for the festival, musically, if not atmospherically, speaking at least.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and here is a video of Jonny Lives!

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Anything Goes Apparel X Punkalicious Records 2.0 – Fermain Tavern – 17/08/13

Hold Your Fire!

Hold Your Fire!

On Saturday 17th August 2013 Guernsey’s Anything Goes Apparel teamed up with Jersey’s Punkalicious Records for a night of live music from both islands at The Fermain Tavern.

The show was headlined by a reformed Hold Your Fire! and also featured Pirate Video Company, From Bedrooms To Backseats, The Black Vote and The Phantom Cosmonaut.

You can see a gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 24th August and can be read below:

Anything Goes x Punkalicious - 24:08:13 scanAnd here’s a highlight video from the gig by the guys at Anything Goes:

And this is a video I got of The Black Vote:

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Space Pirates of Rocquaine – ‘Vraic and Ruin’ on Niche

Space Pirates of Rocquaine album cover by HA Design

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

Two albums were released at the 2013 Sark Folk Festival from Guernsey acts, one was The John Wesley Stone’s Shiraibu and the other was this, Vraic & Ruin by The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

Having developed from rock ‘n’ rollers The Nelkons over the last few years The Space Pirates have made a niche for themselves playing a very upbeat and fun form of folk rock and have become known for their folkloric songs about Guernsey’s west coast.

My review of Vraic & Ruin can be read over at Niche Showcase by clicking here or on the screengrab below and once again the album’s artwork (which you can see above) is be HA Design:

Space Pirates screen grab

I recently took a look at The John Wesley Stone’s Shiraibu album that was launched earlier in the summer at the Sark Folk Festival. Well, it wasn’t the only album launched that weekend as The Space Pirates of Rocquaine also launched their debut album, Vraic & Ruin, onto the world.

With both bands sharing members, as well as launching albums at the same time comparisons are inevitable, so I’ll try and get those out the way first. While The John Wesley Stone play a very Americana version of what could be called folk, encompassing country, western and skiffle on the way. The Space Pirates, meanwhile, play what I can only describe as folk pop-rock and, if “The Wesleys” are the drunken party folk band with a dark side, The Space Pirates are a far more family friendly proposition, but still with a selection of great tunes with a couple of darker, if more melodic, moments.

Certainly The Space Pirates of Rocquaine provide a lighthearted form of upbeat acoustic rock infused folk which is fun and, at times, silly, in the best possible way. Starting of with The Limpit Glut of ’52 and on songs like Beast of the Coudre, Stone Cole Sober and No Rain the band are clearly out to have a great time and, even if the album doesn’t quite capture the atmosphere of their live shows, it is still unashamed fun and, being a recording, we get more time to listen to the lyrics and pick up on the many references contained therein.

Its not all just fun and games though as there are a couple of clearly genuinely heartfelt songs on Vraic & Ruin, though, while clearly packed with deep meaning for Mark Guppy and Jessica Nash (who between them wrote all the songs on the album), they are still certainly celebratory of their subjects and really do manage to strike a chord with Sarnia Cherie and Mountain Man particularly standing out in that regard.

This leaves a couple of songs to hint at a darker side to the band with The Variouf and Creux Mahie moving in that direction with their tales of hunting packs of youths, or are they werewolves, and the mystery of an isolated cave off Guernsey’s south coast providing inspiration respectively and adding another level to The Space Pirates sound.

If this all sounds like a bit of mish-mash two things pull it all together; they are the band’s folk pop-rock sound and the fact that most of these songs are so firmly rooted in Guernsey that they could come from nowhere else.

This all comes together on the song that, for me, is the albums highlight (and has long been a live highlight) The Witch of the Longfrie which takes the local references, the hint of a darker side, and the sense of whimsical pseudo-folkloric storytelling, to create a truly brilliant song.

Being self produced the mix on the album at times wavers, but for the most part is of a very high quality and it is clear from this, along with the songs, that the band really do pay attention to detail with their music showing that, while the songs are generally fun, the band are taking it seriously. This is often a hard line to tread but The Space Pirates do it admirably on Vraic & Ruin which is an album that captures something of Guernsey that I’ve previously never heard on record and does it all with a wonderful sense of fun.

And this is a video from Sark Folk Festival 2012 of the Space Pirates playing their song Creux Mahie:

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Kick-Ass 2

kick-ass 2 posterHaving recently rewatched Kick-Ass and read the comics of both Hit Girl and Kick-Ass 2 I was slightly concerned going into the movie of Kick-Ass 2 how it could live up to the first or in any way bring the comics to the screen.

Well I would certainly describe the finished article as a success, albeit, in some senses, a modest one.

Any sequel is going to instantly be comparable to its forebears, but Kick-Ass 2 comes with the extra baggage of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr’s excellent series of comic books so writer/director Jeff Wadlow immediately had his work cut out for him more than most other directors.

In terms of comparisons it does lose something on its predecessor simply by not having such a strong shock factor – we know going into this that a young man, and even younger girl, are going to dish out some particularly brutal violence and banter with some especially ‘fruity’ language so that element of shock is, to a degree, lost – especially as the film cannot quite translate the sheer level of ultraviolence seen in the comic book onto the screen without lumbering the film with the ‘dreaded NC-17 rating’ (in the US that is, an 18 over here), so it is, possibly, unbelievably to anyone who’s not read the comic, a little watered down.

kick-ass 2: chloe grace moretz and aaron taylor-johnsonSo away from the comparisons, how actually is Kick-Ass 2?

Telling the story of Hit Girl/Mindy Macready (Chloe Grace Moretz) coming to terms with her new life in ‘the real world’ and Kick-Ass/Dave Lizewski’s (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) ongoing personality conflict and the repercussions of their actions in the first film, specifically in relation to ‘the world’s first super villain’ it is at times, slightly unbalanced.

Some reviews have likened the Mindy Macready sub-plot to Mean Girls, and I can see why, but, thankfully, it still remembers that it’s Mean Girls with a 15-year-old homicidal vigilante in its midst so, while the Union J scene felt a bit shoehorned, the rest of the arc fitted the wider story and led to some great comedy moments as well as showing off some more of Moretz’s fine acting abilities.

Kick-Ass 2: Justice ForeverThis leads to a mid-section of the film that feels a bit slow as we get most of the actual story and emotional beats crammed in at the expense of some of the comedy and action and a few major shifts in tone in this portion aren’t as well handled as they might be, but they do in the end pay off as we head into the action scenes at the end of the movie.

The action scenes are one of the movies two major strong points as, even in the scenes where there are multiple characters to deal with, I never got lost and could follow each of the threads easily, unlike in many other modern action movies which often rely too much of fast editing and wobbly cameras and forget actually telling the story – here the story holds together very well and the different arcs on offer are edited to complement each other very well.

Kick-Ass 2: Jim CarreyThe other strong point of the movie is that it is, once again, genuinely funny. Sure some of the laughs come from shock, specifically in terms of some of the extreme violence and language, but a lot just comes from being plain old funny with Jim Carrey getting a few cracking lines and the rest of the cast not doing too bad either.

As with the first Kick-Ass, number two also plays with some of the conventions of comic book’s, comic book movies and superheroes, specifically here dealing with team-ups and, once again, superheroes in the real world. What we also get here is more of a look at supervillains in the real world and again, while this is somewhat covering ground dealt with in the first movie, it is still done well and leads to some entertaining moments.

Kick-Ass 2: Hit GirlWhat this all combines to make is a film that, while not quite as good as the original, is still entertaining and unlike pretty much any other comic book film coming out at the moment, while also acting as a great vehicle of Moretz who, it felt to me, was the real star of the film if not actually playing the de facto protagonist.

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The John Wesley Stone – ‘Shiraibu’ on Niche

The John Wesley Stone

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

At the Sark Folk Festival 2013, earlier in the summer, country-skiffle-americana band The John Wesley Stone launched their second album Shiraibu.

You can read my review of it over at Niche Showcase by clicking here or on the screen grab below.

The album is available directly from the band or through amazon.co.uk – I’d also like to give HA Design a mention for their artwork on the album.

The John Wesley Stone - Shiraibu - screen grab

This summer has seen the release of two albums from bands of very similar pedigree and perception with both albums even being released over the same weekend at the Sark Folk Festival – they are The Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s Vraic and Ruin and, the album I’m looking at here, Shiraibu from The John Wesley Stone.

Appropriately enough, the title a Guernsey French meaning a particularly heavy drinking session, which for a fair chunk of this album, is perfectly suited.

The album launches into life with the high octane Caffeine, Benzedrine, Nicotine which really sets up the stall of the band’s take on country music as it roars along at a mighty pace with the rhythm being the thing that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and, within two and a half minutes will have you singing along to its chorus/title.

As well as this kind of roaring country number, also highlighted by Holly Gotta Hotrod, the album also lives up to its western side with some slower numbers that often bring the vibe of the more melancholy lone drunk at the bar than the party time drinking songs, and in doing so add a real sense of dynamic across the record.

These slower numbers are often sung by Nashville who, along with Tinshack, take the lion’s share of the time at the front of the band and really are its stars here, both vocally and in terms of instrumentation, particularly on the violin and harmonica respectively.

As the album rolls along we also get fronting outings from both Hillbill and, on one track, Tater, who also add their own dynamics to things and create a real feel that this is a genuine band, despite the fact that they have more links to the west coast of Guernsey than the deep south of the USA and, despite the music’s clearly retro nature, it comes without a whiff of the hipster vibe that has dominated so much of the so called “trust fund folk” of recent years – what you’re getting here certainly feels like some of the original three chords and the truth.

Amongst all of this its clear the band come with a real sense of humour too with Crack House Honey and Jersey Boy in particular bringing this to the fore, the former’s singalong chorus of “She’s my crack house honey and I’m her meth lab boy” and the latter dealing with an elicit love affair with a Jerseyman really making this clear.

As with many country and western songs the tracks on Shiraibu all tell a story and, much like the tone of the songs, this can generally be divided into two sorts. There are those, like the aforementioned Jersey Boy or A Darkness Inside, which are comparatively linear. Then there are the more raucous ones that take a more gonzo approach to storytelling, throwing all the facts your way in no particular order and generally at breakneck speed, but tell the tale just as well.

Ending on a track called The Road, with backing vocals by the fantastically named Wholly Methylated Street Choir, leaves things on a high that show how The John Wesley Stone have grown from entertaining and shambolic skiffle to fully fledged country and western, but have retained the sense of fun and honesty in their music that, to compare them to the earlier mentioned Space Pirates, makes them feel like the Pirates’ drunken, and slightly more edgy, friend and continues the trend for great albums being released in Guernsey this year across such a broad spectrum of styles.

And here’s a video of the band playing at The Fermain Tavern earlier in the year:

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Buffalo Huddleston EP Launch – Cock and Bull – 10/08/13

The Buffalo Huddleston TrioThe Cock and Bull has become something of a home for acoustic music in Guernsey over the last decade or so with its weekly open mic night being as firm a part of the local music landscape as the Vale Earth Fair or Chaos and its more unique music nights like the Baroque Band standing alongside regular folk and jazz evenings as mainstays of a more alternative to the alternative nature of Guernsey’s music scene.

So it seemed appropriate for The Buffalo Huddleston Trio to launch their debut EP, Sky High, here tonight and, as the pub filled up, it seemed that the venue had drawn a wide cross-section of regular, and less regular, gig goers.

Becky Hamilton

Becky Hamilton

The evening’s music began with Becky Hamilton, one-third of the headlining trio, but here armed with an acoustic guitar and going solo. Becky’s acoustic songs may have been a bit quiet in the increasingly noisy bar but, for those of us crowding in at the front, we were treated to her extraordinary voice which brought to mind the female singer-songwriters of the late 60s folk movement, and, in particular Joni Mitchell.

The highlight of the set for me was, in fact, a cover of Mitchell’s own Big Yellow Taxi, but overall Becky set the scene for the evening’s live music excellently and for both her voice and her ability to make playing these songs look easy (which it certainly is not) she is worth seeking out when she makes her appearances in this mode.

After a short break, during which the Cock and Bull had become even more full with space anywhere in the pub now being at a premium, Buffalo Huddleston himself, aka Mike Meinke, made his way onto the ‘stage’ and started out his set with a solo instrumental track in his own style combining strumming, finger picking and percussive work on the guitar to create the sound he has long been known for.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

After this he was joined by Sarah Van Vlymen and Becky Hamilton with their violins and providing backing vocals and The Buffalo Huddleston Trio was complete and they played their way through a selection, both from the new EP and others, which began to get people moving (as much as they could) and otherwise seemed to grab many who were mesmerized by the excellent music that, really, is unlike anything else on offer on the island today.

About half way through the set and the upbeat but mellow tone was broken into a full on party atmosphere and Mike called Jull-z up for a run through of Chillin’ and Jull-z brought the show to life with his infectious positive energies and free-flowing, inspiring words. The song itself remains one of my favourites by the group as it brings to mind warm, youthful summers in Guernsey and sums up one of the more celebratory aspects of life on the islands like no other.

Jull-z

Jull-z

Jull-z remained on stage for the next track as the band weaved their way through a semi-improvised freeform version of the song Sexy Lady which gave each member a chance to show off their skills and got people moving as much as they could or otherwise cheering and whooping.

As the set came to an end the crowd wouldn’t let the band off the stage so the trio treated us to another run through of the EP’s title track and a solo number from Mike playing, essentially, ‘one-handed’ which brought the set to a close though the audience were still calling for more.

While the Cock and Bull may not always be the right venue for this sort of show due to the lack of stage and generally noisiness in the bar, it more than makes up for this with its atmosphere and for The Buffalo Huddleston Trio they rode the wave of it to put on what felt like a real celebration of their music which is now immortalized on disc (or download).

Sky High can be downloaded from Buffalo Huddleston’s Bandcamp page and you can see more of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

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Ghost Rider – Extended Cut

Ghost Rider posterAfter watching Daredevil the other night I thought I’d revisit another of the more obscure Marvel characters who have appeared on film in the last decade in the form of flame-skulled spirit of vengeance, Ghost Rider.

Unlike Daredevil, which I still really enjoy as a film, my previous viewing of Ghost Rider had, while enjoyable, largely found that enjoyment in the sense of ‘so bad its good’, so I was still looking forward to this for, if nothing else, Nic Cage hamming it up a treat.

While the film certainly has an element of an enjoyable quality it is severely hampered in two regards. First is how little sense it actually makes, even in the terms of its own universe you get the feeling that the scriptwriter (who is also the director) Mark Steven Johnson, cares more about getting his Ghost Rider to do cool things than to do things that make sense or actually move the story on which leads to a middle portion of the film that simply gets boring, despite featuring a flaming skeleton on a flaming motorbike riding up the side of a skyscraper.

Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles

Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles

The second problem is in the villains, at the start of the movie two ‘bad guys’ are set up in the form of Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda in what seems to be a reference to Easy Rider the filmmakers must have thought was clever, but really isn’t) and Blackheart (Wes Bentley looking like a reject from The Lost Boys). As the film goes on it becomes clear that not only is our ‘hero’ trying to fight the bad guys, they are also trying to fight one another and that leaves the dynamic of the movie very unbalanced as, rather than feeling like a deconstruction of the standard good vs evil approach to comic book movies, what we get is a confusing mish-mash of half -developed characters (including the trio of Blackhearts henchmen and Johnny Blaze’s love interest Eva Mendes).

Much like Daredevil, which was also written and directed by Johnson, it feels like the aim is to get in as many characters from the Ghost Rider mythos as possible in under two hours which leads to many characters who seem like they maybe should be major players coming across as bit parts who have no real basis and this includes our main villains and, to a lesser degree, ever Johnny Blaze, the Ghost Rider, himself.

Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze

Nic Cage as Johnny Blaze

Speaking of Ghost Rider and his alter ego he is certainly the most entertaining part of the film but it feels like Nic Cage is unsure how to play the character. At the start of the tale he comes across as something of a celebrity idiot channeling Elvis, but this is counteracted by the fact he is consistently reading fairly hefty tomes about pseudo-religious mythology relating back to his “deal with the devil”.

As the movie goes on this side of his character is forgotten (seemingly along with his career as a stunt rider) as he goes about being a judgmental spirit of vengeance which leaves Nic Cage with little to do as he spends much of the second half of the film shrouded in less than impressive CGI which it has to be said has dated very badly and leaves where the film may have found some eccentric charm on the virtual cutting room floor.

'Nic Cage' as Ghost Rider

‘Nic Cage’ as Ghost Rider

The other major issue I had with the film is how much it treats its audience as being as stupid as Johnny Blaze, particularly near the start, where we are constantly shown flashbacks to scenes which we only saw less than five minutes before and in the most obvious of ways.

While Daredevil was certainly flawed but remains enjoyable, if as something of a guilty pleasure, Ghost Rider attempts to be the same but unfortunately treads just the wrong side of the ‘so bad its good line’ to mostly land in so bad its bad territory – though it has left me intrigued by the sequel which I’ve heard is, impressively, very much inferior.

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The Joe Corbin Trio and Of Empires – Fermain Tavern – 02/08/13

The Joe Corbin Trio

The Joe Corbin Trio

Here’s my review of The Joe Corbin Trio, supported by Of Empires, at The Fermain Tavern, it was also published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 17th August 2013 (you can see a scan of that at the bottom of the article).

You can also see my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page.

Review

Joe Corbin made his name, really, at the regular blues nights that used to take place at The Fermain Tavern a couple of years ago, when he was fronting Spoonful, so, there was certainly a mild sense of anticipation in seeing him return to the Tav’s stage with his new, slimmed down, outfit in tow.

Of Empires

Of Empires

Before Joe and co took to the stage though Of Empires were on supporting duties, continuing a busy summer for them.

Following their storming set at Chaos things were on a slightly lower tone tonight as, though the venue was as they started their set, everyone seemed content to hang back to the shadows or the raised areas of the Tavern.

This didn’t put the band off though and they are yet another act that can be added to the list of consummate performers on the local scene who can be relied on to play, at the very least, a good show and, more often than not, a very good show.

Of Empires and Josh Fletcher

Of Empires and Josh Fletcher

Halfway through the set Of Empires played an acoustic number, with Matt Berry taking up acoustic guitar, Liam Bewey swapping the bass for a mandolin and George Le Page playing a few percussion instruments rather than the full drum kit. While they have done this a couple of times before, tonight it seemed to click in with the rest of the performance much more and really served to add another string to the band’s classic rock bow.

With debut single I Am The Night dropped from the set, second single Carla proved to be Of Empires’ new calling card and tonight featured a guest appearance from Josh Fletcher on guitar and, while I have to admit it didn’t add much to the song, seeing brothers Jack and Josh back on stage together again was a bit of a treat as someone who has fond memories of My Last Victory gigs a few years back.

While the audience had certainly been appreciative, and grew increasingly involved with Of Empires’ set as it went on, they certainly suddenly seemed to wake up properly as Joe and his rhythm duo of bass player and fellow Guern (and another former My Last Victory member) James Macphail and drummer Sam Clifford stepped onto the stage.

Joe Corbin

Joe Corbin

From the start it was clear that Joe has grown as a performer. While his time in Spoonful was marked by his excellent guitar playing, there was often a sense of the arrogance of youth in his performances, now however this has been replaced with more than a degree of confidence along with even more impressive guitar playing, which is, at times, astonishing to watch.

As a trio the band are excellent with Joe clearly being much more comfortable on stage with other performers closer to his age and experience, making them a real trio when it comes to performance. The closest thing I’ve seen on the Tav stage that I could compare it to would be the Wilko Johnson Band where all three members communicate with a look or a glance as they work through their repertoire, though with a different dynamic, as here the bass player and guitarist never seemed to be fighting for attention at the front.

Sam Clifford and James Macphail

Sam Clifford and James Macphail

As a rhythm section James and Sam did generally take a back seat to Joe but, in doing so, show themselves to be consummate musicians as well with some great rhythms backing up the leads – Sam in particular showed a powerful side to his drumming at times while James looked happier on stage than most players I’ve ever seen as he worked his way around his Fender bass with style.

Across the set the trio rolled from smooth blues to jagged blues rock before being called back on stage for two encores as the dancefloor filled, and, even though straight up blues isn’t generally my thing, they kept my interest all night. Leaving the crowd wanting more The Joe Corbin Trio certainly demonstrated that they are worth keeping an eye on as they try to make a splash on the London circuit.

Joe Corbin Trio and Of Empires scan - 17:08:13

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Daredevil – Director’s Cut

Daredevil Director's Cut coverWhen Daredevil first hit cinemas in 2003 I was a huge fan of it, it seemed to take off where the likes of Spiderman had begun and add a darker edge to things, much like the comic book version of the character had become known for doing.

A couple of years later the Director’s Cut came to DVD and I enjoyed that too and its that version I have decided to take a look at tonight, as I am also currently reading my way through the first volume of Frank Miller and Klaus Janson’s work on the comic book which inspired quite a lot of the film.

So then, a good 5 or 6 years after last watching Daredevil I will admit I still really enjoyed it, but I can also see its flaws – which are many.

The film takes it’s cues from the aforementioned Miller and Janson run on the comics as well as Kevin Smith’s (who cameos in the movie) and creates a sense of the style and the world, visually speaking, very well as we spend our time in the more run down and out-of-the-way areas of New York than Spiderman usually seems to deal with and it is certainly darker in tone than any of Raimi’s movies.

Ben Affleck as Daredevil

Ben Affleck as Daredevil

The story also takes the Miller run as its starting off point as, once the origin of Daredevil is told, we are thrown into probably the biggest saga of the comics involving love interest Elektra, psychotic assassin Bullseye and crime overlord Kingpin – and this is where the films problems begin.

While in the comics this a good story, three of the characters involved would be ones we already know leaving only Elektra to be introduced. In the movie world however, all four characters are new to us and building enough backstory for each is, frankly, impossible and the film never really succeeds beyond Daredevil’s tale so we are left with three characters about whom we know little which leaves them feeling much more 2D than even their four colour, actually 2D, counterparts.

Colin Farrell as Bullseye

Colin Farrell as Bullseye

This leads to the problem that I think is something all comic book movies can face but most, these days at least, admirably avoid – that being that this film is clearly made by fanboys, they may be people who work within Hollywood now, but they clearly love the characters but seem to assume that everyone else shares this love and already knows who everyone in Marvel’s version of Hell’s Kitchen is, which means, as viewers we are left somewhat in character limbo.

This character problem is only amplified by actors who seem to all be coming from different angles on their characterisation. Ben Affleck paints Matt Murdock/Daredevil as a kind of Batman like figure, complete with gruff voice and many scars and injuries built up over the years. Opposing him is Colin Farrell at his most over the top crazy as Bullseye who comes across like a comedy psycho with physical ticks and obsessions that don’t sit well in the more realist approach set by the Daredevil character.

Jennifer Garner as Elektra

Jennifer Garner as Elektra

Elektra meanwhile is virtually characterless and, while Jennifer Garner gets the physicality to a tee, there is little else to her which means we never really feel the emotions that are supposedly leading to her actions.

While all three of these are problematic Michael Clarke Duncan’s Kingpin is the most balanced of all of the characters spanning the realist and comic book approaches and actually being as believable as comic book movie bad guys ever are but, because of there being so many other characters on-screen (including even more supporting characters), we don’t get to see enough of him for Kingpin to be really effective.

Kingpin and Daredevil

Kingpin and Daredevil

The director’s cut adds a whole extra storyline to proceedings that, while designed to develop the Matt Murdock side of Daredevil and show how the two are linked, feels totally superfluous to the main story arc and brings yet more characters into the mix where we already have too many for the film to cope with.

In the end Daredevil is a deeply flawed film and I would hate to come to it cold with no knowledge of who these people are, but, I have to admit it remains something of a guilty pleasure, much like The Punisher movies, as it brings a different, ‘darker’, view of the Marvel universe to the screen and a character who is one I really like in the comics.

Also it has some great visual flourishes, especially in Daredevil’s ‘radar sense’, though there are points where, like the film as a whole, you get the impression that the film makers think this is much cleverer than it actually is.

With the Daredevil ‘property’ having recently returned to Marvel I would like to see him return to the screen in the new post-Avengers comic book movie world, as there remains much potential for good stories out of him which are hinted at here, but generally fail to materialise – and let’s just all forget about the Elektra sequel to this shall we.

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