Monthly Archives: October 2013

Halloween Metal Mayhem – Fermain Tavern – 26/10/13

Brutus Stonefist

Brutus Stonefist

Once again the Saturday before Halloween saw The Fermain Tavern transformed for a night of metal to celebrate Halloween.

This year featured one of the biggest line ups yet with Guernsey’s Brutus Stonefist, Heave and The Crazy Babies being joined by Jersey’s Demise of Sanity all bringing different legs of the beast that is heavy metal to the stage.

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

My review of the show was published in the Guernsey Press on Halloween:

Halloween Metal Mayhem 2013 scan - 31:10:13Guernsey Gigs were on hand and got a few videos of the show too:

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: October 2013 – Guernsey Arts Commission and Sark Folk Festival

Sark Folk Festival 2013

Sark Folk Festival 2013

On this month’s edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey we continued the discussion started by a recent meeting between the Guernsey Arts Commission and local musicians (read more about that here) by talking to he chair of their Music Sub-Committee, Russ Fossey, and Arts Assistant Charlie Atkinson.

I also spoke to Dave Langlois and Mick Le Huray from the Sark Folk Festival as they prepare for the release of festival tickets on 2nd November, which they expect to sell out very quickly if previous years are anything to go by (read my review of this year’s festival here).

You can listen to the show until 8pm on Saturday 2nd November here.

Tracklist

Here’s the new video from H A R T E B E E S T for their song death.

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The Thing

The Thing posterThere are horror movies that make you jump, there are horror movies that gross you out and there are horror movies that creep into your head and catch you unawares – then, every now and again, there are horror movies that do all of these things, and a little bit more.

I was already familiar with John Carpenter’s horror work thanks to Halloween, one of my favourite films since I first saw it in a drafty shed in The Forest as a teenager, and so had high hopes for The Thing.

The story centres on the invasion of a remote Antarctic research station by the titular creature, an ancient alien recently revived from the ice, and the attempts of the team to deal with it in the face of the onset of winter.

The first portion of the film immediately sets up that all is not right with some great aerial cinematography, following a title sequence that tells us this ‘Thing’ is certainly ‘From Another World’.

The Thing 1982In some hands this portion could feel like a protracted series of exposition sequences as all the characters and elements of what is to come are set up, in Carpenter’s hands however we don’t have long to wait for the horror side of this science fiction tale to kick in as a dog transforms before our eyes in gruesome style and we get our first view of The Thing and the balance between exposition and horror is perfectly pitched.

Kurt Russell as MacReady

Kurt Russell as MacReady

Even as we build up to the initial reveal the sense of unease that comes to the fore in the second half of the movie is well set as clues and counter clues as to the true nature of both the monster and some of the characters are laid. This is a very clever trick that is used to make what could otherwise be a fairly episodic story into a cohesive whole that draws the viewer in from the start and never lets go.

Character-wise Kurt Russell’s MacReady is our hero but, throughout, his status as such is constantly undermined then reinforced, then undermined again, and Russell plays this excellently, at times even coming over as a crazed madman, as he forgoes sleep to try to keep control.

Alongside Russell the real star of the show is the creature work.

The ThingMade before CGI made monsters ‘easy’ to realise, but often disappointing, here puppetry, makeup and physical visual effects are used to create some truly horrific images as The Thing develops from Dog/Spider to giant alien monster all dripping with blood and a fair share of various other gore. This is combined with some astonishing design work to create some monsters that really, along with Giger’s Alien, have set the stage for all movie monsters to follow.

Not wishing to spoil the movie but, much like many horror movie classics, it doesn’t end in a way that would satisfy the story in a traditional manner, but, leaves a much more satisfying ending for the viewer with the horror remaining real in our minds as the credits roll over a continuation of the sinister synth drenched soundtrack that has permeated the best part of the previous hour and three-quarters.

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The Wicker Man – The Final Cut

The Wicker Man posterIt’s a long time since I last saw Robin Hardy’s 1973 film, The Wicker Man, and that was in its “Director’s Cut” form, so, while I could clearly remember that ending and the basic plot I did come to this new cut of the film, the so-called Final Cut, relatively fresh.

From the start the film has an odd tone, setting up our supposed hero, Sergeant Howie (Edward Woodward), as a Godly man and, clearly, an extremely devout one, as well as a policeman of the highest reliability. This brief introduction uses its shorthand to brilliant set up the character, meaning we get to the mysterious Summerisle within the first five minutes and from here on in the film is something of descent (or ascent, depending on your view) into a different world.

The island is given an otherworldly feel, first from the ariel shots of Howie’s seaplane arriving which sets it up as being remote and different from “the mainland” and then by the attitude of the locals. Upon first meeting them Howie is faced with what seems to be a wall of silence, but throughout there is a feeling of something more sinister behind it.

Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie

Edward Woodward as Sergeant Howie

This feeling is developed as we see the island through Howie’s eyes, from the raucous pub, where folk music is set up as the antithesis of the hymn, to the teaching of Mayday celebrations in the local school and the perceived desecration of the island’s former church.

Alongside this we also get the more physical interpretation of the island’s difference from “the mainland” as Howie encounters a side of human sexuality he has never experienced and, as a Christian he sees this, alongside with the other aspects, as a work of evil and it is in relation to this that we are first introduced to Lord Summerisle himself (Christopher Lee) shrouded in shadow and, seemingly, directly addressing Howie and his view of the island.

Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle

Christopher Lee as Lord Summerisle

This is where the films horror element grows and it feels like a real watershed of a film in this regard. Lee is, of course, famed for his work as both Dracula and Frankenstein’s Monster in the Hammer movies of the 1950s and 60s, and here a sense of that style is combined with a more naturalistic feeling to create something that, at the time, I can only imagine was very new and very different to what had come before – as opposed to the generally more lighthearted and campy nature of the horror in Hammer’s films, what we have here has a much more serious feeling alongside the genuinely surreal.

The Wicker ManThis surreal aspect is really (for the most part) where the horror comes in as we see Howie go from straight-laced policeman to a paranoid wreck chasing ghosts. In this sense it reminded me a little of the recently released Filth, but in a very different way.

This surrealism is tied in tightly with the films depiction of the “heathen” or “pagan” religion of Summerisle and its here I found a slight oddness in my relationship with the movie. The impression I got was that when the film was released the character was meant to relate, for the most part, to Howie and follow his journey and find horror in that. For me though I found myself more drawn to the islanders so, while I still saw the horror of Howie’s story, it was somehow with more of a disconnect, even in the film’s climax – maybe this comes from being an islander and devout non-Christian myself?

TheWickerManAs well as the films use of imagery and pulling together of folk rites the real highlight of the film came with its use of music. Drawing from traditional folk music and tying it into almost every scene adds to the island’s feeling of otherness, and Howie’s separation from it, while developing a sense of the tradition on which Summerisle’s religion is based.

Lee and Woodward are both excellent in their roles as antagonist and protagonist respectively, both delivering truly believable performances and anchoring the naturalist side of the film in the face of the surreal side and, in the end, coming across as something of two sides of the same coin.

Over 40 years much has been discussed about The Wicker Man and for me, this cut gives us a non-stop story that never slows from the start as we see an investigation develop into something very other while creating a new direction for horror cinema that is still being referenced today.

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World War Z – The Movie: Extended Action Cut

World War Z posterIf you’ve read my previous blog on the book of World War Z you’ll know I was a big fan of Max Brooks’ writing and how it dealt with the zombie story in a new and interesting way. Because of this I have to say I was very skeptical around the time of the release of the movie of the same name and, partially for that reason (and partially down to a very busy summer), avoided seeing it in the cinema. So, I’ve come to the movie on Blu-ray, away from the hype and hyperbole.

What I have discovered over the last two hours is that, while it bears little resemblance to what I think would be an unfilmable book, what Brad Pitt and Marc Forster’s World War Z gives us is a great action adventure film with zombies that does a few interesting things with the genre.

The movie starts how many zombie movies have started before – there is an outbreak, an infection, a plague, call it what you will, the dead have risen in some form or another in a largely inexplicable way and are hungry for brains (well to be honest any part of a person will do).

Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane

Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane

This first act sees our hero, and he is a very atypical hero, Gerry Lane (Pitt) encounter the undead, escape from them with his family and make it to safety. So what we sort of get is almost a full traditional zombie movie in the first 45 minutes, but with the conclusion of safety rather than the more typical bleak and nihilistic ending more popular in the genre.

From there he turns into a vaguely horror version of Indiana Jones as he travels the world by plane seeking the source of, and a cure to, whatever it may be that is causing the problems. This is realised through a series of fairly epic action set pieces that successful convey a sense that this isn’t just Smalltown War Z but really is World War Z as we see The US, South Korea, Israel and, oddly, Wales, in the midst of outbreak.

World War Z - zombie swarmAll these set pieces, while they have zombies and horror elements, are much more familiar from an action movie perspective and this I think is the movie’s success, where I had previously worried it would be its problem – it takes the zombie, a staple of horror, and inserts it into a genre mash-up that roars along at a fine pace, throws in enough things keep horror fans happy (although running zombies remains contentious) while also appealing, very broadly, to the multiplex action crowd who would go and see dross like Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, and in this it still manages to throw in a few nods and winks for those of us who have read the source material.

World War Z - Brad Pitt and zombieThis all sounds a bit positive and, I’ll be the first to admit it is far from a perfect movie, the conclusion seems a little to simple and packed with cliché, pretty much every character is a recognisable archetype or stereotype, and there’s one line that I think clinched Peter Capaldi his role as The Doctor, but, if you go in for a ride of an action movie, and can see past the running, swarming ‘Zeeks’ (it may not be right, but they do it well), there is a lot to enjoy here.

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Norman Watt-Roy, Attila The Stockbroker and support – Fermain Tavern – 19/10/13

Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt-Roy

Wilko Johnson and Norman Watt-Roy

There was a real sense of anticipation in the air as gig goers headed to The Fermain Tavern on Saturday 19th October 2013. Not only was this down to the return of punk-poet legend Attila The Stockbroker to the Tavern’s stage, but also because Blockheads‘ “faith and grace” legend Norman Watt-Roy was headlining with his new band… not to mention the fact that it looked like he might be joined on stage by a third legend in the form of Dr. Feelgood founding member Wilko Johnson.

Before any of that though two Guernsey acts had the privilege of opening the show, starting with The Phantom Cosmonaut. For obvious reasons I won’t say too much about his set other than I had a great time on stage and, from my point of view it was the best gig I’ve played, at least since opening for Wilko on his ‘Farewell Tour’ earlier in the year.

The Crowman

The Crowman

The Crowman (and the “Fiddling Pixie”) were up next and, in his own inimitable style, he managed to break a string on his acoustic guitar during the first song of the set. None-the-less the alter-ego of Thee Jenerators/The Risk/Speakeasy frontman Mark Le Gallez picked up his banjo and carried on regardless with his unique brand of garage-folk that takes in influences of everything from traditional music to The Cramps via down and dirty blues and Hank III style country.

The raw power of The Crowman’s music was backed up for the last few songs tonight by James Le Huray on a four string slide guitar that added something of a Seasick Steve sound to the ongoing racket and made for a set that may have started in an inauspicious fashion but ended on a high.

Attila The Stockbroker

Attila The Stockbroker

Attila The Stockbroker has followed in the footsteps of John Cooper Clarke in both making the phrase punk-poetry a respected genre and in being a favourite at The Fermain Tavern with three gigs here in three years, and tonight continued the trend as his set of spoken word and songs was greeted with warmth, laughter and applause from the start.

Famous for his polemic, ranting style Attila The Stockbroker took on political issues up front, from the off with no subject seemingly taboo with particular highlights of this being a poem about Maggie Thatcher’s recent descent into hell and a song about media coverage of one of Prince Harry’s more public indiscretions. These come alongside all out comedic stories from the road such as Punk Night At The Duck’s Nuts which had everyone in the Tavern laughing and cheering along.

What sets Attila apart from many others in the punk-poetry arena is the way he counterpoints the comedic and the polemic with the heartfelt and the personal. While every word he utters is as genuine as they come, it is when he begins reciting poetry about his family that the real honesty of all his work hits home – tonight this came in the form of a poem about his step father and a story about reminders of his childhood in his late mother’s house.

Following these though he left things on an up note with a solo  version of his band Barnstormer’s song Bye Bye Banker! which may be a slightly uneasy subject for some in Guernsey but went down a storm tonight.

Norman Watt-Roy and Gilad Atzmon

Norman Watt-Roy and Gilad Atzmon

After a short break four musicians took to the stage who, over the course of the following hour, would put on one of the tightest and most impressive performances I’ve ever seen.

Led by Norman Watt-Roy the band ran through a set taking in jazz-fusion numbers alongside their own versions of Ian Dury and the Blockheads’ classics and a few originals as well.

While Norman was undeniably the centre of attention and the leader of his band as he played his custom Fender bass in a way that no other can, seemingly being one with his instrument as his fingers danced on the strings and frets, the other three members all shone as well.

Norman Watt-Roy

Norman Watt-Roy

Particularly impressive were saxophone and accordion player, as well as occasional vocalist, Gilad Atzmon and drummer Asaf Sirkis.

Atzmon used effects to give an extra tone to the already fantastic sax playing and worked most closely with Norman in putting on the show and really making a strong connection with the audience in a way few musicians at any level manage.

Sirkis meanwhile was a technical drumming marvel as he switched from the pseudo-funk of the Blockheads numbers, through frankly amazing jazz-fusion work, to solid and R’n’B style beats with seemingly effortless ease and a huge smile, though he wasn’t alone as all four members seemed to be enjoying the gig hugely.

They weren’t alone in that though as the crowd was packed to the front throughout Norman’s set with many moving, how anyone could stand still to such insistent rhythms is unknown to me, and for those in the crowd who were fellow musicians we could only look on in wonder at the playing on stage.

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson

If the atmosphere was high during the set it shot up even further as Norman Watt-Roy welcomed long time collaborator Wilko Johnson to the stage. With his unique guitar playing added to the mix the band’s sound developed further, taking on a more R’n’B vibe but still with a hint of the jazz and funk from earlier in the set so a couple of Wilko’s own tunes were given the Norman Watt-Roy treatment before the band ended their set.

They weren’t off stage long though before they were called back for an encore which rook the form of an extended version of Dr. Feelgood classic Roxette that reached a crescendo for an already amazing night.

The band left the stage with the promise that they would be back soon and with the crowd calling for more – much like Wilko’s gig here earlier in the year there was a bittersweet feeling that this might be the last time we get to see him in the flesh on a Guernsey stage but, if it was, what a way to go, and it feels like he’s passed his torch to Norman Watt-Roy, a man with an already formidable reputation, playing with one of the best bands I have ever had the pleasure to see in such intimate surroundings.

And all that’s not forgetting Attila The Stockbroker – I’m not sure a better night of varied musical entertainment could ever be had whether by happenstance or by design as this one.

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

And here is a video clip from the night thanks to Guernsey drumming veteran Sav Russo:

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Music in Guernsey – Guernsey Arts Commission meeting report

Last Monday I went along to a meeting for Guernsey musicians and event organisers held by the Guernsey Arts Commission to discuss funding and other issues surrounding support for music in Guernsey.

My report was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 19th October 2013, you can read it below:

GAC Music Meeting report scan - 19:10:13You can find out more about the GAC’s Music Sub-Committee here and how to apply for funding here (and, despite what their website says, I am no longer a member of the Music Sub-Committee).

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The Graduate – presented by CineGuernsey

The Graduate - posterThere’s always a worry when going in to see a ‘classic’ movie that it might not live up to expectations… well, I can confirm that The Graduate can now keep Citizen Kane company on my list of classics that are far from all their cracked up to be.

As always I did my best to go in with an open mind and will admit to not really knowing very much of The Graduate at all, beyond the music from Simon & Garfunkel and the ubiquitous line “Are you trying to seduce me Mrs Robinson” and what I got was a film that I can only describe as a largely pointless mess.

Starting off with the titular Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) returning from college to a celebratory party he doesn’t want to be attending, things looked promising from the angle of a coming of age tale of an awkward young man. This was soon derailed though by the arrival of Anne Bancroft as Mrs Robinson who very awkwardly attempts to seduce the awkward Benjamin.

Dustin Hoffman

Dustin Hoffman

It was at this point that the film started to lose me because from this point on, as a film shot as if it is taking place in the real world, it fails to make any sense, as a comedy it is not nearly funny enough and as a drama has nothing nearly dramatic enough in it, so what remains is a confusing and awkward mess with some interesting camera and editing work in it.

Hoffman does a job of playing Benjamin, at times even putting across the genuine awkward young man feeling, but for the most part this feels like Ricky Gervais invented a time machine, headed back to 1967 and vomited up a left over script akin to the office but dealing with different characters.

Anne Bancroft

Anne Bancroft

All in all The Graduate is a film with no sympathetic characters and because of this there is no story worth caring about leaving, essentially, as a blank two-hour period in my life and I’ll leave it on this… Wayne’s World did the ending better.

So, onto the viewing experience…

The CineGuernsey organised screening was held in the lecture room at the back of Candie Museum which instantly gives it the air of the worse rooms we used for screenings while I was in Aberystwyth. Added to this was the fact that, being off a poorly set up DVD projection the image was exceptionally low quality and the audio was out of synch throughout.

This was also compounded by the fact that some members of the audience felt the need to discuss it as it went on and, in one case it seems, hum along tunelessly to the soundtrack.

This was then compounded, following the movie, by the incredulous reactions of members of the CineGuernsey club that I didn’t enjoy this supposed classic and their attitude that I maybe didn’t get it because it came out in 1967! Well sorry, but I can appreciate a good film from any era, it just has to be that crucial thing of a good film!

Rant ends, now to find something worth watching!

And to cheer everyone up after that, a song:

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Insurrection, SugarSlam, Lifejacket and Static Alice – Jamaica Inn – 05/10/13

Insurrection

Insurrection

On Saturday 5th October 2013 Guernsey’s own old-school hardcore punk band Insurrection returned to the stage after a long absence with a show at The Jamaica Inn in St Peter Port.

Also on the bill were grunge-rockers SugarSlam, hard-indie act Lifejacket and new, young cover band Static Alice.

You can see my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 12th October 2013 and you can read it by clicking on the image below:

Insurrection at the Jam scan 12:10:13Don’t have any live videos from the show, but here’s a taste of Insurrection from their recent EP, MMXIII:

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Filth

Filth - PosterEven though I don’t really know any of Irvine Welsh’s work beyond Trainspotting, both the book and the Danny Boyle movie, I had been oddly looking forward to Filth, so I headed into the cinema with high hopes, but, as always, doing my best to temper them just in case.

Well I’m pleased to say that, while not as wildly successful as Trainspotting, Filth is still a very good film and tells its story in a way that is certainly inventive.

The story essentially deals with the personal disintegration of Detective Sergeant Bruce ‘Robbo’ Robertson (James McAvoy) as he and his team investigate a murder and he seeks promotion to Detective Inspector but, aside from a few scenes, this is so pushed to the side that it becomes no more than equal to the several other subplots going on and it is Robbo’s story that is the film’s driving force.

James McAvoy

James McAvoy

It is McAvoy’s performance that anchors the movie and is its most impressive feature. Across the film he switches from brutal and horrible to sympathetic in the most terrible of ways as he portrays Robbo as a truly despicable anti-hero that, at times, had me thinking of Breaking Bad’s Walter White because, though he was committing some truly heinous acts, he still seemed to have a side to empathise with, which made me feel a bit bad for siding with him at all.

Certainly McAvoy is the star of this film as he appears in almost every scene and deals with the movies twists and turns and its astonishingly graphic scenes in the most appropriate ways that could, in the hands of many ‘stars’ be tamed or over played.

Filth - James McAvoyAlso he manages to totally convince as a middle-aged urban police detective despite being considerably younger than the character’s intended age but, there are points here where he genuinely looks and acts like a truly broken and wrecked man in a way many ‘A-listers’ might not, but in doing so certainly puts himself even further into the rarefied air of mainstream movies biggest names.

The rest of the cast features many recogniseable faces from British cinema and TV with Eddie Marsan, Jim Broadbent and John Sessions in particular standing out. Marsan in particular is a highlight as Robbo’s ‘best friend’ who is a major element in creating the Filth’s more humourous side despite being bullied and, at times, abused by Robbo.

Jim Broadbent and James McAvoy

Jim Broadbent and James McAvoy

The film itself is a fantastical ride through ‘Robbo’s’ descent that uses both naturalism and sudden, fractured surrealism and almost Brechtian devices to paint its picture and really get into the head of its lead, but saying too much of them here could spoil the surprise when pop up, but its safe to say Jim Broadbent is used to fantastic effect and the timing of these moments gives the film an off beat edge that is rarely seen in the multiplex.

Across the film there is also a lot of humour to be had, if you can divert any politically correct sensibilities, which helps make it more than just the depressing dirge a story like this could easily become – though coming from Welsh this is to be expected, but the film captures this edge very well.

While the film is slightly imbalanced in places and also sometimes has a very 90s sensibility, thanks in part to the setting and source material but something that film has moved away from since then, it is still very enjoyable and showcases James McAvoy in particular and should take his career and reputation to new heights.

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