Monthly Archives: January 2014

London: The Modern Babylon

London: The Modern BabylonFrom the suffragettes to Occupy London and from early 20th century social divide to, well, early 21st century social divide, Julien Temple’s London: The Modern Babylon tells a story of London as not only a city, but a character, through archive footage, music and audio creating, what comes across as, a very genuine portrayal of the place.

Starting out with extracts of an interview with 106 year old Hetty Bower we see a London moving out of Victorian times into a period of social change that never ends.

London: The Modern BabylonThis change is depicted in cycles as the city’s population develops, almost wave-like, and we hear from people from most sides of this truly epic story all told in Temple’s unique style with Bower popping up from time to time adding context to things and establishing a human heart to the story that is at times very surprising.

Temple’s style involves a form of almost extreme montage that, at first, seems random but coalesces into what I can only describe as genuine art in film, telling the story he is discovering through the production and editing process.

london_the_modern_babylon_production_8The first moment this becomes truly evident is one of the most sublime moments of the film as footage of the aforementioned suffragettes, pre-dating the First World War, is shown soundtracked by X-Ray Spex’ Oh Bondage Up Yours!

This same tactic of modern music accompanying comparatively ancient archive footage is used several times during the first half of the film and serves excellently to bring what we are seeing up to date and show how these events that, through silent, scratchy, black and white film footage can appear so distant, were at the time just as immediate and important as the Brixton and Poll Tax riots of the 1980s or the riots of summer 2011.

Still from Julien Temple's London BabylonIt’s not all disorder and disarray though as alongside this we see the coming together of nations and peoples from all over the world and, while the film certainly doesn’t hide from racism and xenophobia, the result it comes to time and again, first with an influx of Central European Jews, followed by Irish, West Indians and more, is that, after a period of adjustment, London adds their idiosyncrasies to the cultural mix to evolve further becoming a city that is depicted here as standing alone from the nation it is capital of.

Julien TempleThis may sound like a very rose-tinted view of history, but Temple does approach the story showing both sides and, while it is clear, both here and in his past work, that he has his own political agenda, this story is, ultimately, one that for all the differences and perceived divisions is very positive.

The cynic in me says this positivity is because it was made around the time of the 2012 Olympics, when it seemed for a brief time, all was perfect in the UK, but, being familiar with Temple’s other work, I’m inclined to believe this is not the case and it simply is the resulting view from what we see and, from what Temple found through his extensive trawl of archive footage and it comes together to create a fascinating and genuinely artistic portrait of a city that is, in many ways, one of the most spectacular and diverse in the world.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Against Me! – Transgender Dysphoria Blues

Against Me! - Transgender Dysphoria BluesI have to admit that I came to Transgender Dysphoria Blues by Against Me! with fairly high expectations, mostly thanks to the good words I’d heard about it in pre-release from many of the band’s well-known fans on Twitter and because of the story this album captures a part of.

I’m pleased to say that my expectations were not only met, but exceeded, as across the 11 tracks I was treated to something that defines a modern sound for punk rock.

This sound is typified by the combination of influences that can be heard ranging previous versions of the genre from the 1970s to present day, so across the album there are hints at the darker sound of bands like AFI or Alkaline Trio, something of the early 90s pop-punk of The Offspring or early Green Day, hints at 80s hardcore and indie and even moments reminiscent of what started it all in the late 1970s.

Against Me!While this might sound like this would create something derivative, what it instead does is make a sound that is unique to Against Me! and provides something that, while it has a pop-sheen, has such an honest soul to it that it could never be anything but punk rock.

The album’s title track kicks things off and demonstrates the band at their best with a real call to arms intro that sucks the listener in (and stays in place for the next half hour) before Laura Jane Grace’s impassioned and to the point lyrics kick in.

Against Me! 1 by Katie Hovland GapersAs the title suggests the lyrics across the whole record deal with issues of identity and, predominantly (though not entirely), Grace’s personal ongoing identity battles. What makes this really work is how upfront the words are when it comes to talking about a subject rarely discussed so, while in some hands a line like “You’ve got no cunt in your strut, no hips to shake” could be crude and obvious, here they feel pure and honest in possibly startling fashion.

Production-wise the album combines the best elements of pop-rock and punk creating a tone that wouldn’t sound out-of-place alongside the likes of Foo Fighters, but with enough of a raw edge to still be emphatically what it is and not lose any of its honesty or focus.

While the title track is a knock-out highlight on the record, there are no moments which feel like they’ve been included as filler, which is often the case on albums as tight and lean as this, but other standout tracks include True Trans Soul Rebel, FUCKMYLIFE666 and Dead Friend.

FYF Fest 2012 - Day 2Across the album its clear that Grace’s vocal performance has grown throughout the band’s career and now seems to have hit a point where it combines the best of raw energy and power with a tempered side that allows more depth and emotion to come through which, backed by the band’s particular sound, makes for one of the most listenable, yet powerful, albums I’ve heard in quite some time.

Tagged , , , , , ,

BBC Introducing Guernsey: January 2014 – Robert J. Hunter, Static Alice, Vale Earth Fair and StyxMusic

Robert J. Hunter

Robert J. Hunter

I was back on the radio on Saturday 25th January for the first BBC Introducing Guernsey show of 2014.

In the show I spoke to Robert J. Hunter, who has just signed with Spectra Records and releases a new EP next month, and a couple of the people involved with the StyxMusic project for bringing live music to the island’s youngsters, Lottie Barnes from the Guernsey Arts Commission and Ivor Richards from Jersey’s equivalent youth music project based around their La Motte Street Youth Centre.

Also BBC Introducing Guernsey reporter John Fernandez caught up with Static Alice at the Vale Earth Fair Unplugged night and spoke to the events organisers about theirs plans for the coming year.

You can listen to the show until Saturday 1st February through the BBC iPlayer or the BBC Guernsey website by clicking here.

Tracklist:

And here’s a preview of the upcoming album from Brunt:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Behind The Candelabra

behind the candelabra posterGoing into Steven Soderbergh’s Behind The Candelabra I have to admit to not having a huge amount of knowledge of its subject. Certainly I had heard of Liberace and was aware of his presence as something of a camp pop-culture icon of the mid to late 20th Century, and that he appeared at the first Wrestlemania as the guest time-keeper for the main event. Beyond that though, I knew no more specific detail.

From the start its clear that this is Scott Thorson’s story, rather than Liberace’s, and this does raise some questions as we very much see things through Thorson’s eyes, so there are moments where I was left wondering how fair a view of the people being portrayed it is. For the most part though this concern was easily set aside as we see two sides of both the film’s leads with Thorson certainly not coming across as a saint by any means either.

Michael Douglas and Matt DamonThe plot deals with the relationship between the pair that starts in 1977 and goes on to “Lee’s” death in 1986, but mostly focusing on the period from ’77 to ’81. In this time the pair fall in what they term as love, though its clear that ‘love’ may not be the best word, and through this a portrait is painted of how fame and fortune can affect people and those around them, and how others exploit this.

Aside from a genuinely gripping story that, while its one we’ve heard before, feels remarkably genuine, it is the performances that really stand out.

Michael DouglasHighest amongst these is Michael Douglas as Liberace and, really, Douglas vanishes into the role and is so convincing that in the few moments when Douglas does peek through it is almost shocking. The other spectacular thing about Liberace in the film is that he seems to get younger as the film goes on and the make up effects used are some of the best I’ve seen as they do the thing the best of special effects do of being both clearly a work of art, but never distracting from the story as the film goes on.

Matt Damon as Thorson is not far behind in vanishing into the role and it is in him we see the descent into, at times, the horror and madness that the overall story references and he seems to give up his life for… well, we’re never sure what.

Rob LoweDan Aykroyd and Rob Lowe also deserve special mention with Lowe in particular putting in one of the most unsettling turns I remember seeing in a story set, ostensibly, in the real world.

All this probably makes it sound like it’s quite a heavy and ponderous movie but, while it certainly has its dark side, much like Liberace himself there is something of the entertainer in the film as it is at times very darkly comic and, at other times, comic in its ridiculousness and throughout there is a wry sense of the kitsch and camp that was the very essence of Liberace’s on stage persona.

Matt Damon and Michael DouglasBefore the credits roll the film comes full circle and ends on a somber note that is brilliantly offset by it’s final lines and comes out the other end surprisingly non-judgmental of anyone involved in the story, despite the fact there are some seriously dastardly goings on, and leaves the audience to take from it what they want, which, in films with big name stars like Douglas and Damon, is always something to relish.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

The Recks at StyxMusic – 18/01/14

The RecksFor their first live music event StyxMusic invited The Recks (and The Phantom Cosmonaut) to play to an audience of 11 to 18 year olds.

Playing in one of the Styx centre’s smaller rooms did give something of the feeling of being set up in a sparsely decorated living room but, with a full lighting rig and PA, Mark Guillou had done his best to make it feel like a genuine live music venue and, as The Recks took to the stage, the assembled youngsters (and a group of parents, organisers and well-meaning hangers-on) seemed fascinated in what was to come as the Guernsey Arts Commission’s Marcel Le Normand interviewed the band about why they do what they do.

Richey of The RecksWith that out-of-the-way The Recks launched into their set of upbeat indie-folk-gypsy-swing and did their best to deliver a set like all of their others.

While the audience mostly remained static, many sat down at the front, they all seemed to be intently focused on the band on stage – which considering this was a first ‘gig’ experience for many was maybe not surprising. This did though seem to lead to The Recks struggling to keep up the energy at times, especially on their slower numbers, although they still sounded good.

The more upbeat tunes had the same kind of energy they always do though and the band bantered amongst themselves and with the audience between songs in finely relaxed style just like any other show.

Closing the set with Valentine certainly left things on a high and many commented that, while it was their first time seeing The Recks, they hoped to see them again as soon as possible.

The RecksSo, despite a couple of hiccups, the band played a set that provided a great way to start off this series of events aimed at bringing live music to a younger crowd and encouraging them to start doing it themselves which, if the instruments being played soon afterwards upstairs were anything to go by, it certainly achieved.

You can see a few more of my photos from the gig on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Arcade Fire – Reflektor

Arcade Fire - Reflektor - coverAcross their previous three albums Arcade Fire (or The Arcade Fire as they are credited in the liner notes) have developed a sound that I could only describe as indie-prog and on album number four they continue this trend.

A double album with a cover clearly designed for gatefold vinyl, Reflektor runs the gamut of sounds the band have created in the past from guitar heavy indie rock to lighter, almost dream pop, tones all finding a place here. Added to this is a heavier load of synth-esque and pseudo-disco styles which could easily tip a band who already have a painfully hip feel into the cult of hipster.

Thankfully this doesn’t happen here and Arcade Fire remain in control of things as a leading force in taking this sound, which has become more prevalent since their arrival, into the mainstream, while being at the same time, it seems, very much their own thing without compromising.

Arcade Fire 2013Each of Arcade Fire’s previous records have, to a greater or lesser extent, had something of a conceptual feel to them an Reflektor is no different, though far less pronounced than The Suburbs. What we get here is what mostly feels like a conceptual mood record as the majority of the tracks seem to flow into one another and, while they don’t all sound the same, it is hard to find any, other than the title track, which stand out.

While this could be seen as a criticism, and my personal feelings are torn on this subject, it does make for something that is becoming more rare, particularly in mainstream, charting records, that this is a complete album package that really needs to be heard in this fashion, rather than amongst other tracks on shuffle.

arcade-fire_the-reflektors_cmj_marc-lemoine-678x431With their slightly detached vocal style Arcade Fire can, at times, be slightly emotionally distant, but when this happens the music, which hides its evident complexities with a sheen of well produced pop simplicity (and I mean that in a good way), comes to the fore and, while I can’t see this record having the same live impact as The Suburbs, it does make for something that you can spend genuine time with as it unravels.

While this review was written after only one dedicated listen to Reflektor, during which it was certainly enjoyable, I was also left with the impression that the more time spent with this record the more it would reveal which is certainly the hallmark of all good albums.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

The Tomb Of The Cybermen

The Tomb Of The Cybermen DVD coverOf all of the early stories featuring arguably the second most iconic ‘monster’ in the Doctor Who, The Tomb Of The Cybermen is the one that has become most regarded as a classic. The reasons for this are likely twofold; first is that it was one of the first recovered complete stories of the series to be released on VHS in the 1990s and so, compared to other stories from this era of Doctor Who, has had longer to be seen, but also because it is still, for the most part, a compelling and well constructed tale.

Set on the planet Telos, The Doctor (Patrick Troughton), Jamie (Frazer Hines) and the newly arrived Victoria (Deborah Watling) get caught up in the middle of an expedition to find the last resting place of the Cybermen, just as the expeditionary force discover the main doors to the titular tomb.

From here the first couple of episodes present a paranoid thriller kind of story, actually reminiscent of The Thing, as certain members of the team start to exhibit different motives than archeology putting all, but specifically Jamie and Victoria, in harm’s way at every given opportunity.

Tomb Of The Cybermen - CybermenFrom here the motives are revealed, along with the Cybermen, and things step up a gear and the story shifts into the more traditional mode of The Doctor doing his best to outwit the monsters, mostly through words, while his companions and other members of the team provide the necessary action.

While stories from the entire original run of Doctor Who often have a slower pace than more modern TV, Tomb Of The Cybermen does keep things moving more than many, making it a much easier watch for a modern audiences, as there is a lot going on and it does leave me thinking at points if some of the modern episodes simplify things a bit too much.

Patrick Troughton as The Doctor

Patrick Troughton as The Doctor

This, all told, creates something of a landmark episode for Doctor Who that establishes The Cybermen as being a great recurring villain, second only to The Daleks, while also giving Patrick Troughton’s take on The Doctor room to shine in all his mischievous glory that has echoes leading right up to today as there are moments where it seems The Doctor knows much more than he is letting on and that there is another side to this character (though not as explicitly as in today’s stories).

Unfortunately there are a few things that, while a product of the time of its production, do make The Tomb Of The Cybermen a slightly uncomfortable watch. Firstly is the treatment of Victoria who spends most of the story getting told to stay put and keep out of trouble and, with the bigger cast of the expedition, she is relegated to an almost nothing role at times.

Roy Stewart as Toberman

Roy Stewart as Toberman

Even more uncomfortable is the character of Toberman (Roy Stewart), whose portrayal is, for want of any other word, heading well into racist territory. For the first couple of episodes he is portrayed a near mute slave character doing simply as he is told and being ‘the muscle’ for the more devious members of the party.

As the story continues he becomes a more integral part of the plot, though still largely mute, only making utterances comparable with ‘savage’ roles from films of the TV of the first half of the 20th Century, and this culminates with him squaring off with a Cyberman in a scene that, having now seen Django Unchained, is worryingly reminiscent of its “mandingo” fight scenes.

Though it has these two aspects, The Tomb Of The Cybermen, while a product of its time, remains one of the great black and white era Doctor Who stories and, while I am speaking as a fan, if you want to get into the older stories, there are few better places to start than this – afterall it was my first taste of The Doctor on TV in the 1960s.

Here’s a fan-made trailer for the series as there doesn’t seem to be an official one:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Free Saturday at The Fermain Tavern – 04/01/14

The Deadbeats

The Deadbeats

For the first weekend of 2014 Mark Guillou and The Crew presented two nights of various live music at The Fermain Tavern for free.

I headed up on the Saturday night when five bands took to the Tav’s stage; From Bedrooms To Backseats, Static Alice, Francisco, The DeadBeats and Emperor Kerosene.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the gig on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review appeared in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 11th January 2014:

Free Saturday 2014 - 11:01:14 scanHere’s a video of Emperor Kerosene’s take on Silverchair’s Freak:

This is one of Francisco doing Sympathy For The Devil:

Static Alice’s version of Sharp Dressed Man:

And it’s not from the gig but this is the new video by From Bedrooms To Backseats for their song Bridges:

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Black Spiders – This Savage Land

Black Spiders - This Savage LandBlack Spiders are a band who first grabbed my interest when they supported The Wildhearts at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in October 2009 and, while the headliners were promoting their poppier tinged Chutzpah! album, the support act brought some straight up, balls out hard rock to the show that was much-needed (The Wildhearts still played a blinder but support bands who really step up always grab my attention, also on the bill were No Americana who I remember being ace as well).

This Savage Land is the Spiders’ second full length release (following Sons Of The North) and kicks in exactly how that album and their live shows did, as the band merge the sounds of Black Sabbath, AC/DC and Motorhead into one rolling hard rock package.

Black SpidersMuch like AC/DC and Motorhead there is little here that reinvents the wheel and, there are points where it could get mired down in the generic, but every song is delivered with such joie de vivre that this is soon overcome and the sounds coalesce into something that is very much Black Spiders’ own.

As the album goes on there are a few other sounds that get thrown into the mix, particularly on Put Love In Its Place which has more of an early 90s grunge vibe and there are moments across the record that hint toward influence of British Rock of the past 20 years too (which is no surprise considering the Wildhearts connection).

Black SpidersWhile the album generally has something of American hard rock mixed in with the Anglo-Australian tones there are some prime moments that show this is a British band as their sense of humour comes through and makes for a record that has a great, well produced, sound, but also a real sense of fun in it as well.

While Black Spiders are walking an already well trodden path, its hard to find fault with This Savage Land and, if hard rocking sounds are your thing, this is certainly worth picking up as I don’t think it could fail to get a rockers head banging.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Great Gatsby (2013)

The Great Gatsby posterHaving now seen three of Baz Luhrmann’s films it is clear he is particularly drawn to one story, that of doomed love, and that having started, in the mainstream at least, with Romeo + Juliet, it was always going to be hard to reach the heights of that doomed romance again, but it seems to be something he is intent on trying.

Luhrmann’s production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book, The Great Gatsby, takes a short novel that seems to be making a point about the type of people and era it was written about and convert it into a melodramatic doomed romance very similar, in some ways, to Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, and, in doing so, it has a feeling that the point it may have been trying to make has been lost.

There are moments here where it almost seems to be saying something about those with excessive wealth, and almost making a social point, but it never quite manages as, no matter what it may say, it spends more time celebrating extravagance both in story world of the film and in the way it is produced.

Luhrmann on setWith his aforementioned films Luhrmann set his place as being a visually exciting filmmaker who didn’t do things by the rules with anachronistic musical cues and the notion of the ‘red curtain’ ushering us into a world slightly removed from our own.

That was more than 10 years ago though and now the same style feels, if not dated, then certainly not enough to carry a motion picture so, while The Great Gatsby certainly looks great, it doesn’t have the excitement that these visuals once would have.

The Great Gatsby - Tobey MaguireThis leaves the film with the problem that while its first half is a rush of visual excitement; it ultimately feels like something we’ve seen before – especially as the initial conceit of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) writing down his story is one Luhrmann used in exactly the same fashion in Moulin Rouge and, while matching the conceit of the book, is something that is generally very hard to capture on film and this film bears that out.

This leads to a middle portion of the film that feels worryingly slow as the romance comes to the fore but, as DiCaprio’s Gatsby feels more like a cypher of an age than a character, this never quite has any emotional centre to it. Then as we get to the final act, and what should be more excitement returns, it is left somewhat hollow as the confusion between the point of the original story and Luhrmann’s desire to tell of doomed love meet head on.

The Great Gatsby - Leonardo DiCaprioThe Great Gatsby then, while far from all bad, is much more empty than it should be and, while this emptiness may be intended to make a point in the book, in the film it simply feels misjudged and very much like Luhrmann may have run out of ideas in the late 1990s but is still trying to use them to create his movies now.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,