Monthly Archives: June 2014

Byzanthian Neckbeard – From The Clutches Of Oblivion

Byzanthian Neckbeard - From The Clutches Of Oblivion album coverWith a storming set at Chaos 10 now under their belts and a slot secured on the bill of Bloodstock, Byzanthian Neckbeard have unleashed their debut album, From The Clutches Of Oblivion, on the world.

Mixing doom with a bit of death, thrash and black metal the four piece have only been playing together a little over a year but have already made their mark on music in Guernsey with some great shows.

You can get hold of From The Clutches Of Oblivion on Byzanthian Neckbeard’s Bandcamp page and there is talk of them putting out a physical version of the record in the future as well.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 28th June 2014:

Byzanthian Neckbeard album review scan - 28:06:14

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The Recks and To The Woods – The Fermain Tavern – 20/06/14

To The Woods

To The Woods

On Friday 20th June 2014 Sark based psychedelic indie-folk band The Recks made their return from the Isle of Wight festival to headline once more at The Fermain Tavern.

Supporting them were grunge rockers To The Woods who’ve recently been working on their debut album and have been going from strength to strength on the live front for the last couple of months.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 28th June 2014:

The Recks and To The Woods scan - 28:06:14And you can check out the video from The Recks debut single, Lovers In Night, below:

 

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BBC Introducing Guernsey: June 2014 – Ukuladeez and Francisco

Ukuladeez at BBC Guernsey

Ukuladeez at BBC Guernsey

Click here to listen to the show.

On the June 2014 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey we had a live session from Ukuladeez and heard from young band Francisco as they gear up for the release of their debut EP.

Over the past three years Ukuladeez have gone from being something of a one-off novelty act into something a little more serious – if still very much based on having a good time. I spoke to them shortly before the launch of their debut album and they told me how they went from an unrehearsed band opening the Vale Earth Fair to be being invited to play for the recent British Irish Council meeting in Guernsey.

Francisco also joined me in the studio and told me what its like being a young band in Guernsey and the issues that face them in finding places to play as well as what their plans are for the future after their EP comes out on July 12th.

You can listen to the show until Saturday 5th July at 8 o’clock through the BBC iPlayer by clicking here.

Tracklist

 

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Ukuladeez Album Launch Tea Party with Esther Rose Parkes and The Crowman – Moulin Huet – 21/06/14

UkuladeezIt seemed perfectly fitting for Ukuladeez to launch their debut album, The Awesome Adventures Of The Girls With The Tiny Guitars, with something a bit different from a regular gig. So, on the longest day of the year, they and a collection of their family, friends and general well-wishers headed down to the Moulin Huet Tea Room for a tea party, with something a bit different.

The first thing that was a bit different for a sunny afternoon tea party was Guernsey’s own purveyor of garage-folk, The Crowman. Following a broken string early in the set which delayed things a little, he was soon back and bashing his way through a selection of songs from both of his albums and generally going down well with the growing audience.

The Crowman

The Crowman

Performing today without the Fiddling Pixie did make for an even more stripped back sound as she normally brings a sweeter tone with her backing vocals and violin to the Crowman’s insistently pounding guitar and rock ‘n’ roll singing. Nonetheless, he set the scene for the music to come and started the afternoon well.

Following an impromptu fly past by a visiting military helicopter, apparently piloted by the sister of one of the Ukuladeez, Jersey’s Esther Rose Parkes took to the stage along with Dan MacFarlane and Becky Hamilton.

It’s been a few years since I’ve had the pleasure of catching Esther live and I was far from disappointed today. Esther played a selection of folky stories and tales with two acoustic guitars and a violin, topped with her mesmerizing voice, that was smooth as silk but in a place where it felt like it could break at any moment, giving it an amazingly absorbing vulnerability.

While her sound, which with the addition of Dan’s second acoustic guitar really had an extra depth to most solo acoustic acts we hear, was perfectly suited to a sunny afternoon, there were moments where I thought it would work just as well in a, metaphorically smoky, club in the depths of night.

Esther Rose Parkes

Esther Rose Parkes

On top of this was a song called Pimped Out Toaster which went to prove Esther’s not all seriousness and earnestness and rounded things off well as the tea garden filled up for the afternoon’s main attraction.

Over the last few years Ukuladeez have shown some moments of being an enjoyable quirky band but, I’ll be the first to admit, I’ve never quite got it. Well here they changed my mind as their vocal harmonies came together excellently and each member had their moments to shine be it on vocals, uke, harmonica or washboard, while the rest remained tight and “jangly”, in the best of ways.

What really stood out, as well as the performance, were the songs. They have developed from a few originals that felt like half-formed ideas into a fully rounded set of their own material (as evidenced by the existence of the album) that are lighthearted and fun and generally seem designed to lift the spirits in one way or another.

Ukuladeez

Ukuladeez

With extra instrumentation of violin and upright-bass, provided today by Becky Hamilton and Pip Orchard respectively, the sextet have become something genuinely enjoyably fun to listen to and watch and, with set closer Jammy Hands, show there’s a surreal edge to all this as well.

As everyone began their trek back up Moulin Huet hill I was left with the feeling that there really couldn’t have been a better meeting of music and location for this event and that Ukuladeez have become a great band and broken away from the hipster gimmickry they appeared to be based on in the past, and I’m now very much looking forward to listening to the album.

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

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Preacher

Preacher - Gone To TexasWith all the recent talk around DC Comics characters slowly but, seemingly, surely making their way to the big and small screens, from John Constantine and Sandman to The Flash and Batman Vs Superman, I thought I’d take a look back at one of their Vertigo imprint titles that I had particularly enjoyed, Preacher.

Across nine ‘trade paperbacks’, some 75 issues including one-shot specials and spin-off mini series, Preacher tells the story of Jesse Custer, a Texan small town reverend and his adventures as he becomes possessed by an angel-demon hybrid and fights off Armageddon while hunting down an absent alpha-and-omega.

Along the way he encounters everyone from conspirators bent on ending the world through the second coming to hideously deformed rock stars to vampire wannabes, all while flanked, for better or worse, by his on/off girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire called Cassidy.

While a lot of this sounds not that out of the ordinary for a comic book series, particularly one put out by Vertigo, what does set it apart is the framework within which Ennis places his story, that of a western. In this western Custer is the Man With No Name like hero, riding into town to save the day while doing his utmost to battle his own, in this case literal, demons.

Jesse Custer and Tulip

Jesse Custer and Tulip

It’s this view of the western and the epic myth of America that really is the underlying theme of the whole series and it is something that, much like the spaghetti westerns of the 60s and 70s can really only come from outside the USA and Ennis, being Northern Irish, fits the bill to add to this thematic history.

So we get a lot of stereotypical touchstones, from New York City to The Alamo via Monument Valley, but, on top of this, rather than Clint Eastwood riding in, we get Ennis’ misfit band.

Mixed in with this is something of Kerouac’s mythic America, as seen in On The Road as well. The presence of Cassidy being something of an obvious reference and otherwise in the road trip sense that the whole series has as well.

What marks them out from much of what has gone before is a few things. First is the time period, this is very much a millennial tale set in the late 1990s, but general with a sense of the vague (again mythic) now.

Cassidy

Cassidy

Second is the humour which is the kind of thing you could see Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmonson come up with if teamed with the writers of Viz and let lose without any restrictions. And thirdly is the level of sheer ultra-violence that ties all this together with liberal doses of blood and a whole hell of a lot of killing.

Another thing that sets its apart is the characters as well as the excellent lead, Jesse Custer, and his aforementioned entourage, we get a supporting cast that really are both fascinating and, at times, truly demented.

High up among them is the Saint Of Killers. An ex-legendary gun fighter now taking on the role of the Angel of Death and seemingly one of the few beings even the almighty fears. In some hands The Saint, a seven-foot cowboy with ever loaded pistols that never jam and never miss, could be a dull super human presence but Ennis provides him with a back story that makes this being hell-bent on destroying all in his path genuinely sympathetic.

In the villain department Herr Starr of The Grail starts off as a something of a hyper-devout Christian zealot and grows into a genuine monster who, in the tradition of much action adventure fiction, becomes more physically deformed as he becomes more evil – much like the rest of the comic it may not be politically correct but it makes for a compelling story.

The Saint Of Killers

The Saint Of Killers

Then there is the ever-present side story of Arseface that frankly has to be seen to be believed.

It being a comic seeing, of course, is as much a part of things as the story and it is here that any disappointment really comes.

While Steve Dillon’s artwork gives a good sense of the characters and the places it is, at best, perfunctory with a style that is often very flat, though in this it does let the story and the words work their magic.

The cover art by Glenn Fabry, however, is a totally different story. With a depth that sometimes goes too far it is here that we find the striking images that would normally come as splash pages in the comics and, if these are kept in mind while reading, serve to expand what is actually show on the page.

How (and if) anyone ever manages to translate the sprawling story of Jesse Custer and co to the screen remains to be seen, but, before that happens I would urge anyone to check out the comics, but don’t go in unless your prepared for some at times harsh, brutal and funny in the most wrong of ways action all wrapped up in an epic Western context.

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Gerard Way – Action Cat

Gerard Way - Action CatFor Action Cat, his first proper solo single release, My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way has really carried on where that band left off with a song that evokes much of the feel of their final album, Danger Days: The True Lives Of The Fabulous Killjoys.

What we get here is a slice of pounding pop-rock with something of a melancholy air floating not far in the background.

For three minutes punk-lite guitars mix with vocal harmonies galore, with a bit of glam thrown in, that brings to mind Na Na Na (Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na Na) and Vampire Money from the aforementioned MCR effort with a bit of that album’s The Kids From Yesterday.

The melancholy really comes in the lyrics that, while delivered with a shiny pop sheen, deal with Gerard’s seemingly ever-present concerns surrounding relationships. Thematically this is nothing too inspiring but is something that has always proven a winner with the My Chemical Romance audience and, speaking as a member of that audience, it hits the spot again here.

Gerard WayAside from comparisons to his past work, of which this is a clear continuation, there is something here that brings to mind the likes of The Wildhearts, just with a bit less of their scuzzy edge, particularly in terms of the guitar and vocal harmonies Action Cat has going on.

Whether this is something of a stylistic one off for Gerard to bring Danger Days fans into his new material or not remains to be seen, but, on the strength of Action Cat I have suddenly become a lot more hopeful for what is to come.

Anyway, that’s my thoughts, check out the song for yourself:

 

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Inside Llewyn Davis

Inside Llewyn Davis posterOnce again, with Inside Llewyn Davis, the Coen Brothers have produced a movie that creates more an over arching sense of mood that gets lodged in the viewer’s head and leaves them wondering if they missed something than a traditional Hollywood narrative film.

This is a feeling I’ve had from all the Coen Brothers’ movies I’ve seen (well the good one, lets just forget Intolerable Cruelty shall we) and while it is certainly frustrating, something about the way in which they do this keeps me going back for more, and yes I am one of those people who loves The Big Lebowski, I just find it hard to quite work out why sometimes.

With Inside Llewyn Davis what we have is something two-fold.

First is the outward story, what there is of it. Set in the folk scene of New York’s “Village” in the early 1960s we meet Llewyn Davis (a rough composite of several real life performers including Dave Van Ronk and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) as he tries to ‘reboot’ his career following the death of his performing partner and falls on hard times in the process as he jumps from couch to couch (and sometimes floor) of his friends and acquaintances.

Llewyn Davis and Ullesys

Llewyn Davis and Ullesys

In the midst of this is a brief trip to Chicago, with a great cameo from Coens regular John Goodman. This sequence evokes something of Kerouac’s On The Road, far better than the actual film adaptation seemed to manage, before we wind up back in a New York coffee-house with Davis back on stage followed by what looks very much like a young Mr. Zimmerman.

Davis’ personal story amongst this doesn’t actually go very far (despite the regular couch hopping and mid-west jaunt) and this is where the other side of the film comes in and is presented very interestingly by the Coen’s both through the use of a clever little cyclical trick and the contrast of a cat.

Coen Brothers on set

Coen Brothers on set

In this we get something of a comment on the life of a struggling artist, and one that is surprisingly bleak and seems a bit odd coming from such a successful pair as the Coens. Davis, essentially, is shown to be a stubborn man sticking to his view of the world, and thus artistic vision, with no awareness of the problems it is causing him and at no point even seeming to try to do anything to help himself change this.

Taking it to an even bleaker level is that this message could be translated to a broader scope and be added to the comments from the likes of The King Blues (amongst many others across history) that all life is for ‘the masses’ is to work a dead-end job simply to survive and, if you don’t do something about it, it’s just going to keep on like that.

John Goodman as Roland Turner

John Goodman as Roland Turner

That all sounds a bit bleak and miserable though and, while that is certainly part of Inside Llewyn Davis, it is not everything. Laced through the film is a comic strain that is typical to the Coens’ movies so, while there is much talk of death and abortion, the scenes involving Davis and the cat are generally highly amusing and Goodman’s turn as an aging jazz-er is comical – in a dark kind of way.

Along with this are the performances which are wall to wall excellent. Oscar Isaac is onscreen for almost the entire duration of the movie and his performance of Llewyn Davis is a genuine, understated tour de force as he performs the music as well as the acting with aplomb and entirely inhabits the character in a way not often seen in mainstream American cinema.

Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis

Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis

All of the other performances are similarly involved and, besides Goodman (who is very good in a different way), everyone makes the absolute most of their part even if they aren’t always very well-developed. I was left with the impression that the lack of development is because what we are really seeing is Davis’ impression of all the other characters rather than their actual fully rounded personalities.

Inside Llewyn Davis continues The Coen Brothers’ trend for making good but strangely frustrating films that sit with the viewer long after the movie has finished, and I wouldn’t be surprised if, like with Fargo and The Big Lebowski, this is a film that draws me back time and again, and certainly I’m going to be seeking out the soundtrack soon too.

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Jack White – Lazaretto

Jack White - Lazaretto album coverFor the follow-up to his solo debut, 2012’s Blunderbuss, Jack White has created another fine record that still draws on many influences but presents a more coherent ‘Jack White sound’.

Much like Blunderbuss this certainly feels like the natural evolution of White’s work in The White Stripes, rather than any of the other bands he’s played with, as it pulls in sounds from many sources. This sonic diversity is really summed up with a sense of geography.

As his career has gone on White has, physically, moved from Detroit to Nashville and that is clearly evident as a good portion of Lazaretto has a real countrified Nashville sound, but with an underlying feel of the Detroit garage that made his name. Added to this is now is a sprinkle of the sound of Sun Records out of Memphis and something of New Orleans too.

This collection has, compared to much of his previous output, something of a greater focus for White and leads to the album have a much more coalesced sound which is cut through by the distinctive crackly fuzz distorted guitar that has made his name along with the vintage organ and electric piano sounds that have also become something of his trademark.

Jack WhiteThe development of White’s sound continues on the second half of the album where, after a brief return to the Spaghetti Western style sounds seen on The White Stripes Icky Thump, there is something of an added sweetness to the tones on offer.

This is something a bit new for White and, while it adds a diversity to the sound, it is still laced through with the darkness that drives the album’s bluesier notes making for a few songs that vary things well. Still this doesn’t lose the more cohesive sound White has across the record and shows a development in his work.

Jack WhiteIn the end its harder to say which of Lazaretto and Blunderbuss is the more successful record as, while Lazaretto certainly shows a growth and greater confidence from White in terms of his own unique sound, and is probably the easier listen of the two, Blunderbuss possibly had a little more depth to it as a whole.

Honestly though this is something of a minor quibble as Lazaretto is yet another great record from White and really shows how classic Americana sounds can be combined to create something new nearly a century after many of those sounds were first committed to tape.

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We Are The Recks

The Recks

The Recks

Music documentaries are a very mixed bag and, while I am generally a fan of the subjects, and the stories contained within are almost always fascinating, it seems that there is a real knack, or art if you will, to making those stories come to life and create a fascinating film.

A couple of people who have that ability are, primarily, Julien Temple, who has charted pre-punk, punk and post-punk (and other things besides) in his own unique way, and the guys from Banger films who have traced the Evolution of Heavy Metal as well as bringing the story of Rush and Alice Cooper to the screen in fine style.

So, with all this in mind I headed into We Are The Recks, a Guernsey produced documentary on the titular Sark based indie-folkers, with high hopes of some good stories but well aware that this was, essentially, an extended college project.

The Recks

Richey and Atilla

This isn’t something that filmmaker, Gemma Honey, shies away from, making it clear in a couple of introductory title cards where the film comes from, but, at an hour in duration, this is a fairly epically extended single-handed student film.

Across the hour we are taken through the story of the band from how they all found music originally, to how they came together on their tiny island home, to their hopes for the future of the band. This is all interspersed with snatches of live performances from a couple of different gigs and, predominantly, the band sat outside the Bel Air pub in Sark with an acoustic guitar.

These scenes around the table at the Bel Air seem to want to act like a centre point to the film but are never really allowed to be as title cards lead us, somewhat obviously, through the band’s story.

This is something many documentary makers, most with much more experience than Gemma, fall into doing as it does seem to be a good way of moving a story on, but, unless handled very well it can lose something of the spontaneity that is needed to transmit the character of the individuals on-screen.

The Recks

Wez

The other thing that, for me at least, always marks out a good documentary of any genre is when the filmmaker is using the story to say something. This is something Julien Temple excels in as he manages to convey the story of his subject while at the same time saying something more and it is this that can elevate the music documentary to a higher level.

Unfortunately this isn’t something that seems to be happening here, which does leave it with the feeling of being something like an extended Electronic Press Kit video at times and at others it does get a bit aimless and repetitive.

That all said though what it does do very well is introduce us to this band of characters and some of their music, though without much recorded yet, it is limited in how much of the music it can get ‘on screen’ so to speak.

But certainly, if you didn’t know the band before, I can only imagine you’d come away from this intrigued as to what they do live and, while a few moments seem to show the band in a slightly strange light, it does capture something of their essence.

The Recks

Ash

So, while Gemma doesn’t quite have the knack mentioned earlier, as a first effort at this kind of film this is far from a failure and should act as a reasonable primer for anyone ‘googling’ The Recks as they prepare for some UK festival shows this summer.

I only wish there was more gig footage of the band included as this is where The Recks really shine.

The whole thing is on YouTube so why not have a look yourself, The Recks are certainly worth an hour of your time:

And here’s a live video of The Recks from Guernsey Gigs:

And here’s the review as it appeared in The Guernsey Press on Thursday 19th June 2014:

We Are The Recks review scan - 19:06:14

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Greatest Wrestling Factions

Greatest Wrestling FactionsThe few years have seen WWE’s DVD output generally increase in quality to quite a high degree, with the likes of CM Punk: Best In The World and Edge: You Think You Know Me really standing out (alongside the older Rise and Fall of ECW) as collections that break the fourth wall of the ‘sport’ to shed some light on the entertainment.

Unfortunately, it’s clear very early on that this isn’t the case with the Greatest Wrestling Factions DVD collection.

Rather than doing what the title says this seems to be WWE’s best attempt to cram in as many factions, or stables, into one collection as possible, with short intro segments drawing largely on clearly scripted interviews with current ‘Superstars’ and ‘Divas’ and largely acting to confirm that all of WWE’s ideas were far superior to anyone else’s, whether the accompanying match demonstrates this or not.

D-Generation X

D-Generation X

We do get some good stuff, seeing some of DX’s antics, the nWo’s moments and stuff from The Four Horsemen, Evolution and The Heenan Family all demonstrating why these factions had a major impact on pro-wrestling. Alongside this the bWo offer some light relief and here come across as one of the most entertaining things pro-wrestling has ever seen.

Unfortunately alongside these we get some smaller, less historically important, factions being treated like wrestling royalty, why The Oddities are here I have no idea as they come across purely as WWE trying far too hard and, while The Brood started the careers of a couple of the last decades big names in Edge and Christian, as a faction they were short-lived and left little to remember by save a cool entrance.

The bWo

The bWo

This is where the main issue with the set comes to the fore, it gives as much time to the likes of the bWo and the Oddities as it does to The Four Horsemen and the nWo which really serves little purpose other than to discredit the likes of Flair, Nash and Hall.

The other problem comes with the interviews, rather than being shot specifically for this collection they often seem to be culled from other interviews and largely base themselves within the ‘storylines’ of pro-wrestling which in this day and age seems at best naïve and at worst just makes for mostly dull soundbites.

The exceptions to this, predictably, are where the likes of Paul Heyman, Tommy Dreamer and CM Punk talk, but even these sections are edited in such a way as to often make the original ECW look like a bunch of foolish amateurs and make Vince McMahon come across as a real life evil genius (as is the intent of his ‘Mr McMahon’ in-ring character).

Dungeon of Doom

Dungeon of Doom

While some of the matches of this collection are good others seem to have been chosen simply because they needed a match to show – again The Oddities highlight is, apparently, a match again glorified jobber Too Much on Shotgun Saturday Night and some just feel like matches not good enough for past collections, such as the near non-sensical three-way, every man for himself nWo vs nWo vs WCW War Games Match which others just feel like great wrestlers second-rate matches.

So, in the end, unless you’re a completist or have the strange desire to see more of The Oddities or the frankly painful Dungeon of Doom, than this set really is not worth it.

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