Monthly Archives: August 2014

BBC Introducing Guernsey: August 2014 – Vale Earth Fair and Of Empires

Of Empires at the Vale Earth Fair

Of Empires at the Vale Earth Fair

For the August 2014 edition of BBC Introducing Guernsey I rounded off the Bailiwick’s summer festival season with a look back at the previous weekend’s Vale Earth Fair including interviews with Robert J. Hunter, Flexagon, Top Buzzer, Ramblin’ Nick Mann, Ray Marshall and The Recks.

I also spoke to Of Empires as they get ready to release their debut EP next month and get back on the live scene after a year off.

You can listen to the show on the BBC iPlayer until Saturday 6th September by clicking here.

Tracklist

And here is a preview of Of Empires upcoming EP, first Gimme What I Need:

and a brief tease of the whole EP, Stranger Sensations:

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Vale Earth Fair 2014 – Vale Castle – 24/08/14

The Recks

The Recks on the Castle Stage

For what is being reported as the 39th year, the Vale Earth Fair once again took over the Vale Castle in Guerney for 12 hours of music on six stages spanning everything from acoustic traditional folk and psytrance to drum ‘n’ bass and punk rock on Sunday 24th August 2014.

I was on hand reviewing what I could of the festival, largely focussing on the main, Castle Stage, and the other live electric stage, The Stage Against The Machine.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the Earth Fair on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page by clicking here and a condensed version of my review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 30th August. (Scroll down to read my extended review)

Vale Earth Fair 2014 review scan - 30:08:14

Extended Review

The sky might have been a bit overcast but that didn’t seem to be dampening any spirits as the 2014 Vale Earth Fair got going just after midday on Sunday 24th August and The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie stepped up onto the impressive new main stage inside the Vale Castle.

The Crowman

The Crowman and the Fiddling Pixie

Given the early hour (for a music festival) and relaxed atmosphere, The Crowman was on remarkably restrained form sticking, mostly, to his and the Pixie’s slower songs. In these more relaxed songs The Crowman’s songwriting comes to the fore and, with the benefit of the excellent sound on offer on this stage, really showed his songs in an excellent light. Of course there was still room for a few stompers and Mystery Train and The Robert Johnson Resurrection Blues got hands clapping, kicking off this varied festival in truly unique style.

Following the restrained start from The Crowman, there was no such subtlety from Subversion as they blasted through a set of their pop-rock originals which bring to mind Foo Fighters, Muse and The Red Hot Chilli Peppers, along with a few covers. Their many gigs at pubs around the island over recent months have seen the band come on considerably and they showed themselves to be very much deserving to bring the rock to the main stage and vocalist/guitarist Richard Mancini and bassist Marcus Tedde seemed remarkably at home on the bigger stage.

Robert J Hunter

Robert J Hunter

After something of a last-minute reshuffle Jawbone opened things up on the Stage Against The Machine, just outside the castle gates, with their set of punk rock. While the band seemed to be having fun on stage they were the first of several bands to suffer from a very messy sound mix out in the crowd that left their set feeling like something of a mess.

Following Jawbone came Robert J. Hunter, continuing something of a mini-tour of London and Guernsey venues, with his three-piece band. This line-up has allowed Robert a greater space for his original electric blues to really cut through and his guitar work and voice sounded immense today, even as he too battled a few sound issues. As the set went on the audience grew and they tended to stick around while Robert produced a highlight of the afternoon with an intense run through of his track See You In Hell.

Inside the castle Jersey outfit The Devil and The Deep were storming through a set of insistent indie that was the first to get a few on their feet and, while I’m not hugely familiar with their sound it seemed to missing some of their usual electronics, but the band weren’t missing a beat and kept the high energy feel of the afternoon’s music going.

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston

Buffalo Huddleston rounded off what has been a huge summer for them next and they lived up to the hype, despite now being down a violin since the departure of Becky Hamilton. While Becky’s violin and vocals were missed the other five members of the band made up for it with their usual mix of great songs and a laid back vibe that can be enjoyed both relaxing on the grass or up and dancing and left people anticipating their upcoming album.

The Crazy Babies are always an unpredictable beast and their set on the Stage Against the Machine certainly backed this up as they were joined on stage today by Ramblin’ Nick Mann and his cigar box guitar (for the first couple of songs) as they staggered their way through a set of Ozzy Osbourne covers. While the band are at best sloppy their set was, as ever, delivered with a sense of fun and the feeling that many members of the band could actually really nail these songs if they wanted to.

Top Buzzer

Top Buzzer

Top Buzzer hit the Stage Against the Machine with a blast of up beat pop punk next. With a reputation following years of gigging in the UK, Jersey and over here there was an eager contingent in the crowd reveling in their mix of old and new material, and their excellent take on M’s Pop Muzik.

Frontman Dukey comes across as someone born to lead a band as he did his best to work the crowd and, when they weren’t that forthcoming, took his mic and bass off the stage and played from ground level right in their faces. Despite being another band to suffer less than suitable sonic conditions on this stage they stormed through without missing a beat and seemed to have a great time doing it while seeming to win over quite a few new fans in the process.

Meanwhile the laid back, positive, vibes continued on the main stage with Rentoclean who seem custom-built for the Vale Earth Fair. Their punky mix of reggae and ska sounds and irreverent lyrics got people good-naturedly skanking along as the castle hit its mid-afternoon busy point giving the local four-piece some great exposure.

Dead Sea Skulls

Dead Sea Skulls

The best thing about festivals, and something the Vale Earth Fair seems particularly good at, is putting on bands you may never have seen before but that you know are going to stick in your mind for a long time. Last year for me it was The Correspondents, and this year it was Dead Sea Skulls.

A garage rock trio led by a singing, stand-up drummer with a pure Detroit rock ‘n’ roll looking guitarist and bass player they kicked things up a notch on the main stage with some real Raw Power. Getting yet more on their feet they were the first band to really get control of the crowd and all this with a drummer with a broken foot!

Blakalaska brought their dub-step drenched dance-rock to the Stage Against The Machine as we headed into the evening and were treated to the best sound of the day so far, though it was still far from perfect. New vocalist Lee Rosette brings a new energy to the band that makes their music come to life and, while they may not have had the momentum they did for their headlining set last year, they have, if anything, stepped up their game even further.

The Recks

The Recks

Another band who’ve had an immense summer are Sark based five-piece The Recks. With a few challenges in the lead up to today’s set they didn’t miss a beat, even debuting some new songs that fit in right alongside their more familiar numbers and brought yet more of the crowd to their feet and showed why they have gained the reputation they have, and why they’ve been afforded the chance to spread their wings in the UK this summer.

A year after their last live show, right here in 2013, Of Empires took to the Stage Against the Machine with a new look and new sound. Still based in the classic rock tendencies they’ve always demonstrated, this is a more laid back version with cleaner, more reverb-y, guitars and more restrained vocals.

Of Empires

Of Empires

While this sound was different the band were still their usual selves with frontman Jack Fletcher working the crowd excellently and showing his years of experience on this stage. Even if the new sound did confound expectations somewhat and, at times, made the relatively short set feel like it was going a bit too slow, it was clear the band have confidence in their new material and it will be interesting to see them develop from here now they are back on the live scene.

While The Delegators soul drenched reggae was uplifting those inside the castle, Attila The Stockbroker brought his medieval folk-punk band Barnstormer to the now very appropriately named Stage Against The Machine.

Attila The Stockbroker with Barnstormer

Attila The Stockbroker with Barnstormer

Starting their set with an original medieval style composition including Attila on various, recorders, pipes and violin the set went on to take in punk rock, ska and more folk all delivered with a righteous ire that is laced through all the punk poet’s work. A highlight came in the form of Commandte Joe (dedicated to Joe Strummer) and it was good to hear Attila’s songs filled out with a full band that, by the end of the set, had plenty skanking and dancing along to the politically motivated music.

Hitting the stage to the sound of Motorhead’s The Game, To The Woods continued their year of top-notch shows as they barreled through all in their path, both figuratively and at one point literally, with their grunge rock force that seemed to find its home here tonight. While their whole set was one of their strongest the highlight came in their final track where they were joined on stage by Josh De Kooker on a fabulously distorted violin that just kicked things up another gear.

The Mouse Outfit

The Mouse Outfit

Having stormed The Fermain Tavern earlier in the year The Mouse Outfit did the same to the Vale Castle. The funk-hip-hop band were on fire throughout their set and had the castle crowd in the palm of their hands all the way as they attracted the biggest and most enthusiastic crowd of the day. I’d had big expectations of this set following previous hype and I’m very happy to say they more than exceeded these expectations and provided not only one of the highlights of the day, but of all the Earth Fair’s I’ve ever been to.

Outside the castle Tantale’s laid back but powerful indie-rock had its usual great sound but, coming as it did after the force of To The Woods and alongside the upbeat celebration of The Mouse Outfit it fell a bit flat for me tonight. That said the crowd that were there stuck around and seemed generally appreciative for the duration of the set.

The Freestylers

The Freestylers

The Freestylers blasted the crowd inside the castle with a wall of drum ‘n’ bass to round off the main stage line up and, while I found it impenetrable and found them disappointing after The Mouse Outfit, as it was near impossible to tell where the physical instruments ended and the electronics began, those who had stuck around, which was still a big crowd, were jumping and certainly the Castle Stage ended on a high.

I was back on more familiar ground with the Stage Against The Machine headliners, New York rockers, Jonny Lives! Back again after an earlier set on the main stage last year they seemed to be on much better form this time round and they attracted one of the bigger crowds I remember seeing at this time on the outside stage of the festival.

Jonny Lives!

Jonny Lives!

Frontman Jonny Dubowsky was a fabulous happy and engaging frontman tonight and drummer George Le Page really stood out as he stepped in for their usual drummer who is currently working with his own band back in the US.

Closing the 2014 Vale Earth Fair on a positive, rocking, note Jonny Lives! set did some up something of the mood of the day for me as it was positive and celebratory which is something the Vale Earth Fair always seems to be aiming for.

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Möngöl Hörde

Mongol Horde album coverComing to the debut, self-titled, album from Möngöl Hörde part of me thinks any review should compare this work to that of Million Dead, frontman Frank Turner’s previous, now defunct, hardcore band. But, as I have little knowledge of that band, I’ve come to this new one almost totally fresh and as a fan of Turner’s from his ‘solo’ work with backing band The Sleeping Souls.

As well as Turner on vocals the band features Matt Nasir (of The Sleeping Souls) on guitar and Ben Dawson (also formerly of Million Dead) on drums and their album kicks off pretty well as I expected with four blistering chunks of hardcore that run into one another but still retain their own identity.

Across the record it is this sense of identity between the songs that really stands out. While some hardcore albums are simply short sharp shock after short sharp shock with little dynamic, Möngöl Hörde features a surprising array of textures that bring in everything from those SSS moments to more post-hardcore leanings highly reminiscent of Reuben.

MH-Press-pic-SMALL-1While the music is consistently tight and blistering there are moments where Turner’s evident English-ness and more recent stint as a man asked to play the Olympic Games opening ceremony and general hipster-beloved folk-punk troubadour come through a little too much, so screams of “Watch your fucking step” and the like sound slightly laughable.

That said his delivery elsewhere is excellent and I was actually surprised how good his shouting passages here considering he’s become known for a very different style and in other parts his delivery is reminiscent of John Cooper Clarke, without the slightly ill-fitting Invisible Girls backing.

Mongol HordeAcross the record various issues are dealt with many of which we have heard from Turner in the past or on punk and hardcore records in general, but here they seem to general have a more considered, dare I say it, ‘grown-up’, feeling to them, which isn’t often heard in my experience of most hardcore.

Ending with a highlight in Hey Judas, a track that explores music, art and creativity through the medium of a what if story about Paul McCartney and John Lennon being time travellers from the future, the debut album from Möngöl Hörde is a surprisingly varied, if angry and bile-fuelled, delight, and I am surprised how many times I’ve come back to listen to it again.

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The Lego Movie

The Lego Movie posterComing into The Lego Movie on Blu-ray certain expectations were in place following the near unanimous praise it received during its cinema run earlier in the year… unlike many films that this happens with, I am happy to say I was far from disappointed, 100 minutes or so later, as the credits rolled.

Telling the story of an average Lego man’s quest to save the world from being frozen, The Lego Movie is one of the most good-hearted and genuinely entertaining films I’ve seen in a long time. Despite the fact it is a one hundred minute toy advert, it manages to entirely make you forget that as you get swept along with the characters, the joyful animation and action and the amazing sense of irreverence that is laced through it all.

What this combines to make is a genuine family film as there is stuff there, in the basic story and the, at times cutesy, animation that will appeal to youngsters, there is a sense of rebellion that I think teenagers and young adults would get (not wishing to stereotype) and the combination of all of it along with actual jokes and references, and the denouement, that would appeal to adults – and if I’m being honest, a combination of all of these could appeal to anyone and certainly did to me.

Princess Uni-Kitty and Emmet

Princess Uni-Kitty and Emmet

With hints of 1984 as the film begins we soon get into some of the best action scenes I’ve seen in a long time and, despite being purely animated, act with their own sense of internal logic that often seems missing in the CG parts of live action movies.

This includes the thing that is Lego’s unique selling point, that the bricks can be used to create entirely new objects and machines, which is so ingenious it never gets tired, despite being used time and again and does some of the things I’d expected from the Transformers films far more successfully than they managed.

It’s this USP that becomes the moral of the movie and, while it could easily fall into being a cynical advert, it never does as we are left with the message that being yourself is, in the film’s vernacular, “awesome”, but so is being able to work in a team. This may sound trite and obvious but the way that message is delivered, and the fact that every fibre of the movie stands by this, is what makes it work so well.

WyldStyle and Batman

WyldStyle and Batman

Normally at this point I’d point out the things that I didn’t enjoy about the film, but, in this case there really was nothing I didn’t enjoy, from the glimpses at the relationship between Superman and Green Lantern, to the joyously out of character, but so in character, Batman to the giant robot pirate and the cameo from Han Solo, Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca and the Millenium Falcon, it was a movie packed with things to just make you smile and have a good time.

On top of this the animation was consistently first-rate and believable in its context and the voice acting was spot on giving us one of the best voiced screen Batmen we’ve yet to see and Chris Pratt delivering another fine performance as the hero to stand alongside Guardians of the Galaxy. Will Ferrell even manages to not grate and Liam Neeson is a true standout.

Bad Cop and Lord Business

Bad Cop and Lord Business

I’d imagine if you approached The Lego Movie cynically you would probably have trouble with it, but I can’t see why you bother watching it if that was your attitude as, above all, it is simply a joyous celebration of imagination and fun – though I will admit its got me wanting to find all my old Lego and see what I can build.

And, well, because its awesome… Everything is Awesome!

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Anything Goes Volume Three

Anything Goes Volume ThreeIf you happen to have brought anything from the Guernsey/Lincoln based clothing brand Anything Goes Apparel anytime over summer 2014 you may have been lucky enough to have a CD slipped in the packaging along with your t-shirt, shorts or whatever else you might have ordered.

Harking back to the independent labels of the 90s and early 2000s the CD is a sampler of music from bands endorsed, or simply enjoyed, by the guys behind Anything Goes with a good lot of the stuff being from either of the brand’s two bases.

As it’s a compilation its hard to review it as a whole, other than to say it’s a selection spanning most forms of alternative rock out there at the moment, so here’s a track-by-track run down:

Bad Ideas – Shells and Stones
Based out of Leeds, Bad Ideas start the compilation off strong with a track that combines elements of The Gaslight Anthem and Against Me!’s New Wave-era material that is some solid rock with a bit of an edge, that, if a little derivative, could certainly find a way into the mainstream.

The Mithered – I Don’t Understand
Nottingham’s The Mithered continue the comparatively mainstream sound with some jangly guitar based indie that brings to mind the more authentic side of the mid-90s ‘Brit’ movement. It might be a bit slow and low-key but shows a certain promise in a Morrissey/Smiths kind of vein.

Lifejacket

Lifejacket

Lifejacket – Meanwhile In Hollywood
Previewing their upcoming album, Guernsey based hard indie band Lifejacket are something of a slap in the face with their embittered assault on the cult of celebrity. Like much of their material, Meanwhile In Hollywood combines bitingly constructed lyrics with pounding drums and bass and power drill guitars to create a very distinctive sound.

From Bedrooms To Backseats – The Dark Passenger
Taken from their Bow Down EP From Bedrooms To Backseats here are at their most balanced with The Dark Passenger. Combining metalcore guitars with clean vocals it captures the Guernsey band at their peak.
(Read my full review of their EP here).

Last of the Light Brigade – Stimulator
Adding a dance beat to their usual indie-rock, Stimulator is a new direction for Last of the Brigade who have been plying their trade in various guises since their youth in Guernsey. Taken from their Last Laugh album the song captures the best of the band with a sound that has constantly threatened to take the band to the next level.
(Read my full review of their album here).

Matt of Ferox

Matt of Ferox

Ferox – Insides Out At The Mortuary Gates
Recently re-released the debut album from this Guernsey death metal outfit is one of the most brutal recordings to come out of the island. This title track sees the band at their slowest and heaviest but is still largely based in screaming guitars, blast beat drums and guttural vocals that is as uncompromising as you’d expect from a band with other song titles like Rancid Abortion Chorus and Raped Beheaded Dismembered Fucked.
(Read my full review of their album here).

They Say Fall – Ivy
North Lincolnshire five piece They Say Fall come from a similar musical background as From Bedrooms To Backseats as they mix rock and post-hardcore/metalcore sounds on Ivy. Unlike the Guernsey boys this song is a much considered numbered with quite a dose of hard rock thrown in with the more modern sounding guitars and a slower pace, though it does also have its more hardcore moments too that makes for a nice balance across the track that builds into a suitably noisy crescendo.

The New Tusk – Holland
Jersey’s The New Tusk provide something of a lo-fi relief next as they combine sounds akin to Reuben and fellow islanders FallenizzaHorsepower on Holland. While the lo-fi nature of the sound, seemingly by choice, leads to a certain muddiness that makes different parts hard to distinguish this is some excellently nod-worth dirty sounding indie punk.

Terrics – Better In The Abstract
Reading’s Terrics have a pop-punk sound right from the early 2000s with hints of the likes of New Found Glory, Less Than Jake and, adding some more depth, Alkaline Trio. While it may not be the most current sound going there is still something to be said for this kind of pop-punk as being a great antidote to much of the more heavy and serious and music out there.

Brunt

Brunt

Brunt – The Tale Of The Hideous Tricorn
Instrumental stoner-doom is order of the day from Guernsey three-piece Brunt who’s The Tale Of The Hideous Tricorn captures the essence of their debut album brilliantly. What we get here is slow, fuzzy, sludgy and groovy and, while its never going to be a mainstream favourite, its well worth checking out if you’re a fan of the likes of Electric Wizard.
(Read my full review of their album here).

Subversion – Equilibrium
Sounding like Muse and Foo Fighters having a dust-up without a clear outcome, Guernsey’s Subversion deliver a dose of fine pop-rock with Equilibrium. From this track it’s clear to see why the band have made the crossover on the island’s live scene to playing to wider ‘pub’ audiences and, based on this, their sound shows potential if they can add their own unique flavour to the mix.

Unbeliever – Culture Is Not Your Friend
Based in Brighton, with a couple of Guernsey boys in the mix, Unbeliever combine tech-metal and hardcore and here unleash a short, sharp, shock of impassioned punk-metal that has a point to make and point to prove and does so in vicious fashion.

Evarane

Evarane

Evarane – Critic
While it has a tried and tested theme, Critic by Essex band Evarane is musically a fine slice of synth infused pop-rock. The band have been on the up over the last couple of years with appearances on Scuzz TV and some reasonably major support slots under their belts. It’s clear to see why here as we get catchy hooks, modern pop-rock tones and classic guitar solos combining to create a reasonably stand out sound.

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Tropical Zombie and To The Woods – The Fermain Tavern – 09/08/14

Tropical Zombie

Tropical Zombie

As the remains of hurricane Bertha prepared to give the island a bit of a battering the music in The Fermain Tavern took on a tropical air on Saturday 9th August as Australian band Tropical Zombie made their Guernsey debut.

The live music on the night started out with The Phantom Cosmonaut, now performing as a sort of garage rock two piece I will, of course, refrain from more comment other than to say we had fun on stage, even if the crowd was still small while we played.

Before the Australians though, To The Woods were the main support act on the night and continued their run of great shows. Following amp issues at their last outing they were back on full strength from the start and played with even more confidence as guitarist, singer and undeniable frontman Robert ‘Bobby’ Battle marshaled the band and led them through their set of grungy, indie-inflected rock.

To The Woods

To The Woods

While Bobby led the band, Dan Garnham had something of the look of Animal on the drums while creating beats that manage to drive the music but also grab attention and bass player Jake Martel was his usual solid and dependable self, but mostly left Bobby to the posturing and antics.

Tonight’s highlights of antics, aside from the usual sweary but funny banter, was when Bobby downed his guitar and decided to fill the empty dancefloor while beating on a tambourine, before heading back on stage and continuing the song without missing a beat.

Between To The Woods’ raft of older originals a few new numbers appeared and continued the band’s trend of catchy, noisy tunes and, while the crowd remained at best small throughout their set, a few were nodding and bouncing along.

The crowd remained disappointingly small as Tropical Zombie took to the stage, fresh off a show at Jersey’s Watersplash the previous night. Across the set the Australian five-piece combined elements of surf with other tropical sounds and a hefty chunk of indie, along with a very laid back temperament, to create a unique sound.

Tropical Zombie

Tropical Zombie

Unfortunately, after a few songs, despite the band putting in a lot of energy their songs did start to merge together somewhat and, though a few were dancing, it wasn’t until a much more energetic surf rock number that the band really came alive.

While Tropical Zombie were tight and full of energy, and the two frontmen really did a great job of connecting with the small audience, throughout the set something seemed to be missing and things didn’t really kick off again until their encore blast at The Clash’s The Magnificent Seven.

Tropical Zombie

Tropical Zombie

This, for me, summed up Tropical Zombie’s sound as it was all a bit like how I felt about the London punk band’s Sandinista album – some great ideas and energy, but ultimately with something missing.

That said, it was a fun performance and those who were there mostly seemed to be enjoying things and, I was left with the feeling that at a festival, on a sunny late afternoon, or in a packed out venue, Tropical Zombie would be excellently placed, but maybe not here tonight.

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

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Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman

WWE_Ladies-and-Gentlemen-My-Name-Is-Paul-Heyman_BD_3DIf you follow me on Twitter, or have seen some of my previous posts here, you’ll know I have something of a love/hate relationship with elements of pro-wrestling, particularly WWE, but that I am something of a self-confessed ‘mark’ so keep on watching regardless.

Every now and again though the biggest “Sports Entertainment” company in the world gets it spot on and, much like previous documentary packages You Think You Know Me (Edge), Best In The World (CM Punk) and most notably The Rise and Fall of ECW, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman does the rare thing of breaking down (most) of the walls of the ‘sport’ to be both enlightening and entertaining.

What instantly helps is the subject, Paul Heyman has, for the best part of the last 30 years, been one of the most arresting and charismatic figures on pro-wrestling TV.

From NWA and WCW, through his legendary run in ECW to being “the 1 behind the 1 in 21 and 1” in WWE he has managed big stars and, more importantly, rising stars both on camera and off and has left a legacy that has changed the face of pro-wrestling, even if some of the powers that be would like to downplay it.

Paul Heyman, Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou and the Grand Wizard

Paul Heyman, Freddie Blassie, Captain Lou and the Grand Wizard

As with many of these documentaries from WWE much of the most interesting stuff comes early on. Here its as we see personal archive of Heyman’s as a photographer and interviewer for his own fanzines and then magazines as a teenager in New York.

One particularly striking image is him with Captain Lou Albano, Classy Freddie Blassie and The Grand Wizard, three renowned on-screen managers of the late 70s and 80s who Heyman would go on to emulate and, arguably, better in years to come.

What makes this section so good is it is, largely, devoid of politics. Gone, it seems are the days of WWE doing its best to put everyone else down (even though they went out of business years ago) so we just get Heyman’s views of other organisations and performers, and, in many cases their views of him. All of this does back up Heyman’s on screen persona in WWE but also seems to have the ring of truth that is becoming rather easier to spot on WWE TV these days.

Paul Heyman in ECW

The ‘evil-genius’ in ECW

The ECW portion seems, counter-intuatively, to be the most swayed section as all those interviewed only have good things to say about Heyman, though many admit they’ve had their problems with him in the past and WWE once again comes of it looking like the hero. It is very nice seeing some non-WWE faces here though, particularly in the form of past ECW performers like Raven and Tommy Dreamer and the man who gave Heyman his job there, Tod Gordon.

As we head into his WWE tenure it seems Heyman is actually given a little more free rein to ‘shoot’ (albeit in a controlled way) as he discusses his time as commentator, Brock Lesnar’s manager (seemingly both on and off-screen, which may be telling in Lesnar’s career trajectory in WWE) and his time as head writer on Smackdown.

Managing a young Brock Lesnar

Managing a young Brock Lesnar

Where this gets really interesting is in his arguable ‘fall from grace’ and, while the reasoning is somewhat sanitized (we don’t get anything from Vince McMahon while Stephanie McMahon and Heyman give a very by the numbers explanation of what may have happened), hearing Heyman discuss his work in OVW and getting CM Punk’s comments (obviously recorded before he “took his ball and went home” in January) on the period is genuinely fascinating.

This section did also leave me wondering if those in charge at WWE really pay attention to this stuff as it is evident how they have, from time to time, mishandled amazing talent leading to things like the current Punk situation – but who am I to say, I’m just an internet ‘smark’, aren’t I?

This is most interesting as it sets up for some stuff about his time out of pro-wrestling setting up Heyman Hustle and leading into the Looking4Larry creative agency which I had previously not been entirely aware of.

While this could feel like a contractual obligation section from WWE, as its clear Heyman is back in the fold as long as this side of his work gets its publicity, it is really interesting to see that the on-screen character is far from the be all and end all of the man, especially as we get a glimpse of Heyman the family man too.

Managing CM Punk

Managing CM Punk

In the end I think, once again, it is the subject that allows this WWE documentary to really stand out from the pack (I can’t see one on John Cena being as varied and interesting) but it is all handled well.

While there are a few moments that clearly shy away from some things or stick to the ‘official story’, and it is undeniably a puff piece for one of their best workers, Ladies and Gentlemen, My Name is Paul Heyman sits in the top bracket of WWE releases and I would say is a must for anyone with an interest in the last 30 years of pro-wrestling history, particularly if you want to see it away from Hulk Hogan and his ilk.

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Wilko Johnson – Live at Koko

Wilko Johnson - live at koko dvdI will admit its taken me a while to get around to watching The Wilko Johnson Band’s Live At Koko DVD but, having seen him live on the same tour, literally inches away from me at The Fermain Tavern, some distance and perspective was needed.

In this case that distance and perspective has given the concert something else as well.

Recorded during Wilko’s farewell tour soon after his diagnosis with terminal cancer the guitarist was riding a wave of not only publicity but also a new-found appreciation for his work.

A year and a bit later, long after doctors predicted his death, things seem to be looking up for Wilko, but it is clear here that regardless of the situation, a lot of the out pouring of energy from the crowd is genuine, much as it was when Wilko visited Guernsey making this concert a great celebration.

Onto the set itself, while the crowd explode for pretty much every move and gesture Wilko makes it does take a few songs for the band to warm up, I would suggest this might down to the extra pressure of being on film and the other circumstances, however once they get rolling, and they hit a couple of Dr. Feelgood numbers, this soon passes.

Wilko Johnson

Wilko Johnson

On the reasonable sized stage of Koko, Wilko is given free rein to do his ‘skittering’ motion and he moves around with impressive speed for a man of his age and genuinely seems elated at the response he is receiving from the crowd which he uses to drive the show.

While Wilko is buzzing about the stage Norman Watt-Roy spends most of the show rooted in front of his Trace Elliot stack lost in a reverie as his fingers dance over “the old faith ‘n’ grace”.

When he does need to he moves forward for his backing vocals and solos but mostly he gives Wilko space, but none the less his playing is excellent and engaging just through seeing how intimately connected he is with his instrument. The audience even get a few “Norman, Norman” chants in as well, showing there is respect and admiration for more than just Johnson.

Drummer Dylan Howe is his usual tight self, adding a jazzy flavour where he can to the fairly straight R’n’B beats that Johnson’s music requires and, while his drum solo isn’t the best I’ve heard, it still serves its purpose and probably felt a lot better if you were actually there – drum solos often work better that way in my experience.

Wilko with Alison Moyet

Wilko with Alison Moyet

The setlist mixes Wilko’s ‘solo’ numbers with classics from his time with Dr. Feelgood and it is those that get the biggest reaction and, while Johnson’s voice is a far cry from Lee Brilleaux’s it really is his guitar that is the star of the show and his unique choppy style is showcased excellently both in the sound mix and the film editing.

The filming of the show is interesting, if not entirely successful. With a bit of a sense of trying to have lo-fi edge there are moments where it harks back to the punk footage of the late 70s and early 80s, which actually suits the music quite well, but it never seems to commit to totally wanting to be that basic or trying to be a slick bigger budget concert movie. That is just a quibble though as director Harry Stein still does a good job of capturing the spirit and energy of the show.

Norman Watt-Roy

Norman Watt-Roy

For the encore the band are joined by Alison Moyet for a couple of songs and her and Wilko have a great chemistry that surprisingly, other than the recent work with Roger Daltrey, actually brings something of the old Feelgood dynamic back.

Ending the set on an extended Johnny B. Goode/Bye Bye Johnny may be a fairly standard thing for Wilko, but its clear here that the emotion of the event gets to both him and the audience as they all sing and play their hearts out in a reverie of, no doubt mixed, emotions.

After the emotional high of Bye Bye Johnny the band end the set on Twenty Yards Behind that is easy to overlook but ends things on a R’n’B high and, had this been Wilko’s recorded send off, would have been a great way to bow out – thankfully though, as I said earlier, there has been more music and hopefully more still to come making this a great record of a great show under genuinely unique circumstances.

Extra Features

Wilko JohnsonWhile the concert clocks in at around an hour and a half the extra content is about its equal in duration, primarily taken up with an interview with Wilko recorded backstage at the Koko.

Across the hour and a bit Wilko takes us through his life story, of course focusing on Dr. Feelgood, The Blockheads and his solo work, but also his life before becoming a professional musician and his more recent extra curricular interests.

What is really striking in this is what a remarkable polymath he is, with an evidently genuine love of Milton and Shakespeare, alongside having been what you could only call a hippie at the tail end the 60s, but underneath it all the time there being this love of rock ‘n’ roll and the blues that we get to see on stage.

Wilko Johnson playing guitar on stage with Dr FeelgoodThis interview works really well as a companion to Zoe Howe’s book on Wilko, Looking Back At Me, Julien Temple’s Oil City Confidential and, alongside the concert footage (both the main feature and the older clips in the extras) makes this DVD an excellent record of Wilko, both on and off stage.

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Guardians of the Galaxy

Guardians_of_the_Galaxy posterBefore I launch into this I’m going to make it clear that a sense of trepidation still remains lurking in the back of my mind due to the effect The Avengers had on me upon re-watching it… basically, I loved it in the cinema, as my review testified, but future re-watches (two so far and likely no more) have left me entirely cold to what charms I thought it had – so with that in the back of my mind, onto Marvel’s most risky movie to date… Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Starting off with a flashback to earth in 1988, as soon as the titles have rolled we thrown to 26 years (and countless light years) later to meet Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) on a daring, Indiana Jones style raid for the movie’s chief maguffin. That then leads to the coming together of a band of misfits and, as it is a Marvel movie, them saving the day in a big smash-bang-wallop of an action sequence in the final third.

Mention of Indiana Jones really does sum up the tone of this movie as that, along with the better parts of the Star Wars series (and other lesser 80s sci-fi), are clearly major touchstones that director James Gunn (and no doubt producer and overlord of all Marvel movies, Kevin Fiege) were going for.

Rocket Raccoon

Rocket Raccoon

So, yes things are a bit derivative, we have an edgier take on Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia in Quill and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Han and Chewie’s place is filled by the excellently done Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and to mix things up a bit a hulking angry guy hell-bent on non-metaphorical revenge, Drax The Destroyer (Dave Bautista).

But, despite the derivative nature of this, and let’s be honest Lucas wasn’t the first to use these archetypes, the film barrels along at full force and in fine fun style that swept me along with it.

Also much like Star Wars it does a good job of setting up the breadth of its ‘galaxy’ with visits to a few less than reputable locales reminiscent of the Mos Eisley Cantina, that make it clear this is a vibrantly populated universe only hinted at in the past Marvel movies.

Star-Lord

Star-Lord

Ok so, Star Wars comparisons out-of-the-way, what really made the story of Guardians work for me was that it didn’t dwell on its maguffins more than was necessary so we got what they were but I didn’t feel it was over done like it is in some similar movies (to be honest I was bored with the Tesseract before we even really saw what it could do) and, while we do have scenes that clearly set wheels in motion for the future (most noticeably our first proper introduction to Josh Brolin’s Thanos) these don’t over complicate things.

The performances are generally good and the CG characters fit in very well with the real life performers, so much so that soon after they appeared I stopped marveling (excuse the pun) at Rocket and Groot and just accepted them as characters, so huge credit to Framstore for a lot of that.

Ronan The Accuser

Ronan The Accuser

While I don’t think Dave Bautista should be pushed beyond this kind of role and Karen Gillan didn’t really show a lot of promise as cybernetic henchwoman Nebula, they still fitted the parts they were playing.

Chris Pratt on the other hand absolutely hit the nail on the head with his anti-heroic mix of well-meaning bad boy, cocky space hero and child of the 80s that while filling the Skywalker role, had plenty of Solo (and a bit of The Last Starfighter) to him to keep things interesting.

Ok, so far so much about what I enjoyed, what about the other side?

The approach to Knowhere

The approach to Knowhere

As with many of Marvel’s movies (worst of all The Avengers) there was little genuine sense of threat for the characters as despite a few happenings, I never really felt any of the antagonists were going to be enough of a threat to cause much bother.

While Thanos remained a distant threat the main ‘bad guy’ here was Ronan The Accuser (Lee Pace). While he looked great (far better than Christopher Ecclestone’s Malakith in Thor 2, though with a similar vibe) he never really felt that threatening, despite his ‘Space Bin Laden’ style back story, and it was what I can only assume will be the maguffin for the next Guardians movie that thwarted him in surprisingly obvious fashion.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy_5It’s clear when you look at director James Gunn’s past work where the sense of fun comes from. He is a graduate of Troma films and, while much of their output is grotty and downright bad beyond belief, his work on Tromeo & Juliet is one of their high points and its kitschy irreverence is present here in spades, as well as a great little blink and you’ll miss it cameo that pays nicely pays tribute to this past.

So, in the end, Guardians Of The Galaxy may not be an excellent movie, but it is great fun, knows what it’s trying to be and do, and has restored something of my faith in Marvel after the The Avengers and frankly God-awful Thor 2 and some of the production design, courtesy of artist Chris Foss, is excellent and a bit different to other Marvel fare.

Guardians-of-the-Galaxy-Prison1I just hope Guardians stands up to re-watching and Marvel can keep up this kind of mix of quirky and interesting while still fitting their formula – though Edgar Wright being dropped from Ant-Man isn’t too promising on that front… oh well, role on the inevitable Guardians 2 and hopefully another spin-off hinted at in the post credits sting (though I know that one’s wishful thinking more than anything else).

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Vale Earth Fair at Rocquaine Regatta 2014 – BLAKALASKA, The Space Pirates of Rocquaine, Ray and the Guns and Toby Falla – 02/08/14

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine get busking

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine get busking

Every year the Rocquaine Regatta combines fun beach and sea based events and competitions with something of a sense of old Guernsey as it fills the beach and road at the bay for the first Saturday in August.

In recent years, part of this has become an evening of live music organised by the Vale Earth Fair Collective in the field opposite Fort Grey.

After last year’s wash out the sun was shining and the beach was still packed as Toby Falla took to the Earth Fair’s stage and, over the course of his set, the field began to fill up with people relaxing and enjoying the evening sun.

Toby Falla

Toby Falla

Toby played a set of acoustic covers bringing in the likes of James Morrison and Ed Sheeran that was a perfect way to start the evening’s music as it was nicely unchallenging but confidently delivered. As the set went on a few started to join in with his encouragement to sing along or clap along and in all it was a very well delivered set from this new face.

Unfortunately, Toby was the first, and certainly not the last, performer to suffer from sound troubles and, while it wasn’t too bad for his set and it was clear the guys from the Earth Fair were doing their utmost to sort things out, the technical difficulties would become increasingly noticeable as the event went on.

Ray & The Guns upped the pace and energy with their set of rockabilly infused rock ‘n’ roll that got going with a nice bit of Imelda May and carried on in a similar vein.

Once again the highlight of the Ray & The Guns set came in the form of Nick Dodd’s guitar which had the appropriate drive, fuzz and twang to make a really authentic classic rock ‘n’ roll sound. That’s not to discredit the rest of the band of course, and as the set went on they had youngsters up and dancing and many heads nodding and feet and fingers tapping around the field.

Ray and the Guns

Ray and the Guns

While their sound may be some of the politest rock ‘n’ roll on offer, it has just enough edge to make it work really well, especially at shows like this.

Two songs into The Space Pirates of Rocquaine’s ‘homecoming’ set the technical issues from PA got to such a point that it all but stopped working so the band unplugged and busked through a few songs in the front of the stage with people gathered in tight to listen.

With the gear on stage back up and running, though still a bit crackly, the Pirates got back up to full strength and ran through a somewhat truncated set that pulled in all of their most popular songs and this, combined with the energy their busking had provided, kept the crowd rolling as many stayed at the front dancing throughout.

Lee of BLAKALASKA

Lee of BLAKALASKA

BLAKALASKA rounded off the day’s music and were something of a mismatch to the rest of the acts on offer with their heavy dance-rock sound. That said they didn’t let that phase them as they launched into their performance with more energy than I remember seeing from their previous incarnation, Bright_Lights (with the exception of their set at last year’s Vale Earth Fair).

New vocalist Lee Rosete has certainly added a new energy to the band as, as well as having a great voice, she is the enthusiastic and engaging presence on stage that the band really needed.

While it wasn’t as bad as during The Space Pirate set, there were again a few sound issues that caused the bass and some of the synth sounds get lost in fizzing and crackling noises and the encroaching darkness and chill in the air did lead to quite a few of the audience heading off as the band played.

That said BLAKALASKA put in a good performance and did get some dancing to their heavy, insistent beats which once again showcased drummer Barney Bean excellently and rounded off a good evening’s music – just a bit of a shame about the technical issues.

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

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