Monthly Archives: August 2016

BBC Introducing Guernsey: August 2016 – Clameur De Haro and Vale Earth Fair Preview

Clameur De Haro in the BBC Introducing Guernsey studio

Clameur De Haro in the BBC Introducing Guernsey studio

Click here to listen to the show

Summer festival season continues in full swing with this month’s BBC Introducing Guernsey radio show as I welcomed a band who’ve played all the big ones so far and I take a look ahead to the Vale Earth Fair’s 40th Anniversary.

Clameur de Haro have already played Chaos, Sark Folk Festival and The Gathering (amongst a lot of other gigs) this summer and still have Smaashfest and more to come. They joined me in the studio to have a chat and record a session of three of their own songs and one a pop-rock classic given their own unique ‘bluegrass’ treatment.

With the Vale Earth Fair marking its 40th birthday I looked ahead to the festival on Sunday 28th August with tracks for the likes of TeaspoonriverneckBuffalo HuddlestonFlexagon and more.

You can listen to the show by clicking here for 30 days after the first broadcast.



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The Doomsday Project’s final show – The Vault – 19/08/16

The Doomsday Project with Sophie Mahy

The Doomsday Project with Sophie Mahy

After 6 years together as a band and four years gigging regularly around Guernsey, pop-punk outfit The Doomsday Project called it a day with a show at The Vault on Friday 19th August 2016.

Having started off as one of the youngest independently gigging bands in the island they gave newcomers Rogue, a band in a similar position now, the support slot and the bar was packed all evening.

My review was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 27th August 2016 and you can see a gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Facebook page.

You can also read my review of The Doomsday Project’s first public gig here

Doomsday Project and Rogue review 2 - 27/08/16

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Metallica – Hardwired

metallica hardwiredIt’s been the best part of a decade since ‘the world’s biggest metal band’, Metallica, released their last full-length album, Death Magnetic. Since then there have been live records and concert films like Through The Never, reissues galore on as many formats as you can shake a stick at, a 30th anniversary celebration like no other, but, with the exception of the Beyond Magnetic EP of off cuts from Death Magnetic and one-off single Lords of Summer, no substantial new music.

Then, on 18th August 2016, a new single appeared on their Facebook and YouTube pages along with the announcement of a new album, Hardwired… To Self Destruct, due for release in November.

Of course every utterance from Metallica is discussed and dissected by their fan base with opinions ranging all extremes; from those who think the band ended with the death of Cliff Burton in 1986, to those with an affection for their supposed wilderness years of the mid 1990s, to those who are just interested to see what they’re going to do next following the public breakdown that was St. Anger and the film Some Kind Of Monster. If I’m honest I fall more into this latter group.

Metallica 2016To make it clear I would call myself a fan of Metallica but one on the verge of lapsing. While Ride The Lightning remains one of my favourite albums, the surrounding hubbub of the band in recent years has pushed me away in the absence of new music – so when Hardwired appeared my interest was, to say the least, piqued.

The four-minute track and accompanying video were instantly a shot in the arm for my fandom. The song fires out the blocks with a blast of fairly classic thrash style, through a similar filter to the one that led Death Magnetic, with a Flying V filling the screen on the video. All this harks back at the band’s 80s heyday and continues for the duration of the song.

Hardwired is a precision assault fuelled by the kind of anger Metallica have made their own, though its source these days is surely questionable coming from such a seemingly self-contained outfit of some of the most successful musicians in the world, but it still comes across strong in a surprisingly visceral form.

James Hetfield

James Hetfield in the video for Hardwired

The song has an urgency that was missing from much of the band’s more recent, overlong, efforts. This is great to hear giving it the spiky, arguably hardcore, edge the band always maintained was a major source of inspiration.

The lyrics and delivery are reminiscent of Death Magnetic’s Broken Beat and Scared, though with a more potent feel thanks to songs comparatively brief length. Although I was left wondering whether vocalist James Hetfield would be able to deliver this live as his voice does seem to have been waning in recent years (not surprising given the abuse it must have taken in three and a half decades).

Production-wise the song suffers a similar issue to Death Magnetic with the spiky, top-end heavy, sound seemingly built around showing off Lars Ulrich’s snare more than anything. It does, however, feel slightly tempered compared to the last album, though the low-end and a lot of the potential ‘heaviness’ seem lost – a shame considering Robert Trujillo is an excellent bass player.

Hardwired sounds like a promising extension of the Metallica that made Death Magnetic and, if it’s a taster of the album to come its showing promise and I, for one, am listening closely once more…

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High-Rise by JG Ballard

High-Rise by JG BallardBy reputation, and having seen David Cronenberg’s interpretation of Crash many years ago, the work of JG Ballard had always hovered around the edges of my cultural consciousness.

It wasn’t until seeing Ben Wheatley’s cinematic adaptation of High-Rise though that my interest was really piqued so I picked up a copy of the source novel and delved into a world only hinted at in Wheatley’s rather fine film.

Charting the story of three residents of the titular high-rise apartment block over the course of three months the opening sentence, concerning recent arrival Dr Laing tucking into the leg of a dog cooked on a primitive fire on his balcony, hints at what’s to come before we go back to see what led to this apparently unusual happening.

The three residents; Laing, representing the middle floors of the tower, Wilder, from the lower floors and Royal, architect and owner of the penthouse apartment, not only represent elements of traditional British societal class but also stand for sides of a more abstract personality embodied within and by the tower block.

The literal story charts the decline of life in the high-rise from wild parties to inter-floor arguments to a kind of tribal warfare climaxing in a total breakdown of the norms of society in particularly brutal fashion.

JG Ballard

JG Ballard

Here Ballard treads a line of explicitness in particularly impressive fashion. What we ‘see’ through the eyes of the three leads is certainly horrific, yet more is merely suggested building an astonishing picture of decline both externally and internally for the characters and those they encounter with virtually no taboo left un-suggested.

What adds to all this is how, for much of the novel, we are never quite sure if what we are told is actually happening or if it is some kind of mass delusion or even merely the delusion of just Laing, Wilder and Royal.

The fourth main character in the novel is the high-rise itself. Depicted by Ballard as a decaying beast with whims and moods as infrequent as those of its residents, it has the feel of a monster exerting some kind of hypnotic effect on those within while, in a vaguely symbiotic manner, being effected by them in return. Though we are left unsure whether it was the high-rise or the residents who are responsible for the process.

High Rise

The High-Rise as seen in the film version

Beyond the literal story there is another level to things as, like all the best sci-fi (and despite the apparently contemporary setting it is definitely science fiction) High-Rise offers a message about the real world through its own twisted mirror.

While its message at the time was, arguably, a forewarning of Thatcherite Britain, it is just as relevant now when looking at the increasingly segregated society we could be heading towards in a ‘Brexit’ world where a horrific post-cultural creation like Donald Trump is in the running to be president of the USA.

In a less specific sense it looks at society as a whole and how, beneath the thin veneer we call civilisation and maintain through a kind unspoken mutual agreement, humans are just as, if not more, territorial and animalistic as any other species.

Royal and Wilder as seen in the film adaptation

Royal and Wilder as seen in the film adaptation

Ballard leaves us with the impression that no matter what we do mankind is destined to repeat this process time and again, stopping just short of suggesting a sense of mutually assured destruction, though such isn’t that big a leap to take following what is presented here.

As a novel then it is a gripping, tense, experience building in brutality, depravity and bleakness before a surprisingly subdued conclusion but as a wider allegory it still speaks volumes even forty years after its original publication and goes beyond even Wheatley’s famed excesses in both content and message.

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School of Popular Music Summer Party – The Fermain Tavern – 05/08/16

A Box

A Box

Over the last few years a few new music schools have emerged in Guernsey giving youngsters a chance to learn music away from the more formal and classical training offered by the School’s Music Service.

One such is the School of Popular Music who operate regular classes across a range of disciplines and encourage their students to play the music they like in bands as well as solo.

For their 2016 summer project they got a group of young musicians together and gave them a week to form bands, practice and prepare for a show at Guernsey’s premier music venue, The Fermain Tavern.

With ages ranging from 8 to 15 the first half of the evening, showcasing these young musicians, was certainly a mixed affair but the thing that struck most throughout was the level of enthusiasm, fun and commitment all these players showed.

Rainbow Pugs

Rainbow Pugs

First band on, known somewhat cryptically as ‘A Box’, delivered, like all the young bands, a set of reasonably well-known covers.

Featuring Toby and Jamie of Cosmic Fish gave them a bit of a head start and they played a competent set that showed all four have a lot of potential.

Rainbow Pugs (the bands all chose their all names and, no I don’t know what their inspiration was) were the youngest band of the night and were joined on stage by SOPM’s Alex Wilson who helped guide them through the short set that was well delivered despite the understandable nerves in front of a big audience.

I Blame The Parents probably had the best name of the evening (and the best I’ve heard in a while) and were highlighted by a few guitar players and a drummer who certainly brought the right attitude and swagger to the stage and showed that with time they could bring a complete package.

Clear Vision

Clear Vision

Next up were Lanterns who swapped instruments around mid set, showing a few members have skill in multiple disciplines which is always impressive for someone who just about muddles through on one. Once again another group with some obvious musical talent and plenty of potential.

I’m not sure if they do but Clear Vision came across as a group with a bit more playing experience than the previous bands and rocked their way through their set admirably.

Special mention has to go to their lead guitarist who managed to successfully combine the riffs of Queen’s We Will Rock You and AC/DC’s Back in Black all with a foot planted firmly in the monitor in a classic rock ’n’ roll pose.

Sorry Imogen rounded off the young bands with a set highlighted by a selection of impressive harmonies and a generally relaxed vibe.

They closed their set on a reworked take of Bon Jovi classic Living On A Prayer rounding off the first half of the evening with a real sense that live music in Guernsey is in safe hands, even if they could do with a few more bass players.

Sorry Imogen

Sorry Imogen

After a bit of break as, disappointingly the youngsters couldn’t stay on in the venue, Elliot Falla opened the later part of the show with his brother Harvey in tow on mandolin.

As always Elliot’s take on acoustic indie blues sounded very good and the addition of the mandolin and second vocals added a nice folky side to the sound, along with some harmonies that tempered Elliot’s voice.

That said, his voice has come on impressively even in the few months since I’d last seen him play and with a batch of new songs its clear Elliot is really coming into his own.

If Elliot Falla’s performance was well delivered if a little low-key for a party, Clameur De Haro soon changed that launching into their bluegrass inspired set with their usual sense of fun.

Clameur De Haro

Clameur De Haro

Unfortunately a broken string soon stalled proceedings for a few minutes, though the band took it admirably in their stride joking with both one another and the audience while fiddle player Josh De Kooker took the chance to play a quick jig that got a few dancing.

After that brief break the band were back on it, building on the already good atmosphere in the venue highlighted by their ode to Guernsey’s most famous politician, Dear John and even getting a smile out of cajon player Shifty.

The good atmosphere continued as the small but enthusiastic audience headed onto the dance floor as Honest Crooks took to the stage. The ska-punk trio really felt as if they were on home turf here and entirely playing to their fans and friends making for one of the most relaxed and fun sets I’ve seen from them.

Joined on kazoo by To The Woods’ Bobby Battle for a fair bit of the set, this was one of those gigs where the lines between band and audience were well and truly blurred in the best of ways.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

With covers by Sublime, Reel Big Fish, Gentlemen’s Dub Club and others receiving some of the most instantly positive reactions it is to the credit of the band that their original songs stand alongside these classics of the genre and, I would suggest, that if I didn’t know which were covers and which were originals there would be no difference.

Rounding off with that song by Sublime closed the night on a high that showcased not just some of the current best musicians playing ‘popular music’ in Guernsey but made it clear that there is a lot more good stuff to come.

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Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad posterAround 18 years or so ago the perception of comic book/superhero movies changed, seemingly forever, from slightly naff, campy b-movies to genuine blockbuster contenders thanks to the likes of Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man leading into Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins and the ongoing (now somewhat inconsistent) Marvel Cinematic Universe behemoth.

Now, with Suicide Squad – the latest instalment in DC Comics’ attempt to set up their own ongoing series like Marvel’s, following Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice – director David Ayer (of End of Watch and Fury fame) and the various shadowy studio figures behind him, seem fairly intent on taking us back to the superhero movies of the mid-90s.

Describing the actual plot of Suicide Squad is a challenge, but in broad strokes it deals with the formation of a new super team that, rather than being made up of heroes, is made up (mostly) of second level villains and, in its better moments, deals with them coming together and working together.

In it’s not so good moments the story follows them as they face off against an ancient evil force, supposedly with the ability to destroy the world, embodied by two rather un-inspired, at least partially CG creatures.

The Suicide Squad

The Suicide Squad

The first stumble the film makes is in trying to be an origin story for a number of characters. This is very inconsistent as Deadshot (Will Smith) gets about three versions of his origin story while Captain Boomerang (Jai Courtney) gets a very short montage.

Certainly this shows their relative places in the movie, but it feels imbalanced and the lack of exposure for a few becomes problematic as they have relatively pivotal moments later on.

Along with these we get the loose origin of Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) threaded throughout, providing as much an introduction to her as to her ‘Puddin’, ‘Mr J.’ – Jared Leto’s new take on Batman arch-nemesis The Joker – during which the duo proceed to steal the show. Though Smith gives them a run for the their money.

It is these characters that are the film’s highlight – while the dialogue is fairly awful, the charisma of the performances and the essence of the characters that has made them favourites in the comic for, in some cases, decades, shines through.

The Joker (Leto)

The Joker (Leto)

Robbie is exactly the kind of demented fun that was promised, though I agree some of the more gratuitous camera angles smack a little too much of Michael Bay’s framing of Megan Fox, but aside from that she provides the nearest thing this film manages to emotional weight through her fabulously deranged relationship with ‘The Clown Prince of Crime’.

Smith’s Deadshot is far from the stone cold killer assassin he is built up to be as he provides some more emotion through his relationship with his daughter that plays as a pivotal motivation throughout, even if I couldn’t help but feel this kind of good guy/bad guy balancing act was added in to get a ‘name star’ such as Smith to play the part.

As is obligatory I should give a few opinions on Leto’s Joker… as he only appears relatively briefly its hard to have a full view but I liked what I saw with the modern ‘gangsta’ style echoing past versions who echoed gangster styles of their time – particularly Jack Nicholson’s version and the original comic book version.

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Harley Quinn (Robbie)

Aside from that the relationship between him and Harley added a new dimension to the character and led to one of the film’s most striking images during a flashback involving the two and I can’t wait to see a more fully fledged version of the character, hopefully squaring off against Affleck’s Batman who was such a highlight of ‘BVS:DOJ’.

The rest of Suicide Squad unfortunately can’t escape feeling like it’s stuck in the mid-90s. A slightly poorly realised, special effects based, big bad with a fairly non-specific plan to destroy/rule the world is the epitome of this leading to a hugely unsatisfying denouement while being reminiscent of Joel Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Russell Mulchay’s The Shadow.

Added to this is the fact that once again it has far from succeeded in establishing the DC comics universe on-screen in any meaningful way with a tone so different from the two previous films that, other than the presence of Affleck’s Bat and a couple of flashbacks, this could have been an entirely stand alone piece.

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

Enchantress (Cara Delevingne)

All that said I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have fun, certainly some could have been trimmed from the first third to up the pace and the apparent main villain was at once too much and too little, but as a fan of the aforementioned Batman Forever and The Shadow I couldn’t help but enjoy Suicide Squad on a similar level to them.

So, really it’s not a ‘good film’ but I still had a good time… make of that what you will, and I can’t wait to see more of The Joker and Harley Quinn.

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Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice – Ultimate Edition

Batman V Superman Dawn of Justice coverWith the imminent release of the next instalment in the DC Comics expanded movie universe, Suicide Squad, I thought it was time I catch up with the previous one, the clumsily titled Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

For clarity I watched the extended ‘Ultimate Edition’ of the film, a kind of director’s cut that includes an extra half hour not included in the theatrical release and, judging by other feedback, I’m glad for it, despite the needlessly lengthy three-hour running time.

Zack Snyder’s first foray into the DC universe, Man Of Steel, was an uneven beast. Somewhat unusually this film starts out with the climactic scene from that, shown from another angle and instantly gives Man Of Steel’s overblown conclusion a bit more weight and meaning.

We see Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne racing through Metropolis apparently to try to save the staff in his Wayne Enterprises building there. Ok, so it doesn’t make total sense but it works well for what it is and, by and large, the same could be applied Dawn Of Justice as a whole.

The story is a mishmash of what feels like three movies worth of ideas loosely tied together, so we get the world’s (i.e. America’s) reaction to Superman’s (Henry Cavill) arrival, we get Lex Luthor’s (Jesse Eisenberg) machinations around ‘meta-humans’ (i.e. Superman and others), and we get the introduction of Batman as an older vigilante now pushed beyond any measure of restraint we’ve come to expect.

Batman (Affleck) and Superman (Cavill)

Batman (Affleck) and Superman (Cavill)

On top of this is the introduction of Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) and other future members of the Justice League and we see Lois Lane (Amy Adams) investigating an apparent conspiracy against Superman within the US military. As I said there’s a lot going on.

So the story is an undeniable mess, even with the extra 30 minutes to try to tie it up, but it hangs together just enough to be a decent ride as long as you don’t ask too many questions, hanging on the actions of Luthor and the titular face-off between the two figureheads of DC’s set of superheroes, which we get in three different scenarios.

What helps save it, beyond the promise of those two characters going head-to-head are a couple of the performances, most notably Affleck’s.

His Bruce Wayne/Batman is one we’ve not seen before, strongly modelled on the version created by Frank Miller for The Dark Knight Returns; older, angrier and apparently having given up many of the moral qualms that existed in all the other screen versions so far.

Superman, Wonder Woman (Gadot), Batman

Superman, Wonder Woman (Gadot) and Batman

With this Affleck is clearly relishing getting to be both sides of the character and as such steals pretty much every scene he’s in with a performance far more convincing than any other in the movie. Added to this his back and forth with slightly a reworked Alfred (Jeremy Irons) is pitch perfect.

The other performance that really worked for me was that of Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Every bit the stereotypical mad scientist, in many ways he feels like a throwback to the kind of characters seen in 1950s b-movies or 1930s horrors, right down to creating an uncontrollable monster.

On top of this the Luthor of the comics also comes through as his scheming and hyper-intelligence drive the most coherent aspect of the plot forward – although even that becomes slightly too convoluted by the end.

This convolution centres around the monster Luthor creates that isn’t introduced until the movie’s third act giving the totally CG character a sense of being simply tacked on to provide the apparently obligatory big explosions and fight scene climax.

Lex Luthor (Eisenberg)

Lex Luthor (Eisenberg)

While this serves to bring the heroes back together in an even more obvious way than a preceding event, I couldn’t help but feel it was some kind of contractual obligation to include yet another city destroying superhero fight scene, the like of which we’ve already seen countless times thanks to Marvel and, even if this is well delivered, can’t help but be repetitive.

As always Snyder makes the film look great with moments feeling very akin to his still great version of Watchmen and making the CG characters have weight even as they throw laser blasts from their eyes at each other, something other films still often struggle with.

As a whole though the film doesn’t do what I think it needed to or was hoped it would do, in cementing the DC cinematic universe in the way Marvel did with a much slower build approach in their ongoing series that started way back with Iron Man (even if that has become somewhat repetitive of late). While it’s not the disaster some had proclaimed, it remains far from the film many thought and hoped it could have been.

I never give star ratings but this is one to which I could easily apply such as it feels very much like a three-star film, far from essential but watchable and distracting enough to not feel like a waste of three hours.

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Ham On Rye by Charles Bukowski

Ham On Rye - Charles Bukowski coverHaving explored some of the writings of the Beat Generation, particularly works by Kerouac and Ginsberg and some from Cassady and Burroughs, one name stood out amongst the related writers as something potentially a bit different but sharing some of the same head space, Charles Bukowski. So, last time I was at City Lights Bookstore I picked up the book of his that stood out most from the many on the shelf, Ham On Rye.

Instantly its clear that, while yes there is a similarity to the Beats in terms of its setting in a very real world America of the 20th century, this book was published later (1982 quite impressively) but is set far earlier and in a very focussed location of Los Angeles in the 1920s and 30s, away from the New York and San Francisco of the 40s, 50s and early 60s the Beats more commonly dealt with.

Superficially the books is, apparently, a semi-autobiographical account of the youth of Bukowski’s regular avatar, Henry ‘Hank’ Chinaski, dealing with his formative years through school and his first steps into the adult world and the outbreak of the Second World War.

Throughout this Chinaski comes across as a thoroughly awful character but one who is undeniably compelling. His words (it’s all first person) giving a sense of real brutality he experiences at the hands of seemingly everyone he encounters from parents, teachers, contemporaries and more and the brutal nature of his response to all this.

Charles Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

Bukowski’s style of writing really exacerbates this being at once simplistic, at times as if written by the young Chinaski, but extremely impactful for it. There is no sense of wasted words or floridity as it is delivered as directly and bluntly as Chinaski’s actions.

Within this Bukowski paints a picture of a side of America that maybe hasn’t translated across the Atlantic as well as some others. From my experience the Great Depression of the early 1930s is always depicted as very much an East Coast, South and Mid West phenomena with news reel of the hungry and jobless in New York and Chicago or the drought conditions of the more rural areas seen in the likes of Bonnie And Clyde.

Here though we see the young, great western city of Los Angeles in that period with basic but expressive views of the city from Chinaski’s childhood home in what would become South Central (more recently somewhat of a ‘ghetto’ for the city’s black community, but then home of poor immigrants from the east) to the inner city area, now Downtown, rife with unemployment, dive bars, desperation and, it seems, characters even shadier than Chinaski.

Downtown Los Angeles c. 1930

Downtown Los Angeles c. 1930

In this the book finds its purpose, as it does what many writers who featured within the 20th Century ‘counterculture’ did in exploring the end of the so-called American Dream. Hunter S. Thompson posited its destruction or desecration in the late 1960s and early 70s with Fear And Loathing In Las Vegas, for Ginsberg parts of it were lost in the 1940s and 50s as seen in Howl, while for Bukowski it seemed the dream died with the Great Depression.

There are of course arguments for all of these and more but Bukowski’s Chinaski seems to be a kind of living embodiment of this, no longer denying the end of the pioneer spirit that had typified the USA’s first century and a half and settling into a pattern of division and desperation that can still be seen today (coming to the fore even more so as I write in the build up to the 2016 election).

On top of all this the book is compelling to read flying along with a pace that captures childhood and growing up excellently, but rather than focussing on the idealised view usually seen in mass media, comes with a darker hue that may be extreme but is, if anything, potentially far more honest for it.

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