Monthly Archives: August 2017

WWE Mae Young Classic 2017 – Round One

WWE Mae Young Classic logoIf you’d told me five years ago that not only would WWE be staging a stand alone women’s wrestling tournament, and also that I’d be getting genuinely excited about it, I would have been at least very sceptical if not purely disbelieving.

Well here we are in summer 2017 and, following the ‘women’s revolution’ of the past couple of years and last summer’s Cruiserweight Classic tournament, not to mention the United Kingdom Championship Tournament, we have the Mae Young Classic – a 32 competitor single elimination tournament featuring some top name international women’s talent.

Unlike the CWC last year, WWE are releasing this tournament (which was taped back in July) in blocks of each round before a live final, so here I’m looking at the first round of matches, released on the WWE Network on Monday August 28th.

Mae Young Classic wrestler

The competitors

Continuing with a theme I raised at both the previous weekend’s NXT Takeover and SummerSlam events, the Mae Young Classic continues WWE’s ongoing trend to at least appear more international.

Many of the contenders are announced as representing different countries with some even hailing from those countries (though it’s noticeable a lot are American, far more so than in the CWC).

Along with that, while some of the competitors are long-standing and well-known faces in the world of women’s wrestling, a slightly suspicious number seem to be rather new, even if they have other sports experience, and in a few cases it’s telling and smacks of WWE trying to promote their new signings before they appear on NXT.

That said, the pairings in this opening round led, with a few exceptions, to some great matches with some excellent moments.

Mae Young Classic opening brackets

I won’t go through things match for match but will pick out some highlights.

As a whole though the presentation was very well done with a similar, more legit ate sporting feel, like the CWC.

Baszler and Zeda

Baszler chokes out Zeda

The commentary, from Jim Ross and Lita, did take a while to settle with both feeling a bit out-of-place at first but by the end of the first round they seemed to have settled down (though I’ll admit the legend that is JR does sound a little old hat now and I’d have preferred to hear Mauro Ronallo).

The first episode (each episode featuring four matches) was a strong start following a ‘not as inspiring as it should have been’ hype video voiced by Stephanie McMahon.

Female luchadore Princesa Sugeheit got what was, to my mind, a surprise win over Scotland’s Kay Lee Ray, but it was former UFC competitor Shayna Baszler and both Abbey Laith (formerly known as Kimber Lee) and Jazzy Gabert (aka The Alpha Female) who were the real standouts, with Baszler looking like a potential winner, especially with her very nice suplex into sleeper finishing combo.

Xia Yim and Sarah Logan

Yim pins Logan after a German suplex

The second episode was headlined by Mia Yim picking up a win over Sarah Logan in a match where both came out looking good.

Also on the show Chinese performer Xia Li, signed to WWE following their foray to China to try to expand their market, lost out to Mercedes Martinez, who came across as a tough MMA style wrestler, while Li looked far better than anyone would expect in a debut.

Australian athlete Rhea Ripley looked good with a win over Miranda Salinas and the daughter of Paul Ellering, Rachel Evers, picked up a win over Marti Belle in the first duff match of the tournament.

Toni Storm

A victorious Toni Storm

In many ways episode three was the highlight for me featuring three of the wrestlers I’m most familiar with advancing.

The show began with Toni Storm, the first Progress Wrestling women’s champion, going over a very inexperienced looking Ayesha Raymond before kiwi standout Dakota Kai got a convincingly hard-fought win with a hyper speed corner kick and double stomp on WWE’s first Indian female competitor Kavita Devi.

In the episode’s main event Piper Niven, who had previously appeared on ITV’s World of Sport back in December as Viper, got a win over Santana Garrett with some impressively athletic moves.

While Niven may look like a friendlier modern-day Klondyke Kate style performer she has a lot more in her arsenal than one would expect from that, no doubt echoing some of the Japanese competitor with whom I’m less familiar like Bull Nakano.

Kairi Sane elbow drop on Tessa Blanchard

Sane’s elbow drop on Blanchard

Despite featuring two of the most anticipated wrestlers, the fourth episode was in some ways also the weakest.

Thankfully Candice LeRae’s opening victory over Renee Michelle and pretty much everything done by Japan’s Kairi Sane (aka Kairi Hojo) in her face off with Tessa Blanchard stole the show – particularly Sane’s ridiculous winning elbow drop from the top rope that is like no other I’ve previously seen.

While some of the eliminated competitors are ones I’d like to see more from, the results of the first round have set up some very interesting matches going forward making it hard to call who will advance, which is always nice when things can so often be so easy to predict in WWE, and has set the tournament going in a very enjoyable manner.

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Vale Earth Fair Warm Up: The Surfin’ Birds and The Recks – Thomas De La Rue – 26/08/17

The Surfin' Birds and guests

The Surfin’ Birds with AJ and Richey

It’s become tradition that the night before Guernsey’s longest running festival, the Vale Earth Fair, a pair of the bands playing the main event take to the stage at the De La Rue in St Peter Port for a more relaxed warm up.

Even with the Sound Guernsey event taking place at the Vale Castle, 2017 was no different with The Recks and their, in some sense, brother band from Weymouth The Surfin’ Birds.

While The Recks were on solid form it took a while for the audience to sneak forward and fill the dancefloor and it is odd seeing this band who usually get the headline slots going on first.

While they were a bit more loose than usual, particularly when it came to working out what to play next and on She Wants That Too, as they set went on their energy, and the audiences, built.

The Recks

The Recks

A new track led by Gregory Harrison added a slightly slower, more country-folk, feel to things but it was the usual tracks that were the highlights, recent single Low Life and She Ain’t No Revelator in particular, and by the end of the set the dancefloor was full.

Weymouth rock ’n’ roll trio The Surfin’ Birds promised to jam things out with some friends and they didn’t disappoint from the moment they launched in their take on Link Wray’s Jack The Ripper onwards.

Mixing their own songs with versions of blues rock ’n’ roll standards they were on fire, despite looking like they might be on the verge of total collapse at points, they held it together with a primal will that actually made them super tight.

Paul Sharod of The Surfin' Birds

Paul Sharod of The Surfin’ Birds

While Paul Sharod wielded his guitar like it was an extension of himself, his brother Liam set the drums rolling with several drum solos that did that rare thing of feeling like part of the songs rather than an indulgent add-on.

As the set went on they were joined on numerous occasions by The Reck’s Richey Powers (a long time collaborator of Sharod) and AJ, most commonly seen with Burg & The Back Porch Band, who added some harmonica to the bluesy flavour tracks.

Sharod headed further and further into Lux Interior territory, aided by a few Cramps moments including Human Fly and The Crusher (although I know that isn’t a Cramps original) before closing the set on a trio of standout moments; their own I’m An Elvis Man led into a Be Bop A Lula that descended into a crazed take on Surfin’ Bird to close the night on a high, setting everyone up for the following days festival with great energy.

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BBC Introducing in Guernsey: August 2017 – Le Quesne, Alderney Week and Festival Previews

Le Quesne, aka Tyler Edmonds, on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Le Quesne, aka Tyler Edmonds, on BBC Introducing Guernsey

Click here to listen to the show

For the August 2017 edition of BBC Introducing in Guernsey I welcomed into the studio an artist who we’ve featured since the shows inception who is taking things in a new direction.

I also heard from two of the bands who headed to our northern most outpost for Alderney Week and having a look ahead to the final festivals of the season.

I first featured Tyler Edmonds music in the show’s early days when he was (as he still is) leader of Last of the Light Brigade (previously known as No Ambition and Stratosfear) but now he has released his first solo record under the name of Le Quesne – he joined me this month for an interview and a live session.

Also on the show we heard from Robert J. Hunter and The Recks who, along with others, performed earlier in the month as part of Alderney Week.

And I took ahead to the Vale Earth Fair and Sark Roots Festival which round off this years festival season which now stretches right into September.

You can listen to the show by clicking here

Tracklist

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Marvel’s The Defenders

Marvel's The Defenders logoOver the last few years Marvel and Netflix have teamed up to give a place within the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) to some of the comic and movie juggernaut’s less brightly coloured characters.

From Daredevil to Iron Fist the four initial characters, five if you count anti-hero Punisher who’s yet to have his own series, they’ve all had their good and bad points and, much like the movies had The Avengers, have had an obvious target in mind, The Defenders.

I had my concerns going into the series as, while I had generally enjoyed the two Daredevil series (I think due to my already established interest in the character and his story), Jessica Jones, Luke Cage and Iron Fist had all suffered from having too many episodes and not quite enough story.

Jones particularly dragged in places despite the excellent Kilgrave story, but, in The Defenders, a shared underlying thread has come together in a genuinely satisfying way.

The Defenders - Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Luke Cage, Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Iron Fist

Story faults aside, what had impressed about the standalone series was how each sat within its own genre version of the Marvel world, from gritty 70s style crime cinema (Daredevil) to a kind of tidied up blaxploitation (Luke Cage) and, in the first few episodes at least, but threaded throughout, The Defenders echoed these motifs around the individual characters very well.

The story, as previously mentioned, pulled elements of all the shows together but it’s particularly parts of the Daredevil plot and the Iron Fist back story that lead things. Featuring Marvel’s famous band of evil ninjas, The Hand, and their ongoing plans for New York – as usual based loosely around machinations of power and destroying things that don’t stand up to too in-depth an exploration but make for a good antagonising force.

Sigourney Weaver in The Defenders

Weaver as Alexandra

While we’d met a few members of The Hand in the past their new apparent leader revealed here comes in the form of Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra.

Echoing many of her famed genre roles of the past its clear that Weaver is having a great time chewing up scenery in a brilliantly villainous fashion with little of the potential nuance that modern villains might often have, though as the series goes on her story gains a little more depth, but nothing to change her excellently played villainy and a story arc that looks like it will make her more sympathetic actually develops the other way.

She’s ably backed up by previously introduced members of The Hand which leads to the forming of The Defenders as a kind of angsty, grumbling, street level version of The Avengers.

This formation is expectedly rocky but does lead to some brilliant moments between the characters dotted throughout the series hinting at more to come, particularly between comic book co-stars Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). This is best demonstrated in the series’ fourth episode where things all fall into place (well as much as they do at any point) and we get probably the most of the quartet in a room talking before the inevitable fighting starts.

The Defenders in action

The Defenders in action

Speaking of action, as with the previous series, this was all much more ‘realistic’ (for superhero stuff) than the movies with plenty of blood and far more heft to what happens, including a number of severed limbs and decapitations which really are to be expected when katanas seem to be the general weapon of choice.

While there wasn’t quite a single standout action moment like some of the past series had, everything there was, until the very end, was brilliantly handled and really it was the weight of implausibility that only mildly tainted the big battle scene in the climax.

At only eight episodes compared to the lead in series’ 13, it was far tighter, focussing only on the one story, while giving us hints of side arcs but not feeling the need to explore them in detail.

In all this made for the most satisfying of the Marvel/Netflix series so far, but it may well suffer from not being as accessible to those who haven’t seen all the build up, but for those who have it’s a pretty non-stop ride and a nice alternative to the ever-increasing sci-fi scale of the cinematic releases.

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The Space Pirates of Rocquaine – The Imperial Hotel – 19/08/17

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine

The better part of a decade ago I remember heading down to The Imperial at Rocquaine to see one of the island’s top pop-rock bands of the time trying something a bit different.

That band were The Nelkons and what they were doing was playing an acoustic set in the corner of their local pub. While they were still going by their old name then this was to be one of the first outings for the band now known as The Space Pirates of Rocquaine.

Last Saturday night, after a lengthy absence and with a slightly different line up, the folk rockers returned to their spiritual home to do what they do best, play high energy, fun, folk rock to an enthusiastic audience.

Before the full band took to the ‘stage’ a few members warmed up the crowd with some other songs, starting with founder member and guitarist/vocalist Guppy.

Tim Corbett and Mark Guppy

Tim Corbett and Mark Guppy

Armed with a new Telecaster he began with some more folky numbers, including a few often played with the full band, before gradually dialling up the crunch and adding a bit of punk spirit and rock ‘n’ roll to proceedings with a Stranglers cover and some more originals. 

The Pirates mandolin/ukulele/guitar player Tim Corbett then brought things back in a more indie-folk direction that sounded great but, as it went on, got a little lost in the increasing hubbub in the pub caused by the sudden arrival of a rather boisterous bus party.

After a short break to get everyone else on stage The Space Pirates of Rocquaine then set off.

Taking the band out of the often overly polite and family friendly environments they often play instantly seemed to make them more relaxed on stage and up for a more fun performance.

Lisa Vidamour and Rachael Cumberland-Dodd

The Space Pirates’ Lisa with guest Rachael

While they took a few songs to get up to speed once they did they were on fine form for the best part of the next hour and a half. The band were relaxed and fun throughout but they proved, time and again, that with that they can be one do the tightest bands around, particularly on their more well-known songs like Sarnia Cherie, Canon Des Iles or the anthemic sounding I Fly.

With the new line up featuring Nick Dodd on electric guitar in place of Jess Nash’s fiddle a few of their more rock ‘n’ roll songs have taken on a new life, this was particularly demonstrated on Beast of the Coudre which took on a whole new dimension.

As the set went on songs were dedicated to friends and family, including a rousing rendition of Foo Fighters’ My Hero and the band were joined by several ‘guests’ from the audience reaching something of a climax with the always emotional Coming Home before the slightly too am dram dance along to Witch of the Longfrie brought a close to proceedings.

The Space Pirates of Rocquaine and friends

The Space Pirates and friends

While on paper a gig like this, on the floor in the corner of a small pub, could be beset by technical issues, for a band like The Space Pirates, it’s clear that this is where they thrive and are capable of delivering their absolute best combining some great singalong folky pop rock with a relaxed performance and an over-riding sense of fun.

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SummerSlam – Barclays Centre – 20/08/17

WWE SummerSlam logo25 years ago WWE (then WWF) presented what was then their biggest live event, with 80,000 people in London’s Wembley Stadium for the 1992 SummerSlam event.

While the show was a mixed bag for a few reasons it’s lived in the memory thanks to its location, the only WWE pay per view outside main land North America, and the main event which saw Bret Hart and the British Bulldog fight for the Intercontinental Championship – it was also my real doorway into the world of professional wrestling.

Now, in 2017, for its 30th edition the show has ballooned to six hours of TV time broadcast from Brooklyn New York’s Barclay’s Centre in front of 16,000 fans.

Given the running time I have had neither time, nor if I’m honest inclination, to watch the three matches on the ‘pre-show’ despite them featuring some excellent performers, so I’ll jump straight to the main show, which began with a nice music video package highlighting the night’s main events, though in comparison to the previous night’s NXT TakeOver show, this was the start of things not quite being all they could be.

John Cena vs Baron Corbin

Baron Corbin and John Cena

Baron Corbin and John Cena

With WWE biggest star kicking off the show the crowd went nuclear with a huge ‘John Cena sucks’ singalong before the usual mixed reaction once he hit the ring.

Relative newcomer Corbin meanwhile was treated to an imposingly impressive new entrance with new video effects and music suggesting maybe he still is seen as a next big bad guy character, despite the somewhat unceremonious dropping of the Money in the Bank on last week’s Smackdown TV show.

While Cena continued to get a mixed reaction and Corbin is developing into a brilliantly hate-able heel, the match the pair put on couldn’t have been much more flat. Mostly stalling for time or punch/kick offence and defence it felt like they’d worked out the character beats and nothing else.

Baron Corbin chokeslams John Cena

Corbin chokeslams Cena

It struck watching this as well that Corbin only has a handful of moves in his arsenal so once these were exhausted and repeated several times it was hard to engage – even what could have been a nice chokeslam/backbreaker move was too loose to be anything much.

With a third attempt at his slide around the ring post Corbin was caught in Cena’s AA, giving Cena a win that did little for the part-time megastar and all but killed any legitimacy of Corbin as the killer heel he’s had the look of becoming, making for a damp squib of an opening match.

Smackdown Women’s Championship
Naomi (c) vs Natalya

Natalya and Naomi

Flying headscissor from Naomi

After the first of many cringe inducing commercials featuring WWE superstars we got the culmination of a feud that we never really wanted between Naomi and Natalya.

From her entrance it looked like Natalya was once again basing her character off her heritage as a member of the Hart family with a nice Hart Foundation style jacket and this was carried on through JBL’s commentary and into the match’s conclusion.

Naomi meanwhile was the brightly coloured, neon cartoon with no real substance she has been for the last nine months or so.

Despite a few nice moments it was hard to escape the feeling of the two competitors going through the motions with no real sense that this was for a big prize and more the feeling that it was a casual exhibition.

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

Natalya applies the Sharpshooter to Naomi

That said Natalya has got some of the best snap suplexes in the WWE today and Naomi delivered a nice blockbuster off the steps to the floor, but that was about it for highlights.

The end came following an unconvincing sequence into a first Sharpshooter before Naomi missed a split legged moonsault, allowing the challenger to once again apply the leg lock and become champion.

While it’s always nice to see Natalya rewarded as by far the longest standing member of the women’s division, it’s hard to escape the fact that she never quite convinces as an aggressive champion and once again this match fell flat because of that.

Big Cass vs Big Show
with Enzo Amore locked in a shark cage above the ring

Enzo in the 'shark cage'

Enzo in the ‘shark cage’

Before I get to the match it’s hard to escape the feeling that last year WWE paid a fair amount for the ‘shark cage’ as its come into play at least three times in recent months when the gimmick really is a relic of the old territory system, and I find it hard to remember it being used in the last 20 years or more.

Anyway, the match seemed designed to establish Big Cass as the new mid card big man by Big Show ‘passing the torch’ in a sense, however with Enzo really the focus as the one of the trio who’s particularly good on the mic, it’s been a very unbalanced affair.

That was highlighted here as Enzo cut his usual promo before being hoisted in the cage but it felt like treading water compared to his past highs, just hinting that the split of this team has happened far too soon and done damage to both characters.

With Big Show having a ‘broken hand’ he was limited even further than usual and this made the bulk of the match rather boring, and the crowd let the performers know it.

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Big Cass with a big boot on the Big Show

Some slight excitement cage came as Enzo squeezed out of the cage only to get a big boot to the head before Cass got the win with his Empire Elbow drop on the giant.

Unfortunately this all left the crowd dead and I’m just hoping it hasn’t entirely derailed both Enzo and Cass’ build, but I fear it may have, while Big Show remains a slightly more than past it novelty act.

Backstage we got a brief skit with Kurt Angle and Daniel Bryan which felt entirely superfluous and seemed to return to trying to hype competition between Raw and Smackdown which always feels pointless as, no matter how much we suspend our disbelief, we all know they are owned by the same company….

Randy Orton vs Rusev

Rusev throws Randy Orton

Rusev throws Orton

It’s hard to not find something a bit distasteful in Orton’s current run fighting stereotypical ‘evil foreigners’ given his appearance as an entitled white man in the current political climate, so, when Rusev attacked before the bell it looked like we might get a good fight to distract from that.

Unfortunately this was short-lived and once both men were back in the ring and the match officially began, Orton hit his RKO ‘from outta nowhere’ for the win in a moment reminiscent of Cena’s earlier victory with an established star going over a newer performer who really should be elevated.

Raw Women’s Championship
Alexa Bliss (c) vs Sasha Banks

Alexa Bliss dives at Sasha Banks

Bliss dives at Banks

With the match originally slated to see Bayley challenging Bliss things were rather rapidly put together but Banks has remained a perennial contender since her arrival on Raw and seems to have regained her old form in recent weeks as well.

Despite a rather ridiculous (even by WWE standards) piece of entrance attire the match soon settled into a nice pace with both women on top form.

While the middle section of the match was a little flat there were some nice spots including a Code Red being reversed into a turnbuckle slam.

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

Sasha lock in the Bank Statement

It looked like Bliss would retain as she hit her Twisted Bliss top rope spinning splash but Banks survived and, after a slightly awkward but ok sequence got the submission win with her Bank Statement crossface to become a four-time champion.

While not perfect this, thankfully, upped the ante somewhat for the night and Banks winning was a nice twist that hopefully will reinvigorate both her and the slightly flagging women’s division – if I had my way this would slowly lead to a heel turn and feud with Bayley when she’s recovered, but that’s maybe a bit too much fantasy booking.

Bray Wyatt vs ‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

'The Demon' Finn Balor

‘The Demon’ Finn Balor

While I think Finn’s ‘alter ego’ of The Demon should be more of a surprise (I understand that the WWE marketing machine means it can’t really be) it was good to see him back in the body paint for the first time since last SummerSlam and his entrance got a huge reaction and several chants, including a nice ‘too sweet’ one from the clearly knowledgeable fans.

From the start Balor was playing a more intense version of himself to represent the Demon and Wyatt played up to it with shock exactly as you’d want at the start.

After a truly amazing looking tope con hilo from Balor, Wyatt took control with a nasty looking suplex to the floor and then a hanging top rope shoulder/neckbreaker.

Finn Balor attacks Bray Wyatt

Balor attacks Wyatt

Despite a few flurries Bray kept the upper hand and the crowd really started to get behind Finn as they properly came alive for the first time since Cena left.

With a nice story building throughout the climax came when Balor ‘countered’ Bray’s ‘spiderwalk’ taunt and hit his standard ending sequence of Sling Blade, Shotgun Dropkick and Coup De Grace for the win.

While this climax came a little fast given the rest of the pace and it didn’t all seem to be quite running at full force, at this point this was by far the best match and continued the previous one on building the excitement of the show – also special mention has to go to Corey Graves for his Gorilla Monsoon moment in commentary.

Raw Tag Team Championship
‘The Bar’ Sheamus & Cesaro (c) vs Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose 

Seth Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

Rollins with a frog splash on Sheamus

One of the most naturally exciting things on WWE TV in recent months has been the build to the reunion of former Shield members Seth Rollins and Dean Ambrose.

This has been well-balanced with their feud with the tag team champions to lead to a match with a real story behind it (in many ways the first of the night).

The match itself was some thing of a masterclass for modern WWE tag team wrestling with near nonstop action from both teams building a great story of the challengers rediscovering their old rapport in the face of the more cohesive champions.

Highlights came with a chaotic flurry from Ambrose in contrast to the more controlled Rollins, a double suicide dive from the challengers and Cesaro heading out into the crowd to dispose of a beach ball (a move which has caused a surprising amount of controversy since).

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

Rollins hits a superkick on Sheamus

As the match went on Cesaro showed his abilities with the best Sharpshooter since the days of the Hart family and the best crossface since Benoit.

The end came with a great sequence that began with a top rope hurricanrana from Rollins and finished with the double attack of Seth’s Rainmaker/V-Trigger rip-chord knee strike into Ambrose Dirty Deeds DDT securing the championships for the reformed Shield members and providing one if the highlight matches of the night while also giving some great fan service for those who remember the hey day of the Hounds of Justice.

WWE United States Championship
AJ Styles (c) vs Kevin Owens
Special guest referee Shane McMahon

AJ Styles and Kevin Owens

Intense action between Styles and Owens

Another match that has come with a good and lengthy build, this felt like a final chapter as Styles and Owens have traded the title a few times now.

Added to this Shane McMahon as referee brings a convincing extra intrigue given his relationship with both men in the past.

While it started off stiff and intense with a pre match brawl, pulled apart by McMahon and setting up his role in proceedings, it was, of course Owens who became the vocal heel aggressor.

Both men got their chance to show their high spots and a particular highlight came with a sequence going form a missed Asai Moonsuslt, a countered pop up power bomb and a huge Ushigoroshi for a two count.

AJ Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Styles hits the Phenomenal Forearm

Shortly after that the guest referee came into play as McMahon was caught in the crossfire of a springboard 450 splash, so missed the count off Owens’ pop up powerbomb followed by missing the tap out to a Styles Calf Crusher.

Following more great sequences and near falls from a Styles Clash to another pop up powerbomb, Owens got into an argument with McMahon allowing AJ to get the decisive victory with a Phenomenal Forearm and another tightly delivered Styles Clash.

Given the ending, I hope this is a full stop on what’s been a great feud that has set up Styles as a confirmed champion (not that he wasn’t before) and built on the dissent of Owens with the management.

WWE World Championship
Jinder Mahal w/ The Singh Brothers (c) vs Shinsuke Nakamura

Shinsuke Nakamura and Jinder Mahal

Nakamura hits a spin kick on Mahal

One thing that’s often been said of the WWE is that, for a company with World in its name, it’s rather solidly North America-centric.

2016 and 2017 have seen this change somewhat though with the Cruiser Weight Classic and United Kingdom Championship Tournament through to Black vs Itami the previous night at NXT TakeOver, and this match, pitting the Indian (well actually Canadian but ‘of Indian heritage’) champion Mahal against modern Japanese legend, the King of Strong Style, Nakamura.

Throughout it was clear how over Nakamura is with this crowd and, equally, they were opposed to Mahal in just the right way something that was echoed in their clash of in-ring styles.

Unfortunately, while a clash can sometimes lead to something great, here it just came across and Nakamura doing all the work in both giving and selling in the face of Mahal’s ponderous, traditional WWE muscleman approach.

Kinshasa!

Kinshasa!

There was a nice spot where Nakamura countered a slam into a triangle choke hold and, with a Kinshasa to the back of the head, he looked poised to claim the championship.

This was when the a Singh brothers got involved, only to be removed by Shinsuke, but giving Mahal the opening to get the win with his Khallas cobra clutch slam.

This clearly shocked the crowd as it did come out of nowhere and the concept of Mahal overcoming Nakamura is a stretch of the imagination even with the interference, sadly leaving it all fall a little too flat. But Nakamura came out of things looking great anyway and I have to admit to enjoying Mahal’s run as champion so far, especially now its veered away from purely ‘foreigner = bad guy’ territory.

WWE Universal Championship
Brock Lesnar w/Paul Heyman (c) vs Roman Reigns vs Samoa Joe vs Braun Strowman

Brock Lesnar suplexes Roman Reigns

Lesnar suplexes Reigns

As the challengers came out the responses were all strong and what we’d expect from the New York crowd; a mixed response but with chants for Joe, a mostly positive response for Strowman and a deafening chorus of boos for Reigns.

Then the champion and his advocate, as always getting a positive reaction due to the sheer freakish nature of Lesnar.

The match itself was a non stop chaotic battle between all four, literally a human demolition derby to steal a phrase, but as soon as it spilled to the floor it became Braun Strowman’s showcase.

While keeping Joe and Reigns at bay ‘The Monster Amongst Men’ drove Lesnar through two tables before dumping another on top of the champion causing him to be stretchered out with a laughing Strowmam shouting taunts after him in a moment that will be remembered for a long time.

Braun Strowman drives Brock Lesnar through a table

Strowman drives Lesnar through a table

For a while it settled down into a triple threat style, but largely with Strowman maintaining the upper hand (despite the use of steel stairs by Reigns) before Lesnar returned, squared off against his new nemesis, and proceeded to fight off Joe and Reigns with his usual attacks.

Strowman again gained the upper hand only to be hit with a Superman Punch from Reigns, but this allowed Lesnar to hit his F5 spinning slam on Reigns and, somewhat unexpectedly, retain the gold.

While the match itself was the highlight of the show in just the way a main event between four heavyweights should be, and was an insane exhibition from Strowman, all four men looked great and even Lesnar felt reinvigorated now there is a real looking challenge in his path which is just what the WWE needed at this stage.

Brock Lesnar lifts Samoa Joe for an F5

Lesnar lifts Joe for an F5

As a whole, while the show was horrendously overlong (something it shares in common with WrestleMania), but from the Raw women’s match on it was at least enjoyable or better and with the Raw tag team title match, the US title match and the Universal title match being some genuinely great bouts all in different styles.

So, while the 30th SummerSlam could have been better, the good points were exactly what WWE does best, delivered by the performers in the best way and setting up at least the next three months stories very nicely just as it should, and it created a new star in the form of The Monster Amongst Men, Braun Strowman.

Photos from WWE.com

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NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III – Barclays Centre – 19/08/17

NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III logoOver the last two years WWE’s developmental brand NXT has made its big summer show, so far always held at the Barclays Centre in Brooklyn, into their annual focal point.

This seems to have been fairly organic, by WWE standards, with the first event headlined by the genre defining match between Bayley and Sasha Banks for the NXT Women’s Championship and acting as the confirming launch pad for the WWE careers of both Kevin Owens and Finn Balor with their main eventing NXT Championship ladder match.

Two years later and NXT is firmly into what could be classed its third wave and, so far, they’ve had an arguably bumpy ride. While there have been some great high moments there has yet to be a whole show that has stood out like some of the earlier TakeOver event.

On paper, while I was quietly optimistic, NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III looked like it might have its work cut out standing up to some of the past events in the way that was really needed to cement the new set of upcoming superstars.

With the main WWE stage in place this instantly felt like a bigger show with the 14,000 (approx) crowd clearly up for a lively show things kicked off with metal band Code Orange playing live in the arena with one of the edgiest feeling opening videos, intercut with the live band, in a long time before the announce team of Mauro Ronallo, Nigel McGuinnes and Percy Watson welcomed us to the show.

Johnny Gargano vs Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas w/ Zelina Vega

Almas and Gargano

Almas locked in the Gargano Escape

While Johnny Gargano was greeted by huge chants of ‘Johnny Wrestling’ it was hard to escape the feeling that, despite the great fan reaction, this match felt a little thrown together as the pair haven’t had a huge amount of interaction until the last couple of NXT TV shows.

Really most were expecting this be Gargano squaring up against his former tag partner Thomasso Ciampa before the latter was injured a couple of months back.

Added to this the artist formerly known as La Sombra has had trouble finding his feet with a consistent character, though the recent addition of Vega as manager has begun to help Almas with that.

From the opening bell though it was clear there was nothing to worry about as the pair went at it with fast paced chain wrestling, which showed why Gargano has picked up the Johnny Wrestling nickname, while Almas showed more of his side of things with a nice ‘Tranquilo’ pose during a head scissors (I just wish they’d capitalise a little more on the Los Ingobernables link in someway).

Almas and Gargano

Almas hits the running knees on Gargano

While the match was, largely, fast paced they kept a nice story going with Gargano in his traditional role of underdog babyface and Almas the cocky heel.

They threw in a couple of nice twists including Gargano countering Almas’ pose in the ropes with a superkick and getting on a role to hit a series of trademark moves including a tight slingshot DDT and the Lawn Dart.

A titl-a-whirl headscissor into the Gargano Escape crossface-armbar led to a sequence that got the crowd chanting ‘NXT’ for both men, but it was a distraction from Vega that allowed Almas to hit his hammerlock DDT and continue both men’s independent stories while acting as a great showcase for both and warming the crowd up excellently both in the arena and at home.

NXT Tag Team Championships
Authors of Pain (Akam and Rezar) w/ Paul Ellering (c) vs Sanity (Killian Dain and Alexander Wolfe) w/ Eric Young and Nikki Cross

Sanity and Authors of Pain

Wolfe flies at one of the Authors

This was another match where the set up had felt a little rushed and left the challenging team falling somewhere between face and heel, though the champs remained firmly the aggressors, meant again it was hard to know how this was going to work.

Once AOP rushed the ring and a pre-match brawl erupted though it was quickly clear this match was going to be as chaotic as can be.

While the brawl went back and forth it was the champions who came out on top at first and things settled down into the match with the Authors of Pain working on Alexander Wolfe on their side of the ring.

As expected Wolfe eventually reached his corner but, rather than tagging Dain, Eric Young tagged in and, as the big Ulsterman hadn’t yet been in the match officially the switch was allowed and things again went chaotic.

AOP again gained the upper hand, including a fearless Young taking a back drop into Dominator double attack, things again settled down before another hot tag to Wolfe after which the chaos returned and never let up.

With impressive suplexes on both champions Wolfe put in the best showing he has to date, before all four men ended up on the outside and even Nikki Cross got in on the action with a top rope dive before Dain drove one of the champions (and Cross) through a table, allowing Sanity to hit a double team attack and finally topple the previously invincible Authors.

reDRagon attack Wolfe

reDRagon attack Wolfe

As a whole the match told a great story through the chaos giving Sanity a win they much-needed to make them a legitimately powerful stable while maintaining the strength of Authors of Pain who only fell after all four members of Sanity got involved.

The real ongoing story though happened after the match as recently debuted pair of Kyle O’Reilly and Bobby Fish, aka former Ring of Honor tag team reDRagon attacked both teams leaving them all laying in a genuinely shock moment that feels like the beginning of something big to come.

Hideo Itami vs Aleister Black

Black and Itami

Black with a stiff knee on Itami

Following Itami’s natural feeling heel turn after his return from long-term injuries and matches for the NXT Championship, his feud with relative newcomer Aleister Black has had a fairly organic feel based around the fact everyone knows these two men are two of the best striking fighters in WWE today.

It’s nice to see Itami in what feels like a more natural heel role, while Black is still running on the energy of his debut, combined with the unique look and feel of his character and all this has combined to make this bout simply about who is the better and more honourable fighter.

With that in mind the pair wasted no time going straight to the stiff kicks that are their trademarks and as guest commentator JR pointed out this match is all about who can kick their opponent their hardest.

The combination of a Japanese and Dutch fighter squaring off really adds to WWE’s recently developed international feel (continued throughout the weekend with Sanity earlier and of course Nakamura vs Mahal at SummerSlam) which is something that often felt missing from a company with ‘World’ in their name in the past.

Back to the match and with Black’s nose busted early on it had a real fight feel that grew as Itami settled into the heelish antagonist role and more pro-wrestling than striking for the middle section – before the big moves came into play.

Black Mass

Itami feels the Black Mass

Highlights came with Itami’s tornado neck snap and flying clothesline spot, a top rope Falcon Arrow and a Falcon Arrow in the ring before Itami went for his GTS fireman carry knee strike.

After Black’s escape an angered Itami got distracted by the crowd giving Black the chance to hit his Black Mass heel kick, which is one of the most devastating looking strikes in WWE, for the hard-fought win.

While Black got the duke both men came out of this looking great with Itami’s angry heel character developing nicely in a way that solidifies him in the roster in a way he has struggled to find for the last two years, while confirming Black in the NXT top flight.

NXT Women’s Championship
Asuka (c) vs Ember Moon

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon hits a step up Enzugiri on Asuka

With a longer build than usual thanks to a shoulder injury suffered by Moon, combined with Asuka’s 504 day title reign (and even longer undefeated streak) this match probably felt like the one with the most story going into it with a real sense of importance.

With a quick start from Moon this feeling was brought into the match and stayed throughout as Ember got the early advantage before Asuka took control on the floor with a hammer lock suplex on the ramp.

That move alone shows how far women’s wrestling has come in WWE in the last couple of years as we head toward the screening of the Mae Young Classic tournament in coming weeks.

The mid section of the match saw Asuka focus on Moon’s previously injured shoulder in brilliantly effective fashion that even got a Minoru Suzuki comparison from McGuinnes (I know I’m a sucker for references to wrestlers outside the WWE universe).

This led to a great sequence based around the Asuka Lock that drew duelling chants from the crowd despite the now clearly defined heel/face dynamic.

With Moon hitting the Eclipse top rope twisting stunner it felt it could all be over but, thanks to the injured shoulder, Asuka fought free and again the ref came into play as had happened in their past match back in Orlando.

Asuka and Ember Moon

Moon dives over the referee onto Asuka

Unlike that match though, Moon survived this to hit a superkick that again looked set to defeat the Empress of Tomorrow but didn’t getting a huge reaction from the crowd.

Another nice sequence of submissions led to an extended Asuka Lock that eventually led to the tap out from Moon and, while I thought this might be the night, once again raises the question, who can beat Asuka?

After the match Moon received a standing ovation and ‘thank you’ chants as the pair delivered one of the best women’s matches since that Bayley/Banks bout two years ago and provided one of the true highlights of a show packed with great moments, though I’m once again left unsure where the NXT Womens’ Division goes from here.

NXT Championship
Bobby Roode (c) vs Drew McIntyre

Throughout the show various past NXT performers had made appearances in what seemed to be an attempt to give the event more of a special feel that, as i referenced earlier, it had developed of its own accord and leading into this match we saw Kevin Owens in the crowd. While I get the point of these they always feel a little false and unneeded when what’s happening in the ring is what really matters in NXT and is as on point as it was here.

Anyway onto the main event.

Roode and McIntyre

McIntyre with a clothesline on Roode

With a story that while only short harks back to the challenger’s past time in WWE as ‘the chosen one’ along with Roode’s ever present arrogant, Glorious, persona it had all the makings for something great.

This was only added to as McIntyre made his entrance to a live ‘pipes and drums’ accompaniment.

The match itself was a more traditional WWE main event style affair than the evening’s earlier bouts but, with Roode so good at playing the kind of arrogant heel that Ric Flair made his name with and McIntyre being such an imposing force, it was instantly engrossing as power stood up to psychology.

A deadlift release suplex gave McIntyre the momentum for a time before a pair of neck breakers switched it back to Roode and the two men went back and forth throughout before a Future Shock DDT led to the match’s first legitimate feeling near fall.

Drew McIntyre

Drew McIntyre wins the NXT Championship

This was followed by a Claymore from McIntyre that left Roode too near the ropes for the win. The Claymore has been an interesting move for McIntyre but here for the first time felt like a legitimate winning strike, possibly down to Roode’s selling but also, I suspect, given the higher stakes of the match.

After a moment entirely out of character for a perfomer of his size as McIntyre delivered a Tope Con Hilo to the floor, Roode took the advantage back with a spinebuster and Glorious DDT for a near fall.

McIntyre survived a second of the implant style DDTs and escaped a third to hit a second equally impressive Claymore kick to secure his first NXT Championship in fine style that would have made for a great ending to the show, but…

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

Adam Cole attacks McIntyre

With speculation running rampant about a big new signing to NXT there was hope he might appear and, as reDRagon made their second appearance of the night distracting the new champ, now was the moment for former ROH World Champion Adam Cole to attack.

He delivered a devastating superkick, laying out the new champ in an echo of his firing from the Bullet Club, and ending the show with Cole and his new team mates standing strong and setting a whole new set of wheels in motion that I can’t wait to see turn.

As a whole NXT TakeOver Brooklyn III did exactly what it needed to do solidifying the new crop of performers as genuinely players in the WWE Universe with one of the strongest shows NXT have put on in sometime, probably since last November’s TakeOver in Toronto and once again setting the bar high for SummerSlam.

Photos from wwe.com

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Le Quesne – Love And Death

Last of the Light Brigade

Tyler (and Stu) of Le Quesne

Tyler Edmonds has long been known as frontman of Last Of The Light Brigade and more recently for being one of the founders of the School of Popular Music but he has now released his first solo record, under the name Le Quesne, Love And Death.

Featuring long time band mater Stu Carre on drums and produced by Mikey Ferbrache the EP/mini-album sees Edmonds taking his known indie-rock sound into more acoustic and thoughtful territory.

The album is available through iTunes and on Spotify.

My full review was published in the Guernsey Press on Saturday 19th August 2017 and you can read it below.

Le Quesne - Love And Death review - 19/08/17

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Torteval Scarecrow Festival 2017

Ernie the scarecrow

Ernie the scarecrow

This is a slightly strange one as it feels a bit like a travel blog more than anything else though I only travelled five or six miles from home, to Guernsey’s most south-westerly parish, for the 14th annual Torteval Scarecrow Festival.

For clarity I’ll add that, in many ways, Torteval is something of a home away from home for me being the parish where my grandparents have lived for more than half a century and where I spent a fair amount of my childhood exploring its lanes and fields. 

For those who don’t know Torteval is generally regarded as Guernsey’s most country parish and, while that means it has some of the island’s best and most varied scenery from rolling green fields and hills, to dramatic cliffs, to a couple of the most picturesque beaches you’ll find anywhere, it also means it has come in for more than its share of ridicule over the years.

What the Scarecrow Festival seems to have done, fairly brilliantly, is take some of this and combine it into a celebratory and slightly surreal weekend that at its best moments marries an old-fashioned country show with a streak of dark satire that I’ve not seen anywhere else locally, along with a lot of good fun.

Torteval Church under scaffolding

Torteval Church under scaffolding

The event begins in the shadow of the parish’s church, a rather unique structure with a round spire that provides a real central landmark for the community (though it’s currently covered by scaffolding).

This field feels like it could be the central part of a small country show anywhere with a tea tent (and bar), book stall, bric-a-brac, vintage cars, of a sort, and of course a raffle (to be drawn at an indeterminate point later in the afternoon) all run by people from the area.

As I arrived, shortly after lunch, this area was packed with people soaking in the atmosphere and sun and meeting up with friends in a way that, despite the trappings of modernity, felt like it would have been the same whether it was 2017, 1957 or 1927.

Heading out into the lanes for the trail of scarecrows (or les babouains, to use the Guernsey French name) this feeling largely persists, in general if not maybe in the specific details of the entries.

The scarecrows themselves are all in competition for a range of prizes and, with 51 official entries this year, it’s fair to say competition is fairly stiff.

Winning entry Trumplestiltskin

Winning entry Trumplestiltskin

I’ll get to some of the more striking entries shortly but it’s clear right away that there is a real mix of subjects being tackled in varyingly elaborate ways with just a glance at the guide map suggesting this with names ranging from Teddy Bear’s Picnic to Jonah & The Whale to Trumplestilskin

The trail itself is a relatively gentle stroll through the parish’s back lanes with only one particularly treacherous hill for which a diversion is well signposted and, while a little more circuitous, means you don’t miss any of the entries. The other bonus of this is that, with it closed to traffic it makes walking the lanes far more relaxing than normal and allows everyone to go at their own pace.

The scarecrows themselves are, of course, the main attraction and didn’t disappoint. For me the highlights came with the more political and darker edged entries which stared out by the church with Warning! Do Not Climb The Scaffolding laid out like something from an episode of CSI.

Warning Do Not Climb The Scaffolding

Warning! Do Not Climb The Scaffolding

A strong theme this year was the current President of the USA with many and varied effigies of ‘The Donald’ dotted around the lanes with varying takes on his time in office so far.

English politics wasn’t far behind with a spooky looking Jeremy Corbin lurking in the trees at one point and, in my favourite entry, an interactive Theresa May running through the Fields of Wheat, complete with a specially recorded soundtrack that you can listen to by clicking here.

The most locally controversial and political entry went by the name of Emilie and was a rather pointed comment on one of the newer members of the States assembly who, it’s fair to say, has ruffled some feathers since the last election.

With more lighthearted entries including a Star Wars themed entry and what felt like a slightly outdated reference to the late 90s Budweiser frog commercials it’s safe to say the whole event is a mixed bag but the effort that goes in to the entries is hugely impressive.

Fields of Wheat

Fields of Wheat

This makes it something genuinely unique that combines a lot of traditional countryside type things with a modern, and in many cases almost post-modern, twist to make a perfect way to spend an afternoon either with a family or friends in what is an event that genuinely has something for everyone.

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CJ Wildheart – Blood

CJ Wildheart - Blood - album artworkOver the last few years CJ Wildheart has broken away from the band that has given him his ‘surname’, as well as the band’s he’s been a member of outside of that, to create material that is genuinely his.

While Robot and before that Mable (named after his favourite chicken… and why not) began to explore a palette away from The Wildhearts it’s with his latest offering, Blood, that it really feels he’s found himself in his music.

Released and funded once again through Pledgemusic probably means most of his die-hard fans have already brought and downloaded the album, but there is plenty in it for more that just those dedicated few to like.

For a fair chunk of the record the sound is the fine mix of power pop rhythms and melodies married to the crunching, metallic, riffery we’ve come to expect.

In this CJ clearly references his namesake band but there’s very much a feeling to it that this is his version of that sound away from Ginger’s often more experimental leanings.

So, while we don’t get the abrupt tempo changes and extended sequences that The Wildhearts often headed into, we do get songs that you can bounce along to just as well – for those who are familiar with the band, I found some strong references in the sounds made by SugarSlam.

CJ Wildheart

CJ Wildheart

As well as this though there are songs where CJ goes into the heaviest territory he has explored yet.

Here we get intense riffs and rhythms, combined with CJ’s generally slightly cleaner style of heavy vocals – this isn’t shouting and screaming metal but still has a heavier and more abrasive edge than elsewhere.

At their heaviest moment it hints that CJ might have a side, like his former bandmate, that could lead to something like the lighter Mutation moments but in the context of this record he never fully commits to that (it would be somewhat out-of-place if he did).

While the sounds are a development on what we’ve come to expect from CJ it is in some of the subjects he deals with and the way he delivers the vocals that it feels things have really developed. Obviously all his songs have always come from his point of view in the past, but on Blood it’s the first time I got the feeling of CJ getting really personal in his lyrics.

CJ Wildheart - Blood artworkThis can be heard across the whole album but it is maybe most obvious on Fifty Percent Indian.

It’s not for me to say whether this is based on CJ’s own experiences or not but it has a strong ring of truth in the delivery that both grounds it in his experience growing up and living in England and also places it within a wider current sociopolitical discourse growing from the ongoing immigration, Brexit, etc debate.

Once again with Blood CJ Wildheart has created a strong set of songs that further remove him from his history with The Wildhearts while continuing to build on the strong sense of pop-rock that were that bands call sign, particularly during his times with the band, making for his strongest solo outing to date that has plenty on offer for both long-term fans and people on the look out for something new.

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