Tag Archives: London

British Summer Time with Green Day – Hyde Park – 01/07/17

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

The last time I went to a huge outdoor event it was Reading Festival when Arcade Fire played a blinder, Blink 182 were sadly mediocre and Guns ’N’ Roses did their best to ruin their legacy forever, so heading to British Summer Time in Hyde Park it felt like going to an entirely new kind of show for me, a pronounced lover of smaller, more intimate gigs rather than huge concerts.

The line up though certainly had a lot that appealed to from vintage punk rock to a couple of my favourite bands and some interesting diversions besides so all was looking well as Stiff Little Fingers took to the enormous Great Oak Stage.

Despite being somewhat dwarfed by their surroundings and only having 30 minutes to play with the veteran Northern Ireland four-piece blasted through a set of powerful and positive, surprisingly poppy, classic punk rock.

Stiff Little Fingers at BST Hyde Park

Stiff Little Fingers

Having a self-admitted reputation as a dour, political band they more than dispelled this as, while songs like Tin Soldiers, Suspect Device and set closing classic (and highlight) Alternative Ulster have an obvious point to make they do it in the most upbeat way possible.

While being on first meant the crowd weren’t totally in dancing mood the band played a great set that was just the opposite of Buzzcocks when I saw them a couple of years ago which is where I had been worried this might head and Roots, Radicals, Rockers and Reggae was a surprise skank along belter.

The vintage punk continued with The Damned but they upped the ante in terms of putting on a show, once Captain Sensible had done his own soundcheck and had a bit of friendly ‘banter’ with the crowd – I’m assuming shouting ‘Fuck off Sensible’ and getting the V’s in return is a thing… if not it all seemed good-natured fun anyway.

The Damned at BST Hyde Park

The Damned

As most of the bands did The Damned delivered a greatest hits set par excellence, pulling in all the big songs you could want spanning their 70s and 80s heyday from the likes of Neat Neat Neat, to Love Song, to Eloise to Video Nasty.

While the Captain had something of the fool character on stage (not to discredit his spot on guitar playing), Dave Vanian was a perfect counterpoint stalking the stage looking like a cross between Bela Lugosi and Lux Interior with a deep American twang to a vintage rock ’n’ roll voice over the goth tinged punk.

This juxtaposition between Vanian and Sensible was something I’d had trouble getting my head around on record but seeing them live it all came into place leading to another set that defied the age of the performers and made possibly my highlight of the day.

The Hives at BST Hyde Park

The Hives

With some very nice looking vintage amplifiers being rolled onto the stage it was time for The Hives to bring the rock ’n’ roll and they did with their usual tight, precise, high energy aplomb.

Of course the focus of the performance was Howlin’ Pele Almvqvist who, for the forty minutes they had, never stood still for a second ranging from side to side of the huge stage and as far down the dividing barricade into the crowd as his mic lead would allow, delivering every rock ’n’ roll frontman pose you can think of.

While his performance could come across as too mannered and arrogant in some hands, Almvqvist packs it with enough good nature and fun to make sure that never happens and the frequent quips about them being a European band winking at Brexit just added to this.

The rest of the band were as tight as you could want with Nicholaus Arson (Almqvist’s brother) taking his share of centre stage and showing that the infectious energy obviously runs in the family.

While the set was packed with their well-known songs like Die, All Right!, Walk Idiot Walk and Main Offender, taking ten minutes at its conclusion to deliver the usually two and bit minute Tick Tick Boom did feel a little much, but it was still enjoyable and the trick of introducing the crowd as well as the band was a nice twist on a usual conceit.

The Living End at BST Hyde Park

The Living End

Even though Gogol Bordello looked and sounded like they played a stormer I found it hard to properly listen to their set as I made my way over to the smaller Barclaycard Stage at the far end of the park to catch Australia punkabillys, The Living End.

As with all the other bands with short sets they blasted through a greatest hits style set in a way that had the feel of huge fun party.

With many in the crowd clearly being die-hard fans and singing every word of the likes of Roll On, Prisoner of Society and West End Riot back at Chris, Scott and Andy it had a feel of a smaller club gig in the environs of this huge outdoor arena and that made it something of a special set and, while only six songs long, was up there with The Damned for most memorable moments of the day.

With a little more time to play with than the other bands Rancid’s set had the feel of more of a proper show and they didn’t waste any time in delivering crowd pleasers aplenty.

Rancid at BST Hyde Park

Rancid

While it was clear that most of the crowd were here for the headliners these fellow Bay Area punks took the chance to make their mark and win over many new fans as they played material ranging from the hardcore Dead Bodies (from their eponymous 2000 album) to ska heavy Where I’m Going (from new album Trouble Maker) and of course the hits like Time Bomb, Fall Back Down and set closer Ruby Soho.

Through all of this Tim Armstrong and Lars Frederiksen remain the perfect complementing front duo (a little like Sensible/Vanian earlier but in a totally different way) and with seemingly every song dedicated to someone it brought to fore the community aspect that makes punk rock like this the special thing that is and they even got a couple of pits going despite the generally family demographic in the audience.

While Green Day’s crew were changing the stage around for the stadium rock show to come I headed off to the march stand and, on the tiny stage hidden away behind the main stage, caught a few songs from Beach Slang. While I didn’t hear much, their powerful and exuberant indie-punk certainly impressed me and I’ll be investigating them further.

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day

With the stage reset with a new walkway out into the crowd and extra lights and drum riser in place Green Day blasted into their two and three-quarter hour epic set with Know Your Enemy.

This was followed by an opening section drawing on new album Revolution Radio and American Idiot much to the delight of the younger end of their fan base (and its safe to say the new songs sounded great live with more energy than on the record).

From there things switched back to their more classic 1990s material ranging from 2000 Light Years Away from 1991 to a rousing rendition of 2000’s Minority.

The third section went into a mix of big songs from the mid-90s and American Idiot before the traditional duo of King For A Day and Shout that contained an extended breakdown section featuring a genuinely uplifting moment of Billy Joe Armstrong stating: “No racism, no sexism, no homophobia and no Donald Trump!”.

Green Day at BST Hyde Park

Green Day and friends playing Knowledge

While its fair to say Green Day are a band who have evolved from the kind of pop punk band they were into stadium rock giants I found, they have kept something of a sense of self echoing, in a way, the community sense demonstrated rather differently by Rancid.

While I’ll admit Armstrong’s reliance on getting the crowd to sing ‘Hey-yo’ back to him was a little tiresome as the set went on, involving the audience on stage was a great touch.

On three songs audience members were invited up to perform with the band and this really helped take what could have been a distancing ‘performance’ and make it something more (though I had to feel sorry for the first young lady taken on stage to play guitar on Operation Ivy’s Knowledge as she had something of a rabbit in the headlights look once she realised what was happening and seemed to forget what a guitar was, let alone how to play it).

On top of this Armstrong’s message moments, ranging from a suitable amount of Trump bashing (most obviously a “Fuck you Donald Trump” during American Idiot) to talks of positivity, equality and inclusion really felt like something important to say, especially for the younger members of the audience, and never felt heavy-handed, even if I prefer Rancid’s more subtle method of doing this through their song-stories.

Green Day by Jordan Curtis Hughes

Green Day by Jordan Curtis Hughes

Closing the set on Revolution Radio’s Forever Now the crowd were clearly wanting more and a few songs remained notably absent so we got an encore of American Idiot and an epic rendition of Jesus of Suburbia that had the crowd singing along in great voice, before a second encore from Bille Joe and his acoustic guitar of three tracks culminating in Good Riddance (Time of Your Life).

This left the audience satisfied and heading out onto the streets of London following what was, for me, one of the best fully complete rock shows I’ve ever seen with everything from huge singalongs to flaming pyro to a genuine sense of togetherness that really blew me away in a manner I was totally unprepared for.

All photos by me unless otherwise noted (final photo of Green Day from the BST Hyde Park Facebook page) – you can see all my photos by clicking here

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Robert J. Hunter – Where I’m From

Robert J. Hunter - Where I'm From coverWith the release of his third album, Where I’m From, Alderney born blues artist Robert J. Hunter has reached something of a landmark moment creating a stripped back live set of semi-acoustic songs to complement the more intense blues rock of his past releases.

Also featuring his now regular band mates, James Le Huray and Greg Sheffield, the album continues Hunter’s journey that began as a teenage guitarist in blues bands like Rawcuz Crowzz in Alderney before moving to Guernsey to develop his sound as a solo artist and as part of Twelve Ton Trouble (amongst others).

His move to London saw him take on his music as a more serious business resulting in several mini-tours of the UK and countless shows in and around London developing him into the formidable performer and songwriter he now is.

Where I’m From has been released through Spiritual Records and is available to listen digitally on Spotify and Apple Music and in physical form through Rob’s own website.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 10th December 2016

Robert J. Hunter - Where I'm From review scan

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Against Me!, Milk Teeth and Mobina Galore – Electric Ballroom, Camden – 08/12/16

Against Me!

Against Me!

Heading into Camden’s famed Electric Ballroom venue on a surprisingly mild December evening it was clear that the night’s headliners, Floridian punk rockers Against Me!, had brought a sense of occasion with them.

Snaking down Camden High Street from the venue’s doors, waiting for them to open, was one of the most diverse crowds I’ve seen for a show all clearly attracted by the message of inclusivity the band have been championing for, at least, their last two albums but in less specific ways their whole career.

This idea of inclusivity was reflected in the supporting line up. It sounds like something that shouldn’t need commenting on but, as this was, I think, the first time it’s happened at a gig I’ve attended, all three bands were at least female fronted but in each case this was far from their defining factor.

Winnipeg duo Mobina Galore kicked off proceedings with a wall of grunge punk noise that combined the fuzz sound of Nirvana-era Seattle with the heavier end of The Offspring’s brand of pop-punk.

Mobina Galore

Mobina Galore

Jenna and Marcia were instantly captivating thanks to the sheer power of their sound, the fact there were two and not at least four people on stage was never sonically noticeable, bringing to mind the likes of The Hyena Kill and Science of Eight Limbs in different ways

This, combined with the way they worked together and obviously fed off one another’s energy, created something that got the already big and still growing audience nicely warmed up.

Had the set gone on any longer I worried their sound may have become a bit repetitive but for a raging half hour Mobina Galore were powerful and absorbing from start to finish.

It was obvious from their reception that Stroud based quartet, Milk Teeth, brought quite a following with them and as they launched in Joan Jett’s Bad Reputation before segueing into their own material that quickly gained more.

The band’s sound was rooted in pop punk but they weren’t scared to venture into heavier territory and it was when they merged the two that they hit their best moments.

Milk Teeth

Milk Teeth

Becky Blomfield was a constant focus with powerful vocals along with a great line in high kicks and bass playing while Billy Hutton, celebrating a year on guitar with the band, acted as a great counterpoint.

Highlights of the set came with Swear Jar and a very nice slower number from Blomfield that was the first moment of the audience consciously coming together in support of a band’s explicit lyrical sentiments – though plenty more such moments were still to come.

With a nice little speech from Hutton continuing this, Milk Teeth delivered a brilliantly uncynical performance that, judging by the audience response at the end of the set, saw them win over many new fans to their diverse punk rock sound.

As a banner revealing a pair of black and white, Rocky Horror-eque, lips was revealed and Against Me! hit the stage the now packed crowd in the sold out Electric Ballroom pushed forward and the level of excitement surpassed possibly any show I’ve ever attended.

Against Me!

Against Me!

Launching into True Trans Soul Rebel before a surprisingly powerful 333 and then Haunting, Haunted, Haunts the band matched this excellently and proceeded to ride a wave of energy with the audience for the next 90 minutes spanning their entire career, balancing older material with a focus on songs from new album Shape Shift With Me.

Despite the fact some of the subjects dealt with in Laura Jane Grace’s lyrics can be on the dark side their delivery camet with a positive attitude and a huge, infectious smile, throughout, with Dead Friends, White Crosses and Delicate, Petite and Things I’ll Never Be highlights of the first part of the set in this regard as the audience sang virtually every word back at the band, at times almost out doing the PA.

While the first half of the set would have made this a stand out show in anyone’s book something changed to elevate it even further when, in the introduction to Bamboo Bones, Grace made a comment that, while she is an atheist she got the impression that the energy she feels performing is the equivalent to that the evangelical claim to feel in church.

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard) of Against Me!

Laura Jane Grace (and Atom Willard)

This seemed to strike a particular chord with the audience, myself more than included, as we shouted back the words ‘What god doesn’t give to you, you have to go and take for yourself’ with an astonishing conviction and invoking a sense of a ‘punk rock revival meeting spiritual’ which continued for the rest of the night.

From there through Boyfriend, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, I Was A Teenage Anarchist and an almost overwhelming Black Me Out, Against Me! took this further elevated energy and converted it into something truly life affirming and poignant on both a personal and social level.

Throughout the set all four members of the band were astonishing. Grace and guitarist James Bowman (the other long-standing member) clearly have a telepathic connection on stage. Inge Johansson (who joined in 2013) looked like Johnny Ramone picked up a bass and got a whole hell of a lot happier while being an energetic powerhouse and clearly having a powerful connection with Grace while Atom Willard (also in the band since 2013) was mesmerising behind the drums, truly thundering and powering the band’s folk-tinged punk rock.

Inge Johansson of Against Me!

Inge Johansson

As the audience called for more Grace headed back onto stage alone and, as well as a customary thanks to the crowd, made the point that playing in the UK means she can be pretty sure she’s not playing for anyone who voted for Trump, before delivering a particularly poignant solo version of Baby I’m An Anarchist from the band’s debut, again with full crowd vocal backing.

With the rest of the band back FuckMyLife666 and a particularly rousing Sink, Florida, Sink closed the show with the audience a sweaty, moshed up mess but still calling for more even as the house lights came up and the backing music returned.

Only beginning to disperse once Grace returned to the stage to distribute some guitar picks brought to a close one of the best night’s I’ve spent in a music venue anywhere (this may be up with the Rancid gig at Brixton in 2006 I have bored my friends about) and re-confirming a sense of punk rock (and live music in general) as not just a genre but a feeling, a lifestyle and a place that is genuinely accepting and life-affirmingly positive in an entirely uncynical way.

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Highly Suspect, Of Empires, Critics – The Old Blue Last, Shoreditch – 27/01/16

Highly Suspect, Of Empires, Critics - posterHeading out to The Old Blue Last in Shoreditch on a Wednesday night I really wasn’t sure what to expect. Despite having been to plenty of shows at bigger venues, from the Mean Fiddler (under the old Astoria) to the O2 arena, I had never been to a London pub gig.

Upon arriving I found a surprisingly authentic, old-fashioned looking pub, that despite the overly trendy looking clientele, looked like it had been there for decades (if not more) and it was instantly obvious the night’s live music would be taking place in a separate room upstairs.

Heading up the narrow old staircase I emerged into a dark room packed with, at a guess, just over a hundred people, stood watching and listening to Critics who were midway through their set. The London-based band, who are set to support Theory of a Deadman in the near future, delivered a selection of bass and groove driven pop-rock with a good layer of synth included.

Frontman, Lynn Paignton, displayed a friendly charisma in his performance that was confident but not over bearing while bass player Carl Warren delivered the grooves with an admirable cool, smoothness. This all combined into something the crowd in the busy venue really seemed to be enjoying.

Critics

Critics

As the bands switched over, not an easy task with the only way on and off the stage being off the front into the crowd, it was interesting to see many of the audience stay put, waiting expectantly for the next band to start, not something commonly seen at pub gigs in Guernsey where drawing the audience away from the bar is often a big challenge.

Having seen them many times on their home turf, I was interested to see Of Empires in front of a less familiar crowd, and it was clear from the start that this wasn’t phasing the four-piece at all as they launched into a set made up almost entirely of new material. The new songs continued the band’s development with their cool, slick, rock ‘n’ roll swagger now being matched entirely by the music.

Liam Bewey and George Le Page, as the engine room-like rhythm section, may have provided the power but much of the essence of what makes Of Empires sound came from Matthew Berry’s dexterous, reverb laden, vintage guitar sounds that bring to mind a slowed down version of classic rock ‘n’ roll mixed with something of The Doors and 60s counter-culture vibes.

Of Empires

Of Empires

As always their stage presence is focused and transmitted through frontman Jack Fletcher, who, despite the small stage had all the stances, shapes and poses you’d expect to see from someone like Bono in a stadium, but in this case all driven with a barely contained frantic feel that proved infectious.

While the audience’s response to Of Empires started positive but polite it grew as the set went on and by the time it came to middle-eight of Carla Jack had many singing back to him, ending the set on a high, suggesting this could be a band on the brink of taking the next step.

Despite the positive reception afforded the two opening acts it was clear, as the already busy and hot venue, filled up even more, that many had come out to see the headliners, Brooklyn three-piece, Highly Suspect.

From the start the trio came on with a soulful power in their mix of blues, garage and rock ‘n’ roll, tinged with the infectious energy of punk. Even though this marked their first appearance in London the crowd were clearly already familiar with the band and this gave guitarist/lead vocalist Johnny Stevens already positive stage presence an extra boost.

Highly Suspect

Highly Suspect

Stevens’ jagged and fractured punk-blues guitar brought to mind the likes of Jack White but with an extra speed and intensity which was nicely offset by Rich Meyer’s smooth, progressive bass lines all backed by the strong, thundering drums of Ryan Meyer that brought to mind Teaspoonriverneck’s Brett Stewart.

As the set went on Highly Suspect showed a real dynamic sense to their music with more traditional power trio blues (featuring a lead vocal turn from bassist Meyer) along with a semi-solo track from Stevens that showed a dark side within the band’s positive presence driving home their already honest and authentic feeling.

Having been unsure what to expect at the start of the night I headed back to the tube station having seen three good bands and two stand out performances and, while I assume not every pub gig in London is of such a high-caliber, it certainly was a good one to start of with.

See a few more photos from the show on Facebook

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The Rocky Horror Show Live – 17/09/15

rocky horror live posterIn mid-September 2015 The Rocky Horror Show was mid run at The Playhouse theatre in London.

Having been a fan of the show since I first saw the movie in my teens I was hugely excited when I found out there was a live screening of the show happening at Guernsey’s Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts.

Despite not having any suitable fancy dress I went along with a couple of friends and we had a great time along with the others who’d come along making for a not full, but busy enough, theatre.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 3rd October and you can read an extended edition below the clipping.

Rocky Horror Show Live review scan - 03:10:15

Extended review

Richard O'Brien

Richard O’Brien

42 years into its life (and believe me, it is a life) Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show continues to go from strength to strength and this was very much in evidence as many fans, along with a few ‘virgins’, headed into the auditorium at the Princess Royal Centre for the Performing Arts for a special live screening of the latest incarnation of the show from the Playhouse Theatre in London’s West End.

This was my first live stream screening and it was a bit strange going in to a theatre for not quite a live stage show, but not quite a film.

With a few members of the audience in costume (though none seemed to have been brave enough to dress as Frank N. Furter) and all with a sense of general enthusiasm, there was a good atmosphere from the start, as we were welcomed by ‘Bake Offs’ Mel Geidroyc’ on the screen and given a bit of an intro to just what the show is.

Added to this was a brief interview with O’Brien explaining that this was a special charity event for Amnesty International with a host of guest star narrators (a part usually currently filled by the creator themself).

David Bedella

David Bedella

The show itself was ingeniously staged with a lot of manual prop and scenery work all brilliantly melded into the run of the show with high-tech ‘west end’ stage wizardry also present but not distracting from the performances as often seems to happen with some of the bigger shows.

With such a well-loved and well-known show (particularly thanks to its film version) anyone stepping into the roles of Brad, Janet, Frank, Riff, Magenta, Colombia, et al would have their work cut out but all did a great job. For the most part they stayed away from totally aping the movie bringing something of their own to the performance while keeping enough of what made previous versions of the show so popular.

Particularly impressive was David Bedella as Frank N. Furter who combined aspects of Tim Curry’s iconic performance with an extra knowing level and a bit more of the ‘serious actor in a b-movie’ style intended by O’Brien. On top of this, appearances by Stephen Fry, Adrian Edmonson, Anthony Head and (somewhat bizarrely) Emma Bunton as the narrator (or Criminologist) added something extra, with Fry in particular being a stand out and playing up the audience’s ‘partici….pation’ (sorry I couldn’t resist).

Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty

Ben Forster and Haley Flaherty

Audience participation is a big part of the Rocky Horror experience and, while the Guernsey crowd was a little on the quiet side, those in the theatre in London were more than game and added an extra level of laughs to the original script with what has become a series of traditional, often lewd, heckles.

The actors played along with these excellently and lead to a few moments of corpse-ing that the actors took in their stride and were enjoyed by all on and off stage.

In seeing the show live the climax took on something of a bigger meaning as the ‘floor show’ descends into chaos and Bedella delivered a particularly impressive, at points even moving, rendition of Frank’s torch song I’m Going Home.

Dominic Andersen

Dominic Andersen

For the curtain call Time Warp and Sweet Transvestite were reprised and at this point the Guernsey audience joined their London compatriots in the ‘Transylvanian folk dance’ and, while it felt slightly odd clapping a screen, it felt like part of the whole experience.

And a great experience it was, for both the initiated and the virgins Rocky Horror Show Live was the perfect mix of fun, great performances and some cracking ‘teenaged, three-chord, rock ‘n’ roll’ all in the name of a good cause.

P.S.

A week later I took the chance of a free night in London to go and see the show ‘in the flesh’ and was not disappointed. The cast delivered a performance with the same energy and enthusiasm that made it feel that they loved this show as much as the audience, many of whom were in costume, even in the dress circle.

O’Brien was particularly impressive as the narrator throughout playing off the crowd with a dry style.

Kristian Lavercombe and Bedella

Kristian Lavercombe and Bedella

The whole show had the feeling of being somewhere between a stage musical and a rock ‘n’ roll concert with every character and song receiving wild applause and appreciation while the audience participation took on something of a life of its own with the cast revelling in this somewhat unconventional West End musical that seemed to allow the performers the chance to cut loose much more than others might.

While seeing a screening was great, I would recommend anyone who likes a fun show packed with positivity to catch this live when it tours and if you’ve not seen it, track it down, either live or as the film as its message is one I think everyone could do with hearing and living by.

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To The City

I haven’t shared any creative writing here before but it seems as good a place as any to post it, I wrote this on the train from the airport into London on a sunny day in April.

To The City

gatwick expressPrefab bungalows,
Brick built semis,
Old red telephone boxes, why?

Stately homes,
Modern cottages,
Low rise industrial units, side by side…

Streaming past

No jumping freights,
Or Freedom travel,
Regimented rushing to urban sprawl destinations.

White and once red
brown houses,
Clinging to once wild hills, row on row.

Allotments, allotments, allotments,
Brutalist concrete,
Suburbia meets urbia across three centuries.

Streaming past

Tunnel darkness,
Blank site redevelopment,
History rewritten and rewritten as we continue, slow and steady.

Gatwick Express at BatterseaFinally the city,
Beautifully grotesque,
Living and breathing in contradiction.

Finally the city,
Like no other but like all,
Anciently new,
Showing everything,
Hiding every thing…


And here’s a recording of me reading it, ignore the artwork, Soundcloud is having trouble letting me edit that

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WWE Raw – O2 Arena, London – 13/04/15

WWE Raw at the O2 - April 201521 years to the month since I last saw WWE (then WWF) live I returned to London to see them once more. While last time was a ‘house show’ (non-televised event) at the Royal Albert Hall headlined by Shawn Michaels and Razor Ramon as they feuded over the Intercontinental Championship this was a TV taping for that night’s episode of Monday Night Raw emanating from the O2 Arena.

This being my first event since I was 11 years old I got to take in much more of the atmosphere and even as I arrived at the arena there was the real sense of ‘tribe’ amongst the fans. So the whole of the O2 genuinely felt like the ‘WWE Universe’ had taken over and I have since actually come to recognise that though the phrase is horrible, when what is represents is us fans we should really own it.

WWE fansParticular highlights of the pre-show time in the arena were random discussions about the CM Punk/AJ Lee situation with fellow fans and clapping for the group of guys with a ‘Clap if Cena sucks’ sign (they had a constant round of applause all afternoon).

As it came time to head into the arena I realised my seat was somewhat higher up than I anticipated but once I was in and sat down the vertigo soon subsided so I could enjoy the show and it wasn’t long before things started with a highlight videos on the screen of WrestleMania that started getting the crowd warmed up.

Before the matches the Superstars commentators were announced and both Michael Cole and Byron Saxton came out to Cole’s music and a chorus of boos – it seems a severe neck injury only kept Cole out of action for a week, I know he’s not a wrestler but it makes Lesnar recent attack seem a bit weak…

Superstars

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Zack Ryder makes an entrance

Onto the matches and first out to a huge pop for the warm up matches that will air on WWE Superstars was Long Islands Iced Z himself, Zack Ryder. I have to admit to marking out a bit at this point as I hadn’t expected to see Ryder who is much underrated by the powers that be.

His opponent was Heath Slater who also got a very warm reception almost giving this match a face vs face dynamic, despite Slater’s cocky heel antics, which got a few laughs.

The match itself was a good fun one with a decent pace that included a nice Rough Ryder counter into a powerbomb, the crowd getting really into the “Woo! Woo! Woo!” for the Broski Boot and Ryder eventually winning with another Rough Ryder that got another big reaction.

Next up we got R-Truth working the crowd with his “What’s Up” call excellently and being the first of tonight’s performers to really come across much better than live on TV as everyone got involved.

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

Zack Ryder and Heath Slater

His opponent was Curtis Axel, in full #AxelMania mode that was over massively and seems to be a great gimmick for the son of Mr. Perfect who has been somewhat in wilderness for a while – a highlight of this was the Hogan-esque shirt rip and Axel’s comment that it took 20 men to eliminate him from the Battle Royal at WrestleMania.

Their match itself was a decent of mix of things and we got to see a couple of Truth’s big spots while the crowd were super in Axel throughout with big ‘AxelMania’ chants. It eventually ended with a surprise Little Jimmy from Truth which was shame considering how much potential Axel could have, but made sense following Truth’s recent run in the IC title picture around WrestleMania.

Monday Night Raw

John Cena

John Cena

Following the arrival of the rest of the Raw commentary team, JBL and Booker T, both of whom got a big positive reaction the opening tape to Raw ran on the big screen followed by John Cena’s entrance music and huge negative reaction for the United States Champion.

The crowd for most of the night was exactly what you’d expect from a UK crowd, hugely into pretty much everything with their own contrary moments that are generally what make for some of the best shows.

Cena played up to this excellently and was the second to win me over with, at least, his excellent promo work that did get the crowd cheering when he said WrestleMania should come to London – though the cheers were in the form of the Daniel Bryan ‘Yes!’ chant.

Order was soon restored though as the UK’s own Wade ‘Bad News’ Barrett came out to answer Cena’s open challenged and played up to his hugely positive reaction pretty well – though he’s no master crowd worker like Cena.

Barret and Cena

Barret and Cena

Their match was a good one, despite the outcome being obvious from the start there were moments where they got me wondering. Again we got to see each man’s big spots, all of Cena’s got boos all of Barrett’s got huge cheers. A highlight of the match for me was a ‘punch-out’ that with appropriate boos and cheers.

The end of the match saw some nice near falls and both men hitting all their finishers (including a huge pop when Barrett survived Cena’s AA), but in the end Cena hit his weird and awkward looking ‘springboard stunner’ followed by an AA for the win, but it was still a good way to start and made Barrett look super strong for his ‘hometown’(ish) crowd.

Cena couldn’t celebrate for long though as Lana came out on the stage to a huge pop and ‘Lana’ chants and distracted Cena for Rusev to attack him from behind with a chain setting up their ‘Russian Chain’ match at Extreme Rules.

Rusev and Cena

Rusev and Cena

Interestingly the reaction for Rusev was mixed, despite his knocking out Cena, it seems at least some of the UK crowd really must hate Rusev! (For the record I quite like him, but get the dislike for the character as he is a Putin supporter, which is never a good thing – sorry to get political for a moment).

After that the Bella’s came out to not much reaction to do commentary, followed by the Divas ready for the battle royal. ‘Hometown’ girl Paige got to do her full entrance and got a huge reaction, but the match itself was all but nothing, though thankfully short as most competing aren’t the best wrestlers – sadly one of the best, Natalya, was eliminated very early.

Paige celebrates

Paige celebrates

In the end it was Paige who was left standing to become the number one contender for the Diva’s Championship which got another big reaction that lasted long enough for what I can only assume would be a commercial break moment on US TV.

This was followed by an interview spot in the ring with Paige before Naomi interrupted attacking and injuring Paige and setting her up as a new heel diva, which at least gives her a bit more character, and got the desired negative reaction from the London crowd.

One of the highlights of the show for me was next as Bray Wyatt’s noise and video sting hit and the lights went out for an on-screen Wyatt promo.

Bray Wyatt's fireflies

Bray Wyatt’s fireflies

While the actual segment didn’t make much sense and we still don’t know who he’s talking to, having the crowd waving their phone torches and singing ‘He’s got the whole world in his hands’ was a sight and sound to behold and showed a sign of what Wyatt can still do even when he’s not being used very well in terms of his story.

The Ascension were out next (seemingly during an ad break moment on TV) and got a very negative reaction, I think I was probably the only person in the arena happy to see them – I still can’t explain it but I like their look, style, entrance and gimmick, it’s just a shame WWE doesn’t seem to know what to do with them.

Their opponents were the Lucha Dragons so we got the ‘Lucha!’ singalong which was fun and a reasonable ‘NXT’ chant. The match itself was a squash for the Dragons thought it didn’t feel like they really got to show off their real high spots, though Kallisto hit most of his main sequences it didn’t have the spark I’d have expected. The match ended with a contrived SDS/Swanton combo and the crowd sang along to the theme tune again.

The Ascension

The Ascension

After another break, these breaks were only really short and often saw trailers on-screen while ring crew did various things to the set and ring and rarely felt like major breaks in the show like I worried they might, it was time Roman Reigns to come and deliver a promo – not something I was looking forward to.

The segment was helped by having Booker T working with Reigns in the ring before Big Show appeared on-screen, but none the less the segment was overlong and, like the whole Reigns/Show feud, boring, and the crowd responded loudly and appropriately.

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Big Show chokeslams Reigns

Things got a little better when Show attacked Reigns on the ramp slamming him into the taxi repeatedly finishing a chokeslam on the roof, but Show’s slow delivery and the lack of any investment from the crowd made it hard work and Show got some very uncomplimentary chants.

Randy Orton got a big positive reception next, which I still can’t really understand (he’s technically amazing, but something about him doesn’t click for me, especially when he’s meant to be a good guy) while Cesaro was greeted by not a lot, which is a shame as he is hugely talented.

Their match was soon interrupted by Tyson Kidd prompting Kane’s first appearance of the night as he represented the Authority (Trips and Steph are clearly too busy to come to the UK) and he made it a 2 on 1 handicap match.

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

Orton catches Kidd for the RKO

This all fell a bit flat as, while there were a few nice spots including and RKO ‘out of nowhere’, Kidd seemed to be having an off night and there didn’t seem to be much point to the match beyond making the Tag Team Champions look bad as they lost to Randy Orton. Though I may be biased as I love Kidd, Cesaro and Natalya and, as I said, don’t really get Orton’s appeal.

On screen we got a back stage segment that was hard to follow in the arena so didn’t totally grab my attention but the gist of Rollins being the cowardly heel still came across well.

Next we got a few almost pointless bits, which is a shame considering at least one person who was involved, Dean Ambrose.

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Suicide Dive from Ambrose

Ambrose came out to a good reaction following Adam Rose. Rose got virtually no reaction beyond the crowd singing along to his theme tune and the match was over almost before it started as Ambrose destroyed Rose – though we did get to see a suicide dive which is an impressive move in the flesh.

This was followed by another on-screen bit between Kane and Big Show that again was hard to follow and, thanks to who was involved, a bit dull and then we got another quick match between Fandango and Stardust. Though chanting ‘Cody’ at Stardust was mildly diverting I remember very little else of the match itself and I think I was flagging a bit at this stage.

Fandango

Fandango

Thankfully Fandango gave us a little promo after the match and ditched his valet Rosa Mendes in order to bring the dance back to the crowd and we all got to Fandango along. I would imagine I wouldn’t have enjoyed this on TV but in the arena it was great fun!

Daniel Bryan and Kane had a backstage segment next that was a bit more engaging as it addressed Kane’s former ‘Demon’ role and Team Hell No before Seth Rollins made his way to the ring to a mixed but more positively sided reaction.

He was followed by Kane and they worked the match/segment well with Kane really showing why he’s been a mainstay for so long as his work is exceptional, really putting across his internal conflict between his corporate and demon sides well. While the story is something we’ve seen before it was well done and Rollins made Kane’s chokeslam look killer.

Kane chokeslams Rollins

Kane chokeslams Rollins

The outcome of the segment of Kane ‘lying down’ for Rollins was a bit uncomfortable following its reflection of old WCW, but it worked here as part of the story of Rollins being the cowardly, manipulative heel and actually gave Kane something a bit more interesting to do than stand behind the Authority looking not as tough as he used to (though a guy in his mid 40s he still looks exceptional and is pretty damn huge).

The Miz and Damien Mizdow continued their feud next with some great playing to the audience and an average match that saw Mizdow get sneaky roll up win, but unfortunately what could have been part of angle designed to elevate Mizdow and help re-elevate The Miz was part of something that seems ill thought out and not as engaging as I’d hoped it would be and could be.

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Mizdow and Summer Rae celebrate

Prime Time Players appeared on-screen next and cut another good promo ridiculing another heel tag team, this week it was Los Matadores.

The promo was good fun and put PTP over well, the highlight for me was Darren Young saying rainbows were his favourite colour, WWE actually acknowledging and openly gay wrestler (even in this minor and obvious way) is amazing considering some of their depiction of gay characters in the past.

Luke Harper and Ryback were out next for another pointlessly short match that saw Harper get himself disqualified before Ambrose ran in to try to attack him, though even that felt a bit flat.

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Ryback powerbombs Harper

Much like the Miz/Mizdow feud the Ambrose/Harper one seems a bit directionless and the crowd weren’t hugely into anyone here, as fatigue was setting in – though I was pleased to see Harper.

Backstage Naomi explains here attack on Paige earlier in the night, cementing her new heel character before the nearest to a main event match the TV show got begins.

Dolph Ziggler came to the ring and the crowd were right back into it again after the rather flat previous segments and he worked the crowd excellently before issuing an open challenge that was taken up by another ‘hometown’ (super)hero – Adrian Neville.

Adrian Neville

Adrian Neville

The reaction for Neville was huge and it was a full on face vs face match as the two men put on a great show. Neville took a sick looking DDT bump early in the match that looked like it might actually have injured him (seemingly he was fine though, great work Neville) and the two went back and forth.

Neville brought the big highlights to the match with a top rope Asai moonsault and astonishing 450 splash of the guard rail that was the highlight move of the night for me.

In the end the back and forth ended with Ziggler getting the win with a nice Zig Zag after taking a sick sounding enziguri and avoiding a Red Arrow (that again showed of Neville’s amazing athleticism).

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

Neville going for an Asai moonsault

This whole match was the highlight of the night and hopefully will show Neville can perform at this level (like anyone who watches NXT knows) and we will see him back up with the likes of Ziggler soon.

The show was rounded off with an in ring promo setting up the main event for Extreme Rules between Seth Rollins and Randy Orton. Ending a show on a promo rarely works for me but, thankfully, Seth was on great form and his comedy work with just a lazy boy and J&J Security to play with was exceptional and continued to build his heel status.

The show ended up, after a few good, genuine, laughs, with Randy Orton hitting the RKO on J&J while Seth did his scaredy cat run to the back with the Championship belt and Randy posed for the crowd.

After show

Orton and Rollins face off

Orton and Rollins face off

With the TV portion of the show ending on that in the arena we got treated to a bonus match of Bryan, Ziggler and Ambrose taking on Show, Sheamus and Harper.

Bryan got a big reaction and it was good to the ‘Yes!’ chants along with him but for the most part the match belonged to Big Show and the crowd who played back and forth off each other brilliantly and I gained a new respect for what Show is capable of – even if he never gets to show it on TV.

The match was mostly Ziggler getting worked over before getting hot tag to Bryan who ran through his ‘moves of doom’ before winning with the Yes Lock – at the time I was disappointed we didn’t get to see more of Bryan but with news breaking of the potential recurrence of his neck injury his work in the match makes more sense and I just hope he is ok.

In the end my first experience of a WWE TV show was a very good one with the show featuring a nice mix of action and some good promo work and surprisingly good comedy/entertainment spots. Being part of a very lively crowd was also good fun just like it is at the best gigs.

In future though I know to try to get seats lower down the arena but that was a small niggle in a great night that showed how WWE tread the line of pro-wrestling and entertainment. I’m still not sure how it all came across on TV but in the arena it was great fun, though I still think the three-hour format of Raw is a bit too long to keep real momentum going.

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Robert J Hunter – Songs For The Weary

Robert J. Hunter - Songs From The WearyAlderney born blues musician Robert J. Hunter released his debut album, Songs From The Weary, through Spectra Music Group on Saturday 7th February 2015 with a show at Nambucca in London.

This is the culmination of half of a decade for the young man who has worked tirelessly gigging both solo and with bands in the Channel Islands, and more recently in London. The lead single from the record, Demons, stood strong in the iTunes UK blues chart peaking at number 2 last November.

My review of Songs For The Weary was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 14th February 2015:

Robert J Hunter - Songs for the Weary review scan - 14:02:15

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London: The Modern Babylon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fast & Furious 6

Fast & Furious 6 posterWith the only big full on action movie to have made me venture into the cinema so far this year being A Good Day To Die Hard, I headed into Fast & Furious 6 in the hope and expectation that, at the very least, it would be better than that.

Having followed the Fast & Furious movies since their inception they have been a mixed bag to say the least. Starting out as pretty much muscle headed car movies from number four (aka Fast & Furious) onwards they have developed into the more full on action movie genre with international locations and heist based storylines that balance straight up fast cars and action with enough knowing irony to make them genuinely entertaining, while providing the only effective vehicle for Vin Diesel since Pitch Black.

Fast & Furious 6 starts off where Fast 5 lets off with Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto and his gang enjoying their new-found wealth and freedom (as long as they don’t try and go back to the USA) in their own unique ways, while Dwayne Johnson’s Luke Hobbs is back on duty investigating improbable car based heists in Russia.

fast & furious-6 - paul walker and vin dieselThis sets up our maguffin plot which draws the old team back together to thwart the plans of a rogue former British special forces type (Luke Evans as Owen Shaw) and his gang who are pretty much a direct mirror of Dom and co.

Along with this plot, which leads us through increasingly implausible but excellently delivered set pieces (you’ll believe Vin Diesel can fly and is actually a T-1000), we have the ever-present Fast & Furious family sub-plot, here increased by the fact that Paul Walker’s Brian O’Conner is now a father and that Dom’s ex-girlfriend (who died in Fast & Furious) has somehow returned as part of Shaw’s gang.

Fast & Furious 6 - Michelle RodriquezIt’s this family subplot that, while as corny as they come, really gives the film a heart as we root for Dom and his team and genuinely feel an attachment to them and shows how it is superior to many other blockbusters and actioners as I, at least, genuinely did feel something for these characters when they live, die or are effected by the life of (good guy) crime they have all chosen and join with them in rooting for the rest of the gang as they battle against the odds to, hopefully, prevail.

Following a film like A Good Day To Die Hard, where the nearest to emotion anyone shows is Bruce Willis telling us the guy he’s with is his son, or the likes of Michael Bay’s Transformers movies, where the humans are an expandable side-show, it is genuinely refreshing to actually root for the heroes in a movie.

Fast & Furious 6 - Dwayne Johnson The Rock and Gina CaranoOf course the ‘heart’ is only part of any movie and, while brains may not be high on the agenda of Fast & Furious 6, muscle sure is, and it has it in spades, almost as much as The Rock (sorry, Dwayne Johnson).

Things start off with a relatively straightforward car chase sequence through London that defies sense and geography in the most enjoyable of ways and sets up the fact that these two gangs of glorified carjackers are a match for each other.

Things then move to Spain (why not? As long as it’s not the USA it fits the plot as well as anywhere) where we get what feels like the movie’s climax as the two gangs destroy a motorway trying to claim possession of the movie’s physical maguffin, a part of a missile that I’m sure could destroy the world in the wrong hands – or something like that, like all the best macguffins it simply doesn’t matter.

Fast & Furious 6 - Flip car and Luke EvansFollowing this, any remaining credulity is thrown out of the window as we head to what must be the worlds longest airstrip, as Dom’s team chase down Shaw’s team (now boarding a cargo plane) and do their utmost to stop the plane taking off using cars, harpoons with tow cables and good old-fashioned hand to hand fighting, which is clearly designed to give The Rock the chance to show off his pro-wrestling chops – a Doomsday Device like attack from Diesel and The Rock on one of the henchman being the highlight of this.

Leaving things open for a sequel in genuinely shocking style, that has me wanting to see what’s next right now, Fast & Furious 6 continues the series recent run of knowing pure entertainment that, while not quite as all out fun as Fast 5 is very close – now if other action filmmakers would just learn some lessons from this we might get another heyday of the genre as existed in the mid to late 1980s.

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