Tag Archives: Manchester

Oasis: Supersonic

Oasis Supersonic posterIn the mid-1990s there was something of a gap in the area of credible, popular music. Following the rave and ‘Madchester’ scenes in the UK and the influx of grunge from the US (halted somewhat overnight in the eyes of the mainstream with the death of Kurt Cobain) something different needed to emerge to fill that void, that something became known as Britpop.

Britpop was (as these things often are) a mishmash of sounds and styles all loosely stemming from British based guitar bands so there was Pulp (already veterans of the scene), Blur (less ‘kitchen sink’ in approach than many of their contemporaries) and, arguably, sat atop the pile, was Oasis.

If you grew up in the UK in the mid-1990s its very hard to believe you weren’t part of this movement on some level or other, either you were a fan of one of the bands (it seems you had to be on a certain ‘team’) or you hated all of it and, much like punk rock, even that added fuel to the movement.

Now, twenty years from its peak, Oasis: Supersonic looks back at the formation and rise of the band that came define the style.

The film tells this story using both new interviews and archive clips of the band and surrounding characters, but of course the protagonists are the Gallagher Brothers, Noel (songwriter and guitarist) and Liam (singer).

Oasis on stage

Oasis on stage

Stylistically the film does some interesting things. We don’t get standard, sit down, talking head clips of the leads, instead the audio of their interviews (often with subtitles, I’m assuming for the American market where their Mancunian accents may be more impenetrable) is overlaid on footage or photo montages of something roughly around what they are talking about.

In this we get some amazing sights, from the brothers childhood, which by all accounts was rough on all of them, but they both make it clear they don’t carry that any kind of device for gaining sympathy, to the early days of the band where, if everything here is accurate, they were followed around almost constantly by people with video or film cameras – something that today is commonplace but in the mid-90s is fairly astonishing.

In these moments is where the sense that this was somewhat a constructed reality started to creep in. Understandably the film is very much on side with the Gallaghers, they were both executive producers, but at the same time it doesn’t entirely shy away from their troubles, albeit in a slight tidied up manner.

Liam and Noel Gallagher

Liam and Noel Gallagher

Generally though, much like in the work of Julien Temple (who I can’t not refer to when looking at a music documentary), any ‘construction’ of the reality is done to help tell the story within the allotted running time.

As the story goes on and the band hit their stride, being signed by Alan McGee to Creation Records and then making their debut album and heading out on the road, it becomes a non-stop ride and captures the chaos of this excellently through its montage approach. Included in this are well placed cuts back to Manchester and their family and youth when it reflects moments of their adult life.

Particularly impressive here is the section dealing with the recording of their debut, Definitely, Maybe, which captures an aspect of the inexplicable alchemy that goes into a record going from a few good songs, to a classic product that has stood the test of time now more than two decades on.

The second act of the film treads many of the same paths as other music documentaries as the band teeters on the brink of self-destruction but the openness of the Gallagher’s interviews (particularly Noel’s) does add an interesting new insight into just how these things can happen. Of course, heading to America and discovering new drugs is a major contributing factor.

Oasis knebworth site

The crowd at Knebworth

The film is bookended by the band’s peak (and arguable final moment of relevance) playing sold out shows at Knebworth, dubbed the biggest rock ‘n’ roll shows in British history. The movie does a great job of capturing the atmosphere and place in history of this event, as the Gallaghers say, before music became taken over by talent shows and the internet.

While this view may be slightly overstating it, the film shows there is a certain element of truth to this and it is a nice point to end on as going too much further would have just been watching a band tailspin for a further half decade before finally entirely imploding.

As a whole Supersonic is a celebratory affair looking at a creative and revolutionary period, not just for Oasis but for British music as a whole, as elements of punk and the 60s ‘British invasion’ merged into something new and fresh and equally relevant to their time all held together by a mix of great stories and storytelling and some songs lodged in the heads of anyone who was discovering music at that time.

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Ghost and Zombi – O2 Apollo, Manchester – 31/03/17

Zombi at the O2 Apollo in Manchester

Zombi

From the outside, and I think largely due to its location outside the city centre, the Manchester Apollo is, for a large theatre-style venue, a fairly unassuming building, once inside its main auditorium though it has a similar feel to the likes of the Brixton Academy or Shepherd’s Bush Empire with its impressive design that, by chance, seemed to perfectly suit this show.

As we arrived Zombi had just taken to the stage and spent the following 45 minutes creating huge instrumental soundscapes that combined a movie soundtrack feeling with that of a live rock show.

Armed with a bass guitar, an array of synths and a drum kit the duo barely looked up from their instruments as they evoked the sounds of John Carpenter, Vangelis’ score for Blade Runner or Eno’s work on Dune but with added groove that flowed over the audience who were quietly receptive at first and by the end genuinely appreciative of this rather different opening act.

After a surprisingly short break, and with the headliner’s drums and keyboards still covered by a black sheet, the house lights dimmed slightly and the usual between band stock rock tracks were replaced by choral and orchestral, almost church-like, music.

Ghost

Ghost

As anyone who knows anything about them will know, Ghost are a hugely theatrical band and this started before they even stepped on stage with the ‘roadies’ coming out to uncover the gear and sound check the drums in a highly ritualistic way.

These weren’t your usual cargo shorts and t-shirt adorned people either but were smartly dressed in black, all setting the scene of what was to come, an experience the band refer to as a ‘ritual’ rather than a concert, show or gig.

With the intro music reaching a crescendo and the hall bathed in a red light the band launched, almost out of nowhere, into the lead track from their Popestar EP, Square Hammer. Getting one of the biggest reactions of the night it was clear this was a crowd as much enamoured with the band’s new material as the old (slightly different from my last time seeing the band) and this set the performance off on a high that, for the most part, it never came down from.

Papa Emeritus III is, of course, the focal point of Ghost on stage and whether he’s in his ‘anti-pope’ like robes (as he was for the first chunk of the set) or the more recently added vintage style suit with Ghostly adornments, he is mesmerising. Coming across something like a hybrid between the classic black metal frontmen in appearance and Freddie Mercury in mannerisms he acts as conduit for the music that could really be described in a similar way.

Papa Emeritus III of Ghost

Papa Emeritus III

Throughout the set he moves about the stage with a stately grace commanding both band and crowd with a wave, a point, or a gesture that is rarely seen in metal away from arena behemoths. As the set went on, and particularly once the robes were cast aside, he developed a playful relationship with the group of Nameless Ghouls that are the rest of the band, particularly the lead guitarist, at times feeling like they were playing up a rivalry for stage presence but all the time within the performance.

Musically the Ghouls were sounding as great as you’d expect and, while on a couple of occasions the lead guitar duels felt a little off, it wasn’t so much to derail any enjoyment of the show and was brief.

As the set went on the band hit all the big points of their back catalogue (with one exception) and the it was good to see newer tracks He Is and Cirice sit alongside Year Zero, Con Clavi Con Dio and Ritual in the crowd’s affections, though it was clear there were two camps within the crowd of longtime time fans and relative newcomers (like me), but in general, they all came together with an appropriate sense of congregation.

With the customary visit from the Sisters of Sin for Body and Blood (communion was offered to those nearer the front) and a few asides from Papa playing on his suitably off-kilter charisma, a balance was maintained between great, musically lighter-end heavy metal, and pure entertainment (no mean feat given the often po-faced nature of much heavy metal these days) and Ghost delivered a set that culminated in a truly epic encore of Monstrance Clock.

The Nameless Ghouls of Ghost

The Nameless Ghouls

Described by Papa Emeritus III as ‘a celebration of the orgasm… in the name of Satan’ it was the perfect conclusion to the set as it left the crowd, and Ghost’s on stage leader, signing its final refrains (“Come together, together as one. Come together, for Lucifer’s son”) together before the lights came up and we headed back out into the sadly less fantastic real world.

While If You Have Ghost was the only track I thought was missing from the set, Ghost’s performance here was something to behold

It combined the darkness of the darkest heavy metal with a twist more poppy than most metal bands would ever dare and all delivered as a complete package making it truly the ‘ritual’ they describe it as and a complete self-contained event that is one of the best ‘show’ style concerts I have ever attended.

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Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges

Alan Turing: The Enigma by Andrew Hodges book coverWhile I had always been generally curious about the life and work of Alan Turing the 2014 movie The Imitation Game piqued my interest and so I sought out the apparent source of that film, Andrew Hodges extensive biography, Alan Turing: The Enigma.

Like Turing, Hodges is a mathematician and that is obvious throughout the book as this is as much about Turing’s work, as it is about his life, something that as it goes on, seems very appropriate given Turing’s apparent approach to life.

Of course the now most famous section of Turing’s life and work is dealt with extensively as he spent the Second World War working at Bletchley Park on various form of code breaking.

Most famously the Enigma but various other things besides, including working on the foundation of what has become the so-called ‘Special Relationship’ between the UK and USA, albeit in a technical rather than diplomatic capacity – throughout we get the impression diplomacy wasn’t one his strong points.

Beyond this Hodges goes into quite some detail on his work in the field of pure mathematics and logic before and after the war, his involvement in the first computers, and more work on fields combining mathematics with biology.

Alan Turing

Alan Turing

I will be the first to admit much of the detail of this went somewhat over my head, but my ignorance only served to demonstrate quite how impressive the work Turing was undertaking was.

There is much here for those willing to delve deeper or with a deeper knowledge of the subjects discussed, though Hodges does a good job of at least making it vaguely understandable to the layman.

The other side of Turing’s life is dealt with in similar detail from an upper middle class upbringing, his experiences at public school, to his romantic life and the problems this lead to later in his life.

All of this dealt with in something of a logical fashion and, while that may say something about the author, I was left with the impression that it said much about the subject and his view of the world as well. Towards the book’s climax this is expanded upon greatly as his homosexuality is explored around the subject of his surprisingly low-key trial and punishment for his activities (for which he has since been posthumously pardoned).

Along with the war-time work and post war work on computers this is the most interesting section of the book, as it explores the notion of homosexuality in a wider context of the period and the genuinely devastating (and hugely scary) effects it had on many men, not just Turing, though it seems he treated the whole thing in a rather matter of fact way.

Alan Turing in his youth

Turing in his youth

In this he was probably not alone but is something of a high-profile pioneer as, throughout the book, from his early relationship with school friend Christopher to his more problematic later encounters he is clearly unapologetic about his sexuality and astonishingly open about it considering the fact it was illegal at the time.

While he never seemed to explicitly ‘campaign’ for gay rights (I had the sense such an idea wouldn’t have occurred to him) by his very actions his entire life seemed to push the boundaries of society’s view, whether it had an expressed effect during his lifetime or not.

The story of course culminates with Turing’s death by suicide in 1954 and, unlike the film, makes him out to be the same unconventional genius he always was right to the end.

Hodges never paints him as a direct victim of his situation in society, suggesting his suicide was a very conscious decision, potentially based on a collection of factors in his life which are explored in fascinating detail, particularly with regard as to why homosexuals were suddenly so clamped down upon in the early and mid-1950s compared to the periods before and after, although there are some fairly laboured 1984 comparisons here.

Alan Turing memorial

Turing memorial statue in Manchester

Throughout, its fair to say the book is a heavy piece to read thanks to the detail but it never feels unnecessary as it becomes clear Turing lead an astonishingly complex life thanks largely to his position within society combined with his mathematical and scientific expertise and Hodges does an astonishing job of painting this in a way that, now I’ve read The Enigma, I can’t help but feel The Imitation Game almost entirely missed.

And in a nice post script moment it’s pleasing to know that despite what the book says a memorial to Turing does now exist near both Manchester University (where he worked in his final years) and the city’s ‘gay village’ which seems the perfect location as well as being something of an understated kind of memorial that suits the man described in this work.

Hodges has also set up a website including updates on the biography and other information at turing.org.uk

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Tiger Army and Nervous Twitch – Sound Control, Manchester – 19/11/16

Tiger Army at Sound Control

Tiger Army

Heading to a new venue is always interesting and Sound Control in Manchester is one I had no prior knowledge of before heading north. From the outside it looked suitably like many other venues; dark, with a group of rocker looking types heading inside and somehow off the beaten path despite being right next to a main street.

Inside things continued well with a main live room upstairs with room for around 300 people all of whom must have had at least a decent view and a stage big enough to be something but without creating too much separation between the crowd and the band – spot on for a gig like this.

Before the night’s headliners hit the stage a last-minute addition to the bill came in the form of Leed’s trio Nervous Twitch. Made up of Erin Van Rumble (bass and vocals), Jay Churchley (guitar) and Ashley Goodall (drums and backing vocals) they set the tone right away with a mix of poppy punk with surfy guitars and hints of bubblegum and 60s pop echoing The Runaways, The Ramones and The Undertones with suggestions of The B-52s thrown in.

Erin Van Rumble of Nervous Twitch

Erin Van Rumble

While they came across as a bit nervous at first Van Rumble was soon throwing shapes with her Danelectro Longhorn bass while Churchley’s understated stage presence was more than made up for by some top-notch, reverb heavy, guitar work.

A highlight came with an instrumental surfy number, though elsewhere Van Rumble’s vocals were excellently balanced between sweet pop and biting punk. With this Nervous Twitch more than held the crowd’s attention and I’m sure won over some new fans – at the very least two in the form of me and my gig-going friend.

As a fine selection of choice rock ’n’ roll, rockabilly, psychobilly and garage weirdness (including songs from The Cramps and Screaming Lord Sutch) played through the in-house sound system there was a clear sense of anticipation for Tiger Army. Having not toured the UK in nearly a decade this was unsurprising and, despite having seen their 2015 Octoberflame show, I was equally as swept along, so, as the strains of Hank William’s Angel of Death emerged from the PA the mood was high, despite the melancholy tone of the intro tape.

Tiger Army at Sound Control

Tiger Army

After a customary live intro the band launched into Firefall from new album V… and never really looked back delivering a set spanning their entire career, quite impressively going right back to their first EP with Jungle Cat and their take on Eddie Cochran’s 20 Flight Rock which really getting the crowd going.

While the whole set was well delivered it was clear that there are some songs which the audience really connected with, so the likes of Ghostfire, Cupid’s Victim, Pain and FTW were instant highlights (a nice touch was Nick 13’s subtle but telling intro to FTW).

As band leader Nick 13 (guitar and lead vocals) is a mesmerising presence; energetic and open throughout, connecting with the audience through an amazing pair of eyes and with a voice that has an immense power while rarely resorting to shouting, except when appropriate. With him drummer Mike Fasano was a dynamic powerhouse getting the spirit of punk rock mixed with rockabilly to a tee while Djordje Stijepovic’s upright bass work was truly excellent and the band as a whole gelled very well, particularly considering Tiger Army has often been a rotating cast around 13 they still felt like a cohesive unit.

Nick 13 of Tiger Army

Nick 13

While the ‘big songs’ went down well there were moments where the energy dipped, particularly on the slower tracks from V… but 13 worked the crowd excellently to overcome this as much as possible. The band’s sound has changed so much since their youthful rage fuelled songs the dynamic conflict was inevitable and, in a way, made the show allowing different aspects of all three members playing and personality to come out.

Rounding the main part of the set off on their anthem, Never Die, quickly had the audience calling them back up for an encore that culminated in an extended Sea Of Fire to a rapturous reception and closing out a show that, while not as instantly powerful as Octoberflame (how could it be?) was still excellent and a fine example of a band working together and with the audience to create something special and memorable.

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