Tag Archives: review

Pic by Jack Kerouac

Pic by Jack Kerouac book coverWhen I finished The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac I hadn’t intended on reading Pic right away, but as the short novel was included in the same book I thought why not. While I’m not entirely sure why the two are combined, other than both are at the shorter end of the novel spectrum, there is at least one level on which the two work together.

Pic was Kerouac’s last published novel, being finally published after his death, but the majority of it was written around the same time as The Subterraneans as he was constructing On The Road. It tells the story of a young boy from North Carolina called Pictorial Review Jackson, aka Pic, and his journey from his late grandfather’s shack in rural NC to New York City with his brother Slim, and onto Oakland in California.

While in many ways it follows a similar structure to On The Road, being mostly about the journey Pic and Slim take, it varies from all of Kerouac’s other novels in that the lead character is not a direct avatar of the author. It also takes Kerouac back into the territory of representing black characters, which is where the comparison to The Subterraneans lies.

Much like his portrayal of Mardou Fox there it’s hard to escape the fact that most of the characters here are somewhat simplified.

Pic is understandably a young, not so well-educated child from the rural south but as we meet more of his family and then his brother its hard not to feel that this floats on the edge of being a somewhat racist portrayal, with the black characters constantly enthralled (and potentially in thrall) to the more mysterious, more intelligent, more wealthy, white characters.

This comes across as potentially more problematic given that it was written by a white author for a largely intellectual audience – though Kerouac always makes a point of his immigrant (French Canadian)/Native American hybrid roots and has spoken of himself in ways that make Pic somewhat more of a representation of him than may be at first obvious.

JOYCE JOHNSON AND JACK KEROUAC PHOTO BY:JEROME YULSMAN/GLOBE PHOTOS, INC

Kerouac in New York (Photo by Jerome Yulsman/Globe Photos inc)

The setting and first person viewpoint do alleviate the problems of the portrayal to a degree but it still feels slightly too stereotypical to not be need of mention, though based on his other writing I don’t think explicit racism would have been the intent.

Much like a lot of Kerouac’s work the story itself rattles along at a pace and while his use of Pic’s colloquial dialect in the first person sets it apart from his spontaneous prose, Beat, style, it shares some similarities.

This again allows something of a sense of honesty to come through from the characters as we are swept along with Pic’s somewhat naive view of the world and it’s easy to get caught up in the wonder of everything for the first bus ride out of North Carolina to the dilapidated grandeur of mid 20th century Harlem.

Unfortunately, just as it feels like the story is hitting its stride and Pic and Slim and set off to make their epic journey to ‘Californy’ something of a deus ex machina occurs and it all gets tied up neatly in less than a page. Looking into the history of the book it sounds like this was when Kerouac got inspired to write On The Road and he only returned to add this final ‘ending’ to Pic years later.

All this means that, while an easy to read and quick distraction, Pic is something of an anticlimax and feels more like a sketch than a complete novel, though if On The Road is what came at the expense of this lesser vision then it’s hard to feel too disappointed.

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Granite Wolf, WaterColour Matchbox, Thunderbox and Track Not Found – The Fermain Tavern – 24/03/17

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

Its been quite some time since there’s a been an event advertised as a ‘metal night’ in Guernsey. With the general drifting of popular musical styles, metal bands have generally had to find their way into more varied line ups so, when this cropped up in the local gig guide, it had my interest piqued from the start.

Added to this was the fact all four bands were relatively new and two I had never seen live before.

track not found started off the night with one of their first full gigs away from their Sound Guernsey origin.

Having developed over the last year, the trio combine elements of grunge, riotgrrl and the kind of power-blues Jack White has made his name with to create a sound fairly unique to Guernsey – if it hadn’t been clear before, their cover of a track by Highly Suspect tonight just added to the blues rock feel.

While the band were still a bit lose in places they also found some nice grooves and dynamic shifts within their songs making them far more than the run of the mill pop punk cover act we’ve come to expect in the younger end of the island’s music scene.

Track Not Found

Grace and Emma of Track Not Found

Grace Tayler lead the band with a performance that is hard to look away from with a unique guitar style that, while not always succesful, again leads to the bands’ difference, and vocals unlike any female performer I’ve heard over here. Both Emma Thomas (drums) and Masie Bisson (bass and vocals) also have enough attitude and presence to make them far more than just the backing band.

While they still have a way to go in finding their own sound and identity, and in terms of stage presence, track not found are certainly a highlight at the younger end of the scene and proved it tonight, winning over a number of the often staid adult gig going crowd.

From a band with such a high level of inventiveness they are struggling to contain it the night shifted to one following a well trodden path but doing it with a degree of success, ThunderBox.

Taking nu-metal and its mid 200os evolution, the five-piece started off a bit rough with a Linkin Park cover before settling down a few songs in to some perfectly serviceable covers of the likes of Slipknot, Korn and Soil.

ThunderBox

ThunderBox

This is a style never really known for its nuance and ThunderBox fit that perfectly and I will admit that, for the most part, they miss my era of hardcore metal fandom by a few years so I don’t have the nostalgia for these tracks that it was clear many in attendance did.

Despite a few ups and downs (and an unforgivable metal version of Electric Six’s Gay Bar – no band needs to cover that song again, ever) their set was perfectly enjoyable and I could see fitting in perfectly at a party for those who grew into a love of metal between 2003 and 2006.

WaterColour Matchbox couldn’t have looked much different with keyboard and synthesiser front and centre and a set of exploratory, semi-prog metal to play through.

From the off I was surprised at the ‘metallic’ nature and heaviness of their sound as the four-piece drove their way through a set drawn from their debut album Fragments, Artefacts and Ruins.

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

The addition of Scott Michel on bass added a good dynamic to the performance as his heavy bass underpinned the more intricate guitar work of Mikey Ferbrache and the guitar, piano and vocals of Pete Mitchell.

Mitchell in fact seemed more engaged with the music than I have seen from him in other bands and it transmitted more to the audience, even if there were a few moments where the number of parts he was playing got a little too much for him, but these were brief.

Closing as their album does on The Wall and Homeward Bound, their most prog songs, ended the set on a high and seemed to impress many in the crowd who were headbanging along.

Having formed from the ashes of Brutus Stonefist, Granite Wolf continued their pursuit of riffs and beer in fine form blasting through a set of tight, quick and punchy metalcore.

Granite Wolf

Granite Wolf

The atmosphere they brought had something of a throwback to gigs half a decade ago, but it wasn’t the worse for it and built more of a positive atmosphere than many bands manage, particularly in the heavier music side of things. This was mostly driven by a breakdown of the invisible barrier between the band and the audience and a ‘we’re all in this together’ type feeling.

Musically the band were on blistering form once they settled in with riff after riff delivered at breakneck pace and some nice grooves as well – Road To Home was a particular stand out in all these regards.

Keeping it short and sweet added to this and, though they did come back for an encore, Granite Wolf did just what they needed to do – highlight the night with an uncomplicated blast of noise that got heads banging and bodies moving and showed that, even if its less obvious than it has been in the past, metal in Guernsey still has a lot of life left in it.

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

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The Crowman – Ladies And Gentlemen… The Crowband

The Crowman - Ladies and Gentlemen The Crowband CD coverThe last few years has seen Mark Le Gallez, the man who fronted The Risk in the 1980s, The Sacred Hearts in the 1990s and Thee Jenerators since the 2000s (amongst other bands), find a new angle on his music in the form of steampunk-folk alter-ego The Crowman.

This has led to two previous albums, Songs From The Three Eyed Crow and The Resurrection Of Blind Jack Lazarus, as well as highlights around Guernsey, at several Sark Folk Festivals and steampunk events in the UK.

Now his third album, as the title suggests introduces us to ‘The Crowband’ filling out his lo-fi sound with a range of extra instrumentation.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 25th March and you can read it below:

Crowman album review 25/03/17

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Ginger Wildheart – Ghost In The Tanglewood

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

Having heard his brief journeys into the world of folk and country music in the past with the likes of Georgie In Wonderland and Sky Chaser High (and, somewhat differently, the alter-ego album World of Filth) I was intrigued what a complete album in this genre from Ginger Wildheart might sound like. Ghost In The Tanglewood then (released via Pledgemusic) had me interested from the off and, for the most part, it is one of the most consistent and enjoyable of Ginger’s albums in sometime.

Daylight Hotel picks things up in many ways where recent single Fuck You Brain left off but obviously in a rather different style and the opening pair of tracks feel very much like acoustic versions of standard Ginger tracks, but with added folk and country-style instrumentation.

From there though it really delves into the kind of folk of the north of England that make it feel something like a cousin of the music being made by O’Hooley & Tidow, with Golden Tears being a particular folky highlight.

Throughout the sounds on the album are impressive combining, to various degrees, folk, country and Ginger’s usual pop-rock sensibilities with big hooks and a kind of vocal style that almost gives it a family band feel with some great harmony work and a real honesty only helped by Ginger’s natural accent coming to the fore even more than on past releases (taking what he started on Valor Del Corazon to a natural conclusion).

Ghost In The Tanglewood - Ginger Wildheart coverPhantom Memories takes things in a sonically darker direction and gives us the album’s title, before Remains continues the themes of living with depression that run through the album in one of the most honest and real ways I’ve heard. In general Ginger’s writing here does this very well not overdramatising or underplaying anything but making it feel real with highs, lows and the ‘mundane’ in-betweens all getting included like few others manage.

My Old Friend The Blues (a cover of a Steve Earle song) gives the record its most totally country moment before it closes on possibly the most tender song in Ginger’s back catalogue, Don’t Say Goodbye, with the songwriter addressing his young son about having to be away on the road (or elsewhere), but without a lot of the cliché that it probably sounds like that might have.

While the song writing and arrangements on Ghost In The Tanglewood don’t have the breadth and expanse of most of Ginger’s other solo material in many ways this is what makes it. These are more simple songs (though still excellently produced and arranged) and with that are more easily digestible and allow the honesty and warmth of Ginger to shine through which, in the worlds of folk and country, are an important aspect.

While the question of genre is one that has been raised, not least by the artist himself, after a couple of listens this drifts away as, while it undeniably mixes things up as Ginger is renowned for, what it leaves is the fact that this is a great album. It might be something of an aside to the likes of 555% and Albion, rather like the Mutation and Hey!Hello! records, but if this is the direction Ginger chose to take for his music going forward, based on this, I certainly wouldn’t be complaining.

I always like to include a video with my album reviews but there isn’t one yet for Ghost In The Tanglewood so here is one from Ginger’s Year Of The Fanclub that gives an idea of him in a more country/folk kind of mode:

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Nessi Gomes, Blue Mountains and Buff Hudd – The Fermain Tavern – 14/01/17

Nessi Gomes and her band

Nessi Gomes and her band

Back in January Nessi Gomes made her long-awaited return to a Guernsey stage to play a set of all her own material and launch her debut album, Diamond & Demons, with a very special event at The Fermain Tavern.

Along with Nessi were stand out performances from both folk duo Blue Mountains and the Buffalo Huddleston‘s Mike Meinke in his solo incarnation, Buff Hudd.

You can see a full gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page and my review was published in Guernsey Now magazine in March 2017 and you can read it below.

Nessi Gomes album launch - Guernsey Now - March 2017

This video wasn’t recorded at the show but around the same time and gives you a great idea of Nessi’s music…

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The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac

Jack Kerouac - The Subterraneans coverIn recent years I’ve read a number of works of the Beat Generation, and of Jack Kerouac in particular; Big Sur, The Dharma Bums and of course the centrepiece of Kerouac’s career, On The Road. Partly this exploration was out of an interest in outsider movements, partly the history of San Francisco and partly for its sheer post-war Americana.

While it shares many similarities with much of Kerouac’s, work The Subterraneans has something of a different feel.

Published following On The Road in 1958 (but written in the autumn of 1953) there is much directly similar as we meet an avatar of the author (here named Leo Percepied) in North Beach, San Francisco surrounded by the same characters (just with different pseudonyms).

However, while On The Road told many smaller stories but as a whole dealt with a broad sweep, The Subterraneans goes in-depth into a period of a few months of the author’s life, centred on a love affair with Mardou Fox (in the real world Alene Lee), one of the titular group (themselves it seems an alter-ego of the Beats), and the ups and downs of it.

Jack Kerouac in New York

Kerouac in New York

While the original events occurred in New York City the way Kerouac paints his image of North Beach and Market Street and their surroundings is utterly real and the story casually races around this town within the city at a frantic pace, charged by a mixture of new love (and/or lust) and, as it goes on, the lead character’s increasing paranoia and ever-present need to be part of a party of one kind or other.

In this even the lover herself, Mardou, is at times relegated to a broadly drawn background player in Percepied’s paranoiac whirlwind, leaving a few issues in the depiction of her race. In a way this makes the story a hard one to digest but gives it all the more sense of honesty on Kerouac’s part – something that seems to be his intent.

Stylistically Kerouac ups his spontaneous prose of On The Road even further. Written as this was in one big glut, with asides and diversions liberally sprinkled throughout, The Subterraneans paints Percepied/Kerouac in exactly the way he describes himself, as a narcissistic man (and, as with much of Kerouac’s work, the ‘man’ is crucial) with many issues.

This makes it at points rather hard to read and sometimes near impenetrable, but, while not entirely successful, it feels like a natural peak of the free-jazz style of writing that Kerouac strived for and, if not created, developed to a kind of conclusion.

William S Burroughs and Alene Lee

Alene Lee (the real Mardou Fox) with William S Burroughs

Ultimately, while not on the same level as some of his other work, The Subterraneans stands as a very real feeling document of an event many of us may have experienced, albeit one hopes not in quite such a frantic and heightened way, and is a demonstration of how the Beat style can be at once hugely evocative but incredibly challenging with it.

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Sound Guernsey: Sons of the Desert, Honest Crooks, Equilibrium, Cosmic Fish – The Fermain Tavern – 17/03/17

Sons of the Desert

Sons of the Desert and friends

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

Sound Guernsey‘s March 2017 show had a very punk-ska flavour to things with their old formula of two young bands playing alongside two more experienced groups.

Cosmic Fish kicked off the show with a set of old-school pop-punk starting with Green Day’s Welcome To Paradise and continuing in similar fashion.

Compared to when I’d seen them throughout last year the trio have come on in leaps in bounds and, while they still have some way to go in terms of audience interaction and performing confidence, their renditions of songs by Blink-182, Good Charlotte and their ilk have a lot going for them.

Cosmic Fish

Cosmic Fish

Throughout the set there were a few moments where the energy found a good level that, in a perfect world, would have seen the audience get more energetic (they remained attentive but restrained) and it was the closing pair of Jimmy Eat World’s The Middle and Blink’s All The Small Things that closed the set in a high.

Another band who made a good impression last year and have built on that are Equilibrium.

Having been one of the young highlights of the early Sound events the band went on the play Liberation Day and the Vale Earth Fair amongst other things but like the openers they seemed to have stepped up their game once more.

Sticking with a similar pop-rock selection, including a couple of extra Red Hot Chilli Peppers tunes, the band had a much more relaxed energy from the off and this was clearly infectious.

Equilibrium

Equilibrium

The aforementioned Chilli Peppers track Otherside was a highlight of the set as was their take at Blink-182’s Stay Together For The Kids where several members of the band swapped instruments.

Their takes on Basket Case and All The Small Things (also done earlier by Cosmic Fish) didn’t quite match the previous band’s but in all it was a good set and, with a little bit more power, Equilibrium will be a band worth keeping an eye on.

After a few months off following a very busy 2016, Honest Crooks were starting to gear up for an already busy summer season as they took to the Tav’s stage. While they were a little lose compared to past gigs it was all relaxed and fun as they mixed their own songs with some more ska oriented covers and they had the crowd going from the start.

Honest Crooks

Honest Crooks

With a genuinely funny ‘play some Slayer moment’ (a rarity these days where that joke wore thin a decade ago) and great covers of Reel Big Fish’s Beer and Sublime’s Santeria it was really their own songs that provided the highlights and they certainly set the mood well for the night’s headliners.

Following the more modern ska warm up, Sons Of The Desert set out to provide a perfect primer for all thing two-tone and of the late 70s/early 80s UK ska scene. Spanning tracks from The Beat and The Selecter to Bad Manners and Madness it was prime upbeat skanking material all the way.

With the audience a sea of bouncing red fezzes thanks to the always manic and energetic Chris Pearson, it wasn’t long before everyone was on the dance floor and both the band and audience were having a whale of a time.

Sons of the Desert

Sons of the Desert

The band themselves are something of an eccentric mix of performers that come together brilliantly and create a huge sound with a three-piece brass section and Andy Coleman on the organ bolstering the usual rock band line up for a real authentic two-tone sound.

There were many highlights in the set but for me Lit Up Fatty, Too Much Too Young and set closer Night Boat To Cairo were the standouts before it all went a bit chaotic in the encore with the entire audience joining the band on stage for a skank to bring one of the most energetic Sound nights yet to a close on a major high.

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The Sacred Hearts and SugarSlam – The Fermain Tavern – 11/03/17

The Sacred Hearts at The Fermain Tavern

The Sacred Hearts

After four years away early 1990s Guernsey music legends The Sacred Hearts made a rare appearance at The Fermain Tavern on Saturday 11th March 2017.

Alongside fellow 90s rockers SugarSlam the band were not only celebrating a major birthday for one of their number but also helped raise money for the Helping Jonah – Helping Others charity as something of a follow-up to last year’s Jonah Beats event.

My review of the show was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 18th March 2017 and you can read it below. You can also see a full gallery of my photos from the event on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page.

Sacred Hearts and SugarSlam review 18-03-17

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Akira (Book One) by Katsuhiro Otomo

Akira book oneSince the western release of the anime film version of Katsuhiro Otomo’s early 1980s manga Akira it has entered the western pop culture lexicon like few other things from the Far East, arguably kick starting the ongoing fascination with Japanese culture in the western world that spans from the films of Studio Ghibli to the likes of Pokemon.

Despite having seen the film long ago and the many references to it in cinema since, I had yet to go back to the original manga until now. So, while I had some expectations, I didn’t have a total grasp of what it might be like.

This first book of the series kicks off by introducing us to a teenage bike gang (bōsōzoku) in Post-World War Three Neo-Tokyo, and we are dropped into a slightly familiar, exaggerated gang culture of Japanese youth (if this exists in real life or just in manga and anime I’m not able to say, but it certainly has a ring of truth) in a vaguely totalitarian society where we soon discover something is amiss with superpowered mutant humans being hidden, somewhat unsuccessfully, by mysterious government agencies.

Akira - Kaneda and Tetsuo

Kaneda and Tetsuo

The story itself is one that has become somewhat cliché, but this feels like where it started, so we follow gang member Kaneda as he becomes embroiled in this mystery following the apparent death and resurrection of fellow young biker Tetsuo.

While the story is undeniably engrossing what sets Akira apart, and at the time of its original publication must have been fairly astonishing, is the pace of the storytelling and action. While American comics traditionally were fairly verbose works, with long passages of expository dialogue, in Akira much of this is removed and Otomo allows the images to do the heavy lifting.

So we race through the society and city which is never explained explicitly but we explore it much as we might in a film, through the detailed visuals. Similarly the characters are revealed to us as much through action as anything else and, while they are mostly fairly typical, it isn’t long before we get behind Kaneda and get a genuine sense of mystery over the fate of Tetsuo that builds to this part’s climax.

Katsuhiro Otomo

Katsuhiro Otomo

While American comics have since caught up with this style it’s hard not to recognise the pioneering nature of Akira as it races along like its characters. While this first volume is clearly just getting the story up and running, it is as engaging and engrossing as any comics I’ve read and, as well as being a notable historical artefact of the medium, remains a compelling read with some excellent artwork.

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Hannibal Rising

Hannibal Rising posterBack in the mid to late 1980s Thomas Harris, Anthony Hopkins and Jonathan Demme created an icon of horror/thriller cinema, Dr Hannibal Lecter, in the film version of Harris’ book Silence of the Lambs. While the part had been played arguably with more truth by Brian Cox in Michael Mann’s Manhunter and would swiftly become something of a pantomime villain/anti-hero in Hannibal and Red Dragon, Hopkins first take on the character remains mesmerising.

Why then, nearly 20 years later, Harris decided it would be a good idea to explore the background of Lecter is probably not much of a mystery as it was clear there was ‘gold in that there cannibal’, however as a character there was never a need.

Starting in Lithuania in the final days of the Second World War and then shifting to early 1950s France, Hannibal Rising fills us in on the troubled youth that created the ‘monstrous’ Lecter (we know he’s monstrous because they take the time to explain and state this in some detail).

Orphaned with his sister following a Soviet/Nazi micro-battle in a Lithuanian forest, the pair (children of a wealthy, castle owning, family) are taken hostage by mercenaries in the depths of the winter of 1944/45 and it’s not long before the mercenaries resort to cannibalism, eating the aforementioned young girl, before Hannibal is rescued and eventually (and surprisingly easily given post-war travel restrictions) ends up in France in his late teens, meeting his wealthy and exotic Japanese aunt, discovering an intense need for politeness, a love of sharp objects and enrolling in medical school.

Hannibal Rising - Gaspard Ulliel

Ulliel as Lecter

From there this becomes a pretty standard revenge story, Lecter has a special set of skills and he will find those who ate his sister and he will kill them.

I apologise if this feels like spoilers but, as is often a problem with prequels, there is little tension and mystery here as we come in knowing two things; one, that Hannibal is a murderer on a grand scale and two, that he survives at least as far as his 60s or 70s as seen in Lambs and Hannibal.

The fact of this being an effective thriller then is rendered impotent from the start.

So what of it as a horror, as it is also billed? Well, despite a few expectedly brutal but often somewhat over cooked (pun intended) murders, it’s not really very horrific. Any element of psychological horror that was Lecter’s initial raison d’être is absent and the violence really isn’t as graphic as one might expect. The camera, for the most part, cuts away from the actual truly horrific moments, though if shown they would have been simply revelling in blood and guts for the sake of it so it was a bit of a lose-lose.

Hannibal Rising - Gaspard Ulliel and Dominic West

Ulliel and West as Inspector Popil

Despite featuring a couple of actors who we know are or seem capable, none of the characters have the ring of truth and there really is no one to root for here. Hannibal, played by Gaspard Ulliel, is stuck between villain and anti-hero and lumbered with the same pantomimic ticks of Hopkins later performances making it very hard to accept him as the ‘good guy’.

Dominic West’s detective meanwhile, apparently investigating war crimes both general and specific, has nothing like enough depth to really even feel like a presence let alone a threat to Hannibal in the form of Will Graham or Jodie Foster’s Clarice Starling.

Then there’s the question of an antagonist. Who can stand up as worse than, or make us rally behind, a sociopathic, cannibalistic, mass murderer? Well the answer isn’t Rhys Ifans’ Lithuanian mercenary come French human trafficker with a range of dubious accents – unfortunately that’s all we get.

Hannibal Rising - Rhys Ifans and Gaspard Ulliel

Ifans as Vladis Grutas and Ulliel

As the film reaches its unbalanced and uninspired climax, with a few additional psychological quirks to try to complete the pointless picture of the creation of ‘Hannibal The Cannibal’ (as he doesn’t like to be called), Hannibal Rising almost entirely fails to be anything worth watching.

As Netflix offers the options of this or the Mads Mikkelsen staring TV series Hannibal I’d go with that choice as, despite being cancelled after only three seasons due to low ratings, it is far superior and the nearest thing to being anything as good as Silence of the Lambs or Manhunter you’re likely to find.

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