Thursday, 14 December 2017

The Unthanks & Army Of Generals - Royal Festival Hall London

I think anyone who has followed The Unthanks career from small folk club nights above pubs to the acoustic dreambox on the south of the Thames knows this is exactly where they were headed. Although at the same time it shows a will to break out from their roots and do what they bloody well please.
I recall when I first saw them I went online to discover more and encountered unrest on the folk forums. They had just signed a deal with a major label to distribute their acclaimed 2nd album ‘The Bairns’ and this was seen as worse than the devil himself. I thought notions of ‘selling out’ or ‘breadheads’ had died with Jerry Garcia but it was alive and well in the straitjacket folk cognoscenti. They appeared to miss that this was a fresh unique pair of voices that could reach a larger audience. They hate being labelled, as anything and have always defied expectations.
I had seen The Unthanks perform with an orchestra in Liverpool in 2015 and they were clearly nervous about the performance. Tonight they showed no signs of anxiety as an early doors ‘Mount The Air’ simply flew. The strings propelled the song, Rachel & Becky skyward in a most thrillingly exciting rush that made your heart leap. You could imagine it soundtracking eagles soaring over rolling hills, racing close to the ground before looping upwards and away.
‘Blue Bleezin Blind Drunk’ was given a Kurt Weillian swagger and woozy uneasy atmosphere befitting a tale of domestic violence and cruelty. Rachel’s performance matched the anger and violence of the music as she defiantly set out her plans to defy her husband, get missed and destroy.
I found ‘Foundling’ a little dull on record but this arrangement bought forth all the pathos of the sad, sad situation. Becky’s mournful delivery from child and mothers viewpoint was heart breaking. The pre interval sing about a Scottish silkie produced a gorgeous five part harmony between artist and audience.
Conductor Charles Hazelwood led the Army Of Generals superbly, reminding Mr pal Drakey of a young Alan Cumming in his movements. Stalwart Unthanks, Niopha Keegan, Chris Price and Adrian MacNally provide their usual colour and musical depth to the material.
‘Last’, ‘At First She Starts’ and more are all given fresh sounds and the sisters appear to be relishing hearing their songs in the hands of such gifted musicians. They end with ‘a bit of dodgy Prog’ in a sublime Starless with a beautiful trumpet melody (by Lizzie Jones?). A quick reprise of ‘Mount The Air with clog dancing brings an emotional night to a fitting climax.
Their albums have become more intricate, adventurous and as they have been able to attract (and afford let’s face it) an audience that appreciates that. To expect any less us like those booing Dylan for going electric – have you not been paying attention?
This is music for the people as thrilling, moving and exciting as live music can be. Always different, always the same

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Doctor Who - Shada: Special Edition

So the most reworked ‘lost’ Doctor Who story ever gets yet another release – since it was cancelled in 1979 due to industrial action it has seen a VHS release with Tom Baker narrating linking material, a flash animation BBC7 version, a novelization, a fan made animation, a Paul McGann fronted audio drama and now this assembly of the existing filmed material with impressive animation.
Most of what was filmed before the strike was on location in and around Cambridge, a location close to the heart of the story’s writer , Douglas Adams. As you’d expect the tale is full of great one liners, proper science and imagination that stretches the BBC budget to it’s limits. Ok he helps them out with having a 100 ft long spaceship that is invisible yet gets great material from it. Quantum theory, time displacement and molecular entropy all get a look in but not as bafflegab , as zinging ideas.
Tom Baker is on top form, delighted to play the silliness and laughs in Douglas’ work rather than dismissing the script as ‘whippet shit’ as he did so often. His assistant, Romana II, Lalla Ward is simply divine and the couple, for that’s what they were by now, were getting on, twinkling at each other.
Christopher Neame plays a mean baddie in Skagra, stomping round modern day Cambridge in a silver cloak without a hint of embarrassment. There is fine comic acting support by Gerald Campion as porter Wilkins and Professor Chronotis (his name a hint to his true origins) is the archetypal dotty don beautiful portrayed by Denis Carey
If you don’t like sci-fi that takes itself too seriously then this is right up your street. Any Whovian or Hitchhiker would be pleased to get this from Santa. And the final scene is a lovely surprise if the internet and newspapers haven’t spoilt it.
I saw it at a special screening at the NFT with many long scarved ladies and gents including Matthew Waterhouse (Adric) and super fan Frank Skinner. To gauge the kind of person there the statement that people who stretch n crop 4:3 images to make them widescreen are Satan got massive cheer.
It is available to download and on DVD/BluRay from 4th December

Saturday, 25 November 2017

The Prisoner: In My Mind

Rover. Number 2. Unmutual. The Tally Ho.
If how these words connect is a puzzle to you then perhaps you’re not the target audience of this excellent documentary on 60’s mindfuck television masterwork, The Prisoner, but more pertinently the mighty drive and ambition of its star (and sometime, writer, director and producer) Patrick McGoohan. There are a couple of decent “making of” documentaries about the series which may give you more of an idea to the nuts n bolts of how it call came to be. However this is more an insight into the inception of the series and a tiny glimpse into “what it means” via rare interview footage with McGoohan.
In 1983, to coincide with Channel 4’s repeat showing of the series, Chris Rodley, was given the task of producing an introductory look at the show. As a devotee he went big and tried to get an interview with a man who believed the work should speak for itself and hated actors quacking on about their work. Via some suitably cagey and odd encounters he got the man to sit in front of a camera only for a day only for the subject to later track him down in the Mojave desert and offer to write a cheque to buy the interview footage so it would never been seen.
Chris refused by McGoohan offered to sit down again and perhaps be a bit more forthcoming about his ideas as well as giving Lord Lou Grade a nudge to grant Chris an interview. The latter footage was used in the finished film ‘The Prisoner File’ but the original interview has never been seen….until now. It’s fascinating stuff as you see Patrick dropping back into the No.6 persona with little phrases and the way he regards the camera – he is vulnerable and unsure whether he is doing the right thing but ends up taking over the filming from its unexperienced crew and director.
There is some great cine film footage capturing the filming on location if Portmerion which is intercut with the scenes from the show as well as archive from the 1983 interview sessions with producer David Tomblin, art director Jack Shampan as well as contemporary insight from Patrick’s daughter, Catherine on her father’s state of mind during the 1983 interviews as well as towards The Prisoner.
Rather than a dry, factual puffed up DVD extra this gives Patrick McGoohan and his achievement with the Prisoner the respect it deserves while still maintaining a mystery about both. There are spoilers a-plenty (including the BIG one) and McGoohan’s glee at the furore it caused is evident 17 years later. He said he was glad that the show made people think, that it produced a reaction in them either positive or negative which is more than most television aims or achieves to do.
When shown the finished ‘The Prisoner File’ in Paris, McGoohan hated it so much that according to Rodley ‘he spent the whole day yelling at us in cafes’. He’d probably hate this film too but fans of the man will find it fascinating.

Friday, 17 November 2017

REM AFTP@25: Leave it to memory me


It really doesn't seem like 25 years ago that I was in love. Both for the first time in a serious relationship and with a new (old) band called REM and their masterpiece, their zenith, their best fucking album, hands down, no you fuck off, the omnipresent, singles factory that is


It's too familiar, worn out, over exposed and too intelligible lyrically - cry the naysayers.
It's not the album's fault that it haunts you, its hooks rip into your flesh and melodies linger for a quarter of a century - I spit back.
But 'Murmur' - they counter
But the darkness - I sigh.

In 1992 the world was groping (well quite a lot of that was going on if the news is any judge atm) into a new decade trying to work out what the new world order was. Eastern Europe was transformed it seemed in an effortless almost bloodless revolution. Christmas Day  1989 TV Special in Romania was the head of state and his wife being gunned down after a hastily organised trial which makes Mrs Brown's Boys almost a more appealing option. The Madchester scene had imploded in ecstasy with The Stone Roses 2 years into a 5 year exile in a studio somewhere outside Stockport. The Americans were on the rise with baggy jumpers, checked shirts and guitars and all we had to counter it was Jimmy Nail & Tasmin Archer.

A year before the release of AFTP the music world had lost one of its most entertaining if divisive stars in Queen's Freddie Mercury. The spectre of AIDS had really hit home at the heart of UK popular culture as tabloids fought over who could get that last grainy shot of a man literally wasting away. I recall as a (hopeful) sexually active teenager that AIDS was a really scary risk that was enough to put you off any funny business - well, no but no other generation before had such a curb on their rutting behaviour. Of course the eternal idiot Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers would suggest that it would be a good thing 'if Michael Stipe were to go the same way as Freddie Mercury' not foreseeing a time when he would have to be in the same room as Mr Stipe and have a huge plate of humble pie next to his awards chicken dinner.

Michael was never the chubbiest of chaps and once his head was shaved as baldness arrived the pop papers started to use the phrases skeletal, skinny, bony to describe his appearance. Rumours circulated that Michael was sick and, as satirist Chris Morris once put it 'King Of AIDS chic'. Stipe later said he didn't comment on the rumours as it would give them credence, would stigmatise those with the disease and he didn't want to appear in front of his medical team with an 'I'm OK' certificate. Yet along comes this album full of meditations on death, suffering, redemption and loss - you can see why 2+2 was making 5.

I better come clean with how AFTP seeped deep into my soul and remains one of the touchstones of my life. My first proper girlfriend had gone to stay with a friend in France in that nothing bit of the year between Boxing Day and New Years Day and I was doing some world class pining. I spent the whole week n a bit we ere apart listening to REM over and over while doing a 1000 piece jigsaw. Shunning any offers of pubs or company I wallowed in my own angst, imagining she was being romanced by a Galois smoking French ponce called Claude who would snog her when the clocks chimed le midnight an hour different to me, on my own, back home, trying to find the bit of sky that the dog had probably eaten. I had received other musical gifts for Christmas but Automatic's vibe fitted my mood like Linus' comfort blanket. I knew it was pathetic but it felt right.

Never shy of wearing their politics clear for all to see 1992 saw the end of 12 years of Republican rule in the USA - the Reagan/Bush era as the Cold War got hotter until the USSR melted away with the US somehow claiming victory through stubbornness.
 'These bastards stole all the power from the victims of the us v. them years / Wrecking all things virtuous and true'.is a pretty firm statement of intent which admits that its merely spleen venting but that's ok. I love the crunchy and yes, indistinct nature of the vocal fed through an amp. 'Ignoreland' is a much maligned nugget that perhaps doesn't fit in with the album as a whole but at the time of release made so much sense. 
'Sweetness Follows' is bleak, isn't it? Starts with the death of a parent and driven with dramatic energy by that cello. 'Try Not To Breathe' as the last thoughts of a dying old man. A song about troubled Hollywood star Montgomery Cliff and a rather sweary chorused creepy love song intoned almost as a whisper. Others may find this morose, heavy going and dull but I submerge in the dark and find peace in the still moments and slow fades. 

You may notice that I've swerved all those oft heard omnipresent hits and singles - well they speak for themselves I feel. Most people don't understand what the hell 'Man In the Moon' is about. 'Drive' is a oddest choice of lead single, 'Sidewinder' catchy or annoying as hell, 'Everybody Hurts' - catharsis or overwrought dirge. 'Nightswimming' is pure nostalgia with that sublime couplet 'I'm pining for the moon and what if there were two / Side by side in orbit around the fairest sun?' and John Paul Jones' perfect string arrangements. Finally 'Find The River' (six bloody singles?!) an aching echo that demands a sunny day, a gentle breeze and a drifting boat with water lapping at your dangling fingers. 

The live part of this deluxe edition is a much bootlegged and mostly already released show from 40 Watt Club in Athens, a benefit for Greenpeace which would provide future B sides and serve as sole promotion for their album. I still have the KTS bootleg 'Automatically Live'  and the official release here adds some in between song chat and better sound. In fact the first four songs are from AFTP before diving into Out Of Time and all the way back to 'Radio Free Europa' via covers of 'Funtime' & 'Love Is All Around'. Despite Stipe's protestations of lack of rehearsal the band are on fine form from the opening funky version of 'Drive'. Michael is quite chatty for someone whose usual song intro's are "Here's another song". It's the highlight of the deluxe set even if you've had it on bootleg or spread across those 'Monster' B-sides.

When the Out Of Time SDE was released the band claimed that the CD of demos and sessions caused them embarrassment and discomfort revealing things perhaps best left hidden. However that's what the fanbase demands, sometimes already own, secrets must be revealed.
The demo of 'Drive' with a slightly croaky guide vocal doesn't have the menace of the finished song but the feel is there. Similarly 'Wake Her Up' aka Sidewinder is a run through for the band primarily with rough lyrics and la-la-ing. The biggest disappointment is that the laugh that I have found so charming and sweet is already in place. Maybe he found it funny every time. Also in this more stripped down version without strings that unintelligible chorus is perfectly understandable. No 'Calling Jamaica' anymore. The simply titled 'Mike's Pop Song' is a lovely jangly little, err pop song, that sounds more like something from 'Life's Rich Pageant' with sweet vocal from Millsy.

You can see why they put those tracks up at the top as the rest of the CD is pretty much sketches and rough outlines of familiar tunes that you are unlikely to revisit. 'Photograph' is almost fully formed but clearly sounds like it belongs on 'Out Of Time'. Could have made the cut if they had finished it but to be honest I wouldn't swap anything off the album for it. The fact they gave it away to a charity album speaks volumes.

The 'Everybody Hurts' demo is surprisingly effective shorn of orchestration, again lyrically sparse but the emotion is there in Stipe's early vocal. The disc shows off the band side of the album before overdubbing really well but it's debateable whether you really need it if they end up shoving it all up on Spotify.

Its slightly frustrating that instead of adding a Dolby Atmos mix that they didn't collect up the B-sides from this era - the covers of 'First We Take Manhattan', 'It's A Free World Baby' and 'Star Me Kitten' with William Burroughs. However you cant fault them for presenting their zeitgeist grabber in the best possible way. I think if I met someone who didn't like at least something this album has to offer then I don't think they are worth knowing. Judgement call - made.

I've got this on vinyl, some 2 CD\DVD audio thing, in a wooden box for some reason and now this - it still sends me woozy after all these years

Friday, 10 November 2017

Paddington 2

The first Paddington film rather than trampling over a generation’s teatime TV memories was a terrific, warm, affectionate and funny celebration of Britain with anti Brexit & Daily Mail undertones. Was a little worried that the sequel wouldn’t recreate that warm fuzzy feeling inside this big kid.
I can imagine Paddington giving me one of his hard stares for such lack of faith as I happily report that it’s captured the same kindness, fun and flair for bringing some of those illustrations of the 70s TV series to life. There are clever little visual tricks and steps that other family film would not consider – almost a cartoonists eye for storytelling.
Ben Wishaw’s naive tones are perfect for the bear, the Browns suit the stereotypical image of British life as does the tourist view of London. Portobello Road hasn’t looked so clean and tidy since, well, Notting Hill.
Talking of which, Hugh Grant hams up a storm, channelling Patrick Barlow’s deluded thesp Desmond from National Theatre of Brent as the villain of the piece. There are cameos from British comedy talent throughout as well as a great turn by Brendan Gleeson.
The plot involves robberies, chases on trains and backs of dogs, visits to key London landmarks, prison breaks plus be sure to stay for the end credits and a superb musical number. I had a tear in my eye during the final scene – it’s another delicious marmalade sandwich treat for the soulSo
So avoid putting away childish things. This is Christmas Day afternoon full of food n booze and cackling at a sweet, silly and touching tale

Wednesday, 8 November 2017

Kathryn Williams @ St Pancras Old Church London

Good albums can last a summer, great albums stay in the car for longer than most – brilliant albums last for a lifetime. Kathryn mused between songs last night that ‘Fell Down Fast’ written after the death of a friend has been in the world longer than he was. The album ‘Little Black Numbers from 2000 which always will be linked to the phrase ‘Mercury nominated’ was given a fine revival in a small packed North London chapel.
You know those sound bites about ‘x song or x record saved my life’ – well LBN truly did on more than one occasion. It’s transcendent grace and stillness (Hello pseuds corner) have been a raft that I’ve sprawled exhausted on more times than I care to mention. Beaten by anxiety, loneliness and depression I’ve held onto Kathryn’s voice and the music for comfort, reassurance and hope. Although it’s not just linked to sad times – great joy of dancing about to the coda of ‘We Dug A Hole’ and what always sounds like dogs barking to me. The album is quiet, reflective but not unadventurous in terms of arrangements and melody.
The band Kathryn had assembled to play many of these tunes for the first time in 15 years did not display any signs of the lack of rehearsal Kathryn hinted at but that’s cos she attracts supremely talented players. Her friend and partner in onstage giggling, Michele Stodart played a blinder as ever and Kathryn’s voice showed little effect of a bout of flu that caused a Lemsip binge pre show.
Despite the lack of a break to “turn over the record” (which Robyn Hitchcock always used to do at his charity album shows) the songs were played in order ending with a gorgeous ‘We Came Down From The Trees.
Kathryn performs Little Black Numbers – the song which didn’t appear on the album of the same name – as an encore, solo acapella using live looped vocals. Back in the early days she used to hold onto the sampler and clunkily (cos it was clunky) layer her voice. Now she effortlessly does so and puts so much care, emotion and drama into creating this incredible mosaic of sound.
A closing ‘Bird On A Wire’ is a fitting ending as it perhaps reflects for Kathryn music that has stayed with her, bringing joy, solace and meaning to this damn stupid old world as the album she performed tonight meant to the audience.

Thursday, 2 November 2017

Oxide Ghosts: The Brassye Tapes

Its pretty fair to say that Chris Morris’ ‘Brasseye’ series arrival in January 1997 was like a bomb going off in my head. I was at university and awaited the series starting the year before for it only to be pulled from the schedules at the last moment. I watched the first episode alone and thought I would die from laughing.

After showing it to my housemates it became a weekly event as the series aired – I have never seen a room of people laugh so much – people were crying, exploding and convulsing – helpless. I am guessing this is how Python hit the student population in the 60s except we often rewatched the show immediately as we had missed lines drowned out by laughter. In the final year of my degree I used Brasseye as the subject of my dissertation. Yes – that’s how I spent your tax dollars, mercifully without tuition fees.
Oxide Ghosts is an hour of cream from series director Michael Cummings box of mouldy old VHS tapes featuring 70 hours of often timecoded, film and studio rushes. He has assembled a documentary that attempts to show a little of the one off man mental behind the curtain plus some of the material that didn’t make the legal or physical edit. The only thing I can compare it to for a comedy fan like me is watching Bob Dylan recording session of one of your favourite albums and getting the false starts, the goofy bits, lost verses and music plus him explaining how he wrote some of the song.
So we get an extended section of the infamous Peter Sutcliffe Musical that was hinted at on the DVD complete with a song. The Reggie Kray call which earned them a visit from “one of the boys”, extra bits of Cake, Chris inadvertently making an elephant piss itself, more bothering of drug dealers whilst in nappy and space hopper hat. A couple of things didn’t really work and were trying too hard to be tasteless but I laughed constantly and loudly throughout
There was also a real thrill of seeing Chris Morris break character or just burst out laughing as he’s cultivated this image of being serious and remote, rarely does interviews or explains himself. Extended versions of broadcast scenes demonstrated his improvisational skills and his commitment to his art.
The film was followed by a Q&A with Cummings where he expanded a bit more on how he put the film together, that Toyah was the only celebrity who refused to read out the nonsense they gave her to say, how they could never do the show today mostly thanks to the loopholes closed up as the result of their duping skills. He was clearly delighted that 20 years on the show is still remembered and celebrated but wonders if some news programme makers who aped its bombastic style knew that it was supposed to be a joke.
The only way you will ever see this film is at screenings like the one I attended with 200 other fans. Chris saw and approved of the footage being seen but he and Cummings believe that in a world where everything is available at the click of a mouse that the film should be something you have to get off your backside and go see. Screenings are beings held all over the UK and Ireland for as long as there are people who want to see it.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

The Fisher King (Criterion Blu Ray)

As a teenage Python obsessive at the turn of the Nineties I devoured anything related to them whether it be the genius of Ripping Yarns to tangential rubbish they had been involved in (take your pick) and I think I didn’t really get with The Fisher King in 1991. It had one of my childhood heroes Mork in it but it wasn’t a laugh riot from end to end.
Picked up the Criterion Blu Ray on TFK last week as it dipped in price in the sales and gave it another shot over the weekend as I know it’s good and I recall watching The South Bank Show at the time which gushed over that scene in Grand Central Station. I was a na├»ve young fool back then is my only conclusion who like Jeff Bridges’ Jack at the beginning of the film didn’t believe in magic.

For a start – when it is funny, its really funny – not just Robin Williams’ portrayal of Parry the street person’s psychosis in full flight – a mix of Shakespearean verse, quips and close harmony singing but the extremely well drawn female characters have some of the best lines. Amanda Plummer’s Lydia, the unrequited love interest of Parry, is equally as oddball as some of down n outs but somehow manages to hold on to a job and semblance of reality. Mercedes Ruel’s Anne as Jacks supportive, sarcastic and strong girlfriend helping him rebuild his life after a tragedy that he inadvertently caused acts up a storm whether wisecracking or letting fly her frustrations.
Of course with hindsight the most aching part of the film is Robin’s performance – not just in terms of the narrative arc he goes through from street bum, his past trauma, looking for and finding love and losing grip of reality whilst pursued by an imaginary red knight that symbolises – well, it’s up to you what it means but as always Terry Gilliam brings these fantastic images to life with a cartoonist’s eye.
Its those moments of lucidity that Parry has where Williams plays the scene pretty straight but without the mawkish edge that tainted so many of his other performances that make you wish he was still around so he could shine again like this just once. The sweetness of his scenes like Plummer on their date mixed with clowning and one liners ‘I’ve got a hard on for you the size of Florida’ is entirely believable and real. He was able to pull back on the manic persona when needed to show real depth and humanity – the dark core of his own personality perhaps but don’t wanna get all psyche on yo ass
New York looks fantastic in the movie, you are knocked out by the variety of structures and building styles in amongst the steel and glass, showing off the best of the city. The story is about redemption love, madness and magic shot through the prism of Arthurian legend, Dante’s Inferno and Tom Waits as a diaabled Vietnam veteran. You don’t get that from Michael Bay

Saturday, 21 October 2017

The Death Of Stalin

When Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was discovered face down, stinking of his own urine at his dacha in March 1953 his faithful friends and committee members didn’t immediately send for a doctor as all the prominent ones were in gulags or had been shot. He had lain undisturbed for some time as his guards were afraid that if they disturbed him after a bout of heavy drinking, he would have them killed. It is just this atmosphere of farce, fear and black comedy that drives the funniest film I have seen in years.
That’s not to say it’s a broad comic romp as that would be a far more lightweight affair – it’s the fact it touches on sadistic executions, torture, child rape, bloody violence and horror whilst still delivering brilliantly funny line after line that demonstrates what a masterful writer / director Armando Iannucci is. The source material of a French graphic novel demonstrates the paranoia and true life absurdity that was Russian society during the fag end of Stalin’s rule.
The cast I simply stunning that it’s hard not just to list their names but Simon Russell Beale pulls very few punches as Beria, Stalin’s chief executioner drawing up lists of those to die for no more reason than because, as Khrushchev later advises, ‘their story doesn’t fit with the party line’. He embodies the banality of evil so perfectly, playing it dead straight leaving the rest to crack wise around him. I don’t think I would be likely to see Paul Whitehouse go toe-to-toe exchanging insults with Steve Buscemi on the big screen but he’s just one of these great comic actors that zing lines at each other like pros.

Buscemi captures the careful scheming of Khrushchev as he returns for a boozy night with Stalin and the committee and dictates the events to his wife to record what Stalin liked or disapproved of so he could tailor his future behaviour accordingly. Jeffrey Tambor as the heir apparent , a bumbling vain figure of fun akin to Tambor’s genius creation, Hank Kingsley from Larry Sanders is contrasted by Michael Palin’s quiet brilliance as Molotov. A scene where he outlines what Stalin would or wouldn’t have done as his comrades try and figure which way they should vote amongst one of the best things he has ever done.
Smaller parts by Paddy Considine, Rupert Friend and Andrea Risborough as Stalin’s daughter Svetlana, the oasis of sanity and perception throughout are wonderfully realised with the decision to let the actors use their own accents a shrewd one. Firstly because it doesn’t get in the way of the comic dialogue and also because Stalin’s own court was full of different accents so it really doesn’t take anything away. The film isn’t trying to be a faithful recreation despite being based on actual events, however bizarre the situations may seem.
Despite the embarrassment of rich comic and acting chops on display, Jason Isaacs as a Yorkshire war hero General Zuchkov steals scenes in the same way Rik Mayall did on Blackadder by storming in, unworried about who he offends, ignoring the political chess the rest are playing and cusses up the place with relish. The film flips from flat out farce to genuinely unsettling horror so quickly that it often shocks but never seems to jar with an audience.
You may need a certain kind of jet black gallows humour to get the most out of the film along with a little foreknowledge of the cast of characters but only a true dullard (and predictably they have) would baulk treating a terrible period of history in such a skilfully funny and oddly educating way. The trailer does make it look a bit ‘Carry On Comrades but it’s more intelligent, thoughtful and funny than that.

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

The Disappointment Choir - Vows

There’s a saying ‘if your friends aren’t going to tell you that you stink then who will?’. This really misunderstands the nature of true friendship as you expect those you like to be honest with you even if it hurts a bit. This is a roundabout way of declaring that two of my friends made this record, no not Facebook friends or people you know off Twitter. They are people I have met, occasionally looked in the eye (it’s a phobia of mine and I should try harder) and traded Blackadder quotes with. Yet I also want to make clear that doesn’t mean this is me doing them a favour or a solicited review. I’m doing it because I have always supported the artistic endeavours of my pals because so many sit on their fat spotty behinds while some take a risk on their talents. So with that all clear, on to ‘Vows’ the second album from The Disappointment Choir
It kicks off with a bloody synth earworm that ver League wouldn’t have minded having back in the day a little pop gem with Katy n Bob’s voices weaving a bit of free advice if you’re thinking of dating that damaged person that’s otherwise lovely – don’t – delivered as strings swirl and bells chime in a happy counterpoint to the bad news. ‘1971’ kicks out at nostalgia, an inability to accept that the past isn’t the only place where fun and excitement exist plus just maybe the new isn’t as scary as your own prejudices would suggest. Can’t imagine where the inspiration for that song lies.
I’m always fascinated by song writing and what makes something memorable, the sounds and moments that leap out at you, drawing you in and, for example, the quiet power of ‘Need Someone’ to recreate that feeling you get when someone takes your breath away. Yet also the wish that others see us that way too – getting to the heart of the matter.
Saying that the songs on the album don’t outstay their welcome isn’t meant as a negative. There is no labouring of a point, guitar solos, no funk workouts getting in the way of the real emotions. The album is quite varied in sounds and style but maintains a mix of the old and new. OK that may suggest that today’s musicians are just recycling the sounds of early electro pop but I think that give the album a broader appeal. It’s not really trying to be either of those things but whether you are 14 or 44 the energy of ‘Vows’ will send a message to your pleasure centres.
‘Heartstrings’ would, I guess, in the olden days of the record industry, be the single and it’s a great taster for the album as a whole. If this don’t get you tapping an appreciative toe, frugging in the queue at Waitrose or slapping the steering wheel in the morning commute as you sing along to its bittersweet chorus then you are lost. The drops of Lightning Seed magic in ‘I Am Awake’ as the machine skitters and slides across your consciousness not your bag either? Shame.
What I am clumsily trying to say is that if you love pop music, that annoying stuff that made generations sing, dance, bonded them together and spoke about love, loss and the human condition then you will find lots to enjoy here. There is introspection, its not superficial and disposable but neither is it morose and pained. Sad things are expressed in front of beautiful backdrops of sound
like ‘Winter Hill’ but there is hope everywhere. And I sort of need that kind of thing in my life sometimes.
Although Bob takes the majority of the main vocals, Katy provides great harmony, a great vocal sparring partner on the duets and on ‘Centre Of The World’ she really shines with a real aching longing in her voice. Their vocals meshing really make this record but often it’s Katy’s ghostly vocal shimmering, like on the aforementioned ‘Winter Hill’, that catches the ear.
Pop songs with inventive arrangements that linger long after the stop button has been pressed. For pop kids of all ages – this is good for banishing those winter blues.
And just for the record – neither have personal hygiene problems as far as I am aware

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Sparks - Shepherds Bush Empire London

Having left the physical jerks to his brother and lead singer, Russell, the otherwise keyboard squatting Ron removes his jacket and walks centre stage during the euro disco throb of ‘No.1 Song In Heaven’. After a short pause he breaks into a loping monkey dance across the front of the stage as the place goes nuts and roars its approval. Sparks have come home.
Throughout the show the brothers Mael refer to the capital and venue as dear to them while their appreciation of tonight’s enthusiastic devoted response is humble and heartfelt. As is their usual style they have a brand spanking new album and boy are you gonna be hearing a lot of it. Rightfully proud of Top 10 smash ‘Hippopotamus’ and it’s gloriously daft title track which, as my pal Spencer correctly suggested sounds like twisted song by the Oompah-Lumpahs, makes up a sizeable chunk of tonight.s show.
Sure there are plenty of hits and deep cuts performed with ceiling scraping falsetto and theatrical showmanship as the young band are fleetfooted and delicate when needed and a thunderous version of Quadrophenia era Who during the delightfully OTT ‘Dick Around.
There were many time during the evening when I gaffawed at a funny line hitting me just so or had a big grin across my chops at the sheer unique vibe with which Sparks fill a room. All the reasons someone may find to despise them is why we fans adore them. ‘This Town…’ is delivered with the same commitment and energy as if it was their new single. This is a band that loves those past glories but are about now, the future that they always seem to represent.
The two men have a combined age of 140 but the drive and energy of teenagers. We shall not see their like again so treasure them while you can