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Moments in time, preserved to embarrass me later.

19-5-2003 (archived)

This week's first film review (in fact, we saw it last week and I never got around to writing about it) is “Darkness Falls”, a by-the-numbers Horrorwood movie notable mainly for featuring Emma “Anya from Buffy” Caulfield.

As the reviews have said, it's basically every horror movie cliché you can think of strung back to back, right up to the spookily intuitive, troubled kid, the traumatised-child-returning-as-adult, and as plainly stated a “sexual awakening will get you hurt” motif as has ever been seen outside of Dawson's Creek.

What the reviewers seem to have missed is that this is not a bad thing. Cheesy, predictable, cheap, short (1hr25) horror flicks that make you jump half a dozen times and contain some genuinely entertaining dialogue (“The police are dead.” “All of them?” “Pretty much.” Delivered totally deadpan) are a Good Thing. They're better if they're 18 cert rather than 15 so you don't have to tolerate kids giggling all over the place, but at least this way we get to sweep down from the back at the end of the movie like a couple of trenchcoated, gothic harbingers of doom and shut them up for a moment.

It's an interchangable cheap but reasonably glossy horror movie starring pretty people. If you like that sort of thing, you'll have fun.

20-5-2003 (archived)

At the risk of turning this into Uncle Richard Reviews Everything, this week's gig review is Thunder, at the Manchester Academy last night. For those (sadly many) who know little or nothing about Thunder, they are my pick for best British rock band of the last 15 years; their first two albums (Backstreet Symphony and Laughing on Judgement Day) would both be strong candidates for my desert island discs, and Luke Morley is one of those annoyingly talented songwriters who seem to turn out catchy, driving rock songs as easily as the rest of us tune up. Danny Bowes has one of the all-time great rock voices, which doesn't hurt either (though apparently quite a lot of other things have hurt Danny. Ouch. I mean, run over ten times? “Screwdriver through face”, forchrissakes?).

I'd not seen Thunder before, and had been told that they were pretty good live. As a result, I wasn't really adequately prepared for what was probably the best gig I have ever seen. The sound was (at usually at all the Academy venues) superb, and there was a real party atmosphere. As well as a great singer, Danny turns out to be a fantastic front man, hamming it up and egging the crowd on to sing louder and louder, amazingly entertaining throughout. The band were tight and pretty much note-perfect, and sounded great (with extraordinarily cool-looking blue-lighted Hughes & Kettner amps), and all of them were clearly having fun. The backing vocals were extraordinary; close, tight, solid harmonies. Occasionally one of the harmonists would be late getting back to the mic from a rawk posing session and one of the lines would start midway; if it weren't for that, I'd have suspected them of being on tape.

They played slightly under two hours, and the songs I didn't know were as much fun as the ones I did. Apparently they may come round again in November, and I shall certainly see them again if they do...

The crowd were very definitely drawn mostly from “the faithful”; many were already queuing outside in the pouring rain half an hour before doors as I walked past in search of some food, presumably to get one of the first-come-first-served Meet and Greet passes (available from the merchandise stand, free, to anyone with a current album, t-shirt, or fan club membership, apparently). They were younger, less blue-denim-infested, more energetic, and altogether jucier than the Whitesnake crowd.

On the bus away from the venue, some happy, drunken fans had clustered at the back, and were singing whatever came to mind as an appropriate farewell to each person who got off. I was treated to Whitesnake's “Here I go again”, which I guess means that the whole 80s rock look is coming together for me... and it certainly beats “who ate all the pies”, which would probably have been last year's choice ;-).

22-5-2003 (archived)

Continuing reviews week here at the rfblog, this week's second film review is “The Matrix Reloaded”. It will not contain plot spoilers.

This is a film to see, and see in a cinema. It will lose some of the impact when it comes to the small screen. The reviewers have been split, and I'm going to fall somewhere in the middle; yes, the philosophical discussion is not particularly entertaining, and (especially if you know any philosophy) painfully shallow and half-baked. Yes, most of the dialogue is not good. Yes, what I shall describe only as the "MTV sequence" could well have been cut.

On the other hand, the action scenes are balletic, stunning, unparallelled. Yes, there's a lot of CGI (like all of the “Burly Battle”, as we already know), and some of it is noticable to the experienced eye; but the vast majority of it is not. The fight scenes are the among the best I have ever seen, the CGI comfortably sets a new standard, the extended chase scene may be the most enjoyable, gripping quarter hour of brain-disengaged cinema time I have ever spent.

Most importantly, the overpowering, crushing air of utter cool that made the first film one of the most important and influential movies of the last decade is preserved, and if anything enhanced. Neo is, well, Neo, Morpheus and Trinity ridiculously cool, Monica Bellucci simply edible, and the Twins... well, I want to be the Twins.

This could be a better film were it half an hour shorter. All the same, as a movie, it is jaw-droppingly, fantastically, enjoyable.

For all your random-post-ending needs, there are new bells and whistles on the sigmonster, courtesy of Penfold. Go get some.

23-5-2003 (archived)

Yes, I know, this is five reviews in a row, the whole front page. I'm a dirty stop-out. Won't happen again.

This week's third and final film review is “Secretary”, a film that can be read as a romance, a love story about damaged people, a satire on PC and power imbalances at work, or possibly just the funniest film I've seen in months.

James Spader plays a seriously creepy (now there's a novelty for Spader) lawyer, Mr Grey. Maggie Gyllenhaal (brother of Donnie Darko's Jake) is Lee, a disturbed, self-harming woman just released from an institution into the bosom of a loving family who leave you in little doubt as to how she ended up in need of institutionalisation.

Grey spanks, humiliates, and otherwise punishes Lee for minor lapses in perfection, but within the perversion runs a real thread of tenderness. When he discovers her self-harming, he tells her that she will never do it again - and so captivated is she by this damaged man who is giving her what she seems to need that she believes, and agrees. When Grey's self-loathing takes over, Lee finds herself still needing what he won't give her, and her wimpy, twitchy boyfriend seemingly can't.

A Jane Austen romance shot through with sadomasochism, this is captivating, seriously thought-provoking, tender, disturbing and brilliantly funny. It is probably the best English-language film I have seen this year. Do not miss it.

26-5-2003 (archived)

Last week Channel 5 (or simply “Five”, as they would have us call it) screened a program called “Celebrity Detox Camp”. in which four celebrities (a word that, in this context, means “people that you probably have heard of for no good reason”) are persuaded to go to a health spa in Thailand. It seems that it is not until they were there that they are informed that the treatment in question involves fasting and daily coffee enemas.

Now, as if it's not enough of a delight to see the likes of Richard Blackwood being made uncomfortable on national television, what man of an appropriate age would not have been hugely diverted fifteen years ago by the thought of Kim Wilde (now the Guardian's gardening columnist, I shit you not) having five gallons of coffee pumped into her pop-star rectum? Obviously, this programme marks with total clarity the fact that the end times are indeed upon us, but it was still hard not to enjoy the absurdity of it all.

Closing the circle with the dear old Grauniad, in 2001 they included an article I still very clearly remember reading in the printed version of the paper, in which their correspondent went on a coffee-and-vinegar colonic irrigation holiday in Thailand. The online version lacks the quite startling photographs, but still, any article that begins

When photographer Anthony Cullen heard the clank of glass on porcelain, he didn't need to examine the contents of the toilet bowl between his legs. He instinctively knew he had just passed the marble he had swallowed as a five-year-old; the small coloured sphere - "I think it was a bluey" - had lodged in his colon for 22 years. His nonchalance was understandable. Having flushed 400 pints of coffee and vinegar solution around his large intestine through 10 enemas, and taken 100 herbal laxatives, he had become hardened to extraordinary sights.

is well worth the five or ten disbelieving, fascinated minutes it will take you to read it. As a dedicated meat enthusiast myself, it rather makes me wonder.

Incidentally, Ms Wilde found the experience so rewarding that she's already booked for next year, and is taking the family along. I love this planet.

27-5-2003 (archived)

This Sunday I went to “The Gods”, an annual melodic rock festival organised by my friend Vinny's record company. I was going mainly to see Vinny's current project, Burns Blue, especially since my band's keyboard/guitar player James was playing with him. I was almost completely unfamiliar with all the other bands playing, so this review comes from a position of total ignorance.

First up were Talon, who made very little impression on me, except that I quite liked the guitarist's hat. The only thing I really remember was a song with “Evil” in the title being introduced by thanking us Brits for joining in with “kicking Iraqi ass and helping to rid the world of evil”. Regular readers can imagine how much this pleased me (and it didn't seem to go down much better with most others present).

Next came “Evidence One”. They are from Germany. They had good taste in guitars (a JEM and a V-Type, both effectively unsigned signature models that I like very much). The singer had a good voice. I shall say no more except they were comfortably the worst band of the day.

“Nexx”, a female-fronted Spanish band, were next. I shall probably buy the CD eventually; her voice is utterly spectacular, the guitarist is really remarkable, and the songs were pretty decent. Definitely recommended.

Danny Vaughn and Burns Blue were the next two acts, and I shall leave this segment of the review to the end. They were followed by Ken Tamplin, who was not special. His set was conspicously blighted by a lead guitarist up way, way, too loud in the backline and suffering from a pronounced Yngwie fixation. Oh well.

I missed most of Royal Hunt, as I was out in the carpark examining the (minor) damage to my car and helping a friend reaffix the bumper on his. What I heard was rather splendid; proggy, heavy, well-played rock. They were followed by Bob Catley, to whom I had my usual reaction. My on the spot SMS review of his set read “Bob C finished. Have not died. Surprised.”.

Talisman finished up with a superb, party-atmosphere set. Two excellent guitar players, a really really startling bass player, some utterly awesome harmony vocals, and an astounding frontman in the form of Jeff Scott Soto. As was apparently the case last year, he easily took frontman of the day honours. Anyone who has the guts to start a singalong, decide the crowd aren't trying, and retire to the drum riser saying “OK, let me know when you're ready” - then stay there, sipping a drink, for a good minute or two while the audience get louder and louder - is OK with me. No way back from that one if it doesn't work...

The guys I was there to see were, of course, Burns Blue, and they were excellent - a great sound, solid, tight, and with very very strong songs (all except the closer, “Superstar”, new to the vast majority of the crowd). James was near as dammit note perfect, and the rest of them were pretty good too; it was great to hear random punters later on saying how good they'd been. Finally meeting Sam Blue was a highlight for me; every bit as good a guy as I'd been led to expect.

A couple more words about James, at the risk of embarrassing him horribly: this man is the most reliable, responsible, solid, ego-free musician I have ever had the pleasure to work with. And anyone who can go from playing harmony guitar solos with Vinny Burns to big Hammond chords on the keyboard in between beats... this guy's in my band, people. Yeah.

Finally, Danny Vaughn. Before Sunday I'd never really heard of him; I had some dubs of Tyketto in my gigantic things to listen to pile, but really I knew nothing about him. He played a solo acoustic set, and the reason I've left it until last is that he was just stunning. This week I shall mostly be buying everything I can find with him on it. His voice is not entirely unlike mine, but better; in fact, he has a voice I'd kill for and songs I'd die to have written. The little matter of stage presence doesn't hurt either; he completely gripped a huge room full of people on his own with one guitar, and when he was joined by Pride for two electric songs, he put the guitar down and rivalled Soto for showmanship and energy. I'm a complete convert.

The moral of this story is that when James tells me to listen to somebody, I should do it. You'd think I'd have figured that out by now, but apparently not.

28-5-2003 (archived)

Random linkage day. First Paul Ford pulls out another slice of brilliance: The Taxidermy Postulate, or “the sweetness of the morning fox”.

And for the main course, William Gibson's speech to the Directors Guild of America, blogged hither and yon, good fun. How can you not love a speech that ends:

Because I see Johnny falling asleep now in his darkened bedroom, and atop the heirloom Ikea bureau, the one that belonged to his grandmother, which his mother has recently had restored, there is a freshly-extruded resin action-figure, another instantaneous product of Johnny's entertainment system.

It is a woman, posed balletically, as if in flight on John Wu wires.

It is Meryl Streep, as she appears in The Hours.

She has the head of a chihuahua.

Thus far, at least, word that Gibson would be stopping blogging seems to be false. Huzzah.

29-5-2003 (archived)

Baycon is a very costume-based convention (or “cosplay” as the young, wide-eyed screaming anime fans are calling it). This means that everyone looks like a freak. Especially people like me, who don't dress up. We look like the weirdest freaks ever. Even the hotel staff look like fairly normal freaks by comparison, because they're dressed up in waiter and maid's outfits.

And some people, look like incredible, dressed-like-Lara-Croft-only-with-chains-on semi-naked babelicious freaks. Not that I stare. Or even look, or think about them, or anything ever. I only know about their existence because when these people walk into a room, all the straight boys nearby give out this universal telepathic deflatory pained sigh. It's like the sound of a wolf-whistle, only backwards, sucked in. Ooohhhhhh.

The sigh has a meaning. All my life, it says, I have been told by my superego that dressing like a Marvel superhero will not get me laid. And, here, here and now in this temporary saturnalia, surrounded by other males who are - at best - my equals in the ugly league division table: here is my perfect woman. But the world knows that this mad girl's flickering eyes craves just one thing. A man dressed as Galactus, Eater of Worlds. And not only have I left my Galactus costume at home. I never made it. Worse, I threw those biro drawings of me in the Galactus helmet away the moment I'd drawn them, ashamed to show them even to (say) Dave. And now I know: I'm not a virgin because I'm a geek. I'm a virgin because I have pursued geekdom with a less than pure, directed gaze.

Danny O'Brien explains that, if you're going to be a geek, you should be one properly. (Yeah, I know, everybody and his cat has already blogged this. Do I look like I care?)

So, they've finally found weapons of mass destruction. Yay. Admittedly, not quite where they wanted to... (Via This Modern World.)

valid musician There are a lot of 80x15 buttons popping up on sites, especially blogs, nowadays; valid rss, css, xhtml, and all that other good stuff (all of which this place is, of course, coz I'm a proper geek). I'm sure all UKMGers will understand why I felt the need to use the shiny button maker to build this one. (Via Davezilla.)

2-6-2003 (archived)

This weekend we gigged twice, our second and third gigs with the four-piece lineup since Justin left to spend more time with his family. (The link to Justin is omitted since his domain's lapsed; should hopefully be back soon. And the reason it's not mentioned on the Wide Open site is that Scoop maintains it, and his computer has exploded or got a virus, or in some such. It's gone for a pie, anyway. Computers suck. Now, where was I?) The downside of gigging twice is that I had YET ANOTHER cold, and was as a result not in the best of singing form.

The first was at the Bridge in Westhoughton, and the third time we've played there with the third different lineup. The first time, our first gig, was without James; a lineup we thought we'd use for maybe half the gigs and have in fact used only twice, that first gig and one last weekend while James was otherwise engaged (in rehearsals; after all, you can't expect a man to turn down a gig like that!). I was very pleasantly surprised at how well I coped; I was in a little discomfort, but held up much better than I feared, with strong pitching. I didn't have the usual top range, but that's only to be expected.

Then on Sunday I awoke with, amazingly, some voice left, so we decided to head to the Crown at Darwen, another fun venue, and play our afternoon gig rather than trying to get another band to take it on. “Green Tinted Sixties Mind” was the first song requiring any kind of high notes, and I was horrible in it (though funnily enough it was the best I have ever played the tap-and-slide intro and outro). Luckily, the crowd responded beautifully to “OK, you can hear I'm having some trouble, so when I miss the notes just clap really loud and drown it out; we'll get through this thing together”. They were on our side after that, and it was great fun - and the rest of the gig was pretty much fine, though by the end my speaking voice sounded like a 70-year-old Jack-drinking man just back from a week in the desert.

It's been a hugely rewarding and confidence-inspiring weekend; my voice is so much stronger, more resilient, flexible and powerful than it was a year ago when this band started (Sunday was one year exactly from gig one at the Bridge); I'm a real singer now. Some of the things I'm doing with the guitar surprise me, too. Coping well with lead/rhythm work on the likes of Red House, Little Wing and Hey Joe while singing is not something I was expecting to do (or need to do); I really enjoy the challenge, and the success.

The way a crowd will give back what you give out is fantastically rewarding. Why did I ever stop doing this? Damned if I know.

3-6-2003 (archived)

For the first time in a long time, I have a new tune for you, for the Guitarist Collective's duet challenge. It's called Talking About Nothing on a Summer Evening.

It's a collaboration between me (unsurprisingly) and Adrian Clark of Guitarist Magazine Music Editor fame. The clean guitar that runs throughout is me, everything else is Adrian. The solo reminds me of Francis Dunnery, which is (to me) a Very Good Thing.

I wrote the clean guitar underpinning to this perhaps fifteen years ago, and have done a variety of things with it, never being quite ready to call it done. It's done now. Adrian rocks.

There's more of my tunes here, and more of Adrian's here, including a stunning gypsy-guitar cover version of my own 18 and over.