My First Novel…

…is available for purchase on Amazon Kindle.

Go. Buy a copy. Or ten. Buy some more for your friends.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00A6ERI0A

‘Tis a fast paced modern day fantasy adventure with magic, dragons, martial arts and all sorts of ass-kicking. Part 2 will be available soon (i.e once I’ve finished editing it. Again…)

FireFest Friday 19th October.

Nottingham Rock City
Or Tyketto, anyway.

Had planned to do a write-up of the whole Friday Fire Fest. Unfortunately, a buggered clutch got in the way of that, so we ended up hearing two songs from Ten and Tyketto (who were our main reason for going, anyhoo).
Ten, from what I saw were really good – strong melodies and excellent musicianship. Just wish I knew their stuff at all and had actually gotten there in time to see their whole set. And indeed the first two acts.
So, then Tyketto. A band I first came to appreciate at a Rock City trip, far longer ago than I care to think about. They were played, whilst the video played up on the big screens and I took time out from dancing to actually listen. The song was, of course, ‘Forever Young’ which is basically ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’’s much hotter younger sister. I got their albums a couple of days after that, and was very impressed, then they split up, reformed and I lost track before they even recorded their third let alone fourth albums. Anyway, one of the main things I love about Tyketto, alongside their ability to craft really strong hard rock tunes is their grasp of dynamics – acoustic guitar seamlessly merges with harder, crunchier tones, and songs go from whisper to shout in a way that is totally unforced and organic. I never understood why they weren’t absolutely massive.
Opener ‘Strength in Numbers’ gave way to ‘Faithless’ which is one of my favourite tunes – again, that dynamic alongside a slinky Eastern melody that is a bastard of an earworm, and a massive guitar riff make it one of the best hard rock tunes in years. The rest of the set blended stuff from the first two albums and a couple more from ‘Dig in Deep’. It was a depressingly short set – only about an hour and a quarter, and there were a couple of mix problems early on that were rapidly sorted out.
Danny Vaughn is a charismatic frontman and the only one who looks almost exactly like he did back on the cover of ‘Don’t Come Easy’. I want to know what his secret is. Git. The voice is as powerful as ever, and he hit (and projected) some alarmingly high notes. The rest of the band acquitted themselves well too, with Brooke St James’s muscular, elegant guitar playing holding the whole thing together. If I have a nit-pick, it’s that he can be too elegant and too… polite – he should cut loose a bit more, but that is a very small, personal preference and I’m a guitar player so can’t really be trusted on these things…
The closer was, with pleasing circularity, of course, ‘Forever Young’, and whilst I may prefer ‘Faithless’ as a song, it was ‘Forever Young’ that made the hairs on my arms stand up most.
Tyketto are a seriously under-rated band who’ve been making great music for years. They also make my wife shake her thang like nobody’s business. I thank them. So too, I think do the guys standing behind us…

Merchandising and the World of Suck it generates.

Or to paraphrase the late, great Bill Hicks: ‘Merchandisers kill yourselves now’

One of the things I’ve spent a lot of time doing recently is trolling round toy shops with my son. The little fella is, at the age of five, already a colossal geek. He is a fan of (amongst others and in no particular order) Batman, the Avengers (and related sub-franchises), Pixar, Young Justice, Justice League, Doctor Who, Green Lantern, Ben 10, X-Men, Spider-man, Star Wars and Superman. Oh yeah, and Charlie and Lola. Which has the best theme ever, even better than ‘Bad Things’ from True Blood.* This gives him a voracious appetite for action figures, DVD’s, toys, games etc that will never be sated by the amount of money we’re willing to spend on these things. What is nice, however is to have him look at certain items and go: ‘Well that’s just RUBBISH, Daddy. Spider-man doesn’t have a dune buggy’. Crappy merchandising has now officially become a bugbear of mine and the people who make and sell it are on my list of people to dispose of when the revolution comes and my mostly benevolent dictatorship sweeps to power in a ruthlessly orchestrated coup involving assaults on social, economic and military fron… er… moving on.

Does Iron Man ride a motorbike? No he fucking doesn’t. You know why? The various Iron Man armours let him fly at supersonic fucking speeds obviating the need for a wheeled conveyance of any fucking form. Stark as Tony may ride a motorbike because it’s really, really fun, but as Iron Man – not so much. You know who does ride a motorbike? Captain America. The one the merchandisers have put him on? A multi-hued monstrosity of crappy design. Why not have him on one of the bikes we actually see Steve Rogers riding in two separate movies? It’s not rocket surgery.

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, you just got the characters from a franchise, Admittedly a lot of those characters were half glimpsed in the murk of a cantina, the bridge of a weapon of galactic oppression or at the back corner of a panning shot of a cityscape for three frames or something. Then companies realised they could really make some cash. I don’t begrudge companies the right to make cash off their properties. I don’t even particularly mind it when they release multiple figures of the same character from the same movie (Iron Man does indeed wear Mark VI and VII armours in the Avengers). I do object to multiple releases of character lines in three or four different sizes with random accoutrements which have nothing to do with the character in cinematic, animated or comic media. Disney/Marvel and whoever are in control of their related toy making machinery are particularly bad for this. I await the day they give the Hulk a Mini Cooper Convertible or Black Widow a tiny rocket-powered clown trike.

Which brings me on to my next point – Marvel has a roster of awesome females who go toe to toe with cosmic monstrosities. In the case of Avengers, Black Widow punches so far above her weight it’s ridiculous. So why aren’t there any female figures? The Avengers movie has raked in eleventytwelve bajillionkajillion dollars so far, so why doesn’t Black Widow have an action figure? Part of the problem here, (and there is a substantive point, believe it or not) is how badly toy companies treat girls, and by extension boys.

Let’s take a quick gander at the merchandising for ‘Brave’. This is a film I wholeheartedly love, which my son also wholeheartedly loves and, had the toy range had anything to do with the film other than general to vague likenesses, would probably have bought. In fairness, Disney/Pixar did bring out a version of Merida’s bow, which the little man loves, but they also brought out a princessified (is that a word? According to spellchecker it isn’t, but since I’ve just added it to my dictionary, it is. Excellent) version of Merida and a completely underwhelming range of toys that both misunderstands and devalues the film and its heroine. They either don’t know or don’t care** what the film is actually about, which is sad. What they do know, however is how to target audiences. Like the Disney Princess magazine that had a Merida themed ‘comb and mirror vanity set’. This is possibly the least ‘Merida’ thing imaginable, (along with maybe a ‘How to Chat Up Boys, the Merida Way’ booklet) but it will sell to a core demographic who are convinced, and have also convinced their daughters that that is what they want. There was a dress marketed on the strength of the film (‘Be beautiful… and Brave’. Right because the first is so much more important than the second). The design was based on the dress that Merida rips so she can use her bow to win a tournament. The prize is not getting married.
Still at least most of the Brave stuff isn’t pink like a huge section of our local Toys’r’Us.

The gendering of childrens’ toys is harmful to all kids – it reinforces a backwards view of sex roles, can needlesly mark kids out as different, ‘cissies’ and ‘fags’ or ‘tomboys’ (which seems to me to be less damaging than the first two but I appreciate I could be entirely wrong) and the roles given to the toys are divisive. Even if it is true that ninety or even ninety nine percent of little boys will gravitate towards Action Man and equal numbers of girls to Barbie, neither is a ‘boy’s toy’ or a ‘girl’s toy’, they’re just toys. Kids should be able to play with whatever they want, without any extra labelling. Or any crappy non-canonical accoutrements.

* It does. Seriously. Check it out – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iLGlisIHf3s

** Most likely, and sadly, some from column A and some from column B. Fuckers.

Marshall 50 Years of Loud Live

Wembley Arena: September 22, 2012

 

Well that was… interesting.

There was some astonishing talent, great cover tunes performed by what could be considered some of the greatest tribute acts ever, an awful lot of notes, Al Murray being really, really funny (who knew?) but also, unfortunately a venue (and, to a lesser extent) audience that were inimical to the mood. When Corey Taylor and Kerry King are tearing up ‘Ace of Spades’ and ‘Mouth for War’, it demands a mosh pit not a bunch of aging rockers sitting with their arms crossed. Have to admit, though it was pretty good to be in an audience that was mostly older rather than half my age…

So there was some pure awesome, the majority in the first half of the show. Pretty much everything Corey Taylor was involved in and Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens impersonating Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, David Coverdale and Bruce Dickinson were vocal highlights. Guitar-wise my picks (ha, see what I did there?) were Paul Gilbert’s blues-o-matic renditions of ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ and ‘Manic Depression’ both surprising in their restraint for a man with hemi-demi-semi-hemi-demi-semi quavers (256th notes to Americans) festooned on his plectra and Doug Aldrich’s rampage through blues rock and metal classics, ‘Living after Midnight’, ‘Slide it In’ and ‘Flight of Icarus’. Along with the aforementioned mayhem (also including ‘Mouth for War’*). The first half was mostly great with only Zakk Wylde’s set being a bit of a disappointment (he appears to have either eaten Ozzy or is channeling him vocally), and his song choices weren’t that interesting.

After the break, Yngwie was first up. Yngwie. Whingie. Yingyang. Like Paul Gilbert and Joe Satriani he was, back in the eighties and nineties, a big influence on my playing, expanding the vocabulary of rock and metal, and showing how far and fast and insane metal guitar can get. So going into this, be aware I have a colossal amount of respect for what he’s achieved and his ability. Unfortunately, his performance was kinda depressing, like ‘Speed 4 – Shred of Death’, someone maybe wired his head to explode if he dropped below fifteen notes a second. For a man who played so fast, his performance was somewhat ironically, not only one-note but tone-deaf too. He also came over as the egocentric, arrogant douche that he’s often portrayed as in the press. Meh.

It got better.  Absolute highlight of the night for me was Joe Satriani’s stunning ‘Always with Me, Always with You’, a piece which always gives me chills. This is one of the songs I learned to play when I was learning myself. It’s not that difficult to play but extremely difficult to play well (goddamit my hands aren’t big enough for some of the arpeggio stretches…) Satriani said more in one elegant melody than Yngwie did all night. Paul Gilbert rejoined Joe for ‘Going Down’, which, quite frankly rocked.

Once again things went downhill with the introduction of Glenn Hughes who has, an admittedly belting voice but seemed an odd choice for closing act and the introduction of Andy Fraser of Free was a bit embarrassing. They performed ‘Mr Big ‘which was a wasted opportunity to get Pablo Gilberto back onstage, then Yngwie returned to murder Deep Purple and BB King tunes. Hey ho. The night closed with, of course ‘Smoke on the Water’, although unfortunately the sound got rather muddy.

So pretty great overall. Never thought I’d hear Corey sing Cult songs, and the sight of Al Murray taking pics of Satriani from backstage as much an awestruck fan as anyone else was really cool. The house band were awesome, there was a lot of great music and mis-steps aside it was a fitting tribute to the late, great Doctor Marshall without whom rock would probably sound a lot different. Oh yeah, drum elder god/octopus Mike Portnoy now also has one of the worst beards in the recorded history of facial topiary.

 

*Love Dime, but he was a Randall user. Surprised there was no Olympic style corporate sponsor enforcement thing going on

Prometheus: ‘LOST’ in Space (or ‘the start of the Endarkenment’)

***CONTAINS SPOILERS (AND FOR ‘ALIEN’ TOO)***

***AND IS A BIT RANTY***

***NOT SO YOU’D NOTICE OR ANYTHING***

Prometheus,  Prometheus, Prometheus.

Where to start with this colossal fuck-up of a movie? Well let’s see. How about to be called ‘Science Fiction’ something has to have some actual science in it, otherwise it’s just ‘fiction’. Which is fine, obviously, fiction is often great. Fiction can be illuminating and thought provoking, exciting, moving, exhilarating, amusing, entertaining. All sorts of things. Except none of that is in Prometheus. I saw the film way back in July (nearly two months ago as of this writing) and it still makes me vein-bulgingly, blood-pressure-raisingly angry. I sat through the film and made involuntary ‘uh… Joey’ noises pretty much every couple of minutes. I’m not proud of that. So, having explained that, I’d just like to note that this is by way of catharsis rather than an in-depth examination of what is wrong with the film. I don’t plan to do this too often, as I’d rather talk about cool and interesting stuff in a more positive manner than rant about stuff, but I just need to do this..

Let’s get the easy stuff out the way first. What does it do right? Well, it’s really, really pretty, Michael Fassbender is very good and… er… well… erm, nope I got nothin’. That leaves everything else, and unfortunately getting through that is sort of like spending time on TV Tropes. It becomes a never-ending cycle of footnotes and errata. One piece of stupidity leads into another, one mind-numbing piece of dialogue reminds you of another, or a moronic character doing something idiotic leads to another memory of another unbelievable piece of behaviour.

The scientific errors, oh dear god, the scientific errors. These are many and prodigious. It seems like Scott wanted to tell the story he wanted to tell and science could go fuck itself with a sideways porcupine. Hey, I know, let’s totally ignore how evolutionary biology works. How about the idea of electrocuting an astonishingly well preserved 2000 year old head to fool it into thinking it’s alive? That’ll work in any universe.

The scientists in the film are, well, as backwards as the portrayal of science in the film. When a character tells another ‘don’t be such a sceptic’, he’s essentially telling her to stop doing her job. Science is systematised scepticism. There is a repeated faith/reason dichotomy presented and in every case faith is the ‘good’ option.

This would be… not fine exactly, but bearable if the script was great, the characters likeable, the story riveting, the set pieces tense and exciting… you get the idea, but no, the film is not only fractally stupid, but fractally bad.

Brave: some thoughts, a not-really-review

***SPOILERS***

Pixar’s movies always carry a weight of expectation and barring a few minor mis-steps (A Bug’s Life and the Cars films, all of which are still plenty watchable), the company have delivered classic after classic. Brave is a very definite return to form for them. Thematically rich, exquisitely beautiful and deeply moving, Brave appears, critically at least, to have been a victim of another sort of expectation:  that generated by the advertising (and indeed merchandising, although that’s a discussion for another time). People have been wrong-footed by the emphasis on protagonist Merida as an archer, and the presence of Mor’Du, the giant, demonic bear that she must face. The film was originally titled ‘The Bear and the Bow’, and whilst bears feature prominently, the bow is of less import than the trailers and advertising might suggest, one reason, maybe, that the name changed. This is one of those cases where maybe the wrong emphasis was made. It’s a fine line to tread. There’s been a trend of including too much in trailers – just look at the Prometheus advertising which gave away pretty much every major plot-point. Irrelevant how one feels about that movie, that was a real dick move on the part of the studio, so Pixar’s erring at the other extreme is understandable. The saying don’t judge a book by its cover can easily be updated to ‘don’t judge a movie by its trailer’.

Whilst Brave has a simple narrative, it is exquisitely constructed and internally complex, with a lot of themes and ideas. Ranging from the obvious mother-daughter feuding and being careful about what you wish for, to the power of legends as instruction and the conflict between tradition and individuality, Brave provides a story that can be construed both as a psychodynamic narrative and a pretty classic Hegelian dialectic. It also almost made me blub like a little girl </General Melchitt>. Ahem. Almost.

The film’s opening act establishes Merida, her relationship with her family; doting, conspiratorial father Fergus, whirling dervish triplet brothers, Hamish, Harris and Hubert and regal perfectionist mother, Elinor. Fergus is a hugely built warrior, just as a wee lass might imagine her father, the triplets large headed cyclones of mercenary chaos (payment received in cakes), and the characteristics of the other characters, especially the males of the other clans seem even further accentuated. It is interesting to note that the only two characters in the film with anything approaching a ‘realistic’ design are Merida and her mother. With the world filtered through Merida-vision, it seems that she only deeply relates to her mother, no matter how different their world views, and this leads to Elinor being the character most closely resembling our heroine. With Pixar, there is a design reason for absolutely everything, not least because they’ve had to create/animate it and my initial thought was it was laziness on their part – that in having a female protagonist, they were giving us a short hand caricature of men, but that doesn’t hold up as the other female characters, nursemaid Maudie and the Woodcarver are also highly stylised. Instead, it seems that Merida moves through a world of people barely glimpsed and less understood, she’s happiest out in the wilds with her bow and riding her horse, Angus. A sequence near the start shows her out in the wilds, climbing the Crone’s Tooth and drinking the water from the Fire Falls, which Fergus later tells her only the Kings of the olden days were brave enough to do and her mother distractedly ignores. It is as beautiful a scene as any Pixar have ever done, an incredibly joyous celebration of the things Merida loves. The vistas  presented are absolutely stunning and more photorealistic than any of the characters.