Tuesday, 26 June 2012

BLACKMORE'S NIGHT: "A Knight In York" DVD Review

So far, I’ve managed to avoid Blackmore’s Night, mainly because I just didn’t want to hear Ritchie Blackmore doing Medieval Fayre music, and partly because part of me suspected that Candice Night had bewitched him into turning his back on rock music. Anyway, when someone offers a free DVD it’s hard to say no, so I took a deep breath and broke my Blackmore’s Knight duck with a bang.
The very first thing that sort of put me off this whole enterprise was the fact that the musicians are listed as Earl Gray Of Chimay, Bard David Of Larchmont, Squire Malcolm Of Lumley, Gypsy Rose and Minstrel Albert. Just reading this gave me a headache, as it smacks of being hippies for the sake of it, although I noticed that Night and Blackmore themselves didn’t have a daft suffix or prefix in sight. It’s good to be the King, eh?

Okay, so this is the point where I carry on hating, right? Where I say the whole thing is just a bunch of drippy, hippy nonsense? Well, it sort of is, but that’s really to be expected with names like that, straw on the stage and a hurdy-gurdy. For something I really should turn my nose up at, I seem to have watched this DVD quite a lot over the past few days. I’m watching it now, and I may well watch it later. The thing is… it’s really good. Okay, so it’s not rock music, admittedly, but that Candice Night has a superb voice on her, and Richie does get to throw in a few guitar/mandolin solos every so often, even going so far as to look like his old gurning self. Dammit, he looks happy, so he may not actually be bewitched.

There’s a mega low point when they start doing the refrain from “Bad Romance” and a roadie comes on as “Lady Ga Ga” - it’s even ore cringeworthy than the costumes, the straw and the two fake boulders at the front of the stage, but I’m sure they found it fun. The packed crowd in York seem to be enjoying the whole thing, and I have to say I would have liked to be there myself. Blackmore’s Night make music to chill out to, with some lovely intricacies, plenty of bounce when needed and vocals that carry across any room to perk the interest of anyone in earshot. As a DVD it’s simple stuff with no frills to the performance, but none are needed. If, like me, you’ve avoided this lot but actually quite like a bit of folk rock, then this is a great jumping off point. Egads! Forsooth! Etc etc…

Friday, 22 June 2012

The Levellers - "Static On The Airwaves"

It’s been 22 odd years for The Levellers, a band who irritate some people because they basically look like a bunch of travellers, and delight other with their political, environmentally conscious yet catchy repertoire.  Regardless of their politics or appearance, there are few people who can resist tapping a foot to the likes of “Beautiful Day”, or appreciating the solemn power of “Hope Street”, and in this lies then band’s true strength: the ability to rise above what they are perceived as.

I have to admit that I’ve not been bowled over by recent Levellers albums, although there certainly have been plenty of good tracks scattered amongst them. “Static On The Airwaves” sees a return to what I consider the core strengths of the band, with gritty folk rock spiced up with aggressive fiddle and well placed guitars, tied together with some fantastic lyrics. Most importantly, it’s a very catchy album, with none of the dirgy tracks that have dogged them for a while now.

The track that will get everyone hopping is the single “Truth Is”, which is about as traditional a Levellers song as you will ever get, with a frantic jig on the fiddle precluding a well paced, lively anthem that will see live audiences drunkenly carousing round in circles, waving cider bottles about for all their worth. My personal favourite, however, is the short “Forgotten Towns”. It consists of just Mark Chadwick’s vocals backed by Jonathan Sevink on fiddle, and it’s a very powerful portrait of Britain’s ailing high streets. Elsewhere they have a go at online addiction, America (for a change) and, of course, war, in the beautiful album closer “The Recruiting Sergeant”, itself a modern reworking of the Black Watch anthem “Twa Recruitin Sergeants”. 

I have to say that I have enjoyed this Levellers album more than any other from the last decade, and am looking forward to hearing some of the new tracks live. It’s an album of peaks and troughs, but whilst the peaks are sky high, the troughs still reach for that sky. Angry and politically aware they may be, but The Levellers haven’t yet forgotten how to write a decent tune. In the end, we’re all of the fiddle…


Wednesday, 13 June 2012


Right… this really should have been shit, to be honest. Mamma Mia for Journey fans, with Tom bloody Cruise of all people pretending to be a rock god. Okay, so it’s based on a successful stage musical, but that doesn’t guarantee anything. This isn’t West Side Story, although to be fair West Side Story would have been improved with a Twisted Sister Song or two.

It certainly gets off to a dodgy start, as Sherrie Christian (Julianne Hough, Footloose) is bussing her way to Los Angeles and starts signing Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”. It’s horribly cheesy and there were more than a few laughs through the cinema, one of them mine as I prepared for a very long two hours to drag by as my favourite musical genre was ripped apart and stamped on. Bollcoks…

Then, as soon as the horrible bus ride is over, it all gets better! Sherrie reaches L.A, falls in love with Drew Bolie (Diego Boneta, 90210), and gets a job at an infamous club The Bourbon Room. Thrust into the mix are club owner Dennis Dupree (Alec Baldwin, lots of stuff) and his sidekick Lonny (Russell Brand, who can’t decide if he’s from London or Birmingham), along with genuine rock god Stacee Jaxx (some bloke called Tom Cruise) who is to play a gig there. Along for the ride we have anti rock shrew Patricia Whitmore (Catherine Zeta Jones, Darling Buds Of May), who wants to close the club down for good.

Okay, so the plot isn’t exactly Shakespeare, or even the bloke that used to clean Shakespeare’s toilets (Mr Ploppy), but it’s really not the point. This, my friends, is all about the music. We get songs by Journey, Def Leppard, Twisted Sister, Pat Benatar, Bon Jovi, Poison, Whitesnake and more, all performed by the cast. Tom Cruise does a fine job on vocals, as does everyone else, and certain tracks really do bring a tear to the eye as the lyrics match the on screen feelings. I’m just an old softie, really.

The two leads are both charming and very sexy, Cruise plays up the rock god label with total style and not a few laughs, whilst Brand and Baldwin get the best moment in the whole movie, which shall not be spoiled here. Seriously, you’ll choke on your popcorn. There’s even a spot for Mary J Blige as a strip club owner, and she, too, gets her chance to exercise some great pipes as she belts out Journey’s “Any Way You Want It”.

Basically, Rock Of Ages should not be any good, but like Mamma Mia before it, it’s brilliant if you have a genuine love of the music. Me, I am a total whore for 80s soft rock and I grinned almost all the way through. If I’d had a few beers beforehand I would have been singing along as well, so I’m glad I didn’t.  If you remember Dave Lee Roth, REO Speedwagon and even Starship with fondness, perhaps still have their tracks on the iPod (Ido), then you will love this movie (and the stage musical, natch). All together now… don’t want nothin’, but a goooooood tiiime!!! (woo!)

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Meltdown Man - Collected Edition

Okay, it’s time to dip a toe into the archives today, as those nice people at Rebellion Publishing have collected one of the best remembered stories from 2000AD in the form of “Meltdown Man”, which first appeared in late 1980 and went on for, ooohhhh… ages. It’s really an impressive length, to be honest, coming in at 230 or so pages. This is impressive because it’s a single, continuous story that had to be delivered in 5 pages each week, with each instalment having a suitably “gasp!” ending to keep you tuning in. Kudos must go to writer Alan Hebdon for that, even though his other strips never came close to this one in scope or entertainment.

When all is said and done, though, Meltdown Man is Massimo Belardinelli’s baby, because there are few artists that could have brought it to life as he did. The plot concerns a hard assed bastard called Nick Stone, who is blasted into an alternative reality by a nuclear explosion (this sort of shit happened a lot back then). In this alternative Earth humans live in luxury and have Yujees as their slaves.  Yujees are genetically altered animals that are humanistic but with their original animal traits intact. They are brutalized and indiscriminately killed, something that gets right on Stone’s wick, and he resolves to free them from tyranny. The fact that there’s futuristic tech and plenty of animals plays right to Belardinelli’s strengths, as his humans have always been his weakest point (although still good enough). Quite simply, the whole story is beautifully illustrated, and what could have been an average script in the wrong hands is raised to a classic.

There’s elements of Planet Of The Apes here, as a human out of time fights against a totalitarian regime, and a lot of fun is had with the many, many different animals that get thrown at the reader. The ‘phone book’ format is perfect, as the price for such a long story is kept to a minimum. It can get a bit rambly here and there, and could probably have been stronger as a shorter, tighter script, but even with it’s flaws Meltdown Man is a fine example of a classic sci fi story that would not have existed if not for the Galaxy’s Greatest Comic. Check it out now.

Amazon Link:


JOE BONAMASSA: "Driving Towards The Daylight"

So here we are with album number ten from a man who has risen to be a modern blues legend, and rightfully so. As with much or his previous output, “Driving Towards The Daylight” is heavy on cover versions, and for the seventh time he has the reliable backing of Kevin Shirley on the mixing desk.

There’s only three original compositions this time round, (the least since 2003’s “Blues Deluxe”) and it’s a nice surprise that opening track “Dislocated Boy” is one of the best tracks on offer, a solid blues composition with a low down and dirty groove to it. Elsewhere, the title track follows this up very nicely, and the third Bonamassa penned track “Heavenly Soul” is equally as good. It seems a shame that a man who can write such good songs does so many covers, but I guess he just likes to play and play with other people’s tracks. Mind you, he sure does pick some cracking songs to cover, such as the Zeppelinesque “Who’s Been Talking” by Howling Wolf, which just sounds brilliant. Bill Withers’ “Lonely Town, Lonely Street” gets the Bonamassa treatment, as does Tom Waits’ “New Coat Of Paint” amongst others. Robert Johnson crops up as Joe covers “Stones In My Passway”, but perhaps the most surprising is the album’s closing track “Too Much Ain’t Enough Love”, originally featured on Jimmy Barnes’ seminal “Freight Train Heart” album. Barnes helps out with the vocals, whilst Bonamassa’s arrangement bluesifies the whole thing up without taking away what made the song great in the first place. This, it seems, is a talent that serves JB very well.

There’s really nothing on “Driving Towards The Daylight” that will disappoint Bonamassa fans, as it’s an incredibly solid offering with some great tracks. There’s nothing that breaks any new ground, but the blues isn’t about breaking new ground, really. This is all about great tunes played well by a guy who will be remembered for many, many years to come just like his own heroes.


Thursday, 7 June 2012


I remember seeing these in The Works some time back, and thinking that they were probably for kids, not a big, bad adult like myself. Then the film was announced, and it seemed that I was right, with Tweens being the target group, the sort of people who think that vampires sparkle. The film got plenty of rave reports, and one Wednesday I agreed to take a look, and bugger me if I didn’t think it was pretty darned good! My sister kept telling me that the books were even better, and as she’s often right about this sort of thing I gave them a go.

The plot, for the uninitiated, goes something like this: It is North America, sometime in the future. Shit has firmly hit the fan, and the people who have survived (whatever it was is never explained) live in 13 districts, all servicing the Capital, where the privileged live in luxury. 75 years ago the districts rebelled, and as a punishment the Capital started off the titular games, where each year a boy and a girl are chosen from each district (except 13 which was totally smushed in the rebellion) and made to fight to the death, all live on TV. Katniss Everdeen is the heroine, a 16 year old who is chosen to fight for District 12. I’m not going to spoil anything for those who are Hunger Games newbies, but it’s a brilliant story over 3 books, surpassing the original Hunger Games basic plot and taking flight all over the place. What we get is a very real world, ruled by some bastardy people, and you will be booing out loud as you read, although there’s also cheering when the Capitol is outwitted or just plain thumped in the metaphorical face.

The Hunger Games is incredibly well written, and I personally devoured all three volumes in under a week. There are those who say it’s just a rip off of the Japanese movie “Battle Royale”, but these people are stupid and should be locked in a closet and ignored. The whole point is that this is a trilogy, and if you’ve seen the film you really should read them to find out what happens next, and also because the world is so much more vibrant and real in the books (even though the film did an admirable job). I was genuinely choked up at times, as with the whole thing being narrated by Katniss in the present tense you really get to know her and feel her anguish and passion throughout. If I’m honest, the third book loses a little steam, but it does wrap things up very neatly and without any holes or flaws.

So, not just for kids or teenagers, The Hunger Games is a sterling piece of fiction for all fans of exciting adventure or speculative sci-fi. Suzanne Collins draws the reader into a very real world, with real consequences and no guarantee of any characters making it to the end with all their bits intact, or even a pulse. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Mark Millar's CLiNT - Volume 2!

These days it can feel a bit like a guilty confessional to tell other comic creators you like Mark Millar. Whilst he seems to be quite the messiah (or at the least a very naughty boy) to your average comics reader, people in the small press industry seem to generally think he’s a cross between Simon Cowell and a wart on the end of David Cameron’s cock. Personally, I have rarely read anything by him that I haven’t enjoyed, so his anthology comic CLiNT has been right up my dark alleyway.

After a dodgy start with some of the worst text articles known to man, CLiNT settled down pretty well as a showcase for Millar’s own work and those of his friends. We got Jonathan Ross’ over wordy but still worth a read “Turf”, a short story by Jimmy Carr, the likes of “Kick Ass 2”, “Superior” and “Nemesis” (all brilliant) from Millar, and steaming turd squeezed out by Frakie Boyle called “Rex Royd”. There were others, and aside from said turd they were all good or better. CLiNT eventually decided that, yes, it was a comic, and started to eject the childish articles in favour of more strip content. Life was good, I could buy it in WH Smiths, and then everything came to a natural close and we now have a relaunch.

So this is CLiNT volume 2, first issue, and to be honest it’s nothing more than an excuse to put the “Issue 1” legend on the cover and draw in, hopefully, new readers. There’s complete first issues of Millar’s two new babies, “Supercrooks” and “Secret Service”. The former is a nifty little tale in four parts that details a bunch of likable super criminals fed up of being nicked by U.S heroes. When one of their friends get in some deep shit they head to Spain to escape the capes and nick a fortune of a retired criminal who is probably the most feared man in their world. It’s set up as a kind of mini “Ocean’s Eleven” but with superpowers, and does a very good job. Naturally, it’s already been picked up as a film (one of those “Why has no one thought of it before” things, really), but you get the feeling that Millar is nearing the point where his used condoms would be optioned by Hollywood. Either way, I’ve read the first three issues of this, and would recommend it, especially if you don’t have regular access to dedicated comic shops. “Secret Service” sees the joining of Millar with comics legend Dave “Watchmen” Gibbons. It is now mandatory to always mention the “W” word when talking about Dave, because for some reason he’s a lot more well known for that than his stint as Tornado editor “Big E”, which he probably still has nightmares about. Anyway, this one revolves around a high up spy fella who recruits his wayward nephew into the service. Of course, there will be more, but after two issues (the first of which is in CLiNT) we’ve sort of got that and the fact that a terrorist organisation is kidnapping cast members from classic sci fi films and TV series. The first six pages are excellent, and the rest looks set to follow the trend. Oh, and the art is lovely, but what else wopuld you expect from Dave “Big E” Gibbons…

The other new strip is “Death Sentence”, which isn’t too heavy on explanation, but the premise seems to be that there’s a disease people get that gives them a short time to live but also grants a superpower for that time. This, my friends, is a Cool Idea, so let’s hope it continues to be a intriguing as the reasonably short section we get in this issue. Lurking at the bottom of the barrel and eating it’s own shit is “Rex Royd”, which is as pants as ever, but we’ll live with it until Frankie Boyle is murdered by an infinite number of monkeys who can’t come up with anything as shit as he can.

Add to this an interview with Millar and another with a real life costumed vigilante who actually calls himself Clint after the mag (and seems like a really cool guy, against all odds), and you have an incredibly good value magazine that will bolster it’s rep by giving us a “Hit Girl” strip (again by Millar) very soon. Enjoyment is very much dependant on your tolerance for Mark Millar, but it’s his bloody comic so he can do what he wants. If you have only read and enjoyed “Kick Ass” at the least, though, CLiNT is well worth a punt.


Monday, 4 June 2012

ASIA - "XXX" Review

First up, I should say that I’m not a massive fan of Asia, a band whose original members came from various big ass prog rock bands, yet together they made more of a melodic rock sound. Mind you, this hasn’t stopped people labelling them as a prog band for thirty years now. Personally, I like their first three albums, but when vocalist John Wetton was replaced by John Payne I felt they lost something in their sound and never really enjoyed an album from start to finish, although there were several good tracks here and there. Even though the four original members reunited for 2008’s “Phoenix” album, plus 2010’s “Omega”, even these albums were patchy, although better than much that came in the Payne era.

Named to mark the band’s 30th anniversary, “XXX” will play merry havoc with your internet search history, as anyone inputting “Asia XXX” will get plenty of results, nearly all of them pornographic. Well done, lads! The cover art has been provided by the ever present Roger Dean, and it’s pretty cool, but it’s when you listen to the music that “XXX” impresses most (as it should be).

The only bugbear I have with this album is at the start. Now I hate the trend for album intros, usually a minute or so of crap to set the tone or whatever, but at least I can skip or just delete them. On “XXX” (pronounced Triple X) there’s an intro bolted on to opener “Tomorrow The World” which is a gentle and very dull keyboard piece. Thank feck that once it’s over (after 50seconds) the album opener is classic Asia, reminding me of the excellent “Finger On The Trigger” opener to Omega - fast, melodic and catchy. It sets the tone for the album, as “XXX” is firmly based around tracks with a bit of pace to them, rather than ballads.

Just nine tracks are here, and every single one is up there with anything Asia have done before. I have had this album for weeks now, and it gets listened to every single day, usually more than once. As I said, I’m not a rabid Asia fan, and to be honest I hated Yes and their ilk for the most part. The tracks manage to combine keyboards, slick guitars and the unique vocals of John Wetton incredibly well. The best track, for me, is “Bury Me In Willow”, a very catchy and quite haunting song that follows up “Tomorrow The World” perfectly and showcases Wetton’s voice perfectly. “No Religion” follow it, and is yet another upbeat, well paced track with a chorus that sticks in your head like glue.

Even when we get a ballad, the excellent fourth track “Faithful”, it morphs into an upbeat track two thirds through. Throw in the catchy single “Face On The Bridge”, another mid paced, catchy track “Al Gatto Nero”, the guitar heavy and chorus led “Judas” and the mid paced “I know How You Feel” and you’ll realize that this isn’t an Asia album for the soft hearted. “XXX” screams melodic rock at the listener, and not slow, heartbreaking ballad heavy melodic rock either. Every single song has a singalong chorus, and every single track has cool guitarwork as well as creative keyboards. It’s all rounded off with a second quasi ballad, “Ghost Of A Chance”, which again goes all upbeat two thirds through with a nice orchestral arrangement that closes the album as well as anything could, coupled with a great Steve Howe solo.

Up to now, I thought my album of the year was going to be Halestorm, but with “XXX” the old guard have delivered the best Asia album in a thirty year career, and what will almost certainly be the best album of 2012, and yes I do know there’s a Rush one coming out!

Label: Frontiers

Release Date: 2nd July 2012