Monday, 29 December 2014

Quiet World

NOTE - not long after I posted this Bandcamp changed their policy with regard to the whole tax kerfuffle which meant that the albums could stay up.

For the last 11 or so years I have been making music (under a number of aliases) and running a little label called Quiet World.  If there was a competition for the world's smallest label Quiet World would definitely be in with a shout but over the years I have released a fairly large amount of music from some really rather amazing musicians including 2 albums by legendary Fluxus composer Philip Corner.

Whilst Quiet World the label will continue the new EU rules on VAT on sales of downloads mean that maintaining the digital side of things will, from New Years Day 2015, become far more work than it is worth and so (almost) all the music on the Quiet World Bandcamp page will be deleted.

So, with only two days to go until they all go to that big Recycle Bin in the sky I thought I'd share with you all some of the noises I've made over the last decade and a bit.

Obviously if you're reading this in 2015 only this link for the free download of 'This Quiet World' will remain active.

My music is predominantly slow, low and quiet, dealing in deep, dark tonal work and drawn out drones often mixed with field recordings.  Depending on my mood I alternate between using synthesised and acoustic sounds as the predominant noises.  Sometimes the music is wilfully abstract, other times cosmic, mellow, tuneful or creepy.  Hopefully (if you're quick) you'll find something you like.

Below is a small selection of what's there, there are lots more. Each album is priced at £2.50 but obviously can simply be streamed for the next couple of days.

Peace
Ian

Simple Ghosts and Lazy Old Bones
An album I made with two close friends featuring guitar, electronics, the gate to a local park (on 'I am an Owl') and theremin.




Strange Pilgrims
Made with Arizonan field recordist Banks Bailey using my electronics and his recordings of a Hermit Thrush.




The Earth in Play
A very mellow two song set of deeply ambient pieces.




Phantasms I & II
The first two parts of my personal tribute to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.  The third will now only be available on the actual CD release of all 3 volumes.






Walking Through Fireflies
A very personal set of ambient pieces created as a tribute to a friend now sadly passed.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Caballistics Inc.

Gordon Rennie (writer)
Dom Reardon (art)

During WWII, Q Department was formed within the Ministry of Defence to combat Nazi occult warfare. In the 21st century, however, it has outlived its usefulness and its funding is scrapped. Enter reclusive millionaire rock star Ethan Kostabi, who has bought up its employees and constructed a brand new outfit - Caballistics, Inc.

Going Underground

A 2000ad story that tells of the UKs wartime magical warfare unit, Q Department, finally being dissolved by the British government only to find itself bought by the enigmatic ex-rockstar Ethan Kostabi and reinvented as supernatural investigators for hire Caballistics Inc.

Making up the new team are the two leftovers from Q, Doctor Jonathan Brand and the unfortunate Jenny Simmons, demon hunters Hannah Chapter and Lawrence Verse and the very unpleasant magician Solomon Ravne.  Together they are hired out to combat haunted railways, escaped demons and disembodied occultists.

The world they inhabit is shared with that of Doctor Who and Quatermass and Rennie's other 2000ad series Necronauts (and subsequently, Absalom) and is littered with references to all and more.  I've liked Rennie's writing for years; his work always seems to come from a place of fannish enjoyment but distanced from slavish adherence to canon. So, truthfully, I was expecting this to be good and it didn't disappoint.

The real revelation here though is the art of Dom Reardon.  I'd not seen his stuff before but his atmospheric black and white illustrations are an absolute joy that perfectly capture the feel of the narrative.


Creepshow

In this second volume of Rennie and Reardon's supernatural horror things are going decidedly downhill.  Ravne has been 'killed' by an Israeli hit squad and it takes him a while to get better, a psychotic, ex-SAS, asylum escapee joins the team, Jenny's passenger is here to stay and a very powerful and utterly insane magician previously associated with Q Department is getting bored of his island prison.

The various stories take us around London with a horny / hungry Jenny, drop into the depths of a 1960 horror movie studio and travel up to the Scottish highlands to save royalty from some ancient, axe wielding nature spirits.

As with the first volume this is a joyful romp filled with geeky references that are as irreverent as they are reverential.  I love this series.  It's a change of pace for 2000AD and is all the stronger for it.  It is though an absolute crying shame that they've never collected the series finale for us folks that don't read the weekly.


The novels

There were also two Caballistics Inc. novels ('Hell on Earth' and 'Better the Devil') published by Black Flame back in 2007.  Unfortunately they weren't written by Rennie but by freelance writer Mike Wild who, according to his bio on the Abaddon Books site, has worked on ' Doctor Who, Masters of the Universe, Starblazer, 'Allo 'Allo! and ­ erm ­ My Little Pony'.  I read them just after they appeared and they were OK.

The first deals with a buried angel intent on kick starting Judgement Day whilst the second tells of a magical attack on London that drops the group up to their necks in golems and demons.

They're good solid pulp reads that absolutely hurtle along and Wild has done his absolute best to emulate Rennie's style on the comics but it does come across a bit forced and lacks a little of the love Rennie brought to the world his creations inhabit.


Friday, 5 December 2014

The Chronicle of the Black Sword

By 1985 the links between British space rockers Hawkwind and author Michael Moorcock were very well established with collaborations between the two stretching back to the early 70s. Moorcock had supplied lyrics for and performed on stage with Hawkwind numerous times over the years and even contributed towards them being featured as the heroes of a novel (The Time of the Hawklords by Michael Butterworth).  It is then surprising that it took these two giants of the British hippy / psychedelic scene so long to fully commit to an album based around Moorcock's most beloved creation, Elric of Melnibone.

1985s 'The Chronicle of the Black Sword' saw them finally take the plunge and create an album that was (almost) entirely based around Moorcock's series.



I have to admit to not being a fan of the album - I find it all a little lacking in fire - but it's what came next that hooked me.

In late 1985 the band headed out on the road in support of the album taking with them various dancers to 'act out' the Elric storyline and Moorcock himself to provide spoken word interludes.  They recorded two of the shows and released them as the album 'Live Chronicles' and as the 'Chronicle of the Black Sword' live video.


The album features the '...Black Sword' tracks but they've woven some classic Hawkwind songs such as 'Angels of Death' and 'Master of the Universe' into the narrative.  It is everything the studio album is not.  It's filled with lively, urgent performances of both the old and the new songs and the band seem on tip top form and fully committed.

The video is the same but personally I've never been hugely enamoured with interpretive dance (or any sort of dance really) and so the guys and gals writhing around the band are something I find more than a little distracting.  Pair this with mid 80s video technology, dodgy post-production effects and Hawkwind's psychedelic light show in full force and you get a colourful but restless and slightly nauseating experience.  It does have it's charm though.



Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Ghostly Experiences

Susan Dickinson (editor)
Armada Lion

Apart from having just about the most glorious cover art - by Antony Maitland - of any book I've ever bought this collection of supernatural tales turned out to be great fun. There are some fabulous authors behind that cover, a few of whom I know well and a couple I'd been looking forward to checking out.

This collection was originally published as half of  much longer anthology called both 'The Restless Ghost' and 'The Usurping Ghost' which was subsequently split into this and a second anthology called 'Ghostly Encounters' - which I've just noticed I have on my shelf waiting it's turn.  It's  lovely discovery because if it's half as good as this one then it'll be a good ride.

Opening proceedings is 'Feel Free' by Alan Garner wherein a young artist finds himself physically in harmony with the creator of an ancient Greek dish.  It's beautifully executed and straight off the bat a very unusual, sympathetic and human take on the idea of a haunting.

Quatermass creator Nigel Kneale is up next with a haunted house tale, 'Minuke', which felt like a home counties version of 'Poltergeist' and is very much in the modern day rural horror vein that he explored in shows such as 'The Stone Tape' and 'The Murrain'.

'Witches Bone' by the one author in the book I'd not heard of, W. C. Dickinson, followed on with a slightly silly tale about a wishing bone and the mayhem it leaves in it's wake.  It was entertaining enough in a 'Tales of the Unexpected' sort of way.

H. R. Wakefield's 'Lucky's Grove' is a dark and bloodthirsty little tale about a Christmas tree inadvisably transplanted from a grove of trees with a dark reputation.

Continuing the rural horror is H. P. Lovecraft's, 'The Moon Bog', as two Americans attempts to clear an Irish marsh lets loose entities who are otherwise inclined.#

Sheridan Le Fanu (here billed as J. S. Lefanu) is represented by what is by far the weakest story in the collection, 'The White Cat of Drumgunniol', with it's story of a cat that foreshadows death for a particular family.  It's not bad, it's just a bit of cliche.

I'd never read any Robert Louis Stevenson before so his 'The Bottle Imp' came as a very nice surprise as a couple desperately try to rid themselves of a malign magical bottle.  It's wonderfully constructed and I was almost cheering for them by the end.

Closing the book was a real treat, Joan Aiken's, 'The Apple of Trouble'.  It's light, funny, inventive and fully silly as two resourceful children attempt to rid themselves of the apple from the Garden of Eden, a cantankerous uncle and the three Furies (or Erinyes) who follow the apple around and exact vengeance on whoever is unfortunate to own it.  It's a joyous read and by the time I was halfway through I'd already made the decision to track down more in the series.

In all it's a great little collection filled with variety and invention featuring some great writers and stories written over at least a century that feel entirely at home in each other's company. 

Friday, 28 November 2014

Tales From the Crypt

Made by Amicus in 1972 'Tales From the Crypt' is a portmanteau horror movie consisting of 5 stories taken from the American EC Comics ('Tales From the Crypt', 'Vault of Horror', 'Haunt of Fear') imprint.  As is generally the case with the Amicus anthologies it stars a host of very familiar British actors of the day including Ralph Richardson, Peter Cushing, Joan Collins, Geoffrey Bayldon and Patrick Magee.

Eschewing the rural and gothic trappings of many Hammer movies Amicus set it's horror very much in the 'modern' era which for me at least has always made the presence of the Cryptkeeper a bit of an anachronism but in the form of Ralph Richardson that's not a difficult thing to overlook.  As ever with EC stories there is a strong moralistic undertone to each of the tales as various unrepentant murderers, cheaters, misers and general, all-round, cads receive their well earned comeuppances.

It's great fun, made quickly and slickly with a great cast indulging in some wonderfully hammy acting and a zombie Peter Cushing.  What more could anyone ever want from life.

You can buy it here or watch it below - Tales from the Crypt (1972) [DVD]

Enjoy

Thursday, 27 November 2014

The Crimson Blind and Other Stories

H. D. Everett
Wordsworth Editions

Mrs H.D. Everett was the last in a long line of gifted Victorian novelists who knew how to grip the reader through the invasion of everyday life by the abnormal and dramatic, leaving the facts to produce their special thrills without piling on the agony. 'I always know', says one of her characters, 'how to distinguish a true ghost story from a faked one. The true ghost story never has any point and the faked one dare not leave it out.' From the chilling horror of The Death Mask to the shocking violence of The Crimson Blind, from the creeping menace of Parson Clench to the mounting suspense of The Pipers of Mallory, these thrilling stories were enthusiastically received by readers and critics when they first appeared, and are sure to delight and terrify the modern reader in equal measure.

 Most every bit of information I can find online regarding Mrs H. D. Everett comes from this book's blurb and that isn't much.  She was a Victorian and Edwardian author very much in the tradition of time with a nice turn of phrase at times although the dearth of remarkably creepy tales here probably goes some way to explaining her obscurity.

There are some really interesting stories amongst the 16 tales but most suffer, at least somewhat, from a lack of refinement. I'm here though to talk about the good stuff and truly there were some particularly good bits.

The book gets off to a very promising start with 'The Death Mask' a wonderfully creepy tale of possessiveness from beyond the grave which unfortunately peters out into a pretty unsatisfying flop of an ending.  The following tale 'Parson Clench' takes a similar sort of theme, this time a recalcitrant and deceased vicar refusing to relinquish his parish and runs with it to create a ghost story that never really manages to raise any chills with a ghost that does nothing but sit there like a sulky child.

'The Wind of Dunowe' is fluffy and easily forgotten but 'Nevill Nugent's Legacy' had a very nice little dark twist to it but title piece, 'The Crimson Blind' refuses categorically to live up to it's early promise and 'The Fingers of a Hand' belied it's nicely creepy set-up with a feel good ending. 'The Next Heir' takes it's time to establish what promises to be a tale of fratricide, ancient nature spirits and sacrificial offerings before it all comes crashing down in the most uninteresting way possible this side of 'and it was all a dream'.

Fortunately at this point, just over halfway through the book, things take a turn very much for the better.  'Annes Little Ghost' tells a short and essentially pointless (as intimated in the story itself - see the quote in the blurb above) of a lonely childless couple adopted by a ghostly child.  'Over the Wires' is by far my favourite here as a soldier home on leave searching for his refugee love that he'd sent on ahead starts to receive strange phone calls from her.

'A Water Witch' offers the most straight forward tale of rural horror here as a pair of young women try to avoid unwanted attention from both the living and the dead. I'm always a fan of a dog tale (sorry) and 'The Lonely Road' is another feel good piece that leaves you smiling to yourself.

'A Girl in White' is one of the weirder tales here but one which feels very much like it was written as a feel good response to the horrors of first world war that hang over many of the stories in the collection as a wounded soldier finds love in a most unusual way. Indeed, war and injury again feature in what is easily the books oddest story, 'A Perplexing Case' as doctor's try to unravel the damaged minds of two wounded soldiers.

The lure of the wild west proves too much for our author in 'Beyond the Pale' which puts an English couple into an environment where they are subjected to the revenge of an affronted Indian shaman.

The final two stories return us to the impact of the war firstly on those left at home with the ghostly 'The Pipers of Mallory' and lastly on those serving with 'The Whispering Wall'.  Neither takes it's subject matter more seriously than a piece of escapist ghostly fiction probably should but equally they remain affecting in their stories of friendships made, broken and maintained.

As I said at the beginning, it's a mixed bag of goodies and it seems unlikely that Everett will ever be viewed in the same light as her contemporaries and peers within the ghostly and the strange but perhaps that doesn't really matter as in the lovely Wordsworth Editions we are allowed a glimpse of the outsiders and the also-rans and often that's where you'll find some real real gems.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Z for Zachariah

'Z for Zachariah' is a 1984 episode of the long running  BBC series 'Play for Today' adapted from the novel of the same name written by Robert C. O'Brien a decade earlier.

It tells the story of a young woman named Ann Burden (Pippa Hinchley) who, on her small farm in a remote Welsh valley complete with it's own weather system, has survived a nuclear war, and of her deteriorating relationship with the scientist, John Loomis (Anthony Andrews), who finds his way there.

'Z for Zachariah' is one of a number of shows produced around this time - 'Threads' being the most famous example - reflecting the nation's worries over the escalating nuclear arms race.

It's a gripping and absorbing piece despite it's slightly unlikely premise that, with the exception of a few early scenes featuring Ann's family (of which only the father, played by British TV stalwart David Daker, has any dialogue) is built entirely on the interaction between the two leads.  The tension is palpable throughout and is aided in no small part by the verdant claustrophobia of the farm and valley and by Geoffrey Burgon's score.

I think it's a shame that this has pretty much been forgotten by the world because it's really rather fabulous, in a bleak, uncompromising sort of way.  So, at the risk of depressing you all here it is in all it's radiation soaked glory.


Z for Zachariah - BBC Play for Today (1984) by ceyksparrow04

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Children of the Stones

'Children of the Stones' is a 7 part drama for children produced by HTV in early 1977.  It tells of the arrival of astrophysicist Adam Brake (Gareth Thomas) and his young son Matthew (Peter Demin) in Milbury (actually the Wiltshire town of Avebury), a small town situated within an ancient stone circle.  Milbury is run by the powerful Rafael Hendrick (Iain Cuthbertson) who in emulation of the Druid who built the circle is using it's powers to control the minds of the village's inhabitants.  As the series progresses it becomes apparent that something much greater, more terrifying and infinitely stranger is occurring.
'Children of the Stones' is a glorious piece of drama that still stands with the best British supernatural or science fiction drama.  From the off it chooses not to patronise it's audience (a rarity in TV made for children) and almost seemed to go out of it's way to be as creepy and as strange as possible - take the theme tune as evidence of this...



British comedian Stewart Lee is a fan of the series (and others of it's kind) and has produced a couple of things about it which I'm going to include here.

The first is a short piece from Charlie Brooker's Screenwipe in 2007 talking about the different ways children are represented in TV shows then and now.



The second is a fabulous 30 minute documentary for BBC Radio 4 which features contributions from cast, crew and fans. 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01n1rbx

Before you dig into all that though you can watch the full series on the player below or buy it from here - Children of the Stones: The Complete Series [DVD]

Happy day

Friday, 14 November 2014

Coil

Through the 90s and 00s I was besotted with the music of Coil and while the band might have come to an end with the passing of Jhonn Balance but the music he and partner Peter Christopherson made continues to sound as amazing as it ever did.

Coil were formed from the ashes of Throbbing Gristle and as fallout from Psychic TV.  Coil always felt like an intensely personal project and each release allowed a glimpse inside the lives of the two principal members.  Due in no small part to Christopherson's legacy at the heart of TG Coil were always tagged very much with the industrial tag and in many ways they wore that mantle with aplomb but their music contained a huge variety of influences and genres that were reinterpreted and recontextualised through Christopherson's synths and Balance's vision for the music which is monstrous, delicate, obtuse, intense, sparse, melodious, funny, achingly beautiful and all theirs.

As such their discography is a diverse and wondrous affair filled with gems and so to mark the 10th anniversary of Jhonn Balance's passing and also in memory of Peter I thought I'd share with you some of my favourites but first a short TV interview with them.

Hope you enjoy.












Thursday, 13 November 2014

Starlord


When I were a wee lad of 8 I was allowed, for the first time, to get a comic on order.  I'd been a perennial browser before then, picking up random issues of a variety of things like the war comics Warlord and Victor or the reprints of American superhero stuff such as Rampage.

Now though, very excitingly, I could pick one of my own to get every issue of.  Naturally I chose the one that was the newest on the spinner, Starlord.

Conceived as a sister comic for 2000AD Starlord was more expensive, was on better paper with crisper printing and had longer stories.  And oh the stories; the mutant bounty hunter Johnny Alpha in 'Strontium Dog', 'Planet of the Damned' about a passenger plane crashed on a hostile world inside the Bermuda Triangle, 'Ro-Busters' which brought the world Hammerstein and Ro-Jaws (a pun I quite literally only finally got about 2 years ago - I'm not proud of myself) and "Big Jobs!", the psychic teenagers of 'Mind Wars' and the time travellers in 'Timequake'.  In addition to these there were 2000AD 'Future Shock' style shorts such as 'Earn Big Money While You Sleep' and 'Good Morning, Sheldon, I Love You'.

I loved my comic, 'Strontium Dog' and 'Planet of the Dammed' in particular. 

It only lasted for 22 issues (and a couple of annuals) before the higher production costs forced it's merger with the cheaper to produce 2000AD which it was actually outselling.  I didn't really mind I just moved my allegiance over to that other comic and carried on reading.

Several of those old strips - 'Strontium Dog' & 'Ro-Busters' - have since been released in telephone directory sized collections which are well worth picking up but recently I had a hankering for 'Planet of the Dammed'.  I could remember the general gist and a few of the plot points but I was curious for more.  A quick search brought me too the website below.  A set of complete scans of each of the 22 issues (but not the annuals) waiting to be read.  It's best viewed on a tablet if you have one but whichever way you read it please do so.  It's great fun.

Starlord: The (not quite) Complete Scans.

Also, if you'd like a considerably more detailed look at the comic than my nostalgic witterings then please check this site...

A Brief Histroy of Starlord.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Other Voices 2

Listening Center
(Ghost Box GBX712)
7" Single

Listening Center is the musical persona of NYC musician David Mason.  For his contribution to the new Ghost Box series of 7" delights he has brought a short set of synthesizer ditties that invoke a sprightly library vibe alongside Vangelis-esque beats and a Kosmicshe-pop sensibility.

It's a wonderful pop record that feels like it should have been released a couple of decades ago but I'm glad it wasn't because back then I was all about the fast and the heavy and so would have never gotten to hear it.

(www.ghostbox.co.uk)

Monday, 10 November 2014

Other Voices 1

Brooks & O'Hagan
(Ghost Box GBX711)
7" Single

Ghost Box regular Jon Brooks (he of The Advisory Circle) here teams up with Sean O'Hagan of the High Llamas for two pieces of gentle, hazy, lazy sunshine pop or 'poptology' as my brain keeps insisting I call it.

Brooks' trademark hauntological tendencies are here giving the two tracks the feel of a 'Programmes for Schools and Colleges' countdown tune (which is no bad thing in my book) whilst O'Hagan's influence (and strings?) steers the music away from imminent lectures on 'Chemistry in Action' into the sunnier warmer climes of the gentle pop of The Free Design and The Beach Boys where instead you can feel chemistry in action. 

Singles were meant to sound like this.

(www.ghostbox.co.uk)

Moogies Bloogies

Delia Derbyshire & Anthony Newley
(Trunk TTT008)
7" Single

Here we have an unreleased collaboration between Delia and the multi-talented Anthony Newley created apparently as soundtrack pieces but remained unused due to his move to the US with then wife Joan Collins.

Side one is a whimsical slice of vintage Delia all nursery rhyme atmospheres and tooting melodies over which Newley has added a voyeuristic commentary all sung in his best mockney manner (think Blur's 'Parklife').  Lyrics here - http://wiki.delia-derbyshire.net/wiki/Moogies_Bloogies

Over on the B side is something much, much stranger. 'I Decoded You (Moogies Bloogies pt.2)' sounds unlike anything else by Delia that I've ever heard and for it's 1 minute 28 second run time it is filled with busy clangs and tootles before twisting suddenly into a calliope waltz; over it all Newley, in another (more 'cultured') accent, again signs a frankly creepy love song.  The notes on the reverse of the sleeve make the claim that musically this is an example of Delia sampling which seems reasonable and these folks are far more knowledgeable on this topic than me.

7 inch singles are rarely particularly cheap these days but they remain my favourite format and combining it with an unreleased rarity by a favourite musician makes this a real treat that's very much worth the asking price.

(www.trunkrecords.com)

(please note, that's not actually Delia (or Anthony Newley for that matter) in the video below but American composer and musician Suzanne Ciani)

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Quatermass and the Pit

If you were to ask me now which of the Quatermass is my favourite I don't think I'd be able to to chose between the full length TV series edit of the John Mills one and '...the Pit'.  In actual fact it'd be a close call between all of them but I think those two have the edge.

Adapted from the TV serial of the same name 'Quatermass and the Pit' is a 1967 Hammer movie with American actor Brian Donlevy stepping aside from the title role and Scotsman Andrew Keir taking up the mantle. 

The story finds Quatermass investigating a strange object found during excavations in a London tube station named Hobbs End where, with the help of paleontologist Dr Matthew Roney (James Donald) and around the hindering presence of Colonel Breen (Julian Glover), he uncovers an uncomfortable truth about humanity's past and unleashes a force that could ensure it has no future.

It's a classic piece of British sci-fi and Keir is perfectly cast as a gruff and exasperated Quatermass at odds with the beauraucrats around him and embroiled in events that are soon spiralling out of control.  It's beautifully constructed with the tension building right from the off until the electrifying climax.










Saturday, 8 November 2014

John Milton

Today, 8th November, marks the 340th anniversary of the death of British poet John Milton.

For much of his adult life Milton was a polemicist and civil servant (Secretary for Foreign Tongues) working for the revolutionary government of Oliver Cromwell.  After the reformation, in his early 50s, poor and completely blind Milton realised his lifetime ambition to 'write' (he actually dictated it to a number of assistants) an epic poem; Paradise Lost.  It is a stunning achievement that tells of Satan's rebellion against Heaven and the subsequent fall of man and the banishment of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Copies of the book are easy to come by but a decent reading of it on YouTube less so.  In it's place here is a short documentary on Milton's life and work presented by John Gielgud with readings by Ian Richardson.

Friday, 7 November 2014

Nurse With Wound

The story goes that in 1978 a Krautrock / Musique concrète obsessed signwriter named Stephen Stapleton was allowed some free studio time at a studio he'd been doing some work for.  Roping in a couple of friends they recorded the first Nurse With Wound album 'Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella' in around 6 hours. The album is a kaleidoscopic mix of improvisation, noise, industrial scrapings, synth swoops, abstract guitar, concrete elements and a healthy dada sensibility and offered to the world an uncompromising glimpse of things to come.

It wasn't however until NWW became a Stapleton solo project that the project really took shape.  Over the course of some 60 odd albums Stapleton has shaped NWW into a musical entity unlike any other.

Over the years Stapleton has molded NWW into a frankly bewildering variety of shapes.  From the nightmare soundscapes of 1982s 'Homotopy to Marie'.



Through the Dada playfulness of 'The Ladies Home Tickler'.



To the stark, droning, post-industrial beauty of 'Soliloquy for Lilith'



and 'Salt Marie Celeste'. (here in it's starker earlier version as 'Salt')



The beautifully cut-up word play of 'Echo Poeme Sequence No. 2'



and the Neu (ish) excursions into motorik Krautrock with Stereolab.



Stapleton's has been a musical adventure forged along entirely personal lines.  There have been many collaborators along the way who have been embraced under the Nurse With Wound banner - David Tibet, Colin Potter, Andrew Liles, Matt Waldron, Tony Wakeford, Jim Thirwell and more - but it is and always will be Stapleton's project to shape as his muse dictates and we wouldn't have it any other way.

To finish here is a small documentary shot a few years ago by Jon Whitney of the Brainwashed website visiting Stephen Stapleton on his farm in Ireland.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Moviedrome

One Sunday night in 1988 I sat myself in front of the TV to watch myself a film.  In those pre-internet days and with the mass reissuing of old horror movies on video still a while off and especially in the type of backwater I grew up in getting to watch an interesting film was pot luck and deciding if a film was worth watching in the first place called for careful disecting of the newspaper listings and maybe a cross reference or two with a handy copy of Denis Gifford's 'Pictorial History of Horror Movies'.  The newspaper listing for this particular movie would have said something along the lines of - Horror starring Edward Woodward, Christopher Lee, and Britt Ekland. A policeman investigates a missing child on a remote and sinister Scottish Island.  It was fantastic.

Tonight was different.  The film marked the beginning of a new 'series' on BBC2 called Moviedrome whereby film-maker Alex Cox would introduce a different cult movie every week starting with 'The Wicker Man'.


Moviedrome soon became my absolute favourite thing.

For 11 series Cox and then Mark Cousins introduced amazing movie after amazing movie peppered with chances to rewatch ones I already loved and more than a few stinkers but mostly amazing movie after amazing movie.

Night of the Comet, Psychomania, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The California Dolls, Witchfinder General, Dead of Night, American Werewolf in London, Carnival of Souls, Excalibur and so many more.

A full list of the films shown as part of Moviedrome can be found at this link...

http://www.kurtodrome.net/moviedrome.htm

It's a real shame that a series like this is no longer showing.  When I talk to my students it depresses me that they have no idea about most of the wonderfulness that has gone before them which is unfortunate as there's much they'd love and taking folks out of their comfort zones and showing them something mad, fun, dangerous and inspirational has to be a good thing.  And Moviedrome for doing exactly that was a very good thing indeed.



Finally - a couple of  interesting little retrospectives on Moviedromne from Den of Geek and The Quietus.

http://www.denofgeek.com/movies/17364/looking-back-at-the-bbc%E2%80%99s-moviedrome

http://thequietus.com/articles/00351-the-quietus-remembers-alex-cox-s-moviedrome

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

The House on the Borderland

William Hope Hodgson

A manuscript is found: filled with small, precise writing and smelling of pit-water, it tells the story of an old recluse and his strange home - and its even stranger, jade-green double, seen by the recluse on an otherworldly plain where gigantic gods and monsters roam.
Soon his more earthly home is no less terrible than his bizarre vision, as swine-like creatures boil from a cavern beneath the ground and besiege it. But a still greater horror will face the recluse - more inexorable, merciless and awful than any creature that can be fought or killed.


A few years ago I delved into the Carnacki stories written by Hope Hodgson.  They turned out to be an excellent set of excursions into the world of the supernatural investigator.  Hodgson's 1908 novel ' The House on the Borderland' has been on my wishlist ever since.

It tells of two men on a fishing holiday in Ireland who discover, in the ruins of a house near a great lake, a book which they take home and read. The book tells of the experiences of the, un-named, owner of, what must be assumed to be, the ruined house, his housekeeper sister, Mary and his dog Pepper. Over the course of the narrative several odd and, for the most part, deeply unpleasant events befall him such as his journey to 'the plain of silence' with it's surrounding mountains and their giant statues of gods, beasts and demons, his bedevilment on several occasions by swine creatures (similar to the one featured in the later Carnacki story, 'The Hog') and his witnessing of the end of the world.

It's beautifully imagined and written and you can almost feel the impact that the story had on the fiction to follow particularly on authors such as Lovecraft.  Throughout the novel Hodgson deftly keeps you unsure as to whether the reclusive houseowner is having a truly horrendous time at the mercy of the supernatural or if he is utterly insane and having delusional psychotic episodes.  The joy is that whichever way you decide the story is going it remains equally enjoyable.


Sunday, 2 November 2014

Blake's 7

Created by the (non Davros) creator of the Daleks Blake's 7 ran for 4 series (52 episodes) on the BBC between 1978 and 1981.  It tells the story of a small group of escaped convicts (some wrongly convicted, others not so) who find themselves in possession of a super powerful alien spaceship (Liberator) which they use to attack and harass the ruthless and totalitarian Terran Federation.

The crew (at first) consists of ex resistance leader Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) who has been brainwashed and then framed for child molestation and becomes the nominal captain of the Liberator, Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow), a cold and conceited electronics genius, thief and coward Vila Restal (Michael Keating), pilot Jenna Stannis (Sally Knyvette), telepathic freedom fighter Cally (Jan Chappell), gentle giant Olag Gan (David Jackson) and Zen (Peter Tuddenham) the Liberator's computer.  As the series progressed various cast members left (including Blake himself) and were replaced by newer characters but it is this core crew that is most keenly remembered alongside the main villain the Supreme Commander of the Terran Federation Servalan (Jacqueline Pearce).

Blake's 7 was hugely popular in it's day and presented a more adult take on sci-fi than it's main sf competitor on the channel, Doctor Who, which was working it's way through the back half of Tom Baker's time in the TARDIS during the same period.  It wasn't without it's faults though.  In typical BBC style it's ambition far outweighed it's budget and so corners were inevitably cut leaving many of the sets and effects looking decidedly dodgy but the things it got right it did so with aplomb.  The cast are, for the most part, excellent and the characters display traits and behave in such ways that make them feel more real than is often the case with TV sci-fi. The writing is tight and the, for the most part, self contained episodes are satisfying to watch.  Most of all there is a moral ambiguity to the show.  The Federation is a deeply unpleasant and flawed system and the crew are right to oppose it but the manner in which they do so is always in question within the show.  There is rarely consensus amongst the crew and the relationship between them is always fraught.

As the series' progressed the show hemorrhaged both viewers and it's main cast with only Avon, Villa and the perspex computer Orac (also Peter Tuddenham - who also voiced a third computer in the series - Slave) which joins at the end of series 1) making it through to the end.  The series did however bring back one of it's main characters for the series 4 finale and ended the show in a powerful and enigmatic fashion.

For many it seems the flaws of Blake's 7 have taken precedence in their recollections of the series but for me it remains one of my most fondly remembered sci-fi serials.

The full series one has been playlisted below and underneath that is an un-televised 3 part documentary called 'The Making of Blake's 7'.

Buy it here: Blake's 7 - Series 1 [DVD] [1978]



Friday, 31 October 2014

Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Of all the horror genres the one that has always interested me the least is the slasher genre.  The whole lone psychopath thing that dominated horror in the 80s and which is still rife with things like the Saw movies bores me to tears.  People have been telling me for years how great Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and the (first) Halloween movies are but I just can't see it.  OK, the last one there has it's moments but generally they move me not.  I will however always be grateful to them for this one little oddity of an attempted reboot.

'Halloween III: The Season of the Witch' has absolutely nothing in common with any of the other Halloween movies.  Out goes Michael Myers and in his place we have factory owner Conal Cochran (Dan O'Herlihy) and his dastardly plan to celebrate the old Celtic festival of Samhain by melting children's heads inside masks containing a piece of...well, watch it and see.

Based on a first draft screenplay by one of the godfathers of Wyrd Britain, Nigel Kneale, this is by any definition a real piece of 80s horror schlock but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Kneale's original script was worked over by director Tommy Lee Wallace to make it more graphic but you can still feel much of Kneale's own personal brand of science fiction horror in the finished article.

Enjoy and Happy Halloween

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Grandville


Grandville
Bryan Talbot
(Jonathan Cape)

Grandville is set in a steampunk world, featuring steam powered motor vehicles, air transport, robots (known as "automatons"), telephones (known as "voicepipes") and televisions. In this world, Britain lost the Napoleonic War and was invaded by France. The British Royal Family were guillotined. Britain was later given independence from the French Empire following "a prolonged campaign of civil disobedience and anarchist bombings." Following independence, Britain became "The Socialist Republic of Britain". 23 years later, Britain is linked to the French Empire by the Channel railway bridge, and Paris is the biggest city in the world, known by the nickname of "Grandville". In Britain the English language is only spoken in rural communities, with the main language spoken in the country being French. The vast population in Grandville are anthropomorphic animals. Humans do exist, however. Having evolved in Angoulême, they are referred to by the French as "doughfaces", have never gained citizens' rights, and are considered menial workers. They are not allowed passports and so have never made it to Britain. The main characters in the series are Detective Inspector Archibald "Archie" LeBrock, a large, heavily-built badger; and his assistant Detective Roderick Ratzi, a monocle-wearing rat.

Brian Talbot has long been a favourite here. I'll get around to reviewing some of his related earlier work (the 2 Luther Arkwright books) at a later date. In the meantime here is the first of his series of anthropomorphic steampunk books - the very wonderful Grandville.

This first Grandville book concerns LeBrock and Ratzi's attempt to investigate the murder of a British diplomat. The investigation leads them to Grandville where they find themselves involved in a plot bigger than they could ever have imagined.

Anyone who has followed Talbot though the years will know that he is a consummate storyteller in both word and image. His plots are tight and plausible, his characters utterly human (or in this case, animal) and his illustrations perfectly paced and beautifully executed with a warmth to the art that radiates from the pages. The world of Grandville is sumptuously illustrated and beautifully reflects the opulence of the city with the world at it's feet. The technology is interwoven into both the storyworld and the narrative with seamless ease and in LeBrock and Ratzi we have two characters who are compulsive viewing. Ratzi in particular has become a firm favourite.

Even with all this going for it Grandville is a hard sell. Growing up reading comics funny animal books were always a particular dislike of mine and that view hasn't changed. Even knowing I would love what was inside it took me a small while to invest the necessary readies and take the plunge into it's covers. I'm certain I'm not the only one who shares this reticence for anthropomorphism. It is however a reticence that is worth putting aside (at least in the case of Grandville) as one soon forgets about the furry / scaly / hairiness of the participants and is swept along in the wake of a cracking whodunit.

Grandville really is something wonderful and worth both your time and your money.



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Grandville: Mon Amour
Bryan Talbot
(Jonathan Cape)

Convicted psychotic killer and extremist fanatic Edward "Mad Dog" Mastock violently escapes the guillotine's blade in the Tower of London to once again terrorise the Socialist Republic of Britain. But dogging Mastock's bloody footsteps is his longtime adversary and nemesis, Detective Inspector Archie LeBrock, at odds with Scotland Yard and intent on bringing Mastock's horrific murder spree to an end, once and for all. Aided by his friend and colleague Detective Roderick Ratzi, LeBrock follows the trail of carnage to Paris, otherwise known as Grandville, the largest city in a world dominated by the French Empire that is the prime target of Mastock's sadistic terrorism. Can LeBrock capture the Mad Dog before he can mete out his final vengeance, or will LeBrock's own quest for redemption be dragged to ground by the demons of his past?

This is the sequel to the fantastic first book in Talbot's anthropomorphosised steampunk series.  Detective Inspector LeBrock is back home after the events that led to the deaths of both Napoleon and his beloved Sarah.  He's in a bit of a slump having locked himself away and drunk himself into a stupor.  It takes his friend and partner (the frankly magnificent and dapper) Detective Ratzi to drag him from his torpor in time to investigate (unofficially) the escape of his old adversary Edward 'Mad Dog' Mastock who, having escaped from his execution in the Tower of London has headed for Grandville (Paris) and begins a murder spree against the cities prostitutes.  LeBrock and Ratzi soon discover a link between these killings, the escape and events that lead to the very top of the new British government.

As I mentioned in my write-up of the first volume I am a long time Bryan Talbot fan having read his work for pretty much as long as I've been reading comics.  This series is amongst his finest work.  It is stunning!  the characters are real, which is saying something considering the main characters are a gun wielding badger and a rat with a straw boater and a monocle.  

It's unashamedly a pulp romp filled with ne'er-do-wells and heroes but that doesn't preclude it from being tightly plotted and filled with the most gorgeous eye-candy artwork.  As before it's a sumptuously realised piece of work that is as beautiful to look at as it is to read.



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Grandville: Bete Noire
Bryan Talbot
(Jonanthan Cape)

The Badger is back! At Toad Hall, lair of multibillionaire Baron Aristotle Krapaud, a cabal of industrialists and fat cats plot the violent overthrow of the French state by the intervention of horribly beweaponed automaton soldiers.
Meanwhile, the brutal murder of a famous Parisian artist, mysteriously stabbed to death in his locked and guarded studio, is subject to the investigations of the tenacious Detective Inspector LeBrock of Scotland Yard, placing him and his faithful adjunct, Detective Sergeant Roderick Ratzi, in pursuit of the mysterious masked assassin stalking the cut-throat commercial world of the Grandville art scene. Bete Noire signals the welcome return to anthropomorphic steampunk detective fiction of master storyteller and graphic novel pioneer
Bryan Talbot with the third stand-alone volume of the Eisner and Hugo Award nominated Grandville series. As the body count mounts and events spiral exponentially out of control, aided by his brilliant deductive abilities and innate ferocity, LeBrock battles against outrageous odds in this funny, high octane thriller, an adventure shot through with both high art and comic book references, a glorious illegitimate offspring of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Ian Fleming - with animals! Follow the Badger!


In the previous 2 volumes of Grandville LeBrock had dispatched the King of France an the then both his Chief Inspector and the Prime Minister.  This leaves him with a fairly large space where potential enemies could be in this 3rd volume. In actual fact we get LeBrock versus the middle class industrialists and their plot to overthrow the revolutionary government that has taken over France since the death of the king. And, we get a sneak preview of who is going to be the villain of the fourth book.

As with the first two volumes this was superb, maybe even better than the previous.

LeBrock is asked by his friend the French Chief Inspector to assist after the murder of an artist.  LeBrock is soon hot on the trail of the killer through the artistic community of Grandville (Paris) and also the abundance of machinery / robots that are suddenly all over the place.  He also revitalises his relationship with the feisty Billie who proves herself more than equal to him both intellectually and physically as she helps defend the barricades, alongside the always fantastic and very dapper Roderick Ratzi, whilst LeBrock is off tackling those at the root of the plan.

It keeps on getting better and better this.  Full of action and intrigue but with well defined characters who are becoming even more so as they reveal themselves on the page.


Sunday, 26 October 2014

Reign of Fire

Released in 2002 Reign of Fire tells the story of a group of survivors scraping a living amongst the remains of a Britain that has been devastated by dragons. Yep, that's right, dragons.

When workers on the London Underground tunnel through the wall of it's cave a huge fire breathing Dragon wakes from it's millennia long hibernation, fertilises some eggs that it had been storing for just such an eventuality and then proceeds to set fire to the world in order to eat the ash.

10 years later, in a ruined castle in Northumberland, Quinn (Christian Bale) is the leader of a half starved bunch of survivors scratching a living in constant fear of dragon attack.  The arrival of, in the words of Creedy (Gerard Butler), the "one thing worse than a dragon, Americans" complete with a very large tank and a helicopter complicates matters. The Americans, led by Denton Van Zan (Matthew McConaughey) and helicopter pilot Alex Jensen (Izabella Scorupco) have a, frankly ludicrous, method of killing dragons and a plan for getting rid of them once and for all.  As is always the case though things inevitably go awry and so it's up to our hero to finally revenge himself on the beast.

It's a load of preposterous tosh filled with scenery chewing ham acting and a script that is hoping and praying you don't pay it too much attention.  It is however pretty enough to look at and the Dragons are nicely realised.  It is very much the modern equivalent of a Doug McClure movie and if you treat it as such there's every chance you'll find something to enjoy.

Torridon Gate

Howlround
(A Year in the Country)
CD

This third album from London's finest manipulators of magnetic tape, Howlround, is a slow burning, deeply atmospheric corker.  Produced entirely from recordings made from the gate referenced in the title, the duo of Robin (the Fog) and Chris (Weaver) have coaxed a dizzying array of unsettling and even sorrowful sounds from this most functional of objects and have layered them to astonishing effect.

The Howlround modus is based very much on that of the early years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and as such they record their sound sources onto loops of tape of varying sizes which are then played via three tape recorders with all processing and editing done within the machines.  In this way the composition that the two have persuaded the tapes to reveal is as otherworldly and queasily creepy as it is beautifully earthy.  There's a gritty texture that evokes stories of the gate's history, it's place and it's age but through all that there is movement. The sounds expose themselves, transform and meld producing a piece of music that is at times introspective, at times vociferous and in a constant state of resurgence and restless agitation. 

The end result as presented here is a piece of music that whilst acknowledging the debt it's playful manner of execution owes to the workshop of the 1960s, is, in conception, timeless and really rather fun.

(www.ayearinthecountry.co.uk)
(www.howlround.co.uk)

Friday, 24 October 2014

Doctor Who: All-Consuming Fire

Andy Lane
Virgin Books

Landing in Victorian London, the TARDIS crew is surprised to meet up with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

And so we arrive at the single geekiest thing in the known universe as the Seventh Doctor (along with Ace and Bernice Summerfield) teams up with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to combat the agents of H.P. Lovecraft’s elder gods.

The two groups come together over a set of missing books from the Vatican’s secret library of banned books, The Library of St. John the Beheaded.

Thanks to Mycroft and the Diogenes Club (via a cameo from the Third Doctor, a mention of Kim Newman’s Charles Beauregard character and an even elder Holmes brother and an alien of his acquaintance) they find themselves travelling to India in order to stop an invasion of the alien’s world by nasty brutish humans.

If this all seems a little pat then you’d be correct and things soon take a turn for the malign as plans within plans are exposed.

Lane has a nice touch. The plot is speedy and he handles the variety and volume of principles well. The dialogue is spritely, especially between Bernice and Watson as they flirt with each other. There were things I didn’t like, primarily the addition of the elder brother, but they certainly didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the book.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

A Slight Trick of the Mind

Mitch Cullin
(Canongate)

It is 1947, and the long-retired Sherlock Holmes, now 93, lives in a remote Sussex farmhouse with his housekeeper and her young son. He tends to his bees, writes in his journal, and grapples with the diminishing powers of his mind. But in the twilight of his life, as people continue to look to him for answers, Holmes revisits a case that may provide him with answers of his own to questions he didn’t even know he was asking–about life, about love, and about the limits of the mind’s ability to know. A novel of exceptional grace and literary sensitivity, A Slight Trick of the Mind is a brilliant imagining of our greatest fictional detective and a stunning inquiry into the mysteries of human connection.
 
Behind my head as I write this is a shelf with about 20 Sherlock Holmes books plus various DVD adaptations / versions. It would be pretty safe to say I'm a fan. I am not however even remotely precious about it. Amongst those 20 odd books and sat alongside the canon are a number of pastiches, some are downright silly - the 'War of the World' one springs immediately to mind (written by the magnificently named Manly Wellman). Another features Holmes teaming up with a young Teddy Roosevelt, whilst a third pits him against the gentleman burglar Arsene Lupin although he is called Herlock Sholmes in that one. There's even a first edition of Michael Chabon's masterclass of a novel featuring an elderly Holmes, The Final Solution. So basically, do what you want with him. The character is malleable and durable enough and I'm enough of a fan to go along on the journey and see if it's going somewhere interesting.

In 'A Slight Trick of the Mind' Mitch Cullin takes Holmes somewhere very interesting indeed, to the end. Cullin places the nonagenarian Holmes in two very different settings and the younger version into what at first seems like a rather nondescript case that eventually takes on much deeper meanings.

Mitch Cullin
Switching effortlessly between his life amongst his beloved bees in the company of the housekeeper's son, his beekeeping protégé, and a trip to postwar Japan ostensibly to search for prickly ash but also to satisfy a young man's curiosity regarding his estranged father whilst also being drip fed the resolution of the earlier case; Cullin's book is that rarity, a literary pageturner. It's beautifully written and reveals it's heartbreaking secrets both far too soon and frustratingly slowly. The carefully crafted links between the various stories are given the time and space to allow their tales to tell and to allow us to more fully understand what it means to be both Holmes at the height of his powers and Holmes at their decline.

For many people this will no doubt be an ill fit alongside the canon but those people will be missing the point. This isn't a book about Sherlock Holmes the great detective; he is simply the principal in a book about loss both great and small. Loss of friends, loss of family, loss of a child, loss of love, of memory, of things, of direction and ultimately loss of self. Holmes is ourselves wit large and as such any loss is both magnified and intensified. Through him we are shown what it means to be ultimately, inevitably, inescapably fallible.

I found this to be a beautiful and poignant read that took me to a place I've not visited in a while and brought me back filled with questions for which the answers can only be experienced when the time comes for them to be asked.

Heartily and resoundingly recommended.