Category: Review


Statute Of Liberties!

I am heartened, not to mention a little surprised, in many ways that so many people have read my review on the Snowden Mountain Railway, such that it appears in the first page of a Google search on the thing.  I suspect the views of that post equal all of the rest of mine put together!  It shows that some form of direct action can work and that my voicing my opinion and translating the disappointment my children felt may have avoided at least some others having the same experience. Adults can take these setbacks on the chin and muse and moan about the injustice to anyone who will listen, as indeed I have done, but for children this sort of event is more unfortunate and therefore from a parent’s point of view way more vexing.  In this day and age when getting children out of the house and off phones, computers and games consoles is increasingly more difficult it is essential to pick your activity carefully both within budget and something that will appeal sufficiently for them not to feel resentful for having been hauled out of their pits!  One of the most pleasing things is that the benefit to the Lake Railway has been as tangible and this is well deserved.  The experience we had on that did go a fair way to mitigating that on the SMR and I am grateful for it having done so because I imagine, I hope, what they are more likely to remember the SMR for is their father’s ire and indignation rather than their own memories of the mediocrity it all (thankfully they didn’t have to pay for it!).  The rest of the holiday was equally pleasurable with plenty to do in that part of the world and enough to occupy a few days in Llanberis at ground level alone.

Have I heard from the SMR at any stage since our trip, no. Has it damaged their finances much, I shouldn’t have thought a great deal. But it has a little bit and, however insignificant it may seem, the contempt they have shown to my family and others I know has bitten them in the arse, even if the equivalent of that of a mosquito.  There is such little recourse these days when larger organisations do customers an injustice that it is all the more important to speak out by whatever medium you have available, voices, however quiet can still lead to a conversation.  Review sites like Trip Advisor can have both a positive and a negative impact on places, this is not always a good thing as smaller places can be hit disproportionately hard by one bad review whilst the larger ones can absorb it into a morass of sycophancy.  Look no further at the SMR itself for an example of the latter.

At the time of writing the SMR’s Trip Advisor stats are:
  • Excellent – 486
  • Very good – 378
  • Average – 211
  • Poor – 109
  • Terrible – 118
Total reviews 1,302 – There is only 1 of the “terrible” reviews that the SMR have seen fit to respond to and it is one about the lack of the Welsh language being used, none of the things relating to either prices of the train or the parking are deemed fit for comment.  Conversely the “excellent” reviews are greeted with a great many sycophantic responses, I wonder if the original poster were paid to leave their comments!
I notice gladly that there has been no contradiction of my assertion of the Padarn Lake railway being a positive experience and this certainly speaks volumes.
Their Trip Advisor tally is:
  • Excellent – 133
  • Very good – 117
  • Average – 56
  • Poor – 13
  • Terrible – 9

Total reviews – 328.  Obviously this is far fewer than the SMR but the proportions make pretty stark reading, just under 7% of their reviews are at the worst end (Poor/Terrible). They have had 1 terrible in 2015 which was pretty much as a result of the SMR!  Other than that they not had a “terrible” since June 2013 and had responded to the last 2 they did receive.  Their Excellent/Very Good tally is over 75%.  The SMR’s record on the worst end is more than double the Lake railways’ at around 17% and at the Excellent/Very Good they manage only 66%.  So if you then add cost in to that you’ll get an idea of how it all stacks up.  And I haven’t even come to the car parking, a subject that many people leaving reviews seems to merit more anger than any event of the rest of the day!

I hope the people who have chosen to take the SMR have had a better time than we did, I bear those people no ill will and I hope as few children as possible have had a negative experience because at the end of the day my purpose was in the hope that this would be the case.  Likewise I’m sure many of the people working on the railway do care about their customers and are merely hampered, and perhaps equally frustrated by, the failings of the system at management level but I find it such a shame that the bean counters should have been allowed to rob the railway of its magic that I feel duty bound to ensure that my review remains out there alerting people.  One day a manager might come across the assorted negative feedback and think ‘this is wrong, I’m going to change it and make the railway great again’.  Yeah I won’t hold my breath either!

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Runing

When I first saw the trailers for Derek I was concerned as it looked like Ricky Gervais had written what was supposed to be a comedy about what appeared a clichéd depiction of someone with learning difficulties and/or autism.  It seemed that if the trailer looked this crass I was either misinterpreting the program, or that the depiction was inaccurate, or just that it was a shit and potentially very bigotted piece of writing.  I have to give context here, I do not like Ricky Gervais, I don’t find him particularly funny and as a person he comes across as pretty objectionable. I saw him first on the comic current affairs program the 11 o’clock show many years ago where he was given a brief solo spot, I did not find him at all funny he seemed bland and a little puerile and I did not expect him to return to the screen.  Looking back now it is easy to superimpose thoughts I have had since onto how I felt about him then, in truth I simply did not give him much time, he wasn’t prominent or notable enough.   Now I could see his performances then as having something of the counter-revolutionary alternative comedy about them, the post-modern Jim Davidson if you like, stripped of any tangible malice or outright bigotry but neither especially witty nor observant.  The comedian for Thatcher’s children and that’s still an overriding impression I have.  My guess is that he would be very matey if you were in his gang and a right twat if you weren’t.  So that does tell you the colour glasses I’d be wearing when casting a critical eye over his output.  I hope I have retained some objectivity or at least that my subjectivity has grounds!

The Office was largely well-written and certainly well-acted and had David Brent been played by someone else I think the tragi-comedy element would have been drastically heightened.  It is easy for me to find fault with something that has been a huge success, but success means good no more than it means perfect. For me the Ricky Gervais David Brent was consistently annoying, not uncommon in anti-heroes but with few if any redeeming features and here lay the lack of any sympathy for the character it was an exercise in car-crash tv waiting for the next excruciating cringe.  Having myself at the time an office workplace and line managers with equally few redeeming features I wallowed in this dramatisation of what seemed like my career it was an identification with rather than a wry regard from without.

Gervais’s next project was ‘Extras” which seemed frankly an excuse to get as many famous actors onto a series as possible, as if simply notches on a slate.  I found it disengaging and consequently disengaged.  I heard few if any people speaking about it and no evidence that i had made a rash decision.

Gervais then went to Hollywood and the trailer I saw for the film in which he was cast made me think of a vehicle of a Black And White Minstrel show using Gervais as a quirky Englishman playing to American stereotypes.  Now this is not fair since I did not see the film and trailers are notoriously biased toward what they think will appeal to the audience they are hoping to attract, but I’ve once written a review of a film I didn’t see that received a favourable comment from someone who had done so I’m no stranger to judgementalism!

And so on to Derek.  The only thing I had heard about the program was Gervais’s assertion that this was a favourable portrayal.  For the entire program Derek is shown with facial ticks, a perpetual open-mouthed gormless expression, a shuffling gait and a constant repetition of words in what would often be categorised as an autistic fashion. It is the pastiche of how anyone might perceive the autistic, the sort of ‘man in the street’ view of “the afflicted”.  Derek’s dress sense is no less clichéd the shirt top button done up, the lack of any colour in the clothing, stereotypical light brown shirt and dark brown jacket with nylon slacks directly out of 1974. Having been very recently to a centre dealing with people with extreme conditions of learning difficulty I can state without fear of contradiction that in those I met fashion sense has moved on at the same pace as everyone else’s.

Ultimately the show was meant to be a comedy and so should be judged in that light but the comedy elements Gervais writes are obvious and badly crafted, the sitting on the bowl on the chair, the falling in the pond are both utterly cringeworthy and tedious. Sometimes being able to see what is coming can be funny others it looks staged and ridiculous and this falls into the latter, it makes standing on a rake or slipping on a banana skin look new and edgy.  When he tries to show anything other than a vacant staring open-mouthed simpleton it comes across as clumsy, no more is this better illustrated than when one of the elderly inhabitants dies and Derek is recounting that she has said that it was more important to be kind than clever or good looking at which point he stumbles out that he is neither clever or good looking but is kind.  It just seems awkward, something one could not imagine a character that is not autistic saying, one would have expected more self-deprecation from a non-autistic person.  It was a scene that could and should have been tender and emotional and with minimum difficulty save for an ability to act.  In The Office Gervais had the excuse to look into the camera as this was in the context of it being a fly-on-the-wall documentary, Derek uses the same premise but his continuing to look in the camera gives more the impression that the style is used to allow Gervais to keep attention on him rather than anything else.  The character would probably have been a great deal more convincing if less comfortable in from of the camera.

Kerry Goodleman’s performance had some heart and her head butting one of the chavs on the way out of the pub was definitely the funniest moment of the 1/2 hour, admittedly without comparison.  Karl Pilkington, who in the limited experience I have of him comes across as a fairly vacuous person, gives a performance that shows Gervais up and this is in spite of Pilkington’s character being very unsympathetic.  Where Pilkington’s character performs the task of highlighting how little we think of the treatment of elderly people the defence is mounted in such a way by Gervais as to make it look like it is only normal for it to be so negative since those who do care have something wrong with them.  There was little else that offered any redemption and I cannot help but see it as a loss of time in my life that I would like to have back to spend more constructively.

If this is supposed to be sympathetic and demonstrating feeling for a character who may suffer ridicule and stigma due merely to his style and manner it is a horrendous way of doing so and is either the fault of the writer(s) or Gervais’ acting that this does not come across at all. The character and acting of Gervais in this is self-indulgant, ill-conceived and cruel.  It strikes me as being one that Gervais has seen in someone somewhere and decided to embellish and exploit for comic purpose in a sniggering and schoolboy way and this perhaps more than anything else shows how we allow certain people to be treated.  It is childish in the sort of way that is not merely ignorant humour but has a nastier streak.  Whether or not Gervais feels such a critique is unfair this is the way I found the program and I fail to see how anyone else might find it otherwise.  The trouble with humour is that whilst it is to be defended in its lampooning of things and I have stood up for Chris Morris in the past for his very sharp and deeply uncomfortable depictions of bigotry and fear it is because I feel that his doing so is not of malicious intent but is designed in essence to be constructive to prick the bubble of malign acquiescence that that which is harmful.  Of course once again this is my subjective interpretation of constructive so perhaps I should defend Gervais’s right to be shit, he will certainly continue to be so with or without my blessing.

Song Of The Day ~ Echobelly – Dark Therapy

Seeing the film Kidulthood brought back some very unpleasant memories and in truth made me feel deeply uncomfortable, my mind cast back to a time I have long tried to forget. This is not some attempt to portray my past as having been “in da hood” there were too many reasons why that was simply never going to be the case, not in the classic sense, but I was in a location and a social situation that was contradictory and ones where I could be comfortable in neither. In many respects I stood out sufficiently in both home life and school life to be more of a target than I might otherwise have been. you are not always able to choose your environment, nor for that matter the entirety of that for your children.

In 1980 we moved into a council flat off St. Anne’s Road, just around the corner from Latimer Road, a single parent family, 1 parent, 1 child. This was very different from the tranquil friendly atmosphere of East Chelsea where I was born and spent the first 6 or 7 years of my life in a childhood, not necessarily idyllic but sufficiently content for me to have no issues or angst regarding it either at the time or subsequently.  Where we moved to is an area still very much etched on my mind with all that is negative. The borough of the estate is Kensington, it is just off Holland Park Avenue, the postcode indeed the salubrious W11.  In most people’s minds this will conjure up pictures of multi-floored detached houses with large gardens and larger fences.  The preserve of diplomats, oligarchs and politicians, where we were this could not have been further from the truth.

Holland Park Avenue is a dividing line, I have no reason to suppose that has changed either, on the one side the great houses of the very wealthy, the comfortable, overlooking the park and with CCTV cameras, well before these were usual, adorning the imposing walls with their glass shards and barbed wire to keep the riff raff out. Whilst on the other side it is as close to bedlam as I ever wish to get, populated by the very riff-raff the other side wishes to keep at greater than arms length. Anyone aware of West London and the A40 westway will have seen the 3 large foreboding tower blocks that are the Edward Woods Estate, large brutalist carbuncles that wreck the otherwise comforting mundanity of the landscape. We lived in the shadow of these in a series of blocks a mere 9 storeys high.  For me home life was as unyielding as school life but at the other end of the spectrum, I was mocked at school for being from the wrong side of the tracks and beaten up at home for being at a posh school.  This is not unusual this just happened to be the areas in which I stood out, children find the differences and pick away at the seams until the underbelly is revealed, at which point the knives come out, they always do.

This is all a contextual preamble to the description of why Kidulthood was such disquieting viewing for me and I suspect others like me. Sometimes in spite of all your parents do, or how comfortable your home life may be behind the front door there is no getting away from the world in which you are forced to live with your peers. The plight of Katie in the film is testament to this, being a fish out of water is not just psychologically damaging but it frequently lends itself to the worst treatment at the hands of the children with whom one is forced tot share space, be it at school, area around home or both. When the world of the parents is so divorced from the daily life you are forced to lead the sense of alienation from all sides is inevitable and there are many ways in which this can manifest itself be it trying to fit in by joining gangs etc.  This is often the case for young boys who are seduced by the idea of being protected and principally belonging.  For young girls the ingratiation with the opposite sex in order to garner some friends and respect amongst the cooler and older of the peer groups is equally common. If a child remains disenfranchised the playground demonstrates that akin to the Serengety plains with the perceived weakest of the herds picked off by the bullying predators, the pain may be more metaphorical but it is no less damaging and all too often the final result is the same as the last and most extreme option for escape remains suicide.

In the case of such an occurrence all parties will be shocked. Parents will be astonished claiming they didn’t know things had got so bad, and hurting that this should not be just something that happens to children in the newspapers.  Fellow pupils will be astonished as the reality of life not being as it is when playing dead in the playground comes a little closer, but as Kidulthood shows it is more the ones who do not stand up to the bullies who suffer the perceived consequences of their actions, the bullies themselves have often long since abdicated responsibility and perhaps those left know that their buffer from the same treatment has been eroded.  Teachers will be astonished because they often don’t notice the quieter ones, the bullied ones, because those are the ones forced to avoid the teachers for fear of incurring more wrath from their persecutors if they are seen to be “grassing”.  As class sizes increase and do so more in the denser-packed ill-resourced inner cities so the simple logistics dictate that you cannot know everything about everyone and can only be largely reactive rather than proactive.  In the case of severe bullying this is inadequate and an explanation not an excuse but the teachers themselves cannot entirely, if at all, be blamed for it.   All parties will feel ashamed, all parties will lose a little of their humanity and in many cases their innocence, all parties will be forced to continue life with the thought nagging away at them as to what they might have done differently. It is all too late by then but tragically the lack of lessons learnt merely allows  the cycle to continue.

Righteous indignation on behalf of the establishment is very often a front for the covering up of the embarrassment of another failure but it should not be mistaken for a genuine desire to address the very fundamental problems of inner city depravation.  To characterise teenage suicide and wider troubles as something surprising is to mollify the lives of all of us, to make us believe that generally our children are safe, were we to know the reality we might start looking for reasons why and therein lie the roots for social change which cannot be allowed to happen.  We must also take responsibility for it since it helps us to believe the myth, helps us eat our breakfast whilst we send our children to school, helps us run our day without wanting to check in on our children’s welfare every hour.  As a parent deep knotted fear is an everyday thing, we anaesthetise ourselves just to get through from one day to the next.

As a film Kidulthood would I’m sure make interesting viewing for anyone, it is well-scripted and well-acted, the story illustrates well the very arbitrary nature of circumstance and the cyclical nature of bullying and violence. There is no glorification of that violence, though much is depicted, the nature of it and what it stems from are all too real for young people not just in West London but across Britain. The plughole like vortex that sucks more and more people in to its continuation is very well-handled. This should not be seen as an over-dramatisation, I only wish it were.  The riots last year should be a clear gauge for those who wish to believe that things have changed, the lid on the inferno will not stay on for ever and when it doesn’t we are all going to get burnt a little.

For many viewers the film may represent the sort of unhappy viewing and elicit pontifications of how things aren’t what they used to be after the war and kids these days run riot. These are the debates that can take place at distance from such affairs. There is some truth in that things were not the same back in the 80s, gun crime was not as rife in the area, though knife crime, violent assaults and muggings were certainly commonplace, I know this only too well from personal experience.  The perception of adults was also not quite as polarised as it seems to be now, back then being caught by an adult was something everyone sought to avoid whilst now it seems almost a necessary right of passage. The lack of respect is not new merely the way in which it is articulated. This is probably just as much to do with the removal of adults from children’s inner circle as it is anything else. Families are no longer as tight knit, nor necessarily so geographically close. Parents are often forced to work longer hours, teachers to deal with bigger classes and neither side is allowed to exercise the sort of discipline they once were, some of which is a good thing. I have heard the argument that children these days have more rights than ever before and this has led them to be a great deal more secure in the knowledge that not much can be done about their behaviour.  There may be some truth in this but to my mind only in conjunction with the other factors listed before. A more comprehensive and consistent approach to things from family and schooling prresents more of a united front and backs up either side.

The breakdown of social cohesion and inclusion by its very nature destroys social responsibility, you only have ownership of that which affects you and you affect, if society distances itself from you you will cease to engage with it.

Song Of The Day ~ Tracey Ullman – Breakaway

I grew up on Rev W Awdry railway stories and so did my children so we were really looking forward to the Snowdon Mountain Railway, it was one of the principle reasons for going to Llanberis to base ourselves.

I was not prepared to pay the full price of the tickets which was an eye-watering £25 for adults and £18 for chidren, because this did not give you the free-reign of the railway for the day it was for one trip only which I’m afraid I found so astonishingly expensive I preferred the normally unheard of step of getting up at 7am to catch the 9am train to receive the “Early Bird discount” which cost a mere (!) £43 for myself and the 2 kids.   To start with when we arrived we had to stand out in the rain getting soaked whilst the coach sat empty at the platform, the children were pretty crestfallen to find it was a diesel and not a steam train – they don’t mention mountain diesels in the railway stories – even I was pretty disappointed, there’s something magical about those Swiss engines that are built on a wonk, the smell, the noise all the things you expect of the trip which we weren’t able to experience which was a real pity.

According to the management most people don’t care what takes them up whether steam or diesel, I’d like to know what they are basing these claims on as I doubt they are surveying many real people, however if they wished to stand by their spurious statistics then why do they not publicise which type of locomotive will be working in advance and people can then make their choices?  I suspect it has more to do with the fact that the fuel costs are vastly different between steam and diesel, I saw something that said according to 1987 costs the diesel round trip cost £3.05 in fuel whilst the steam train was a little over £50. These costs are undoubtedly significant but when you consider that there are at least 40 people in each carriage and if you take £18 as the base rate that’s £720 per trip, which bearing in mind there are trips every half an hour between 9am and 4.30pm is £1440 per hour and therefore well over £10,000 per day.  Now I know fuel is not the only cost and some trains in the off season are not full but when they’re making £10k per day I think they’ve enough surplus, bearing in mind the revenue from the various cafés and gift shops is in addition to that.  I also suspect you’ll find that the Early Bird discount or skinflint bastard trains as they probably see it are deliberately all diesel-hauled.  If it were a weather thing that would be a fair excuse but to see steam engines chugging up with their passengers as we were on the way down does make you feel pretty hard done by.

The carriage itself was basic, in fact the windscreen had a huge crack across the middle of it so photos through that were out of the question, it had hellishly uncomfortable seats, I’ve sat on 3rd Class wooden seats that gave me less arse-ache, and there’s barely anywhere to sit if there are 3 of you, which meant on the way back the children had to sit somewhere completely different to me.  We couldn’t hear any of the commentary at all so we just got a droning noise with no discernable words the whole way up – there is no commentary on the way down, probably by this stage even the SMR have given up the pretence that they are trying to provide a service.  The carriage windows got steamed up so quickly that in the breaks in the cloud no-one could see anything anyway and the train only stopped at the now disused stations.   The stations themselves are all boarded up so it doesn’t feel like a railway more a grudging shuffle of people to the top and down again just to have fleeced them of their money.

You don’t get a certificate for your £43, that costs extra, you don’t even get to send postcards from the Summit with a special stamp unless you pay extra 25p per card, and beware you don’t run out of time before you can write them because that 30mins goes pretty quick, just enough time really to get up to the top, take a few photos, use the loo (one of the only things that was free so you might as well enjoy it.) and get to your train, otherwise you fall foul of the “Friendly notice” which is literally stuck up everywhere telling you that if you miss your train down the railway is not obliged to take you down and it’s a 2 hour walk.  When I say this notice is everywhere you’d struggle to find any area more than 2 ft sq. that didn’t have it at least once and perhaps multiple times.  It doesn’t come across as friendly but then neither does much of the railway.

The trains aren’t to blame, nor are the drivers who are nice fellas but this whole thing is run for profit, not by enthusiasts as most of these sorts of things are, this is what happens when the money men get it and suck all the life out of endeavours.  What I find so sad is that these are feats of engineering built by men of vision and when raped by the bankers to squeeze every last fiscal drop they are robbed of their very soul.  You don’t get clusters of people hanging around the station chatting and taking photos, little boys gawping at the engines whilst their (grand)fathers stand with glazed nostalgic looks in their eyes, no on the SMR you’re practically herded out into the overpriced gift shop, I’m surprised the platform doesn’t recede after 5 minutes, it all leaves a really sour taste in your mouth. I had to explain to the children that we couldn’t go on again to get one of the steam locos because we’d have to pay again and it would be £61 which I couldn’t afford and bloody wouldn’t have wanted to.

Yes I know I had done the maths beforehand, I knew what the price was and the fact that we only got 30 mins at the top, I could have found out they might run diesel or steam, there are always get-out clauses, so one could say I in fact contributed to this situation that allows these bastards to rip more people off each year by knowing these facts and still paying up, but what I find sticks in the craw so much is the way we were so blatantly used, it is the very zenith of using children to prise you from your money, and then the SMR has the temerity to claim that it is Wales’ favourite family attraction, well I’m sorry but that’s just bollocks from many of the reviews I’ve seen and I wish to try to do my bit to redress the balance a little and if I can stop one family parting with their money then I will have put my words to good use.

I offer this advice to anyone considering such a holiday, do go to Llanberis which is a really nice place but take your kids (or your inner train spotter) on the Llanberis Lake Railway which cost us around £12, the ride is nice and the drivers are superb, a far nicer activity and much more worthy of the money. It’s exactly like the Skarloey and Rheneas part of the railway stories and has a load of history of slate mining surrounding it.  Go to the National Slate museum which the railways runs past and is free and wonderfully rich and entertaining, have ice creams at Giorgio’s and fry-ups at Pete’s Eats and Pizza and a pint in the evening for these are all the sorts of things that holidays are made of and not only will your children have happy memories but you won’t be sporting a bank statement with a galling entry for the Snowdon Mountain Railway and all the exploitative capitalistic claptrap that it stands for.  You will feel better for it, trust me, I don’t wish you to have to find out why.

I tried writing a complaint but as yet still no response, and I don’t expect to get one either because they give off the very strong impression that once they’ve taken your cash they really couldn’t give a toss.  On a different note I wrote an email to the Lake railway thanking them for being so pleasant to the children and they wrote back within 24 hours delighted I had taken the time and thanking me for doing so.

Song Of The Day ~ The Doobie Brothers – Long Train Running

thebandsm1.jpg The Best Things In Life Are Free

The Afterglow

Date: 20/07/2006   —   Free   —   Music

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Rating:

As seems to be the norm I got the lethargy before the gig, which was surprising in one way because I’d been looking forward to the gig for some months and after the surgery saw it as being a date by which time I might be feeling a little better and more able to get out and about. The post-30 Baron though is made of sterner stuff and I know to conquer my incumbant sloth and get out there into the world. It is just as well I did.

I came across The Afterglow via myspace, since they spend a lot of time over in Italy this is quite a useful way for artists to get some airtime and I was pleased that the band’s myspace site offered their music for download so that I could listen to it at my leisure. Whilst they may be a band of Italians singing in English they are taken seriously enough to be working with producers like Steve Orton and have their music distributed through EMI. And I liked the music, a lot, it was just the right combination of rock and melody. I reviewed their second EP here and I wrote what I like to think were constructive and positive without being sycophantic comments about the songs they posted on the myspace site. Furthermore this gig was to be within throwing distance from home so it seemed only right and proper to give the band my support.

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Playing a backwater pub and a specialist biker’s pub my be an interesting choice of venue but The Victoria is a friendly place if it’s website and consequent publicity is a little lacking. Support act for a more local band is also not exactly the stuff musicians dreams are made of but exposure is exposire after all. And besides, the venue was local for me so who am I to complain? The support slot is a variable one, over the years I’ve seen some really good bands play and some pretty poor ones as well, this is only the second time I’ve gone to a gig primarily to see the support since I saw Editors support Franz Ferdinand.

I stood somewhat alone at the soundcheck but the band played a couple of tracks and I tapped along. The drummer approached me afterwards and said “you seem to know some of our songs.” I replied that I did on account of having heard the tracks on myspace. “Are you Dom?” he asked, I replied naturally that I was and was subsequently greeted like an old friend by all of the band who then presented me with an advance copy of their album. It appears that my words of encouragement and reviews had been received warmly. I was slightly taken aback initially but delighted to be greeted thus and even more pleased to be invited to share dinner with them.

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The band got up to play shortly after 9.30, they’d already bought me a drink and given me their album and first ep by this stage so I was in a good mood! Their set was 45 minutes and had the right mix of old stuff, new stuff, known stuff and unknown stuff. 4 out of the 9 tracks in their set are unreleased so even the die-hard fan will have something new. ‘All Of You’ their opening track is a foot stomper which I hadn’t heard before, then on to the familiar ‘Things I’ve Lost’ and ‘Journey’ followed by what seems to be one of the band’s old songs ‘Pride’. The musical style is good solid rock base with more accoustic verses, heavier in the Middle 8 and refrains. Dave’s accoustic guitar compliments Mik’s much heavier electric style whilst David on bass clearly has the talent and ambition to play good complicated bass rhythms.

At the opening to ‘Love’ the first single of the band’s that I came across, lead singer Dave dedicated the song to me personally as, “a new friend”, it was a touching gesture and if the band do manage to make it big and start playing stadia in the future it’ll be the moment I bore all my friends with for years to come. ‘Love’ is real single material, very catchy, and happens to have a video with some foxy chicks in it as well which never goes amiss!

I hadn’t heard ‘Guilty Lover’ before, it’s catchy and funkier than most of the other songs and it’s definitely worth keeping in the set, hopefully it’ll make an appearance on a future EP or the myspace site, well worth a listen. The backend of the set was ‘Supermarket’ from the forthcoming album followed by ‘Clown’ another of the band’s older songs. Finally they rounded of with ‘Nothing Happened’ which is also off the new album. The sound was right for the pub, they played the more load and upbeat of their tracks the set didn’t include the very excellent ‘Easy’ but in this venue at least it probably wasn’t missed by any but the afficianados.

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I like the fact that the live performance is not a formulaic rehash of studio songs but a proper performance of the songs with all the nuances that a live performance should bring. One also has to bear in mind that to the band’s credit they were playing in sweltering heat under bright stagelights, it was sweaty for us watching, one can only imagine what it must have been like up there.

If the British can overcome their usual suspicion of anything foreign they will find The Afterglow very much in the tradition of their own rock music. There is a stream of bands that have fallen foul of this snobbish prejudice and the number of hits from outside the native anglophone world has been disproportionally minimal to the talent out there.

Of course such an evening’s wining and dining could lead to accusations of me being “embedded” with the band in the same way that US and UK journalists had travelled with the military during the invasion of Iraq, however I would like to think that I still have enough integrity left to be objective in my reviews, besides I was spared the quandry since the performance more than lived up to expectations and I can therefore, with a clear conscience, urge anyone near Camden Town and Liverpool over the next couple of days to go and see them and those in Oxford and London to keep in mind the September gigs, for the sort of small amount of money you are likely to have to pay if at all there is no question The Afterglow are probably the best value currently on the circuit.

Original Comments:


kevin g made this comment,
Concert sounded, from your review, as amazing. I’ve never heard of this band before, will have to study up on them. Thanks! Happened to tag using That Petrol Emotion, and your site came up, so I stopped by.

-Redbaron responds- Thanks for stopping by Kevin, any fan of That Petrol Emotion is a fan of mine, smashing group sadly missed. If you liked ‘Chemicrazy’ then I think you’d like The Afterglow a lot. If you go to their myspace site on the ‘more information’ link at the top of this review then you can download their songs for free and see what you reckon.-

comment added :: 22nd July 2006, 03:43 GMT+01

numbersix_national.jpg Grand National 2006 – Baron Wins The National

Aintree

Date: 8th April 2006   —   £1.00 bet   —   Other

Rating:

Not literally of course but I picked the winner, twice! I entered a competition at work and selected Numbersixvalverde for a £1 stake which will yield £8. I traditionally put £1 on a horse to win the Grand National at the bookies and a 50p E/W bet on another horse to place. This year was no different, I decided that the winner of the Irish National was good enough for me and being a Cornish fan was enough for Cornish Rebel for a place.

It was a classic race, for about the first half I thought our horse had fallen because she wasn’t mentioned at all but towards the end she came into contention and at the final fence we started to get a little excited when she jumped into the lead ahead of the 2 favourites. From there on in it looked to all the world like a masterplan to sit at the back and come up at the end, full of running she beat all the rest by a few lengths, we were jumping around like idiots by then!

I got 11-1 for Numbersixvalverde which was pretty decent although had I managed to put the bet on Friday I’d have got 12-1 but hey ho. So the kids and I went along to pick up our £12 and we all had chow mein to celebrate. It’s ironic really, had I been a real gambler and chosen to wager the £250 I had to take out for my rent I would have won £3000 and my financial problems would be well on their way to sorted. Equally had I chosen to wager my rent money on the Grand National I would have been a twat! Anyway the chow mein was nice and for half an hour the kids and I got to celebrate and believe that we were part of the sport of kings. My daughter even asked what we were going to give the horse for winning for us, I thought that was rather sweet, she’s good like that.

The irony is that whilst I took a picture of my betting slip to post here I forgot to put a compact flash card in and so I don’t have proof, except in my mind and Ladbrokes account record, but I know it and so do the people at work whose money I will be taking soon!

Song Of The Day – The Thrills – One Horse Town

Original Comments:


baracuda made this comment,
Hurrah for numbersixvalverde
I had a few quid on him too.

comment added :: 10th April 2006, 01:58 GMT+01 :: http://myveryownblog.blog-city.com/
john made this comment,
Blimey ! £3 Baron. You mind that you don’t end up like Wayne Rooney. 😉
comment added :: 10th April 2006, 15:17 GMT+01 :: http://bigjohn.blog-city.com
sarah made this comment,
congratulations, my twin. i’m glad u didn’t wager your rent money, bit scary if that didn’t work out your way! and your daughters remark was adorable.
comment added :: 16th April 2006, 14:38 GMT+01
Jimmy Sunshine made this comment,
still spending the winnings? you haven’t blogged for a while…
comment added :: 4th May 2006, 16:33 GMT+01

the_band2.jpg Love’s The Cure

The Afterglow

Date: Sept 2005   —   Free   —   Music

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Rating:

If myspace.com gives me nothing at all it will have introduced me to The Afterglow from whom I received a free CD which turned out to be really rather fucking decent. The band are a group from the North West around Liverpool but seem to have spent a large amount of time out in Turin where they formed in 1998 settling on a line up a couple of years ago, and consequently they juggle their time between the UK and Italy. I got the email saying “The Afterglow want to be your friend” from myspace, I don’t have a vast amount of friends on it but I do tend to vet the music before consenting to be pals, I like to think that far from being a myspace tart I am rather exclusive!!! In this case I was happy to hear the four songs on their site 3 of which were taken from their current EP.

After adding the group as a mate I received a mail from their backroom team asking me if I wanted a free copy of their EP. Something to do with Gift Horses and Mouths sprang to mind. Some 3 days or so later up it appeared. By then I had already downloaded most of it because they are allowing free downloads from the myspace site and the music was good but no matter having the physical disk meant I sat and listened to it all through.

The opening track Love is a really easy entry into the band’s music. It goes straight into a languid rasping guitar and steady drum almost anthemic. The vocals are clear and the style is alluringly eclectic, something about the lyrics and the lines not quite being symmetrical, whether the Italian influence being a more poetic lilting language, it’s a difficult trick to pull off, someone has done it before but I can’t recall whom, I like it anyway and it’s nice to hear something that conforms to many good things whilst not just being a re-hash of everything that has gone before. The chorus is the strongest hook of the song, it brings Dave the vocalist’s voice out a little more and he’s got a grand and melodic pair of lungs.

Things I’ve Lost continues a mini theme that appears to run through certain parts about the fear of getting older. I can equate to this! It’s a good song but a little eclipsed by Love but mainly because I think it would be bloody difficult not to be.

As if to emphasise a flair for the accoustic track the thrid track Easy is a real find. I’m a sucker for well-strummed accoustic guitars and add a strong piano part in and you are likely to have the ingredients for a good rock ballad. Again the song is simple and unpretentious, a nice change to minor key for the chorus is another of those things guaranteed to get me hooked. If I like Love for its Summer in the car windows wound down quality, Easy is much more of an evening sunset mellow song, sort of thing you play whilst relaxing with some booze and the girlfriend.

Another Lie In The World is a considerable slow-down in pace I like the melody and the lyrics the song has a little more electronic feel to it although I don’t like the very synthetic sounding drum beat I find that detracts from the song which is a shame because other than that its accoustic simplicity has a certain charm.

I hope the band do well, I like their music, their ethos and the friendliness of their staff. As such they are the Baron’s top tip for Summer ’06. And it’s not as if you’ll even have to shell out to find I’m right.

The band are back in England in the Summer and playing near me in July, judging by the likely price of the gig I can consider it cheap payback for the EP and thus get the gig for free you get precious little these days for free and practically nothing that’s any good. This is a nice exception to that rule, if you miss it then you’ll only have yourself to blame.

Praktica BC1 SLR

lily.jpg Praktica BC1 35mm SLR Camera

VEB Pentacon

Date: 1984-5   —   £15   —   Electronics

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Rating:

This was the first one I got. The whole idea came to me kind of as a result of this camera. I was due to leave for Edinburgh in a couple of days for the G8 protests and it occurred to me firstly that there may be places I might not want to take my Minolta Dim7 and secondly that if I used up all the space on the CF cards I might not have the ability to download the pics and therefore be stuffed. I decided that buying a cheap and cheerful 35mm camera would at least give me the option of snapping away and if I did end up in any scrapes with the Plod and the like then I wouldn’t have wasted too much money.

I had kind of wanted to try a Praktica since the experience of my Zenit had made me ammenable to Ost Bloc optical equipment and I knew that Praktica had an excellent reputation along with Carl Zeiss. I’ve always had a soft spot for DDR stuff anyway. The Praktica BC1 was on ebay and bought by me for £15 with a Pentacon 50mm lens. I thought for that money you couldn’t really complain and as long as the thing worked I’d be pretty chuffed. You have to bear in mind here that in the mid 80s these were serious bits of kit, in fact at photo dealerships one will still set you back £80 if it’s in decent nick.
garden.jpg

I know this isn’t a stunning shot as such but I was impressed by the clarity and detail of this shot, it showed the colour and hue very well which is why I’ve used it. On the close-up lily shot the Praktica did much better than the Minolta, although I am still testing the Minolta to ensure it was not the weird lens letting it down.

Obviously since the demise of my late lamented Zenit 12XP I hadn’t used a film camera in a while and therefore the first film I ran off I found it hadn’t taken because I hadn’t loaded the film in properly. Ah yes the memories of how irritating film photography could be came back to me as easily as how enjoyable it could be! This was of course my fault rather than the cameras.

edinb.jpg

Whilst in some ways the biggest problem with film photography is the lack of instant playback, this can also be a good thing in terms of the anticipation of the wait for pictures. The pictures I got out of the initial batch in Edinburgh were surprising in their quality. I didn’t know the camera, and I had therefore expected nothing more than half decent snaps but to be honest they were really good quality shots and I don’t mean through any talent of the photographer because God knows I don’t have much but the picture I had wanted to capture had come out pretty much how I would have wanted it to.
Filth

The Praktica BC1 is very easy to use, it’s a bit of a doddle really, if you want the shutter speed automatic you can set it as such and simply adjust the aperture, or if you want full manual control you can set the wheel from Brief to 1000. The light metre is easy to read and understand and the camera is small by comparison with many but with a metal casing it is durable. The focusing may take people a little getting used to as it focuses on a diagonal rather than a horizontal like most cameras, I actually find this quite good because it is easier to see when you have not got something exactly focused with a diagonal once you get used to it.

All in all I have decided to keep the Praktica BC1, were I to sell it on I would be unlikely to make more than £20-£25 and I feel I will gain more than that from using it in the circumstances in which it excels.

Live At Derby Assembly Rooms

Rob Newman & Mark Thomas

Date: 14/11/05   —   £14.50   —   Other

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Rating:

There isn’t really anything better than laughing a lot and learning at the same time. Besides when 2 boys come up to the frozen North from my part of London it’s only fair to give them some support!

I haven’t seen Rob Newman for a long time, he used to do a double act with David Baddiel who went on to worse things with Frank Skinner. In those days Newman had long hair like mine and wore the clothes of something of a dandy including a rather fine long crimson velvet jacket. These days his hair is shorter and his attire looks as if he is to be appearing in ‘Waiting For Godot’ soon. I hadn’t expected his act to be quite as sharp and satirical and politically to the left as it was. Funny, yes, Newman was always funny, there is a gravitas that comes from the product of a fervent mind for the good and bad things this entails. The modern day Rob Newman is a very astute political activist. A comedic campaigner who is all too aware of the contradictions of the modern world and the ignorance under which we are expected to live. He describes the First World War as being caused by an invasion of Iraq (then Mesopotamia) and not as we are led to believe in the history books the assasination of Archduke Ferdinand.

The historical context is this. Prussia, (most of what constitues modern day Germany) the great emerging military and economic power did not have the oil reserves for the mechanisation it required. It therefore needed the Berlin to Baghdad railway link. Since the Orient Express route already covered the route as far as Istanbul it was only necessary to complete the remaining section. This was of course not the sort of thing the British could allow since there was no way the British could compete with a Prussia running at full tilt. Thus the British mobilised, ironically in Basra, in order to stop German plans. To bring across this sort of information is usually the domain of such investigative heavyweights as Pilger and Chomsky, to make it funny and bring in such gems as the Samarian version of Rock Around The Clock as part of a way to avoid harm when kidnapped in Iraq is first rate.

Newman’s anthropomorphic illustration of the US as the backyard bullyboy with baseball bats mooting out a punishment beating on Iraq for daring to consider changing their oil currency from $ to €, whilst looking up to China saying “I got dis under control, Sur” at the same time Venezuela looks on saying “ey gringo, I think you losin’ your to’ch, years ago you bury this alone, now you got to do it with yo’ beetch” and North Korea drives by in their Hyundai giving the finger out the window and “Fuck you ‘Mericaaaaaaaa” is both very funny and a startlingly good analogy. The dependence on the universal oil currency being $ is rapidly becoming a fragile one for the US and shows all too graphically just how short-term the US’s dominance will be. When Iraq switched to € the value of the € went up by 25% over the following 6 months. Other countries, Iran, North Korea etc. have attempted to follow suit. Miraculously the list of the countries that have sought to make this change is remarkably similar to the ‘Axis of Evil’

Newman is very well-versed on environmental issues and his meticulously researched presentation on the oil situation is tantamount to apocalyptic. Sadly it is all too true if only people can be bothered to research the facts. Someone has done some of the work for you here Figures exist that show we have passed peak production

If I had to some up Rob Newman’s message using his own words it would be that in the light of the impending crisis there is “No Way Out.” The conclusion is clear they might say there is nuclear but the cost and fallout and cycle is not a solution merely another problem. There is hydrogen, but there are no hydrogen reservoirs, hydrogen has to be made and to make almost anything in the mechanised world you require oil.

To be fair Rob Newman was an added bonus, I’d have been happy to see him but I paid my money predominantly being a huge Mark Thomas fan. I have been so for many many years now and every series he does on Channel 4 seems to go from strength to strength and is a far cry from the old Friday Night Live days, when he took to the stage along with another of the then new men of the alternative new left comedy scene Ben Elton. Whilst Elton has gone off to write bestselling novels and musicals with Andrew Lloyd-Weber Thomas has stuck to what he does best and has both retained integrity and developed hugely as a performer into a man approaching the influence and genius of the late great Bill Hicks and that is not an accolade I confer lightly.

Thomas starts his set recounting his gig in Belfast, his opening joke “What’s the difference between Saddam Hussein and the IRA? -Saddam hasn’t got any weapons!” he says went down well after a pause before someone shouted now “we’ll have a joke now about the Unionists for parity so we will!” He duly obliges launching one at Ian Paisley “Preacher of Hate” and how he finds it strange that whilst he refuses to believe that the IRA have given up their weapons he is happy to believe that Jesus was the son of God and the pope is the devil! Paisley, Thomas says, is a scary man who could make anything sound sinister, he proceeds to recount Paisley’s shopping list in barking Belfast tones “2 tins of tomatoes…a packet of oven-ready smily faces.” There is also the fact that Paisley does not believe the IRA has given up its weapons “the man who think Jesus Christ is the son of God and the pope is the devil, we’re only now asking you to believe one little tiny thing here!” Not stopping just with the leader Thomas lambasts the Orange order, a group he describes as “paramilitary homepride men” for marching to almost anything and yet not prepared to fight on the issue of the public right to roam.

Thomas is one of the great do-ers, he researches things and then enacts them much to the chagrin of the establishment. There is without question a lot of serious substance in Mark Thomas’ material, his particular bete-noir at the moment is the arms dealing, Britain is the 2nd biggest arms dealer in the world. There is now a law banning the involvement of any British citizen from any dealings involving stun batons, called the “torturer’s weapon of choice” by Amnesty International. Thomas not only sets up a deal involving British citizens but brokers it in the name of the Minister in charge of arms sales!

Thomas says he likes heckling, (though it would be a foolish person that were to heckle either of the men on this bill) he says how sometimes even if you haven’t thought it through it can be powerful. He regales us of the story of a friend from Newcastle who was supposed to be group heckling the former Secretary for Work and Pensions whilst he was still in office. Upon finding that she was alone on arrival when the Minister arrived she was gripped with passion and bellowed in strong Geordie tones “Blunket, you cunt”. The effect, apparently was that the driver of Blunket’s car was so surprised he reversed into a wall!

Thomas does an encore and then both he and Newman ad lib in a musical poetry slam. This is Newman’s territory and he soon has the audience and Mark Thomas in fits. Not to be overlooked entirely, Thomas shows he is a really quite accomplished harmonica player!

OK, I’ll grant you this was always going to be the ideal comedy gig for me, it has everything I need, it’s very funny, very politically charged and they talk proper like! That being said it will be the yardstick by which all other comedy nights are measured.

You can find the remaining dates on the tour here and because I enjoyed it so much, if you happen to be at one of the Warwick gigs you might just run into me.

Song Of The Day ~ Sky Parade – Losin Control

Live At The Rescue Rooms (3)

The Bluetones

Date: 13/11/05   —   £14.50   —   Music

Rating:

The Bluetones have been around for a little while, you may not have heard of them, they’re the sort of band that had a couple of hits some time ago and then would have appeared to vanish if you weren’t a fairly dedicated fan, however they continued to release records and as a result would have had a fanbase until a couple of years ago when they did seem to disappear. The last album I have is 1998 and their last tour was I believe 2001. So it was a bit of a comeback special. To my mind if you like The Thrills and bands of that genre, you’ll see where a lot of their music came from when you hear The Bluetones.

First of all came Sky Parade who are American and had to apologise for not being able to find the venue and thus the resulting 15 minute delay. Sky Parade are proof that good things can come out of the US, they are a classic rock 4 piece, their set beginning with the excellent rasping semi-psychadelic ‘Losing Control’. I really like this group, they are unsigned but they could well go far. The whole band is pretty tidy, the bassist looked baked throughout and the drummer was so in the zone it was almost like having a young John Bonham on stage. You don’t get so much of that on the album, partially because the band have used 2 drummers but I guess also because it’s a more polished performance that they’ve recorded than the more high-octane live act. I hope they spend more time over here, they have a sense of the indie movement of the early 1990s with a bit of the neo-punk that’s so pravalent at the moment, and a dash of Lou Reed thrown in for good measure. I would not consider them typical of West Coast American music it’s more gritty, more grey city New York style for that. There’s elements of The Stone Roses and the Mock Turtles in there which is why I reckon they’d have success here. Well worth seeing in their own right if they do any pub gigs. I met the lead singer after the gig and shook his hand and wished the band well. I even bought their album, as, it seems, did a lot of others at the gig.

The second support act were The Conway Story, they drew the short straw because people seemed to have widely enjoyed Sky Parade and The Conway Story were a different type of band. They were decent without being spectacular but their set was marred by a couple of idiots in the crowd giving them stick. I find this somewhat ridiculous because they are not going to be on stage for long and they do their bit and they are after all merely a support act so why would anyone want to give them a load of shite…? They played on regardless and fair play to them for that, it can’t be easy in that situation.

It had felt like quite a long wait for The Bluetones, not as long as it had been for The Paddingtons though, and if one had expected the heckling to stop when the main event started we were disappointed. It was quiet and respectful at first but there were signs that the rowdiness was returning early on. Midway thru’ the second song Mark, the lead singer of the band made a foray into the crowd returning with a hat. At the end of the song he made it clear that he had seen a bloke pushing a lady around and had gone in to break it up and returned with the offenders hat.

During the third song on one of Mark’s forays around the stage he came over to the far left where I was (ain’t that always the way!) and asked if I thought we were penned in, I replied that we were ok. I was certainly happy to be at the edge than in the middle where it did seem very crushed.