Saturday, July 18, 2009

Gig Guide 2: The 2000 Trees Festival, Andoversford, Gloucs

All the portents were bad: the last festival I went to I almost died from sickness and disease and this time the weather forecast was for Glastonbury-like weather but wetter and colder! This was, after all, the midway point in July - a month notorious for being shit.

Roger and I decided to set off at a leisurely pace; there wasn't a lot of point getting there early as there was only really on band we wanted to see. So, in strained sunshine in Shoesville, we hit the road for Gloucestershire and the home of bulky rugger players. It didn't rain. We got to Banbury and it didn't rain. We got to Chipping Warden and we saw a spit or two of rain, but the sky in front was clearing up; there was a rush of optimism from both of us. By the time we got to Stow the bright sky had been replaced by more grey uniform cloud and ten miles further on, while still dry, the sky looked ominous.

We stopped at the Royal Oak in Andoversford for a pint and a sandwich; neither were particularly inspiring. We then took the 4-wheel drive into off-road territory and found our way to a field cum car park. We got our shit together, locked the car up, got to the gates of the festival and the heavens opened and it struggled to improve from that point on.

We were pleasantly surprised that the two bars sold real ale, so we settled on a pint of that as we sheltered from the rain and when it stopped we made our way down to the main arena, where the rain started yet again, so we made our way to the main bar, found a couple of straw bales and settled down - Amplifier weren't due on stage until 7.15, it was 2.15...

The most incredible thing for the first two hours was watching the rain - it was a mixture of horizontal and that thick drizzle that permeates everything. We saw people getting drenched in minutes and Roger spent ages whinging about kids coming to festivals 'prepared', with wellies and waterproofs and pondered the fact they were all lily-livered mummy's kid who wouldn't know a real festival if it bit them on the arse and gave them a hickey!

About 4, as the rain eased for a moment, we headed back to the car - me to get my raincoat and get out of the soaking wet denim shirt I was wearing and Roger because he wanted to see how the Test match was doing - it was being rained off... On our way back to the festival, the heavens opened again - big time and we got into the Tree Lounge with about 700 other people and were treated to a nice little set by alternative folksters Sailorette, who were jolly enough to raise spirits. We decided to get down to the main stage to check out Sucioperro, but had missed them - they got drenched as the rain was driving towards the stage and Roger started worrying that the weather might delay the gigs because of health and safety reasons - frankly, I thought being electrocuted might have livened some of them up...

We also missed The Chapman Family, but got to see Charlie Barnes, a friend of Amplifier, who performs solo and is a bit like a walking one man Sigur Ros, with some balls. The guy is very amiable, came across well and his 26 minutes were, frankly, just not enough. We weren't expecting much and Charlie exceeded our expectations - check his page on Facebook out, but it doesn't really give you an idea of this guy's fantastic range.

Back to the bar while Rolo Tomassi were scaring adults and children alike with a set that from where we were sitting looked full of energy, screaming and plippy ploppy keyboards. Exit Ten were also stymied by the rain and sounded like a poor Pearl Jam, but they tried hard in front of a crowd that was outnumbered by those in the bar - by about 3 to 1.

Then something wondrous happened. I went for a piss at the eco toilets (15 bales of straw sewn together and you piss on them - presumably cows like urine soaked hay!) and when I came out there was something strange on the horizon - blue sky! By the time Amplifier came on stage to do their soundcheck it was quite feasible they would be the only band that day to play when it wasn't raining and the fact it started teaming it down five minutes after they finished, God was smiling on the boys from Manchester.

We were right down the front; I was using an umbrella I found (commandeered) as a leaning stick - my back doesn't take to standing for ages in damp conditions and Amplifier were having problems with their leads and behind us the biggest crowd of the day so far had formed. Finally the band broke into their first number and boy did they rock. I even found myself banging my head and jigging about as they thundered through a 55 minute set almost flawlessly - apart from Sel's guitar problems during the final number. Never has an hour whizzed by so fast and left me with the feeling that 2000 Trees had made the wrong decision to put Fightstar on as headliners - Amplifier were/are better than Fightstar - not that I stayed around to compare the two.

It took us 2 hours and 20 minutes to get there and 1 hour and 4o minutes to get back. I took the longer, more speedy route on the way home, mainly because my back and shoulder were now beginning to scream blue murder at me. I pulled up outside of Roger's house at 10 on the dot, just as Fightstar were about to embark into the arenas of mud. And that is what 2000 Trees became - on the way back to the car after Amplifier, we saw just how much and what damage the rain had caused; rivers of mud everywhere and even the 4x4 struggled on the slippery slopes. We both agreed that if the sun had been shining it was have been an idyllic setting; but it was cold and wet and only an hour of decent weather during Amplifier made it worth it.

Wouldn't be fair to rate this, but I'd give Amplifier 9 out of 10, roll on their next UK tour!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Welcome to the Occupation

I'm working on a real magnum opus of a blog entry; one that might not even end up getting 'published' because it's really, really, deep and very personal; so until I make a decision regarding that, normal service will continue as it normally does.

Now there was a nothing sentence if ever I saw one! A bit like announcing, "I'm going to go to the toilet if I need to go to the toilet!" ...

Anyhow, this isn't why we're here. This is a previews show and nothing else.

Busy busy busy weeks ahead for the old cripple; tomorrow I'm off to my first music festival for 25 years. Yes, TWENTY FIVE. The last festival I went to was Glastonbury in 1984. For those who remember that particular year, it was really the first bad year for mud and rain and I almost got pneumonia as a result...

There was a bunch of us going down; some of us were actually going to perform and I'd just recovered from a nasty bout of tonsillitis, which necessitated their removal a year later and was raring to go. Me and my old mate Colin were taking our Bastard Brothers/Dick & Bob/Great Excreto & Labia alternative comedy show and we were scheduled to appear in the comedy tent at 4:00pm on the Sunday.

We got there on the Friday morning, pitched our tents and went for a wander, to find some cool music and see what drugs were on sale - this was 1984, it hadn't been swamped by police and commercialism yet. It was during the afternoon that it started to rain and was a constant drizzle by 8:00pm. We had pitched our tent on a slight camber, except it was the wrong way - it should have been vertical - up and down - not across. We hit the sleeping bags in the early hours and we were already damp. I awoke about 6:00am in a puddle. My sleeping bag was saturated and I was lying in ½ an inch of rainwater. The Saturday morning afforded us a few hours of sunshine, so we managed to dry some clothes and my sleeping bag; we re-pitched the tent so that it wasn't going to take on water, but by midday I was beginning to feel very dodgy.

By mid-afternoon, my throat was swollen and I was feeling decidedly crappy. I was starving hungry, but didn't feel like eating (I managed to eat 2 hash cakes which was probably the most stupid thing I'd ever done in my life because it just made me feel even worse) and the wife (who was the girlfriend at the time) was beginning to panic a little. I did very little on the Saturday, and told everyone to fuck off and enjoy themselves, I was going to dose myself up with paracetamol, try to get some sleep and keep warm and dry; I even managed to get the missus to bugger off for a while, while I slept and felt sorry for myself.

I had a bad Saturday night, managed to fall asleep around dawn and the next 24 hours just sort of disappeared; I have vague memories, snippets, but not much else. At around 10 in the morning, I woke up and needed to go to the toilet. The wife and someone else helped me down to the metal sheds that were the toilets and I found a cubicle and tried to go to the loo; but the noise and the smell was just too much; I couldn't go and I could barely stand up. I sorted myself out, went back to my helpers and virtually collapsed into their arms. The comedy tent gig was not going to happen, especially as Colin had done a bunk and hadn't been seen for over a day. Back at our camp, I was trussed up in a dry sleeping bag and sitting in the back of the van we went down in. About 2:00pm I passed out; they thought I'd just fallen asleep, but then soon realised that I wasn't waking up. What follows is what others have told me; my only recollections were being carried, lying in an ambulance and vaguely remembering walking back to the camp with specific instructions from the doctor who had examined me. "Take him home NOW! Or he'll be in Bridgewater General Hospital by the morning."

My wife has been a fan of Echo & The Bunnymen for years and they were one of the headline acts that year and we were just pulling out of Glastonbury as they took to the stage; I still feel bad about it, even if I wasn't really in control. I swore that I'd never do another music festival and have stuck to my guns, despite temptation.

So, why am I doing the 2000Trees festival in Andoversford then?

Good question. To see Amplifier mainly, but also to see what many people claim is close to how Glasto used to be back in the early 80s when I was a regular there. But the be honest, there's no other reason. I spent half the day yesterday on MySpace and Spotify listening to music from the other bands playing on the Friday (I'm only going for the day) and frankly, I don't know why Amplifier are even playing this festival. It appears to be made up of largely shit music from bands I've never heard of or wouldn't give houseroom to. Emphasis on rappy metal, crappy indie and emo, with a jewel thrown in for good measure. With the weather forecast predicting monsoon conditions and arctic winds, it'll certainly feel like I've just jumped into a time machine. I have a feeling that I'm going to be spending most of the day getting completely lashed...

Then the following week I'm going to be spending the day with my photographic friend as he gets close to the completion of his graphic novel and then I'm in for the operation... August is going to be full of me doing nothing much at all, because I won't be able to do much and then I can start to think about getting back on course with work - I expect there's going to have been some changes by the time I finally get back there.

So, after the weekend you'll get a report of the 2000Trees festi - don't hold your breath...

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

All Things Must Pass

Do you know what I reckon is one of the greatest creations of the last 150 years? The camera.

About a month ago, I spent a couple of hours with my nieces and we looked through a suitcase full of old photographs that my parents had accrued by either taking their own or, like me, inheriting ones from bygone eras. It's amazing what looking at old photos do - what memories they conjure and some of those memories you think have long been consigned to the overflow.

I was particularly drawn to shots taken in the early 1970s; specifically my eldest brother's first wedding. Some of the photos were extraordinary in that they were really snapshots of 1973, from a backwater town at the arse end of Northamptonshire. In every picture, there was no mistaking what era we were looking at - the hairstyles, the fashion, the general look - somehow different than today and not in the bleedin' obvious way, either. You realise that fashion does indeed go around and around, but with variations - girls, you really probably wouldn't be seen dead in some of the dresses from 1973, but guys, some of the fashion was just blinding! There's one great shot of a group of my relatives and on the periphery is my uncle Frank - my godfather - he's 83 now, so he was as old as I am now then. Jesus Christ the man looked as cool as fuck. He had a suit on with drainpipe trousers and a really nicely cut jacket, smart shoes, pencil thin tie and, even though he was losing his hair even then, a style that must have looked totally old fashioned to all those hip and trendy fuckers with their bum length hair. The man radiated cool - no wonder I've always loved him to bits. It also proves one thing, everything that goes around, comes around, again!

Then there was this other photo... one of me... and suddenly I was back in 1973 and I shuddered. Just yesterday, driving through town, I saw this kid, he must have about 12. He had the exact same hairstyle as I did in 1973. I literally did a double take!

Moving on...

I'm really prohibited in what I say at the moment, which is a shame because my life has been pretty miserably exciting over the last 10 days. But, ne'mind, eh. Maybe one day.

Been watching a mixture of television recently, some of it has been startling, while others have been... well, we'll get to that...

I missed Being Human, the first time round, despite recommendations. Decided to check it out this time and have been blown away by the total uniqueness of it all. It is so very British, yet I'm amazed there hasn't been a big money move by the Yanks to buy this up and turn it into a blockbuster bollock-loaded hit. The brilliant thing about the series is the way in which the almost absurd normality of it has a way of biting you on the arse. I'm waiting for the final episode, despite being able to download it - it has needed that old fashioned British habit of watching it weekly rather than doing it in one sitting via bit torrents.

Warehouse 13 is shite. It is stymied by two wooden lead actors, some appallingly bad CGI and what almost seems to be a desperate need to be funny. Yet, if you strip away all the crap, there's something of a brilliant TV series struggling to get out.

It takes one of the most tantalising end shots in cinema history and literally makes an entire series about it. At the end of Raiders of the Lost Arc, the Arc of the Covenant was being packed away in a top security warehouse and I've met very few people who have loved that film who didn't wonder what else was kept in that warehouse... Well W13 answers that question - pretty badly.

But, as I said, there is something about this series that draws me back and recently I've begun to understand why. Saul Rubinek as Artie Nielsen is quite brilliant as the eccentric, but madly driven head of the actual warehouse. He has more secrets than a classic Victorian suspense novel and comes across as a man who knows that the series he's working on is considerably better than it looks. CCH Pounder plays the irritating but mesmerising as Mrs Frederic - the actual head of this TOP top secret programme - who appears to have a bit of a mystery around her that even Nielsen can't quite fathom. However, the series is let down by the poor Mulder and Scully copies in Eddie McLintock (Pete Lattimer) and Joanne Kelly (Myka Bering). McLintock is overbearing and really annoying, while Bering, aided by almost concrete like acting by Kelly, has as much charisma as a house brick - most of the time she appears to be pouting, suggesting that top Secret Service personnel are obviously trained in pouting and acting like a spoilt child. Yes, the series is supposed to tread that thin line between comedy and drama, but this does the drama really well.

One saving grace is Alison Scagliotti-Smith (Claudia) who apart from having a crush on Artie is literally a genius in a cute little body. She started off as a rather clever villain and has since been adopted by W13. There is a very good subplot involving a former W13 agent who knows as much as Artie about the artifacts and is a serious threat to world security; another interesting development is the discovery of who the guardians of W13 really are; and there's some promising stuff regarding Artie's actual persona and just what he has been involved in over the previous 30 years.

However, apart from some of the lame humour; it really is let down by some of the poorest special effects I've ever seen on a recent SyFy show (ugh, don't you just hate that name?). I expect it will cancelled, but I really think there's a truly brilliant idea here that is failing miserably to get out and that's a shame as the extraordinary Jane Espenson (of BtVS fame) is the show runner.

A footnote to this: I've been a fan of Eureka since it started, which is essentially a free form version of W13 and like W13 the most recent season (already a hold back from the writers' strike) has also suffered badly from awful CGI, suggesting to me that SyFy's love affair with its own produced shows might be coming to an end. Eureka has always trodden that line between drama and comedy, but for some reason, the comedy does work because of the premise; the drama also works very well, but whether that's because of money constraints or just clever writing, I don't know. But one thing appears to be sure about this particular TV show, unless you're the sheriff there's no guarantee that you're going to survive.

Amazing how you can write so much more about something that's not good?

A quick word about True Blood. Alan Ball appears to have done with monsters what he achieved with death - turned it into a hugely popular TV series. Unlike most of Six Feet Under, the dead don't stay buried for very long and the main protagonists aren't feuding undertakers but vampires, shape-shifters, demi-gods and possibly (in season 3) werewolves. For those of you still watching season 1, let me say that season 2 is a real hoot and takes the fantasy element completely out to left field. I'm surprised that it has been so welcomed in the USA, but maybe that's because they now have a black president, so anything is possible. One word of warning; season 2 has some plot holes you can drive a truck through (which may or may not be explained in tonight's US season finale), but because it turns into a riot from about the halfway mark, you tend to overlook them because of the spectacle unfolding in front of you. Suffice it to say, but if you thought season 1 was raucous, season 2 shows you why its on HBO and not Fox.

****

Everybody appears to be really happy about my shoulder; that is everybody except me. Pain has returned, but I'm assured by almost everyone that the pain I'm getting now is a good pain and means that I'm building up my muscles again and stretching those atrophied tendons. But at times it doesn't feel that way and I know I'm just being paranoid, but after months and months of pain I'm probably entitled to be a little nervous about everyone saying it's going to be 100% recovered. Maybe next physio appointment I have I'll ask why my upper arm goes spookily numb at times - almost like it's been removed without my knowledge.

But, talking shoulders; one of the kicks I did get at work when I returned was asking people if they wanted to see the scar. As you can probably guess, most wanted to, and all expected this ugly wound with stitch marks and all kinds of nastiness; so their reactions were all the more amusing when they saw that I have a scar smaller than some people's chicken pox scars. It is now literally a white X or a + depending on what angle you look at it. The wonders of keyhole surgery.

Interestingly, and also shoulder related, I play in a scrabble league and one of my opponents is an American lady who had rather Republican views about our NHS; so I put her right. I told her that I paid nothing for my operation; was given excellent aftercare, which includes up to 10 physio sessions, more if needed; that the hospital I was operated on was brand new, very clean and all the staff couldn't be more helpful. Her reaction was very good; she asked me about cock-ups and bad press and my response was everywhere gets bad press, but few places get good press; after all there's no headline in "Man makes an excellent recovery, goes home next week!" is there? I can't say I made a lasting change to her opinion of an NHS, but she admitted that she now has second hand experience, which is better than reading rabid right wing journalists or listening to idiotic Tories on Fox News.

It's Sunday afternoon; I should go and at least try and do something constructive...

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Love in a Car

What kind of a cunt has his/her mini sprayed in the style of a leopard skin? One just drove past and it's completely thrown me; I've lost my thread and I'm going to have to sit down for a minute... except, I am sitting down.

Just a brief mention of the shoulder. It went up to warp factor 11 for a few days this week and made me realise fully why I need an operation on it. As much as it pains me to admit it, some of these doctor fellows seem to have some idea what they're doing.

Why on earth would anyone who hasn't got kids want to go on holiday during the first week of the school break; a time of year when there are more screaming rugrats than flies and just as stinky?

Providing I'm able and I very much hope I am, I'm going to a festival next weekend, just for one day, but it will the first time I've ventured near one in over two decades. I really have no idea what to expect. It's the 2000 Trees Festival just outside of Cheltenham; me and Roger are off to see Amplifier and intend to be heading home by the time Fightstar come on stage. Apparently, it's very good for real ale, veggie food and rock bands... sounds positively wonderful.

As I'm writing this the final episode of Torchwood - Children of Earth has yet to air, but if and when the series comes back, I expect it's going to be considerably different.

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Optical Illusions

I feel it's time to, at least, trace a line under my ill health. I'm sure that I'll revisit it soon enough.

The appointment with the consultant went surprisingly well considering I have to have keyhole surgery on my shoulder on July 31st and am going under a general anaesthetic. I have this impingement, which is really aggravating the shoulder joint and causing the bone to rub against already inflamed muscle. See! I said there was something wrong with me!!!

As a result, it looks like I might not get my wish. Boredom has been a key factor in me thinking I'm going out of my mind and my consultant informed me that he doesn't think I should be driving still and that the more rest I give my shoulder the less pain I will suffer; and to be fair, he's been right about that. I have done very little conventional work using my left arm and subsequently it has felt better. However, if I use it, I suffer the next day. Take the appointment on Tuesday; I opted to drive myself over to Kettering in my own car (yay!); if I could manage that okay then I could at least go back to work for the month before the op.

My shoulder was screaming abuse at me by the time I got to the Holcot roundabout on the way home and all day Wednesday it just sat there and called me all the cunts under the sun. The sad truth is it's fucked and this operation will hopefully solve the majority of the problem.

So, I'm off to see my GP in the morning and the odds are is that he will agree with the consultant and sign me off for quite possibly the next 6 weeks with the proviso to visit him again two weeks after the operation to see how much progress I've been making; but the consultant said two to four weeks recovery; so I might be looking at going back to work after August Bank Holiday...

Jesus Christ on stilts, I need a new hobby! One that doesn't involve using my arms preferably (or my back).

Of course, the heat hasn't made things better. I might have a Mediterranean sun tan and look healthy, but this heat, while fantastic, has made it very difficult to do anything. I spent half an hour yesterday picking strawberries (we have a glut of them this year), wearing only a pair of shorts and boxers; I had to change when I finished because the sweat had soaked everything. I don't sleep very well at the best of times, so sleep has been hard to come by and because I'm bored, the heat makes me restless. There has been very little positive to come out of the last 4 weeks, but I'm grateful for what has been, all the same.

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JJ Abrams appears to be the new Spielberg; most everything he touches at the moment turns to gold. I'm a bit of a fan, as much as I hate admitting it, but he does seem to produce stuff that pushes the right buttons with me. That's not to say I don't find a lot of faults with his stuff, but I find faults in most things if hard pressed.

This year I've had two visual treats: The Star Trek film, while leaving me a little dissatisfied was still one of the highlights of the year so far and Lost has developed into quite possibly the maddest, most fucked up bit of television in existence and I no longer care what happens, I'm just blown away by the way the series has just never gone the way you think it will.

But recently, me and the wife sat down and watched Fringe, over the space of 3 weeks rather than 20. I think it's quite an extraordinary series that suffers from a little stiffness in some of the characters, but so did the cast of Lost when they first appeared. Over the space of 20 episodes, the plot has moved forward much further than the X Files managed in almost its entire series. In fact it's gone from being a bit of a shiny 21st century Mulder and Scully + granddad to being just as fucked up as Lost.

For those of you who haven't been tempted; there are some genuinely naff episodes, but John Noble - Walter Bishop - can make shit shine and as the series gathers pace, you realise that this eccentric slightly mad scientist is one of the most complex and likable characters to appear on television in years. Fringe starts with an FBI agent, Olivia Dunham, being recruited to the Fringe Science Dept, funded by Homeland Security, which looks into a series of totally unexplained incidents that have been taking place all over the world. In turn she recruits the fore-father of Fringe science, Walter Bishop, but he'll only work with them if his son is there. His son, Peter, is basically a freelancer - he can do many things and had shown no interest in settling down. Walter is totally bonkers and the only way the FBI can have him is for his son to be with him.

This is essentially the team, they are joined by Broyles, who is the boss, in a very much Mitch Pillegi style; Astrid Farnsworth, who is Agent Dunham's assistant and Charlie Francis, who is a former partner of Olivia and a close friend who acts as liaison between the Fringe team and the rest of the FBI. There is an organisation called Massive Dynamics, which has links to Walter Bishop; a bald man in a suit called The Observer and lots of weird shit, which gets weirder towards the end of season 1 when we learn all manner of interesting teasers.

Depending on whether they can keep the momentum going, I can see Fringe being a big success for Fox, who, of course, were responsible for the X Files. I get the impression the producers took a look at Charlie Jade and thought 'we can do that better!'.

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Some other things have not gone according to plan this week, but mustn't grumble, eh?