Thursday, 30 September 2010

American dream

Today I achieved one of my longest standing ambitions - I ate a Twinkie (about five actually). If I'm honest I hadn't really thought about them for ages. But when I was a kid I used to see adverts for them (and for sea monkees) in the back of American comics and they were just one of the things that seemed to epitomise America. I haven't been to America but never doubted that one day I will, and on that day I'd buy and devour some Twinkies.

Anyway, a few weeks ago a quip from me within earshot of one of my wife's American friends led to a box of Twinkies being dispatched over the Atlantic. And the verdict? They're alright. A bit like miniature Victoria Sponges but without the jam. I expected them to be crunchier I think. Maybe if I deep-fried them?

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Behind the sleeves

The other week I was listening to Stereolab's Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night and while I sat there, stroking my chin, I admired the sleeve art. It had crossed my mind before that a lot of their sleeves, as well as being dead good, were also often in a similar style.

So I arose from my beanbag to do a little research, and a few minutes later I'd discovered my favourites were indeed the work of one man and on finding this very helpful webpage I realised that I'd unwittingly been into the work of Julian House for ages. Even the little covers he did for those MOJO compilations.

I'd heard of him in connection with the last Broadcast album but I think it was only after seeing the sleeves he'd done that I decided to have a listen to the Ghostbox catalogue. A lot of the music's a little too library for my liking (though And The Cuckoo Comes is one of the best things I've heard for ages). But again I love their sleeves, he's clearly in thrall to Penguin book design,
in particular the Marber grid.

Anyway, back to Cobra and Phases Group Play Voltage in the Milky Night, this is my favourite song on the album - despite their reputation I don't think tunes really come much more accessible than this.

Stereolab The Emergency Kisses

Oh, and this one as well. Another of my favourite musical moments at 0.10. I don't know what's making that noise but it sounds like the future.

Stereolab Op Hop Detonation

Friday, 17 September 2010

Visiting time

Of course the only real way to arrive in Portmeirion is to be rendered unconscious by agents in the privacy of your London flat and to wake there some time later with a snappy blazer hanging in your closet. So it was a bit weird just turning off the A487. I've wanted to go for donkeys years but by the time I actually got round to it I'd wondered if it would be disappointing - a couple of scenic vistas and a tacky Prisoner shop? (I did pop in and check out the blazer - I was not tempted).

There was no need to worry - we were lucky with the weather for the time of year so it was a sunny day with not that many people milling about. My admiration for the tv series to one side it really is a very beautiful place. Seriously, if I believed in heaven this spot would be a pretty good template. There's a tower-like vantage point not far from where you first enter the village proper (No. 6 and No. 2 have a chat there in Dance of the Dead). From there, with the sun on my face and cooled by the sea breeze, I could have stood surveying the dimpled beach below for hours. Later I went to go to the beach but it was a bit muddy so I didn't bother - I did see this jellyfish though.


Thursday, 16 September 2010

More autumn stone

I thought I'd post these because it's autumn (I'm not complicated) and because I really like the sleeve there. Dead leaves and some nice Arnold Bocklin text, no wonder you see it called the Autumn Store from time to time.

The Small Faces What'cha Gonna Do About It

I never realised just how short this track is. It jumped on my first vinyl copy between 1:24 and 1:27, I still find it odd hearing the lyrics in full there. It also features a great stretch of feedback which ends with one of my favourite little musical moments at 1:10 when a piercing guitar note caroms off an organ jab.

The Small Faces Red Balloon

I only found out this was a Tim Hardin cover a few weeks ago, still prefer this version though.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Tony's place

What with the onset of autumn and the cooling of the weather I find the call of the greasy spoon that much harder to resist. I went for a wander this lunchtime and decided to give Tony's Snack Bar on Chapter Street a try. I've walked past it dozens of times I suppose but today for the first time I peered in and knew straight away that I was onto a winner. It's about a five minute walk from the much vaunted Regency Cafe. And part of its attraction was that compared to the Regency, with its crowds and bellowing hostess, Tony's is an oasis of calm.

The seating consists I think entirely of booths - my favourite arrangement, the whole look of the place is pleasingly muted and, while I'm sure it's well within health and safety requirements, the place doesn't seem fanatically antiseptic. I can't stand places where every aspect of the decor is subservient to hygiene.

My lunch there, not too promising at first sight perhaps - the squared off egg, the sausage sliced down the middle. I normally specify two sausages, egg and chips but, trying a new cafe and not wishing to make a fuss, I just casually requested sausage, egg and chips and to hell with the consequences. Sometimes that'll mean two sausages, sometimes not. Now I know. It was all surprisingly tasty and, washed down with a can of coke, it came to £3.50, which was good value - especially compared to the £7.70 I ended up paying last week for a take away burrito over on Fleet Street.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

I got the funk

I may have suggested recently that I find London a hassle but if you want stuff it's hard to beat. The other day I was roving the internet and some reggae tunes led me to Soul Jazz's Dancehall compilation. Checking out their website I dropped my quest for reggae and realised that I probably couldn't live without both their New Orleans Funk compilations.

And so lunchtime the next day I hopped on a bike and pedalled to Sounds of the Universe. Five minutes and about twenty-four quid later I walked out of there with six shiny vinyl discs of very high quality funk. What a bargain. What a label. What a shop. It's impossible to go wrong. I'm even considering that Polyphonic Voices of Georgia album.

Anyway, a tune from vol 2. The original, which I'm not ashamed to say I'd never heard before.

Benny Spellman Fortune Teller

And, for variety, a less funk but no less cool cover version. I've always loved the Stones version but found this during some pre-purchase sussing out. The Vibrations - a bit of confusion had me thinking those brothers really nailed that British Invasion sound. But no, a classic British garage track with one of the scruffiest riffs this side of You Really Got Me.

The Vibrations Fortune Teller

Monday, 13 September 2010

Cold dead hands

I was following blog links the other day and found a site which had some amusing things to say about some cool tunes. The blogger was American and when I hit home his most recent post was a gloating tract on the relative failure of recent gun control legislation in that country. I thought about leaving a comment but didn't. I've forgotten the name of the blog now but I'd like to hear him or anybody else continue to defend such widespread gun ownership in the face of this pathetic lunacy.

Clarks for the winter

I bought these beauties the other day. I missed them in the sale but when I went to buy them they fetched some out of the back and only charged me the sale price anyway. Absolutely made my day. My love of Clarks shoes has been a source of amusement to several of my acquaintances over the years, especially at work for some reason. I suppose they do look a bit like two great big Cornish pasties.

The Small Faces The Autumn Stone

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Ad astra

I've been having a great run in secondhand book shops recently, the highlight of which has been Spacecraft 2000-2100AD. It was in the window at Oxfam, I had it when I was a kid, I went in and asked: £3.99. How could I resist?

It's a load of sci-fi book cover illustrations gathered together with a narrative spun around them. My favourite back then was the TDA 107C Partisan and I think it probably still is. Published in 1978 its timeline is on the verge of looking a bit ridiculous - work is due to start on Mars Station by 2012. And we'd better get a wiggle on if we're to perfect the warp generator by 2027. But you never know.

Inevitably there's a website dedicated to it now and you can buy mugs, a tee-shirt and little models of the spaceships are planned. I was most intrigued to see that there had been follow up books which I never knew about when I was a kid - Spacewreck: Ghost Ships and Derelicts of Space looks cool.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Nostalgia is a dish best served cold

The Day Of The Triffids is listed in my profile's favourite books but I love The Midwich Cuckoos just as much. The film version Village of the Damned is a classic Saturday afternoon film, but the title is so crude in comparison to the quainter yet so much more sinister title of the novel. The cover illustration there bears a slight resemblence to the work of Ronald Searle, another of my favourites from the same period. The artist in question, Paul Hogarth, was a friend of Searle's I read somewhere.

The reason I mention all this is that I'm going through a fifties sci-fi phase at the moment. Well, I watched Quatermass And The Pit the other night. I'd been curious about it for as long as I can remember due to my mum going on about it, and my brother bought it me for my birthday the other month. Like the Wyndham novels it's an amazingly original idea. The most obvious heir of both Wyndham and Quatermass is Dr Who, which at its best (Tom Baker for me) shares their spookiness and brutality. Apparently they used to throw references to Bernard into episodes of Dr Who.

Anyway, The Midwich Cuckoos, if anyone out there gets the allusion in the title of the final chapter, Zellaby of Macedon, I'd be grateful if you could clue me in. It's been bugging me for years.

And now a track. No direct relationship as far as I know. Just the word cuckoo, a high level of eeriness and a description of a world turned upside down. I couldn't find out where the vocal comes from (I'm assuming it was sampled from something). And the sleeve art is yet another homage to Penguin. Actually there is a link, there's a sort of Quatermass soundtrack on Ghost Box Records. This isn't from that though.


The Advisory Circle And The Cuckoo Comes

There aren't many tracks I find unnerving. Frankie Teardrop a bit maybe, even though I know the screams are coming. But the track above is in a different class. It's the voice mainly - with its strange, tranquilized resignation, and the sound effects suggestive of some desolate aftermath. Added to the lyric's simple inversion of the seasons and it all leads inescapably to a feeling that something terrible has happened.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Mega mega

From time to time I mention that I’d like to run away from London and live somewhere quieter. Somewhere in the countryside. West Wales perhaps. The North probably. I spent most of my childhood in a rural setting, the kind of place where you could wake up and find a cow had invaded the garden. At the time, surrounded by all that fresh air and greenery, where I really wanted to live was Mega City One, the fictional stamping ground of Judge Dredd. This was entirely down to the artwork of Carlos Ezquerra.

Ezquerra illustrated most of the Judge Dredd stories in a run from prog 245 through to about prog 320. He came back every so often and the last big story I remember him doing was Necropolis, but by then my interest was waning.

I've not read enough comics to say that his depiction of the future is unique but I certainly preferred it to the other artists in 2000AD (with Mike McMahon a not particularly close second). When I was a kid megacities seemed a certainty (like BosWash). Now though, what with ecological concerns and the massive advances in IT, we’ll probably all be living in sensibly distributed eco-units, attending work (if at all) by some kind of holographic conference call type thing (like in The Naked Sun or A Very Private Life).

When I was little I used to find it a downer that it was all so far off into the future (the Apocalypse War is set in 2105) and that I probably wouldn't be around to witness it. So I was cheered up by the story Night of the Rad Beast, when two of the characters' dates of birth were given and they were slightly older than me. Maybe I'd live to see the Mega City after all, even if I had to become a decrepit cyborg to do so.

I soon started to buy up older issues of 2000AD (and the defunct Starlord) and saw his artwork for the Strontium Dog stories. Following the caseload of an interstellar bounty hunter gave a lot more scope for illustrating alien life forms. Like Dredd, the stories are shot through with a dark strain of humour. One of my favourites was The Killing, in which plot is dispensed with and, as the name suggests, it just gets straight to business with some fantastic pictures of aliens blasting/gutting/dissolving each other.

There’s just the right touch of pulp or hack work to his pictures – hardly surprising given that I read somewhere that he was churning out the artwork for the episodes of the Apocalypse War on a weekly basis rather than months in advance. In most of his pictures there's tons of grimy detail. In an interview he cited as his major influences Breccia and Hugo Pratt, neither of who I'd heard of but after a little digging I can certainly see the influence of Hugo Pratt.

Sci fi films rarely get both the look of the cities or the outfits right or credible. Often the clothing styles are mimimal, white robes or utilitarian uniform type outfits. Compared to these stiff and sterile depictions Ezquerra’s future seems pretty funky. I’m amazed that no film makers have ripped him off – it can’t be that expensive, just lots of rubbery foam to make the outfits (all those knee and shoulder pads).