Poem for the day – Cozy Nightmare

I lie in bed, the curtains slightly drawn,

And spy the stars, the moon, the velvet blue.

The painting hangs, so calm and cool,

Beside the window. ‘Hay Wain’ is its name.

Picture from fabulousmasterpieces.co.uk

Picture from fabulousmasterpieces.co.uk

It’s just a copy, not the real thing. Shame,

But just about the same. The lazy scene

Of home and trees and dozy river make

Me fall asleep. The scene still lingers on.

 

A smash alerts me upright in my bed,

The painting’s frames have fallen to the floor.

The river’s gushing out into my room

And circling everywhere, around my bed.

 

I feel my bed begin to move, and soon

I’m off! The branches grow out from the right,

I think the forest’s coming after me.

I feel the leafs go up my nose, and sneeze.

 

And just before the branches scratch my back

I scream, I want this nightmare done with, now!

And just like that, the paintings back the way

It was, its frames restored. Was all that real?

 

Did I just have a bloody awful dream?

I guess I might as well go back to sleep.

Music review – Thin Lizzy’s classic years part 3, Johnny the Fox

Might this be the dark horse in Thin Lizzy’s catalogue? On second thoughts, perhaps that title would be better suited to Vagabonds of the Western World, or Thunder and Lightning, or maybe even Chinatown. Whatever the answer may be, Johnny the Fox is most certainly the darkest album of the classic Lizzy years.

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    Johnny the Fox follows on from Jailbreak in similar ways that Jailbreak followed on from Fighting. In my review of Jailbreak, I noted how there appears to be a vague story lying beneath the songs, and that is also apparent on this album as well.

    But here, Phil attempts to tackle the story with more focus. Although characters went unnamed in Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox gives us a wide cast to indulge in. Rockey, Sweet Marie, The Vulture, Jimmy the Weed, and the titular character himself, Johnny (the Fox).

    It all adds up to engaging listening, but yet again, the story itself, if indeed there is one, is still vague and unclear. And yet I find it doesn’t detract from the album at all. If anything, I believe it adds to it. So far, I believe I may have focused more on the music than the words, but on a purely lyrical level, this is my favourite Lizzy album, hands down.

    I think Phil hit a peak here, as a story-teller. Again, like Jailbreak, the individual stories on each song make for truly evocative listening, like a series of mini-movies. The fact that these characters Phil sings about now have names give a much more convincing feel to his stories, as he tells the various adventures that Johnny, Rockey, and the rest of the cast get into.

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    It feels like a tale of the complexity of love (lost love, unrequited love, and untrue love) and dangerous men on the run from authority, from families, and from themselves. The mini-movie feel to this is added by John Alcock’s atmospheric production. To Lizzy fans, the only producer worth mentioning would be Mr. Tony Visconti, but here, John’s production techniques, while seeming simple at first, give the songs an almost film noir feel to them, particularly on such slower numbers as Borderline and Sweet Marie.

    And that’s another tick for Johnny the Fox. It features four of the most beautiful ballads Lizzy ever did; the aforementioned pair, along with Fool’s Gold and Old Flame. The rockers are archetypical Lizzy, vicious, muscular, coiled and growling. In the studio, Lizzy were a masterpiece of tense dynamics, and here it all seems to hit another peak. Rockey and Johnny are two of the most dramatic rockers in Lizzy’s catalogue, while the slashing Massacre and the near-proto-punk Don’t Believe a Word made killer additions to the live show.

    The remaining two numbers are rather quirky, but add to the album nonetheless. Johnny the Fox meets Jimmy the Weed is a fine example of funk being applied to heavy rock, while the closing track, Boogie Woogie Dance (seemingly an ode to the various drugs of the world and their similar effect, i.e. the Boogie Woogie Dance), is a frantic, shuffling slab of rock.

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    As ever, Scott and Robbo simply litter the place with their magnificent guitar work, Brian continues to claim the title of Most Underrated Drummer Ever, and Phil yet again delivers the goods, singing, writing and bass-playing, and all playing together fabulously, and all given subtle representation from the producer.

    This would turn out to be the last full album with the bands first classic line-up. The future would hold many more changes in personnel, style, and events, but here, for one glorious moment, it all seemed to have come together at last, with everyone at the top of their game.

    Tomorrow, Bad Reputation!

Suddenly becoming a comic book nerd.

   ImageI appear to, unintentionally, gained a comic book collection. Or, if you want to be technical about it, a graphic novel collection. When I was younger, the only real comic book I would read was the Asterix comics, and as such I’ve a whole library of his adventures back home in Lincolnshire. But over the past few years, my tastes in comics have been expanding.

   Initially, I think I avoided being a fan of the medium, because comics are well-known for telling an immersive story over several issues, which can include several years! But recently, the more I’ve been collecting, the more I realize that what I thought before was rather shallow, and that the world of comics is one that’s thoroughly absorbing.

   Of course, if you’re a fan of comics or not, I think everyone should have a bit of Alan Moore on their shelf, namely Watchmen and V for Vendetta, two incredible pieces of fiction that totally re-invigorate the themes of superheroes.Image

   Also in my collection are several Transformers comics. I initially grew up on Transformers during the Armada/Energon years, but I soon gravitated more towards the comics. The stories in the comics seemed much more epic than those in the cartoons. At first I became hooked on Simon Furman’s recent re-imagination of the G1 world with the IDW continuity, owning Infiltration, Stormbringer, and Escalation. Only recently however, I’ve started pining for the remainder of the –tion series.

   I didn’t want to buy more originally because of my said fear of having to keep up with a story that I might loose interest/finance in, but apparently, the remaining –tion series tell a fairly stand-alone and decent story, so I’m keeping my eyes out for any cheap editions.

   I’ve also got the two volumes that collect the 12-issue Generation 2 storyline, one which originally took my fancy years and years ago. I remember having the first issue of G2, plus the four/five Snake Eyes issues that explain how Megatron gains a new body, but they’ve since become lost, replaced by these two epic volumes. And the story itself is truly epic, on a religious/philosophical scale! Michael Bay’s got nothing on Simon Furman when it comes to this type of story.Image

    Also here in my collection are a few war comics, namely Battler Britton and the War Stories Vol. 2 anthology, both by Garth Ennis. I’ve plenty more war comics back home, specifically those marvellous Battle/War/Combat Picture Library titles. They make for fab war reading, as do Garth Ennis’ gritty and dramatic titles seen here.

   I mentioned being an Asterix fan, and here you can see just the one volume, which I picked up in a charity shop that had several other Asterix titles. Being the fan I am, I’d already got them, but the shop also had several Tin Tin comics as well. My mum was always very lucky in scouting second-hand Asterix paperbacks when I was younger, but Tin Tin was always harder to come by, so much so that these are the first Tin Tin titles I’ve ever owned.

   And if the Tin Tin titles are anywhere as exciting and humorous as the Asterix titles, it’ll be money well spent.Image

   And of course, I’m sure you’ve noticed my trilogy of Batman titles. He’s rapidly becoming my favourite superhero. I can’t quite work out why, but he just appeals to me more than any Marvel legend or any other DC character. This is a fine trilogy of works; Frank Miller is an excellent writer of a neo-noir style, giving something fresh to the whole action/drama combination. The Long Halloween is amazing too, and I’ll soon be hunting down its sequel, Dark Victory.Image

   Lastly is my Gerry Anderson collection. As I’ve said in my ‘about me’ page, Gerry is a legendary figure for me, and these comics are just as action-packed and riveting as the TV show, maybe even more so. Several of these stories, such as those in the Thunderbirds comics, feature the apparent death of Brains and The Hood raiding, and attacking Tracy Island. The Stingray and Captain Scarlet adventures are just as spectacular, and overall make me proud to finally be a comic book nerd!Image

   It did come up on me rather sneakily. I’ve always known that I’m a nerd for many things. Perhaps it was bringing these books back to Uni with me and giving them their own space on my bookshelf, so that I can now see just what a fine collection I have.

   I think, right now, my collection is decently diverse, with a range of writers and artists from many different schools of comic book writing/drawing.

   It’s still rather small, I’m sure, compared to other comics book nerds, but give it a few years and, like my vinyl collection, it’ll be just pouring from the shelf themselves!

Music review – Thin Lizzy’s classic years part 2, Jailbreak

    I was playing this album last night, ready for writing the review, when it gradually dawned on me, is this the weakest of the classic Lizzy albums? It’s a question I’m still not quite sure about. So let’s get stuck in and see if we can find an answer. To start with, this is the Lizzy studio album everyone has. Were it not for Live and Dangerous, this would be their Dark Side of the Moon, their Exile on Main Street.Image

    This is most probably because it features a trilogy of classic Lizzy-anthems, the gritty title track and two other, more hymnal numbers, Cowboy Song and The Boys Are Back in Town. The rest of the songs, to put it mildly, are on different levels.

    A huge asset to this album is that in addition to THAT trilogy, it also features two other songs that surely rank as the most fearsome rockers the band ever made. The stomping Warriors and the Black Sabbath-on-steroids closing number Emerald. All five of these numbers made for killer live showcases, as evidenced by their inclusion on Live and Dangerous.

   The reaming four numbers offer a side to Lizzy that we rarely heard again. Angel from the Coast, the second track following Jailbreak, reprises the sparkles of King’s Vengeance into a full-blown heavy rock assault, whilst still retaining some of the most pleasant, upbeat melodies the boys ever played.

    Next though, is perhaps the weakest song in Lizzy’s catalogue. Running Back does nothing for me at all. There’s an infamous story where Brian Robertson took great offence to Phil’s overly-commercial take on the song, and indeed, it doesn’t sit well with the other songs on the album at all.

    But next up is another unique Lizzy number, and a corker at that. Romeo and the Lonely Girl is a beautiful piece of classic rock. Phil croons away a tale of star-crossed lovers while the band play ferociously being him, yet keeping things in a minor key, and Robbo spits out one of the finest solo’s he ever performed whilst in Thin Lizzy.

    That just leaves Fight or Fall. Again, its a pleasant song, but one without much of a character of its own, barely acting as more than a sweet, temporary rest between the two epics The Boys are Back in Town and Cowboy Song.Image

    So this doesn’t really answer my question as to is this Lizzy’s weakest album, does it? Aside from a couple of weak numbers, this album stands up immensely well. It takes the energy and charisma of Fighting and amps it up to eleven, holding no barrels and generally expanding on what made Fighting such a good record.

    So I guess the reason for me calling this album weak is its apparent looseness in theme. On the back of the album, there is a short piece of prose written by Phil that seems to connect with the various songs on here.Image

    Also, characters and events, while not named, are mentioned throughout the album, almost as if Phil is taking advantage of the ‘concept album’ craze of the day and attempting to tell a story. If any rocker could tell an engaging story, it would defiantly be Phil Lynott. But the story here, if there is one, is far too vague to even begin to understand.

    But with that said, Jailbreak is still a near-masterpiece of an album. Its frantic yet melodious energy still sounds fresh to this day, and vague stories and weak numbers aside, the individual stories on each song make for engaging listening, further cementing Phil’s vagabond heart. Like Fighting, its one of the greatest rock albums ever.Image

    And what’s even better is that there were still three more stellar albums to come!

    Tomorrow, Johnny the Fox!

And another new (ish) poem – Somewhere, a Light Goes Out

I can’t come home tonight.

The dogs are fed and the fire crackles patiently,

And the curtains are drawn and the children are in bed,

But my arms won’t be around you tonight.

 

If I could speak in stars,

Then the sky would light up brighter than your eyes,

When I say ‘I love you’,

 

But I won’t be making your bedtime cocoa tonight.

I can’t be the pillow where you lay your head,

I can’t be the cup that you pour your troubles into,

I can’t be the fire that you warm your cold hands on,

I can’t be the coat that you cling onto in despair,

I can’t be the man on the moon that you look up to,

I can’t be the man you want me to be.

I can’t be the hero of the hour, and you can’t be my heroine.

 

I can’t come home tonight, my love,

But I’ll be waiting for you in the morning.

Another new (ish) poem – Broken Eye

One brown beauty stands atop of the barren hill,

The boiling sweat and toil swirls around its head and through its mind,

gazing at the stream which trickles and giggles down the worm’s throat.

A warm haze, voluptuous and loving, struggles to make it past the dead and dirty ruins of a long forgotten moment’s peace.

Mud and sweat embrace as the brown beauty slides down the barren hill, ready to burn within the sour sands.

Dusty candles stand alone in the window and rusty fires wrap themselves around your warm presence.

Till tomorrow brown beauty,

Sleep in the sands beneath the trees.

Rise again, when tomorrow forgets its dreams.

Until then, sleep awhile.

Sleep.

A new (ish) poem – Woolly Lightning

Watching the midnight hour take another turn,

Wondering what to teach the sun, something to burn.

Playing with puppets of twinkling stars and lazy pillows,

Wishing it was all as sweet as wind in the willows.

Driving down the dead road painted black and blue,

Fondling some long-forgotten dozer,

Living is the real thing, I’m just a poser.

Sleeping in stars that bleed at the seems,

Falling through memories, prayers and dreams.

Tripping with all manners of sweetness, as most will do,

Keeping this moment close, as I return to you.

Music review – Thin Lizzy’s classic years part 1, Fighting.

    I’ve decided to set myself a challenge and give myself five days to review five albums from one seriously underrated rock act. That act is Thin Lizzy, and I’ll be reviewing, what I believe, to be their classic albums, Fighting, Jailbreak, Johnny the Fox, Bad Reputation, and Black Rose. I’m avoiding doing Live and Dangerous as that’s too obvious, and there’s not much you can say about that album that hasn’t already been said.

    Most hardcore Lizzy fans will argue, I’m sure, that their classic days began with the album previous to Fighting, Night Life. But while that is a lovely album, I believe that Fighting is where the Lizzy we know and love today really began kicking at the shit. So without further ado, here is part one.

    Fighting does what it exactly says. It’s the sound of a band growling and gnashing away with full force at a world who, by their break up, wouldn’t give them the due they so rightfully deserved. The album kicks off with their fabulous cover of Bob Seger’s Rosalie, ironically now one of Thin Lizzy’s (!) best known songs. But it’s on the next track, For Those Who Love To Live, that the band really takes flight. Brian Robertson’s and Scott Gorham’s guitars truly meld together, as if lead singer, bass player and chief songwriter Phil Lynott were some kind of alchemist bringing the two, and drummer Brian Downey, together.

Image     Robbo’s and Scott’s guitars continue to give thrilling harmonies, soaring leads, galloping rhythms and fierce solos throughout the album, as if they were two young reckless princes (Robbo was only 19 when they did this album), prancing their way through the album sprinkling it with sheer force and momentum.

    But if they’re the princes, then Phil Lynott is surely the king. It’s on this album that he truly establishes his trademark vagabond heart, a poet and free spirit lost on the road of rock and roll. His singing and his lyrics are equally dulcet and raging, often at the same time. His soft crooning on Wild One meshes nicely with the raw, whiskey-flavoured shouts on Fighting My Way Back, as he sings with the same tough vulnerability.

    And the songs, boy, the songs! Phil being the band’s visionary, he naturally contribute the best songs. And it’s hard to imagine any other band that could be tagged as ‘heavy metal’, pulling off the sparkling acoustics on King’s Vengeance, the melancholic hopefulness of Freedom Song, Fighting My Way Back’s scratchy funk, the heavy-handed boogie of Suicide, and the eerie Spirit Slips Away.

    Robbo and Scott contribute songs as well, but sadly, when you listen to them you understand why their guitarists and not songwriters. Even though they do lend their song-writing chops to Phil’s own songs, Robbo’s Silver Dollar has a characterless ZZ Top-esque boogie to it, and Scott’s headbanger Ballad of a Hard Man, while a better song, is still not much more than a disposable slab of hard rock.

    But that said, this is one hell of a rock and roll album, because it both embraces and expands on what being a bunch of rockers is all about. Sure, you can be tough and raw, but you can also be melodic, sensitive, vulnerable, and all the while still manage to rock the hell out of everything you have.

    Tomorrow, Jailbreak!

Book review, Diary of a Rock’N’Roll Star by Ian Hunter

    For my first book review, I chose to go with something a little quirky. If you’ve read my ‘about me’ page, you’ll have seen my list of authors that I love, but this book is by none of those. And if you read my ‘about me’ page, you’ll have noticed my list of favourite bands, one of them being Mott the Hoople.

    This book is by their leader, Ian Hunter. Hunter himself is better known as a musician than author (to my mind this is the only book he’s ever written) and yet on some levels, this book is really the only rock and roll book you’ll ever need.

    First off, the easiest way to describe Mott the Hoople would be to call them a cult band. They began in the late 1960’s as a vaguely proto-punk/metal group with rootsy overtones. But by the early 1970’s they had latched onto the then-current glam-rock phenomenon, tightening up their sound and songs, donning elaborate costumes, and receiving a little help from one David Bowie, then in his Ziggy Stardust mode.

    They gained some decent success, but being the sort of band that they were, it didn’t last long. The group split by 1974, releasing two more albums after Bowie gave them ‘All the Young Dudes’, but the band are still remembered to this day as being a raw, heavy yet melodic and intelligent act, proving to be a influence on punk, indie, and singer-songwriters alike.

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“Jeans for the genies, dresses for the dreamies…”

    Hunter wrote the book in 1972, while he was still the leader singer, chief songwriter, and occasional pianist/guitarist with the group.  As the title suggests, it’s a documentation of the group’s tour of America in 1972.

    Mott’s songs are well known for having a bitter yet comical sense of irony, featuring tales of downtrodden individuals who still manage to come up smelling of roses. And this tone is very evident in Hunter’s style of writing, right down to the title. He writes with a strong lyrical bent, not so much a diary and more of a story of a band who constantly ran into bad-luck, and yet still pulled through to deliver the goods, both on record and on stage.

    The tour itself is besotted with humorous scrapes and daring escapades that altogether would make any other band fall to their knees and fly away home in defeat. But not Mott. These guys were tougher than any other rockers of their day.

    Perhaps a key to the group’s determination whilst they were together was that they rejected the archetypal rock and roll life-style, most of the time. No drugs, at least not by the band. No throwing TV’s out of hotel windows, the band were constantly travelling and putting on a fab show. No seedy escapades with groupies, many of these guys had girls waiting for them back home.

    And that’s perhaps the key to the book’s success. It was written at the high-time of rock excess, yet Ian and the boys rarely take part in it, choosing instead to tell the story of what it’s really like for a struggling band on the road. It’s a heart-warming and thoroughly enjoyable read.

    I’m already reminding myself of the amusing incident near the end where a drunk Ian makes his way to the home of Elvis Presley and manages to find the back door and enters it and…

    But I don’t want to spoil it for you. You’ll have to read it yourself. And anyone who is a fan of the band, or the man, or classic rock in general should read this book. It also acts as a fabulous time capsule for classic rock in general, featuring cameos by Frank Zappa, Roxy Music, Jethro Tull, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Keith Moon, Joe Walsh, and of course, David Bowie.

   So go on, toddle off to Amazon or wherever and pick up a copy of this wonderful read. This is a book to keep for the ages, and to keep returning to again and again. As a wise old man once said, “The golden age of rock and roll will never die, as long as children feel the need to laugh and cry.”

Film review – Spirited Away

   Magic. That’s the best way to describe this film. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, one of the greatest rock albums ever, Spirited Away is often seen as one of the greatest anime films ever. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, it was hugely successful, both critically and commercially on its original release. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, it’s still held in high regard to this day. But also, akin to Sgt. Pepper, there isn’t much you can say about this film that hasn’t been said already.

    So I’ll just try and tell you what I think of it. Not so much a review, more a personal opinion from a guy who loves good films.

   Spirited Away, written and directed by Hayao Miyazaki, tells the story of a young girl named Chihiro, who becomes separated from her parents when she unwittingly enters a world of spirits and finds that her parents have turned into pigs. She acquires a job at the spirit’s bathhouse, and with the help of a magical boy named Haku, a six-armed boiler worker called Kamajii, a bathhouse worker named Lin, and several other creatures, Chihiro must find a away to defeat Yubaba, the witch and owner of the bathhouse, and return to the human world with her parents.

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   That’s all I say about the plot, as I’m trying to hold back all the spoilers as best I can for those who haven’t seen it yet.

   I found the film to be, well, just pure magic. The story, the characters, the animation, the music, all these things and more make up for a superb cinematic treat. It has an air of subtle majesty to it. Despite all the magic and monsters that make for the film’s backdrop, the focus never detracts from Chihiro and the adventures she finds herself in.

   Chihiro herself develops fabulously throughout the film as a character, starting out as a sulky little girl to a little girl with confidence, maturity and assertiveness. But throughout the film, you never forget that she is still just a little girl, separated from her parents and lost in a world full of magic and mystery, which throughout the film makes her terrified, alone, distraught, excited, loved, and happy.

   And that’s how you feel as the audience. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, you’re sucked into the world of spirits just as Chihiro is. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, you find yourself stuck to Chirio, following her on her quest to save her parents and get back home. Akin to Sgt. Pepper, you stay riveted until the end. And akin to Sgt Pepper, once the film has finished, you’ll soon find yourself returning to it again, and again becoming lost, alone, terrified, excited, happy and loved.

   Because this is a film to instantly fall in love with. A film that, like love, is pure magic.