Book review – Filmed in Supermarionation

I’ll be honest here, whatever I’ve written below, it’s totally biased. If I wasn’t biased, I wouldn’t have bought the book.

I’m biased because I believe that Gerry Anderson is the greatest film/TV producer you’ve never heard of. If you really haven’t heard of him (what are you even doing here?), he’s the chap responsible for those glorious 1960’s sci-fi marionette shows; Stingray, Fireball XL5, Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, etc.

DSC00644He also dabbled in many other forms of TV/film entertainment, including live-action, hand-puppetry, stop-motion animation, Japanese animation, and CGI animation. As my description of him suggests, he’s a man whose achievements are often overlooked in the media world, so perhaps even before you’ve read it, it’s already a marvellous thing that some 40-plus years after his shows were first broadcast, there now exists an authoritative history on the making of Gerry’s marionette works.

Stephen La Riviere’s ‘Filmed in Supermarionation’ is not as complete as its name implies. It doesn’t cover every single production Gerry ever did, but does cover his marionette shows, from The Adventures of Twizzle (1957) to The Secret Service (1969).

As this is really the first book of it’s kind (aside from Chris Bentley’s individual works on Thunderbirds, Captain Scarlet, and UFO), there have been countless tales of these shows that have passed down into legendary folklore, so it’s nice to finally set the record straight. And the book does more than that.

It both mixes and digs into the history of A.P. Films/Century 21 Productions, fusing archive interviews and freshly conducted correspondence/examinations – the old and the new, much like Gerry’s shows themselves, into one thoroughly enjoyable history lesson. A lesson that mirrors the surface nature of what Gerry’s shows always entailed: a potent cocktail of drama, excitement, adventure, comedy, and lots and lots and lots and lots of explosions.

Its beautifully presented as well, divided into chapters that cover each production and mixing in photographs and drawings, some already known to the die-hard Anderfan (such as promotional images for Captain Scarlet), but they gain a sweeter resonance when included in such a definitive, historical account as this.

La Riviere’s style of writing is engaging as well, never reading as too stuffy or pretentious, and its clear he’s as much a fan of Gerry’s work as the fan whose writing this review (possibly even more.). His writing bubbles with the enthusiasm you’d expect in an Anderfan (we’re a hardcore bunch; you can’t just be a casual fan of Gerry’s. It’s like being a Kamikaze pilot – all or nothing.).

Overall, it automatically wins as the best historical account of Supermarionation, because it’s really the only one! But fortunately, its more than a history lesson, it’s really comes across as a thank you to those who created these wonderful shows. So pick up a copy, sit back, and as that old saying goes, ‘Standby for action!’

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doa – Candle, album review

I’ve been meaning to get this out of my system for some time, and seeing as how I’ve already tackled their first album, I think now’s a great time to have a go at reviewing Candle, doa’s second album.

Now to be honest, it took me a very long time to warm to this album, mostly because I’m a grizzly rocker at heart, which made open_d a perfect album for me. Candle however, is pretty much the exact opposite of open_d.

Where that first album was a fine assortment of grinding folk rock with a punky-metal edge, Candle is chock-full of sweet, dreamy folk-pop tunes, with barely any of the downbeat yet intimate aggression that made open_d such an appealing listen.

Now when I first heard Candle, I used the above description as a reason for despising this album, and ultimately, doa themselves. How could these acoustic headbangers torment me with all this slushy schmaltz?

But now, I use the above description as my main reason for liking this album, a lot. And there are still some similarities between the two albums. Both feature Crosby, Stills and Nash harmonies over a mix of acoustic/electric guitar-heavy workouts, but on Candle these workouts are glazed in gliding strings that can barely get a third note in, and tinkering pianos, falling like tender snowflakes over these cute lil’ ditties.

Makes you sick, doesn’t it?

But hear me out, Candle is, in many ways, the perfect partner to open_d. One is an album full of chunky, clunky rockers while the other swooning ballads mix the two together and you’d probably get a damn fine album.

Plus, you have to admire these guys for stretching their sound it. It might have been far too easy to simply make open_d Mark 2, and the band handle rockers and ballads with equal aplomb. The tunes are actually decent as well. The opening title track, I wanna know your soul, and Sherry all display a sensitivity that open_d somewhat lacked.

And Candle isn’t completely devoid of speed or distortion either. The album’s only two rockers, Kiken na cave and Aoi Kaijitsu, are a fine pair of bloodrushers, with Aoi Kaijutsu especially so. It swings like a wrecking ball, almost sounding like Black Sabbath by way of the Stones.

But is it really possible to enjoy this album without the context of open_d? Well, if you prefer Lindsay Buckingham’s Fleetwood Mac to Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac, then yes, because that’s how these two albums come across really, both of the same band and yet barely interchangeable with each other.

If you’re interested in hearing these guys, comment for a link to their songs!

doa – open_d, Album Review

There’s nothing wrong with trying to emulate your musical heroes. If anything, it’s very often the thing that spurs one to pick up a guitar in the first place. But when it comes down to essentially sounding note-for-note the same as your idols, and the only major difference is that you’re singing in a different language, something doesn’t quite add up.

And that’s Japanese folk rockers doa in a nutshell. One spin of their debut original album, open_d, confirms that, as soon as Crosby, Stills and Nash finally pop off into the hippie heavens, these guys will swoop down and claim their flower-laden bodies like vultures, all for themselves alone, to worship and adore.

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Everything from the genre and setup of the music to the band’s actual name (a combination of the band member’s names lead vocalist Daiki Yoshimoto, lead guitarist Shinichiro Ohta, and bassist/songwriter Akihito Tokunaga) suggest that ‘influence’ doesn’t begin to describe the relationship they have with CSN.

The songs follow a similar style to their forefathers as well; a mixture of acoustic/electric hard rock, mild touches of folk rock, piano-driven ballads, and other wanderings into country, funk and even metal, all glazed with three-part harmonies.

The opening tune can also be seen as the bastard son of Find the Cost of Freedom, both being brief numbers, opening with some meandering acoustic guitar workouts until slow, ominous vocals hove into view.

But if you’ve been paying attention to this review, you’ll notice that I haven’t said these guys are bad. Fortunately, this is the one thing that saves them from being the CSN tribute act they surely were in their early days (their debut recording, a demo E.P, features seven cover songs of various artists, four of those songs being Ohio, Woodstock, Helpless, and Find the Cost…).

Another thing is clear from listening to open_d; these guys know how to rock. Shiro no Jumon, Haru Ichiban Ni, Jiyuu To Iu Mei No Brand, and Eiyuu rock with grinding riffs and swaggering backbeats, harder and heavier than anything CSN ever came up with.

The remaining numbers fly through a mixture of above-mentioned styles, and all prove just how effective the acoustic/electric/light/shade style of music can be. And these guys know how to sing as well.

Their harmonies may not be as sweet, or even high, as the ole’ granddaddies, but they still know how to give their vocals a good workout, which is perhaps more than can be said for the music itself. The music is catchy, yet simple, with the vocals right up in the mix.

And that’s something else appealing about this group over CSN; their songs are short and sweet, none of them barely touching the five minute mark, which makes for far more engaging listening than the songs CSN would often drag out to 10 minutes in length, those poor tunes!

So, overall, these guys may wish they were born in the 40’s so they could raise hell and rock out with the rest of ‘em throughout the 60’s, but they have a warm charm all their own. The album itself has a snug, live-in-the-studio atmosphere, and completely lacks in pretence (though that may not be quite try, who knows what these guys are singing about, after all!).

It’s a great rock album, and nothing more.

If anyone’s interested, I can put up/email you download links to the album and the singles released from it, as they all sport fairly decent b-sides.

Book Review – Dream Days by Kenneth Grahame

Bloody hell, only my SECOND book review.

     Good thing the book I’m reviewing here is such a wonderful book. Kenneth Grahame, for those of you who don’t know, was the chap who wrote Wind in the Willows. He also wrote several more books, including the sequel to Dream Days, The Golden Age.

     Sadly, its only these three books that are still in print to this day, and barely anyone can recall any of his works aside from WITW. But anywho, on with the review.

     Dream Days is a collection of short stories that see’s several adult narrators looking back on their adventures as children, and their constant battle between the parent/adult. Each story see’s the child/children bringing, in the eyes of the adult, even the most mundane things to life, and how the most minor of objects/events (the old toy collection from A Departure, or the snatching of the forge in picture-book in Its Walls Were As of Jasper) can leave lasting ramifications.

     I won’t go into talk of the individual stories themselves, I could talk of them for ages, and I just don’t have that length of time on me. But rest assured, its a beautiful book. Kenneth’s writing is more dense here than it is in WITW, but its just as lyrical, if not more. Indeed, on its publication, ten years before WITW, the book was met with such a warm response that when WITW did finally come along, it was viewed as a disappointment in comparison.

     Throughout, Kenneth manages to put a lot of emotion and energy into the littlest of things. His writing, while difficult to enter, is a kind that you just can’t leave. Once you manage to get yourself inside, your locked in until the very last page. Like the children in the stories, he immediately brings the reader to the level of the child, and we see the world through their eyes only, and we end up feeling the same amount of contempt and derision for the adults as the children do.

      My last post was a short ramble with the words; ‘that moment, and feeling, when you finish reading a book, and all you can do is just hug it’. I wrote that really in response to finishing Dream Days. Its 100% true, its exactly what I did. And even though I’ve now started on Watership Down, I’m sure I’ll fine my way back into the worlds of these children, who, even as adults, never lost their innocence, and knew exactly how to handle it.

Movie review – Murder by Death

Good God, only my SECOND film review!

    And this one’s a whole universe away from the beautiful fantasy of Spirited Away. Instead, this is possibly the silliest film in the whole world, and certainly the silliest film I’ve ever seen.

    But I use the phrase ‘silly’ in endearing terms, because I really do hold this film close to my heart. For starters, its not groundbreaking, not a masterpiece, not a defining piece of cult cinema, or any cinema in general. Its a spoof murder-mystery, as if you hadn’t already guessed from the title.

    DSC00451It follows the antics of five famous detectives as they are invited to ‘a dinner and a murder’. They must solve the crime placed before them by Lionel Twain or else Twain will have managed to outsmart them all, coupled with a million dollars thrown into the bargain for the winning detective.

    Throughout the film, bad puns, implausible traps, self-conflicting clues and an overall head-achingly confusing story make for compelling viewing. Indeed, the mystery itself is so mind-bendingly odd that the penultimate line of the film is ‘was there a murder or wasn’t there?’ I myself am getting a thumping feeling in my head just trying to explain the film without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t seen it.

    But its still such a lovely little film. Directed by the little-known Robert Moore and written by playwright-wizard Neil Simon, the film boasts a superbly chosen cast who play out their parodies to the full, whilst retaining a feeling of heart-warming homage. Actors include Peter Sellers, Maggie Smith, Peter Faulk, David Niven, author Truman Caopte, and Alex Guinness. Forget Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars, the butler in Murder by Death is his greatest role.

    Many people have that particular film that they watch when they are stuck in bed with a cold, or have nothing to do on a rainy day, or choose to stay in on a chilly winter evening, or are feeling homesick, or missing a loved one and need something to ease their discomfort. For me, Murder by Death is this film. Its billed as a parody, but its equally a homage to both engaging detective fiction and the cast-driven feature length epic.

    Very rarely do so many elements come together so well and yet so stupidly as in Murder by Death. And very rarely does a film like Murder by Death sooth that cold, wash away that rain, warm that evening up, bring that home back to you, or make you snuggle up on the sofa as if your loved one were there with you.

My, a-hem, ‘Alternative’ Music Collection.

To be honest, there’s not much ‘alternative’ about these albums. There so ingrained in the fabric of music that its practically impossible to think of them as having a life or purpose outside of the mainstream.

   But they’re fab albums anyway, and as an old-skool rocker by heart, I pride myself on having SOME expanded tastes.

   Now then, what do we actually have in here…

Ignore the old-skool rock books in the background...

Ignore the old-skool rock books in the background…

    Well there’s some classic post-punk in the form of Joy Division and PiL. There’s some era-defining Britpop/Madchester with Oasis, The Stone Roses, Blur, Ocean Colour Scene, Primal Scream, and The Verve.

   There’s some thunderingly good modern heavy rock via Them Crooked Vultures. There’s some archetypal grunge from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Temple of the Dog. There’s some heart-wrenching, modern indie with Florence and the Machine and Arcade Fire.

   DSC00447There’s some fab contemporary garage ravers thanks to The White Stripes, The Strokes and The Libertines. There’s some broody, moody and beautiful piano-rock via Coldplay. There’s some soulful folk from Fleet Foxes, Joanna Newsom, and Neutral Milk Honey.

   There’s some downright freaky jam-band-like titles from Oneida, Citay and Swans. There’s some classic indie from The Smiths. There’s some era-changing noise-rock from Sonic Youth. There’s some politically-charged arena-ready rock from Manic Street Preachers.

   DSC00448There’s some little known Irish-grunge-pop from Ash. There’s some haunting, electric-folk from Tindersticks. There’s some everyone-needs-these-in-their-record-collection titles via Radiohead and R.E.M, And finally, there’s some ear-shattering power-punk-pop from My Chemical Romance.

Music review – Pink Moon by Nick Drake

    Its five to six and the suns already dipped away. Nothing but thick grey clouds, slashing winds and piercing drips of rain. And I can feel a cold coming on at the back of my throat. That can only mean its time for some Nick Drake.

The album cover alone is enough to buy the record.

The album cover alone is enough to buy the record.

    Now I’m not putting the Pink Moon album on just to add to how gloomy and cold I feel, but rather to get all nicely warmed up.

    Pink Moon is Nick’s barest album, featuring just him and his guitar (with slight piano on one track). Its also Nick’s shortest album, just barely clocking in at half an hour, whereas his previous two albums rounded in at a tidier 40 minutes. But this is by no means Nick’s simplest album.

    If anything, its certainly is most complex in terms if its background. Always the silent, possibly tormented recluse, by the time he made this album his previous two albums had barely made any impact, but that had ironically made an impact on him. He became more and more withdrawn into himself, but before he ultimately took the most drastic steps, he left behind two sets of songs.

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    One was the very final session he did with producer John Wood, who handled his other work. The other was this gem, Pink Moon. The songs are typically lush and elegant in true Drake fashion, but the style is far more naked than the subtlety slick jazz of Bryter Layter or the sweetly swelling orchestrations of Five Leaves Left.

    The lyrics are also borderline suicidal, a not so subtle revelation at his mental state at the time. And yet, as Nick croons his way throughout the album, he sounds quietly at peace with himself, not exactly happy, but still, peaceful. As if he knew what was to become of him and readily accepting these future events.

    All this may add up to pretty macabre listening, but its Nick’s guitar that manages to save the day. He plays it with pure fragile majesty, and this album is perhaps the best example of his skills as an instrumentalist as it s not cluttered by saxophones, drums, keyboards or bass. Whether it’s the swirling strums of the title track, the sparse instrumental Horn or the murmured plucking of Road, even as he plays in the most minor of keys, it all adds up to a thing of beauty.

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    As is the album as a whole. There really isn’t much to this album really, its Nick, his guitar a tad of piano and about 28 minutes worth of original music.

    And yet this is one of the records I’ll take with me to the end of the earth. It’s more than a collection of songs. At this point, Nick had surely given up any chance of commercial success, as Pink Moon is such a delicate and naked sounding record its really has to be listened to in certain moods and at certain times.

    But when those times and moods arise, Pink Moon is such a rewarding experience, and even though its songs may be cold, its sound is warm. And with every listen, it does exactly that, more so than any Lemsip.

28 minutes of haunting beauty.

28 minutes of haunting beauty.