29 December 2009

Diabolical Day of The Triffids

When I first immersed myself in adult fiction almost forty years ago most of the books that I read were sci-fi classics by H G Wells, Jules Verne and John Wyndham and I have enjoyed many of these stories retold in other media over the years.

For example, I recently watched the 1995 American film version of John Wyndam's Village of the Dammed (based on The Midwich Cuckoos) and was surprised by how good it was.

And I also loved the take on Jules Verne's From The Earth to The Moon by Warren Ellis in a recent issue of Planetary.

So it was with some joy that I was looking forward to the two part adaptation of Wyndham's Day of The Triffids on BBC 1.

How wrong I was.

The plot, such as it was, was so full of gaping holes and clichés that it actually became funny. Things like finding two small children survivors who immediately start calling the two leads "Mum and Dad", the way that everybody had got hold of sub-machine guns, the amount of time people spent walking through dark woods when they were trying to keep away from the Triffids, and the apparent disappearance of all food and water after the disaster. I could go on.

But for me the real mistake with this adaptation was the minor played by the Triffids. Far from being the things that we were all meant to be scared of they played a mere supporting role to the unexplained and unconvincing evil of the Eddie Izzard character (not from the original book).

Ironically Eddie Izzard's acting was the one redeeming feature of an unbelievably bad programme that simply failed to do any of the things that it promised and unfairly used the worth legacy of John Wyndham to try and justify its existence. If it had (reasonably) not been called The Day of The Triffids then nobody would have watched it and we would all be happier for this.

28 December 2009

Grandville was well worth the wait

I bought myself a signed copy of Grandville back in November but as nobody had any idea what to get me for Christmas, myself included, it got squirrelled away and I had to wait for Christmas Day to get it.

I also had to wait for the Christmas Morning visit to relatives and for Christmas Dinner to get out of the way before I could start reading it. And read it I did just as soon as I could.

I had quite a good idea of what to expect from the Comica talk that Bryan Talbot did and from the atmospheric video he created to promote the book and it certainly lived up to those expectations.

Grandville is several things; it's a steampunk thriller, a homage to the English anthropomorphic tradition (Rupert et al) and, most of all, a cracking story with strong characters.

Detective Inspector LeBrock has some familiar traits. He's a maverick who works with a trusty side-kick and he's a detective in the Sherlock Holmes mould. But he's also a badger and that makes him a vicious killer.

It was a touch of genius setting the story in a world where the French won the Napoleonic Wars and Britain has become a semi-autonomous principality of France. This plays well to the natural England v France tensions and gives scope for some amusing anti-English comments from the French characters.

I loved Grandville to bits. There are further adventures of LeBrock on the way, at least two more, and I'm sure I'll love those too. It's nice to have something good to look forward to.

25 December 2009

A rare win at chess

I do not win that many games of Chess so please indulge me in rejoicing in this win. I only play chess on Facebook these days and most of these games are against a former fellow member of Weymouth Chess Club, who always beats me.

These loses mean that my chess grade keeps falling so occasionally I accept challengers from other players and I do manage to win some of these games and so my grade recovers a little.

This is one of my recent wins that I particularly enjoyed because of the way it ended. Black had wasted a lot of time moving his queen several times while I developed all of my pieces. Black's last move was e5 (PK4) in an attempt to bring his bishop into play, but it is too late. Can you see what I played? And do not cheat by looking in the moves box!

The winning move, exposes the weakness of Black's position where there is just one rook on hand to protect the king against White's onslaught of a queen, two rooks and a bishop. In a position like this sacrificing a rook, or even a queen, is immaterial as the checkmate is certain.

So the move I played, Rf6 (RB6) is not really a sacrifice, it puts unbearable pressure on h6 and so quickly opens up the Black king. The game quickly ended, 24. Rf6 Qd5, 25. Rxh6 Kg8, 26. Rxg7+ Kxg7, 28. Qg5++.

24 December 2009

Space Ritual rock the Inn on the Green

Where does the time ago? Apparently it is three years since Space Ritual last played at the Inn on the Green in Ladbroke Grove. I saw them play twice there in the tail end of 2006 but since then my immersions into their version of space rock have mostly been at the 100 Club, so it was nice to go back to this intimate and friendly venue.

The stage at Inn on the Green has quite a narrow, if reasonable deep, stage which could pose problems for a band with some many members. Space Ritual got round these restrictions by pushing Chris Purdon forward to the dance floor where he was joined by the Fabulous Ms Angel.

This left the stage to (L-R) Mick Slattery, Nik Turner, Terry Ollis, Jerry Richards and Thomas Crimble.

It was great to see Thomas Crimble facing front and with so much space as he is sometimes the secret member of the band hidden at the side behind his keyboards. Here the secret member mantle was passed on to Terry Ollis whose drums where very evident but the drummer himself was right at the back in Nik Turner's shadow.

A band with seven (sometimes eight) members is always going to have problems fitting on to any stage but they did very well here and the loss of one drummer, though regretted, was a good compromise.

The set was a strange mix of the expected delivered unexpectedly.

Expected was the collection of Hawkwind classics, including Brainstorm, Master of the Universe and Orgone Accumulator. Incidentally, none of these featured in the recent Hawkwind tour.

A little unexpected was the emphasis on Hawkwind songs at the expense of their own. Previously we had been treated to most number on Otherworld but there seemed to be much fewer on this occasion. Pleasingly, the title track was included.

The songs had the expected extended instrumental breaks in the middle but they sounded a little different, a little less rocky and a little more funky. I was firmly reminded of Pink Floyd's Money in one song with its staccato theme.

It may have been the song selection or the way they were presented, or even a combination of both, but the flute was rarely used as the saxophone won the battle for Nik's attention. The prominence of the saxophone kept the funky feeling going throughout the set. I was almost dancing at times!

It's hard, and unfair, to compare Space Ritual to Hawkwind, or to Hoaxwind or any of the other bands that feast on the rich harvest of Hawkind's back catalogue, but I'll have a go anyway. Hawkwind rock more, experiment with new songs more and put on a better show overall (because they can afford to) but Space Ritual have more respect for the heritage of the music and for the society that spawned it. There is much more of a community feel about them.

But the best thing about the differences is that both bands are worth going to for different reasons. In the space of a month I saw Hawkwind twice and also two concerts by Space Ritual/Hawklords, without once getting anywhere near thinking that I had had enough of space rock for the moment. And I'm sure that I'll be listening to a lot more space rock in 2010 too.

In fact I may even venture to Darkest Ruislip to see Space Ritual on 5 February but I'll definitely see them on home territory at the Boom Boom Club in Sutton the following night.

23 December 2009

Hawkwind at the Shepherd's Bush Empire

For the second year in a row I saw Hawkwind twice on the end-of-year tour, once at The Brook and Southampton to see them close up and personal and then again at their main London gig to savour the full show.

This year, tempted by Arthur Brown being the support act, I got to the venue early enough to get an unexpected place right at the front which, while not being anything like as close as at The Brook, meant that I was a close as you can get and had uninterrupted views for the many photos that I always take at concerts.

Having been centre of stage four days previously, this time I chose to be left of centre so that I could get a good look at Tim Blake who is the most active member of the band but who was largely hidden from me before by his keyboards.

This picture also reveals a violinist who had not been at the previous show, possibly because they could not squeeze him on to the small stage.

Another improvement was the light show which had continually failed in Southampton. Here it worked impressively and added to, rather than detracting from, the overall performance.

The set was, hardly surprisingly, much as at The Brook, though it was hit by the curfew there so we had more songs to enjoy this time.

I tried to keep a track of the set list and this is what I wrote down at the time: Lighthouse, Fahrenheit 451, Sentinel, Space poem, Angels of Death, Silver Machine, the other Mr Tibbs song from last year, what sounded like a new Tim Blake song with an Indian touch, Spirit of the Age, Magnu, Brainbox Pollution, another new Tim Blake song, You'd Better Believe it and Levitation. A brief gap to recharge batteries and to determine the crowd's enthusiasm for more music then it was Right to Decide and, finally, the monumental closer Hassan I Sabbah.

This set list comes with some caveats, like me not knowing the complete 40 years of music in the Hawkwind catalogue and the way that many of the songs drifted off to places to explore new soundscapes before, eventually, returning to the original theme.

There probably were other songs hidden in these long forays but none were that obvious. Though I did think that I was listening to David Brock playing Cabinet Key at one point.

But back to the show and time for a worthy mention for the two dancers, performing here on stilts, who accompanied what seemed like the majority of songs in a dazzling array of sci-fi outfits. They also made good use of the large space across the front of the stage; another advantage of being at the front centre-left!

At Southampton, Hawkwind were a band playing a (very good) concert but at the Shepherd's Bush Empire they were part of a much bigger show that attacked the senses delightfully. This is exactly what I keep going to Hawkwind concerts for.

20 December 2009

Arthur Brown casts a spell

It was billed as a Hawkwind Concert with Arthur Brown in support but I would have gone to see Arthur opening for almost anybody, just as I went to see the dismal Def Leppard in June 2006 just because the Sensational Alex Harvey Band opened the show.

Fortuitous circumstances brought me to London early (OK, so it was the ballet) and with nothing better to do before the evening entertainment I joined the queue at 6:30pm and froze for half an hour to get the reward to a place right at the front.

Arthur came on promptly at 7:30 and started in the dark, and wearing a dark face mask, with a stirring rendition of Hard Rain that got the crowd on his side immediately; not that many of us needed any persuading. A familiar song sung with Arthur's familiar strength and texture but supported by unfamiliar musicians.

All the other times that I have seen Arthur in recent years he was ably accompanied by the multi-instrumentalist Nick Pynn but for the current shows he has Jim Mortimore on guitar and drums, and Steve Watts on keyboards sitting either side of him.

The keyboards in particular helped to make the sound richer, fuller and more redolent of the late sixties. The interpretations were not necessarily better that those with Nick but it was refreshing to hear old songs done in new ways.

The rest of the set continued along more familiar lines with songs like Spell on you and Fire. I was also delighted to hear the Victim of love, from his latest album, that slowed the set down nicely in the middle.

Arthur supplemented his great singing with some costume changes (which usually included taking one pair of trousers off to reveal another pair underneath!) and some exaggerated dancing that drew loud cheering from the audience.

But the costumes and dancing were little more than small cherries on the large cake that is Arthur's powerful and dramatic singing voice that enriches any song.

17 December 2009

2000AD Prog 2010

As usual, the Christmas issue of 2000AD, the galaxy's greatest comic, is a bumper size issue to sustain readers through the long holiday period when the comic takes a rest (apparently some of the production droids need oiling or reprogramming) and the TV provides scant defence against the onslaught of boredom.

It is an ideal time to jump into the 2000AD maelstrom as the mix of continuing stories and seasonal one-off specials ease you in gently with just enough thrill power to hook you but not too much to fry your brains before they are attuned to the weekly fix.

It has been a very good year for 2000AD; we have had Judge Dredd posted to the Cursed Earth, Nicholas Dante quelled one rebellion and started another, and more great stories about Slaine, Strontium Dog and Sinister Dexter. And a lot more besides.

2000AD remains my favourite comic by quite some margin and I am sure that it will be just as good in 2010 as it was in 2009 and so on all the way back to 1977.

14 December 2009

Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells (December 2009)

Matthew Bourne first burst onto the dance scene in 1995 with his radical version of Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells that featured male swans. Since then I've seen several of his ballets but I had not seen Swan Lake until the current run back at Sadler's Wells.

Almost as hard to believe is the last time that I saw any version of Swan Lake was in Prague in 1991. At that time I had probably seen it 3 or 4 times in the previous two years because I used to be a season ticket holder for the English National Ballet and the Royal Ballet.

Therefore it is clear that this was a show that I really had to go to.

Matthew Bourne's interpretation of the most famous ballet is both radical and at the same time traditional.

The swans are male, so you get two men dancing the pas de deux that define the ballet, and the choreography is very modern with exaggerated gestures that can look clumsy to traditionalists. Not everybody loves modern dance, but I do.

The music is the very familiar and dramatic cascade of Tchaikovsky melodies and the main theme of the ballet (boy meets swan, boy meets second swan, boy goes back to first swan, they both die) is the same. There is nothing in this interpretation of the story for the traditionalists to get upset about.

I think that it is the modern interpretation of a classic story that makes it a success. Swan Lake is always worth watching but when it is with the original choreography then some of it is a little over familiar and there are no surprises; it's rather like eating McVities Digestives. The new version demands continuous attention and delights and surprises as it sweeps along; it's more like going to a new Indian restaurant.

This is Matthew Bourne and it is Sadler's Wells so it goes without staying that the production is excellent without imposing itself on the dance or the music. It was simply a sumptuous experience and one I hope to repeat next time that it returns to Sadler's Wells.

11 December 2009

Hawkwind at The Brook

As they did last year, Hawkwind included The Brook in Southampton in their short Winter tour and also as last year I was there to savour the experience of seeing them up close in a smaller venue than those they play in in London.

Opening the evening was ex-Hawk Huw Lloyd-Langton who played solo acoustic guitar. The songs were long, slow, dramatic and held your attention. Then came a lively blues number for which Huw was joined by Dave Brock on harmonica, Tim Blake on keytar and Richard Chadwick on drums.

And finally we had Hurry on Sundown where Mr Dibs and Niall Hone added their guitars so we had Hawkwind playing a Hawkwind song with Huw joining in. A great transition into the Hawkwind set.

What follower was a rumbustious show that, as usual, dipped in and out of the huge Hawkwind back catalogue, added a few new songs, left out some expected classics but included some others.

Overall the set seemed slightly less rocky and ever so slightly more melodic than last year's, probably thanks to an increased influence from Tim Blake.

Tim contributed at least two songs to the show, the opener was the familiar Lighthouse and this was joined by a new song with an Indian feel. Tim was also the most energetic and involved of the band but that is no surprise given the almost complete lack of movement from the three guitarists.

Richard Chadwick bounced around behind the drums (only a couple of metres in front of me) but was so skilfully hidden by the kit that his undoubted energy was spent largely unnoticed.

I did not try to compile a set list (I might do next time) but some of the other songs that I can remember are Levitation, Silver Machine (unexpectedly played mid-set), Magnu and Angels of Death. There were some very early songs too but I forget which ones!

The set ended with a personal favourite of mine, Hassan-i Sabbah, which started and ended familiarly enough but which was treated to an extended jam in the middle. Wonderful stuff!

The bad news was that took us to 11pm and The Brook's strict curfew and so we were denied an encore but, to be honest, what we had heard was so good that that little disappointment did nothing to hurt the mood.

I mentioned earlier that I might try and get a set list next time; well, that's on Sunday when Hawkwind come to London to weave their magic, this time with Arthur Brown in support.

8 December 2009

Concert industriel pour orgue

I am not sure that I need to say much more than to repeat the title of the CD, Concert industriel pour orgue.

From this you can tell that this is industrial music with a grand classical flavour, which hits two of my big buttons in a big way.

Add to this the fact that the musician behind it all, Vladimir Hirsch, is Czech then the appeal to me is obvious.

I have to thank last.fm for discovering Vladimir Hirsch and his music. I told last.fm what music I like and it correctly worked out that I would like this too.

I recently bought this album and another of his, Graue Passion, and they are now cosying up next to Wild Beasts and Placebo on my iPod and they get let out to play when I am working at home.

6 December 2009

LIKE 9 - Tales from the SharePoint trenches

I am rather fond of the LIKE (London Information & Knowledge Exchange) events because of their subject matter (more Records / Information / Knowledge Management) and their format. What started as something like a World Cafe has evolved into something more like a dinner party and that means more opportunity for in-depth conversations.

LIKE9 was on the topical and controversial subject of Sharepoint, led by Cerys Hearsey who had plenty of tales to tell from the front-line of the bitter war being fought between IT (Sharepoint lovers) and Business (Sharepoint sceptics).

I'm not sure that I changed my opinion on Sharepoint as a result of the discussions but it was could to hear some stories from other people to reinforce my views/prejudices.

But, as with the TFPL event earlier in the week, the main point of the evening is to mix and chat. This we did at three tables while eating and drinking, having chose what we wanted beforehand so that the bar, The Perseverance, could bring it all at the same time.

The conversations flowed, and we swapped tables a couple of times to change the mix and it all went very well. I remember discussing things like Moonfleet, taxonomies, Crewkerne and selling Information Management. New contacts were made and old ones developed, which is one of the main benefits of events like this. Besides, it's a lot of fun talking to interesting people about things that you are both interested in.

LIKE events are held on the last Thursday of each month and it is no surprised that they are oversubscribed when they are as good as this.

5 December 2009

Conversations and canapes

I enjoy developing my Knowledge Management/consulting knowledge and contacts and the best way that I have found to do this at informal evening gatherings organised by Gurteen, TFPL and LIKE.

Due to unfortunate circumstances I was unable to get to the last two TFPL Connect events so I was quick off the mark to book my place on the latest one held in some luxury at the Crowne Plaza hotel close to their Blackfriars offices.

Networking is a key part of these gatherings, the key part actually, so I arrived early to start the mixing. The champagne was an unexpected pleasure but was not actually needed to get the connections and conversations flowing.

After the brief prelude we went into the conference room for the panel discussion on all matters relating to Records / Information / Knowledge Management. I normally sit quietly at these sort of events and let the information sink in and ferment before coming to any sort of conclusion but I surprised myself by making a comment on the very first question.

I suspect that this may have been because I took an early dislike to the line that the panellists were taking that seemed routed in the last century. The second comment I made in my notebook was "not a clue". This became crystal clear on the final, lighter, question on the user of Twitter which all three panellists confessed to not using to the shocked amazement of the audience who vigorously leaped to its defence.

United by the last question, we returned to the reception area to resume the conversations fuelled by some more drinks and some welcome canapés. The socialising went on for a couple of hours and the time whizzed by in a whirl or welcomes, words and wine.

Simply a fabulously interesting and fun evening and I can hardly wait for the next one in February.

4 December 2009

Hawklords Implosion

After two aborted attempts earlier this year, the Hawklords Implosion, a memorial concert for Barney Bubbles, final landed with a bang at the 229 Club in Great Portland Street.

The event ran from 3pm to 10pm and featured concerts by The Imperial Pompadours, Inner City Unit, Quintessence and Hawklords, as well as Robert Calvert's play about Jimi Hendrix, The Stars That Play With Laughing Sam's Dice. With a line-up like that I was certain to be going!

The afternoon started with us all packed in an unimpressive bunker that looked more as though it was designed to protect Londoners from imminent nuclear destruction rather than entertain anybody. It had a bar though and a Grolsch, even at £3.70 a pint in a plastic vessel, was a welcome relief.

A little while later the truth was revealed and we moved from the cramped ante-room into a proper concert hall with a high stage and lots of space for milling and dancing. As always I headed towards the front.

The Imperial Pompadours were on first with an eclectic set that told a story that I could not follow, not that it matter in the least as the music was good and that is what I was there for.

Nik Turner was back on stage a short while later, this time with Inner City Unit. This was a rockier set and was much appreciated by the crowd most of whom near to me where already very familiar with the music.

Apart from the opening number, which Space Ritual usually play, the songs were all new to me but they were accessible and a lot of fun.

Next it was back into the bunker for the Bob Calvert play. Unfortunately the bunker was very noisy but fortunately I was able to get close enough to the front to hear the two actors. The play impressed me and I'd like to see some performed in a theatre some time.

Quintessence were on the main stage by this time, which helped to clear some of the rowdier elements from the bunker, and I just managed to catch the last part of their last song. That was enough.

Then we had the main act, various Hawkwind legends playing under the name Hawklords with a re-enactment of Space Ritual. With a set list like that and the all-star line-up they could hardly go wrong, and they didn't. It was an excellent and very enjoyable performance. Dancing happened. Lots of it.

I was not too sure what to make of Ron Tree's distinctive vocals but, if nothing else, they served to make the versions quite different from the ones that I am familiar with.

There was time for a little more at the end and I was delighted when we jumped forward a few years to the late 70s' Charisma era with Steppenwolf and Psi Power. And after some input from the happy audience the evening ended with, no surprises, Silver Machine.

It was a long day with plenty of standing and only a packet of mini cheddars for sustenance but boy was it worth it. It was certainly a brave experiment having four sets, and a play, over an afternoon and evening, and it was great to see that bravery so richly rewarded.

2 December 2009

BCSA Annual Dinner

As it says on the poster (that I wrote!), "the BCSA Annual Dinner is the main event in the BCSA calendar and while the speakers, refreshments and raffle are important, the evening is really all about meeting and making friends.

"The evening includes a drinks reception, three course set menu with wine, guest speaker and a raffle with many excellent prizes."

And it proved to be as good as I said that it would be!

Unfortunately the atmospheric lighting and the dark walls made it hard to take pictures of the whole room full of happy guests but this one of the table that I was on should give some clue of what the evening was like.

The organiser did her usual good work on sitting me on a table of interesting Slovaks, including somebody from the Slovak Embassy in London, so the evening was full of good conversations as well as good food and drink.

And the evening was made even better by the after dinner, Sam Walters director of the Orange Tree Theatre, who explained his Czech connections in an interesting and entertaining talk. I was pleased to get some time with Sam and his wife to explain how much I like their theatre!

It was a great evening!

1 December 2009

The Making of Moo (spoilers)

I have often said that everything at I've seen at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond is at least good and some of it is exceptional.

The Making of Moo is one of the exceptional ones.

Well-meaning colonials are dismayed to learn that in build a new dam to provide power and irrigation they have also killed the local river god. A plan is quickly hatched to create a new god for the locals, called Moo.

The first half of the play shows the three conspirators as they form and enact this plan. Their designs for Moo include a moral code, a history and some stirring songs.

Less involved, and much less interested in being involved, is their native man servant who is in line to be the first figurehead of the new church.

But the plans proceed apace and the first half ends with the colonials putting the finish touches to Moo.

The second half resumes the story two years later when the church of Moo has taken hold, but not as we had expected.

The colonials have stayed and are powerful figures in the church that is intolerant and violent. Vespers is the time when visitors are killed.

The play is an unflattering critique of religion as this extract from the sayings of Moo hints. (I took this photo when going back in for the second half.)

But while the theme of the play is dark and deep it is sugared with a large coating of humour and it is a really funny play throughout.

The combination of the story, theme, humour, acting and staging make this one of the most rewarding things that I have seen at the Orange Tree and I was delighted to be able to tell the director, Sam Walters, this to his face the following evening at a dinner.