Friday, April 29, 2011

one tooth down!

hey everyone

well, James was very excited indeed yesterday! at school, as he calls it, he was busy playing Ring A Ring Of Roses with his friends when he felt something in his mouth. he was pretty sure that he hadn't put a sweet or similar in his mouth, and was thus apparently surprised and delighted to discover that the first of his baby teeth had at last fallen out!

it has been wobbling away for the last week or so, with the "big boy" tooth popping up behind it!

James has been particularly calm and brave about the idea of his "baby" teeth falling out and new ones coming up; something we are of course terribly proud of. we suspect, however, that his calm and brave approach has been due to his intricate knowledge of "the tooth fairy". he has a formidable, to say the least, list of requests in place for the tooth fairy and thus if anything he simply cannot wait for them all to come out!

William, meanwhile, will just be happy when his first set of teeth all come through, and has started to suggest that he doesn't particularly wish for his photograph to be taken whilst TellieTubbies is on!

have a most excellent weekend!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, April 28, 2011


hey everyone

well, as April 27th is a holiday in our corner of the world we decided to go off and do something that would be fun for the boys. expecting a brisk, damp day we opted for the magnificent Yeesh! playhouse. it's effectively a massive warehouse / factory store type place that has been gutted and had the biggest play pen in history built inside it.

as it turns out, it was a rather sunny day but with a sharp cold wind, the latter being why we went along anyway. and the boys were rather glad that we did!

whereas William enjoyed all the climbing and sliding he could do, it has to said that the best for him was just a load of balls he could hold on to and briefly claim as his own. if the whole place was just a load of mats and balls, he would truly have been in his element!

James, meanwhile, is not that thrilled by just grabbing a ball and holding on to it. he is very interested, however, in all the climbing and running he can do there, as well as building excellent castles from the foam blocks. well, building them and knocking them down!

all the climbing on offer there does give James the margin to sit around on top of things and perfect his "it wasn't me" look and whistle!

i do hope you enjoyed that picture above, by the way, as that was about the only moment that he was still enough to get a halfway decent picture! for the rest of the time there, which was the important part of the afternoon, there was no stopping him!

best for both boys, of course, was when they could climb up something together, which was preferably done in the area that's supposed to be for under 3s only. it's not like anyone was going to tell James that he couldn't do it, of course!

the more observant of you will have noted that William is "climbing" with the help of Mummy's helpful hand, and indeed that William has a scratch or two on his forehead. the climbing he eventually perfected himself; the scratches are the remnants of a long running feud he engaged in with a sink at Grandma and Grandad's at the weekend. both are still standing, so it' tricky to say who the winner is.

once at the top of this particular time, there was margin for both of them to play king of the castle!

and, of course, it's not like they climbed back down from there. at the other end of the padded ladder up is one of the most excellent slides in history, and William absolutely loved it!

needless to say all of us were somewhat exhausted from the afternoon out at this place. keeping up with the two of them is a distinctlt tricky task! afterwards it was off for some well earned KFC, and then just "chill time" as we were all back off to school and verk today!!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

the joys of an afternoon nap

or should i say the dream of the joys of an afternoon nap? it seems all but impossible to have one in our house!!

it wouldn't be so bad if the boys didn't start at 6am!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Uncle Trevor's slightly less Avant Garde pictures of Uncle Colin's birthday

hi everyone

well, Uncle Trevor read my celebration of his pictures over the weekend. once he had accepted that it was not a slur or slight on his art, he decided to send some more images of the celebrations over. this time he has yielded to the tempation to include actual, visible images of the birthday boy himself!

erm, yes, they are for the most part images of him messing about with fire, which to some is always going to be a noble hobby. this would be particularly true of messing about with fire as it pertains to birthday cakes, certainly.

now then, those of you who during the original post that got quite excited about a glimpse of Colin's right ear lobe are in for a treat. brace yourselves, and embrace and enjoy, if you so which, the sort of symmetrical left ear lobe of my Uncle Colin.

i should perhaps resist over-stimulating the dear audience of this blog, in particular as this is the 69th post of the year, but for the "old school" enthusiasts of the last picture, here once again is Colin's right ear lobe, paired with a rather explicit image of him messing about with fire.

i am somewhat, if not overly, concerned about just how excited Christopher seems to be about this messing with fire business. i shall say no more, however, for at least he does not have that ghastly Newcastle shirt on.

the more observant of you will have noted Gran almost appearing in the picture above, too. here she is, i am delighted to say, in something of a better view, apparently rather happy that Colin has finished messing about with fire.

many thanks indeed for these more conventional pics, Trevor! nice though the other ones were, of course! we are all really looking forward to seeing how your artistic muse takes you with pictures of Angela's birthday!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

postcards from a young (?) man

hi everyone

well, i am not sure what you did over Easter, but my Uncle Trevor, when not taking rather avante-garde pictures of his brothers' birthday celebrations, went off to Whitby. this is a jolly splendid idea, as visiting Whitby is a great way to spend time at any time, really. just ask my dear wife.

instead of indulging us with more of his avante-garde photography, however, Trevor decided to send along some images of postcards he picked up whilst there. no bad thing, really, as whereas Trevor's pictures would have been interesting these cards are excellent!

here's a view of the famous 99 steps up to Whitby Abbey.

you haven't lived until you have walked up them on a windy day in December. twice.

as for the Abbey itself, here's a great portrait of it!

many thanks to Uncle Trevor for sending them on, and indeed to the original artist, Pat Bell!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

the Star Wars duels in our house

hi everyone

well, i seem to have been able to find the time to do some updates this long weekend!

James and William rather like having class Star Wars duels in and around the house, as i've mentioned earlier. normally, alas, they've ceased (and presumably the Jedi have restored order to the galaxy) by the time i get the camera out, but over the last few days i've had some luck in capturing them up to it!

you will notice that, strictly speaking, William isn't brandishing a proper lightsaber. well, he is as he has the red one there, but he does tend to find it rather cumbersome. the hallmark of a true Jedi is the construction of one's own lightsaber, and William has indeed done this by grabbing a curved green part off an old mobile. it might not look as pretty, but it is effective!

it is rather handy that William has constructed his own as James rather likes showing off that he is "king of Jedis" by brandishing two at the same time!

William, who still likes posing for pictures as you can see below, really doesn't worry about being king of Jedis or anything like that, he really just likes making "dush dush" noises with them and battering them on things / people / cats.

now then, James is pretty good at re-enacting scenes from the Star Wars films. he can do you, for instance, all of the dialogue between Obi Wan and Darth Vader in A New Hope word for word. i do not know, however, which of the films features a Jedi stopping mid-battle to blast a quasi-vuvuzela, but here you go!

William really enjoys the lightsaber battles with James, just as much presumably as James does. however, i suspect William has clocked that they are going to lead to something being broken along the way. witness, then, his already perfected "it wasn't me" look!

hope you've all been having a quality long weekend!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Uncle Trevor's rather avant-garde take on Uncle Colin's birthday

hi everyone

well, many thanks to Uncle Trevor for sending through a few more pictures this week. trust me, what they lack in number they more than make up for in file size, but that's another story.

the subject of Trevor's pictures this time were the highlights of the almost universal celebrations held in regards of the birthday celebrations of my Uncle Colin. and, as the title suggests, Trevor has taken a considered, stark and audacious approach to the subject matter. whereas anyone can just take pictures at will of the birthday boy and what not, Trevor has gone for the braver approach in terms of focus and observation.

here is, i am assured, Colin blowing out the candles on his birthday cake.

i am led to believe that it is indeed Colin in the light grey top, his face obscured by whoever it was presumably lighting the candles. whereas on the one side i could imagine Colin not wanting more explicit pictures of what he was doing at the time this one was taken falling into my hands (yes, the notion of a subject for a post called "Colin blowing" has crossed my mind), it would have been nice to get a bit more of a glimpse of him, nice though his right ear lobe is.

as for the remainder of the pictures, Trevor has not so much focused on presenting pictures of Colin a year older and wiser, but more, i think, on things that Colin finds imporant. probably. like, for instance, this

and this

well, what can i say but thank you for the insights, Uncle Trevor! around the world Uncle Colin's birthday is usually celebrated with a series of parades, the odd depraved set of orgies and one or two ritualistic slaughterings of unspecified animals. it is fascinating to see, on a certain socio-political level, that no such celebrations took place in the back yard of the birthday boy.

oh and by the way, Uncle Trevor, if you select the pictures you want to send, right click over any one of the highlighted ones and select "send to...." and then left click on "mail receipient" from there, it will give you the option to reduce the size of the pics you send. if you try something other than "send at exact size" i assure you the images will arrive just fine, only they will not take some 45 minutes to download.

many thanks to Uncle Trevor for the insights, and happy birthday once again Uncle Colin!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mad Max 2 update, blu ray rant.

righty-ho, some more information has come to light since my post on Mad Max 2 last week. it would be information that leads me to a rant against this ridiculous drive to try and convince everyone to move on to this relatively new "blu ray" format, so if you are not interested, move on......

for those that want to read the rant, here we go! right, Mad Max 2 as it appears on the formats :

Standard DVD

name on credits - The Road Warrior
running length - 91 minutes (plus a few seconds)

Blu Ray

name on credits - Mad Max 2
running length - 95 minutes (plus a few seconds)

surprise! when it came to selling a film with a cult following to the same audience again, isn't it wonderful that they somehow managed to "find" the supposedly lost full and uncut version, featuring all the trimmed / censored footage and the proper name? this is yet another example of the underhanded way in which the industry is trying to get big and fast sales of this new technology. granted this is a minor example, but there are many, many others, some of which will be listed here.

a major problem they have had with selling blu ray to the world is that the quality isn't the "vast improvement" over DVD that was claimed when released. various studies have shown that very, very few films look any better at all on blu ray compared to DVD. these surveys have been countered by people saying "yes they do look better", for an example see this article. if you click on that link, look at the comparisons and see anything "better" other than the picture being a little bit brighter, please let me know what i missed.

there is of course one film that everyone agrees looks better on blu ray than it does on a standard DVD. and surprise surprise, it it Avatar

what this film lacked in story or interest was more than made up for by the high quality of the film and special effects. people, it seems, were bamboozled into considering it brilliant because the great force of the American film industry declared it to be so. this would be the same industry currently trying to convince you that you should buy a blu ray player and buy all of the films on disc once again, by the way.

the trick in pumping Avatar as a masterpiece that it is not wouldn't be so bad if it was just limited to selling you the machine and the film. nope, the other trick with blu ray is that they seem determined that you are to buy more than one copy of it on blu ray. thus far for this film in the new format there has been a "standard" edition, a "collectors" 2 disc edition and a "3 disc extended collectors edition" released.

even better, and by better i mean in terms of sheer audacity and nerve, there is of course the 3D edition of the film. now this is a masterstroke of advertising and selling stuff. you can only get the 3D version if you buy a piece of Panasonic 3D equipment. and you are going to need to buy at least one, possibly 2 pieces of 3D equipment from someone if you fall for all of this.

if you've bought a flatscreen LED / Plasma TV and blu ray player and expect to be able to enjoy 3D films and TV on it, think again. my some mysterious chance the existing models are not compatible with #D discs and glasses, so off you go to buy it all again. for confirmation, here's what the Disney website tells you to go and buy if you want to watch one of their films (or presumably alone else's) in 3D :

In order to watch your film in 3D, you will need a 3D HDTV, a Blu-ray 3D player (or a 3D firmware upgrade for existing PLAYSTATION®3 hardware), and 3D glasses compatible with your 3DTV. Your TV and player will need to be connected with HDMI cables.

i have mentioned that i do not think 3D TV will take off at all in a post a year or so ago due to the faffing about one has to do to watch something in that format. good luck to you if you really think Alice In Wonderland, Avatar or Saw 7 are really worth watching all that often to invest in the equipment required.

it's not just with Avatar that they are getting people to not only buy a blu ray disc of films they probably have equal copies of on DVD (save some extras), but to buy more than one blu ray version. the most infamous incident at present relates to the celebrated Lord Of The Rings trilogy. the standard theatrical versions of these films were released on 2010. here's a surprise - the "extended editions" of the films are up for release in 2011. this double release is no doubt aimed at the significant fan base for the films, who no doubt purchased both versions on standard DVD.

the release that will trump even Lord Of The Rings, however, will be Star Wars, with the blu ray release announced for 2011. having purchased both DVD released versions, i'm somewhat annoyed that they have, much like Mad Max 2, mysteriously found some 30 hours of "previously unseen" footage to include in this box set to entice us fans into spending once again. it doesn't stop there, either. Star Wars is getting an entirely unneccessary 3D makeover, with one "3D-ized" film being released every year for the next six years. just watch as they get released on blu ray 3D year by year, and then in 7 years time a box set of the whole lot turn up with yet more "unseen footage" saved for that release.

i'm not adverse to re-releasing films in different editions, by the way. sat here i have numerous films which i have bought the standard and then the special edition of. on DVD. i am quite against the idea, as i think you can guess, of trying to be forced into investing in expensive and apparently soon out of date blu ray technology for the sake of a few minutes of extra scenes and some nice bonus material. if it really kills them to just release the same on DVD too, then i do not think it's going to kill too many people to just consider plain pirated DVD copies of the blu ray releases.

beyond that,

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Andrew & Christopher

hey everyone

well, with the throes of spring hitting the fine village of Great Ayton it was excellent of Uncle Trevor to send on some pictures of his other nephews and my cousins Andrew and Christopher enjoying the distinctly tranquil weather!

nice to see that Andrew still has his most excellent hairstyle going on - very proper rock and roll, it looks! not that Chris' hair is bad, mind.

i must say that Andrew has been rather eager to help his eldest cousin, your humble narrator, become somewhat more "hip" and "with it" than usual as he's been forwarding on what he thinks is rather good "new" music. as a direct result of his advice, over the last week or so i have heard music recorded this century by acts such as Everything Everything, The Streets, Elbow and someone called Two Door Cinema or something. this would be the sort of music i would not usually listen to, and i look forward to sharing my experiences with you in the near future.

as for young Christopher, well, you may well wonder why exactly he is wearing a jumper or "hoodie" of sorts if the sun is blazing down upon the village. that would, it seem, to be because of the shirt he has on underneath it. look, if you dare, at what he is wearing in the otherwise astonishing and excellent picture below.

that really is an excellent picture Trevor, nice one!

why on earth Christopher's parents allow him to walk around in such a grotesque, offensive and quite possibly legally obscene shirt is, quite frankly, beyond me. i have heard speak of Christopher wearing this willingly, which surprises me somewhat.

i have, at the least, corrected the typo on the front of the shirt in the picture below.

oh, and by the way, happy birthday to both Colin & Angela! they celebrate their birthdays this weekend, which i am sure they shall do with some style and some cake when they have quite finished dressing up Christopher in such outlandish garments!

whereas updates are getting to be infrequent from me anyway, with it being a spectacular holiday weekend on my end of the world i'm not sure when the next images shall appear here! maybe today, maybe over the weekend, maybe next weekend! in the mean time, then......

be eggselent to each other this Easter!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Second Coming

hey everyone

Well, what better time that at the threshold of an Easter weekend to post some thoughts on The Stone Roses' somewhat infamous second album? Looking at how much i have written to post here, please be rather liberal in interpreting "some thoughts".

Second Coming is often spoken of as "the album that took five and a half years to make". Whereas that makes a nice comment in articles and reviews, it's something that isn't particularly true. Yes, it was released five and a half years after their debut album, but it's not like they spent all that time writing and recording. far from it, in fact.

As Mani has pointed out in interviews, an awful lot of time between 1990 and 1993 was taken up with the prosecution of the band for trashing the offices of record label FM Revolver (they who re-issued what the band considered an "inferior" version of their first single proper, Sally Cinnamon) and the legal battle to get themselves out of the rather unfair record deal with the label Silvertone. in regards of the latter, they were more or less legally prevented from making or performing any music.

This of course hasn't prevented all sorts of wierd and wonderful legends being created as to what the band got up to that ate away at so much time. The best of those legends is easily the one which involves singer Ian Brown deciding that he should be addressed only as "King Monkey" and reportedly storming off whenever someone called him anything else, refusing to return to the studio for weeks. Ian was so taken by this particular story that it led to him calling his debut album Unfinished Monkey Business. On top of stories like that, there were of course the tales of usual rock excess, mostly relating to rampant drug use, none of them ever confirmed.

The fact that not quite as much time as people assume was spent making the record doesn't make the album any better. It was received with general disappointment by fans of the band and music lovers in general, to be honest. With by this stage the band pulling in different musical directions (John Squire favoured pursuing the rock sound of the band, Mani, Ian and Reni were rather more keen to explore the formidable dance groove) and subsequently a number of different engineers, producers and recorders brought in to try and assemble an album that all were happy with in retrospect the album was always going to sound rather disjointed, in particular in comparison to their debut.

It seems that for everyone who reviews Second Coming as "dire", "poor" or any other such variant someone comes along who declares it to be a "masterpiece" or an "underrated classic". Having played the album again a few times this week, here's my (rather lengthy) track by track take on the album.

Breaking Into Heaven : If the title of the album was as much an allusion to the final track of the debut album as it was a reference to the bands’ absence, then this opening track seems to have been intended as a follow up to the majestic I Am The Resurrection. As an opening track it’s certainly a bold statement of intent with an over ten minute long running time, but overall it ranks as one of the biggest disappointments on the album.

If the sprawling opening instrumental is supposed to echo the sprawling, magnificent instrumental finale of I Am The Resurrection then it rather engages in Chinese whispers rather than reminding. Whereas the ending of Resurrection was a dazzling, free flowing loose odyssey, as loose as the Atlantic Ocean is wet, the opening of Breaking Into Heaven is a methodical, cold by the numbers affair, inspiring nothing in the listener beyond thoughts of “when will this end”.

Lyrically, it hints at one of the worrying trends on the album – an attempt to cross the aforementioned wet Atlantic with words and phrases seemingly penned with the American market in mind. Here I have in mind the quite frankly atrocious lines “Heaven’s gates won’t hold me / I’ll saw those suckers down”. Firstly, if the song is about breaking in to Heaven, what’s the “holding” all about? Secondly, and much worse, “I’ll saw those suckers down”. Really, boys, suckers? How very un-English a phrase, let alone un-Manchester, and how very, very American it all sounds.

Driving South : If the opening salvo left you unaware that The Stone Roses appeared determined to appeal to an American audience, the second track could surely have left no one in any doubt. Everything you ever read or heard about the album sounding like little more than a Led Zeppelin tribute album isn’t strictly speaking the case, but here’s where the evidence for that view is clear. In short, it’s a horrid attempt at some sort of “quasi-Blues” number, with Reni’s drums and John’s guitar mixed up far too high, just about hiding Mani hitting the bass with a hammer on call and Ian working through the lyrics.

As for the lyrics, time to quote Dickens really, as in the case of this song it is surely the best of times and the worst of times. At one point Ian Brown delivers one of the greatest sets of Stone Roses lyrics ever :

I’m not trying to make you
I don’t want to touch your skin,
I know all there is to know
About you and all your sins.

Wow! The band that wrote Made Of Stone, I Am The Resurrection and Fools Gold haven’t completely vanished! Sadly, though, it gets undermined somewhat by the remainder of the verse, which would be this rubbish :

Well, you ain't too young or pretty
And you sure as hell can't sing
Anytime you want to sell your soul
I've got a toll free number you can ring.

If that’s some sort of reference to the cynics who attacked Ian’s singing voice then it’s not a particularly good one. Overall, I think it’s just John Squire trying to create something a bit like Robert Johnson’s infamous Crossroads to suit the American rock audience without resorting to an actual cover of that song. Although that would have been preferable.

Ten Storey Love Song : at last! A song that carries with it the recognizable, much loved sound of The Stone Roses that we all came to worship. Only a mere 16 minutes into the album that we had waited close to 6 years for!

This is a fairly straightforward love song, to put it simply. A wonderful mellow, melodic number, with lyrics filled with the kind of solitary yearning, pining and want that created such widespread appeal across their debut album and the majority of the extra tracks on their singles. To that end, this song is the sentiment of Standing Here given the soundtrack afforded to Where Angels Play.

A lot of people, in particular my good friend Shaun, argue that if this was released as the “comeback” single instead of Love Spreads then the history of the band could have been more positive and the demise perhaps avoided. They may well have a point, really – within a year of this coming out Oasis released Wonderwall, which does not sound all that different from Ten Storey Love Song, and it sold millions of copies, cementing Oasis as one of the biggest bands in the world. If anything could have saved The Stone Roses is debatable, but as this song sounds “more Roses like” than much of the album, I’d have to agree that this should have been the first single.

Daybreak : and, after the brief flurry of hope from Ten Storey Love Song, here we go again with a very Americanized sound and song. This song is little more than a jam session with some hopefully random lyrics thrown in for good measure. I say hopefully, for if the words and sentiment expressed here are considered and thought out things then it’s possible we all misunderstood everything The Stone Roses were about.

A key example of this would be “from Atlanta, Georgia / to Moss Side, Manchester”. I could just about put up with the remainder of the American references in the song, but from Atlanta to Manchester, the birth place of The Roses? What’s going on here? How sad that one of the most innovative, inspiring bands to come out of England felt the need to imply they had some sort of American origins, in the hope (presumably) of selling a few records Stateside. One can really only hope that this was a lyric that their record label insisted on having in.

Your Star Will Shine : a straightforward enough acoustic ballad, complete with dream-like lullaby lyrics that serve to mislead. For all the pleasant imagery conjured up by the song, the final line is almost as dark and sinister as the words hidden away within the likes of Made Of Stone :

And your distant sun will shine
Like the gun that's trained
Right between your Daddy's eyes

Often considered as something of a “throwaway” number as it first appeared as the b-side of Love Spreads, but that does it an injustice. Much like Ten Storey Love Song, this is the sound of the band that the England music scene fell in love with.

Straight To The Man : Ian Brown is credited as the sole writer for this song, but if you are unfamiliar with it please do not expect anything close to the magnificent work he has produced on his solo albums.

This song is basically a set of confused, unrelated metaphors broken up with the occasional (perhaps all too frequent) “do do do do do” bits, set to some sort of ragtime vs duelling banjos style music. Something of a low point on the album, then, if not the lowest point. Perhaps just the most forgettable moment on it, hence their not being all that much to say of it.

Begging You : is this really by the same band who managed to build the bridge between a rock sound and dance music with Fools Gold? If this was an attempt to emulate the success of Fools Gold then it crashes and burns so very, very badly. And it’s hard to see how it was intended as anything else, this somewhat bewilderingly being selected as the third (and final) single from the album.

What to say about this? Well, if you want a positive, there’s some inspired lyrics to the song, in particular “Here is a warning, the sky will divide / Since I took off the lid, there's nowhere to hide”, but unfortunately the lyrics seemed somewhat irrelevant to the band. Ian Brown’s vocal track is all but drowned out all together beneath a colossal drum and bass beat that sounds more sampled than it does Reni & Mani working together, with that trying to compete with one of the single worst guitar work outs that John Squire has ever conducted.

By the point that this was released Reni had left the band, the Ten Storey Love Song single had done very badly indeed and everyone who was going to buy the album had bought it. As none of the remixes on the single did anything to improve the track (a phrase about you being unable to polish something springs to mind). If the record label was attempting to recuperate costs or generate interest in the record then I would really be at a loss to say why this song was chosen to do that.

Tightrope : behold, for here is one of the few high points of the album. And it’s a very high highpoint indeed, possibly even higher than the 9 miles referred to in the song.

It is, interestingly enough, another semi-acoustic ballad, filled with images of love in the universal sense that one would expect from the band. Other than sounding like a song that The Stone Roses actually wished to perform, it contains some of their greatest ever lyrics. If you haven’t heard the track then seek it out to find this for yourself, but here’s possibly the best example of what I am talking about :

Are we etched in stone or just scratched in the sand
Waiting for the waves to come and reclaim the land?
Will the sun shine all sweetness and light
Burn us to a cinder, our third stone satellite?

If only the thought and effort that went into this song was allowed to prevail across the album entire then it might have been such a different, better story for the band. Well, you can’t undo what’s been done, so we fans are just left to enjoy the brief moments of brilliance like this tune for what they are.

Good Times : oh dear. Whereas there is a decent level of competition for this title, this song is easily the lowest low point of the whole album. The opening lines, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned / I'll tell you my story man, I wish I'd never been born”, somehow sung with a straight face by Ian Brown in some horrid attempt at a “Blues” voice, should tell you that this is a track to skip over and never play.

If you do play the whole song then for your troubles you get John Squire indulging in his strange Led Zeppelin fantasy to an even worse extent than earlier in the album. The whole thing is a messy, disinterested presumed go at “The Blues” and is a failure at every level you can imagine. It’s hard enough to imagine the band had any interest in this song, let alone contemplate just who it is they thought this may appeal to.

A very easy way to have improved the album would have been to just rather leave this song off it.

Tears : after some failed attempts throughout the album, the band “nearly” get it right here. This is a go at melding some of the sound that made Led Zeppelin so big in America into the more traditional Stone Roses sound. It damn nearly works, too.

The opening couple of minutes showcase the astonishing sound that The Stone Roses were somehow easily capable of dispensing to the universe. It’s a hazy, dream-inducing melodic sound, with John Squire doing with his guitar what we know he can do and Reni’s drums providing an eerie, haunting and addictive echoing foundation. Complementing this, rather than being buried by it, is Ian Brown’s voice, delivering again another fine example of classic Roses lyrics :

Lost in a maze of my own making
No way out that I can find, send home your hard working jury
I'm going down this time

However, it is after the first couple of moments that the “nearly” part of this being a great song comes in. a drum roll from Reni signals we are back off to the world of an attempted flat out Led Zeppelin conquering America tribute sound, the major difference being that Ian Brown all of a sudden starts shouting lyrics that Robert Plant would no doubt have delivered with an ear piercing shriek. If the band had just kept the momentum from the opening of this song going it would have been one of their greatest ever tracks.

How Do You Sleep : and, as we get towards the end of the album, one of the greatest moments on the album. That not might sound like saying too much in the light of the shortcomings discussed, but trust me, this is a really, really great song.

The key to this song being a great seems to be the band are all on an equal footing in the mix. John Squire’s guitar provides a great melody, Reni’s drumming is as creative and free flowing as anything you’d find on the celebrated debut album and Mani is very much Mani with the bass. Ian sings with a conviction all too often lacking on the rest of the album, helped no doubt that he seems to have been mixed to equality with the musicians here, rather than left to hang around behind them.

Once again, lyrically the band gets it spectacularly right. The words might well be something of a sugar coated variant of I Am The Resurrection, but it’s sweet sugar and it stands in its own right as a great set of lyrics, defying the need for or reliance on comparison. For example :

So raise your glasses, here's a toast to wasted lives
May all their ghosts come back to haunt you
And tell you how they died

This song above all others seems to match the existing Stone Roses sound with the apparent wish to appeal to a more rock-orientated, presumably American wider audience. If vast chunks of the album could just have been given the musical treatment that How Do You Sleep and Tightrope got, mindful of the mostly excellent lyrics, then this album could well have been one of the all time greats.

Love Spreads : the final official track on the album which was also the comeback single, released shortly beforehand. It was, and indeed is, a heavy handed rock opus, taking just about everyone by surprise but eventually taking everyone in.

If the heavy rock sound of Love Spreads had prevailed across the whole album then there wouldn’t have been as much disappointment with it as there was, really. Mani, Reni and John Squire were at least recognizable on this far harsher sound than we were used to, and Ian’s vocals were mixed to perfection on the tune. You could identify it as having all the hallmarks of a Stone Roses tune before Ian’s vocals kicked in, a factor sorely lacking in the other tracks of a rock nature discussed here.

Lyrically it stands as one of the best things they have ever done. The band have been reluctant to give any interpretation to any of their songs (“Love and Death, Peace and War, Laurel and Hardy” was John Squire’s famous response to being asked what Elephant Stone was all about), but few have provoked theories and debate quite like this one. The most common interpretation is that it’s the tale of a black woman called Love who overdoses on heroin and has messiah-like visions, this mostly stemming from the opening :

Love spreads her arms, waits there for the nails
I forgive you, boy, I will prevail
Too much to take, come cross to bear
I'm hiding in the trees with a picnic, she's over there, yeah

The song goes on, however, to suggest far more sinister, darker themes are what the band are hinting at :

She didn't scream, she didn't make a sound
I forgive you boy, but don't leave town
Cold black skin, naked in the rain
Hammer flash in the lightning, they're hurting her again

But then again the chorus, for what it is, hints that it’s really as straightforward as the band presenting their universal ideals of equality and love over the conventional :

Let me put you in the picture, let me show you what I mean
The messiah is my sister, ain't no king man, she's my queen

Sometimes the great works of art in any format are the ones that are never quite fully understood but yet attract enough interest to draw out interpretations long after their initial appearance. Love Spreads fits very well into this category.

The Foz : ahem. After some 77 individual tracks on the CD, all of silence and each of a few seconds in length each, we are treated to a “special” hidden track. And my, how special it is. Basically it’s the band, quite possibly stoned out of their brackets, messing about and jamming with an array of unusual and arguably incorrectly played instruments. If it was intended as some sort of private joke then it’s exceptionally private, for I have yet to work out who exactly it was for the benefit of. Lazy and predictable journalists of course seized on this track, amusing themselves by saying it was “better than anything else on the record”. This is quite frankly not the case, but sadly it is the last recorded track released by the band, save the instrumental “Moses” on the Ten Storey Love Song single and quick charity re-recording of Love Spreads for War Child.

And, if you are here after reading that lot, a very big thank you indeed!

In short (ahem), Second Coming was a distinctly average album. It features a few high points and some disturbingly low ones. For the precedent set by the debut album it was, quite frankly, just not good enough, no matter how hard the Roses apologists would wish to argue that it was.

Whereas there are a few thousand speculative reasons around as to how Second Coming could have been a much better album, one way in particular has always lingered. A couple of years after he left the band John Squire formed a new group, The Seahorses. Leaving aside for the moment that the bands name is an anagram of He Hates Roses, their debut album, Do It Yourself, was filled with reasonable, decent pop songs, carrying an air of influence of Oasis about them. Nothing really wrong with that, except that Squire wrote the majority of them in 1991 and 1992, long before the Oasis sound gained popularity. This was revealed when Ian Brown was asked about the album, and he responded that he had not heard it and did not need to, as he'd heard them in the early 90s and rejected them as being "not good enough for The Stone Roses".

That last statement is curious. A good many numbers on The Seahorses album, in particular the lead single Love Is The Law, surpass the likes of Good Times and Driving South for a start. If John Squire had all these tracks around, it is odd that they did not revisit them when the Second Coming album was taking shape and it surely must have been clear to all that not every track was quite up to standard.

If for some reason you've read all of this and do not already own Second Coming then my advice would be that it is still very much worth getting. The high points compensate for the low points, and in regards of the low points, well, there's always a "skip track" button at your disposal.

As I suspect you feel like I do that this post has covered quite enough, I'll leave the demise of the band and the varied solo careers for another day!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Monday, April 18, 2011

great moments in parenting : William and the chainsaw

hey everyone

there's a wonderful story from the making of the rather misunderstood great film Star Wars Episode I The Phantom Menace, if one is to give the full title to the film. apparently, on the first day of shooting a light sabre duel, Ewan McGregor did very, very well indeed except for one thing - the crew assured him that the sound effects guys would add in the noise of the light sabre later on, and could he please refrain from doing it himself.

i bring this tale up as William has taken a shine to walking around with James' ace toy light sabres and making a sort of "whu whu" sound with them, much like James and Daddy do when they are playing with them. what is even better - yes, even better - than this is that William has discovered James' ace toy chainsaw that i bought a few years ago. William has happily been running around with it, making some most excellent "voom voom voom" noises as he waves it about or drags it along the floor.

i do really, really love the picture above!

William has, however, stopped making the "voom voom" noises. not that he has stopped playing with it, far from it. quite by accident he found the button that makes it make an engine revving noise, and indeed makes the chain on it go round and round!

he is rightly proud of doing this, just as indeed i am proud of him!

at present it has to be said that young William is taking the strain somewhat. he has a number of teeth coming through at the same time, and indeed appears to be having a growth spurt of note! poor thing! oh well, i am sure it shall all be worth it when he is even bigger than he is now, and big enough to really cause mayhem with his older brother!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

visiting Ouma and Dylan

hey everyone

well, for the most part in this corner of the world we had a somewhat damp, mostly chilly weekend to enjoy. it perhaps goes without saying that i trust the climate was a good deal more agreeable wherever you may be in the world, dear reader!

the weather, however, did not prevent us from doing as we wished with the weekend, which meant that we were able to arrange for haircuts for both myself and James, and indeed go and visit my dear, beloved mother-in-law. and Dylan, of course.

thanks to the magic of photography, behold! for i am able to show to you James' stylish new haircut and indeed proof, if it was required, that he did indeed see Dylan at the weekend!

sorry that the two of them are not quite posing for the camera as such, they were rather heavily involved with a game at the time! i think that the game is called Ben 10 Ultimate Alien Cosmic Destruction, but there may be 5 or 6 words from the title that i am currently forgetting about!

as for how we were able to persuade James to let us cut his hair, in particular with the clippers (a device he is known to find great displeasure in), well, it was thanks to a masterstroke. James allowed us to cut his hair as long as he was allowed to have a go at cutting Daddy's hair with it first. this he did, and the results are more or less why there is no picture of me in this post!

there is of course space for a picture of William in this post, however, as indeed there is for Ouma. and why not have the three of them together?

yes, i understand your immediate thought on seeing the above is why on earth would we allow James to handle a catapult, something that can easily be a weapon of considerable, let alone mass, destruction in the hands of a five year old. well, the short answer is that Michele and i did not, but his Ouma and Uncle Dylan had no problem with it. thankfully he has no idea of what it is exactly or how it works, so this pose with it is the only damage done! William seems very impressed with it!

stay warm!!!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, April 15, 2011

classic cinema : Mad Max 2

Considering the superstar he became, and of course the rather unfortunate way in which his private life has come to dominate the more gossipy orientated “news” papers and magazines, it’s often easy to forget that Mel Gibson first truly came to the attention of international audiences in a sequel to a little known but all the same well received Australian film. Mad Max 2 was that film, although depending on where you are in the world you may well have seen it under the alternate title of The Road Warrior. Along with effectively making or just establishing Mel Gibson as a true cinema star, it also, along with one or two other key films, set the tone and expectations in regards of what was possible and what audiences wanted from the genre known as “action films” for everything which followed.

Be warned, the below contains quite a few spoilers for the whole of the Mad Max trilogy. You may wish to see the films before reading, if for some inexplicable reason you have not seen them before.

To understand the premise of Mad Max 2 one has to start off with the original film. Mad Max told the story of Max Rockatansky, a family man and an honest, decent police officer doing his best to keep law and order in balance within an increasingly lawless society. When his family are killed by a deranged gang leader, the Toecutter, all bets are off and off he goes on a ruthless quest for revenge. The film was an above average action-revenge thriller, raised above the trash level it could have been by dazzling stunts, outstanding acting and some innovative film photography.

The film ended without any direct, overt references to the possibility of a sequel. It did, however, contain several subtle references to the demise of “society as we know it”, with secondary characters referring to worldwide events and a global war. This element was picked up on for the sequel.

Mad Max 2
opens with a hefty monologue, explaining how since the end of the first film the world has pretty much “gone to hell” after a global, nuclear war, fought over – and get the visionary precision here – oil. This monologue pretty much states that the world has since become a barbaric wasteland, and as a consequence they can just drop you right into a story of Max, alone bar a pet dog, wandering the wasteland in the last of the V8 Interceptors in search of oil and food.

And what a story! Acting as a quasi-metaphor for the global events depicted in the opening monologue, the film soon turns to the story of Max, for mostly selfish reasons, intervening to try and assist a, for want of a better term, colony of survivors who have somehow managed to keep an oil refinery going in the middle of this wasteland. This oil refinery is heavily fortified, which is rather handy as there is a vicious gang, led by a truly psychotic leader called The Humungus and his sidekick, the even more psychotic Wez (played by Vernon Wells no less, he who would become the much loved Bennett in Commando). The colonists wish to leave for the promised safe land of the coast, but cannot escape with the oil past The Humungus’s gang. Max knows a way, and offers to help in exchange for as much fuel as he can carry.

This rather straightforward plot leaves open the door for what remains some of the most spectacular stunts and car chase sequences the world has ever seen. Mad Max 2 does not feature elaborate, violent sequences for the sake of it, instead opting to create a plot and story that serviced the wish to make entertaining sequences rather than forcing them in. A masterstroke, really, and it certainly set a precedent for action films to be made for the purpose of action entertainment rather than just taking a film and filling it with random, often irrelevant to the plot car chases and what have you.

The action sequences in Mad Max 2, which are plentiful, are rarely short of being barbaric and vicious, causing some problems with censors and indeed the fate of the complete film (more on that later). They are also for the most part breathtaking and visually stunning, made to seem the acts of extreme violence seem like a work of art in a way not done since Kubrick tackled this in A Clockwork Orange. The astonishing skill and flair for the visual probably allowed the makers of this film to get away with showing a good deal more close-up violence, including a number of memorable dismemberments, than film makers could usually have expected to get away with.

On the note of A Clockwork Orange, it was surely Mad Max 2, along with First Blood and Blade Runner, that saw the rise of the “anti-hero” in cinema once again. Not since Alex in Kubrick’s masterpiece, and before that Clint Eastwood in the “Dollars” trilogy, had a protagonist the audience is presumed to be sympathetic towards been so withdrawn and of questionable moral fibre. Cinematic heroes no longer had to be clean cut nor clearly right once more; rather than being the straightforward proverbial “good guy” once again cinema in general and action films in particular were prepared to feature a hero who was more the lesser of two evils rather than an obvious Mr Nice Guy.

The cultural impact of Mad Max 2 is perhaps not as widely recognized as it should be. Beyond the stunts and action sequences raising the bar for all action films that followed, isn’t it rather interesting to see The Humungus wearing an ice hockey mask in the film? This was all at least one year before Friday 13th Part 3, where the character of Jason all of a sudden adopted this mask as the integral part of his look.

The influence of Mad Max 2 stretched beyond film and into music. Whereas Trevor Horn took the song and made it an anthem for the state of fear surrounding imminent nuclear destruction thanks to the prevailing Cold War at the time, Frankie Goes To Hollywood wrote Two Tribes under the influence of this film, something mostly suspected by fans of both and something that has been confirmed by the band’s guitarist and songwriter, Nasher, on fan forums. Also, take a really, really good look at Wez and the rest of the marauding gang, then take a look at how Sigue Sigue Sputnik styled themselves. The soundtrack to films like Blade Runner may have influenced the Sputnik sound, but there can be little doubt as to which film inspired their look.

Considering the stature and influence of the film, just how badly the original footage of Mad Max 2 has been treated has been, frankly, shocking. The lack of respect and care shown is on a par with that other masterpiece of cinema, The Wicker Man.

Firstly, the film is now know as The Road Warrior just about everywhere in the world rather than as Mad Max 2. This is because when DVD arrived and the film was released the American print was used. As the original Mad Max wasn’t particularly widely released nor widely known in America, it was decided that it should be renamed as The Road Warrior in order to not scare off potential audiences who had not seen the original. In areas outside of America it is at least released on the cover as Mad Max 2 with “(The Road Warrior”)" appearing below. When you put the disc in, though, it comes up with an awful mismatched font saying The Road Warrior rather than the ultra-cool steel Mad Max 2 logo which greeted the viewer on the initial video release.

The problem with the American version being used for the DVD (and presumably Blu Ray) release is not, sadly, limited to the awful new credit sequence made for it. The version in use is the one used for the American theatrical release, which has several significant cuts made to it in order to comply with the requirements for an “R” rating. And why, when the world is considered able to handle films released in an unedited form, do they still release this version of the film on disc? Because, sadly, it seems to be the only version of the film still in existence!

As frustrating as it is with the case of The Wicker Man, no one is quite sure what exactly happened to the original footage for Mad Max 2, or even if it still exists. This is a shocking lack of care for what was a groundbreaking film in general, never mind the one that probably more than any other showcased the amazing talent there was in Australian cinema.

What makes the above worse is the fact that it’s not just several scenes of presumably gratuitous violence that are missing presumed lost, far from it. In the late 80s an edited for TV version was shown in America. I am not sure how familiar you are with “free to air” TV regulations in America, but for the “land of the free” they are surprisingly ferocious, or at least they were back them. The Americans required absolutely anything that was likely to cause offence be removed from anything broadcast, something that would make screening a film like Mad Max 2 rather tricky, you would have thought. Well, in order to overcome the rather short running time of the film with all the offensive parts removed, the station which broadcast it padded out the film with a whole stack of previously unseen scenes and alternative takes on parts in the film! As with the bits chopped out for the American theatrical release, infuriatingly the original footage of these extra scenes are missing, presumed lost.

In regards of getting your hands on either the original unedited version of the film or the edited TV version (commonly referred to as “The Lost Version”), it can be done it seems. If you hunt around auction sites on the internet you might find a reasonable VHS copy of the unedited film that was released in Australia and indeed in the UK. In regards of the latter, though, make sure you seek and obtain a pre-1984 VHS, as no doubt versions after that will have been subjected to the 1984 Video Recordings Act and thus be censored. As for the “Lost Version”, well, I cannot find it (ahem) readily available on the internet to “obtain”. I’m told that every now and then someone offers a copy for sale. If you bear in mind that a DVD of this will have been dubbed from a nearly 30 year old VHS tape, you can’t imagine the quality of it will be all that great. If you decide to hunt down either of these versions good luck, but as frustrating as it is at the moment it would seem your best bet is to just settle for watching the released DVD version.

In regards of Mad Max, a third film was released in the mid-80s, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It was a fine film, but in many respects it all too often felt like a heavily sanitized retread of Mad Max 2. As enjoyable as it was, though, the film oddly tried to turn Max into a more conventional hero rather than the “in it for himself” figure created in Mad Max 2. To this end, the great Barry Norman gave it a review that I shall forever cherish, in which he indicated that it perhaps should have been called “Slightly Cheesed Off Max” rather than “Mad Max”, because he wasn’t all that particularly angry in this one. A fourth film, provisionally titled Fury Road and apparently not featuring Mel Gibson, has been bandied around for well over a decade now. There are indications that this film could we be made in 2012, but I shall believe it when I see it and, considering that the man who is Max will not be in it, I am in no great rush to see it.

In the mean time, you are encouraged to get your hands on Mad Max 2, or hopefully just get your copy out, and watch and enjoy it for what it is!

be excellent to each other!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

for anything else that you could possibly want to know about the Mad Max Movies, you are advised to go to the site Mad Max Movies. it is truly excellent, and many thanks to them for the one or two bits of info i took from it to do this post.