Thursday, September 25, 2014

Do It Again

Whilst listening to the Manic Street Preachers’ latest album, Futurology (2 disc version), something occurred to me. I have a fondness for demo versions of songs!


In some cases, I have had a soft spot for demos because I have heard them first in a lead up to an album. In other cases, I have stumbled across demos amongst “rarities” and special ‘b’ sides.

What is it about the demo that I love so much? Is it the rawness of the sound? Is it the way you can feel the bones of the structure and the tentative exploration of the framing?

Some demos are, in my opinion, vastly better than the album versions. Madonna’s demo of Beat Goes On from her 2008 album Hard Candy was a funky little number that I found rather addictive. Then, when I heard the album version, I was rather disappointed that they changed it so much on the mixing desk.

Hard Candy

Kirsty MacColl’s death hit me hard as she was (and is) my favourite singer/songwriter. Soon after the tragedy of her demise, a demo version of her horrifically prognostic final recording Sun on the Water (which eerily parallels her passing with the line “I want to be the one to say, I'm happy here and here I'll stay, I won't remember yesterday, When I'm dreaming - It was the place where she felt free, And Heaven lies under the sea, Hell is just dry land to me, When I'm dreaming”) and it haunted me greatly. Eventually it was polished up and released on a compilation, but I still prefer the elegant beauty of the basic version.

From Croydon to Cuba

My astonishingly talented friend, Emily Baker, let loose a few demos of her genius writing out into the ether prior to her debut album House of Cards and, in fairness, Emily really can do no wrong, but even with an official album, I can’t bring myself to delete the demos as I simply adore them – especially that of my favourite; Overcoat.

House of Cards

Every now and again, soundtracks to musicals have little bonus tracks of early versions of their songs. I have a few early recordings of songs by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken from their sublime Little Shop of Horrors but these are songs which didn’t make the final cut. There are also recordings of the Sherman Brothers performing their songs for Mary Poppins that have been released on CD. There is something so skin-tingling about these naked aural pleasures.

Little Shop of Horrors

Back to Futurology, I often find that it takes a while to warm up to an album as I need to absorb and really listen to the songs before I can tell which ones I am going to like. Luckily, with this album, we basically have the whole thing twice in its finalised form and then its demo form. It’s these demos that provided the joy behind the album and cement the attraction I had to certain songs (such as The View From Stow Bridge, Black Square and Let’s Go To War)

Anyway, it was just a thought that popped into my head. Maybe this post would be better with some editing and tweaks… most likely, actually…

Friday, September 19, 2014

Super Heroes

I am not a superstitious fellow - never have been, never will be (touch wood) - but the number 19 seems to be an important number in my life. Here are a few examples:

  • I was born on the 19th July 1975
  • Victoria Wood was born on 19th May 1953
  • I met Victoria Wood for the first time on 19th March 1990
  • One of my cats died on the 19th February (I didn't say they were all good things)
  • ...and many other examples that escape me right now, but you get the (bullet) point.

20 years ago today (19th September, 1994) I turned on BBC2 and watched the pilot episode of one of the greatest TV shows of all-time: The X Files

Sure, it had aired in the U.S. a whole year before and it had started on U.K. satellite TV nine months before, but my first taste of the phenomenon was that balmy early autumn evening. It's one of those rare moments in television history that I will never forget. I can still recall to this day exactly how I felt when the episode was over. I had a warm tingling in my heart as I knew I'd watched something deliciously brilliant and lovable. I also felt that this new show belonged to me.

"We lost nine minutes!"

Little was I to know at the time that Gillian Anderson would become one of my favourite actresses ever. I will watch just about anything with her in. She has proven, since leaving Dana Scully behind, that she is a significantly versatile actress pulling off superb performances in roles such as Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, Lady Dedlock in Bleak House, Mrs Castaway in The Crimson Petal and the White, Stella Gibson in The Fall and Dr Du Maurier in Hannibal to name just a few.

Gillian in Hannibal

But... going back to The X Files... I had recently been obsessed with Twin Peaks (thanks to my friend Jamie) and I was feeling rather bereft due to the insane axing of the cult show. With this new pilot, I was feeling energised and as if I had found something to replace the great David Lynch series in my heart. Strangely enough, there was even a massive fan-lead rumour that Lynch was going to direct a special X Files/Twin Peaks crossover episode. That would have been a sight to see, though maybe best left to our imaginations.

The classic...

For that first season of 24 episodes, I was what you might call obsessed. Any money I earned from my part-time job was spent on related merchandise. I still have a couple of T-shirts with the logo emblazoned on the front (and, in one case, the words "We Are Among You" on the back!). As time went on, I was buying books, comics, CDs, videos, posters... official, unofficial... I didn't care! Anything to do with Mulder, Scully or the show would suit me fine. I even bought long coats so I could run about the woods at dusk with a torch to emulate my heroes.

The first VHS release...

I took great pleasure in introducing the show to my friends, some of whom are ardent fans now too. I shan't forget sitting around on the bed with friends watching the show in my room in Bournemouth and doing the "pointy finger" dance to the theme music. We even had an X Files themed day at the restaurant I worked at on the opening night of The X Files: Fight the Future movie!

Fight the Future

I am what you call a "die-hard" fan. There were some who weren't as interested in the show when Mulder took a backseat, but, frankly, I felt it was time for him to go. I remember saying that they could rename it The All-New Scully Show and I'd still watch. Season eight and nine still had some fantastic stories with great writing and performances. The addition of Doggett and Reyes was sublime casting.

Agents Reyes, Doggett & Scully

OK, OK... so I could go on about this for hours, just gushing and gushing. So, instead, in celebration of 20 years of LOVE, here are some images from my all-time favourite episodes... (people used to mock me for knowing the production codes, so I have included them here.

Darkness Falls - 1X19

Triangle - 6ABX03

The War of the Coprophages - 3X12

The Calusari - 2X21

X-Cops - 7ABX12

Roadrunners - 8ABX05

Improbable - 9ABX14

Chinga - 5X10

Never Again - 4X13

Beyond the Sea - 1X12

Crikey! That's just TEN episodes out of 201! So many favourites. I love The X Files and probably always will!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Little Girls

I recently watched the BBC America documentary A Farewell to Matt Smith on the 50th Anniversary Special Edition box set of Doctor Who. In it, Steven Moffat spoke of the character River Song (Alex Kingston) and said “Trouble always follows her, like any great woman.”

The word ‘great’ in that sentence does not alleviate the tone of his misogynistic remark, nor does his sly grin. It epitomises the general attitude toward women throughout his current shows (both Doctor Who and Sherlock) where he depicts them as smarmy sexual predators, arrogant aggressors or baffling enigmas. It puzzles me greatly why people are convinced that he is a good writer (I might add that I thought his Press Gang was an excellent children’s television drama, but lately, his writing leaves a lot to be desired.)

For a brief bit of exposition, let me explain that I am a huge fan of Doctor Who and have been for many years. When it returned to our screens in 2005, Russell T Davies did a superb job, although he was not without his detractors. Sure, RTD made the series more accessible to a larger viewing public by making it more “domestic”, but I deny that this “ruined” the series as some seem to believe. Russell is capable of writing real characters in a fantastical realm. I find Steven’s characters to be nothing more than caricatures and stereotypes. When Russell said he was stepping down as showrunner and Steven was taking over, I thought the show (and its audience) would be in safe hands because Steven had previously written two terrific stories; season one’s ‘The Empty Child/The Doctor Dances’ two-parter and ‘season three’s ‘Blink’. Little was I to know that he would favour the sort of drivel he wrote in season two’s ‘The Girl in the Fireplace’ – two-dimensional characters behaving bizarrely with little integrity and no adherence to the show’s internal logic.

Another thought: When RTD had gay characters in his show, they simply were. They existed without clumsy signposts or, worse still, jokes. When Captain Jack Harkness (John Barrowman) kissed the Ninth Doctor (Christopher Eccleston), it was treated in exactly the same way he kissed Rose Tyler (Billie Piper). When the Cassini sisters mentioned they were married in the episode ‘Gridlock’ it was just a throwaway line, unlike in Moffat’s deeply flawed season eight opener ‘Deep Breath’, the relationship between Vastra (Neve McIntosh) and Jenny (Catrin Stewart) was laboured and beaten home with a Thor’s hammer!

Worse still was the depiction of a gay couple in Moffat’s season six mid-season finale ‘A Good Man Goes to War’ who even joked about their not needing names because they are labelled by their sexuality, colour and political leanings. This should have been a clever indictment of our culture and society, but instead it came across as a cheap gag at the expense of the characters.

RTD managed to include characters of race, gender and sexuality without making a huge issue about it. (It reminds me of an episode of Victoria Wood’s dinnerladies in which Twinkle’s mother (Jackie Downie) is in a wheelchair. Nowhere in the script is it explained why… because it doesn’t need an explanation!)


In Russell’s season four episode ‘Midnight’, Sky Silvestry (Lesley Sharp) mentioned her female partner so subtly. If Steven had written this episode, she would possible have remarked; ”My wife left me. Yes, a woman! SHE is my wife. We are married WOMEN. Four boobs! Imagine that! Oo-er!” or words to that effect.

Russell is extremely good at getting a point across without dumbing down the script. In his superb season four script ‘Turn Left’ just three simple words from the lips of Wilfred Mott (Bernard Cribbins) - ”It’s happening again” - was enough for the viewers to understand the impact and horror of the situation (I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t seen it). This is because Russell values the talent of the actors speaking his lines. He knows their abilities and writes to those strengths with confidence. Steven Moffat oars in lines that treat the audience like morons. HOWEVER, when it comes to explanations of the actual plot, he is sorely lacking. Long-standing fans of science-fiction know that technobabble (as it is known) is a common tool by science fiction writers to explain the more preposterous side of the genre. This is why it is “science fiction”. It’s a conceit and it is acknowledged and approved. Witness it throughout all series of Star Trek. Moffat, however, doesn’t bother. If something is inexplicable, it must be magic or just weird. When confronted with this annoyance, his response is “make something up to suit yourself”

This is NOT good writing. If the writer doesn’t believe in his world, how the hell can we?

On a number of occasions, I have shuddered with embarrassment and with a pained heart as I have witnessed the Eleventh Doctor (Matt Smith) himself make derogatory remarks about women. See ‘The Wedding of River Song’ and ‘The Bells of Saint John’ as examples below.

Churchill: What happened? Explain to me in terms that I can understand. What happened to time? The Doctor: A woman.


Monk: Is it an evil spirit? The Doctor: A woman. (The monk crosses himself.)

Heaven forbid!

Basically, women fuck things up or do "impossible" things and the Doctor has to fix it.

And his obsession with calling women “girls” – ”The Girl Who Waited” and ”The Impossible Girl” - it's actually more disturbing than anything.

What bemuses me is this new hoard of fans who have become obsessed with the show, lapping up this kind of brutally offensive misogyny and not engaging their brains with the errors and nonsensical drivel we’re being bombarded with.

Some people seem to think that the worst thing that can happen to Doctor Who would be if the Doctor regenerated into a woman (which is frankly bollocks – pardon the expression!)

The real death knell of the classic TV series would be if a female Doctor was written by Steven Moffat.

The sooner he leaves the show, the better…

I miss the RTD years...

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Get Happy

This is my 100th post in this blog

People who read my posts might notice a trend toward analysis of depression or tirades about things that annoy me. This post will be different. To celebrate the 100th post, I want to list 100 things that make me happy (besides friends and family, of course!). They might be books, films, people, foods or anything!

(In no particular order...)


  • Clue
  • Playing Cluedo
  • Bacon Sandwiches
  • Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
  • Fred and Ginger movies
  • Kirsty MacColl's Tropical Brainstorm
  • Fizzgig
  • Victoria Wood As Seen on TV
  • Swing Out Sister's The Living Return
  • The Day of the Triffids - the novel
  • The Day of the Triffids - the original BBC series
  • QI
  • The First Doctor
  • Gillian Anderson
  • The smell of fabric Elastoplast
  • Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
  • Australian red wine
  • New Zealand white wine
  • Robin of Sherwood
  • Danny Bhoy
  • The Bagpuss episode entitled The Mouse Mill
  • Little Shop of Horrors
  • Joan Hickson as Miss Marple
  • David Suchet as Hercule Poirot
  • Beverley Craven
  • Mary Poppins
  • Baking
  • Completing a collection
  • Ryan Kwanten
  • Sausages
  • This comic strip...
  • Easy Virtue
  • Jigsaws
  • French & Saunders spoofs
  • And, of course, the original!
  • Jack Daniel's Whiskey
  • Alfred Hitchcock
  • Agatha Christie
  • Kirsty MacColl
  • Cheesecake
  • Feathers McGraw
  • This:
  • Irony
  • Shirley Jackson's oeuvre
  • All things Torchwood
  • The Avengers
  • Philip Olivier's nose
  • This Life
  • Murder Parties
  • Bebel Gilberto
  • Gin & Tonic
  • Schadenfreude
  • Two Soups?
  • 90s Madonna
  • The combination of Roger Corman and Edgar Allan Poe
  • Kittens
  • The Fifth Doctor
  • The Ripliad
  • Walks in the countryside
  • Absolutely Fabulous
  • Derbyshire
  • The Haunting " the night the dark."
  • A Full English Breakfast (without mushrooms, thank you very much!)
  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue
  • Randall & Hopkirk (Deceased)
  • Dean Cain
  • Daydreaming
  • Rhubarb Crumble and Custard
  • Sweet Charity
  • I Love Lucy
  • Alan Partridge
  • Reading in the bath
  • Pushing Daisies
  • Performing
  • 24th Century Star Trek
  • Will Young
  • The X Files
  • James Franco's smile
  • Waistcoats
  • The Vicar of Dibley
  • Getting lost in a hedge maze
  • Goats
  • Journey Into Space
  • My apartment
  • Puns
  • The Tenth Doctor
  • My coat
  • Jessica Fletcher
  • F.U.N.E.X?
  • Swing Out Sister
  • The IT Crowd
  • The Perry Bible Fellowship
  • The chemistry between Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell
  • Spaced
  • Stunning arms
  • THIS moment:
  • Donna Noble
  • Is this a piece of your brain?
  • Betty Boo
  • Snuggles

Bloody hell. That was a difficult task and it took HOURS! I am sure I'll wake in the middle of the night thinking "How could I forget to add THAT?!" Oh well, the list was never going to be exhaustive.

Happy 100th post, me!