Monday, June 26, 2006

Hulk's Head Hurts...

Whilst re-reading Marvel UK's Hulk Comic from the 1970s, the cover of #1 started to really bug me. The art looked distinctly like Brian Bolland, but the head was an iconic Hulk shot from the US series. I did a bit of digging around and, sure enough, in a subsequent 1980s Hulk series, there's a centrespread poster of the Bolland's original piece. Looking at the expression - less 'Hulk Smash' than 'Hulk tear your dog's legs off, your kid's legs off, then Hulk get to work on you' - it's perhaps little wonder that editor Dez Skinn decided that it might be a tad too frightening for the newsstand.

Likewise, Hulk series artist David Lloyd never got to draw a cover, possibly for the same reason. I, for one, used to be scared shitless by his rendition of the Jade Giant. Whilst we're on the subject of the superlative Lloyd, though, I'd love to see a reprint his classic noir strip (which preceeded V For Vendetta), Night Raven. How about it, Panini?
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Casualty @ The Tobacco Factory

BBC TV's long running hospital drama series Casualty is filmed in Bristol, so it's no surprise to see various cast members frequenting the city's eateries and watering holes. One of my locals, The Tobacco Factory, is no exception, and this weekend saw the Casualty mob appear in force. Unusually, veteran thesp Simon MacCorkindale joined them, looking every bit like he was still in character as Holby City's Director Of Emergency Medicine, 'Arry 'Arper. Interesting to note that he was quite the ladies' magnet, as a queue of young lovelies all tried to get a few words with him. I'm not young, lovely or a lady, but I fancied a quick chat with him myself, to pitch my idea for a revival of his finest moment, Manimal. Then again, he may have turned into a panther and killed me for my impertinence... Posted by Picasa

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Destroy Bristol

Despite not coming close to winning the bid to be 2008's European City Of Culture, Bristol City Council seem to have overlooked this slight inconvenience and decided to remodel the city as it were the hub of al fresco, fashionista activity. A few years ago, the city centre was transformed into a romantic plaza, with water fountains in the summer and German weihnachtsmarkt in the winter. The water fountains have since become a preferred bathing area (and likely urinoir) for local toddlers, whilst continual overnight vandalism of their shed-like stalls sent the Germans elsewhere in search of people who considered mulled wine, rather than a skinful of Fosters, the true spirit of Christmas. The council have now turned their attention to the main shopping area, Broadmead (not to be confused with The 'Mead, which refers to a chav satellite area just north of the city, contrarily named Southmead). The original plan was to gut the old and build anew as the zingily-titled Merchants' Quarter, until locals objected to the new name. Some were uncomfortable with the fact that, historically, a significant proportion of these merchants were slave traders. I suspect the rest were either bemused at the placing of the apostrophe, the name's lack of a 'Mead' suffix (we do love our mead, mind) or just the fact that it involved change. Locals don't like change. Change bad.

Anyway, the first, er, quarter of Broadmead has been demolished, along with an office block, a multi-storey car park and (just for good measure) the main route into Bristol via the motorway. So, if you're approaching the city from a certain direction, you'll either see this:

Or this:

...and you'll probably have plenty of time to see the sights as it'll take about twenty minutes to painfully inch through to a free flowing stretch of highway. See the JCB digger above? A couple of weeks ago, more or less on that spot, builders thought they'd uncovered a German bomb dating from World War II (or the weihnachtsmarkt from a few years ago, depending on who you listen to). Shops and offices within a certain radius were evacuated and traffic was diverted for two days, whilst bomb squad experts investigated. It turned out to be a lump of metal in a lump of concrete...

I wouldn't say I feel at all nostalgic for the old shopping mall. I got my first pair of 501's at Harry Jeans, now nothing more than rubble and dust. But it was bloody great watching the diggers and bulldozers tearing into Argos, Primark and Poundstretcher. I've heard that Harvey Nichols will be opening a store here but, like something on your shoe, the shit will stick in Bristol, undoubtedly. Where else would we buy our England flags, laser pens and hilarious 'Billy Bass' singing fish?

Not wishing to neglect the city centre, the council have found some more work to do there. The former Bristol & West Building Society head office has been gutted and it's neighbouring buildings razed to the ground. In it's stead, we'll see apartments, more offices and perhaps even a hotel. I wonder if the hotel brochure will draw attention to the city centre view of the harbourside, the plaza and, in particular, the portable, weekend urinoirs that are deposited in strategic points at 6.00pm sharp every Friday? Sod what Europe says, Bristol's the City Of Culture every year, in my book.

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Sunday, June 18, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #19 - Karaoke Kings

Various “Q Covered - Best Of 86/06”

Crudely speaking, the cover version is a bit like playing Russian Roulette: you never know if you’re going to get a misfire or be blown away. For every radical reworking, or serendipitous introduction to a great artist by way of the tribute, there has been a major crime committed against music. Q Covered, a cover-mounted freebie compilation to celebrate Q Magazine’s 20th anniversary in May, provides ample example of all of the above across it’s fourteen tracks. Franz Ferdinand kick off proceedings with a spirited version of Gwen Stefani’s What You Waiting For? that effortlessly slips in a blast of Billy Idol’s White Wedding at the song’s close. Proving that rock is again the new pop, Sugababes’ take on Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor is more club-friendly but less convincing than the original. By and large, the subsequent tracks continue to be largely faithful to their source, with only The Flaming Lips and Nick Cave attempting to take the songs in a different direction. The former’s orchestral reprise of Kylie’s Can’t Get You Out Of My Head is ironically forgettable, but Cave’s reimagining of Pulp’s Disco 2000 becomes entirely his own. Elsewhere, Jack Johnson’s updated lyrical respin of Three Is The Magic Number is undermined by bland delivery, whilst Corinne Bailey Rae and Jamie Cullum provide technically accomplished but inevitably inferior versions of Björk and Jeff Buckley respectively. Paul Anka’s ill-advised swing version of Oasis’ Wonderwall enables the listener to consider Mike Flowers’ Pops’ previous lounge (piss)take in a more positive light, if nothing else. Unsurprisingly, the biggest musical aberration is committed by the terminally dull Travis. Thankfully, as the album’s closing song, it’s easy to skip on the CD player. Incredibly, the worthy Scots manage to out-bland Britney Spears with their ‘hilarious’ take on her breakthrough hit …Baby One More Time. Q Covered does have some other high points, however, in the trio of covers by Elbow, Richard Hawley and Editors. Elbow’s unusual choice - August And September, a track from The The’s 1989 album Mind Bomb – was in fact recorded for an abortive 2002 EP release from the latter’s 45 RPM singles collection. Whilst Guy Garvey and co. don’t quite match the emotional intensity of Matt Johnson’s original version, it’s inclusion here deservedly rescues a fine song from obscurity. Q Covered is probably not worth shelling out good money for on eBay, but at least half of the tracks warrant a listen, if you can find them on the internet.

Tracklisting: 1. Franz Ferdinand: What You Waiting For? / White Wedding reprise [cover of Gwen Stefani / Billy Idol] / 2. Sugababes: I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor [cover of Arctic Monkeys] / 3. The Flaming Lips: Can’t Get You Out Of My Head [cover of Kylie Minogue] / 4. Corinne Bailey Rae: Venus As A Boy [cover of Björk] / 5. Elbow: August And September [cover of The The] / 6. Richard Hawley: Some Candy Talking [cover of The Jesus & Mary Chain] / 7. Editors: Orange Crush [cover of R.E.M.] / 8. Delays: The Sun Always Shines On TV [cover of A-ha] / 9. Jack Johnson: The 3 R’s (Three Is The Magic Number) [cover of Robert Dorough] / 10. Paul Anka: Wonderwall [cover of Oasis] / 11. Jamie Cullum: Lover, You Should’ve Come Over [cover of Jeff Buckley] / 12. Nick Cave: Disco 2000 [cover of Pulp] / 13. The Magic Numbers: There Is A Light That Never Goes Out [cover of The Smiths] (see
Jukebox Juicebox #9) / 14. Travis: …Baby One More Time [cover of Britney Spears]

Whilst you’re surfing, here are some other recommendations:

1) Billie Ray Martin This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us
I was hoping to find Billie’s wonderfully creepy cover of Throbbing Gristle’s Persuasion from the 1990’s, but no joy. This is a demo intended for a Sparks tribute album and Ms Martin matches the Mael brothers inch for eccentric inch, not least for her rather fetching lisp!
2) Ergo Phizmiz feat. Martha Moopette
Get Ur Freak On
He’s been described as ‘a musical equivalent to Chris Morris’ and this is not a bad summation, with a track even more unsettling than the Missy ‘Misdemeanour’ Elliott version. You can also listen to radically different takes on Gwen Stefani, Lauryn Hill, Destiny’s Child, Kelis, as well as The Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat album in full.
3) Idha with Andy Bell
Wish You Were Here
Before you ask, it’s the Andy Bell of Oasis/Ride ‘fame’, not the Erasure front man, in case you were expecting a Scissor Sisters-style glam-disco cover of the Pink Floyd classic. Instead, Bell’s adds guitar to wife Idha’s gentle delivery, similar to her downbeat cover of Primal Scream’s I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have (aka Loaded).
4) The King’s Singers
Life On Mars
Anyone who watched family ‘variety’ TV shows in the 1970s will shudder at the mention of this singing group. However, this is firm proof that G4 weren’t the first besuited blokes with cheesy grins and tight harmonies to tackle the Bowie classic.
5) Laibach
Geburt Einer Nation (aka One Vision) (sample only)
Laibach have covered Opus, The Rolling Stones, Europe, Edwin Starr, Jesus Christ Superstar, even The Beatles’ Let It Be album in it’s entirety. This version of the Queen song takes the song to another level. Jahwohl!
6) The Leather Nun
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)
The Leather Nun seemingly regretted recording it and never played the song live. Unsurprisingly, Abba didn’t like it, either. Despite this, their guitar laden version of this disco classic is one of the Leather Nun’s finest moments.
7) Leila
Do You Got Time (aka Let The Music Play)
Shannon’s 1980’s electropop classic becomes slightly unhinged thanks to Leila Arab’s unsettling electronica underscore. Check out Leila’s similarly edgy mash-ups featuring Aaliyah and Michael Jackson on her website.
8) Nouvelle Vague
Fade To Grey
Their previous album introduced us to their low-key, acoustic takes on the likes of The Undertones, The Sisters Of Mercy, Joy Division, The Dead Kennedys and The Clash. New album Bande A Part continues in the same vein – this track is accompanied by reimaginings of Echo and the Bunnymen, Blancmange, Lords Of The New Church and even Bauhaus’ seminal goth classic Bela Lugosi’s Dead.
9) Pony Club
Driving Home For Christmas
Whilst musically faithful to it’s source, Mark Cullen’s vocal delivery imbues Chris Rea’s seasonal classic with a growing sense of dread. Somehow, I sense it’s not because the turkey will have been overcooked again.
10) Pop Will Eat Itself
Rock A Hula Baby (sample only)
This originally appeared on a largely crap 1990 NME compilation called The Last Temptation Of Elvis. The King would probably have spun in his grave a few times on hearing this, though mainly due to the infectious (but now overly familiar) breakbeat.
11) Solex
Elisabeth Esselink has been producing lo-fi gems since the late 1990s. Her take on The Stooges’ classic makes the narrator seem like they’re trying to stir up a revolution in a locked, empty room!
12) The Times
Lundi Bleu (aka Blue Monday)
Ed Ball drops the beats per minute and produces a rumbling, bass-heavy monster of a track, sung in French. The CD single featured alternate versions of this New Order classic in German, Spanish and Japanese. Seek out the definitive 10-minute original album version on Pure, which throws in samples from A Clockwork Orange for good measure.

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Friday, June 16, 2006

Bellyflop Archives #1: I Was A Fugitive From A Crumb Gang

Long before I started French language lessons at secondary school, I had picked up a couple of phrases, thanks to comics. My first was probably ‘Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose’; the more things change, the more they stay the same. This was a favourite expression of Chris Claremont in his X-Men comic books and, ironically, increasingly encapsulated his own body of work over the years.

I wrote and drew this one page comic strip in January 1998, when I was almost – but not quite – free of the Blakean ‘dark Satanic mills’ that are the call centre. As anyone who’s worked in a call centre will testify (and God knows there are enough of us poor sods) it’s a dehumanising, debilitating experience. I also suspect it’s one of the major contributory factors to cirrhosis of the liver. I served three years and it still hurts when I drink.

The title paraphrases a 1930s black and white movie starring Paul Muni; I’ve either never seen or completely forgotten it. Yet, it’s evocation of a joyless, penurious working life resonated with the comic strip I had in mind. The other, more obvious, inspiration is the Robert Crumb short
“Stoned Again”. Although I suspect that my employers were too mean-spirited to put hallucinogens in the water coolers or pump euphoriants into the air, it was not unusual for a significant proportion of the battery livestock to be under the influence of one self-administered substance or the other.

I’ve apparently moved on since then: I manage a small helpline (too small to be considered a call centre, honest); ‘…I was but the pupil. Now, I am the master’, as good old Darth might rasp. I’ve abstained from slipping a mickey into my flock’s water supply, though lord knows I’ve had frequent and justifiable cause. On a bad day, I feel my head start to melt and know what’s coming. Definitely not a winner, but an oozer.

'Plus ca change...', as they say.

Click on the thumbnail to read the strip as originally printed in Bellyflop #3 (1999):

P.S. I'm currently working on some new stuff. Prolific I'm not.

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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Reading Allowed #2

Banana Yoshimoto “N.P.”

I’ve been meaning to read Banana Yoshimoto since reading a review of “Kitchen”, the debut novel by this wonderfully named author. I’ve got a VHS tape squirreled away somewhere with a TV recording of the film adaptation which, oddly enough, I’ve never got around to watching. Likewise, after years of deliberation, I spontaneously plumped for Yoshimoto’s 1990 novel “N.P.” whilst wandering around a local bookshop. The aptly banana yellow cover was an added incentive.

I know next to nothing about Yoshimoto; the photograph and biography (three short sentences covering birth year, bibliography, accolades and current residence) give little away. However, there’s a fascinating afterword by the author, where she thanks the reader for taking the time to read her book. I don’t know if this piece is characteristic of Yoshimoto, but her modesty, bordering at times on self-deprecation, enhanced my reflection on the narrative that it succeeds. What immediately appeals about “N.P.” is it’s economy – of characters, environment and language – which enables the reader to develop the author’s themes, characters’ relationships and the world they inhabit. By Yoshimoto’s own admission, she ‘constantly had doubts about (her) approach’, but countered this with an acknowledgement that ‘a degree of self-searching and doubt are healthy for any project.’ “N.P.” encourages the reader to personally invest in the narrative and is a more rewarding experience because of this.

The story centres on Kazami and her developing relationship with fraternal twins Otohiko and Saki Takase, and Otohiko’s girlfriend Sui. All are linked by “N.P.”, a collection of short stories written by the twins’ father whilst he lived in America. Although celebrated overseas, the elder Takase died remaining unpublished in his native Japan. Subsequently, several attempts have been made to translate his work, but death continues to dog it’s completion. Kazami, whose boyfriend was one of the ill-fated translators, learns more about the author, the inspiration for his challenging and uncomfortable final works and, indeed, herself as the quartet struggle to free themselves from “N.P.”’s inexorable pull.

Yoshimoto expertly focuses on this ‘miniature universe’ but uses it to explore a broad range of themes, from lesbianism, family and personal relationships to religion and the occult. With a concision lacking in other writers’ works, Yoshimoto develops empathetic characters who are firmly rooted in the real world. Her frequent references to family, friends and places enhance the readers’ enjoyment, but avoid unnecessary padding or digression. My only criticism – if there must be one – is that I initially struggled with Ann Sherif’s ‘American’ translation, which seemed rather at odds with Yoshimoto’s writing, particularly the dialogue. However, as it becomes increasingly clear that the characters’ experience of the world outside Japan is America, their hybrid language seems increasingly natural.

The “fictional N.P.” is named after “North Point”, apparently a ‘very old’ sad song. The “real N.P.”, exploring ‘troubled people’ and their efforts to ‘live as they please, without interference from others’ is, on the other hand, an ultimately joyous, life-affirming experience. As Kazami notes at the novel’s end, “Everything that…happened was shockingly beautiful, enough to make you crazy.’ “N.P.” is a concise, compelling read that rewards with each turn of the page.

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Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Tooth(less) & Claw

We've had Tina for a couple of years now, since picking her up from a cats and dogs home in Bath. My wife saw Tina's picture on their website and showed me. Even though Tina had presented herself as a glowering, feline bruiser, we were immediately certain that she was the cat for us. Her history is the inevitable tale of woe: evidently mistreated as a kitten, Tina was either abandoned or ran away, before being found and taken in by the cats' home. With no positive experiences, we quickly realised that she wasn't anti-social, just terrified of human contact. After a few abortive attempts to foster her, Tina had clocked up over a year in the home and things weren't looking good.

A couple of years later, living with us, and Tina's not what may be considered 'normal' but has made incredible progress. We had intended to change Tina's name when we adopted her, but we couldn't think of a suitable alternative and, besides, she's kind of grown into it now. Not that Tina ever responds to being called by name, of course: the only sounds that make her perk up are tin cans or biscuit cartons being opened...! On top of this, Tina still won't leave the house or let us handle her (which makes a trip to the vet a fun experience). She also has no interest in mainstream cat toys, but seems to get endless enjoyment from chasing a ping pong ball around the room. Our furnishings often suffer... It might seem a bit weird, but Tina's very content with her hassle-free life.

Of course, sometimes the real world has to interrupt Tina's daily routine of sleeping, eating, destroying furniture... and more sleeping. A recent visit to the vet to clear up some gingivitis resulted in her returning home with all but three of her teeth removed. Seems likely that Tina picked up a virus before she was rescued by the cats' home and, at the age of 4 (that's a guess), she's now got less bite than a cat twice her age. Not that this has proved any obstacle to eating, of course. The vet warned us - as they have done on every previous visit - that Tina may stay off food for a couple of days due to shock, etc. On this occasion, it was something like two hours. That's one routine that nothing will break...

What's that scratching at the door? Oh shit, I've missed serving time again...
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Saturday, June 10, 2006

Jukebox Juicebox #18

Baby Ford “BFORD9” (1992)
Looking back, I’m really not sure what tempted me to hesitate at, pick up, then buy this at a record shop in Yate. Yate, if you're interested, was voted 45th most crap town in the UK (The Idler, 2004 –
see link). Whilst I’d only question Yate's rather low placing at No. 45, it's saving grace was Kay’s Record Store, which secreted a rewardingly eclectic selection amongst the likes of Take That, Bon Jovi and Simply Red. Actually, I would initially – and wrongly - have lumped Baby Ford (aka Peter Ford) in with them, on the strength of his annoyingly poppy “Chikki Chikki Ahh Ahh” and cover of T-Rex’s “Children Of The Revolution” in the late 1980s. However, something about "BFORD9"'s minimalist sleeve and intriguing track titles made me think that this might be something different. It probably didn’t do any harm that I was listening to The Shamen’s seminal “En-Tact” album a hell of a lot at the time, leading me to buy "BFORD9" on spec, in the hope that it would be a similar revelation. “RU486”, named after the controversial abortion drug, is a relentless, repetitive acid house opener, with the sole vocal line urging you to “stick it out”. Follow-up “Fetish” provides, if anything, an even more relentlessly aggressive dancefloor sound but remains accessible and compelling. Just as you begin to wonder how much further Ford can push this, he confounds expectations with “Move-On”, a downtempo number with ‘proper’ lyrics. In the fact, "BFORD9" never revisits the nosebleed threatening intensity of it’s introductory tracks, only the funky “Disconoddy”, which samples The Rolling Stones and (I think) Dead Or Alive to great effect, upping the tempo significantly midway through. Aside from this, the album increasingly develops a minimalist, post-club soundscape. This is perfectly realised on a version of previous club hit “Change” and the alternate takes on “Move-On” and “Fetish”. It was another five years before the next Baby Ford album, 1997’s “Headphoneasy Rider”, which took minimalism to a logical, but (for me) rather unengaging next step. Baby Ford’s minimal techno sound is still prominent, with two 12” single collaborations last month alone. "BFORD9" proves that Peter Ford was pushing the envelope way back, with a strong collection of songs that has dated surprisingly well in the past decade and a half and dispels the myth that all acid house and techno artists were one-trick ponies.

1. RU486 / 2. Fetish / 3. Move-On / 4. In Your Blood / 5. Blow Back / 6. Sashay Around The Fuzzbox / 7. Intro (20, Park Drive) / 8. 20, Park Drive / 9. Disconoddy / 10. Change (konrad cadet mix 1) / 11. Move-On (alt) / 12. Fetish (9ax) / 13. Noddy / 14. 20, Park Drive (instrumental)

Baby Ford / Peter Ford site
here .

The Future Sound of London “ISDN” (1995)
“ISDN”’s Spinal Tap-esque ‘none-more-black’ cardboard sleeve masks a colourful visual and aural interior. Ostensibly a collection of ‘live’ tracks, broadcast via ISDN at various periods in 1994, “ISDN” was initially released as a limited edition in December of that year. Sounds are merged into a seamless, often unsettling, whole that renders track titles largely redundant with it's numerous changes in pace and style. One sample asks, “You know the way everybody’s into weirdness right now?”. FSOL clearly do and exploit it to the full on this album. Opening with a live gig sample, an irritated musician demands “Could you leave the lights alone please? Stop flashing your fucking lights!”, before a slow, looped beat kicks in for “Just A Fuckin Idiot”. “The Far Out Son Of Lung And the Ramblings Of A Madman” ups the tempo, with additional treated bass and trumpet plus samples from “Alien”, and is perhaps "ISDN"'s most accessible track. The similarly jazz-flavoured “Smokin Japanese Babe” is a close second and incredibly infectious. It’s perhaps no surprise that the latter two tracks made a subsequent single release, being a darker reflection of the trip hop / Bristol sound typified by Massive Attack, Portishead and Tricky at the time. The gloriously titled “Eyes Pop – Skin Explodes – Everybody Dead” is a surprisingly light faux-piano piece, which would fit in well with their current releases as Amorphous Androgynous, and “Egypt” could easily be mistaken for an Andrew Weatherall / Two Lone Swordsmen track. “Are They Fightin Us” in some respects reprises “Smokin Japanese Babe”, whilst “Hot Knives” marks a brief return to electro / bpms. “ISDN” has an underlying sense of menace throughout, which may not appeal to those who have discovered FSOL through “The Isness” or “Alice In Ultraland”. However, if you’re a fan of earlier albums, particularly “Lifeforms” and “Dead Cities”, then you’ll enjoy this. A re-release of “ISDN”, which replaces tracks 12, 13 and 15 with the equally strong “Kai”, “Amoeba” and “Snake Hips”, is more readily available but seek out the original version if you can.

1. Just A Fuckin Idiot / 2. The Far Out Son Of Lung And the Ramblings Of A Madman / 3. Appendage / 4. Slider / 5. Smokin Japanese Babe / 6. You’re Creeping Me Out / 7. Eyes Pop – Skin Explodes – Everybody Dead / 8. It’s My Mind That Works / 9. Dirty Shadows / 10. Tired / 11. Egypt / 12. Are They Fightin Us / 13. Hot Knives / 14. A Study Of Six Guitars / 15. An End Of Sorts

Official FSOL website
here .
There’s also a very good fan site
here .

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