Gig Review: The King Blues, The Slade Rooms, Wolverhampton, 04/05/17


I am a fan but have never seen The King Blues live, I never got the opportunity. First hearing the band at the end of their promotional run for the Punk & Poetry album and finding out I had just missed out on that albums tour, ‘Next time’ I thought to myself, ‘Next time’. Within a year, The King Blues were no more, torn asunder by infighting and acrimony with the imminent release of their 4th album Long Live The Struggle, I believed I’d never get the chance to experience them in a live setting, that was until their impromptu reformation in 2016. Finally, here’s my chance. On the tail of the release of their 5th full length album The Gospel Truth, will The King Blues live up to their sterling live reputation?

Upon entering the main room, frontman Johnny ‘Itch’ Fox is already on hand manning the merch stall and greeting, handshaking, hugging and chatting to all and sundry with a genuine warmth and likability, this is something he will do all through the support sets, right up until he has to take the stage when any other frontman would probably be ensconced backstage, he’ll also do the same mere minutes after leaving the stage tonight also. This is a guy who obviously loves what he does and truly appreciates the people who come to see his band. When the time comes for the show to start, Itch has made his way stageward and launches straight into an impassioned and updated What If Punk Never Happened to an enraptured audience, When the rest of the band take to the stage and burst into the fan favourites Let’s Hang The Landlord, Set The World On Fire & I Want You, the room is bouncing from this perfectly measured opening salvo.

During this almost 2 hour set, The King Blues take us on a tour of their entire career, we’ll get the ska swagger of Under The Fog’s Mr Music Man right up to the Tory baiting Bullingdon Boys from the latest release The Gospel Truth. We get a band encompassing cowbell breakdown on The Streets Are Ours, some crowd participation during Underneath This Lamppost Light, Itch asking two vape wielding members of the audience to come on stage and act as a human smoke machine. There is also the inclusion of a brand new, incredibly on point song called Tory C**ts that elicited many cheers and claps from the audience, it may have been coarse but that didn’t make it any less cutting & incise. Throw in a run through of My Boulder with backing vocals from the support bands, explosive turns for I Got Love, Headbutt, Off With Their Heads to name but a few and finishing up a pretty much perfectly selected set with Save The World, Get The Girl, it has been a phenomenal night.

The crowd is drained and disheveled as the house lights come up, slowly filtering toward to the door ready for some well earned rest, not for our man Itch though, within minutes he’s back behind merch chatting and greeting his audience on their way home, myself included, with a warm handshake and a thank you for coming. It is something that isn’t seen enough in modern music, that ingrained level of connection to an audience that doesn’t fade after more than a decade of touring. Itch has clearly had a good time tonight and so has everyone else in The Slade Rooms.

The King Blues: The Gospel Truth is currently available on CD, ltd edition Vinyl and cassette and streaming services via Cooking Vinyl.

Record Store Day: The highs & lows of the annual independent sales event.


This year marks the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, a day originally set up to celebrate and boost commerce to the independent record stores, where releases ranging from singles box sets to picture discs to never before released film soundtracks, they can be picked up exclusively from your local independent record shop rather than your high street chain store. Sounds rather nice and positive doesn’t it? and in some ways, it is but as with most things, there is a murkier side.

On the plus side, it is a day that independent record stores can enjoy an upturn in sales and exposure, a day where eager buyers will camp from the early hours to get their hands on this years hot exclusive or snaffle that rarity that they simply must add to their collection. I myself will be queuing outside Cave Records in Shrewsbury to hopefully obtain my picks this year. Added exposure and sales for independent record stores is a wonderful thing but it does beg a question, where are these throngs of people any other day of the year? There is an adage that has become synonymous at this time of year, a record shop is for life, not just for RSD. There will be people in these queues on Saturday who never come to these stores at any other time, that may only visit them this one day in the year to grab what they can get on this independent only release day and that is where the message of RSD start to loose its lustre and the murkier side starts to rear its head.

RSD has become just as synonymous for flagrant, opportunistic profiteering by “unscrupulous carpet baggers”, as a friend of mine so eloquently put it, as much as for raising the profile of independent stores. Go on to eBay on Saturday afternoon typing in any one of the prime releases and I’m guaranteed you will be disgusted by what you find. Inflated prices, multiple copies up for sale from the same vendor, all taking sales away from the very places RSD is supposedly there to support, some vendors even selling stock at inflated price before RSD even arrives. There are of course things that can be set in place by the stores to combat against this happening, no duel purchases of records and a maximum of 2 records per customer but these opportunists I guess will always find a way.

Many people, record store owners themselves included are starting to come to the conclusion that RSD is kinda on quite a few levels, a bit of a con, that the only real winners with no negative comeback are the labels that are putting out the releases for the day, some of which have highly questionable merit. Go in to any participating RSD store and you will find amongst the decent releases, tacky picture discs, even re-releases of current albums with a few b-side tacked on, destined to loiter in the racks long after the day has passed. The more exposure the day starts to receive, the less certain labels seem to care about what they are putting out. Not wanting to put too much of a downer on it but it does kinda suck when a lack of thought is put into releases but as long as it is putting money in the tills of the independently run record stores and not in the pockets of chancers, who am I to argue. 

Wales Comic-Con April 2017, Glyndŵr University, Wrexham: Day 2.

Day 2 of Wales Comic-Con has arrived and after the absolute result that was Day 1, it’s safe to say I’m hyped because today is photo-op day! Later today I’ll be grabbing a photo with Mick Foley & Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas and my wife has purchased a photo with T.J Thyne of Bones fame. A lot of good things were said by people yesterday who had photos with respect to the organisation when people came to collect their photos which bodes well for today. We make our way to Wrexham slightly later this morning because we got our wristbands yesterday so don’t have to queue for them today to get all that sorted which is nice. Since WCC became a 2 day event, Sunday has been the more chilled out day of the event for us, we beast the Q&A’s and run around like mad things trying to get to stuff on the Saturday and get our photo-op’s sorted on Sunday, it has worked well for us so far. Upon arrival on site were not far from hitting opening time so we head for the main hall.


It’s filling up nicely and people are milling around to grab early purchases and queue for autographs with guests. I can’t stress enough how improved the layout is in the main hall, I’m not really one for autographs, I prefer to go down the photo-op route so the layout in the main hall had always been a bit of a pet peeve of mine, I always found it a bit too confined when the queues started to grow. By moving some of the vendors outside to the marquee this year, traffic in the main hall has improved greatly. We move outside and head for a mooch around the marquee again. Just outside the marquee the owls are already attracting some attention as they do every year.


I LOVE the fact that there are more vendors this year, I love browsing stalls at cons and seeing what’s on offer. I was particularly taken this year by the retro gaming stall which had an excellent range of old school video games of varying degrees of Awesome and I managed to find a copy of one of my favourite Sega Megadrive games from my youth so I was most pleased.


So good that it had to been done twice, we pop to see Mick Foley & Amy Dumas Q&A again today. Just as fun and informative but in a much more intimate setting on the Nick Whitehead suite which I actually preferred to the main hall yesterday. I must also say in respect to Q&A’s I have attended this year, the timing has been pretty spot on. The WCC Q&A’s are notorious for starting late and/or overrunning, this year it feels a lot more streamlined and regimented for the talks I’ve attended, they’ve pretty much gone to time which again is testament to the organisation that has been carried out, it has been absolutely top drawer, could not fault it.


Next up it’s time for our first photo-op of the day with none other than Mick Foley. There was A LOT of complaints last WCC regarding the company that was in control of printing off people’s photos, to be fair it was pretty disastrous, the WCC team were let down badly and tempers became frayed amongst Con goers. Thankfully this year is the extreme of polar opposites and a superb effort from the photo team, within 10 minutes of the photo-ops going in not only did we have our photo taken with Mick but it was also ready and printed by the time we reached the counter to collect it. Last years photo-op waits seem like a bad dream, this is how you address a situation! Can not fault it, tick, gold star, smiley face, HAVE A NICE DAY!!! 


A brief stop for a much needed ice cream in the quite frankly glorious weather and it is time for our second photo-op, this time with Amy Dumas. 4 minutes, start to finish with photo in hand, absolutely impeccable.


Just one more photo-op left of this WCC with T.J Thyne. This was a very popular photo-op with a large queue but even still, just under 15 minutes and we have our photo.


And with that another WCC is over for us. This event has been fantastic from start to finish, everything has been so well organised and structured. It’s pretty obvious to tell that the WCC team take past event criticisms seriously and adapt and improve where they can, but to do so in almost every respect deserves a massive round of applause. The issues with photo-ops last year are completely resolved with the sessions running insanely smooth. The Q&A’s we saw all pretty much ran on time which has almost never happened at past events I have attended which was also a lovely surprise. The improved layout of the main signing hall has been a massive improvement for navigating around, much more space and a more structured approach to the queues for the more popular signings and also the addition of more vendors in the outside marquee, I really hope they keep to as it is something WCC has needed for a long time so to see it addressed this year has been awesome. Next time I attend a WCC I will be a parent with child in tow and if the organisation is anything like it has been this weekend, it’ll be a slightly less daunting prospect.

Wales Comic-Con April 2017, Glyndŵr University, Wrexham: Day 1.

It’s that time of year again, where eager Sci-fi, Fantasy, Anime & Pop Culture fans descend on Glyndwr University in Wrexham for 2 days of signings, Photo-Ops, Q&A sessions and much more. Year on year, since I started attending Wales Comic-Con back in 2012, it has gone from strength to strength, drawing in bigger crowds and more impressive guests with each successive event and this springs event is certainly no different. I am attending the event for both days with my wife and we have a number of photo-ops booked with some of the guests, I am particularly stoked this weekend to be meeting WWE legends Mick Foley & Amy ‘Lita’ Dumas and my wife was more than a little excited with the announcement of Bones actor T.J Thyne, who she has purchased a photo-op with.

As with each event, we have purchased Early Bird tickets which gives the holder a 1 hour head start over general entry to ensure a minimal amount of waiting to get into the event. We arrive on campus a little after 09:00, it is pleasantly sunny and the crowds are starting to assemble. Already there is a diverse array of cosplayers on site putting increasingly impressive levels of effort into their costumes, I’ve already seen a V, a Loki, Black Widow, a few Assassins Creed Cosplays, a Bray Wyatt and a male Harley Quinn. Yup, it’s Comic-Con baby!


After less than a 10 minute wait from doors opening, we have our wristbands and are in, heading straight to the main hall for a browse. The first thing that strikes me this year is the layout, it is vastly improved. Some of the vendors have been moved around allowing much more space around the perimeter for the crowd to move around and also allowing much better queueing for autographs with guests, it is still massively busy, it still bottlenecks but that is just to be expected, I can’t see any other way of improving more than they have, even going so far as to utilise the halls tannoy and numbered tickets to alleviate larger queues for certain more popular guests so hats off to the team, organisation in the hall seems a lot better. I have noticed both through overhearing conversations and reading posts on a Comic-Con group I am a member of that some people in attendance are not happy about certain guests adjusting their autograph fees and placing the blame at a “greedy” Wales Comic-Con, I find these posts most disheartening as I know full well that the team at WCC have no part to play in this and to hear them trashed by a minority (who don’t seem to understand how cons work incidentally) for something quite trivial that is out of their hands is disappointing. The Con team should hold their heads high right now because I’m personally finding it hard to fault the positive changes they have made to increase the publics enjoyment of the event.


Next we move on to the marquee which now exclusively houses vendor stalls and there is a great array, from retro video games, art prints, comic books, pop vinyls and action figures. My one bugbear with Wales Comic-Con in the past had been lack of stalls which is certainly something that they have addressed this year. After some browsing and purchases we make a quick detour to the gaming arena.


The gaming arena is layed out with retro consoles lining one wall, PC’s lining the other with a stage for the gaming competitions they hold during the day. We couldn’t resist plonking ourselves down for a bit to have a blast on Mario Kart which is a welcome nostalgic diversion. After being beaten by my wife in a best of 3 it is on to the first Q&A of the day, the wrestling panel.


Mick Foley & Amy Dumas take to the stage to much applause and whooping and get straight in to it. After the obligatory introductions both ask the crowd to take as many photos they like at the beginning but then request that phones and cameras are pocketed for the rest of the panel which I actually really appreciated as it can be quite tiresome watching a panel through someone’s phone screen out of your periphery when you are trying to concentrate on the stage. Both are natural storytellers and between questions from the audience will segue with interesting little asides that have the assembled crowd hanging off every word. Warm & engaging, this was a good start to the Q&A sessions.


Next up we have Matt Ryan & Emmett Scanlan and the Constantine panel. This was a sweet panel that shows even past 1 season of a cancelled show there is still a lot of love for Constantine and a lot of excitement regarding Justice League: Dark and the touted animated series. Matt & Emmett gamely answer all questions set their way with grace, humour and genuine likability.


The Buffy Q&A is next with Nicolas Brendon & Emma Caulfield. This was a very well attended Q&A in part due to the shows recent 20th anniversary celebrations, I have also found however in recent cons that this panel has been taking over as one of the most popular of the day and that is certainly the case today with a packed out hall. It is a very funny and engaging Q&A with a real sense of chemistry between Nic and Emma. Nic really has no filter though it has to be said, if it pops in his head, he’s probably going to say it leading to a mixture of genuine laughs and uncomfortable ‘did he just say that?!’ guilty laughter, it certainly makes for an interesting panel that’s for sure.


GOT up next and a nice cross section of past cast members. The GOT panel is always a crowd pleaser because obviously people are still massively invested in the show, particularly as it enters it final 2 seasons and that is reflected in the questions, always trying to wrangle another angle or theory out of cast members who gamely give their 2 cents worth. Ian McElhinney, I now suspect, played up to the anger at his character dying before he did in the books, it always tickles me and my wife every time he attends. Always engaging, always entertaining.


Time for the last Q&A of the day, the Bones panel with T.J Thyne. The small Nick Whitehead suite is rammed, there is literally no more seating space and people are standing at the back so they could get in, never underestimate the popularity of Bones. Quite often in these types of situations you wonder, even though this is engaging and informative, just how much has the panellist gone into auto-pilot when answering people’s questions? You doubt the sincerity when they say ‘Good question’, this is not one of those times. T.J was warm, good humoured and incredibly humble that so many people had turned up to see him, you got the impression that he sincerely cared about what people were asking him and that was refreshing, it made for a wonderful end to our first day.


The first day at WCC 2017 has been a joy from start to finish. In and wristbanded in record time, a much better layout in the main hall, from word of mouth I have been hearing that the photo-op’s have been running a lot smoother this year also which caused much consternation last year. Its good to see that many of the issues that some people have had with the WCC in the past have been addressed so well and that the team have pulled it out the bag again with their now trademark professionalism, grace under pressure and passion for what they do. Bring on day 2!

Wales Comic-Con: Day 2

Here we go, day 2. This is the day I was looking forward to the most
as I get to meet 2 childhood heroes, Michael Biehn & Ric Flair. Day 1 was pretty much full of win, minus a few very minor niggles, let’s see what the final day holds. We arrive at the Con at pretty much the same time as Saturday, we don’t technically have to queue as we already have our weekend wristbands but we gamely wait with a few friends as they wait to get in and soak in the pre-doors atmosphere for a second time. I actually love this part of the Con, meeting and chatting to like minded people, scoping the sweet cosplays and building up the hype before going in.

Firstly its another quick wander around the main hall to make some purchases, my mates pop to get some signings off of Michael Biehn, it makes me more excited for my photo op later on. Today seems just as popular as yesterday, the hall is filling out as people file in to get their autographs. Again, Manu Bennetts queue is huge almost immediately due to people now having weekend wristbands and able to queue from start of play. After a good walk around & browse, we make our purchases and go to our first Q&A. Going to be a bit more back and forth today with a combination of Q&A’s & photo ops. Photo-Op’s are a very popular thing at Wales Comic-Con. Basically a guest or guests pose with the fans for a photo that is later printed off for the attendee to take home with them. A lot of people were being very vocal last night on social media about delays with photo op’s, my view of it is you get in and get your picture taken, relax! You’ll get your photo, maybe not immediately but you will get it. In the past I have popped back for mine on the way to the car as we’re leaving and had no issues whatsoever, anyway, on with the Q&A’s.


First up is Torchwood with Gareth David Lloyd, Naoko Mori & Kai Owens. This Q&A is always popular and almost certainly hilariously inappropriate in the best possible way. It started late unfortunately so we couldn’t stay for the full length as we had to make our way to the Michael Biehn Q&A.


Next up is Michael Biehn’s Q&A. Joined by his wife Jennifer Blanc-Biehn, Michael comes across as someone who is very passionate about what he does and this comes across in his replies to the questions he’s asked, going into great detail about his time working on such films as Terminator & Aliens. Jennifer also shows as much enthusiasm for what she does as her husband when talking about her time on Dark Angel and also the production company she runs with Michael. A informative and fascinating Q&A.


We leave Michael Biehn’s Q&A a little early to make our way to the photo op with the man himself. The organisation for Biehn’s photo-op was excellent, military precision even, awesome photo too.


Next up the Ric Flair photo-op, again, impeccable organisation, by the time I come out my Michael Biehn photo is ready. The delays of yesterday don’t seem to be present for me up to this point.

Another brief wait and it’s the GOT cast photo-op, which goes off again for us without a hitch, the only issue with the GOT photo-op is it wasn’t ready for collection when we left but in the grand scheme of things and to quote Meatloaf, two out of three ain’t bad. We will get it eventually and there is no sense in ruining a pretty awesome two days kicking up a stink over one photo we’ll get through the post.

There is enough time for us to catch one more Q&A so we head to the Wrestling Q&A with Ric & Billy again. It was just as good if not better than yesterday’s with Flair regaling the crowd with stories of just how dangerous being a heel can be.

And with that Wales Comic-Con is done for another year. It has been awesome and the staff, many of whom volunteer to do this in their spare time have been amazing and deserve multiple virtual high-five’s & hugs. They have done themselves proud in the face of some technical issues that some Con attendees could not get by without being rather unpleasant to people doing their damnedest under pressure to keep their day as enjoyable as possible, these people are the true heroes of the weekend. The assembled guests have been great, giving entertaining Q&A’s, autographs and photos to the con goers. Same again next year? Hell yes!

Wales Comic-con: Day 1


I have been an attendee at Wales Comic-con since 2012, even attending both days since it moved to a two day con last year. I do this because I love the atmosphere, the increasingly impressive guests they manage to book, the informative and entertaining Q&A’s, marvelling at the ingenuity of the cosplayers and getting the odd photo op with a childhood hero. Wales Comic-Con started as an event that attracted an attendance of less than 200 people, it has since grown in stature and reputation pulling in crowds in the thousands during its twice annual 2 day run at Glyndwr University in Wrexham. Organised by Jamie Milner, a man who must have the patience of a saint and a true love for what he does, he hasn’t failed yet to put on an excellent con each time I have gone.

We arrived at the Con at just after 9, bright and breezy or so I thought as I had purchased an Earlybird entry which grants the holder a 1 hour advanced entrance over those with general entry tickets, I made the mistake at my first Wales Comic-Con of buying general entry and turning up 30mins before doors opened, never again!, anyway, I digress. I always believe the time I arrive to be early, thankfully the queue isn’t too long and I know my wait to get inside won’t be long either. It’s in the queue that you overhear conversations amongst your fellow attendees, “Someone down near the front has been here since 07:30” one person said, it really does go to show the eagerness and excitement this Con can illicit. A 20 minute wait past door opening time and me & my wife are in and have our wristbands and are on our merry way to have a browse before the throng of general entry outside is released. 

I tend to head straight to the main hall whenever I arrive to have a look around the stalls before they get too busy. The perimeter of the hall is lined with guests at the Con, set up at tables to sign autographs for the fans. Prices range from £10 up to around £30 depending on the guest, the centre of the hall is set up with varying stalls selling anything ranging from Pop-vinyls & action figures to posters & comics, always a good variation. Walking into the hall this time round I can see the layout it pretty much the same as other times I have attended, the tent that is usually outside has gone this year and its stalls have now been incorporated into the main hall. Looking around, autographs are already in full swing, people like Michael Biehn & Ric Flair are already drawing a big crowd, these however are nothing compared to the ridiculous queue for Manu Bennett which runs up the hall and snakes into the stall area which is a little irritating for getting around, I think his popularity may have been slightly underestimated and a better location of his table may have been required. 

Once we have had a good browse, we head for the Q&A halls to begin our day. A huge part of Wales Comic-Con for me and one of the main reasons I enjoy going so much are the Q&A’s, a panel where an attending guest/guests take to the stage and answer questions from the assembled attendees. They are frequently hilarious, occasionally awkward but always informative and entertaining. 

First of the day was Lord Of The Rings with Royd Tolkien, Jed Brophy and Sadwyn Brophy. Warm, engaging and funny, it’s a wonderful talk to start the day. 


It is followed by GOT featuring Ian McElhinney, Ian Hanmore & Tom Wlaschiha. The GOT panel is always a massive draw and today is no different, each guest gamely answering questions even if they haven’t a clue what they are being asked. Again, a very entertaining Q&A.


The wrestling Q&A started as a really awkward, teetering on car crash experience as Billy Gunn, Adam Rose & Ric Flair were all present in the room ready to begin but not one person from Wales Comic-Con appeared to be. The mic’s were not working, but thankfully Adam Rose was and gamely tried to “fix” the mic’s for a few cheap pops from the audience. When the Q&A finally got underway, predictably, Flair was in control with some fascinating stories, the guy can talk! As good a storyteller as Ricky Steamboat a few Con’s earlier. The Q&A overran by 20 minutes but I didn’t notice or care as I was thoroughly enjoying the experience. 


Last up for the day was the Buffy Q&A with James Marster’s, Kristine Sutherland and Nic Brenndon. The hall was RAMMED for this, completely full, luckily we managed to get really good seats 3 or 4 rows from the front which was pretty awesome. James Marster’s comes across as another great storyteller, when he speaks of his time on Buffy, as do Kristine & Nic too, it is with seemingly great affection and nostalgia that is infectious.

It’s not long before the whole first day has seemingly flown by and it is time to leave. It has been an enjoyable first day, the bulk has been predominantly Q&A’s but they have been a good batch this time despite the delays. The obstruction caused by queueing for Manu Bennett in the main hall was a real drag for the rest of the con goers as it made stalls really difficult to get around. With a good deal of past experience and forward planning, day 1 overall was a win. Same thing tomorrow but with the added bonus of photo-ops with Michael Biehn & Ric Flair!! Stay frosty, WOOOO!!