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.

One Louder: A Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol2 review.

Directed by: James Gunn.

Starring: Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Karen Gillan, Michael Rooker, Kurt Russell 

Plot: Shortly after the events of the first film, when the now renowned Guardians embark on a mission for The aloof Sovereign race, they are unwittingly set on a collision course with Quill’s past.

Back in 2014, I, like many of you, sat in a cinema and experienced for the first time the utter joy that was Guardians Of The Galaxy. It’s warmth, humour, excellent cast and kick-ass soundtrack won over cinema goers, myself included. As the end credits rolled and it was announced the guardians would return, we all waited with baited breath for that day to come. Finally, it’s here. From the off Guardians Vol2 has you in the palm of its hand with an opening sequence to rival, nay, eclipse the ‘Come And Get Your Love’ sequence from the first movie. A big dumb grin is plastered over my face, the guardians are back!

It’s a fairly standard formula for sequels and to borrow a parlance from Spinal Tap, Guardians Vol2 is ‘One Louder’. There is more spectacle, more humour, a bigger premise to its story and importantly to improve this movies chance of success in the box office, more fervent expectation for it arrival. I am very happy to say that for the most part Guardians Of The Galaxy Vol2 is excellent. The story is engaging and carries its core premise along to a satisfying and very emotional conclusion. The film is predictably stolen yet again by Dave Bautista’s Drax who provides a great deal of the films innumerable laugh out loud moments and delivers some lines that are destined to be quoted by fan boys for years to come. Another consistent high point in Guardians comes from Groot, or Baby Groot to be more precise this time round. He is adorable, charming and as is the case with Bautista’s Drax, provides many of the films stand out comedic moments. Marvel are going to clean up with merchandising for this lil fella.

As with the first Guardians, its soundtrack plays a prominent role and is once again ridiculously strong. From the note perfect use of ELO’s Mr Blue Sky to the poignant implementation of Cat Stevens Father & Son, Guardians Vol2 reminds us of the importance of a strong soundtrack, its as integral a part as any other that makes Vol2 as great as it is. Add to this some gorgeously jaw dropping visual effects and wonderfully executed set pieces that demand this film be viewed in IMAX to fully enjoy its explosive presentation, it is most certainly another film that effectively employs the medium to it’s full effect.

Guardians Of The Galaxy was always going to be a tough act to follow. It rests at the top of many people’s favourite Marvel movie list, mine included, Vol2 was always going to have an upward battle on its hands to even hold a candle to the perfection of the original film. Vol2 carries on the story of these rag-tag a-holes admirably. It’s not perfect, it’s not quite as good as the original but it is still a massively enjoyable movie that more than deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as its predecessor. The Guardians will return and if the standards can be kept as high as they have for Vol2, it’s going to be a hell of a ride.

What A Bunch Of A-Holes: How Guardians Of The Galaxy won the hearts of cinema goers.

Within minutes of Guardians Of The Galaxy beginning, as we follow Chris Pratt’s Peter ‘Star-Lord’ Quill, miming & dancing across an alien landscape to the strains of Redbone’s Come And Get Your Love, it becomes quite clear the feel & tone James Gunn intends to convey in his approach to this lesser known group of Marvel characters, an irreverent, at times downright daft but wholly feel good proposition of a comic book movie. It is a sense of fun and undeniable charm that is utterly infectious from the outset and doesn’t let up for the film’s duration. 

It can be said that Guardians was quite a risk for Marvel Studios who’s output up to that point had been fairly safe-bet blockbuster material, sure things such as Iron Man & Captain America. Arguably, their biggest risk up to the release of Guardians probably being Kenneth Branagh’s Thor which was a reasonable success in its own right. No, Guardians was certainly a risk on Marvel Studios part, a calculated risk most certainly, but a risk none the less. The Guardians were not the recognisable faces that resided in The Avengers, they are comprised of disparate, roguish anti-heroes who really are out for number one until circumstances make them step up to the hero plate and I think that made them a much more interesting prospect to the cinema going public, there was much more edge to these characters than the apple-polishing heroics of the likes of Captain America.

Of the many appealing aspects of Guardians the move that made the most sense was it’s perfect use of humour to add a much appreciated sense of levity to what could have been quite a poe faced and much duller picture. The story to Guardians isn’t particularly ground breaking, some could even argue its formulaic, however, the cast gel so well and deliver some perfect comedic moments from the script to elevate the film to a higher level, possibly the most surprising being Dave Bautista’s Drax and his quite literal view of the universe. Pretty much anyone who watches Guardians can’t help but be charmed by Vin Diesel’s Groot, a sentient tree with a sense of childlike innocence and naivety that is damn near impossible not to fall in love with, particularly in the film’s closing moments with the promise of what we’ll be seeing of Groot in the sequel.

It is the sum of it parts that made Guardians Of The Galaxy such a special movie. It’s the fantastic cast, the perfectly paced and judged script, the amazing visuals, even the inclusion of one of the most perfectly crafted, feel good soundtracks in recent memory. All these separate parts come together so well to create arguably the strongest Marvel Studios movie to date. Not a bad punt at all, hopefully it can only encourage Marvel Studios to take more and more chances with its output because if Guardians Of The Galaxy taught us anything it is that some gambles are worth making.

Filling The Void: A The Void review.

Directed by: Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.

Starring: Aaron Poole, Kenneth Welsh, Daniel Fathers, Kathleen Munroe, Ellen Wong.

Plot: A small town cop happens upon an injured man on his nightly patrol, taking him to a nearby rural hospital for treatment. Without apparent reason, staff & patients at the hospital begin to undergo monstrous transformations as the building is surrounded by ominous, white robed figures.

The glory days of gruesome creature-feature horror arguably lay back in the 1980’s, back when we had John Carpenter’s The Thing, David Cronenberg’s The Fly, back when practical visual effects and makeup were king, before the dawn of CGI and its subsequent overuse which saw the gonzo vein of ingenuity and originality that sprung from the minds of those horror greats slowly become subdued. The Void seeks to readdress that balance.

The Void truly does hark back to those 80’s horror glory days, a lovingly crafted ode to the likes of Carpenter, Cronenberg and Yuzna and the gruesome, wonderfully off its tits ingenuity that those directors commanded. The visual effects in the film are on large, practically applied with very few CG elements to speak of. The creature effects are truly, truly impressive, bringing to mind the work of the great Rod Bottin, many tentacles, body parts, acts of mutilation and LOTS of blood. Comprising a story with distinctly Lovecraftian tones, it is engaging, disturbing and constantly entertaining for the gore hounds out there.

One of the primary things to be enjoyed from The Void is its bravery, its invention to touch upon ideas seldom embraced on the big screen these days and to do so unflinchingly and with some genuine originality, spectacle and with a real grassroots DIY ethic behind its execution that commands your respect and attention.

The Void is now available on DVD & Bluray.

Top 5 Marvel Studios movies.

The Marvel studios film franchise has gone from strength to strength since its first major release with Iron Man back in 2008. It is quite an intimidating run to have without coming up with a bonafide stinker, each film has had its merits, yes, even Iron Man 3! This run of success has helped Marvel to become a formidable name to go against in the box office. Speaking on a personal level, there haven’t been any films in their recent output that I have outright disliked which made the following list all the more difficult to comprise. Here is my Top 5 Marvel films.

Honorary Mention: Dr Strange.

Dr Strange, like Guardians Of The Galaxy and even Ant-Man before it had the unenviable task of being a touted blockbuster movie with a lead character not really widely known outside of people who read comic books regularly. Marvel deftly handled this origin story on the big screen delivering perhaps one of the most visually arresting films they have put out to date and a darn good one too. Benedict Cumberbatch makes the role his own so completely much in the same way Robert Downey JR did with Iron Man or Chris Evans did with Captain America.

5: Captain America: The First Avenger.

Captain America has never really been one of my favourite comic book characters, I’ve never really engaged with him in the past, that was until the first movie hit the screens in 2011. Funny, charming, brace and action packed, Marvel hit it out of the park with the first cinematic outing of one of their flagship characters.

4: Thor.

My early expectations of Thor were high when it was announced that directing duties were to be undertaken by none other than Sir Kenneth Branagh, a frankly inspired choice to tackle the wonderfully Shakespearean tone of the denizens of Asgard, and a frankly top notch job he did too. Origin stories sometimes can feel stilted and laboured, Branagh made Thor fun and gave it the correct amount of gravitas. 

3: Iron Man.

Iron Man was already up there as one of my favourite Marvel characters anyway so Iron Man already hit the ground running as far as I’m concerned, factor in the perfect casting of Robert Downey Jr as the sardonic Tony Stark and the note perfect direction by John Favreau, another example of how to nail an origin story onscreen.

2: Avengers Assemble!

The output of the MCU since 2008 had been building up to this point, the main characters introduced, their backstories fleshed out, side characters introduced and the main story arc established to begin the long journey to The Infinty Wars. This was the MCU firing on all cylinders with spectacle and grandeur, the ultimate in Marvel fan service for the first time and handled perfectly by Joss Whedon on directing duties.

1: Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Arguably the first really big gamble Marvel Studios took with its cinematic output, The Guardians Of The Galaxy were widely unknown when held alongside the likes of more sure fire blockbuster fair such as Cap & The Hulk but this rag tag group of misfits was embraced by cinema goers who turned up in droves to sample James Gunns irreverent vision, so good they are going back with Vol 2 out the end of this month, review to follow.

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. 

Major Upgrade?: A Ghost In The Shell review.

Directed by: Rupert Sanders.

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Takeshi Kitano, Michael Pitt, Pilou Asbæk, Juliette Binoche.

Plot: In The near future, humanity has developed great advances in cybernetic augmentation and prosthesis even going as far, in the case of ‘Major’ Mira Killian, as to house a human brain in a cybernetic “shell”. When the Major begins to experience glitches in her perception, is her past life as it seems?

The makers of this version of Ghost In The Shell had a pretty daunting task set out for them, give a decent representation of the source material so as not to enrage and alienate the ardent fans of the anime original. The best way I can advice a GITS fan going to see this film is, think of it as a adaptation sharing the DNA of the source material but doing its own thing. It does not slavishly, beat for beat copy the anime it is based on, rather take ideas, iconic imagery, concepts and ideology of the original and spin it’s own tale, to some surprising degree of success in my opinion.

The trailer to GITS set many a tongue wagging in the fan community, some with excitement, many with derision and quite a few with a sense of piqued curiosity. The trailer looked very much like the source material even though the film itself tells a marginally different tale, it takes some of the best facets of the Manga and tells it own version of events. This is a move that I’m sure will cause anger amongst hardcore anime fans but is the right choice for this movie I feel. The makers of this film has created a visually arresting near future dystopia, a world of towering holograms jutting from the city lanscape, of robots living amongst humanity with many with some kind of cybernetic augmentation themselves. It’s a world that is fantastical but also somewhat believable, a future with some degree of plausibility. There are some definite stylistic tips of the hat in this film other than it original source material, the likes of Bladerunner and The Matrix can certainly be felt in the presence of this film.

The cast for this film play their parts admirably, Scarlett Johansson’s cybernetic ‘Major’, at odd’s with her robotic ‘shell’ and the ‘ghost’ of her past humanity is played to great effect. Veteran Japanese actor Takeshi ‘Beat’ Kitano adds some class to the proceedings, his usual effortless delivery is much appreciated here, Michael Pitt is also on hand as enigmatic and shadowy Kuze, stalking Johansson’s Major for reasons that become apparent as the film progresses.

The film’s score is handled by former Pop Will Eat Itself frontman Clint Mansell, a man who has carved a formidable career for himself as a go to artist for film scoring, he pulls the good out of the bag again with his work on GITS, an effective and evocative piece of work that fits the feel of the film perfectly. Mansell is possibly one of my favourite film composers and for me he has come up with the goods again.

I think that GITS has done an admirable job of translating the source material to the big screen in its own way. It isn’t going to be liked by everyone, it’s probably going to be over criticised by some but for me personally, it was an enjoyable, beautiful to look at if not completely faithful translation of the original masterpiece.