Where’s The Revolution?

“Where’s The Revolution?”

This is the question posed by Depeche Mode on their new single, ahead of album #14, Spirit.

In truth, having heard this track, it’s also the question long time Devotees might be asking the band. New producer, new single, new album, same old Depeche Mode?

After three albums working, with varying degrees of success, with Ben Hillier, the Mode have turned to James Ford, producer of both Simian Mobile Disco and Arctic Monkeys, The effect on their sound, on the evidence of this track, has been negligible.

Whilst Dave Gahan sounds, as usual, in great form, Where’s the Revolution’s vocal is melodically similar to Corrupt, from 2009’s Sounds of the Universe. In truth, the song sounds like it could have been taken from any of the last three albums, although I’m not sure it would have passed quality control on Playing The Angel. Lyrically, the “Where’s the revolution/come on people you’re letting me down” chorus is either a sly dig at the band’s critics or just asking for it.

depechemode-anton-corbijn

I applaud Martin Gore’s attempt to write beyond the biblical themes of love, sin, redemption which have so occupied the last 30 years, but it all feels a bit on the nose here. And, bearing in what is going on in the world at the moment, a little misjudged.

I could forgive Depeche all this were the music, despite a promising opening, not so uninteresting. A lyrical call to arms, to “get on board”, stymied by music to lull you into a stupor. A friend of mine commented to me earlier today that perhaps the sense of disappointment here is rooted in the easy access to so much great music now. And I think there may be something in that. Spotify has revolutionised my listening habits in just a few weeks. It has also allowed me to think, heretically, that I don’t have to buy the new Depeche Mode album on the 17th March just because they’ve released it. God knows, the boys have had enough of my money over the years…

Relax! Of course I’m going to buy it, but I’m looking forward to it just a little bit less than I was this last week.

Perhaps the time has come to accept that the guys, in their mid 50’s now, know what works for them and the days of releasing killer singles ahead of an album are gone. Historically, the band has usually always released an absolute barnstormer of a track to announce to the world, “Hey, we’re back!”, like Personal Jesus or the brilliant Barrel Of A Gun. I say, usually, because… well, Heaven from Delta Machine. Perhaps that track points the way to a more, “Oh, hi, we’re back…” future.

I suppose it doesn’t necessarily mean that the band are finished being the band that I love. Despite that slightly stodgy lead off single and three tracks too many on the album, Delta Machine had enough on it to keep me happy. So, I’m certainly not going to write Spirit off just yet, but I am mentally preparing myself for… well, a bit of a let down.

Come on Depeche people, prove me wrong.

Posted in Depeche Mode | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

PJ Harvey live at the Brixton Academy 30/10/16

PJ Harvey’s performance at the Brixton Academy last night cemented my belief that she is England’s greatest living musician.

pj-harvey

In fact, calling her a musician barely seems to do her justice. At times last night, she appeared to be a rabble rouser, a magician, a ghost at her own feast.  This is the fourth time I have seen her and whilst each time before has been brilliant, something else happened last night. It’s difficult to explain it. All I can tell you is that during her mid set rendition of The Devil, from 2007’s White Chalk, her keening voice seemed to be summoning all sorts of mystical forces into the Academy. It was genuinely spine tingling.

There was no warm up last night, no music playing to keep us occupied as we waited for PJ Harvey and her band to arrive. I think this was because there was no point, nothing could really prepare us for what was about to unfold. And so Jo and I stood and chatted and listened to the rising voices filling the auditorium.

And then, at around 8:45, the lights went down. And then a drum beat. Nothing could have prepared us for how powerful that drum, those drums, would sound. PJ’s ten piece band drummed their way onto stage and into Chain Of Keys. Saxophones joining the drums to create a wall of sound. PJ alternated between her perfect voice and that saxophone in her hand as she spun her tale of tragedy.

Guitars and drums launched into The Ministry of Defence as one. The staccato guitar riffs and backing vocals echoing Depeche Mode’s Personal Jesus driving the song home. In another setting, with another artist,  The Community of Hope might have generated a singalong with its “They’re gonna put a Wal Mart here” refrain. However, nobody in the crowd had come to hear themselves sing.

After five tracks from The Hope Six Demolition Project, we got four from Let England Shake, all were rapturously received. The Kraftwerkian rhythm of The Glorious Land just speaks to my soul; the combination between Jean Marc-Butty and Kenrick Rowe on their respective drum kits only highlights this. On The Words That Maketh Murder, PJ wheeled around the stage crying “What if I take my problem to the United Nations?” as if looking for anyone who would listen to her. Spoiler: we were all listening.

It’s a tribute to Harvey’s enduring magnificence that, despite possessing such a formidable back catalogue, she was able to hold us in the palm of her hand whilst concentrating on her last two albums. Just as I was thinking that, things took a slight left turn with the haunting To Talk To You, from White Chalk. PJ really took centre stage here, the lighting arranged so that she was spotlit as the band melted into the background; her voice soaring above the circular guitar riff.

It was saxophones to the fore on the four to the floor, balls out rocker, The Wheel. The band converging around Harvey as it delivered a clattering cacophany of sound. With any other artist, I think this would have been my, nailed on, set highlight. The saxophones here sounded dirty and immense.

As they did on The Ministry Of Social Affairs. This song is PJ Harvey really back where I found her. I’m certain this song would have fit in very well on 1995’s To Bring You My Love. It opens and closes with a refrain of “That’s what they want, oh yeah/ Money honey”, this eventually gives way to those saxophones. It’s as the song comes to its climax that Terry Edwards comes into his own closing out the song with a beautiful, discordant, solo.

The punk blues of 50 Foot Queenie totally changes the temperature in the room. Yes, Polly Harvey, you almost certainly are “the king of the world” and we do hear your song.

And then, and then and then, the song that tethered PJ Harvey to my heart (or did it tether my heart to PJ Harvey? I’m not sure) 21 years ago; Down By The Water. The 10 piece band version of this tale of water bound infanticide felt definitive.

Next came To Bring You My Love. PJ wandering over to stand on John Parish’s shoulder as he teased out the blues riff that introduces this song sticks in the mind. And that voice, oh my God, her voice as she sings “I’ve lain with the devil, cursed God above/ forsaken heaven to bring you my love/ TO BRING YOU MY LOVE!” . The restrained power of these desert blues transported me far beyond the confines of the Brixton Academy and into a trance.

That trance like state was only enhanced by River Anacostia. Another demonstration of power held back, PJ’s voice, repeatedly calling out “What will become/ what will become of us?”  with crystal clarity, rose over the keyboard and drums. But, really, this one’s about the spectral “Wade in the water/ God’s gonna trouble the water” chant which closes the song out. Everyone except John Parish, back on the drum, as he had been at the very start, downing their instruments to close the main set out.

I almost didn’t want an encore after that perfect ending, but we got one anyway. Highway ’61 continuing the bluesy vibe before the title track from 1998’s Is This Desire? provided a relatively quiet full stop to the evening. Despite the crowd clamouring for more, and the fact that the lights didn’t instantly go up, I knew instinctively that she wasn’t coming back. All that was left was to fight our way back up the Brixton slope and, a little breathless and stunned, back into the night air.

Polly Harvey had spoken only to introduce the band, and to say thank you at the end and nobody cared. I mentioned earlier about her crystal clear voice. Let me tell you, backed by her ridiculously tight band, she was note perfect all night. I took no photos, there was no talking around me; this, truly, had been an unforgettable, magical night.

Posted in Music, PJ Harvey | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Paddington

I went to see Paddington with Jo on Monday night. Paddington and I go way back; back to my childhood, back to stories of an accident prone bear who once tried to make a Baked Alaska… in the oven. Of course he did, where else would you expect to make one? It’s funny but it’s only since the announcement of the film that I remember Michael Bond’s books played just as big a part in my formative years as the ones Roald Dahl wrote.

So, it’s been with a sense of, first, trepidation and then mounting emotion that I awaited the release of this film. When I first saw a poster of the bear, I thought: he doesn’t look right. Of course he didn’t, how could the film version of Paddington match up to the one I, just about, remember from the books? Then, as the reviews began to come in, the look of the bear ceased to matter so much, or I got used to it, and I found myself getting weirdly emotional as I read more and more about this film.

It may seem like I was predisposed to liking this film, but I don’t think you can just like something, you have to be given reasons to like it. And, luckily for me, for everyone, The Mighty Boosh director Paul King has created a film which gives its audience several reasons to not just like it, but to love it. It’s a film for the ages, for all ages.

Any worries I had about this film had entirely dissipated by the time the prologue, in darkes Peru- obvs- had ended with an explorer from the Geographic Guild and his invitation to two bears to come and visit London at some point in the future. To say why would be spoiling a good joke. Now, these two don’t get around to taking the explorer up on his invite. However, they do end up dispatching their nephew, a “very rare bear” indeed, to London in the hope of tracking him down. They do so in the belief that Londoners know how to look after visitors to the city. At this point, I should say, I had come close to tears about three times already- we were barely twenty minutes in.

The initial euphoria of Paddington’s arrival in London quickly gives way to a feeling familiar to anyone alone in a strange land. Having gone to Bilbao as a student in 1998, and having arrived at my destination not knowing anyone and unsure how to proceed, I could well identify with Paddington’s predicament. It doesn’t seem that long ago that I stood, almost literally, in the dark in the kind of gothic hallway which has now been immortalised in several Spanish horror films waiting to be rescued by someone, anyone. Luckily, I came across someone named Mari Paz and she did indeed rescue me. Paddington’s version of Mari Paz is the Brown family or, more accurately, Mrs Brown- wonderfully brought to life by the delightful, and delighted, Sally Hawkins.

Sally Hawkins as Mrs Brown with Paddington

Despite the protests of the risk analyst, Mr Brown- played by Hugh Bonneville- and the reservations of her daughter Judy, Mrs Brown brings Paddington home in a taxi driven by Arsenal mad Matt Lucas. You have been in Paddington’s company about twenty minutes and already, you’re rooting for him. I think Ben Wishaw’s voice gives Paddington a kind of quiet dignity. So, when he asks for things from the Browns, you want him to get them. Even when he produces a “hard stare”. I don’t know what I was expecting him to sound like, but from the minute Paddington opens his mouth, he sounds… perfect.

Incidentally, Colin Firth was originally supposed to be the voice of Paddington, but I think he made the right decision to bail out. He would have sounded ridiculous voicing the bear alongside Hugh Bonneville.

So, Paddington arrives in west London with the idea of tracking down this explorer. In the meantime… well, Paddington wouldn’t be Paddington without getting himself into some, best intention type, bizarre situations. In fact, he gets into one almost immediately on his arrival in the Brown home. It isn’t long, though, before danger looms in the form of a deliciously evil taxidermist, played by Nicole Kidman, aided by Peter Capaldi’s Mr Currie- all red eyes and cockney inflections.

Paddington down in the tube station

Will Paddington find his explorer? What does the taxidermist want? Will she get it? Will Mr Brown open his heart to the “wild animal” in his midst? Obviously, I’m not going to tell you here, nor do I particularly want to ruin any of the surprises the film has in store for you. But I can tell you the film is an absolute riot, a sheer delight from the first to the very last minute. Jim Broadbent puts in a twinkly cameo as Mrs Brown’s antique dealing friend, Mr Gruber. Julie Walters, as the Brown’s housekeeper Mrs Bird, steals practically any scene that she appears in, often without having to say very much. The film itself has a lot to say, without moralising, about the nature of family, how an outsider becomes part of that family and how we make outsiders feel welcome. In increasingly cynical times, it’s something of a treat to have seen something so warm hearted. And, as a proud Londoner, it’s really lovely to see my city celebrated in such a fashion.

I left the cinema thinking that I absolutely can’t wait to see this film again and, a couple of days later, I still feel like that. For me, this is a film that easily stands up alongside the likes of E.T., Toy Story and The Jungle Book. Go and see Paddington, you will not regret it.

Film of the year- definitely.

 

 

Posted in Films | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

My Top 5 films of 2014… so far

Today, writing a blog about football, about my beloved Arsenal, would be too much of a bummer. And I would also be repeating myself to the pleasure of, er, nobody. So, instead, I’m going to talk a little bit about my favourite 5 of films of 2014. After all, what is the point in making lists if you do not share them with anyone? More to the point, Jo and I have spent so much time at the cinema or, to be precise, Greenwich Picturehouse this year that I think it would be silly not to write this blog.

So, without further ado, and in reverse order, my top 5 films of 2014. My only criteria for these is that the film must have been either on general release, or about to go on general release, when I saw it. Otherwise, the Picturehouse screening of Jaws a few months back would be sitting on top of this list without argument.

5) Blue Ruin– this revenge story was dark, gripping and not without a sense of humour. To me, it had a lot in common with a Coen Brother movie, or Winter’s Bone, which is undoubtedly a good thing. Blair Macon’s central performance as Dwight, a man out to avenge the murder of his parents and who discovers a few things along the way, was a revelation and I remember leaving the cinema that day feeling a little shaken. Again, this is a good thing.

4) Mistaken For Strangers– Ok, this is a bit of a cheat because I think this film was at least 18 months old by the time it got a proper release, but there’s no way I’m not including it here. Why? Well, it’s Tom Berninger’s film about his big brother Matt and Matt’s band, The National. And you all know how much I love The National. Actually, I guess what the film is really about is Tom’s relationship with Matt and how Tom manages to climb out from under the shadow cast by his older, taller, more famous brother. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll laugh some more and- obviously- the movie has a killer soundtrack.

3) Gone Girl– A late entry to the top 5 and one, which regretfully, bumps Wes Anderson’s delightful The Grand Budapest Hotel out. But this David Fincher film of Gillian Flynn’s book is a pure cinematic treat. Ben Affleck is almost perfectly cast as the villainous husband insisting he’s done nothing wrong, whilst Rosamund Pike is truly amazing as Amy (see what I did there?). Even though it seems like the whole world has either read the book, or seen the movie, I don’t want to say too much more here. However, with Kim Dickens and Tyler Perry grabbing all the best lines, David Fincher has made arguably his best film since Se7en. It’s 3/4 of a psychological thriller,  1/4 totally bonkers and it had me Jo a.

20000-days-on-earth

2) 20,000 Days On Earth– I started writing a blog about this look at the world the great Nick Cave lives in a few weeks ago and realised that I couldn’t really do it justice. And now, I’m going to try in a paragraph… Unlike anything else on this list, except Mistaken For Strangers, I’ve seen it twice now and its strange, emotional, exhilarating power remains. This is a film that really stays with you. We wake with Nick Cave and experience a day in his life as old collaborators drop in for a chat, he drops in on a colleague for lunch, pauses to examine just how he became “this thing” and goes about creating the music that ended up on 2013’s Push The Sky Away. That makes it sound, I suppose, like a glorified promo film for a new album, but this is so much more than that, it’s a must see.

the-double

1) The Double– Richard Ayoade’s follow up to the brilliant Submarine. Once again, Ayoade has gone to literature for inspiration, this film is based on a Dostoyevsky short story. Jesse Eisenberg has two roles, as Simon James and his double James Simon. Simon is a worker who is totally ignored by everyone he works with, even the security guard at his office doesn’t recognise him. He lusts after his coworker Hannah, artfully played by Mia Wasikowska, but she doesn’t want to know. One day, James- who looks just like him, but is a bit more Tyler Durden than The Narrator, rocks up at the office and makes an immediate impact on his colleagues- much to Simon’s confusion. Weirdness ensues. I loved everything about this film; the cinematography which gave the film such a wearied look, the creaking sound design was spot on and, basically, I just found it hilarious. A bit of a shame, then, that it seemed to slip in and out of cinemas unnoticed.

And that is my top 5, with honourable mentions for, natch, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Her (which was a dead lock for the top 5 until the last 20 minutes), Locke, Dallas Buyers Club and Maps To The Stars.

 

Posted in Films | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Massive Attack On Blackheath

A couple of months ago, I decided I was done with Massive Attack following their decision to ask the BBC not to broadcast any of their Glastonbury set. To quote a famous lyricist from Oxford,

“For a minute there, I lost myself”

In the meantime, unbeknownst to me, Jo had already bought tickets for us to go and see them with her dad, John, as a joint birthday present for the two of us.

It didn’t take too long to park my objections.

The Journey, Grace, Jarvis and The Queue For Food

Yesterday, the big day came around and we set off on the very short journey from our home in Downham to Blackheath. Even this short journey caused a problems, bus carnage in Lewisham saw John getting on a bus without us. He was nowhere to be seen when Jo and I eventually made it to the ‘heath, but we headed for the entrance, got him on the phone and, finally, we were reunited.

IMG_1439

Having had a couple of liveners, we made our way over to the main stage, which was soon filled by Grace Jones. As she began her set, telling us she didn’t like the daylight and thought of herself as a “Vampi-ya!”, Jarvis Cocker wandered past us. I momentarily forgot myself and shouted “Jarvis!” as if I knew him, but he didn’t hear me. Or he did hear me, but ignored me. Whatever, I wasn’t about to get all Alan Partridge on him. I didn’t know much of Grace’s music, but I thought she was a terrifically engaging performer, and the music was great. Nonetheless, we were hungry and the queues were huge, so we left Grace singing Pull Up To My Bumper. Fish n’ chips for me, chicken and chips for Jo and John and I was able to watch Grace hula hooping through what seemed like the rest of her set.

The fish was worth the half hour wait, apparently the chicken wasn’t.

Massive Attack Take The Stage

However, we weren’t there for the food. Well, I wasn’t. I was there to see the boys from Bristol. They arrived on stage at around 9pm, Martina Topley-Bird, quietly emerging as the star of the Massive Attack live show for me, singing what sounded like a new song. I have no idea what she was singing. But sometimes that doesn’t matter and the same was true with the following track, the pulsating United Snakes. The screens behind the band a rapid display of logos.

Everyone knew what was being sung as Daddy G joined 3-D onstage for 1997’s Risingson. It’s a funny thing, but I think I have become so familiar with the Mezzanine songs and their live iterations that they seem to have lost their impact. A little. I found the Martina sung Paradise Circus, with its woozy groove and honeyed vocals, much more affecting and it had me close to tears. The juxtaposition of Horace Andy’s impassioned cry, “If you love me that much, you will stiiiiiiiiiick around!” with the statistics telling us about the amount of refugees being displaced from the Lebanon I also found quite affecting. It is possible, I suppose, that some will have found this a bit over the top, whilst some may not have noticed at all. Everybody shut up for five minutes for Teardrop, which- whilst it’s asking a lot for anyone to match up to Liz Fraser’s original vocal- Martina sang beautifully. And- hey, what’s this, a crowd singalong? Truly, a new phenomenon in the Massive Attack live show.

Jo and I have seen Massive Attack probably about ten times now and I can’t remember a time when I have ever thought that they weren’t quite on it, or this is a little dull or that the sound was a bit off. Having seen them three times outdoors, one of things that really impresses is how good the sound is. Perhaps it’s having a bass player like Winston Blissett, a guitarist like Angelo Bruscini. Or maybe it’s the two drummers.

This all comes together on the first dispatch from 100th Window, Future Proof. Over time, I have come to regard 100th Window as Massive’s weakest album, although that- in a way- is like choosing a favourite Arsenal player from Vieira, Henry, Bergkamp, Pires and Wright. However, Future Proof, with its endlessly spiralling guitar and the rush of beats took me back, waaaaay back to 2003/04 and where it all began for me and Jo. We owe quite a lot to this band, you know.

An unexpected highlight of the set, and after 11 years watching this band, the odd surprise is nice now and again, was the introduction of Martina’s own song Poison into the set. Given the Massive treatment, it didn’t sound too much like the jazzy original but it was no worse for that. Something else given a makeover was Psyche. Transformed from the delicate guitars of the album version into an electronic dirge… hang on that makes it sound bad, doesn’t it? It wasn’t, at all. It sounded brilliant.

Inertia Creeps, backed up by the “news” headlines, signalled that Deborah Miller and the end of the main set was imminent. Inertia was never one of my favourite Mezzanine tracks, but it takes on a new life in a live environment, the pounding drums getting the crowd going just in time for… the set highlight. Safe. From. Harm.

Just typing those three words gives me goosebumps. Just thinking back to last night, I have a lump in my throat and tears pricking my eyes. Honestly, I think I could hear this song every night for the rest of my life and not get bored. I’m always impressed by Miller’s presence on stage, whilst D’s line “I was looking back to see if you were looking back at me to see me looking back at you” always results in knowing looks exchanged between me and Jo. But, for me, it’s Angelo Bruscini’s guitar, always, that gives this song its transcendental power.

I can’t remember the last time Massive didn’t end a set with this song, which is wise because the only way you can follow it is by taking a breather, or going home. Nobody wanted to go home just yet.

IMG_1440

The Andy sung Everywhen was an opportunity to take a couple of photos, despite the ridiculously tall guy in front of me, with his crane like arm. And then it was Daddy G to the front of stage for a rendition of Splitting The Atom which I would have gone home very happy on. But Massive Attack know where their bread is buttered and so the honour of closing Massive’s first London gig for a few years fell, obviously, to the immortal Unfinished Sympathy. Despite its all time classic status, it’s not my favourite Massive song by any means, but I defy anyone to stand and watch Miller sing “Like a soul without a mind/ in a body without a heart/ I’m missing every part” as Will Malone’s string arrangement unfolds and not… well, get a little emotional.

As the band took their final bows to huge cheers and applause, I found myself fighting to hold back the tears. When John went for a piss and Jo and I had a couple of moments to myself, I folded myself into her arms and let those tears go.

It was that kind of night. Thank you, Massive Attack.

Posted in Massive Attack | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Jimi Goodwin: Live at the Islington Assembly Hall

On Friday night, Jo and I joined my friends Jimmy and Kev for the Doves front man first solo show in London. I must confess, having brought tickets for the show, before actually hearing the album, Odludek, I came to the gig with some reservations. I don’t know if it’s because I haven’t given the album enough attention, but only a couple of tunes have really jumped out at me so far.

That being said, such concerns seemed a long way away once we had all met up in Upper St’s Library, drunk some drinks, eaten some Thai food and made our way over to the venue. The venue itself was an intimate little affair and, interestingly, seemed far from  sold out. There was lots of space to move, this wasn’t because the support band was on either.

Anyway, we all did our toilet visits, hit the bar and found ourselves a good spot on the floor. Goodwin arrived with a drummer, guitarist and keyboard player in tow. It was kind of like the Doves, but not. I’m not sure whether the opener, Terracotta Warrior, would make a Doves setlist… actually, no, that’s not fair. It is a good song and was a confident opening to the gig.

And then… basically, things get a little hazy for me. Hey, it’s been a long weekend and Friday night feels like a lifetime ago now. I know, because I’ve just looked on Setlist FM that Didsbury Girl was the next track and that my mate Jimmy loves this one because it’s the one that most resembles the Doves for him. Oh! Whiskey was next apparently and was enjoyable enough, but not enjoyable enough to hear again. Which was, in my opinion, a fatal error during the encore.

Just to confuse things for us, Goodwin played a few selections from his Doves days, including Snowden and a beautifully rendered version of The Last Broadcast. Much lalaaalalalaing ensued after that one. Another Doves tune exhumed was Sulphur Man. Kev loves this one but I’d be hard pressed to tell you why, Jo has a text on her phone describing it as the “most nondescript Doves tune ever.”

But there Jimi was, during the encore, turning down requests for Doves tunes as this wasn’t a “Doves tribute band”, choosing instead to play songs we’d already heard. It left a bit of a bad taste in the mouth, really.

Which is a shame because in songs like Keep My Soul In Song, Lonely At The Drop and the terrific Man V Dingo, Jimi proved that he is not only a more than decent songwriter, but a good performer too.  For me, if he was going to revisit tunes already played, either Lonely… or Man V Dingo would have been a lot more fun than the ones he did. Well, either that, or play some of the songs on the album that were left untouched. It’s not like we went there hoping for a Doves tribute- well, not all of us anyway (special mention to the guy who got chatting to Jimmy and told him his favourite Doves song is Pounding- Pounding! Why?).

Unfortunately, the encore turned a solid 7-8/10 gig into one that was a bit more like a 6. I’m tempted to say that the highlight of my night was a post gig sighting of a number 19 bus on Upper St. I shouted out “Sing, Michael, sing!”and we strolled into a pub to hear Rudie Can’t Fail being played over the pub’s PA*. That would, perhaps, be overly harsh on Jimi, but it’s difficult not to feel that an overwhelmingly supportive crowd were left a little disappointed on Friday night.

 

*If you don’t get the “Rudie” reference, it’s okay, but you need to listen to The Clash’s London Calling album more.

Posted in Jimi Goodwin | Tagged , | Leave a comment

The Jester Comes Up Laughing

There is a new King of the Crucible. For this year at least.

In one of the most amazing turnarounds I can remember in years of watching World Snooker’s showpiece event, the Jester from Leicester turned an overnight 10-7 deficit into a comprehensive 18-14 win. That’s right, he took 11 of the 15 frames available to him on Sunday. And he did so against Ronnie O’Sullivan, the greatest player in the history of the sport. That, however, you want to slice it is some achievement. Ok, as a huge fan of Ronnie’s, I didn’t find the afternoon session particularly enjoyable. But, in the evening, you could only admire the way Selby ground the Rocket into dust. His performance in the 3 frames that followed Ronnie reducing the deficit to 15-14 was perhaps the greatest demonstration of coolness under pressure ever seen at The Crucible- he just never looked like missing.

selbychamp

Ronnie may have sensed it wasn’t going to be his day as early as the first frame of the afternoon session. A fluent break of 32 came to an end when a cannon into the pack didn’t work out for him. Ronnie and open reds? Frame over and a 4 frame gap opened. But the reds did not open and Selby was able to, eventually, reduce his arrears to two frames. In the very next frame saw a prolonged safety battle. With the yellow and green guarding both of their pockets and nine reds up in the baulk end, it came to a catastrophic end for the defending champion when he got too much side on a safety shot and rolled the cue ball into the corner pocket. With so many reds in the baulk end, this time it was frame over.

The mid session interval came with all manner of unwanted stats for Ronnie. All four frames of the mini session lost, completing a run of six consecutive frames gone to his opponent- the first time that’s happened to Ronnie at the Crucible, I think. The most important stat was that, for the first time in the match, the man who had led 3-0, 8-3 and then 10-5, was behind.

11-10.

The first frame after the interval, which seems a long time ago now, was another dragged out affair. And saw both players miss the yellow ball repeatedly. After you Ronnie, no after you Mark. Eventually somebody, can’t remember who now but I think it was Selby, potted it. And a similar scenario played itself out on the green. Ronnie, eventually, potted it and went onto level the match. In what turned out to be the final frame of the afternoon, Mark Selby enjoyed a fantastic run of the ball, missing pots and escaping snookers whilst leaving Ronnie awkward on at least six occasions (I counted). Despite that, Ronnie eventually drained a fantastic colour (the brown, I think), potted the blue and left himself a formality of a pink into the middle to edge back in front.

And then the greatest player in the history of the sport missed it. Why did you hit it so hard, Ronnie? Why? Having been thrown the most unexpected of lifelines, Selby grasped it. The pink and black put Selby in front ahead of the evening session. Selby’s clenched fist showed you how aware he was of the importance of this.

No player had ever won the world title going into the evening session with a deficit. Had Selby been in arrears last night, I suspect that statistic would have been consigned to history. This was a man on a mission.

12-11

The evening session began with fresh hope for the Rocket and his fans. Rinsing a long pot left from distance after Selby’s break off, Ronnie knocked in a wonderful century in seven minutes to level the match. But the grinder man of the snooker circuit battled his way through the next three frames to take a 15-12 lead to the final mid session interval of the tournament. I believe that Ronnie is capable of almost anything on a snooker table, but expecting Ronnie to win a session 6-2 against a player like Mark Selby, and a Mark Selby with his pecker up… well, it wasn’t going to happen. So all that was left to do was sit back and enjoy the show.

15-12

A wise man, I think it may have been John Cleese, once said “It’s not the despair, I can live with that… it’s the hope.” And Ronnie had hope in abundance as a quickfire break of 49 and then an absolutely spectacular yellow along the cushion in frame 29 helped him to close to one again. That yellow, in fact, was good that had the final finished differently, we may have been talking about it as the shot of the final.

15-14

But with magnificent breaks of 127 and 87, Selby slammed shut the door that Ronnie had inched open. The end was rapidly approaching and, when it came I guess it may just have summed up the day’s play. A cracking pot sent Ronnie racing away to a 56 point advantage and it seemed another frame was a racing certainty. And then he lost position. A great safety shot followed, but minutes later Ronnie had, once again, gone in off and could only watch as Selby nailed a long red. An all around the house shot to cannon the reds open saw him with the world title at his mercy.

Ten minutes later, Mark Selby drained the black to pinch the frame, 56-62. Ladies and gentleman, after 32 frames of snooker, we have a new Snooker Champion of the World, Mark “The Jester from Leicester” Selby!

18-14

I don’t think Ronnie was laughing. But afterwards, he was very gracious. As I suppose he had to be. No, he didn’t think the missed pink which denied him the lead coming into the final session had cost him. He had been left “numb” by Selby’s snooker. Attritional, some have called it, “granite” was the word from the ex pros in the commentary box and BBC studio. It certainly wasn’t pretty to watch (and I found myself snidely wondering if Willie Thorne was going to run down from the commentary box to give his big mate Mark a kiss) but you couldn’t help but admire the way Selby had stuck to his task. Like a dog with a very big bone, he just wouldn’t let go. And to do that to Ronnie O’Sullivan, well, The Rocket knows the effort involved in that.

The new World Champion is, in my view, totally deserving of the title. He absolutely battered the best player in the world yesterday. And he did so coming off one of the toughest semi finals I’ve ever seen against the outgoing #1 player in the world, Neil Robertson. As he said himself, “There’s no better way than beating Ronnie in the final.” Having previously won the Masters and the UK Championship, the man from Leicester is now a member of the very exclusive “Triple Crown” club.

I think that fact kind of speaks for itself- congratulations Mark!

 

Posted in Snooker | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

The Jester & The Rocket: The World Snooker Championship Final

Four have become two in the quest to land this year’s Dafabet World Snooker Championship.

It’s Ronnie and it’s Mark. On Friday night, the Rocket fired into something approaching top gear and was clinical in dispatching last year’s finalist Barry Hawkins with a session to spare. He will surely have enjoyed his day off yesterday as Mark Selby and Neil Robertson battled throughout it for the right to play him. In the end, the Jester from Leicester, Mark Selby, who had only gone behind twice in the match, prevailed 17-15 in a match that lasted just over twelve hours. I said on Friday this match could easily have been the final and the two men served up a proper Crucible epic. The only thing missing was a midnight final frame decider.

selby

It feels as though much will depend, over the next two days, on how quickly Mark Selby will be able to recover from his exploits over the last two days. He can’t afford to go in against the Rocket at anything less than his best. Obviously, Selby knows this better than anyone else having seen his Masters hopes obliterated in the time it took Ronnie to establish a 7-1 lead in this year’s final. Now, the best of 35 format here clearly gives a player time to recover from a bad session but it’s difficult to see Mr O’Sullivan dropping too many sessions 6-2, 7-1 or even 5-3. Not the way he’s playing.

ros

He comes into the final having won his quarter final- as well as the aforementioned semi- with a session to spare. To do that against the likes of Hawkins and Shaun Murphy speaks to a man, if not at the top of his game, than quite close to it. And he’s improved as the tournament has gone on, since his wake up call from Joe Perry. On the other side of the table, Mark Selby has had to battle throughout the tournament, apart from his own quarter final, 13-5, win against “Angles” McManus. Neil Robertson had to be scraped off the table, Ali Carter was no easy touch and Michael White took Selby to a final frame decider. Having seen a bit more of Selby than Ronnie this year, it also seems as though Selby has improved as the tournament has gone on.

The Jester from Leicester kind of won my and Jo’s hearts as he came through to the final 7 years ago as a qualifier. Having been utterly outclassed in the early part of that final against John Higgins, he battled right back into it- the first glimpse of the fighting qualities that make him so hard to beat now. In the end, it was only a rerack and a lucky snooker off Higgins break off shot that did for him. Against anyone else, I would love to see Mark Selby add the last of snooker’s big three to his trophy cabinet. But not today, not against the Rocket.

Ok, Ronnie has won everything that there is to win in today’s game, and done so multiple times- there has to be room for someone else at the top. It’s just hard not to feel, when you’re watching him in action, that you’re watching a once in a lifetime kind of player. I remember my mum loving Alex Higgins when I was a kid and that guy, clearly, could play some shots. Ronnie has the shots, but he’s as tactically astute as Steve Davis. And, as he has become older and wiser, that combination has seen Ronnie develop into the ultimate match player. As his third world final in a row testifies. I just want to see that brilliance rewarded. And a sixth world title, taking the Rocket level with the legend, Steve Davis would be some reward indeed.

Every fibre of my being says he will do it, but I find it very, very difficult to write off the chances of Mark Selby just yet. A gripping first session, and final, awaits us.

Posted in Snooker | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

World Snooker Championship: The Final Four

You all know, by now, that I’m a bit of a snooker fiend. In fact, Jo and I made the pilgrimage (and it is exactly that) to the home of snooker, Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre for the middle weekend of the World Snooker Championship in both 2012 and 2013. I decided, with regret, that we weren’t going to go this year, seeing as our Iceland trip would be making a rather large dent in our collective bank balances. Hey, it was a tough call, but someone had to make it.

It did feel weird watching proceedings on television last weekend though, weirder still to see some faces we recognised from last year’s journey. Sadly, the man dressed all in nylon fabrics I spent a Saturday next to last year, has eluded my notice so far…

Anyway, the semi finals are now well underway, with the second session of the Neil Roberton Mark Selby clash about to begin as I write. This match has the potential to be a real Crucible classic- although it also feels like a match which, if the first session is anything to go by, could still be going on on Monday night. Why shouldn’t it? Well, I’m exaggerating for effect (obviously) but Robertson is ranked #1 in the world, Selby #3 and the two have already shared some amazing finals. Although, having seen Robertson wipe out a seemingly unassailable lead to pip the Jester From Leicester in last year’s UK Final, Selby will surely not look back on that one with any fondness whatsoever. Robertson, for his part, has just completed a historic century of centuries. In the process of doing that, he completed yet another amazing comeback, trumping Judd to win 13-11 having been 11-8 down.

Robertson maybe the best potter of balls on the planet, but there should be no argument about his coolness under pressure either. Well, you don’t get to be world champion, or world #1 without being able to stand the heat. At just 5-3 down, this semi-final which could just as easily be the final, is very much a live concern for the Aussie.

I was going to begin this paragraph with the words, “On the other table”, but- clearly- there is no “other” table now. We’re just down to the one table, business end, set up. So, beginning again, in the other semi-final, Ronnie O’Sullivan is now 11-5 up on the Kent cueman Barry Hawkins after two sessions. Having talked about Selby and Robertson as a match fit for the final itself, I guess it’s worth saying that this match up was actually the final last year. Of course, “The Rocket” won that to seal his fifth world title and the first back to back championships of his career.

This is a sport at least as famous for improbable comebacks as it is for the decade defining dominance of Davis and Hendry in the 80’s and 90’s. However, it is all but certain now that Ronnie will take his place in the final- possibly by the end of this evening’s session and give himself a chance of a hat-trick of titles- the first hat trick since Hendry completed a run of five in a row in 1996.

It’s probably not worth, just yet, contemplating what another title would mean to the Rocket. Even if he renders the semi-final the formality it now appears to be, either of Selby or Robertson represents a significant barrier in the final. Robertson will want to underline his status world as world #1 by beating the greatest player to lift a cue, whilst Selby will be out for a revenge having been subjected to something of a battering in January’s Masters Final. That said, nobody who has seen Ronnie in action at Sheffield over the last two years would bet against him clearing these barriers as if it’s the easiest thing in the world.

Well, I wouldn’t.

Personally, I’m just hoping against hope that Ronnie doesn’t suffer a meltdown tonight. Barry Hawkins may not be everyone’s cup of tea, he certainly isn’t mine, but he has already proved over the last couple of years that he is no pushover. The way he came through his quarter final having seen a 11-5 lead become a 12-11 deficit in a first to 13 match is testament to that. He just never looks like he’s enjoying himself and it makes him very hard to watch. Still, I don’t suppose we’ll be suffering for much longer. After coming within two frames of losing to Joe Perry in the second round, Ronnie has gone on to win 28 frames of snooker, losing 8. To even get close to Ronnie it would have to be a herculean effort from “The Hawk”. And it has to happen tonight.

The semi finals will conclude on Saturday night, presumably with Neil Robertson and Mark Selby battering each other into the small hours. And then the fun really starts. Four sessions in what the BBC once called “snooker’s torture chamber” to decide the World Championship. Get the beers in, turn off your phone and, whatever you do, don’t answer the door. It’s going to be a classic weekend.

The only questions on my mind; why do Arsenal have to be playing on Sunday afternoon and, more importantly, why the hell did I book a curry with my mates in for Sunday night?

Idiot….

Posted in Snooker | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Blue Lagoon

On Saturday morning, we watched the tiniest bit of Ronnie O’Sullivan’s opening match in defence of the World Championship won last year. And then it was time to check out of the Centerhotel and head to the Blue Lagoon. Jo and I have done a few hotels together now, but I have to say that the friendliness of every member of staff we came across in that hotel was a real treat. I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else in Reykjavik.

Our transfer, arranged by the Centerhotel’s reception staff (who were struggling with a lack of heating and a front door which refused to stay shut), arrived to take us to the bus station. And, after a short wait, we boarded our bus to the Blue Lagoon. Or, more accurately, the Blue Lagoon Clinic. Forty five minutes or so later, we were greeted by a receptionist who may even have outdone the Centerhotel staff with her welcome. We had actually arrived early for our check in, but our room was ready anyway.

The Blue Lagoon- photo by Jo

The Blue Lagoon- photo by Jo

I was delighted to see that, although Ronnie’s work was done for the morning, there was still snooker to watch, so we chilled out for a bit before deciding to head over to the famous Blue Lagoon. If you are staying at the clinic, entry to the Lagoon is free so we just handed over our voucher and received in return towels, dressing gowns and all important bracelets for the lockers. “There is a catch,” we were told, “if you lose this, you pay.”

Guess what?

Yep. We showered and made our way into the Lagoon- rather brilliantly, you enter it indoors and by the time you make it out into the cold- the warm water has heated you to the point that the cold is irrelevant. What was relevant, was that after about 15 minutes in the Lagoon, I realised that my locker bracelet was no longer on my wrist. In a rather cursory fashion, I retraced my steps in search of the thing, but it was gone, baby, gone. Oh well. I wasn’t going to let that spoil what was one of the best experiences of my life. Honestly, the feeling of being outdoors in just a pair of swimming trunks but being superheated was just… ahhhhhhhhh. I feel warm just thinking about it now.

Didn’t quite get why some people were wondering around with plastic cups of beer, or a camera, or a video camera balanced precariously in hand. Rather than film the experience, why not just… experience it? Ah well, each to their own, I guess. We stayed in there for about two hours, making our way around, being surprised by a hot spring here, a hot spring there. It was wonderful.

Photo by Jo

Photo by Jo

The staff at the Lagoon seemed very apologetic about taking my money for the lost bracelet, but take it they did- 5,000Kr. I could only blame myself for being so daft- and go to the nearest cashpoint. We headed back to our room, had proper showers and then headed back over to the Blue Lagoon’s Lava restaurant. If I tell you that the waiting staff here were of the friendly, but professional standard we had already experienced in Reykjavik, does that sound boring? It wasn’t.

I got a lesson in Icelandic pronunciation from our waitress when I ordered a pint of Gull- it’s pronounced.. actually, I can’t remember how it’s pronounced- gudkl, I think… I ordered the Seafood Festival- langoustine soup, Catch of the Day (a sumptuous catfish as it turned out) and banana mousse and chocolate cake for dessert. Jo went for butterut squash soup, cod and roasted langoustines, finishing with Icelandic skyr and licorice. If you’ve read anything I’ve already written about Iceland, you won’t be surprised to hear that the food was stunning. And filling. Iceland may be one of those rare places where it’s impossible to eat badly- I’d say Spain would be another (although the memory of our first meal in Valencia a couple of years ago still brings me out in a rash). At 23,000Kr, I think- with a little distance- that it wasn’t quite up to the standard set by the Grillmarket, but that is in no way a criticism.

Under normal circumstances, this story would end here, but as we were guests of the Blue Lagoon Clinic, we had access to the Clinic’s private lagoon. So, post dinner, we took advantage of that. Taking another set of robes and towels, we headed out to the lagoon. I made Jo go outside, she got her revenge by descending into the lagoon with all the urgency of a sloth. On weed. The moon came up, the moon went down and I just stood there shivering. Eventually, I followed her in and we spent about 40 minutes bathing in water that was a few degrees warmer than the public lagoon, it was laaaarvely. Or lavaly, if you will.

Eventually, Jo noticed a big black cloud heading our way and we, reluctantly, decided it was time to get out. And in doing so, we missed the hailstones that were battering the lagoon just two minutes later. It was time for one last shower (I think I’m right in saying it was the sixth of the day, you have to shower before entering the lagoons) and bed.

A light breakfast at 5.30 in the morning and, as arranged, our taxi driver arrived at 6am to take to us to Keflavik. Everything runs on time in Iceland- which, coming from London- is refreshing. 10,000Kr later (the taxi ride was 9,600 but I thought I might as well let him keep the change) we were out of the taxi and in an ever so slightly chaotic check-in queue.

Home time and time to reflect on some of the awesome things we had seen and done over the previous five days and nights; I have to say that everywhere we went we met people who were so welcoming, it was a pleasure to be in a country like Iceland. For me, the warmth we experienced was greater than in any city we have been to, except, perhaps, NYC. Yes, it was a little expensive at times, but I think you get what you pay for in life and I can’t think of many better days than the one we spent in Logi’s Land Rover. When you factor in the Northern Lights, the Blue Lagoon and the brilliant food… well, you don’t need me to spell it out for you, do you?

If you’re thinking about doing it, then do it- you won’t regret it but you will have memories to last you a lifetime.

Sermon over.

Posted in Travel | Tagged , | 4 Comments