Depeche Mode: Live at London Stadium

I doubted Depeche Mode in my last outing here. Just call me Thomas. Yeah yeah, I know..

Their comeback single, ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ was topical, pointed, angry even. To my ears it was, and remains, a fairly middling piece of work. Not terrible by any means, but nothing to get excited about either. It’s only fair then, to apologise to the Basildon three (yes, even you, Fletch); on Saturday night Depeche Mode, again, made me a believer.

The truth is, I shouldn’t even be writing this review. I had decided that I wasn’t going to bother with Depeche Mode’s latest tour. Despite loving their O2 Delta Machine show, there were too many reasons not go this time.

Until the album reviews started coming in… Was I going to regret not coughing up for my favourite band on the planet, no matter where they were playing and how much it was going to cost? I decided to listen to the album before making a decision.

As we’re both here now, you know what the result of that was. Standing tickets were purchased within 24 hours of a couple of listens to album #14, Spirit.

It was about 7pm by the time we made our way out onto the vast arena floor. By the time we found a spot, about half way up the pitch I guess, the Horrors were just about to take the stage. Honestly though, aside from 2 or 3 tracks, they weren’t worth lingering on.

I had predicted an onstage time for Depeche of 20:15. I was spot on.

Greeted by a battery of mobile phones airborne to capture this moment, Martin’s dirty guitar signalled the first moment of the concert, Spirit’s opening track, the bluesy strut of ‘Going Backwards’. “We are not there yet, where we need to be”, Dave Gahan, 55 years young, is not going backwards at all. His voice filled the London Stadium, incredibly smooth and clear.  What wasn’t clear, at least for the group next to us, was why the screens weren’t working. It was almost like they’d never been to a Depeche gig before.

I could only just about make out the band onstage, it took me a minute to work out that Martin was standing directly below the “supplementary musician”, Peter Gordeno.

The screens came to life for second track, ‘So Much Love’. The screens flanking the stage showing the live performance in front of us, with the main screen displaying filmed footage of the band “performing” the track. So far, so arch.

If ‘So Much Love’, with its insistent keyboards and obvious singalong potential, had woken the crowd up, then ‘Barrel Of A Gun’ started the party in earnest. This song has always had a special place in my heart for reintroducing me to the Mode twenty years ago. I greatly enjoyed Dave’s performance here, as he whirled, twirled and gurned about the stage as if transported back to the bad old days in which this song was written. As the song came to its end, Dave threw in a bit of “Don’t push me cos I’m close to the edge…” prompting me to wonder what might have happened had he pursued a rap career instead.

…..

‘A Pain That I’m Used To’ followed, Martin on guitar and Gordeno joining him on bass, pushing Depeche ever further away from being the electro pioneers they once were. Just in case we’d forgotten though, a storming, brilliant version of ‘World In My Eyes’ followed, at times, it felt like the entire stadium was singing “Let me show you the world in my eyes!” Dave got so into it that he fell over, twice, and lost his microphone, leaving Martin and an adoring audience to finish the song.

Cover Me is one of the highlights on Spirit, so I was very much looking forward to hearing it in a stadium setting. It didn’t disappoint here. Anton’s, Dave as spaceman, visuals an almost too perfect match for Dave’s yearning tale and the melancholic, yet euphoric beats I disappeared into.

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This was the time for Dave to go and rest his, no doubt bruised, bottom and let Martin take centre stage. In a show full of higlights, Martin bagged two of them here. ‘A Question of Lust’ will never be my favourite song, but its naked vulnerability here was a winner. Likewise, ‘Home’ is a song that I’ve always thought people who don’t like Depeche Mode can say they like; my least favourite of the four singles from Ultra. But the full band version here proved me an idiot. I’ve been through a tough time this year and I think my relationship with Jo has suffered as a result. However, as I bellowed along with 66,000 others,

“And I thank you for bringing me here/ For showing me home/ For singing these tears/ Finally I’ve found/ That I belong here”,

I felt something in me heal. I hope, now, for better times ahead. Thank you, Martin; love you, Jo.

Just like that, Dave returned, allowing the crowd to sing itself out, before saluting us, “You are the best!”

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The pleasing skank of ‘Poison Heart’ followed, then ‘Where’s The Revolution?’ (the crowd definitely enjoyed this one more than me) before an extremely extended intro to ‘Wrong’. There were many things wrong with 2009’s Sounds of the Universe, Wrong may well have been the only thing right. Its wrong man, wrong time, wrong place, wrong life theme certainly something I could relate to. Things were picking up now as the night descended around us, ‘Everything Counts’ had everyone singing along to its “The grabbing hands grab all they can/ All for themselves after all” refrain.

Deep into singalong territory now, along came ‘Stripped’. The rain that came down seemed to underline and augment the heady, steamy atmosphere of this song. I could quite happily be stood in the London Stadium now chanting, “Let me see you stripped down to the bone”. On my own. In an empty stadium.

‘Enjoy The Silence’ next. If there had been a roof above us, it would surely have blown. Singing “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is here in my arms” as I held onto Jo, just felt right. We were primed, now, for an almost punky, savage reading of ‘Never Let Me Down’ Again. I don’t know if Dave simply can’t sing this like he used to be able to (although his performance of ‘Corrupt’ earlier in the evening would suggest otherwise) but I enjoyed the staccato manner in which he delivered the song. And  he demanded to see our hands, of course he did. And we all showed them to him. Even Jo. I looked around me and tried to work out if everyone was waving, but it was impossible to do so. Presumably because everyone was waving.

And then, with a “Goodnight, thank you!” they were gone.

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Martin returned a few minutes later with Peter Gordeno and by the time they had finished a beautiful rendition of ‘Somebody’, I had a tear in my eye. Dave returned and the band ripped through ‘Walking In My Shoes’ and then, an oddity in the Depeche Mode live performance, a cover version. Any serious Depeche Mode fan knows the importance of David Bowie’s, ‘Heroes‘ in the band’s history. Wanting the set to be a surprise, I’d not paid much attention to setlists follwing the tour’s opening night. As a result, I’d sort of forgotten that they’d been playing it.

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What a lovely surprise! The great cover versions, I think, don’t slavishly copy the original, they make the song something else (any Clash cover version of anything, for example). Depeche have certainly found their way around ‘Heroes’, turning it into a twinkly, slowburning ballad. Speaking just for me, I was delighted to hear my favorite band taking on a classic from one of the greatest artists to walk the earth. And, let’s face it, if there’s any band on the planet who could take on this one…

‘I Feel You’ saw Martin and Dave rocking out together in front of Christian Eigner’s drum kit. I found myself wondering to Jo whether Martin ever wants Christian to. Stop. Ruining. The. Songs. I don’t know, I get that ‘I Feel You’ has its place, but that place just seems to exist so Dave can be a rock star and he is so much more than that.

Anyway, that’s my one, curmudgeonly, complaint. I had no such comment to make about the closing track, the mighty ‘Personal Jesus’. Like everyone around me, I could have reached out to “touch faith” forever and ever. Amen. It had to stop, of course it did. Depeche Mode had given us their best for 130 minutes, how Dave was still standing at the end of all that, I have no idea. I knew I was looking forward to sitting down and I had just been watching for the last two hours.

They were tiny figures under the stage lights at the end. It seemed obvious though, watching their reaction on the large screens that they considered this to be a job well done. It was equally obvious that all around me agreed. The way they lingered onstage before departing for the final time told me that they were moved by such a display of mass approbation from a historically tricky hometown crowd.

They deserved every little bit of acclaim they received. Just writing this up makes me wish I was in Cologne to see them again tonight. They were, and are, magic.

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In memory of my Granddad

As some of you may know, my granddad Ronnie died earlier this year after a short illness. On what would have been his 97th birthday, the text below forms my half of the eulogy read by my Mum and myself. I wanted to share this with you, exactly as it was written.


 

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Thanks Mum.

It’s a little ironic that I’m standing up here on behalf of my sisters and cousins today, talking to you about our, granddad. After all, I first stood up here as a 7 seven year old, to deliver a reading at my auntie Susan’s wedding 30 years ago. And this was something that granddad never tired in reminding people of- particularly me.

At St Mary’s Avenue, there is a photo of Susan and I together at the wedding reception. Granddad would ask me whenever I visited, “Do you remember performing the reading at your aunt’s wedding?”

The truth is that I don’t, not really. Though I remain dimly aware of not being all that nervous on the day, I think the occasion went over my head a bit.

To be so lucky today.

How to sum up, for me, nearly 40 years of my granddad? I ask that question and know that my sisters, Helen and Maria; my cousins, James, Anya and Josh will have different experiences and memories of our granddad. For example, it may only be myself and James who were repeatedly exhorted to “Kick with your left!” as we bashed footballs around in nan and Granddad’s back garden. I’ll leave it to you to work out who listened.

It may be that it was only Maria and myself who were repeatedly told to stand in the corner as we struggled with the idea that we had to go to sleep whilst it was still daylight on those Saturday nights nan and granddad would provide us care whilst mum was out partying.

In fact, I understand that Ria spent a night with nan and granddad whilst Helen was at university and ended up texting Helen from a daylit bedroom having been sent up by granddad.

I remember watching the first Rocky film with granddad until such a point that he felt it was my bedtime- granddad always placed such store in a good night’s sleep. I never understood why, but as I get older I think I understand more. Anyway, on this night, the Rocky night, imagine my surprise when granddad – a huge boxing enthusiast- but also a massive disciplinarian, came upstairs to bring me down to watch the climactic tussle.

I think that if you asked Maria and I to sum up our early experience of granddad, we would probably tell you about tea in bed, lots of prayers, early morning exercise and three games of golf a week. That granddad was still playing golf in the week leading up to his 91st birthday, the oldest playing member over at West Mid, tells you everything about him.

Speaking of golf, I’ve never managed to engage with the game on anything other than a basic level. However, I still remember the day I carried his golf clubs around the West Middlesex golf club as he he played a round with Steven and Jo. I only did this once. Granddad marked this once in a lifetime event with one of his own- a hole in one.

Sport was such a massive part of granddad’s life, his passion for it has run down through his children to us and grandchildren. It is how I bonded with granddad.
Not for nothing has my partner Jo frequently commented with varying degrees of exasperation that, given a chance, I’d watch anything involving a ball. Particularly football; especially the Arsenal.

The last game we all watched together was the 2014 FA Cup Final.

Having grown up watching football with both Stevie and granddad, distance and the general misery involved had limited these gatherings. But with Arsenal facing a final they couldn’t possibly lose, against Hull City, we made arrangements to watch the game together and..

By the time granddad took his seat, Arsenal were 1-0 down. Then, in the blink of an eye, it was two. “Here we go again, why did we bother?” We all wondered. And we blamed Granddad because he was always a bit of a Jonah.

Luckily, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey made sure that our story that day had a happy ending, the cup was won. We’d had a proper family, proper Arsenal experience.

My sisters and cousins have all done, and are doing, amazing things with their lives. In their careers and education, I know how proud Granddad was of my sisters, how proud he was of James who is now studying at Cambridge. He only ever wanted us all to believe in ourselves and be the best we could be. I think that, at times, my relaxed attitude to life frustrated a man who believed nothing was ever worth doing if you didn’t do it 100%, whether it was the gardening, exercise, your job, or polishing the silverware.

So, it seems particularly apposite that the day after we lost Granddad, I finally stuck my head above the parapet and, for once, absolutely nailed a job interview, securing a long sought after promotion. I will never be able to have a conversation with Granddad about this, but I know he’d have been so proud of me. Mum suspects I might have been channeling him. If I was, then, Granddad, I thank you.


What this doesn’t tell you is that the following things happened at Granddad’s burial service:

My Mum’s graveside sobbing prompted a hissed admonishment from my Nan, “For God’s sake, Desirée, get a hold of yourself!”, to the general amusement of those of us close enough to hear it.

Roses were bought for the family to throw onto the casket. As they descended, my Auntie Susan wryly, and loudly, observed that, perhaps, golf balls would have been more appropriate.

As the service ended and we prepared to head to the golf club one last time, Great Uncle Tony, asked everyone to join him in a song. He then launched into a chorus of “Oh My Darling Clementine”, one of Granddad’s favourite songs. We all joined in on this most perfect of endings to a bittersweet morning.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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