Away from Home- Defying Genre: Michel Faber (2016)

Summer holidays, like The Hateful Eight, tend to drag on a bit. So luckily I had a couple of things to break up the usual routine of home and work with an occasional trip out the house (usually to Inverness). This time around, I attended a conference celebrating the work of Dutch-born, Australian-raised author Michel Faber, who is based in the Highlands of Scotland. In fact, he lives about 11 miles from where I live. And while I haven’t read much of his work (2 short stories at this point), I was very interested in seeing the conference and the man himself.

I should mention I have meet Mr. Faber prior this conference. In late April this year, I attended (along with a few of my friends from college) a screening of the film adaptation of his debut novel Under the Skin. After the screening, there was a Q&A with Faber and he talked about his thoughts on the film, the mind set around the writing of the original novel and about his wife, who died of cancer a couple years ago. I even asked him if he was conscious of The Man Who Fell to Earth, either the novel or the film adaptation, when he was writing the book (both were in my mind as I was doing a college project on them). He said he wasn’t inspired by it, but thought it was good film none the less. He signed my copy of the novel and I went on my merry way, or as merry as you can be after watching a movie about a woman preying on young fit men around Glasgow.

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So, with the preamble out of the way, let’s talk about the conference itself.

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To begin with, I had to be registered by the volunteers (a couple of my friends). I was given a snazzy badge with my name on it.

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Look, I’m important.

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After being registered (and spending £13 on Faber’s new poetry collection), I took my seat next to my friend Caz and waited for the conference to begin.

Faber himself started the proceedings by talking initially about the subjects of the talks & keynotes and how they relate to his career. But what he did after that was the most interesting. He gave the audience a whistle-stop tour of his unpublished works. While many were rightly discarded (his first novel he wrote sounded atrocious in a good way, he even said it had as much rejiggering as Michael Jackson), one novel, Bombshell, a reaction against the British involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a lot going for it. He decided not to publish it at the recommendation of his publisher and his wife. While I understand the sentiment, I wish he would have a crack at it again, but he said to me, when I suggested the idea to him, that it wasn’t likely. But it was interesting to see a side to an author that is usually unseen by the public at large.

Afterwards, the first panel began. This panel focused on his best known novel, The Crimson Petal and the White. The first talk, done by Dr. Lin Petterson of the panel discussed the idea of women philanthropist’s and vague gender lines in Victorian London in relation to the novel. It was interesting to hear this talk; despite the fact I haven’t read all of the book. The next talk (done by Jim MacPherson, one of my favourite lectures in the college) looked at the novels narrative voice in relation to primary sources and key historiography on the Victorian age, suggesting it was inspired by the writing of Henry Mayhew. It was an interesting look at the novel, as well as a promotional piece for a new module that I may take up if it is available in fourth year. Last talk of this panel by Prof. Silvana Colella looked at the novel through the prism of the critical response in another country, in the talks specific example Italy. It’s rare to get another cultures take on a novel of the English language so I was interested in this idea. The speaker of the talk used examples of bloggers and vloggers to illustrate these points. Hey, wouldn’t it be funny someone used this blog for academic arguments? I feel sorry for the poor bugger that does.

After a quick tea break, the second panel began. This one focused on Faber’s latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things. The first talk by Kate Wilkinson was about the passage of time in the book, seen as a comment on the hyper speed interaction we have in the current climate.  The second talk by Dr Sarah Dillon was about affect theory in relation to the novel (don’t worry about it guys, I was at the talk and I haven’t the foggiest idea about what the talk was about). The final talk by Rodge Glass was the most surprising of the day, it was a form of fan fiction. Yeah, Michel Faber fan fiction. The story used a similar structure to what the novel entailed, letter correspondence, only it is a text that doesn’t get sent due to lack of signal. It was a very interesting take on the novel, one I thanked the writer on the following day at lunch. After that, the first day of the conference had adjourned. I made my way to have dinner with a couple of my friends at Bella Italia and afterwards to my dad’s girlfriends to crash for the night.

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After nearly being late for day two, I arrived with half an hour to spare before the keynote of the day.  This keynote by Dr Timothy C. Baker dealt with how animals in Faber’s work are not necessarily anthropomorphism, but just animals with animal thoughts and feelings. It was an interesting talk and one I would think about when reading animal centric Faber stories.

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After a tea break (oh, aren’t we awfully British?), the third panel began. This panel dealt with philosophy (aka, something I don’t usually spend my Friday morning thinking about). The first talk was from Rebecca Langworthy, one of the organisers of the conference. Her talk detailed how nature and the self featured in Faber’s work, focusing mainly on Under the Skin and the subsequent film adaptation. Next talk was done by UHI lecturer (and unknowing heart throb) Ian Blyth. He looked at the short story “Fish” from the Some Rain Must Fall collection (one of two short stories I actually read before the conference). He discussed that while the reality of the story isn’t reality to the reader, it is to one of the main characters of the story, Kif Kif (apparently related to the French phrase “C’est kif-kif” (“It’s all the Same”), but Faber debunked this after the talk saying it was inspired by a bass player of a band from the 60’s/70’s). The last talk of the panel was done by Oliver Langworthy, discussing Under the Skin in relation to 4th Century ideas of skin and The Fall of Adam & Eve. It was interesting to see how the two could interact, and I thought he did a good job linking the two.

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After this, it was time for lunch. It was here where I thanked Rodge Glass for the piece of Faber fan-fiction the previous day, which he seemed very happy about the compliment (aren’t I just a super guy?). It was also here that I talked to Faber again and surprisingly, he remembered me from the Under the Skin screening. It was here when I asked him about the possibility of rewriting Bombshell. I also got him to sign my copy of his poetry collection and asked for a photograph with him, which you can see below. Thanks to Caz for taking the photo.

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Lunch over, and panel four began, this time discussing genre in connection to Faber’s work. Dr Matt Foley opened proceedings by discussing The Crimson Petal and the White in the context of the Gothic. Foley explained he used to teach this as part of a module on Modern Gothic novels at Sterling University, with students not sure if it was a Gothic or not. He brought up examples of Gothics throughout the talk, from The Monk by Matthew Gregory Lewis to the film adaptation of Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock (which he noticed me nodding at appreciation of that fact). It was probably my favourite talk of the day and possibly the conference, if anything because it came with a reading list. So, more books to cause debt. Yay!

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After that, organiser of the conference, programme leader of the Literature degree at the UHI and lecturer with the funkiest hair colour Kristin Lindfield-Ott did a talk on how Under the Skin fits in to the genre of the Modern Scottish Gothic. After trying to dispel the notion of genre, she goes on to discuss if the events in the novel aren’t real, why are the locations? This is more interesting to me as, like my lecturer, I live in the area where the novel (not the film) is set. It was great talk, probably more down to my familiarity of the area rather than the novel.  The final talk of the panel was done Dr. Nick Prescott, who discussed how suspense fiction (particularly the fiction of Edgar Allan Poe) features in Faber’s work, citing The Courage Consort and the title story of The Fahrenheit Twins collection. Another favourite, more due to the fact he referenced the film Blue Velvet and the fact that Faber collaborated with Brian Eno, but hey, I’m easily pleased.

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Tea break (plus a discussion about Eno with Faber and a photo with the organisers and Faber) and the final panel began, this time looking at adaptation. First up was Christian Dymond, discussing Under the Skin as a more spiritual continuation of the ideas of Faber’s original novel, rather than an adaptation of the piece. It was interesting way to look at the film, despite me not reading the book. This was followed up by Andy Hageman’s look at Under the Skin, this time looking at it from an ecological perspective, comparing how both the film and the novel use the landscape to highlight themes and characters. This interested me, in part, as in a past life, I was a Science student before I moved to Literature. The final talk of the conference was done a Natalie O’ Keefe of UHI, discussing the adaptation of Faber’s work in context of The Crimson Petal and the White. Starting with the idea that fidelity isn’t a useful way of looking at adaptation (a viewpoint I agree with), she carried on by discussing key processes of the adaptation of Crimson from the set and costume design to the script. After doing a module on adaptation, this was a welcome talk.

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And, after closing remarks, the conference was done. Two days of intense talking. The Olympics of nerds, though everyone was a winner. I enjoyed myself and thought all the talks were interesting. It would probably have been even better if I had actually read his books before the conference, but at least I have a reason to read them now. Plus, Michel Faber is a really nice guy. Till my next blog post, bye bye.

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Away from Home- The Edinburgh International Film Festival (2016)

Introduction

The Edinburgh International Film Festival has been a staple of my summer holidays since 2014. This year, it was celebrating its 70th anniversary. With that in mind I was really looking forward to it. So, I booked all the essentials (films, hostel, transport), and went down on the 23rd June.

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Don’t I look happy?

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No expenses spared for my transport, that I can tell you.

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Once I got down to Edinburgh, one thing was in my mind. Food. So, I went to a place called Oink. They specialise in Hog Roast rolls and man, was it tasty. I had it with haggis and apple sauce (surprisingly good combination). I also had some salty crackling with it (you can tell I’m not Jewish or vegan). Special thanks goes to my friend Caz for recommending the place.

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But enough about food. You want film reviews, so let’s dive in.

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Mr. Right

The first film I saw in the festival was a romantic-action-comedy starring Sam Rockwell (Moon) and Anna Kendrick (Scott Pilgrim vs. The World). The premise is simple and a little cliché. Kendrick plays a recently cheated on women who takes it badly, apparently drinking for two days. After literally bumping in to Rockwell, they seem to hit it off, true love in first sight, kind off. Unbeknownst to her (although he was honest right from the get go, she thought he was joking), Rockwell is a highly trained, yet mentally unstable assassin. Rather than go after the marks he is assigned to kill, he instead kills those who hire him, a somewhat more moral killing in his eyes (to be fair, I see where he’s coming from). Also in the background, Tim Roth (Pulp Fiction) is out to track Rockwell, while the brother of the mob boss has a convoluted scheme to claim the top position using Rockwell.

While some in my screening didn’t like it, I thought it pretty enjoyable. I mean, yeah it isn’t the pinnacle of cinematic achievements, but it isn’t total crap either.  Rockwell and Kendrick have great chemistry, but I will admit their scenes together got a little too sappy and corny (a word actually used in the film by Kendrick), so grated on me a wee bit. But the best part of the film is Tim Roth. I mean, even if he is in a so-so or bad film (The Hateful Eight comes to mind), he’s the best thing in it. He certainly the most entertaining person in the film. The action throughout was very well handed, both in physicality and in the shooting of the sequences. Nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible.

While nothing too special, Mr. Right has enough action to keep the men interested and enough romance for the ladies. Perfect date night film in my opinion (though how would I know? I went to screening by myself and I have no girlfriend).

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Out of Bounds: Student Shorts

The next screening on my trip to the festival was a selection of shorts made by students predominantly associated with The National Film and Television School. Among the highlights for me was a short animated film called Sea Child, about a girl who has to deal with sexist attitudes of men. The animation style reminiscent of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, charcoal drawing and moments of water colour to highlight certain moments. It ambiguous near the end, but sad nonetheless.

Transit Zone probably had the worst case of poor timing I’ve seen in a screening of a movie. A documentary about the migrant crisis, the film follows one migrant fleeing Sudan and is present in camps of Calais, wishing to head over to England. It’s probably the closest I’ve seen the camps, only experiencing them from a distance in the news. It’s heart-warming to see the spirit not totally broken by their circumstances. However, one conversation that the migrant has with the film-makers seems increasingly true in the post-EU Referendum climate (the film was made between February and May 2015), no one in England wants him here.

The other shorts were alright, but nothing worth noting. Overall, I think the crew of Sea Child have a bright future ahead of them.

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Kirsty Logan and Helen McClory in Conversation

OK, I’m cheating a wee bit with this one. This wasn’t a part of the EIFF, rather a part of the #ScotLitFest. I had time on my hands and went to go and see it. Now, to be honest, I haven’t read either authors work. But, I am familiar with Logan’s work, having read 50 odd pages of her first novel The Gracekeepers. I also saw her last year at Waterstones Inverness where she gave a reading and a Q&A about the book. So, I came to this knowing it was going to be interesting.

The reading of the stories were very good, as was the Q&A. It seemed quite conversational, as if you were at a coffee shop. Among the subjects discussed was “Bad Art” as Logan put it, things like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room and the stories behind them. It was a surprise, considering it’s people like myself that watch films like The Room. I also got a chance to talk to both authors separately and were quite conversational and lovely people, though I already knew that about Logan from the Inverness event and the fact there are times she replies to my Tweets.

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If you ever get a chance to see either of the two authors talk and do a reading, do so. The authors doing a reading alone is worth the admission.

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Away

By the time I got to Away, I had watched two sets of slightly underwhelming films. So thank goodness this one is a good one. Away stars Timothy Spall (Harry Potter) and Juno Temple (The Dark Knight Rises) and it’s about how a man is coping with the death of his wife and a girl who’s left an abusive boyfriend. The two meet in Blackpool and the girl follows the man around, against his will mind you.

Right off the bat, Spall is brilliant in this. He comes across initially as a bitter old man contemplating whether to go on with his existence, but as the film progresses, you begin to understand why he feels like this. Temple is good, though at points I did find her annoying, so in some respect I sympathised with Spall a bit. But like I said with Spall, as the film progresses, she does become more approachable and likable.

I would say the films biggest weakness is the music. I couldn’t help that it wasn’t appropriate. It would have fitted a film about a night in a club, not a film about two “fucked” individuals. If they were going to incorporate electronic music in the score, something like Brian Eno would have worked. But that is minor gripe in an otherwise great movie. Nothing date night about this one though.

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Carol

Carol, which is part of a wider series of Patricia Highsmith adaptations coming out later in the year, is based on the book of the same name (also known as The Price of Salt). While I tried to read the book before I saw the film I didn’t. I still thought the film was brilliant. I don’t want to go full on review here, mainly because I feel there’s enough material for a proper review on the blog, but I will say this. Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara are excellent, the score was brilliant and the design from the costumes to the sets were fantastic, aided by lovely cinematography. And if none of that doesn’t float your boat, there’s a pretty hot lesbian sex scene.

After Carol and the Final Day

As I was leaving the cinema, I saw the poster to an event that would have been right up my street.

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Unfortunately, it was on two days before I arrived in town. Worse thing was, I was wearing this when I saw it.

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Since my final day in Edinburgh was going to include going to the premiere of a film, I thought I better dress up for the occasion.

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Wow. I look so cool. And hot. Seriously, the ladies wanted a piece of that ass. But again, I’m side tracking. Back to the films.

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Lawrence of Arabia

Another film I’m going to save for a proper blog post in the future, Lawrence of Arabia is such a good movie, heightened by the 70mm screening I attended in the festival. But it’s still worthy of a Blu-ray purchase/ upgrade.

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Whisky Galore!

The most disappointing film of the lot, Whisky Galore! suffers from having pretty much the same screenplay as the original 1949 film. Many of the lines of dialogue are repeated, as are the jokes and visual gags. There is the addition of a subplot involving the Duke and Duchess of Windsor, but it just comes off as filler and a slight distraction. I was entertained by it, as was the rest of the audience, but it really shouldn’t have been made if it was going to end up exactly same as the original. That’s why I haven’t done a summary of it, look at my review of the original if you want a summary. I can’t even recommend it to those unfamiliar to the story, because the original is readily available on TV, DVD and Blu-ray. It’s a real shame. I wanted to like it more, but I can’t.

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Highlander

Probably the most entertaining film out of the lot I saw, Highlander hits that sweet spot of really good and hilariously awful. I mean what other film could have great action scenes and interesting narrative, while at the same time have two major miscasting, in French actor Christopher Lambert playing a Scot and Scottish Icon™ Sean Connery playing an Egyptian. Not many, that I can tell you.

The film begins in New York, 1985, where Connor MacLeod (French Lambert), who is immortal, is preparing and waiting for his battle with Kurgan (Clancy Brown, The Shawshank Redemption). The film flashes back to various points in MacLeod’s life, mainly focusing on his early life in the 16th-century Scottish Highlands, as he begins to learn about his immortality. Cue Sean Connery’s Juan Sánchez Villa-Lobos Ramírez, another immortal who trains MacLeod, in the most 80’s montage without sports and spandex.

As I said before, this balances good and hilariously bad perfectly. The concept and story is a good one and the action and visuals accompany it very well. But the acting, while not terrible, just could be better. I mean, did they really think Lambert could play a Scot. Even when he says “bonnie” or “haggis”, he still sounds as French as Pepé Le Pew. But I always knew Connery couldn’t pull of a Spanish accent. He can barely pull off Russian or Irish, the two easiest accents a Scotsman can do. But in saying that, Connery has charisma coming out the toosh as Ramírez, and Lambert does bring a bit of melancholy to MacLeod in the New York scenes. Plus, can we make it law that Sean Connery isn’t allowed to diss haggis?

Brown as Kurgan is the OTT bad guy and you can tell he is having a ball with it, while both the main love interests (Beatie Edney [Heather MacLeod] and Roxanne Hart [Brenda Wyatt]) are serviceable in their roles. Nothing terrible, but nothing to make you jump up and run to the hills about.

But in all honesty, the major thing going for this movie is the soundtrack. Much of the music is done by Michael Kamen, known for his work on Brazil, Die Hard and the orchestral arrangements on The Wall by Pink Floyd. His score is great here, having moments of fantasy, romance and 80’s action. And then you also got Queen providing the songs. Super awesome. The highlight is the use of “Who Wants to Live Forever?”, a theme used throughout the score of the film as well. Not to spoil the scene, it will bring a tear to you eye, though the film version doesn’t have the final chorus. You have to listen to their A Kind of Magic album for that.

This is the perfect cult film. Watch with your friends, a take-away meal and a few drinks. I’d call that a great Saturday night.

Conclusion

And that’s it. Out of all the films I saw, there was only one new film I could recommend out right, Away. The others weren’t awful, just not as good as other films I’ve seen in the festival in previous years. And the other films I gave high praise to were films I’ve either already seen (Lawrence of Arabia) or films that were out in previous years (Carol and Highlander). That’s bad for the 70th year of the festival. There should have been more than one really good new movie. Then again, because I only saw a handful, I might have missed out on other gems. But I enjoyed myself in Edinburgh anyway, and I will be going again next year. I just hope there are better movies for me to see next time round. Till my next review, bye bye.

Film Review- “Whisky Galore!”, Dir. by Alexander Mackendrick (1949)

Over the weekend, I attended the Edinburgh International Film Festival. Among the films I saw included the premiere of the remake of Whisky Galore! (a review of this and the other films I saw will be up here soon). So, with that in mind, I thought it would be a good idea to have a look at the original 1949 film, itself based on an original novel by Compton Mackenzie.

The plot of film is set in the fictional island Todday, a part of the Outer Hebrides. In 1943, the worst possible thing has happened to the islands inhabitants; there is no whisky. Fortunately for the locals, a ship, the SS Cabinet Minister, gets wrecked on the island. Its cargo; 50,000 cases of whisky, intended for export only. The inhabitants, desperate for the hard stuff and ignoring Home Guard Captain Waggett’s command, decide to take some for themselves before the ship goes down. Highjinks ensue with the islanders trying to keep the whisky away from Waggett, whist drinking it up at the same time.

To me, whisky is one of the truly Scottish things in the world (along with Bagpipes, Irn-Bru, Tablet and Deep-Fried Mars Bars). So a film about whisky is obviously going to be very Scottish. First of all, may I say Todday in the film looks beautiful in the black and white cinematography. It gives you the sense that this is a picturesque Scotland, but not one far removed from reality.

The characters in the film are also brilliant. Captain Waggett, played by Basil Rathbone, is probably the highlight of the film for me. He plays an authoritative figure who is unaware of culture of the island. He is also portrayed as someone who is insignificant as well. There’s a scene on the phone with his colonel, and the colonel doesn’t care about the whisky cargo, goes as far to ask for a bottle from the captain. It just shows the level of respect people have for him, both below and above his rank.

Another highlight is the schoolmaster’s (Gordon Jackson) mother, played by Jean Cadell. She is one of the most over-bearing mothers in cinema. Luckily, the schoolmaster kills her, but through guilt, he decides to give half of his life to become his mother. Oh, wait. Wrong movie. I was thinking of a prequel to Psycho. But that gives you the sense she is very over-protective of her son. She doesn’t want him to get married (for reasons unclear to me) and she is a devout Christian who thinks everything is sinful (typical Christians). But I do enjoy the scenes where she goes off her rocker at her son. I feel so sorry for him. At least my mum isn’t like that. I hope at least.

The best scene in the film has to be when the inspectors are coming to find and confiscate the whisky, the islanders hide in some of the most unusual and hilarious places, including a baby cot, with a baby on top of it.

There are so many wonderful moments in Whisky Galore! that saying any more might spoil your enjoyment. The film is regularly on the TV (well, certainly in the UK) and the film is widely available on DVD and Blu-ray, so give the film a shot. Till my next review, bye bye.

4.5/5

Album Review- “Tubular Bells” by Mike Oldfield (1973)

Tubular Bells is a monumental album. An album that stayed in the UK album charts for 279 weeks (in layman’s terms, just over 5 years); nominated for a Grammy in 1975; the opening section of the album became known the world over as the theme to the “Scariest Movie of All Time”, The Exorcist; launched the career of the then 20-year-old Mike Oldfield and the Virgin record label, the major foundation of Richard Branson’s Virgin business empire. Yes, without Tubular Bells, commercial space flights (even though still prohibitively expensive) would likely still be a thing of science-fiction. And of course, we wouldn’t have ads such as this.

But the important question to ask is, despite all that has been mentioned and more, does the album itself hold up (that’s the point of a retrospective review, isn’t it)? Well, yeah. Even 43 years after it was released, Tubular Bells is still an impressive and beautiful piece of music. The fact Oldfield was around 19-years-old when he came up with the initial musings of the album and that he played most of the instruments himself (only a handful of other people were credited playing other instruments) makes the work even more impressive.

Spilt in to two parts (remember, this was originally released on vinyl), it begins with the famous intro I referred to earlier. While it is usually associated with horror, it gives me images of snow. The piano playing feels in this section like snow falling. From there, the album progresses from hard rock, to acoustic folk, to a dark atmospheric moment (a personal favourite part of the album for me) and a wonderful and almost holy conclusion where the Tubular Bells ring. All the pieces conjure up many images, and that is just the first side of the album.

We (theoretically) flip the LP, and Part Two starts. The piece begins at a much slower and more folky than the opening of Part One, which is quite nice to start with. But I will say it is the weakest point of the album because it does drag on a wee bit for my taste. But it’s still a nice piece. After that, it moves into a slightly militaristic march piece, slightly ominous but oddly beautiful. After that, we enter the most interesting and unusual part of the entire album. Here there is a strong bass playing while a something that sounds like a cave/wolf man is “speaking” (I can hardly call it speech) howling and screaming. Despite this, it’s actually quite a funny piece, I enjoy it when it comes on. Love the guitars on the piece, have a chase scene quality about it.

We then enter a sombre moment in the piece. It’s just an organ synthesiser droning in the background while two guitars play on and it’s simply beautiful. There’s an almost dream-like quality to it, I can’t quite put my finger on it. And to finish off, we have an arrangement of “The Sailor’s Hornpipe” that after each play gets faster and faster and faster. It’s a fun piece, and a great way to come out of the previous piece. And like that, the 49-minute-long album is over.

To think an album that I have just described in this review had all that and became one of the most iconic and best albums of the 1970’s is impressive. On paper (and certainly how I described it), it shouldn’t work but it does. If I can say something negative about Tubular Bells (and like with No Cities to Love, it isn’t a major one) it’s the fact the album was so big at the time of release, it made Oldfield in my opinion a one hit wonder. However, on closer inspection, he wasn’t that at all. Shortly after listening to Tubular Bells, I bought his follow-up Hergest Ridge which I thought was just as good as (maybe even better than) his first album. But that’s another review for another time. But this really is another album worth your time. Plus, it goes along at quite a good pace as well. Till my next review, bye bye.

4.5/5

(Note- Even though this looks like I made Tubular Bells with Oldfield, I did not. This is a playlist I made as the original mix of the album isn’t available as a standalone album on Spotify.)

Album Review- “No Cities To Love” by Sleater-Kinney (2015)

Sleater-Kinney were a band that was recommended to me around my 20th birthday by a friend. This came about when he noticed a review for this album in a magazine I brought over with me. A couple weeks later I bought the album, and I’m glad I did.

The band, consisting of vocalist-guitarist Corin Tucker, guitarist-vocalist Carrie Brownstein and drummer Janet Weiss, were formed around the riot grrrl movement of the mid 90’s. After their 2005 effort The Woods, the band took a break, reforming for this album, released last year.

Now, I’m going to be honest: I never really came across women that did rock in my youth. I know I’ve likely offended the female readership, so let me explain this. When I was growing up, I never really heard music (on the radio) by women I would class as rock. I always believed women were pop, whilst the men did rock (though plenty of men do pop as well). It’s nothing to do with sexism or that, it’s just in my travels, I never really heard women rockers. And don’t get me wrong, I love female musicians as much as male musicians, but would you consider the likes of Kate Bush or Adele rock?

When the album opener “Price Tag” (a song that, in my interpretation, condemns modern consumerist societies) begins, two things became apparent. 1) That this was a really good, fast-paced track and 2) Women can certainly rock as hard as, maybe even harder than, men. From it strong guitar chords and its aggressive drums throughout, it certainly made me forget my previous misconceptions well before the 3:54 song finished.

Next up is “Fangless”, which again features storming musicianship from all involved, and indicating that this will be a very fast and aggressive album. The song, about how our idols disappoint us as we grow older (I think?), is where some of the production becomes noticeable, but in a good way. The slight helicopter effect on the guitars are a personal favourite (if you listen to the song, you’ll know what I mean).

“Surface Envy”, a song about the anchor effect that guilt can have on someone, is another track which I love from the album (about half of the album is on my party playlist which I never get to use for its intended purpose). I love how for me, the chords from the guitars at the end of the previous song almost complement the cords that begin this song. And once again, the musicianship from all is brilliant.

The last two songs on the album, to me at least, seem to focus on the band itself. “Hey Darling” to me is almost like a metaphor for their disbanding 10 years prior, while closer “Fade” seems to evoke ideas of a swansong, in a track that has Joy Division vibes in its production. If by some miracle that any of the members of the band are reading this, don’t go. I only started to get to know you.

There are more songs on this album (5 in total I haven’t discussed), but I can’t talk about them without looking like an idiot. Plus, there really isn’t much more I can’t say in the way of praise without it being repetitive. The only negative I can say, and it is a very insignificant one but still one to note, is that this album ends too soon. Most albums I love in my opinion all end in about the right time, like In The Court of the Crimson King, The Dark Side of the Moon and Low. This album too short, leaving me wanting more. Maybe that’s the point. In any case, this album is worth your time, and I recommend it wholeheartedly. Till next the next review, bye bye.

5/5

Book Review-‘Hear the Wind Sing’ by Haruki Murakami (1979)

Haruki Murakami is a name I have seen quite recently in my many visits to Waterstones, both in my local branch in Inverness and further afield. It came as a surprise to me when upon buying Wind/ Pinball, the latest of his books to be published in the English language (to my knowledge), that these were in fact his first two novels (I liked the pretty cover and didn’t read the blurb till I got home). So I unwittingly started at the beginning for Murakami, and there is no better place to start sometimes.

Rather than read the whole book of Wind/ Pinball, I decided to read his first novel, Hear the Wind Sing, originally published in 1979. Hey, it’s my first time reviewing a book. Sometimes it’s OK to take it easy the first time.

To summarise Hear the Wind Sing can be hard, as there really is no story structure or plot per say. The best I can come up with is that it is about a 29-year-old reminiscing about his (initially boring) holiday home from studying biology in Tokyo when he was 21, while also discussing his life philosophy, his past (either recent or when he was a child) and an analysis of the work by an American author of genre fiction.

The fact that the novel doesn’t have a standard plot structure is the most fascinating thing about. It’s a very admirable feature of the novel to have such an unconventional narrative, that goes from I talking about how he met the Rat, to his opinion of an authors work, to a Radio DJ asking for a can of Coke, with each of the sections still remaining engaging throughout. Even the way the chapters are laid out are interesting. Some of them are just a paragraph long, one comes with a crude drawing of a T-shirt.

The characters in the novel are well written. I is the character I related to the most. His slightly awkward conversations with The Girl with Nine Fingers about some of his biology course (including keeping a bit of undigested grass from a cow they dissected) sounds reminiscent of conversations I have with many of my friends. But his reflection, even at 29-years old, seems surprisingly mature, more like a man in his forty’s, especially when thinking about a woman who he was involved with that hung herself near a tennis court seems particularly moving.

The Rat, I’s close friend at home, is also interesting as person who is rich but can’t seem to stand rich people because they, in his words “don’t have a goddamn clue” about the world. Throughout the novel, The Rat reads various kinds of books after I saying he reads books for some obscure reason about forgiving dead authors, but not the living. These novels range from something by Henry James to The Last Temptation of Christ and begins to have aspirations to write novels in which there is, as I puts it, “no sex and none of the characters dies”. There is almost a sense that one of the Rat’s stories might have happened for real, or maybe that is what we are led to believe, I don’t know.

There is more I could say about the novel, but if do that, it would almost be a waste of your time as well as mine, mainly because all I’ll do is summarise more of the novel and not do it justice. All I will say is do read the novel, it is really interesting and worth your time. As for myself, I can’t wait to read Pinball, 1973, but that will have to wait for another time. Till the next review, bye bye.

4.5/5

Album Review- ‘Foxtrot’ by Genesis (1972)

Genesis are one of the more interesting bands in modern music. When they started in the 1970’s, they were a progressive rock band. However, when then lead vocalist Peter Gabriel left the band, after the supporting tour of their double LP The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway, drummer Phil Collins stepped up (reluctantly) to the mic. Gradually, the band made their way into a more pop orientated sound by the 1980’s. While the transition wasn’t as simple as that, many people still have slight dislike of the later material. Today, I’m not covering an album from the later period, I just thought it would be a nice intro to the review. This review will be covering their 1972 LP Foxtrot. I should state before going further that the version I listened to for this review was the 2008 remix, not the original 1972 mix of the album.

Foxtrot came after Nursery Cryme, the band’s first LP with what is classed as the classic line-up of Peter Gabriel, guitarist Steve Hackett, keyboardist Tony Banks, bassist Michael Rutherford and Phil Collins. The album begins with “Watcher of the Skies”, a Sci-fi story when man is forced to leave Earth for some reason (I’ve listened to and read the lyrics and I still can’t figure it out, maybe Donald Trump became President or Britain left/stayed in the EU, I don’t know).  You know the album is progressive rock as soon as the song starts as the first thing you hear is the thick chords of a Mellotron, a staple of the genre since In The Court of the Crimson King (doesn’t that sound familiar?). Interesting fact: one of the very same Mellotrons from ITCotCK was used in this album. It’s a great album opener. Fast, engaging and great musicianship from all involved.

The album then moves of to “Time Table”. My best understanding of the song is that it’s about a carved table of a romantic era of Kings and Queens that later loses its carvings because of rats clawing at it. Other interpretations are welcome of course. It’s a nice song to follow “Watcher of the Skies” for its slower pace, highlighting Gabriel’s vocals and Banks’ keyboard playing.

It gets loud again for the third track, “Get ‘em out by Friday”, a song about cooperate greed (I’ve already referenced him, I will not do so again) and the then new towns of Britain. It shows of Gabriel’s ability of changing characters with his voice, while I wouldn’t say it’s great, I admire the fact he tried to do so. Musically, it’s top form again, Collins shows of his drumming ability and Hackett gives a great guitar solo.

At the end of (what would be if I had the actual LP) the first side of the album is “Can-utility and the Coastliners”. I would say it’s the weakest song of the album, not saying it’s terrible, but compared with what came before, it’s a shame. Musically and lyrically it’s fine, just something about it doesn’t connect with me the same way as the other songs of the album do. Though props to Gabriel for shouting the final verse of the song really quickly.

Once we’ve (theoretically) flip to the second side, there’s “Horizons”, a short acoustic piece by Hackett. It’s a lovely instrumental piece, the kind of thing you could listen to fall asleep at night. I haven’t done so yet, but maybe I should.

But why would want to fall asleep after that, when we have the main reason why this album is iconic following it up. The 23-minute-long “Supper’s Ready” is a fan favourite and understandably so. Don’t be daunted by the length, it moves quite quickly. The whole band show of their skills to great effect. Gabriel’s vocals are really good, changing from first person participant to third person observer when required. Hackett’s guitar work is brilliant especially in his solo of the third movement of the song. It sounds familiar, if anyone can tell me where I might have heard a similar version of this, please let me know. Banks’ keyboards give appropriate atmosphere in the some of the more sombre sections of the song and Phil Collins drumming is great throughout. Out of the seven segments of the song, my favourites are “Willow Farm” and “Apocalypse in 9/8 (Co-staring the Delicious Talents of Gabble Ratchet)”. They get my blood pumping every time.

Saying any more about “Supper’s Ready” and the rest of the album might spoil it for first time listeners, so I’ll just say this. Go on to Spotify (link below) or on to iTunes or your local HMV or independent music retailer and listen to Foxtrot. It really is one of the best Progressive Rock albums out there. Heck, it might be the most accessible Prog Rock album outside Pink Floyd. Till my next review, bye bye.

4.5/5