R.I.P. Stan Lee

Stan Lee

28.12.1922 – 12.11.2018

This week we lost another hero, the one and only Stan Lee.  Writer, editor and publisher at Marvel comics – not to mention creative genius behind some of the 20th century’s most memorable characters.

I use the words “hero” and “creative genius” in relation to Stan for completely legitimate reasons.  The work of this man was ground breaking and had a massive impact on culture; he was also a genuinely decent human being.

Together with a creative team including legends such as Kirby, Ditko, Romita and Buscema, Lee was responsible for creating some of the most imaginative and ground breaking characters in comics.  Fantastic Four.  The Incredible Hulk.  The Amazing Spider-Man.  The Uncanny X-Men.  Thor, Iron Man, The Avengers and on and on.

Marvel characters may have been heroes, but they were not perfect.  For the first time, comics characters had real world problems.  They wrestled with the same everyday issues that their readers faced.  These superheroes leapt from the page with a load of personal baggage – and this new approach was revolutionary.  And very successful.

My favourite example is Spider-Man.  Spidey was a cool wise cracking hero, but Peter Parker was a nerdy kid; an outcast.  The guys didn’t want to hang around with him and the girls didn’t want to be with him.  As time went on, he struggled balancing classwork, relationships, a part time job and superhero-ing.  At any point in Spidey’s adventures, any or all of those issues could tumble out of control.

You can read numerable tributes to Stan Lee online, by all manner of people from all walks of life.  One positive from his passing is seeing how universally admired he was.

Reflecting on my own experience, I can remember seeing the Spiderman cartoon and the Hulk TV show as a tiny kid in the seventies.  By the age of seven, I’d graduated to my first Marvel comic (I vividly remember buying it and still have it to this day).  I was hooked.  I devoured comic books; all I wanted to be as a kid was a comic book artist.  To this day I attribute any grasp of the English language that I possess to these publications.  Including English exam results.

Stan Lee’s creations fired my imagination and inspired my creative aspirations, and those of millions all over the world.  They still do to this day, both in comic book form and the hugely successful movies.

This Marvel Universe – Stan’s Marvel Universe – was one where the outsider was welcome.  Bigotry and intolerance were not his way, nor that of his creations.  In making the underdog the centre of the story, Lee emancipated millions of us.

I’m proud to proclaim Stan Lee not only an innovator, but a true legend and one of the greatest creative individuals of the 20th century.

Excelsior!

New deck – Death Skateboards Richie Jackson

Time for another new deck.  I got this Death Skateboards Richie Jackson deck a while ago, thought I’d share some pics of it for posterity.

I bought the deck from Native Skate Store, who provided a really good online service.  I requested that it was gripped (as I’m crap at gripping decks) and it arrived all done and looking pristine.  It was very affordable and delivered quickly, no pain at all.

Regular readers will already know that I’m a big fan of Death Skateboards.  I’ve had several Death decks and I’ve loved ’em all.  A very cool company with a rad, individual approach to skating and a great aesthetic – their products are tough and reliable, always up to the job.

This time around I opted for the Richie Jackson pro model.  Richie is an inspirational skater who constantly evolves and develops new ideas.  His innovative style is just ridiculously creative and constantly forging new ground.  Google him now!

The extraordinarily detailed Art Nouveau graphic is breath-takingly detailed, I probably should’ve just kept the deck to put on the wall.  I’ve skated it and the graphics are shined from rock’n’rolls on curbs.  Should’ve bought two, I guess.  Such is the transient nature of skateboard graphics…

This phenomenal art is by Liane Plant, and I think her work is incredible.  Some of the best art I’ve seen on a skateboard since the eighties classics.  I apologise whole heartedly to Liane for destroying the graphic.  It may well be a crime for a skater as bad as me to defile something so beautiful.

So anyway, the deck is 8.25″ wide and I set it up with my trusted Independent trucks and Death wheels.  So far, it’s been a blast.

Thanks to all the above, long may you roll!

The Death Skateboards website is here.  Go take a look.

Richie Jackson is all over social media, just search – you won’t regret it.  There’s some stuff on the above Death website, too.

The amazing art of Liane Plant can be seen here.  I need some T-shirts and stickers.

You can visit Native Skate Store for all your needs by clicking here.

And finally, here’s a picture of me being a total dork, trying to ape Richie Jackson’s style, rocking an old paisley shirt.  Just thought some of his psychedelic magic might rub off.  I bought that shirt back in 1990, knew it was worth keeping hold of…  And no, I didn’t really wear the shirt to skate in, I chickened out.  As great as Richie is, even I am a little old for hero worship on that level…!

Sci Fi Weekender 2016 – part 1

IMG_20160318_114228066Sci Fi Weekender 17th – 20th March 2016

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

Wow.  This year’s Sci Fi Weekender was a blur – it went faster than light speed.  All the usual geekery was in full swing, though I’ll be gosh darned if I can remember everything and what order it happened in.  Too much blue milk?

Never mind, I have numerous photos of the weekend to share; to help report on this cosmic adventure.  Except that didn’t go to plan this year.   My trusty Canon was on the blink, so I resorted to a little digital snapper and my phone.

Not ideal, but sometimes you have to compromise.

So what is Sci Fi Weekender?  For the unititiated, it’s a weekend of events and special guests, all held on site at the Hafan Y Mor holiday park in Pwllheli, North Wales.  Think Comic Con but at a holiday camp and with a party atmosphere.  All manner of interview panels, Q&As, games, and musical entertainment are part of the festivities.

Plus a prog rock festival – HRH Prog – was also being held on the same weekend.  Not a massive tie in with science fiction you may think (at least not without Hawkwind playing).  However it gave additional entertainment for those with musical interests.

Our weekend began with four of us – Adam, Greeny, Kurt and myself – driving from our corner of north east Wales to the north west.  On the way we popped into Cob records in Porthmadog to feed our vinyl addition.  Then we settled into our caravan home from home – complete with haul of supplies from the local ASDA – and planned our DVD watching schedule for the night.

Unfortunately the DVD player wasn’t working, and without tickets for the Thursday evening SFW party, we were stuck.  Rather than watch TV, we went for a pint in the onsite pub.  We then popped in to see what the prog rock was all about.  We didn’t think we would get in, but it was no problem.  As a result we were able to see Third Quadrant (quite good) and the excellent Crazy World of Arthur Brown.  Arthur is over seventy years old and jumps around on stage like a nutter.  Highly entertaining and some great tunes.

Friday began with the bad news that Kurt was ill.  He’s only 16 so booze wasn’t the issue.  As a result, Kurt and his dad Greeny were pretty much out of the running for the day.  They watched TV and chilled.  Plus Ste, our remaining member, had burst the inflatable camp bed by leaving it too close to the fire.  He suffered a bad night’s sleep on the sofa as a result.

The rest of us headed over to the arena and started checking things out.  I took a few photos and looked round the stalls.  We caught a Cosplay panel with Tabitha from Artyfakes that was very interesting, with extremely impressive Space Marine costumes and hints and tips about the hobby.  I bottled asking my question though, which was “How do you go for a wee?”.

I also watched an interview panel of comic book artists.  The panel consisted of 2000AD greats such as Glenn Fabry, William Simpson, Clint Langley and Simon Davis.  Hosted by Dez Skinn, the panel was informative and also amusing; it seems some of the assembled masters had been on the pop?  Either way, these guys were like rock stars to me when I was a young 2000AD fan, so it was pretty cool.

The vibe around the arena was good natured as always.  I took some cool photos (thanks everyone) and despite our numbers being depleted, we had a good afternoon.

After a delightful pizza from the onsite Papa John’s (it was great!); we were ready for the evening’s entertainment.  I’m afraid to say that the Imaginarium and magicians weren’t really my thing this year.  It’s difficult to dig the magic when you can’t see it up close.

The highlight was the one and only Professor Elemental, steam punk hip hop pioneer.  His smooth raps mixed with groovy beats like a well tuned gin and tonic.   A pleasure to witness, as always.

At the end of the night, I teleported across the site to see the end of the set by Caravan.  Not only a very apt band to be playing, they were actually pretty good.  The Soft Machine were on last with a more jazz orientated approach.  All very impressive and I’m glad I got to see something different.

I’m ashamed to say that we all ended up crashing out early on Friday night.  Illness and lack of sleep took it’s toll.  I was last man standing, going to bed at 11.30pm.  Pathetic, I know.

In Part 2: Brian Blessed, the Cosplay final, more Prog Rock…

PLUS: will we be able to stay up late?

Stay tuned to this frequency…

The Sci Fi Weekender site is here.

You really should check out Professor Elemental.  His website is here, plus he’s on that Twitter and stuff too.

Sci-Fi Weekender 2015 – part 2

Sci-fi Weekender 19th – 22nd March 2015

Hafan Y Mor Holiday Park, Pwllheli

Welcome back to part 2 of my Sci-fi Weekender 2015 update!

Saturday began in the usual manner for for my intergalactic crew mates and I – fairly lazy hanging around the caravan.  The home comforts were pretty good t be fair; with a fridge stocked with beer, decent TV and plenty of space we had a good base for our weekend.

To be honest there was less of interest to me personally on this day.  The highlight though was a Q&A with Judge Dredd creators John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra.  The two were escorted on to the stage by a squad of mean looking Judges, and proceeded to tell the audience about their many years working in comics.  All good stuff, though a bit less about the Dredd movies and more about the actual comics would’ve been preferable.  But I guess that serves me right for not asking my own questions.

One Man Lord of the Rings was next, and not being a Hobbit geek (unlike Star Wars) I was off.  I heard it was good though.  Time to mill about round the various merchandise stalls, though there less of a science fiction theme to this year’s traders.  With MCM Comic Con on the same weekend at Birmingham NEC, I guess most traders opted for that instead.

Another strange tweak to the event this year was that Hafan Y Mor was also hosting a Prog Rock event on the same weekend.  Hence the large number of music related items on sale, perhaps.  Though having these two events at the same time appeared to be a strange mutation at first, I decided to check a few bands out over the weekend and found some that were certainly worth hearing. IMG_4015

Back on Friday I witnessed the strange jazz prog of Knifeworld, which I enjoyed after my ears got used to it.  “I want this music out of my head!” was the view of one of my gang.

On Saturday afternoon, I witnessed Landskap.  They had an almost doom/stoner rock sound, with slow heavy guitar riffs – augmented by an almost Doors-like keyboard.  Very, very good – saw the whole set and loved it.

Next it was back to the Sci-Fi Arena to see the Cosplay preliminaries.  As ever there were some amazing entries – well made, authentic, but also incredibly original.  The best part was spotting characters from film and television that you just weren’t expecting to see.  The Guardians of the Galaxy and Mad Max ensembles were both awesome.  Lego movie Batman, Futurama robots and more were just amazing.

You can see some of the photos here, but there were also dozens of fans who were dressed up, and hadn’t even entered the competition.  Plenty of people had obviously put a lot of thought and effort into their costumes, but were happy just to be part of the fun.

I did feel bad for one group, though – they were all in monochrome outfits (complete with make-up) to look like the old black & white Flash Gordon serial.  However, they’d missed registration through no fault of their own.

The Cosplay was again a real highlight od Sci-Fi Weekender this year.  So many fabulous and imaginative outfits, I couldn’t pick a favourite.  My thanks to all who agreed to me to take a photo – you’re all superstars!

In the late evening, I popped over to the Prog Rock arena to see Rick Wakeman.  Rick was performing on his own, with just a grand piano.  Instrumental versions didn’t really appeal at first, though it turned out to be a fantastic set of lush, almost Classical songs.  There was a Sci-Fi tie in with an absolutely wonderful recital of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, which Rick had preformed on originally.  Plus the between song banter was hilarious! IMG_4068

Back to the Sci-Fi arena for the Cosplay finals – which saw a hard fought contest eventually won by the young Tim Burton character family!  We ll done!  Then it was party time, with characters from all conceivable franchises across the genre seeing the weekend out in style.

It was a long trip back to the real world.  We met some awesome people, saw a few familiar faces from last year, and had a great time.  Here’s to next year.  If only I had a Tardis, I could do it all again…

I have dozens of photos left.  I’ll do a bonus section as per last year in the coming weeks.

The Sci-Fi Weekender website is here.

You can find Sci-Fi Weekender on Facebook or follow on Twitter: @scifiweekender

The Prog Rock website is here.

Wayne Hussey – Gig Review

Wayne Hussey 

Friday 10th October 2014

The Tivoli, Buckley

Seems like I’m at the Tiv every other week these days…  This time, it was to see Wayne Hussey, he of The Mission, performing a solo acoustic set.  Somehow I’ve never managed to see The Mission live, so this was a nice tick in the box. fly_waynehussey

The gig starts late, due to Wayne being stuck in traffic on the M56.  No matter, there’s no support band, just Wayne and his tech guy tonight.  When we get in the venue, the familiar lay out is augmented by a few tables and chairs down the front.  I’ve never seen anything like that in the Tivoli before.  It’s a nice indication of how the gig will be.  We didn’t manage to scrounge any seats though, so we stood near the front.

The set consists of some Mission songs and some covers, with Wayne solo on guitar or keyboard, and some backing track/drums.  We get a magnificent “Black Mountain Mist” and covers including All About Eve’s “Martha’s Harbour”.

Some may expect a gloomy goth vibe, but there’s none of that – Wayne is relaxed and in good spirits, adding some stories and humour between songs.  It’s a great way to experience an artists music – an intimate atmosphere where the songs are allowed to shine.

I would’ve liked some more songs from the Children and Carved in Sand albums, but there’s no complaints.  Wayne Hussey seems to enjoy himself, and it’s a treat for the audience to see an artist up close and personal.

I can’t remember much more as the Stella in the Tiv made me loopy.  Great night.

Questions #7: Christmas Songs

It’s Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid.  Not that there’s any doubt that we’re in the festive season – there are decorations, lights, and yes, songs, everywhere.  Christmas songs are the cherry on the top, the star on the tree – and they’re inescapable right now, whether you’re shopping or just watching TV.

So what’s your favourite Christmas song?  I did some research and this is what I found.

There were some rules: basically, it had to be a song about Christmas; with a Christmassy theme or “sound”.  A Christmas number one therefore doesn’t necessarily count, much as I love Rage Against the Machine.  Traditional or pop, here are the results.

Q: What’s your favourite Christmas song?

Jess: “Merry Christmas Everyone” – Shakin’ Stevens

Ash: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Lynne: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Tom: “Merry Christmas Everyone” – Shakin’ Stevens

Matt: “Last Christmas” – Wham!

Dave W: “Stop the Cavalry” – Jona Lewie

Mike W: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Imam: “Jingle Bells” (Traditional)

Jayne: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Alix: “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – The Darkness

Stu: “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – The Darkness

Jade: “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey

Michelle: “I Wish It Could Be Christmas Everyday” – Wizzard

Jamie: “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” – Brenda Lee

Terry: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Sam: “A Spaceman Came Travelling” – Chris De Burgh

David R: “The Night Santa Went Crazy” – “Weird Al” Yankovic

Sue R: “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” – Band Aid

Nathan: “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey

Ben G: “Christmas Time (Don’t Let the Bells End)” – The Darkness

Sarah: “Fairytale of New York” – The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl

Jack: “All I Want for Christmas is You” – Mariah Carey

Me: “Merry Christmas Everybody” – Slade

So there you have it: the popular choice for people’s favourite is The Pogues & Kirsty MacColl’s “Fairytale of New York”.  Great song.  Should’ve been a Christmas number one.

Only one vote for Slade???  Never mind, at least the vile monstrosity that is East 17 didn’t get a vote.

If you’d like to let me know your personal favourite Christmas song, leave a comment.  Disagree with these choices?  Are you an East 17 fan?  Let me know.

“It’s CHRIIIIIISSSSTMAAAASSSSS!!!”

Platinum Al’s Platinum Artists

There are over 23,000 songs in my iTunes library.  Hundreds of artists across numerous genres.  But which artists have contributed the most to my music collection?  I’ve reviewed all of them and compiled a list of which artists I have the most songs by.  Some may surprise you.

The list below comprises the twenty artists with the most number of songs in my music collection at the moment.  The list grows all the time.  I should point out that this isn’t a list of my favourite artists in order, just a list of who’s music I have the most of.

All duplicate tracks (for example, a hit single appearing on an album and a Greatest Hits compilation) have been removed.  Also extended versions, remixes and so on are usually not in my library anyway – with a few exceptions.  And I generally don’t collect live albums – again with one or two exceptions – so duplicates of this type don’t generally figure in this list, unless there’s a particular reason for them to be here.  In many cases, there are more tracks to be added for these Top 20 artists.

Here they are:

Top 20 Bands with the Most Songs in my Collection

20. Clutch – 128 songs

A massive contribution from this fine Maryland band, with only one track duplicated (an alternative, acoustic version of “Motherless Child”).  This doesn’t include their great new album “Earth Rocker”, which isn’t added yet.

19. Danzig – 130 songs

The mighty Danzig makes a respectable appearance at number 19, thanks to a complete collection of studio albums and a helping hand from the “Lost Tracks of Danzig” compilation.  This figure does not include any Misfits or Samhain tracks either, as I’ve classed them in this case as separate entities.  Otherwise Glenn would be even higher up the list.

18. David Bowie – 133 songs

Spanning most of Dave’s career, but still with quite a few albums missing from my collection – so this number could increase.

17. Hawkwind – 148 songs

Admittedly, this figure does include live tracks – but then “Space Ritual” is such an integral part of the bands persona it has to be included.  Still many, many more albums to collect though.

16. The Beach Boys – 149 songs

What a band.  I’ve loved the Beach Boys for so long.  There are so many great album tracks beside the obvious hits, everyone should investigate them further.  I still have at least three albums to add here though, so a Top Ten position could be on the way in future updates.

15. AC/DC – 153 songs

All the albums, no live tracks – surprising though that there isn’t more from the mighty AC/DC.  Several of their albums also appear in my “Greatest of All Time” list, no doubt coming soon…

14. Red Hot Chili Peppers – 154 songs

One of the best bands ever.  Not just one of the best alternative bands, or one of the best funk rock (ugghh) bands – one of THE best bands ever.  I’m surprised they don’t come in higher on this list, however, given the massive amount of work they’ve produced.  Their best album? A debate for another time.  But it’s “Mother’s Milk”.  No, “BloodSugarSexMagic”.  No, “Mother’s…”, ah, we’ll see.

13. Metallica – 159 songs

Now this number does include the live album “S & M”, though as those tracks are accompanied by an orchestra (and therefore sufficiently different) I decided to include them.  Also includes their totally mental collaboration with Lou Reed – which everyone hates except me.

12. The Damned – 163 songs

Ah, The Damned.  Probably my most favourite band ever, this number includes all the albums, plus compilations of B-sides etc, from “Damned Damned Damned” to “So Who’s Paranoid”.  But remember, no duplicates – so for example “New Rose” only appears once (on the original album) – reappearances on the (many) compilations have been discounted.

11. The Rolling Stones – 165 songs

Only 165 songs?  Clearly, I have some work to do here.  There must be another 30 or so albums to get.  This includes all the greats though.  And the debate over their best songs and albums will be tackled in a future post.

And now the Top Ten…

10. Iggy Pop – 177 songs

A fantastic, under rated musician.  Not nearly well known or respected enough these days. This number includes all the Stooges albums, as I decided that to exclude them would deprive a historical view of Iggy of some important milestones.  Iggy rocks.

9. Beastie Boys – 183 songs

You’re surprised that the Beasties have recorded so much?  Don’t be.  And the quality is excellent throughout.  Includes all of their forays into different musical genres, such as the fantastic “In Sound From Way Out” album.

8. Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds – 185 songs

I still have a few albums to collect from Nick Cave.  The 185 songs includes the three disc “B-sides and Rarities” album, but no Birthday Party, Grinderman or film soundtracks.  Maybe I’ll add those to a future update.  Amazing music.

7. Queen – 191 songs

“Greatest Hits I and II” is not enough.  You need the studio albums for some of the outstanding lesser known compositions.  More on this in a later post.  No live tracks included.

6. Ramones – 199 songs

There are just a couple of bonus tracks from “End of the Century” I don’t have.  No live tracks included.  I’ve loved this band ever since my English teacher played “Go Mental” in class.

5. Alice Cooper – 204 songs

Often maligned as a cock-rock Metal caricature, many miss the impact that Alice has had on rock, punk and alternative music.  Pay this man some respect.  NOW.  Still loads of albums I don’t own, but I’m working on it.

4. The Beatles – 207 songs

I was surprised I had this many tunes by The Beatles, but what a band.  Beyond compare, and I’m happy to see them up near the top of the list.  This number doesn’t include my Mum’s original 7 inch singles, of course.

3. Motorhead – 221 songs

How many albums have Motorhead made now?  Not enough.  Recent output has been just as great as the early years.  Still got two or three albums I need to get though, unbelievably.

2. Melvins – 282 songs

I love this band.  282 songs, including collaborations with Jello Biafra and others.  Doesn’t include the new record “Everybody Loves Sausages” (yet), and still quite a few albums (not just single tracks!) I need to track down.

So which recording artist has the most songs that I own?  Who could possibly top that list?  Only one man…

1. Johnny Cash – 330 songs

That number doesn’t include the Christmas album or a new three disc set I picked up recently.  A duets album with June Carter Cash is in there, however.  And the two live albums “At Folsom Prison” and “At San Quentin” – as they’re both indispensable.  I am a huge fan of Johnny Cash, and thankfully there’s still loads of his music out there for me to discover.

Johnny Cash is my hero.

Any thoughts?  Disagree with any of the above criteria?  Leave a comment.