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Last Christmas

Tuesday December 20, 2016 in comics |

cover of Wham! annual 1967A recent find for a reasonable price in a second hand bookshop – The Wham! 1967 annual. I imagine this would have appeared on many a wish list drawn up in the winter months of 1966. This annual came out before I was born – so even though I am an annual obsessive I didn’t know very much about Wham! until now. The comic launched in 1964 and it ran for four years, and one of the people behind it was Leo Baxendale, the legendary Beano artist who in the 1950s created The Bash Street Kids.

Baxendale’s stamp runs through the 1967 Wham! annual very much; the cover alone you will agree is a joy. Reading it now, Wham! comes across as a freer, weirder, lost alternative to The Beano. Strips include The Tiddlers, a school story clearly in the vein of The Bash Street Kids and The Wacks, twins not dissimilar to Dennis the Menace with a very 60s flavour to their adventures, when their “super-charged” record player goes out of control and launches a set of beat records that run amok.

A stand out strip is Frankie Stein, a humourous horror character who following monetary problems is forced to rent out his home Mildew Manor to a group of modern artists. The strain they put on him leads him to visit a psychiatrist called Doctor Von Schnoogle and he later clashes with a character called Gideon Ghoul who has similar anxieties. Best of all is the Baxendale drawn and quite surreal Eagle, Eye Junior Spy where the baddie Grimly Feendish is thwarted in his attempt to engulf London in sleeping gas and rule England. It’s switched to laughing gas without him knowing it, although with no sense of humour this doesn’t affect him. Frankie Stein survived into several later comics, including Shiver and Shake and Monster Fun Comic which I can remember from the mid 1970s. Grimly Feendish, who looks a little like Uncle Fester from The Addams Family, also appeared in other comics after the demise of Wham! and was immortalised in a 1985 song by The Damned.

Wham! was part of the Power comics strand that also included Pow!, Smash, Fantastic and Terrific. As well as the traditional cartoon strips the comics also included the first UK reprints of Marvel stories, predating the first true UK Marvel titles that emerged in the early 1970s Mighty World of Marvel and Spider-Man Comics Weekly. Power comics printed many X-Men stories, although strangely the X-Men did not appear in the later UK Marvel titles. Although coming to an end in 1968 when it merged with Pow!, like many other discontinued weekly titles Wham! continued as a Christmas annual for several more years. Where the quality of some annuals can be dubious, the Wham! annuals are wonderful (I also have 1968). The majority of the strips are printed in colour, well worth the eight shillings and six pence price. The stories feel much fresher and more inventive than the better known Beano counterparts and those from the much longer lived Whizzer and Chips, Buster and Whoopee!.

Other notable 1960s Christmas annuals I’m looking out for include the other Power comics titles, The Beano (my collection of Beano annuals only goes as far back as 1971) and any of the IPC Fleetway titles that included Lion and Valiant. Sadly, apart from Beano and Dandy still going strong, for Christmas 2016 comic annuals are largely no more. In fact some comics, such as 2000 AD, have continued to thrive with their weekly publication but have long ceased to produce an annual. These days annuals are largely a mixture of TV, film and pop tie ins.

Incidentally, Christmas 1966 had Tom Jones at the top of the UK hit parade with Green, Green Grass of Home. Not particularly very Christmassy a song and the first time in four years that the Beatles hadn’t topped the charts at the end of December. Perhaps least remembered as a “Christmas song”? And at the same time television viewers were able to enjoy The Highlanders, Patrick Troughton’s second Doctor Who adventure. But with television being blamed as the major factor in the decline of British comics, including the Power titles, we won’t talk about that.

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2016 in Concert Part Four

Friday December 16, 2016 in live music |

The last part of my 2016 round up with two Christmas shows.

Low, St. George’s Bristol, December

It was a treat to see Low performing their 1999 Christmas collection of songs. St. George’s in Bristol was the perfect venue to see one of my favourite Christmas albums live, the striking old church suiting their music perfectly. There was a mixture of covers and original songs, including Long Way Around the Sea, Blue Christmas, Silent Night and the first set finished with Just Like Christmas. The second set featured mostly songs from their last two albums, including No Comprende and Lies. They finished by playing their new Christmas single Some Hearts.

Stuart Maconie on 6 Music describes Low’s music as beautiful but with something darker always lurking in the corner of your eye. That was very much the feel on this evening, their cover versions always adding a slight menace to the original songs – particularly with their slowed down version of Blue Christmas. The most striking aspect of Low’s music if the vocal harmonies between guitarist Alan Sparhawk and drummer Mimi Parker.

Their was excellent support from Erik Koskinen and Harkin. Unfortunately I only caught the end of Koskinen’s set, but he joined Low on stage and also performed his own brilliant On Christmas Day, one of the many highlights of the evening.

Location to view: various tried as there is some restricted viewing; we settled upstairs, third row.

The Coral, O2 Academy Bristol, December

The Coral are a band who deserve better attention than they get. This year they released their eighth album Distance Inbetween, and their Bristol set stretched back to their 2002 debut which included Dreaming of You. Pass it On, Jacqueline, In the Morning; The Coral have written so many memorable songs. But their talent goes deeper than that – brilliant musicianship and sound; one of the technically best bands I’ve seen. Their music is very Byrds influenced, and The Coral have grown up considerably over the last 15 years, their look now encompasses the full gamut of beards, hats and long hair. But it’s not just appearance; they’ve grown into a band of fine skill and stature.

Location to view: bar area.

That’s it for 2016. Next year is already looking good, with King Creosote, Bon Iver, Laura Marling, Simple Minds, The Who and Pretenders booked in.

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2016 in Concert Part Two

Sunday December 4, 2016 in live music |

Part two of my run down of the best concerts I’ve attended in 2016. Clips are provided where available, but don’t really do justice. I’m in one of these videos, but I’m not telling you which one.

Iggy Pop, Royal Albert Hall London, May

Not only one of the best concerts of 2016, but the best concert I’ve ever been to. Iggy Pop at the Albert Hall received five star reviews in the majority of the write ups that I read. He managed to charm the entire audience, and kicking into Lust for Life right at the beginning, he was a completely captivating performer for two solid hours. Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age led the excellent backing band. No Stooges material, with songs mostly from The Idiot, Lust for Life and this year’s Post Pop Depression.

Location to view: front stalls.

Neil Young, O2 Arena London, June

Although very much in Promise of the Real mode, Young performs many classics including After the Gold Rush, The Needle and the Damage Done, Alabama and Walk On. The excellent support came from Laura Marling, who in December joined the alumni of artists who’ve brought the Colston Hall website down due to ticket demand.

Location to view: stalls.

Elvis Costello, Colston Hall Bristol, July

Elvis Costello has turned out, like Morrissey, to be one of those artists that you have to see several times in concert before you finally catch a great performance. He was on top form this summer.

Location to view: stalls.

Primal Scream, Bristol Downs, September

And the rain came down.

Location to view: jostling for room.

ABC, Colston Hall Bristol, October

Like Primal Scream, I’ve always had a soft spot for ABC. The Lexicon of Love was one of the best albums of the early 80s, and they’ve received a lot of attention this year after releasing a follow up album. The Lexicon of Love II is really good – who would have thought it? But I’m still also a big fan of ABC’s odder excursions. Their second album Beauty Stab didn’t do too well with its change in direction to a “rockier” sound, but it’s a good record, as is 1985’s How to be a Zillionaire. Perhaps this was dismissed because ABC were viewed as having gone barking mad at the time by adopting a kind of cartoon image. But it’s an excellent record. Be Near Me is a classic pop song.

Tonight there’s a nod (I think it is) to Zillionaire with the presence of Rob Fusari. His opening set is very strange, but I loved his Michael Jackson version of Riders on the Storm. Dressed in sort of space overalls, when he joins ABC for several numbers he’s a funny contrast to their smart suits and Martin Fry’s gold shoes. He clearly enjoys himself, although my favourite member of the band is the very serious looking bass player Andy Carr.

ABC open with a collection that opens with When Smokey Sings, features Be Near Me and How to be a Millionaire and includes many tracks from The Lexicon of Love II, including Viva Love. After an interval, they deliver The Lexicon of Love in its entirety, the set opened by Anne Dudley and her very competent orchestra. Like other gigs I’ve seen where a full classic album is played, it’s over fairly quickly and is a touch inevitable (although Fry seems confused at times – “what’s the next one? Poison Arrow?”) when it comes to a close.

I’ve just worked out that this video was taken by the person sitting next to me.

Location to view: front row.

Echo and the Bunnymen, O2 Academy Bristol, November

Like The Damned, reviewed either before or after this post I’m not sure, Echo and the Bunnymen only have two core members left in the band, vocalist Ian McCulloch and guitarist Will Sargeant. But apart from Mac it’s difficult to tell who’s who on the stage at the O2 in Bristol with the lights being so low throughout their set.

The Bunnymen perform many of their finest songs including The Back of Love, The Killing Moon, Rescue and Bring on the Dancing Horses. This isn’t a sold out concert, as the stairs being roped off and the second bar being closed are tell tale signs of this, but the extra space is a luxury.

Location to view: bar area.

No video footage available. Apart from mine…

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