The Book Tower
debut novel coming soon

RSS feed

Late from Halloween

Wednesday October 31, 2018 in halloween |

Speed writing from my recent writers’ residency. Needs work but thought I’d share.

The way she shuts the door, there’s always a squeak. She can never keep it quiet enough. She gets in first.


If this is going to turn into an argument about her now being a grown-up – or not being a grown-up – I will try to use this as an example. Still the angry little girl. Hands on hips and what?

“Your question is a little too abstract,” I say. “Ask me another.”

“Who replaced Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones?”

Eh? Bugger. She’s wrong-footed me. Mick Taylor, I think, but I don’t answer. She doesn’t know Mick Taylor. Nobody knows Mick Taylor. The Pointless answer from the Stones. Perhaps she has taken this from Pointless. I should get this over with.

“What time is it?”

“Brilliant,” she says. “Right answer. The answer to what, if you were wondering. Well, I estimate that it’s around five and twenty to eleven.”

Five and twenty. An old fashioned way of telling the time. Grandfathers and their clocks. Just to wind me up.

“You estimate?”


“I see.”

There is no clock out here. Too readily confronting her in the hallway with no evidence to back me up.

“Because I know that it’s after ten thirty, which is why I knew you were going to ask.”

“And I knew what what meant.”

She’s trying not to smile. We’re funny together.

“Excellent,” she says. “Very perceptive. Well done Benedict Cumberbatch.”

“Who’s she?”

I know who Benedict Cumberbatch is. But I like to be flippant with her. Not a very grown-up thing to be doing.


2017 in Concert

Sunday December 24, 2017 in music |


Billy Bragg and Joe Henry at St. George in Bristol. King Creosote at Colston Hall.


The Jesus and Mary Chain at O2 Academy Bristol. The Who at The Royal Albert Hall.


The Cribs and Honeyblood, both at the O2 Academy Bristol.


Pond supported by Methyl Ethel at Thekla, Bristol.


The Flaming Lips at The Colston Hall.


Mr Jukes at The Marble Factory and Sparks at the O2 Academy.


The Pretenders, The Waterboys and Public Service Broadcasting at Colston Hall. Sleaford Mods at O2 Academy.


Ride as SWX Bristol. Robert Plant at Colston Hall.


The Charlatans at Brixton Academy.


Another Goody Bag for Halloween

Tuesday October 31, 2017 in halloween |

His pain was so great that he could no longer struggle or move at all, except his head turned briefly in my direction, and his eyes (horror-filled) met mine.

Book choice is Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders. Winner of the 2017 Booker Prize, I wasn’t expecting this to be a Halloween read but it has suited this afternoon perfectly and I am already halfway through. A very original ghost story.

Film choice is Raw. French modern horror written and directed by Julia Ducournau.

TV choice is Stranger Things. Back for the second series and – again – I am halfway through. The Halloween episode is brilliant.

Song choices are Drayton Manored by Sleaford Mods and Disco Creep by Nachthexen. I saw both bands live recently and these two tracks are seasonally fitting.


Dead of Night

Saturday December 24, 2016 in 40s cinema | horror

I wish it were as easy as that. But trying to remember a dream is like, how shall I put it, being out at night in a thunder-storm. There’s a flash of lightning and, for one brief moment, everything stands out: vivid and startling.

Theatrical poster for Dead of Night An architect drives to a country house to consult on some renovations. Upon arrival he meets a number of guests, and despite never having met any of them he reveals that he has seen them all in a recurring dream and is able to predict spontaneous events in the house before they happen, such as another guest turning up late and a pair of glasses breaking. He also partially recalls with some apprehension that something awful will later occur, and becomes increasingly disturbed.

Dead of Night is the legendary 1945 British anthology horror film made by Ealing Studios. The individual stories were directed by Alberto Cavalcanti, Charles Crichton, Basil Dearden and Robert Hamer, wrapped in a framing story that explores the recursive nature of dreams. It stars Mervyn Johns (as the architect Walter Craig), Googie Withers and Michael Redgrave and stands out from British film of the 1940s, when very few horror films were being made. It had an influence on subsequent films in the genre when horror later regained popularity. The Amicus portmanteau films of the 60s and 70s were directly inspired by Dead of Night (characters recount their dreams in The Vault of Horror (1973) and a haunted mirror sequence appears in 1974’s From Beyond the Grave). There’s Creepshow (1982) as well. The recurring nightmare theme was also used to good effect in a 1980 episode of Hammer House of Horror and a good chunk of Twilight Zone stories. The idea of various characters recounting supernatural tales remains an enduring plot device to this day, used most recently in Neil Gaiman’s Unlikely Stories, and the circular narrative has been well employed too; I recall the 1970s children’s TV series Children of the Stones applying it for good effect.

Although regarded as a horror classic (regularly cited so by Martin Scorsese), none of the Dead of Night directors were subsequently linked to the genre, with Basil Dearden only ever really coming close; their work staying more aligned to traditional Ealing comedy fare.

The framing story is directed by Dearden and is effective thanks to Johns’ wonderful performance as the increasingly disturbed Craig. The house guests attempt to test his foresight and set him at ease, while entertaining each other with various uncanny tales:

A racing car driver sees a hearse outside his house, realises a premonition and later avoids a fatal bus crash. This is also directed by Dearden and based on The Bus-Conductor, a short story by E. F. Benson which has also become something of an urban myth story with its catchphrase “room for one more”, with the bus being substituted for a lift or an aeroplane in some stories. Dearden went on to make countless British films including The Blue Lamp (1950). I have previously reviewed his final film The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970) starring Roger Moore as a man who meets his own double, which plays out not unlike an extended Dead of Night segment.

A ghostly encounter during a children’s Christmas party. Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti; story by Angus MacPhail. I know Cavalcanti best for the excellent wartime drama Went the Day Well? (1942). Unfortunately this is one of the less effective parts of Dead of Night, although helps to nicely place it as a Christmas film and hence this posting.

A haunted antique mirror. This one is quite creepy, directed by Robert Hamer, probably most famous for Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), and written by John Baines. Baines also wrote the screenplay for the 1960 horror The Hands of Orlac, where a famous pianist inherits the hands of a murderer.

A comic tale of two rival golfers, one of whom becomes haunted by the other’s ghost. Directed by Charles Crichton and based on a story by H.G. Wells. Another Ealing perennial, Crichton made The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Too light for the genre and over long, the golfing sequence is another weak part, although serves to set things up appropriately for what is to come.

The film is best-remembered for the final story told by psychiatrist Dr. Van Straaten of an unbalanced ventriloquist (Michael Redgrave) who believes his amoral dummy Hugo is alive, leading to murder and madness. Directed by Cavalcanti, story by Baines, Redgrave is excellent and, next to Johns, his performance is the most memorable in the film. The theme of the troublesome ventriloquist dummy is echoed in William Goldman’s novel Magic, but the Redgrave sequence also reminded me of the psychological theme of Psycho, mostly notable the ending of Hitchcock’s film.

The framing story completes when Dr. Van Straaten accidentally breaks his glasses and the power goes out, the nightmare continuing with Craig escaping into a montage of scenes and characters from the house guests’ tales. The dummy Hugo is seen strangling him when he wakes up to the sound of a telephone ringing. It is an invite to the country to consult on some renovations. As the film ends, he is again seen driving up to his host’s house as he did in the opening scene…

Dead of Night is at times an uneven film, a symptom of multi-director anthologies. A touch overlong, the party and golf sequences were cut for the US release. It cleverest aspect is the Chinese Box plotting and circular narrative, and whilst some of the performances appear dated, the script is very well written. And the effectively odd ending must have been quite a shock for the immediate post-war audience, who perhaps left the cinema not sure if they were coming or going.

Why did you have to break your glasses..?


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.


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.


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…


2016 in Concert Part Three*

Thursday December 1, 2016 in live music |

The Damned, Motion Bristol, November

In the summer of 1976 I’m guessing that many of the early punk gigs took place in sweltering heat. Not so for the Bristol leg of the 40th anniversary tour of The Damned. Seeing them in sub-zero temperature I have never been so cold. The Motion nightclub closely resembles what I imagine to be a Gulag experience. But it was kind of fitting for the occasion, seeing Dave Vanian in his Dracula garb prowling around the stage and members of the audience breathing out mist.

There’s also a lot of what I would describe as punk vintage in attendance, who are on the whole surprisingly urbane, and I forgive the few who do push rudely to the front as jumping up and down in a frenzy is one option for keeping warm. And Motion does work in a way for this gig; squashed and often scarily intimate. Captain Sensible revels in this setup, addressing his audience often and even offering the mike stand at one point.

With Vanian being the more reticent of the two (like the Buzzcocks who are doing a similar anniversary thing, The Damned only retain guitarist – although original bassist in actuality – and lead vocalist from their first line up), it is Sensible who acts as spokesman for the band. When they enter to a background of Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Fanfare for the Common Man he barks “turn that shit off!” Although the man next to me who’s been dancing to it has clearly missed the irony. It’s clear from the outset that they have retained their sense of humour. They have also kept their cartoonish aspect, and Sensible with his trademark red beret is a strange offset to Vanian.

The Damned launch into a full set of their debut album. Neat Neat Neat, I Fall, Born to Kill and all the rest of it. It’s superb, and obviously over in half an hour or so. What struck me, during the Damned, Damned, Damned set and later, is what a fine guitarist Sensible is. He does slip into guitar rock cliches from time to time but it’s welcome, although this does take the edge off his ELP antagonism. A strange mixture of styles unfolds during the rest of the set, which demonstrates the various flavours of the Damned that followed over the decades after their 1977 album, including an excellent version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit.

Sensible and Vanian, now in their early 60s, look remarkably well. They fared better than I did, and I slid away before the end of the evening giving up against the cold. But all in all seeing the Damned in concert was a better alternative for marking the occasion than setting light to my collection of punk memorabilia. And with only a handful of 7 inch singles to my name, it wouldn’t have kept me warm.

Location to view: by the door.

* if you were expecting 2016 in Concert Part Two I have simply got ahead of myself and this instalment will follow.


2016 In Concert Part One

Saturday November 26, 2016 in live music |

Between now and the end of the year a 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 by the way, but I’m not telling you which one.

John Grant, BBC 6 Music Festival, Colston Hall Bristol, February

In February BBC 6 Music succeeded in squeezing more people into the Colston Hall than I thought ever possible. The bill included Guy Garvey and Julia Holter, although the act who totally nailed proceedings was John Grant. The highlight was his duet with Jimi Goodwin from Doves. Popping over the road to catch the Buzzcocks at the O2, I missed Laura Marling, but more of her later.

Location to view: back stalls for Guy Garvey, balcony for Julia Holter, down at the front for John Grant. For Buzzcocks, bar area.

The Wonder Stuff, O2 Academy Bristol, March

I’d actually bought a ticket because I wanted to see the support band, The Wedding Present, for the first time since 1988 when they played at The Fridge in Brixton. But sadly they were a bit lacklustre, but I’m glad to have caught The Wonder Stuff again (the first time since about 1989 I think). I’d forgotten about what a good front man they have in Miles Hunt, and Erika Nockalls has made a fine more recent addition to the line up.

Location to view: bar area.

Joanne Shaw Taylor, O2 Academy Bristol, April

I last saw Wilko Johnson in 1990 at the Brixton Academy supporting Ian Dury and the Blockheads. So it’s nicely fitting that the support act on this occasion was also the more memorable and the one hour set from Joanne Shaw Taylor was captivating.

Location to view: bar area.

New Order, Teenage Cancer Trust, Royal Albert Hall London, April

Finally, after never seeing them live before. The Teenage Cancer trust concerts at the Albert Hall have become a regular fixture for me. Last year I saw Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds and I have tickets for The Who next year. New Order filled two hours with a mixture of their back catalogue, which includes Joy Division songs, and their most recent album Music Complete.

Location to view: a box.


Satan's Slave

Friday November 18, 2016 in 70s cinema | horror

Thanks to the Horror Channel for reviving interest in the hugely enjoyable 1976 film Satan’s Slave.

Theatrical poster for Satan's SlaveSo. Catherine Yorke (Candace Glendenning) leaves London with her parents to visit her mysterious uncle Alexander (Michael Gough) in his large country house. But the drive ends in tragedy when Catherine’s parents appear to die in a freak car accident just as they’ve turned into Alexander’s drive.

She’s then taken in by Alexander, his son Stephen (Martin Potter, seen up to no good in the opening scene of the film, in a sort of Ralph Bates role) and a woman called Frances (Barbara Kellerman). Catherine recovers from her ordeal and begins to take an unwise shine to Stephen, but also starts to have terrible hallucinations. If this wasn’t enough, Frances tells of a plan to sacrifice her in order to avenge an ancient ancestor called Camilla who was said to possess evil powers. Indeed, they plan to use Camilla’s powers for Alexander’s own evil, a sacrificial surprise planned for her 20th birthday. Meanwhile, Catherine’s boyfriend in London (played by Ben from Doctor Who Michael Craze) is plagued by spells and leaps to his death from a tower block.

Stephen finds out of course and kills Frances; when Catherine discovers her dead body Stephen locks her away until the morning of the ritual. When they take her in the woods and prepare her, Catherine kills Stephen by stabbing him in the eye with a blade. She gets away but is then is tricked back into the clutches of her insane uncle by suddenly running into her father who leads her back into the evil…

You stabbed him right in the eye which went right through into his brain you clearly have some of Camilla in you already.

For a British horror film made in the 1970s and rarely seen on television, there’s a high level of blood and nudity. The IMDB provide a list plot keywords, including altar, reference to satan, cult, visions, exploding car, whipping and sex between cousins to help colour it in a bit more. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7 featured fairly regularly in many British horror films of the 60s and 70s.

Satan’s Slave, also known as Evil Heritage, is reminiscent of Pete Walker’s British horror films of the 1970s, and that’s because it’s written by David McGillivray, who worked with Walker on four films including House of Whipcord (1974). It’s directed by Norman J. Warren, and I intend to seek out his films Prey (1977) and his other McGillivray collaboration, Terror (1978).

Michael Gough, who appeared in so many genre films it’s impossible to begin listing them, actually appears very little in Satan’s Slave, and it’s a shame especially as he’s groomed an excellent moustache for proceedings. Nevertheless, it joins the other top Gough films Trog (1970) and Horror Hospital (1973) for sheer camp. Candace Glendenning also has a Walker connection, appearing in the Flesh and Blood Show (1972). Curiously, she appeared in an episode of the children’s show Rainbow a year after Satan’s Slave was released.