Maria Wants To Be Friends. But Maria’s Dead. Isn’t She?

“1989. When Louise first notices the new girl who has mysteriously transferred late into their senior year, Maria seems to be everything the girls Louise hangs out with aren’t. Authentic. Funny. Brash. Within just a few days, Maria and Louise are on their way to becoming fast friends.

2016. Louise receives a heart-stopping email: Maria Weston wants to be friends on Facebook. Long-buried memories quickly rise to the surface: those first days of their budding friendship; cruel decisions made and dark secrets kept; the night that would change all their lives forever.

Louise has always known that if the truth ever came out, she could stand to lose everything. Her job. Her son. Her freedom. Maria’s sudden reappearance threatens it all, and forces Louise to reconnect with everyone she’d severed ties with to escape the past. But as she tries to piece together exactly what happened that night, Louise discovers there’s more to the story than she ever knew. To keep her secret, Louise must first uncover the whole truth, before what’s known to Maria – or whoever’s pretending to be her – is known to all…”

The most recent book that I’ve read is “Friend Request”, the debut novel from British author Laura Marshall a book that is a probably best described as a psychological crime thriller.

The tale is told almost exclusively from the perspective of Louise Williams. In 2016 Louise is a forty-something divorced interior designer living in a flat in London. Mother to four year-old Henry, she’s still wrestling with some latent feelings for her ex-husband Sam and has a very small social circle – best friend Polly being just about it. When she receives a Facebook notification that someone wants to be friends with her she is utterly shocked as that person, fellow schoolgirl Maria Weston, disappeared during their leavers’ party in Norfolk back in 1989, presumed drowned having fallen from a cliff edge near the school.

What makes the request even worse for Louise is the fact that ever since that night she has felt guilt for her role in Maria’s disappearance. Now Maria is back – or is she? If not who is it really and what do they want?

Laura Marshall

Louise reconnects with her best friend at school, Sophie Hannigan, through Facebook, to find out if she’s also had a friend request from Maria. Sophie, along with Sam and his pal Matt were the only other people who knew what Louise had done on the night of the leavers’ party.

An imminent class of ’89 reunion gives the reluctant Louise chance to try to discover what’s going on, but if the meantime she gets ever-more creepy Facebook messages from Maria and she begins to really feel the stress of her guilty secret more than ever…

The action switches between 2016 and 1989 as we slowly uncover the layers of secrets and lies that have affected everything since Louise’s final months at school. In between there are occasional streams of thought from an unknown source, describing the relationship between a male and female – though the identity of those concerned doesn’t become clear until the climax of the book as there are a number of possible candidates.

Marshall has written a vivid and compelling story which touches on themes including peer-pressure and bullying at school, the nature of distant and superficial “friendships” via social media with those we haven’t seen for many a year and how we view / they present their lives as well as how well we can ever truly know anyone and whether, at heart, everyone is really just looking out for themselves – even within intimate relationships.

In some ways reading this book reminded me a little of “Weirdo” by Cathi Unsworth, with the flitting backwards and forwards from present day to school days and the particular pressures of secondary school life. That said it a very different tale and one that’s been told very effectively. Highly recommended reading…

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Solennial

Sophie Day

A recent musical discovery for me has been West Midlands-based doom metal outfit Alunah, via their latest album “Solennial”. The band was formed in 2006 by vocalist Sophie Day along with her husband David Day (guitars), Jake Mason (drums) and Andy Barnett (bass).

Alunah In 2008

Barnett had been replaced by Gareth Imber by the time the group’s debut album “Call Of Avernus” was recorded and released in 2010 and was to appear on second album “White Hoarhound” (2012) as well before departing and being himself replaced by current bassist Daniel Burchmore. “Awakening The Forest”, the band’s third album, surfaced in late 2014.

David Day

March 2017 witnessed the release album of number four, the aforementioned “Solennial” – the groups’ first with label Svart Records (home of Trees Of Eternity and Jess & The Ancient Ones amongst others). The record was recorded at Skyhammer Studios by producer Chris Fielding who has previously worked with artists including Winterfylleth, Sir Admiral Cloudesley Shovell and Electric Wizard.

Jake Mason & Daniel Burchmore

As with so many bands within the doom metal scene, Alunah clearly take inspiration from a fellow West Midlands act – the rather well-known Black Sabbath. However, whilst other groups of their ilk are content to use said inspiration as a template from which they seldom deviate Alunah have over the course of their previous three records sought to expand their own sonic palette.

Alunah In 2014

“Solennial” begins with a gentle and soothing “The Dying Soil”, as a cascading guitar part and barely-there drums lay a backing for Sophie Day’s delicate delivery of lyrics concerning the transition from Autumn to Winter. This introduction gathers in eerie intensity until coming to an abrupt conclusion as the fuzzy guitar tones of David Day usher in “Light Of Winter”, a song that shows the band’s pagan leanings as it concerns Alban Arthan – a Druidic festival at the Winter Solstice.

Alunah Live In 2017

“Feast Of Torches”, the second longest track on the album at a little over seven minutes, has more variety within its duration. This, and the vocal delivery brought to mind the sound of Blood Ceremony to me. This is underscored really by the psychedelic passages that occur throughout the album.

Thornborough Henge

“The Reckoning Of Time” has a fluid and melodic guitar solo amongst some nice light and shade before the monolithic riffing returns with the fabulous “Fire Of Thornborough Henge” – a song inspired by the fire festival of Beltane being celebrated at Thornborough Henge, a monument in Yorkshire spanning built approximately five thousand years ago.

Alunah In 2017

The next number “Petrichor” (which means the earthy scent produced with the first rain after a long period of warm, dry weather) is another track with a nice balance of light and shade but is itself eclipsed by the rather good “Lugh’s Assembly” which addresses some Irish mythology concerning the pagan God named Lugh and his foster-mother Tailtiu who seems to have also been Queen of the Fir Bolg. Whatever the story it’s a great tune!

The Cure – A Forest

Finally we have a cover of “A Forest” – originally recorded by The Cure way back in 1980. The intro riff here is a slowed down version of the original which retains a gothic rock quality but that quickly gives away to doom riffing at funereal pace and a masterful reinterpretation of a song that – as with many of those preceding it – is concerned with the natural world around us, specifically forestry, and ancient lore.

David Day & Sophie Day

Performance-wise, the drums and bass of Mason and Burchmore are perfectly suited to this material, underpinning everything with unfussed economy, with the spotlight falling onto the two Days with the huge riffs providing a great counterpoint to the often ethereal quality of the lead vocal delivery.

Doom metal certainly isn’t for everyone, but Alunah’s sound is undoubtedly at the more accessible end of the spectrum with the aforementioned comparison to Blood Ceremony indicating that they are closer to that band’s doomy psychedelia than, say, the heavy intensity of Electric Wizard and I believe that most metal fans would find a lot to appreciate with this record…“Solennial” tracklist:

1. The Dying Soil / 2. Light Of Winter / 3. Feast Of Torches / 4. The Reckoning Of Time / 5. Fire Of Thornborough Henge / 6. Petrichor / 7. Lugh’s Assembly / 8. A Forest

It Was Their Worst Nightmare. Now It’s Their New Home.

“A young woman wakes up in a cold, dark cellar, with no idea how she got there or who her kidnapper is. So begins her terrible nightmare.

Nearby, the body of another young woman is discovered buried on a remote beach. But the dead girl was never reported missing – her estranged family having received regular texts from her over the years. Someone has been keeping her alive from beyond the grave.

For Detective Inspector Helen Grace it’s chilling evidence that she’s searching for a monster who is not just twisted but also clever and resourceful – a predator who’s killed before.

And as Helen struggles to understand the killer’s motivation, she begins to realize that she’s in a desperate race against time…”

The most recent novel that I’ve read (just finished, in fact) is “The Doll’s House”. This is the third book in the crime thriller series starring lead detective DI Helen Grace from London-born author M.J. Arlidge, and follows on from “Eeny Meeny” and “Pop Goes The Weasel”.

I must confess that I’m falling behind the author a little here, as he has already had books four, five, six and seven published – so I’ve got some serious catching up to do at some point!

MJ Arlidge

When I read the second novel I felt that the standard has slipped slightly from the debut, so I’m glad to say that overall I think the quality has improved once more with “The Doll’s House”. That’s not to say that it’s perfect. As the book raced to its conclusion we found our heroine in a life-or-death situation that had distinct echoes from “Eeny Meeny” and aspects of Grace’s internal battle with her superior officer were again somewhat familiar.

In addition, some of the sub-plot stuff relating to the Southampton-based police officers’ personal lives, just didn’t really grab me – oh, and we are still no closer to finding out what happened to the character Robert from the previous book, despite the suggestion that we may get somewhere with that during the story.

On the plus side the baddie is convincing and his motivation – which takes some time to uncover – is believable for a clearly damaged individual with the issues described. Also, the clever way in which he manages to keep his victims “alive” after he has dispatched them is a neat twist that one can imagine being all too easy to replicate in this day and age where folk can conduct that majority of their communications via text and social media platforms.

Despite the above-mentioned reservations I found the plot of the story to be very good and the delivery of it generally very good too and so would recommend it to previous readers of the author’s work and other fans of good British crime fiction…

It’s Not The Size That Matters… It’s How You Use It

A few evenings ago my wife and I watched “The Hitman’s Bodyguard”, an action comedy film from director Patrick Hughes (“Red Hill”, “Expendables 3”).

Ryan Reynolds

At the beginning of the film we meet bodyguard Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds – “Criminal”, “Self/Less”) – a man at the top of his profession until one of his clients is assassinated right in front of him…

Gary Oldman

Two years later we find the International Criminal Court in The Hague conducting the trial of the dictator of Belarus Vladislav Dukhovich (Gary Oldman – “Child 44”, “JFK”). Witnesses are being killed off and the prosecutions hopes of conviction rest of the evidence of an imprisoned hitman.

Salma Hayek & Samuel L. Jackson

Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson – “Django Unchained”, “Kingsman : The Secret Service”) is the notorious hitman in question and agrees to testify in court, in exchange for the release from Dutch prison of his wife Sonia (Salma Hayek – “Americano”, “Everly”).

Elodie Yung & Ryan Reynolds

Interpol agent Amelia Roussel (Elodie Yung – “Gods Of Egypt”, “G.I. Joe : Retaliation”) is tasked with leading the convoy taking Darius Kincaid from England to the Netherlands. When the convoy is attacked en-route – in Coventry, no less – only Kincaid and Roussel survive and, realising that there must be a traitor within Interpol, the agent calls her ex-boyfriend Bryce to protect Kincaid and get him to The Hague to testify…

Samuel L. Jackson & Ryan Reynolds

The movie has some decent action sequences and enough tension when required but the main attraction here is the comedy. The chemistry between Reynolds (with some priceless facial expressions) and Jackson is spot on with some very funny lines and scenes and it is this that really makes the film such an entertaining experience. Hayek gets to swear at her prison guards – and everyone else – a great deal, but her role is definitely that of support, as are those of Oldman and Yung. No, the stars of the show are without doubt those two adorning the movie poster and they definitely lift this film. Reviews for the film seem to have been routinely poor, but for us this was a very well-spent two hours viewing…

1997 – My Top Ten Albums Of The Year

It’s been a little while since my last entry in my (increasingly) occasional series of posts on my “top ten albums of the year” – the last was for 2016. Prior to that I’d looked back at 2015, 2010, 2003, 1995 and each year from 1975 through to 1989. This time I’ve decided to go back twenty years and figure out what my favourite ten albums released that year are.

This was surprisingly difficult. Not because there were so many contenders to choose from – quite the reverse. It took me some time to come up with a shortlist of fifteen notable (to me) records from 1997 and then no time at all to whittle them down to the following ten. I guess that just wasn’t a particularly strong year for album releases that really resonate with me to this day…

1. Blackmore’s Night “Shadow Of The Moon”

Blackmore’s Night –
Shadow Of The Moon

When Ritchie Blackmore quit Deep Purple for the final time in 1993 and reformed a version of Rainbow for 1995’s underwhelming “Stranger In Us All” it looked like he would carry on rocking under that banner for at least a little while longer. It was some surprise to many, despite his known interest in all things medieval , when he launched Blackmore’s Night – a renaissance music project featuring his fiancée Candice Night on lead vocals.

The group’s debut album “Shadow Of The Moon” surfaced in June of that year, and did particularly well in Germany. For me it was an accessible introduction into an older form of folk music than I was used to through tracks like “Play Minstrel Play”, “Wish You Were Here”, “Writing On The Wall” and “Greensleeves”. Not as essential as his work with Purple or Rainbow, granted, but this is still an enjoyable record.

2. Depeche Mode “Ultra”

Depeche Mode – Ultra

A total change of style for this entry. I can remember during my latter school days having an active dislike for Depeche Mode. Whilst I enjoyed “proper” pop bands such as Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet (as they played traditional instruments) alongside my regular diet of heavy rock and metal, I had no time for synthesizer-based acts. It was only with the rediscovery of the band around the time of hit single “I Feel You” that I began to appreciate Depeche Mode, leading in time to include their earlier work too.

Coming four years after said hit, “Ultra” found the band recovering from a near breakup following the departure of keyboardist Alan Wilder – leaving just Dave Gahan (vocals), Martin Gore (guitar / keyboards) and Andy Fletcher (keyboards) to soldier on. And soldier on they did, producing a great pop record with no less than four hit singles including “Barrel Of A Gun” and the brilliant “It’s No Good”. This album comes a close second to “Songs Of Faith And Devotion” as my favourites in the Depeche Mode catalogue.

3. Genesis “Calling All Stations”

Genesis – Calling All Stationssublime ballads

When Phil Collins quit prog rock legends Genesis in 1996 to concentrate on his solo career he likely wouldn’t have anticipated that this would lead to diminishing returns for himself as well as the band, but time would show that his solo glory days were behind him. For the group it looked to be all over, with just founding members Mike Rutherford (guitar / bass) and Tony Banks (keyboards) remaining. Despite recruiting vocalist Ray Wilson for the “Calling All Stations” album and tour this record would prove to be the band’s last release of new material to date.

But do you know what? This isn’t a bad album at all. Sure it’s no match for the trio of “Genesis”, “Invisible Touch” and “We Can’t Dance” from the group’s commercial peak of 1983-1991 and was their first not to reach number one in the UK since 1978’s “…And Then There Were Three…”. That said it does contain some great tunes like “Alien Afternoon”, “The Dividing Line” and sublime ballads “Shipwrecked” and “Not About Us”. A solid though unspectacular album but one that still gets fairly regular airings even now.

4. Oasis “Be Here Now”

Oasis – Be Here Now

“Be Here Now” was the third album from Manchester band Oasis, and was hugely anticipated following the massive success of second album “(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?” and its hit singles, not to mention all the publicity surrounding brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher and their various scrapes with the law and each other, as well as Liam’s decision to bail out of their 1996 US tour in order to buy a house!

Reportedly selling getting on for half a million copies on the day of its release (one of which was to me, purchased in Devon whilst on holiday) the album was preceded by the number one single “D’You Know What I Mean?”. Despite a subsequent backlash from press and fans, dismissing much of the record as self-indulgent and overblown (which the band themselves would later concur with, and I can also see where they’re coming from), “Be Here Now” remains my second favourite of the group’s, behind the aforementioned “…Morning Glory”. As well as the first single there were two others – “Stand By Me” and “All Around The World” – and other top tracks include “Don’t Go Away” and “Magic Pie”.

5. The Prodigy “The Fat Of The Land”

Prodigy – The Fat Of The Land

Now, if I hadn’t been overly keen on synthpop back in the Eighties, I definitely wasn’t fond of rave and techno music that acts like Essex’s The Prodigy were producing. At first I didn’t like the first single from “The Fat Of The Land”, the number one “Firestarter”, either.

However for reasons lost in the mists of time I found myself listening to the album as a whole and loving it! Kicking off with the controversial “Smack My Bitch Up”, then steaming through the superb “Breathe” and “Diesel Power” the record just didn’t let up until the epic nine-minute trip of “Narayan” which, in turn, gave way to “Firestarter” towards the back-end of the album. Very much of its time, no doubt, but an excellent album that made a great cycling soundtrack at the time and still gets the blood pumping today.

6. Robbie Williams “Life Thru A Lens”

Robbie Williams – Life Thru A Lens

Yet another artist and album that I didn’t like (or want to like) at the time! Despite the undoubted quality of their hit “Back For Good” I wasn’t, at the time, impressed by Take That and when Robbie Williams decided to go solo I was distinctly underwhelmed by his take on George Michael’s “Freedom”. In truth it wasn’t until the release of the singles “Millennium” and “No Regrets” from his next album “I’ve Been Expecting You” the following year that I sat up and took notice of Williams as an artist.

By that time the whole world and his dog knew mega-hit single “Angels”, the song that finally made “Life Thru A Lens” a bonafide hit album. As a whole it doesn’t come close to “I’ve Been Expecting You” or much of his subsequent work, but with songs including “Let Me Entertain You”, “Lazy Days” and the simply ace “Old Before I Die”, this album is always a good listen.

7. Rolling Stones “Bridges To Babylon”

Rolling Stones – Bridges To Babylon

Back onto more familiar territory here with a great British institution and a band that I’ve been a fan of for as long as I can remember. “Bridges To Babylon” was an excellent follow-up to 1994’s “Voodoo Lounge” and arguably their last really good album of original material.

“Anybody Seen My Baby?” was the lead single and was accompanied by a video featuring the then relatively obscure actress Angelina Jolie. I was lucky enough to see the band on the world tour that followed the album’s release, catching the show at London’s Wembley Stadium in June 1999 during which they played tracks from the album including “Saint Of Me” and “Out Of Control”. The UK shows that year had been postponed from August 1998 as the band were unhappy with the then Labour government’s changes to tax laws which, Mick Jagger and co. claimed would cost them 40% of the entire tour’s earnings. Regardless of that, the show they did play was excellent. Back on the album itself, other top tracks include “Already Over Me” and Keith Richards’ “Thief In The Night”

8. Stereophonics “Word Gets Around”

Stereophonics – Word Gets Around

Well, wouldn’t you know it, another one I gave a wide berth to at the time. I was clearly having a more narrow-minded view of what I’d listen to back then! Stereophonics are a Welsh band and “Word Gets Around” was their debut album which interested me not one bit at the time, despite the recommendation of some work colleagues that they were great!

By the time of excellent second album “Performance And Cocktails” I had come around and also gone back to discover the debut and the great small town stories that are contained within its songs. Amongst the best of a very good crop of tunes are opener “A Thousand Trees”, “Not Up To You”, “More Life In A Tramp’s Vest”, “Traffic” and, of course, the ever-fantastic “Local Boy In The Photograph”. Kelly Jones and gang may have become a little stale and samey in recent years but the songs on this album will forever be classics.

9. Shania Twain “Come On Over”

Shania Twain – Come On Over

“Come On Over” was Canadian country singer Shania Twain’s third album, and would go on to become the sixth best-selling album in the US with over 17.5 million sales. I’d been introduced to Twain around the time of her breakthrough second album “The Woman In Me” in 1995 via the cable channel CMT, but she didn’t begin to make headway in the UK until 1998 when the ballads “You’re Still The One” and “From This Moment” took off.

Later, a very poppy remix of “That Don’t Impress Me Much” and “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!” in late 1999 became big hits (in fact, twelve of the album’s sixteen songs were issued as singles) and it was actually the 1999 revised and remixed “International Version” of the album that became a hit here in the UK (the remixed album idea would go to extremes with Twain’s next album “Up!” in 2002 which was released in three entirely different mixes at the same time). It is, however, the original more country sounding 1997 version of “Come On Over” that I play most often.

10. Whitesnake “Restless Heart”

Whitesnake – Restless Heart

The first new Whitesnake album since “Slip Of The Tongue” back in 1989, “Restless Heart” was apparently intended to be a solo album (despite featuring guitarist Adrian Vandenberg and drummer Denny Carmassi who’d both toured as part of the band on the previous tour in 1994) until the record company insisted on it being released under the moniker “David Coverdale & Whitesnake”.

A rawer sounding record than Whitesnake’s big sellers of the late Eighties, the album contains a good mix of bluesy ballad like “Too Many Tears” and “Can’t Go On” with a few tougher rock tunes like “Restless Heart”, “You’re So Fine” and the Zeppelinesque “Woman Trouble Blues”. A proper solo album would follow in 2000 before Coverdale would reconvene the band once more for some heavier rock records from 2008 onwards. “Restless Heart”, meanwhile is a fine link between the big hair days of “1987” and “Slip Of The Tongue” and the 1993 collaboration with Led Zeppelin man Jimmy Page – the cunningly titled “Coverdale Page”.

There you have it, then. My favourite ten albums of 1997. This was a year in which the nation mourned when HRH Princess Diana was killed in a Paris car crash. Elsewhere, in the US President Bill Clinton begins his second term in office whilst in Britain the government changes hands with Conservative John Major being succeeded by Labour’s Tony Blair. In football Manchester United win the Premier League for the second season running, then see talisman Eric Cantona announce his retirement, whilst Chelsea win the FA Cup. And in screen entertainment by far the biggest movie release was “Titanic”, with “The Lost World : Jurassic Park”, “Men In Black” and Bond movie “Tomorrow Never Dies” some way behind. On the small screen Channel 4 in the UK became a 24 hour broadcaster and ITV crime drama “Midsomer Murders” makes its first appearance.

At some point in the (hopefully) not-too-distant future I shall look back to either 1974 or 1990…

Five strangers. Five secrets. No refuge. No turning back.

“In the aftermath of 1066, a Norman army marches through the North of England: burning, killing and laying waste to everything in its path. The Harrowing has begun. As towns and villages fall to the invaders, five travellers fleeing the slaughter are forced to band together for survival. Refugees in their own country, they journey through the wasteland, hoping to find sanctuary with the last stand of the Saxon rebellion. But are they fleeing the Normans or their own troubles?

Priest, Lady, Servant, Warrior, Minstrel: each has their own story; each their own sin. As enemies past and present close in, their prior deeds catch up with them and they discover there is no sanctuary from fate…”

I’ve just finished reading “The Harrowing” by Wiltshire-born author James Aitcheson, a book  that I was inspired to read when I saw a write-up of it in a booklet publicising the recent 950th anniversary events for Chepstow Castle – construction of which began in 1067, the year after the Norman invasion under William The Conqueror. A change from the usual crime thrillers that I tend to gravitate towards then.

The narrative follows a group of five people who, for one reason or another, are heading north to Hagustaldesham (now Hexham) even as the Normans are laying waste to the large swathes of the country during the brutal “harrying of the north” of 1069/70 in which they seek to consolidate their power and quash the rebellion headed by Edgar Ætheling.

First we meet Tova, a young maidservant who is fleeing her home with her Lady, Merewyn. We do not know, at least not yet, why they are desperate to get away.

James Aitcheson

Before long they come across a warrior, Beorn, who saves them from certain death at the hands of a group of Normans, and a little later on the trio stumble across a priest named Guthred. The quintet is completed when wandering poet Oslac joins the group as they travel through seven wintry days and nights across a country ravaged by war.

Whilst the majority of the tale is told through Tova’s eyes, as they rest at night each has a tale to tell the others – some more willingly than others. The individual characters’ stories fill in a lot of background information, not just about themselves, but also about the rebellion and the response of the Normans – which seems to have been something or a scorched earth policy, destroying everything and everyone in their path with utter ruthlessness.

I did find at times the telling of their stories to be filled with a lot of unlikely detail, and the pace of the story drops a little as a result, but recognise that this was the author’s way of giving the reader the information needed to fully understand the story as well as to begin to appreciate just what a devastating period of time it was. This is achieved without our band of travellers having much contact with the Normans at all, meaning that a lot of the violence etc. is done “off camera” as it were. That does not make it any less horrifying, however!

Aitcheson spent the better part of a decade, by his own reckoning, studying and learning about the Anglo-Saxon period of history, including the Norman Conquest, and this particular book (his fourth novel) was three years in the making. That level of research shines through in the detail contained within and the excellent way in which the author transports the reader to a dark period in this country’s history.

This isn’t an pleasant story to digest, so if you’re after happy endings this is the wrong place to look, but for a fascinating look at the consequences of war (and an illustration that there really is no glory to be found) for all concerned – the guilty and the innocent – this is a very good read…

London 1980. The World Witnessed A New Way To Tackle Terrorism

The latest movie that my beloved and I have enjoyed is the new action drama from director Toa Fraser (“The Dead Lands”, “Giselle”). The film is based upon the real-life Iranian embassy siege in London at the end of April 1980 and is titled “6 Days”.

Iranian Embassy Siege In 1980

I was twelve years old at the time of the actual siege, so although I have memories of seeing images from the SAS assault that ended the siege I had little knowledge of the events that had led up to that point.

Toby Leach

At the start of the film we see a group of armed men walking up to the Iranian embassy and bundling the on-duty policeman at the door, PC Trevor Lock (Toby Leach – “Shortland Street”, “The Making Of The Mob”) into the building before quickly rounding up all those inside. They took a total of twenty-six hostages, and demanded the release of Arabian prisoners being held in the Khuzestan province of Iran, as well as their own safe passage out of the UK.

Abbie Cornish

Naturally the authorities are quickly on the scene, as are TV and radio journalists – including a young BBC correspondent named Kate Adie (Abbie Cornish – “Limitless”, “Seven Psychopaths”) – and sees Chief Inspector Max Vernon (Mark Strong – “Kingsman : The Secret Service”, “Before I Go To Sleep”) tasked with the role of police negotiator.

Mark Strong

Margaret Thatcher’s government, which had at this point been in power for just under a year, arranged for a team of SAS soldiers to travel from their base in Hereford to Knightsbridge, where they moved into the building next to the Iranian embassy and prepared various scenarios in the event that they were required to take action against the terrorists. For the purposes of the film, at least, the main focus of the SAS activities is Lance-Corporal Rusty Firmin (Jamie Bell – “The Eagle”, “Filth”).

Jamie Bell

The film then tracks the six-day siege primarily from the perspectives of Adie, Vernon and Firmin as the viewer gets to see the action surrounding the events unfolding within the embassy, but little of what’s actually taking place inside – with the exception of during telephone exchanges between Vernon and lead terrorist Salim AKA Ali Mohammed (Ben Turner – “Casualty”, “300 : Rise Of An Empire”).

Ben Turner

Other well-known names appearing include Martin Shaw (“The Professionals”, “Inspector George Gently”) as Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Dellow of the Metropolitan police and the late Tim Pigott-Smith (“Quantum Of Solace”, “King Charles III”) as Home Secretary William Whitelaw.

I thought that this was a really well made movie. Despite knowing the outcome in advance there was still a good sense of tension as each day – and in some cases hours and even minutes – went by and even though the film is noted as “based on  real events” you get the impression that the filmmakers have tried to tell the story of what actually happened as opposed to using the true story as a mere jumping off point for a big and brash action movie. The end result feels like a very entertaining history lesson – albeit a very one-sided one presenting the Thatcher government’s position that the terrorists should only leave the embassy to go to prison or in a coffin whilst ignoring the backstory that lead to the siege taking place at all. Nonetheless, this is a film that is most definitely worth a watch…

You Will Never Leave

Having visited the Welsh town of Bridgend recently for a Death Angel gig, it seemed as good a time as any to check out the 2015 drama film, titled “Bridgend”, from director and co-writer Jeppe Rønde, whose credits are almost exclusively for documentary work.

This is a movie that has caused some degree of controversy and consternation, particularly for the real-life residents of the town. That’s because between the end of 2007 and start of 2012 there were apparently 79 suicides in the Bridgend area – largely teenagers and the vast majority by hanging. (In fact, a 2014 documentary film on the subject That there were by then 99 victims). Whatever the true statistics it seems that there is no clear reason for this unusually large spate of suicides taking place. A fictional drama film inspired by these events, then , was always likely to upset someone.

Hannah Murray

The movie sees teenage girl Sara (Hannah Murray – “Game Of Thrones”, “Detroit”) and her policeman father Dave (Steven Waddington – “When The Lights Went Out”, “The Imitation Game”) relocating from Bristol to Bridgend, where Dave is tasked with trying to get to the bottom of a series of teen suicides. They arrive, along with Sara’s horse Snowy, just after the death of the latest victim.

Steven Waddington & Hannah Murray

With Dave busy at work Sara is left to her own devices a lot of the time and soon gets drawn into a group of local teens who spend their time drinking, smoking, swimming naked in a lake in the woods, dicing death in front of trains and partying.

Hannah Murray & Josh O’Connor

Sara grows steadily more distant from her father, whilst getting closer to vicar’s son Jamie (Josh O’Connor – “The Durrells”, “The Riot Club”). All the while the group thins as the woodland hangings continue and Dave worries that Sara will get in too deep with the locals and become yet another victim…

The Teens Partying In Bridgend

I thought this was a really well made film. Filmed entirely on location in Bridgend, the cinematography is suitably bleak and claustrophobic when it needs to be and the whole thing gives a feeling of real-life horror as the teens self-destructive behaviour almost seems to be the only signs of actual life in the isolated community.

Bridgend

As this is not a documentary there are no real attempts to explain the causes for the tragic events which inspired it in the first place. Instead there are suggestions of the circumstances and influences that could perhaps bring such events to bear. Murray is excellent throughout, and is supported by strong performances all round.

The final portion of the film drifted somewhat into supernatural horror in a way, and could be interpreted in more than one way, I felt, but that only helps to make the movie the difficult but potent experience that it is…

The Evil Divide Across Europe Tour 2017

A little over a week ago number two son and I headed off to the first concert together since catching Cradle Of Filth in Bristol getting on for two years ago, as many of the shows that I go to aren’t really his cup of tea. I think that whilst he credits me with his taste in music – particularly the really heavy stuff – he doesn’t have the appetite for experiencing some of the bluesier or lighter acts that cross my radar.

Death Angel’s Tour Bus Parked Outside Hobos In Bridgend

This one, however, was right up his street. San Francisco thrash legends Death Angel headlining at the intimate surroundings of Hobos in the Welsh town of Bridgend as part of their European tour that seems to be mainly made up of festival slots and low key club shows like this one.

Sodomized Cadaver

We found the 150 capacity venue upstairs through a door between two shops in the main shopping area of the town. There’s a bar area where a merchandise table was set up and then through a door into the performance area, where we arrived as the first act of the evening, Welsh death metal band Sodomized Cadaver were getting started. The space was, even at this early stage, fairly packed so we took up a position close to the nearest PA stack situated in slightly to the side of the stage front.

Gavin Davies At Hobos, Bridgend

Neither of us were remotely familiar with the band or their material but were both impressed by what we saw. The band started life back in 2013, and these days drummer Gavin Davies is the sole remaining founder member. Completing the line-up are bassist / vocalist Charlie Rodgers and diminutive guitarist Jordan Roberts.

Sodomized Cadaver Setlist (Kindly Sent To Me By The Band)

The three-piece outfit got an enthusiastic response – one chap headbanging in front of the stage like his life depended on it – from the audience for numbers with typical death metal titles such as “Half Dead Burial” and the delightfully-named “Lords Of Rape”. There was a nice mixture of pace on display from the fast and frenetic death metal to more doom-like passages. For whatever reason the group had to leave out the final two tracks of their planned set – whether they were late starting or were just overrunning their allotted times. Regardless, the band gave is a good start to the evening’s entertainment…

Setlist:

1. Chapel Of Unrest / 2. Vampire Of Düsseldorf / 3. Martyrdom / 4. BKTC / 5. Skull Fracture Massacre / 6. Torture / 7. Rapid Guttural Disfigurement / 8. Lords Of Rape / 9. Half Dead Burial

1 and 4 origin unknown but perhaps as 8 / 2, 3, 5, 7 and 9 originally from “Verses Of Putridity” (2016) / 6 originally from “Vorarephilia” (2014) / 8 from yet to be released “Morbid Tales Of Mutilation” (2017)

After a short break and equipment changeover it was the turn of main tour support act Warbringer. Formed in 2004, Wabringer are a thrash metal band from Los Angeles who have had a relatively high turn over of members in the subsequent thirteen years. Alongside founding members John Kevill (vocals) and Adam Carroll (guitars) are Chase Becker (guitars), Carlos Cruz (drums) and Jessie Sanchez (bass), the last two of which have only been with the group since last year.

John Kevill

Despite that the group’s performance was tight and polished. On tour to promote their fifth album “Woe To The Vanquished” the band didn’t look like one that had nearly imploded completely following the previous album and tour cycle a couple of years ago.

Of the “big four” thrash bands I suppose my initial impression was that Warbringer have to most in common with Slayer sound-wise. Our position close to the PA stack meant that whilst Becker certainly looked skilled with his guitar we were only really able to hear Carroll’s contributions to the onslaught. Kevill got the now-expanded crowd involved and a mini circle-pit going too and I suspect the group will have made a good few new fans with their performance in Wales.

Warbringer

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to figure out exactly what the band’s setlist for the night was, and my direct request to them has gone unanswered, so below is my best guess, using the tracks played two days earlier in Wolverhampton…

Setlist:

1. Silhouettes / 2. Woe To The Vanquished / 3. Remain Violent / 4. Shellfire / 5. Descending Blade / 6. Shattered Like Glass / 7. Hunter-Seeker / 8. Living In A Whirlwind / 9. Combat Shock

1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 originally from “Woe To The Vanquished” (2017) / 6 originally from “Worlds Torn Asunder” (2011) / 7 originally from “IV : Empires Collapse” (2014) / 8 originally from “Waking Into Nightmares” (2009) / 9 originally from “War Without End” (2008)

Will Carroll

Finally, as 9:20pm came around, the main attraction appeared. Drummer Will Carroll took to his stool first, followed onto the stage by bassist Damien Sisson, rhythm guitarist Ted Aguilar and band founder Rob Cavestany (lead guitar) and lastly long-serving vocalist Mark Osegueda as the group launched straight into the one-two of a snippet of “The Ultra Violence” leading into “Evil Priest” – both from their 1987 debut album.

Mark Osegueda & Damien Sisson At Hobos, Bridgend

Immediately it was apparent – and this is no disrespect to what we’d witnessed before – that Death Angel are a class act. The sound was really good (though rather loud where we were standing. It would be two days before I could hear normally again after the show was over!) and you could see that whilst these men were seasoned pros they also clearly love what they do.

Rob Cavestany, Mark Osegueda & Ted Aguilar At Hobos, Bridgend

One could perhaps argue that Osegueda laboured the themes of “unity in metal” and “being true to yourself” etc. and could have arguably left out some of the talking – particularly the over-long band introductions – but he can certainly belt the songs out with the best of them! (Also number two son was more than a little chuffed to have fist-bumped the man twice during the show).

Rob Cavestany

I found myself watching Cavestany most as the gig progressed, impressed by his mix of technical prowess and flair for showmanship as he cranked out a succession of excellent thrash metal riffs and blinding solos in a set showcasing tracks from last years’s excellent “The Evil Divide” record as well as a selection from the majority of their back catalogue releases and a great Black Sabbath cover too.

Death Angel At Hobos, Bridgend

As with the recent Blood Ceremony show in Bristol, which was in a similarly small venue, I can’t help wondering how bands can play gigs like these. Assuming this one was a sell-out, at £12.50 a ticket (excluding costs) that gives a total take of £1,875.00. This is to pay for venue hire, coach and truck hire, PA, crew wages, living costs etc. even without the three sets of band members getting anything. With just four shows in the UK in four days – covering London, the Midlands, Wales and Scotland – its hard to see the artists making much out of it financially. And as all four were small venues this trip is clearly not about fame and fortune – its about dedicated metal musicians reaching the fans who love the music. So, on that front this show must be considered a huge success…

Setlist:

1. The Ultra-Violence / Evil Priest / 2. Claws In So Deep / 3. Father Of Lies / 4. Caster Of Shame / 5. Thrown To The Wolves / 6. Seemingly Endless Time / 7. Breakaway / 8. Lost / 9. Falling Off The Edge Of The World / 10. Kill As One / 11. The Moth

1 and 10 originally from “The Ultra-Violence” (1987) / 2 originally from “Relentless Retribution” (2010) / 3, 7, 8 and 11 originally from “The Evil Divide” (2016) / 4 originally from “The Dream Calls For Blood” (2013) / 5 originally from “The Art Of Dying” (2004) / 6 originally from “Act III” (1990) / 9 cover of Black Sabbath song from “Mob Rules” (1981)

From Nothing Comes A King

On Saturday evening I sat down with my better half and son number three to watch the most recent offering from director Guy Ritchie (“Snatch”, “Sherlock Holmes”), “King Arthur : Legend Of The Sword”.

Rob Knighton

Now I must admit that I wasn’t too sure what to expect, as the movie didn’t fare terribly well at the box office and reviews weren’t great either – particularly for football celebrity David Beckham’s brief cameo appearance, but we’ll get to that in time…

Poppy Delevingne & Eric Bana

The film opens with the legendary Camelot under attack from a warlock, Mordred (Rob Knighton – “Anti-Social”, “Riot On Redchurch Street”), who aims to ensure that the mages dominate mankind. He comes up against the King of the Britons, Uther Pendragon (Eric Bana – “Munich”, “Deliver Us From Evil”) who defeats the warlock and his forces.

Jude Law

Unbeknownst to Uther, his brother Vortigern (Jude Law – “Dom Hemingway”, “Sleuth”) wants the throne for himself and has made a pact in which he will sacrifice his wife Elsa (Katie McGrath – “Jurassic World”, “Merlin”) in order to get Uther and his wife Igraine (Poppy Delevingne – “The Boat That Rocked”, “Absolutely Fabulous : The Movie”) out of the way.

Katie McGrath

The sole survivor of Uther’s family is his infant son who is put onto a small boat and drifts off, finally arriving in Londinium (that’s London in today’s lingo) where he is picked up and cared for by a group of prostitutes. Not sure where that would put Camelot, but a fair number of theories over the years have suggested Wales as a location, from where I don’t see a small boat drifting to London somehow…

Charlie Hunnam

We then fast forward through the boy’s childhood as he grows up and learns the way of the streets as well as gaining skills from training with an oriental fighter named George (Tom Wu – “Kick-Ass 2”, “Skyfall”). By adulthood Arthur (Charlie Hunnam – “Sons Of Anarchy”, “Deadfall”) is running a crew of his own.

Jude Law

Meanwhile the waters around now-King Vortigern’s castle have lowered, revealing a sword stuck fast in a stone. The King is forcing all men of around Arthur’s age to attempt to pull the sword from said stone.

Charlie Hunnam, David Beckham & Guy Ritchie

It is when Arthur himself has his turn to try to remove the sword that the aforementioned Beckham has his cameo. Beckham had a smaller cameo in Ritchie’s previous movie “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” which was fine and was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of thing. This time around Beckham plays Trigger, a Blackleg commander, and has some lines to deliver. Even now, some days later, I can’t decide if the problem – because there is one – is in Beckham’s delivery (he doesn’t have the most commanding voice for the role in question) or is simply, as my wife said, the fact that you’re thinking “oh, there’s David Beckham” and the scene would be fine with a “proper” actor rather than a celebrity?

Kingsley Ben-Adir, Djimon Hounsou, Poppy Delevingne & Annabelle Wallis

Regardless, it is at this point that Arthur becomes aware of his true origins and the destiny which awaits him. It is, however, a destiny which he is stubbornly determined to resist despite everyone around him – his old crew, including Tristan AKA Wet Stick (Kingsley Ben-Adir – “Trespass Against Us”, “Vera”) and Back Lack (Neil Maskell – “Dog House”, “Kill List”) – doing their level best to get him to do so.

Astrid Bergès-Frisbey & Charlie Hunnam

Also involved in this are Uther’s former knight Sir Bedivere (Djimon Hounsou – “Fast & Furious 7”, “The Legend Of Tarzan”), Sir William AKA Goosefat Bill (Aiden Gillen – “Wake Wood”, “The Lovers”), Vortigern’s maid Maggie (Annabelle Wallis – “Come And Find Me”, “Mine”) and a mysterious unnamed mage (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey – “Pirates Of The Caribbean : On Stranger Tides”, “I Origins”).

Camelot Under Siege From Giant Elephants

Apart from the unsuccessful cameo from Beckham, my only real gripe was that a few of the action / fight scenes, particularly towards the end of the film, looked too much like they’d been taken from a video game, such was the level of slow-mo and CGI on display. Oh, and the giant elephants are the beginning?!. That said, the scenes with huge crowds etc. are really well done.

Jude Law, Guy Ritchie & Charlie Hunnam

All that aside we found the movie to be enormously entertaining. Sure it may not be historically accurate – but then how can one be with so many different stories and theories surrounding Arthurian legend – and one might argue that some of Ritchie’s usual approaches (such as the story within a story where as Arthur relays what he predicts is going to happen we see other characters doing exactly that etc.) and the modern language and haircuts don’t fit with the time period in question. However, taken for what it is – a fun and visually impressive retelling of the King Arthur story for today’s audiences (or maybe for those of us who still enjoy revisiting “Lock, Stock And Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” nearly twenty years down the line?) – it’s pretty damn good. Where this all leaves the remaining five films of the originally planned six part series is anyone’s guess. In the meantime, however, this is a well-recommended two hours of cinematic entertainment…

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