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ds (Whitby, UK)
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Doctor Who Hornets' Nest 1: The Stuff Of Nightmares (BBC Audio)
Doctor Who Hornets' Nest 1: The Stuff Of Nightmares (BBC Audio)
by Paul Magrs
Edition: Audio CD
Price: £9.98

3.0 out of 5 stars Promising, 20 Sept. 2009
Customer review from the Amazon Vine Programme (What's this?)
This first part of an audio series has overtones of the best of Baker's early tenure as the Doctor. There is certainly a gothic horror feel to some of the proceedings. The delivery is slightly stagey, and lacking in momentum sometimes. Perhaps this is because it forms the first part of a collection of linked stories and some exposition has to be 'crowbarred' into proceedings slightly to set up later episodes.However, the script is otherwise decent.

As a stand-alone piece it lacks something, but probably needs to be listened to as part of the wider whole to be fully appreciated, though it has to be said that it made me want to find out some more.


The Duckworth Lewis Method
The Duckworth Lewis Method
Price: £7.99

3 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars I say, what a Jaffa!, 8 July 2009
How wonderfully piquant it is that a concept album about cricket should be made by two Irishmen. And better still that is is so very very good. Messrs Hannon and Walsh present a dozen tracks about the most English (not British note here, but English) of games. As is the norm for Hannon, the style is possibly described as a touch fey, but endearingly eclectic and wide-ranging in its borrowing of influences.

The Age of Revolution, for example, has lovely jazzy, Noel Coward-esque, between the wars feel, underpinned by a jaunty trumpet figure and a slightly squelchy-sounding bassline. But of course all this fits the content to a tee, describing the modern game, dominated by Twenty20 and money from the subcontinent [an aside: this is not necassarily a bad thing].

Gentlemen and Players has some rather lovely harmonies and harpsichord that are faintly reminiscent of mid-period Kinks and even, oddly, Jellyfish's first album, Bellybutton.

Sweet Spot is a thumping 70's style Glam stomper but serves only as an appetiser for possibly the highlight of the album: Jiggery Pokery, the story of Shane Warne's (in)famous first delivery to Mike Gatting (told winningly from Gatt's perspective) in the 1993 Old Trafford Ashes Test. It has more than a whiff of Flanders and Swann about it and is quite beautifully droll.

Both Mason on the Boundary and Rain Stops Play are melifluous and sunny interludes, the latter being a rather jaunty and short instrumental trifle. They're nice, but not immediately memorable. I think they are growers, but this middle part of the album is a more muted and rather sober affair. Ask me in a week and I might have changed my mind. For now it's four stars.

Meeting Mr Miandad is another cheerful sunshine-laced number with faint echoes for me of The Dandy Warhols' Bohemian Like You, Parklife-era Blur and just a hint of the Beach Boys in the harmony.

Following this is another of the album's soaring highlights, The Nightwatchman, where Hannon wears his professed love of ELO firmly on his sleeve. Much of this song could easily be something from Out of the Blue, and it really is a thing of quite rare beauty.

Flatten The Hay is a rather bucolic-sounding and wistful number in waltz time, once again ahot through with harpsichord. It sits a little oddly next to Test Match Special, which once again has mild Parklife-ish overtones, though not in a jarring way. Indeed, elsewhere, others have mentioned XTC in the the same breath. A good call, I think.

The final track is an oddity: The End of The Over's beginning evokes Kraftwerk's Numbers (from Computer World) and Einstein On The Beach by Philip Glass, before bowing out with a huge nod to Mr Blue Sky's 'Please Turn Me Over' Vocoder coda.

You may get the feeling from this review so far that the sound is hugely derivative and not particularly original or innovative. That would be a mistake. None of these listed influences is in any way a complaint. Most popular music now is influenced by something else somewhere, and this album has some fairly wide-ranging points of reference and manages to wear them very lightly and with great aplomb. It is also an incredibly 'English' sounding album. That it manages to fold all of these things together and blend them with its subject matter so seamlessly is a testament to the considerable skill of Hannon and Walsh and is quite the perfect sound of for an Ashes summer.


The Complete Ivor the Engine: All Colour Episodes Ever Made [DVD]
The Complete Ivor the Engine: All Colour Episodes Ever Made [DVD]
Dvd ~ Olwen Griffiths
Price: £3.99

26 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Warm, nostalgic, but still wonderful, 26 Jun. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Childhood has a funny habit of playing tricks on the adult mind. Mars Bars and Wagon Wheels were always bigger, it never rained in the summer holidays and the TV was so much better. As one gets older of course, the realisation dawns that summers were not constantly bathed in sun (except maybe 1976) and that the sweets weren't as big as you recalled (and even smaller now).

Some things don't change, however, and this is one of them. The DVD contains the 24 colour episodes that Oliver Postgate's Smallfilms made in the 1970's and were shown on the BBC, usually around 5.30 just before the news in the spot The Magic Roundabout had on occasion. There aren't any extras, or the original black and white episodes. To be honest there is no need for them.

The animation is simple (some might even say rather primitive and simplistic) and others yet may blanch at the rather stereotypical view of the Welsh, but they shouldn't because each character is imbued with warmth and real fondness (even the slightly pompous Dai Station is shown to have softer side from time to time) and each story is a beautifully drawn and affectionate little vignette looking back to a time that has long past and perhaps never really existed at all. The stories are accompanied mostly by the sound of Postgate's own melifluous narration, though other voices do creep in on occasion. The episodes range in length from the more usual 5 minutes to around 20 for some of the longer ones.

Step back a little though, and beneath the cuddly exterior is a faint hint of gentle subversion. The subtext is always about the value of community and friends, and supporting the underdog against authority. Some examples of these ideas include the episode where the railway is to be sold, or when Idris the dragon arrives in Llaniog. Best of all is the brief pen portrait of Jones allowing a fox to escape some noticeably chinless hunters. Postgate introduces this idea of standing up for the underdog and of maintaining a type of kind decency all through his work and Ivor the Engine does it very well.

The other little trick childhood plays is that you always think there are more than the 24 episodes collected here. Postgate made a habit of this too. But no matter, the episodes are delightful little pieces of art and it's nice to have them collected in one place. The fact that they are priced so low makes this an utter steal of a purchase.


The Collection
The Collection
Price: £33.76

31 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Clear as a bell, 19 Jun. 2009
This review is from: The Collection (Audio CD)
It seems that Tubular Bells has given Mike Oldfield some very contrasting emotions. For a long time he seemed not to be able to cope with the scale of the reaction to his first solo work and spent a long time running away from it. In latter years, however, it seems that he has accepted it much more, even to the point (some might say) of milking it. So, at first sight this 'best of' collection, which includes a new mix of TB might seem to be an exercise in squeezing yet more out of the CD buyer in the street.

Don't be misled though, this is well worth the money. Why? Because it sounds beautiful. More than ever, the mix is spacious and airy, giving instruments in both parts a chance to really stand out and shine. The acoustic passages in particular sound fabulous. and some of the slightly anomalous artefacts in the original mixes have been smoothed a little: the cymbal at 6.10 in Part 1 no longer swamps everything and the bells themselves at Part 1's end now sound rather more restarined and easier on the ear (especially through headphones).

The little gem of the disc, however, is Oldfield's original plan for the end of part 2, previously to be found as an extra of the Boxed collection. Here, a 'refreshed' Viv Stanshall regales us with a narration during his peregrinations around The Manor, with Oldfield in tow playing the Sailor's Hornpipe. VS's inability to say the words 'anthropology' and 'apology', when apologising for not being able to say 'anthropology', are hilarious.

However, the reason I give this collection only four stars is the second disc, The Collection itself. It's a bit of a disappointment. Even allowing for having to fit everything on one disc there are some odd omissions: nothing from Platinum, nor from Hergest Ridge. In fact, earlier 'best of' collections probably do a better job of rounding up that part of his career, not to mention really good later work like Islands or Amarok that's beyond the scope of this disc. It's not awful by any means, just a bit of a let down after the TB mix.

Tubular Bells is the work for which, above all, Mike Oldfield will be longest remembered. It's probably for this reason that he is spending so much effort making sure that the definitive versions (both this stereo mix and the 5.1 surround mixes that are also available) are the best they can possibly be. This package is still very much worth the cash, if only for the chance to hear Tubular Bells in an entirely new light.


Nathan Barley: Series 1 [DVD]
Nathan Barley: Series 1 [DVD]
Dvd ~ Nicholas Burns
Price: £8.00

2 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pitch perfect, 11 Jun. 2009
Over the course of the 1990's Chris Morris' work had moved from the margins firmly into the mainstream. This was probably not because of any conscious effort on his part, but because mainstream public taste hade moved with him. In the aftermath of the furore that surrounded the infamous 2001 Brass Eye special it seems as if Morris wanted to move back a little into the margins to consider his next moves. This series, together with his Jam and Blue Jam projects has a rather more 'niche' feel about it. But it doesn't make it any less funny.

Morris' collaborator on Nathan Barley was Charlie Brooker (the name itself is a borrowing from Brooker's own TV Go Home project) and the combination works a treat, with the mix of the verbal and visual intelligence we have come to expect from both. They make fine bedfellows.

The protagonist of the series is Dan Ashcroft, jobbing journalist and writer for hip lifestyle magazine Sugar Ape. On the face of things this would seem like a great life, but Dan doesn't seem to think so. He is in turns disgusted, bewildered and angered by the ennui and idiocy he sees around him. This part of the show's make-up is a wincingly funny satire of the pre-internet bubble (and 'Cool Britannia') culture in certain quarters of the capital.

However, there is also some wonderful character comedy from an ensemble of familiar names from the wilder end of the comedy community: Noel Barratt and Julian Fielding, Kevin Eldon and Richard Ayoade. As a result there is rather more nuance to what, in other (less able) hands, might just have been dull and lazy stereotypes.

Perhaps the very best example of this is the show's eponymous character and the principal focus of Dan's rage. Describing himself as a "self-facilitating media node", Barley seems to be the embodiment of everything Dan despises and despairs of. Ashcroft is even more disgusted by the fact that his sister Claire has become a target for Nathan's advances. As the series progresses, Ashcroft becomes increasingly obsesseed with destroying Barley and all he stands for. As a character, however, Barley is shot through with subtlety. As much of a preening bell-end as Barley is, the rampant egoism hides chronic insecurity and fear, leading to a few wonderful fleeting 'rabbit in headlights' momnents from Nicholsa Burns across the course of the series, before once more assuming his carapace of swaggering modish poise.

As one would expect, this is not altogether an easy watch. The use of language is quite dense and, at first, a little difficult to follow because of the patois (a bit like Anthony Burgess's Clockwork Orange in fact). At the same time, the visual atyle is, as one would expect from Morris, rather tricksy. This could be seen as a complaint but isn't. It just means that the show really bears up to repeated viewing as you need a couple of opportunities to unpick some of the layers and understand properly how they link. This is perhaps why it seemed to struggle for its audience somewhat when first broadcast.

On the DVD there are a few extras and the interface is deliberately, Barleyishly annoying. It is actually a very nicely put together product, including the amusing little booklet that goes with it.

In the end, whether you like this show depends on how much intelligence you want in your comedy and how much time you want to spend thinking about it. Both Morris and Brooker are fantastically good at delivering layering nd nuance in their work and this is no exception. As it happens, this is a kind of comedy I like very much, and believe that not too long hence it will be recognised more widely as one othe very best examples of its type. This is why I give it five stars.


From Aberystwyth with Love
From Aberystwyth with Love
by Malcolm Pryce
Edition: Paperback

14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Cartography of the Human Heart, 14 May 2009
(a phrase that is explained within this novel's pages)

Louie Knight's latest case is a strange one, even by his own somewhat unusual standards. In the midst of his home town's Great Heatwave, a man wearing the uniform of a Russian museum curator and calling himself Uncle Vanya walks into Louie's office and asks him to find his long lost daughter. What this has to do with the 30-year old mystery of the disappearance of Gethsemane Walters, troll brides, the murder of a young woman, Clip the sheepdog's role in the Space Race, games teachers and the dubious wonders of Sospan's Fish Milt Ice Cream Louie and his sidekick Calamity have yet to discover. Worse yet, they will have to make a journey to Hughesovka, a replica Welsh town in the depths of Russia, to find out the full story.

Pryce's last Aberystwyth book, 'Don't Cry for Me Aberystwyth', was a much darker and more sombre affair than the previous three had been. This time the tone is once again a little lighter, though still reflective in places and as always contains the wonderful juxtaposition of the quotidian and the absurd that make his books a joy to read. Perhaps some of this is due to the fact that, as Pryce recounts in the acknowledgements for this work, he struggled with illness during its writing. In any event the writing in this book is remarkably Welsh, full of dense wordplay and heart-on-sleeve lyricism. The style, though still bearing some of the hallmarks of a particular type of detective fiction, has now firmly established its own identity. In this sense it is rather like the transition between Terry Pratchett's early Discworld books, rooted in fantasy parody, and the style which became his own about four or five books in. Pryce's Cambrian universe is now entirely self-contained and runs to its own rules now; it's all the better for it.

There are numerous moments of laugh-out-loud humour, including an almost gratuitous visit to the Transylvanian home of a descendant of Vlad The Impaler, resulting in in a lucky escape for Louie and Calamity. Mixed in with them are several moments of great tenderness. One of these is an acutely moving and beautiful vignette of the atheist Louie meeting (and talking to) God, who shares his surprising and deep love of horses and the importance of rock. Even for someone as skilled as Pryce at melding wit and pathos this particular passage is a stand-out and connects to a couple of small but satisfying little pay-offs at the end of proceedings.

If you haven't read the Aberystwyth series yet, then I suggest you buy and read them all immediately. If you have, this addition will not disappoint. Heartily recommended.


A New World Record
A New World Record
Price: £5.99

40 of 41 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect Polished Pop Rock, 11 May 2009
This review is from: A New World Record (MP3 Download)
Together with its direct successor, Out of the Blue, this is probably the album that forever defines the sound of the Electric Light Orchestra in the minds of most people. From this point, the rough-edged rock 'n' roll of earlier works like Ma Ma Ma Belle or the rather more reined back strings and whimsy of songs like Mr Radio would make way for these bigger, lusher and more 'cinematic' arrangements. This seemed to be a nod to the softer string sound in US soul, as the album's title and even its cityscape artwork suggests. It's rather like the difference between watching a film on TV at home, them going to see the same thing on a big screen in surround sound in a cinema. Neither is bad (quite the contrary), they are just different types of experience.

It's also around this time that Jeff Lynne SERIOUSLY found his songwriting boots. There is not one (full length) song on here that couldn't have hit the UK singles chart top 10 if they'd been released. Indeed, several of them did. In amongst the well known hits like the operatic Rockaria! and the tender and melancholic Telephone Line, not to mention the now legendary Livin' Thing are other lesser konwn gems: Tightrope (possibly my favorite ELO song ever), that begins with a fanfare of dramatic swooping strings before romping off into a rollocking rock number; So Fine with its funky middle eight and congas; the heartfelt and beautiful ballads The Mission and Shangri-La. The other nice surprise is the inclusion of a storming cover of Do Ya (from The Move's rather wonderful Message from the Country). As good as the orignial version is, this version is actually a little bit better. Basically, in production terms, Lynne gives it the kitchen sink. And it could have sounded a dreadful mess, but doesn't: it's sublime.

It's perhaps strange to think now, at this remove that punk wasn't really the sound of 1976-77. Music like this and the Eagles' Hotel California was what many people were actually listening to and buying. The later revisionism of a certain type of music wonk would have you believe this music was reviled and irrelevant. It wasn't. And while lots of the prevailing commercial music of that part of the 1970's was becoming overblown and self-indulgent, this didn't: this is a perfect example of how to write and record fabulous, memorable pop songs. And by Lynne's own admission, it really didn't get much better than this for him.

Lucky for us that he got this good.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2011 5:19 PM GMT


A New World Record
A New World Record
Offered by sdiscs.
Price: £14.95

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect polished pop rock, 26 April 2009
This review is from: A New World Record (Audio CD)
Together with its direct successor, Out of the Blue, this is probably the album that forever defines the sound of the Electric Light Orchestra in the minds of most people. From this point, the rough-edged rock 'n' roll of earlier works like Ma Ma Ma Belle or the rather more reined back strings and whimsy of songs like Mr Radio would make way for these bigger, lusher and more 'cinematic' arrangements. It's rather like the difference between watching a film on TV at home, them going to see the same thing on a big screen in surround sound in a cinema. Neither is bad (quite the contrary), they are just different types of experience.

It's also around this time that Jeff Lynne SERIOUSLY found his songwriting boots. There is not one (full length) song on here that couldn't have hit the UK singles chart top 10 if they'd been released. Indeed, several of them did. In amongst the well known hits like the operatic Rockaria! and the tender and melancholic Telephone Line, not to mention the now legendary Livin' Thing are other lesser konwn gems: Tightrope (possibly my favorite ELO song ever), that begins with a fanfare of dramatic swooping strings before romping off into a rollocking rock number; So Fine with its funky middle eight and congas; the heartfelt and beautiful ballads The Mission and Shangri-La. The other nice surprise is the inclusion of a storming cover of Do Ya (from The Move's rather wonderful Message from the Country). As good as the orignial version is, this version is actually a little bit better. Basically, in production terms, Lynne gives it the kitchen sink. And it could have sounded a dreadful mess, but doesn't: it's sublime.

It's perhaps strange to think now, at this remove that punk wasn't really the sound of 1976-77. Music like this and the Eagles' Hotel California was what many people were actually listening to and buying. The later revisionism of a certain type of music wonk would have you believe this music was reviled and irrelevant. It wasn't. And while lots of the prevailing commercial music of that part of the 1970's was becoming overblown and self-indulgent, this didn't: this is a perfect example of how to write and record fabulous, memorable pop songs. And by Lynne's own admission, it really didn't get much better than this for him.

Lucky for us that he got this good.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 21, 2009 9:05 AM BST


Red Dwarf: Anniversary Edition - All The Shows [DVD]
Red Dwarf: Anniversary Edition - All The Shows [DVD]
Dvd ~ Craig Charles

27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Does exactly what it says on the tin...book, oh whatever, 20 Mar. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Yep, all the episodes from series 1-8.

No smeg-ups. No extras to speak of. But that's not what you are looking for, is it, gentle reader?

The presentation box, in the style of an A4 photo album, is a fine idea though one wonders how practical it is to insert and remove the discs from the pouches over a longer period of time.

There's not a lot one can say about the episodes themselves; you either "get it" or you don't. No amount of explaining what 'Smeg' means, or why "smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast" is so very funny will make the slightest bit of sense if you don't understand the general mood of the show and the dynamic between the wonderful characters. On paper they may be cardboard cutout sterotypes but the actors really do make them feel much more fleshed out.

The writing veers from the slapstick to the profound with amazing regularity and speed. Red Dwarf is actually much cleverer televsion than it is often given credit for (see Tikka To Ride's JFK set-up for a perfect example). And to sneak that sort of cleverness in amongst the great gross-out gags and puerile insults is a great trick.

Fabulous on every level.


Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England
Adventures on the High Teas: In Search of Middle England
by Stuart Maconie
Edition: Paperback

37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Melancholic and joyful too, 16 Mar. 2009
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
As a sometime exiled Northerner it could only have been a matter of time before Maconie decided to create a companion of sorts to his joyous Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North, and here it is. Anyone expecting withering broadsides at the Home Counties is going to leave with a sense of bitter and chippy [Northern] disappointment. No matter, this book is not for them; instead it is a celebration of a Britishness (and also, quite separately an Englishness) that, while not being of the wild, untamed and windswept north, is in its own way just as wonderful.

The starting point is considering what actually constitutes Middle England. The temptation is to think of it as a rather pampered, hectoring cultural hinterland, full of angry calls to Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 and whinges about immigrants and workshy layabouts. Instead, Maconie rather refreshingly infuses these places (and their people) with a warmth and a welcome lack of finger-wagging metropolitan liberal judgement.

As it turns out, the so-called foaming Daily Mail-reading mob are rather more liberal and tolerant than we are mostly led to believe; no more so than at the start of his journey as he describes a sleepy Sunday afternoon in Meriden, delighting in observing the minutiae of the passers-by and the local shop.

For me though, the best part of the book is a treat indeed from a music journo of his rare erudition: his journey to Hergest Ridge and the surrounding area where he manages to talk about Mike Oldfield, Syd Barrett and Nick Drake in a truly affecting and moving way; so much so that I really want to have a look around Tanworth. Now. The church sounds especially lovely.

These ruminations on music, the poetry of Auden and Brief Encounter amongst other things all join together to paint a sometimes rather wistful and melancholic picture of an England almost past. There is a feeling evoked occasionally that we are on the cusp of losing some vital part of our identity that we will never quite get back.

It's not all bad news, though. In amongst the melancholy is a sense of playful yet rather deep love of the country and all its foibles and tics. Yes, some things are being lost, but new traditions and wonders are rising in their place. England (specifically) is not just the land of the hoodie and the binge drinker, no matter what certain, more hysterical, sections of our press might say. And this book is an unironic celebration of all of that. Another England, not like the one of his (also rather wonderful) previous book, but one worth celebrating all the same.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: May 27, 2009 1:49 PM BST


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