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MR P FITTON (Oldham, Manchester UK)

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Viva Dead Ponies 2CD
Viva Dead Ponies 2CD

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Mansions as they were intended to sound, 26 Aug 2009
This review is from: Viva Dead Ponies 2CD (Audio CD)
Viva Dead Ponies is the only album I've ever bought twice on CD. Well, fair enough, you might say, since there is an additional 2nd CD "best of" included, this is not just a straight reissue. Well, yes, but then I had all those tracks too. So why did I buy this and why am I very glad I did? Good question, thanks for asking.

Well, there is one slight difference with VDP itself: the version of Chemical Cosh here is not the one from the original UK release of the album, but instead the much more muscular version recorded for the Hive EP (though I believe some later pressings of VDP may have also included it? By the way I hope you're taking notes, there will be questions later).

But I really bought this album in the fervent hope that VDP had been remastered. The original album was unquestionably a wonderful record but seriously marred by thin, weedy, lousy sound, as a result, presumably, of poor mastering or pressing (if CDs are indeed 'pressed', don't ask me).

Thankfully, although the current booklet/packaging makes no mention of it whatsoever, VDP, and the "best of" tracks, clearly have indeed been remastered (or reEQ'd, or something), and the uncredited technician responsible has done an excellent job. Plenty has been gained and nothing lost. Consequently, all the fantastic music on these 2 CDs now SOUNDS fantastic. Now as loud, full-bodied and rich sounding as it was surely intended to be, VDP roars out of your speakers, whereas previously it pretty much dribbled out. At times it's almost like listening to a completely different record.

As hinted earlier, the 2nd CD tracks have also been remasterd to the same high standard. The Valhalla Avenue tracks (originally also cursed with ropey sound) benefit most but even the Lost in the Former West selections sound better than before, and they sounded great to begin with.

Ok, so enough of this anally retentive sound quality stuff, what about the music? Well, I could write a thousand pages about the wonderful music on these CDs, but my fellow reviewers have raved long and hard already. Believe them, they are wise. Suffice to say that from the visceral rage and fury of Blues for Ceausescu, Angel's Delight, Look What I Stole for Us, Darling etc. to the desolate beauty of Behind the Moon or Wilderness on Time, this set contains some of the finest music you will ever hear. Those of my friends and acquaintances who sneer and mock at my claim that the Fatima Mansions were the greatest band of all time will soon find themselves subjected to these CDs. Oh yes. They'll thank me for it one day.

The Best of CD has been well compiled. Ok, personally I'd have tried to make room for Something Bad, The Day I Lost Everything, Ray of Hope, Stigmata and Brunceling's Song and would have probably eschewed You Won't Get Me Home, Nite Flights, Humiliate Me and the remix of The Loyaliser, great though they all are. But, overall, no real complaints.

Newcomers to the band should of course start here. Since no other Fatima Mansions records are currently commercially available they would probably be hard pressed to start anywhere else anyway. Which begs the obvious question: when is the band's entire back catalogue going to be made available? If and when that happens let's hope that it will all sound as good as this reissue.

Daunt Square To Elsewhere: Anthology 1982-88
Daunt Square To Elsewhere: Anthology 1982-88

5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Watch the dawn in sick amazement, 13 May 2009
A very welcome release. It's about time the wonderful Microdisney received the attention they deserved. What's really needed, of course, is a full re-issuing of all their work, but apparently that seems to be too much to ask for so I guess we'll have to make do with this very good compilation.

There's no arguing with the music on this 2CD set, of course. All of it is sublime - bruised, angry, sardonic, bleakly funny and, perhaps most of all, wonderfully tuneful. In terms of pure songwriting technique there must be a great case to be made for the songwriting partnership of Cathal Coughlan and Sean O'Hagan to be considered one of greatest of all time.

Disc 1 opens with one of the band's greatest acheivements, the beautiful and extraordinarily bleak Hello Rascals, a song which contains one of my all-time favourite lyrics: 'Wake up almost dead/ watch the dawn in sick amazement'. (But then there are so many great lyrics on this record...). Yes, the production values are almost laughably dated, but at this stage there was no major record company and no money. From this opening track to the end of the much more polished CD2 Daunt Square is a sheer joy.

If we're going to be pernickety though, and I am, then you have to ask why no Teddy Dogs, Helicopter of the Holy Ghost, A Friend with a Big Mouth, Genius, the magnificent Bullwhip Road ('I hate the world/I hate my life/and this song/now run along'), Ambulance for One ('if we meet again/try not to faint in my hallway') or even the ludicrously underrated Half A Day?

No matter, this set contains some of the finest music ever made, by a band who should have been at least as big as The Smiths (surely Microdisney's only real competitors in the Great Indie Guitar Bands of the 80s category). Put simply, do yourself an enormous favour and buy this record.

Lost in the Former West
Lost in the Former West

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Keeping Music Evil, 4 May 2009
This review is from: Lost in the Former West (Audio CD)
In a decently organised society the Fatima Mansions would have been huge, and their leader, singer and songwriter Cathal Coughlan, would be worshipped as a genius. Rock's final genius in fact. Alas it was not to be.

The band's final album, Lost in the Former West, was described by Coughlan, prior to release, as a straight-ahead "flippant" rock album. True, up to a point, and as such it lacks the some of the subtlety of previous albums (at least musically) but it is still a magnificent, snarling, furious, gloriously malevolent record in the best Fatima tradition. And it's frequently also very funny.

Other bands (RATM, Anti-Flag et al) may play at being angry, make the appropriate gestures, postures and slogans, but don't have the intellectual or musical clout to back it up. Fatima Mansions were the real deal. There was no vacuous sloganeering; enormously inventive musically and with Coughlan's hyper-intelligent lyrics, their brief recorded history represents probably the most uncompromisingly vitriolic music ever put on disc.

Jason Parkes has already done a great job of outlining the record's main themes so I won't add much on that score. Suffice to say that, as always, the Mansions were not messing about. The record starts with the massive guitar attack and coruscating rage of Belong Nowhere - Coughlan's nihilistic, anti-patriotic vitriol ridiculing and ruthlessly dismantling the very ideas of 'belonging', homeland and national identity.

Massive savage guitar (courtesy of the excellent Aindrias O'Gruama) dominates most of LitFW's tracks, but it's not all brutality. There's much lyric beauty here too: Sunken Cities is a beautiful song based on a Moravian folk tune, the jaw-droppingly bitter lyrics of Walk Yr Way are set to a stately, yearning melody and lovely piano chords, while the title track is a strange but beautifully constructed instrumental of the type that peppered Cathal's first solo album (the sublime Grand Necropolitan, for me simply the greatest album ever made).

Then there's Coughlan's voice, an instrument that can not only express rage and disgust better than any other on the planet but can also be simply gorgeous. I'd be hard put to think of a better singer in rock music (other than perhaps Cathal's hero, Scott Walker, paid tribute to here with an excellent cover of Nite Flights), not for nothing did John Peel once say that he could listen to Coughlan sing the phone book.

The problem with Fatima Mansion's records, and Coughlan's solo albums, is that it's almost impossible to listen to anything else afterwards. In comparison almost everything else sounds like nonsense made by people who are just toeing the line and playing the game. Coughlan makes records that no-one else has the intelligence, soul or courage to make. To paraphrase the late Harold Pinter speaking about Beckett: what I love about Coughlan is that he's not f--king me about, he's not leading me up any garden path, he's not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.

Sadly, the legal department of a cretinous record company put paid to the Fatima Mansions, but Coughlan's solo work continues, largely unrecognised, to this day. Musically, he has mellowed to an extent (he has, he says, "lost interest in signal distortion") but his albums still contain all the qualities that made the Mansions, and previous band Microdisney, wonderful. LitFW is as good a place as any for the curious to start, however, and is very, very highly recommended.

Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty, Op. 66
Offered by EliteDigital UK
Price: £16.95

9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very fine and highly recommended, 17 Mar 2009
Dearie me, the previous two reviewers have been rather harsh on Pletnev's Sleeping Beauty. Ok, it's not without one or two minor flaws (for which I would have knocked off half a star if Amazon let me), but it's nevertheless a very fine performance and recording and is unlikely to disappoint anyone apart from those who are dead set on disappointment.

Mr Haageman complains of the "unemotional, poker-faced approach" and compares Pletnev, unfavourably, with Dorati (a recording I love and to which I have given 5 stars to elsewhere). Actually, Pletnev is demonstrably more lively and animated than Dorati, especially in Act 3, and although I would concede that the waltz from Act 1 could indeed benefit from a tad more drama, I can't hear much of anything wrong with the Rose Adagio or Panorama.

It's swings and roundabouts really: Pletnev is not quite as beautifully recorded as Dorati (or at least the orchestral sound is not quite as gorgeous - not necessarily the same thing of course) but you do at least get the complete score here, whereas the Dorati 2 disc set omits the 6 minute Entr'acte from Act 2.

As for it being too fast, well that's a red herring. Occasionally Pletnev is a little brisker, sometimes he's a little slower and, most of the time, his tempi are pretty much the same. Pletnev takes 159 minutes to perform the complete score, Dorati takes 155 minutes without the Entr'acte. Add that and Dorati would be about 161 minutes. So in the course of 2 hours 40 Pletnev actually shaves off about 2 minutes. No big deal. I have recordings of Sibelius's sublime 20 minute long 7th Symphony that vary in length by up to 5 minutes.

I would agree with J Murray that the strings could do with a little more weight on occasion. In fact there are a couple of places where the whole orchestra could do with a little more weight. And the recording is a little too detailed and over-fussy at times. But I couldn't honestly knock off more than half a star on that account.

Let's consider the dreaded Wide Dynamic Range. Well, thankfully, this score doesn't much allow for it (after all, dancers have to be able to hear everything). Pletnev though, being a modern artiste and 'up to date' kind of fella, takes full advantage of the limited opportunities available. So if, like recording engineers and music critics, you like your quiet passages to be virtually inaudible and the loud parts to blow the roof off your house, you'll find Pletnev marginally more pleasurable. Those of us who live in the real world, with neighbours and suchlike, and who don't want to be constantly faffing about with the volume knob will find that you can put Dorati on at a reasonable volume setting, press play, and enjoy.

Ultimately, this is a very fine Sleeping Beauty played by excellent musicians - the playing really can't be faulted. Very good informative booklet too, at least in the 'Rosette' edition which I bought, even if it looks and feels a bit cheap. Btw the Dorati has a very thick booklet but only two rather dull pages in English about the ballet and doesn't bother to provide a plot synopsis or any info at all about conductor or orchestra.

Buy either and you won't be disappointed. If you've got a spare bob or two buy both. And if you've got a spare 6 hours or so, play one after the other. Good luck with that.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 1, 2014 1:34 AM GMT

Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty
Tchaikovsky: The Sleeping Beauty
Price: £12.33

15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Superb - though not quite complete., 22 Feb 2009
First of all I would agree with most of the previous reviewers comments, especially those regarding the sound quality of this double disc set. If you're a digital snob don't be put off by the ADD because the quality is really quite magnificent. These are late analogue recordings from 1979/80/81 and the sound is full, warm and really quite gorgeous. One of, if not the best, CDs I own in terms of quality and easily equal to any recent digital recording (for example, it's significantly better than the Tilson Thomas/LSO complete Swan Lake digital recording from 1990, not that there's a great deal wrong with that either).

One caveat: this is not quite the complete Sleeing Beauty, despite being listed as such in the booklet (though not, to be fair, on the front or back cover). Philips have made it "available on two well-filled discs", as the Amazon reviewer says, by the fairly simple expedient of omitting one of the pieces - the 6 minute Entr'acte from act 2. Check out the listing for CD 2 above and you'll see that piece no 18 is missing. Admittedly it's not a huge omission, and you can download the Previn/LSO version of it from this site for 69p if you're desperate to hear it.

As far as the music goes, well it's fantastic. Not quite as immediately beguiling or appealing as Swan Lake or Nutcracker, but still full of marvellously inventive and inspired music that gets better and more enjoyable with every listen.

Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites
Tchaikovsky: Ballet Suites
Price: £8.72

37 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential, 28 Jan 2009
Fantastic music, superb performances and excellent sound. The govt should issue every music department in every school in the country with a free copy of this CD (along with another DG Originals classic - the Karajan/BPO disc of La Mer/Pictures at an Exhibition/Bolero, and lots of Sibelius & Shostakovich) in order to demonstrate to kids how exciting classical music can be.

Tchaikovsky's ballet suites are endlessly inventive musically and are packed with great melodic ideas, fantastic orchestration and, well, wonderfull tunes. Personally, I much prefer the composer in this kind of exuberant mood than in his supposedly more serious symphonic works.

It's a pity that the Rostropovich/BPO combo never recorded the full scores of any of these works, because after hearing the three suites on this CD you'll want to hear Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty and The Nutcracker in full.

Incidentally, by DG Originals standards this is not a particularly old recording - it's from 1978. Accordingly the sound quality is first rate and much better than most current digital recordings.

An iconic CD that you should not be without (even if, like me, you were once idiotic enough to sneer at Tchaikovsky. D'oh!).

Anyway, if you want a CD of Tchaikovsky's ballet suites (and why on earth wouldn't you?) then this is simply in a class of its own.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Feb 24, 2014 11:02 AM GMT

The Stranger
The Stranger
by Albert Camus
Edition: Paperback

94 of 107 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A magnificent book, pity about some of its readers..., 9 July 2004
This review is from: The Stranger (Paperback)
I have never felt the need to comment on reviews posted by others on this site, but I feel that Ted Rushton's review of The Stranger is a disgrace and I am amazed that Amazon have seen fit to publish his offensive and ill-informed half-witted drivel. Anyone who can use the moronic term "surrender monkeys" in a review of a book should confine themselves to the latest piece of trash by Frederick Forsyth and steer clear of authors of the calibre of Camus, whose ideas are clearly beyond him.
Even if Mersault could be seen as exemplifying the attitudes of the French people - and he clearly exemplifies nothing of the sort - Mr Rushton's anti-French tirade crumbles when you consider some facts he omits to mention. Firstly, Camus himself was active in the resistance during the war and also edited, at considerable risk, the clandestine journal Combat. Secondly Camus' The Plague is an allegory of occupation and resistance and, despite Mr Rushton's assertions to the contrary, exhibits considerable moral bravery. Then he should consider Sartre's Roads to Freedom trilogy, three books which concern themselves unflinchingly with issues of engagement, commitment and resistance.
In any case what philosophy could be more brave than existentialism, a philosophy that rejects the safety net of God and all other transcendental metaphysical fairy tales and insists that man is morally responsible for his own actions and the consequences thereof?
And by the way, as an Englishman who has travelled in France I can assure Mr R that the French do not hate the English and we - apart from a few tabliod reading idiots - do not hate them either.
The Stranger itself is one of the great books of the 20th Century: a masterful study of a man who refuses to conform to the false values and hypocrisy of mass self-assured organised society and ultimately pays the consequences for his bravery in refusing to "fit in". The court room scene is one of the finest pieces of writing you will ever come across, and the book as a whole is beautifully written, intensely moving, and ultimately uplifting.
Buy the book and ignore Mr Rushton's vile "review"

Sibelius - Symphonies Nos 3 & 7 (LSO, Davis)
Sibelius - Symphonies Nos 3 & 7 (LSO, Davis)
Price: £7.40

6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic music, patchy performances, 23 Jun 2004
Although an admirer of Sir Colin Davis - I especially love his LSO Live Bruckner recordings - I've always found his Sibelius a bit hit and miss. This new CD is a typical example: there are some very fine things here but there are also occasions when Davis is simply wide of the mark.
We start with the criminally underrated 3rd Symphony. Am I alone in thinking that the glorious first movement is one of Sibelius's very finest compositions? Davis starts and finishes the movement very well and overall it's one of the better recordings of this frequently botched piece, but around the middle there are some rather muddled passages and some melodic
lines and embellishments are renderred rather meaningless as a result. Contrast with Leaper on Naxos where every note makes perfect sense and the sensation of building excitement and tension is exhilarating. Davis also has a tendency to slow things down at key moments, thus dissipating the power of the piece slightly.
The slow movement - which I have to confess I can take or leave - is played fairly slowly but effectively, although the intended yearning, lilting quality doesn't quite come off properly somehow.
On the other hand the first "scherzo" part of the Finale is done extremely well. In fact I've never heard it sound better. Davis brings real magic to the fragmentary lines and phrases that weave around each other before finally resolving into the finale proper (which is also done very well). Superb.
Sibelius's 7th is probably my favourite piece of music of all time. Why this masterpiece has never been accorded its rightful place in history as one of the three most important orchestral works of the 20th Century - with La Mer & the Rite of Spring - is beyond me. Much has been said about the way the conventional symphonic movements are woven effortlessly into one single movement, but what is just as remarkable is the equally effortless way Sibelius manages to combine Romanticism, classicism and modernism into one unified whole and does so with such invention and artistry that these terms are transcended and become obsolete. Oh and much of it is strikingly beautiful.
So what of Davis's latest version? Well, it's ok. The opening adagio is played well, if a little slowly for my tastes; the gorgeous hymn section therein is handled with much poise and no lack of feeling. For sheer expressive beauty though it falls a fair way short of Leaper (again) on Naxos. The rest of the symphony is done well enough (although both the strings and woodwind could do with a bit more weight at times and there is some clumsiness here and there) and this is a perfectly serviceable reading. I'll certainly play it every now and then but I wouldn't rank it alongside the greatest versions - Leaper on Naxos, Maazel on Decca, Segerstam on Chandos, Karajan on DG, Berglund on EMI, Leaper on Arte Nova et al.
Overall, you can't go too far wrong here - particularly if you want both of these great works on one disc - but more distinguished versions of both symphonies are available, even at this price.
I've given 4 stars but 3 and a half would probably be more appropriate.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Dec 12, 2011 9:26 AM GMT

Sibelius:Symphony Nos 2 and 7
Sibelius:Symphony Nos 2 and 7
Offered by petespick
Price: £32.85

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Master Sibelian at work: another magnificent seven., 9 Feb 2004
Adrian Leaper’s late ‘80s/early ‘90s Sibelius cycle on Naxos was pretty much my introduction to classical music; I don’t think I could have wished for a better one. I still love those CDs and, though I have heard a great many recordings of the symphonies by more “celebrated” conductors since, Leaper is a match for anyone - and if there are better versions of the 4th or 7th I’ve yet to hear them. In particular the 7th is a real Desert Island Disc, genuinely breath taking, and easily the finest version I’ve heard. Few others come even remotely close to the sublime beauty of Leaper’s recording.
So when I saw that Leaper had recorded the 7th again – this time in 1997 with his own (at the time of the recording) Orquesta Filarmonica de Gran Canaria – well, I had to give it a whirl. And does it disappoint? Not at all. Once again Leaper captures masterfully the fluidity of this intensely beautiful music; all the tempos are spot on, every line and phrase shaped to perfection, every dynamic nuance just right. Leaper is terrific with the details of the piece but never at the expense of the bigger picture. The 7th should be a unified, organic whole and that’s exactly what it is here. In comparison other versions sound episodic and full of awkward, clumsy moments. I played several other accounts of the 7th after this and it was like looking at several different photographs of the same scene, one in perfect focus and beautifully composed and the others out of focus, blurred and shaky.
If pushed I’d have to say that I still prefer the earlier version as this perhaps lacks just the last degree of intensity of its predecessor. Nonetheless it’s very, very nearly as good. As on Naxos the (relatively) little known orchestra performs like a world-class outfit. True, this version is very similar to the Naxos one but, as those recordings now seem to have been withdrawn in favour of Petri Sakari’s newer cycle, this CD is very good news. Also the sound quality improves upon Naxos – that was good but this is excellent, with particularly nice brass and a more spacious feel.
I should just mention that the 2nd Symphony is very enjoyable here too; the 2nd has never meant anything like as much to me as the 7th though so I won’t comment on it further.
A little web research indicates that Adrian Leaper has received plenty of praise for his Sibelius recordings (and, indeed, other recordings). Quite right too. This British conductor’s name may not have quite the kudos of Rattle, Davis, Berglund etc etc. but I care not a jot. Listen to his recordings and you’ll hear the work of a master Sibelian, and currently the best Sibelius conductor there is.

Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 1-7
Sibelius: Symphonies Nos 1-7
Price: £12.02

36 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exhilarating Sibelius recordings, 3 Feb 2004
Having bought supposedly “legendary” and “landmark” Sibelius recordings before and been sorely disappointed, I must confess to having misgivings as soon as I’d pressed the ‘order’ button for this set. Would all the praise turn out to be the usual hyperbole? I needn’t have worried…
There’s a real sense of excitement in these recordings and all are full of vitality and character. The Vienna players bring obvious enthusiasm and drive to these wonderful works but there’s great subtlety and a deep understanding of the music too. So much so that just hearing them play the 1st reminded me of the awe I felt when I first discovered Sibelius several years ago, and I don’t think any CDs I’ve bought since my first purchase of these symphonies has had that effect.
I’d agree with most in saying that the highlights are the 4th and 7th – the latter performance really capturing the epic sweep and intense beauty of this masterpiece. In fact is there anything more sublime in all music than the first 10 minutes or so of Sibelius’ 7th (and the remaining 10 minutes are pretty good too)? The 1st and the 5th deserve very high praise as well. The very fast tempos in much of the 6th (beautiful opening section, though) and first movement of the 3rd take a bit of getting used to but these are also rewarding performances.
True, the ‘60s sound is a bit on the bright side, very occasionally even coarse, and the discs are not completely free of muddled playing and even a little questionable intonation, but these are rare blemishes so don’t be put off. You can hardly go wrong at this price anyway, can you?
All I would say is I wouldn’t really recommend this as your only source of these symphonies – some of the performances are a bit idiosyncratic by current standards for that. I’d say get some good modern recordings as well. For very little money you can’t beat Adrian Leaper’s superb cycle on Naxos or indeed his later recordings for Arte Nova; both of these contain 7ths that, sorry purists, leave even Mr Maazel’s in the shade. Petri Sakari, also on Naxos, is a good bet too. But do invest in this excellent little box.

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