Friday, April 30, 2010

Worried Man, Antlered Boy In Sample Jar

Jeff Lemire's Sweet Tooth #8, by Jeff Lemire

While Jeppard tries not to remember scenes from his past life, Gus meets the doctor who runs the research centre in which he has been imprisoned. Dr Singh is maybe a bit less sinister than expected, more like someone who does very bad things but is fundamentally trying to hold things together, or is at least trying to convince himself that this is his game. Sweet Tooth remains a dark and compelling title.

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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tree, Family, Notebook

Daytripper #5, by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá

This is that Brazilian one in which the protagonist dies at the end of each issue. This is an atmospheric tale of his childhood. It is maybe that bit less exciting than some of the previous issues.

There is a preview inside of a new zombie (yawn) title called I Zombie, by Chris Roberson and Michael Allred. This one seems to be about a cute girl who is also a zombie – she must keep eating the brains of the recently deceased or she will stop being cute and turn into one of those unpleasant shambling zombies. It looks like it might actually be somewhat interesting.

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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Gangster, Flapper, Tuxedos, Spaceship

Turf #1 of 5, by Jonathan Ross and Tommy Lee Edwards

TV personality Jonathan Ross has long been a comics aficionado, with many remembering the introductions he wrote for reprints of 1970s Batman comics. Here he tries his hand at writing one of his own. It's set in the late 1920s during prohibition and features gangsters, corrupt cops and politicians, vampires, a crashing spaceship, and so on. It is somewhat atmospheric in terms of its setting, but it is maybe a bit of a dogs dinner with too many elements pulling in too many directions. The whole thing is also a bit wordy, with each page full of text. And does the world really need another vampire title?

My initial impression, therefore, is that this is a good first effort but I'm not really convinced that it is essential reading. I may give #2 a go, but probably not.

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My Journey Home

This is how my beloved and I got home from Cuba.

On Sunday the 18th we reported to Jose Marti International to discover unsurprisingly that our flight to Paris had been cancelled. Instead we were offered a flight to Bordeaux, beyond the reach of the volcanic ash cloud.

On Monday morning we arrived in Bordeaux. After some train problem emerged we were eventually loaded onto buses for Paris, which arrived in Roissy/Charles-De-Gaulle at about 01.00 in the morning, after a stop-off in Orly (srsly).

CDG was reopening on Tuesday, so we hoped to fly home then. Sadly, Dublin was still closed, so that scotched that. Sleep deprivation meant we were a bit confused, so we checked into an Ibis in the airport so we could shower and work out what to do. Eventually we decided to go to the Eurolines bus station and see about getting a bus to London. Here we discovered that they were running many more buses than their website suggested, and we were able to book a bus for the following morning. The helpful guy at the desk said that if we really wanted to we would probably get on the fully booked out buses going out that night, as there were always no-shows. But we felt that it would be better to get at least some sleep in first (and we had already paid for the Ibis).

So, on Wednesday the 21st we got on a bus from Paris to London. It was meant to go at 10.30 but it did not leave until a bit later due to some kind of complication. This brought us to Calais, where we went through the bureaucratic formalities required to enter Festung Englande. We also saw the people who were queuing to get onto the ferries as foot passengers.

Once in England we started seeing posters for the forthcoming general election. Strangely, they all seemed to be for the Conservative Party, but all featured the face of some Gordon Brown fellow; perhaps he took over as their leader while we were away.

Delays meant that we arrived in London too late to make the night bus to Dublin, so we booked on the one for the next day, at the horrifically early time of 06.30. We checked into a cheap local hotel and then went out for a delicious curry only slightly marred by the braying Tories at the next table.

So then on Thursday the 22nd we caught the bus that brought us to the big ship from Irish Ferries (a company I notionally boycott because of their union-busting practices). This brought us to Dublin uneventfully.

image source

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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Great Cuban Things – the story continues

Check out part one.

9. El Parque Prehistorico

This is possibly my single favourite Cuban thing. It is a garden set up by this guy Jesus Arencibia Coro in the little town of Viñales. The garden contains fossils, local medicinal plants, models of prehistoric people (including the Flores hobbit), a giant model dinosaur, and other amazing things. Mr Arencibia shows you around himself and should be a national treasure if he is not already. He also runs a casa particular with his wife, one I wish I had stayed in (not that there was anything wrong with the one we were in, but hanging out with Mr and Mrs Arencibia would be most excellent).


10. El Hotel Inglaterra

I am not loaded so I could not afford to stay in this place, but we spent a lot of time drinking mojitos here. It is one of those delightfully atmospheric old hotels, but it also has working Internet and left luggage facilities we were able to use (unlike the more modestly priced hotel in which we stayed for our last couple of nights in Havana).


11. Ballet

It was only when I started learning Spanish that I discovered how big ballet is in Cuba. I think a lot of this might be down to the influence of Alicia Alonso, the glory of Cuba as I saw her described somewhere. We went to the ballet ourselves on our last night in Havana, catching a ballet that told the story of some exciting mixed race Caribbean fellow from the 18th century who composed music (to which the ballet was set) and raised a regiment to fight for the French Revolution. I have never been to proper ballet before, and it was very exciting stuff.


12. The Terry Thomas Caves

OK, so they are actually the Santo Tomas Caves, but as we had already visited the Terry Thomas Theatre (or Teatro de Don Tomas Terry) we started imagining that everything in Cuba had been renamed after that gap-toothed bounder. If you have ever been in caves you will understand in broad terms what these ones, near Viñales, were like, but they seemed a bit rougher round the edges than others I have visited. We went in as part of a tour, but I would love to know how many people injure themselves there every year.


13. El Museo de la Revolución

Situated in the former presidential palace, this museum is dedicated to the Cuban Revolution, telling the story of Castro's guerrilla war in the Sierra Maestra and then the achievements of the revolutionary regime. It is all very one-sided – everything is one bout of successful progress and unfortunate occurrences (like the fall of Communism abroad and the economic collapse of the early 1990s) are only mentioned in passing, if at all. But it is still a fascinating window into how the Cuban regime portrays itself. If there is ever a political transition in Cuba then this museum should be put in a museum.

As well as the exhibits inside the former presidential palace, the museum also includes various bits of military hardware outside – a T-34 and a light aircraft used against "los mercenarios de los Yanquis" at the Bay of Pigs, some home-made tanks used during the revolution, and the Granma yacht in which the Castros, Che, Camilo Cienfuegos and the others travelled from Mexico to start the war against the Batista dictatorship.


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Important Classic Book Club News

Notwithstanding anything that might have been said previously, we will meet to discuss Joseph Conrad's Nostromo on Tuesday 4th May, upstairs in the Lord Edward at 7.00 pm.

¡Viva Costaguana!

Monday, April 26, 2010

A Random List of Great Cuban Things

Here are some fascinating things encountered on my recent trip to Cuba.

1. Affordable cocktails

Even in the most tourist rip-off place you would never pay more than four convertible pesos for a mojito or daiquiri. That's three and a bit Euro.


2. He R My Uncle

We were looking at an interesting frieze of lost revolutionary hero Camilo Cienfuegos when some chancer appeared to say "Es mí tio" in a manner that suggested that this relationship would merit a financial gift of some sort. Maybe you had to be there on this one.


3. Crumbly Havana

As expected, it is full of very attractive looking buildings that are largely falling apart. This is more true of Habana Centro than Habana Vieja, as the latter gets more restoration work due to its UNESCO world heritage status. But in general I don't think anywhere as looked as much like how I expected it to.


4. El Museo de Chocolate

It is not really a museum but rather a chocolate café. Other tourists had said that it was somewhere we had to go to, but we kept being put off by the queues. After we bit the bullet and waited in line to get in, we discovered what might perhaps be the world's nicest hot chocolate. People queue for a reason.


5. Telenovella night in Trinidad

Telenovellas are what they call soap operas in the Latin world. There are lots of them on Cuban TV, some of them imported and some of them locally made. We were in Trinidad when some big episode of an imported telenovella was on. The houses in Trinidad often have living rooms that open onto the street, and as we walked around the town it seemed like everyone was watching the programme, in some cases with all their neighbours.


6. Casas particulares

In Cuba you can stay in hotels, or for a fraction of the price you can stay in casas particulares, private homes licensed to take visitors. These places will do breakfast and dinner for you at a most competitive rate, typically to a higher standard than in state restaurants. So they are cheap, convenient, and a great way of engaging with the locals. That said, after two weeks of living in people's spare rooms and granny flats we did find ourselves craving the anonymity of hotel accommodation, but anyone who goes to Cuba and does not stay in casas at least some of the time is making a big mistake.


7. Billboard posters

In Cuba there is virtually no commercial advertising. Instead, there are billboards advertising all kinds of political stuff along the side of the roads. I obsessively photographed as many of these as I could and am gradually uploading the images to Flickr and Facebook. No one looks at these pictures, but the important thing is that they are there.


8. In Cuba, the music finds you

It is an unusual café, bar, or restaurant in Cuba that does not have a band bashing out something approximating to the Buena Vista Social Club soundtrack. Quality-wise these range from pretty good to very good indeed. That said, the best music we heard was probably the house band in El Palenque de los Congo Reales in Trinidad. They broke with the more usual Buena Vista sound track to play tunes influenced by Cuba's strange musical relationship with the Congo. Winner of the El-Dio-Ama-Un-Tratado award goes to the busker on the steam train outside Trinidad who ended every song with "Ai, applauso!"

I had heard that in Cuba you get very sick of hearing 'Guantanamera'. We found that this tune has slipped into third or even fourth place, behind 'Chan Chan', 'The Girl From Ipanema', and (bizarrely) 'My Way'.

Stick around for more amazing Cuban action.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"Telstar"

I may have already mentioned this. It was a film about the life of Joe Meek, the guy who produced 'Telstar' by the Tornadoes, 'Johnny, Remember Me' by John Leyton, and various other less well known tunes. It starts off with a wonderful scene in which 'Johnny, Remember Me' is being recorded in Meek's pokey flat. There is such a sense of something amazing being conjured into being that someone who did not know the sad trajectory of Meek's life could think that they are in for a film about creative triumph over adversity. Just to make clear that they would be wrong, the film then cuts to a sobbing Meek making a bonfire in his gutted flat, throwing a picture disc of 'Johnny Remember Me' onto the flames.

The film continues on like that, tracing Meek's initial success while intercutting with the failure and despair at the end of his life. Eventually the main narrative catches up with the other, by which point the film has definitively stopped being a barrel of laughs. This maybe is one reason for Telstar's lack of box-office success – it starts off as a 1960s pop music romp before veering off into far darker territory.

Anyway, I recommend this film – it is an interesting if depressing story well told. It is very evocative of its time. The performances are impressive too – Con O'Neill as Meek, Kevin Spacey as the Major (Meek's business partner), and the various other types knocking around.

One thing I found fascinating was the where-are-they-now bit that ran over the end credits. Various characters in the story came to pretty poor ends. This however, this is not true of them all. Of the three recurring musicians of Joe Meek's house band (who in the film serve as John Leyton's backing band, the Tornadoes, Heinz's backing band, and so on), the chubby drummer turns out to have been some incredibly successful session player. One of the guitarists later becomes Chas (or Dave) or Chas 'n' Dave, while the other becomes Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple.

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Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wait a minute – you're not my wife!

Robert Calvert Lucky Leif and the Longships

This was a Christmas present from my friend Mr W----. It is a solo album from the Hawkwind star. This one is thematically about Leif Erikson going to the USA and stuff like that. It is rather entertaining, being both musically engaging and also lyrically quirky. One fun tune has Leif Erikson and the other Vikings singing a Beach Boys pastiche about being bar-bar-bar-barbarians. Ho ho, those rofflers.

More action packed inuit panda posts coming soon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

I instinctively reached out to help the young lady

v/a You Heard It Here First (CD)

Another compilation, this time from Ace Records. It is a collection of first (or early) recordings of tunes made substantially more famous by someone else. I bought it to finally get a recording of the original of 'Tainted Love', here performed by Gloria Jones as a northern soul stomper. A lot of the other tracks fall into the "interesting" category, but one genuinely fascinating track is Mark James' recording of 'Suspicious Minds' – it sounds like a karaoke version of the song, as when Elvis recorded it they took in the same players, backing singers, arrangements and orchestrations.

The record also has the Dick Berry original of 'Louie Louie' and an early version of 'Hey Joe'.

One thing that strikes me about a lot of these songs is that they were not originally recorded by their writers. This means that a lot of the artists here would have made no money whatsoever from the songs they pioneered becoming hits. Oh well, such is life.

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Saturday, April 10, 2010

I'm as shocked by it as you are, officer

v/a Mojo Presents: The Madcap Laughs Again

This is one of those CDs they give away with a magazine, in this case Mojo. It ties in with a big article they did on Syd Barrett, and is one of those ones where they put together a compilation of covers of an album (in this case Barrett's The Madcap Laughs), with different people doing each track. I tend to steer away from these things, but I found some of the tracks here rather engaging. OK, they are not all great – the opening version of 'Terrapins' is so piss poor that I will make sure that nothing else by Field Music ever darkens my door.

The better tracks on the compilation evoke the originals without sounding like them. Particular favourites would be the Hope Sandoval version of 'Golden Hair'; listening to it makes me wonder why I never got into Mazzy Star or Ms Sandoval's solo music, as there is an incredible richness to her voice. Cate Le Bon singing 'Feel' is also rather engaging, suggesting that maybe mannered or distinctive women vocalists suit Barrett's songwriting.

I am almost embarrassed to report that REM's cover of 'Dark Globe' is another classic. The band, and Stipe in particular, display a real empathy for the original taking one of the tracks where Barrett sounded like he was really losing it and making it sound like a proper song.

Still, good and all as this record is, it only really served to make me go back and listen again to the original. Just in case any of my younger readers do not know the oft-told story of Syd Barrett, he was the original singer and songwriter of Pink Floyd, but he fried his brain on drøgs and was kicked out of the band when his behaviour became too erratic. The Madcap Laughs is the solo record he recorded (with some members of his old band). By this stage he was pretty far gone, and the record works at one level as a document of mental illness. Nevertheless, Barrett's songwriting is still astonishingly on the money at times – tracks like 'Late Night', 'No Good Trying', and 'Terrapin' have a dark power found rarely elsewhere.

crazy diamond

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Thursday, April 08, 2010

"Twenty Pints No Problem, Your Honour"

The Sandpipers Cantan en Español: Guantanamera y Louie Louie (7" single)

Quiénes son los Sandpipers? No los conozco, pero me gusta mucho ese disco. OK, I will stop pretending to be able to communicate in Spanish now. This double a-side 7" has been lurking in Panda Mansions for months and months. A present I have only now got round to playing it. I think when I got it first we had still not unpacked the stereo after moving in, and then I forgot all about it. Listening to it now, I find it very appealing. 'Louie Louie' is of course one of the greatest songs of all time, but once you get away from The Kingsmen and the Rice University Marching Owls Band* new versions have very little to offer. This somewhat Latin-tinged recording is rather languid, which makes it suitably different from the more up-tempo versions. 'Louie Louie''s origin as a Cuban tune (the da-da-da de-da da-da-da riff comes straight from some dance tune from that island) makes for an appropriate pairing with an equally languid folk-tinged version of 'Guantanamera'.

*at least that's what I think they are called

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Tuesday, April 06, 2010

The Ex and Brass Unbound, with Zun Zun Egui

Zun Zun Egui are a funny lot, playing music that sounded rather afro-beat influenced. I liked them enough to buy two singles by them which one day I will listen to properly.

The Ex were playing with Brass Unbound, who are some guys playing brass instruments. And they were playing with their new singer! Total excitement, even if I missed the old fellow. The new lad seemed like amiable. He was endearingly unapologetic about being the band's new lead singer while at the same time not acting like he thought The Ex were his backing band. And at least some of the time he seemed to be just singing almost exactly in the style of the old guy. The brassy lads added a whole other element of fun to the proceedings, and The Ex's drummer did her usual bit of singing that was just enough to have people wishing she would sing more.

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Friday, April 02, 2010

Mantrum

Right now I am in Cuba doing exciting things / being hassled by jiniteros. But here is a post I made earlier:

Who are these fellows? Why – they are jazzers! We saw them playing at the Sunday night jazz thing in J.J. Smyths. I cannot say too much about them – partly because it is a good while since I saw them, but partly because there is not too much to say about them once you point out that 1. they are jazzers and 2. they give good jazz. So that's about it really. What's that, you'd like to know what instruments they play and have some idea of how they go about playing them? Well get you.

One thing I particularly liked about Mantrum was their ability to play both straight down the line tuneful jazz and the more crazily avant-garde stuff – it's not often you hear both in the one concert. The parptastic version of 'Nobody Does It Better' made for a lovely end to their performance.

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