‘Heart-Shaped Scars’ by Dot Allison is the album of the year

Dot Allison is someone I’ve closely followed since hearing One Dove’s White Love on an amazing night out in Bristol in what seems like lifetimes ago, and the prospect of a new album is something I’ve been looking forward to as we slowly emerge from lockdown.

Heart-Shaped Scars

I was worried it wouldn’t capture her past glories or be very good. I’m glad to report I shouldn’t have worried as by far, this is the album of the year and is very possibly the best thing she’s done, which is saying a lot. It sounds at times like a chill-out album welded to a folk album, but it doesn’t matter as in the end this is a stunning bit of work.

Buy it from here now. You’ve been telt!

Rock City in Nottingham is 40 years old

In the early 90’s I spent just over a year living in Nottingham, not because it was handier for work (which it was as it allowed me to live near where I could work) but because the nightclub/venue Rock City was there.

Rock City formed a large part of my formative youth when I moved from Glasgow to Leicester, and although dirty, sleazy alternative clubs were a thing in Glasgow nothing came close to Rock City. My first time there was for ‘alternative night’ which was a Saturday then. Walking up the wee hill to the venue I saw some poor lad being thrown face first out the club by the quite fearsome door staff who helped ensure there was very little trouble in the place.

Back in the late 80’s, and much of the 90’s I’d go up there for a gig, a night out or one of the legendary all-nighters. An all day session would involve starting in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, then some chips, and then to the Salutation, before making our way to Rock City where by this point everyone is happily drunk and then the insanity really begins. The next day would see you wake up in a mess on someone’s floor/couch/bed or by some miracle you made it back home!

One of my best times there was when Nirvana played in 1991 just as they became huge. I’d bumped into the band coming out of Selectadisc (a now closed legendary record shop) while I was dropping some comics off at a shop in town. A blurted hello, and a smile back from the band made my day as did their gig that evening in what was a dangerously overcrowded venue.

You can get a jist of the night in the video below.

But moving away from the East Midlands meant visits were less, plus old age, and now disablity means clubbing is a chore, but the memories of the nights there will keep me going for ages, assuming I can remember most of them…

Darth Vader stands in the centre of Bristol

There’s been a genuine wave of affection after Dave Prowse’s sad death the other day, and in his hometown in Bristol there was erected a fitting tribute to him as the only, true Darth Vader.

It’d have been better to have The Green Cross Code Man because then the statue could have kept it’s Bristolian accent…

A quick word of praise for Oliver Stone’s JFK

Back in 1963 John F. Kennedy was murdered on the steeets of Dallas, and in that one action the modern conspiracy theory was born. Nearly 30 years later Oliver Stone makes one of the best films I’ve ever seen on an absolute tissue of bullshit, but with many conspiracy theories, there’s an element of something in it, which is often even more shite, but in the case of JFK, it’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in insanity.

I first saw it in a cinema in Nottingham on a cold afternoon, and loved it. It was also the last film I saw with an actual intermission (which came before Donald Sutherland’s character’s massive info-dump) in which I ended up chatting in the bar with a well-dressed woman in her early 30s called Gill who ended up being a massive JFK conspiraacy theorist who ended up pre-emptying much of what Sutherland’s character was to say. After the film we carried on chatting for hours in the pub, then at hers, mainly about the veracity of Lee Harvey Oswald as lone gunman.

JFK is one of those films that turns ordinary people into conspiracy theorist because it’s a brilliantly made piece of propaganda. Do I think there was a massive conspiracy to kill Kenndy as portrayed in the film? No, but I don’t think there was a lone gunman and I do think there was a massive cover up of something but I’m not exactly sure what and that’s partly because of Stone’s film, and of people like Gill who took me down rabbit holes that today are almost infinite thanks to the internet.

This is a film that grabs you at the start, throws you end slowly, and by the time Donald Sutherland turns up to thrust you all the way under, has you under it’s spell. Brilliantly acted, directed and edited, JFK is a number of things from thriller, to conspiracy theory, to the background family drama which is really there to give Sissy Spacek something to do. Though as the years go on I see its flaws more; the film is at times unintentionally homophobic, especially in the extended cut. Also it is sexist as women in this film are reduced to victims or background dressing but ultimately this is a film which although not Stone’s best film (which for me is still Natural Born Killers) it is certainly the film of his I’m drawn back to over and over as new things are to be found with each viewing.

I love the film. I wish Stone could go back to this quality of filmaking, however this will remain as a testement to how to make a great film for decades to come. Go watch it again if you’ve not seen it in years, or just watch it for the first time ever.

Nothern Soul Girl meets The Joker

Levanna McLean made a name of herself seven years ago with this still gloriously joyous video of her dancing to Happy by Pharell Williams in the streets of Bristol. Since then she’s carved a niche for herself as the UK’s leading promoter of Northern Soul to a new generation which is quite fantastic. She’s become quite the minor celbrity in Bristol, and her latest video is just a stroke of bloody genius as she becomes Joaquin Phoenix’s Joker from last year’s film but on Christmas Steps in Bristol. Last time I went down those steps I was heroically drunk so it’s nice to see a decscent somewhat more graceful than mine.

So, here it is, enjoy…

The truth about Alan Moore

Alan Moore is a grumpy old man who hates superheroes and he hates fans, and why doesn’t he like Batman versus Superman? You hear this all the time online as a section of comics fans whine and cry about a man whose work they haven’t read since Watchmen, but demand he gives their thin glass-like identities validation by praising a genre and industry he doesn’t care about. He’s moved on, but fans like some spurned lover drag behind him throwing themselves at every nugget he speaks.

The truth is this is someone who should be celebrating what he did in comics but now looks back with some regret at what could have been, and now as he moves on to other mediums he’s pulled back into because arseholes ask him about Watchmen or the Marvel films. His daughter Leah puts it right here…

So next time you read one of these interviews remember there’s a person behind all of this and they don’t translate to American comic book fans. However this won’t mean anything and in six months time we’ll go through this entire dance over again as the internet turns on one of its favourite creators to hate.

Why did Tom King shame Jae Lee?

Tom King is writing DC’s new Rorschach maxi-series which is yet another example of them milking Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons Watchmen for everything it can. Of course Moore famously wants nothing to do with DC or what they’re doing to work he doesn’t fully own himself, or with co-creators, plus the idea of making Rorschach even the anti-hero of his own series would probably leave a bit of sick in his mouth.

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There is a massive issue here of the creator’s rights. Moore has been stripped bare by DC over the years, not to mention this sends out the message that if DC Comics can fuck over Alan Moore, they can fuck anyone over. Of course, they can’t do it without the aid of creators which brings us to Tom King doing this off the back of the dreadful Doomsday Clock semi-sequel. King’s participation in this has already caused controversy outwith the creator’s rights issue, and frankly, the blurb does not fill one with confidence.

“This is a very political work.” he said in a statement. “It’s an angry work. We’re so angry all the time now. We have to do something with that anger. It’s called ‘Rorschach’ not because of the character Rorschach, but because what you see in these characters tells you more about yourself than about them.”

But this is how DC and Marvel operate these days. Things won’t change, especially in a Covid world. So last weekend during the virtual San Diego Comic Con, King Tweeted this.

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The hate group King refers to is Comicsgate, who are indeed full of hateful racists and misogynists, but they run crowd-funding campaigns for their comics which end up raising their goals. They’re awful, but this is still a tiny part of comics even if they are painfully vocal, especially with their daft wee boycotts. The variant cover King is talking about is this one.

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Lee was then promptly canceled. Boycotts were organised, and fans pushed for Lee never to get work at DC, all the usual stuff you’d expect when there’s an online swirl of shaming and canceling going on. Problem is Lee wasn’t asked by King his version of the story until the damage was well and truly done, but of course this wouldn’t have attracted any attention.  Lee was busy dealing with the death of his dog and isn’t on Twitter, nor does he know what Comicsgate is. It appears he did the cover because he drew a Cyberfrog cover back in the 90s, plus as a freelance artist it was a job.

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Which has seen people further point out the fact why didn’t King do this in the first place? Was it really so urgent that it’d not have waited a couple of days til Lee had made clear his side of things. But no, people want blood, and if he’s innocent of anything then they still want blood. For example.

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Lee was not fine. Lee will probably lose work over this. He’ll forever have the labels of racist and bigot hanging over him. People will want Lee to ‘learn’ now he’s been so publicly shamed, but Lee did nothing more than do one cover for someone. He’s not a Comicsgater, nor does he seem to want to do anything but make art, but King has used his position of power to taint Lee which means people aren’t talking about King’s next project in the light of creator’s rights, or any other criticism prior to this weekend.

In most companies, King would be facing possible dismissal. At least he’d be disciplined for what he did to a colleague. I would hope DC’s H.R department move on this and bollock the living hell out of King because we live in a time where cancel culture is real, and people know they can weaponise it against someone, or use it to get likes or detract from anything rattling in their cupboard and an ex CIA operative will have many a skeleton rattling away, and one can only imagine how Alan Moore feels about a former CIA man working on his creations when Moore’s written a comic about the CIA’s bloody history.

So we have here an example of the horror of living in the 21st century. Public shaming is fine as long as you discuss facts after the shaming is done, and if the damage lives with someone for a lifetime well they’ve learned a lesson haven’t they? This is the weird bizarro world we now live in and how amazingly toxic it has become. If I were Lee I’d be crowdfunding for legal action, and I’m guessing the reason King has backed off is he’s now fully aware he’s open to be sued, and I hope Lee does because if this is the way to stop people leaping to cancel then so be it. There’s no point asking for kindness because many of the people holding up pitchforks are those who consider themselves ‘kind’ or progressive, but are happy to destroy lives for shits and giggles because it isn’t just the right doing this, but the supposed left.

And what’s going to make this worse is that the horde will move onto their next victim probably as I type this…

 

 

 

How well is a virtual San Diego Comic Con going?

We’re well into Comic Con at Home, the online event to replace the actual event which was canceled this year due to Covid-19. It is as good as you’ll expect it to be though there’s only so much joy you can get from glorified Zoom meetings, with much of it the sort of stuff you get at the mega-conventions so you’ve got your Star Trek, and other big media ‘franchises’ (a despicable word that reduces art and culture to nothing more than a Big Mac) through to actual talk about comics at a comic convention.

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Some of it is painfully tedious. This thing for proclaiming their pronouns in introductions is complete bullshit and instantly makes the thing tedious, as are moderators who don’t know when to shut up however there’s a lot of stuff coming out for everyone even if there’s an awkwardness about it all which is of course understandable.

However SDCC could learn a few things from this. For one the on-floor exclusives in future could easily be done online, so you screen out those who’ll come for a few hours, grab their stuff before going home to bang it on eBay, or to be locked away .  Some of the huge panels could have pay per view functions to again reduce the amount of people sitting in queues to get a glimpse of Robert Downey Jnr. from 200 meters away. There’s a lot they can learn from this weekend which can open the event up, and maybe even free up tickets for people who want the weekend to explore the con rather than just follow film and TV announcements.

Or they could learn nothing and just plug on as they have been. We shall see.

How we need Superman more than ever

There’s a push for Superman to be black to make him ‘relevant to a modern audience’ and although there’s a few good arguments out there for that, the argument hinges upon making Superman hip and relevant,  which means basically we end up moving away from the idea of Superman to something different.

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Alternate versions of Superman are fine, but they work best when they contrast with Superman himself, but the problem is people have lost just what Superman is and why he’s never stopped being relevant, and in the world we’re in today he’s even more relevant.

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Why?

He’s an alien refugee who can’t go back home as that’s destroyed, but was found by two kind, decent people who taught him how to be a good person and uphold the ideas that make the American Dream something admirable. For him, a little girls cat stuck up a tree is as important as stopping Brainiac from invading Earth. It’s all about giving something to make people’s lives better. He’s about finding people’s problems and solving them be it a lost cat or a deadly alien invasion.

And remember, when Superman started he was beating up slum landlords, speeding drivers and people who lived in the Depression-era who made readers lives more hellish than it already was. Superman’s working class, near socialist roots are perfect to update to the 2020’s, and his message of hope is what is needed in a world living with everything we are just now. In fact, there’s a hell of a lot of similarities between the 2020’s and the 1930s. We need a hero now who isn’t corruptible, and isn’t some edgelord’s idea of what he should be in 20202, so no neck-breaking, glum, grimness but someone who celebrates life and people.

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Superman right now is in a rut. The comics are poor and Henry Cavill is signing on to play Superman in cameo appearances for now as Warners have no idea how to treat the character because all superheroes have to be ‘edgy’ in some way but there’s room for honesty, decency and redefining the ‘American Way’ through the eyes of a refugee So what if he’s ‘old fashioned’. Maybe we need that in the age of Trump and Brexit?

 

 

35 years of Live Aid

Today, 35 years ago Live Aid happened featuring two huge open-air concerts in London and Philadelphia and global hunger was wiped out overnight making the world an almost utopia. Except it didn’t. So let’s be blunt from the off; as an event to help people Live Aid’s reach was limited, and although aid did get to people, it also got in the hands of warlords who bought guns and other weapons who then proceeded to murder tens of thousands of people. Bob Geldof’s successor to Live Aid, Live 8, ended up siding with Western governments allowing them a shield to back off doing anything real to wipe out Third World debt.

Of course, people giving money in 1985 didn’t know this. I bought a copy of Do They Know its Christmas? like millions of others thinking my few quid that I’d spent on a frankly shite record (which has long, long been sold off) would actually do something. I’d dabbled with the idea of getting a ticket and going down with some friends but I bluntly, shat myself about going down to London myself, spending a day in Wembley, then heading back to Victoria in the wee hours to wait for the bus back. A few years later I wouldn’t have blinked about it, but it is a regret as we had people who’d come into the shop I worked in who could have easily gotten tickets.

In those pre-internet days knowledge that Live Aid was not doing what it set out to do was in circulation, though hard to get but journalists were at least aware on both sides of the Atlantic there were problems. The problem was the narrative was written in stone. Bob Geldof was a saint, and his free-market vision of aid relief might involve giving millions direct to a butcher but let’s skim over that so we can feel good after all, it’s better to be kind than pick Geldof and Live Aid apart because they did help people?

And here we are 35 years later still being fed the same narrative. Yet for all my moral outrage at what Live Aid, and especially Geldof, is actually responsible for, I’ve been constantly drawn to the Live Aid concert itself as possibly one of those moments which helped shape the next 35 years for me in selling me the idea of large open-air festivals such as Glastonbury.

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As for me on that day, I remember having to pop into work to help deal with a delivery but managed to get away so I was home by midday to watch the start of it which then saw me stuck in front of the TV for the next 14 hours or so. I witnessed poor Adam Ant single-handedly destroy his career to Queen dragging theirs out of the gutter. Watching it back today little of it stands up musically, nor do many of these acts know how to play to a crowd of 100k. Queen was one of those exceptions as was David Bowie who was going through his megastar phase before making the horrible mistake which was his career from 86 to the early 90s. I still shudder at Tin Machine which reminds me I must tell my Tin Machine story one day…

But that day was about spectacle, not to mention the actual technical marvel of putting the thing on, and the BBC showing it to the UK in those early days of satellites. A lot of what was done that day pushed technology on so that just a few years later satellite TV became a thing and you’d see dishes go up on the sides of houses of the few who could afford it back then.  It was amazing to see things flit from the UK to US and back again. Who cares that many of the performances were poor, it was the spectacle which mattered and looking at the continuity back then it’s clear that was how it was affecting people who were there.

Of course there were some things which did happen. Most of the acts saw their careers either blow up like U2 or Madonna or come back from the dead like Queen and Status Quo. Others saw careers prolonged for a year or two longer than they should have been with Adam Ant being an exception.  Live Aid also saw how music changed for the latter half of the 80s so that these big acts dominated to the point where chart music stagnated. No wonder the breakthrough of rave and Indie music in 89 was lapped up as we’d struggled with that post Live Aid bubble.

35 years later the legacy of that day beyond the memories people have of it as a glorious spectacle is complex. Geldof has clearly profited in terms of relevance since then as in 1985 his 15 minutes of fame was well and truly up, but his move into international politics is going to either make him a saint or hang like a set of chains depending on how you’ve informed yourself. Most people though see him, and Live Aid/8 (I remember Geldof appearing at Glastonbury in 2005 being welcomed uncritically on the main stages, but elsewhere you’d be able to find opposing voices to what he was doing, not to mention that both concerts are lacking in black acts) are purely noble causes and not the complex mess it really is.

Still, musically if you’re an act looking to play a big festival you can do worse than using Live Aid as a guide as to how to do it. Queen and U2 are your guides.