Go get ‘Poisoned Chalice: The Extremely Long and Incredibly Complex Story of Marvelman (and Miracleman)’

Pádraig Ó Méalóid’s, Poisoned Chalice, his long history of the British comics character Marvelman, or Miracleman, has finally been printed and is available from your favourite non-taxpaying retailer Amazon.My copy is ordered and on it’s way so more when the Royal Mail eventually delivers it!

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #6

Thoughts about #1#2#3#4 and #5.

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This issue of Marvel#s Miracleman reprints sees the storyline get to the end of Gaiman and Buckingham’s first arc The Golden Age, and all the people and stories we’ve been shown over the previous five issues come back as these people are reintroduced during the celebrations for the day Miracleman stopped Kid Miracleman’s decimation of London.

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The issue is a series of snapshots as our characters we’ve met mingle in the crowds of London Day, and don’t just revel or be in awe of them but they take in the realities of the changed world they now live in thanks to Miracleman.

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There’s also a nice little cameo of an old Marvel character that Alan Moore wrote very early in his career…

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Having the story set in a more chaotic science fiction version of the Notting Hill/St . Paul’s Carnival where the sights and sounds are infinitely more outlandish than you’d see at a normal carnival.

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Carnival wraps up The Golden Age quite nicely as Gaiman gives either a nice resolution for the characters he’s used up til now or leaves them with a bittersweet end to our time with them. There’s also a nice uplifting ending and that’s it, The Golden Age is over. Next issue sees the start of The Silver Age and that means Marvel are getting very near to the end of the reprinted/unpublished Gaiman and Buckingham material from Eclipse Comics from the early 1990’s. So in a few months we’ll get the unpublished issue that’s sat around for 20 years thanks to Eclipse’s bankruptcy, and then our first serious new Miracleman material in the 21st century.

The Silver Age was the arc that was going down interesting roads when Eclipse’s bad management saw Miracleman go on the sort of hiatus that’s left people who were young and fresh at the time transform with age into graying middle age. I hope the new material isn’t too jarring in difference, and I hope Gaiman and Buckingham’s final arc, The Dark Age gives the entire story a suitable ending.  Indeed I remember being told a chunk of the plot for The Dark Age decades ago at a UKCAC but even today much of it  might be a tad hardcore for your average superhero comic fan.

I can’t wait to see how it turns out.

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #5

Thoughts about #1#2#3 and #4.

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Neil Gaiman’s The Golden Age of Miracleman stories continues with a little story of paranoia which isn’t one of the finest stories in this run, but it does feature some truly exceptional art from Mark Buckingham.

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It’s an interesting Cold War fantasy that possibly read better (as said in previous reviews, I have little memory of the Gaiman stories) in 1991 when the Berlin Wall had only just fallen, the Soviet Union had just collapsed and the Cold War had fizzled out. In 2015 it reads as a product of its time.

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It’s odd to look at this sort of spy thriller as dated but in the very different geopolitical world of today it is, and it’s oddly quaint too. It seems civilised which of course it wasn’t but compared to today there’s an element that secret phrases and people dashing around in raincoats is terribly romantic.

The next story is Gaiman and Buckingham’s first Miracleman story that first appeared in Total Eclipse, a sort of Crisis on Infinite Earths crossover that Eclipse Comics published in 1988/89. It was overwhelmingly terrible but their little story of Jason (the boy Marvelman met in the forest during the Alan Moore run in Warrior) losing his virginity and recounting how he managed to avoid being murdered by Johnny Bates because his mum sent him away to stay with an aunt.

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These pages are lovely in their Pythonesque fun, but it darkens instantly when Jason discuss what Bates did in London.

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It’s a lovely little story of hope, humour and horror that promised big things from Gaiman and Buckingham, not to mention it dropped hints in regards the tone and direction they’d take once they replaced Alan Moore who had only just had his final issue published by Eclipse.

As usual, Marvel ensure a good reproduction of the original art, and the extras include Mark Buckingham’s piece from the GLASCAC 91 programme which was a nice wee surprise. All in all though this all feels like a lull before the storm, which of course it actually is…..

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #4

Thoughts about #1#2 and #3.

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The early 1990’s was a much better time than most people think. Yes, there was a crushing recession, a Tory government, high unemployment and things were a bit crap if you were on the dole but there was a lot of good comics then. Sadly, I never really classed the continuation of Alan Moore’s Miracleman as a great comic at the time. Decent, but nothing outstanding.

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This is an example of a story I thought dull at the time, but through the joys of old age I appreciate more. I still don’t think it’s a great issue, but it’s more than just a good comic.

The story itself is centered round a woman Rachel, and her family, including her daughter Mist who happens to be a superhuman along the lines of Miracleman’s daughter Winter. Mist’s returned from her travels for Winter’s festival.

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The main part of this story is Rachel telling the story of Winter’s journey into space to visit the Qys, and it’s nicely told but it’s the ideas in the first half of the story of forgiveness, loss and celebration that are the interesting ones as we investigate this world of superheroes and a humanity getting to grips with the fact they’re no longer important as they once were.

It’s a nice story. It’s sweet in places, and it helps fill in the gaps in the story as well convey the fact that humans are struggling to cope with superhumans who in many cases they’ve given birth to as Rachel has with Mist.

As for the backup story, that creeps on with a body being grown but who is it? Of course if you’ve been reading you’ll know, but it’s still a nice tease.

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I love the Jack Kirby inspired circuitry Mark Buckingham has put in the panel above. It’s glorious.

The rest of the issue is as usual, made up of original art from the Eclipse Comics issue published back in the early 1990’s. Overall this is very much an issue that’s a step on the way to something larger, and overall it’s that story I’m more interested in getting on with.

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #3

Thoughts about #1 and #2.

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I’ve mentioned previously I have little or no memory of reading these issues the first time round, but this is one I vaguely remember as it’s a splendid piece of work by Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham that stands up proudly even today.

The main story tells of Mors, the alien ally of Miracleman who is able to bring back the dead, hence why when we first meet him in this issue he’s speaking to Andy Warhol (or in fact one of several duplicates of him) who he wishes to help Emil Gargunza to this new world.

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Obviously bringing back someone as exceptionally clever and dangerous as Gargunza is risky, but for now this is an evil scientific genius being paired up by an artistic genius, though Gargunza’s movements are severely restricted compared to the rest of the resurrected.

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Gargunza and Warhol discussions are fascinating as the scientist finds out how much his creation has evolved, while Warhol sees Gargunza as someone he’s got more in common with than the rest of the duplicates Mors has created. Over the course of the story the pair discuss the state of capitalism, or indeed, the lack of it now that Miracleman has gotten rid of money. There’s also a meeting with Winter, Miracleman’s child, and a discussion of death.Their own deaths in fact.

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At this point it’s probably time to discuss Marvel’s editing of the word ‘faggot’ from this panel that’s caused a wee bit of a controversy.

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This is a ridiculous bit of censorship as Gaiman clearly is using the word within the context of a particular character, and it’s aimed at Andy Warhol in the story so it can hurt him. Replacing ‘faggot’ with ‘fairy’ reduces the power of what Warhol sees as a friend insulting him.I appreciate the weight of the word, but this sort of censorious attitude in art isn’t helpful.

As for this story it’s Gaiman’s first real classic in his run. It’s no more than a series of conversations and observations but it’s so brilliantly put together that each page is electric as we get sucked into the strange afterlife Mors has created. It’s also setting up how dangerous Gargunza is after death which is something that may, or may not, pay off later in Gaiman’s run.

Marvel’s packaging of these reprints of the Eclipse Comics originals are generally excellent, but I wonder why the original covers aren’t included in the bonus material? Anyhow, at the pace these reprints are going we’ll be at the new material by the turn of the year….

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #2

Thoughts about #1.

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The next part of Marvel’s reprints of Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s Miracleman takes up the story in summer 1990 which is possibly before a lot of people reading this for the first time were even born, but trust me kids, the summer of 1990 was bloody brilliant.

As for the story there’s one panel at the start which is a bit jarring, but in a ‘bloody hell, this is a bit prophetic‘ way.

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It seems the Miracleman Family govern this utopia by means of polls like the ones you see on Buzzfeed. It’s an odd little detail that’s going to click with the younger reader, but I remember at the time thinking how odd it was that Gaiman thought everyone would have a computer at home. I mean, even in this fantastical world that’s just ridiculous right???

This is the tale of one man that falls in love with Miraclewoman, has a brief fling with her, and then she moves on as after all, she’s a god and he’s a human.

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As I’ve said, I don’t really remember much of these stories as I only read them once at the time, and as mentioned, 1990 really was a fabulous year, but this is nice little story of a man being sexually obsessed with a god and that really is it in terms of plot.

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What makes this a nice, if somewhat short, story is the character of the man and the god. This is a man that fixes mills, spends time mainly by himself and hasn’t had sex in five years, which apart from the mills is pretty much describing your average fanboy in 1990. So this is Gaiman dropping the reader into the comic and having them fuck Miraclewoman, or at least, that’s how I see it looking back at 1990 from the year 2015.

It’s a lovely, if melancholic story but the second story I have utterly no memory of at all reading when it first appeared in the original Eclipse Comics. It’s a story of kids behind the bikesheds, one of which is a Bates, someone following the maniac Johnny Bates that murdered tens of thousands of Londoners.

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I love the mention of The Face, that’s so 80’s, early 90’s!

This though is the Miracleman universe version of the Bash Street Kids, and it’s positively brimming with not just handy exposition that fills in the world of the Golden Age, but drops a lot of foreshadowing too. It’s a fun little story with some cracking cartooning from Mark Buckingham.

The rest of the issue is made up of Gaiman’s script, some original art and it’s over for another issue as Marvel try to get to the new Gaiman and Buckingham material sooner rather than later. It’s odd thinking that at some point this story which started with Alan Moore’s revamp in Warrior #1 back in 1982 is going to be completed in the mid-20 teens.

What I thought of Miracleman by Gaiman and Buckingham #1

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Many, many, many years ago a young Neil Gaiman and an even younger Mark Buckingham had the task of following Alan Moore on Miracleman, published then by Eclipse Comics. Their run was never completed as Eclipse went bankrupt so the last issue of their run was #24, though #25 was completed (I saw photocopies of the pages back in the 90’s at a UKCAC) it never got published. So for 20 years or so the title has been in limbo and the story stuck at a crucial point which would lead to an firm and definite end, which I won’t reveal but for those of a certain age involved in British comics fandom who was told about it in a bar at a convention know that it’d be hard for anyone to follow what Gaiman intended back then.

Gaiman’s story picks up a couple of years (the issue is set in 1987) after Moore’s final issues and the final battle with Kid Miracleman. London is home to the Miracleman Family, and the world is living in a golden age, hence the title of this first arc, The Golden Age. In total there’s three arcs Gaiman had planned; The Golden Age, The Silver Age and The Dark Age. It was halfway through The Silver Age Eclipse went bust.

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I’ll make a confession here. I’ve only read these issues once when they came out at the time, and frankly, they never made much of an impression upon me. Sure, I liked the Barry Smith covers and Mark Buckingham’s art is lovely but I found the stories tedious and dull. I am now, sadly, 20-25 years older and what seemed tedious and dull in my 20’s now reads much better and I’m ashamed to say I should have gotten the stories Gaiman was trying to tell (The Golden Age is made up of short stories about the new world the Miracleman Family has created) about the world, which was then the world of the 1980’s.

The main story in this issue is that of a man and fellow acolytes climbing the stairs of Miracleman’s house/temple/palace to pray to him as they see him, rightfully, as a god.

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Each of the followers find their own prayers answered or indeed, not, but this is a story detailing Miracleman’s new world and how humanity is dealing with the realities of it as best they can. It’s a nice little story that doesn’t propel whatever Gaiman’s main story is going to be as at this stage Gaiman is really worldbuilding after having the baton passed to him by Moore. There are small hints something else is happening with one of the short stories but this is meant to be slow burning as we need to understand this Golden Age and what it means to us ordinary people.

As for Marvel’s reprinting of this it’s simply lovely. D’Israelli’s colours and lush and the additional material includes one of Buckingham’s UKCAC pieces and Gaiman’s script for this issue not to mention more original art. Overall it’s a nice package but in reality the main even is to come next year but I hope new readers come to this because it’s a piece of comics history most of us thought would never, ever be completed and here we are eight or nine months away from the first all-new issue.

What I thought of Miracleman #16

Thoughts about #1#2#3#4#5#6#7#8#9#10#11, #12#13, #14, #15 and Annual #1.

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Marvel have quickly reached the final issue of their reprints of Alan Moore’s Marvelman/Miracleman material and for a comic I’ve probably not read in around a decade it’s every bit as good as I remember it.

After the last issue where Johnny Bates destroyed much of London killing tens of thousands not to mention killing Miracleman’s ally, the Warpsmith Aza Chorn, this is a hopeful, yet at the same time bleak vision of a world where superhumans rule us benignly looking out for us, but yet this offers a darker ending as I remembered. Part of this is because Moore set things up for Neil Gaiman and Mark Buckingham’s subsequent run and party because I assume Moore at this point in 1989 is so deeply cynical of things that it spilled over into this work. There’s also something quite prophetic about powerful being sitting far, far above London’s skyline that resonates so much today with monstrosities like The Shard destroying that great old city’s horizon.

Much of the issue deals with wrapping things up and as said, setting things up for Gaiman. This doesn’t make the issue boring let alone predictable, but it does allow Moore to slip a knife into someone hated by so many of us at the time.

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It’s interesting looking back at this page as Moore shows some sympathy even though he has Marvelman dominate a figure who in the UK of the 80’s, was the most powerful creature in the country. Overthrowing Thatcher is Moore showing just how things have changed, and also the basic decency Miraclewoman shows by showing compassion to a person so hated then, and now.

In these scenes Moore creates this world being reshaped as a sort of socialist utopia as economies are reshaped, powerful leaders are rendered useless and nuclear weapons are eliminated so a new society is formed where nobody loses out. Yet people have lost much, and the Miracle-family do dominate them, albeit in an seemingly benign way to make humanity ‘better’.

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Moore forces the reader to face the moral problems of essentially being ruled by gods (a theme Gaiman picks up)  that means ‘free will’ is something that doesn’t exist as there’s parameters. Yet the Miracle-Family heal the Earth. They make the planet better. Yet there’s a sense that Moore has a crystal ball in his predictions of people saying things like the smallpox virus is a natural thing when today people are dying because they think viruses, or conditions like cancer can be cured by the likes of diet or homeopathy.

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Money is abolished, all drugs are legalised, crime dips down to next to nothing, and Olympus is constructed on the ruins of London as Miracleman and Miraclewoman finally get it together at last.

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Humanity itself begins to be reshaped through the Miracle-Family’s eugenics programme, and the dead themselves can be brought back to life to life in an android body. Earth is a place of wonders yet Miracleman ends the issue, and indeed, the run, wondering if that something isn’t right with people like his wife Liz refusing to undergo the superhuman process. It’s this note of doubt that Gaiman grabs and uses in his run, but provides a somewhat bitter note as Moore ends his story with gods ruling the planet, but humans have lost so much and gained so much at the same time. He forces people wanting a better world to confront the possible moral issues needed once we get there, and he forces those dreaming of neoliberalism a world that doesn’t rely upon a few raping the planet and it’s people for profit.

Morally and politically this is a tough issue that isn’t easy to digest on one reading, yet even 25 years after first reading it, I still struggle with the issues in here. Like Moore, I’d like to see a world like this but not with gods looking down upon us removing our humanity and free will. It’s a sign of a writer at this point at the peak of his powers that its such a strong issue so many years later and one that is still so relevant to the 21st century.

The rest of this issue is made up of unseen art, sketches and original art. It’s actually full of some lovely stuff like this previously unpublished cover for the final Moore Eclipse Comics issue.

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Marvelman/Miracleman isn’t perfect. It’s not Alan Moore’s best work, but it does contain some of his finest work, and is a fascinating example of a writer learning his craft, while becoming increasingly confident of his ability so that if you compare his style in the early episodes (still very rooted in traditional superhero comics) to the final issues (something more literary and challenging) then it’s an extraordinary journey. By this issue Moore has not just found a voice, but he’s confident of his ability to such a degree that at the time it was hard to think how much better Moore could actually get? Thankfully with work like Lost Girls and From Hell, he was to become even better. This though is a work that will persist, so a thanks is due to Marvel Comics for having the time, money and inclination to untangle the legal minefield around the character so that now we have these stories back in print.

Next issue Marvel starts the reprints of the Neil Gaiman/Mark Buckingham Eclipse Comics material though not from #17, but another #1. I imagine this should help sales a bit not to mention make it easier for new readers to start picking these stories up which Marvel intend to finally complete.

The Gaiman stories I’ve not read more than a couple of times in the early 90’s so next review is going to be as fresh as it possibly could be as I rediscover these issues after a couple of decades.

Six Days of Summer-The tale of Glastonbury 2013

A wee word before anyone digs into this blog. This is going to be different to my other Glastonbury blogs as vast chunks of it were written shortly after last year’s festival but I’ve tried as much as possible to keep things as written last year with amendments where needed. So if there’s an obvious shift in tone or style then that’s probably the reason.Or I could just be drunk.

I was thinking about not doing a blog about this year’s Glastonbury and waiting til I get to it in my current series of blogs which is at the year 2002 but sod it, I’m going to do this year’s festival now while it’s so fresh in my mind however I’m going to refer to a few things which I’ve not written about so far so it’s going to be a wee bit Pulp Fiction in places not to mention it refers to ongoing events which aren’t over yet so stick with me.

This year’s festival saw the same sort of disorganised mess as previous years, but seeing as I was stuck in a job I was desperately trying to extract myself from (I’ve not extracted myself from that job) like a casualty in a warzone, it meant I didn’t really pay attention to Glastonbury or even make any plans for meeting up with everyone until the Sunday before the festival. This was possibly  a wee bit silly seeing as our wee group had people coming from all over, including Japan, but on that Sunday I banged up a plan on the Facebook group we’d started for us to keep us all updated. The group we’d formed had now been going to Glastonbury together in some shape or form since 2003, but since 2005 we’d been camping together in the Park Home field which was a great location as it was near the train track that ran through the site which was handy, especially as one of our number, Janet, was becoming more disabled so found it harder to get around site. It was however a great lineup this year with The Rolling Stones being the obvious stand out.

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The plan was to head to our usual spot at Park Home, but seeing as only two of our number were getting there on the Tuesday night (Glastonbury opens it’s car park on Tuesday to stop the traffic jams on Wednesdays) and the rest were making their way on Wednesday, this meant some serious planning again after 2011. Bridget and Rhia were again coming down from Glasgow, while our friend Eriko from Japan was bringing her mate Yuko, while we’d also picked up Paul, one of the lads we’d rescued in 2008, and his mate Cathy. All in all we’d built up a fair crowd, but the problem was that getting our usual spot in Park Home Ground was going to be a race and those of us who were there early on the Tuesday night were only two people and they had to keep space for up to another three or four tents.

Myself Bridget and Rhia were to come down early on the Wednesday morning on the bus from Bristol with a ridiculous amount of stuff. Even the idea of carrying it from my flat to Montpellier train station went out the window as it was too much, but we thought we’d be alright once we got to the site.  I called a taxi which just managed to fit in all our stuff and the three of us, and once dropped off at Temple Meads we waited for the bus to take us to the festival. Seeing though it was around 8 in the morning this meant people were going to work so we were there in full festival mode while people walked past to go to depressing jobs like the one I was in at that time. Waiting around was a pain, and seeing that Temple Meads wasn’t letting anyone use their toilets unless they bought a ticket, this meant a lot of people crossing their legs. Thankfully I managed to get us into the old Passenger Shed thanks to knowing the caretaker from working the Bristol Comic Expo so this avoided any pant-wetting misery not to mention gave us the last wee bit of civilisation for the next six days.

Eventually the bus rolled up and I’d said to Rhia and Bridget to get upstairs and aim for the front so that when we’d turn up at the site you’d get the best view as the festival unfurled itself in the countryside as we approached. I’d done this in 1993 when I went down and I recommend anyone who’s never been before and are coming from Bristol to do this as it’s amazingly impressive.

Once the bus pulled in at the festival’s bus station, we grabbed our stuff and struggled through the gates realising that we really couldn’t manage all this stuff (tents, sleeping backs, rucksacks, beer, etc) across the mile or so from the station to where we were supposed to be. Then I’d got a text from Alan saying they couldn’t get anywhere near Park Home but he and Janet had managed to grab a good spot on Dairy Ground, which meant a change in direction and a longer walk! Bridget decided the smart idea was for her and Rhia to stay with the majority of the stuff once we’d got to Bushy Ground (how we’d dragged all that stuff there I’ll never know) and for me to travel light, get to where Alan and Janet were, leave a tent so they could put it up and then come back for them. This was, in practise, a good idea which could have went horribly wrong but thankfully it didn’t. I managed to find Alan and Janet who’d found a strip of space by the side of a walkway which wasn’t perfect but the site was filling up at an enormous rate, and beggars couldn’t be choosers, so I dumped what I’d brought with me and headed back to pick up Bridget and Rhia.

Once I’d got back to the campsite with the girls, I set helped set up some tents, and then Barry, his girlfriend Jade and Hannah had arrived from Aberdeen, via Glasgow, so i went to pedestrian gate to help them get to our campsite. This meant carrying more bags and stuff. Once I’d got them there, there was a moment of calm as we put up the remaining tents before Paul and Cathy turned up which meant another walk to help people carry stuff, and then the rain came in the evening while we were waiting for Eriko and Yuko to come from Japan. By this time though most of our phones were out of power, but Barry had brought a portable charger which managed to charge enough to find out that the girls were onsite and looking for us, Once again, I set off, this time with Bridget and Rhia, to look around where we were in 2011 but we couldn’t find them, then once we got back around an hour later Barry wandered away to come back with the girls!

Now, we’d brought what we’d called ‘The Living Room’ which is a giant tent we used as a communal area to keep us dry but it’s where some of us slept, or just chilled because it was spacier and nicer than being cramped in our tents. Seeing as it’d been raining on and off, this was perfect and it also meant the girls could kip with us for the night rather than being alone, but this meant another trip to where they’d camped to pick their stuff up to take back to the campsite. As we finally got everyone together at the end of that night I’d walked miles carrying stuff and was utterly bolloxed which is why that first night ended in an early night, a very, very early night.

Next morning saw the site was muddy after the rain but not horribly muddy. It was fine though compared to previous years, and the weather for the weekend was forecast to be fine for most of the time. Thursday was a lovely day chilling in what had become a nice sunny day which gave us a chance to sit around the campsite, chat, and then go off wandering which is the best thing to do on a Thursday before it all kicks into gear fully. It was a lovely palette cleanser for the weekend proper and it helped recharge my batteries after an amazingly busy Wednesday. We’d also found out our friends Katie and Wig had managed to blag themselves some last minute tickets but there were in the campervan field so no more lugging of bags and stuff for me!

Friday arrived and it was an overcast day but it wasn’t horrible, and the mud was drying out. We’d arranged to meet up with Katie and Wig at Amanda Palmer’s set on The Other Stage. Now I know her husband Neil Gaiman’s work very well, and have met his several times over the years at various comic conventions, etc and find Gaiman to be one of the most pleasant, decent people involved in comics. considering how many creators end up being enormous wankers when they get the sort of fame Gaiman has, this is amazing frankly. However I’ve always found Palmer to be a tad contrived and her poem for the Boston Bomber was one of the most extraordinary crass things I’ve ever seen a musician do. Thankfully though I was fairly pleasantly surprised by her performance, even if her music is just a tad dreary and predictable at times. Here we all are ignoring her…

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The festival had started properly, and after this we all went on our different ways while arranging to meet up at Jake Bugg, whose set at the Acoustic Stage was impossible to get into. By now the sun was very firmly out and the site was bathed in warm sunshine. It was perfect festival weather.

The day bled into the evening which meant I went off on my own after the Tom Tom Club as everyone wanted to see the Arctic Monkeys. A few words about the Arctic Monkeys: they’re shite. Actually, they’re not too bad but the problem is with them that they’re a progression of the dogend of Britpop and that’s depressing that in 2013 there are still bands lazily referencing the past and not creating something new. Still at least they’re not Alt-J who are just appalling.

Anyhow, after a wander round Shangri La, I decided to catch the first part of Chic & Nile Rodgers. If you ever have a chance to see Rodgers in the flesh, do so as it’s all amazingly cheesy but it’s huge fun but the night was to belong to a spectacular Portishead set.

I’d seen Portishead play Glastonbury in 1995 and 1998. The first time was in a tent too small for the crowd and the second was in the middle of a storm that had lasted hours and hours. Thankfully this time was in a big field on a warm summers night. It was perfect stuff.

Saturday was all about one thing. The Rolling Stones. This band had never played Glastonbury before, even though many people had wanted them to play but now the festival gave them an opportunity to reach a new audience. Before then was an awful lot of stuff going on but most notable of this stuff was Billy Bragg on the Pyramid Stage. Now Bragg plays the festival every year normally at the Leftfield so this was a rare chance to see him on a huge stage and he didn’t disappoint as the sun battered down.

The afternoon’s highlight for me though was seeing The Orb for the first time at Glastonbury since 1993, and again, they didn’t disappoint but they did utterly confuse the fuckity out of people walking past who if they were unfamiliar with them would have wondered just what they were listening to. If there’s a track that sums up the early 90’s for me, plus how the festival was in those early years when I went in 92 and 93 then it’s this one that stirs the heart of 40-somethings everywhere who loved the Orb and the KLF.

After this it was back to campsite for a spot of food, and to prepare for the evening. Some of us were going to try for The Rolling Stones but at the same time at The Park were the splendid Fuck Buttons, but West Holts had Public Enemy. I’d only ever seen Public Enemy once in a horrible venue with shite sound in Bristol about six years earlier and this was a chance to see them on a big stage.Though I do wish I’d been able to clone myself to see Fuck Buttons who’s set looked superb.

We set off then from out campsite down the path to the main stages and right away we saw the biblical crowd which was there for The Rolling Stones. Now I’ve seen huge crowds at the festival before, and I’ve commented previously about the crowd for David Bowie in 2000 being the largest I’ve probably seen but this was bigger. Much, much bigger. A few attempts to get to our space by the men’s urinals ended up in sheer failure, so most of us decided to fuck it off, head for the cider bus and listen to the Stones from there before heading to see Public Enemy.

Public Enemy are one of the most important bands of the last 30 years. There’s few other acts in Hip Hop as influential, and Chuck D is one of the finest songwriters of a generation.  This is obvious…

Thanks to The Stones, the crowd wasn’t huge, but it was large but you could wander near the front, and more importantly, the Brothers Bar for some fresh cider! It was an excellent gig and a great way to round the Saturday night off.

The final day rolled round on the Sunday which was a huge pity. It’d been a brilliant festival that’d managed to help me escape the banalities of the real world, but things were not over yet! Sunday saw another flurry of acts, wandering and pointing at people who’d been burnt by the sun.

Sunday though was about Nick Cave. I’ve seen Cave around a dozen times, most of those were great gigs but occasionally he throws out a stinker. This gig was firmly in the former camp than the latter. His performance of Stagger Lee is one of the best festival performances I’ve seen in over 20 years of going to festivals.

How could you follow that? Well, if you’re Mumford and Sons you can’t. Like the Arctic Monkeys, Mumford and Sons are the problem with a generation reared on Britpop. It’s safe, bland and oh so very, very middle class. Thing was the other choices involved wandering to the other side of the festival or were in the case of The xx, even worse. So fuck it, I decided to see the last night out with everyone else at the Pyramid Stage.

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Thankfully Mumford and Sons didn’t go on too long so the pain was short lived, and we slowly wandered away from the Pyramid Stage for the last time into the body of the festival. The girls were up for a last night blowout, but I didn’t fancy it as I knew there was a long walk with loads of stuff in the morning and wanted to stay fresh, even if I really didn’t want the weekend to end.  At some point the girls did eventually get back after a night’s debauchery which made them no use in breaking the camp down.

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That brown tent is the living room and at that point it contained an unconscious Bridget who took another several hours to pull out of bed. In the meantime we all said our farewells as the groups disintegrated for another year as one after another left Glastonbury. Eventually only Alan, myself, Bridget and Rhia remained and with some serious reluctance on that Monday morning which by now, was the afternoon, we left our campsite to head off home. As we passed a pedestrian gate we said farewell to Alan and headed, slowly, to the bus station as I realised that actually, it was late afternoon on the Monday and there was a last bus out of the festival!

Eventually we got to the station to catch the second last bus to Bristol which very slowly picked it’s way back. It arrived back where we’d begun at Temple Meads which by now was littered with abandoned wellies, bottles and other festival detritus. We eventually dragged ourselves back to my flat, grabbed some food, and proceeded to sit around doing little.

A few days later the girls went back to Glasgow and I went back to work somewhere I’d rather not be. That Friday I decided to take the train home from Temple Meads to Montpellier and as I walked up to the station I looked over  to see the last remnants of the festival laying there. A single lonely welly lying on the ground by the car park on the path to Temple Meads providing a little melancholic reminder of what was six glorious days one summer in 2013.

And here we are. This blog takes my personal history up to date. I’ve left that horrible job, went back to an old job in order to regroup myself for what might come in the next year or so and gotten over the misery of not being at Glastonbury every day. This year’s festival sees a depleted group sadly as people couldn’t get tickets, or are bringing up families, or couldn’t make it from Japan. That’s not going to make things worse though.  This isn’t the last of my blogs detailing my personal history of Glastonbury. Far from it, I’m going to do one for this year’s festival once it’s out the way, and also, in the course of writing these blogs some bits and bobs have popped back into my head but as to what year they belong to, I couldn’t tell you but that’s not going to stop me from throwing them up into a blog. Expect that in the next few days….

There’s less than two weeks to this year’s festival. I’ve got a week of work left and then it’s two weeks of Glastonbury, mates and of course, the World Cup.In less than two weeks we’ll be here….

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I can’t wait…..

The Slow Painful Death of the Art of Criticism & How It Hurts Doctor Who

As mentioned last time this week’s final episode of this series of Doctor Who sparked a few things off in my head. This was mainly in the reaction to it online and the fact that the Emperor has no clothes but if you distract people from this you can create a success out of anything as long as people ignore the obvious. From now on there’s spoilers so be warned if you’ve not watched it yet.

Now I’m not talking about enjoying something. I still enjoy Doctor Who most of the time and thought the Neil Gaiman episode last week was excellent, and Mark Gatiss did a great one the week before that which played on the campness of Who while mixing in influences including a large League of Gentlemen one which is always going to get my approval. It’s perfectly possible to enjoy something and notice the huge gaping problems with what you’re watching. I’m talking about that most horrible of things in modern genre fandom, the Squee Factor. Which isn’t to say that people are wrong, but if you’re just sitting there thinking that something is good because it’s ”cool” and it’s what you as a fan want, then all  that’s on the screen is a version of fanwank which is building and building things up but forgets to create drama or characters in order to get what the writer, and a large chunk of the fans want but it doesn’t mean the story or the programme actually needs it.

This creates the defence of ‘but if I love it then it can’t be bad’, or ‘ur a hater!!!’ because when the writer of the programme itself is a fan then the temptation to write professional fanwank is huge and this is the huge gaping hole that Stephen Moffat has written himself into. In creating a programme aimed more and more at the fans as opposed to the populist days of Russell T. Davies (which did end up being tied in knots because of pandering to fans) that’s ended up fetishising the character of the Doctor in a way only a fan of the programme could.

So that’s why The Name of the Doctor isn’t anything more than fanfic writ large on HD screens and funded by license payers rather than banged out online, or in the old days, hammered out on a typewriter then photocopied and distributed as fanzines. I’m not knocking fanfic per say, but when you have an episode made up essentially of actors spouting large unweildy chunks of exposition at each out while the writer hammers home the point that Clara is ‘important’ and the Doctor is the huge mythological figure akin to God, or Allah, or Jebus rather that this weirdo alien bloke going around having adventures. It can’t be as simple as that as producers and writers (many of which were fans growing up) see the character as a HUGE INFLUENCE on EVERYTHING which is really some sort of meta-commentary on how Doctor Who influenced them as children and children tend to make influential figures in their lives bigger than they actually are so that’s why we end up with the Doctor being this massive figure in all of creation which makes people think it’s all grown up and dark and stuff.

In reality it takes away from the core of the character in that he was one of many of his people who escaped the cloying nature of his people to do good because he wanted to escape. He was a drop out created just before the idea of a drop out became part of the sixties culture on both sides of the Atlantic, so the Doctor was this rebellious figure saying ‘fuck you’ to the establishment  even though he was sometimes part of that same establishment. In fact the entire first year of the Jon Pertwee era rams this point home as he’s constantly trying to run away like a child would if they were unhappy with their family and I found that amazingly powerful when I started watching the Pertwee era when I was a kid because things weren’t all bread and roses when I was growing up, so what I’m saying is that I’m as much as a screaming fanboy as anyone. I am able however to spot steaming shite when it’s served up to me.

This is where we have a little diversion and I have to recommend going off and reading the TV criticism of Clive James. In particular I remember reading The Crystal Bucket around the age of 15 or so thanks to an English teacher who tried to spark some ember of writing skill I must have shown in school but never properly did anything about. It’s a fantastic book and James is the best critic of television I’ve read apart from Harlan Ellison. His essays collected in The Glass Teat are spectacular and comparing both James and Ellison’s criticism compared to say, Sam Wollaston’s barely literate ramblings in The Guardian shows you just how lost the skill of criticism has become in the media.

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Go read this stuff. It’s important and it shows you how to do it rather than recapping the synopsis, adding a funny line, adopting a popular stance, then moving on.

When you have a programme written by fans, for fans and criticised by fans (normally along the lines of ‘this was awesome’ or ‘squeeeeeee’) in the newspapers, online and on fansites, genuine criticism becomes swallowed up in the fight to get heard. Part of this is people who genuinely did enjoy it, and I’ve no real problem with them. Part are people bandwagon jumping trying to get in on what’s ‘cool’ or just parroting what they’ve heard elsewhere and a large part are people desperately trying to be heard so they can get a paid job in the media and this last one causes problems because this is generally where all critical facilities tend to go out the window.

See, it’s very hard to seriously criticise what might be a future employer, or something you want to work on should be lucky enough to do so. This leads to the horrible situation of the sort of soft criticism you see especially on comic sites like a Bleeding Cool or CBR because you don’t want to lose those exclusive interviews, the review copies, the access to professionals and all the other stuff that you really want to get involved with rather than actually write criticism. You want your cake and eat it, or indeed, gorge on it. If you’re really lucky you might get a job with Marvel or DC Comics, and that might lead to working for a TV production company, or a TV channel or a film studio and then you’re quids in. It’s a means to an end rather than a goal in itself so it suppresses real criticism so rather than reading about how Moffat doesn’t seem to understand anymore how to form a drama in it’s own right, you just read thousands of versions of ‘squeeeeeee’.

Which brings us to the 50th anniversary of Doctor Who and a storyline which has been building for years, or at least the consensus is it’s been building for years rather than being thrown together and made up on the hoof as some of it clearly looks like it has because everyone is so intent to make things HUGE and EPIC like a fan would that they’ve forgotten that the best drama is made up of what people can relate to and simply put, you can’t relate to a God. You can relate to someone breaking free of a cloying establishment and doing good things to help people, but a God who is so important we can’t even know his name or something bad will happen somewhere to everyone isn’t a relatable hook, so it all becomes fanfic. It all becomes about rushing from one scene to the next so someone can spout another huge bit of exposition and the Doctor acts like a cretin because that’s how some people growing up saw the character, and it plays well in the US.

Creating good, populist drama is hard. Creating good criticism is hard. It involves hard work, research and an education and by that I don’t mean a degree, but a knowledge of television, how it works, writing, dramatic structure and of the world generally rather than just recycling what you know. It also takes a will to demand quality be it Doctor Who, or Eastenders or anything because why should the audience accept rubbish because it throws some bones to the fans who will watch it regardless of quality. Spouting exposition at each other isn’t drama. Telling us in huge unsubtle strokes that a character is Very Important isn’t creating a human drama, it’s just demoting female characters on the programme to plot points rather than people as it’s only the female characters who act as these important plot points. It’s odd, and there’s a weird feel about seeing female characters who only exist as a puzzle for the Doctor to solve rather than being people in their own right which says something about what’s rattling inside Moffat’s head.

Really though the point of this rambling nonsense isn’t to have a pop at a popular programme, or fanboys or anything that ”haters are going to hate” but to demand quality and honesty rather than shouting ‘squeee’ at the screen every five minutes because the script has spat out another piece of fan service.

And it’s not just Who that suffers from it. It’s virtually everything genre related out there because production companies and film studios do their market research online which means they encounter the hardcore fan, and when something new or different is proposed to try to widen the appeal/audience you get fans tied up in knots complaining how it’s not ”their” version of the character, or just plain outright misogyny or racism.

I want Doctor Who to thrill, excite and challenge me like it did when I was watching all those great Robert Holmes stories, or even a return to the quality Moffat is clearly capable of.  As said, it’s still fun to watch most of the time but it’s fell into a hole of it’s own making by building up everything to a huge and massive scale that the drama is lost in the twists and turns of the plot. All the likes of Moffat is doing is just eating the history of the programme and spewing it out but bigger and more epic and this is the final point. Fans want their programmes or genre fiction to be more epic and big and huge and massive and enormous, but there’s a point where you can’t go anywhere else and this isn’t helped by the feed of uncritical, or basically crap criticism.

Saying something is ‘shit’ or ‘sucks’ isn’t criticism. It’s just an opinion. Saying something is ‘cool’ or ‘fun’ isn’t criticism. It’s just an opinion. Far too often that’s what we get as criticism and frankly it’s shite…………

Next time, something else……