Sunday, 25 July 2021

Book Review: 'Swords & Sorceries Volume 2'




Book Review of: 
presented by DAVID A RILEY & JIM PITTS 
(June 2021, Parallel Universe Publications 
ISBN 978-19161109-8-4, 266 pp) 

‘We call a story Swords & Sorcery when it is an action tale, 
 derived from the traditions of the pulp magazine adventure story, 
 set in a land, age or world of the author’s invention – a milieu 
 in which magic actually works and the gods are real – a story, 
 moreover, which pits a stalwart warrior in direct conflict with 
the forces of supernatural evil’ – Lin Carter (1973)

Two moons. A wild and desolate landscape. A swordsman with an over-fondness for wine. Mike Chinn opens this evocative collection with some traditional elements, a sinister female mystic with a feline familiar, and gaunt fortress with supernatural secrets. In his 1987 study of fantastic sagas – ‘Wizards And Wild Romance’, Michael Moorcock observes that ‘epic fantasy can offer a world of metaphor in which to explore the rich, hidden territories deep within us.’ Not sure if that applies to “The Essence Of Dust”, but Mike Chinn’s tale does open out into the potential multiverse realms of the Internection where time and space melts into contradiction. 

Fantasy has deep story-telling roots that go all the way back to earliest human legends, myth-making and folk-tales of voyages into demon-haunted strangeness. It assumed a separate ‘Swords and Sorcery’ identity, different and distinct, around the time doomed Texan Robert E Howard unleashed the mighty-thewed Conan the Cimmerian for 1930s Pulp ‘Weird Tales’ editions, leading into Fritz Leiber who not only coined the term as a variant on the cheaply-produced Gladiatorial Sword-&-Sandals epic historical movies, but also spun the intriguing Fafhrd & The Gray Mouser tales. Clark Ashton Smith contributes ornate and elaborate fantasia of ‘The Empire Of The Necromancers’ in far-future Zothique, and L Sprague de Camp began anthologizing what he calls ‘a class of stories laid, not in the world as it is or was or will be, but as it ought to have been to make a good story.’ Until Moorcock’s brooding albino Elric of Melniboné adds his existential strife through the pages of ‘Science Fantasy’ magazine, all the wild way through to Sláine of ‘2000AD’ adventuring through warp-spasmed versions of Celtic myth in vivid art panels. 

Although it has elements of Science Fiction, Swords & Sorcery is not bound by physical laws, and embraces all manner of outré magic alongside the generic brand of symbolic elusiveness that Moorcock’s essay identifies. Although beware magical elements, for they also have their own logics, and their trickster rules. As such, it’s a wide field for fictional invention. But, lest it descend into a leaden cliché of repetition, all genres and subgenres must evolve if that vitality is to remain. This new original anthology series from Parallel Universe Publications springs a host of new angles from a range of familiar and less-than familiar names, mixing in regulation heroic fantasy ingredients through the perception of a new generation of tale-spinners. Tais Teng – a Dutch SF writer and illustrator, uses an ‘inland sea’ that stretches from Jorsaleem to Baghdad as a location for twisting historical religions into new configurations, with skilled thief Esme Shadowkind, Shakan the Fleet and Hethor of Samarkand scheming to rewrite sacred text ‘Book Of Ormazd’ in a way that alters the world itself, using a bronze flying horse and a file of the prophet Zoroaster’s blood. Dev Agarwal’s “Stone Snake” uses a grimoire – not a ‘grey mare’, to liberate an entombed giantess in order to halt the evil resurgence of Dagon’s minions from an oceanic time before the human era. 

Also within pseudo-historical times there are ventures transgressing the secure boundaries of the Roman Empire into the barbarian horrors beyond in Martin Owton’s “Out In The Wildlands”, in a foray that such writers as Rosemary Sutcliff might initially have conjectured, albeit without the fiery demon confrontation. While Susan Murrie Macdonald – one of only three writers who also graces the first volume of this ongoing series, entrances with her Market storyteller regaling the beguilement of Azalea Swordmaid with her demon-born half-brother battling corpse-eating ghouls in the Cinader cemetery. 

Phil Emery’s “Seven Thrones” also succeeds because of the deceptive simplicity of its structure, a series of gladiatorial contests fought to the death by swordsman Zain and poet Kazen, for the decadent amusement of unseen watchers. ‘Magic, even dark magic, is somewhat akin to poetry.’ And it is, ‘the cadences of a blade, the flow of a quill.’ 

Yet Steve Dilks’ sticks to what Jason Hardy terms ‘well-written Old School heroic fantasy in the Howard vein’ (on the ‘Echoes Of Valhalla’ website). His “The Amulet And The Shadow” displays all the genre’s timeless ingredients, the medieval assault-towers of the Lomantian Empire that batter the gates of Jadira could just as easily be the siege-engines of Troy or the Idylls of Arthurian legend, with outlaw slave Terach of Amrythia, who escapes through a visitation of eldritch sorcery and blasphemous enchantment in order to exact bloody revenge, only to discover an eternity of dark damnation in the denouement. Swords & Sorcery does not concern itself with social evolution. As an egalitarian in a democratic age, one wonders why the fictional need for a monarch? Must that always be a human cultural constant, if not King must it be Sovereign, Potentate, Tsar or Jeddak? Does its presence answer some Jungian archetype for natural hierarchy deep in the gut of the psych? If there is ever to be a New Wave of Swords & Sorcery it must surely deal with these regressive issues. 

Can a genre based in such antique precepts reinvent itself in new ways? There are powerful indications here that it can. Earlier formative collections such as L Sprague De Camp’s ‘Swords & Sorcery’ (Pyramid Books, 1963), and the entrancing Donald A Wolheim-edited ‘Swordsmen In The Sky’ (Ace Books, 1964) gathered exploits from the pages of antique magazines, while Lin Carter’s ‘Flashing Swords’ series (originally Granada Publishing, 1973) took things forward with new tales by established writers, Fritz Leiber, Jack Vance, John Jakes and Michael Moorcock. David A Riley’s intention seems to be to straddle the extremes, retaining the best of the old with new inputs and novel concepts. Such as the magical realism of Pedro Iniguez, the bagful of dreams that lap in around the images of his “A Thousand Words For Death”. 

Adrian Cole’s “The Eater Of Gods” strikes the right balance, his new ‘Voidal’ story touches all the essential genre bases, yet breathes new energies into the format with devious thieves Bluug and Hurranok employing all the humorous conman guile of Jack Vance’s Cugel as they bluster their way through the mountain city Yamazantra into the presence of the living god Cadavarion Celestes. 

To admit a vested interest, my own contribution to the anthology – “Antediluvia: Seasons Of The World”, draws on the wonderful Leigh Brackett, a troubadour Donovan Leitch poem, Atlantis and current evolutionary theory concerning an interglacial era in which at least three proto-human species interact as they share the world. 

Liberally illustrated by Jim Pitts distinctive illustrations, Conan might describe this anthology as ‘By Crom, it’s good!’


(ISBN 978-191611092-2) 
with ‘Introduction’ by David A. Riley 
‘The Mirror Of Torjan Sul’ by Steve Lines 
‘The Horror From The Stars’ by Steve Dilks 
‘Trolls Are Different’ by Susan Murrie Macdonald 
‘Chain Of Command’ by Geoff Hart 
‘Disruption Of Destiny’ by Gerri Leen 
‘The City Of Silence’ by Eric Ian Steele 
‘Red’ by Chadwick Ginther 
‘The Reconstructed God’ by Adrian Cole 
cover and all interior artwork by Jim Pitts. 

(ISBN 978-191611098-4) 
with ‘Introduction’ by David A. Riley 
‘The Essence Of Dust by Mike Chinn 
‘Highjacking The Lord Of Light’ by Tais Teng 
‘Out In The Wildlands’ by Martin Owton 
‘Zale And Zedril’ by Susan Murrie Macdonald 
‘The Amulet And The Shadow’ by Steve Dilks 
‘Antediluvia: Seasons Of The World’ by Andrew Darlington 
‘A Thousand Words For Death’ by Pedro Iniguez 
‘Stone Snake’ by Dev Agarwal 
‘Seven Thrones’ by Phil Emery 
‘The Eater Of Gods’ by Adrian Cole 
 cover and all interior artwork by Jim Pitts.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

Sci-Fi Movie: 'First Man Into Space'



Review of: 
with Marshall Thompson, Marla Landi, 
and Bill Edwards (1959)

With reality snapping at its heels, a few slender years before Yuri Gagarin became the real first human in space – 12 April 1961 in ‘Vostok 1’, this barely-remembered British chiller preceded him across that final frontier. One of two sci-fi films made by Amalgamated aimed at the American Drive-In market by pretending to be set in New Mexico (the other was ‘Fiend Without A Face’, 1958), it was actually filmed in England. ‘First Man Into Space’ also suspiciously replicates elements from the far superior ‘The Quatermass Xperiment’ (1955) – as an astronaut returns to Earth enveloped in a repulsive, crusty substance that turns him into an inhuman, blood-drinking monster. ‘BEFORE: HANDSOME – AFTER: HORRIBLE’ screams the movie poster reproduced on the sleeve, providing a succinct précis of what could be the plot of either. 

Yet the early stock-footage moments of ‘First Man Into Space’ will please nerdy techno-freak students of Mercury/Sputnik era retro-rocketry – while providing much harmless viewing pleasure for us devotees of 1950s trash-sci-fi. Because – despite its obvious low budget limitations, it is surprisingly good fun. The younger of two feuding siblings, irresponsible maverick Navy Lieutenant Dan Prescott (Bill Edwards) test-pilots a small experimental rocket plane Y-12 beyond the ‘controllability barrier’, and wrecks it. But he’s the best there is, so he’s selected to pilot the follow-up shot, against the better instincts of older more mature brother ‘Chuck’ – Commander Charles E Prescott (Marshall Thompson), who doesn’t think ‘it’s in his nature to stay inside any organized pattern.’ Y-13 is launched from a propeller-driven host-‘plane cruising at 40,000-feet, in the manner of Chuck Yeager’s pre-spaceflight supersonic achievements in his X-1A.

However, dashing, reckless Dan disobeys orders again – ‘no sir, I’m going straight up’, and takes an unscheduled trip 250 miles above the Earth. He pokes the Y-13’s nose outside the ionosphere with the altitude dial spinning – ‘it feels like she’d go on forever’, so he powers his emergency boost to take him even higher. From the base, grim-faced brother Chuck declares ‘well, he’s on his own now, the first man into space, he’ll either hit the moon or orbit the Earth for the rest of his life.’ As it is, he does neither. Orbital space-shots are now such routine stuff they barely rate a news-paragraph, so it’s difficult to appreciate just how awesome an event it was – or would be. No-one knew exactly what to expect, what unprotected exposure to cosmic rays would do, or the effects of weightlessness, or even what the astronaut would find outside the atmosphere.

So there was Dan, floating in a tin-can high above the world, planet Earth is blue, well – a kind of blotchy grey, or rather it would be if special effects allowed you to see much of it, which they don’t. Then… he vanishes from view as his craft disappears into a swirling meteoric cloud, going missing, presumed dead. Inside the cloud, unable to turn, he uses the ‘nose ejector’ pod – only to get plastered with metallic dust. The wreckage of his spacecraft comes ‘down like a dame in a feather-bed’ off Route-17 ten miles south of El Dorado, covered in a bizarre extraterrestrial coating of weird cosmic debris. With no trace of the pilot. But soon after, a Mexican farmer’s cattle start falling victim to something with a thirst for blood. Then there’s electronic music, muffled breathing, and a monstrous moving shadow on the tiled wall of the State Hospital – and the horror begins.

Something raids the Blood Bank, kills the nurse on duty and gulps down the blood-supplies. There are more ‘mysterious and terrifying’ deaths as people are found with ‘a tearing jag across the throat’, cut as if by some axe-murderer. The hulking half-human creature responsible – ‘like a huge mobile turd’ according to David Miller & Mark Gatiss, is first glimpsed as it mutilates a trucker outside a Los Alamos diner. More bizarre solid insomniac fodder follows as it prowls the countryside… killing, then vanishing just as quickly. Police bullets merely bounce off it. Noting traces of shiny meteoric speckles on the murdered nurse, and on the dead cattle, Chuck concludes ‘I’m afraid this monster is Dan.’ His metabolism has been transformed by his experiences in space, acquiring a protective coating evolved by space-borne life-forms as insulation against cosmic rays. But, deprived of oxygen by this layer of scaly, sparkly space rock he must ingest blood in order to survive. He’s become ‘a great big lumbering deformed monster’ with a craving for blood, a mutant, vampiric beast with only the ‘instinct to stay alive’. Brother Chuck must find him before he kills again, by luring him into a High Altitude simulation chamber. 

Oddly enough, if you don’t set your expectations too high, once past the cheesy space-flight FX, ‘First Man Into Space’ becomes a competent and surprisingly thoughtful little movie, scoring points for at least trying to emphasise the science in its fiction, and the humanity in its science. As in the Quatermass film there are moments of pathos, as the hideously transfigured Dan tries to communicate with his brother, ‘everything seems strange and dark’ he slobbers, ‘a maze of fear and doubt.’ Then as he apologises to his ‘scientist in skirts’ girlfriend Tia, his single eye pleading through the encrustation, with Chuck sneakily grabbing the opportunity of moving in hastily to comfort her. But to critic John Brosnan ‘First Man Into Space’ is merely a ‘generally derivative and routine’ creature-feature. Well, maybe.

Filmed not long after the launch of Russia’s Sputnik and America’s astro-chimp Ham, it benefited from a feasibility legitimised by enhanced public awareness of space-travel jargon and paraphernalia. Trailered as ‘one of the first motion pictures to lift the veil, forsee the future in a spectacular drama of the first man in history to be rocketed into the terrifying unknown of outer space!’ David Miller and Mark Gatiss are less than impressed. In their book ‘They Came From Outer Space: Alien Encounters In The Movies’ (Visual Imagination Publications, 1996) they breathe a sigh of relief that ‘thank god Yuri Gagarin got there first!’ During the same year amiable Marshall Thompson also found time to appear in two other genre-cheapies – ‘It! The Terror From Beyond Space’ and the afore-mentioned ‘Fiend Without A Face’. But it would not be until some time later than he achieved a degree of family-friendly tele-visibility through his role in safari-park series ‘Daktari’, co-starring with Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion. 

Meanwhile there will be Y-14. Paul Von Essen, Doctor of aviation medicine at the University of Albuquerque, adds the ponderous closing moral in his heavy eastern-European accent ‘the conquest of new worlds always makes demands on human life, and there will always be men who will accept the risk.’ But ‘who will ever forget the first man into space…?’ Who indeed. 


(27 February1959, Amalgamated/MGM). 
Director: Robert Day, Producer Charles F Vetter Jrn & John Croydon, Cinematographer/Photography: Geoffrey Faithfull. From a story by Wyott Ordung (original title ‘Satellite Of Blood”), screenplay by Lance Z Hargreaves & John C Cooper. With Marshall Thompson (as Commander Charles Ernest Prescott), Marla Landi (Tia Francesca), Bill Edwards (as Lt. Dan Milton Prescott - IX), Robert Ayres (Captain Ben Richards), and Bill Nagy (Chief Wilson) with Carl Jaffe (Doctor Paul Von Essen), Roger Delgado (Ramon DeGuerra), John McLaren (Carl Atkins), Richard Shaw (Witney), Spencer Teakle (control room specialist), John Fabian (control room specialist), Bill Nick (Clancy), Helen Forrest (aviation medical secretary), Barry Shawzin, Marc Sheldon, Sheree Winton, Roland Brand (truck driver), Larry Taylor, Michael Bell, Franklin Fox, Chuck Keyser (control room specialist). Music by Buxton Orr. Art Direction: Denys Pavitt. Make-up: Michael Morris. 78-minutes. 

OTHER FORMATS: ‘FIRST MAN INTO SPACE’ – VHS – Eclipse/also part of the Criterion Collection Box-Set – September 1999. 73 minutes plus Theatrical Trailer. It was released by ‘Image Entertainment’ as a DVD on 17 June 1998, while it was included as part of the ‘Monsters & Madmen’ DVD box-set released by the Criterion Collection in 2007, with audio commentary by executive producer Richard Gordon 

Featured on Website: 
(UK – April 2008)

Wednesday, 30 June 2021





she bleeds from the eyes 
in the painting on the hotel wall 
a trickle of pigment stain 
smears her cheek and neck, 
through bleeding eyes she watches 
the sketch perfectly aligned 
on the opposite wall 
of the sleeping girl 
with blue butterfly hair, 
they watch each other 
across the hotel room 
where illicit lovers snatch 
moments of fleeting paradise, 
married one-time lovers 
now sleep back-to-back, 
lonely travellers jerk-off to 
internet porn, drunks throw up, 
junkies take pharmaceutical trips, 
suicides weep into the night and 
the sad Polish maid dreams of Kraków, 
she bleeds from the eyes 
in the painting on the hotel wall, 
watched by the sleeping girl 
with blue butterfly hair 

Featured online at: 
(13 November 2019)

Tuesday, 29 June 2021

Rolling Stones Live At Roundhay Park, Leeds









The Rolling Stones, with The J Geils Band and 
The Joe Jackson Band play Leeds Roundhay Park. 
I was there to take its pulse, and check for life-signs

When the Sex Pistols finally bust wide open John Lydon (Rotten) pronounced the end of the ‘Rolling Stones of the Eighties’. He was wrong. The Rolling Stones are the Rolling Stones of the Eighties. The Stones are a phenomenon. Like an eclipse, an earthquake, or a tidal wave. Something that occurs naturally, has the potential to transfigure all within range, but the effects of which remain imprecise and defy encapsulation in words. Music comes into it only slightly. Their mythology, longevity, and importance is – in this sense, a phenomenon, but by no means necessarily a musical one. 

If their role in 1982 is talismanic, here in Leeds is where that history and myth must collide with now. 

SF writer Harry Harrison once guesstimated that if everyone alive on this planet were to stand heel-to-toe they’d cover an area equal to the island of Zanzibar. That might look rather like Roundhay Park looks now. I spend the entire George Thoroughgood set sat in a miles-long auto-tailback breathing lead-impregnated air caught up in this human avalanche converging on this place, and taking it all in – yes, it’s an impressive gathering – but oddly so. Like that version of some ‘Stand On Zanzibar’-future this is a mass of largely clean, polite, deodorised, civilised, so respectable people. The fashion-dummy weirdo count is low. A token sprinkling of Mohican ‘n’ leathers, a small percentage joints, long ratty hair ‘n’ granny-glasses, but the majority are passively non-denominational. Some nubiles and not-so-nubiles in very little clothes prompt sexist reactions very inappropriate to such a Family outing atmosphere.

I get inside the Press Cage patrolled by Security gorilla’s, rumour thereabouts is Jagger ain’t arrived, others say he’s backstage playing table-tennis with Jimmy Savile. Five ruthlessly efficient rent-a-thug pass-checks discourage me from finding out either way. The surrounding geography is natural amphitheatre with the Hill-Sixty embankment sloping down in perfect audience tiered elevation to enhance visibility. Children on a strict parental leash play in and around tree-shadows and bushy undergrowth. They’re largely unimpressed by the occasion. Or by the Police and Security men evicting (by a combination of cajoling and threat) a thin line of freebie squatters mounting the sloping grey-tiled roof of a nearby Summer House. It provides them with a far more interesting spectacle than the geriatrics posturing on the extravagant stage. I’m no schoolboy but I know what I like…

The sun pours down like buttermilk for Joe Jackson to largely win over the audience with his so-far unblooded, untried, new keyboard-based band. He goes back as far as his early “Sunday Papers” hit, then uses “It’s Different For Girls” as a tasty duet vehicle with Julie, a glockenspiel chiming behind them. ‘I didn’t think we’d pull this many people’ he quips guilelessly, shading his eyes to take it all in. Then they do some songs from the current ‘Night And Day’ (1982) album, including “Target” and “TV Age” with Joe on sax. He emphasises the lyrics ‘in the Stone-age, we all got Rocks in our head…’ 

Then there’s a long pause filled with bland American AOR. It’s already getting claustrophobic in the privileged confines of the royal Press Enclosure, so it’s walkabout time, comparisons storming. Thinking Bob Dylan’s Blackbushe Aerodrome Hippies Graveyard (July 1978) – surely an analogous cultural manifestation? that was all brown rice ‘n’ herb, all street theatre groups, psychedelic buses ‘n’ tepee’s, each stall unfurling its phantasmagoric ware of rare precious and beautiful bootlegs, CND and alternative-art texts, hand-carved jewellery and exotic drugs. Here, it’s all red-blood materialism – we got kebabs, curries, real meat hamburgers, pancakes, German sausages, Mexican chilli, pizzas, fruit, filled potatoes and soft drinks. And we got strictly licensed merchandising. Stones posters and flags, Stones programmes and sweat-shirts, Stones badges and patches. Altamont it ain’t. Today no-one gets stabbed, worst thing that happens is you get overcharged for a rather cruddy T-shirt. And over it all that endlessly boring digitally recorded L.A. soft-rock blands on – is this REALLY the company they choose to keep? Less Street-Fighting Men with Devilish Sympathies, more West Coast Under-Assistant Promo-Man…

The J Geils Band strive to confirm your direst suspicions, by contriving an hour-long wet fart of faddy ephemera, flim-flam and self-indulgence, a brashly athletic homogenised flavourless flatulence, an airborne detergent composed of the expected hits blended with easily digestible lumps of vintage sixties Soul pulped into good-timey inoffensive mush. They do the Showstopper’s “Nothin’ But A Houseparty”, Wilson Pickett’s “Lookin’ For A Love”, and the Supremes’ “Where Did Our Love Go?” which succeed only in freeze-framing their paucity of originality. Peter Wolf raps in largely incomprehensible jive rhyme, which he drops long enough to gush ‘We’d like to thank the Rolling Stones for inviting us so far,’ then they conjure a circus acrobat’s pyramid with Wolf, Magic Dick (mouth harp), and guitarist Geils himself as the lower tier. Seth Justman (keyboards) and Danny Klein (bass) above. Topped by drummer Stephen Bladd squatting at its apex raising his fists in bragging self-congratulation. Then they’re gone, leaving no taste at all. 

I watch up-and-down the l-o-n-g stage as Roadies vacuum its panoramic length and the video screen is assembled above them on spiderworks of scaffolding. To their left there’s the phallic sausage-car and the sexy Eiffel Tower flying-‘V’ guitar, as on the live album sleeve. On the right there’s a big blue zig-zaggy sax and a constellation of Miro-esque liquorice discs. The two drapes connected by a shabby rainbow bridge of balloons. The sun goes in and a breeze gets up. The PA syncs at last – and barrages a spectrum of Yardbirds, Hendrix, “Anarchy In The UK”, Chuck Berry, Free, “London Calling”, Eddie Cochran – this might be the Stones museum phase, but THIS is the company they SHOULD be keeping. 

‘Each person an island within his own nostalgia’ wrote ‘Oz’ editor Richard Neville after the Stones’ Hyde Park free bash. Me, I’ve seen the Stones now in each of their evolutionary phases. I saw ‘em play to two-hundred at Bridlington Spa Theatre circa 1964 with Brian Jones, intense anarchic art-school R&B, elitist, purist, the anger of frustrated energy screwed down tight, raw and violent with a loutish sexuality and an amphetamine burn of painful amplification. I saw ‘em a decade back at Leeds University when Mick Taylor had already etched his vibrant block-chords onto their ‘Kings of the Underground’ albums, ‘Sticky Fingers’ (1971) and ‘Exile On Main Street’ (1972). Then they seem cynical, demonic, menacingly depraved, narcissistically narcotic, dangerously decadent. But even then they were facing the underswell of a newer less sardonically mocking glam generation. Preparing to accept their less ambitious ‘Only Rock and Roll But I Like It’ role for the seventies.

6pm sharp and the rainbow-bridge fragments, balloons cascade upwards everywhichway, and the Rolling Stones are on stage. “Under My Thumb”, “When The Whip Comes Down”, and “Let’s Spend The Night Together” before the sound gells and gets into step. “Shattered”, “Neighbours” and ‘an old Blues song’ “Black Limousine” before the pacing crystallises. Then “Just My Imagination” comes as near-perfect as the Stones will ever be live, and you simultaneously let it sluice all over you, and start to separate out its parts. Jagger is stage-centre, and that’s as should be. He’s the focus for the entire projection, red headband, technicolor pants, yellow knee-sox, leopard-skin jacket. He’s no longer remotely threatening, no menace or fin de siécle subversion, unless you count ‘I don’t wanna be anybody’s doormat, I don’t wanna be shit on, shoved about. I don’t want to be no-one’s Beast Of Burden ny-ther.’ And later on just the hint of sarcasm when he leers ‘I know there’s a bit of wind, blowing the sound down towards the centre a-town,’ delivered to cosy laughter. But more he’s the grotesque comic jester, his actions so mannered they’re absurd, like he’s deliberately sabotaging himself through a more exaggeratedly garish caricature than his most boorish TV parodist would ever dare, and he’s ridiculing the punters for buying it, and for gullibly taking in the whole outlandishly ludicrous premise on which it operates. Yet he’s also magnetic, mesmerising, trapping all eyes. It’s showbiz, it’s performance, but they don’t come more charismatic.

His vocals on Cochran’s fifties opus “Twenty-Flight Rock” are ragged. And once “Going To A Go-Go” and “Baby Please Let Me Go” have passed effortlessly he’s into ‘the chic part of the show’ – his first costume change. A blue jacket and red beanie hat to attempt the Stones’ first ever US Top Ten hit “Time Is On My Side”. By every objective criterion it’s a disaster, its slow churchy pacing hunting out every inadequacy in his range, bending the melody to accommodate those notes he can no longer reach. But it don’t really matter any more. He might not be the apoca-lips he once was, but it’s still clearly The Singer Not The Song. His clownish stagecraft is slyly exacting and no-one gets short-changed. 

Bill Wyman is stood immobile behind him in blue unzipped tracksuit. It’s easy for him to get eclipsed. And Charlie Watts stays near-invisible behind the gantry of amplification stacks. But it comes apparent that their combined primitive rhythmic strength is by no means slight. The Stones sound is unique, and a large part of it rests on the steady reliable organic interaction twixt bass and drums. If anything of the early Route 66 Chicago Blues (or even Croydon Blues) raunch remains it’s to be found here in their constantly thunderous gangling millstone grit. And it lays down the tight base for the essential looseness all around, making it possible, giving it shape and anchoring it to form. It allows the long improvisations to be spun out around Jagger’s callisthenics on “Beast Of Burden”, where he mounts a hydraulic lift and gets shunted out over the audience heads, then dances back along the catwalk scything a ritual bucketful of water in campy tease over the sea of collectively perspiring faces.

Then he goes into dilettantishly slow balletics as Ronnie Wood plays in “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” on a gleaming steel guitar. Ronnie don’t move around much, adds harmonies here and there as required, largely stands to stage left with Surf-white sleeveless jacket over blood-red shirt, as Jagger co-ordinates various sections of the mob in community singing. ‘Get yer lungs and yer hearts out and we’ll do this one together.’ 

Keith’s trademark lurches and shambles, are by contrast, hyperactive, healthy – even paunchy, and competing for frontman status by playing out rough-hewn guitar-lead along the full length of the elevated platform, then with radio mic to take it even further. He grates the vocals for “Little T And A” hunched in around his axe in denim-dark jacket with Stones logo-flash down his spine, and comes through every inch the ravaged hero even without Jagger’s sense of immaculate presence. No more the World’s Most Elegantly Wasted HumanTM, but something of that aura hangs on tenaciously, like burrs. He started out with three or four appropriated Chuck Berry runs, and two decades on he’s still determinedly advanced no further, still as crude, still fumbling the run-in to “Honky Tonk Women”. There’s ten local band guitarists in Leeds and twice that number in Sheffield technically 10,000 light years ahead of him, not that it matters. This is Keef. Bum notes figure large in his legend, operating on the Gerald Ford falling-over-gets-you-acceptance principle.

Jagger emotes ‘Angie – when will those clouds all disappear?’, and as the perfect punchline the sun breaks through like a red belisha spotlight on the vamping gesticulating sometime Lucifer, veins stood out like cables on his neck. He headstands and rolls down the ramp as gross theatrical interpretation to a churning “Tumbling Dice”. Then there’s “She’s So Cold”, “Hang Fire”, and Wyman’s finest bass-pumping on an excellent “Miss You”, Jagger joining on guitar. Behind him there’s Ian Stewart’s piano, and a tight American brass section, Jack Lavell from Macon on additional keyboards, Gene Bruge from Chicago on sax, and the brilliant Bobby Keys from Texas taking the gut-twisting solo on “Brown Sugar”. 

It’s close on two hours before they run up to climax with “Start It Up” and “Jumping Jack Flash”. Midway Jagger, now topless, Dachau-thin and androgynously hairless, produces a huge Union Jack to wear like a cape, hurtling up and down the canvas like some fake grounded Superman, casting it aside derisively as if there really is an anti-establishment content left to the whole spectacle – instead of the smugly patronising façade you keep suspecting. There’s an encore, the only number they could possibly do, a shabbily breathless “Satisfaction” with Jagger reappearing from a hole in the tapestry onto the hydraulic grab back down to the ground. Then the whole thing detonates with “Land Of Hope And Glory” roaring from the speakers, drowned out by a blindingly iridescent firework blitz. You kind-of hope it’s meant to be derisive, but keep getting sneaky suspicions there’s more – or less, to it than that. Flags and anthems are for spitting on, perhaps Their Satanic Majesties forget?

‘Relevance’ has a lot to do with the buzz in the air, a lot to do with the subjective perception of critics, a lot to do with saying the right thing at the right time to the right person. It is stance and often pose. It is the indefinable pulse of something elusive. It can’t be quantified with any degree of objectivity. But judged impartially ‘relevance’ must also have something to do with what is ‘relevant’ to people’s lives. Tonight’s community disintegrates across acres of garbage and pulverised flowerbeds, and in the Aftermath kids with black bin-liners collect returnable bottles in a spirit of Free Enterprise Jagger might smile on. But, twenty-five numbers they’ve done (count ‘em!), and I could list twenty-five more equally essential texts they missed. And it was, above and beyond all else, an EVENT. A victory, if a rather ragged, vaguely dog-eared one. Dinosaurian they might be, Out Of Time, talisman of dead decades, but Roundhay Park proves… confirms, that they are also relevant to the lives of more people now, and have been with greater intensity over a longer period and in more global areas than just about anyone else you could lay a tongue to. 

That means a lot… 

Published in: 
(1982 – Ireland)




(DVD, Eagle Vision) 

I was there, in the press enclosure at Leeds Roundhay Park, 25 July 1982. I taped this concert on cassette. Driving home afterwards my in-car tape machine chews it up and spits it to shreds. Now – at last, I’ve got the perfect digital-quality replacement. I wandered around the backstage cage but the rent-a-thugs kept it tight, the talk was that Jagger was playing table-tennis with Jimmy Savile who lived just across from Roundhay. They don’t brag about that now. There’s a rainbow-balloon arch over the stage, a red flying-v guitar stacked Eiffel Tower-wise, and a huge blue cartoon sax. From “Under My Thumb” – Jagger’s jester costume with yellow-stripe codpiece and ‘MICK’ on the back, as if we need telling. A bemused Wyman – yes, he’s still there, with minimalist black bass and white headband. Ian Stewart with plastic beer carton close to hand on his piano. Keef, chain-smoking and dangerously Punk. Ronnie’s whiplash grin like he still can’t believe his luck, closing with Keith for harmonies, playing off each other. It’s tuneless, rough, ragged, absurdly posturing, lyrics reduced to nonsense slogans, but uniquely shifted outside of every mainstream critique into a singularity of their own. Beyond comparison, because there’s literally no-one else. A force of nature, recharged by five tracks from ‘Tattoo You’ (August 1981), including Bobby Keys’ muscular sax on “Neighbours” and a brutal climaxing “Start Me Up”. It’s only Rock ‘n’ Roll after all, but I like it. 

And I look, but no, I can’t see myself. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 56’ 
(UK – March 2016)



‘LIVE IN ‘75’ DVD 

Review of: 
L.A. FORUM (LIVE IN 1975)’ 


Own up, the Stones have always been inconsistent. After a series of careers-best albums from ‘Beggars Banquet’ to ‘Exile On Main Street’, the 1970s saw an abrupt quality decline with ‘Goats Head Soup’ the first of a run of bummers – at least until ‘Some Girls’ (1978) resurrected their relevance. The onset of Glam wrong-footed them into a loss of confidence, Jagger in sequins and sailor suit was missing the point. And Mick Taylor was gone. The press lay odds about Jeff Beck, or even Eric Clapton replacing him, but they go for the safe pair of hands with Ronnie Wood. It’s he who coined the ‘It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll, But I Like It’ attitude which seems just a little close to surrender. This 1975 American tour was Ronnie’s try-out as a Stone. And as Richard Havers liner-notes point out, the Glimmer Twins had just tipped the dangerous thirty age barrier. A lot was a stake. The 44-date tour took in five nights at the L.A. Forum. This DVD – with two CD’s, in its lavish fold-out pack, documents the 12 July set.

Opening with the grandiose pomp of ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’, Jagger is pretty in pink, primped and preening. The cameras follow his preposterous bum-wriggling even when Keith is singing “Happy”. Keith – before Jack Sparrow took him, is night-black and crouched like a Z. Ronnie in all-over red, with wink-hat. Bill like a rhinestone cowboy. Billy Preston in huge Afro, slipping in sly keyboard quotes. Jagger’s voice is tunelessly shot, redeemed on new stuff such as the ‘young lady who went astray’ at the core of the euphemistically retitled “Star Star”. The Stones always were inconsistent, but they’ve still got the greatest back-catalogue in Rock to draw on. 

Published in: 
‘R2: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 Issue 50’ 
(UK – March)

Monday, 28 June 2021

Rolling Stones: Two DVDs




DVD Review of: 
(2006 – VDC Group, Fabulous Films/ Fremantle FHED1937/A)

No, not Jean-Luc Picard – Jean-Luc Godard, the French Nouvelle Vague director. That is, New Wave director. And just because this movie says ‘The Rolling Stones’ across the box, Jean-Luc saw no reason to regard this as anything less than a Godard picture. After all, he is the real creative intelligence here, surely? He is the star. And the Stones are equally aware of it. They never wanted a counterpart to the Beatles ‘Let It Be’ (1970) movie. They wanted Godard’s radical art-chic credentials to invest, adorn and burnish their own extreme persona. They both – the Stones and Godard, saw themselves as dangerous insurrectionists, largely through their carefully chosen – but safely distanced affiliations. The reflected association flatters them both. Their image. Their self-image. So this film celebrates the coming together of two vital divergent forces of radicalism, Godard’s cine intellectualism and the Stones dandified Chicago Blues. And although the resulting movie catches neither of them at their finest, it’s what it represents that it’s all about. 

For Godard, this was his first film in English. But his anti-Hollywood – yet strangely Hollywood-fixated movies had already ripped up the script by inserting slogans, voice-overs, dislocations, speed, cynicism and the romance of existential terrorist. For him, famously, a movie should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, but not necessarily in that order. ‘Le Mėpris (Contempt)’ (1963) with Brigitte Bardot, and ‘Une Femme Est Une Femme’ (1961) with his wife and muse Anna Karina, were his most mainstream concoctions. ‘A Bout De Souffle (Breathless)’ (1959) his best-known. But ‘Alphaville’ (1965) had transfigured Paris into a futuristic noir megacity merely by artful selection and editing. And ‘Weekend’ (1967) destroys narrative in ways that Spanish surrealist Luis Bunuel would surely recognise, ending with the uncompromising statement ‘Fin du cinėma’. To critics, he’s perpetrating what they might call semiotics, deconstruction, scrambling of visual signals, creating a breeding ground for jargon and theory. Others might call it contrived and pretentious…? 

For the Stones, the album ‘Beggar’s Banquet’ (December 1968) represented a return to form after the critically divisive psychedelic excesses of ‘Their Satanic Majesties’ (December 1967). And as well as providing the movie’s central focus song – “Sympathy For The Devil”, its twelve inches of black vinyl also includes the urgent dissatisfaction of “Street-Fighting Man” which catches the tear-gas flavour of the time better than just about anything else (as if Pete Doherty had the gumption or nerve to celebrate the recent Paris riots), the desolate beauty of the slide-guitar-driven “No Expectations”, as well as the sluttish, lascivious (and possibly paedophile) prowl of “Stray Cat Blues”.

And lyrically “Sympathy For The Devil” is one of their most ambitious songs, as though they’re really trying. The Beatles might have been advocating ‘Love Love Love’, but the Stones ‘rode a tank, held a General’s rank/ when the blitzkrieg raged and the bodies stank…’, yet during its endless recording in the Barnes ‘Olympic Studio’ there’s long periods of aimless tedium and bored strumming. Keith slumps on the floor, immaculately dissolute. Mick perches on a high stool flexing his flexible lyric-book. Charlie is boxed-off in a drum-booth. Bill looks bored. Brian sits in striped pants strumming his guitar, so into himself his eyes are closed oblivious to everything around him, his head swaying to his own internal rhythms (‘…the guitar players look damaged/ they’ve been outcast all their lives…’). The movie charts the long slow process of the track’s evolution, from the first vague chords picked out on guitar, through percussive breaks, to Marianne and Anita sharing a mic to dub on the ooo-ooo’s, as Charlie stands aside disdainfully.

Then Godard adds the simultaneous dialogue overlaps that contradict and disrupt the narrative. With Sean Lynch’s pseudo-William Burroughs drone standing in for the Last Poets rap on Jagger’s movie ‘Performance’ (August 1970). Providing a voiced-over pulp novel of gangster sex, drugs and sci-fi which contributes sound-interference in the same way that the spray-can graffiti-slogans add politically enticing word-grid equations. Mao crossed with Art. Hilton crossed with Stalin (at a time when Soviet Premiers were trendier than tacky porn-heiresses). CineMarxism. SovietCong. And sequences with chapter headings such as ‘Outside Black Novel’ or ‘Inside Black Syntax’ where a black militant sits in a rusted wheelbarrow amid mounds of wrecked cars reading pseudo-profundities about ‘revolutionary warfare’, and ‘the taking of political power’ into a big reel-to-reel tape recorder. There’s off-screen gunfire as they execute white hostages.

Then there’s a jump-cut to another unconnected sequence, an ‘All About Eve’ pastoral idyll with a camera-crew stalking and interrogating a monosyllabic girl who gives yes/no responses to ‘marijuana does something to the sense of time, it accelerates it,’ ‘on LSD you begin to die,’ or ‘orgasm is the only moment when you can’t cheat life.’ ‘The only way to be an intellectual revolutionary’ he persists, ‘is to give up being an intellectual…’ Switching abruptly to a garish collage of ‘Men’s Action Magazines’ – ‘King’, ‘Nugget’, ‘Adam’, ‘Parade’ and ‘Duke’, their covers slashed with story-titles such as ‘Slaves Of Sin’, ‘I Gave My Body To Hitler’ or ‘The World’s Gooviest Groupie’. They’re all suspended in a tatty bookshop where the bookseller reads aloud from ‘Mein Kampf’ and purchasers give Nazi salutes… 

But does it all mean anything? other than a confused image-jumble sampling confused times. What critic Philip French calls ‘a deliberately incoherent work’ that ‘embraces the madness of the sixties’. And how does it relate to what the Stones were doing? It doesn’t, except that the Stones albums perform a similar function. They are counter-culture irritants. They know all about pose and intellectual games. Of course, the Stones were always sharp enough to realise that hipness equates with blackness, and they never deviated far from that principle. Clear through to their later video for “Waiting For A Friend”. Here it leads them into a flirtation with Black Power – the ‘black united front’, with guns and revolution. And within that, you can see the roots leading all the way from here to Altamont. But that’s another DVD…

‘Sympathy For The Devil: The Theatrical Release’
with ‘One + One: The Directors Cut’ Cupid Productions Ltd, 30 November 1968 (under its original title ‘One Plus One’. Directed by Jean-Luc Godard, photographed by Tony Richmond. With The Rolling Stones as themselves, Anne Wiazemski, Francoise Pascal, Joanna David, Monica Walters. 

On Website: 
(June 2006)




DVD Review of: 

There was tacit agreement during the sixties that the Rolling Stones could never be the world’s biggest band while the Beatles were still around. Hence all they had to do was outlast the Fab Four, then they’d assume the position by default. The strategy was seriously shaken by the loss of Brian Jones, although his death happened during their greatest ever run of albums – from ‘Beggars Banquet’ (December 1968) to ‘Exile On Main Street’ (May 1972). But, as the seventies took hold, with Mick Taylor gone and Ronnie Wood still finding his feet through some decidedly dodgy albums, there were newer and bigger bands around, like Led Zeppelin, then Guns ‘n’ Roses. Although Punk sent shockwaves through Rock it helped the Stones reconnect with their unwashed-bratty origins to result in a renewed run of fine albums from ‘Some Girls’ (June 1978) to ‘Undercover’ (November 1983). Although “Undercover Of The Night” was no more a political protest than “Brown Sugar” was anti-slavery. But meanwhile, there were other stadium-filling contenders, U2 and REM. 

‘Voodoo Lounge’ (July 1994), the Stones’ twentieth studio album in July 1994, was in many ways their final mainstream shot for relevance, while they still considered themselves contenders. It was their first since Bill Wyman stepped down, their first through a crafty Virgin-records hook-up, and with Don Was co-producing with the Glimmer Twins. The seedy-moody lead single, “Love Is Strong” was gifted with a powerful high-profile monochrome MTV-video directed by David Fincher, with a giant Keith Richards striding above New York City wielding his guitar. The ‘sadly romantic’ “Out Of Tears” is a keyboard-led Jagger-weepy at its best. While “New Faces”, with its harpsichord echo back to “Lady Jane”, seems a knowing recognition of the Stones longevity, as Jagger ruefully watches the ‘slip of a youth’ drawing the attention of his woman, with the ‘insolent stare’ that was once his own trademark. That the album was the first not to spin off a major hit single, despite healthy sales, proves another signifier of shifting times.

Yet here in the Miami heat – the Joe Robbie Stadium 25 November 1994, Whoopi Goldberg is in no doubt that the band she’s introducing is the world’s best. This DVD runs to the full 150-minute concert, plus twenty-four minutes of bonus tracks, with Whoopi there back on stage for the closing encore “Jumping Jack Flash”. But first, Jagger in red frockcoat opens with ‘I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be’ rewinding to the fused Buddy Holly-Bo Diddley beginnings of it all with “Not Fade Away”. I’ve seen the Stones tired, ragged and frayed, I’ve seen them loose and going through the motions. Here they’re tight and sharp, jolted with an EM-spike of visceral reanimated energies, on top form, athletic, embracing their history, but shoving it all forward. They do their first ‘ancient’ no.1 “It’s All Over Now” from Bobby Womack, who passed June 2014. ‘Ronnie’s done this with two bands’ comments Jagger, and yes, the Faces did it too. Ronnie winces, smokes a fag, closes his eyes and grimaces as he pulls licks from his guitar. 

‘We thought to do something untried, something completely different, something we’ve never done before’ jives Jagger, ‘then we thought….’ as Keith plays-in the “Satisfaction” riff. Sheryl Crow joins for “Live With Me” – ‘I forgot to give her the flowers’ simpers Jagger, ‘what’ll she think of me?’ Robert Cray comes on for Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”, then the greatest of them all, a genuinely mesmerising Bo Diddley with his own “Who Do You Love?” ‘Our first tour of England in 1963 was with the Everly Brothers, Little Richard… and Bo’ rewinds Jagger. ‘Yeh, tell ya, I enjoyed that one. Now I’m really wiped out.’ There are moods, but the Stones have always honed in on their core cleaving towards black music, to low-rent sex and hard-core sleaze. As late as “Start Me Up” in 1981 – their last UK top ten hit, and no.2 in the States, they were getting away with sneaking ‘you make a dead man cum’ into the fade. And bonus track “I Can’t Get Next To You” is a Temptations song done in an Al Green style. With Charlie’s rhythms as the cohesion for it all.

They take the long walk down to the B-stage for a three-song acoustic set – “Angie”, impossibly reducing the stadium down to small-club intimacy, Jagger on guitar for ‘a country song’ called “Dead Flowers”, and harmonica for “Sweet Virginia”, taking their Americana into the heart of America. There’s a solid four-guitar line-up for “I Go Wild”, Jagger in full voodoo garb for “Sympathy For The Devil”, and a Chuck Berry intro to “It’s Only Rock ‘n’ Roll”. 

The Honky-Tonk man Keith sings “Before They Make Me Run” and “The Worst” against Ronnie’s aching dobro. Keith wears Whoopi’s velvet coat ‘off her back’ and grins mischievously into the camera. Jagger stoops to pick a thrown red rose. ‘Yes, it’s a glamorous life’ he mocks as he cleans spill from the stage floor. As the huge studded tongue lolls across the screen above them, the global highest brand-recognition logo, locked into Cyberworld stage design inspired by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava with struts, arcs, scaffolding and bridges. Even though there are new faces. The set gets enriched by fat sax solos from ‘our old friend’ Bobby Keys, who passed December 2014, ‘another goodbye to another good friend’. Backing vocalist Lisa Fischer is delightful in white shorts and leopard-print knee-boots, with a Jagger #Metoo booty moment. Darryl Jones’ white bass defines the big production number “Miss You”. While Chuck Leavell does the keyboard fills once done by Ian Stewart, who passed December 1985. And South African back-up voice Blondie Chaplin, who was briefly a Beach Boy.

There are cult ‘Nuggets’ freak-beat garage-bands with high-priced cult-collectable singles of awesome power. But there’s so many throw-away Stones ‘B’-sides that we take for granted with greater snotty-energy, any one of them strong enough to embed a career. Beat-up, torn and frayed with more last hurrahs to come, they’re still a dirty slap in the face of the slickly-processed over-produced twenty-first century. Oddly, the Stones are finally the biggest Rock ‘n’ Roll band in the world at a time when it means very little, having outlasted every other major rival – unless you count people like Metallica who are festival-massive but mean little or nothing to the outside world. There may be no more global Rock heroes, but everyone knows the Rolling Stones. 

‘Give thanks’ says Keith, ‘I know I do.’

Published in: 
‘R’N’R: ROCK ‘N’ REEL Vol.2 no.73’ 
 (UK – January/February 2019) 
Featured online at: 
(6 April 2019)