Friday, January 11, 2019

Judge Dredd - The Itch

I've always been a big 2000AD fan, in particular Rogue Trooper and Judge Dredd.  The audience at the recent Alan Reed gigs might have seen me sporting a Judge Dredd t-shirt.  In an effort to get back into writing fiction, I recently entered a competition to write a Dark Judges themed short story.  It didn't get anywhere, so here it is for general consumption.  All characters are obviously copyright to 2000AD and their publishers, it's just a bit of a fan story... enjoy.


It started as an itch.  Right at the back of her skull, but somehow under the skin not on it: inside her head.  Just enough of a nagging doubt, an aching thought.  Just enough to keep her awake the last two nights wondering what it meant.  So she sits with her legs up on an adjacent chair, Lawgiver and helmet on the console beside her.  It’s 0300 – Psi-division control room is deserted apart from this one figure plugged into the PSU feeds flicking through the surveillance cams – an eerie light flickering across her face.  Now green, now orange, now red; casting weird almost ghoul-like shadows over the vacant chairs and blank screens around her.

Anderson was a Psi-judge and to a Psi-judge itches meant something.  Something scratching away at her, awakening, trying to get her attention perhaps?
She continued to flick through the cams, not knowing what she was looking for, not really sure why she was looking.  The pedways and over-passes were mostly quiet, well as quiet as Mega-City One ever was.  A light, dirty rain was splashing off every worn zipstrip, every pockmarked flyover.  The weather kept the perps indoors, the juves in their beds; just the loons out tonight - that kinda night. 
‘You’re here somewhere,’ she mouthed, her finger still tapping the button to switch cameras.  ‘Whatever you are.’  She reached one gloved hand round to gently rub the back of her neck under locks of long blonde hair, still grimy from a day of riding the Boomways.  It was more like a dull ache now; rubbing didn’t seem to be helping, so she gave up and tapped her finger faster.  Blocks flicked by, some she knew and some she didn’t, just hoping that something, anything stood out.  And then it did, by not sticking out at all. 

She sat up in the chair and flicked back two screens to stare at a long shot picking out a low rise conapt – something had caught her minds-eye, but what?  She rubbed her tired eyelids and tried to re-focus on the steadily flickering image of a dark, rounded building, a few lights showing here and there.  But it all seemed too quiet, too unassuming, too untroubled.  Maybe trying just a bit too hard to be uninteresting.  She squinted at the cam label.
‘Ian Kilmister Block, never heard of ya,’ she muttered, flicking the joystick to zoom in just a little closer.  ‘So why are you bugging the hell out of me?’  The itch flared again, a slight stabbing pain that gnawed at at her brain.  She rubbed her head again. ‘Yeah, yeah, I feel you,’ she acknowledged.
She reached out stiffly and pressed a button on the control panel to call a tech, nothing happened.  She glared at it icily.  ‘Drokk it!’ she thumped it hard with the heel of her hand and it gave a plaintive ‘beep’ and glowed to show it was working now. She drummed her fingers on the console, waiting impatiently for the tech to pick up, what was keeping them?
‘Tech div - Conner here - what can I do you for?’ The voice was crackly but not as grumpy as techs usually were.  Must have caught him on a good night.
‘Conner - Anderson.  Be an angel and call up all the perp stats for Kilmister for the last…’ She thought a second for a suitable period, most blocks called in hundreds if not thousands of crimes an hour, best not go crazy. ’…12 hours?’
‘Sure, I’m on it.  Looking for anything in particular?’ The voice sounded positively perky, she glanced at the console again just to make sure she’d actually pinged the right department.
‘Nope, just a hunch.’  She could hear faint tapping through the speaker as the tech did her bidding.  The tapping stopped and she heard a small intake of breath.
‘Crapola - some hunch.  I’ve never seen this before,’ muttered Conner.
‘What you got?’ Anderson leaned forward so as to hear better.
‘Nothing,’ he breathed.  She could hear frantic typing again, checking his figures no doubt.
‘Say again?’
‘Nothing, nada, zip.  Nothing at all for the last 12 hours.’  The itch dug it’s claws in again but she was already moving, holstering her Lawgiver and grabbed her helmet.  ‘Switching to helmet mic, stay with me Conner.’

Out of the Psi-division, past a slightly dopy looking maintenance crew, boots echoing in the empty corridors.  Hit the ziplift: basement, Lawmaster garages.
‘You still with me Conner?’ she adjusted her helmet, not used to the weight – Psi-judges rarely used them.  She felt her stomach lurch as the lift began its descent.
‘Yeah, I’m here.  Running the records back, last reported crime was 2 days ago, it’s normal before that.’
‘By normal, I guess you mean barely better than chaos?’
‘Exactly.  What drew you to this block again?’
She rubbed the back of her neck once again, ‘Oh, just a itch I had to scratch.’  She reached the Lawmaster garage and strode towards her bike.  ‘Matter of interest, what was the last reported crime?’
‘One mo,’ more typing, barely audible.  ‘Ha, some juve’s cat reported missing.’
‘Missing cat?  Legal pet or illegal?’
‘Doesn’t say.’ Doesn’t matter anyway, thought Anderson, just another bad omen to go with the nagging doubts.  She gunned the Lawmaster into life, the howl of it’s engine filling the spacious garage, kicked it off it’s stand and rode up the ramp out into the grimy, wet Mega-City night.

We are not yet ready!

It was a moonless night, but it made not the slightest jot of difference in the Mega-City, it still glowed gaudily with neon and laser light.  Bars, eateries and pleasure domes stayed open all night plying the citizens with anything they craved.  And they craved just about everything going.  Even on this foul, drizzly night the city still buzzed and throbbed.  Anderson ignored it all, powering her Lawmaster down Judge’s Lanes, pedways, fly-overs.   No one much out tonight though; the rain was at best filthy, at worse highly radioactive.  It tended to put one off a midnight perambulation.  She strained her eyes through the rain and the spray, keeping half an eye on the nav-comp.  Kilmister block was not as far away as she had thought; she was somehow expecting it to be tucked away in some (relatively) quiet backwater sector, whereas in fact it lay almost directly in the centre of the city. 
As the city’s garish attractions flashed past her in a hazy cloud of spray, the itch began to change.  The throb grew tendrils and began to spread across the back of her skull; she had a full-blown headache coming on. 
 ‘Just what I need,’ she cursed to herself, ‘can this night get any more wretched?’  The nav-comp flashed her to pull off the Boomway, she leant the motorbike over and eased onto the offramp, and lo, her night got worse.  This Skedway had all its lights out; traffic seemed to be giving it a miss too.  She considered calling city-maintenance and giving them a piece of her mind, but they were probably all tucked up in their sweet little bunks.  She flicked her headlights onto full and ploughed on. 
Suddenly a dark figure lurched out of the gloom towards her.  Spitting oaths she felt herself start to lose the back wheel of the Lawmaster, scumy, oil saturated spray cascading in plumes all around her. She gunned the engine and the wheel squealed in protest on the nu-asphalt surface but somehow just managing to find some grip.  The bike levelled and she brought it to a juddering halt, killed the engine and dismounted into a firing crouch - Lawgiver already in her hand.   She glared back through the sleet to see her would be assailant.  But all she saw was a prone figure writhing in the puddles, a bottle of something, no doubt highly dodgy, in a faker-paper bag.  It was wailing something barely understandable, ‘They’re back, they’re back.’  Just some drunk stumbling around in the gloom, probably a futsie who just can’t bear it all sober any more.
‘Drokking frightened the life out of me,’ she growled to herself.  The relentless rain and now hammering headache were beginning to really get on her pectorals.  ‘I’ve really not got the mind space for this right now.’  She re-holstered her pistol and slung a drenched leg back over the bike seat.  She hit the start button and the engine fired and then spluttered rudely into silence.
‘What now, for grud’s sake!’ she tried to fire it up again, but this time nothing.  Warning lights lit up all over the rain-splattered dash.   ‘Exactly what I needed,’ she muttered with exasperation as she dismounted, turning back to the drunk who was by now delicately trying to regain his feet.
‘This is all your fault,’ she spat at him, as he continued his unsteady progress back to his feet. 
‘They’re back,’ he gurgled without making a lot of sense.
‘Scarper creep!’ she retorted and then turned and began to stomp along the Skedway towards the block, now just about visible in the gloom a couple of klicks away.  ‘Guess I’m walking then.  Control can you hear me?’ nothing but static from her helmet.  ‘Control?!’  Again nothing.  ‘Oh just perfect, a little bit of rain and everything goes to pieces, you wouldn’t think this was the 22nd Century’.  She realised that complaining was not really going to get her anywhere in hurry so she wiped her visor and began the soggy trek to Kilmister block.

Not yet! Not yet! We need more time!

Anderson walked on towards the brooding block, her boots splashing through the streams of water cascading off the pedway.  Not far out she stopped, realising the block looked exactly as it had in the PSU feed.  Precisely the same lights still on, but not a soul visible anywhere.  Deserted, yet trying to look like it was occupied, trying to draw no attention to itself.  She glanced up the nearest (non-functioning) lighting pole half expecting to see the PSU’s cam right above her the view was so familiar.  There was no cam, but there was something tied to the pole flapping in the hammering rain.  Out of curiosity she reached up a hand and turned it to get a better look.   It seemed to be a little figure of a man made of plastic sticks and tie-wraps, hanging like some sort of amulet on the post.
‘What evil spirits are you here to ward off exactly?’ she mused and even as she did a shiver went down her spine.  Just the cold, she thought, nothing more.  Time to get out of the rain.  She released the figure and strode on.

Finally Ian Kilmister block loomed up in front of her, nearly half a klick high and glistening in the wet.  She drew her Lawgiver again and did a quick 360 as she walked out onto the broadway that surrounded the tower, straining her eyes to see out into the gloom.  With a sickening sense of realisation it struck her then, that there was no light for two klicks in all directions around her.  Beyond that the city glowed malevolently, utterly oblivious to this brooding black hole in its very heart.  She felt very alone, just her and whoever was in the sinister edifice before her.  Moving more swiftly now, holding her pistol in the ready position, she approached the main glass doors to the lobby.  They slid open obligingly and she stepped into a large lobby and finally out of the rain.
‘Control, you back with me yet?’ she enquired of her helmet mic, more in hope than expectation and sure enough no answer came.  ‘Suit yourself.’  She slid the helmet off and propped it on the concierge desk, still lit up with glowing comp-screens.  She shook her head, partly to shake the rain out of her unruly cascade of blonde hair and partly to try to shake out the fog in her mind.  But the headache had her in its clutches, grinding now like a migraine on mega-steroids.
‘What are you hiding?’ she called out, moving forward cautiously across the cheap nu-nylon carpeted floor towards the bank of elevators.  The question had been intended for the building, but uttering it she suddenly felt as if a veil had been lifted from her eyes.  The itch, the throb, the drokking mother of all headaches, it wasn’t trying to tell her something; it was trying to hide something.  Someone, or something was in her mind, blocking her memories, preventing her from realising what was right in front of her.
‘So I know you!’ she muttered semi-triumphantly, as a lift door slid open in front of her.  ‘Well I’m coming ready or not.’ She stepped into the lift and hit the only floor number that made any sense – thirteen.

Not ready!  But come anyway Anderssson.

The lift slid smoothly to a halt and Anderson stepped out onto more tacky plastic carpet on the long 13th floor of Kilmister block. The corridors were lit in eerie low light ahead and to both left and right, but starkly empty.  Nothing moved, her footsteps echoed damply on the floor - she was still dripping wet. 
‘Where are you then?’ she stepped forward, wondering which way to go next.  A movement dead ahead, she crouched and aimed, her finger trembling on the Lawgiver trigger.  A few metres away from her, walking as calmly as you like across the floor was a black cat.  She froze as the cat stopped midway and turned its head towards her.  Its eyes were dark and hollow: there were no eyeballs in the sockets.  It hissed at her viciously and as it did a foul stench of decay filled her nostrils and with alarm she realised that the headache had now shifted to a numbing pain down her back and into her arms, she was barely able to move.
A door creaked open next to the cat with an ominous grinding noise and the animal turned and darted into the apartment, in its place a long dark shadow stretched across the corridor as a figure moved towards the door.
‘Andersssson!’  The stench of rotting flesh was overpowering now, she couldn’t understand why she’d not noticed before.  But the headache was gone and her mind began to clear even as her body refused to move.  The wraith moved out of the door into the corridor, the black helmet with it’s dull metal grille, the sickly, bloody teeth, the decaying flesh: putrid and vile.
‘Have you missssed me, Anderssson?’ it hissed and the sound of its voice rattled down her spine.  Behind in the doorway she could make out more shapes following.
‘Judge Death!’ she had to force the words out, as she was unable to move without considerable effort.  Behind her the lift began to work again, more ghouls coming no doubt – surrounded.
‘You came too sssoon, our plansss are not yet ready!’ Howled the apparition gliding towards her as behind it a couple of decaying bodies stumbled blindly into the corridor.
‘My brothersss and sssissters have not yet been able to join me,’ his voice hammered inside her head like shrapnel grenade exploding.  ‘No matter, Anderssson, your body will be a ssuitable receptacle for one of them.’  He floated closer his hideous, clawed hand reaching out towards her heart. 
‘Drokk it all, I knew I should have just stayed in bed and taken a synthi-aspirin,’ she spat, mostly to herself.  She braced her inert body as best she could, all the awful memories of her first possession by the foul beast flooding back.
Without warning the doors of the lift slid open behind her and a hail of white-hot incendiary bullets flashed past her head and tore through the decaying body of the dark judge.  Flames ignited in its clothing and sparks showered in all directions as shells hit the corridor walls and detonated.  Without ceremony a rough hand grabbed her collar and hauled her backwards into the elevator capsule, dumping her on the floor.  Gazing up she found herself looking at a Lawgiver rapid-firing into the corridor, flame spitting from it’s muzzle, hot metal shell cases clattering down onto her and the floor.  She followed the firing arm back as another ungodly howl came from were the bullets were aimed: the crumpled blue uniform, the dented judge badge, the grizzled face and, well, that chin.
‘Judge Dredd,’ she burbled, finding that movement was slowly coming back to her body.  He ignored her and fired another burst whilst the elevator doors slid shut barely preventing a great fireball engulfing them.  At this moment the lift pinged and started moving downwards in an almost comical fashion given the bloody mayhem they had just witness.  ‘What brings you out this way?’
Judge Dredd shrugged, his Lawgiver still held ready, smoke wisping out from the barrel.
‘Just a hunch, y’know.  An itch I had to scratch,’ he growled checking her over quickly for injuries.  ‘How’s your night going?’  With that the whole lift shook violently and a great scream reverberated menacingly all around them;
The lift light shattered and darkness engulfed them, but just as it did the doors hissed open and Dredd hauled her out into the light of lobby and onto her feet, dragging her towards his Lawmaster still revving in the middle of the lobby where he had abandoned it.
‘Oh, I’ve had better.’ 
They mounted Dredd’s Lawmaster and with a great arc of burnt rubber and smoke he swung it around and gunned it full-throttle at the plate glass doors, smashing straight through them and skidding barely in control into the teeming, ice-cold mega-city rain.
‘Control we have a major on-going incident, Ian Kilmister Block, all available units attend!’
‘What is the nature of the incident Dredd?’ replied the nonplussed controller as Dredd accelerated up onto the saturated Pedway through sheets of filthy standing water.
‘They’re back Control,’ he hissed.  ‘They’re back.’

Friday, January 04, 2019

Doctor What?

I realise I may be straying into controversial territory here, but I’ve been wondering recently about how much writer’s should be influenced by the consumers of their stories.  Let’s call them fans.  The reason for this musing has been the recent changes to characters in popular culture, for example Dr Who changing sex, Hermione Granger changing skin colour and, perhaps closer to my own heart, a myriad of revisions to the Star Wars universe caused by removing the creator from the creative process.  Not to mention various reboots, restylings and general appropriation of other loved stories and characters (I could mention Battlestar Galactica, Sherlock Holmes, Poirot but the list is considerable).

There have been howls of protest about all these things, but as both a fan and an author I can see it from both sides.  Certainly complaints that switching a alien character with two hearts that can regenerate at will from male to female is emasculating seems very wide of the mark.  After all there have been twelve white male doctors and one white female doctor so far, so even some sort of basic equality seems a lifetime away.  Other arguments that this is not really part of what is possible in this (entirely fictional) universe also don't work for me.  After all in the case of Dr Who there is certainly a precedent in the changing of the Master to Missy in 2014 (and presumably lots of other years throughout the whole of history), which I don't remember sparking so much rage, although I'm not really a huge Dr Who fan so perhaps I missed it.

The Hermione Granger (non) issue is even less of a worry to me, after all, as J K Rowling correctly pointed out, she never specified skin colour in the books and people do tend to project their own ideas on to things.  I often wonder whether people imagine all the characters in my own stories to be white, when I also don't specify this.  If I was ever lucky enough to have my books converted into some visual medium, I would be happy for actors of any origin to play any of the roles.  It matters not to me, but rather I would be more interested in the characteristics of how they were played rather than simply how they look.

And I suppose this is the answer to my musing, which is how good is the creative product, rather then the choices about ethnicity, height, weight, facial hair, gender etc... So is the new Dr Who any good?  There are arguments either way on this, but I have to admit I've watched every episode and, although perhaps I don't think it's hit the heights of some previous iterations (I actually really liked Paul McGann's interpretation, anything with K-9 and the original Dalek films) but I think I enjoyed them.  So even though the jury is still out it's a tentative thumbs up from me.  But then maybe I'm weird, I also liked John Malkovich's take on Poirot and the Battlestar Galactica re-boot.

Bottom line for me is that really it's the creator, writer or author's prerogative to do what they like with their characters and stories.  As much as fans may feel they know the fictional world that's been created, they all have their own ideas (and therefor prejudices). Everyone's synapses fire in different ways and only the writer's synapses can be right.  For better or worse.

In the meantime I would suggest that we all remember fiction is made-up, and just try and enjoy the ride.  If something isn't for you, then there is plenty of other stuff out there to enjoy.  Or you could write you own.  Did I mention that I have some stories you could try?  Go on, have a listen, and tell me how I should have done it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

A Tale Of Four Alans

It’s funny how the same name seems to crop up time and again in relation to my musical influences. Well, maybe not funny, but certainly makes for an interesting Blog thread, so here it is, a tale of four… Alans.

I remember hearing Violator for the first time sitting on the floor at our old bass player’s house. Steve Gent was always one for the very latest music, and in this ca se he had been the first of our gang to acquire Depeche Mode’s latest offering. I remember that first listening as much for the fact that the vinyl copy he had (the second copy as he’d already exchanged it twice) was scratched and used to skip infuriatingly. Vinyl was in demise at that time, and this was the catalyst for buying this album on CD, and presumably buying a CD player to go along with it. However, the music was quite extraordinary. Not since Nik Kershaw’s dramatic intro to Dancing Girls had I been so in love with a drum sound. Ever since World In Your Eyes hit my ears I have been in love with snare drums that go “pffft” instead of “therwap” or “crack”.

This led me to explore Depeche Mode’s back catalogue and discover the harder sound they’d developed since Vince Clarke has quit in 1981. That new sound was partly due to grittier songwriting of Martin Gore, but perhaps even more due to the craft and technique of Vince’s replacement – Alan Wilder. Although not immediately accepted as a core member of the band (he was asked to skip the recording of their next album – A Broken Frame) – he became an essential part of the mix for their most influential period. The albums that they produced – Construction Time Again, Black Celebration, Music For The Masses, Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion – all rate amongst my favourite long players. As well as keyboards, Wilder contributed Drums and endless time in the studio alongside Flood and other producers to turn a pop act into one of the greatest electro-rock bands in the world.

For my money they peaked with the combination of the film / live album “101” (Wilder’s choice of title apparently)  and the aforementioned Violator. Perhaps he thought so too, as in 1995 Wilder quit the band claiming that his influence and effort had never been properly recognised. I have to agree, most people have never heard of him, but they will know many of the tunes he helped to shape.

As an interesting footnote, Wilder sold off much of memorabilia and even some keyboards used with Depeche Mode in 2011 and the videos created for the auction make for absorbing watching.

The second Alan goes by the, not uncommon, name of Alan Whyte. He’s a guitarist and songwriter and was a local Burnt Oak boy (his mum knew the mum of a guy I was in a band with). But you probably haven’t heard of him. You almost certainly have heard of some of the songs he’s written and performed on. If I say that he co-wrote Glamorous Glue, Dagenham Dave, You’re The One For Me Fatty, Don’t Make Fun Of Daddy’s Voice then some of you might know who he worked with. However if I mention that he co-wrote Irish Blood, English Heart and First of the Gang to Die then I expect that many more of you will know these songs and who he played guitar for.

Yes, indeedy, alongside his conspirator – Boz Boorer – Alan Whyte wrote the music for many of Morrissey’s biggest tunes (not just him though, he has also written for Madonna, Chris Brown, Rihanna and The Black Eyed Peas).

Whatever you may think of Morrissey’s dodgy politics, you can’t fail to appreciate the sheer scale and excellent writing of many of his big hits. Well, funnily enough, he didn’t actually write them all himself. It was probably the song “You’re The One For Me Fatty” that first made he appreciate his work. Sure the lyric is provocative, but the tune is catchy, circular and well crafted. I was hooked.

I got hold of some live DVDs and was even more blown away. With a succession of beautiful Gibson and Gretsch semi-acoustic guitars Whyte and Boorer brought a sweaty, muscular rockabilly sound to Morrissey’s thoughtful, spiteful and left-field lyrics. It absolutely worked for me. Where I found The Smiths too introspective and clever, this was rock-and-roll at it’s best for me. Great tunes, big guitars and thought-provoking lyrics.

In the end though, like with the previous Alan, it all got a bit too much and a nervous breakdown led him to leave the band in 2007, perhaps Morrissey finally got to him, as he seems to be getting to us all these days.

Now I must confess that I’d never heard of my third Alan, when he was first mentioned to me by my good friend Tudor Davies. But it turned out that he needed a guitarist, and I was rather in need of a new band. And so it turned out that I got to meet the New-Prog-Legend that is Alan Reed, in his own house, playing his own songs (badly to start with). Although I could never hope to emulate the guitar lines of Niall Mathewson from his (most popular band) – Pallas (not the only band he's been in by the way) – it turned out that wasn’t what he was really after. Indeed Alan’s own guitar lines, especially in his excellent album – Honey On A Razor’s Edge – were not a million miles away from my own. Check out the riff on Razor and compare to my own on Snatch. You can, at least, see why Tudor thought that I might be suitable and, after appointing the amazing Mark Spencer as fall-back guitarist, I was in.

What an experience it has been (so far) – with the aforementioned Tudor on keyboards, Mark on electric guitar, Jennifer Ellen Clark on bass and the incredibly in demand Henry Rogers on bass we were off and running. Gigs in Stoke, Southampton, Glasgow and London followed, plus festival appearances at HRH Prog and Summer’s End in Wales and foreign trips to Pagney (France) and Boerderij Cultuurplatform (Netherlands). It’s been a total riot. Somewhere along the way we even managed to produce a live CD (Live From The Razor’s Edge) and there are rumours of a live DVD. Somehow I’ve even managed to lend my guitar tones to a solo record by Jennifer and crowd-type singing to a Twelfth Night release (coming soon). We now have a reputation for good music, energy and the sheer enjoyment of knowing that we are STILL IN A BAND!

Come and see us play next year.

Oh, so who is the final Alan in my series? Well my dad, of course - Alan Callow. The man who bought me my first guitar (birthday present I think, since my first keyboard was for passing my O Levels and I did terribly at A Level, and so generic a Strat copy that it had nothing at all written on the headstock) – that played one gig (see picture, the song is Wrapped Around Your Finger by The Police - easy number to start with, not) and then was promptly part exchanged for something better. He also tolerated our practices (as did our mum) and lent me his estate car to drive to endless gigs. Thanks dad, without your assistance and love not much of this would be possible.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Teleman - Family Of Aliens - Fragile electro-pop with a hint of vaudeville

I was invited to see Teleman first by a friend (stand up James King) who was always on the look out for fun things to do in Brighton. The first time I saw them was at the Old Market in central Hove and I was surprised by how much I liked them. Their music is a very light-weight form of pop that is so fragile in its construction that you almost think it might break at any moment. In fact, during my friend’s favourite tune – Christina – it actually does stop, and you are momentarily wondering if it will start again. Having said that, each tune was beautiful, melodic and just a bit different, which left me wanting more.

 My personal favourite at that point was a euro-friendly number called Düsseldorf, featuring genuine German translation at one point. Its more robust sound and indeed the generally more beefed up nature of their second album hinted at more electro-rock-esque possibilities for the future, in their third album – Family Of Aliens – this duly arrived.

Family Of Aliens is, not unnaturally, how the band see themselves, and perhaps having realised that's who they are, they certainly sound more confident and at home with their sound on this record. The keyboards and electro-pop component is ramped up, and often builds up into joyous extended instrumental sections (Submarine Life, Cactus) that verge on the edges of modern dance music. This is a record crying out for extended 12” remixes if that is still a thing.

At points they are so electro-pop on this disk that you could almost imagine this was how the Pet Shop Boys would sound if one of them played electric guitar. Song For A Seagull falls into this category, a tune that invokes the loneliness of a sea bird whilst simultaneously being up-beat and joyous. Indeed it’s when these elements are combined that Teleman are at their best. I find their music both uplifting and heart-breaking, the latter aided by singer Thomas Sanders unusually tremulous vocals. After all a band that can be both life-affirming and melancholic in the same song, pretty much has something for everyone who loves pop music.

The new found knees-up pomp hits its highest mark with the, practically Madness/Supergrass-esque duo of Twisted Heart and Between The Rain, but fret ye not, the fragility is still there too. Always Dreaming starts with a slow monophonic piano refrain and the next instrument to join sounds like an acoustic bass, it’s the perfect tune to accompany a wallow in misery, should you be so inclined.

Overall then, I have to say it’s a beautiful thing. Certainly their most confident, balanced and exciting record to date. Nothing stands out and that’s very much in it’s favour, it’s all excellent and a pleasure to listen to from end to end. In fact, I may even be inclined to get a vinyl copy, if they exist, as sonically it’s so varied that it would be a good match to the musicality of needle, amplifier and speaker.

I was once told that in the perfect photograph the darkest area will be 100% black and the lightest area pure white, that is to say the unexposed, pure white of the photographic paper – and I’ve always thought that a similar analogy should apply to music, that is to say that the loudest part of any record (or live set) should be the loudest noise you can manage, and the quietest bit should be silence. With this record, I think Teleman have cracked it. It’s the perfect picture, onto which you can project the best and worst moments of your life and revel in them both. It will be played on repeat in a thousand teenage bedrooms and, although mainstream radio might not pick it up, it is surely a pop classic that will simply grow in stature over time.

Personally, I love it, and I’m already excited to see what they conjure up next.

P.S.  There is no such thing as a seagull

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

We Are Traffic

Some trees, no cars.
We are traffic.

Have you ever stopped for a few moments to consider how the world around you would look if there were no cars? Try it now (well, not now, but in a few minutes after you have read this) – step out into your road and imagine that all the cars were gone. Perhaps you could let your imagination run riot and imagine each car replaced with a tree. Splashes of green where now there is garish metal, plastic, rubber and rust. Imagine a street were you can walk to the shops, or the bus down a pathway between shrubs, birds singing, children cycling and playing. It would be nice wouldn’t it?

But that’s not what we have. Instead we have more and more cars and a whole industry geared up to convincing us that we all need to own one, and drive it pointlessly around and around, because that’s cool, isn’t it? We need connectivity to our phones and wi-fi on tap, even though vehicles kill roughly 1,700 people every year in the UK (that's 1.25 million worldwide, equalling the total deaths from the First World War roughly every 15 years) and mobile phone usage in cars, vans and lorries is a big contributor to that.

Also, dunno if you’ve noticed this, but there is a lot of column inches (is that still a thing) being devoted to air pollution these days. Where does this blight on our, our children and old folks lives come from?

We are pollution.

And while we are thinking about it. When was the last time that driving a car was actually fun? Personally it was a long time ago, when I was young and foolish. The world feels different now, and even with all their much publicised problems, the train feels like much more pleasant option these days. You can read a book (is that still a thing) and go on Instagram without endangering everyone around you.

So what can be done? It seems to me that people are not keen to change their behaviour if it feels inconvenient to them in any way. Even though walking, cycling or taking public transport are either good for you, or good for the world, if you can just jump in your car to drive round the block, why would you give that up? Look at the plastic bag situation. For many years we’ve known that single use plastic bags were a blight on our world. Blowing around the countryside, strangling life and shredding into a billion invisible pieces that we now ingest with almost every mouthful. But did anyone change their behaviour until a tax was put on them? Well some did. In fact, I still mourn the fact that you used to get Tesco Clubcard points (other supermarket point based schemes are available) for every bag you re-used. Gone is the carrot, all hail the stick. And lo and behold bag usage is down to, oh you know just the odd 1.04 billion per year (it was 7.6 billion in 2014, but f**k me that still seems a lot). So I’m thinking that we need government to act if we are to have any chance with reducing pointless car journeys.

Here’s some thoughts then, let me know if you think any of these might tempt you out of your car and onto your feet.
  1. Increased Council Charge for any households with more than one car registered to the household
  2. Decreased Council Charge for any households with no cars registered there
  3. Raise the age you can start driving to 18
  4. Give free bicycles to 16 year olds
  5. Hell, give a free bicycle to everyone who wants one, they are a couple of hundred quid each. Anyone know how much one car costs us in road repairs, infrastructure, pollution and hospital bills per year? 
  6. Free bus passes to anyone who doesn’t own a car
  7. Mandatory buy-back scheme for the worst polluters, turning the scrap metal into, well bicycles seems an obvious fit
  8. Increase fuel duty
  9. Re-introduce road tax charging it by the mile
  10. Ban car adverts that show people driving pointlessly around and around unrealistically empty streets, or over the countryside (just see how many of these you notice now)
  11. Hell, ban all car adverts
I could go on. I probably will. But even if all that seems unpalatable to you, at least remember one thing. This isn’t someone else’s problem. If you own a car (and I do, although I seldom use it these days), then this is your problem and one day our kids will ask us what we did about it.

We are traffic.

Friday, October 06, 2017

Steampunk Podcast - ARC Light Programme

Since writing stories, performing with prog rock bands and doing my day job are clearly not enough, I have begun serialising my stories into a podcast series.  Based around a fictional presenter (Theodore Pilkington-Rhubarb) and his hapless assistant (Mabel - surname not yet revealed), the podcast takes the form of an old-fashioned radio show in the style of the Goon Show or I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue.  Each week I read part of my book (either a whole story or half of one, concluding the following week) plus new material that I write.  At the moment this is a collection of Listener's Letters, but soon I'm going to branch out into other silly ideas.

It's also a great showcase for the steampunk music of Charlotte Savigar - it works so well in this context and it's well worth getting the album if you like what you hear.  It's all good clean fun and suitable for listeners of any age.  If you love a bit of comedy / storytelling and enjoy a good podcast or audio book, then it's well worth checking out.

You can subscribe via iTunes or Overcast or just visit Soundcloud to hear the episodes.  It's on Stitcher too and TuneIn, but I don't know the links (okay I found the links, so you can click any of them now).  You can find it by searching for "Tales of New Albion".  Do let me know what you think!  There is a new episode coming every week.

Mind you, you can't please all the people all the time.  Have a read of this letter, I don't know, critics!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Interview with Charlotte Savigar

As part of the promotion for the new Tales Of New Albion steampunk electro-rock album, I managed to get hold of the talented composer - Charlotte Savigar - to ask her a few questions about the creation process:

How did you get into music composing?

After starting piano aged 7, it was obvious I had an instant love for this instrument and indeed music. I remember as a kid listening to composers such as Liszt and Chopin at my Grandad’s house and feeling incredibly moved and connected to the piano pieces I was hearing. I guess this was the catalyst that prompted me to sit down and start writing my own music.
I wrote my first solo piano composition aged 11, it was called ‘Pulse’ and I remember feeling really proud of my creation. I even performed it at a school assembly. From there I filled up manuscript book after manuscript book writing down as many ideas as I could. 

Tell us about the Tales Of New Albion project and how that came about

I spend the majority of my time writing library music and every so often I will have a quiet patch where I’m waiting for my next project to begin. With this knowledge, my husband suggested that I write a piece of music for his next story (from the Tales of New Albion) that he was due to read at an upcoming Surrey Steampunk Convivial. After doing a little research about the steampunk genre I decided to create a victoriana / scifi sounding track that is now officially the ‘Albion theme music’. We were both very happy with the composition so Daren suggested that I compose more pieces to accompany his book. Over the course of about 10 months, he gave me more and more story briefs and I pretty much had free range to choose my musical pallet and get creative!  

What is your favourite track from the album and why?

My favourite track is ‘Lost in the Great White’, I would describe this as ‘the serious track’ on the album! It took a lot of time to create this Asian sounding composition and the reason I like it so much is that it really moves me. I feel an emotional connection this piece and am very proud of the writing here.

Your previous releases were more song based, how was it working on an instrumental album?

I loved it! As much as I enjoyed and still do enjoy recording vocal music in the studio, I struggle so much with writing lyrics that on so many occasions it’s held me back. I realised towards the end of 2015 that I was losing the passion for writing songs and once I started writing library music I decided that this was where my heart felt whole and ironically I felt I could express myself more through instrumental music than through words.
With this album I had the opportunity to write for instruments I wouldn’t have ever thought of writing for in the past. In particular synths! They play a big part in the album and really create the scifi landscape I was trying to achieve. I felt throughout the whole project that I had the freedom to create whatever I wanted and as a composer that felt truly liberating!

Any plans for a follow up?

Well Daren is already writing volume 2 so hell yeah!!!

Tell us something about your self that not many people know.

Apparently I’m a bus nerd! And I love to do impersonations!

Check out Charlie's website and download Tales Of New Albion from Bandcamp.