Saturday, November 08, 2014

Star Battles 2014

[These are the new chapters of my sci-fi story written for the Daren Callow V. Nazi Robots exhibition which is at The Kitchen Window Gallery until 28th November]



I have a memory. It’s a beautiful autumn evening, the sort of wonderful reddish brown light you only find in England. I’m moving backwards. There is a broken teacup, pretty fine porcelain, a shard lying on the ground, I can’t pick it up I’m still moving backwards. The light is just so wonderful, auburn evening hues. I’m rounding a corner; there is a flash of light. The cup is broken in my hand: hot, brown liquid seeps through my fingers. The edges of the broken cup look so beautiful, crisp and white in this light.


A man appears around the corner. Bowler hat, dark trench coat, official looking moustache; he moves purposefully in an odd slow motion. He reaches inside his coat and pulls out a broom handle Mauser and starts firing. I see the shell cases ejecting, pulsing flashes of stark light. The teacup in my hand fractures and falls apart at half speed. Another shot, I’m moving. I don’t think I’m hit; my only thought is to get around the corner, out of line of sight. The cup is gone, it’s a shame I think. The light is just so exquisite. The moustache is still advancing, firing, but he’s lost me. I made it around the corner and I’m gone. Just the wonderful dusk light and the piece of the broken teacup.



I am not Captain Scarlet; I’m in big trouble. There will be no regeneration this time.

Ahead of me across a brown, arid, war-scoured dustbowls are eight war robots. Mark IVs, the very worst: sophisticated, merciless, hi-tech killing machines. Now I’m sweating badly beneath my splinter-camo cape, NBC armour and hastily re-placed respirator; sweat drips over my eye as I try to keep my rifle trained on them. They kick up dust as they move with rapid, lopping steps, but they don’t need to hide, they are masters of this battlefield. Mark IVs are the aces of killing, the ultimate inbred mechanical monster. They resemble an armoured mushroom, flat domed head balancing on an upturned fire extinguisher, a cylindrical ammunition drum on their back and a mini-Gatling gun for a hand. Their legs are spindly, but very strong, designed to be hard to hit, designed keep them in the fight. To let them kill you, before you can destroy them. Despite their mechanical brilliance, I have one advantage. They can’t actually see me, at least, not until I open fire. I’m lying against the bank of a sunken trackway, covered with a splinter-camo cape that means they cannot detect my shape, heat or light. Without these clues I’m just part of the background noise, just a shape in the dust. Fine if I can just let them go by on their merry mechanical way, but I can’t – they’re heading exactly the wrong blasted direction. Straight towards home.

Since they burnt the ground, poisoned the air and shot down everything that moved out of the sky, we’ve been hiding. We dug tunnels into the rock, camouflaging everything and rebuilding what’s precious to us underground. Nothing lives up here so we have to make everything, even our food is 3D printed (and tastes like it). But they haven’t found us yet, and they are not going to do so on my watch. If only there hadn’t been eight of them! I’m kicking myself now (metaphorically) for lazily bringing only 4 rocket tubes. Four tubes - four kills, but there are eight, so somehow I have to shoot the other four, or they will kill me. Today. Right here in the dust. I blink the sweat away and try to refocus, the time of action is rapidly approaching and I don’t want to be thinking about it too much. Definitely eight of them, definitely going the way I don’t want them to be going. Right, that’s it then, let’s be having you.

Leaving my assault rifle on its bipod I pick up the first rocket tube. Tear off the safety strip, point it towards the first Zyke in the deck, deep breath, wait for the red LED to turn green – locked on: press down firmly on the trigger. The tube kicks slightly and a rocket streams out towards the enemy. I don’t even watch it; it can’t miss unless it’s a dud. I chuck it over my shoulder and grab the second tube, same drill – two away. Tube gone I grab the assault rifle, find a target and squeeze off two bursts until the droid in my sights buckles, fractures and starts to topple. That’s quite enough; I don’t even glance as I drag the rifle back into the sunken track and head stiff-legged to my second position. There are two flashes of light, and two bangs, I’m still ducking, running. It feels like an age until I’m at the second stash of rocket tubes. The rifle goes up onto the bank in roughly the right orientation; this will be my last stand, my Alamo. I throw off the splinter-camo, too late for that now, they’ll be on this position in seconds. The tubes are just as I left them, ready to go, safety strips already pulled on these two, I knew if I had to use them there would be no time to think. Out on the plain there is twisted metal, smoke and bursts of gunfire aimed at my first position. The remaining five monsters are heading towards that spot at full speed. Last two rockets are away and my hand is shaking on the rifle grip, waiting for a target. This time I watch the rockets all the way snaking through the air streaming smoke and fire. They impact directly on the body of the two robots targeted. I say a quiet thank you to whomsoever designed these great bits of kit. Four shots, four kills. Through the light and smoke of the explosions the remaining three are turning towards me. I bring up the rifle and start to fire, but I’m panicking, the shots miss, the robots know how to move and evade fire. 100 metres away. Bullets are zeroing in on me, I have only a few seconds. Fire again, maybe hit one, but it’s still going. They are ten seconds away, but their bullets are closer. At least I didn’t hesitate when it was my turn, at least I did my job. Take one more with you, I focus, squeeze the trigger, fire.

In a blaze of colour, sound, light the whole area of earth around the droids suddenly kicks up in every direction. The machines explode, freacture, splinter, flame. Cannon shells tearing ground, rock, sand and automaton alike. There is a screaming roar in the air and a collosal, darker than night aircraft powers over my head still spitting lead from belly mounted cannons, throwing dust in every direction. I am so shocked I can barely register it. The delta wing craft banks and circles round. In a second it’s a kilometre away from me. I’m watching it pull a high G turn banking elegantly to turn back towards me. It has no marking and it’s bodywork is so black it’s almost sucking the light out of the air. An arrow shaped black hole. Instinct makes me turn my eyes away, back towards the Zyke patrol, scanning with my rifle for movement. But it’s just so much scrap metal now, blown to the four winds and scattered across the scree.

The plane by now has made it’s turn and is thundering back directly towards me. Trailing dark smoke from it’s rocket exhausts, a black triangle growing in the sky. I wonder how it’s still in the air, not shot down by AA missiles like all our craft were. Nothing flies anymore, nothing. It suddenly occurs to me that I might not know if I am friend of foe. Frantically I reach up to my line-of-sight laser coms on my helmet and point it their way. “Send ID, Send ID” I try to say, but my mouth is so dry I can barely croak. Perhaps it worked though, the craft does a strange manouvere, it dips each wing in turn, a little wiggle in the air. It feels like it’s just for me. Then it suddenly turns and powers into a steep climb. I’ve never seen something so powerful , so menacing and yet elegant at the same time. I watch until all that’s left is a drifting smoke trail and with a gulp realise that it’s turned exactly the way the Zykes were going before I so rudely interrupted them: home. It knows where I live, and it will be there an hour or more before me.

Standing up with wobbly legs and sweaty hands, I shoulder my rifle and hobble painfully to retrieve my splinter-camo cape. My legs know the way to go, even as I fumble with the clasp I’m clumping stiff-legged on the way back to base. Somehow I have a feeling now the angel of death has arrived, this war will never be the same again.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

A Life In Sci-Fi

Were you influenced by Sci-fi as a child? Did you fly through the stars like Dan Dare or Kerr Avon, or prowl the dark streets of the metropolis like Captain Scarlet or Judge Dredd? I did all of this and more and from the first moment I could I recorded those adventures with pen and paper.

I was also obsessed with WWII comics (Battle & Action and Warlord) and this influenced the stories too, but Sci-fi was the real love of my childhood. Eventually I discovered 2000AD which reminded me of my dad’s Eagle comics from the 50s (which I still have) and began reading, collecting and copying the artwork from the 1980s onwards.

Star Wars (1977) changed my life. It must be hard to understand the impact that this movie had on our lives as kids. Bubble-gum cards were eagerly traded, money was saved up for toys and cardboard was feverishly crafted into spaceships, death stars and lightsabers. Star Wars harked back to the earlier matinee idols of Buck Rogers (not the camp 70s version) and Flash Gordon (ditto 80s version) and these were sporadically shown on early morning TV. The idea of battling amongst the stars had never been so appealing. Battlestar Galactica was another fascination, the silver, killer robots started appearing in my own stories immediately, albeit with a harder, grittier edge (In this case 2004s reboot of the series was actually excellent, but scarily very similar to the ideas I had been hatching in the meantime).

It wasn’t just American imports that inspired us. We had our own British heroes, the aforementioned Dan Dare, then Captain Scarlet (the man who couldn’t die – thus the perfect boyish role model as, of course, we never really died in our stories either) and, best of all Blake’s 7. In this latter case teleporter rings were cunningly fashioned from the rings of squash bottles slavered in enamel paint. Guns and control panels were constructed from Lego and friends and family duly roped in (characters carefully allotted) the adventures began (and have never stopped).

Now I continue to draw ideas and write sci-fi fiction in a literary form. Long sleepless nights are spent flying the stars and dreaming up the next chapters. The more I think about it, the more the influences are too many to mention, so below are a summary of the main ones close to my imagination with the dates they first appeared (I was born in 1968, so anything before that was TV repeats or old comics).

To celebrate this life of fierce creativity I will be exhibiting many of my early comic creations (books, comics, annuals, collector cards, fan club newsletter etc. etc.) as part of the on-going Kitchen Window Gallery series - Daren Callow v Nazi Robots. Please join me at the gallery for the opening on the 26th October 2pm – 5pm where you can handle (carefully) and read these early efforts and I will read from the very latest installment, written especially for the exhibition. Please see this link for the address and more details:

Even if you can’t join us, I’d love to hear your memories of the sci-fi heroes that influenced and excited me. Take a look at this list below and share your thoughts.

Buck Rogers 1928 (1950 TV series)

Flash Gordon 1934

Dan Dare (Eagle) 1950

Dune 1965

Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons 1967-1968

Space 1999 1975-1977 (John Koenig)

Star Wars 1977-1983

Judge Dredd (2000AD) 1977

Battlestar Galactica 1978-1979 (Lieutenant Starbuck) – then again 2004-2005

Blake’s 7 – 1978-1981 (Kerr Avon)

Rogue Trooper (2000AD) – 1981-1985

Culture Series (Iain M Banks) 1987-2012

The Matrix 1999

Firefly 2002-2004

Monday, August 18, 2014

Influences... The Pretenders

What motivates someone to be in a rock and roll band so much that they are still doing it 25 years after the first chord is struck? Certainly an inclination to be “one louder” than my brother (he plays drums, very well it must be said) and definitely a desire to be attractive to the opposite sex (and possibly a few of the same sex too). But this isn’t a scientific thing; rock and roll is a primitive urge as much as it is anything quantifiable. More so, in fact, much more so.

I have a deeply formative memory that jumps to the very front of my mind. I’m the archetypal lost soul, wandering the utterly unromantic corridors of Harrow Weald Sixth Form College (it’s called something much more high-brow these days). Up on the first floor I pass the doors to the balcony of the assembly hall. Below there is a resident band playing who have clearly been granted permission to rehearse in that space. Said combo are named, somewhat unpromisingly, Jack The Biscuit and the Five Knuckle Shuffle (and this is 20 years before the Inbetweeners). But nevertheless my sleep-deprived and (frequently) confused adolescent brain is drawn to the crack in the doors to listen, and listen, and to love the idea of rock and roll music and the raw excitement it ferments inside me. And the song they were playing that moved my spirit so much…

Back On The Chain Gang by The Pretenders. Thus begins a journey that takes me, musically speaking (and occasionally literally), all over the world. In pursuit of “that song” or “that riff” that makes my stone cold heart sing or my two left feet shuffle. That particular song will always hold an almost spiritual place in my musical memory. A small ray of light in a bleak epoch. Typically of me, I knew neither the original band nor the song and had to figure it out over time (no internet in those days). I was also convinced for a while that The Pretenders had covered it, as it felt like an older tune to me for some reason. Mind you it was released in 1982 and I recall hearing it first age 16 or 17 in 1985, practically an age later. A further year removed, in 1986, I played my first gig in a rock outfit – but more on that another time. The more I think about it, the more I can’t escape the thought - it was The Pretenders wot did it your honour.

For the record, my favourite song of theirs is Middle Of The Road which becomes more and more apt by the day.

Oh wait, I almost forgot. The entire reason for this post is that we’ve just recorded a Pretenders' cover for a friend’s birthday.

Happy Birthday Danielle.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Brighton Days (and Nights)

For a couple of days we headed to the south coast of this fair isle for a fact-finding trip, and a jolly good time in the bargain. The idea was to explore some areas of the city as potential settling grounds and also visit some of the local open mic nights to see the lay of the musical landscape. You cannot move for open mic nights in Brighton, every pub I passed seemed to have an evening for aspiring songwriters advertised (at some point in the future I have a bit of a rant about this, as open mic seems to have replaced paid gigs for musicians almost completely, but for now I’ll save it). We were fortunate that we had a steer from a (temporary) Brighton resident who suggested a couple of the best events to attend on our two evenings in town, thanks Jess!

With this good information we headed to The Hop Poles (on Middle Street) on the Tuesday night. This was a splendid and very busy evening, so busy in fact that we had to retire to the small pub garden until there was space for us all to fit into the main pub. The standard of acts was very high and with pre-booked slots there was no bun fight for positions, which made for a very relaxed atmosphere. Our slot was fairly late, 10.45pm but pre-armed with this information meant we could pace our evening and really enjoy our set of 3 songs. We went fairly upbeat and this worked very well. Overall we were well looked after and the sound and gig photos (a good bonus for acts) were all excellent. Jess, our partner in crime, played just before us and her songs were beautiful and well received.

The second of our two appearances on the Wednesday was a very different affair. The Bee’s Mouth (on Western Road) is a hidden doorway between two kebab shops, but this unpromising start reveals a wonderfully eclectic pub, cinema and music venue over several, narrow, levels. The location of the open mic was the very lowest floor and on arrival we found it filling up already. Much shuffling of guitars and bums was required as people came and went over the night. The room itself was dimly lit and adorned with posters of various spiritual and magic acts (David Devant?) giving a spooky backdrop. Nevertheless everyone was very friendly and the acts came and went fairly swiftly as this time it was just 2 songs per person. We were one of a couple of duos that night and really enjoyed our playing and our free drinks (one per artist) very much.

Overall we felt that our very small toe in the Brighton musical waters revealed a very friendly and fun scene. Acts were diverse and, generally, of a very high standard. We look forward to spending more time there and getting to know the best places to play and people to know. See you again soon.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Get In Line

Now that I’m getting back into this Blogging thing, I realised I was very overdue with a review of the latest musical release that I’ve been intimately involved in. Namely, the debut album – Get In Line – by Country Rock chick: Charlie Savigar. This is a ten track offering which features my input on 9 of the 10 tracks. Rather than go into too much detail, I thought it might be good to give a few (hopefully) interesting facts about each song, and post the latest Promo videos which are yet to be featured here.

If you want to listen along to the tracks whilst reading my notes below, then you can stream the whole thing from Soundcloud, and if you wish to own it for yourself (and support an unsigned artist into the bargain) then you can download it from iTunes, or buy a physical copy from a gig.

Get In Line
This is a firm favourite as a live track (we usually open the set with this) and a nice little rock-n-roll number. Originally the album was going to be called “My Journey” – but I thought this sounded a little passive, so I went through the songs on the album for potential alternative titles and realised that “Get In Line” worked just great. I also had the idea for the artwork that you see at the top of the post, with us all standing repeatedly in line. This was expertly shot by, great friend of the band, Kris Gruber at my dad’s house (the same location that the Superbad video, below, was shot. See picture at the bottom of the post for more of the line).

The drums for this were recorded in sessions with Tim Pennells.

Save Your Love
The beginnings of this track predate everything else on the album by quite some way. Originally recorded in sessions with Gregg Jackman and Francis Rossi way back in 2006, it was put to one side for a while until Gregg suggested that it needed to be sped up a little. Which he proceeded to do in a very painstaking process in Logic. We then searched around for a suitably weird instrument for the intro, which we found in the shape of an oddball Washburn Rover travel guitar (see pic). Brass was supplied by Charlie’s friend Bridget Goodwin who’s favourite phrase during recording was “Just shoot me”!

This is the only track on the album that I didn’t play or sing on nor does my brother play the drums. Instead the drums were hit by Michael Kruk and the bass was added by Nicholas Rossi. Francis played the solo for this track on his distinctive customised Telecaster – in one take!

When Will You Learn?
One of my personal favourites from the album and a really great pop tune. It reminds me a little of some of Ray Davies songs.

Following The Signs
I actually recorded the first demo of this song, which is actually the version you can hear on the promo video. Gregg Jackman re-recorded the drums and possible the vocals too. Marc Wyburn supplied the electric violin.

The fun video has been featured before, but it’s well worth another look.

What's Your Name?
This is the slowest track on the album and we tried to get a more acoustic / Latin feel on this one. In the end Haydn recorded the drums playing the snare with his hands rather than brushes and sticks. There’s a little percussion loop in there and this is the only thing on the album that was not recorded specifically for it.

In order to play this track live Dan (Newell) has to switch from brushes, to one brush one stick, to full sticks and back to brushes again, it took a while to get the best version of this. The lead guitar line was played on a Taylor T5 through a tape echo simulator, which gives it that wobbly, in and out of phase sound.

A great pop tune again, that’s great fun to play live. The video for this one was again shot at my dad’s house on a sweltering hot day. Performance artist – Frog Morris – did the background painting live and then sweated his behind off as the spaceman/robot. The video was directed, shot and edited by Ben Henderson. One other interesting fact is that Kris Gruber (who shot the Get In Line cover pictures) also helped out on the video, his hands are amongst those holding postcards. Our friend Daniel Baker also turns up as Superdude (with carefully disguised logo), everyone supplied their own costumes for this one. Both of our drummers, Haydn & Dan feature too as Bond and The Penguin respectively.

The heaviest track on the album and one that was recorded pretty much all at our house. The drums were re-recorded by Gregg again, but otherwise it’s actually a home project. I’m very happy with the heavy rock sound we got on the guitars, although I couldn’t tell you now which guitar we used, possibly my Les Paul Custom. The video for this one was our lowest budget effort to date (less than £200) – it was written/directed by Frog Morris and filmed and edited by his brother Theo. We tried to mimic the beginning of the Long Way Home video at the start, before heading off into the woods.

Sell By Date
This is, probably, my favourite track on the album. It’s a quirky little number that bounces along rather pleasingly.

Long Way Home
This is another earlier recording from Francis Rossi’s studio. This was also my first studio experience of working with Charlie (I provided a few harmony woo hoos). The bass on this one was provided by Allen Sassani and the hillbilly guitar lines were played by Adam Wedd.

Although you can’t really tell from the finished work the drum track was mostly recorded in little 2 and 4 bar sections to make sure we got the killer version.

Finally the album is rounded off with another track that is mostly comprised of the demo recording. The slide guitar parts were all played on Charlie’s Tanglewood resonator.

Tracks were variously recorded by Gregg Jackman, The Animal Farm, Tim Pennells and myself and all mixed by The Animal Farm. Mastering was by Hafod Mastering in Wales.

Except where mentioned in the text all drums were played by Haydn Callow and bass by Alex Lofoco.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

The Beast Of Camberwell

With great trepidation and heart very much in my mouth I, and a score of others, assembled to join the foray to seek, and possibly capture, the mythical beast of Camberwell Green. Professor Frog Morris over-excitable from a week of searching greeted us by his impressive hide, adorned with many helpful likenesses of the fiend and tales of his sightings. There were many questions as the motley band were first drilled in health and safety (none of us could see the fire exit) and then led a merry dance across the wastes of the Green to hear the various yarns associated with the foul apparition. A chipper few ventured their own possible sightings: on an omnibus here, in a greasy American chain food franchise there, but most scoffed nervously at such banter. Determined that our soiree not end in failure, Prof. Morris laid an intoxicating sheen of the beast’s favoured pheromones over his most likely emerging point (Eau de kebab much enjoyed by all, scent of curry less so), but to no avail although the tension was still palpable.

Then, when all had seemed forlorn and we had minded to disperse: SHOCK! HORROR!! The beast is spied and a “Tally ho” is raised in pursuit. Chaos ensued. A fearsome melee! Children and adults knocked hither and thither as the brave professor, net clutched in white knuckles, pounced fearlessly. A glimpse of the beast only; a snout here, a smart set of braces and dicky-bow there. A hideously gnarled claw lashed out and he was gone, bundled away by Prof. Morris for examination and reports.

I hear that he returned, chained and chastened, to the Green later but I was too afeard to return and come face to face with my nemesis. We can only hope it is finally in a place where it can no longer do any harm to itself or the innocent burghers of Camberwell. We will all sleep a little easier in our beds for this escapade.