Hatidze keeps bees
On a secluded mountain.
Sells them in Skopje.
Hatidze keeps bees
Hatidze keeps bees
On a secluded mountain.
Sells them in Skopje.
Setlist 1 – Science and Nature
The Last Of The Great Navigators
One Speed Gearbox
Autophilia (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Car)
Keep The Home Fires Burning
The Basement Song
Setlist 2 – The Hits
Cut Some Rug
Freeze-Dried Pop (Dumb It Up)
Never Going Nowhere
The Bluetones arrived in Nottingham in good spirits, as they reached the centre point of the UK leg of their latest tour. This time they were celebrating 20 years since the release of their third album, ‘Science & Nature’, along with a nod to their Singles album that came a few years later.
They took to the stage for their first set of the night dressed in white scientists’ lab coats, a nod to the album title, with the Rescue Rooms roaring in rapturous applause and cheers. They launched into an explosive rendition of ‘Science & Nature’ album opener ‘Zorrro’, the crowd singing along to every word. As frontman Mark Morriss belted the final “Seven levels below”, the first big cheer of the night rang out. Clearly it’s a night for the fans, as is so often the case with The Bluetones gigs.
The fact that Science & Nature wasn’t their most successful album wasn’t lost on Morriss, who was quick to poke fun at its popularity. Explaining the format of the night, the audience learned that they’ll be treated to the entire album in its original order. So, then, he challenges the audience to name the second track on the album. I have to admit I struggled, along with most of the rest of the room. It all came flooding back as they launched into a perfect rendition of ‘The Last Of The Great Navigators’ and then ‘Tiger Lily’.
The self-deprecating humour didn’t stop there. Introducing ‘Mud Slide’, Morriss lets the audience into a secret about the format of the release. It was chosen as the third single from the album, but both the band and the record label Mercury were concerned it might fail to chart due to poor sales. So the solution was to release it as a five-track EP, “thus disqualifying it from the charts altogether”. He claims it was a wise choice because they only sold 27 copies of it. I’m sure that was underplaying it slightly, but I certainly got hold of a copy by nagging Electron in Burnley to get a copy in stock, despite the owner initially denying that the EP existed.
‘One Speed Gearbox’ was next, closing side one of the record, another underappreciated gem from this album that came to life in a rare live outing. It’s a mellow ending to the first side of the record and served as the quiet before the three-and-a-half-minute storm that was awaiting us just around the corner.
This comes in the form of ‘Blood Bubble’, which was stunning. It’s a rare beast for The Bluetones, being a track that features no vocals, but the band just turn the volume up and let rip. Which, as it turns out, is exactly what the crowd do. It’s a song I’ll always strangely associate with the series Spaced (it was used in one of the trailers for the second series, which the band also starred in), so I had to check if I had any Jaffa Cakes in my coat pocket.
‘Autophilia (or How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love My Car)’, was next. It’s a song I never enjoyed when it was originally released and it hasn’t grown on me since. As I look around the room, I can see I’m in the minority.
Introducing the album’s lead single, ‘Keep The Home Fires Burning’, Morriss declared “This one’s about domestic violence”, before adding after a perfectly-timed delay “Its against it!” If there is one song from this album that could challenge for being their best ever song, it is surely this one. The title of the track is borrowed from an old British patriotic wartime song composed by Ivor Novello, with matching brass backing that sounds like they’re lifted from an advert for baked bread. It’s truly a thing of beauty and sounds as good tonight as it ever has.
The final trio were played out as perfect replicas of their studio-recorded originals. It was a privilege to see a song like ‘Slack Jaw’ live after listening to it for two decades.
After a short break, the band came back on stage to perform, as Morriss put it, “smash after smash after smash”. This set included two tracks from their singles collection: ‘After Hours’ and ‘Freeze Dried Pop’. Both were clearly commercially minded upon release, although the latter never saw the light of day thanks to a fall out with the record label that was explained in detail by Morriss. He joked that the band promised to tell everyone that it was their own decision, despite the fact this was far from the truth.
Their final two tracks – ‘Slight Return’ and ‘If…’ were met with the loudest singing of the night, each audience member desperate to enjoy every last drop of fun from the set. The Bluetones have a dedicated fan base and it didn’t feel like there were many speculative attendees on a night. This was an audience packed with die-hard fans of the band, and they’ll surely be back in full voice again next time the band come to town.
L. S. Lowry once claimed he only ever used five colours: vermilion, ivory black, Prussian blue, yellow ochre and flake white. Mrs Lowry and Son puts Timothy Spall and Vanessa Redgrave together in a film as flatly coloured as any of Lowry’s paintings, with a plot to match. This isn’t to bismirch the overall effect – a film with a different tone would feel like a mis-step.
These are astonishing performances from the two leads.
Spall plays the titular son, famed Lancashire artist Laurence Stephen Lowry. He brings Lowry to life, as he struggles against his own mother’s opinion of his work and allows that to permeate his confidence. It’s a heartbreaking thing to watch play out.
Of course, without Redgrave giving an equally wonderful performance as Elizabeth Lowry, the whole thing would fall flat. It’s well written and delivered perfectly. Redgrave has seldom felt so dislikeable. She has a dedicated son that she completely takes for granted. All she offers is a relentless undermining that only serves to stifle his genius.
The naming of the film tells you all you need to know about how important Redgrave is to the plot. It is arguably more her story than it is his, with her character as overbearing to the story as she was in real life to Lowry’s paintings.
It feels dreary, but this is a portrait of an artist living in Pendlebury in the 1930s. It was a dreary time to live, as families were built around the financial gains of working in the local coal mines.
The film soars when Adrian Noble works some of the more familiar of Lowry’s works into the visuals of the film. As a child who grew up in nearby Burnley, Lowry was revisited many times during art lessons at school. I’m not an expert, but it is a joy to see the masterpieces brought to life.
The joys of this film shouldn’t be limited to those from northern England, nor just to fans of his art. It’s very well executed and is well worth your viewing time.
In an ongoing quest to indoctrinate my child with good cinema and expose her subconscious brain to variety of languages, we sat down and watched a Ghibli feature film for the first time. Well, okay, she didn’t watch it. She was only six-and-half weeks old at the time. I’m hoping the audio filtered through her ears and into her dreams as it played out with her asleep in my arms. At least her bath time music was definitely familiar,
As I watched it, I thought to myself how surprising it is that Porco Rosso isn’t better known and better appreciated. It’s one of only eleven feature-length animated films that Hiyao Miyazaki has directed, and sits directly in the middle of the timeline of releases. It is also, surely, one of his greatest works of art.
The plot revolves around a World War I Italian ex-fighter pilot, who now makes his money as a bounty hunter chasing air pirates. This allows Miyazaki to show off two of his greatest loves. The first is the beautifully-realistic European setting. His version of early 1900s Italy is so authentic you can almost taste the pomodoro. It’s set firmly in the real-world events of the aftermath of the war, with the references to the Great Depression putting it in the 1930s.
Secondly, the over-arching aeronautical theme is again on display. Hayao Miyazaki’s father Katsuji Miyazaki was the director of Miyazaki Airplane, a company responsible for manufacturing aircraft parts during World War II. As you explore his work, time and time again the skies are visited and form a central part of the stories. Never is this more the case than in Porco Rosso.
Indeed, as an entry-level Ghibli film, it’s one of the best places to start. It has a focused, robust plot with a clear start, middle and end. It has elements of fantasy included. It has a wonderful Joe Hisaishi score. Everything you’d expect of a Studio Ghibli feature.
It’s interesting that it still feels very much like a film aimed at children. But what are the themes here? The war? Depression? Lost love? Fascism? The early years of aviation? Somehow these are tied together with such grace and love and packaged in a way that feels perfectly fitting for any child.
Basically, if you’re at all interested in Japanese animation, you need to work out a way to watch this film.
As for my daughter… She didn’t wake up but I’ll be making sure she revisits this one when she’s old enough to understand it a bit more. She’ll certainly recognise the score.
Note: If you want to read more about the fantasy portrayal of Europe by Miyazaki in Porco Rosso, Chris Wood’s article ‘The European Fantasy Space and Identity Construction in Porco Rosso‘ is a brilliant read.
Note: I wrote this article in December but never got around to publishing it. My daughter is now nine months old and still listens to the same music in the bath. She’s yet to watch any television, but she does love her plush Totoro.
Following the completion of filming for Phantom Thread, Daniel Day-Lewis announced that he would be retiring from acting and that his role as 1950s London high-society dressmaker Reynolds Woodcock would be his final role. This can be considered both a figurative and literal bowing out in style. Oozing elegance and beauty in every aspect, it is an absolute triumph of a film.
The story centres around Woodcock, head of the House of Woodcock, a well-regarded craftsman who is seeing his popularity diminish by the beckoning of new fashion from around the world. He baulks at the word “chic”. He is a meticulous and silent worker, unforgiving of those who have the audacity to interrupt his genius in flow. His obsessive nature flows over to his personality, and those close to him are dictated to by his need for control. His closest ally is his sister Cyril (the brilliant Lesley Manville), who manages his business affairs and the staff and running of the house. Their world is flipped upside-down when a chance encounter leads Reynolds to fall into infatuation with a young waitress named Alma (Vicky Krieps), who quickly moves into the house and thus begins her strange relationship with Reynolds.
In 2018, a cinematic year defined by an uprising of oppressed and attacked women finally being given a platform to voice their views on oppressive and controlling men in the film industry, it seems almost perverse that I enjoyed Day-Lewis’s performance so much. I felt at times like he was on the cusp of bursting into tears of laughter, such was the audacity of his character’s actions. In one of the best lines of the film, as shown below, he delivers the cutting “The tea is going out, but the interruption is staying right here with me.” Brilliant.
Jonny Greenwood, one of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most frequent and reliable collaborators, provides the score. It is mesmerising, fitting beautifully with the visuals. In a recent interview with Adam Buxton, Greenwood stated that he wrote it in order for it to be performed along with the film. “I wanted to do it with six or seven players and make it all playable and send out the scores to cinemas and say ‘get some local players to play it live’ and it be a really regular thing. I love the idea of the film arriving and then the book of music arriving and these are the two things you put together and make it quite easy, but Paul kept on asking for bigger and bigger string section sounds to build the romance.” Indeed, this decision was probably the correct one, with the enduring stay-ability of the film benefiting over what could have been simply a nice touch at release. I challenge anyone to find a more perfectly romantic piece of film music this year than ‘House of Woodcock’. 
A film that is centred around a celebrated dressmaker almost inevitably has a wonderful display of costumes on show. Mark Bridges is another frequent Anderson collaborator, having worked with him on The Master, Inherent Vice and There Will Be Blood. The costumes here are absolutely stunning, perfectly capturing the essence of 1950s London high society. It is a costumier’s dream of a film, with the intricate efforts of making such beautiful dresses captured in great detail.
The film culminates in a most unlikely ending that absolutely works with the film, underlining the nature of Alma and Reynolds’s relationship to one-another and their desire to stay together. Their dinner table stand-off with a mushroom omelette may not have the intensity of the “I drink your milkshake!” scene in There Will Be Blood, but it swaps intense for tense as the scene plays out. It’s just one of those scenes in cinema that hangs perfectly together. Script, acting, cinematography, lighting, score – everything is just right. A masterclass in filmmaking.
Whilst Day-Lewis may be unlikely to receive an Academy Award for this film, it certainly ranks up there with his most celebrated performances. He is one of this generation’s greatest actors and it is a real loss to the industry that he is walking away. However, it’s a noble decision to leave a profession whilst you’re at the top of your game. He could probably deliver a further three or four top performances, but his decision is clearly based on a balance between his enjoyment of his life as an artist and his enjoyment of his life outside of the industry. If Phantom Thread does prove to ultimately be his final role, then he is definitely leaving us on a high.
 Note: Jonny performed an exclusive version of this song on the Adam Buxton podcast (EP.63B, 9th February 2018) alongside a 30-minute interview backstage at the Royal Festival Hall prior to a live performance of the score on 30th January 2018. It’s well worth a listen and can be found here.
Let me get this straight, right from the start. The Polka King is not a good film. It popped up on my Netflix feed as a recommended watch and I thought I’d give it a go. It didn’t look taxing and I’d had a long day. I had low expectations but still managed to be disappointed.
I now find myself in the embarrassing situation where I’ve never seen The Ten Commandments, Gone With The Wind, The Maltese Falcon, Boyhood, Crash, The Last of the Mohicans, The English Patient, Lawrence of Arabia, On The Waterfront, Unforgiven and Dr Zhivago but I have seen The Polka King.
For that, I should be entirely ashamed.
Jack Black plays Jan Lewan, a real-life polka music band leader from Austria trying to make a living in the USA. He was imprisoned in 2004 for running a Ponzi scheme (or pyramid scheme). That’s pretty much the story. There are some highs and lows.
Importantly, there are very few laughs. In fact, I didn’t laugh once. It is set up like a comedy. Everyone involved is a comedic actor (the supporting cast includes Jenny Slate, Jason Schwartzman and Jacki Weaver). The pacing of the script felt like it wanted to be a comedy.
Yet, as Black phoned in his performance and went through the motions of delivering on a part he was only vaguely interested in, I couldn’t help but cast my mind back to some of the great comedy releases from Red Hour Productions that include Tropic Thunder, Zoolander, Tenacious D in the Pick Of Destiny and DodgeBall, and wonder whether Ben Stiller simply wasn’t available to oversee this production.
There are some great Netflix Originals out there to be watched and enjoyed. This just isn’t one of them.
A personal history of football gaming
In 2003, I was in the middle of a hiatus from video games. Having grown up with the thrill of the NES, graduated to the vastly improved SNES and then enjoyed the comparatively mind-blowing PlayStation, by the time the PS2 arrived I’d lost interest. I got my first serious girlfriend in 2001 and with school exams also requiring my attention, I simply didn’t have time to commit to video games.
One of my go-to games throughout my initial gaming tenure was the ever-popular FIFA series. I had the first ever instalment. Titled simply FIFA International Soccer and featuring David Platt on the cover, the isometric visuals seemed like a massive improvement on Sensible Soccer, which I’d invested a dizzying amount of hours into. I didn’t know the word “isometric”, but what I saw was a 3D game of football on my screen for the first time.
The game grew with the consoles and no football pretender got anywhere near the brilliance of the one or two releases every year.
Such was my addiction that I even had a cheat printed for FIFA 2000 in gaming magazine CVG. I never did receive my £5 for that.
So, when I visited my brother at university in early 2004 and he and his housemates were playing a football game called Pro Evo, I was initially dismissive. It didn’t have any of the real team names or play names. It looked different. The controls were back-to-front. It was highly unlikely that in the two years since I’d given up video games that FIFA had been knocked off its crown.
But then I played it.
Instantly I realised why so much praise was being heaped on it. It felt so much more like a real game of football. It was also a lot more fun. It was more balanced. There didn’t seem to be as many cheap ways to score.
I was immediately jealous that I didn’t have access to the game, though I didn’t rectify the issue for another three years when I acquired an Xbox 360 and a copy of Pro Evolution Soccer 6.
I’ve since dallied with both sides of the fence, keeping up with the various merits and failings of both series. Sometimes FIFA has edged ahead, but despite the constants that it will always have – primarily the licences and more players for online modes – the PES series has invariably been much more playable.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2018
So now we’re in 2017 and I’ve picked up a copy of the latest game in the PES series: Pro Evolution Soccer 2018. It’s the first time I’ve picked up a copy of a sports simulator on release weekend for as long as I can remember, so is has been interesting joining in the online buzz.
The FIFA and PES series have converged on a version of events that has landed with an extremely similar setup. There’s an exhibition mode, a training mode, a league mode and a cup mode. There’s also a mode, here called Become A Legend, which involves taking over the career of a single player. There’s myClub mode, which allows you to spend points earned in every game mode on random players to create a team you can take online.
Finally, there’s the ever-popular Master League, a challenge for even the best PES player and a mainstay of the game for well over a decade. In this mode you take over a team of generic and very average players in a lower league and try to progress up the leagues and impress the owner of your club to the point that he will invest in better players for you to challenge for the top trophies.
Every mode has an equivalent in FIFA and neither are particularly better or worse than each other, so comparing the two on game mode alone won’t help anyone.
Where PES wipes the floor is with the gameplay. It has done for years and, having played the demo version of the latest FIFA, continues to do so this year.
Players are responsive and the simple controls allow basic skills to be executed immediately. Trapping the ball and close control when receiving the ball are amongst the simplest skills to master. Guesswork punts up the pitch rarely come off, reflecting real life. Calculated build up and through balls to strikers you know will outpace the defenders will often pay dividends. Try the same attack three times in a row and the defenders will learn from your efforts.
Winning in online modes is obviously never easy, but doing so feels like a huge victory and will be a crowning achievement of your abilities in the game.
There have been a handful of drawbacks I’ve noticed. Online mode has been blighted with either lack of players or poor connectivity, the latter being the first example of poor connection in any game I’ve noticed in well over a year. It’s frustrating to lose a match because of connectivity when it irreparably affects your ongoing ranking.
Player switching can be frustrating. It appears that it will never switch to a player behind the opposition, even if they’re a couple of steps away. That has been the biggest cause of conceded goals for me as I’m forced to bring a well-placed defender out of position to combat an advancing attacker, often then to have the ball played in behind me. That and the fact that the computer almost never concedes a foul will be rectified in an upcoming patch from Konami.
The final downside I’ve found is the inclusion of a handful of Legends in the game. This is great, but every copy of the game comes with Usain Bolt as a player in the myClub mode. When FIFA fans get Ronaldo but PES fans get someone who has never played professional football in his life, it does feel a little on the embarrassing side.
But that’s no problem for the wider game. When the gameplay and intelligent AI is this good, i can forgive the lack of real players. There’s always the extensive editing mode to rectify that anyway.
With an upcoming release of further game modes, including a career-spanning David Beckham career mode, this is a game that still has months of playability left in it and one I won’t be putting down for a long time.