Sunday, 25 January 2015

Rush - The Meme


Following on from my last rant about music, I thought I would be a little more positive in this post. I don’t expect this to be a post that people will enjoy too much because it is a little self-indulgent. In these deep dark January days I need a little self-indulgence.

Regular readers will know that I often mention my favourite band, the progressive rock power trio from Canada called Rush. Well, I have discovered a meme that allows me to explain why they hold this lofty position in my musical world and, hopefully, to introduce the band to anybody who has not heard of them.

This year is their 40th anniversary and they have somehow survived with a cult following for all this time despite receiving very little, if any airplay. Mrs PM, for one, was stunned two years ago that this band sold out the Manchester Arena, the largest music venue in the city. She would never have heard of them if it hadn’t been for me.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the meme and hopefully it will give a little insight into why I love the band and a little history of how they rose to the throne in my musical world.

1. How long have you been a fan?

I have been a fan since 1982, when a friend at university lent me a tape of their latest album at that time called Signals.

I had heard of the band before, when I was at school, because a lad in my school urged people to listen to, what he then described as, the greatest band on the planet. Being a hormone-fuelled arse at the time, I chose to ignore him.

At university I mellowed and grew up a little. I remember putting the tape on and listening to the first song, Subdivisions, a song about dreamers living in suburbia and being regarded as pariahs for not living the mundane “cool” life that suburbia demands:

Subdivisions
In the high school halls
In the shopping malls
Conform or be cast out
Subdivisions 
In the basement bars
In the backs of cars
Be cool or be cast out

I was totally blown away. This was a band that wrote intelligent songs about interesting things. On the strength of that one album I paid a fortune, as a poor student, to travel about 80 miles from Liverpool to Birmingham to see them live. That concert, way back in the early 1980’s, was when I handed my soul to Rush.

I’ve been a fan ever since.

2. Do you remember the first song of theirs you heard?

Strangely the first song I heard was a radio friendly song that somehow crept into the back end of the UK charts in 1978 called Closer To The Heart. It didn’t really appeal to me as I was just drifting into heavy metal at the time and, compared to bands like Black Sabbath, it was just a short vaguely pleasant rock song.

3. What’s your favourite album(s)?

I have all of their studio albums apart from the first three – that’s 17 albums if you count the extended play album called Feedback. I love them all but the following stand out:

Signals (1982)  - the first album I really loved by the band – it was their 9th album!



Power Windows (1985) – this album was my best friend on long distance commutes every other weekend to London during my long distance relationship with my ex-wife.


Counterparts (1993) – I just love this album; it has some great songs.



Clockwork Angels (2012) – Their most recent studio album is a return to their progressive rock roots and pays tribute to their earlier work while maintaining a modern forward looking feel.


4. What’s your favourite song(s)?

This is a really difficult question as there are simply so many to choose from. Here are three off the top of my head (ask me tomorrow and I will pick three more).

Red Barchetta (from Moving Pictures (1981):



Stick It Out (from Counterparts (1993):



Headlong Flight (from Clockwork Angels 2012):



5. Have you ever seen them live? (How often?)

I have seen Rush five times live. The first time I have mentioned above and was back in 1982 at the NEC in Birmingham. I travelled down to Birmingham again in 1989 to see them on the Presto tour. All of the other times were at the Manchester Arena, in 2002 for the Vapor Trails tour, for their 30th anniversary tour in 2005 and finally in 2013 for the Clockwork Angels tour.

6. Have you ever met them?

No I haven’t, sadly, but I would love to meet them and discuss their music and the inspiration behind it.

7. Do you have a favourite era of their career?

Die hard Rush fans may disagree with this but from 1982 to 1993, keyboards and synthesisers played a major part in their music. While I love all of their music, I have a particular soft spot for the albums of that period.

8. Do you have their autograph or a photo with them?

As I said, I have never met the band so the answer is no.

9. Is there a song or album of theirs you dislike?

There are a couple of songs that I am not too keen on; I am not such a die-hard fan that I love every single piece of music they have composed. A couple of albums disappointed me, although not all of the songs on them are bad. My least favourite albums are Roll The Bones (1991) and Test For Echo (1996).

Having said that, I still listen to them occasionally.

10. What do they or their music mean to you?

Rush have provided a soundtrack to my life since 1982 – and before if you count my old school friend who I should really have listened too in the 1970’s. For every major event in my life since that time, I can mention one or more Rush songs that remind me of those times, both good and bad. If they ever make a movie out of my life, Rush will feature heavily in the soundtrack.

11. Would you pay £200 for a front row ticket?

No. Having said that, I have a limit on ticket prices, which I rarely exceed, but did so for the last concert I saw them play in 2013. I paid £84, mainly because I thought that I may not get the chance to see them again, but also because Clockwork Angels was such a great album.

I have to say that a Rush concert is worth every penny normally because the band has no support and, since they have so much material, they play for around three hours.

12. Do you get annoyed when other people don’t like them?

Not really. I may rant about music but I don’t try to enforce it on people. I am just keen for people to explore outside the box that we find ourselves in thanks to the greedy music industry. One thing does surprise me about Rush; a lot of people are closet fans. A friend of mine heard that I was going to see Rush in 2005 and actually phoned me up asking me to get him a ticket. I didn’t even know he was a fan. That’s the good thing about Rush – there are lots of secret Rush fans out there, despite the fact that they are unfashionable.


13. Which artist do you want them to collaborate with?

I don’t want them to collaborate with anybody because there music would be diluted. Having said that, many other artists have performed their songs, like Dream Theater. When the band were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I discovered that the Foo Fighters are huge fans of the band and actually performed live with them, impersonating the band at first before Rush joined them on stage. If you are a Rush/Foo Fighters fan you will find this video entertaining, with Dave Grohl impersonating a younger Alex Lifeson:



Also from that same induction, Alex Lifeson’s speech is quite memorable and quite embarrassing for his fellow band members who had no idea about what he was going to say (he is the last member of the band to speak). You can see their amused discomfort (start at 4:36 if you don’t want to see the first speeches):



The audience seemed to like it anyway.

14. Are they underappreciated/unknown?

They are not unknown but I think they are underappreciated for the same reasons that I ranted about in my last post, that is, they are rarely played on the radio.

15. Is there a song of them that everybody likes but you dislike?

They have a song that is a token rock song. You may have heard it:



Actually, I still like it.

And Finally ...

I liked this self-indulgent meme and I think I may repeat it for some other bands I like that are unknown or underrated.

Sorry about the self-indulgence.

I needed it.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

A Rant About Music


It’s still January, it’s still bloody freezing outside, it is still dark when I go to work and dark when I come home. January and February are the worst months of the year and I spend almost every day feeling pissed off and grumpy.

Yes - it's another rant, I'm afraid.

Little things make my situation worse, tiny little things that ordinarily wouldn’t bother me, things that I would just push to one side and ignore. In January these little things become a major force and infuriate me.

One such thing infuriated me this morning.

I was on my way to work and I decided to change the CD in my car. I had been listening to the new album by AC/DC and I fancied a change. Sadly, when I ejected the CD, I dropped it on the floor and I had stupidly not prepared a new CD to replace it. The car stereo defaulted to the radio, which normally wouldn’t be too bad because my radio station of choice is a local rock station.

And then I found myself listening to a diabolical R’n’B hip hop crossover dirge that almost certainly featured the now obligatory pointless egotistical rap by an artist with a stupid name like $ycho, Snoop Hen or Eminemineminemiem.

I howled in frustration; I couldn’t stop the car and I needed to concentrate because it was dark and cold and the road was full of arses, trying to cut me up. My temper rose to almost boiling point.

Mrs PM had used the car and changed the radio station so I was listening to an inane, moronic DJ with the intelligence of a slug, playing the songs that corporate arses had ordered him to play. In my rage, I couldn’t figure out how to get back to my beloved rock station so I searched the airwaves and found my ears and brain polluted by utter drivel from loads of genres – songs that are played over and over and over and over again. There were new songs, old boring repetitive songs, one hit wonders, and all manner of novelty crap.

They were shit then and they are shit now.

I find it incredible that we as free-thinking humans allow ourselves to be spoon fed by the so-called gods of music who tell us what to listen to, what to like and the styles of music we have to endure. Like mindless zombies we listen to it.

“But the music is great,” I hear you cry. “You are just an ageing dinosaur. These songs are good.”

Some of the songs that receive too much airplay have been good, dear reader – the odd one. However, we are force fed utter dross most of the time because the hidden powers behind what you hear on the radio have a playlist which is absolutely full of the latest “in-bands” who have somehow managed to gain a foothold because they are pretty boys or lovely young ladies.

I am talking about manufactured boy bands, yet another bloody rap artist, a warbling woman who happens to have a great body and can dance along to her terrible song but has little talent.

Even when I stumble across a radio station playing “oldies”, it’s still the same old songs that we have heard all the time and were bored to death by, way back in the 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

And this subjugation has permeated into everything from adverts to weddings and parties.

Every single party or wedding I ever go to that has a dance floor, either plays modern radio-friendly garbage or old songs that are totally crap but I know all the words to because I have heard them about three million times in my life.

“OH MY GOD! NOT “I’VE HAD THE TIME OF MY LIFE” AGAIN!! SOMEBODY KILL ME NOW!”

Sometimes when I have had to endure dancing to a stupid song like “Tonight’s Gonna Be A Good Night!” for the 2000th time, I sit there with frustration building up inside, fuelled by alcohol, and say to myself:

“Right – let’s get some bloody rock music!” I say and march over to the DJ defiantly. The DJ has usually said something earlier, like “If you have any requests, please come up.”

The conversation goes one of three ways:

PM: Please – I beg you – can you play something decent? Have you got any rock music?

DJ: HA HA HA HA HA HA HA! Sit down, you devil-worshipping dinosaur.

PM: No, seriously – you must have something.

DJ: No – nobody likes it.

PM: I like it.

PM: Don’t care – now piss off!

or

PM: Please – I beg you – can you play something decent? Have you got any rock music?

DJ: No rock music but I’ve got some oldies. How about “Saturday Night” by Whigfield?

PM: AAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!

or

PM: Please – I beg you – can you play something decent? Have you got any rock music?

DJ: Sure – I’ll see what I can do.

The last conversation sounds promising, doesn’t it? Well it’s not! What the DJ means is:

“I’ll play one of three token rock songs: “Don’t Stop Believin’” by Journey, “Livin’ On a Prayer” by Bon Jovi or “Sex On Fire” by The Kings of Leon.

AAAAAAARRRRRRRRRGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH!!

I hate “Livin’ On A Prayer” because it has become the only acceptable rock song in a DJ’s collection and I have heard it about 100 million times. I quite liked it the first time but now it sends me into spasms of indignation.

I blame people like Simon Cowell and Louie Walsh – and probably many other old rich so-called music moguls – who manufacture pretty boys and girls and flood the radio stations with boring inane crap.

I want to start a revolution – as others are. Let’s boycott the radio and start hunting around the internet for fantastic music that will not get airplay.

I am not just focussing on rock music here – there is music out there that is new fresh and brilliant but never gets played because the image doesn’t fit with the gods of music who decide what we should all be listening to.

I’d like to highlight a song that describes the plight of modern music controlled by the music moguls which predicts the demise of future music.



Several lines stand out:

The music of rebellion makes you wanna rage 
But it's made my millionaires who are nearly twice your age

and

One of the wonders of the world is going down 
It’s going down I know
It’s one of the blunders of the world
That no one care enough

Personally, I think there is hope.

Dear reader, you and I have the power to seek out new tunes, new music Рto boldly go where no music mogul has gone before (sorry for the Star Trek clich̩ but I believe it fits).

I have started already in the music galaxy that is called Progressive Rock and have already discovered two bands – one of them from Poland, a country that Simon Cowell and his ilk will totally ignore.

Whatever music style you love, the internet is your friend.

If I were a DJ I would rebel and spend my entire day scouring the internet for something new, refreshing and amazing – and I would play the songs but not over and over again so that people simply got sick of it. I would prefer people to go out and buy this music from independent record companies or buy the music directly from the band/artist in question.

I would make my radio show the greatest programme on the entire planet. I would welcome all and any music sent to me by like-minded people.

Are you sick of the same old bollox on the radio?

Are you fed up of the same old inane DJ’s who play oldies over and over again and sacrifice new exciting music in order to play “I Just Called To Say I Loved You” for the billionth time?

Are you absolutely pissed off with Simon Cowell and his bloody X Factor?

Or am I really a musical dinosaur?

Come on dear reader - let’s do this! Let’s rebel.

I’ll start the ball rolling – here is a great song by band you will never have heard of:



And it’s an utter crime that I intend to put right in my own small way.

Rant over - for now!!


Friday, 9 January 2015

A Celebrity Rant


Do you mind if I have a good rant?

Well, I don’t care – I’m going to have one anyway.

At the end of every year, I watch a TV programme called Most Shocking Celebrity Moments simply to learn a little about the so-called celebrities that made the news in the past year for the wrong reasons, mainly so that I know who the bloody hell people are talking about. To be honest, it’s a knee-jerk response to people saying things like:

“What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Kim Kardashian? Have you been living under a rock?”

Thanks to this programme, I now know who Kim Kardashian is but the cost of knowing that has made me dust off my soapbox. The programme was a countdown of the most outrageous behaviour of these people in 2014 and I for one was almost apoplectic; as you would expect, the higher the number in this chart of disgrace, the more outrageous the deed.

For two hours, I screamed at the cats, asking questions like:

“Who is this person?”

“What on Earth was she bloody well thinking?”

“Why do people humiliate themselves so much just to get noticed?”

The cats were equally incredulous.

Here are the lowlights for me.

Robin Thicke (by name and nature) who, not content with writing a song that was a misogynistic pile of crap and allowing Miley Cyrus to thrust her arse into his groin on an awards show, managed to get caught being a very naughty boy, so much so that his wife left him – understandably so. What does he do? He releases an album dedicated to her, in a futile attempt to win her back. It bombed – and I’m glad.

I discovered who Kim Kardashian was because she had a photo shoot in a magazine showing her huge naked arse under the heading “Break the Internet”. As far as I can tell all she is famous for is having a rich father and starring in a terrible reality TV show. Apparently she has an army of fans and it makes me wonder – what in the name of all that is weird do these people see in her? The famous “arse” photo has been seen all over the internet (and I am not going to reproduce it here because the last thing I want to do is give her any more publicity, however, microscopic it would be) and it goes to show that this woman (and sadly many other so-called celebrities) will plumb new chasms in order to add a little more infamy and win more idiotic fans. And the worst thing I discovered about her, is that she is married to Kanye West – arguably the most arrogant and egocentric musical celebrity ever to stagger onto my television screen. He has claimed to be God, the new Shakespeare and the best rock star in the world.

Yeah, Kanye, yeah!

Moving on swiftly (because I could spend an entire post ranting about Kanye West), have you heard of media troll Katie Hopkins? She first hit the headlines on the UK version of The Apprentice and even then her arrogance stood out a thousand miles. It was clear back then, when the post-mortem on her exit from The Apprentice was shown:



That was back in 2006, and since then, particularly recently, she has said outrageous things on Twitter and on TV. Here’s an example where she annoyed the host of a TV show because she judges who her kids can play with based on their names. This is unbelievable:



She’s insulted fat people, other celebrities and even wrote a nasty tweet about a Scottish nurse, who after catching Ebola while treating people in Africa, was transported for treatment from Glasgow to London. She wrote: "Sending us Ebola bombs in the form of sweaty Glaswegians just isn't cricket."

I, personally, would sign a petition to get this woman removed from all forms of media. Is she so desperate for fame that she is happy to offend as many people as possible? Perhaps not because she has just joined “Celebrity Big Brother” and will spend a few weeks in a house with a whole bunch of other celebrities desperate to revive their ailing careers.

Finally, of course, we have Justin Bieber, a kid with the arrogance of Kanye West who considers himself to be above the law and is so consumed by himself that he is oblivious to all of his crimes and misdemeanours.

I simply cannot connect with these people in any way whatsoever. It is almost as if they are a totally different species. They are so consumed by themselves that they simply do not seem to be able to understand the effect of their actions or behaviour. I don’t understand either.

For example, why on earth would a person take a naked photo of themselves and store them on a medium (in this case “the cloud”) that can be hacked and published on the internet? I would never take a photograph of myself naked – not even if I were drunk.

Even when something bad happens in a celebrity’s relationship, it seems to be like a media explosion or, in the case of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin, a breakup can be veiled in the most idiotic phraseology to disguise what it really means in an attempt to sugar coat the event and portray the breakup as something sweet.

I mean, what the flump does the phrase “conscious uncoupling” even mean? If I were to go to Mrs PM and say “I want to consciously uncouple”, I think she would rip out my spine and parade it on a huge spike in the centre of Manchester with the banner:

The Plastic Mancunian and his spine have been consciously uncoupled

And, do you know what? I wouldn’t blame her.

My final part of the rant (and it is the final part – I promise) is this obsession with nips, tucks and plastic surgery.

Why do celebrities feel the need to alter their appearance? Why can’t they just grow old gracefully? Actresses in particular should be aware that they can’t play a young sex siren at the age of 50. Instead, we find that they convert themselves to fish by pumping their lips up like balloons. Surely they are aware that as they get older they can play more mature parts? Think about it – movies need older actors and actresses to play older people.

And if you are a pop or rock star, why do you have to be weird (and yes I do mean you Lady Gaga) or kill yourself to still look like a 20 year old at the age of 50? I like the music, not the looks of the bands who play it.

Phew! I’m all ranted out now!

What do you mean “Thank God!”?

I will, of course, punish myself in December 2015 by finding out which celebrities have made complete and utter arses of themselves in the coming twelve months.

It confirms to me at least that I am a happy normal every day person.

Oh – and dear reader – if I somehow become really famous in 2015 and make an arse of myself in public you have my permission to come to Manchester and give me a good slap – although I will be so ashamed I will probably use my new found wealth to exile myself on a remote island in the middle of the Pacific ocean.

Saturday, 3 January 2015

A Journey Through Time And Space



I was watching a repeat of Dr Who the other day and I suddenly had a thought:

What I would do if the famous Timelord materialized in my house, popped out of his TARDIS and said:

“Dave, I will take on ten trips anywhere you want and anywhen. Where do you want to go?”

For those readers who do not know, travellers in the TARDIS have the ability to communicate with those whom they visit because it has a translation circuit that allows them to understand aliens etc.

I would need that.

Here’s where I would ask the Doctor to take me:

The Mesazoic Era

The first place I would visit is Earth in the period between 230 and 65 million years ago, known as the Mesazoic Era. As a kid I was fascinated by dinosaurs and I would want to see those legendary and enormous “terrible lizards” that roamed the planet. Top of the list would be Tyrannosaurus Rex, followed by the other popular creatures – any massive creature in fact. I would also push my luck and ask the Doctor to show me what really wiped them all out.

Jerusalem, between 30 AD and 33 AD

I was baptised a Roman Catholic and was indoctrinated, effectively from birth, via a Catholic school and church until, at around the age of fifteen when I started to rebel. As I’ve grown older, I’ve always been intrigued about the man called Jesus whose teachings I had to learn during that time. My first port of call therefore would be to Jerusalem and the surrounding area in an attempt to find the man himself and work out for myself whether he was just a prophet or whether he was indeed the Son of God.

Rome, 117 AD

I visited Rome in 2012 to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. I have always been fascinated by ancient Roman life and the entire mythos surrounding the Roman Empire, which reached its greatest extent in 117 AD. I learned Latin at school and I often wondered why it was compulsory. I guess it helped me to understand other languages but since it’s been dead for countless years (apart from in the minds of scientists) and it might be nice to hear the language spoken – assuming the Romans actually conversed in Latin that is. I would love just to spend a day wondering around the city, embracing the culture – and trying to avoid being arrested and throw to the lions.

I’d also be a little cheeky and ask him to pop back to 79AD Pompeii, just before Mount Vesuvius erupted. Having walked through the streets of the city a few years ago, I would love to see how the two compare.

England, 1543

Of all the kings and queens of England, the one that fascinates me most is the tyrannical Henry VIII, arguably the most infamous king in our history. He died in 1548 as an enormous bloated caricature of the man depicted in paintings. In 1543, he had just married his last wife, Catherine Parr, and she persuaded him to resolve his issues with his daughters, Mary and Elizabeth, both of whom are almost as infamous as their own father.

I figure that at this stage in his life, he would be most willing to chat to me about his life and what drove him to do the things he did. And it would also give me the opportunity to chat to the two future queens too.

A bunker in Berlin, April 1945

I’m a bit perturbed because although I hate the vitriolic preaching of extremists of any kind, I have a deep and disturbing fascination with them. I do not like them at all – in fact I would go as far as to say I hate them – but I am deeply fascinated by the way their mind works and, in the case of somebody like Adolf Hitler, how he managed to use his charisma to build an army of extremist fanatics, invade most of Europe and start a world war.

I would like to witness his last weeks before the end to see if I could get an insight into his despicable human being. More importantly, I’d like to find out whether he really did die or whether he was, as some conspiracy theorists suggest, managed to escape to Brazil or even to the moon (yes there really are some people who believe that).

A grassy knoll and a warehouse in Dallas, November 1963

I don’t really care about American politics but the apparent mystery surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy has intrigued me, particularly since reading a fictional account of the assassination written by Stephen King, called 11/22/63 (why do American’s show the date the wrong way round?). I would therefore like to just double check who was responsible for the death of JFK. Was it Lee Harvey Oswald or was it an unknown assailant on a grassy knoll? Or maybe even a spaceman or time traveller?

Roswell, July 1948

Travelling in the TARDIS with the Doctor would be proof enough that aliens do exist. However, the one episode in history that has spawned numerous conspiracy theories about extraterrestrials was the crash of an object in Roswell, New Mexico. I would just like to see for myself what actually crashed there and what the RAAF actually did with the wreckage and its occupants. Mind you, in truth I would be travelling around in a spaceship with an alien, so that’s a bit of a paradox in itself.

Space (generally ...)

I would ask the Doctor to take me on a voyage around the universe, starting with a slow orbit of Earth itself, a quick tour of all the astronomical bodies in our own solar system before embarking on a journey to any other planets, galactic highlights he saw fit to show me. I would draw the line at stopping on any planet, spaceship or other location likely to plunge me into a life or death situation that only the Doctor could resolve.

Future Technology

One of the main things that irks me about my life is the fact that it is far too short. We only have a limited amount of time alive and, being a massive technophile, I want to see how humanity progresses and the sophisticated gadgetry and technology that we as a species invent and the future. In my own lifetime, the pace of technology has raced ahead incredibly quickly and I imagine that over the next 500 years or so, it will explode – though having used that word, I hope that we don’t invent anything else that can destroy ourselves.

A Library in the Future, say in the year 5000

This would be my final visit and I would implore the Doctor to leave me here for about two years so that I could read up on history and see what happened between now and then. I would be particularly interested to see how future generations thought of those of us (i.e. you and me) and how they interpreted historical events that happened around our time.

I’d also see if I could find any traces of myself and this blog (though thinking about it, that might be a bad idea).

I would then steal a suitable history book and use it in 2015 for my own nefarious and selfish purposes.

I’m sure that the Doctor would stop me from doing that though.

And finally …

To be perfectly honest, I would really like Dr Who to teach me how to use the TARDIS myself and allow me to fly around and appear wherever I wanted to. I think it would be a perilous journey if he were to be the person to decide where we travel to, simply because he seems to be a magnet for destruction, alien invasions and galactic events that threaten our very survival.

He’s a bit of a Jonah to be fair.

The one final thing I would try to do, which would of course be very dangerous, would be to pop back to my own timeline and visit my younger self with a winning lottery ticket. Actually, that would cause a paradox and cause time to collapse in on itself and destroy the entire universe, something the Doctor is keen to avoid. With that in mind I would simply pop forward to next weekend and note down the winning lottery numbers.

I don’t think that would break the universe, do you?

Anyway, enough of that and over to you dear reader.

Where would you go, given the opportunity to travel anywhere in space or time?

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

A Musical 2014


2014 was a great year for my music collection. Several old favourite bands released new albums and I also explored a relatively new genre more extensively, discovering two new bands on the journey.

A couple of years ago, I discovered a new band called Within Temptation, a Dutch symphonic metal band, fronted by the wonderful Sharon den Adel. This year I decided to explore symphonic metal just to see if there were any other similar bands.

I discovered two absolute gems.

The first is Nightwish, a Finnish band who has been around for years and have produced some fantastic music. Ultimately I ended up buying six of their albums – and they are all fantastic. The first few albums are fronted by a woman with the most incredible voice in rock music. You will almost certainly never have heard of her but she is a legend in the genre. Her name is Tarja Turunen and her operatic voice, in my view, defines exactly what symphonic metal is – a mixture of classical music and heavy metal.

Nightwish with Tarja

Here are two of my favourite examples featuring Tarja:






Tarja has since left Nightwish and her replacement, Anette Olzen, although she has a different style of voice, added a new element to the band. In particular, the last album they produced, called Imaginaerium, explores other styles of music. 

Nightwish with Anette
Here are a couple of songs that illustrate this:







The great news is that in 2015, Nightwish are back with a new album.

Also, this year, Within Temptation released their follow up to the brilliant The Unforgiving, my album of the year in 2011.


Within Temptation
The new album is called Hydra and, once more, is a masterpiece. It features a few guest artists including Tarja Turunen. Here is a beautiful song from the album:



I went to see Within Temptation at the Manchester Apollo earlier this year and discovered the second symphonic metal band I mentioned. Within Temptation were supported by another Dutch band called Delain, again fronted by a woman with a fantastic voice. As a result of their 45 minute set, I bought three of their albums and saw them on their own headline tour towards the end of the year.

Delain
Here is a great song by the band:




Other old favourites released new albums. First, I was delighted that Judas Priest are still producing new music. Their previous album, Nostradamus, seemed to get mixed reviews, although I have to say that I loved it. This year, they got back to basics with Redeemer of Souls, which will definitely keep their hard core fans happy. This is heavy metal at its best. Here’s my favourite song on the album:




Last month, the Foo Fighters returned with their new album Sonic Highways. I’ve always loved this band and I think Dave Grohl is one of the world’s great rock stars. The first single from the album is brilliant and sums up exactly why I love the band. Here is Something From Nothing, a song which builds up from a mellow beginning into a great rock song. It includes a couple of swear words, if you are easily offended:



Finally, one of my favourite bands released their eleventh album this year; the problem is that you won’t have heard of them, unless you have read this blog before. The band is called Ten and they are a melodic rock band from Manchester who have produced some truly magnificent songs in their eighteen year history. 


The new album is called Albion and is a real return to form, Here is a song from the album:



I would like to mention one final album I acquired this year. I have been writing this blog now since 2008 and one of the people who has read and commented on my blog in the past is an American lady known as Bingkee, originally from the Philippines, who is married to a guitar player. This year he released his first album and Bingkee was kind enough to send me a copy all the way across the pond from the US.

It is an instrumental guitar album in the style of Joe Satriani and it is really rather good.

Here is a live performance of one of the songs I found on You Tube.



I hope you enjoyed the songs.

Happy New Year to one and all and see you in 2015.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Goodbye 2014



Another year has almost passed and tradition dictates that I summarise the past twelve months this old meme.

There is a slight modification to this year’s questions.

First, I discovered I had missed some – thanks to Pandora at Princess Pandora, Queen of Denial  for showing me a few missing questions (she obviously stole it from a better source than I did).

Second, 2014 has been a great year for music, so I have decided to write a separate post about that.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s take the plunge:

1.What did you do in 2014 that you’d never done before?

I climbed a volcano by accident. You can read all about it here.

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions, and will you make more for next year?

Yes – kind of.

I failed to complete my Japan travelogue but at least I I am closer to finishing it than I was last year.

I have increased my Spanish vocabulary but am really still far from fluency – nowhere near in fact.

I have failed miserably for the umpteenth year to cycle to work.

Will I make any more for this year? Of course, I will finish my travelogue, start a novel, continue with Spanish and try to scare myself every single day of the year by injecting a little more adventure into my life.

Actually, one thing I might try is to do a few 30 day challenges, where I spend a whole month dedicating a little time every day doing something that improves my life – for example, learning something new, exercising or giving something up.

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

My cousin’s son had a baby boy. She's younger than me and is now a grandmother. That makes me feel really old.

4. Did anyone close to you die?

Thankfully no.

5. What countries did you visit?

I visited France, Monaco (which is strictly speaking a separate country), Germany and Greece on holiday, which was fantastic.

Monaco
It's nice in Nice
The Brandenburg Gate

The sun setting over a volcano in Santorini

I also visited Oman and Switzerland with work.

6. What would you like to have in 2015 that you lacked in 2014?

As I implied in my resolutions above, I think I’d like to add a few more sparks into my life. Whether or not I will manage to achieve that remains to be seen obviously. I’ve kind of been inspired by other people’s attempts to scare themselves every day and I don’t really want to be in the same position as Trent Reznor describes in his song Every Day Is Exactly The Same, where he sings about the monotony of life:

I believe I can see the future
Cause I repeat the same routine
I think I used to have a purpose
But then again
That might have been a dream
I think I used to have a voice
Now I never make a sound
I just do what I've been told
I really don't want them to come around

As I approach retirement (even though I still have fourteen or so years to go) I feel a need to expand my horizons a little bit more. I just hope this isn't the beginning of a midlife crisis.

7. What dates from 2014 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?

No single date stands out.

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

I guess it was actually getting down to learning Spanish. I know more words than I did this time last year and I can actually vaguely understand basic written Spanish. I just need to step up a gear I think.

9. What was your biggest failure?

The lack of book and cycling – the usual stuff.

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

I had a bout of man flu in January which resulting in a day off work. I rarely have sick days.

11. What was the best thing you bought?

This year was gadget heaven and the prize is shared between:

My HTC Desire HD smartphone simply died so I replaced it with a Samsung S4 mini.

I also bought a Google Chromecast. For £30 it is a bargain for watching stuff from the like of You Tube and BBC iPlayer on on any TV with an HDMI connection.

Talking of TV’s we decided to by a new smart TV, relegating the old TV to the back room where we can access Sky via an X Box 360 (a cast off from my eldest son) and, with the aid of Chromecast, watch video on demand from  the internet.

 12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?

 The same as every year, I think the countless thousands of people who deserve some kind of award but receive nothing. The New Year’s honours list will undoubtedly offer knighthoods and medals to celebrities who simply do their job. Services to politics? Services to acting? Services to business? Don’t make me laugh.

I award Plastic Mancunian knighthoods to all of those unsung heroes who constantly help people less well off than themselves and crave no thanks, no rewards and no recognition for their fantastic work.

I salute you – you know who you are.

13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?

The rise of Nigel Farage and the UK Independence Party (UKIP) with their bizarre and extremely worrying views. If UKIP have any say in the next government then we are in deep trouble here in Britain.

Also, FIFA as an organisation and, in particular, the President Sepp Blatter are beneath contempt. The sooner this organisation is purged and replaced with people who genuinely care about the beautiful game of football, the better!

Oh – and, of course, Piers Morgan!

14. Where did most of your money go?

I spent money on gadgets, my mortgage, travelling and kids this year.

15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

I am always really excited about going on holiday and this year was no different. I particularly looked forward to my trip to Berlin as I had always wanted to go there. My good friends the German people did not let me down in terms of friendliness and hospitality.

16. What song will always remind you of 2014?

I will discuss music in depth in a more detailed post in due course. But here is one of the songs that will remind me of this year – Paradise (What About Us?) by Within Temptation, featuring the fantastic voices of Sharon Den Adel and Tarja Turunen:




17. Compared to this time last year, are you: (a) happier or sadder? (b) thinner or fatter? (c) richer or poorer?

I think I’m happier than last year. Sadly, I am also slightly fatter (we are talking about 3 pounds based on my weight this morning – one too many mince pies already I fear). I would say that I am probably slightly richer but not by a lot.

18. What do you wish you’d done more of?

I wish I had exercised more. At my age, I probably need to make more of an effort. Don’t get me wrong; I walk almost two miles every work day and further on at least half of the weekends so I’m not doing bad. I just need to step up a gear (again!).

And, of course, I wish I had written more.

19. What do you wish you’d done less of?

I definitely wish I had watched less television. There have been so many great series on this year that I have probably spent too much time vegetating on my sofa when I should have escaped into the great unknown and done something far more interesting. I need to be more ruthless when selecting TV programmes to watch.

20. How will you spend New Year's Eve?

We are going to the Metropolitan pub in West Didsbury again.



21. Did you fall in love in 2014?

I’m already in love – so yes.

22. What was your favourite TV program?

As I implied earlier, there were some fantastic programmes this year. Here is a list of my favourites:

Game of Thrones, Dr Who, Arrow, The Flash, The Walking Dead, True Blood, The Following, The Strain, 24 (Live Another Day).

I must cut down!

23. Do you hate anyone now that you didn’t hate this time last year?

I don’t hate these people but I would like them to stay out of public life and retire to a deserted island somewhere with no contact with any other human being (apart from each other), keeping well away from media of any kind:

Nigel Farage, the rest of UKIP (particularly the ones with bigoted views), Piers Morgan, Sepp Blatter, George Osborne, Simon Cowell and all X Factor judges.

I’d better stop there before I start a major rant.

24. What was the best book you read?

I enjoyed the two remaining books in the Hyperion series by Dan Simmons, called Endymion and The Rise of Endymion.



25. What was your greatest musical discovery?

I will reveal all in a later post.

26. What did you want and get?

Apart from the new gadgets mentioned above, nothing sadly.

27. What did you want and not get?

A winning lottery ticket and the Fountain of Youth.

28. What was your favourite film of this year?

I didn’t see many films at the cinema this year. But of those I did see, my favourite was probably The Equalizer with Denzel Washington.

29. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?

I was 52 in October. I was taken for a nice meal by Mrs PM.

30. What one thing made your year immeasurably more satisfying?

To be honest, everything outside the drudgery of work is totally satisfying. If only I could find a way to eliminate that part of my life.

31. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2014?

 Non-existent.

32. What kept you sane?

 Everything but work, which did its best to drive me insane.

33. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?

There are simply too many attractive female celebrities to name in one post.

34. What political issue stirred you the most?

The rise of UKIP frightens me half to death. The scariest thing is that there are lots of people stupid enough to consider voting for them,

35. Who did you miss?

Nobody in particular.

36. Who was the best new person you met?

Again, nobody leaps to mind.

37. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2014.

 Never climb a volcano in beach shoes.

38. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.

What? Really? A silly question needs silly lyrics:

How about some Spinal Tap?

When we die, do we haunt the sky?
Do we lurk in the murk of the seas?
What then? Are we born again?
Just to sit asking questions like these?


Sunday, 21 December 2014

Dear America


Dear America,

How are you all doing? How is Uncle Sam? How is the lovely Oprah?

It’s been a while since I’ve been over to visit you all, so I thought I would write you a letter just to let you know that I am still alive and thinking about you all. Last time I was over there, you offered me your spare room in Alaska, rather than somewhere warmer. 

Still, I got to visit Seattle for a day on the way – it’s just a shame that Frasier Crane wasn’t around Bill Gates conveniently had to be elsewhere. I had a few things to say to him about Microsoft (again).

Why do you think he keeps ignoring my emails?

Actually, now the pleasantries are over, I have a confession to make.

I have an ulterior motive.

I think I might have annoyed you – by accident of course. I love you guys and, being British, I like to poke fun at people I love. It’s just the way we are across the pond. Anyway, I’m also keen to make things right and explain my actions.

Here are some of my "sins":

Correcting Your Language

I know somebody has probably told you that whenever I watch an American programme or film (that’s “movie” to you), I stand up, ranting, and say things like:

Stop saying "Do the MATH"! It’s MATHS! And while we’re on, it’s ALUMINIUM not "ALUMINUM". And what the hell is a DIAPER and a FAUCET?

I’m just joking. I know what these things are – I’m just trying to impress any fellow Brits who might be listening by convincing them I can speak a foreign language fluently.

Mocking Patriotism

Listen guys, I can explain what happened on that fateful day in Florida. I was one of three British people waiting to see the Hall of Presidents and I honestly did not mean to say what I said. 

Looking back I should have just stood up and looked around instead of staying seated and cracking a joke.

When the folk band played your National Anthem I did not expect everybody to stand up and put their hands on their hearts and start bellowing the words. When I said “Spot the Brits!” while remaining seated, I was not being disrespectful. Nor was I being facetious when I giggled and pointed at a man who was clearly overwhelmed by the song, with tear-filled eyes and a voice so choked he could barely utter the words “Oh, say can you see …”.
  
It’s just that, as Brits, we are proud of our country but don’t blubber and stand there with our hands on our chests when God Save The Queen comes on. In fact, quite the contrary – it’s a dreary song and I think the Queen is so wealthy she could probably save all of us.

Furthermore, my joke about the ubiquitous nature of the American flag was not meant to offend. I was not actually going to steal one. What would I do with it?

Finally, I know you Americans are under the impression that you live in the greatest country in the world. I really did not mean to upset the poor pastor when I questioned this statement on his pompous blog. I was just having a bad day and all of his talk about how God loves America more than any other country just wound me up. I apologise to the pastor and all of his sheep who may have read my comment claiming that Britain is a far better and safer place to live than America. 

Mocking Stupidity

I laughed at these videos and I apologise:






I also have to laugh when asked stupid questions like “Do you celebrate 4th July in England?”

And yes, I really have been asked that question.

Moaning About The Slow Invasion Of Britain By America

Every year, a new American tradition seems to find its way across the Atlantic Ocean and wangle its way into our culture. It started with Hallowe’en, which means that every year I am supposed to buy bags of sweets and face armies of kids dressed up as ghouls and ghosts as they bang my door with the words that make my blood boil: “Trick or Treat”.

And then I noticed that the School Prom was the next invader. Both of my lads have dressed up in suits, jumped into a limo and attended a prom – just for leaving school. That did not happen in my day. 

And then the final straw, when, this year, a large percentage of British people went crazy on a day called Black Friday. Shops were invaded by crazed idiots desperate for a bargain, fighting over televisions and other expensive items that had had their price reduced. I don’t want to see my country descending into anarchy because of an American tradition.

What’s next? Will we end up celebrating Thanksgiving?

I’m not being awkward or funny. If I want the things above, I will visit America again and enjoy them with you guys.

Calling America "The Colonies"

What else was I supposed to say? 

Picture the scene. Mrs PM and I were on an old ship in Boston, that had taken part in the War of Independence. We were part of a tour group and were told some very interesting facts about the part that the ship had played in the war against the British over two hundred years earlier. 

“Is there anyone from Britain?” asked the tour guide.

Of course, being proud of my country, I put my hand up with a gleeful smile – and then I was roundly booed.

Listen, this war happened many years before I was born and I didn’t spot any people in the tour group who were that old. My response was simply a natural gut reaction – to inject a bit of humour (as opposed to "humor") into the situation:

“Well, I’m glad to see you’re looking after The Colonies for us until we get it back in the near future!”

There is no plot for the UK to invade America. Just because we are British doesn’t mean that we are all megalomaniacs and evil monsters, as depicted in films (or "movies").

It was a joke. 

And Finally ...

There are lots of other ways I may have upset you guys and if so, I am sorry. 

America is basically like a good friend to me, somebody who provides lots of fantastic films, brilliant music and, even though a lot of you don’t get irony, lots of great comedy.

I do plan to visit again soon but this time I will try not to take the piss out of religion, accents, words, history or the stupid people who live in your country.

Don’t forget, there are stupid people everywhere – including Britain.

Take Boris Johnson as an example:



This man is Mayor of London!! Yes – we REALLY DID elected him!

Actually, that’s not quite true; the population of London did. And there is talk that one day he may become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

If that happens, I will be over the pond in a flash.

Actually maybe not. You guys elected George W Bush didn’t you?



Not once but TWICE.

Oh dear – I’ve annoyed you again haven’t I?

Yours Sincerely

Plastic Mancunian


P.S. It’s great to know that you guys hate Piers Morgan too. I’m really sorry we inflicted him upon you – please don’t blame me personally for that!