Friday, 29 February 2008

Top 5 Ben 10 Aliens

In response to the demands from my family, and hot on the heels of yesterday's Top 5 Current Kids TV, these are my Top 5 Aliens that Ben 10 can transform into. See - I told you Ben 10 was cool!

1. Diamond Head

2. XLR8

3. Grey Matter

4. Upgrade

5. Heatblast

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Top 5 Current Kids Television

Last year I did my Top 5 TV shows I liked as a kid so to prove I'm not entirely wallowing in nostalgia, and that there are still good shows being made, I thought I'd do my current kids television favourites. My sons pretty much control what's on the telly in the daylight hours (how does that work I'm sure I only ever got to watch what my Dad wanted on when I was little!) but this just gives me a good excuse to watch cartoons.

1. Ben 10 (Cartoon Network) - Current house favourite which I often find I'm watching when I probably should be getting on with something else. Ben Tennyson is a boy who discovers a watch like device called the Omintrix. This attaches itself permanently to his wrist and gives him the ability to transform into a variety of alien life forms. Each alien has it's own set of super powers that allow Ben to do battle with a variety of baddies. Typical super powered hero adventure cartoon maybe, but well devised all the same. It's also got a pretty cool theme tune courtesy of ex-Jellyfish drummer and vocalist Andy Sturmer.

2. Bamzooki (BBC CBBC) - Teams of kids build a selection of computer generated creatures (Zooks) which then compete in a variety of events against each other. You can download the application and try and build your own at home. It's easy to use and pretty good fun, though experience has shown it's pretty difficult to get something just able to walk roughly in the direction you want it to go, let alone something capable of winning a race. Somehow the kids on the show often come up with really competitive designs, but it's just as much fun seeing those that fall at (or more likely don't even reach) the first hurdle.

3. Raven (BBC CBBC) - An adventure game show that sets the children involved (warriors) a set of physical and mental challenges over three week long competitions. Warriors are elimated until there are only two left at the end of the week. These two go through to a forth and final week to compete against the winners of the other two heats. It's a bit like the Krypton factor for kids set in a mystical Celtic past. The Way Of The Warrior is the final challenge used on each day to give the warrior in last place a slim chance of avoiding elimination. It's deliberately hard but adds a level of expectation that someone might just make it through in one piece and live to fight another day. In seven series of the show only four warriors have successfully completed the challenge.

4. Young Dracula (BBC CBBC) - Young Vladimir Dracula, son and heir to the 600 year old vampire Count Dracula, attempts to life a normal life and avoid his inevitable fate. Lots of vampire related humour particularly involving Vlad's elder sister, who is much more keen to follow the vampire path yet regularly overlooked by their father, and Vlad's best friend Robin who, although a normal human, is also a vampire-geek and thus much more interested in all the stuff Vlad is expected to do. School time has the added complication of Vlad's woodwork teacher, Mr Eric Van Helsing, who is an incompetent vampire slayer. Really well written show with some great humour throughout.

5. Charlie & Lola (BBC Cbeebies) - A pretty straight adaptation of the Lauren Child picture books. The stories are acutely observed glimpses of children and how they talk and think. Charlie is seven, his sister Lola is 4 and the interplay between them is spot on. This animated cartoon successfully combines the collage style illustration of the books with the voices of children to perfectly capture the humour of the original books.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Top 5 ... and the ...'s

Needed something quick and easy as yet again, despite planning on getting something written well in advance of Friday I find myself late on Thursday night with nothing prepared (a trend that probably explains quite a bit about my general direction and path through life so far). My top 5 "something and the something" bands.

1. Booker T and the M.G.'s

2. Iggy and the Stooges

3. Link Wray and the Raymen

4. Sly and the Family Stone

5. ? and the Mysterians

Friday, 15 February 2008

Top 5 Fat blokes in Rock

This was inspired by my trip to see Les Savy Fav at the Astoria last Sunday. I should know by now that Sunday gigs are never a good idea. It's a quiet day with the family, a chance to catch up on jobs, go for a walk or to the park, maybe just chill out ahead of the week ahead. Les Savy Fav are, I suppose, a cult band. They've been around for something like 13 years without ever breaking big or selling out. This was a rare trip over to the UK on the back of an album that many (myself included) believe to be their career best. I wanted to go but I was struggling to make myself leave the comfort of home. I wrote a top 5 a couple of weeks back on gigs I'd wished I'd seen that reminded me you don't always get another opportunity. You never know what's around the corner and if I didn't make the effort I may never have the chance to see them live again. I forced myself out of the house, a little later than originally planned, and made it up to town with about 20 minutes to spare before they hit the stage. Grabbed a can of Red Stripe (£3.50 - bargain!) and found my way down to a good spot near the front but outside the mosh pit (Sunday's are for taking in the whole show in laid back "too cool for school" style. Mosh pits are for the livelier days of the week). They were fantastic, playing a great set of old and new songs alongside blistering covers of the Pixies "Debaser" and Archers of Loaf's "Wrong". Vocalist and front man Tim Harrington, spent as much time in (or on) the audience as he did on stage, changed his outfit more often than Madonna and proved himself to be a role model for fat bald blokes with beards everywhere. I made the right choice. I'm glad I made the effort and I'm very glad I've now seen Les Savy Fav. The next time they come over I'll be going again ... unless it's on a Sunday.

In honour of Mr Harrington then, my top 5 fat blokes in rock;

1. Frank Black (Pixies and solo)

2. Tim Harrington (Les Savy Fav)

3. Chris Goss (Masters of Reality)

4. B.B. King

5. Van & Gary Lee Conner (Screaming Trees)

It's a very 90's rock-centric list (B.B. apart). I suspect I've forgotten some decent contenders and I reckon if I tried a bit harder I could put together a fat blokes super group.

Friday, 8 February 2008

Top 5 Songs that are shorter than a minute

Inspired mainly by seeing Eamon Hamilton of Brakes support British Sea Power last week these are my favourite very short songs. I love a bit of prog or post rock and am quite happy to listen to a 30 minute track in all it's glory but there are times when you can really say all you have to in 30 seconds and still have time for a quick guitar solo.

1. Brakes "Hi, How Are You?" (35 seconds) - Eamon's
paean to people who talk at you whilst you're trying to watch live bands is traditionally the first song Brakes play live at every gig. It should strike a chord with anyone who's been at a gig trying to enjoy a particularly delicate instrumental medley whilst in ear shot of someone telling their freinds how great their new mobile phone is and what they did at the weekend. I saw Brakes play live sometime last year and they managed to play every song from their two albums plus a couple of b-sides and a cover in a little over an hour.

2. S.O.D. "Anti-Procrastination Song" (6 seconds) -
The Stormtroopers of Death were basically a spin off band from thrash metal pioneers Anthrax and never expected anyone to take them seriously. Their debut album "Speak English or Die" understandably took some criticism for it's politically incorrect content but at heart was just a bunch of metal heads having a bit of fun. As someone who cannot claim to be that successful at avoiding procrastination I've kind of adopted this song as a theme tune. It's like an alarm that goes of in my head when I know I'm really not pulling my weight - I hear it a lot!

3. Minutemen "Please Don't Be Gentle With Me" (46 seconds) - From the Minutemen's classic "Double Nickels on the Dime" LP. An incredible hardcore-punk band I only discovered after seeing surviving members Mike Watt (the greatest bassist I have seen) and George Hurley play a short set in support of Steve Albini's Shellac. I was slightly disappointed that the 46 track "Double Nickels on the Dime" wasn't entirely made up of songs shorter than a minute, but it's a fantastic album of songs that rarely bother to trouble the two minute mark. Legends.

4. Undertones "She Can Only Say No" (54 seconds) - An extra track from the reissue of the Undertones debut album. It's a live recording and features about 10 seconds of crowd noise at the start. I love the Undertones and had to choose between this and second album bonus track "I Don't Want To See (You Again)" which demonstrates more than a small nod towards the Ramones. "She Can Only Say No" is the more obviously Undertones-ish sound, back when Fergal still enjoyed being in the band and life was simpler.

5. Lightning Bolt "Hello Morning" (56 seconds) - Noise rock. Avant garde. 56 seconds may be about as much as most people would want to take of Lightning Bolt. "Hello Morning" is the first track of the Bolt's excellent "Wonderful Rainbow" LP. I couldn't find any video of this particular song but the clip below will probably tell you all you need to know about them.

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Top 5 Gigs I wish I'd been at

The slightly delayed (due to the evils of drink!) second part of this gig related topic. This one is a bit tougher. There's plenty of gigs by bands I have subsequently seen that I'd have liked to have gone to; The Pixies pretty much anywhere, Pink Floyd with Syd at the UFO club or the Roundhouse, and Guns & Roses at the Marquee in June 1987 (A gig I was very close to going to and regretted not bothering for quite a long time afterwards). The Sonics would definitely have been top had I not just got a ticket to see them in April but I've gone with bands that I have never seen and in almost all cases never will.

1. Mudhoney, Nirvana & Tad (Astoria) 3rd Dec 1989 - Breaking my rule straight away as I have seen Mudhoney, but this was the very first appearance by Nirvana on these shores. Much like the G'n'R gig I even considered going but didn't make it. A great three band bill much like the following years headline appearance where Nirvana played with Godflesh & L7 (Astoria - 24th Oct 1990). To complete a trio of Nirvana gigs I failed to attend their Reading Festival gig on 30th August 1992, would have been decent too.

2. Ramones (Roundhouse) 4th July '76 - This was the original line up and, I think, their first ever show in the UK. The one that the guys from The Clash and The Sex Pistols and many other British punk bands were said to have attended. Would have loved to have seen the Ramones in any incarnation but this would have been something special. Like Nirvana, another band I'll now never see until I get to that great rock'n'roll gig in the sky!

3. Rolling Stones (Royal Albert Hall) 1966 - This was their last tour with Brian Jones and would have been at a point when I reckon they'd have really found their stride and been playing a cracking little set as well. Just edges out seeing them play The Crawdaddy in Richmond (probably around March 1963), the site of which I often pass on my way up to town. I can't quite bring myself to pay the ridiculous price it would take to see them now.

4. Jimi Hendrix Experience (Marquee) 24th Jan 1967 - Back in the early 90's I was a regular at the Marquee, though by then it was past its prime. I spent far too much time there watching second wave prog rock bands and was briefly even a member! I went a few times to the Wardour Street site (before it moved to Charing Cross Road) and often wondered just what it would have been liked packed with the 1,400 people that had crammed in to see Hendrix play in 1967.

5. Sex Pistols (The 100 Club) Sept 1976. I think this date was with The Damned, but any of the Pistols '76 appearances at the 100 club would have been great to see.

Friday, 1 February 2008

Top 5 Gigs I went to, but wish I hadn't bothered

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. There's just been a mini revival of the focus group with two related topics. I think I missed the boat on both so may as well share them here with my many regular readers. Here's part one.

1. Genesis (Earl’s Court) February 1998 – The point at which I realised it was time to move on from Prog Rock and explore other avenues of music. This was the tour when the bloke out of Stiltskin was signing vocals and only Tony Banks and Mike Rutherford were left from the original band. An atrocious show made worse by our seats being at the very back of the floor area in Earls Court and seemingly a good 3 feet below the level of the seats nearer the front. We did complain and get moved to the side but it was still crap.

2. T’Pau (Hammersmith Odeon) March 1988 – As so often is the case with bad gigs this involved a girl. A girl who suggested going and I felt obliged to say yes to. It was as expected dire and made worse by the fact that the following night they ended up cancelling the gig due to Carol Decker’s throat problem. So near and yet so far.

3. Jimmy Page (Hammersmith Odeon) November 1988 – This was the closest thing I had got to a Led Zep gig and I was very excited. Jason Bonham was on drums and I was looking forward to an evening of Page songs interspersed with Zep classics. I think it was in support of a Page solo album that I had got but this meant sitting through a couple of hours of these new songs, and only the occasional classic. Without doubt the most bored I have been at a gig, having just about the survived a ridiculously long guitar solo, the Bonham drum solo and 8 minute instrumental version of Stairway to Heaven finished me off and we left for the bar.

4. Spiritualised (Astoria) January 1998 – One of those awful NME “awards” shows. I’ve subsequently seen Spiritualised quite a bit and like them a lot, but this was not a great gig. There were four bands on the bill and they got progressively worse as the evening wore on. Dawn of the Replicants (interesting), Jonathon Fire*eater (ok), The Crystal Method (really f--king dreadful) and then the big headliners hit the stage and were … dull as dishwater. I think one of the guys from Suicide joined them on stage for a few numbers, which I probably should have appreciated more than I did, but by then it was just an un-listenable noise.

5. Dio (Hammersmith Odeon) December 1987 – Shockingly bad yet fondly remembered. By the time the lead guitarist was shooting lasers from the end of his guitar at a giant silver spider hanging from the ceiling we were in hysterics.