The Good, The Bad And The Ugly – A tribute to Ennio Morricone

One of my favourite films, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly is one of those timeless Westerns I can watch again and again. The third in the Dollar Trilogy, it’s currently rated fourth on the Internet Movie Database in its poll of users’ top 250 films. I can’t believe that doesn’t have at least something to do with the stunning music of Ennio Morricone, as well as Clint’s bad-ass avenger The Man With No Name.

One group which has taken his music to heart is The Spaghetti Western Orchestra who have become renowned for their re-interpretation of his classic Western themes. If you missed them at the Proms this year, take a look at the clip below.

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Hair, leather, rock and metal – another guilty pleasure

Raking over the embers of last night’s bonfire I was blasting Alice Cooper’s Hey Stoopid at full volume. I suddenly realised how much I still love that totemic rock metal. Bombastic tunes, cheesy lyrics and shock rock videos, that whole rock and metal scene was as significant a part of my growing up as video gaming and roaming round Langdon Hills pretending to be a secret agent. Or cowboy. Or ranger.

I’ve taken to hiding behind the leylandii that shield the bees to do my Wembley Stadium gigs (sod the Arena, aim high, I say),  belting out the lyrics to Snakebite or Might As Well Be On Mars as I put on my bravura combined air-guitar and vocalist performance.

So here are some of my favourites.

Guns N’Roses are the band that blew me away as a kid. I couldn’t believe I was buying a record that was so damn daring, with its shock art cover and warning stickers. I bought it in Woolworths of all places and legged it home like I was carrying contraband. In 1991 I got to saw them live on their Use Your Illusion tour, 31st August 1991 at Wembley Stadium, just before the UK release of the double album. Nothing’s touched it since and the thrill of hearing Welcome To The Jungle live still makes me tingle when I think about it. Now… What about that reunion tour?

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I was first introduced to Alice Cooper by an old Liberal I used to nip round to see after school. He was the sort of guy that had the broken carcasses of electronic items from CD players to TVs and old computers stacked around the room. I remember how, one day when I turned up to play the latest Amiga releases, he had a flickering old VHS playing: Alice Cooper’s 1976 Welcome To My Nightmare concert film. It wasn’t until Trash and Hey Stoopid that I really got him. Feed My Frankenstein, which was featured in the 1992 film Wayne’s World, has one of the sleaziest guitar breaks in the world ever.

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Cycling down to see my mate Jon, there was only one song to be listening to: Whitesnake’s Still Of The Night. For a pair of hormonal teenagers, there really was nothing quite like David Coverdale, owner of the biggest double entendre in rock, rasping out “In the still of the night, I hear the wolf howl, honey, sniffing around your door…”

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I don’t mind admitting that Iron Maiden scared the life out of me. Eddie, their giant skeletal mannequin used to creep me out. But as is the way with rebellious teenagers, even politely rebellious ones like me, the sheer cool of wearing t-shirts with a grinning cadaver on the front won out over the potential for scary dreams. From Paul Di’Anno’s spikey howl on tracks like Phantom Of The Opera and Murders In The Rue Morgue, to Bruce Dickinson’s wail on Number Of The Beast, Aces High and Seventh Son Of A Seventh Son, and even Blaze Bayley’s brief interlude (formerly of Wolfsbane), Maiden are iconic metallers capable of blasting out fist-pumping anthems year after year. Fear Of The Dark is a particular favourite…

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Waiting back stage for a school production in 1988, covered in pancake and eyeliner, Pete, the dodgy aloof rocker type, came up and slipped me a tape: “Listen to that. It’ll blow you away.” That was my introduction to arguably one of the best metal records of all time: Operation: Mindcrime by Queensrÿche. After the wired-to-the-moon bombast of the likes of Hawkwind, concept albums were on a bit of a downer amid the likes of Poison, Bon Jovi etc. Mindcrime was different. A visceral, stark story of madness, revolution, drugs, sex and death it was the most exciting thing I’d heard (since the last most exciting thing I’d heard). Seeing them live at the Hammy O (Hammersmith Odeon) was one of the high points of my 1980s rock metal epiphany.

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There was another band who was rarely far from my Aiwa Walkman in the 1980s and 1990s. I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I was when I learned that Def Leppard were from Sheffield in the UK (!). They should have been American as far as I was concerned. It’s only with hindsight that I realised it was a badge of honour to have a British band that could sound like a seriously big-ticket US stadium band. I only ever bothered with Pyromania and Hysteria. Perhaps someone will tell me if I missed out…

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So that’s it for now. When I am feeling braver, perhaps I’ll post my favourite tracks from W.A.S.P., Zodiac Mindwarp And The Love Reaction and Manowar.

But not today!

Lights Under bushels – my little cousin’s travel writing

So I have always loved my cool cousin and not just because he is called Kit. Which is definitely cool.

It turns out that he likes German – and for his year out he is working at the Hotel Gasthof Stern in Gößweinstein, where he seems to be having a whale of a time. Bernd and Heike run Gasthof Stern with all the love and attention they would expend on their own home. Kit seems to be fitting right in and will be looking to help see them bumped up from a four to five on Tripadvisor.

Anyway, the main reason for writing this post was to give a plug to Kit’s blog. Funny, well-written and well worth checking out, he seems to have been keeping this talent for word-smithing very quiet.

Hope you enjoy his musings.

Bonfire Night and Halloween come together in Langdon Hills

There is something deliciously primal about a decent bonfire.

The best take time and effort to build. The hours spent cutting wood in different seasons, from field and copse, heaped up on Saturday mornings and Sunday afternoons. The brambles cleared from the hedge. The scrub cleared from the meadow.

That wood has its own unremarkable stories.

The branch of an old, dying pear tree, broken under the weight of its own fruit. It had lain there on the lawn like some skeletal limb bedecked with pears. I dragged it through the arch and slung it high.

A leylandii, a gift from a cousin, planted as a tiny sapling in 1976. Over the years it grew to a tremendous height but it cast such a dark gloom on the garden that nothing could grow in its shadow. Matt, who cut it down, said that no-one was really sure how high they grew in the UK, as they were always brought down before they reached their potential. It was a difficult decision to fell it, but, as it crashed down, light flooded in to coax new blooms from hitherto dead earth. We cut it up where it lay, tugging it from the slopes where it grew to its funeral pyre.

The magnificent birch that stood in the meadow but was claimed by the  Great Storm of 1987. It crushed Mrs Croft’s old iron roller as it fell. In time new growth sprouted and, like the old apple tree by the “camp” that was also claimed by the winds that night, it began a new life, growing horizontally. To clear round it I cut back some of those new branches, hanging over hedge and ditch.

These were just my recent efforts.

Underneath lay the results of earlier culls by other hands on other days. Birch, holly, fir, oak, chestnut, ash, blackthorn, bramble and nettle all heaped up together, weathering quietly in rain and frost and snow and under Summer’s lazy sunshine. As we lived our lives, so the wood seasoned, day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year.

I don’t know how many times we postponed the decision to light that bonfire over the last two or three years.

Three times? Four?

As time passes, people enter and leave our lives. Some get caught up with other things. Some simply drift away. Each decision not to burn changes the configuration of companions who might eventually come together for that final striking of the match.

Tonight we gathered in the gloaming, the table laden with beer and jacket potatoes and sausages and toffee apples and cakes. We were a motley mixture of three generations, all young at heart, each of us missing family and friends who might otherwise have joined us – some of us more reflective than others.

Paths and our feast were lit with hurricane lamps, the smell of burning paraffin a strange comfort that evoked memories of past happy times.  Rod had set his moth trap on the lawn. The three youngest had carved pumpkins – eerie, flickering imps that watched us silently through the evening.

There is something about that sort of gathering that I love – the camaraderie, the friendship, the food, the excitement of children adventuring safely in the dark. Then there is that moment of nervous quiet as the match is struck, all those looking on willing it to catch properly. And finally, the cheers as the paper is lit and the kindling fired. When a little person tugged at my arm and looked up at me with big wide eyes, her words took me straight back to my own childhood. “This is my first ever bonfire!” she exclaimed, nervous and eager all at once.

It was a spectacular bonfire.

It caught from a single strike, the hiss and spit of the kindling soon becoming a roar as flames leapt into the dark, showering the meadow with sparks, and raging through the heap before us. The food was delicious and the beer refreshing. We talked and laughed against the whine and crack of the blaze and small hands held glow tubes and sparklers, colours dancing away like magic into the night.

Everyone there had lost someone.

Everyone there was missing someone.

Everyone there was enjoying the comfort of family and friends.

Before we finished, Rod checked his moth-trap. He called us over excitedly. Inside was a rare moth that in all his years searching on the hills he had never found: Merveille du Jour. How apt to end the evening with the Marvel of the Day.

Enjoy the pictures.

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And the video.

More gaming nostlagia

Boing Boing, one of my favourite quirky blogs, has a great piece of nostalgia for fellow geek gamers. It’s a compilation of classic arcade game deaths. Funny how, for a whole generation, these blocky, pixellated images evoke memories of wet Saturday afternoons hunched over the latest state of the art console. Video games were an integral part of my growing up. If you get it, enjoy.

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Katie’s camera blog and Ellie Williams on WordPress

I’ve just added a new category to my links for Arts, Culture Etc and have added two great blogs (see the sidebar).

Katie’s camera blog is a smashing photography site, where Katie Johnson, a professional photographer, indulges her creative side. Ellie Williams is of course my sister’s blog – also a professional artist!

I hope you enjoy them both.

Otterly brilliant picture

Over the years, the Metro newspaper has had some great pictures in it. Today’s Metro had another example of brilliant wildlife photography with sea otters snoozing off the coast of Moss Landing, California. Beautiful!

(Picture: Michael Yang/Rex Features)

Tea Genius

Every now and then you see a piece of advertising genius. I know it’s not completely new, but I love the style and sentiment in this ad for Twinings Tea (I am clearly feeling soppy after a long day!):