Gig Review: Iron Maiden at the Motorpoint Arena, Cardiff

You know you’re going to get one hell of a show when Maiden are in town, and they did not disappoint last night. After a short video intro, Bruce Dickinson appeared, hunched over a smoking cauldron, a hooded robe around him.

The showmanship, almost panto-like in it’s playfulness at times adds to it but driving the show is the music. As Bruce finished the four guitarists rushed to the fore, while he remained downstage, atop a raised platform above Nicko McBrain’s drumkit.

Dickinson in action

Steve Harris, continuing the theme of West Ham fans being sound, wielded his bass with boundless enthusiasm. This was matched by the three guitariats, who all carried themselves with seemingly endless energy and obvious enjoyment. The band look like they’re having a ball and it translates to the crowd who were really getting into it.

It was a pleasant experience to be in the younger half of a concert audience for a change, and there was a good atmosphere among the mainly old rockers seeing their heroes perform.

A lot of the songs played were from their most recent album, Book of Souls, and so not so familiar to MWF and I, but they did bring out some of the big hits,  with “The Number of the Beast”, “The Trooper” and “Fear of the Dark” among them.

What I loved most was the sense of humour, the band don’t take themselves too seriously and there to have fun. They delight in the showy sets, the costumes and the excess. When mascot Eddie shows up it’s a fun, goofy cameo with the band messing around.

Great fun, providing some class tunes in an entertaining performance, well worth checking out if they come to your town.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


One Man’s Treasure

I worked in a pawn shop for a couple of months. It was grim. My boss was an utter wanker, the days were long and tedious, and there was a constant stream of depressed looking “customers”.

The boss would buy stuff off people who were in desperate need of some cash, and if they didn’t buy it back within a month he would sell it on, making a profit.

We took a lot of stuff and most was generic stuff that nobody could form sentimental attachments with- TVs, kitchen appliances and so on. 

Others were a bit more personal and therefore more depressing. It’s hard not to be moved by the fact someone had to pawn their kid’s bike or their engagement ring just for some quick cash.

I found musical instruments fitted into this category. An untouched, unplayed guitar or keyboard has a forlorn air about them. They hint at potential unrealised or a dreams abandoned. Someone bought that guitar with aspirations and ambition, but those were abandoned because they were short on rent or needed to buy food. 

The guitars didn’t get plucked. Nobody shredded a mind blowing solo on them. They didn’t even gently weep. They just stood there, silent and untouched until the boss nagged at us to clean them.

Of course, they would get sold on. There was always some new dreamer who’d stroll in and rescue them, giving them another chance at musical glory.

But I saw one recently that I doubt will shift. I’d strolled into a shop in Barry for a new old game to replace FIFA as my obsession. About to leave I looked at a wall of guitars.

One stood out. It was unique to say the least.

Good sticker positioning.

It was so different and individual, and delightfully tacky.

MWF disagrees, seeing it as awful whereas I think that it’s one of those occasions where some thing’s badness is the charm. 

I quickly formed an image of the previous owner. I imagined that they were into ’80s and ’70s rock in a big way. This had probably played a Scorpions song or two, or some Van Halen riffs.

I was surprised that the store had bought it, unless they thought the guy (99% sure it would be a guy) would come back for it. They can’t have expected to sell it on.

I mean, it’s so different that the chance of finding someone else who will pick this one is slim. Tastes differ and I imagine this wouldn’t be to everyone’s.

A kid wanting to be the new Ed Sheeran won’t want something like that. A guy who plays in a wedding band will pass it over. No, this is an instrument which will only appeal to a select few. 

I went back in a short while later, and it’s still there. Part of me wants to keep going in to check on it. I imagine it will be there for a while until another hair metal fan wanders in and spots it.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO. 


Disney Classics #3: Fantasia

As MWF and I sat down to watch this the other day my heart sunk. I remembered it opening with the orchestra arriving, but not that there was so much talking. The dry intro from Deems Taylor is a bit dull and I was worried I’d mentally edited the film as I remembered loving the film as a kid.

Thankfully after the first long intro it got better and the animation makes up for it. The film shows the imagination and artistry that Disney boasted when they began this ambitious and risky venture.

This was only the third animated feature the studio made and it’s cool to see that Walt wasn’t afraid to take some risks. Instead of continuing down the fairytale path he went in a totally different direction. Why he did so is the big question?

Was it out of some need to be taken more seriously? (See Gibson doing Hamlet and Rowling trying to write outside the Harry Potter universe) 

Personally I prefer he wanted to show off the talent he’s assembled and if that was the goal, it’s mission accomplished here.

Instead of one narrative this is seven separate sections, each inspired by a different piece of classical music. The sections are done in different styles, ranging from abstract to cartoony, some serious while others are comical. There’s one that tracks evolution and the death of the dinosaurs, and it all ends with a gothic piece.

This finale, set to Modest Mussorgsky’s “Night on Bald Mountain”, was the one I loved as a kid and really stuck with me. It’s fantastically dark and the towering demon was just the right mix of cool and creepy for a little kid.

The image of dancing flames was one I remembered vividly, and it still works as this anarchic celebration of evil, filled with ghouls and demons. Although I still feel the “Ave Maria” ending makes a disappointing come down.

The other one I could remember large parts of clearly was the Greek myth section to “The Pastoral Symphony” by Beethoven. It gave the world the word “centaurettes”, which the world promptly gave back.

Centaurs, fauns, unicorns, cherubs and pegasuses? Pegasi?  flying horses abound. It’s so vibrant and cheerful, featuring cherubs matchmaking centaurs and features Bacchus, who is a wine swigging comedic delight, his rotund form perched upon a tiny donkey unicorn.

And then Zeus turns up, thunderbolts blazing, spoiling his fun. The petty and cruel king of the gods is far closer to the Zeus of myth than the one who would appear in Disney’s Hercules decades later.

The other stand out is “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” composed by Paul Dukas. It’s essentially a Mickey Mouse short and a hugely entertaining one, energetic and full of anarchic fun. It’s the most iconic of the sections and holds up really well, a simple, amusing story.

The hit rate is surprisingly high, with only the first abstract piece falling flat (it overstays it’s welcome a bit) and I was surprised by how much of the film I could remember from the dancing flowers during a medley from The Nutcracker, the bleak extinction of the dinosaurs and the sassy ballerina hippos.

It’s a great movie, with glorious visuals cleverly married to the classical score. The innovation and skill on show means that this has really stood the test of the time. A treat for the eyes and ears.

Disney Score: 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Random Song: Bullet With Butterfly Wings by Smashing Pumpkins

Despite growing up in the 90s I was never a massive Smashing Pumpkins fan. Their heyday was in the middle of the decade and I was more focused on football. 

I heard a few of their songs and I didn’t dislike the, I just wasn’t captivated in the way I am by the bands I’ve loved. They were just a band who I thought we’re alright.

The first real impact they had on me came courtesy of their guest appearance in one of my all time favourite episodes of The Simpsons. 

One of my best friends, Llywellyn, was a fan and that’s why this song stands out for me. 

During our GCSEs we were in the same English class. We sat at the back and prayed not to get called on to read characters in Macbeth. For years 10 and 11 we were put into sets based on ability and we were in the top one. I can’t speak for Llyw, but looking the class I felt a little out of place. These were the bright kids and I felt like I’d snuck in by mistake.

I expected our teacher, Mrs F, a bit of a hippie, to look at my work one day and then at me and realise that there’d been a mistake. 

Anyway, one of our tests was that we had to read a poem and analyse it in front of the class. Our classmates obviously dug into library books or poems they already knew (someone did a Lewis Carroll and there were a few soppy romantic ones), while the two of us waited until the last few days.

And then Llywelyn produced the liner notes to the Pumpkins’ album Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness selecting track six, this song. To class it up we said it was written by “William Corgan”. A few of our classmates smiled at this, clocking what we were doing.

I read it aloud, from the opening “The world is a vampire” right through.

At the time my music listening was almost exclusively pop punk, The Offspring and Blink 182 on heavy rotation and I had absolutely no clue what it all meant.

Enter Llywelyn, who talked for five minutes about a variety of themes and imagery. How much of it was just him winging it I’ll never know but we passed and even got praise from Mrs F for choosing a lesser known piece.

It’s a decent song, starting with a quiet, driving riff before exploding into Corgan’s anguished chorus and crashing guitars. But it’s the link to the past and the fact it always makes me smile that this will always be my favourite Smashing Pumpkins track and have a special place in the soundtrack of my life.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Gig Review: Manic Street Preachers at the Liberty Stadium, Swansea

At the age of eleven I watched the 1997 Brit Awards and came away with three clear impressions- the Bee Gees were awesome, Geri Halliwell was a goddess and that I quite liked Welsh rock band the Manic Street Preachers. I asked for, and received, the Manics’ Everything Must Go album, which was the fourth album I ever owned.

I listened to it a fair few times and loved a couple of tracks from it (“Design for Life”, “Australia” and the title track) before it slipped down my rotation list as my collection grew. However, I was pretty excited when the band announced a 20th anniversary tour where they would perform the album.

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Unfortunately, the tickets were released when I was asking and watched as my friends celebrated getting their tickets. Thinking I had missed out I was a little glum but moved on. Then at Christmas, MWF revealed that she had got us tickets as a present to me. This was very cool of her, especially as she’s not a Manics fan at all.

And so having just turned 31, I finally saw a band that I’ve liked since I was eleven. And they did not disappoint.

They played their classic album almost in full, which meant their set kicked off with the anthemic “A Design For Life”, a bold choice to use one of their best known tracks as an opener. I stood and sung along as best I could, helped by a couple of ciders and enjoyed hearing half forgotten songs like “Kevin Carter” again. The band played with practised ease and obvious enthusiasm, with front man James Dean Bradfield chatting easily with the crowd and introducing the songs.

The crowd responded well and even darkening clouds and distant flashes of lightning didn’t effect their enthusiasm. Even when the clouds opened later on during the set it had no noticeable effect on the mood of the crowd. But then this was an open air gig in Wales, it wouldn’t be the same without the rain. JDB stated “I love the rain” adding that some of his happiest memories are in the Welsh rain.

The first half was Everything Must Go and the second saw them branch out, revealing just how many amazing songs they have in their back catalogue. The guitar led early work like “Motorcycle Emptiness” and “You Love Us” sitting comfortably alongside more poppy later work like “Your Love Alone Is Not Enough”.

As expected for a Welsh gig by one of the pillars of the 90s “Cwl Cymru”, patriotism was running wild. JDB wielded a guitar bearing the red dragon, Welsh flags and shirts were abundant and it reached it’s peak during their performance of “Together Stronger” the band’s rousing theme for the Welsh squad’s Euro 2016 campaign. Featuring a summary of the national side’s past misfortunes and a tribute to Gary Speed, it proved a very moving experience and I’m not ashamed to say I got a little choked up.

They closed their set with one of my personal favourites, “If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next” and I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience, leaving having been reminded of just how good a band they are and the quality of their back catalogue and filled with renewed affection for the group.

I spent much of yesterday with “If You Tolerate This…” and “A Design for Life” vying for playing on my mental jukebox and I fully intend giving their albums a spin in the coming days.

Support was provided by Public Service Broadcasting, who we missed due to arriving late and the psychedelic, progress noodling of Super Furry Animals, who were quite fun with a set ranging from cheerful Beach Boys style efforts to full blown trippy excess.

All in all, a good night out, even if it highlighted my age. Not just because an album I loved has turned twenty but because I happily spent some of the gig in a seat. Although I did relish what may be my only chance to step onto the Liberty field.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


What we can learn from Kanye

I know, Kanye West is ridiculous in many ways. The daft shades he used to wear, his awful Brits performance, interrupting Taylor Swift, throwing tantrums and the fact he named his daughter North (at least have a silent K to keep the Kardashian tradition alive).

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Surely, those slat things would be a pain?

He’s also responsible for one of the daftest and least sexy song lyrics about making love. I refer to his guest spot on Katy Perry’s “ET” where he raps:

Imma disrobe you, then imma probe you

I hope his real world pillow talk is better than that, for Kim’s sake.

But let’s not forget that he can do some decent stuff, like calling out George W. Bush after Hurricane Katrina or the fact that he’s had some ace songs (The College Dropout and Late Registration are solid albums).

But the most important thing we can learn from Kanye?

Being confident in what we do.

Most musicians would announce an album through a bit of artwork or a cryptic tweet. But Kanye? He shared a track list for “Swish” and then announced he’s just finished the “best album of all time”.

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That takes balls.

A lot of us are afraid to be confident or proud of what we’ve done. We apologise for trying or dismiss the results as flawed. It’s a bad habit, this need to put ourselves down, to diminish our attempts. It hurts ourselves and the apologising creates a bad impression for others by lowering their expectations and starting off on a negative.

Self deprecation is fine in moderation, but too much and you’re just undervaluing yourself and sending out the message that it’s fine to trash you, even if it is affectionately.

I get that arrogance is ugly (witness Donald Trump) but surely there’s a halfway point? A place where we big ourselves up more. Where we celebrate our achievements and show our pride in them?

Walk out of an exam announcing you crushed it, present your baking with a flourish, call something you’ve done awesome. Give yourself the kind of praise we heap on others.

Even if you just do it in your head, if you’re worried of looking daft or cocky.

If you don’t love and show pride in what you’ve done, why should others? Own your work, unleash your inner Kanye and blow your own trumpet a little.

Don’t go full Kanye though. Keep a little bit of humour in there, and think hard about what you’re going to name your kids.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Bowie

I don’t know when I first heard David Bowie, but I have a good idea that it was in my Dad’s car. I think a lot of us get some pop music education from our parents and I’m lucky that my Dad had some decent taste. The Stones, Dylan and Neil Young were all artists I heard first on cassette on family holidays or when my Dad gave me lifts.

My Dad had the first half of The Best of David Bowie. It collected the 60s and 70s stuff. My Dad was an old school Bowie fan.

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To me the album was utterly unique, different from anything I’d heard before. A lot of the songs had a weird, spacey vibe which as a budding geek I was onboard with. I loved that cassette.

There were great story songs like the tragic Major Tom adrift among the stars on “Space Oddity” or “Ziggy Stardust” where Bowie took on numerous voices to tell the story of a band falling apart as their guitarist gets caught up in his own hype. To this day both songs captivate me after uncountable plays, and when the opening chords of “Ziggy” kick in I get a smile on my face.

There were the dystopian lyrics of “Diamond Dogs”, the surreal beauty of the imagery in “Life On Mars?”, the iconic “Changes” and my personal favourite “The Man Who Sold The World”.

Over the years I got to know more about Bowie, the showman with the knack of changing style yet remaining distinctly Bowie. I was less fussed on his later songs with a few exceptions (“Golden Years” and “Heroes”) but he remained an interesting and singular talent.

Other stars of the seventies fell from grace or faded away, either becoming old men of music or else trying to maintain an image they couldn’t pull off anymore. Bowie avoided both of these by keeping going, retaining some of his mystery and in the process cementing his position as a pop culture icon.

Bowie was cool, there’s no other way to put it. But not the cool of a fleeting trend, a distinctive coolness that stemmed from the fact he was courageous in his individuality. He didn’t chase trends, he was just David Bowie.

His music will endure and continue to be loved and inspire.

Bowie’s death hit me harder than I expected, not just because I loved his music and realised that we’d lost a true legend, but because Bowie had become linked with my own life, his songs had become what I sing to myself, the things that remind me of places and times.

That’s why musician deaths hit us so hard. It’s because their music goes beyond what they’ve made, it becomes entangled in our lives. They become the soundtrack of our lives, so David Bowie is more than just a guy who made great pop music, he was the third passenger in the car when my Dad told me daft jokes, old stories I’d heard a hundred times and talked about movies.

He was there on nights out when I danced like a muppet to his tunes. And he was there on countless bus trips or essay writing sessions when I needed to tune out and daydream. He may be gone, but the music will still be there, and in a way that means Bowie will never die.

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I’m rambling a little now so i’ll just leave it by saying, rest in peace David Bowie.

Top 5 Bowie Songs

5. “Starman”
4. “Life on Mars?”
3. “Space Oddity”
2. “Ziggy Stardust” (the line “making love with his who, Ziggy sucked up into his mind/ like a leper Messiah” is one of my all time favourite lyrics)
1. “The Man Who Sold The World”

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Lemmy

I woke up this morning to the news that Lemmy had died.

Despite the rocker having lived and partied hard for his 70 years, it came as a shock. Lemmy just felt like one of those faces who had always been there, and you kinda felt always would.

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Like most folks my first experience of Lemmy was the burst of fast paced rock genius that is “Ace of Spades”. I can’t remember when I heard it first, but I know I’ve loved it since. That frantic, dashing riff just feels like what rock music should be like, and it’s damn near impossible not to nod along to.

I used to throw myself about to it in rock clubs, air guitared to it in my room and turned it up when it came on, wherever I was.

The lyrics spoke to me and embodied the reckless spirit if rock-

You know I’m born to lose and gambling’s for fools
but that’s the way I like it, baby,
I don’t want to live forever

After the song I discovered Lemmy, an undisputed rock god and legend. His distinctive look, reputation for excess and gravelly voiced charm made him a fascinating character in the pop culture landscape.

I learned about his time with Hawkwind before starting his own band, Motorhead, which is why he became most well known for. Motorhead were a band I fell in love with after seeing them live, supporting Alice Cooper.

They played no-nonsense, head down rock ‘n’ roll with furious pace and Lemmy centre stage. I was lucky enough to see them twice more and enjoyed myself immensely each time, even when Lemmy appeared worse for wear at one Download.

When I decided to get my first tattoo I chose the band’s logo, the monstrous face that appeared on their merchandise, album covers and stage backgrounds.

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My iPod boasts a few of their albums and they’re one of my go to bands when I want a bit of bus headbanging or am just in a bad mood and want something to play really f**king loud.

Lemmy was one of a kind. There was nobody else like him, and I doubt we’ll see anyone else like him again.

Lemmy embodied rock at it’s my best- tough, a little bit dirty and bad, charming and fun. He carried himself like he didn’t give a damn, and was enjoying himself immensely. As music became increasingly dull and pop stars neuteured, sanitised shadows of their forebears, Lemmy was like an enhanced version of the rock star.

He wasn’t the best looking, and others surpassed him in talent, but in terms of attitude, persona and raw rock power, few could match him.

Simply put, Lemmy was a rock star. Possibly one of the best of all time. He’ll be greatly missed and the rock world will be duller without him.

A fitting tribute would be to put on some of his tunes, crank up the volume and go nuts.

Might I suggest “Ace of Spades”, “Eat the Rich”, ” Orgasmatron” or “Killed by Death”. Or Motörhead’s cover of “Louie Louie” and Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl”.

If you feel like something more subdued, I always loved “I Ain’t No Nice Guy”

RIP Lemmy. It just got louder in Heaven.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Unpopular Opinion: I’m not that fussed on Beyonce

There seems to be some kind of widespread belief that everybody loves Beyonce. The hyperbolic way she is praised and discussed would mean that aliens visiting Earth could be forgiven for thinking that Queen Bee (that’s the best nickname her fans could come up with? And don’t get me started on “the Bey-hive”) is actually part of global royalty.
Even other celebs have fallen into this, like Anna Kendrick.

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But there’s the thing, personally I don’t think Beyonce is all that great.
I’m not saying she’s bad, she’s obviously a talented performer and seems nice enough, but at some point she went from being the successful one from Destiny’s Child to being this kind of towering icon who seems impervious to criticism or even being discussed with perspective.
Don’t believe me? This is how Buzzfeed wrote about her new song;

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The song in question failed to produce a tear from me, and I wondered if I was alone in finding it dull. The start where Beyonce sings is perfectly fine, she has a great voice, but it’s nowt special and the rest of the song is just an uninspiring dance track.
For me Beyonce’s best song is still “Crazy in Love” from back in 2003. I’ve likes some of the others, but my reaction to most has been “meh”.
I can’t be the only one who thinks that this is a case of a decent artist being hyped up to icon status rather quickly. The entertainment industry runs on hype but the wholesale buying into Beyonce as this pop goddess leaves me puzzled.

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Two of MWF’s friends seem to be fans (I refuse to use the fan group’s name again) and seem to agree with this but I’m unmoved by Beyonce. She’s not terrible, which would be something but there’s something almost mechanical about her career. She does what she does very well but she never seems to push boundaries or try anything drastically different.
And yet no criticism comes her way and her every move is treated as a massive deal and the best thing ever.
Compared with the other female popstars about at the moment she seems lacking in anything approaching an “edge” and, while seeming nice enough, doesn’t capture my attention that much.
What am I missing? Is there some appeal I’m just not getting? Or do others not see what the fuss is about but just get drowned out by the OTT praise and exaggeration.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


What not to wear

I’m not a dedicated follower of fashion to put it mildly, with a style that I’d describe as “lazy chic” (T-shirts, jeans and Hawaiian shirts being my personal favourites), and with others while I might find a few things silly, I go with a live and let live attitude.
That being said there are a few definite no-nos- shellsuits (fire hazard), Cardiff City shirts and Nazi uniforms.
Joining the list is a rather tasteless new product, shirts bearing the suicide note of Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana frontman.
Now, cards on the table time, I was never a massive Nirvana fan. Cobain took his own life when I was about 9 and while I like a few of their songs I was never massively impressed by them.
So I’m not angry as a Nirvana fan at my idol being commercialized (a ship that sailed a long time ago). I’m more disappointed that its got this cynical and invasive.
Cobain’s note is already public knowledge of course, with Courtney Love having read it out shortly after his death, but it’s still a private thing, and an intensely emotional thing. It’s not a fashion statement or something to just splash around
And think of Kurt’s kid, Frances Bean, does she need people making more money off her dad? Or seeing his last words splashed across the chest of some insensitive douche? She has enough on her plate being called Frances Bean.
It just seems to be a crass idea and contributes to the glamourizing of suicide, which we don’t need. If you are a Cobain/Nirvana fan why not get an album cover shirt or something, remember him for his music, not the darkness that led him to take his own life.
Also, it just looks kinda daft on a shirt. It’s long and hard to read. With writing on shirts you should keep it short and snappy.
Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.