Friday, November 30, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen, your Christmas No.1


...if there's any justice. Genius!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Black Dossier

Every so often, something comes along that's just wonderful. And this is such a thing.

Black Dossier is the latest episode in Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's magnificent League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (try to put the rubbish film out of your mind). It's not Volume 3 proper; rather it's the "short intermission" promised at the end of Volume 2, which through the plot device of the eponymous dossier explores the background of the League, both in Mina Murray's group and earlier incarnations.

What this entails is a collection of spoofs and pastiches of all kinds of literature, from lost Shakespeare plays through Bertie Wooster vs. Cthuhlu and the New Adventures of Fanny Hill to a migraine-inducing Kerouac homage. The strips that link these (all documents in the Dossier, which our heroes read through the course of the book) are set in a post-WW2 world derived from 1984, Dan Dare and Ian Fleming. There are, as in the previous books, hundreds of allusions to all sorts of fictional worlds and characters, some obvious (a suave yet sadistic secret agent called "Jimmy"; the character who turns up towards the end to save our heroes, whom I can't describe, because it'd ruin an absolutely brilliant and funny reveal), others obscure. This is par for the course, of course, but what's remarkable about the Black Dossier is that where the first two volumes were clever, beautifully constructed romps, this raises the whole idea of the series above the level of a brilliant conceit to something much more substantial, relating it to the ideas on magic and creativity Moore has increasingly been concerned with in recent years, particularly in Promethea. The final sequence is presented in 3-D (you get the glasses with the book), and is both a very funny and affectionate spoof on a lot of the elements of '50s 3-D movies, and a magical conclusion (both literally and metaphorically) which makes very effective and imaginative use of what could easily have been just a gimmick.

This is the final book of Moore's to be published under Wildstorm's ABC banner; he has been vocally unhappy since DC bought the company, and volume 3 of the League, and all his future comics work, will be published by Top Shelf Comics. This book is also unavailable in the U.K., allegedly due to copyright restrictions - although I would have thought the get-out clauses of transformative parody would apply (there seems to have been no issue with the previous books containing allusions to H.G. Wells' work, which remains copyright in Europe), so perhaps this is indeed DC spiting the great bearded one. Anyway, there are ways and means around this, and it's well worth getting hold of a copy, because it certainly left a big stupid grin on my face. I mean - 3D!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

What's difficult?

So, we played Sibelius and Schubert last night, and they came off very well (they seemed to like it at Classical Scourge), although it was an exhausting programme, both emotionally (Sibelius) and physically (Schubert).

What I found particularly interesting, though, was the response of the audience (or at least those who came because I badgered them). These people (in the main not musically educated) all said they preferred the Sibelius. Now, the Fourth Symphony is a powerful work, one of the greatest symphonies of the twentieth, or any century, but it's also the part of the programme that would be considered a "difficult" piece - essentially because it' s relatively dissonant, emotionally dark and introverted, ending in grey resignation rather than any kind of triumphant peroration (or indeed the opposite, breast-beating despair). And it occurs to me that this is obviously how it should be, not because the Schubert's not a wonderful and great piece (it is, of course it is) but because Sibelius lived in a time closer to our own, and we need to do less work to understand the context he worked in. But the conventional approach to concert programming is entirely based on the premise that anything modern or contemporary is inevitably harder to understand for the non-cognoscenti, and should be approached with caution, buttered up with Beethoven or Brahms.

Is there any other art form where this sort of thinking is considered normal? Can you imagine anyone suggest that you shouldn't even attempt to watch a modern play before you've got to grips with Shakespeare? Or that you should avert your eyes from Picasso or Damien Hirst until you've got the hang of Holbein?

What rot. All my experience tells me that this idea that "uneducated" people need to be coddled in the face of new music is just rubbish. They may not like it, but give them the opportunity to listen and they'll appreciate it - in fact, I suspect the untrained ear may be more open to new sounds than that conditioned and brow-beaten by years of propaganda dripped into it by the education system. We live in an age, after all, where the charts contain music far more abrasive than anything Schoenberg ever wrote, and where the influence of that giant of the post-war musical bogeymen, Stockhausen, can be heard in ways beyond anything you, or he, might have imagined. Isn't it time the classical music establishment woke up to itself and admitted it's got everything the wrong way round, and that this misguidedly timid approach is helping to destroy the art form it's supposed to be enriching?

When a newspaper such as the Observer can print such a closed-minded viewpoint as this review of the Huddersfield Festival by Anthony Holden, there is something deeply rotten at the heart of our relationship with music, an awful combination of intolerance and conservatism that seems to betray an active hatred of music. The point about something like Huddersfield is that it's experimental, it's not going to conform to preconceived ideas, and yes, it will inevitably attract a small audience, and not everything you hear there will work (because it's experimental, remember?) but that's OK, because it's not meant to be mainstream, any more than Stockhausen's works were before they influenced the likes of Warp records' roster. For a major broadsheet paper's music critic to fail to grasp this is an extraordinary failure of the critical process.

It's time we started treating audiences as grown-ups who can listen without prejudice, not as children who need to be protected from the nasty frightening modern composers.

Image (a cartoon from Vanity Fair in 1929) swiped from here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

On the Corner

On the Corner is probably just about the most contentious thing Miles Davis ever did, and even now you'll still find plenty of jazz-heads who'll foam at the mouth and brain you if you even mention it, let alone suggest that it's good, or even jazz. I'm reminded of it by the fact that a big box set of the complete sessions has recently come out, and currently sits in the "highest priority" part of my Amazon wish list (hint), and that's reminded me that it's about time I pulled it off the shelf again and had another listen.

Its origins lie in Miles' realisation in the early '70s that jazz had been largely abandoned by young black kids, who were listening to Sly Stone and James Brown instead. He realised he needed to do something that would connect with them, speak to the kids on the street. So he made a funk album, of course. But being Miles, he couldn't make any old Stone-derived sound. He needed to bring something new to the party. And what he decided was the killer concept, that would bring his sound to the kids on the street was the ideas and processes of Karlheinz Stockhausen. Well, obviously.

I remember when I was a teenager first listening to Miles, and finding things like Bitches Brew bewildering, in a way probably only matched by Trout Mask Replica, another album it took me a long time to get my head round. But I always felt there was something in them, something that was just out of reach, that I needed to keep digging and find. Anything of real worth requires effort, because the effort makes the reward that much sweeter. So when Miles decides that what funk-jazz needs is the influence of the German avant-garde, god dammit, you've just got to go with it, because in the end you'll see he's right.

What Miles specifically takes from Stockhausen is his concept of space. On the Corner is an album that isn't much concerned with harmonic progressions, being on the surface a sequence of one-chord jams (or to be more accurate, cut and paste collages derived from one-chord jams). It's in the placing of the sounds that it gets its power, taking what could almost be described as a pointillist approach, short staccato phrases juxtaposed in varying combinations, never resting, always moving, but also static, creating a real sense of an environment in which we stay for a while. I'm reminded of the way Birtwistle describes many of his works, in terms of a single unchanging object viewed from changing perspectives.

If this sounds dauntingly intellectual, the effect on the ear is visceral and immediate (as is the actual music of Stockhausen and Birtwistle, if you ignore all the talking about it and just listen). Those foam-mouthed jazz-heads need to open up their perspectives and stop worrying about whether this is jazz or not. It's an extraordinary record that even now sounds like something that arrived in our midst from outer space.

Oh, did I mention that it's also damn funky?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Abscheid

In one of those strange cosmic coincidences that pop up every now and again and seem too perfect to be happenstance, Alfred Brendel's retirement was announced on No Music Day. The announcement was considered significant enough for the Guardian to write its third leader in praise of him, and quite right too. Brendel is the embodiment of a venerable tradition in music; he communicates not through flash commercialism or tacky crossover, but through simple, direct and intelligent playing and writing. I still treasure a tape of a radio broadcast of a concert I went to as a lad where he performed Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto with the CBSO, full of intelligence and rigour but also warmth and humanity. He's a performer whose qualities are invaluable, and increasingly rare, and it's a sad day for music, but also entirely in keeping with his absolute uncompromising dedication to his craft that he chooses to leave the stage without fuss, before his playing falters.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

No Music Day

So, I decided to stay at home today, not simply because I thought it'd be easier to avoid music here, but also because it occurred to me last year that my job isn't really compatible with the whole thing, being essentially aiding and abetting the performing of music. It's not that simple though - I've already almost clicked through a link to a song on You Tube (well, it did promise smurfs and masturbation - no link today, I'm afraid, I'll put one in here after midnight). Hooray for Resonance FM and BBC Radio Scotland, who are both going noteless for the day.

10.13: I sat down on the sofa and very nearly picked up the uke. A close shave. I put the instrument away in its case.

10.29: Last night I was thinking about the fact that my orchestra rehearses on a Thursday, and therefore next year I'd have to bunk off, but my brother points out that 2008 is a leap year, so November 21 will fall on Friday. Which surely proves that God is on the side of this enterprise.

11.17: There's been some interesting stuff on Radio Scotland so far, including an article about beards (including an interview with a man with a large beard) and an interview with Shane out of Boyzone, which concluded with them telling him they wouldn't be playing his record today. He sounded like he might cry. It was great.

11.38: Now here's a dilemma: I have on the table a half-finished theremin kit. If I were to do some soldering work on it (just the kind of little job I've not got round to due to business but could usefully get done on a day off), am I going against the spirit of the day? I mean, I'd be soldering, not playing music, but constructing a musical instrument is after all a step in the process of producing music. Hmm. I decide to defer this dilemma by going to the shops.

12.50: I never thought I'd say this, but hurrah for Tesco, who have a policy of not piping music in their stores (well, not in the food section, anyway. There may have been a whiff of something coming from the upstairs CD/DVD bit, but I didn't go there today, and it was noisy enough that I can't be sure I actually did hear any music). If only they could introduce a policy of not rearranging their store layout for no very good reason.

It's the little mental twitches that I'm noticing - on returning home I had a brief mental itch to put on a CD. Only a very brief one, but it just shows how ingrained such behaviour is that this action should suggest itself without any thought whatsoever.

By the way, the word is spreading - here's an article from the New York Times.

1.00: I nearly switch on the TV news, but realise it has theme music, not to mention lots of background music as they read headlines. I switch on Radio 4 instead.

2.00: Bill Drummond is on Radio Scotland talking about recorded music (having already covered Shetland woolwear), and he says a lot that chimes with thoughts I've had myself - the idea that recorded music is so ubiquitous now that it's in decline, and live performance, which can only be experienced in one place at one time, will become the important thing. Also some interesting thoughts about how kids' attitude to music differs to old farts like him (and me).

Interesting coincidental fact - today is the 130th anniversary of Edison's unveiling of the phonograph.

2.42: Having decided that circuit work is OK, I then proceed to swear very loudly and aggressively as I inadvertently pull a wire out of the board, pretty much impossible to put back without dismantling the entire thing. Cocking hell. I decide to take this as a sign that I'm not meant to tackle such things.

15.15: One of the nice things about going to the shops on a day off rather than after work is that you have more time to think about it and so you actually remember to buy things like washing up liquid. And then you have time to wash up the dishes which have dried food stains welded to them because you kept forgetting to buy washing up liquid. Now I shall go for a spin on my bike before it starts to get dark.

5.51: Cycling frees the mind. I wonder if by concentrating on recording the day I have not lived it as I might. But that could be said of all blogging.

I find songs come to mind (and have done throughout the day. Even when music is absent, its ghost haunts my conscious.

I ride, with no particular aim, simply enjoying the feeling of being out, away from everything. I see people walking their dogs, a few schoolkids fishing, but otherwise I am alone.

I return home, and am drawn into a conversation on Resonance FM about radio - its past, its future, memories of it. Radio engages in a way television can't. I think of childhood, of comedy on the radio - the Hitchhiker's Guide, the Goons, of Jazz Record Requests on Saturday evenings as my dad cooked, of nights under the duvet listening to John Peel on my brand new transistor radio. Television is an intruder; radio is a companion.

7.38: Too much chili in the stir-fry! Would I have made such a basic error if I had music?
I have been having a slightly brain dead period, cooking, flummery, gazing distractedly into space. I did read an article in New Scientist about why it is worth individuals doing carbon-reducing green-type stuff. I am also greatly amused by a still from a Simpsons episode featuring Alan Moore as guest star, in which Millhouse holds up a DVD of "Watchmen Babies: V for Vacation".

7.56: I want to watch the football. I was going to leave it until kickoff to put the sound on, so as to miss national anthems and stray jingles. But the fans might be singing! I'm not sure what to do. I wonder if the radio commentary will have the crowd sounds sufficiently backgrounded to get away with it? It'd be better than listening to the witless drivelling of Motty or whoever's commentating on telly. I shall see how the radio goes. If necessary I will have to turn it off and use the Grauniad's online commentary.

8.09: If England carry on like this, I won't have to worry about singing, that's for sure.

8.12: England flailing about. I flail at the radio switch as the crowd starts singing the National Anthem. Silence it is, then.

8.28: Watching football in silence is a very odd experience, detached and impassive. Which in the circumstances is just as well. Second-choice Steve looks bemused. It's quite simple, Steve - you're not going to have a job in an hour or so the way things are going.

8.50: Watching football in silence is just too weird. I am playing with the tactic of having the sound up and my finger hovering over the mute button. Interestingly, if you mute for a few seconds, when you bring the sound back on it can take several moments to register if the crowd are singing. Although they're generally booing at the end of the first half.

The pundits are struggling to find anything to say. It must be hard to fill 15 minutes of air time with variations on "they're shit".

9.03: Beckham comes on, and the thumb twitches to spare me the national anthem again. Can the preening, non-fit, crappy American League lag and publicity whore bring us back from the brink?

9.07: A question that interests me is, does chanting count as music? As in the cries of "Come on England!" that occasionally punctuate the stadium. And where does chanting slide into singing? Like sexuality, maybe music exists on a spectrum rather than absolutes.

9.11: On comes the mute again as those brass-playing twats start up.

9.18: Fat Frank's penalty seems to have got the team looking a bit more lively, if not much better quality, and had inspired "England til I Die" singing. Muted til they stop, I'm muted til they stop, I know I am I hope I am, muted til they stop.

9.24: Replying to a text means I'm slow on the draw, and the brass playing twats are several bars in before I get rid of them. Well blimey, the preening publicity whore came good, and now we're level. Is it wrong of me to feel slight disappointment? What a traitor I am.

9.36: Now I feel bad because I feel a certain satisfaction as Croatia go ahead again. Looks like we're in for a quarter hour of desperate scrabbling, then.
Those brass-playing twats are the bane of my life at the moment.

9.53: Well, that's it, we're out, and we deserve to be. What a bunch of useless tossers. I can only hope this now means there'll be some proper rethinking at the FA and we actually start to address all those problems we've ignored for too long.

Well, that was a tense couple of hours, and not just because of the football. There's a bit of me that thinks I've made it too easy for myself staying at home today, and the song-dodging felt like I was having to work to avoid music more than at any point today. Still two hours to go. I can't watch Heroes (the only other telly I'm bothered about seeing tonight) because it's laden with music, being a TV drama, so I'm taping it, and I reckon I'll watch it after midnight. I'll probably regret it in the morning and be yawning all day, but what the hell, after last week's (BBC3, i.e. this week's BBC2) episode, I can't wait. Now to ponder how to pass the rest of the day.

10.52: I decide to vent my frustrations through the medium of cartoon dogs. Now I shall see what Resonance and Radio Scotland are up to. Soon the experiment will be done for another year.

11.03 I am Mohinder Suresh, according to the Facebook "Which Hero Are You?" application. How dull.

11.05: Slightly bored with Scotland (the station I mean, not the country. I've nothing against Scotland. I like Scotland.), I switch to Resonance and am hit with a slab of Reggae. Bah! I scramble for the switch. So, let the final minutes be quiet contemplation.

11.17: Determined to make some use of the final haul, I hit on an idea: I shall watch a silent film. With the sound down, obviously. How necessary is music to the enjoyment of Buster Keaton?

11.40: I watched "Cops", a classic Keaton short with a cynical streak of black humour that's always appealed to me. It's odd watching it silent; as with the football it seems slightly distancing. You can appreciate the gags alright, and maybe I had to pay even more attention than I would normally, but you don't feel the same need to laugh out loud. Funny how music seems to be such an important part of a style of film-making that has no sound. But of course there would have been sound - the musical accompaniment, which seems almost like another character when done well, but is something the film maker has no control over. I like that idea, it appeals to me in the same way that chance does in composition, forcing the composer to cede control. I think too much control is stifling.

So what have I learned today? Well, the importance of music (or sound, at least) in certain situations. It helps you get carried away into the world of whatever you're experiencing. Which is I suppose why shops pipe muzak, a kind of brainwashing exercise, and something we should all fight against.

I've also been made aware of how much music seeps into every corner of our lives, to the extent that I've had to avoid most television and radio today. That to avoid music is often to avoid rather a lot of life. If I can take something from today, it's an idea that it'd be good to take some of that life back, not to drown it in sound. And make a decision to listen, not just hear.

12.00: Hail! Bright Cecilia, and all that. No Music Day is done for 2007.


Oh yes... the smurf/wank video is here. Astonishing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Preaching to the unconverted

It was interesting hearing Bill Drummond on Radio 4's Front Row this evening trying to persuade various people, including the manager of an HMV shop, Steven Isserlis and Jeremy Vine, to join in No Music Day. Isserlis didn't seem to understand the point at all, Vine mithered about his contractual obligations, and of course the HMV bloke demonstrated just what a bunch of utterly soulless fuckwads the music business is by droning on about profit.

Still, they were good-humoured about it all, at least. What I find extraordinary is the vitriolic antipathy expressed by many people, posting on the No music Day site, and some of the reactions I get when I suggest that a day without music might be a good idea. You'd think I'd asked them to kill some puppies and then invade Poland before finally throwing themselves in front of the 149 with 30 pounds of gelignite strapped to their waist, the way they react. Or that I'd told them to forego their skag for the day. Which is more what they remind me of - junkies, long past the phase when they got any pleasure from their habit, and locked into a cycle of miserable dependency, each hit just a way of staving off the next hit.

Will you turn off your radio, put away your instrument, leave your CDs on the shelf tomorrow?

Monday, November 19, 2007

Inconvenient inspirations

Periodically I find myself returning to the question: at what point does a composer's inactivity pass a point where he is no longer a composer? The idea of a piece floats before me constantly, but any actual content with which to realise this idea remains elusive. I think on this from a slightly different perspective today as I contemplate the prospect of No Music Day, which I found a very thought-provoking experience last year and shall be observing again this year. I bet I'm suddenly overwhelmed with brilliant ideas on the day I'm committed to having nothing to do with them. It's a variant on the muse of meetings, who brings you all your best ideas when you're stuck in some tedious pointless meeting and can't write it down.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Time and the instrumental factor

Every so often, I stop and consider what time has passed, and more often than not I'm surprised how much has, slipping through the fingers like sand. Days drag but months and years fly by, and when I think how far I've travelled in one year I'm astounded. Tempo isn't simply a matter of speed. One can move quickly but get nowhere, or one can move slowly and deliberately but with great purpose and force. Temporal distance is a construct we make to explain where we are, and how great it seems depends on where we put the markers. As we age and novel experience lessens, time seems to pass more quickly, and the most important trick to learn is therefore to remember how to experience every moment as new, to remember that similarities are always superficial and there is rarely, if ever, any such thing as genuine repetition.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The art of gestures

It's easy to be dismissive of conductors. I know because it's a favourite hobby of mine. Only yesterday afternoon I was discussing a number of quite famous ones with a colleague of mine in amusingly vitriolic fashion. It must be karma, then, that barely a couple of hours later I found myself standing in front of an orchestra, waving my hands about and trying not to lose my place in a very small score of Sibelius' Fourth Symphony, covering until the real conductor (delayed in traffic) arrived. Actually, considering I did it with no preparation whatsoever I think I did alright, and dare I say it, by the time I got to leave the podium and return to my cello, the band sounded maybe marginally better than it had 40 minutes earlier.

All this offers me an opportunity to plug the next Kensington Symphony Orchestra concert on November 27th. It's going to be good, of course it is. Come along if you're around.

Strangely, only a couple of days ago I had a dream about a concert I conducted at university, more years ago than I care to divulge. What could it all mean?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Catherine Kontz

I met the composer Catherine Kontz today*, she was delivering a score to the place where I work. It was very big and colourful, and cheered me up, so I thought I'd plug her website and her MySpaz. And now I have.

(Of course, it being essentially a graphic score, some of the people I work with scoffed at it. How sad it must be to live a life of such narrow horizons. I thought it was a marvellous, imaginative thing.)

* Regular readers may be surprised at the idea of two composers meeting without blood being spilt. I should point out that for the purposes of this encounter, I was in a non-composing capacity.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Raising Sand

It'd be a terrible shame if all the hoohah about the Led Zeppelin reunion (not to mention Jimmy Page's finger) meant this little gem got overlooked. Raising Sand is a lovely album, a bit homely, a bit swampy, a lot country and a load good. Alison Krauss and Robert Plant aren't a combination you'd necessarily have predicted, but it turns out beautifully, and Percy turns out to do a splendid turn as a country vocalist. He's from West Bromwich, y'know. Nearly a brummie.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Another gratuitous plug

Bryan,who describes himself as a long time reader of this blog (something I find flattering and terrifying in equal measure), draws my attention to a band called Your 33 Black Angels, who have released an album all by themselves without a big record company, and are therefore Splendid (even though I haven't had time to listen to them properly yet). Rolling Stone like them too, but don't let that put you off ;)

As I haven't had time (etc), feel free to pop over to their MySpaz and come back here and say what you think. This is of course an example of internet democracy in action, and not just a lazy way of whoring for comments. Honest.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

History of the future.

It's only slightly distracting that Gerry Finley-Day looks like Lou Carpenter out of Neighbours.

He's at the ICA for an ultra-rare public appearance with Pat Mills as part of Paul Gravett's Comica festival, to talk about their work on comics, and in particular on Tammy. In an ironic reflection of what various sources have claimed about their relationship when Pat was editor and Gerry writer for 2000ad, Gerry is filled with marvellous stories but has some trouble getting to the point, while Pat seems to spend a lot of time telling us what Gerry thinks. They're clearly revelling in the chance to talk about Tammy though - Pat is adamant that those early 70s girls' comics were an important part of the history of the medium in Britain whose significance is yet to be fully appreciated, and it's a wonderful privilege to be able to hear these two grand old men of British comics trade stories and reflections. Gerry joined the T.A. at one point, essentially for reference purposes. Now that's commitment. Halfway through, a man sidles in through the door and sits down next to me, it's Kevin O'Neill. I struggle to maintain a dignified composure and not jump up and down shouting "YOU'RE KEVIN O'NEILL!" or anything embarrassing like that. I succeed, just. When I was about 12 and sure my future was as a comics artist, Kevin was the artist I wanted to be like more than anyone.

He's up at the front for the second half of the talk, and it's an equal pleasure to hear him and Pat talk about the early days of 2000ad, the struggles with management, the strip by Ken Reid they almost got for 2000ad (the greatest lost strip in British comics, according to O'Neill), how Action got away with it and eventually didn't, and the fact that, astonishingly, Mills and the estate of Joe Colquhoun still aren't getting any payment for reprints of Charley's War.

Access no areas

Missed Mark Ronson's critically acclaimed Electric Proms gig? Never mind, you can still catch it online at... oh, er, you can't, apparently.

"Music rights restrictions" suggests either a record company or a publisher's hand at work. Either way, it's another piece of heavy-handed idiocy. Who benefits from this gig being made unavailable? One more example of the way the music industry dinosaurs would rather go out of their way to stop their music being heard than attempt to engage in any way with the possibilities music has online. In a way, this is a good thing, because every clodding act like this brings the day when these vile organisations are consigned to history.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"It's either Romana, or Fred"

So, you're struck down with a particularly nasty bug, you've finished with one deadline, you can't quite rouse yourself to start the next job, what do you do? Well, if you're me, you sit down in front of the telly and enjoy a big box of Doctor Who!

The Key to Time is the complete 16th series of Doctor Who, first broadcast in 1978, and a novelty for the series at the time in having what we'd now call a story arc throughout the season, i.e. a vague plot linking all the stories together. This comes from the height of my first obsession with Doctor Who, so buying this was a shameless act of nostalgia on my part. I remember vividly reciting all the best lines from each episode on Monday morning in the playground, but of course it's 30 years later, and everybody knows the effects were crap and you couldn't get away with that now, don't we?

Well, ya boo sucks. I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's surprising how well it all stands up. See, it doesn't matter that the effects were crap (and actually, considering how little money they had, what they achieved and the ingenuity they show in achieving it is remarkable), or that it's sometimes a bit hammy, because there's more imagination in the least of these stories (probably "the Power of Kroll") than a month of most kids' TV now. Tom Baker's in great form, funny and mad and not yet a parody of himself, Mary Tamm as Romana talks back, not something the Doctor had been used to before, and there are some genuinely wonderful stories in here, best of the bunch being the Prisoner of Zenda spoof "The Androids of Tara". And in "The Armagedon Factor" K-9 actually gets something to do other than make smart-alec comments to cover up the fact that he's got stuck in the gravel again. Lots of extras (I've not listened to any of the commentaries yet, but as Baker, Tamm and John Leeson are all present, along with a number of supporting actors and directors, I anticipate some fun there), including a very funny interview with Tom Baker on Nationwide where he accuses Frank Bough of being a fictional character. And of course in "The Pirate Planet" and the final scene of "The Armageddon factor" you've got some significant early writing by the late Douglas Adams. Perhaps not the very best of old-skool Who, but a welcome reminder nevertheless of why it was the best thing on TV ever when I was 8.

Gratuitous pimping



I was supposed to be dining with a certain long-haired writer from Northampton this evening. No, not him. I'm talking about Andrew Jerdin, creator of the popular fictional character Andre Jordan. Unfortunately the lurgee still has me in its grasp, so I'm stuck here at home, plugging his new book. I've read it, it's good. So buy it. Go on.

Go on, then.