Archive | Reviews RSS for this section

Review of Les Miserables

Finally saw the film of Les Miserables. Really enjoyed it (if enjoyed is ever the right word for such a depressing show). A lot of the dull bits from the show seemed significantly less dull with the magic of cinema, and despite a Tom Hooper’s real fetish for close up shots which were quite disorienting, it looked stunning. The majority of performances were very good – Anne Hathaway in particular. Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter were a bit disappointing – they didn’t really add anything special to their roles – and I actually felt myself wanting to get back to the depressing main characters every moment that they were on screen. As for Hugh Jackman and Russell Crowe… Jackman did VERY well, and sounded pretty good, but I don’t think he sounded as amazing as many people are saying. And to all those Russell Crowe ‘haters’ out there… I think he played the role with just the right amount of stoicism, and although his singing wasn’t up to booming bass-baritone standards, he sang all the right notes in a perfectly acceptable manner for the context. Eddie Redmayne, however… hideous. You would never get away with that amount of flappy-jawed vibrato in an amateur production – why on earth would a director obsessed with close-up shots not nip this in the bud from the word go? Anyway, a solid 8/10 film that will be added to the DVD shelf and watched for years to come.

Giles Fraser on Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape”

Giles Fraser, canon chancellor of St Paul’s cathedral, and his take on Sam Harris’s “The Moral Landscape”. Taken from the Guardian. Enjoy:

We are caught in a battle between those who believe too much and those who believe too little – so Terry Eagleton was saying at St Paul’s cathedral the other day. In the one corner are the fundamentalists for whom certainty can be pulled off the page of ancient scripture, and in the other are the “whatever” generation for whom the continual introduction of the word “like” is the perfect expression of anxiety about certainty per se. (Conversation with my daughter: she says “It is, like, raining.” “No,” I reply, “there’s no like about it. It is raining.”)

Sam Harris struck literary gold having a go at those with too much certainty in The End of Faith. Now he turns his attention to those with too little. His target is moral relativism. For too long religion has sheltered behind the popular idea that you can have your truth and I will have mine. Harris wants a more muscular form of God-denying liberalism, attained by tearing down the familiar idea that science does facts (where truth is possible) and religion does meaning and values (where relativistic respect is essential). With this fact/value distinction – inspired by no less a figure than David Hume – religion and science have announced the terms of their peace treaty, each claiming for themselves a non-competing jurisdiction. But Harris will have none of it. Science has sold itself cheap. The peace treaty must be torn up. Science can indeed tell us about morality. Indeed, science can determine morality.

First, the atheism. On that useful quadrant – interesting and right, interesting and wrong, uninteresting and right, uninteresting and wrong – Harris is mostly in the uninteresting and right category. Uninteresting because he is concerned only with the narrowest definition of religious belief, and right because the moral and intellectual crimes he pins on this form of belief – its ignorance and prejudice – are so obvious to the western secular imagination that they do not require argument, and certainly not a PhD in neuroscience. Given his definition of religion, his attack on it is the philosophical equivalent of taking sweets from a baby. These things are wrong: “female genital excision, blood feuds, infanticide, the torture of animals, scarification, foot binding, cannibalism, ceremonial rape, human sacrifice”. The list goes on. With regard to the god Harris describes, I am a much more convinced atheist than he – even though I am a priest. For Harris asks constantly for evidence, with the implication that if he discovered some, he would change his mind. My own line would be that even if the god he described was proved to exist, I would see it as my moral duty to be an atheist. An all-powerful eternal despot is still a despot. Blake called this wicked villain “Nobodaddy”.

Nonetheless, the attack on relativism leads Harris into much more interesting territory, but interesting and wrong. His astonishing lack of humility leads him to claim too much for what science can achieve in the realm of morality. The key concept is that of “wellbeing”. It is, he suggests, both a fact word and a value word, like “health”. So, for example, to suggest that a thing contributes to wellbeing is to make of it a positive evaluation as well as to claim something that can be measured scientifically. On this Harris has invoked the wrath of countless philosophers. But I’m with Harris here. As Mary Midgley argued years ago in her brilliant Beast and Man (a book with a comparable intention to Harris’s, though more modestly expressed), an apparently neutral description – “natural” or “human” for example – relates to the empirical world and contains a moral charge. But to extend this point to the idea that wellbeing can shoulder all the work of morality is breathtakingly hubristic.

What is presented as Harris’s big new idea is really just reheated utilitarianism with wellbeing in place of pleasure. Where this idea breaks down is where utilitarianism breaks down. Let me start with Harris’s defence of torture. If the sum of general wellbeing (whatever that means) is increased by the torture of a terrorist suspect, then torture is not even a necessary evil – it becomes a moral duty. Worse still: discussing Robert Nozick’s ingenious idea of a “utility monster”, Harris asks “if it would be ethical for our species to be sacrificed for the unimaginably vast happiness of some superbeings”. His answer is astonishing: “Provided we take time to really imagine the details (which is not easy), I think the answer is clearly ‘yes’.” For me this is back with the evil Nobodaddy. I will not worship superbeings nor sacrifice to them. Once again I am more atheist than he.

There are so many problems with utilitarianism, it’s a pity Harris does so little to address them. How can one quantify the sum total of wellbeing produced by a single action when the potential consequences of any particular action are infinite? So keen is he to turn morality into science that Harris presses on regardless. His demand is that all morality be calibrated on a single scale. Yet if one observes what it is that people call good (and isn’t observation a scientific golden rule?), instead of assuming what good ought to look like, one surely recognises very different sorts of moral value. Can the moral value of freedom and equality really be measured in the same way? Can a conflict between love and duty be resolved by some scientific calculation? No. As Isaiah Berlin rightly pointed out, moral values are often incommensurable. Not all things are good in the same way and for the same reasons. Thus they cannot be measured against each other, however attractive that seems to the scientific mind.

For all this, it is not so much that I disagree with Harris. Rather, I am scared of him. And not his atheism, which is standard scientific materialism with the volume turned up. But scared of his complete lack of ambiguity, his absolute clarity of vision, his refusal of humour or self-criticism, his unrelenting seriousness. Harris sees the great moral battle of our day as one between belief and unbelief. I see it as between those who insist that the world be captured by a single philosophy and those who don’t. Which is why I fear Harris in just the same way I fear evangelical Christians, to whom he looks so similar. Like them, he is in no doubt about his faith. Like them, he has his devoted followers. Like them, he wants to convert the world. Well, I’m sorry. I am not a believer.

Review: Edinburgh Studio Opera’s “Opera Sins”- Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Opera Sins *** (3 stars)

Thursday 19th August: 4.30pm
Friday 20th August: 4.30pm
Monday 23rd August: 4.30pm
Wednesday 25th August: 2.30pm
Thursday 26th August: 4.30pm

St Andrew’s and St George’s Church, George Street; £12.50 (£8.50)

See here for more information: http://www.edinburghstudioopera.com/2010/08/30/opera-sins-fringe-2010/

Yesterday afternoon I made along to St Andrew’s and St George’s church to see the latest offering from relative Fringe newcomers, the University of Edinburgh affiliated “Edinburgh Studio Opera”. I didn’t quite know what to expect from what was essentially an opera sketch show, but at £12.50 for a one-hour performance I had high expectations.

The production took place in a beautiful oval church, with the entire building being used at various points during the scenes to greater or lesser effect. The nature of the venue dictated that there was no stage lighting to speak of, but the beauty of the surroundings and the limited costume and set combined to produce an atmosphere akin to a private performance occurring in an opulent drawing room, rather than a bawdy public spectacle, and thus the lack of “theatrical” lighting was of no detriment to the performance, and even added to the atmosphere. Nick Fletcher (Musical Director) provided a strong accompaniment to the scenes on the grand piano, and has successfully drilled the cast (who for the most part could not see him at the piano) in dynamics, expression and tempi. No mean feat with such a large, strong-voiced cast!

The scenes opened with the sin “Greed” portrayed through a scene from Puccini’s “Gianni Schicchi”. Having been involved in a production of this myself (as Marco in 2006) I know how fiendishly difficult some of the larger ensemble numbers are. The scene revolved around the relatives of the recently deceased Buoso Donati, who were frantically trying to find his last will and testament. All voices were uniformly strong in this piece as the performers rushed around stage frantically trying to find the elusive parchment, eventually retrieved from the pulpit by the lovesick Rinuccio (Joe Doody), much to the consternation of his fellows. The audience’s enjoyment of this well-staged, vocally robust scene was emphasized by the extra whoops and cheers provided for the unfortunate soul who had to lie motionless from the moment the audience entered until the end of the scene. I still preferred the way we did it in 2006 though…

This excellent introduction was unfortunately followed by a particularly weak scene from Monteverdi’s,“L’incoronazione Di Poppea” depicting “Pride”.  The disappointment induced by this scene was not the fault of either of the singers, but simply because the music was dull, revolving around an uninspiring dialogue between two lovers. Halfway through I admit I gave up following the translation in my programme. One would have thought that a better example of pride could have been found amongst the multitude of scenes and arias at the production team’s disposal…

Next we were treated to Jerome Knox’s powerful rendition of a popular aria from Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro” – Non più andrai. Whilst the singing of all performers in this scene was up to scratch, something about the scene just felt a little flat. Maybe it is because I am comparing the scene to Opera Ireland’s excellent production (Dublin, 2008), but I don’t think I agreed with the Director (George Ransley)’s decision to go with Gilbert & Sullivan-esque physical actions to accompany the words being sung on stage. However, this blocking did ensure that those audience members who had not paid fifty pence for a programme, or were unfamiliar with aria, knew what was going on.

Things were quickly back to their impressive beginnings with the fourth deadly sin, “Wrath”, depicted in this context by a scene from Benjamin Britten’s “Peter Grimes”. I have never heard this opera before but after this taster I am most definitely going to have a look for it. The music was gorgeous and lush, with Suzanne McGrath’s soprano (Ellen) soaring elegantly over the awe-inspiring sounds of the ethereal chorus in the gallery behind the audience. The chorus was led by an equally commanding Frankie Powlesland as the Reverend, and although Ian McBain did not get to sing anything as John, his portrayal of the young apprentice was touching and complemented McGrath’s performance nicely.

“Gluttony”, my favourite of the seven deadly sins, was portrayed through another excellent piece of music – the scene from Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel where the young children find the gingerbread house in the woods. This was another new piece of music for me, and another piece that I am definitely going to try and track down. The performances from Rachel Timney (Hansel) and Laura Reading (Gretel) definitely made this scene, their voices being up to the task, and some of the expressions of delight on their faces being worthy of Hallmark. It was lucky that their performances were so strong as the staging for this scene was virtually non-existent. It was a clever idea to have chocolate lowered down from the gallery, and I know it would be impossible for a fringe show to produce an edible gingerbread house, but it felt somewhat cruel to leave the performers wandering aimlessly around the audience for such a long period of time.

“Envy” was portrayed in another bizarrely chosen scene from Rameau’s “Zoroastre”. It seems that the performers (Gareth McGuigan and Lauren Fraser) drew the short straw in being allocated this scene, as both had robust voices which I would have liked to have heard tackling more pleasing music… but I guess if anything this production has demonstrated a wide-survey of the opera phenomenon and shown me what I do and don’t want to investigate further.

Finally, the audience were presented with a tour de force in form of Vanity Fair from Vaughan-Williams’ “The Pilgrim’s Progress”. The wonderful layers of frantic modern harmonies combined to produce a wall of breathtaking sound reminding me fondly of his “Dona Nobis Pacem” which I used to listen to on a regular basis. The entire cast were involved in this colourful scene, many of whom were wearing their costumes from previous scenes, which only added to the flamboyant and foreboding nature of the scene. ESO couldn’t have asked for a better finale to their production.

All-in-all I feel I can only give this production, as a whole, three stars. The music was uniformly of a very high standard throughout, and whilst some of the scenes were definitely worthy of a four or five-star rating, the whole piece was confounded by the inclusion of some less attractive music, and some scenes which seemed to have been directorially neglected, although admittedly to the benefit of others. However, everyone involved in this production should be proud as each and every one of them participated in some moments of greatness and the merits far outweigh the criticisms. Do try and make it along to their other two performances (and obtain copies of the Vaughan-Williams, Britten and Humperdinck).

I have also posted this review on Broadway Baby.

Review: Jacob’s Ladder – Edinburgh Fringe 2010

Jacob’s Ladder **** (4 stars)

Underbelly, Cowgate – 11:10AM (60 mins). 5th — 29th August. £6.50-£9.50


Yesterday I went to see my first show of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2010…  at it was Jacob’s Ladder which was bloody awesome (however not in any way related to the 1990 Tim Robbins film of the same name).

On paper, everything about this play is “young”: The cast boast a couple of Fringe newbies; the production company has been birthed for the specific purpose of bringing this play to light (although under the experienced hands of Sam Hansford); and the website for the production describes it as having originated in the musings of “exciting young playwright Emily Moir”. However, these cursory observations are instantly forgotten the moment the action commences in this exuberant performance.

Admittedly, a play which begins with the small cast of six innocently formulating the specifics of a devil worshiping cult could hardly go wrong in my book. The Monty Python-esque logic of “What do cults do when they aren’t worshiping Satan?” – “They go in for animal sacrifice don’t they?” – “That falls under the worship, I reckon” – “Well, they must do a certain amount of farming… they have to take care of the animals they sacrifice” – “Does anyone here know how to keep animals?” – “I keep bees….” – had me squirming in my seat with joy, whilst at the same time provoking many tangential forays into the more philosophical crevices of my mind. A major achievement for a play at 11.10 in the morning!

Although nothing much happens – with the entire drama unfolding in front of a garden shed in the grounds of a sociopathic, wannabe cult-leader’s country home – this is theatrical social commentary at its best: think “Lost in Translation” rather than the stereotypically artsy 4.48 Psychosis. Whilst scattered with comedic gems, the script courses seamlessly through all colours of the emotional spectrum, and tackles all manner of subject matter – from pregnancy and sexuality, to the similarities between the British penal system, and the phenomenon of boarding school – and leaves the audience wanting more when the play comes to its all-too-abrupt end. Disappointingly, one couldn’t help but feel that the writer panicked about the time allocation in the venue, and signed off before the  story reached its natural conclusion – a shame considering the running time was only 50 minutes, instead of the advertised hour. However, this in no way detracts from the power of the piece as a whole.

All of the performances on display were of a very high standard, and every cast member should be thoroughly proud of what they have achieved. Ed Sheridan was particularly affecting as the awkward and creepily convincing cult leader (Jake), and at numerous points brought elements of Hamlet and Shylock into the mix – a testament, perhaps, to his work with the Edinburgh University Shakespeare Company. And in strikingly different, yet equally powerful performances, Sophie Pemberton (Sal) and Emily Rose Hay (Mary) confidently articulated many unspoken, yet real and significant aspects of female sexuality, despite their young age – “I dangle the carrot because, frankly, I don’t know what to do with the stick” summing up Mary’s dilemma succinctly.

Naturally this production is not without its negatives. At times the inevitable shoehorning of monologue after monologue started to grate, and some of the caricatured characters on display rivaled the work of the Royal Mile’s finest. And although inevitable during the Fringe, the uncomfortable seats, ludicrously shallow rake and inappropriate music drifting in at points from adjacent venues did somewhat spoil the atmosphere in places. Be that as it may, the many pros of this production far outweigh these minor cons, and I would thoroughly recommend that you take in Jacob’s Ladder with your morning Starbucks.

If there’s any justice in this cruel world, tickets for this production will be very hard to come by. Have a good fringe, guys!  (And  I know a good joiner, if you want to get the shed door fixed…)

(I have also posted this review on Broadway Baby)

Building the Metal Machine! My Review of Sonisphere, Knebworth 2010

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to be able to attend the Sonisphere Festival. And I thought, since I am always looking for new blog topics, that I should write about the experience for you all. I should say, to start with, that I am in no way a music critic, and most of this is going to consist of “these guys rocked” or “those guys sucked”… but I hope it might prove an entertaining read.

First off, I would like to start with my “Festival in a Nutshell” ratings…

  • TURISAS **
  • CHICKENHAWK ****
  • EUROPE **
  • AND SO I WATCH YOU FROM AFAR ****
  • ALICE COOPER **
  • SABATON *****
  • SOULFLY **
  • FEAR FACTORY ***
  • JAPANESE VOYEURS **
  • SKUNK ANANSIE ****
  • PLACEBO *
  • RAMMSTEIN *****
  • THERAPY? ****
  • HENRY ROLLINS ***
  • SLAYER ****
  • BRING ME THE HORIZON **
  • IRON MAIDEN ****
  • SONISPHERE AS A WHOLE? ****

So… now for the full report!

I will happily admit that until July 2009 I was a festival virgin. Thus I was absolutely thrilled at the prospect of making the trip to see two of my favourite bands (Rammstein and Iron Maiden), as well as a whole host of others – considering that my repertoire of live gigs is incredibly limited (Metallica, Nightwish, Sepultura, Rage Against the Machine, Green Day and Motorhead being the highlights to date) – and enjoy a thoroughly messy weekend with my friends Geoff, Chris and Heather (the latter two make up the up-and-coming duo “Dead on the Live Wire”).

The Crew… with Geoff looking somewhat confused at being photographed

On Friday morning, after a lazy start, we boarded the train at Edinburgh Waverley with copious amounts of booze… mostly rum and bourbon… and varying amounts of food. Note to self… bring food! The other three had done a fantastic job on the culinary front, but food totally slipped my mind. However, the food stalls at the festival were remarkably good, and there was even a 24 hour “supermarket” in the campsite… and it was an absolute godsend to discover a vegetarian and vegan food stall! However, whilst I applaud the bringing of food, I would not recommend bringing a wedge of brie and leaving it in your sweaty tent for a few days… that was not pleasant!

Geoff and I had the pleasure of travelling first class on the train, and whilst this is not very metal, it most certainly rocked! Free tea, coffee and biscuits FTW! (and indeed, having loads of space and a guaranteed seat! – I hear from the others that the standard class coaches were less than pleasant, and this was corroborated by the regular announcements throughout the train to take bags off seats and let the other metalheads sit down). We decided to start the festival off whilst on the train – i.e. we started drinking with our lunch and paid ludicrious amounts of money for fairly mediocre food… but this meant that by the time we arrived at Stevenage station (changing at Peterborough) we were already in the mood to party. Whilst the organisers of the festival had kindly organised free shuttle buses from Stevenage Station to Knebworth, the queue was so massive that we decided £2.50 each for a taxi was a small price to pay. On arriving at the campsite our initial thoughts were “we have arrived FAAAAAAR to late” – we walked past hundreds upon hundreds of tents and could find no spaces… we were literally about to give up and head back to the entrance when Geoff spotted a perfect two-tent-sized hole just off the path, and we were able to get our tents sent up with the doors facing in to each other. Turns out we were literally 100 metres from the entrance to the main arena, the portaloos, the 24-hour… couldn’t have been better! And so the festival began….

Friday, Saturn Stage: Time Warp World Record Attempt    18.00 – 18.05

What could have happened…

I cannot describe how excited we were to see this on the bill for Sonisphere. We rushed putting up our tent, skipped dinner and arrived at the Saturn stage at 17.55 wondering where all the bizarre transvestites were. Luckily Geoff and Chris hadn’t put on the gold, metallic hotpants that they had brought with them, as 18.00 came and went without a sign of a Time Warp World Record Attempt.

This made me cry a little inside… although a few of us did the Time Warp anyway… which made everything okay… and it did mean that we got to see a few minutes of Turisas…

Just a few minutes though!

Friday, Saturn Stage: Turisas    18.10 – 18.50 **

Turisas… Kane from WWF/WWE?

Turisas playing at Sonisphere

Look at these guys… I mean this was our first impression of Sonisphere.  They look like Kane from Wrestling on the television circa late 1990s, split into numerous and frankly less rockin’ parts! We didn’t stay in front of them for that long… but long enough to work out that we didn’t want to be spending the next half hour of our lives being subjected to bizarre folk metal. Don’t get me wrong… I am a major Nightwish fan, and this band certainly had a little Nightwish about them… but when you see a band take to the stage with an accordion and tonnes of red makeup, and you haven’t even had your first drink of the festival. it’s going to take something very major to redeem them.

They had put a lot of effort into making themselves look fabulous… and for this they earned a ** rating… I’m sorry that I can’t be more articulate in my criticism, but they simply weren’t worth my time. Turns out this was one of the best things that could have happened, as Chickenhawk, who were playing in the nearby Bowtime Bar, were bloody awesome!!!

Friday, Strongbow Bowtime Bar: Chickenhawk    18.30 – 19.00 ****

Again, we find ourselves in a situation where my rating of a band is based purely on an arbitrary feeling of satisfaction. Maybe it was because of the prior disappointment induced by Turisas; maybe it was the pint of Strongbow (£3.90, wtf?) gently coursing its way through my insides; or maybe Chickenhawk just gave me the pleasure of discovering a new band at a live gig for the first time. This is something I never do… I always like to hear a band before I listen to them live… simply because I like singing along and getting into the gig. But whatever the reason, I would thoroughly recommend giving them a listen.

During the gig, they also announced that it was the drummer (Matt)’s birthday, and I had the pleasure of starting the chorus of “Happy Birthday”… so Matt, if you are reading… you have me to thank for that. Maybe it was fate, but at the end of the gig I felt a random pain in my shoulder and discovered a drum stick lying on the ground… Heather has it, if you’re looking for it!

Friday, Saturn Stage: Europe    19.10 – 19.55 **

Waiting for Europe to take to the stage

We were a little dubious about going to listen to Europe… I mean, has anyone ever heard any of their tracks except the Final Countdown? But everyone knows that this track is one of the finest power ballads of all time, and there was no way we were going to miss out on this. In the end we ended up having a seat on the hill looking on the the Saturn stage… a tactic which most of the crowd seemed to have adopted, and enjoyed a few ciders/beers whilst waiting for the big moment. The majority of their set was, as expected, utterly self-indulgent wank. They even played a bizarre Europe-ised version of Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”! The whole set left us feeling “why on earth were these guys invited to play at this festival?” And how come they got a longer set than Fear Factory? However, as expected, The Final Countdown was the final track unleashed upon the crowd (who all suddenly rose to their feet in an epic Mexican wave of vague interest) and we all had a good sing along. This song was the only thing that saved Europe from the single-star of doom!

The rest of my friends were all fairly intent on waiting to see Gary Numan, and the feedback I heard was remarkably good, so kudos to him. Chris has also been told on a fairly regular basis that he looks remarkably like Gary Numan, and in fact we were stopped on the way back from the bar by some “friends” of Gary who wanted to take a picture of Chris and show it to him after the gig. Whether this was true or not, I leave the judgement on similarity up to you…

Gary Numan

Chris...

Friday, Stongbow Bowtime Bar: And So I Watch You From Afar         20.30 – 21.00 ****

Meanwhile, on the recommendation of Joel (of TotalRock fame) and Aaron (a friend from back in Northern Ireland, and the bass player in Escape Fails) I was off back to the Bowtime Bar to listen to And So I Watch You From Afar. I know there was a lot of group solidarity involved in finding out that these guys were Northern Irish, but they simply blew me away. I loved that a band in this day and age had the balls to go out and perform a short set of phat, heavy riffs and not have any vocals. I was able to stand and listen to them for their full set, not having heard them before, and not get bored – which is a major thing for me, and I noted them down as a) a band I needed to check out more properly when I got home and b) a band that we are going to be hearing a lot more of in the future. Again, my journalistic skills are somewhat lacking here, but I would urge you all to give them a listen.

A major personal highlight of the festival for me was getting to meet Joel after the gig. If you have never checked out his show, or any show on Total Rock before, I heartily recommend that you do so. each programme is self contained and has its own specific genre… some of them are a little too death metal for me, but you quickly work out your favourites. And all of the DJ’s are uniformly good sports and a great laugh to listen to. And I now owe Joel a pint… so there you go mate, next time I see you, you have it in writing!

Meeting Joel after And So I Watch You From Afar

Friday, Saturn Stage: Alice Cooper     21.30 – 23.00 **

Maybe it was all of the rum that we had consumed in the intervening period… but upon turning up 30 mins into Alice Cooper’s set it was clear that we didn’t want to stay for any longer than five minutes. I never thought I would choose going on a waltzer in preference to hearing one of the apparent legends of Classic Rock, but that is in fact what we did. He was throwing some woman around the stage and clearly trying to put on some sort of theatrical performance… to our eyes it just looked inappropriate and sounded crap. We heard that we had missed “Poison” already, and that that sealed the deal. The waltzer was ridden, semi-naked cartwheels and forward rolls ensued… and I believe Heather has a lot of photographs of both of these events… I shall attempt to get some of them up here when they materialise. The rest of the evening was spent partying it down at the tent, where booze was freely flowing and much less expensive. So endeth Friday at Sonisphere!

Friday on the Waltzer

Saturday, Saturn Stage: Sabaton, 11.50 – 12.20 *****

Saturday morning man-love

Saturday morning was not pleasant. I think we all uniformly were wide awake at 6a.m. after only hitting the hay around 2a.m. Thank goodness for the 24-hour shop! Mr Kipling’s Fruit Buns, Twix’s and Hotdog Rolls nursed us back to a more human state, and after having tracked down the immensely overpriced and crap phone charging lockers (with incredibly unhelpful, rude and dim staff), and eaten some delicious food from the vegetarian and vegan food stall (Veggie Burgers, Chilli, Burritos and Falafel), we settled down on the grass in front of the Saturn Stage once more, with fresh pints of Strongbow (I still hadn’t moved on to beer by this point), to take in Sabaton, who were one of our hottest picks from our myspace trawling the previous week. They did not disappoint, and are the only band apart from Rammstein to inherit the prestigious ***** rating!

Would you let these guys build you a metal machine?

Maybe it was just the time of morning, but hearing this chunky, in your face, super super cheesy metal being pumped out to a crowd of hungover metallers really did the trick. They were just so OTT. An amazing amount of soundbite gold spewed forth from the singers lips during this gig… our favourites would have to be: “Who wants to help us build our metal machine” and “Jump with us Sonisphere, Jump with us through the gates of Hell”. We are also pretty sure we heard the phrase “We are all homosexual!” being screamed in a dark, rumbling metal voice… we may be wrong, but  this simply added to their appeal even more. Again, I cannot comment on specific songs, but simply implore you to have a listen. They are also coming to Glasgow in October, and all of us are of a mind to make the short journey across to check them out… we think you should too!!!

Sabaton play Sonisphere

What I thought of Sabaton!

Sabaton's Stage

Saturday, Saturn Stage: Soulfly,    13.00 – 13.30 **; Fear Factory,    14.20 – 15.00 ***; Red Bull Stage: Japanese Voyeurs,    17.00 – 17.30 **

I’m merging these guys into one because… there’s not a lot to say really. I was quite looking forward to Soulfly, having heard a few of their albums a few years ago, and being a major fan of early Sepultura stuff… but after 5-10 mins, going and getting a cup of Chai in the hippie tent seemed a much more appealing option than listening to incoherent angry noise.

As far as Fear Factory go… they were alright. But again, I didn’t know that much of their stuff, and my only impression was that they were a lot more redneck than I expected. At least we sat through the entire set though… we also met this “fascinating” guy called Toby… who insisted on licking all of our faces and telling us that he had seen Iron Maiden an incremental amount of times in the past, over and over and over again. We thought we were going to have a groupie for the rest of the festival, but thankfully he cleared off fairly promptish after Fear Factory finished.

Fear Factory

Chris and our Groupie

The Japanese Voyeurs served as an interesting time filler whilst we drank our Jaegermeister and Red Bull, and lamented the fact that Tim Minchin was playing in far too small a tent for the masses of people who wished to see him. They were alright, and it was a welcome bonus to see a female singer/guitarist :-) However, we got the feeling that once we had heard one song, we had kinda heard them all. We also decided that the keyboard player must be sleeping with the singer, as he literally stood for two songs and did nothing except cling on to the keyboard and rock out… or maybe he was just a random member of the audience who had managed to clamber on stage… we will never know!

We decided that toplessness was the way forward for this festival

And silly big sunglasses...

Oh we are soooo "cool"...

Saturday, Saturn Stage: Skunk Anansie,      17.30 – 18.15 **** ; Apollo Stage: Placebo    18.25 – 19.25 *

Then came the two major surprises of the festival. We had no intention of watching Skunk Anansie, but since there was nothing better on, we went and got some more pints and veggie chilli and once again took up our spot on the hill in front of the Saturn Stage to see what offerings they had for us. We were all pretty much uniformly blown away… the set was a lot heavier than I had imagined, and I have never seen a singer with so much energy. She bounded about the stage, gave it her all, and literally dived into the crowd on numerous occasions whilst singing. I am definitely going to be checking out more of them in the near future.

I had asked myself why Placebo were playing at this festival before it even started. I have always had a fairly indifferent attitude towards placebo, and would generally rate them around *** and say that I was happy to listen to them if there was nothing else available. However, this was just a woeful performance… and there is no excuse for it as they are such a major band. The only effort they had put in was to all dress in white… great… try playing some interesting music for a change… or engaging the audience… or moving around the stage. And to make matters worse they had the audacity to cover Nirvana’s “All Apologies”. I have nothing against bands covering songs by other bands, although I guess Nirvana have a somewhat coveted status on the untouchable pedestal. But to turn what is a fairly attitude filled tune (with admittedly crap lyrics) into an insipid, lifeless, whiny Placebo-fest was just, in my eyes, unacceptable. Placebo… get out of my life!

Saturday, Apollo Stage: Rammstein,    20.45 – 22.45 *****

I had been waiting for this gig for a long time… long before I had ever even heard that it was going to happen. I think I must have been into Rammstein for something like 8-10 years, ever since a friend handed me a copy of Mutter at the bus stop on the way to school, and ever since I have always held them to be one of my favourite bands. I don’t think I have been so excited about the new release of an album as I was for the release of “Liebe ist fur alle da” in late 2009. I knew their stage shows were supposed be epic… and I was not disappointed.

We got a little "made up" for Rammstein

I think my makeup was better...

They played an incredible set… my personal highlights being “Du Hast”, “Sonne” and “Links 2, 3, 4”, and the songs were only let down by the annoying overly English girl standing nearby who kept insisting on taking the piss out of the lyrics and attempting to translate stuff she didn’t understand… really loudly. The sound quality was amazing for an outdoor festival gig. But the most amazing thing was, of course, the sheer performance!

My attempt to capture the enormity of the show

The band were all dressed up in various bizarre costumes… mostly looking very industrial… but I believe at one point there was an Amish gimp on stage… and at one point the keyboard player (a truly bizarre fellow) changed into what looked like a sparkly fish costume, which he wore for the rest of the gig, whilst periodically walking on a rotating treadmill and playing the keyboard at the same time. The singer managed to look uniformly creepy for the entire show, and even in moments where there was no singing would stand and stare at the audience with the most incredibly sadistic look on his face. There were pyros galore… flamethrowers on stage… a guy who set himself on fire and ran around the place… a huge raised platform from which fireworks and pyros flowed like metal ore… a giant penis which covered the front rows of the audience is foam whilst the singer rode it… and to top it all, the keyboard player went out crowd-surfing in a dingy! A dingy of all things! Add to this that someone managed to get into the dingy with him for quite a period of time whilst waving a Union Flag, and the fact that the keyboard player picked an army hat off a screaming fan and wore it whilst being carried around in his dingy, the whole thing started to have crazy un-PC connotations.

There were crazy rising platforms on stage...

Till Lindemann creeepifying things at Sonisphere

A superb performance guys… I cannot wait to see a gig with you on your own and your own stage to do with as you please for as long as you wish.

My one gripe… we were promised 2 hours, and they stopped after 90 mins…

Saturday, Bohemia Tent: Therapy? Playing Troublegum,    23.00 – 00.00 ****

All of my friends were very psyched about this gig… in fact, Chris said it was the thing that made him decide to come to the festival. Even the Germans, Stefan and Andreas, who were sharing the tent next to us (and induced much inappropriate faux German from all of us… I do it all the time anyway, but when you are hearing it throughout the thin walls of your tent at all hours of the day, then it’s very difficult not to keep launching into it!) had brought Therapy? t-shirts with them! I think the album was a little early for me… it was apparently the soundtrack to the others’ school days. However I had been introduced to Therapy? when I was about 16, but unfortunately Bad Religion were introduced to me at the same time and they rapidly became one of my favourite bands! I did, however, make sure that I borrowed Troublegum off Chris a week before the gig so that I could at least be vaguely familiar with it, and join in with some of the choruses.

Thanks to Rammstein finishing ludicrously early, we were able to get really good places in the tent, which quickly filled up to capacity as it was the only decent gig happening that late on in the day. I have not seen any band have so many soundchecks… one of the roadies literally came out and tuned the guitars 4 times before the gig started… and thus everything was 5-1o minutes late in starting. The band appeared and launched straight into “Knives” and the crowd went absolutely wild. I hadn’t been in the middle of a crowd of pushing, headbanging fans for a long time… and to be honest I wasn’t really up for it this time, especially with an album that I did not really know. However, less than 30 seconds into the track – just after the first mention of “fucking you up” – the music cut out and all the lights went out. Despair! Anger! Frustration! What had happened? Nobody knew… but within a few minutes the lights flickered back on… the roadies came out and soundchecked again… and things kicked off. Take 2! They got in a few more bars this time before, inevitably, the same thing happened again!

The crowd were getting really angry by this point, and actually started booing Therapy? as if it was their fault! The now-infamous roadie came on stage and shouted into the mic “Could one of the Sonisphere organisers come to the stage right now!” and after a good few minutes a poor guy in a yellow t-shirt was hauled onto stage and gave the fantastic explanation: “Sorry about this! It’s sorted now… give it up for Therapy?” All fingers were crossed, and this time things worked and they proceeded through the album without incident. All credit to them, they kept going all the way to the end, even though it was nearly half-past midnight when they finished, and they also seemed so keen to keep thanking the fans, without whom, they said, they wouldn’t have last 20 years. Apart from feeling pretty dead by this point, I had a great time! I loved working out that Therapy? are actually another band from my home soil… something that has eluded me this past decade!

Geoff was somewhat disappointed… simply because the album had been such a major part of his teenage years and it just sounded different having it performed by middle-aged men, and live, than it had done on the original. But for my part I thought they did a fantastic job, and I shall now be listening to Troublegum on a regular basis.

I love that they kept referring to the bassist as “The Evil Priest” too… and it was so good to see three guys at a metal festival making so much noise, when the average size of most bands seemed to 5 or 6 people.

We then partied at the tent until 2a.m. again… Chris wanted to go out and wander around the campsite looking for more fun at this point, but the rest of us were so tired that sleep (or what can be called sleep at a festival of this nature) was the only option. So endeth Saturday at Sonisphere!

Sunday, Bohemia Tent: Rollins – Spoken Word,    11.00 – 12.00 ***

Sunday morning started off much better than the previous day… i.e. we didn’t all feel like we were going to die. Opting for not starting drinking until lunchtime, we had the bizarre pleasure of effectively being preached to (it was a Sunday morning after all) by Henry Rollins for an hour. He told some funny stories, he told an awful lot of political stories and stories about his worldwide hiking adventure, and when I say preached… he definitely did that. We are the generation who need to take the world by the horns and tell the world that enough is enough… that war, poverty, racism, homophobia, fundamentalism, George W. Bush and the generally unthinking, reactionary and selfish approach to the world that is prevalent around the globe is not the way forward. It was slightly surreal…especially as the entire crowd were hungover and not feeling particularly “activist”… after 10 minutes I did think of leaving as I really wasn’t in the mood for a sermon, but in the end it was very worthwhile, and Mr Rollins seems to be a very interesting, committed and passionate individual. He claims that his mission for the rest of his life is to travel around the world fucking shit up and causing trouble… in the protester/activist sense. Fair play to him… I think he has a point.

And he also described Iron Maiden’s “Eddie” as the Iron Maiden gerbil… this wins him extra points in my book any time!

Sunday, Apollo Stage: Slayer,    15.05 – 15.50 ****; Saturn Stage: Bring Me the Horizon,    15.55 – 16.35 **; Apollo Stage: Iron Maiden,    20.45 – 22.45 ****

You will notice that by Sunday we were seeing fewer bands, and I have much less to say. This was down to a combination of feeling far more tired, there not being so many good bands on, and us wanting to plough through the lashings of rum that we had brought and largely left untouched in our tents.

There really is not much to say about these bands. Slayer and Maiden did exactly what you would expect them too. They rocked unbelievably, but didn’t really do anything else particularly spectacular. Slayer seemed a bit annoyed, and rightly so, that they were so far down the bill (behind Pendulum FFS), and Maiden played rather too many songs which were unfamiliar to the non-die-hard fan… but these are minor complaints and I really did enjoy getting to see them. Bring Me the Horizon seemed bizarrely young, and were utterly intent on getting everyone in the crowd to mosh, create walls of death, and generally break themselves. We, however, did not heed these calls, and preferred to sit on our spot on the hill drinking beer and comparing their lacklustre performance to the epicness of Sabaton the previous day.

After Maiden, Chris was shattered and decided to go back to the tent… in fact Heather was so tired that she didn’t even make it to see Maiden… but Geoff and I decided that we had to go on some of the epic fairground rides that were dotted around the place… and so we got swung upside down, and this way and that and proceeded back to the tent where we promptly collapsed. So tired! But sleep was, once again not forthcoming… the noise in the campsite was tremendous and try as we might… shots of rum… games of poker… reading 1984… nothing would work. But we must have gotten some sleep, because various weird dreams about snakes and the Bedlam Theatre happened. Stefan and Andreas were packing up their tent when we got back… and managing surprisingly well considering the amount of rum we managed to force down Stefan’s throat before Maiden… and Chris and Heather were nowhere to be seen until half-seven the following morning when the tents were needing packed up. So endeth Sunday at Sonisphere…

Monday

What to say really? We got up… we packed up the tents… we made our way out of the festival site. The queue for the shuttle buses to the train station was epic… like 1000s of people queuing up on one bus… and so we decided to get a taxi again. Literally, there was no-one else waiting for a taxi… had everyone spent so much money that they couldn’t afford the £2.50? Once again, Geoff and I were amazingly glad that we had paid the extra £7 for First Class and, having stocked up on a tonne of “proper” food in a local Tesco,, we were on our way back to Edinburgh!

This has all been a bit rambly… but I thought it was worth sharing my experiences of this awesome festival. To sum it all up, in the words of Chris K:

“I can confirm that A, Rammstein are better than Maiden. B, i do look very much like Gary Numan. C, Sabaton fuckin’ rule! and D, festival toilets are not actually that bad.”

Recommendations for next year? Better lockers… cheaper booze… less Alice Cooper and Placebo… but on the whole a damn fine experience, and I would certainly do it again next year – dependent upon the lineup.

Make sure to look up Sabaton, Chickenhawk and And So I Watch You From Afar!

I realise that this post fits thoroughly into the “and more…” section of my blog… but that’s what it is there for. Most of what I post will be about religion, but I am interested in other things too! This is also likely to be an issue during the upcoming Edinburgh Fringe Festival, during which I am performing in The Threepenny Opera, and will be seeing and reviewing a lot of other local productions… at least this is my intention!

Please let me know what you think!

All the best,

Chris