Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Hasta La Vista.... Vista?

About 5 or 6 months ago I finally got round to buying a new PC, because the old one was getting so old and unreliable. The new one came pre-loaded with Vista, and I (wrongly) assumed that was a good thing... A good thing until I tried to actually put anything vaguely old on it that is... At first it was a minor irritant that something wouldn't load, but as the weeks and months have gone by, pretty much everything I try and bring over to my new machine won't work. Here's just a few of the things now deemed 'useless' by Vista:

- My modem didn't work on it, so I had to go buy a Vista friendly one just to get back on the net.
- My printer won't connect to it (yeah it's a few years old, but its a great printer).
- My version of Dragon (version 8, that I paid the best part of £100 for only last year) won't load.
- My version of Paint Shop Pro wont load on it.
- My Creative MP3 player software wont load on it.
- The fantastic external sound card that I use to MP3 up LP's and tapes wont work on it...

In fact, pretty much fuck all will work on it, unless you go buy a brand new Vista friendly product. I've been to the websites of all the above products and, predictably, no updated software\drivers for ANY of them have been released. As if that isn't bad enough, Vista isn't 'all that' anyway, I can't see I've gained anything with it at all.

So what happened to 'upwardly compatible'? and how come I haven't really heard anybody else moaning about this? Or is everyone so Microsoft compliant these days that they just do what Bill tells em, and go buy new stuff that will work?? I am currently as skint as a skinty thing, and have no chance of buying a new printer, MP3 player, sound card etc etc, and why the hell should I? I already have all these items and they work great!

Has anyone else hit this wall? Whats the solution, save all my files to disc, reformat and load Windows XP on it? If so how difficult is that to do?? And is Windows NT still supported? or will I just get tons of viruses as all the remaining virus loop-holes remain un-fixed?

Any tips, tricks or ideas are most welcome!


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Carl Giles

I doubt I realised it at the time, but Carl Giles was almost certainly responsible for my love of comics. Long before I'd ever read a Buster, a Whoopee, a Whizzer or even a Chip, my dad used to show me the Giles cartoons in his newspaper. At first a bit non-plussed, my dad encouraged me to really study his drawings, as there was just so much going on in and around the panel. I loved it, and it wasn't long before I was demanding my Giles fix! And although the 'joke' (usually relating to the previous days news) almost certainly went over my head, the drawings were a real treat for me. In the mid 70's, a copy of the Giles Annual appeared in the 'ol Christmas stocking (is there NOTHING that Father Christmas doesn't pick up on??!), and it quickly became a yearly tradition, a tradition I pretty much kept up for the next 30 or so years. It was my interest in Giles which must have led me to become a childhood fan of Leo Baxendale. Arguably the greatest kids comic artist ever, Baxendale created some of the ultimate classics... from The Bash Street Kids to Little Plum, from Minnie the Minx to the Three Bears, from Clever Dick to Sweeney Toddler... and just like Giles, he crammed ever millimetre of his panels with drawings. So it was with some excitement that I recently visited the Cartoon Museum to see their Giles exhibition, the first showing of his work for twenty years or more...

Unlike so many other artist from days gone by, who's artwork was not at all cared for (often just thrown away in the rubbish by the publisher without a care), Carl Giles kept just about everything he ever did. When he died in 1995, his collection (6500+ cartoons and 1500+ drawings and sketches) passed to his family. To their credit, they passed the whole lot over to The British Cartoon Archive at the University of Kent, and it is a selection of 70 or 80 of those beautiful originals that are currently on display at the Cartoon Museum.

The first thing that took me was the shear size of some of these originals. Considering they were somewhere in the region of A5 when published, the vast majority of the originals are A3 size, with some at A2 and even a couple at A1... HUGE!!! I'm sure I spotted some intricate detail that couldn't possibly have survived after being shrunk for the newspaper.

Not really knowing much about the man, other than his 'funny' cartoons, I found the exhibition really informative, and I learnt a fair bit about Giles himself, not least the incredible revelation that he was actually blind in one eye from the age of 27, after a motorcycle accident....

He started off in 1930 as an office boy for a film company in London, and was soon promoted to an animator in their cartoon department. He continued to be involved in animation for various companies up until 1937, when he started work for a left wing newspaper 'The Reynolds News', where he created topical cartoons as well as his own strip 'Young Ernie'. His work soon came to the attention of the Express newspapers, who eventually hired him in 1943 - although Giles said he always felt guilty about it, as he never agreed with the politics of the Express.

Rejected for military service due to his sight, the Express sent Giles into various World War II locations as their very own 'War Correspondent Cartoonist', and some of his wartime sketches are also on display in the exhibition. He was assigned to the Coldsteam Guards and was with them when they liberated Belson concentration camp. Apparently the Express asked him to draw the full horror that he saw at Belson, but Giles always refused, choosing instead to just draw the various rooms and cells, rather than the thousands of dead bodies that he witnessed. Years later Giles remarked that not a day went by without him thinking of the atrocities he witnesses during that time. Again, some of the haunting personal sketches that he did whilst at Belson are on display at the museum.

Originally, Giles drew topical, war related cartoons for the Express, but the end of the war meant he also lost most of his regular 'characters' (Hitler, Goering, Goebbels, Himmler, Mussolini etc), so in 1945 he introduced the 'Giles Family' as their replacement. The family became his new medium for expressing life in post-war Britain, and appeared in more than 2000 of his Express cartoons. Head of the family (and by far the most famous character) was the old battleaxe herself, Grandma. Then there was 'Father' (Grandma's son) and 'Mother', their children 'George', 'Ann', 'Carol', 'Bridget' and 'Ernie', 'Vera' (George's wife), 'George Junior' (George and Vera's son) and the twins 'Lawrence' and 'Ralph' (Ann's illegitimate children). Oh, and not forgetting Natalie the cat and Randy the goldfish! Phewwww!

There is something about those Giles cartoons that is quintessentially British. Some years ago, a good friend of mine - Dave, and his wife were travelling through Manila in the Philippines, and had an experience that sums Giles up perfectly... here it is in his own words:

"The heat and humidity was indescribable, the roads grid-locked with honking cars belching noxious emissions which made the air even more unbreathable. Even walking down the streets was difficult, clothes clinging to you through visible perspiration. We entered a small shopping mall just to get out of the heat for a while and it was there that I found an open fronted second hand book shop, with books and magazines all laid out in messy rows on a dozen or so long tables. While browsing, I found one familiar book I wasn't expecting to see -- an 'old faithful' from England in the form of a battered Giles 'Annual'. Opening it up in that busy shop, I was immediately transported by beautifully drawn cartoons, back to far away Blighty. Snow covered roofs, double decker buses, shabby garden sheds in unkempt gardens, English style churches and terraced houses, policemen and traffic wardens, the welcoming interior of a pub. He seemed to be able to sum up all that was England. Perhaps it was simply because I was a long way from home that the images resonated so much, but these Giles cartoons were never more powerful and mesmerising than on that day."

A great anecdote, and no doubt it was his uncanny ability to conjure up such wonderful imagery that led to him (quite rightly) being voted ‘Britain’s Favourite Cartoonist of the 20th Century’ in 2000.

Giles left the Daily Express in 1989, as his cartoons were being given less and less space. However he continued working for the Sunday Express until he was 75 years old (1991). He died in 1995.

If you find yourself in or around London, the Giles exhibition is a real treat, and runs until the the 15th Feb (and is located just by the British Museum). Full details can be found at The Cartoon Museums website.

Find out all about the great work that The British Cartoon Archive is doing with the Giles colection over at their website.

Finally, thanks to Dave Whitwell for letting me use his words above, and also for providing me with the wonderful book scans below.

Giles Annual Number 34 (1980): Front Cover

Giles Annual Number 34 (1980): Back Cover (note: the original artwork to this annual is just one of the great pieces on display at the Cartoon Museum)

Giles Annual Number 31 (1977): Front Cover
Giles Annual Number 31 (1977): Back Cover

Giles Annual Number 32 (1978): Front Cover

Giles Annual Number 32 (1978): Back Cover


Tuesday, 13 January 2009

The Best of 2008 (Part 2)

Bugger! Just like last year I can't quite do it! So this year my top 5 consists of no less than 7 albums! In 4th place it's...

Elbow - The Seldom Seen Kid (Released March 2008)
Elbow have been around forever (well since 1990 anyway), and I've always found them just 'alright' to be honest. Then in February last year I happened to see them performing 'Grounds for Divorce' on the Jonathan Ross show, and I was genuinely stunned by it... and that guitar riff had the hairs on the back of my neck up every time! I picked up the album as soon as it came out, just on the strength of that track. It turned out to be a smart move, although to be honest, it wasn't the album I was expecting after seeing that track on Jonathan Ross. It's a beautifully layered album, with a very varied sound. From the Zeppelin-esque 'Grounds for Divorce' to the acoustic guitar sound of Mirrorball. From the 60's soundtracky feel of 'The Fix' to the Spanish influenced sound of 'The Bones of You', this is a very diverse album. Stand out track has to be the incredibly moving and uplifting 'One Day Like This' - this swirling, string laden track gets me every time. I managed to catch the TV coverage of Elbow performing this track at Glastonbury last year. It was one of those rare occasions where the atmosphere of the event actually came across to the TV viewer. Stunning.

My first tip off... 'Grounds for Divorce' on Jonathan Ross:

The glorious 'One Day Like This' at Glastonbury 2008:

In third place it's...

Silvery - Thunderer and Excelsior (Released Auguest 2008)
I banged on at great length about this album when it came out, so my thoughts on it can all be found in my original review here. A real gem mixing some of my very favourite ingredients (Bowie, Sparks, XTC, Blur, Kaiser Chiefs) together with a big dollop of Silvery creativity. Nothing more to add other than to say it just got better and better the more I played it. Silvery finished the year with a cracking single (not on the album), a cover version of 'You Give A Little Love' from the Bugsy Malone soundtrack! Expect this band to be huge sometime soon!

In second place it's...

Sparks - Exotic Creatures of the Deep (Released May 2008)
2008 was the year of Sparks for me. The incredible feat of performing all 21 of their albums over 21 nights in London really caught the imagination, and although I play them a lot anyway, the 21x21 event ensured I reacquainted myself with some of those albums I perhaps don't dig out as often as I should. It's Incredible that almost every one of those 21 albums is a quality release, with perhaps just 2 (definitely no more than 3!) that are maybe a little below par... not bad in a nigh on 40 year career! The 21x21 gigs were a rather elaborate way of promoting their new (21st) album 'Exotic Creatures of the Deep'. If you are a regular reader, you'll already know that I've raved about the Mael brothers recent material (album number 20 not only being my favourite of all their work, but one of my favourite albums full stop). Well album 21 was, incredibly, right up there as well. I don't know where these guys continue to get their creativity from, but they are still producing incredible music. Number 21 is yet another flawless album, bursting at the seams with ideas. Just reading some of the track titles made me know this was going to be another slice of Mael genius... "I Can't Believe That You Would Fall For All The Crap In This Song", "The Director Never Yelled 'Cut'" and "(She Got Me) Pregnant" for example! "Lighten Up Morrissey" is a real gem, and is Sparks at their delightfully quirky best... Russell is having girl trouble, because his girl loves Morrissey and poor Russ doesn't live up to him (in her eyes at least!). So Russell pleads with Mozza to "lighten up" in the hope it may put him in a better light with the girl!

She won't dine out with me, no, she won't dine out
Says my t-bone steak is at fault
She won't dine out with me, no, she won't dine out
With a murderer, pass the salt

Loved the fact that people were complaining to Radio 1 that the first single from the album "Good Morning" was a rip-off of the Scissor Sisters!!! Sit back in the chair and we'll get someone to plug it in....

Sparks - Good Morning (Audio only... sorry!)

My favourite album of the year goes to....

The Wolfmen - Modernity Killed Every Night (Released August 2008)
I've been buzzing on the howls of the Wolfmen for over a year now. You may remember that a 5 track sampler CD got me really fired up a while back (it even made it into my best CD's of 2007!). Well the promise of that sampler was more than delivered when their first album was released in August. All the songs from the sampler have made it to the album (although most have been remixed, tweaked and sharpened), which for me gave it a great 'new and old' feel. Fantastic to hear the final nailed versions of the tracks I knew so well, and a real buzz to hear 6 new songs from Marco, Chris and the boys. The thing I love about this album is how it reminds me of every great musical journey of my youth... from the Stooges to the Ants, from Bolan to Roxy, from Bowie to The Velvets. It cherry picks everything that's great from the 60's, 70's and 80's and teleports them all into the 21st Century... providing you with the freshest sounding album of 2008.

Check out this blistering cover of 'Needle In the Camel's Eye':

The Wolfmen joined the merry band of bloggers here on Blogspot this week. Why not pop over and catch up on all the very latest news here.


Thursday, 8 January 2009

The Best of 2008 (Part 1)

Unbelievably, it's time once again for my traditional top 5 'best of last year' run down.... I say traditional... I've done it once! last year!!! (2007 Pt 1 here and 2007 Pt 2 here). Personally, I don't have 2008 down as one of the best years for new albums, but I certainly found a few interesting bits and bobs to keep me going...

Black Mountain - In The Future (Released January 2008)
I love it when an album takes me by surprise... the rest of my top 5 I kinda expected great things from, but this little beauty was a bolt out of the blue. Considering it's steeped in a classic 70's psychedelic-ey, rock sound, this album sounds so incredibly fresh and exciting. You hear so many influences (Led Zeppelin, Floyd, Deep Purple, 70's Krautrock, Neil Young, Hunky Dory era Bowie... right up to Spiritulized, Duke Spirit and The Black Angels), yet never at any point is it a lazy copy of any of those artists. There is just so much going on, this stayed in my CD player for weeks at the beginning of 2008, and continued to be revisited throughout the year. It gets better and better the more time you give it. I think it would have made my top 5 just for the 17 minute track 'Bright Lights' alone! But fortunately, every track is a winner on here. Here is the video for Wucan:

Hot Chip - Made In The Dark (Released February 2008)
I've always loved Hot Chip's geeky, synthy, quirky electro indie-pop, and it's just as well, coz Made in the Dark was yet more of their tried and tested sound! But somehow, this album is just that bit better than the others... more polished, more realised. Their previous two albums were both great in places, but always left me with a finger on the 'forward' button, wishing for a little more. This time though they have made a great album from start to finish (OK, OK, maybe 'Wrestlers' is a weak link!). For me a great album is STILL so simple... well structured great tunes, catchy hooks and intelligent lyrics. If that's your recipe too, then this could be an album for you! Stand out track for me is Hold On - a really great, intelligent dance track, a thumpin full on disco bass laced with scratchy guitar sounds and the funkiest of rhythms.

Here's a clip of the first single 'Shake a Fist' for you to have a peep at. Unfortunately no official video was made for this track, but this promo video for Urban Outfitters using the track is still worth a go!

The Damned - So Who's Paranoid? (Released November 2008)
Seven years ago in 2001 I nervously bought the first 'official' Damned album for 15 years, Grave Disorder. I expected very little from it to be honest, but it turned out to be an absolute corker. Had you not known better you'd have sworn it was from their Black Album\Strawberries period. So this time I couldn't win... How could I doubt them again after the last success? But on the other hand, surely they couldn't do it again??!! Well they have!! 31 years after the release of their debut album, the Damned turn up trumps once again, sounding fresh as a daisy in the process! This album continues on where Grave Disorder finished... definite nods to previous periods of their career, but also not scared to experiment with something new too, it's just the right mix all wrapped up in a swirling psychedelic haze. And check out the creepy, psychedelic gothic genius of closing track Dark Asteroid... all fourteen minutes of it! A Curtain Call for the 21st Century! Like all the albums in my Top 5 this year, not a bad track on this CD.

I'll be back in a few days time to post my top 2 albums of 2008, but in the meantime, let me know what little gems you picked up last year....


Thursday, 1 January 2009

Happy New Year!

Well I hope everyone had a good Christmas and stuff?? Mine was OK, but I came down with the dreaded flu bug thing... gawd I was rough. I blame Rockmother, she had a stinker, and I'd been on her site only 4 or 5 days before I got it...

Missed out on me works Christmas meal (which I'd already paid for) and me mates Christmas meal too... Still it's a few pounds less for me to try and shift in Jan. Talking of which, does anyone still bother with New Year resolutions?? Half arsed dreams that'll never make it past Jan 15th??? The top 10 resolutions are (apparently) as follows:

1. Spend more time with the family and friends

2. Get fit

3. Lose weight

4. Stop smoking

5. Enjoy life more

6. Stop drinking

7. Get out of debt (Ha! some chance!)

8. Learn something new

9. Help others

10. Get organised

So any of those ring any bells? I was delighted to see in the Telegraph yesterday that trying to stick to New Year resolutions can actually be bad for you, especially if they are aimed at personal problems or insecurities. Mind (the National Association for Mental Health) report that the pursuit of perfection and self improvement can create a negative self image and lead to feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem and even depression.

Mind chief executive Paul Farmer said: "New Year's resolutions can sometimes focus on our problems or insecurities such as being overweight, feeling unhappy in our jobs or feeling guilty about not devoting enough time to friends and family throughout the year".

So there you go, don't make any resolutions and beat yourself up about it or, alternatively, make some.... and THEN beat yourself up about it... the choice is yours!

Whatever you decide, I wish you all a healthy an peaceful 2009.