Apr ’18 – Orbsessed – Reconstructing Cydonia

Posted: April 25th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

Twin seals of approval!

So what’s the deal with The Orb’s 2001 album Cydonia? Even this frighteningly comprehensive, mightily informative and lovingly compiled discography has everything post-2000 down as the ‘crap years’ and it’s fair to say Cydonia saw them stumbling into the new millennium with something of a transitional album. It could certainly be seen as the final nail in The Orb MKI*s coffin, the departure of Andy Hughes under a less than fluffy cloud – presumably somewhere along the line between the initial Feb 1999 promo discs, the interim single CD promo efforts of Oct and Dec ’99 and the reduction of his contributions to the Feb 2001 album proper – bringing a definite end to their “layering sounds on top of each other” phase. A fairly exhaustive (and slightly salacious) account of this decidedly troubled period for all concerned (and they certainly were!) is here….

Let’s consider, er, MKI.1 to be the genesis, Paterson, Cauty et al, MKI.2 Paterson, Weston et al, MKI.3, Paterson, Hughes et al. Of course, it’s a little unfair to define the group by their high-profile departures as Thomas Fehlmann has been a near-constant throughout MKs I.2 and I.3, and is pretty much responsible, em, for the bulk of MKII‘s output thereafter which is, um, kinda suddenly unfairly damning him with, eh, faint praise indeed, innit…?

Hark! There it is! Picture from Discogs.

In order to successfully cook up the original double album you need to be in possession of the 2008 CydoniaSpecial Edition with the second cd of unreleased (re)mixes and ‘Versions‘ as well as 2006’s Orbsessions Volume One* and 2007’s Orbsessions Volume Two. By plucking select tracks from the 3 of these, and in paying particular attention to running times, we can begin….

* I own the re-release of this album, which retains the Space – Space outtake in the form of Pluto Calling (Twinkle), but omits the Cauty/PatersonMummie Don’t, replacing that with Angel 3 Dub.

Mummie Don’t! ….before she evidently upped and did.

Disc 1

1 – Terminus. Let’s kick off with Andy’s Mix from the Cydonia Bonus Disc, assuming it’s an earlier incarnation of the eventual album version.

2 – Jam On Yer Honey is taken from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it’s called Jam On Your Honey).

3 – Once More is the album track from the original Cydonia.

4 – Ralf is nabbed from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it’s called Ralph’s Cupboard).

5 – Promis is the Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc, clocking in at a slightly longer 5:47 (and close to the 5:45 of the CD-R’s).

6 – Bicycles & Tricycles is swiped from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it’s called 2026).

The original promo tracklisting from the suporb discography.

Disc 2

1 – Turn It Down is the Long Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc.

2 – Yungle is plucked from Orbsessions Volume One.

3 – Ghostdancing is the Version from the Cydonia Bonus Disc. It should likely be the original album version with its matching running time, but I’ve elected for this version as it does away with the middling vocals.

4 – A Mile Long Lump Of Lard is the album track from the original Cydonia, sadly shorn of about 4 minutes in comparison to the CD-R cut.

5 – Freely Wheely (“Feely Wheely“) is grabbed from Orbsessions Volume Two (where it’s called Ba’albeck).

(6 – Hamlet Of Kings. This is just a bonus you can add to kinda balance up the running times and, well, it’s probably the only other track really worth salvaging from the original Cydonia album.)

The full length 2CD-R promo version of Terminus.

So along the way way back we lose EgnableFirestarCenturiesPlum Island1,1,1 and EDMThursday’s Keeper (and Hamlet Of Kings, I suppose, if we’re playing by the absolute rules). The first 2 of these original album tracks are really just a couple of minutes of filler before we get to the twin horrors that are Centuries and Plum Island – a pair of pretty bland songy dirges that plop and plod along in the pedestrian direction of nowhere…. you’d ever really want to revisit. (Once More and Ghostdancing were more than enough of the ill-advised ‘pop song phase’ for me, thank you.) 1,1,1 – the only Orb track ever credited to Paterson alone? – is more blink-and-you’ll-miss-it filler and EDM is fairly standard in their sleep lumpen electro-stodge (that was stretched out to an almost interminable length at their 2014 25th Anniversary show) that you’d be best passing over in favour of the far better, almost-deserves-to-make-the-cut, Thursday’s Keeper….

The verdict? Well, for all my criticism of the original Cydonia album there’s no denying that over the years you do become accustomed to how it all hangs together as a piece, so by somewhat mercilessly chopping it up and shuffling it around and adding extra tracks it’s impossible not to unsettle the ingrained listening experience, especially as the newer, er, older tracks are that bit more abrasive in their execution (though I certainly prefer the reinstated tracks over those discarded). However, given this post has had a similarly long and pained period of gestation I can happily report that I am beginning to reprogramme my audio receptors to gratefully receive. The first disc – once you get past the ingrained notion that Terminus should always be the concluding track – actually hangs together pretty well. The space epic of 2026 in particular, is a definite highlight worth unearthing….

20 Bicycles & 26 Tricycles….

By disc 2 there’s no denying the first 3 or 4 minutes of Yungle are great stuff, but the descent into heavy beats with the distorted vocal sample becomes more than just a little wearing over the course of the full 10 and the following Ghostdancing sticks out like a (muted) sore thumb in the midst of this disc. Again, with the original vocals forming so much of the listening experience it does sound rather lacking when reduced to an instrumental version (which, I suppose, should really be added, if somewhat grudgingly). But, by continually exploring this set of tracks as a double album there’s a definite similarity of sound, the sonic palette featuring a strange array of, um, honks, clonks, squinks and skwonks that are unique to this period of The Orb alone….

Yungle. Er, turn it down at –:–….

There’s probably a decent enough case for living with these select tracks for a bit longer and then further reassembling them into more evenly sounding sides, perhaps a softer ambient disc to start with followed by a rougher, beat-laden effort to follow (like, y’know, the complete opposite of their frankly horrible, career trashing run through at the Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld/Chill Out World! gig in Glasgow). It might just work…. Certainly I’d much rather have had this double set in 1999 – I think it just about merits escaping the ‘crap years’ in this form – and it is infinitely preferable to the remastered and expanded special edition of Cydonia from 2008 (the second disc which, with it’s plethora of turd polishing remixes of the dreary Centuries, Plum Island and Once More, could be the worst thing farted out of The Orb‘s 00’s cash cow)….

Limmy’s Show: Dee Dee – Yoker

Apr ’18 – Two From The Vault – The Illustrated Man

Posted: April 21st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: From The Vault | No Comments »

Has it come to this? Yep, we’re deep into clearing out the hard disk drive territory, and so begins an (occasional) series of blogs “From The Vault” featuring unpublished and unseen odds and sods – it’s mostly sods, to be honest! – from Agent Rob‘s ramshackle digital archives. To kick things off we have two variations on Ray Bradbury‘s The Illustrated Man* as intended for entry into the Barbican‘s ‘Into The Unknown: A Journey through Science Fiction‘ 2017 competition. A mixture of it being craply drawn – the idea of a body covered in countless tattooed staring eyes with those that are real, those that should be visible in the head, obscured is moderately inspired – then subject to endless ‘digital toil’ (AKA polishing the turd) and finally missing the deadline (it was 6pm and not midnight as assumed) all contributed to its lack of, er, anything….

The figure and his tattoos were two separate inked drawings, the latter digitally dropped in under the former after scanning, and the background and lettering – easily the best thing about this – were then added digitally (and doubtless subject to much further tweaking). I’ll confess that I whole (and half-) heartedly regret mentioning the idea for this competition entry to a friend and that his obvious enthusiasm for its realistation, and evident disappointment at its actual materialisation as presented to him, pretty much killed off any remaining feelings of confidence in the piece. Still, can you imagine (as I did then and still do) if Frank Quitely had drawn this? Geez, it’d be amazing! Anyway, the five excellent (vastly superior and very deserving) winners can be seen here….

*Incidentally, the book itself contains maybe the finest short story ever written, ‘The Long Rain‘….

Apr ’18 – A Year In Orbit – Unearthly Science Fiction

Posted: April 12th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Rest, weary space traveller….

Can it really be a year since Agent Rob, Agent Johnny and Adam Smith watched Unearthly Science Fiction roar off into the night sky over Edinburgh never to be seen nor heard from again…?


And yet, just when Agent Rob had finally given up all hope he happened to receive a transmission from the lovely people at The Future Fire. It seems they had tuned their frequencies to ‘far out’ and successfully intercepted a communication from our lonely satellite somewhere over London in November 2017….

‘Steve Mason and ‘Olgur Zen’ by John G. Miller

‘Codename: Cosmos’ by John G. Miller and Rob Miller

….and boy did they like it! It’s hard to deny that sending an unmanned space mission out into the publishing universe is a long, lonely (and more or less) thankless task, so it was a real pleasure to read N.A. Jackson‘s in-depth review….

‘Maria 3’ by Rob Miller

“In some ways the fiction is all too earthly, collectively the stories evoke a grungy, malfunctioning world, disturbingly similar to our own in which the characters wrestle with the pointlessness of life or are consumed by ambition or bitterness.”

‘Splashdown one’ by Adam J. Smith

In particular Adam J. Smith‘s ‘Splashdown One‘ was singled out as “One of the most memorable pieces in the collection” while Ian Wark‘s ‘The Pod‘ was praised for being “one of the more resolved of the stories… benefitting from its length.”….

‘Agent X4 and The Deep Fix’ by John G. Miller

Furthermore, the “amazing illustrations”, successfully “evoking the luridly coloured science fiction mags of the sixties”, lead the reviewer to comment “It’s not often that illustrations complement fiction so well, but here they do and they help to give the magazine a unified look.”….

‘Planet Of The Jakey’ by Neil Beattie

The reviewer concludes that the collection is “an intelligent and irreverent glimpse into how humanity may grapple and grope its way onwards. In the conception of these authors, we may head for the stars but we’ll be taking along all the trappings of dysfunctional late capitalism.” 

‘Steve Mason and ‘Olgur Zen’ by John G. Miller

It’s great to see our wee book receive such a thoughtful and encouraging review, justifying Agent Rob and Adam J. Smith‘s early decision to intentionally go (if not, er, rub up somewhat) against Agent Johnny‘s (more traditional) grain – this collection couldn’t simply be another run through of well worn riffs on the favoured SF of our youth. True, it might have been a somewhat bumpy ride until we cleared the atmosphere, but a write-up like this made the frequent bends all very much worth it….

Anyone who fancies heading to the dark side of the moon with us can book a ticket >> here….

Mar ’18 – A Chronicle Of Doom….

Posted: March 31st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: John G. Miller | Tags: , | No Comments »

“Thank God It’s Only A View To A Swill!” An excellent ‘view to a swill‘ on ‘Woden’sday‘ of this week, Agent Rob (surprise?) visiting Agent Johnny at Ice Station Zebra for the first time since the end of January. In spite of the fact Our Man In Pester Wails looked initially bemused by Rob‘s being washed up at his front door things thereafter went swimmingly, the vintage swill was quickly retrieved from the fridge and cranked open as seat springs sprang under the strain, the contented chuntering already well underway….

As ever, Philip K. Dick, The Grateful Dead, The Shadow and The Masque Of The Red Death were ‘finely whined’ topics of conversation. Add to that an intriguing discussion about Agent Rob‘s enjoyment of ‘skunk rock’, then on to the impact of ‘punk rock’ in Lanarkshire – it seems it raised barely a sneer – and (alleged) meetings with Siouxsie Sioux and The Stranglers – tentatively filed away in the same folder as Agent Johnny‘s extra-ing in The New Avengers – and you have a cracking afternoon’s entertainment. The Dark Horse reprints of the Doctor Solar title – it seems Johnny’s been tanking a full volume a day – and Crack In The World – watched along with The War Lord as a double bill at the Regal Cinema in Lanark – also kept the swill flowing at a brisk pace. Finally there was mention of a fascinating sounding 1968 ‘skill jottir’ comic of Johnny‘s featuring the leery ‘Cylindricone‘. How ‘Mr Christian‘, the strip’s hero, dealt with that, well, only Johnny knows….

As if all this ‘jolly good fun’ wasn’t enough, Agent Rob is pleased to report that he was allowed to return to Glasgog with the completed 7 pages of ‘John Stark: Death March of the Missile Men‘ – quite possibly the best thing Agent Johnny has ever done! – in his possession. And indeed, if that isn’t enough for you, dear reader, the borrowing of 5 aged issues of The Alchemist and 1 issue of Chewing Bricks in which there must be 10-15 pages of earlier material (that have thus far evaded the printed clutches of Braw Books) was also sanctioned. Whatever remains in the tank – both Agents had a quite frank conversation about the possibility that Johnny‘s drawing days are all but over – you can rest assure Rob will do his very best to realise every and any last drop of this most secret of agent’s astounding creative output. Surely after over 30 years toil at the comic coalface any man would be entitled to put his feet up, read a few books and comics and enjoy whatever programmes or fillums of yesteryear took his fancy on the ‘One-Eyed-God‘ – heck, as far as Agent Rob‘s concerned the return to nibblingg at the salad days can’t come soon enough….

Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful Dead: Sky Pilot by Eric Burdon & The Animals: Piper At The Gates Of Dawn by Pink Floyd and Nerve Pylon by The Lines….

Mar ’18 – The Man With Two Philip K. Dicks

Posted: March 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

The Game-players Of Titan

 (pub. 1963) – Voyager, 1996

Roaming the pristine landscape of Earth, cared for by machines and aliens, the few remaining humans alive since the war with Titan play Bluff to maximise the remote chance some pairings will produce a child. When Pete Garden, a particularly suicidal member of the Pretty Blue Fox game-playing group, loses his current wife and his deed to Berkeley, he stumbles upon a far bigger, more sinister version of the game. The telepathic Vugs of Titan are the players and the stake is the Earth itself.

The first Philip K. Dick book I have read in some time. Initially I considered, as the story wasn’t really grabbing me, giving up on this novel after about 50 pages. Aside from the blip in the pacing it has all you could want from PKD. There’s the tried and tested structure of chapters jumping back and forth between multiple characters – themselves divided into two distinct social strata – and the complicated machinations of the game (of Bluff) itself to get a handle on.

Of course, as (un)expected the story suddenly takes an quite intriguing, typically Dickian twist, around page 70 and we’re off (and at last I’m well and truly in!). From then on it’s a case of bluff and double-bluff, with a tasty side portion of warring telepathic powers and puzzling shifts between planets and realities …. or is it? It transpires the Titanian Vugs of the title are caught up in their own power struggle and our unfortunate game-players are seemingly caught up within that …. or are they…? Maybe one of the talking cars will lose the attitude long enough to reveal all….

…’Mutreaux,’ she said, ‘can you turn your thoughts to – ‘ It was difficult to know what to call it. She had, in her hundred years of scanning, never run into anything quite like it. Puzzled, she passed over Mutreaux’ surface thoughts and probed into the deeper levels of his psyche, into the involuntary and repressed syndromes which had been excluded as part of his ego-character, of the conscious self-system.
Now she was in a region of ambivalent drives, and of nebulous and stillborn wishes, anxieties, doubts interwoven with regressive beliefs and libido wishes of a fantastic nature. It was not a pleasant region but each person had it; she was accustomed to it, by now. This was what made her existence so rife with difficulty, running into this hostile area of the human mind. Each perception and observation which Dave Mutreaux had rejected in himself existed here, imperishable, living on in a kind of half-life, feeding deeply on his psychic energy.
He could not be held responsible for these, and yet there they were anyhow, semi-autonomous and – feral. Opposed to everything Mutreaux consciously, deliberately believed in. In opposition to all his life aims.
Much could be learned about Mutreaux’ psyche by this examination of what he chose to – or had to – reject from consciousness.

The Simulacra

(pub. 1964) – Magnum Books, 1977

Earth in the twenty-first century was a shifting, shadowy and dangerous world. Most people were content merely to survive, and to grab what little pleasure they could. But there were others who cunningly played the game of world mastery. Among them were the outstandingly beautiful woman who had ruled the White House for nearly a centruy, the world’s last practising psychiatrist, a psychokinetic pianist, the time traveller, the ‘chuppers’, and the simulacra…

One of four(!) PKD books published in 1964, together with The Penultimate TruthMartian Time-Slip and Clans of the Alphane Moon (though it seems he wrote six(!) altogether that year!). I’d consider this to be peak period DicKiverse!(?!) and you can’t escape the feeling that he really took a bit more time with this book (if that’s at all within the realms of human possibility!) There’s everything you’d happily expect from Philip K. Dick here only rendered with just a bit more substance.

It’s hard to write a truly constructive review as part of the joy of this book (as it is with most PKD books) is the little flourishes of imagination, the bizarre turns of phrase or those canny and sublime moments, the delightful juxtapositions where countless fantastical ideas rub up against the all-too-familiar trials and tribulations of the everyday grind. It’s this honest skill – something that I think Agent Johnny himself has managed to master – that so appeals to me and, to my mind, it’s this understanding of (dare I say it) ‘humanity’ and what it is to be human (messy and frightening and confusing!) that clearly separates PKD from the usual sci-fi pack. Still, strap yourself in for a bit of time travel, Nazis, insidious advertising, futuristic audio recording techniques, an irresistible infatuation with a political simulacra and so much more….

… he was seeing, he realized, a demonstration by political extremists, the so-called Sons of Job, neo-Nazis who seemed to have sprung up everywhere, of late, even here in this god-for-saken town in California.
And yet wasn’t this actually the most likely place for the Sons of Job to show themselves? This decadent region reeked of defeat; here lived those who had failed, Bes who held no real role in the system. The Sons of Job, like the Nazis of the past, fed on disappointment, on the disinherited. Yet these backwater towns which time had bypassed were the movement’s feeding-ground … it should not have surprised him, then, to see this.

     But these were not Germans; these were Americans.

     It was a sobering thought …

Feb ’18 – Marshal Law: Fear And Loathing

Posted: February 8th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: Review | Tags: | No Comments »

“They say I don’t prey for my enemy.

I do.

I pray they go to hell.”

It’s hard to say what’s the more amazing thing about this Marshal Law comic. Is it the book itself, or the fact that EPIC Comics – which was essentially MARVEL under their creator-owned imprint guise in the ’80s and ’90s – published it?! Regardless, it certainly has to be one of the greatest ‘inside jobs’ in the history of comic publishing, EPIC/MARVEL letting two of Britain’s finest (and angriest…. and crazed!) creators, writer Pat Mills and artist Kevin O’Neill, loose on the superhero ethos. Naturally this dynamic duo step up to the plate and let rip over six issues of quite the most glorious and subversive cloak clobbering mayhem….

….hmm, looks a bit like Pat Mills…?

San Francisco has been destroyed by the “Big One”, the mega-quake, and what remains, San Futuro, is devoid of the colourful optimism of the classic era of ‘men in tights’ that preceded it, the Jesus League Of America. It is instead populated by warring gangs, pumped-up, government-generated, semi-superheros-cum-soldiers-cum-superheroes who think they’re still in “The (war) Zone”. Add to this a diseased and deranged killer known as The Sleepman – “I wear a bag over my head because I’m shamed of what I am. And what I’m going to do” – who is going around killing women who are dressed as Celeste, the super heroine recently engaged to the hero supreme, Public Spirit. Among all this insanity lurks Marshal Law, the city’s official ‘Cape Catcher’….

You could argue that this is all just an (excellent) excuse to allow O’Neill free reign to draw page after page of mindless violence, his panels peppered with wildly imaginative gigantic grotesques – such as the Gangreen Gang – and countless sly background slogans that give the whole thing a distinct ‘underground unleashed overground’ feel. But it’s a testament to the sheer skill of the creators that a panel like that above – a simply rendered face off between Marshal Law and the Public Spirit, crammed into the story amid all the brutality and chaos – is able to genuinely stop you in your tracks, to draw breath and sit up and take notice. And really make you think….

Even better is the fact that 20 years later this comic still feels as dangerous and as unhinged as it must have done when it was originally published. It’s not just the politically charged content courtesy of Mills. Or the fact the pair seem to be mercilessly tearing down the establishment from the inside. Nor is it O’Neill’s stunning art – he’d bring the same manic momentum to the following Marshal Law Takes Manhattan and Kingdom Of The Blind comics. It is perhaps the feeling that mainstream comics – the “Big Two” – still haven’t really moved on from here and that, unfortunately, for every target gleefully taken out another simply springs up (not so) fresh in its place. And while MARVEL might have learned their lesson publishing-wise it seems obvious DC Comics weren’t paying too much attention, as they gathered together a wonderful Deluxe Edition of everything Marshal Law in 2013. Highly recommended….

“I’m a hero hunter.

I hunt heroes.

Haven’t found any yet.”

Jan ’18 – A Chronicle Of Doom….

Posted: January 31st, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: John G. Miller | Tags: , | No Comments »


Long ‘overNeu Year’s visit to Ice Station Zebra on Monday, Agents Rob and Johnny dodgin’ the January ‘blooze’ – likely helped by the fact that neither has done a one-eyed-god damn’s worth of ‘comic drawin’ in the ‘winterim’ since their last meeting – by easin’ themselves gently into 2017’s first official ‘View To A Swill’….

It was contented chunterin’ all the way, ‘Our Man In Pester Wails’ takin’ great pride in showin’ off his recent Spaceship Away/Dan DareThe Big City Caper (controversial?) issue and a few other ‘oversize colour reprints’, includin’ Brett MillionThe Angry Planet and Wrath Of The GodsThe Bow Of Delos (by Michael Moorcock and Ron Embleton)….

The latter especially, with its simply gorgeous fully painted artwork, harks back to a far superior era of ‘comic illustration’ that it’s quite clear will never be seen again (aside from in loving reproductions such as these). It’s fair to say a good amount of time was spent staring in wonder at these vintage masterworks, Agent Rob scrambling to pick his jaw up from the floor….

Then, Grateful Dead playing quietly in the corner – well, until the startling, rousing guitars of Turn On Your Lovelight (slowly filtering in from 10:30 in the video below) scorched a path across the room! – it was time to discuss the epic, explosive ‘grande finales’ to both Tobruk and Escape To Athena as well as the Hammer Film Productions of Kiss Of The Vampire and The Plague Of The Zombies and obviously Philip K. Dick‘s The Game-Players Of TitanClans Of The Alphane Moon and A Scanner Darkly (“….it’s very well written….”)….

Sounds: Two From The Vault by Grateful DeadBlows Against The Empire by Paul Kantner, Grace Slick et al and Cool Snap and Nerve Pylon by The Lines….

Grateful Dead – Turn On Your Lovelight 24/08/1968

Jan ’18 – Sean Hughes, 1965-2017

Posted: January 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

“Anyone got any paracetamol?”

I have to confess that here at Brawlty Towers we’re (un)fairly hardy and that the world of celebrity “departures” never really makes much of an impact, Star Men and Star Women simply blink out, here today, gone tomorrow, yours to own on CD or DVD forever…. but…. I probably wouldn’t be typing this were it not for Sean Hughes who, courtesy of an introduction via my friend Meeks, blew the bloody doors off our teenage selves when in secondary school. I can clearly remember another good pal, Warky, coming into geography one lesson and reeling off all these weird one-liners, and wondering exactly what was up. It wasn’t entirely out of character – Warky was easily the sharpest and funniest of us all – but the slightly abstract content was definitely unusual. Of course, it transpired the jokes were nabbed wholesale from the Live And Seriously Funny VHS that was presently doing the rounds, a video that myself and my brothers watched twice in a row the evening it eventually stopped by our house….

“That sock still isn’t dry….”

Then there was the charmingly chaotic and joyous Sean’s Show (courtesy of Channel X, who had brought us the equally anarchic Vic Reeves Big Night Out only a few years earlier). It’s always quite difficult to go back and watch something that made such an impression on you as a youngster, but I’m pleased to report that actually, on a recent rewatch, Sean’s Show, ahem, stands up pretty well (and far better than I had honestly expected, given its’ limited 90’s production values). Similarly the second series, which I remembered being fairly poor at the time, was equally enjoyable as the, um, first, er, the second time around…? That, plus Sean’s Shorts – he visits Mull! ….and Manchester! – can be found on Sean‘s own Youtube channel here (as for some reason S2 was never released on DVD nor added to All 4’s box sets)….

“I wish that owl would shuttup!”

To top it all off the same group of us saw him live around this (peak) period. Though, hands up, I’ll be honest and state that it wasn’t perhaps the greatest gig…. It lasted for around 2 and a half hours (on stackable poly chairs!), with the “help me, I’m a vegetarian…” routine dragging (intentionally, I’m sure) on and on (across the stage floor), while the second half’s opening salvo was a lengthy Brookside routine that was likely better appreciated if you were a regular viewer. Mind, I’ll admit that I was also probably just a bit too young (i.e. a teenage idiot) to appreciate Sean‘s more sensitive leanings, and can recall Warky‘s copy of Sean’s Book being mocked – especially the bleak poetry – just as much as it was prized….

After Sean‘s passing I read a fairly astute observation online that he made comedy look so very easy that everyone thought they could have a shot, and I’ll admit I was no exception, ambitiously penning The Potter’s Guide, my very own (it was an average idea, spread very thinly, at the time) sitcom response to Sean’s Show before wising up and, together with Warky, having a fair go at sketch writing for BBC Scotland and The Comedy Unit in the late 90’s – a career quite possibly killed by endlessly rewriting the same sketch(es) to no effect, as well as putting our best creative energies into a show that eventually parted ways with our (enthusiastic) script editor (and ourselves by association).  The pair of us tackled stand-up comedy for a spell then too, putting on a (best of the worst!) award-winning show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2000, which I then followed up with a year or so’s worth of torture, er, I mean gigging in and around Glasgow….

Sean on set with Dennis Pennis and Roland from Grange Hill….

What followed for Sean was his pair of novels – they were definitely better at the time, but slipped down the rankings considerably as I became better read – and his stint as a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks (a programme about which I have positively nothing positive to say at all, sorry)*. Meanwhile my own comedy ambitions crumbled under the weight of trying to say too much and not really being all that funny – I was a simple gagster, afraid to break out and express my real self (which was too meek and weak to project anything). I suppose this lack of narrative focus is what lead me once again to trying comics, the crafty “a picture is worth a thousand words” helping to get things back on some sort of (not having to die on my arse in front of, hmm, 23 people) track (er, please sit down, Elexender Browne). Sean, on the other hand, graduated to ever loftier heights, being granted parental approval – “that Irish bloke you like….” – as Mod in The Last Detective….

*I take that back. There was a great joke of Sean‘s in the (inevitable) cash-in book – thumbed through in a charity shop, of course! – about Karen Carpenter being so thin that latterly she used to fax herself to gigs….

Then, to bring things full circle WarkyMeeks and myself caught Sean live in Glasgow for his ‘The Right Side Of Wrong’ show in 2010 and then (there were two!) again in Edinburgh in 2012 for ‘Ducks And Other Mistakes I’ve Made’. Around this time – imagine, if you can, a glorious period when Myspace was a genuinely viable social media networking platform – I was lucky enough to receive a few short messages from Sean in response to a few encouraging things I’d written on his, er, ‘wall’? Or is it ‘feed’? We certainly communicated after I picked up a copy of The National‘s High Violet (this week’s album of the, um, week) having read in an interview it was his favourite album of that year. After that (and then there was one!) I didn’t unfortunately see him live again – there must be a joke in there somewhere about the fact that it’s quite obvious that the only person who should be going to a stand up gig on their own is the act….

I’ll not lie…. These later efforts were hardly the tightest or funniest stand up shows I’ve seen simply due to the fact that Sean matured into a more rounded raconteur, his ever-present thoughtfulness, the smallness of the big picture, coming well to the fore. You’d find yourself wincing as much as laughing as he mercilessly prodded and probed, picking shamelessly at (his) life’s scabs. It would be hard to imagine him tackling something like ‘Live At The Apollo’ with his random and profound (and bleak) stream of consciousness approach, the slow-build jokes scattered here, there and everywhere. But there was something deeper there, the three of us, now bumped about by life, our school selves (and ambitions) half a lifetime ago, watching Sean rattle on down the dark path ahead of ourselves, sending back suitably grim reports….

Of course, the beauty of these shows, and Sean’s real skill, was how he would begin to slowly tie all the disparate (and often desperate) comedy threads together at the end, making for a genuinely satisfying, er, (emotional) climax. Some of the reviews I read from punters online at this time were pretty rough, but I could easily see why folk would be disappointed with an overweight (and somewhat perpetually defeated) Sean huffing and puffing his way about the stage, taking sly swipes at Stephen Fry and Michael McIntyre and getting slightly narked when punchlines failed to land. Hardly the stuff (thankfully!) we’ve come to expect/accept in today’s more easily interchangeable, quick quip, routine-based comedic climate….

Unlike Sean, however,  there’s no clever or well thought-out denouement (unless, you count my using a very fancy word just there?) to this blog. No tying things together in a way that’ll have you leaving the auditorium with a jolly spring in your step (and perhaps a slight lump in your throat…. c’mon! I said throat!). I’m not even sure I’m making much of a passionate case for what Sean meant to myself (and to Warky, to whom he probably meant just as much, if not more, but in as many different ways). I suppose that’s the trick, if I could truly pin down what made Sean Hughes “Sean Hughes” then it wouldn’t make him quite nearly so unique, so inspiring and so special would it…?

“Bye bye! Bye bye! Bye bye!”

(….and he never did adverts, so there you go….)

Jan ’18 – The Year Of Giving Dangerously

Posted: January 15th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: , , | No Comments »

What better way to help readers beat the January blues than to announce that (following on from Lulu‘s December discount) we here at Braw Books have decided to knock a whopping 15% off the RRP of all our available titles. Yep, if you head over here you can browse our superior comic bounty on offer for inferior comic prices….

This means that the Collected Works of John G. MillerDave Alexander and Pudsy can now be “yours to own on paper forever” – or somesuch outlandish claim that neglects to consider charity shops, ebay and the fact we’re all going to die at one point (and quite possibly at the same time, who knows) – at a fantastic knock me down with a feather price….

Aye, for near enough a tenner you can own some of the very finest comedy writing this country has ever produced…. writing that easily goes toe to toe with countless far more famous and celebrated (and rich!) Scottish novelists and comedians. And these guys can actually draw too – bonus….

Jan ’18 – UndergRound Up Of The Year

Posted: January 6th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

“Farewell and adieu, to you two thousand and seventeen, farewell and adieu, you seventeen and two thousand. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Glasgog, and so never more shall we see you again”  (thank goodness….)

In the absence of a proposed series of December ‘UndergRound Ups of 2017’ – instead Agent Rob spent the Christmas holidays this year flat on his back negotiating ‘The Land Of The Lurgy’ – this behind the curve (lack of) effort’ll have to do, a half-arsed cobbling together of images assembled prior, together with hastily written text. Why, in a way it’s Braw Books very own Shada. And, being honest, there’s precious little “underground” actually on show here, it’s mostly just canny swimming in the mainstream, so please adjust your expectations accordingly….

If 2017 was to prove anything it was the certainty that Agent Rob is indeed a replicant as he failed to give anywhere near the correct emotional responses to the year’s celebrated blockblusters, remaining pretty much unmoved (for 2 hours plus!) by the likes of Blade Runner 2049Thor: Ragnarock and Star Wars: The Last Jedi whilst relishing the opportunity to catch erstwhile cult cinema classics Crime WaveYojimbo and Sanjuro on the big screen. Proof indeed that for all the amazing technology and megabudgets at the Hollywood machine’s disposal it don’t always add up to much (except in terms of bloated running time). Maybe they should check out Andrei Tarkoysky‘s Solaris or Stalker to see how it’s done….

The small screen fared a little better, with The Prisoner‘s first timer retro thrills, the irresistible Stranger Things and Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency‘s “what’s actually going on here?” mindbends pushing all the panic buttons that (the wildly imaginative but curiously flat) Rick And Morty could not. I tried, y’know. I gave it a season and a half but simply no joy (aside from the standout Meeseeks And Destroy episode). Elsewhere Elizabeth Moss acted out of her skin – and often, let’s be honest, her clothes – in the relentless adult downer dramas of the year, (Over The) Top Of The Lake and The Handmaid’s Tale. And if anything was required viewing as an antidote to the political shitstorming of 2017 then the BBC’s The Vietnam War documentary proved it sure weren’t no different back then, no sir. It was also great to revisit the Manga phase of my youth, the fact that I watched the bulk of them on crappy res. Youtube videos only adding to the nostalgic 90’s VHS vibe. Similarly, The Horror Channel‘s uncanny ability to source grainy prints only helped further my appreciation of the Hammer and Amicus horror productions….

Of course, lying and sweating under the covers for a fortnight allows you to rest up and listen to the plethora of records you’ve amassed over the course of the year. Everyone who was anyone back in the heyday was back at it in 2017, with RIDE‘s Weather Diaries being a particular highlight amongst long awaited return fare from Slowdive, (Mansun’s) Paul DraperMichael Head & The Red Elastic Band and Thousand Yard Stare, as well as almost-as-long-awaited and still exceptional reissues/compilations from Lift To ExperienceBark Psychosis and Acetone. There was plenty of fresher fare to be found too, with Tonstartssbandht‘s Sorcerer heading up the top of that pile, likely sitting on top of new releases by MogwaiThe Horrors and The Charlatans….

Last year it was old school ambient archiving and this year it was old skool and underground hip hop records,  lps that were “slept on” if I’ve got my parlance – as cribbed from countless Youtube comments – correct, from the likes of MF DOOMEdanMasters Of Illusion and cLOUDDEAD. (Plus there was the sneaky bonus find of NAS‘s classic  Illmatic for 33p in a Partick charity shop!). Typing of clouds, there was plenty of aural bounty to be found on (Bandcamp via) Soundcloud, with the likes of (Scotland’s very own) Boobs of Doom and Fordell Research Unit as well as The Pink ElephantsVintage CucumberNatural Magic and Ma Holo providing somewhat more eclectic musical forays. Check ’em out….

Nice to see Love‘s Forever Changes and John Martyn‘s London Conversation clock up their respective half centuries while The Orb‘s majestic Blue RoomUFOrb and Assassin releases hit twenty five years young (and still, to this day, sound like the future we were promised but that was never realised). Hopefully this year we’ll get to blogging about the sheer majesty of The Orb, something I didn’t quite promise but equally never actually realised in 2017. Then again, maybe it was the sheer heartbreak of seeing them taking a straw to clumsily bludgeon Adventures Beyond The Ultraworld and Chill Out at their 25th anniversary show in 2016 that finally broke this loyal camel’s back….

The world of books belonged to Philip K. Dick, or course, with Galactic Pot Healer and Dr. Bloodmoney really hitting the spot (in several realities, I’m sure) this year. Though it was a shame that Channel 4’s much touted Electric Dreams fell way short of the mark. Not only did Black Mirror trounce it on all fronts, but seeing PKD‘s work stuck in sub-Blade Runner visuals and acted out in part with British accents – from his books the characters scream America, the settings all Californian sunshine and shabby denim – just felt completely off. Add to that the simple fact that his work just doesn’t really translate to film or television. Like J.G. Ballard – whose High-Rise was given a sort of “Carry On Up The Elevator Shaft!” adaptation in 2015 – it’s all about the canny exploration of the “inner space”. Still, bonus points for casting Steve Buscemi, probably the most PKD actor of all time, in one episode. But for sheer quality of writing it was hard to see past Something Wicked This Way Comes and Ray Bradbury‘s tight, highly evocative prose – if you’re lucky enough to read a modern edition there is an excellent afterword that is by turns inspiring, illuminating, electrifying and chilling….

The world of comics (as ever) belonged to Frank Quitely, but especially in 2017 what with his epic, career-spanning and jaw-dropping exhibition at Glasgow’s Kelvingrove Art Gallery. The opening night was a joy, comic creators from right across the spectrum turning out to see ‘the local boy done good’. Perfect timing too, considering Agent Rob was beginning to regard his singular, immense talent akin to wallpaper, having stared at page after page of Jupiter’s Legacy for hour after hour – finally here was chance to look at the work afresh (and be knocked out by his craft all over again)! At least it made this List, ahem….

Coming a very close second to King Quitely is Goran “Grand Master” Parlov, who returned on art duties with Punisher: The Platoon. His simple, Euro-stylings combined with a mastery of composition and ink tones makes it all look oh so easy. This guy could draw Punisher: The Phonebook and I’d still be queuing round the block for a copy! I haven’t been this tempted to pick up a pen and draw a comic since John Romita Jr‘s work on the original Kick-Ass….

Of course, by far the greatest thing we saw and heard and witnessed all year was when Mark Szaszy decided to share the video for Pusherman‘s 1996 single Chase It. There’s only a select few who gave these excellent 90’s heavy rockers a chance – think catchy Oasis-esque songs with Northern Soul-era Verve sonics, but harder and heavier than that pair combined – but they are far and away the great lost band of their day. This footage is absolute gold! These lads meant it, mannnn….