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I remember when I first head that the long-delayed Hitchhikers movie was actually coming out, I received the news with joy. Why shouldn't the great Douglas Adams' finest hour be up on the big screen and reach an even wider audience? The casting sounded good, Stephen Fry as the voice of the book, Martin Freeman as Arthur didn't seem a bad idea and I was assured by a knowledgeable friend that this Sam Rockwell fella was a very good choice for Zaphod.


Then it arrived. Everywhere I looked, the critics were dumping on it. A stinker. A turd. I turned away and never watched it.

Only trouble was, barely two years later, I married an American. An American lady whose only experience of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy was the film....and she loved it.

I tried to get her to read the book but fiction wasn't her thing. I tried playing her the original radio version and the record adaptation but it just wasn't her medium and she didn't pay attention. I could have shown her the TV show but that wasn't really the best format of it. Maybe if it came up on an internet streaming service....

...but it didn't.

The film did.

One day recently, we had a rainy day and needed something suitable to watch with our three year old. He loves Doctor Who, so why not? It would be a nice introduction for him. I was about the same age when I watched the TV show.

So, where to begin? Lets start with the positives.

I liked the puppetry for the Vogons.......
Mos Def was OK as Ford, having a black American play him fits nicely with the fish out of water concept of Ford.


Erm......

...that's it.

Martin Freeman does the same old thing he always does and the problem is that Arthur Dent was always previously played by Simon Jones. Simon Jones was a contemporary of Douglas Adams at college and Arthur was actually based on Simon. You can't get better casting than having someone basically play themselves. So, the only way is down for recasting the lead. Poor old Freeman never stood a chance.

The has so many bum notes that its just untrue, fluffing punchlines, info-dumping so the multiplex-frequenting, popcorn-grazing dummies can understand that things are happening, and re-arranging jokes so that they fall flat. It's a complete disaster of a script and filmed with no confidence or panache.

Stephen Fry is someone I normally have a lot of time for but when made to compare to the original narration of Peter Jones (cast after deciding they needed someone who sounded like Peter Jones) he falls flat and sounds too knowing, too post-modern to actually be funny. I'm a Stephen Fry fan but he started to sound like the smug Stephen Fry that his critics always describe.

The dreary opening credits of dolphins doing tricks to a musical number in a Busby Berkley style lyrics falls flat (nice idea, not enough budget). It ends in an odd place. They add a romance for Arthur and Trillian. They even turn Arthur into a hero and make him rescue her. Zaphod becomes all threatening and unlikable. Rockwell's characterisation of him is so charmless as to render the character pointless (although there are so many unsubtle hints that Zaphod's backstory is a big mystery to be explored in the film sequels - fat chance).

The excellent Alan Rickman doesn't seem to know what to do with Marvin the Paranoid Android and Bill Nighy's take on Slartibartfast seems less like John Le Mesurier (the character's inspiration) and more some strange, bohemian businessman. Neither really work.

However, the main problem is it's just not very funny. Old favourite jokes fall as flat as the new ones. I know Adams wrote some new material for the film but they mess that up too. Who do we blame? Is it the British team that made? Is it the Hollywood studio that provided the money interfering and messing everything up?

It's tedious from start to finish but then you probably already knew that. I just came here to rant. Maybe if you never experienced Hitchhikers before you'd enjoy this but love it? Beats me


Max Richter is one of those undiscovered musical treasures that makes you feel evangelical about his music. He's a highly innovative composer whose work manages to blend the minimalist with the evocative. His music was used heavily for the Will Ferrell film "Stranger Than Fiction" yet he also found time to produce Vashti Bunyan's comeback album and collaborate with the likes of Future Sound of London and Roni Size. He is a man of music with no genre snobbery.

His previous albums have gone down as modern classics. Evocative, spellbinding and emotional without being melodramatic, overwraught or overblown. This is a new, more experimental release available only on download or on vinyl. Each of these 24 pieces has been developed as a mobile phone ringtone.

That's a phrase or concept that might alienate some people but what Richter is doing is embracing a new form of media and applying his work to it. What you get is 24 short tracks [most of them under the 3 minute margin] which use sounds and frequencies that will not loose too much fidelity when played through the mobile phone speaker. It seems that the tracks were originally developed for an art installation where they were offered by bluetooth to gallery visitor's mobile phones.

All this zeitgeist-hugging is ultimately meaningless next to the music. Fortunately, the music contained here is of such a quality that it doesn't really matter what you think to the concept. With the format demanding that Richter keeps the pieces shorter than normal, the constraint seems to have triggered even more creativity. He experiments more with electronic sounds than previous albums, utilising them as another instrument for his compositions. There are a couple of psychedelic guitar pieces and a whole range of moods.

It doesn't matter if you're a mobile phone hater or a technophobe, this is a refreshing album that brings together electronica, psychedelia and classical music into little bite-sized tracks. It embraces the punk ethic of keeping it short and sweet, defying the epic. Richter has done it again. If you haven't heard him yet, I cannot emphasise how much you need to.


Little Valley are the brewery nearest to where I now live, so I always take a keen interest in their ales [after all, being local it means a smaller carbon footprint and keeping money in the local economy].

The thing is, I have mixed feelings about their beers. Some of them have disappointed, some have quite pleased and the odd one has ended up being poured down the kitchen sink. However, I love their ethos of organic ingredients and their outlook, so I am always keen to give them a chance. So, I was pleased to get my hands on not one but two of their seasonal beers this week.
Two Lads is the kind of traditional brown bitter you like to think your Grandad drank in black and white photos. I was drinking it on draught and as I went to my table, it drew admiring looks and enquiries from the people sat nearest to us. Settled in its' glass, it really does look beautiful: pure, smooth and very attractive. Raising your jar to your mouth delivers on the promise. It's smooth, light, delicious and leaves the nicest glowing after taste. This is a classic version of the classic bitter. You could secretly buy this one for the elderly relative who never tries the guest ales. No matter how stuck in their ways, they would thank you for it afterwards

Ginger Beer really does what it says on the tin (or rather, what it says on the bottle). This is the classic ginger beer you see in Victorian style bottles at health stores meets one of Little Valley's finer light ales. Don't be fooled into thinking this is some kind of alcopop revival, it is actually a very tasteful innovation. Naturally, a fondness for ginger is essential. There is also a definite hint of citrus in there, too. It is a brave choice and one which will scare off traditionalists but those with a taste for the experimental or for a nice hybrid of ginger beer and pale ale will find a lot to love here.


I have to say, of all the Little Valley beers I have tried, these two are far and above my favourites. If you have tried Little Valley before and been unhappy with the results, I strongly urge you to give them another chance if you see these beers on offer.

SYLVESTER MCCOY


 

Most people’s first exposure to Sylvester McCoy was in the 1979 film of “The Secret Policeman’s Ball”. This live concert saw him alongside the likes of John Cleese, Peter Cook & Rowan Atkinson looking like a circus performer gone punk rock. He was hammering nails into his nose and stripping down to his underpants to risk a model train projected fork into his privates.

 

However, it was in 1987 when he became the seventh actor to portray the lead role in the popular BBC sci-fi “Doctor Who” that he became a real household name. Gone was the punk image, replaced with a bowler hat, umbrella and blazer. His performance was unique, eccentric, dark and convincing.

 

Since then, his career has mainly been in the theatre. I spoke to him on the phone not long before he was starring in a brief run in Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado” at the Sheffield Lyceum. I started off talking about his recent tour of “King Lear” with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Sir Ian McKellan. 

 

“Yes, I toured the world with Gandalf for over a year. We started on January 2nd 2007 and finished this February.”

 

I gather it’s going to be on television this Christmas?

 

“Oh yes, It’s going to be some family entertainment for Boxing Day!”

 

What? Family entertainment with a blinding scene?

 

“I was being sarcastic”

 

Ahhh, of course! So, will this be your first time singing on stage?

 

“No, in fact in 2006 I was touring ‘Me and My Girl’. I’ve done Gilbert & Sullivan before. I was in the West End for 9 months once with ‘The Pirates of Penzance’ with Tim Curry and George Cole. It was the American version from the Joseph Papp Theatre in New York. We did it in Drury Lane at the Theatre Royal.”

 

I never knew George Cole had done musical theatre.

 

“Yes, he played the Major General. He got to sing ‘I am the very model of a modern Major-General, he was really good.”

 

You’re a very experienced stage actor, do you ever get nerves before performing?

 

“Oh yeah, you get apprehensive. This one we won’t have as long a rehearsal as sometimes one can get but it’ll be fine, it’s a good production.”

 

Yes and it’s a great venue, the Sheffield Lyceum, it’s one of those unspoilt theatres. You can feel the history when you walk through those doors.

 

“Oh yes, Gilbert & Sullivan will fit absolutely in to that auditorium.”

 

Yes, particularly as the show is using the props and costumes from Mike Leigh’s wonderful film “Topsy Turvey”

 

“Yes, the costumes are from the film. I don’t know about the props, I guess if you say they are, though you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the papers.”

 

You are well established actor, add to that singing and the extreme physical theatre work you did, do you have any other secret talents?

 

“The producer of Doctor Who once looked at my CV and he said ‘You know, you’ve done everything in this business except ballet’. I’ve done musicals, Shakespeare, opera, low comedy, high comedy, quite literally high comedy as I was hanging off things at great heights. I was Puck in Benjamin Britten’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ for the Welsh National Opera. The only thing I haven’t done is ballet.”

 

Would you do ballet if you got the chance?

 

“I suppose if Darcy Bussell asked me. I never went to drama school. I never had any training. People would just ask me if I could do something and I would always say yes”

 

When you manage to get some free time what music do you like to listen to?

 

“I like classical music and jazz. I also love listening to World Music, especially on Radio 3, there’s a programme on there I really like.”

 

Yes, I love tuning in late at night sometimes to Radio 3 and they play some of the most wonderful jazz and world music.

 

“Yes, that’s the programme, I can’t remember what it’s called. Annually, the BBC have the world music awards and I always try to get the CDs from those awards. They have such great variety from Mongolian folk singers to highland Gaelic voice music. They just make music using their voices.”

 

You famously played a Scottish accented version of The Doctor. Do you find it odd that Scottish actor David Tennant plays The Doctor with an English accent?

 

“Not really, It’s acting. I must say, a lot of people in Scotland were very upset. They went with Christopher Eccleston’s Mancunian accent at first and it worked. Maybe they decided they’d had one accent and now they wanted a Doctor who didn’t have an accent. David Tennant is terrific, whatever accent he uses.”

 

What are you doing next – will you be touring “The Mikado” or are you moving on to something else?

 

“I’m moving on to other projects. It’s all a bit embryonic at the moment, so I can’t say what it is but I think it’s going to be very exciting if it does happen.”

PRIMAL SCREAM - VANISHING POINT

I'd always had an odd relationship with Primal Scream. I'd devoured and adored all the singles that led up to "Screamadelica", owning both the original 12"s and the remix 12"s and playing them to death. Yet, somehow I found the album that followed anti-climactic. Maybe it was the hype. Maybe it was the poor choices of versions (the 7" edit of "Higher Than The Sun"? The version of "Come Together" without the original vocals? Why?) but it never quite washed with me. When they decided to follow it with an album of Rolling Stones tributes, I wrote them off completely.

However, come 1997, they'd managed to get my attention again. The primary draw was the fact that they'd just recruited Mani from The Stone Roses to play bass for them. There was also the fact that the first single from this new line-up, "Kowalski", was cheap on release. I am, after all, a Yorkshireman and we do like things to be cheap.

I loved the single "Kowalski" but on first listen "Vanishing Point" disappointed. It seemed weedy, messy and too fragmented. Luckily, I had too much time on my hands back then and gave it a few more goes and slowly came round to thinking it was the best thing Primal Scream had ever done. The album became the soundtrack to the Summer of 1997 and was played heavily well into 1998.

10 years later I realised that many years had past since I'd last heard it, so I pulled it off my shelves and gave it a spin.

There are 2 stages to becoming a classic album. Stage 1 is when you play something endlessly when you first own it. Then, it gets forgotten and neglected. Stage 2 is when you go back to it. Will it sound dated? Will you wonder why you ever loved it? Will it have become nothing more than a nostalgic snapshot of days gone by?

Not this album.

"Vanishing Point" still sounds so fresh, crisp, vital and alive.

Opening track "Burning Wheel" takes the classic 60s psyche model and adds 90s rhythm and electronics too it. When the band covered the 13th Floor Elevators "Slip Inside This House" back in 1991, they kept only the originals lyrics and made it into a dance track. This time they pull off the unlikely feat of making past and present synchronise naturally. It's psyche you can rave to.

"Get Duffy" is the albums first step into dub soundscapes.  Normally, for me, the phrase "digital dub" makes me run to the hills but somehow the band manage to make it work. Incredibly, they manage to invoke both the Jamaican spirit of King Tubby and Lee Perry alongside the classic 60s soundtrack style of John Barry and Roy Budd.

The following track, "Kowalski" had been the albums leader single and made for an impressive opening statement. The track is based around sampled rhythms from the krautrock classic "Halleluwah" (by Can) topped off with vocal samples of Cleavon Little's blind radio DJ from the film "Vanishing Point". Into this mix, Gillespie's vocals are whispered mysteriously and a huge, crashing, futuristic electronic sound keeps coming crashing in. It's dark, edgy and still sounds radical.

"Star" was the second single from the album and the first track on the album to feature special guests. Legendary Stax records players The Memphis Horns join the band here, alongside another legend: Jamaican dub pioneer Augustus Pablo.  Probably the most commercial track on this album, it's a sweet mix of soul and dub with Bobby Gillespie  paying tribute to the American civil rights movement and freedom fighters in general.  Putting politics into the pop song is a difficult task but here it works in perfect harmony.

After the sweetness and light of "Star", the album explodes into another direction with "If They Move, Kill 'Em". A colossal beast of a track that sees an enormous rock rhythm married to a mind-bending cacophony of big brass, free jazz squealing, sitar attacks and echoing guitar. Like most of the songs on the album, the idea shouldn't work but does.

This is the sort of song that should never be listened to whilst driving in the name of road safety. It's title comes from the snatch of dialogue from Sam Peckinpah's violent western "The Wild Bunch" that was meant to be used on this track but couldn't be cleared in time. Luckily, an extended version featuring the sample came out as a single backed with a Kevin Shields remix of this track. This 12" makes an essential appendix to the album.

Here the album once again pulls the trick of shifting gear. It goes down several gears for the spaced-out dub of "Out Of The Void". Gillespie's cautionary tale of the horrors of chemical over-indulgence is matched to a whirlpool of strange effects and echoing sounds. The album's sequencing seems very much geared towards the double vinyl edition, as this track brings side 2 of the record to a haunting close.

Changing the record sees side 3 open up on a whole new tack with the mencing track "Stuka". Named after the notorious German dive bombers that were fitted with air-powered sirens on the wings for purely  psychological effect, the track obviously samples said sirens. The beats are dubby and the vocals highly distorted, Gillespie appearing to be talking about Catholic guilt with lines about original sin and opening with "I got Jesus in my head like a stinger". Easily the darkest track on the album, it stands somewhere between the genres of dub and industrial music. Not an easy place to stand at all but it works.

"Medication" is a straight-up rock 'n' roll song with no messing around. Sex Pistol's bass player Glen standing in for Mani. Rather than aping the Rolling Stones, this one's more Detroit rock 'n' roll with the ghosts of MC5 and The Stooges hanging overhead. Unlike most of their rock 'n' roll material, this one convinces due to Gillespie's vocal delivery sounding sincerely like a man on the edge and also thanks to Innes' guitar playing sounding more frenzied than usual. It's the only song on the album that isn't innovative but it makes up for that by being so enjoyable.

Then the band go and cover Hawkwind's song "Motorhead" (written by Lemmy before he was sacked from Hawkwind. He then named his new band after the song and recorded it yet again with them. Are you following this?). Unusual is the word that springs to mind. Gillespie sings the first verse through a voice-distorting Darth Vader mask. The song features a huge, bass-heavy, proto-Acid House beat and also rocks like a bastard. It's fun but is probably a bit silly.

Side 4 of the LP is the only one not to feature 3 songs. This is no doubt down to the fact that the track "Trainspotting" is over 8 minutes long. This song had turned up the year before on the soundtrack to the cult movie of the same name. The band were on there at the insistance of Irvine Welsh, author of the original book. This song sees them working with their original acid house mentor Andrew Weatherall for a cinematic dub workout.

Sounding more like the theme to a spy film in Jamaica, it could be seen to serve as the blueprint to the album. In the summer of 1996, the record that people who don't own many records freshly owned was the Trainspotting soundtrack. When you visited these nice but slightly boring people, they either skipped this track to get to the next indie anthem or were completely unaware it existed as they always talked all the way through it. A fine case of a musical pearl before swine.

The album closes on an uplifting note with "Long Life", a twinkling dub ballad (I know I'm using the word dub a lot in this review but this album really does have a very heavy dub influence, OK?). Gillespie sings gently about it being good to be alive and living a long life. It's a gentle way of fading out a very mighty behemoth an album and one that lives you feeling uplifted and satisfied.



For me, this album has been the peak of Primal Scream's career. They followed it by remixing the entire album with the help of Adrian Sherwood into......can you guess?......a dub album. Funnily enough, it worked beautifully. I've always preferred the classic warmth of old fashioned Jamaican dub but they managed to make a modern day version work so well.

Primal Scream moved on and made some good records and some bad records but at the time of writing, they've never made anything like "Vanishing Point". Here's to hoping that one day they will.


(c)2008 Ned Netherwood
From The Daily Post:


Sir Jonathan Miller, the theatre director and polymath, has hit out at London theatre producers for succumbing to "an obsession with celebrity" when casting West End plays, citing the Doctor Who actor David Tennant, who is to play Hamlet in a forthcoming Royal Shakespeare Company production, and Jude Law, as examples. Miller's criticisms come after two of his productions for the National Theatre, where he is an associate director, failed to get runs in London. According to him, this was because the cast had no famous names.
Of this setback, Miller, 73, says: "Producers might have been swayed if I’d been prepared to put in for more luminous names. But I wanted my original cast, who were absolutely first-class." He believes "it is merely the famous" that producers are interested in, and he refers to Tennant dismissively as "that man from Doctor Who". And of Jude Law, who will play Hamlet at the Donmar Warehouse, he says: "I suspect he can't act better than the young unknown who played him for me who was quite extraordinary."

http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/people,1040,sir-jonathan-miller-takes-on-dr-who,30717



This is a disappointing thing to read, especially as Sir Jonathan was someone I'd always admired from his early days in the comic revue "Beyond The Fringe" to his modern work in the theatre. His comments about Jude Law may well stand up, however his comments on David Tennant seem extremely ignorant and his general argument about the theatre come across as both naive and bitter.

Firstly his comments about David Tennant stick out as wrong for two reasons. To begin with, he seems to be judging Mr.Tennant for being involved in Doctor Who. This may be his best known role but does Sir Jonathan realise that earlier in his career, David starred alongside  Jim Broadbent in the National Theatre's debut production of Martin McDonagh's "The Pillowman"?

In the world of theatre today, there is nothing to compare to the savage, hilarious and honest work of Martin McDonagh. "The Pillowman" sits at the pinnacle of his work and given that McDonagh has now successfully moved into the realm of film with "In Bruges", then "The Pillowman" could conceivably be the last thing McDonagh will write for the stage.

Why shouldn't Tennant take the starring role in the greatest play of the classical times? He has already taken the starring role in the greatest play of modern times.

The other thing about Sir Jonathan's comments that strikes me as misplaced is the idea that he is dismissing Mr.Tennant because he stars in Doctor Who. Why does that reflect badly on him as an actor? One thing the series has never scrimped on throughout it's history is casting. Many acting legends from Brian Blessed to Sir Derek Jacobi have taken the time to appear in it. Penelope Wilton, the preferred actress of stage legend Harold Pinter, has a recurring role in the modern series.

The casting of the role of The Doctor itself has always been a radical one. Throughout the show's 45 year, it has always tried to surprise the public by casting brilliant unknowns in the title role, each one as different from their predecessors as possible. Tennant has been no exception, being plucked from obscurity to become the star of the biggest runaway hit in UK drama of the last 20 years.

Time and time again, he has dazzled viewers with his depth and range. He seems capable of communicating so much with a simple expression. He has charmed the audience with his wit and warmth, moved us with his vulnerability and left us absolutely chilled by the calm, silent wrath he has unleashed on his worst foes. Who wouldn't want him for the lead role in a big stage production?

Shakespeare's "Hamlet" is a problematic play to stage. It may contain the greatest speaches in the English language but it is a long play and will always live and die by it's casting. To carry the play, the lead role must be cast with a magnetic, dynamic actor. These are traits that Tennant possesses in abundance.

There's a terrible snobbery that surrounds many of the followers of Shakespeare that bellies the great Bard's commercial instincts. He is venerated for his artistic achivements but many seem to forget that these were rivalled by his commercial accomplishments. Were Shakespeare alive today, he would not be sat is some bedsit writing for the stage and suffering for his art. He would own his own film studio and make blockbuster movies for the multiplex.

Shakespeare wrote his plays with specific actors in mind - specific, popular actors such as Richard Burbage, a celebrity in his day. The man knew how to write a hit. He ended up co-owning the most famous theatre in London of all time. He was not avant garde. He did not cast unknowns in lead roles. He gave the people what they wanted and he knew how to pull the crowds.

There has been a terrible tradition of making Shakespeare productions into horrible, joyless affairs with stuffy old fossils barking their lines loudly and going more over-the-top than any Doctor Who villain. These people have ruined the Bard's reputation with the public at large and made him inaccessible to whole generations.

Yet, every now and again, someone just gets it right. Some people out there can bring Shakespeare to vivid life. When he's done right, it should make your blood run with passion, your heart soar with joy and your head swim with delirium. It's rare but it does happen.

Sir Lawrence Olivier and Kenneth Brannagh may have made prattling nonsense of the classic text with with their film versions of Hamlet but I once saw an actor make the part human and believable. I once saw this actor play a Hamlet you could root for. I once saw this actor make a Hamlet so mesmerising that you could forgive the characters personality flaws and made a real heart-breaking tragedy of his death.

That actors name was Christopher Eccleston. And I think we all know what he's best know for to the youth of today.

Sir Jonathan should try not to be so bitter about the West End's refusal to embrace his production of Hamlet and learn the lesson: there's nothing wrong in giving the people what they want as long as you do it well. That's what Shakespeare did.

(c)Ned Netherwood 2008