Sunday, 16 November 2014



My second favourite last gang in town.

"I don't think I'm gonna let you stay in the film business."
(Image: BAD Central)

In the 1980s, everyone seemed to be doing stadium rock: Simple Minds, U2, Bruce Springsteen, Then Jericho (remember them? Me neither). Big Audio Dynamite were a refreshing alternative. Front man Mick Jones had (arguably) made punk iconoclasts The Clash global superstars, by introducing reggae and dance beats into their music. When he was fired from the band he’d founded by Joe Strummer, Jones set up a new musical collective with DJ and filmmaker Don Letts.
Mick and Don were backed up by Leo ‘E-Zee Kil’ Williams (bass), Dan Donovan (keyboards) and Greg Roberts (drums). In the image-obsessed ‘80s, BAD were a great package, looking like a cross between guerrilla rastas and Sergio Leone anti-heroes. This outsider aesthetic continued into the music itself, with BAD’s second single – and the first I heard – ‘Medicine Show’ sampling cool dialogue from A Fistful of Dollars (1964), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Duck, You Sucker! (1971), as well as the Humphrey Bogart classic The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948). BAD went a step further with ‘E=MC2’, a tribute to the films of Nicolas Roeg, littered with samples from the psychedelic gangster flick Performance (1970). JoBoxers they weren’t.
They blew me away live, heavying up the bass and guitar riffs and playing everything faster. At a spectacular gig at the (sadly now demolished) Astoria on the Charing Cross Road in London, Mick fired witty quips from the hip and at the drop of a baseball cap went into Chuck Berry-style duck walks. By the time I saw them, BAD’s set was full of great, clever songs from their second LP No. 10 Upping Street (1986), including ‘C’mon Every Beatbox’, ‘Beyond the Pale’, ‘Limbo the Law’ and ‘Sightsee MC’. If the rousing attitude sounded familiar, it was because Joe Strummer had patched things up with Mick and had co-written some of the songs, also producing the album with attack and vigour. From this distance, maybe BAD missed a trick by not getting Joe out to do a few numbers. On the other hand, perhaps it was just too soon for an on-stage Clash reunion.
On their third album, 1988’s Tighten Up Vol. 88 (which built more bridges with The Clash, as bassist Paul Simenon supplied the cover painting – dancers at a rave by the Westway), BAD delivered their best set of lyrics yet. Together with songs about Imelda Marcos, horoscopes and the simple joy of playing music, ‘Applecart’ was a brilliant vignette of a once loving relationship collapsed into tedium and habit:
The silence between them
Makes the loudest sound.
Thinking it’s the wavelength
Turns the radio down.
They hardly know each other
And they don’t know where to start.
Don’t rock the boat
Upset the applecart.
The other stand out was ‘The Battle of All Saints Road’. I’d lived in London for two years by now, and the Zydeco/‘Duelling Banjos’ from Deliverance (1972) mash-up, about the increasing yuppyfication of areas of the capital that had been on the frontline in the 1970s, struck a chord with this immigrant Londoner. I was really looking forward to seeing BAD on the Tighten Up tour, but Mick fell seriously ill and was out of action for over six months.
BAD returned to the fray in 1989 with Megatop Phoenix. I didn’t get it at the time, but since then it’s become their album that I play the most. Ahead of the game as usual, Mick had been inspired by the Second Summer of Love and moved away from conventional rock song structures into a kind of Cockney house music. ‘Around the Girl in 80 Ways’, ‘James Brown’ and ‘Everybody Needs a Holiday’, among others, have an appealing nursery rhyme quality that’s hard to get out of your head once you’ve heard them. Reflecting the mash-up ethic of rave culture, the samples were more diverse than ever, including Laurel and Hardy, Laurence Olivier, The Who and Bernard Cribbins’ ‘Right Said Fred’.
BAD remained brilliant live. Their gig at the Town and Country Cub (still going as the Forum, happily) ended with a stage invasion and all the equipment disappearing from the stage. I can’t remember now if it was Mick or Don, but one of them came out and said, “Look, we’d like to do an encore, but can we have the gear back please?” Drums, guitars and amps duly bobbed over the sea of heads back to the stage until only Mick’s microphone was missing. The call immediately went up – “Where’s the mic? Where’s the mic?” – until the required item returned to its owner, ambling from shoulder to shoulder for all the world as if it was out for an afternoon stroll.
That was it for me really. For some reason the original line up split and the reconstituted BAD II recorded Kool-Aid (1990), which I’ve still never heard. Call me fickle, but my interest had switched to the Happy Mondays who, with their pounding dance beats and rock riffs, inherited the dance floors BAD had loosened up. The Mondays even sampled Performance on ‘Mad Cyril’.
I never thought I’d see a BAD reunion as, up until it happened, members of The Clash didn’t do nostalgia. Just getting to see BAD play live again in 2011 was an event, as for some reason the whole Underground network decided to go on strike that day; maybe Mick was testing our resolve. He’s a man to age gracefully, now sporting a fine line in bespoke suits, while Don looked as if he’d been defrosted direct from 1985; the rest of the band didn’t stop smiling. Tight but loose, they played everything I wanted to hear and encored with a triumphant ‘Rush’, easily the best of the BAD II recordings. Job done.
Mick remains inspirational. His touring archive, showing just how much of a pop culture magpie he is, was a great idea. On New Year’s Eve a couple of years ago at a Dreadzone gig in Notting Hill – his manor – he came on and sent everyone wild by playing ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’, and followed that up with ‘You’ve Got to Pick a Pocket or Two.’ Of course.
Four years ago, an expanded and remastered This is Big Audio Dynamite appeared to coincide with the reunion, but there’s been nothing since.
So, fellers – how about legacy releases of the other albums?
Recommended Listening
This is Big Audio Dynamite (1985)
No. 10 Upping Street (1986)
Tighten Up Vol. 88 (1988)
Megatop Phoenix (1989)
The Globe (1991)

Monday, 10 November 2014

DOCTOR WHO: DEATH IN HEAVEN review, 8 November 2014


You'll laugh, you'll cry, you'll punch the air. In it's tenth year back on television, Doctor Who remains unique, stylish and is better than ever.

Go forward in all your beliefs and prove to me that I
am not mistaken in mine. (Image: BBC)

Christ it’s brilliant.
‘Death in Heaven’ is a textbook example of why Doctor Who will always be an important part of my life. No other TV series can have you open-mouthed in shock, shedding a tear and laughing out loud, sometimes in the space of one scene. This year’s finale is so focused, hard hitting and life-affirming, that it’s hard to believe it’s written by the same Steven Moffat who let through the indulgences of the Matt Smith years.
Cybermen have always been walking dead men, something that was very apparent in their first design but got rather lost in their remodellings over the years. It’s great to see the original idea put centre stage and alluded to through the gothic, Judgement Day symbolism of graves giving up their dead. What gives this concept extra dramatic punch in November 2014 is the metaphor that Cybermen are soldiers. Beginning as mindless drones of Missy – the ‘exits to the rear’ scene was hilarious and disturbing at the same time – and then reclaiming their humanity through ex-soldier Danny Pink (a never better Samuel Anderson), is very poignant in an episode transmitted the night before Remembrance Day. When Danny soared into the sky to save the Earth and the Brigadier was revealed as the saviour of his daughter Kate (Jemma Redgrave), I had the same lump in my throat as I did watching the Remembrance Day parade on Eltham High Street.
Delightfully, Michelle Gomez’s Master is absolutely barking – where else will you see a super villain riffing on Toni Basil’s 1980s hit ‘Mickey’? Moffat’s interpretation goes back to the original idea that the character is a mirror image of the Doctor; Gomez has similar physiognomy to Peter Capaldi and speaks with a Glasgow accent that becomes stronger when the two are together. I love the twisted psychology that she’s set up her scheme to corrupt the Doctor so she can ‘[get her] friend back’ because, the implication is, she’s lonely. It gives emotional depth to an idea going all the way back to ‘Colony in Space’ (1971).
Gomez really is sublime. Come back soon, darling.
There are some loose ends. Why were Danny and the Brigadier the only Cybermen able to retain their identity and memories? And Missy selecting the one potential companion who was essential to protecting all the Doctor’s past lives was a bit contrived (unless that’s the point). However, minor quibbles only.
The Moff has obviously been watching a few Hollywood blockbusters recently, not to mention the James Bond 50th Anniversary Box Set. ‘Death in Heaven’ is an entertaining riot of pilfered imagery, taking in The Silence of the Lambs (1991), Airforce One (1997), Iron Man (2008), Goldfinger (1964) and, astonishingly, the pre-titles sequence of Moonraker (1979). Cybermen ripping apart an airliner in flight is a delightful nod to The Twilight Zone story ‘Nightmare at 20,000 Feet’ (1963) and it made my heart sing to hear references to Thunderbirds (1965-6) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967-8), Doctor Who’s teatime rivals in the ‘60s. Something so sweet and geeky amid all the havoc and angst was delightful, not to mention an amusingly clever way of pointing out where UNIT comes from. (There’s a whole book about the Doctor Who/Gerry Anderson crossover, Simon Messingham’s dark, enjoyable novel Doctor Who: The Indestructible Man (2004).

‘Me and Sylvia Anderson – you’ve never seen a Foxtrot like it.’
Without a doubt, Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman are the best Doctor/companion duo since Tom Baker and Louise Jameson. Capaldi has the lion’s share of screen time, effortlessly demonstrating how his Doctor has finally come into focus after a year of working out what his character’s about and where it’s going. Lying to Clara (and himself), confronting Missy, saluting the Brigadier (unforgettably) and belting the TARDIS console with such raw anger it’s almost hard to watch – the Master wins again – shows how completely this man has reclaimed the character of the Doctor from the ‘romantic leading man’ it’s been since Paul McGann turned up. After being the focus of last year’s concluding story, Coleman has less to do but was fantastic in all her scenes, particularly when she sold the idea that Clara was really the Doctor, a great cliffhanger into the opening titles.
For me – finally – after ten years, they’ve got Doctor Who right: moral dilemmas, relationship drama, symbolism, surrealism, comedy, razor-sharp dialogue, over-the-top performances, moving, understated performances and a particular kind of English weirdness that, once again, makes ‘Doctor Who, the children’s own show that adults adore.’
From ‘Deep Breath’ onwards, Peter Capaldi has given me back my childhood. In this context, it made sense that Santa Claus (Nick Frost) dropped in to see how the Doctor was doing.
I can’t help smiling when I think what might be in store for all us children on Christmas Day. 

Sunday, 2 November 2014

DOCTOR WHO: DARK WATER review, 2 November 2014


Bold and emotionally brutal, 'Dark Water' is Doctor Who at its most iconoclastic.

She's known as the Mistress - universally.

‘We’re going to hell.’

A week away from Remembrance Day, exploring the guilt and self-loathing of an ex-soldier, namely our own Danny Pink, over accidentally killing a child in the Middle East is… I don’t know. Brave, certainly, and the most mature and serious Doctor Who has ever been, but as I watched ‘Dark Water’ unfold, I had the nagging feeling that this storyline might be a step too far into the real world for the Doctor. (And you can guarantee the Daily Mail will think so).
I’m not sure if it’s in bad taste or not. What would have happened if it’d been revealed in ‘Day of the Daleks’ (1972) that Captain Yates or Sergeant Benton had shot innocent civilians in Northern Ireland? ‘Day’ is a story about terrorism, but the inclusion of material that you could see on news bulletins from the Falls Road in Belfast would have completely overwhelmed the story, not to mention generated a flood of complaints. I’m all for Doctor Who tackling mature themes – as it has this year, to great and ground-breaking effect – but is Danny Pink’s journey just too raw and too emotive for the series to hold, even with all the innovations it’s embraced in 2014? The scenes of Danny in a fire-fight are as convincing as the authentic battle sequences in The Hurt Locker (2008). Doctor Who is supposed to be fantasy… I don’t know. Maybe I’m just not broad-minded enough.

And the fantasy on display here is ‘absolutely vintage stuff’ (‘Carnival of Monsters’, 1973). On the point of death, people throughout history – including the Half-Face Man, an anti-Dalek trooper and a beat copper from Coal Hill – are uploaded to the Nethersphere (somehow), cruelly tricked into surrendering their identities and their bodies are cryogenically stored, until they can be reanimated as ‘Cybermen from cyberspace’. As schemes by the Master go, it’s as ‘vicious, complicated and inefficient’ (‘Terror of the Autons’, 1971) as any he/she’s come up with in the past.

‘I couldn’t keep calling myself the Master, now could I?’

So, the Master is now a woman. I love her new contemporary sounding catchphrase ‘keep up,’ as in my blog on 27 September I speculated that ‘Missy’ was short for Mistress, which is exactly what she tells the Doctor here. Does changing a Time Lord’s sex work? Undoubtedly. The fabulous Michelle Gomez pitches her performance somewhere between Eric Roberts (the fourth Master) and John Simm (the sixth), but immediately makes the part her own, a playful eccentric who enjoys role playing – the MD of W3, a helpful android – which is consistent with the character’s past. The scene where the Mistress toys with Dr Chang (Andrew Leung), as if she’s slowly pulling the wings off a fly, is quintessential Master game-play. The new gender twist is that she violently kisses the Doctor – what does that say about ‘her’ psychology?

I can’t help feeling that there will be a minority of people out there who, even though they can accept the idea of an alien changing his face, won’t be able to accept one who changes sex too. Absurd if you think about it.

And for Gawd’s sake, please don’t kill the Mistress off next week!

Director Rachel Talalay creates a brooding, gloomy atmosphere from the get go, the scene between Clara and the Doctor by the volcano a clever visual metaphor for the emotional hell she’s in. Despite my mixed feelings about it, Danny’s contentious storyline is handled with sensitivity and credibility. Visually, Talalay picks up on this series’ surrealist aesthetic and delivers a parade of never-to-be-forgotten moments – skeletons turning into Cybermen, the idea that the dead are conscious when they’re cremated, Chris Addison’s officious civil servant in the afterlife. Dr Chang is a weak spot:  he might as well have been called Basil Exposition, as he has no other function than explaining ‘dark water’ (the solution that keeps bodies fresh) to the Doctor and Clara, a noticeable lapse in the storytelling that the actors and Talalay do their best to remedy. By contrast, I admire Steven Moffat’s courage in making Danny’s storyline the cliffhanger into the final episode. Grown up drama, that is.

The Doctor and Clara – and Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman – have come a long way since ‘Deep Breath’. They’re at the point where she can still be surprised by his deceit and the loyalty under his ‘social brutalism’ (copyright Steve O’Brien, 2014), while he will do anything for his grieving friend, even if it means literally going to hell. One of the stand-out moments of the year, is when Clara tells her Gran (the wonderful if underused Sheila Reid) that Danny’s death was so ‘ordinary’. The Doctor’s horror when he realises who Missy really is, is equally well played.

One of the best episodes of the year, ‘Dark Water’ is fast, furious and as black as a Cyberman’s eyes but, I have to say, does have a slightly uncomfortable after taste.