Brian Bolland Forbidden Planet illustrations

BollandFPgang(Above) A rare Brian Bolland image for Forbidden Planet sans the “People Like Us Shop At…” line. (Below) An even older advert when FP was in Denmark St.
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UPDATE: Martin Ward just sent me several snaps of original bags he still has. The one of the old man in the circle is one of my favourites, would love to have that on a T-shirt. That bottom one of Zirk for Eternal Comics may well be Garry Leach actually, not Bolland.

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Further Update: I found this in an old sketchbook and in an effort to keep these things together, have include it below Brian Bolland FP flyer

X-Ray Audio book pre-audio

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Soviet flexi discs, ‘bones’ or ‘ribs’, music pressed on old X-Rays due to lack of resources. Stephen Coates aka The Real Tuesday Weld has been collecting and exhibiting these for a while now and Strangeattractor Press are publishing a book of them this autumn. Pre-order is here and there is a limited edition with a free flexi disc which I will no doubt be featuring in the Flexibition at some point.
Next week, Tuesday 30th June, Stephen will be telling the story of the X-Ray Bootleggers at The Last Tuesday Society. More details and tickets here
…and on Friday 3rd July Stephen and Aleks Kolkowski will be presenting a special evening at the Masonic Temple of the Andaz Hotel as part of the East End Film Festival. A new x-ray record will be cut live with a 1940s recording lathe from a live performance by Marcella Puppini of The Puppini Sisters. Go HERE for more details and tickets

Jaga Jazzist ‘Starfire’ / ‘Oban’

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This is the stunning new album from Jaga Jazzist, not only contender for cover design of 2015 by a very long margin but also heading for top 10 album of the year status too. It’s taken a while for me to fully appreciate Jaga but with each album they’ve crept further into my orbit so that now each release has to be checked out. ‘Starfire’, after only a few listens, I can quite confidently say, is my favourite so far and it sees a slightly more electronic mission statement than before whilst still retaining the uber-tight Zappa-like syncopation of previous work.

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The design on the sleeve is magnificent here as well and really compliments the futuristic feel of the music perfectly. Browsing the new releases in Fopp the other day I was struck by how little of the current crop of album designs stood out, possessed any kind of classic iconography or would make me want to look at them twice. So much of the ‘style’ of the last few years of the kind of music that racks up kudos from the critics seems to be about minimal, safe, almost nonchalant anti-design, designers afraid to go all out and make a statement or content to reference past styles.
The Jaga sleeve, besides being striking yet minimal, has a clever trick up its sleeve – or should that be on it?. It comes in a screen printed transparent outer cover of evenly spaced vertical lines that animate keys graphics underneath on both front and back as you slowly pull the inner cover out. This effect is being billed as ‘anamorphic’ in the press releases but that’s more about stretching an image, this process is closer to the ‘moire effect’ that tricks the eye into believing that objects are moving as the black and white lines move past each other, much like a TV screen flicker.

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Aside from the outer cover gimmick, the typography on it is stunning, look at those titles above, that must be a custom made face that works with just the right dose of sci-fi and heavy metal styling to make it unique. The labels and second inner sleeve work beautifully to counterpoint the blackness of the outer as well, as does the companion single, ‘Oban’.

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Coming from the Bridget Riley school of Op-Art the single’s sleeve is right in your face, begging you to pick it up. I take my hat off to Martin Kvamme who is credited with the design just for the elegant graphic solution to the 33 rpm speed text on the label, so few designers would bother devising something different these days.
Both releases are out now on Ninja Tune – go and grab them, music that needs to be held as much as heard.

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Mega Mad Max vehicle round up

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I’m still buzzing about seeing Mad Max this past weekend (I went a second time on Sunday evening) and the web seems to be aglow with positive reviews and articles on everything from Dayna Grant, Charlize Theron‘s stunt double, to how they realised the bungee hanging guitarist in the red onesie. I want to focus on the vehicles and concept designs that led to them in this post and you’ll see how closely they were followed and realised in the final film.
Above we see a mock up – by comic illustrator and concept artist Brendan McCarthy, also co-writer of the film – of a proposed graphic novel for Fury Road, the fourth installment of the Mad Max saga. Below are designs for vehicles and characters that he worked on, amazingly dating from 1997! Brendan has a new website that these were taken from that includes tons of his other comic and film work, he’s the master of psychedelic imagery, few can portray altered states as he can so make a note of anything you missed if you take a look. Incidentally, there’s an official comic debuting this week, published by Vertigo, DC‘s more indie offshoot, that digs into some of the character’s back stories.

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Tony ‘Riot’ Wright, an associate and sometime collaborator of McCarthy’s, was also invited to Australia to provide storyboards for the film in 1999 but ended up doing concept designs. He posted these images and more on his blog with some background to his involvement.

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The task of realising these images in the flesh (or should that be metal?) was down to production design, Colin Gibson and I managed to snag this extensive interview with him from the film’s press people late last week. *WARNING – possible spoilers in the text but Colin does have a very poetic turn of phrase*

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On Mad Max: Fury Road, you were faced with the task of making vehicles that look cool but that are also sturdy enough to survive the rigors of filming in the Namibian desert. That has to create a ton of difficulties, marrying the machine to the role.

COLIN GIBSON: They had to perform, and, like any other character, had a part to play in fleshing out the story and making believable the world they inhabit. Technically, the desert terrain and climate made for logistic problems (overheating, wear on suspension, clogged aspirators, etc), but those very antagonisms added to the beauty and sheer physics of the action with swirling dust, spat sand and airborne vehicles. We design to the story and react to the reality, and each adds truth to the other. Further, we designed the design process to resemble as much as possible the HOW of the Warboys: scavenge, assemble, increase grunt, weaponize, increase grunt, add cup-holder, set off to war with v8 roar…

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There’s a classiness to the muscle cars and some of the older models that makes them timeless, but also kind of harkens back to a time when you actually drove a car.

COLIN GIBSON: Well, that was part of the ethos. There’s the double helix of film design, one strand the requirements and logistics of the film-making, one the truth and logic of the story and the world we are in. Mad Max was set at the end of the ‘70s, and we wanted to use that as a starting point, yet now it’s far further into a future in freefall toward feudalism. So, why are we still using these cars? How do we justify this look? We have basically three fantastic reasons…

Number one, if you’re going to go to war you want heavy Detroit steel rather than carbon fiber. Number two: the analog/digital divide…You also want something you can fix yourself that has balls and grunt, but that is also mechanical, as opposed to computer chipped and plugged in. Number three, in a world of scarce resources and lost beauty, I can’t see anybody schlepping a Corolla halfway across the wasteland to save.

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Tell us about the rolling nightmare called the People Eater? It looks like it’s got a Mercedes chassis to it.

COLIN GIBSON: Yeah. In [director] George [Miller]’s mind, the People Eater truck was always representative of the corporate industrial military complex. A horizontal cracking tower on wheels, refining fuels from oil even as it hurtled across the desert. The head of Gas Town is pretty much large, bald, and be-suited—a bean counter who drives to kill and kills to acquire; he’s all about bartering fuel for water and munitions, so the story required his vehicle to be huge, corporate, military …and it was fated to explode in a massive climax. With the People Eater chassis, I was lucky enough that a wedding company closed down and their pair of old Mercedes stretch limos were up for sale, cheap. So, they became him. And then we did a little lattice cut-out instead of windows, as glass was rare and because he always struck me as Sydney Greenstreet in a Casablanca Café—a large, corpulent man counting coins in the back of a casbah.

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There’s a Volkswagen Bug that we used for one of the Gas Town vehicles and we decided to make it the vehicle that tracked with him, like the fish that track with sharks to eat the parasites, the remora. (We were desperate to use a Volkswagen, and the lead Imperator of Gas Town has a domed bald head, is quite round and corpulent, so the Beetle became the perfect choice). It was beaten back to bare metal because it gave us the shiny, chrome dome; we aped the piping, drums, coils and condensation vats in shape and color to mimic the larger unit and viola, the beetle is reimagined, recycled and reborn.

Did you apply that same logic to each vehicle?
COLIN GIBSON: To each vehicle. We built close to 150 vehicles total but there were eighty-eight set characters.

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The Mad Max Interceptor is very iconic in signature, but you’re not overly bound to expectations. Did you feel you had something of a blank canvas to adapt it for this story?

COLIN GIBSON: A blank canvas that absolutely must be filled with ‘Interceptor.’ We open with Max’s car as the last remaining beat of the Mad Max world, last gasp of a legend lost to fight or flight, running on fumes, rolling on rags, rust to dust… We pass the baton, we hand the dim memory of myth to the new Max, and we wipe it out in the opening scenes of the film. It’s there and then it’s not. And a little later, we do as the Wasteland does, what man is forced to do—salvage and recycle—and the Interceptor returns, ground bare and rebuilt, jacked up and juiced, four-wheel drived and double aspirated, weaponized to wreak havoc in an ever more brutal future. Max must do battle with his own past.

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Does Immortan Joe have two cars in the film?

COLIN GIBSON: The Immortan Joe really owns all the vehicles in the Wasteland, his fiefdom, his armada, all the steering wheels his, the vehicles gifted to the Warboys only to further his ambitions. The Immortan takes over a monster truck at one stage to navigate an avalanche-strewn canyon and jockey his son to battle, but his real vehicle—the Giga-Horse—is probably my favorite because it was built from the ground up. Deep in the dim, dark Rev-Head past, the glory of a Cadillac’s tail fin still haunts the imagination. The glory days before the Fall, a snatch of song tugging at the heart, the gas-guzzling joy of once having been able to put one arm out the window and your other arm around the girl, hit the accelerator and live, be someone … a luxury long lost.

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So, in a world where there is barely one of anything, only the Master may have a pair. We took great delight in taking a couple of 1959 Cadillac Coupe de Villes, tail fins akimbo and red rocket brake lights glowing, cutting them down the center, mounting them one atop the other in flagrante delicto, tipped at a rakish angle over a pair of giant blown V8s, slaved through a custom transmission to harmonize in a deep bass rumble and drive two-meter-high double rear wheels into the Wasteland.

madmax_doofwagon In the trailer, we see a vehicle with a rocker swinging from it while shredding on his guitar as this armada storms into the Wasteland. What can you tell us about that?

COLIN GIBSON: The Doof Wagon. This is an army scavenging across the Wasteland for what’s left, fighting over the scraps, and every army needs a Little Drummer Boy. George imagined one bigger and louder than ever seen before, something raw and raucous to drive the troops on to glory or to death. So, the kid with a drum became Spinal Tap on wheels, a high-speed, high volume wailing rock concert hurtling across the bloodied terrain, Taiko drummers strapped to repurposed metal ducting beating a brutal rhythm for Coma the guitarist, blind and bungee-slung, before the last Marshall stack in existence in the moshpit at the end of the world.

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Can you talk about the Bullet Farmer vehicle, what it is and what it does? That’s an inspired look.

COLIN GIBSON: Yeah, but that was inspired by the story. When you’re in a long and constant chase, you need to come up with punctuation, and George, in his storytelling, had some great punctuation—beats that vary the speed and flow of story, let you catch your breath and expand your sense of the personal dramas unfolding. The toxic storm, the endless dunes…

Another of the main punctuation points is the Night Bog, which stops a lot of the vehicles because it’s basically a huge, endless bog. And what can go through a bog but a tank?

So, we needed a tank, heavily armed, that could do over 60 kilometers-an-hour, keep up with the progress of the other vehicles, and be ready to be unleashed at this point. There’s a company in the States that builds tanks for mining and also for the U.S. military, and we were lucky enough to have them customize a ‘Ripsaw’ for the film. We adapted one of those, exchanged their diesel engines with a water-cooled Merlin V8, then gave it a brassy muscle car body, aviation parts styling, a shark mouth finish of bullets as teeth … and an enormous armory.

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The motorcycles of the Vuvalini are some impressive machines.

COLIN GIBSON: For the Vuvalini’s bikes, we wrapped some feminine detail and nomadic styling around the leather seat of a repurposed Harley or BMW to give you the last thrill of your last ride before these lovely old bikie chicks took you out with a single shot. Heavy touring motorbikes are not necessarily built for swinging around sand dunes at high speeds with an 80 year-old woman on board, but our bike mechanics and [second unit director / supervising stunt coordinator] Guy Norris and his team did a fantastic job making them do things that we tried to pretend we had designed them for.

There are a lot of motorbikes, and, again, for punctuation and for momentum, there are specific stunts asked of particular tribes. One of the splinter groups that lurks in the canyons, the Rock Riders, are basically hyenas on motorbikes: attack units working almost vertically over rocky terrain. Trail and Trial bikes alike were redesigned and rebuilt for the fantastic riders filling these roles.

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You’ve been working on this project for over a decade in one form or another?

COLIN GIBSON: On and off. I went out looking for locations after George offered me the film in 2000, and had a fantastic time traveling the world visiting all the places no one wanted to go. As it turned out, they all had different flavors of the epic and fantastic, but very few of them had more than one or two, and very few satisfied the logistics of a large crew and a difficult schedule. We were generally missing the huge, rocky canyons in most of the places, because they just didn’t seem to abut a beautiful desert.

Namibia was a great choice because it had the advantage of having four or five different looks. I came back convinced that it was the spot because It had many flavors of desert (sand dune, gibber plain, salt lake and rocky riverbed) and yet, at the end of the day, there were two little seaside towns—one of German and one of English extraction, but all African—where you could have a beer and watch the sun go down and eat German pork knuckle. And then the next day you could be out surrounded by a 360-degree view of absolutely nothing.

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On such a nomadic production, does that present new challenges to your gig in terms of not having the kind of control over everything you’d have in a studio shoot?

COLIN GIBSON: No, I think it’s a great thing. I don’t want control over everything. The director does. You know what directors are like—they can’t keep their sticky fingers off every pixel. [Laughs] We desperately embrace all that comes our way, just the same as with the design process. If you’re going to build from salvage then you can only build from what you can find, and that arm tied behind your back forces ever more creative solutions.

The War Rig looks the way it looks partly because [concept artist] Peter Pound did such a great job imagining it through the original storyboard process, but also because I had to build four of them and therefore needed eight of a particular vehicle from the ‘40s or ‘50s to give me a hot rod look that I could actually find for real. Enter the Chev Fleetmaster, a ubiquitous hulk rusting in paddocks all across our wide, brown land.

This design ethic allowed us to be true to the philosophy our Warboys also had to follow: dream what might have been, salvage what you may, build to do battle and make a fetish of your love and lust. I think that’s what gives us an internal logic and a truth, that we build the machines and pit them against each other and the elements, mankind struggling as ever against itself and against physics. What goes up, comes down; what goes fast, stops hard. History.

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So, there’s a certain element of jazz with the unreliable terrain and atmosphere?

COLIN GIBSON: Oh, it’s an undeniably necessary component. I use the jazz riff concept when you’re working within the trope of post-apocalypse, which has been beaten to death by a whole bunch of B-grade knuckleheads who think welding some barbed wire to a Camaro gives you the future of civilization. Really it’s coming up with a weirder instrument and playing in a different place, and yet still catching bits of old standards. So it really is jazz. You’ve hit the nail on the head. And jazz works better. There’s nothing better than hearing a little Charlie Mingus over the roar of a V8 in an ever widening desert…

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If, after a post as relentless as the film, you’re still fiending for more there’s an article with Jacinta Leong about the actual building of the cars here with detailed plans of some of the main vehicles.

Flexibition #14: Kenny Everett on Love & Pepsi

Flex14_KennyPepsi_coverA couple of discs from one of my comedy heroes today in the Flexibition – Kenny Everett – a legendary figure in the British broadcasting landscape from his days on pirate radio to the BBC, making the jump to the small screen on both the Beeb and ITV but never quite making the transition to the big screen. Kenny was one of the most creative disc jockeys on the wireless in the 70s, making endless tape montages of radiophonics, sound FX and song megamixes to intersperse with his wacky comedic range of characters and voices. He was genuinely hilarious and his on-air persona was probably his greatest character of all.

He was no stranger to voice-overs and regularly made jingles for many of the DJs on Capital Radio in his time there. In 1973 he voiced a promo flexi disc for Pepsi’s famous “Lipsmackingthirstquenching…” advert which basically entailed him filling time whilst playing the eight second fizzy drink commercial as many times as possible in four and half minutes. The ad is the gem here rather than Kenny and the disc is notable for having a nicely designed cover which has aged remarkably well graphically and was apparently distributed to retailers of Pepsi to further boost sales.

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The second of the featured flexi’s is a double act of Kenny and Michael Aspel ruminating ‘On Love’. Aspel of course has to play the straight man (as did anyone who teamed up with Everett) reading from a script but gets in a good few jibes as cuddly Ken shoehorns in as many freestyle double entendres as possible but mainly cracks up. The pair once hosted shows that were the antithesis of each other on the radio, endlessly goading one another on air during the handover between their respective slots, eventually forming a lasting friendship and admiration. Kenny adored the sound of Michael’s voice and he, Kenny’s ability to make him “laugh like a drain”, regularly giving him the giggles on what should have been a serious show.


The intro to the flexi is slightly NSFW and there’s a very odd remark from Aspel in relation to his daughter… It does, however, end with a Rod McKuen-esque dialogue / song that builds to a somewhat unexpected but hilarious crescendo. Dating from 1974, I’m uncertain where this was from or what it was for as there seems to be no information about White Elephant Publications on the web. The disc is backed by Dick Emery with a version of his signature catchphrase, ‘You are awful, but I like you’ transposed into song form. This was also released as a regular vinyl 45 and even made the UK charts at one point that saw Emery making an appearance on Top of the Pops. Much like it’s title, it’s awful.


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Two things that I didn’t know about Kenny that I found whilst researching this piece:
He was sacked from Radio 2 in the early 80s for reportedly saying, “When England was a kingdom, we had a king. When we were an empire, we had an emperor. Now we’re a country, and we have Margaret Thatcher.”
He was the voice of the cat in the famous ‘Charlie Says’ commercials.

and one for Dick Emery:
He voiced several characters in The Beatles‘ 1968 animated classic Yellow Submarine including “The Nowhere Man” Jeremy Hillary Boob, the Mayor of Pepperland and Max, one of the Blue Meanies.

RIP Kenny Everett & Dick Emery

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Zang Tuum Tumb ‘The Value of Entertainment’ reissue

Value_Blitz_advertMay85In May 1985 Zang Tuum Tumb occupied the Ambassadors Theatre in London’s West End for two weeks with a showcase of their current roster (minus Frankie and some of Art of Noise) entitled ‘The Value of Entertainment’. In October they released their first label roster compilation which largely mirrored the show’s line up but, thankfully, reinstated Frankie into the mix, cleverly word-playing on the bit of studio kit they’d become associated with due to Trevor Horn‘s production techniques.

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‘Sampled’ was an odd duck but then the label was never going to do the obvious best of so far was it? “So what happens now?” intones a voice early on in Art of Noise’s ‘Closing’, which strategically opened rather than closed the album, posing the question, setting the scene, having the last laugh first. None of the hits from the past two years were included, not in their original form anyway, the closest you got was Propaganda‘s ‘P-Machinery’, a track not even 6 months old, and snippets and snatches from the Art of Noise’s debut LP, ‘Who’s Afraid…’ Instead of celebrating the previous 24 months with ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’, ‘Dr Mabuse’, ‘Close (To The Edit)’, ‘Moments In Love’, ‘Duel’ or ‘The Power of Love’ we got cover versions by Frankie and Propaganda, interludes by Art of Noise and a host of new artists who were making their debuts on the label with this release. And quite right too.

The one exception was ‘Disneyland’, the previously mooted double A side of Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ single which, if included, may have got them that fourth No.1 after all. It was held over to help sell this compilation (“a bait, comrades” as Paul Morley‘s sleeve notes confirmed) and is still one of the highlights of the set. ‘Don’t be bland in Disneyland, it’s very good in Hollywood’ being the standout line in a short burst of energy that would have bolstered the sagging third side of their debut LP no end.

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ZTT did the unexpected, which is what we expected and wanted them to do and why we love them so much for it. They also knew what we didn’t, that there were tensions in the camps of their main three artists and that the wheels were coming off the wagon. Indeed three members of Art of Noise had already flown the coop and were about to release their debut single for China records, having pulled out of the Ambassadors Theatre shows at the 11th hour. But I’m getting ahead of myself here.

The compilation acted as a crossover from the first round of signings to the second, introducing Andrew Poppy, Anne Pigalle and Instinct to Zang and cleverly bought the label some more time in the spotlight whilst everyone else was trying to catch up (again). Instinct were the most conventional of the new artists but one that I felt never matched up to the excitement or daring of Frankie or Propaganda, a good support band maybe but never a headline act. Until recently their contribution, ‘Swamp Out’, was their only release on the label outside of their short performance on the rare ‘The Value of Entertainment’ video or even rarer Japanese laser disc. Without wanting to sound unkind, that was probably for the best as it’s not a great calling card.

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Anne Pigalle, a visually stunning model and singer of the Edith Piaf persuasion who’d been seen in all the right places in London for some time, had the look and just about managed to pull off the voice for her two contributions, of which ‘Intermission’ was probably the best track from her debut LP for ZTT, released around the same time. Her inclusion certainly wrong-footed a few but fitted into the label’s European-leanings like a glove. Unfortunately the pop world was just taking a turn for the commercial in ’85, the post punk, new wave, Futurists and synth brigade were about to be steamrollered by the Stock, Aitken & Waterman juggernaut and the fist pumping stadium rock of U2, Simple Minds and Springsteen. There would be little place for Anne in such a world, despite the fact that she was on one of the most forward thinking labels of the time, but the times they were a-changing.

Andrew Poppy, the third newcomer to the roster was a genuine head-turner, a British avant grade composer with previous form as a member of The Lost Jockey, forward thinking and influenced by industrial music as much by his contemporaries. His pieces (or extracts from) were and are things of beauty that were both out of place with the company on the LP but fitted perfectly into the ZTT ethos. He also had an ace up his sleeve; he didn’t need Trevor Horn to produce him, something that every other act up until then had a connection with and one that was rapidly becoming an albatross around both his and the label’s neck. Not a man exactly known for his fast work rate, it was unrealistic to expect Horn to produce every band on the label and Poppy was the first to completely break the mould.

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This new version of ‘Sampled’ has never sounded so good with an excellent transfer from a new master source instantly noticeable. The album was originally released on a single piece of vinyl and cassette, never on CD and it’s great to hear such a clean, crisp version. It’s been bumped up to 75 minutes with two more ‘sides’, the first of different mixes of earlier tracks subtitled ‘Director’s Cuts’. Art of Noise’s ‘Closing’ gets a 21 second extension but it’s so full of jump cuts the difference is hard to tell. There’s a new mix of Instinct’s ‘Swamp Out’ that was found in the vaults although I didn’t notice until I read the sleeve notes. A new version that did stand out was Frankie’s take on ‘Born To Run’ which sounds like an early attempt to get a live sound of the studio recording. Unfortunately it’s an inferior mix to the original release, drenched in reverb with Mark O’Toole‘s intricate bass lines half buried in the mix. The fourth ‘side’ has edits from ‘The Value of Entertainment’ shows themselves and provides the only genuinely exciting new unreleased recording in a live version of Andrew Poppy’s ‘The Amusement’.

Hearing how close the players come to nailing the recorded version’s sound and arrangement is something to behold and this is only a six minute extract from the original 45 minute performance. 30 years later it sounds extraordinary that such a piece was presented at what was, at the time, a pop label showcase, let’s hope the full performance surfaces one day too. The other extras are sadly unremarkable in that they sound like literal room recordings of playbacks of the Art of Noise ‘performance’ complete with faulty mic introduction for the last track. I consider myself a hardcore ZTT fan but this is scraping the barrel by most people’s standards – for diehards only.

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In a calculated move to avoid the obvious and tame the critics who were, predictably, beginning a backlash after Frankie’s winning streak the previous year, ‘The Value of Entertainment’ live show struck out boldly and promised something new. The paired down Art of Noise performance, little more than a playback with dancers, despite Morley’s self-deprecating asides, ended up falling short of expectations. Original compere John Sessions quit after one show to be replaced by a new MC, now disgraced comedian Chris Langham* who failed to ignite the crowds at the time and you can see some awkward exchanges backstage in the second half of the DVD that comes with this reissue package.
*Sources differ on this, see Ambient Sheep’s recollections in the comments below.

Of the performances in Time Capsule One – a version of the original VHS release in all it’s grainy 80’s glory – only Propaganda ignite any interest, looking and sounding like a pop band in charge of their material. Pigalle is a rabbit in the headlights and Instinct are breathtakingly ordinary, any art house pretence hinted at in the recordings dashed by a spectre of a tight Brit funk band with average material. Mercifully, Morley vox pops are scattered throughout their performance and a visibly nervous Paul wonders whether he’ll be lynched or booed off once he takes the stage. The second half of the DVD – Time Capsule Two – has further excerpts of songs and backstage banter excised from the original film, taken from the Japanese laser disc from 1986, ending with an excellent photo gallery from the original nights set to part of Andrew Poppy’s score.

Poppy is sadly absent from the whole film, his only appearance in the photo gallery and as backing music for the menu, a real shame, and a missing ingredient that would have added to the *ahem* value of the package. Knowing how thoroughly Ian Peel goes about compiling these reissues I suspect the footage either no longer exists (if it ever did) or wasn’t high quality enough to include. Philip Marshall‘s minimalist design pays homage to the original release with a new take on the Kenneth Martin cover image and the inclusion of unseen photos from the shows by Andrew Catlin. As it stands, in terms of value and entertainment this set definitely fulfills the former admirably, taking care above and beyond the usual call for an oddity such as this but falls a little short on the latter. As a ‘Time Capsule’ it’s perfect, a delight to see mid-80s Soho on film in all its scaffolded, dingy hustle & bustle in contrast with ZTT’s avant pop, its pristine, slick exterior radiating ideas and bucking trends they couldn’t hope to replicate in the everyday gig or performance setting.

At one point in a backstage tour of the theatre Morley chances upon Instinct sound checking and apologies that, “it’s come to this”, a sentiment echoed by his on stage dialogue concerning the Art of Noise’s non-appearance. ‘A Radiant Obstacle in the Path of the Obvious’ was an early ZTT mission statement and you get a sense that he knows that that mission is starting to fail. The label’s acts worked best in the controlled isolation of the recording studio or video edit where the fantasy could be molded, re-mixed and perfected. Once the live element was introduced the illusions created were torn away and, no matter which context you set them in, the theatre or the concert hall, the fallible human side shattered the utopian vision.

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‘Sampled’ saw the beginning of a new phase for the label but it was the end of their first two glorious years where they were at their most experimental and daring. ‘The Value of Entertainment’ was largely savaged in reviews although many conceded that it WAS something different at least. Instinct failed to release another record, Pigalle tanked and Propaganda split into a different version of the group soon after, signing to Virgin with only Claudia staying at the label. Frankie, as we know, returned a year later with the lacklustre ‘Liverpool’ before imploding themselves. Only Andrew Poppy really made a mark from the compilation, going on to release two albums and singles of exciting, forward-thinking material before he too was cast adrift, the third promised LP emerging years later as part of a box set. The label would have one last shining moment in Grace Jones‘Slave To The Rhythm’  before the changing pop landscape rendered their first incarnation yesterday’s news and they began their second phase, cannily reborn and re-aligned to the emerging dance music scene at the end of the decade.

‘The Value of Entertainment’ is out now from ZTT/Union Square Music – CD+DVD+16 page booklet in card digipak that lines up with all the previous reissues beautifully. The Art of Noise ‘at the end of the century’ 2xCD+DVD is also out, review coming soon…

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Trevor Jackson ‘F O R M A T’ launch

FORMATtext
Thursday night saw the launch of Trevor Jackson‘s first release in 14 years, ‘F O R M A T’, hosted at the Vinyl Factory space under Brewer St. car park on the heart of Soho. The release consists of 12 tracks and is initially being made available on 12 different kinds of media with 1 track per format.

These range from 12″, 10″ and 7″ vinyl, CD and mini CD, DAT, VHS, Cassette, USB card, Minidisc, 8-track cartridge and 1/4″ tape reel. The numbers of the edition drop as the format gets more obscure so while the 12″ is pressed up at 500 copies the 1/4″ reel is in an edition of only 10 available with the complete box set of all 12 formats. Prices start at £10 and slowly creep up as the numbers get more limited until you get to the full box set at an eye-watering £850. There is also a poster of all 12 formats available in an edition of 100 with each piece signed and numbered. See, hear and buy the full line up at www.formatvf.com

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At the opening last Thursday guests were directed into the car park and downstairs to a space with a free bar at one end and a table selling the various formats that make up the album at the other. A second dark, enclosed space housed a wall of 12 huge screens opposite corresponding plinths with two sets of headphones. Each format and track was represented by a different film of it being played on the corresponding equipment, not a one shot YouTube-style video but varying close ups of the act of loading the format as well as associated graphics such as time displays, VU meters, rotating spools and platters etc.

http://www.djfood.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/TJ-Format-scan1.mov
What’s different about how this album came to be is that Trevor had over 100 tracks that he’d worked on over the past 14 years but only finished last year. This isn’t an album in the conventional sense, none of the tracks were intended to work together, they’ve been cherry-picked from the archive and exist in isolation from each other at the exhibition, preview-able via the headphones. Likewise (at the moment) each track exists in isolation if you buy it physically. Even the spaced letters of the ‘F O R M A T’ title suggest a disengagement from each other or maybe that’s just the graphic designer in me reading more into it. There was no playback of the full record and it will be interesting to see how the tracks hang together when the collection is released in two months time.

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About the music, as it’s not been mentioned as much as the packaging and concept yet: everything I heard was instrumental, electronic, stark, minimal and very brittle sounding. Knowing Trevor’s methods and tastes I’d guess that a lot of this has been made using original kit rather than samples and his ‘Metal Dance’ compilations point the way to the sonic palette he’s using. Baring in mind I’ve only heard approximately two thirds of the record (it was a very busy night with only two heaphone sets per track) my description above may be a little skewed.
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The 7″ track, ‘They Came From NY’ for instance, features an unidentified voice intoning a few lines and the ending disintegrates into random background sounds that slowly coalesce into a mutant jazz ensemble before being abruptly cut off. ‘In Your Hands’ – the VHS format that also includes the video – was my favourite from what I heard, an edit of a 7 minute plus ambient piece with a film of a dancing form that had been forced through some sort of video distortion technique.

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My friend Frode Heieren pointed out that if you added up the 11 separate formats they would cost over £300 and yes, the pricing is crazy if you look at it like that. It aligns the work with the art and fashion worlds rather than the music industry, way out of proportion to the majority of similar objects sold elsewhere. The way each piece is sold is in the same manner as the art world too, these won’t be available in shops, only at the show and online, and each piece comes with a signed, numbered card that states which number you have and there’s the difference.

You’re buying part of an edition and the art world dictates that the lower the edition the higher the price. If you want to get into that side of things then you’ll spend the money – personally I bought a 7″ and cassette as well as a poster, certainly the most I’ve ever spent on either of those formats new. You’re getting 1 track per format and I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that that’s a good deal but you’re buying an artifact here on a format of your choice and it’s more about your preferred media than the track it contains.
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If you don’t want to get into that then the whole album will be released in 2 months on vinyl, CD and download. Realistically very few people are going to be able to play a DAT, tape reel or 8 track cartridge so the editions are low and the prices high. That’s going to frustrate the completists but it’s also a very clever way to stop the album leaking in full as it’s unlikely that anyone is going to buy the box set and stick it online.

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The full box set is inordinately expensive though, I thought it would be £2-300 tops and that’s the only bit where the pricing seemed out of whack to me. It puts it into the realms of the 1% and that’s something I’m personally not a fan of. But then again I have no idea how much it all cost to make, source and produce and the Vinyl Factory have never been known to be cheap which is why they’re one of the best at what they do. Trevor has said that there is no way he’s making a penny from it unless the box sets sell as sourcing things like 1/4″ reels and 8-Track cartridges aren’t exactly cheap or easy. Anyone who has experience of pressing records will also know that the lower the pressing, the higher the cost per item. From my own experience, I made 30 playable postcard records for the launch of the ‘Search Engine’ album exhibition in 2012 and, even selling them at £8 each, I only just broke even. But let’s not get into the crass subject of money and costings…

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Most of all, the whole concept and execution is excellent and has had me thinking about music packaging from a different perspective in the same way that a good exhibition or film leaves you questioning things. I found the most successful presentation of the set was actually a framed version hanging on the wall, displaying each format rather than hiding them away in a box. I’d wager that those who bought items on the night probably acquired them more as artifacts of the show and, after a cursory listen, are more likely to display them than play them, certainly with the limited numbered formats. This has been happening for a while now if you speak to record shop owners who quiz their customers on their buying habits with many physical releases.

It will be interesting to see how much makes its way to the secondary market and how they appreciate in value over time, something I don’t think we can discount in this age of investment buying and flipping. A quick web search shows nothing on eBay or Discogs which is refreshing but will these prices seem like chicken feed in years to come? I know that Trevor’s intention couldn’t have been further from any thoughts of long term fiscal appreciation and would have been focused on the concept and presentation and ‘F O R M A T’ is a love letter to the physical in a time when more and more people are interested in owning a tangible manifestation of what they’re paying for again. In terms of innovative ways to present an album Trevor has broken new ground here and, despite the elitist pricing, I think that makes it a success.

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Rammellzee part 2 by Dan Lish

DLish-Rammpt.2This blog seems to rapidly be becoming a Dan Lish showcase of late. Furthermore to the first portrait of Wildstyle-era Ramm that he posted just a few days ago, late last night this version went up. The Rammellzee in full on Ikonoklast Panzerism mode. Both so wonderful, can’t wait to see the colour versions.

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I’ve been meaning to post his illustration for the weird Beatles meets Hip Hop mash up that went up the other month too…

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Selected Aphex Works mix for Solid Steel

Record_Collector_8_AFXFew can’t have heard that earlier this month user48736353001 started uploading copious amounts of old tracks to their Soundcloud account claiming that they were a fan of Richard D James aka Aphex Twin and had made lots of tracks in his style. Very quickly speculation spread that this was actually Richard and these tracks were selections from his mythical archive or thousands of unreleased tunes, some dating back from before he broke through in the early 90’s. As more and more tracks appeared and comments started appearing from the user it became apparent that this was indeed the real deal and Xmas had either been delayed by a month or arrived ridiculously early.

I was suspicious at first but when a track named ‘8 Utopia’ was uploaded I knew that even if the person uploading and commenting wasn’t Aphex then the music was. Way back in the mid 90’s I was made a ‘best of’ tape of unreleased work by a friend of Richard’s on the condition that I kept the content to myself. As you can see from the track list above, the compiler wasn’t 100% sure on a lot of the titles but the track that starts side 2, ‘The one that makes you shiver’, was the same as ‘8 Utopia’, albeit in far worse quality. As more tracks were uploaded I started recognising more tunes with even a couple of titles matching. A total of 5 out of the 17 tracks from the tape appeared, with another 7 having been heard on RDJ-related records elsewhere since the tape was made, leaving me no doubt that this was Aphex. Here’s how the original tape titles match up (and bear in mind that the cassette titles could be wrong in the first place):

i. ‘AFX vs UZiq’ = not uploaded to Soundcloud
ii. ‘-?-‘ (’94) = track 11 from the Joyrex tape that was uploaded a few years ago, although at a faster speed
iii. ‘Untitled Jungle tune’ = track 10 from the Joyrex tape that was uploaded a few years ago, although faster
iv. ‘Epic Breakbeat’ = not uploaded to Soundcloud
v. ‘Mantra’ = the track known as ‘Humanoid Must Not Escape’ from the Caustic Window ‘Joyrex J9’ picture disc (303 side), you can hear a sampled voice say what sounds like ‘Mantra’.

After ‘Mantra’ comes a short 30 second piece of electronic glitching with the sample, “I had to kill Bob Morgan because he made a mistake”, the same as on the ‘Bob Morgan’ track included in the uploads.

vi. ‘AFX vs. Uziq’ = ‘Giant Deflating Football’ from the Mike & Rich album on Rephlex
vii. ‘unreleased Ventolin’ = ‘phlangebeat’ although a lot slower on the tape
viii. ‘Bradley Styder’ = the first track from ‘Bradley’s Robot’ from the Strider B. 12″ on Rephlex
+ scanning by R.James‘Phone Pranks’ (Part 1 & 2) from the original Caustic Window LP that was finally released via a Kickstarter by WATMM.

i. ‘The one that makes you shiver’ = ‘8 Utopia’
ii. ‘-?-‘ (’93) = not uploaded to Soundcloud
iii. ‘GAK track’ = ‘d15-10 dulcimer dub’
iv. ‘—- ” —–‘ = ‘Untitled’, track 5 from the officially unreleased ‘Analogue Bubblebath 5’ EP
v. ‘-?-‘ (’91/92) = not uploaded to Soundcloud
vi. ‘Dance To The Beat’ = ‘dance2thebeat’ although the tape version is speeded up noticeably so that it clocks in at under 4 minutes.
vii. ‘Fresher + Cleaner’ (The Best Aphex Track Ever!) = ‘Fresher + Cleaner’ minus the intro hi hats
viii. ‘AFX vs Wagon Christ’ (Hissy Mix) = not uploaded to Soundcloud

Looking at some of the dates on the titles – mid to late 80’s – I’m slightly dubious as this would mean RDJ was making fully-formed gabba Techno at the same time as the Detroit pioneers were weaving their magic. Anyway, back to the present day and, eventually, 155 tracks appeared and, after making my way through them all, I pulled out 40 favourites for a mix. These were further whittled down to 31 with the addition of interview snippets from Radio 3‘s Mixing It show and John Peel‘s Sounds of the Suburbs TV program, and the whole thing clocks in at 86 minutes.

My Top 10 AFX Soundcloud tracks in no particular order:

Red Calx / Red Calx [slo]
Make A Baby
Luke Vibert – Spiral Staircase [afx remix]
Fork Rave
Moodular Acid
Th1 / th1[slo]
Heliosphan live
afx 126b
Utopia
Moodular Acid

The Advisory Circle’s ‘From Out Here’ album

The latest album from Jon Brooks under his The Advisory Circle guise is his best yet. I feel confident in saying this, not only because it’s already received universal praise from others but because there’s something in ‘From Out Here’ that goes further than before. There’s a deeper sense of menace than previous, lighter, works, as well as that ‘remembered nostalgia’ feeling that you really have heard some of these songs before. As with Boards of Canada‘s best, relying more on the familiarity of sound textures than samples, Brooks transports us back to an unspecific time somewhere between the mid 60’s and the late 70’s.

Take a track like ‘Escape Lane’ for example; the opening motif recalling classic Carpenter / Howarth before the main chiming keyboard riff instantly evokes a forgotten library cue from a BBC schools play or educational programme. The kind of track that would be labelled “light, breezy, synthetic, optimistic… ‘ on the back of any library LP description. So far, so good, this is then followed by a much subtler, darker piece that recalls some of David Sylvian‘s soundscapes before swinging back into another light synth line, this time accompanied by acoustic guitar and piano. Then things get weird as we eavesdrop of a recording of someone sending a message back to a loved one, repeatedly referred to in a slightly stilted way as, “…darling”. It’s here that the phrase ‘from out here’ is uttered and presumably what inspired the album title. Further spoken word pieces appear; a disembodied voice intoning ‘pushing, pushing, pushing and purring’ and ‘2, 5, 9’ in a mix of Twin Peaks meets number station menace.

There are shades of old world nostalgia similar to Kraftwerk‘s ‘Radio Activity’ on tracks like ‘Experiment!’ with synthesized machines blowing steam and pumping pistons in the background. It continues on side 2 as Brooks conjurers themes from the kind of TV programmes that would start just as it was time for bed, the opening strains of which would be all you’d hear as you were ushered out of the living room and up the stairs, wondering what they could contain that wasn’t fit for children’s eyes. It’s also a distinctly British sound and approach, from the sonic tones to the accents of the spoken passages and nowhere near as dark as Jeremy Schmidt‘s similarly-themed ‘Beyond The Black Rainbow’ which piled on the horror.

Julian House‘s artwork has now moved to a point where he has defined a good portion of the visual stimulus associated with the Hauntological genre and his cover doesn’t shy away from including as many as possible. On receiving the LP my wife remarked, “oh is there a record of that book?” (referring to ‘Discovering Scarfolk’ by Richard Littler), so strong are the associated connections now. And make no mistake, that’s no bad thing, this is a perfect example of Hauntology right down to the sci-fi concept of patient experimentation and computer-generated society. All this is helped by track titles like ‘Discipline Before Data’, ‘Jessica Finds The Beach’ and references to ‘Triadex’ (a Triadex Muse was an old 70’s sequencer-based synthesizer) set in the old Monotype ‘Computer’ font.

It’s hard to pick a favourite track as they all work to form a larger picture, a complete work that’s all any composer could wish for in an age where albums are cherry-picked into a distilled form of ‘highlights’. Brooks has been on a roll this year with the highly personal ’52’ album on Clay Pipe Music, mastering work, mixes and a collaboration with Sean O’Hagan on the Other Voices series for Ghost Box. ‘From Out Here’ is my favourite though as it embodies everything I love about the label and it’ll be interesting to see where he takes things next. You can buy it direct from the label here and, although vinyl is my preferred format for all GB releases, the CD and DL have 3 extra tracks so I might have to get a second copy.

The Advisory Circle present ‘Winter From Out Here’ by Cafekaput on Mixcloud

Posted in Design, Music. | 1 Comment » |

The Herbaliser ‘Road Of Many Signs’ / ‘Moon Sequence’

  • RELEASED: Feb 1999
  • FORMAT: 12″ / CDS / DL
  • LABEL: NINJA TUNE
  • CAT No.: ZEN1278 / ZENCDS78 / ZENDNLS78
  • DESIGN: Openmind
  • EXTRA ZEN: ninjatune page / BUY

I always preferred both the song and the sleeve side of ‘Moon Sequence’ over the more radio-friendly ‘Road Of Many Signs’. Being a space-themed track it was easy to come up with imagery to suit and I decided to use the landing pattern of the Moon capsule as a kind of dance-step routine across the lunar night sky. The astronaut’s fat boots also looked a little like giant shell toes so the ‘Breakin’ In Space’ line was added to further push home the point.
The A side over was made up, literally, of many signs I’d snapped on my travels around the world at that point including N. America and Japan.

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Cosmic Trigger – the play


The crowdfunded play ‘Cosmic Trigger’ opens in Liverpool and London this weekend and next week, based on Robert Anton Wilson‘s follow up to the Illuminatus trilogy but also taking in his life story. It’s being staged by Daisy Eris Campbell, the daughter of Ken Campbell who staged a version of Illuminatus in Liverpool back in 1976 that was pivotal for many people involved.

Being that I already mentioned Liverpool and the Illuminati then it follows that The KLF can’t be too far behind and Bill Drummond built the scenery for the original play. Jimmy Cauty is also somehow involved in the new version. There are a little too many intersecting factors in all of this so here’s some further reading if you’re interested:

The Cosmic Trigger Play – sets out what’s about to happen, it’s complicated.

Bill Drummond5 Things I learned from Ken Campbell – essential read, very funny.

Greg Wilson The Gateway Drug – extensive, make some tea and settle in for the long haul

John Higgs‘ – Chaos, Magic and the Band Who Burned A Million Pounds – absolutely fascinating book chronicling the KLF‘s history from before and after they formed/disbanded, taking in the Illuminati, Dr Who, the number 23, JFK, Alistair Crowley, the banking crisis and much more.  Buy it, even if you’ve no interest in the KLF, they’re just the springboard for a romp through the latter half of the 20th Century.

The The ‘GIANT’

  • RELEASED: 19 April 2014
  • FORMAT: 12″
  • LABEL: SONY/ LEGACY
  • CAT No.: ZEN12232
  • DESIGN: Openmind / Cally @ Antar
  • ILLUSTRATION: Andy Dog / Openmind
  • SPOTTERS DELIGHT: Billed as a ‘GIANT2FACED12INCH’ the sleeve was supposed to open at the top but due to a cock up that none of us spotted it opened from the side.
  • EXTRA ZEN: BUY

I was pretty excited when Matt Johnson got in touch to ask about the possibility of licensing my version of ‘GIANT’ for a The The vs DJ Food double A side 12″ on Record Store Day and then asked me to design one side of the sleeve as well. The brief was simple, the front was his brother, Andy ‘Dog’ Johnson‘s shouting face image from the cover of the American issue of the ‘Soul Mining’ LP and I was to do my interpretation for the reverse. OK, so a shouting face, fairly obviously Matt’s, to compliment Andy’s vision, how best to go about this? I didn’t want to ape his style as that would be pointless but there had to be some visual connection so I decided to use the same colour palette.

I’d remembered an image of Matt shouting/singing from the Infected video that was featured in the The The songbook as a still, taken straight from the TV by the looks of it and so scanned that as the basis of my version. The head was facing the opposite direction from Andy’s so this was a good start and I took the idea of the arrows he would add to some of his images and redrew the face, now made from a warren of intertwined arrows. This was supposed to represent the confusion in the character but also served to create a dynamic image with movement without copying the blizzard of detail that gives Andy’s art such a visual buzz.

After inking the pencil tracing I scanned it and cleaned up edges to get a clear B&W version before adding a limited colour palette that would mimic the lighting of the original photo. The background I’d decided would be black rather than white to counterbalance the other side and I added some distorted TV feedback I’d taken years before to reference the texture of the original photo. It was looking a little clean for my taste so a layer of grain was added across the face just to give it some ‘glue’ to pull the flat face together with the background and a tiny amount of spin blurring to the black outlines to blend it further.

I then experimented with adding a section of the Robosunburst from the background of the ‘Search Engine’ LP cover to reference that release but, while it added an extra level of dynamism to the image. I felt it was too busy although I did submit a couple of versions to Matt for a second opinion and my feeling was Matt’s too and he went with the simpler image. I also felt that my colour choice was a bit on the dark side so a re-balancing of the browns for redder tones evened things out and bought it a little closer to Andy’s colourful original.
All that remained then was to add the titles and I wanted my clean DJ Food logo to reflect Fiona Skinner‘s original choppy The The logo design. For this I imported the Food one into Illustrator and used the tracing tool too create a rougher outline as it can never trace exactly, especially at small sizes. This was then further roughed up on the edges in Photoshop and the words ‘featuring Matt Johnson’ and ‘GIANT’ were taken from the back of the ‘Soul Mining’ LP cover. Actually I think I had to cobble the ‘featuring’ together from several different words…

After this I wanted a copy of the arrow Andy had pointing toward the nose of the face to tie our designs together and form an anchor point to align the titles with.

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Jet Propelled Cinema last night


‘How Psychedelia infected Hollywood Sci-Fi’ last night at the BFI was another head trip along the lines of the Julian House / Ghost Box event earlier this year. The program ran: Yantra (1957) by James Whitney, Momentum (1968) and Samadhi (1967) by Jordan Belson, Catlog (1961) by John Whitney, Solar Express (1969) by Augie CinquegranaOffOn (1967) and Moon (1969) by Scott Bartlett and Cibernetik 5.3 (1965-69) by John Stehura.

Whitney’s ‘Yantra’ was incredible, being that it took him 10 years to complete by hand-drawing the animations onto small filing cards and the name Pat O’Neill was new to me, someone I’ll have to investigate further. The Sci-Fi season at the BFI is really turning up some great treasures at the moment.

Posted in Film. | 2 Comments » |

Interview with ‘Future Shock’ doc director Paul Goodwin

(Quick disclaimer to avoid confusion: ‘Future Shock’ – the documentary about 2000AD – is completely unconnected to my own ‘Future Shock’ DJ mix sets. This is a happy coincidence but both stem, in part, from the short one-off tales in the comic called…‘Future Shocks’. I can see that it might get confusing as I’m now interviewing the director but it’s a small world and great minds think alike and all that. With that cleared up, let’s get to the interview which I conducted for the Front Row Reviews website.

I run into Paul Goodwin – director of ‘Future Shock! The story of 2000AD’ – outside the green room where I’m due to interview him at the BFI. We’ve never met but I recognised him from the many photos he’s posted on the Future Shock documentary blog, enviably posing with various legendary comic creators, looking like a kid in a sweet shop. Like any nerds of a similar age with a common love of a subject it’s easy to break the ice and I’m eager to find out what drove him and producers Sean Hogan and Helen Mullane to make a documentary about the Galaxy’s Greatest comic, the wonderful weekly dose of Thrill Power that is 2000AD.

(Paul with legendary artist Brian Bolland and producer Helen Mullane)

What made you think 2000AD was a good subject for a documentary, what sparked the idea?

Paul Goodwin: Like all good things it started in the pub! Sean and I go way back and we’d been talking about working together on a serious project for a while.  We were both 2000AD fans in our wayward youth and I just said, you know, it’s crazy that someone hadn’t done this yet, and it’d be something that I’d drop everything to go and see!  Sean immediately said he’d help make it happen if he could.  He suggested bringing Helen on board and once we hooked up and Helen agreed to co-produce it became a real thing.

How old are you and when did you start reading 2000AD?

I’m 40.  I picked up the odd random prog in the late 70’s when I was really young (for those of you not familiar with 2000AD ‘speak’ – prog = program i.e. issue). There was a huge choice of British comics at that time, but I never saved those or anything.  Years later, the first stuff I actually remember reading was the Judge Child Quest, which a school friend showed to me.  I specifically remember Fink & Mean Machine from the Angel gang, and trying to understand why Dredd had such enormous boots!

I just chewed up all the old progs like immediately, the Titan volumes and those Eagle collections (80’s reprints of older strips collected together before the term ‘graphic novel’ had even been invented), mostly bought from Forbidden Planet on Denmark Street or the little shop up Paradise Alley, remember that guy?.

Alas that was before my time, I lived outside of London and would come up at weekends but I definitely went to the Denmark St Forbidden Planet and remember the cramped little space before it moved.


Progs were like 20p or something.  Then I started buying it weekly from prog 500, which was the first jump-on prog that came my way.  So my era of buying it regularly featured the John Hicklenton Nemesis, ‘Oz’ (Judge Dredd story involving skysurfer Marlon Shakespear aka Chopper), Bad Company and Slaine the King, stuff like that.

Real golden era stuff :)

Basically I think there’s a real lack of decent behind the scenes material for the comics world, and I had always felt that 2000AD had inspired so many and influenced so much over the years that I really felt that the comic needed to be recognised for its impact.  So that’s what we did, hopefully..!

Are the others involved in the production (Sean, Helen etc.) big 2000AD / comics fans too or did you have to bring them up to speed?

Yup, we’re all 2000AD readers, Squaxx I guess you’d say (more 2000AD speak – ‘friends of Tharg, the comic’s alien editor).  Naturally we’ve all read the classic ‘golden era’ strips, but the variation in our ages meant we had all read it ‘full time’ at different points.  So actually there’s quite a fun spread of our favourite characters and strips.  This is very much a passion project for all of us.

Were 2000AD on board from the start and did they help with contacts or were you completely independent?

We are completely independent of Rebellion, who own the comic today.  We did, however go and meet Matt Smith (current editor) and Jason Kingsley (owner of Rebellion) before we had shot a frame, it was crucial that we had their blessing to use their artwork, otherwise this would’ve been a very difficult story to tell.  Like one of those shitty music docs about Zeppelin or whatever and they can’t play any of the band’s actual music!  So Matt & Jason were very cool, laid back about the whole thing and thankfully gave us their blessing – further to that, Matt has really helped us out by sourcing high res artwork of some of the more tricky to get hold of stuff.  Plus of course they appear in the doc!


How did you plan to fit 37 years into 105 minutes?

Ha ha yeah, that’s a funny question. Well, I figured there’s the basic chronological story of the creation of the comic, then I wrote questions that I thought would make interesting discussions and then it kind of expanded outwards from there.  From the outset we knew it was vital to get an interview with Pat Mills in the can (veteran writer who helped start the comic and still writes for it today) – no Pat, no doc. Thankfully Pat is a real gentleman, he welcomed us into his home for an entire day and gave us so much fantastic material that we left there knowing we had the spine of a very cool story!  So then we chose creators that best represented the various eras of the comic and proceeded to tour the country, the world in fact, sitting down and chatting with some of the world’s finest comic book talent.  It’s been a pure joy to be honest.  And we do actually have almost 37 years of footage backed up for special features!

Was there anyone who you couldn’t get or who refused to be filmed that you felt would have given a unique perspective on the comic?

Yes, it’s a shame that Alan Moore is not involved, being one of the most celebrated of 2000AD’s creators.  We asked, and he politely declined to be interviewed, so that was that.  It seems that Alan, along with a few other people would rather discuss their current projects, which I completely understand and accept.  It’s a shame that some voices are missing from the conversation but in my opinion the documentary itself doesn’t suffer for it too badly.

What did you think of the new Dredd movie and do you think that it helped interest in the project?

I enjoyed Dredd very much!  I love the way they resisted having Dredd deliver some James Bond shitty line after he pushes Ma Ma off the ledge and instead just says “yeah”.  That felt very 2000AD.  And I think what’s great about it is that no matter how you judge a film’s success, what you’re left with there is a cool, hard little film that will last forever to engage & inspire people long into the future.

As far as helping us in the production of ‘Future Shock‘, the film has now become an important chapter in the 2000AD story, so we have covered it as such.  It seems that right now there are a fair few 2000AD projects being discussed, a potential Dredd sequel is always in the news, not least the celebrated period the comic itself is having and doing well in the US now, as well as our film so yeah I think it’s a good time to be involved in it all.  It feels good, like there’s a real buzz around 2000AD right now!

Will there be some sort of DVD or Blu-Ray with extras that didn’t fit in at some point?

I hope so!  There was a 3hr40 work print at one stage of the edit!  We interviewed over 40 people for the doc ranging from 30 mins to a few hours each.  There is TONS of stuff man, and if I was a fan waiting for this doc to be released, I’d want to see all those interviews too!  We are looking for distributors right now so I hope that we can get all that stuff out to the hardcore fans one day.

So finally, some fun, personal questions for you: who are your favourite writer / artist / characters from the comic? You can choose more than one if it’s too hard a choice :)

Agh!  That’s a killer…

As a writer surely John Wagner‘s contribution to the world of comics is second to none.  The sheer amount of crazy ideas, sci-fi prescience, comedy and deep political satire in Dredd alone represents a staggeringly high quality body of work.  Also I personally think that Peter Milligan is one of the most underrated comic writers, it was a joy to interview him.

I agree, Wagner’s high turnover and hit rate are incredible and few can write Dredd’s dialogue like he can, something I think they got pretty spot on in the film version.

Artist?  Hm, I’d probably say Steve Dillon drew my favourite Dredd, with that crazy jawline!  I love artists that can communicate story with very few lines, and for me Cam Kennedy & Mike McMahon are masters of that kind of simplicity.

As for the strips, I really love Slaine for a couple of reasons: firstly because I used to skip over it before I realised how fantastic it was!  I couldn’t get with the whole Conan thing or the magic or any of that stuff at all and then I actually read one, and it was brilliant, and of course I had to go back and raid my own back issues because they were so addictive!  I love Pat’s crazy battle cursing, “I’ll bathe my axe in your blood” and all that stuff.  And of course Mike McMahon‘s art on the ‘Sky Chariots’ story is breathtaking – that one page with the ships in formation and the eagle bringing a fish to the nest in the foreground.  Genius.

But, Nemesis the Warlock is the one that has remained my favourite over the years.  Totally unique, I have never read or seen anything like it.  Pat Mills is just letting it all go with that book.  It’s brutal and disgusting, epic, violent, funny and just fucking cool all at the same time.  All the artists that drew Nemesis over the years needed to have such a bizarre unique style to make it work, but of them all I do think that Kevin O’Neill is one of the most important comic artists of all time.  The designs for the characters and that world of Termight are unbelievable, where does it all come from?!  Just brilliant, brilliant stuff. Credo!

I agree on that one too, there’s no one like Kevin out there and Pat has created so many memorable characters over the years as well as helping start the comic obviously. Well, I’m really looking forward to the premiere and, as a fan of the comic for 35+ years it’s clear that it’s in absolutely safe hands here.


Review of the UK premiere

I saw the film last night (after having refused a preview before the interview above as I didn’t want to spoil the occasion) and all I can say is that my suspicions were correct, Paul and his team were absolutely the people for the job. They managed to fit a huge number of creators and history into the film and yet cover a lot of ground in a very entertaining way.

Pat Mills is the binding element which, along with John Wagner and Alan Grant, is how it should be being that they where there at the start and are still writing for the comic today. The comics industry in the UK in the 70’s is covered and the scene set, the troubles that beset them all gone into, the ‘dark years’ of the 90’s and the saving of the publication when Rebellion stepped in to buy them are touched on too. They don’t pull punches and it definitely isn’t all a love-fest, the original Dredd movie is given short thrift as are the copyists who have ripped off characters wholesale.

One of the highlights of the film is Mills railing against ex-editor Dave Bishop, who readily admits his failures in a smart bit of tit for tat editing. There are many glimpses behind the scenes of what went on, how rights were bandied about with little renumeration and creators seen as just grist for the mill. All this is wrapped up in glorious artwork to remind you of exactly why the comic is such a British institution and the rock and synth-heavy soundtrack is perfect to underscore the whole thing. A few creators are conspicuous by their absence – Alan Moore refused to speak (no surprise there) as did Mike McMahon and, despite several instances of their artwork there was little mention of Ian Gibson, Ron Smith, Simon Bisley, Massimo Belardinelli, Brett Ewins or Steve Dillion.

But considering they had to fit three and a half decades into 1hr 45 minutes they did a wonderful job and the abiding message that came across is that 2000AD is a very British institution that once kicked against the status quo and has now become a part of popular culture. Tellingly Mills reveals that the nearest role model at the time was the French anthology Metal Hurlant and that he has always been loath to see the comic as a stepping stone to America. The Q&A afterwards with director Paul, producers Sean and Helen alongside Mills and Kevin O’Neill was further illuminating and I left happy that the legacy of the comic had been faithfully and entertainingly laid out for both fans and newbies alike.

The next showing is at the Leeds Thought Bubble Festival on November 15th where they’ll have a Q&A afterwards too. Follow their Future Shock blog here.

Posted in 2000ad, Comics, Film. | No Comments » |

Shindig! magazine no.42 with free Cherrystones CD

Can’t say enough good things about Shindig! magazine, a decent blend of well-written articles and reviews on as much new as old music in the psyche, prog, rock and experimental vein.

Not as dry and repetitive as Record Collector and digging a bit further underground than Mojo. This month’s issue contains a Rocket Recordings mix CD by Cherrystones too.

Inside The Pleasuredome – the Sarm Studio visit

On Thursday night I was lucky enough to squeeze into Sarm Studios alongside 60 other Frankie Goes To Hollywood fans and assorted industry people for a playback of ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’. Ably hosted by Classic Album SundaysColleen Murphy it was a final farewell to the studio were the album and thousands of other songs were originally recorded before it closes to be refurbished into flats at the end of the year.

The evening started with a swift drink around the corner with designer Philip Marshall alongside Steve and Paul from Union Square Music who I’d worked with on the Frankie box set, now at the printers and awaiting release in a month’s time. We were treating this as our ‘wrap’ party even though Paul and Steve still have the logistics of consolidating the set elements and shipping all the boxes out (over 1,100 have been sold so far). Walking past Sarm earlier, a gaggle of fans had mistaken me for alternately, Steve Lipson and Holly Johnson as everyone who ventured near was scrutinised by the gathering crowd.

Once we returned to the studio there were many more outside, although nearly all midde-aged men, a far cry from the teenage girls who used to gather to try and catch a glimpse of Frankie as they came and went 30 years ago. Once inside I was finally introduced to Paul Sinclair from Super Deluxe Edition (also see his review here) whose blog is a must for all things that fall into this category, and we settled in the back row next to a Sarm patch bay to listen to the evening’s events.

First up was Colleen quizzing Trevor Horn about his career and some of the difficulties in recording the album with the fledgling band, some of who were still learning their instruments. The thing I realised about Horn that evening is that whether working with the best or the most incompetent he’s always managed to get something extraordinary out of the people he works with. Take his two projects before starting ZTT and recording ‘…Pleasuredome’:

Yes ‘90210’ – a group able to play and sing virtually any other band under the table but suffering from a lack of relevance in the pop market. He managed to make ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’ into a worldwide smash hit for them, including an experimental extended 12″ mix, and bring them to a whole new audience. Contrast this with Malcolm McLaren‘s ‘Duck Rock’ LP, a mish mash culture clash of World Music before the term was even invented fronted by a band manager who couldn’t even keep time let alone sing. That record produced several top 40 hits and can be credited with bringing Hip Hop culture as a package (rapping, scratching, graffiti, fashion and breaking / double dutch) to the world, certainly to Europe.

Colleen was an excellent hostess who certainly knew her ZTT / Frankie / Horn history and various nuggets of info concerning recording shenanigans were revealed before we broke for sandwiches and drink. On returning we were confronted with an often hilarious piece to camera by Paul Morley who couldn’t be present but had sent a recorded message instead. He regaled us with lists of adjectives to describe the album, painted a picture of both the musical and journalistic landscape at the time and quoted the David Frost line from the TV ad: “hello, good evening and welcome… to the pleasure dome”.

At which point Colleen dropped the needle on her custom built sound system and we settled back to listen to side F of the album in the same room that much of it was made. Even though everyone in the room probably knew every note and nuance of the record it was still a new experience. Few would have access to a system as good as this and the acoustics of the room gave it a different shade. The bass at times was extraordinarily deep and full, the stereo separation very apparent too and the first side – IMO one of the greatest pieces of pop music ever recorded – flew past way too quickly. On to side G and the trinity of pre LP pop classics that are ‘Relax’, ‘War’ and ‘Two Tribes’, songs we’ve all heard a million times in multiple versions that still sounded fresh as the day they were mixed down.

Another break for refreshments, toilet breaks and the like and people were starting to loosen up and really enjoy the evening. It was on to side T – generally thought to be the weakest of the bunch because more than half of it consists of three cover versions including the almost universally reviled ‘(Do You Know The Way To) San Jose’. On reflection if you took this song away the side would stand up way better. The brief version of ‘Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey‘ giving way to the powerful cover of Springsteen‘s ‘Born To Run’ coupled with two new band compositions not being as winsome as it currently stands. Would the inclusion of the full ‘The World Is My Oyster’ or ‘Disneyland’ have helped? Almost certainly but perhaps there wasn’t the time to finish these before the album had to be out hence their inclusion on later releases?

Side H, with three slices of Frankie’s finest non-single material and ‘The Power of Love’ to end before the coda of ‘Bang’ left everyone clapping their appreciation for a work now, rightly, considered a classic. Cue Trevor Horn returning alongside engineer and guitarist Steve Lipson and Fairlight operator and former Art of Noise member JJ Jeczalik. All three were in good spirits and another ex-Art of Noise-er, Gary Langan, was also lurking in the wings. There were brief introductions and reminisces before the room was opened up for questions for the super-dry Lipson, jovial JJ and laid-back Horn.

At the end a virtual scrum descended on the three as record sleeves were whipped out to be signed and further questions asked whilst posing for photos. We crept off to the control room, somewhere that was generally out of bounds to the rest of the party but that we had access to via the USM connection. I sat at the huge mixing desk overlooking the live room and, for a second, imagined I was Trevor or Steve all those years ago. It was a great end to a unique evening and I think most people went away satisfied that they had been part of something special, something that was soon going to be permanently laid to rest when the studio closes.

For Philip and I it felt as though we had finished the project and this was a little send off, of course there will be something else cropping up, there always is, but it was a nice end to nine months’ work. I left content that I’d had the opportunity to visit the place where some of my favourite records were created (not only Frankie but Propaganda, Art of Noise and Grace Jones to name just three on ZTT alone). We were Inside The Pleasuredome for what seemed like most of the year but last week, as we left the Blue Building, we went out in style… with a Bang!

The Ultra Deluxe Frankie Goes To Hollywood ‘Inside The Pleasuredome’ box set by is available to pre-order via Pledge Music and is released at the end of October, 30 years after the original opened its doors.

Space In This Place at the ArcelorMittal Orbit

On Friday I was lucky enough to be invited by Ben Eshmade of Arctic Circle to play at the ArcelorMittal Orbit in the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park near Stratford. This Anish Kapoor-designed structure was erected next to the Olympic Stadium a few years back and is now hosting it’s first forays into music-themed ‘lates’ for the public, looking to expand its use beyond an over-designed viewing platform. I have to confess that I wasn’t a fan of Kapoor’s design when I first saw it but, like so many things, once you go to and experience them you gain a new appreciation for them.

The structure is much bigger than I expected, the red metal wire frame that spirals up around it is beautiful and one of Kapoor’s giant funnels nestles underneath it, largely hidden in photos I’d seen. The viewing floors are what you’d expect and the view is breathtaking although we were unlucky in that it rained during much of the gig so the balconies were less inviting than usual. Due to meshed overhead shelter which let rain in you had to wonder if the architects had truly thought through such a structure built in the UK with its less than tropical weather habits. The rain however did create a great Blade Runner-esque effect on the windows with the blue interior spot lights, the illuminated red girders of the Orbit outside and the city lights in the background and we could see the Secret Cinema set for their Back To The Future feature close by.



Ben had curated a broad selection of players for the night, Manchester’s Paddy Steer, ex-of Homelife, bought his DIY one man band set up to the outside area below the funnel and proceeded to amaze with his ability to play more sounds than he had limbs. Using foot pedals, percussion, keys, strings as well as vocal FX he played all manner of sounds from his homemade set up with shakers strapped onto wrists, percussion sticks and legs, all the while dressed like a cross between Roy Wood, Sun Ra and Moondog. He seemed beamed in from another planet, the kind of performer that the crowd didn’t want to sit too close to lest he might suddenly jump up and try to implicate them into his act like a magician. Sadly I missed most of his set due to sound checking duties upstairs but he was holding court by the time I got back down to earth before the rush for the lifts took his audience up to their destinations for the evening.

The lifts housed two players to accompany people on their short ride: a pedal steel player and a voicebox & keyboardist who had 20 seconds or so to entertain you as you rode. This was a nice touch and put you into close proximity with the artists as you can imagine, I heard one girl exclaim that one of the players must have been blind as he was wearing dark sunglasses indoors. On to the first floor, Ninja label-mates Grasscut did their quintessentially British electronic folk thing to a queue for the bar that snaked around half the room, something that evidently hadn’t been quite foreseen as staff hastily assembled another bar elsewhere. I’m not quite sure what some of the audience expected musically but it wasn’t a rave by any description and there was quite a mix of people wandering around. Upstairs on the second floor Transept and Astronauts played electronic and acoustic sets respectively before it was my turn to spin at 10pm.

I’d spent several days pulling all manner of sci-fi, space and lunar tunes from my collection for this and was almost overwhelmed for choice when coupling the vinyl with existing material I had digitized into Serato. I could have played for 3 hours rather than 90 minutes I think and wasn’t expecting such an attentive audience who sat and expected a show. I’d bought an extra portable turntable to add in textures and spoken word and used the main decks to switch between Serato and vinyl to weave a space scape together against a dark, rainy city backdrop.
Further visuals were provided by two huge highly polished stainless steel ‘mirrors’ that reflected you back on yourself, distorted like a fairground sideshow and provided all sorts of weird juxtapositions as can be seen in some of Steve Cook‘s excellent photos of the evening on his Secret Oranges blog. My set began with the intro to the Clangers TV show and ended with ‘The Music of the Spheres’ from the same before pre-recorded selections of the organ playing at the Union Chapel ushered everyone down to the ground and out into the rainy night. All in all an excellent, unique experience which I’m forever grateful to Ben for organising and which may hopefully lead to more lates of a similar nature, the next one at the Orbit being a silent disco.

The GOASTT vinyl LP and new video

Still totally loving this album and the vinyl arrived this week along with their previous outing, ‘La Carotte Bleu’, which, while not as focused as the new album, has plenty going for it if you want to explore the band further. ‘Midnight Sun’ however pretty much falls into the ‘all killer, no filler’ bracket for me, a well-rounded record that has layers of detail which rewards multiple listens.

The LP comes in a heavy card gatefold with a tip-on jacket and inner sleeve housing one of five colour variants (I got purple as you can see). They’ve just released a new video for the opening track, ‘Too Deep’, which is a one take affair that rewards with the final scene. It’s also apparently an homage / rip off (depending on your point of view) of the French short C’était un rendez-vous’ by Claude LeLouch but they cleverly riffed on the end scene.

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Richard Williams’ ‘The Golden Rule’


Last Sunday I was lucky enough to see the 1992 work print of Richard Williams‘ life’s work, ‘The Thief & The Cobbler’ at the BFI on the Southbank. To make the occasion even more special, the man himself was on hand to present it and answer questions, something he’d been reluctant to do for over 20 years since the film was taken, unfinished, from him by the studio and bastardised into not one but two flop versions of his great vision. It’s a long but fascinating story which ends in tragedy and is best told via the Wiki article here or Kevin Schreck‘s documentary ‘Persistence of Vision’.

In conversation with film critic David Robinson after the showing Williams was in fine form, laughing and joking about events during and after the film’s premature end. Several animators and people who worked on the film were present in the audience and he was at pains to mention as many of them as possible. Sadly because of the time that had passed since the film’s abrupt halt, several of the more elderly animators had died and Williams himself is now 81. There was a sense of closure about the showing, with the audience all willing a visibly moved Williams to shakily get through his list of thankyous before the film commenced.

The film itself was incredible to see on the big screen and at a fairly decent quality even though certain scenes were unfinished and shown via basic pencil animations or even story boards. The sound was also unfinished but most of the voice work was in place even if the music featured placeholders or rough drafts. You got a sense of the story and there were several new sequences that I’ve never see before in the various different versions floating around the web.
The incredible war machine sequence near the end was just breathtaking to behold, surely one of the greatest long-form animated sequences ever created. The pace of a lot of the animation was far slower than would be acceptable in today’s ADD world but this added to its charm and the humour was light but cutting. Had it of emerged at the time, after the spectacle of William’s other great work, ‘Who Framed Roger Rabbit’, it would have looked like little else seen before. Since more than 20 years has now passed you can see that ‘inspiration’ had been very liberally taken from it for the animated version of ‘Aladdin’ that Disney released some years later.


After the showing and a rather large applause, Williams took to the stage with Robinson and went through a number of anecdotes connected to the film before engaging in a Q&A with the audience. He was at pains to point out that this version of the film was only the last version they had before all the footage was repossessed, and not a very good quality copy at that. He revealed that his wife had sent the film to an overnight copy house to get a dub of the footage they had in the order that was assembled at the time. In this interview with London Calling he expands further on how the showing came about:

“The Academy wanted to screen my cut of the not quite finished ‘The Thief and the Cobbler’. With their help we reconstructed the work-print as it was on the day we had to abandon the film in 1992. Which is why we’ve called this version ‘The Thief and the Cobbler: A Moment in Time’. The whole film is there in good working order with all the amazing voices including Kenneth Williams and Joan Sims from the ‘Carry On’ films, and the legendary Vincent Price.”

During the session he recounted some of his battles with the studio and how it had affected him afterwards. When asked about why he hadn’t spoken about it he replied that, “when that happens to you, the last thing you want to do is talk about it”. Talking about surrounding himself with the best people in the business so that he could be sure they could be relied on to get on with the job he told a story he’d heard concerning a jazz musician with a drunk guitarist. On finding the inebriated player shortly before a show and realising that he wouldn’t be up to the job he hissed at him, “Don’t fuck with my hustle”, and this appeared to be his attitude to anyone who worked for him who couldn’t pull their weight.

Best of all was a seemingly throwaway comment he made when talking about the control studios exert over their charges once the finance is in place. Summing up probably a lifetime of experience at the hands of the moneymen and relevant to virtually any area of the industry where creativity is involved: “You know what the Golden Rule is, don’t you?” he asked the audience, “The one with the gold, makes the rules”

Many thanks to Mark Nicholson (aka Osymyso) for not only getting me a ticket but for taking these photos during the event. For more behind the scenes info on the original production of ‘The Thief…’ take a look at this blog, written by some of the original animators and creatives involved in making it.

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