She-Ra and the Princesses of Power- Complete Series Review

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power on Netflix is a modern reimagining of the classic ’80s Filmation series. She-Ra is a part of the He-Man universe and so holds a place in many fans’ hearts, and as expected this has led to many debates about the redesign of the characters. Some arguments seem to be reasonable, like some complaining about the more cartoony super deformed art style, or the redesign of She-Ra herself, but some seem purposely argumentative and toxic like why there is a wider LGBTQ and minority ethnic representation on the show and why She-Ra herself is less 'feminine' .
So, away from the Twitter frenzy what is the show like?

The character redesigns have led to many online discussions, unfortunately not all have been healthy. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power ©Netflix, NBC

Well, I did like the design of the '80s show but the new art style is great too. I am a big fan of Noelle Stevenson (the creator and lead writer of the show), who has created the amazing Nimona and Lumberjanes graphic novels, and her art style feels modern and stylised like Steven Universe. I don't understand why this seems to be an issue when many cartoons have been drawn in a more simplistic style compared to what they were years ago, after all, Phineas and Ferb, Adventure Time, The Amazing World of Gumball and Over the Garden Wall are all brilliant but less detailed and 'realistic' when compared to '80s fare such as He-Man, TMNT, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, MASK or GI Joe. However, what is inarguable and beyond dispute is that the storylines, dialogue and characterisation in the new She-Ra show is much better than in its predecessor. In a medium which has been hegemonic in portraying white characters and often sexualised females, the recent wave of real world representations in cartoons is exciting and the fact that it is backed up by engaging stories not just meant to sell toys is brilliant.

The story itself is classic hero fare: Adora is a cadet in the Fright Zone and a part of the Horde, who are trying to wipe out the 'evil' Princesses. However, after a joy riding accident in the Whispering Woods with her friend Catra, Adora finds the Sword of Power and has visions of She-Ra and the First Ones.
Adora is captured by Princess Glimmer of Bright Moon and Bow and realises that the Horde are evil and that the Princesses aren't a guerilla force but actually just peaceful rulers of their respective lands. Over the course of a few episodes Adora transforms and aims to unite the Princess Alliance that once fought the Horde but ultimately failed and fell apart.

So, as I stated before, the usual Hero's Journey fare. But what really helps set this apart from many shows of its peers is the snappy dialogue and characterisation. From episode 10 of onwards the show goes deep into lore and it is genuinely exciting to see the battle between Adora/ She-ra and Catra as they realise that they want different things in life yet their paths are inextricably and destructively linked.

She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is an excellent 13 part animated series with a lot of heart. It may not please all previous fans of the show but as a father of a 3 3/4 year old daughter I can honestly say that it is wonderful to have a show that has a strong female lead that isn't wearing questionable clothing or revealing too much skin. The Heroes Journey is a universal tale and in She-Ra it is a tale told well.

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LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

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LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

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Scooby Doo on Zombie Island- Classic Animation Review

1969s ‘Scooby Doo! Where Are You?’ is a television animation milestone. Many children around the world watched the Hannah Barbara show over the years, mostly through syndication, and as a result it had constantly gained new generations of fans. It's impact on pop culture was vast too, from its oft-quoted, "I would have got away with it too, if it wasn't for you pesky kids" to "It's old man xyz" to popularising the chasing through different doors sequence, you know the one; the chaser is pursuing the chasee(s) as they enter through one door only to emerge from a different or opposite door.

The show was hot stuff and it was doing well but over the years it lost its lustre and when ‘A Pup Named Scooby Doo’, released in 1991, was not well received it looked like the end of Scooby Doo. Due to the popularity and relative cheapness of shows like ‘Power Rangers’, ‘Saved By the Bell’ and its live action ilk there was a lull in television animation in the mid to late 90s and Scooby Doo looked like it was going to join the limbo of syndicated satellite cartoon show for all posterity.

However, in 1998 the straight to VHS Scooby Doo on Zombie Island animated movie released and helped to revive the series, winning over a whole new legion of fans and reviving interest in the characters that has continued to this day.

Zombie Island is a bona-fide great story for our Mystery Incorporated team. Shaggy, Scooby, Fred, Velma, and Daphne reunite after a short time apart to investigate a bayou island said to be haunted by the ghost of the pirate Morgan Moonscar. However, the five find not only a deeper mystery on the island, but their first encounter with a genuine, deadly supernatural threat.

The film is beautifully animated with an anime art style, the characters remain true to their origin form but have been finessed to look slicker and cooler than the Hannah Barbara cheaper animation. The background art is stunning and adds to the creepy bayou atmosphere. The ghosts, zombies and cat creatures are all creepy and genuinely a bit unsettling, I'm not sure my 3 3/4 year old daughter would be able to handle the scares... and there are scares aplenty in this film.

The voice cast are excellent throughout and there is subtlety in their performances, it does keep you guessing as to who the true villain is, and unlike all other previous Scooby Doo episodes, there are REAL supernatural elements which is a real game changer in their animated world. The poptastic soundtrack is also pretty awesome and adds some levity to proceedings.

I love that Scooby Doo never really goes away, much like Alvin and the Chipmunks, every generation has their own Scooby that they love. I recently watched the entire 52 part Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated and loved it, calling it one of the best animated shows I’d ever seen, and I love that each person has their own opinion about the best Scooby Doo! Check this movie out though, it’s awesome!

LINK- Mysterious Cities of Gold Complete Series 3 Review

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LINK- Disenchantment- Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Gravity Falls Complete Series Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Complete Series 1 Review

LINK- Scooby Doo: Mystery Incorporated Series 2 Review

The Best of Popol Vuh for Werner Herzog- Retro Soundtrack Review

There are many prog rock groups who are fondly remembered but one that I think are underappreciated or overlooked are Popol Vuh. Popol Vuh soundtracked many of Werner Herzog’s movies and formed an integral part of the experience, without which the films would seem incomplete or lacking. I recently purchased the Best of Popul Vuh Werner Herzog Soundtrack and this is my review of said album but first some context of how I discovered this band.

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I first experienced Popol Vuh when I rented out Aguirre: Wrath of God from my university library. The opening scene, of an expeditionary caravan travelling through the misty mountains of the Andes to find El Dorado was set to the haunting mesmerising score and seared itself into my soul and I knew then that I was watching something special. As the film continued and I saw the true madness of Aguirre's journey into the heart of darkness (Joseph Conrad style), the visuals and music mixed into a heady cocktail and enveloped me.

The whole Aguirre score reminded me of probably my most formative media experience, that from my favourite children's television programme, The Mysterious Cities of Gold. Aguirre and MCOG shared much in common as both were set amongst the time of the Inca and Conquistadors but it was more than that, the Moog synthesiser combined with ethnographic religious voices from both the TV show and Aguirre echo a move away from stereotypical panpipes and woodwind interpretations of the 'other' and instead seemed more mysterious and spiritual. Aguirre's soundtrack tapped into my love of the acclaimed MCOG soundtrack by Haim Saban and Shuki Levy. I had to find out more about Popol Vuh, which in the mid 90s was quite difficult as the internet barely existed.

So, after Aguirre I rented out Fitzcarraldo, the tale of another explorer who ventures once again into a Conradian heart of darkness to set up a rubber plantation and build an opera house to bring culture to the 'savages.' To achieve this he persuades many local tribesmen to drag a steamboat over the rainforest and hills to a river many miles away.

The music was once again magnificent but was in direct contrast to the actions portrayed on screen of the enigmatic but deeply reprehensible characters, played with deranged, barely controlled, ferocity by Herzog regular Klaus Kinski. These deeply flawed protagonists are on a self-destructive journey but believe they are on the path to greatness.
Popul Vuh's music doesn't celebrate the protagonists but rather the cultures they are trying to subjugate and control. Aguirre is an imperialist conqueror looking for gold and glory, Fitzcarraldo an arrogant man who wants to achieve fame and repute amongst the  ultra elite and Francisco Manoel da Silva, from the film Cobra Verde, wants to build a kingdom upon the slavery of the people he initially befriends.

The working relationship between Herzog and and Popol Vuh, led by his longtime friend Florian Fricke, was a very fruitful one with XX soundtracks scored. This is many hours of music  but the best of Popol Vuh features 14 tracks which are as follows:

  1. Wehe Khoorazin
  2. Im Garten der Gemeinschaft
  3. Der Tod des Banditen
  4. Agape, Agape
  5. Gemeinsam aßen sie das Brot
  6. Gemeinsam tranken sie den Wein
  7. Als lebten die Engel auf Erden
  8. Eine andere Welt
  9. Höre, der du wagst
  10. Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Lichts
  11. Engel der Luft
  12. Wir Wissen von der Not
  13. Take the Tention High
  14. Lacrime di Re

This 14 track playlist just seems too short to truly showcase the importance that Popol Vuh had in bringing Herzog’s vision and more importantly ethno-religious soul to something as seemingly mechanical and soulless like the synthesiser but it offers an appetising amuse-bouche for those willing to dip their toes into a kind of prog rock that flourished before the decadence of 20 minute keyboard solos. Fricke was a spiritual man and this comes through in his music.

The sublime Lacrime De Ri from the opening of Aguirre sounds like an otherworldly choir of angels before it opens up into ethno-religious percussive rhythms. The visuals of a hopeful group emerging from the misty mountains is one of cinemas greatest openings and the music brings a sense of spirituality into the mix with an angelic choir created by the melotron.

Popol Vuh's soundtrack for Nosferatu The Vampyre, is phenomenal but a particular standout is Brüder des Schattens - Söhne des Licht, which plays at several key points during the movie bit most memorably at the beginning which opens with the mummified remains of the victims of an 1833 cholera epidemic. I have never forgotten the simple yet haunting two-note choral motif, it plays in my dreams and haunts my nightmares.

Wehe Khorazin is a profound, powerful, and deeply moving piece in its simplicity and it touches the deepest part of my soul. It starts off with an almost angry booming Gregorian-like chant and then gets prog rocky with sitars and a more calming repetitive chant.

Ein Andere Welt is a hypnotic ambient drone that calms and soothes, recalling Jean Michel Jarre's stunning Waiting for Cousteau.

Höre, der du wagst is an interesting piece as gentle piano wends in with synthesiser and sitar sounds to create a soft melodic piece which is relaxing.

Der Todd Der Banditen is a harmonious sonorous song similar to many devotional chants I've heard. It's touching and deeply resonates with me as it seems to be ascending to heaven, like when people say Om and it comes from deep within the body, this has that effect.

The whole package is stunning and even though there are many more amazing tracks missing, these 14 are all mesmerising and well worth a listen.

Akira Soundtrack Vinyl Review

The Akira Symphonic Suite has finally been released on vinyl this September for the first time since its original 1988 pressing.

The record is housed in some heavy duty card with beautifulimages from the film on the cover, gatefold and dust jackets. The records are pressed on a pair of 180 gram black vinyl discs which have been re-recorded and remastered with the most advanced audio techniques available apparently. I don't have a fancy record player but listening to the LP was a revelation, it sounded so very different from the Akira CD I've listened to for years. There were sounds and instruments I hadn't heard before even though I have listened to the album many times before.

The Akira vinyl soundtrack is beautifully preseneted.

The album is a stunning piece of work which was composed by Dr. Shoji Yamashiro of the Geinoh Yamashirogumi collective, a group of over 100 individuals who worked together to create an evocative score which helped inform the way the futuristic aesthetic of the film was animated.

The tracks on this vinyl are:
Battle Against Clown
Winds Over Neo-Tokyo
Doll's Polyphony
Exodus From The Underground Fortress

The tracks are a strange fusion of music genres. As well as a mix of traditional Japanese and Indonesian gamelan music, which is present through much of the album, there are unique and strange moment like the creepy lullaby in Dolls Polyphony and the synthesiser led airy track, Wind Over Neo Tokyo. However the final piece, Requiem is the stunning culmination of all the constituent parts of the earlier tracks and is a suitably spectacular end to the album. The 14 minute track starts slowly and calmly then explodes with organs and booming drums before angelic singers chant the main characters names over and over to bring the soundtrack a fitting end.

I am so pleased that Akira Symphonic Suite has been re-released on vinyl as so many more people need to experience the music. The anime and manga has a huge cult following but due to the scarcity of the original vinyl release in 1988 the LP has been extremely rare and difficult to find. I feel pleased that this album has been made available once again for the fans.

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LINK- Sonic Mania Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack

Sonic Mania- Video Game Vinyl Soundtrack Review

Sonic Mania has recently released and has garnered rave reviews, with many complementing its throwback style and a return to the classic game play which made the series so popular during the 16-bit generation.
Classic Sonic the Hedgehog games always had great music and Sonic Mania, which has a mix of new and remixed songs, carries this tradition forward proudly.
Data Discs announced the Sonic Mania LP a few months ago and whilst I was conscious of the many missteps in the series along the way I took the plunge and pre-ordered the record as the music has, on the whole, been pretty solid.

Classic Sonic takes front-centre on the cover of this soundtrack

So what of this new album? Well the record features 16 new tracks selected by composer Tee Lopes, which provides an overall flavour of the diverse music in the game.
The cover is suitably 90s with classic Sonic front and centre and random colourful shapes thrown around, reminiscent of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air or Saved by the Bell introduction credits. The record comes as a single 180 g LP which is available in 3 colours; blue, black or red, orange, white and blue splatter. I ordered the splattered vinyl and was pleased with how it looked, it does look very smart indeed.

On the vinyl the tracks are:

  1. Discovery (Title Screen Theme)
  2. Lights, Camera, Action! (Studiopolis Act 1)
  3. Wildstyle Pistolero (Mirage Saloon Act 1 K Mix)
  4. Tabloid Jargon (Press Garden Act 1)
  5. Danger on the Dance Floor (Mini Boss Theme)
  6. Built to Rule (Titanic Monarch Act 1)
  7. Dimension Heist (Special Stage)
  8. Ruby Delusions (Eggman Boss Theme 1)
  9. Comfort Zone (Main Menu)
  10. Prime Time (Studiopolis Act 2)
  11. Blossom Haze (Press Garden Act 2)
  12. Rogues Gallery (Mirage Saloon Act 2)
  13. Hi-Spec Robo Go! (Hard Boiled Heavies Theme)
  14. Skyway Octane (Mirage Saloon Act 1 St Mix)
  15. Steel Cortex (Titanic Monarch Act 2)
  16. Ruby Illusions (Final Boss Theme)

The tracks are very good with a tinge of nostalgia but also are uniquely modern. They just fit right in the world of classic Sonic with upbeat chiptune music but with added trumpets, drums, epic electric guitar solos and super fast boogie woogie piano. For fan of the original series this record is a must have as it feels like a natural progression musically to what had gone before in Sonic and Knuckles. Current standout tracks for me include Studiopolis Act 1: Lights, Camera, Action! and Mirage Saloon Act 2: Rogues Gallery, which sounds like a modern rendition of Morricone's Spaghetti Westerns mixed with an upbeat chiptune. Other tracks may come to the fore but these two are the ones that appeal to me out of the 16 at the moment.

The soundtrack is a triumph and I would recommend it highly to anyone with even a passing interest in the original 4 games from the days of the Megadrive.

The Wonder of Moomin World

I have a love for the Moomins as many of you may know. I've discussed the Moomins multiple times before, when talking about the 80s stop motion animation, the recent vinyl soundtrack release and the exhibition at the Southbank Centre. What many people may not know is that my love for the Moomins is all pretty recent. When the Japanese animated show came out in the early 90s I was already too old for the show and was busy being edgy with the X Men cartoon. No, my love for the Moomins came in the mid 2000s with the release of the comics. Tove Jansson's comics were published in the 1950s in the Evening Standard and it was here that the characters became popular, however the collected volumes weren't released until 2006. As a comic collector I noticed the first 4 volumes on sale and decided to buy the set and it was here that the whimsical stories with heart and street philosophy entered my life. I fell in love with these hippo-like creatures that spouted aphorisms and enjoyed the simple things in life. 

When I discovered that there was a theme park called Moomin World, I knew that I had to go, even if it was in some obscure town in Finland. Luckily enough I have an understanding and some would say long- suffering wife who understands (read: puts up with) my flights of fancy and so we decided to visit Finland, catch up with an old friend (as in a real friend, not some homily for something more untangible like 'time' or friendship') and travel to Moomin World

When organising the trip I read the reviews and noticed that many had complained about the price and size of the park, so I had my reservations but I remained optimistic nonetheless and decided to visit with an open mind.  

So how was it? Well, in a nutshell... I loved it. This was not a foregone conclusion as many would assumes due to my alleged sunny 'glass half full' disposition and my Moomin fanboy-ism, but rather a viewpoint reached on balance of my personal experience and that of my 2 year old daughter, the primary audience for this theme park. 

The coastal walk to Moomin World is gorgeous.

To get to the park my wife, daughter and I walked around the coastal path from Naantali, a picturesque town with stunning views of the sea. To reach Moomin World you have to cross a long bridge over to Vaski island where the theme park is located. The bridge was beautiful and on either side elegant boats were moored, gently bobbing upon the wave in the glorious sunshine. As an introduction this sight certainly presented an air of wonder as many Moomin stories are centred around the sea and a love of nature.  

The bridge over to the island where Moomin World is situated adds to the excitement and atmosphere.

Once over the bridge we followed an old gravel path through the woods for about 50 metres and came to the entrance, a small wired gate with the Moomin World banner. We waited a few minutes and entered, paying our 28 Euro fee each, children are charged at the same rate so for our party it cost 84 Euros in total, that's a lot!  

Upon entering the park the thing to note were the quirky buildings and lots of shops, lots and lots of shops and stalls where you could win prizes, however at 4 Euros a pop I didn't play any of the games!  

My family and I headed straight to the highlight of the park, the Moomin House. We were near the front of the line and and due to our brisk walking pace were the first to meet Moomin Papa, who waved at us and kindly took a picture. Also walking around were Moomin Mama, Moomintroll, Little My and the Fillijonk. We got pictures with all of them and my daughter, who was initially frightened started to enjoy herself.  

A little while later the whole Moomin family,  Little My and the Fillijonk performed a little play and danced. My daughter joined in with the clapping and boogieing, unaware that they were speaking in a different language, Finnish.

The characters from the Moomins dance away merrily and my daughter danced away too!

The characters then walked around and met people, taking pictures and also performing an interactive performance piece where Stinky, the resident Moomin Valley bad boy, stole the Fillijonk's bag. My daughter was really invested and we followed the story around the area. She found Stinky fascinating yet scary too, every time I went close to take a picture with him she started to cry but if we moved away to another part of the park she insisted on seeing Stinky. Kids!  

We entered the Moomin house and saw the living room and bed rooms. The whole thing was wonderfully realised and as a fan of the comics, seemed quite accurate to the feel and look of the world. 

We then left the house and went on a little trek to see the bathing hut and Edvard the Booble. My daughter loved that and was really excited, calling him a dinosaur. He bobbed on the waves and seemed quite happy moving with the current.  

Moomin Papa's boat faces the sea.

Moomin Papa's boat was nearby and it was a climbing frame with a circular water channel built in that contained boats you could race. My daughter and I spent about 30 minutes here just racing them around and she was ecstatic, pouring out the water from the boats as they filled up on their journey around the circuit and floating them again.  

With the time approaching midday we went for lunch at Moomin Mama's Kitchen restaurant. At 3 Euros 50 the children's buffet was excellent value and included free drink refills. My daughter had mash potatoes, sauteed carrots, grilled chicken and meatballs and scoffed it all up. I'd read reviews which had slated the food but it was typical theme park fare, quick and easy food at a fair price.

After lunch we did the Fairy-tale Trail where we crept past the Witches and Alice's house, entered the labyrinth, adventured into the cave of the Hattifatteners, bravely went into the Groke's house and then climbed the mountain and walked across the suspension bridge. We met Thingummy and Bob and the people playing them were so cute and spoke a sweet nonsense language.  

My daughter loved the whole experience and didn't want to leave but at over 3 hours my wife and I felt like or was time to go as it was nap time. 

So was the money we paid for the 3 hours there worth it? Undoubtedly! If my daughter had her way we would have stayed all day. As an adult I can see why some people may not think it was worth while, people expecting a theme park with rides and fireworks will be disappointed but for those willing to engage with the performers and play in the different settings it is definitely worth your time. Some of the areas are looking a bit tired and could use a lick of paint but for somewhere that is susceptable to extremes in weather like Finland this is to be expected.  

Do yourself a favour, if you have a chance to visit Moomin World, do but don't necessarily go out of your way to visit Finland especially for it as it's great but not THAT great!

The Mysterious Cities of Gold- Retro Soundtrack Review

I am a huge fan of the animated series Mysterious Cities of Gold, it is my favourite programme of ALL time and was a formative part of my childhood; single handedly creating my interest in anime, manga, South and Central American culture and synthesizer music (It's why I love Jarre, Vangelis and Oldfield).

In my mancave I have a MCOG medallion, an original cel, a French book discussing the making of (even though I haven't studied French since my GCSE's 20 years ago) and a model of the golden condor. However no mention of The Mysterious Cities of Gold would be complete without a mention of the mesmerising soundtrack. There have been some amazing soundtracks for TV shows over the years but the synthesizers and futuristic sounds used in the soundtrack gave this series a unique, mesmerising atmosphere all its own.

I made this influence map 7 years ago and as you can see the MCOG features prominently.

I don't know my arpeggios from my elbow but hopefully I'll be able to describe the tracks with such flourishes of description that you'll get the gist of what I'm saying and trying to convey; layman's terms.... don't begrudge me my enthusiasm and flights of descriptive fancy.

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

I got this CD for much cheaper than it is currently going for... this OST is in high demand!

The album starts with the French opening credits. It has the instrumentation that we all know and love but with the vocals of French pop star of the time Noam Kaniel. The track is okay but holds no real nostalgia for me, that'd be track 16, the extended version of the English vocal track that played over the opening of the show. Track 15 is the instrumentation of the opening credits so if you feel like having a Philip Schofield moment this is the one to do it on!

Track 2, Heureux Esteban (Happy Esteban), is the track familiar to many as the 'to follow' music. It played at the end of the show and teased you as to what would happen in the next episode. The track itself is an upbeat and jolly track with a gentle pulsing synth and wonderfully joyful instrumentation.

Tracks 3 and 4, Theme de Zia and Theme de Tao are both French vocal tracks. Zia's Theme is airy and light and the vocals are like a ballad, it suits the character well. Tao's Theme starts with a driving drumming beat and then the riveting rhythmic music kicks in, I don't understand the vocals but the chorus is instantly singable.

Track 5, L'aventure de Tao (Tao's Adventure), is a driving track which starts with a blaring bit of brass and then sounds like a marching band with some triumphalism. It is a very memorable track and often occurred at adventurous moments of the show, usually when the children were enacting out a plan to save someone or get something.

Track 6, L'aventure D'Esteban (Esteban's Adventure) is an instrumentation of Tao's Theme and so this has me thinking that maybe they got the track listing mislabeled for track 5 and 6- the old switcharoo. Anyhow this track sounds like a calypso track with a lush steel drum sound playing over some nice percussive bass.

Track 7, Les Tristes Cites D'or (Sad Cities of Gold), is a bit of melancholia and levity amongst the bombast. It has a flute playing winsomely over some soft instrumental music. Then the chorus comes in and you know that this is a song of reflection. The whole piece is beautiful and evocative of early morning sadness.

Track 8, Le Vol du Condor (The Flight of the Condor), is one of the signature tracks of the show. It’s a work of fragile magic, a hypnotic combination of beautifully breathy sounds and exquisitely gorgeous melodies and soft-spun instrumentation. There is much serenity in this piece of music and it lifts the spirits.

Track 9, En Naviguant (By Sailing), has some of the soundtracks lushest and most organic synthesizer sounds. There are little zephyrs that punctuate the strong synthesizer sound, adding a sense of scope and wonder to this dreamy track.

Track 10, Les Incas (The Incas), is a joyful track that combines traditional flute sounds with Spanish guitar to create vivid imagery of the andes. It is a very evocative piece of music and one of my favourites.

Track 11, Esteban Dans La Vie (The Life of Esteban), is one of the more emotional tracks. It played when Esteban and Zia both meet their fathers, moments of great gravitas. As such it is suitably downbeat and dramatic, verging on melodrama but without the negative connotations that implies. A great track worth a listen.

Track 12, La Grand Tempete (The Great Storm), is a track that was used in the He-Man cartoon series too. It is a swirling whirlwind of drama and conjures up images of storms with its deep resonating sound and brooding score. A truly great track that builds up slowly and spectacularly.

Track 13, Les Dieux Des Incas (Gods of the Incas), is one of the greatest tracks ever written in my opinion. when people talk about soundscapes they discuss Eno, Tangerine Dreams, Popul Vuh and various artists of the same calibre but this track shows that Saban and Levy should be included in the pantheon. This track is an otherworldly journey through a sound cosmos to the higher dimensions of sound. It is so powerful and evocative, almost primal. This is one of my favourite albums of all time and this track is one of the reasons why.

Track 14, Les Aventures Electroniques (Electronic Adventures), is an upbeat slab of pop electronica, it is a fast paced track that surges forward with excitement and vitality. This is one of the best tracks on the album and I remember that it occurred at high octane moments in the show. The track itself is a wonderful flute melody playing over a stirring synth production with several joyful moments and pauses. Another great highlight.

There are a few omissions on this soundtrack that disappoint me though and one of the most glaring omissions is St. Elmo's Fire (also known on other versions of the soundtrack as La Passage Secret), known to many fans as the Song of Mysterious Awesomeness. The sense of awe and wonder this music piece brought in me at the time was palpable, I would shake with excitement as this track was reserved for only the most special moments of the series. It is used when a new discovery is made or when the characters experienced a grand phenomena. The juddering driving synths mixed with the whoozy flow of the main tune lend the piece an otherworldly air which perfectly suited the air of mystery. I have extremely powerful memories of this track as this music was used on the maiden flight of the golden condor. The point when the machine comes online for the first time and flies is etched in my memory. I've seen this episode more than any other (I watch the series annually) but I still get goosebumps when the music kick in. The link to this moment is below and I would recommend you watch it (it kicks in at 56 seconds).

Overall the album is a beautifully crafted electronic masterpiece bubbling with synths and tones, all exquisitely held together with crystalline pop production. It is an evocative suite of synth music which perfectly captures the feel of the show. There are moments of true euphoria but it's not all happy electronic music, there are some moments of menace and levity. I love the whirling feeling of weightlessness on some compositions but then it can be followed up with wafts of dense symphonic mist that emerges floating up from the speakers. For fans of electronic music or fans of the show, this is a must-have. Okay it's not the complete soundtrack but the tracks on here are clean and pristine with no crackle or hiss.

Twin Peaks Retrospective

We are mere hours away from the return of Twin Peaks. After nearly 25 years, and that cliffhanger, the show is returning with many of the original cast as well as a veritable smörgåsbord of new characters and actors. 

I've been binge watching the original 29 episode run of series 1 and 2 on DVD over the past few weeks and recently read the Mark Frost book Secret History of Twin Peaks. I have loved immersing myself in the haunting world of Twin Peaks once again. 

Whilst doing the rewatch of the show certain images were as clear and vivid as I remembered them from 20 years ago when I first watched the show. David Lynch's visuals are very haunting without the sound but when you lay in Angelo Badalamenti's unforgettable score and the sound effect mix something magical, almost operatic happens. The sound and images truly complement one another, so much so that several images have been seared into my consciousness; the swinging traffic lights, the dark trees swaying in the breeze, the beautiful waterfall and the hues of brown that permeate the show. There is a poetry and synergy between the images and music that I haven't seen in any other TV series since.

The show itself moved at a leisurely pace, especially when compared to many modern shows, but it was never a slow show, there was always a sense of something lurking just beneath the surface; it could be something terrible, exciting or indeed magical - whatever it was it was never something boring... There was a wonderful dream-logic reality which meant that anything could happen at any point of the show. You want a backwards talking dwarf? Check. You want a unicorn? Check. You want a mysterious giant? Check. How many other shows could do that yet still make a sort of sense?

This unnerving other-worldliness of the series was hinted at in the pilot with the red room shown briefly, but it was really cemented in episode 2 when we meet the sinister backwards talking dwarf in a room of red curtains and chevron flooring.... All this added to the unnerving peculiarity of what could have become just another also-ran police procedural. However after the scene with the empty bottle in the forest and Buddhist philosophising you know you are watching something that is unique and special, how many other shows features FBI Agents trying to work out a murder's identity by trying to break a bottle with a stone?

Throughout the course of the entire show light and dark contrasted heavily, often within one episode, for example the cliffhanger of season 1 when Cooper is shot and the oldest waiter in the world serves him (slowly) whilst he is bleeding to death on the floor, Cooper waits patiently and politely for the waiter's return.

This weirdness continues with the introduction of the giant, a figure famous across nearly all cultures. The duality between the giant and the dwarf makes you consider dualities further and adds to the light / dark dynamic... Are humans just the playthings of creatures and being from another realm? 

When the killer is revealed in episode 14 the question of personal responsibility and whether we are responsible for our own actions Is asked. Is our life predetermined? Are we merely puppets in a greater play or do we have to accept personal responsibility for our actions, even when we may have no control over them?

The series does undoubtedly dip after the reveal of the murderer of Laura Palmer, with the introduction of the pine weasel and Benjamin Horne's spiritual epiphany, but after a few episodes it found its feet again with the introduction of antagonist Windom Earle,  further lore reveals with the Black and White lodge and a look at Agent Dale Cooper's past.

The series reaches a crescendo with episode 29, when David Lynch returned to helm the arthouse horror final episode which ended with the possession of Agent Cooper. Since then fan theories and video essays have abound as to what happened next but with the release of The Secret History of Twin Peaks by Mark Frost, we have a small insight as to what happened to most of the characters of the show as well as the history of the area.

I cannot wait for the new series and hope that it takes me to a place both magical and strange. After 25 years I hope the wait was worth it, I have a firm belief that it will be. 

Inspector Gadget- Retro Soundtrack Review

Inspector Gadget was a staple of 80s cartoons for many children. The crazy adventures of a confused Clouseau-esque cybernetically enhanced policeman, who is rebuilt with many attachments may sound horrific and slightly reminiscent of the Robocop storyline but in the hands of Haim Saban and Shuki Levy it became a crazy farce that filled 86 episodes! I watched the cartoon regularly and even though it was never my favourite I still watched to see where Gadget would end up going each week. The soundtrack realy struck me at the time and the stunning introduction animation and theme song struck a cord with many people, being instantly hum-able even now.

Several soundtracks of the show were released in the 80s but they have been incomplete or suffered from noise distortion after being mastered from vinyl originals, Télé 80 released a CD in 2013 but it only had 22 songs, missing much from the series but the CD is still highly sought after by retro animation collectors.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

The 2012 release of the soundtrack is incomplete and not worth getting. Also it is pretty expensive to purchase.

However a few years ago they released the updated Inspector Gadget 30th Anniversary Special Edition, which is the most complete collection so far published of Shuki Levy and Haim Saban's score. It contains all the surviving compositions known to exist and Levy provided the master tapes for the new CD himself so the quality of the tracks is pretty clear. So what of the soundtrack? The whole album is composed of 30 tracks, some vocal but many instrumental pieces from the show. The first 3 tracks feature French vocals over well known Inspector Gadget instrumental pieces. They are fine if you are into that kind of thing but they're not really for me. However the album starts properly with track 4, Gadget Sur Mars (Gadget on Mars) which is a moody slice of 80s synth with a deep wubby bassline. In parts there are sounds that are similar to some Mysterious Cities of Gold tracks. 

  • Track 5, Le Fantome (The Ghost) is a warbly piece of music which sounds like a synthesized zither. You can imagine it being played in a ghost house, all jaunty and kiddy scary.  
  • Track 6, Musee De L'art Fou (The MAD Art Museum) is an upbeat piano piece, it moves from dramatic theatricalopening to a quick piano piece which wouldn't be out of place in a stereotypical Western saloon scene. Then the main Inspector Gadget motiff plays over what I can only describe as the sound I hear when people are trying to hide in cartoons. You'll know what I mean when you hear it.  
  • Track 7, Gadget in Japon (Gadget in Japan) is the stereotypical Japanese music, almost comically racist if it wasn't so charming, it opens with a gong and moves along to a rendition of chopsticks and then has a traditional flute sound. It is a rather whimsical and a wonderful piece. 
  • Track 8, L'usine de Chocolats (The Chocolate Factory) is a rather bouncy track that reminds me of ska music with its use of piano and trumpets. The track moves at a cracking pace and the Gadget motiff is there popping up every now and again. 
  • Track 9, Rodeo (Rodeo) is the Gadget motiff played in a American mid-west like dancing tempo, lots of fiddles, trumpets and piano combining energetically. 
  • Track 10, Theme of the Dr's Gang (Theme of Dr Claw's Gang) sounds wildly different, like an 80s cop show, it is all marching beat and jazzy and has a poppy trumpery sound with some cool bass and wailing bass guitar sinuously working its way in under some serious cello.  
  • Track 11, Hero's Dan's La Jingle Africaine (Heroes of the African Jungle) sounds like your stereotypical African sound, all drumming and pulsing jungle beat but then it changing tempo and a trumpet comes in to give it a little verve and variety, before going back to the traditional drum sound. 
  • Track 12, Gadget Chez Les Incas, (Gadget With the Incas) is a piece all panpipes and traditional folk guitar and flute. The piece reminds me of Tao's Theme from another series from the time, The Mysterious Cities of Gold, and is well worth a listen 
  • Track 13, Fai's Gaff (I'm not sure what this means) is one of my favourites tracks, it was often used when Brain the dog had to help Gadget from certain death. It changes rhythm quite a bit moving from dramatic driving synth to jaunty ska-esque high-jinks.  
  • Track 14, Gadget en Difficulte (Gadget in Trouble) was often used when Gadget was just about to fall into Dr Claw's trap, it moves around quite a bit from scary synth to ska. 
  • Track 15, Desert Arabia, (Arabian Desert), is your stereotypical Middle-Eastern sound, all flute, jingly percussion and boingy drums. 
  • Track 16, Gadget Le Sophistique (Sophisticated Gadget) sounds like a lounge piano piece, all classy and slow and then it devolves into jazzy brass and almost big showtune-esque. 
  • Track 17, Theme Du Train (Train Theme) is a fast pulsating synth piece, the Gadget motiff plays quickly at a fast pitch with a bass sounds that recalls the sound of a train in the tracks.  
  • Track 18, Le Royaume (The Kingdom) is a majestic soaring piece with a marching sound that goes into dreamy hazy territory before coming back to marching music. 
  • Track 19, Le Course de Voitures (The Race of Cars) starts of judderingly then move at a quick pace, with keys moving up and down and the pitch changing constantly, it sounds frantic and driving. 
  • Track 20, Les Pharaons (The Pharoahs) is another stereotypical sound with flute and tambourine playing over a beautiful drum beat. It certainly creates a vivid image of Egypt in your head.  
  • Track 21, Le Theme de Finot (Finot's/ Brain's Theme) a jaunty piece which is very joyful, usually when Brains is trying to help Gadget.  
  • Track 22, Gadget En Italie (Gadget in Italy) is very quick and stereotypical with the sound of fast folky guitar.  
  • Track 23 is the Gang Theme reprised and has more wailing guitar sound and a heavier burst of trumpets. 
  • Track 24 is the opening theme in instrumental and is just as wonderful as you remember. 
  • Track 25 is one of the highlights of the album for me as it is Sophie's Theme (Penny's Theme), a beautiful brass piece playing over a cheerful and jaunty beat. 
  • Tracks 26 to 30 are different versions of the opening and closing tracks and track 27 gives us the English-language opening theme in true stereo.
This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

This is the soundtrack that any fan of the show should get as it has many of the tracks used in the show, more than any previous soundtrack release.

Overall this is an excellent soundtrack with some really strong pieces that sound similar in instrumentation to MCOG. The album itself if wonderfully eclectic but brought together with the constant Gadget motiff. The album is well worth getting and as it has been remastered from the originals, probably the best you'll get of this fondly remembered series. 

Ulysses 31- Retro Soundtrack Review

A warm fuzzy feeling, that feels like unconditional love, emanates from my heart when I watch television shows and cartoons from my childhood. There are a few very special shows that make my heart flutter all-the-quicker and one of these is Ulysses 31 (the others are The Mysterious Cities of Gold, Dogtanian and Around the World With Willy Fogg if you're interested). I first came across the show when it was first shown in the mid 80s on the BBC but I saw it in my formative years again in the early 90s on Channel 4, where it was shown daily at 6:30, just before the Big Breakfast. I remember thinking how cool and ahead of it's time the animation was but the moody, evocative and exciting synthesizer soundtrack complemented the show well... heightening the sometimes very dark cartoon well. Being a huge soundtrack nerd I tried to track it down but to no avail. The soundtracks that were available were the original vinyl printings from 1981 and these were far from the complete soundtrack, often vocal remixes over the scores.

I purchased a Tele 80 Ulysse 31 soundtrack a few weeks ago but unfortunately it contained lots of French vocal tracks and only about 6 instrumental pieces from the show.

This album has mostly french vocal tracks and only 5 instrumental pieces so is best avoided by those looking for the phenomenal score used in the show.

To say I was disappointed would be a huge understatement, however in my search I did see that as 2016 was Ulysses 31's 35th anniversary a collector's edition of the complete soundtrack would be available on double CD for the very first time. The release would include the complete score by Denny Crockett, Ike Egan, Haïm Saban and Shuki Levy and all the opening and closing credits sung in the French and English!

The album was only produced in limited numbers and was fetching a very high price on Amazon and other websites but I managed to get the soundtrack at a reasonable price on ebay, shrink wrapped and brand new. And so, without further ado... here is the review of the Ulysses 31 soundtrack.

This is the album you want if you are looking for the complete musical score... it is truly wonderful and impeccibly presented.

The first thing to notice is that the soundtrack has a bit of weight to it as it is a double CD set (containing 165 tracks!)with a 16 page booklet explaining the creation of the show, with interviews of the the creators, composers as well as a detailed account of the remastering process. Unfortunately for me the whole thing is in French and having not spoken the language since secondary school my translation is patchy at best, however I have a wonderful teaching assistant who speaks French fluently and I will try to get her to translate it for me.

The music here is crystal clear as it has been remastered from the original masters by Ian Jones at Abbey Road Studios.  This is the way the soundtrack was intended to be heard as even on the DVDs the music can sounded distorted and warbled.

I've listened to the album a few times now and the majority of the themes I remember are all here. I'm not sure how the album is sequenced but I think it is in chronological order, with many of the familiar themes near the beginning and the more uniquely used tracks or incidental tracks being later on in the collection.

I'm not going to go through every single track here as that would be long and incredibly tedious for your to read so I'll pick out the highlights.

On disc 1:

  • Track 2 is Overture- The Base of Troy, which sounds quite majestic and sweeping, just what you'd expect for a space opera but it morphs into late 70's disco with a funky beat. Definitely a track of it's time but charming for it.
  • Track 3 is energetic and driving as it underscored moments of space battles and actions. Attack of the Tridents is a very short track, being only 20 seconds long, but is very effective.
  • Track 4, Unknown World, is a beautiful piano piece with moody synthesizer bloops and beeps creating an unsettling soundscape. This piece was used in times of tension and mystery and you can see why.
  • Track 5, Noumaïos's Theme is a beautifully melancholic piano and flute theme. There is very little synthesizer sound used for this piece and this adds to its wistfulness- a definite highlight.
  • Track 10, The Curse of the Gods #1, is one of the signature pieces of music from the show. It has a dramatic steady drum beat which is added to by a deep synth sound which adds a spooky element, then the trumpets kick in and add a shrill element. This is another absolute must listen for fans of the show!
  • Track 15, Olympus, is a wonderful piano and deep synth sound which is further enhanced through the shredding guitar. It sounds broody and dark and is another signature theme from the show.
  • Track 16, Space Battle, sounds like an 80s soft rock band just jamming with drums, cymbals and shredding guitar combining to create a fast paced track.
  • Track 21, Calypso, is a soft piano piece that sounds melancholy and thoughtful at first then the flute and drum kick in to add another layer of sadness. Another beautiful must listen.
  • Track 25, The Sirens, sounds unearthly and ethereal. The whoosy airy synth sounds mixed with the strange whale-like squeals give this piece a unique sound. It ends with strange cries and moans of the type you'd find in scary horror films. it is quite unlike anything else on this album but in a good way.
  • Track 31, Ulysses Battles the Cyclops, sounds suitably epic. It builds with a deep bass guitar and thumping drum and then the weird synth kicks it adding to the drama, throw in a few violin and trumpet sounds and this piece kicks it up a notch until it reaches the dramatic end.
  • Track 40, Goodbye, is a poetic flute and piano piece that flutters by sadly. It was often used at the most tear-jerking moments of the series and you can hear why.
  • Track 53, Ulysses meets Ulysses, is a strange Spanish guitar piece interspersed with some dramatic strings.

CD 2 continues the good work of the first but has less of the well known tracks but does still contain much worth listening to.

  • Track 3, Tales of the Legend, is a dramatic track with organs and what sounds like some harmonised vocals, lending this piece an otherworldly air.
  • Track 4, Odysseus, sounds like an 80s guitar solo from a soft rock band, all shredding guitars and a cool base in the background.
  • Track 30, The Heart of Olympus, has a deep baritone noise underscoring a dramatic piano peice... very unnerving!
  • Track 40, Universe in Harmony, is pure funky disco celebrating the success of Ulysses. A fitting groovy ending to the series!

Overall the soundtrack is brilliant and has stood the test of time well. There are tracks that are undeniably relics of the time but the whole score sounds like it belong to a lost sci-fi feature film rather than a 35 year old animated series. This is a must have soundtrack for all fans of the show and for fans of synthesizer music with that late 70s / early 80s feel. Essential!

The Quatermass Xperiment- Cult TV Review

Last year saw the anniversary of an iconic sci-fi show, perhaps one of the most important in British TV history. It was pioneering in its writing and production and is fondly remembered even after 60 years... it is of course the legendary Quatermass! You thought I was going to say Dr Who didn't you? Well you shouldn't have as the title says it all!

The Quatermass Xperiment is the Hammer Film production based on the original 1953 The Quatermass Experiment. The plot is simple; 3 men are sent into space in a rocket and only 1 of them returns, ill and changed. As the film progresses we watch helplessly as the lone survivor, Victor Carroon slowly transforms into an alien monster whose sole purpose is to assimilate all living things on Earth.
So far so B-movie fare but as the story develops we build an extraordinary amount of sympathy for the 'alien' predator. The reason for this is the marvellous performance by Richard Wordsworth, a direct descendant of the famed poet. During the 1 1/2 hr movie he is given a couple of words to utter but his sheer physical performance, nuances looks and pained expression elicit a lot of sympathy.
In contrast Brian Donlevy turns in a poor performance as Quatermass. His brash brusque manner jars with the rest of the film and cast. One of the best moments is watching Mrs Carroon, the wife of the astronaut who is undergoing the horrifying transformation, put the arrogant Quatermass in his place. 

As a whole the movie works well and considering it's age has a good vintage. I look forward to watching the other Quatermass series as they are supposed to be better and contain more nuanced performances from the actors who play Quatermass.

Toms Midnight Garden- Cult TV Review

I have very fond memories of Tom's Midnight Garden as it was shown on the BBC in the late 80s/ early 90s at 5:05pm after Newsround and just before Neighbours. I have been fortunate enough to revisit most of the programmes of my youth as they have become available on DVD, Blu-Ray and streaming services but this series remained elusive. I don't know why as I remember it being brilliant. So after 25 or so years since I last saw it I finally found a copy uploaded on YouTube and consumed the whole 6 part series in one sitting. So was this series as good as I remember?
Well, when the introduction music started up I felt a huge wave of nostalgia and similar shows of the time came flooding back; The Narnia series, Moondial and Box of Delights to name a few. All those series had pretty good production value for a children's series and Tom's Midnight Garden fell into the same category.

The story itself is quite simple; When his younger brother contracts measles at the beginning of the school holidays in the summer, Tom is sent away to his Uncle Allen's flat in the country. The flat was part of a manor house and Tom finds to his amazement that as the clock strikes midnight the back door, which usually leads to a small backyard, suddenly transports him to the past to the Victorian times when the Manor House was in its prime.
The sets are real and it seems to be filmed on location in an old house rather a studio, this lends the whole story a sense of place and cohesion. The sets and costumes are excellent at setting the time and mood of the 1950's era and the child actors are solid without a hint of pantomime or melodrama. The two main young actors do a fine job and the interactions between them as Tom and Hettie are sweet and have a ring of truth. The timeslip mechanic is handled well and is gently paced. It may be too slow for some children today but I still found it engaging and intriguing in equal measure.

Even after 25 years this adaptation of Philippa Pearce's novel is still well regarded and remembered affectionately and for good reason.
I would definitely recommend this series. I am all for supporting the company and actors by purchasing the media legally however this show only had a very limited DVD run by Readers Digest and has never been re-released so the only way to view it is off of YouTube for free. But I'm just thankful to be able to watch it again and you should be too, whether it's your first time or like me a return to it after many years.

Children Of The Stones- Cult TV Series Review

I'm a huge fan of suspense and horror- it's one of my favourite genres. I especially like when it isn't simply jump scares, gore porn or cheap thrills but a piece of work that builds up tension slowly and the payoff is exciting and jolting. So for my first review I've decided to look at Children Of The Stones. I chose this because I heard it mentioned a few times and spoken of affectionately by several people including comedian Stewart Lee, who described it as the scariest children's programme ever. As a fan of Twin Peaks, X Files, American Gothic and the like this sounded right up my street so I decided to give it a look.

Children of the Stones is often described as a landmark in children's television. The series was filmed largely in Avebury in Wiltshire and progresses over 7 episodes, shown weekly over the Summer of 1977. The series introduces us to astrophysicist Adam Brake (played by Gareth Thomas who is famous for Blake 7- I've never seen that show though) and his son Matthew as they go to the village of Milbury to carry out research on an ancient Megalithic stone circle. When they arrive at the village they start to understand that its people are held captive by the sinister power of its stone circle and the mysterious Hendrick, a prominent figure in the village.

The spooky ethereal music sets the sinister mood, the soundtrack is beautiful dark and unsettling. To get a hint of the creepiness check out the opening credits and the first few minutes of the first episode, then try to sleep tonight.

I found the introduction was very similar to the beginning of Twin Peaks where we are introduced to an outsider going into a small community. At just over 2 and a half hours the tale is well paced and crafted, brought to the screen with some very adept direction and a remarkably haunting musical score which heightens the mood and tension. The cast are excellent, even the child actors perform astonishingly well. Iain Cuthbertson is excellent in channeling his best Crowley and succeeds in being sinister.
Unsurprisingly, Children of the Stones has gained a devoted cult following in the decades since its first transmission in 1977. There are a few online forums where people still discuss the ending and the implications of what occurred at the conclusion and any series that does that is okay in my book, except Lost, now that ending sucked! Children of the Stones is inescapably haunting, even if you see it now for the first time as an adult (which I did). 

This is an incredibly intelligent, atmospheric and genuinely unnerving series and to call it a children's show is a bit of an insult. If I had to describe it to the uninitiated I'd say it was like a Young Adult version of the Wicker Man. This may seem like hyperbole as this is high praise indeed but both share many of the themes and ideas such as outsiders coming into a new town full of strange folk who seem to be guarding a secret about an ancient evil. To be honest I'm surprised it got away with being shown before the watershed. It isn't horror per se but the way people act and the situation brings a creeping dread. The series incorporates such complex concepts such as 'Time Circles', 'Psychic Bubbles' and 'Time Rifts'- heady subjects for adults let alone a programme supposedly aimed at children.

My affection for Cult Films and TV Series

I have been a film aficionado for a long time. My father brought me up on classics like David Lean's adaptations of Oliver Twist and Great Expectations as well as the various black and white classic comedies of Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy. However I became interested in cult TV series and films whilst attending University. Our campus was media-centered and as a result it had a huge catalogue of videos to rent, free of charge. I ploughed through many often taking the maximum 8 out at a time and consumed them voraciously. As a result I believe that I am quite literate in films and TV but the series' that really attracted me were the more offbeat curios.

I've explained my love for old creepy films here before and now on this website I will be sharing my love by writing reviews . There are hundred of reviews about Metropolis, Nosferatu, The Cabinet of Dr Caligari and other stone-cold classicsso I don't think I could add anything new to the conversation but lesser remembered works like Quatermass, Children of the Stones, The Stone Tapes, Moondial and Threads; now those are something I feel I could add to the conversation so occasionally I may post a review or article about these films and series... Come join me and maybe find some works which may interest you.

Preserving the Spirit of Media Past

Preserving the past is a tricky preposition and getting trickier with the amount of information stored on fragile digital media. Filmmakers like Martin Scorsese have made it their mission to preserve classic films whilst Christopher Nolan has sought to preserve the medium of the physical film stock itself. However whose mission is it to save the audience?

We are at a watershed moment in film history, not just with the impending extinction of physical film but the demise of an audience equipped to appreciate some of its greatest works. I am a great lover of silent film and early movies, having been introduced to many in my youth by my parents and BBC 2 Sunday morning programming. I have fond memories of watching Laurel and Hardy, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and Charlie Chaplin. Having attended a University which specialised in media and film studies (but studying Anthropology myself) I was introduced to many 'new' old films almost through a process of osmosis. I would take 8 to 10 VHS tapes at a time and consume them voraciously between assignments, listen in to students discussing them in the library and although many years have passed I still appreciate and watch these classic movies.

The Great Dictator is an absolute classic and contains one of the greatest speeches ever written.

I was concerned that the medium would be forgotten by the new generation- these films exist out of the childrens palate don't they? Well as a teacher I have had to endure many wet plays and this past December was a particularly soggy one, so there were more wet plays than usual. So I put on some Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy short films. There was no hype, no boombast, no 3D and no dramatic Hans Zimmer score.

My 30 pupils were motionless for a few minutes, I assumed that they were struggling to find a way in but watching patiently out of politeness to me. After a few moments I asked "Do you want me to turn it off?" and the children shouted "No!" Then the laughter started, the children were mesmerised for the length of the 25 or so minutes, they requested more clips so I worked through my collection. Children don't need to be told what to like, they will intuitively try things out and relate it to their world and experiences. In this case Charlie Chaplin was like "An old Mr Bean."

In much the same way as cinephiles do not need to guard older films, we older gamers do not need to feel like guardians of gaming heritage.

This term I have started a Retro Games Club using the Retron5 with original controllers and games to introduce children to the games of yore. The first game I unleashed on them was the SNES classic 'Street Fighter II Turbgo.' The children loved it and recognised some of the main characters. This led to a discussion on other characters that the children knew like Megaman and Pacman as well as the more famous contemporary icons from more modern games. A few of the children told me that their parents had the old systems and so they played some of the older games at home.

Punchout is the spiritual father of Wii Sports boxing, a game many children have played.

This wasn't 'Fauxstalgia' (False nostalgia) but something palpable- the children could relate to these characters and games from their own experiences and those who couldn't recognised the mechanics from their current gaming experiences. In the same way that 'Punchout' was compared to Wii Sports Boxing by my children people will always find a way in and seek out the origins of thing. Our gaming and film heritage is in good hands; God is in his heaven All is right with the world.

Why I Collect

The internet age with all the social networking that entails has changed the hobby of collecting. Before it might have been just a few people who knew about someones collection but now with YouTube, Twitter, Instagram and blogging you can share your  collection online for all to see. But why do people collect? There are typically two types of collectors, the ones who collect to display and those that collect to play. Often the people who display are after sealed (mint) games or perhaps after a complete series or collection. Those who collect to play choose the games for the nostalgia and curiosity factor.

I collect games for the same reason other people might collect art- I appreciate and admire the craft and I want them. There is also a mix of nostalgia and the promise I made to my younger self that when I got older I would buy loads of games and all that I missed out on. I occasionally play the games I have in my collection, for the last 15 or so years the games I've really enjoyed I've kept. For me it's the idea of some halcyon future where I have free time to revisit these games, even though I don't have some of the systems to play them anymore.

I also collect games for completion, for example I have Final Fantasy 6 to 9 on the PS1 and would like to acquire the rest of the collection. Not because I'm a big Final Fantasy fan, although I do like the series, but because I just think it looks neater. It sounds strange but I am also a comic collector and so having an unfinished series seems wrong to me. I have already explained the pains I went through to finish the Battle Angel Alita collection even though the series had lost its appeal years ago for me. It may be difficult to understand but unless you are a collector it is hard to explain. So why do you collect and what do you collect?

'From Bedroom to Billions' Review

There has never been a detailed look at the UK gaming scene in the late 70's and 80's... until now that is! Anthony and Nicola Caulfield sought to gain funding through the major UK TV channels to rectify this but after being declined they went through the process of crowdfunding and smashed through their target on Indiegogo and Kickstarter. This was all a couple of years ago and since then I have been looking forward to this documentary as most of the gaming films are American and Japan-centric. In Britain we didn't have a gaming crash in 1983, in fact there was never a more vibrant time and I'm glad that this period has now been covered in the wonderful 'From Bedrooms to Billions'

The couple leave a message in their credits to those who doubted that there was a market for this documentary.

The couple leave a message in their credits to those who doubted that there was a market for this documentary.

In the words of creators Anthony and Nicola Caulfield;

'From Bedrooms to Billions' tells the story of how the creativity and vision of a relatively small number of individuals allowed the UK to play a key, pioneering role in the shaping of the billion dollar video games industry, which today dominates the modern world’s entertainment landscape.

Developments in computer technology in the UK of the late 70’s early 80’s  helped inspire a generation of small team enthusiasts, hobbyists, school kids, bedroom coders and entrepreneurs to make and release some truly classic games. From Bedrooms to Billions reveals some of the remarkable stories, struggles and successes that saw the UK video games industry go from quite literally nothing into a major force littered with original thinkers, innovators and eccentric characters.

At 2 and a half hours this documentary is long but still whips along at a brisk pace so time flies by. There is no narration  or voiceover but rather the interviews weave the story, being expertly edited and cut to create a flow and narrative. The film starts with the early days of the UK games industry, talking about the home coders who started selling their games through adverts placed in the back of magazines. It then moves on to discuss the various Micro Meets where groups would come together to share their work and ideas.

The second part of the film talks about gaming gaining traction and the rise of distributors like US Gold and Ocean. The interviews are insightful and honest and thoroughly engaging, of particular note is the interview with Matthew Smith, creator of Jet Set Willy and Manic Miner. He was burnt out and thoroughly depressed after producing two hits at such a young age, he didn't know how to handle the fame and expectations placed on him and candidly recalls the 80's being a terrible time for him. As a gamer with much nostalgia for the 80's this section of the documentary was very interesting as it explained the introduction of the middle men and emerging business orientated approach of the industry. This professionalisation led to bigger teams and higher budgets, including the introduction of film license tie-ins and rising advertising budgets. There was a reduction in lone programmers and for many interviewed was a sign of things changing for the worst.

The final part of the film talks about the rise of the 16-bit era and the end of the micro computers. With the rise in quality and the demands on cost and skills many lone programmers either left the business altogether or went to join the big teams in America or Canada. However rather than end on a sad note there is a denouement with the rise of mobile gaming and the indie scene. Ian Livingstone, creator of 'The Next Gen Report' explains how computing is now back in British education and there is an emerging programming scene once again. This hopeful note is a wonderful end to the documentary, as a teacher in a primary school in East London I hope to show some of this film to my class to inspire them to be producers rather than just consumers.

This documentary is a brilliant look into a special time in Britain, where there was a punk spirit and where people with imagination and a hard work ethic could achieve. Compared to 'Indie Game: The Movie' the interviewees seem less egotistical and self-absorbed, more honest and engaging. This is a wonderful movie and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in retro gaming.

The Cambridge Centre For Computing History

I've been meaning to visit the Cambridge Museum for Computing History since I first came across their website a while ago, but knowing that the Oliver Twins (of Codemasters and Dizzy fame) were going to be doing a talk there was all the impetus I needed to finally get down there.

The museum is located in an industrial area, usually the preserve of out of town shopping centres and shops like B & Q and Carpet Right, but for a collection of vast proportions it makes sense that the computing centre is here. The centres collection explores the historical, social and cultural impact of personal computing. What makes this museum so special is that unlike many other museums the displays are not behind glass, instead most of the old computers and game consoles are plugged in and working, ready for use by visitors (Only the very rarest items have a 'do not touch' sign on them or are behind glass).

Being a retro gaming geek, this museum has the perfect blend of interactive exhibits and informative knowledge displays. As an avid gamer I felt that I knew a lot about computing but boy was I wrong, there were so many machines which I didn't even know about, the one that really surprised me was the Amstrad/ Sega Megadrive hybrid, that was a thing apparently! Who's fevered mind dreamed that one up?

The Amstrad Mega PC- The power of the Sega Megadrive and Amstrad PC combined.... wow, just wow!

The centre had it all; Macintoshes, Sinclairs, Microcomputers as well as  all the Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft consoles. The museum had gadgets and peripheries and even a Sinclair Electric car.

Although the centre had only been open for exactly a year, it had plenty to see and do and was packed. There had been a school group earlier in the day and as the time ticked on closer to the Oliver Twins talk more of a crowd started to build. I played many of the game on show including Super Robin Hood, Fantasy World Dizzy, Cybermorph on the Atari Jaguar (the controller is horrendous to hold), Sonic the Hedgehog on the Megadrive and a shmup on the Turbo Grafx 16. Also I saw the graveyard of arcade machines, there were 13 in total and whilst some were fixed many are in need of major renovations. The museum is hoping to get them back online soon and that would be special!

Just after 3 o'clock the Oliver twins, Philip and Andrew arrived and had a look around the centre. Once they had a look around they went into the conference room and after a few technical hitches, started their talk. The talk was relaxed and illuminating, they talked about their interest in gaming from a young age and their enthusiasm for coding right up to their relationship with Codemasters. They discussed Dizzy of course but this was much more than just that, they talked about starting their own company and the founding of Blitz Games, its closing and the emergence of Radiant Games, their newest venture. They spoke with enthusiasm and candour and it was refreshing to see such honesty and lack of hyperbole.

After the talk, which lasted just over an hour and a half, there was a chance to ask questions. I learnt that the brothers enjoy the works of Nintendo and respect their fun way of producing games that engage people of all ages. Also the brothers thought that Fantasy World Dizzy had the best art of their games, anything with a dragon is cool apparently!

  There was a short break for drinks and refreshments and this provided me with an opportunity to get things signed and discuss gaming further with the Philip Oliver. He signed my Fantastic Dizzy Master System poster and my Quattro Games cassette from Codemasters, both of which I'd had since my childhood.

After a time Adam Oliver, the 15 year old son of Andrew, spoke about game designing and the challenges of making a game. He discussed learning coding in Scratch and then moving onto GameMaker and then producing Alien X, the BAFTA Young Game Designer of the Year 2014 Award winning game. Andrew answered questions and offered an interesting take on the changes to the ICT Curriculum. I asked him how schools were coping with the new curriculum and he spoke openly how things had shifted from consuming to constructing, there was a notable shift in his school from proprietary Office packages to creative software where the pupils were given creative freedom under a remit. It seems like computing is finally moving in the right direction and the Olivers are helping by being involved in such initiatives as 'Made in Creative UK.'

I left the centre after having been in there for over 6 hours and I have to say that I had the most fantastic time. I played games I hadn't touched in years, met fellow gamers and enthusiasts an met my childhood game heroes and got my swag signed. All in all an amazing day!

My signed copy of Fantasy Dizzy and Quattro Adventures pack.

Here I am on the far right hand side... so stoked to have been here!

Vinyl: The Return of the Format

I've been hearing for a while in the newspapers and popular media that vinyl is back from the dead. Sales of the 66-year-old format have been steadily rising over the past nine years, but last year saw an explosion in which vinyl sales doubled what they were in 2012. The 780,000 LPs shifted in 2013 meant that sales were the greatest since 1997.

My lovely Verdi record player and the amazing Jean Michel Jarre 'Oxygene' album

Recently I got a record player for Christmas, it is a Verdi record player and I love it! My wife and I were walking around Totnes, Devon on Christmas Eve and were walking past a retro shop called 'Narnia' and there it was, playing some old jazz record... it was love at first sight. My wife bought it for me there and then as she knew I'd wanted one for a little while. We then spent the next couple of hours scouring the charity shops for old records and came back with quite a haul for next to no money, we bought 'Tubular Bells' by Mike Oldfield and 'Journey to the Centre of the Earth' by Rick Wakeman amongst others.

' Narnia' in Totnes, Devon is a treasure trove of items from a bygone era.... I love it!

As the weeks have gone by I've been thinking about my interest in getting a record player. I'd always wanted one as my father had an all-in-one music system, the kind that was popular in the 90's. It played CDs, cassettes and records but I had never seen the record player used. I didn't know how they worked. Of course I knew the general principle of the record spinning and the arm going across and the needle dropping but that was the extent of my knowledge. My local library, Barking library, had an impressive number of vinyls but I had never really ventured there, it was an alien world to me.

When I went to France with friends in 1998 I bought a couple of Jean Michel Jarre albums, 'Oxygene' and 'Revolutions'. I already had them on CD but liked the big covers so bought them as an art piece for my already busy room. When I got home all excited about playing these records my dad told me that the needle on the record player was broken and so I couldn't play the records, disappointed the records sat near my bed gathering dust, Jarre's face looking out at me from the cover of his 'Revolutions' album for years. My interest in records was fleeting and I forgot about the whole thing, until recently.

The cover for 'Revolutions'... Jarre stared at me for years!

On Christmas dad my wife looked through her parents old record and a wave  of nostalgia overtook her as she found 'The Wombles- Remember You're A Womble' record. She remembered listening to the record incessantly in her childhood. Putting the record on felt special, like a ritual- it's was an emotional connection which pressing play on a digital device didn't have. That special connection of holding a record, carefully pulling out the vinyl, blowing off the dust and putting the arm across. We put the record on and the living room was filled with music of such fullness and richness, we danced and laughed and her sister came along and danced with us.

Henry Rollins (an American musician, writer, journalist, publisher, actor, radio host, spoken word artist, and activist) said,

Sitting in a room, alone, listening to a CD is to be lonely. Sitting in a room alone with an LP crackling away... is enjoying the sublime state of solitude

When I read this I didn't understand what he meant but as time has gone by it all makes much more sense. The pull of vinyl is obvious: a fuller, more raw and warmer sound compared to the inferior compressed quality of most MP3s (higher bitrates improve the sound immensely); the physical nature of the product as a collector’s piece, with its sleeve notes and large cover art, in opposition to an impersonal click on the computer.

Contrary to popular belief vinyl is not the preserve of stuffy middle class audiophiles, rather it is a wide demographic. Many young fans are buying vinyl not for the sound quality but rather the vinyl’s artistic value. Many young fans do not own a turntable but since most vinyl releases also come with a code to download the album digitally, there is the option to collect them as artworks, which shows commitment to supporting music and connecting more closely with an artist or bands work, while listening to the music digitally. There are two parallel markets for the format. Crate diggers are music enthusiasts, first and foremost, seeking out rarities and limited editions. First-hand vinyl is now the preserve of well-to-do audiophiles (it is they who are pushing the value of the market up) and hardcore fans who want everything a band puts out, including a vinyl version of their bands latest album.

Vinyl is rising in popularity after a drop on the mid-noughties

Vinyl is rising in popularity after a drop on the mid-noughties

The reason vinyl appeals to me and especially at the moment is that as an early adopter of new technology, I feel record collections are very personal. Cicero said,

''A room without books is like a body without a soul,''

and I feel the same could be said for music. With vinyl I find myself actually listening rather than just hearing, I have to dedicate time to sit down and listen rather than just pop on my mp3 player and letting the music wash over me. I have over 10,000 albums in mp3 format (I went traveling through Asia a few years ago and went to the numerous outlets which give you albums, movies and e-books at next to no price) but there are only a few that I actually listen to, mostly it's just muzak, background noise to keep me occupied on my commute.

I don't want to sound like a hi-fi bore, but I just wanted to share my new experience of sitting down and actively listening to music. I love the different sounds I can hear from the records compared to the CD. There are notes I notice in vinyl that I don't hear in CDs that I have heard hundred of times. Vinyl is here to stay not because they sounds better (they might but the jury is still out on that one), but because they serve a purpose; a tangible way to connect with the music in an increasingly digital age.

BPI and BRIT Awards Chief Executive Geoff Taylor said,
“The LP is back in the groove. We’re witnessing a renaissance for records – they’re no longer retromania and are becoming the format of choice for more and more music fans.  This year has been a treat for vinyl aficionados with releases from Daft Punk, David Bowie, Arctic Monkeys and Black Sabbath.  

“Whilst sales only account for a small percentage of the overall market, vinyl sales are growing fast as a new generation discovers the magic of 12 inch artwork, liner notes and the unique sound of analogue records, often accompanied by a download code for mp3s...the vinyl revival looks set to continue."

I for one am glad that this once endangered format is still here, and with Record Store Day held across the world long may it continue. 

What do you think about vinyl? Share your thoughts below!

Gaming and Playing for the Right Reasons- by Anjum Razaq

The general image of what a gamer is probably a teen male, however contrary to popular opinion this is not true. With the advent of flash games, MMORPGs and quick hit games on android and apple devices as well as Facebook there has never been a more diverse community of gamers but males in their 30’s are the highest percentage of gamers.

As a man in his early 30’s I am in the majority when I say that I am a gamer. I am proud to be a gamer but I do have to admit that in my life my concentration of gaming has been sporadic. At times I would immerse myself in a world and it would consume me whole until the game was complete. I remember playing Final Fantasy 7 during my time in University. Once lectures had finished I’d rush home and switch on my trusty old PS1, playing through Midgar and sharing Clouds pain. When I wasn’t playing the game I was thinking about it, listening to the soundtrack on my Discman. It had me enthralled. Once one game was over I’d look for the next fix of gaming mana. 

Midgar blew my mind!

I didn’t really think much of it until I came to Cambodia. I was born in East London and my whole life was there; family, childhood friends and all the memories of my life there. Once I was married my wife and I wanted a change, to do something different and to be honest Cambodia was as different as they came!

I worked in a school in Phnom Penh and after two years moved back to England. I have been reflecting on my time in Cambodia and want to share my reflections here.

I made new friends in Cambodia but the relationships were not as deep, I mean how can they be? International schools are great as you meet many people from all walks of life but they are also very transient, people are constantly leaving and arriving and so that deep level of friendship doesn’t occur as naturally or as often.

In Cambodia my gaming came to the forefront again- I played much more frequently than I used to (although not as much as when I was a kid) and although I enjoyed the games I missed the camaraderie of playing with my friends. The Wii offered a cushion to help me, offering up good memories and times. I have the Xbox, DS, PSP, ipad and Macbook but my weapon of choice to take to Cambodia was the Wii. I could have taken my Xbox 360 and played with friends online but the internet connection is temperamental due to developing infrastructure and the time difference of 7 hours meant there would never be a time I would be able to connect with my friends online. 

So why the Wii? Maybe because my strongest memories of gaming were with Nintendo. It conjured up my first real experience with computers and the catalogue of games are like a childhood who’s who of gaming. 


Ah, those twee Wii adverts- it really was marketed as a social games console.

I never really got into MMORPG’s because I know how I am, if I get into a game I HAVE to complete it, no matter how bad or good it is. If I started on World of Warcraft I’d never see daylight again! I have a friend who used to be into sports and was quite active but over the last several years tragic events such as family deaths, poor health and divorce have ground him down. As a result he is now switched on to the virtual world, he hardly ever goes out and his friends are pretty much all virtual. It’s easy to see why someone who feels powerless in the real world would immerse themselves in the virtual world.

Games are amazing as they can distract you and immerse you. Their interactivity is empowering but for those individuals who are more obsessive or prone to addictiveness they can be destructive. Escapism isn’t inherently bad but when it comes at the cost of dealing with real world issues and having a sense of personal and social responsibility, this is where the problems start.

Games are by nature addictive and if you don’t watch yourself you can become lost to them. I don’t mean all gamers will become killers like Anders Brevik (click on the link below for a though-provoking article on the subject) but more simply that games can distract you at the time when you need to focus the most.

So I suppose the question is what kind of gamer are you, when do you most play computer games and why? Are you playing games because you enjoy them or are you playing to forget about something else in your life?