You’ve been down too long in the midnight sea


Dio: Dreamers Never Die (2022)

I laughed, I air guitared, I wept.

I’ve long tried to explain just how and why heavy metal means so much to me. How these absurd songs performed by (mostly) men in denim and leather* (and occasionally spandex) have given me a reason to get up, to keep going, to light my darkest hours. This is music that took a scrawny, perpetually anxious kid and gave him a sense of purpose, of strength. A feeling of belonging, the sense that someone halfway across the world felt as fucked up and miserable as I did, and put it in a song. For years Black Sabbath’s Paranoid was my theme tune and I still can’t decide if that was a good thing. Still, likely better than Snowblind, eh? To be clear, I had a relatively happy childhood, and love my parents. Don’t take this the wrong way. But depression and anxiety, we’ve known each other a very long time.

Metal became an outlet for my frustrations, a way of venting my fury at well, the world. An outlet for exploring things I denied myself, or didn’t feel comfortable admitting. I’m still coming to terms with a lot of those sorts of issues. It’s been said that my love of tales of rock and roll excess, while not partaking myself, is one of the great hypocrisies of my life and I’d agree with you on that. Control issues, and not being willing to let go? Yeah, that’s me. Despite all that, emotion is something I do at full blast, whether that be attempting to explain Babylon 5 to my mother in law without spoiling how Sleeping in Light breaks me into tiny pieces or the fact that just typing the words Tales of Ba Sing Se has me trying, and failing, not to cry. So, there’s going to be some wild and over the top hyperbole incoming, and I mean every fucking word of it.

I was aware of the works of Ronnie James Dio, mostly as an 80’s throwback. I discovered metal in the 90’s, aka the decade described by comedian and metal fan Andrew O’Neill as ‘when all your favourite bands went shit.’ It was a strange time – Iron Maiden and Judas Priest lost iconic frontmen (happily both returned after a few years), Metallica released the Black album and gained twice as many fans than they lost and to this day I still can’t stand Pantera – not that the band are bad, but every fan of theirs I knew at the time was a violent meathead and the association stuck. Now, I’m not saying every Pantera fan is a violent thick headed fuckwit, but you may have to work to prove you aren’t one. (I have the same problem with Australian flag capes and Southern Cross tattoos.) Singer Phil Anselmo’s far right outbursts over the years haven’t helped things either. It was a time when the more absurd excesses of the 80’s were (mostly) swept under the rug and songs about dragons and wizards were not on the agenda.

So yeah, I was aware of Dio, mostly through the gloriously Dungeons and Dragons-esque video for Holy Diver. It wasn’t until the release of the Black Sabbath compilation The Dio Years that I truly dug into his work and holy crap, it was one of those ‘Where has this been all my life?’ kind of moments, much like my first viewing of Big Trouble in Little China. Yes, these were ridiculous songs about dragons, kings and the power of rock and roll, and that’s exactly my aesthetic. And by Crom, that voice. For someone who claimed to have had no formal vocal training, the power in his voice could shake rooms. The way it lets rip in The Last in Line, or the sheer power in Falling Off the Edge of the World. His delivery of “Look out there’s danger. nowhere to run!” is enough to smash you back against the wall. Therefore, it was quite surprising to discover that his earliest releases were 50’s doo-wop. The man knew of a time before rock and roll…

We get taken through the evolution of his sound, the car crash that nearly killed him and the formation of Elf, who became regular openers for Deep Purple which in turn led to the formation of Rainbow when Purple guitarist Ritchie Blackmore quit. While massively popular in Europe and Japan, they couldn’t crack America and those cracks only got larger when Blackmore decided to move in a more commercial direction. Hence, the first of several dust ups (A running theme of sorts) when Dio stuck to his guns and quit.

Looking for work and running out of money, he stumbled across Tony Iommi in the Rainbow Bar and Grill and the rest, as they say, is history. The album that resulted, Heaven and Hell, lit a fire under Sabbath who’d spent the previous few years in a cocaine haze, but alas, things fell apart during the mixing of the album Live Evil and Dio was out on his own again. It takes us through the glory days of the 80’s, dust ups with band members (Vivian Campbell is heard, not seen) and the dark days of the 90’s, (There’s no mention of his short lived return to Black Sabbath for 1992’s Dehumanizer nor of his messy exit when he refused to support Ozzy Osbourne) and of his return to glory with the retro metal movement of the late 90’s/early 2000’s. Getting to see him with the reunited Sabbath, billed as Heaven and Hell, in 2007 was a bucket list moment, even with the prat a few rows over who kept yelling for Holy Diver. When someone finally managed to explain they were only doing Sabbath songs, the guy started yelling for Paranoid. *sighs*

Alas, we know how the story ends with Dio’s death from cancer in May 2010, and I have zero shame whatsofuckingever in admitting I was weeping at that point. We get to see his final on-camera interview, and given how he’s talking about making another Heaven and Hell record, it’s hard not to feel robbed. Yes, he was 67, but he still had more to give. It wasn’t over, he didn’t get to go out on his terms and that still hurts me.

The film’s a mostly warts and all story of triumph and tragedy, that showcases a man who loved music and was determined to do things his way, no matter the consequences. Someone who loved what he did, no matter how small the venue, and from the video footage we see of some 90’s gigs, the venues were pretty bloody small. Someone who’d anything for a fan, even to the extent of helping talk down a suicidal fan with the offer of a hug. The bonus footage from the cinema screening contained some extra gems, with the story told by Jack Black about Dio overpowering 3 top of the line microphones while recording his part for Tenacious D’s The Pick of Destiny a highlight for me.

If you’re a fan, you’ll be all over this. And if not, what are you doing with your life? Put some headphones on, Fire up Heaven and Hell and you too will know the glory that was Ronnie James Dio.

That he was taken shed a tear,
His legacy remains,
So he will never die.
Be aware that he’s coming for you.
Look out, look out, look out!
Three Inches of Blood – Look Out

* It brought us all together….

The List of the Beast!

What’s that, I hear you say, The Guardian published an ‘Iron Maiden’s 30 Greatest Songs‘ list, I wonder if Gav will have an opinion on that? BY CROM I DO!

If there’s one thing Iron Maiden fans love as much as Iron Maiden, it’s making lists about Iron Maiden. We’re like Doctor Who fans in that respect, though seemingly unlike a lot of so-called Who fans, we actually like Iron Maiden. (Never let it be said I don’t have some spicy opinions.) On first impression it’s a good solid list, with a nice mix of eras and styles. The author clearly knows and loves Maiden and hasn’t just gone for the hits, which add further marks in their favour. I do have some quibbles though, which I’ll address as we go down the list.

30. Burning Ambition. (1980) A nice an obscure B-side straight out of the gate. I’d probably swap it for Prowler or The Ides of March myself. If we need an obscure B-side, why not Sheriff of Huddersfield, or Mission from ‘Arry?

28. Empire of the Clouds. You might think a 18 minute long piano led song about an airship disaster would be the most over the top thing Maiden have done. Oh my sweet summer child, we’re just getting started. And as much as I love the song, I really hope they never try it live.

Fun Fact: The 8th Doctor rescued one of his companions from the R101.

26. Dance of Death. Stuffed with more ham than a BRIAN BLESSED performance, and all the finer for it. Now if only the album cover art wasn’t quite so fucking awful…

25. Sea of Madness. Look, it’s not bad, but I’d swap it for Stranger in a Strange Land in a heartbeat and I stand by that.

23. 22 Acacia Avenue. The lyrics haven’t aged at all well, but the chorus almost saves it. I’d chop it for something from the Blaze Bayley Years, Futureal or Sign of the Cross most likely.

19. Alexander The Great. Really? It’s not the worst of Maiden’s historical epics (Mother Russia, I’m looking in your direction), but rhyming ‘Aegean Sea’ and ‘334 BC’ is both incredibly smart and completely stupid. I’d swap it for Moonchild, which has to rank among Maiden’s finest album openers and if you don’t agree with me on that you’re wrong.

Fun Fact: While Maiden themselves haven’t played the song live, allegedly owing to Adrian Smith not being able to nail the solo again, I have seen the Iron Maiden’s (The worlds only all female Maiden tribute act) play it, and it was glorious. Someday, Covid permitting, I hope to see them again.

18. The Clansman. *deep breath* FRREEEEEEEEEDDDDOOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMMMM! Possibly the best thing to be inspired by Braveheart (Yes, it’s a short list I know), it’s generally considered the high point of Blaze Bayley’s tenure with the band.

17. Wrathchild. That this song isn’t top 10 is just flat out wrong, like a Clash best of that doesn’t include English Civil War.

16. Flight of Icarus. On their recent tour singer Bruce Dickinson performed this song with two flamethrowers strapped to him. I cannot help but be reminded of WASP’s Blackie Lawless and the incident with the firework codpiece.

15. Wasted Years. The Somewhere in Time album is controversial to say the least, what with the use of synthesisers and the band’s fashion sense, thanks to a load of free football kit, veering away from the traditional leather and spandex. The song is inextricably linked to memories of an unhealthy crush I had as a lad, so while it’s a cracking tune, the air of melancholy in the song is sometimes more than I can bear. I will, however, defend Dickinson’s stage outfit on that tour till my dying day.

Look, it was 1986 OK?


12. Run to the Hills. That opening drum beat and guitar riff is like a massive shot of adrenaline to me, I hear that and I immediately start air-guitaring. Every so often I wonder what my brain activity is like hearing the song.

11. The Wicker Man. Putting this one in-front of Run to the Hills takes balls of, well, iron, but hear me out on this. The 90’s were, to quote comic and die-hard metal fan Andrew O’Neill, ‘when all your favourite bands went shit’ and it’s fair that outside of a few high points Maiden’s output in that decade didn’t stack up to the glory days. I have an immense amount of sympathy for Blaze Bayley (who sang for them between 94 and 99) and consider Futureal more than worthy of inclusion on this list. But when it was announced that Bruce Dickinson and Adrian Smith were returning to the fold, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t ecstatic, But they still needed a statement, something to show the world that Maiden weren’t dead and buried, that the glory days weren’t over. And then we heard this. Hearing this song for me is like first seeing Christopher Eccelston saying “Run” in Rose, this feeling that the thing I love is back, and everything’s going to be be OK.

10. Fear of the Dark. Find me a live version of this where the crowd aren’t singing along at the top of their lungs and I’ll say something nice about Scott Morrison.

8. The Number of the Beast. The song that sparked a thousand moral panics and album burnings, that Big Scream of Dickinson’s (A result of having to sing the opening lines over and over again) was the moment I knew I’d be into this band till my dying day. Hammer horror set to music, from the Vincent Prince sound-alike to the roar of 6-6-6!, this was the song that put them over the top.

7. 2 Minutes to Midnight. Still grimly relevant, it’s a prime burst of blood and thunder, with a chorus that can demolish buildings when deployed properly.

6. Phantom of the Opera. The majority of Maiden’s first two albums (AKA the Di’Anno Years) are shorter, spikier and *whispers* slightly punk influenced. And then there’s Phantom. Epic, grandiose and suitably over the top, it’s almost a prototype for Maiden Phase 2, the Dickinson Years, Part 1. For my money the version on Live After Death is the one to beat, the way Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s guitars intertwine is just perfect.

5. Powerslave. SLAVE TO THE POWER OF DEATH!!! The highlight of the album of the same name, it’s a masterpiece from start to finish. Books could be written about it, from the way it builds from 2:55, the guitar swirling around and the atmosphere building till finally all hell breaks loose. Genius stuff.

4. Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. A bold move placing this so high. It’s not undeserving of it’s rank, but maybe if the chorus wasn’t just the song’s title repeated 8 times I might feel more positively inclined towards it.

3. Aces High. I have seen grown men weeping tears of joy at the intro to this song. I have been one of those grown men weeping tears of joy at the intro to this song.

3. The Trooper. Maiden’s music has oft been described as galloping, and there’s no more fitting use of it than on this song, the story of the Charge of the Light Brigade.

1. Hallowed be thy Name. The story of a condemned man on his way to the gallows has been the soundtrack to every performance review I’ve ever had. The way it builds, from the doom laden intro, to the point at 4:30 when it goes full throttle, to that ending scream of “naaaaaaaaaaaammmmmmeeeee!’ Perfection.

There is plenty more I could add to this, and if you need to kill a couple of hours, ask me in person about it. Alas, it’s time to end the set and get to bed. Be seeing you…

MORE SONGS ABOUT HUMPING AND BOOZE.

How am I?

I’m cranky, furious at the number of unmasked people on my trains and constantly exhausted. My heart goes out to those affected by the recent floods, and to frontline City Rail staff who’ve had to deal with the constant stream of bullshit and stupidity that is Sydney commuters. Therefore, I’m going to write about rock and roll, Australian that is. It occasionally plagues me that I lack technical knowledge of music, that I can’t talk about what effects pedal made that sound, or how that drum kit was miked up. But what I can talk about is how it made me feel. Does that solo spark the need to air guitar? Do I remember the disastrous crush that song is linked to? Do I remember how much of an idiot I must have looked playing air guitar at that show? FUCK YES I DO.

Look, it all starts, like so many things do, with AC/DC. There’s something, primal, elemental, about them, something that almost defies description. There’s a an old joke about how they’ve been making the same album for more than 40 years with a few slight variations, and they aren’t wrong. That sort of bone headed stupidity, a commitment to the single entendre that’s almost endearing, even if parts of it are deeply questionable. They also inspired the greatest one sentence album review I think I’ll ever read, that being MORE SONGS ABOUT HUMPING AND BOOZE. I believe that Phil Mitchell, in Sounds Magazine’s 28 July 1979 issue,* wrote a full review of the album Highway to Hell, but with an opening like that, who needs more? The track Who Made Who (From the album of the same name)  was my introduction, swiftly followed by Live and by then I was hooked. I have fond memories of seeing them on the Stiff Upper Lip tour, and of the crowd largely consisting of middle aged mullet wearing men, and their young mullet wearing sons. Incidentally, that haircut seemed to be coming back these days, which has me wondering if it’s 1988 every time I see one in the wild. 

Radio Birdman’s Aloha Steve and Danno changed my life. I’m not kidding. When I got a copy of their first album, the mighty Radios Appear, I listened to nothing but that cassette for a solid month and probably longer. Truth be told, the tape also had Birdman’s Burn My Eye EP (Which had a radio ad for a show at the end of it I’ve not been able to find since) and a chunk of Grunt! by Newcastle ska band The Porkers, who also covered Steve and Danno with Birdman guitarist Christ Masuak assisting. I can’t explain just how much that song hit me – from the anticipation of the crashing waves, the surf drums and Tek’s command to “Hit it Steve.” And the solo, oh gods that solo. I am a man who needs no inducement to rock out on the air guitar, and I have no shame in admitting that. But the way I air guitar to that solo, it feels less adolescent stupidity and more a life or death.

Initially active from 1974 to 78, they only released two albums (The second,1978’s Living Eyes was released posthumously and is an acquired taste, shall we say) but following a reunion on the mid 90’s for the Big Day Out have continued to play sporadically, releasing a new album, Zeno Beach, in 2006. I will forever remember seeing them at the Gaelic Club in Sydney around that time where they opened with Do The Pop, and blew the roof off the place. They may as well have chucked a grenade in the place for what it did to the crowd. Speaking of live stuff, the Live at Paddington Town Hall album is essential listening. Their influence goes on to this day, with members being involved in the likes of The New Christs, the Visitors, The Hitmen and a myriad of other projects.  

Outine’s The Cicada That Ate Five Dock is either a catchy novelty song or an unmade episode of Torchwood. It reminds me a lot of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, but we’re keeping things Australian. Painters and Dockers formed to help pay off a mate’s parking fines, which is something wonderfully endearing. They also covered Kill, Kill, Kill, from an episode of Get Smart, and those two facts alone are enough to endear them to me. That their first show involved a local arriving at the venue with a machete to complain about the noise followed by 6 police vans showing up just makes it all the funnier to me. That may have helped explain the song You’re Going Home (In The Back Of A Divvy Van), which for me is inextricably linked to the time ABC’s The Late Show staged a protest about a Sale of the Century hostess being sacked and wound up burning the host in effigy outside Channel 9 Melbourne, at which point they were arrested. I can’t find it online, but it’s on the Best Bits Of DVD set.

Moving to bands that have made me cry, we go to The Sunnyboys. The song Alone With You is in my Top 5 pieces of teen angst, along with I’m 18 and My Pal, about which we’ll talk more later. The longing, sadness and hope in that song hits me pretty damn hard. Their heyday was cut short by overwork and singer Jeremy Oxley’s then undiagnosed schizophrenia, but they happily reunited a few years ago. I got to see them a few years back, with the mighty Celibate Rifles supporting, and I openly wept during this song. i believe my wife has a photo of me doing so.

Speaking of the Rifles, they played Ocean Shore at that show, which fulfilled another dream for me. I hopefully still have somewhere a CD of their Roman Beach Party album recorded off a co-workers vintage LP and hearing the pops and crackles as the song begins makes me so happy I can’t put it into words.

My Pal by God, what can I say? “To be a party head, is something I could never do” is one of the great opening lyrics to anything, to say nothing of the fact that the band were too young to step inside the pubs they were playing in at the time. It’s a perfect song and that’s not a tag I hand out lightly. Though I may as well go ahead and do so again, as God bassist Tim Hemensley’s later band the Powder Monkey’s song The Supernova That Never Quits more then deserves the tag. A sober minded and serious analysis of the track by this humble scribe describes it as a nitrous fuelled full throttle rock and roll assault on the senses and that’s putting it fucking mildly. It’s so good a song it almost put me off seeking out more of their stuff, as could anything possibly hope to match up to it?**

It’s late, and I really should take my brain pills and sleep, so I’ll cut things there. I had planned to talk about the Saints and how Nights in Venice sounds like the band are about to melt, You Am I’s cover of the Victims Television Addict and Tim Roger’s frantic cry of “Just because I watch Prisoner, Cop Shop, Fat Cat, Humphrey fucken B!” or that time the Datsuns turned the normally 6 minute long Freeze Sucker into a 15 minute epic and left me feeling about to collapse, but time is against me.

For those wanting to investigate further, the compilations Do The Pop and Tales from the Australian Underground were an incredible help to young me and well worth your time. Radio Birdman’s Radios Appear is perfect and I will fight any who say otherwise. The Lime Spiders Nine Miles High compilation and Live at the Esplanade are more than worthy, as is The First and the Last from the short lived ‘supergroup’ New Race, comprised of members of Radio Birdman, the Stooges and the MC5. it still amuses me that Spotify has two quasi bootleg albums from the tour, but not the official album. When I think of how easy this stuff is to find these days, it makes me happy. Part of me loves the obscure stuff, that feeling of loving a band that only 5 people and a dog have heard of. But I love getting to share that with, or more accurately, at people these days.

Support your local music scene. After all, the government won’t. May you all have something in your lives that brings you as much joy as music does me.

Be seeing you.

*Isn’t the internet fun?
** A problem I also have with The Jam and their song In the City.

On age and coping with it.

So, I’m charging at speed to 41. And to cope with this, I’m making a playlist. Unlike last year’s, I’m trying to be cheerful! It seemed a sensible thing to do, to wallow in songs that bring me joy. (Yes, I do have some) Not misery, bleakness or rage, but that full tilt Bill and Ted, air guitaring like a mad thing kind of joy. The sort of songs that I tell stories about. Actually, stuff it – you’re getting some now. Strap in.

The Ramones, Iron Maiden and Ronnie James Dio feature prominently. Why? Because the Ramones are the finest rock and roll band known to mankind, a fact once acknowledged by no less than Lemmy Kilmister, who was something of an authority of the subject. Rockaway Beach is a *perfect* pop song and that it didn’t sell millions is a stain on humanity.

For some years now I’ve tried to put into words just what rock and roll feels to me, exactly why it matters. I was reminded by my therapist recently about how people exist on a scale, so X amount of people feel really invested in New York rock circa 1976, compared to Y number of people who care about, I dunno, rugby league or something. I’m butchering it no doubt, but there’s the general gist that people have different levels of intensity. It’s good to be reminded that not everyone feels as intensely about things. There are Doctor Who making of documentaries I’ve watched more than the show for starters. So yes, I’m very into rock and roll and you may not be. And that’s OK. I mean, you’re wrong, but you’re allowed to be, much like it’s allowed that there are people who aren’t in tears at the mere mention of the Tale of Iroh. (I am not one of those people) Anyhow, I think I can answer it, and it’s Rockaway Beach. Just listen, it’s all there.

I can still remember clear as day the first time I heard Iron Maidens The Number of the Beast and my exhilaration at that big scream (A product of their singer having spent umpteen hours singing the opening again and again before the producer liked one enough) has not faded one bit in the years since. As for Dio, he specialized in songs that sound like games of Dungeons and Dragons, alternating with songs about the glory of rock and roll. Whether with Rainbow, Black Sabbath or his solo group, that voice is incredible. You should know Holy Diver, but try Kill the King, written when Rainbow realized they needed something fast to open shows with.

The playlist itself. First off, the Damned’s Love Song is *the* greatest love song ever written. The Sunnyboys and the Ramones (Whose I Wanna be your Boyfriend played at my wedding) come damn close, but no cigar. HammerFall’s Hearts on Fire is up there on the list, but I mostly remember the video for it which featured the band up against the Swedish national women’s curling team. Delightful.

The interplay of Johnny Thunders and Sylvain Sylvain’s guitars make the New York Dolls Jet Boy essential listening. Balance that against fellow New Yorkers the Dictators, whose Two Tub Man has a spoken word intro matched only by Manowar’s Black Arrows for sheer hilarity.  There are reasons why Handsome Dick Manitoba (AKA the Handsomest Man in Rock and Roll) was listed as secret weapon in the liner notes for their first album. As for unkind accusations about the song Master Race Rock, have they read the lyrics? Besides, half the band are Jewish.

Probot (an early 2000’s project of Dave Grohl) produced Shake Your Blood, which is the greatest Motorhead song not written by Motorhead. As for the Head, I couldn’t not have Ace of Spades and We Are The Road Crew. Lemmy is as close to universally adored as you can be in heavy music circles and despite his continual insistence that Motorhead were a rock and roll band, it’s nigh impossible to go to a metal show and not see at least 1 Motorhead shirt. Books could, and should be written about Overkill, but the last word on that should be about drummer Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor. As Lemmy told it “He hit everything on the kit in about 2 beats and Larry turned to me and said ‘What a horrible little cunt, he’s perfect.”

There’s only the one TV theme here, but it’s Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts Tank. If the next words in your head aren’t “OK everybody, I think it’s time we blow this scene” are you even alive? Only the theme tune to Monkey comes close and I’m willing to accept no small amount of childhood nostalgia is a factor there.

Dub War’s Strike It blew my mind as a teenager – the mix of jazz, reggae, hip hop and metal stunned me. Though they split far too young, their spirit lives on in singer Benji Webbe’s current act Skindred, who are one of the most ridiculously entertaining live bands I’ve seen. There’s not many support acts who’d enter to the Imperial March and leave to a burst of Nobody Does It Better. The bass in the opening of Under Attack hits like a hammer and the chant of ‘Rock and roll, save my soul’ in Machine speaks to me in a way no religion has ever managed to.

You want some brevity? There’s Napalm Deaths You Suffer, which has the distinction of being the shortest song ever recorded, at roughly 1.13 seconds long. They had something to say and they said it. No mess, no fuss, no fucking about.

Yes, Stairway to Heaven is there, but it’s Dread not Led Zeppelin. What is this you ask? They cover Zeppelin tunes in a reggae style with an Elvis impersonator on vocals. It’s so stupid an idea it works.

You want riffs? I got em by the truckload. Heaven and Hell’s (AKA Dio era Black Sabbath) Mob Rules is a stand out, with Tony Iommi’s guitar ripping out and Ronnie James Dio’s voice soaring overhead in full sword and sorcery mode. It is one of the highlights of my life that I saw that line up live. For a more meat and potatoes rock and roll, there’s AC/DC’s Riff Raff and TNT, coupled with Airborne’s Back in the Game, whose single minded focus on being AC/DC: The Next Generation has to deserve some sort of award. Breadfan by Budgie is bonkers and has an acoustic interlude that would have fit on Sabbath Bloody Sabbath, but holy shit that opening riff is amazing. Metallica’s cover is far from bad either and is where I’d wager most of you know it from.

The stomping late 70s glam drum sound of Iron Maidens Running Free and the spiky aggression of Wrathchild stand against the blood and thunder of the Bruce Dickinson era – the opening drumming on Where Eagles Dare is fucking incredible (I’ve heard it described as a drum kit being thrown down the stairs) and the old school gallop of Death or Glory is positively infectious, in a good way. When they performed Flight of Icarus on their recent tour, they let Dickinson wield a pair of flamethrowers on stage, something so absurd and glorious it’s matched only by the mid 80’s Dio tour where he fought a dragon with an electric sword. I told you he wrote songs that sounded like Dungeons and Dragons, but did you believe me?

Turning to Detroit, we have the MC5’s mission statement Kick Out The Jams, one of the finest live albums out there. You can hear the Stooges evolve from the fuzz tone stoner rock of I Wanna be Your Dog to the hallucinogenic freak out that is 1970 and the full tilt everything’s about to explode feel of Search and Destroy. Someday I’ll sing that at a karaoke event. Be afraid, be very afraid, and not just cause I sing like Dave Lister plays guitar.

Sonic’s Rendevous Band’s immortal City Slang is a song unique in that every version I’ve heard has different lyrics. Radio Birdman’s Aloha Steve and Danno has one of the greatest solos ever put to tape and the Lime Spiders Slave Girl has a groove to it that’s rarely matched. Go for the original and not the Goo Goo Dolls cover. The Bellray’s maximum rock and soul was a revelation to me and it’s a gospel I will happily preach.

I could continue, and if you ask me in person I will, but I really should sleep. I’ll leave you with one last note: Yes, the Cantina Song is one there, because WHY NOT?

Happy listening, and be seeing you…

Calling from the Funhouse, with my song

I am ‘the excite’, as I was informed the millennials say. (I thought it was the kids, but I’m even more out of touch than I thought.) The news I found today was something of a bolt out of the blue, and to call it a welcome surprise is putting it midly.

Tapes have been found of the last show of the Stooges original lineup, apparently found in a Michigan farmhouse’s basement of all places. The show was at the Goose Lake Festival, August 8 1970, and is a full run through of the album Funhouse from go to whoa. To fans, this is massive. I spent most of the afternoon after getting the news in a state best described as a quivering mass of excitement. A far more eloquent writer than I described it as the ‘Rosetta Stone of punk’, and I can’t dispute that.

There’s been myths for decades about professionally recorded Stooges shows. Yes, there’s the legendary Metallic KO album (The only live album I know of where the singer keeps track of what’s being hurled at the band from the audience), but as performances go it’s far from optimal. There’s been dozens, if not hundreds, of bootlegs and rehearsal tapes issued and most of those from the bands later, more destructive days or from the mid 2000’s reunion. So to find tape like this, let alone in such quality is rare as hen’s teeth.

How can I describe this to non-fans? It’s like finding a copy of  Loves Labours Won, or footage of Frank Oz performing Miss Piggy on Dagobah during the filming of The Empire Strikes Back. The band produced some of the most vital and influential music in their/all time and there are bare scraps of footage of them in their prime. One track has been uploaded to streaming services, with the full show to be released on August 7th. I can’t wait.

I have been accused (mostly by myself) of being evangelical about the music I like and on that charge I’m proudly guilty. I can’t help wanting to share this with people – it makes me so happy, so maybe it’ll have the same effect on others, right? Mostly it doesn’t, but from time to time things have worked. I got my wife into the New York Dolls, and she was very nervous when she told me she preferred them to the Ramones. Look, that’s OK, everyone has different opinions. It’s not that OK, but far from a deal breaker. But I can’t help wanting to share the things I love with people in the hope that I can share the love.

Digging around, whether through bargain bins or old interviews can produce amazing things. That’s how I discovered music in my early days. “So, this band said they liked these bands, so I’ll check them out.” That’s how I found about the New York scene centered around CBGB’s, and the Detroit scene of the late 60’s. Things can turn up in unexpected places – Mongolia or Central Australia for two examples. Look, this pandemic has made me realize I miss a lot of things. To go into the street and not worry, to play RPG’s face to face instead of over Discord, fencing practise and I really miss dressing up for LARP. But what I miss most of all is live music. The sweat, the excitement, the shared feeling of joy. Of a group of strangers coming together to share in something they all love.

I got reminded a few weeks back that I should have seen Iron Maiden by now, and they might not be back until 2022. As much as I want people to be safe, and I do, I miss the shared atmosphere of a concert, whether the intimacy of a tiny room or a stadium filled with people. A life without live music, you might as well remove a limb, it’d be less painful.  Stay safe people, and take care of each other. Remember to be kind, even, especially when this is over.

Be seeing you.

7 Album Challenge

So, a friend recently challenged me to the latest Facebook fad, that of challenging people to name albums that have influenced them, no comment or explanations. Of course, asking me about rock and roll and saying not to comment on that? Yeah right. I wrote a little about each album, but my muse punched me in the back of the head today, so you’re getting an expanded version. Also, I’ve had ‘Istanbul, Not Constantinople’ stuck in my head ALL DAMN DAY, so hopefully this will help dislodge it. It’s not that the song is bad per se, but it reminds me of a time in my life I don’t much like to remember, so. It’s not been a pleasant day. I feel I should set the atmosphere with this excerpt from Almost Famous, the scene that made me fall in love with the film.

And he’s correct – it is NEVER too early for Search and Destroy.

Let’s get to it.

1: Ramones, Rocket to RussiaR-2573759-1487956469-3937.jpeg

Their first album has a more iconic cover (There are walking tours that’ll go past the spot where it was taken) and It’s Alive is the greatest live album/Greatest Hits of all time, but for my money this album can’t be beat. It’s a perfect summation of the band and the last time the original lineup recorded a studio album. Look, it contains Sheena is a Punk Rocker, what more do I need to say?  It’s been a  dream of mine for seemingly decades now to meet someone with that name so I can ask are they a punk rocker? That that, add the likes of Cretin Hop, I Don’t Care and We’re a Happy Family, and you’ve got perfection. All killer, no filler.

2: Radio Birdman – Radios Appear
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This was one of those rare albums without a dud track, a dud solo or even a dud moment. Even the gaps between tracks command the attention, as you desperately try to get your breath back before the next track kicks in. From the crashing waves that signal the start of  Aloha Steve and Danno (a tribute to the band’s favorite cop show) to a final ferocious run through the 13th Floor Elevators classic You’re Gonna Miss Me, this takes no prisoners. When I got a copy of this I listened to virtually nothing but it for weeks. It’s burned into my brain to a degree I thought not possible. I have trouble remembering important things like relatives birthdays, computer passwords and the like, and yet this I can hear this in my head at a moments notice. It’s over 40 years old and is still as vital as the day it was first recorded. Essential.

3: Iron Maiden – The Number of the Beast
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The first Maiden album I bought was A Real Live One, which to be charitable, is no Live After Death, but the title track to their third album was the first Maiden song I heard, and I was immediately hooked. From the spoken word intro (Recorded by a Vincent Price sound alike after the band couldn’t afford his fee), the atmosphere of the intro (That nearly drove singer Bruce Dickinson mad recording) and then it hit me. That. Big .Scream. I was never the same from that moment on. It’s been near 25 years, and I’m still just as devoted to the band. Yes, about a side of the album is a little sub par*, but the other half more than makes up for it. really, when that half is is comprised of  stone cold classics the likes of the title track, Run to the Hills, The Prisoner and the almighty Hallowed be thy Name, anything will pale in comparison. Up the Irons!

4: Motorhead –  No Remorse
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i’d heard stories about the band and their leader, the mythical creature known simply as Lemmy, and his famous boast that ‘If Motorhead moved next door to you your lawn would die.’ And then, Bambi. The Young Ones was a revelation to young me. It was crude, violent, foul and anarchic, all things that I kind of wanted to be but were in reality far too polite and guilt ridden to even think of being. And then with a command of ‘Music!’ from Christopher Ryan, Motorhead appeared.  (I’d like to say my eardrums have never been the same, but that was thanks to the Rollins Band) This was the first album of theirs I purchased, a best of compilation with a few new tracks to show off a new (and short lived) lineup, but as an introduction to the band it worked like a charm.

Much like our next act, they never really changed their sound once they’d found it. Sure, there was the odd deviation (1916 never fails to make me weep), but no matter the year, you hit play on a Motorhead album you know what you’ll get. As Lemmy said to intro shows “We are Motorhead, and we play rock and roll.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

5: AC/DC – Live
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Again, I knew of them beforehand, having heard Who Made Who, but this made me a fan. Sure, the guitar solos during The Jack and Jailbreak are overlong, but it cuts most of the mid 80’s dreck and gives you a solid mix of the Bon Scott and Brian Johnson eras. Yes, the Bon stuff is superior (Would you rate Thunderstruck over Highway to Hell?) and I’ve not met anyone who’ll deny that, but the Brian era has it’s share of gems – I can’t help but get worked up during the cannon fire of For Those About to Rock. It’s meat and potatoes rock and roll, but played with incredible consistency – I’d wager no-one alive has picked up an Acca Dacca record and not known what you’re about to get, and they should be celebrated for that. Live is where music is best experienced after all.

6: Dub War – Pain
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There were a few albums around this time that turned my head and opened my ears to sounds anew – Faith No More’s The Real Thing, Sepultura’s Roots and Fear Factory’s Demanufacture among others. But Dub War were like nothing I’d ever heard before – a mix of punk, metal, reggae and electronic all chucked in a blender to mesmerizing effect. That description may sound bonkers, and you’d be right, but the boundaries they laughed at made it all the more joyful. Hell, I even bought their remix album for crying out loud, something I never thought I’d do previously. Underappreciated in their time, like all great artists, their spirit lives on in singer Benji Webbe’s current band Skindred.

7: The Hu – The Gereg
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Mongolian throat singing and heavy metal – two amazing things that sound even more amazing smashed together. Most folk metal (at least that I’ve heard) has a Viking or Celtic bent, but with bands like this and Tengger Cavalry, it’s challenging the white European centric view of metal and that is a damn good thing. (Yes, I’m aware that Tang Dynasty were the first, but work with me here.) Back to the band, they’re metal as fuck but in a chill kind of way. This is made for listening to when walking across ancient mountains, or while writing Dungeons and Dragons games, rather than frenzied moshing. Not that I wouldn’t jump in the pit though, for the KHAAAAAAAN!

The real kicker? Owing to Covid 19 they’re currently (As far as I know) stranded in Australia and can’t play  shows. So close, and yet so far…

Sleep beckons. Be seeing you…

*Still better than the likes of Quest for Fireor Don’t Look to the Eyes of a Stranger mind you. I adore the Maiden, but they’ve a few stinkers in the back catalogue that’s for sure.

It’s only rock and roll.

No. It’s not. Mick Jagger lied. To borrow a line from, I think an English football manager, it’s not life or death, it’s much more important.  I recently mentioned I was curating a playlist about my aging. Well, this is it. I’ve tried to keep this short, and somewhat on topic. I could have just added songs I like, but that would have been a massive list and kinda defeated the point of this. I’ve tried to keep it to a few pertinent observations on each track, though I should warn that requests for more detail I can do.

Culling things wasn’t easy, though keeping it to things on Spotify helped slightly. For starters, that cut the Rollins Band’s All I Want, while a lovely song (at least compared to their usual output), brings back some mighty painful memories of my youth. Of going out into the world being like an untrained puppy, looking for affection or attention, but with no idea whatsoever of how to get it, or deal with it. Ahhh, memories.

Anyhow, here goes.

 

I’m 18 – Alice Cooper. The epitome of teen angst and confusion. It doesn’t get better than this. It’s a notch on my bucket list that I’ve seen Alice perform this twice.

I Don’t Want to Grow Up – The Ramones. A cover of a Tom Waits tune, it hits me where I live, so to speak. That fear of the future, of struggling for an answer to ‘what to do you want to do with your life?’ I hated that question as an adolescent and still do.

My Shit’s Fucked Up – Warren Zevon. What more is there to say? Zevon had a wonderful knack for the macabre and miserable, and he sums it up perfectly here.

Trouble In My Brain – The Sunnyboys. Lead singer and songwriter Jeremy Oxley was a master at songs such as this, and knowing he was suffering from undiagnosed schizophrenia at the time only adds to it’s poignancy.

Don’t Damn Me – Gun’s and Roses. It’s slightly mortifying to me how swiftly this implanted on my brain from the time I first heard it. “Sometimes I wanna kill, sometimes I wanna die. Sometimes I wanna destroy, sometimes I wanna cry.” Me at 14, and still today, to no small degree.

My Pal – God. Just flat out brilliant. Written when the band were in their teens, it’s just amazing. The footage of them performing it on Countdown (I think – it seems to be live, which that show rarely, if ever, did) is well worth a watch.

I Believe in Miracles – The Ramones. Alas, the album version isn’t on Spotify, so this one (From 1991’s Loco Live) will have to do. It’s a haunting tune about being a fuck up, but still having hope, like a lot of Dee Dee Ramone’s best songs from the later era of the band.

Do Not Go Gentle into the Good Night – Iggy Pop. From his most recent album, it’s smooth jazz over Iggy’s reading of the poem. That description may sound odd, but it’s utterly hypnotic.

Midlife Crisis – Faith No More. I’ve just turned 40. How could I possibly leave a song with this title off the list?

Paranoid – Black Sabbath. It’s not the quintessential Sabbath tune for my ears (That’s Black Sabbath or War Pigs for my money), but this sums up how early 20’s me felt about my place in the world. Plus, that riff.

Descent into the Maelstrom – Radio Birdman. It’s not New Race or Aloha Steve and Danno, but for me the surf drums, the barked “2,3,4!” and Rob Younger’s howl all combine into one of the most electrifying openings of any rock song. The recent film about the band is mandatory viewing for those with an interest in music doco’s.

Depression – Black Flag. Short, fast and ugly, Henry Rollins roar has rarely sounded more berserk.

Love Song – The Damned. Sure, it doesn’t match the theme of this playlist, but to me it’s the greatest love song ever written and I will fiercely defend that to the end of my days.

Blow Up the Outside World – Soundgarden. Haven’t we all had days where we felt like this? RIP Chris Cornell.

Wasted Years – Iron Maiden. This one brings back painful memories of wandering around Melbourne one night in, I think 2001, listening to this on repeat, lost both in body and soul and utterly missing the point of the lyrics. I found where I was staying on the trip after about 2 hours of semi random wandering hoping for a landmark, but didn’t get the point of the song for many years afterwards. Better too late, than not at all eh?

So, I’m 40. Happy Birthday to me! And now, GET THE HELL OF MY LAWN, YOU DAMN PUNK KIDS! 🙂

Be seeing you…

Cancelled.

Rough week. I am feeling rather ill-equipped to face today. Dropped a sleeping pill last night, and while it didn’t hit me as hard as last time, I’m still in something of a haze.

In the space of roughly a week, the following events have been cancelled or postponed:
Download Festival
The Iron Maidens
Blackpowder and Bloodlines
Iron Maiden
My 40th birthday celebrations
Tuesday sword for the rest of term, possibly longer.

How am I dealing with this? About as well as could be expected.

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I can’t complain about it, given the current situation they made the right call. Public safety’s an important thing, especially when beaches and bars still seem to be full of people and virus cases still seem to be ramping up here. But I’d be lying if I wasn’t cut up about them, as I’d been looking forward to them for quite a while. While bemoaning the state of things to my wife Friday night, she asked me an irritatingly armour piercing question, as she does. I’m not remembering it exactly, but hopefully I’ve got the theme correct: “Is your regular life so miserable that you need these things to look forward to?”

Honestly, I don’t know?

There’s been times when yeah, the thought of an upcoming show or event has helped me to get out of bed. I’m rarely as happy as I am at a concert, so that seems natural to me. Being in a crowd full of people normally isn’t my thing, but there’s something wonderful about a Maiden crowd. I bloody love that band, to a degree my skill with words can’t properly convey, and being amidst a crowd all there to share our in our love of them, well, I feel at home. There’s a lot of love in that crowd, more than at other metals shows I’ve been to. But I’m digressing, as tends to happen when Maiden get mentioned. Back to the point, it’s not the only time I feel that way, but it’s one of the big ones. On a regular basis that’s probably not healthy, but that’s another thing to discuss with my brain doctors.

Getting back to the question, maybe? It certainly feels that way some days. My therapist has said having things to look forward to is good, but it’s possible I’m using that as a distraction to mask other issues. Wouldn’t be the first time and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Maybe I need the distraction more at the moment? My heads above water, but not by much or so it seems. I need stuff to look forward to, or the day to day grind becomes oppressive. My regular games are still on, and they’re great for my health, but they aren’t always enough.

Will ponder this. Be seeing you.

Can’t sleep, so writing.

It’s another night of ‘Oh Gods, I can’t sleep’, or in the words of Lemmy, ‘I should be tired, but all I am is wired’ so here goes.

The brain is a bit wonky. The heat has subsided somewhat, mercifully. Having a tooth pulled on Saturday wasn’t fun, though the dentist staff were bloody lovely, both when I charged in looking like a drowned rat and apologizing profusely for accidentally pulling at my beard. The recovery hasn’t been too bad, thankfully, though the mouth ulcer on the same side of my mouth as the removed tooth was remarkably ill-timed. Also, my wife has let me nap a lot, which is lovely. She’s the best.

Phenomenon submissions have opened, and I hope to have mine done this week, for my Babylon 5 freeform. It’s more than a bit nerve wracking, because I think it’s a solid idea for a game, and I really don’t want to screw it up. I love the B5 universe and while I’m wary of what players could do to it, I really want to see what happens. It’s a problem I have when running games for settings I love, in that I have a vision of that setting and don’t like it when it’s fucked with, so we’ll see what happens there. The game’s set in a time of the show basically untouched by canon, which should help. I’m quietly confident, but it’s pretty different from the last two games I’ve submitted, so I’m not treating it as a lock.

Council
In Valen’s Name…

Alas, and with much sadness, Good Society was cancelled owing to low ticket sales. I’m more than a bit sad about that one, as I was really looking forward to getting my Firth on. Or, as my wife put it, “It’s a romance game based around manners, that’s exactly your jam.” Politeness is one of my things, to say the least. I joke when queried that ‘You’ve not met my mother, you don’t know the level of polite to which I was raised’, and it’s frequently hilarious when friends meet her and discover just how intensely I mean that. She’s a saint.

 

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If only there had been a pool at the venue…

The prep for Blackpowder and Bloodlines continues, and it’s mostly been flailing. The old standbys of ‘Hey, here’s other character ideas’ and ‘Look at all those beautiful costumes, can you possibly match that standard?’ crawled into my head late last night and refused to leave. It’s not that I haven’t found kit that fits the character idea, it’s just been a spate of overthinking whether it matches the costume brief and of it either being horribly expensive or cheap as shit. (Wish, I’m looking in your direction… And while we’re talking, could you please stop recommending me sex toys?)

There was a few minutes early this morning I was tempted to go ‘Oh hang it all, I’ll just play a musketeer and be young and stupid’, or any of the myriad other ideas I’ve had for the game. I at least know what nation I’m from, so that helps narrow things down a bit. It’s much the same problem I have when game writing, especially a month or two out from the convention, when I get enough ideas for the next 3 conventions. I’m pretty sure that’s where the Ewok game came from though, so sometimes good comes from it.

Sure, I’ve a pile of leather scraps I’ve been tempted to try and turn into a half cape (They were originally purchased for an Orcish war skirt) and that’s an option. My wife’s holding a craft day this weekend, so I could certainly look into it. I should be able to drape it over the back quiver I have and not have it affect my shooting, I hope. In other options, the signet ring I was after is now out of stock in my size and while I’ve found either a vest or jerkin that I think will work, my over thinking and budget concerns has me doubting things. Or do I go for a short sleeve gambeson instead? Stupid brain. Also, said brain continues to insist that the my character idea is dumb and mostly pinched from Aragorn. Stupid anxiety. And I still can’t find a shirt or tunic I like that doesn’t have giant billowy sleeves. Harrumph.

For those who came in late, the character idea is thus: A noble scion who’s next in line for the family fortune, but who’s siblings are getting somewhat aggressive about getting the cash. To the point of sending assassins. Therefore, he’s journeyed to the New World, under the pretext of trophy hunting, slightly incognito (Hence the fancy signet ring that’ll easily identify him to any would-be assassins – what’s the use of a secret if it doesn’t leak?) till things cool down. I’ve a reason to be there, something to do, and something that’ll cause complications. I think that’s a good start.

I should probably start putting all the possible kit for the game in one place (I know I still own the pants I was going to wear, having previously worn them at my wedding), but I should check they still fit properly. Quitting sugar has taken a surprising amount of weight from my waistline, and according to my wife I’m still shrinking.

I’m gonna sign off and try and sleep again. Before you think it’s all angst and horror, there’s some genuinely good news to report: I’m seeing Alice Cooper Saturday night, Faith No More are touring soon and there’s a new Testament album incoming, though I still need to get a ticket to Download. But looming above all things, is an event I’m looking forward to almost as much as my anniversary – it’s under 3 months till Iron Maiden! *air guitar solo*

More to come. Be seeing you.

DEATH TO FALSE METAL!

Ross the Boss / Night Legion / Carbon Black
The Metro Sydney, Nov 23rd 2019.

Guitarist Ross ‘The Boss’ Friedman first came to my attention through his work with NYC punk group The Dictators, who’s first album ‘Go Girl Crazy’ is both a classic of the genre and among the first punk albums released. But tonight isn’t a night for that – there’s no time for Two Tub Man or sign of Master Race Rock. Tonight we’re here to celebrate his other well known act, the speaker exploding loincloth wearing kings of metal, the one, the only, Manowar!

This was a night for the diehards. A night where battle vests were donned like knights of old donned mail, where mighty warriors came to celebrate the music they love, hair was let down and much air guitar was played. Sure, sections of the crowd looked closer to Cohen than Conan, but that lends further evidence to my theory that there’s going to be some amazing retirement communities in a few years. Anyhow, I feel I should begin by apologizing to the woman in front of me for the volume I was screaming in your left ear at  various points through the show. Sure, you didn’t seem to notice (It was very loud), or were too polite to say anything, but I was raised to be what some folks consider overly polite.

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It was also a night to wear earplugs. I keep meaning to invest in a quality pair. Maybe for Download or Maiden next year. Owing to some fun with trackwork and a post sword nap that was over long, I found myself rushing to get there just as Ross and co was due to hit stage, so there was some relief at their set starting 15 minutes late. My heartfelt apologies to the supports, it ain’t easy, especially when the attendance isn’t great. The Metro seems about half full, and and I’m able to make it to the front with ease. Things fill up a bit more as showtime grows closer, but it’s still only half to 2/3rds full.

While the set starts strong, with Blood of the Kings opening, it’s not till Blood of my Enemies that things really get going. Kill with Power has the crowd roaring along, and Bridge of Death has all the pomp and ceremony/absurdity of the original intact. Battle Hymn fucking DESTROYS and as dodgy as Hail and Kill’s lyrics are (If you don’t know them, then you’ve been warned), it still goes down a treat. And before we know it, it’s all over.

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We got was was promised, the Manowar album Hail to England, played in full (Minus the bass solo Black Arrows, who’s intro I was quite looking forward to) as for the band, they played it beautifully – Ross hasn’t lost any skill with age, the bass player was phenomenal, the vocalist has quite the scream and a fine command of cheesy metal stage patter and their drummer was both fantastic and well, damn… I’m not saying I’d switch sides (He’s not Nathan Fillion circa Firefly), but I certainly noticed him, unlike most drummers.

All in all, it was a grand night. Heavy metal was played. Horns were thrown, heads were banged and much fun seemed to be had by all. Can’t wait for the next one.