Sunday, 3 January 2016

2015: Over and Out

Looking back at previous year-end posts, I've realised that I tend to be pretty gloomy when looking back at the recent past. This year has certainly given us plenty of reasons to be fearful, a long list which I'm not going to go into here. Because it strikes me that celebrating the positive is part of the fight back against those who would deny us hope.

Don't get me wrong, I have utmost respect for those who agitate, protest and stand up against all the shit we have to deal with. And I certainly don't think that burying your head in the sand is an option right now. But when people deliberately aim an attack on those in pursuit of pleasure - going to a show or a football match, or just having a meal - continuing to do those things becomes a form of resistance. And I'm not just talking about Jihadi attacks - there's plenty of twisted ideology governing this country, and in punishing the least well off, those in power are undoubtedly revealed as anti-hope. Anti-joy.

This being positive thing is going well, isn't it?

So, fuck those guys, and celebrate the good things, and the good times. Which for me this year, included getting to celebrate three brilliant couples getting hitched. It was a genuine honour to be present at the weddings of Clare and Rich, Emily and Burton, and Noelle and Adam, all of whose big days were a blast. As a result, Anna and I also got to visit Liverpool and Bath, two wonderful towns we haven't been to in far too long. We also headed to Bridport with Anna's family to go for coastal walks, check out lots of Broadchurch locations, try and find a pub which wasn't a Palmer's pub, enjoy a hat festival, catch up with my folks and, most importantly, spend lots of time with our brilliant little nephew, Rory.

This was also a year for catching up with old friends, with Ross and Laura, and Adam & Di, visiting the UK from America and Australia respectively. November saw a very drunken night in Hitchin for the wonderful Caroline's 40th, attended by a bunch of old skool Southampton faces, some of whom I hadn't seen in nearly two decades. It was also great to catch up with Steeny and Sophie at the Teeth Of The Sea show at the Green Door Store. And Jimmy and the rest of TOTS, natch.

2016 already has two more weddings in store for us (James and Marianne, and Sarah and Duncan), and hopefully a chance to hang out with some of the many people I didn't see this year.

Anyway, onto the tunes and that...


1.Henry Blacker - Summer Tombs

2. Sleater-Kinney - No Cities To Love

3. Bad Guys - Bad Guynaecology

4. Grave Pleasures - Dreamcrash

5. Evil Blizzard - Everybody Come To Church

6. Gallows - Desolation Sounds

7. Teeth Of The Sea - Highly Deadly Black Tarantula

8. Acid King - Middle Of Nowhere, Center Of Everywhere

9. Hey Colossus - Radio Static High

10. Goatsnake - Black Age Blues

11. Beach Slang - The Things We Do To Find People Who Feel Like Us

12. Iron Maiden - The Book Of Souls

13. Grey Hairs - Colossal Downer

14. Torche - Restarter

15. You're Smiling Now But We'll All Turn Into Demons -  Population IV

16. Purity Ring - Another Eternity

17. Sunn O))) - Kannon

18. Nai Harvest - Hairball

19. Destruction Unit - Negative Feedback Resistor

20. Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth - Brothers Of The Sonic Cloth


1. Bad Guys - Crime

2. Henry Blacker - Summer Tombs

3. Jamie Woon - Sharpness

4. Stormzy - Know Me From

5. Everything Everything - Regret

6. Gallows - Mystic Death

7. Sleater-Kinney - Price Tag

8. JME - Man Don't Care

9. Bad Guys - Reaper

10. You're Smiling Now But We'll All Turn Into Demons - Seya


Carlton Melton/Wytch Pycknyck @ The Green Door Store
Cuz/Joeyfat/Daniel Wakeford @ Sticky Mike's
Daskinsey4@ The Cowley and The West Hill Hall
Death Angel @ The Concorde
Earth @ The Komedia

11Paranoias/Bad Guys/Broken DC @ The Green Door Store
Give/Cheap Affects @ Sticky Mike's
Gnod @ Sticky Mike's
Harda Tider/Damaged Head/TEEF @ The Cowley 
Duncan Harrison @ The Cowley
Hey Colossus @ Sticky Mike's
Joe Buck Yourself/Viva Le Vox @ The Cowley
Th'Legendary Shack Shakers @ The Haunt
Long Knife @ The Cowley 
Lower Slaughter @ The Cowley and Sticky Mike's (twice!)
Mudhoney @ The Concorde
Prolapse @ The Hope
Daniel Romano @ The Albert
Peggy Seeger @ The Ropetackle
Sheer Mag @ The West Hill Hall

Single Mothers @ The Hope
Slum Of Legs @ The Hope (twice!)
Swervedriver @ The Haunt
Teeth Of The Sea @ The Green Door Store

Therapy? @ The Concorde and The Electric Ballroom
Walk Through Fire/War Wolf @ Bleach
The Wharves @ The Hope


1. No Offence

The trailers for No Offence made it look like a comedy show, but it wasn't, really. I mean, a series whose central plot involves the hunt for a serial rapist and murderer of girls with Down's Syndrome hardly screams "barrel of laughs", does it? Rather than being some sort of police procedural sitcom, No Offence had the balls to leaven the harrowing situations with humour through the presence of several witty characters, not least Joanna Scanlan's turn as DI Viv Deering. Speaking of which, balls might not be the most appropriate word to use for a cop show whose three central characters are all well-written, brilliantly acted women. Apparently, there's going to be a second series, which is good news - although it'll be interesting to see how they handle the fall out from the gruesome conclusion to the first.

2.The Bridge

Just to lay my cards on the table, I'm writing this without watching the last two episodes of The Bridge III. But, let's face it, the chances of them fucking it up seem minimal. I wondered whether this series could maintain its grip on me with the absence of Kim Bodnia's wonderful Martin Rohde. I needn't have worried; I was hooked as soon as the title sequence hit (I suspect that that tune by Choir Of Young Believers will send night time images of Malmö, Copenhagen and the titular Øresund Bridge into my brain for as long as I live). Sofia Helin's portrayal of protagonist Saga Norén remains something to marvel over, with this series dumping more shit on her than ever before, while Thure Lindhart proves a decent replacement for Martin as Henrik Sabroe, a man with his own fair share of secrets. It's hard to talk about the central murder plot without spoilers, but many of the trademarks of the first two series remain: a shadowy killer, a selection of individual sub-plots which only come into focus over time (and which include plenty of red herrings), characters who initially seem crucial to events but who disappear from the screen as soon as their usefulness to the narrative expires. And sex. I was also chuffed to see Nicolas Bro turn up, as I had a soft spot for his turn as Thomas Buch in the second series of The Killing. Though I feel a bit weird mentioning him straight after the word 'sex'.

3. Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Supposedly unfilmable, this novel proved a televisual triumph, even if ratings disappointed. The ever-reliable Bertie Carvel and Eddie Marsan played the eponymous protagonists, with support from an excellent cast. The tone and atmosphere were just right, and (assuming that there is never a sequel to the novel - or an original second series) this was 2015's best and weirdest one-off.

4.The Returned

Viewers left distraught at the vague ending of The Returned's first series were surely missing the point - there was no way this wasn't coming back (which feels like it should be a joke, given the whole rising from the dead theme and that). This second series succeeded in moving the story on, introducing new characters and drip-feeding clues as to what the ruddy hell is going on in this creepy French town. This time round, the finale seemed to bring a sense of closure, although there were still plenty of questions and general weirdness left hanging.

Anyway, here's a picture of Victor in a Skid Row t-shirt.

5. Humans

This one seemed to divide opinion, even as it became Channel 4's most successful drama in years. Folk were quick to point out an apparent lack of originality, and sure, you could see plenty of echoes of things (deep breath...):  The idea of conscious machines being indistinguishable from humans has been explored in plenty of SF fiction, most famously in Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, subsequently adapted as Blade Runner, whose replicants are a clear predecessor of the group of "synths" on the run in Humans. The paranoid tension of this situation recalled the recent Utopia, as did the cast's bringing together of various well-known telly actors (including Utopia's Neil Maskell, so much better in these things than the Brit gangster/hooligan movies he so often winds up in). The tone and subject matter made the series feel like an extended Black Mirror, while the idea of anti-synth sentiment being on the rise was reminsicent of, well, everything that's ever used SF/fantasy to explore allegories of racism/fear of the other. So, OK, Humans wasn't original. And it wasn't as good as Utopia. But it was bloody great drama all the same.

6. Not Safe For Work

Like No Offence, Not Safe From Work was trailed in a way that it made it look like a comedy, a drug-fuelled update of The Office perhaps. Laugh at the funny drug casualties who can't do their jobs! Except, again, it really wasn't a comedy - and what humour there was tended more towards gallows humour. NSFW (yeah, I know, annoying name) saw Zawe Ashton's Katherine, rebounding from both divorce and a miscarriage (there's that barrel of laughs again!), finding her civil service job uprooted from London to Northampton due to cuts. There, she finds a department run by Sacha Dhawan's Danny - a complete mess of a man who spends most of his time getting fucked up with PA Angela. Essentially an extended essay on ennui, NSFW is populated by dysfunctional, lonely, conflicted characters who are barely clinging on. Ashton and Dhawan are both brilliant, the latter's relationship with Angela slowly revealing the mutual neediness that lies behind their drug buddy status. Yes, it is funny at times, but this series is just as interested in the long sigh after the laughter.

7. And The There Were None

I haven't wheeled out the traditional defence for leaving my year-end list so late, so I'll let And There Were None do it for me - shown after Christmas, this tremendously dark-hearted Christie adaptation didn't make it onto any Best of 2015 list, most of which would have been composed a good month before it screened. No Poirot, no Marple, just ten people with dark pasts being bumped off one by one in an atmosphere of paranoia and distrust. Insert Christmas with the family joke here.

8. River

I've never lived in London, but River was one of the few shows to evoke the London I know - not just the landmarks and the West End and the Thames, but the streetlamp-lit streets of kebab shops and taxi firms I've walked through to go back to mates' flats after gigs. Funny,then, that it's central character wasn't played by a Londoner, but yer actual movie star Stellan Skarsgård. It wasn't Hollywood that he brought with him, though, more Nordic Noir, as the classically rumpled detective interacted with visions of dead people, including not just murder victims but also Eddie Marsan as a Victorian killer. (Interestingly, The Bridge had a similar device this year. Although without the Lambeth poisoner). If it seemed reasonably certain that these were products of a mental health issue rather than actual ghosts, it nevertheless made for spooky stuff. The scenes with Skarsgård and potential national treasure Nicola Walker were playful and palpably full of buried desire, while Adeel Akhtar continued his quiet campaign to become recognized as one of the country's most underrated actors. Also, one thing that separated River from Nordic Noir: you're never going to see Saga belting out disco-era karaoke.

9. Poldark

I can't help thinking that a pretty large proportion of the typical audience for a Sunday night period dramas are Tory voters, nostalgic for the olden days and sufficiently well-off to imagine that they'd be the ones living in country houses, not the ones dying of disease in slums and hovels. Poldark must have caused these people some confusion, given that its titular hero was something of a fighter for social justice, agitating for fare wages for miners, breaking a convicted poacher out of prison, helping poor characters steal booty washed onto the picturesque Cornish coast from shipwrecks. As it was a terrific success I can only imagine that, rather than deserting the series, this portion of its viewers simply decided that the dastardly cad George Warleggan was the hero, and were rather cheered to see Poldark arrested for his crimes at the end of the series.

10. Broadchurch

Last time, I wondered aloud how the second series of Broadchurch could possibly live up to its stellar predecessor. Clearly, it didn't. But as everyone seemed to turn on it with a weird sort of disappointed rage, I clung on and found myself enjoying it. Sure, there were misjudgements in the plot and emphasis of the series, but it was still thrilling television with a cast most other shows would kill for.

Doctor Who was as inconsistent as ever, but Peter Capaldi turned in his best performances yet. Ripper Street vindicated its reprieve from the axe with a well-put together third series, developing plot threads from the first series and giving Fred Best a remarkable final scene. Inside No.9 contained some real treats, particularly the Sheridan Smith episode. Brighton-based Bill knock-off Cuffs was terrible but compulsive viewing - at least for people who live in Brighton. The 100 moved up in my estimation with a second series full of moral dilemma and Vietnam analogy. I'm glad Under The Dome is over. Still lying unwatched on our TVR: London Spy, Fargo, This Is England 90, Unforgotten and undoubtedly more that I've , er, forgotten.

Monday, 16 March 2015

Sons Of The Stage, Part 4: Shirley Punx

As previously discussed, I'd been a passive member of Southampton's punk rock community since 1994. I'd been to (plenty of) shows, bought locally-produced records and zines and made friends, but the only things I'd really contributed were a couple of columns for the STE Bulletin. However, once my skills had been made public by my membership of The Gilamonsters, I became a much sought after musician. OK, not quite: said skills were clearly pretty rudimentary. And it would be truer to say that the local scene was totally inclusive; by announcing myself as someone who could play, I was merely entered into the pool of people available for bands. Either way, at some point in 2000, I was able to tell Jimmy "I think I've just joined Evil Is Never In Fashion."

I hadn't, though, not exactly. Evil Is Never in Fashion had featured local luminaries Ross (a prime mover in the STE at this point), Clive (out of Trophy Girls), Dingo/Matt (banjo thrasher in Minute Manifesto, though on drums this time round) and Adam (making his Southampton band debut but previously responsible for Brighton's Mr Poohead zine, later to be relaunched under the slightly more sensible name Remains Of A Caveman). After one show at an STE festival, Ross had left, leaving a vacancy to line up alongside Clive in what was surely the UK's most significant dual guitar line-up since the glory days of Priest and Maiden. Dingo asked if I was interested, and, having switched to bass for The Gilas, I was glad to have an opportunity to flex my six-string muscles for the first time since the days of Carp Fever.

We practiced in Art Asia, a little community centre which was, conveniently, on my street. As was often the way back then, losing a member meant a new name and repertoire. At some point, we were going to be called Caleb, but eventually went with Kids That Kill, taken (I think) from the name of the sort of documentary which has only grown more common in these prurient times (random aside: Art Asia was only a stones throw from the road recently immortalised on Channel 4 as, ahem, Immigration Street).

I'm not sure I was ever entirely clear on what sort of music we were going for. Thrash - of the Los Crudos/Limp Wrist style - was definitely present, but this was also the beginning of an era of fascination with metal which has endured in the punk scene to this day. Back then it was mainly led by the aggro sludge of Iron Monkey and the misanthropic doom of Electric Wizard. Certainly, during my fumbling attempts to work out parts to sit alongside his, Clive was known to complain if what I was doing didn't sound metal enough! In addition to the Art Asia practices, Clive and I would sometimes head round to Adam's house to learn riffs on unamplified electric guitars, which always sounded pretty skiffle.

Our name made it onto the flyer for the STE's festival that year (which I'll be writing about sometime soon), but we were in no way ready, and, as it turned out, we never would be. After Kids That Kill faded out, there was briefly talk of forming some extended ensemble. Six or seven of us met up at Adam's house, shared with Ross and Jamie Festo, in the Southampton area Shirley. For some reason, a lot of the punk scene had ended up finding accommodation in this district, self-mythologising in a sarcastic was by referring to themselves as Shirley Punx and giving this chapter its title. As far as I can remember, all of Kids That Kill were to be involved, along with (possibly) Sweet Mat out of Minute Manifesto and (definitely) a guitarist called Alex. I think Festo was around too, but maybe only because he lived there. Again, there was some bedroom skiffle action (ooer, missus, etc), but this mooted supergroup never got to the stage of having a name, let alone getting to an actual stage - or even practice room.

There was only one thing for it: I'd have to join Cello Band.

Cello Band had been going for a while by the time my services were required. As I wasn't there at the beginning, I'm going to have to assume two things: that the band name was a temporary project name that stuck, and that the original intention might have been to form a post-rock band of the kind then coming out of Canada and Chicago (Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Rachel's, that sort of thing). As it happened, the band ended up a rather more jovial outfit than the ones just mentioned. There were cover versions of 80s theme tunes, there were comedy hats, and there was the farewell gig when our drummer Ed got too stoned and/or drunk to make it to the show and the guy I'd replaced had to rejoin in the ensuing one-off reshuffle.

Although Adam was the only member of Kids That Kill that I hadn't already known before joining the band, we became firm friends; he even moved into my house for a bit after moving out of Shirley when Festo and Ross left town. He was itching to start another band, and to that end pooled together me on guitar, a guy from Winchester called Rob on bass and Saul out of legendary Southampton anarcho punks Haywire on drums. It's often said that the talent of a drummer can make or break a band, and with that in mind we definitely owed a lot to Saul, particularly given my rudimentary skills. He also owned a van, which would come in handy.

This gathering of misfits was christened xMitchbuchananx (if I'm honest, I was never sure what letters should be capitalised!). This was, of course, named in tribute to D.Hasselhoff's seminal turn as a lifeguard in Saturday teatime favourite Baywatch. The x's were a nod to the trend for straight edge bands to declare their abstinence by bookending their monickers with the universal symbol for their subculture, and on our part were just as much a pisstake as the name they enclosed - I think Rob might have been SxE at the time but the rest of us definitely weren't. Later, the x's were dropped - or, at least, became optional.

Musically, we once again drew on thrashy sounds, but the main difference between xMBx and kids That Kill was that we actually managed to get our shit together and play some shows The first was as support to the American band Strike Anywhere at The Joiners, a pretty great way to kick things off. They were on great form back then, as recognised by Saul, who spent our night's pay on one of their hoodies. Essex melodic punkers Travis Cut also played that night, and when their frontman broke a string and asked if anyone in the room could lend him a replacement. I duly grabbed my guitar - the one with the red lightning/crackle finish which I'd been playing since I was 15, and which had frankly seen better days. He took one look at it and said "I can't play this!" Frankly, I don't blame him.

One show I got us was something of a Gilamonsters family tree revue. Headlined by our Winchester friends Black Blue Fish... Very Beautiful, the bill also featured Ben and Steeny's blues rockers The Bullycats and Jimmy's London wreckheads Blood Valley. Mitch Buchanan opened, and I think this would have been the show I actually discouraged my workmates from attending, by letting them know that we were on first and our set was less than ten minutes long - which was true. It was rare for our tunes to exceed a minute, and unheard of for them to make it to two. And I think we ended up with seven songs in all.

Our most interesting shows were in London, when we played two squat gigs at a place called the Bacon Factory, somewhere near Waterloo, in late 2002 or early 2003. (I remember one of them was on the same day as the big Anti-War march in London, which would have made it Feb '03). I think the first time we might have played with Boxed In, who featured Dingo on guitar, and the second was headlined by an Australian band called Headless Horsemen, but I didn't stick around to catch them, preferring to get home that night. This was after staying the first time and not being able to get out to leave for work, as the squat had been locked up for the night; turned out the dude who'd told me to wake him up to let me out was not keen on being woken up after all...

In 2003, Adam left Southampton for his native Brighton, and in June of that year I headed in the same direction. Mitch Buchanan played our last show at the King Alf in Southampton, which might have been as support to Dutch thrashers Skulls & Flames. Kids stormed the stage during our last song and my guitar got unplugged - it was a suitably messy, chaotic end to a messy, chaotic band.

Once in Brighton, Adam and I tried to start another band, and did a practice or two with a line-up featuring our friends Ralf, Si and Maya, but didn't get anything off the ground. Adam would go on to join Constant State Of Terror, while it would be five years before my next foray into music with Gorse...

Sunday, 4 January 2015

2014: New Dark Ages

Well, 2014 was another year of ups and downs. In terms of the latter, we spent the first four months of the year in a one bedroom flat without a bedroom, thanks to the lengthy process of fixing the damp I no doubt discussed this time last year. It then took five months from accepting an offer on (the now fixed) flat to actually getting to move in to our new house in Portslade. But as these misfortunes contributed to my only writing one blog post this year, I'm not gonna waste time banging on about my woes here. And anyway, my troubles have been put into perspective by the amount of truly shitty things friends of mine have had to deal with, not to mention everything that's gone to pot across the world. You know the roll call already, and if you want to read about it all from someone wittier than I, check this link for a reminder:

So, onto the good stuff. One plus of the much delayed move was that we got to hang out more in The Signalman with Emily and Burton. And we did, eventually, get to move, so we can now enjoy the space of having an actual house, with rooms and stairs and everything. I also got to celebrate my Dad's 70th with family who I see all too rarely. But one of the definite highlights of the year was the gig I put on for my 40th. Massive thanks to Anna, The Demons, the Gorse family, The Gilamonsters (even if the show hadn't happened, just hanging out with those fuckers for a couple of practices would have been a highlight), The Green Door Store, Emily and Wayne for doing the door, everyone who bought me a shot, Tom for pointing out when my guitar lead had fallen out (unnoticed by me, perhaps due to the aforementioned shots) and, well, everyone who made it along. Sorry I couldn't invite more folks, but even as it was I didn't get enough time to have proper chats with all my guests.
As well as that show, Gorse played a few other times, at Sticky Mike's, The Cowley and The Green Door Store, and special thanks to Mel for getting us onto the line-up of Drill festival.

Anyway, as is by now semi-traditional, here's a round-up of all the cultural baggage which has got me through the year. I know everyone's bored of end-of-the-year lists by now, but as discussed in years gone by, I cling to the idea that I might hear one last great record before the year's end.

Dedicated to anybody who lost someone this year.

1. Swans, To be Kind

2. Henry Blacker, Hungry Dogs Will Eat Dirty Puddings

3. Godflesh, A World Lit Only By Fire

4. Architects, Lost Forever // Lost Together

5. Iron Reagan, The Tyranny Of Will

6. Midnight, No Mercy For Mayhem

7. Mogwai, Rave Tapes

8. Run The Jewels, RTJ2

9. Thurston Moore, The Best Day

10. LostAlone, Shapes Of Screams

11. Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness 

12. Orange Goblin, Back From The Abyss

13. Today Is The Day, Animal Mother

14. Kemper Norton, Loor

15. Lutine, White Flowers

16. Marmozets, The Weird And Wonderful Marmozets

17. Blues Pills, Blues Pills

18. Eagulls, Eagulls

19. Yob, Clearing The Path To Ascend

20. Pallbearer, Foundations Of Burden

1. Godflesh, Shut Me Down

2. Fat White Family, Touch The Leather

3. Ten Walls, Walking With Elephants

4. Hudson Mohawke, Chimes

5. Swans, Screen Shot

6. Ubre Blanca, Hyperion

7. Orange Goblin, The Devil's Whip

8. The Icarus Line, Leeches And Seeds

9. Godflesh, New Dark Ages

10. Henry Blacker, Your Birthday Has Come & Gone

GIGS OF THE YEAR (alphabetically arranged)
Against Me! @ Download 
Anacondas @ Sticky Mike's & The Green Door Store

Architects @ The Haunt
Bellowhead @ The Dome
Black Shoals @ The Green Door Store, Bleach & The Haunt 

Conan @ The Albert 
The Cosmic Dead @ Campbell Road Studios
Cowtown @ Campbell Road Studios 

The Dillinger Escape Plan @ Download
11Paranoias @ Sticky Mike's
Father Murphy/MXLX/Slow Listener @ The Caroline Of Brunswick
Gallows @ The Green Door Store 
Godflesh @ The Haunt

Kemper Norton/Lutine @ The Caroline Of Brunswick
King Buzzo @ Oslo 
King Goat @ Sticky Mike's
The Koffin Kats @ The Albert
Larry & His Flask/Crazy Arm @ The Albert
Lower Slaughter @ The Albert 
Marmozets @ The Komedia
Melt Banana/Kogumaza @ The Green Door Store

Mogwai @ The Dome
Orange Goblin @ Download
Lindi Ortega @ The Haunt
Pissed Jeans @ The Haunt 

Chuck Ragan @ The Haunt
Daniel Romano @ The Albert
Royal Blood @ Download
Sea Bastard @ Sticky Mike's, The Albert & The Green Door Store
Sturgill Simpson @ The Palmeira
Skid Row (!) @ Download 
Slint @ The Old Market
Sly & The Family Drone @ Sticky Mike's, The Albert & Campbell Road Studios
Status Quo (!!) @ Download 

Swans @ The Old Market
Twisted Sister @ Download
The UV Race/Sauna Youth @ Bleach 
Vincent Vocoder Voice @ Campbell Road Studios
War Wolf @ The Green Door Store
Witchsorrow @ The Green Door Store
Workin' Man Noise Unit @ Sticky Mike's
You're Smiling Now...But We'll All Turn into Demons @ Campbell Road Studios, The Albert & my birthday!

A little clarification about why I include a TV list on here. I'm always reading books, but rarely in their year of publication. I hardly ever make it to the cinema, so usually don't see films till well after they were released. So the old idiot lantern is the only area besides music where I make a fair stab at keeping up to date with what's going on. Even here, there are some glaring omissions: yeah, I know I should have watched Happy Valley. And I just got True Detective on DVD, but haven't started it yet. Also, I have a taste for mid-level trash; not scripted reality or talent shows (although Caroline Flack's Argentine tango on Strictly was genuinely great), but shows like Under The Dome, The 100 and Gotham, none of which I would try and justify beyond the fact that they're watchable, entertaining and bloody easy to watch. So they're not on this list, but these things are:

It's rare to find a show which doesn't drop off somewhat on its second series. The Bridge's neighbour The Killing didn't manage it; more recently, The Fall couldn't maintain its quality across another six episodes. We'll see whether Broadchurch can do it. The Bridge made it seem easy, though. The chemistry between Sofia Helin and Kim Bodnia continued to be a delight, providing humour even as the dark plot twisted its way towards its high stakes conclusion. Saga's backstory came into focus, while her attempts at fitting into social situations balanced humour and sadness. Martin's own life crumbled, his eyes and smile not always matching. Oh, and some eco-terrorists tried to spread some pneumonic plague while wearing animal masks. With a conclusion that was uncompromising but perfectly in keeping with the characters' personalities, this was a series that lingered in the heart and soul far beyond its closing shots.

OK, maybe it's not that rare to find a show which doesn't drop off somewhat on its second series. The Bridge kept the same high standards between series, but Line Of Duty arguable bettered its 2012 debut with one of the year's most discussed shows (at least, until Happy Valley and True Detective turned up). Where last time out we knew Lennie James' Tony Gates was corrupt from the get-go, Series 2's Lindsay Denton, played so well be Keeley Hawes, was a far more ambiguous character, and this sense of uncertainty was brilliantly maintained throughout. Martin Compston, Vicky McClure and Adrian Dunbar reprised their Series 1 roles, but this time all their characters found themselves compromised and implicated, making these particular waters enjoyably muddied. Also notable for possibly the most unexpected and brutally sudden killing of a character on telly this year, and for Craig Parkinson as the improbably named "Dot" Cottan being a right shifty bastard.

Right, there's something of a theme going on here... except Utopia couldn't hope to match the lurid thrills of its first series. The opening episode was a bold departure, set in the 1970s and therefore with none of the same actors, revealing how the entire plot to create the Janus virus started with great turns by Tom Burke and Rose Leslie. After that, the rest of the series turned into a variation on the first, with a band of characters on the run from the ruthless Network. There were twists, of course: characters changing sides, a mysterious old feller whose identity was guessed by everyone except the people in the show, and the unlikely reappearance of a character thought dead, allowing for some more gleefully surreal violence. But while Series 2 couldn't help but pale in comparison to its predecessor, it remained one of the best shows on telly, and ended with such a cliffhanger that it seemed to demand a Series 3. Which, apparently, isn't gonna happen. Bastards.

Yet another second series... but I never watched the first series of Peaky Blinders, so for once I can't compare and contrast. Who cares, though: this was swaggering television that knew it had a great cast, brilliant costumes and at least one Nick Cave song a week. Cillian Murphy's cold-eyed beauty was made for the role of Brummie gangster Tommy Shelby; Sam Neill glowered Oirishly about the place chewing scenery; Helen McCrory staked a claim to being the most underrated TV actress of her generation with her portrayal of Polly; Joe Cole's blank-faced baby face made perfect sense; Paul Anderson's off-the-rails Arthur was very nearly the scariest character involved, but that role inevitably went to Tom Hardy, who turned what was scarcely more than a cameo role as Jewish gangster Alfie Solomons into one of the year's best telly turns. He made you laugh, but with the nervous sense that something vary violent was, if not inevitable, then certainly on the cards. He also managed not to let his character tip into racial caricature, which you probably couldn't say about Noah Taylor as his Italian rival Sabini. Rarely for this sort of show, it genuinely felt that nobody was safe, and at least one of the characters mentioned above won't be back for the already commissioned Series 3. But let's hope that Hardy can be encouraged back from Hollywood for it.

For a change, here's a third series. Sherlock remains a delight, proof that you can make a mainstream hit without dumbing down or pandering to audience expectations, never more evident than in the first episode's refusal to provide a definitive answer to the conundrum of how Sherlock survived his little tumble at the end of Series 2. With all the recurring characters back, there was a lovely sense of getting the old gang back together, with the inspired addition of Amanda Abbington as Watson's wife and Lars Mikkelsen (Troels out of the first series of The Killing) having fun as the Big Bad of the series. With the closing promise of a certain rascal's return, we're going to have to wait until Christmas 2015 to find out - or not - how they're going to explain yet another mystery.

The antidote to endless panel shows and Live At The Apollo blandness, Stewart Lee returned to the telly as on point as ever. By now, everyone surely knows where they stand on Lee, and this series of Comedy Vehicle delighted his fans without any attempt to appease the folks who just don't get his routines, filled as they are with repetition, digressions and not always obvious punchlines. He also managed to eviscerate UKIP far more successfully than anybody else, for which he should probably have been number one on this list.

It's nice to have a Doctor who's older than me again. As is customary, some episodes worked better than others, but at its peak - Listen, Flatline or the Dark Water/Death In Heaven closers - this was still able to go far deeper and darker than Saturday night telly would normally countenance. Admirably, few episodes relied on time-worn enemies - there was the obligatory Dalek episode, of course, and the Cybermen showed up for the finale, while (SPOILER ALERT) Michelle Gomez's batshit crazy Missy turned out to be a new incarnation of somebody we've seen a fair few times before, but it was nice to give the Weeping Angels a break. Jenna Coleman came into her own as Clara this series, but I'm not sure why she was made to stand like this in the official promo shot.

Incidentally, if you want a rather more in depth, not to mention critical, appraisal of this series, heartily recommend my friend Will's excellent blog. Here's what he had to say about the finale:

8. INSIDE No.9
The League Of Gentlemen/Psychoville chaps Reece Shearsmith and Steve Pemberton have never been shy about admitting their influences, so I would hope that they wouldn't mind my saying that Inside No.9 felt like a homage to Tales Of The Unexpected, with a hint of classic horror portmanteau flicks (particularly in the closing The Harrowing). Each self-contained episode was set in a house with the number 9, but beyond that they ranged across a range of stories and styles. A Quiet Night In was the most technically impressive, a mainly dialogue-free slapstick tale of housebreaking, Last Gasp - concerning the contested ownership of a pop star's dying breath, as contained within a balloon -  was the most satirical, while The Understudy and Tom & Gerri took familiar themes of unravelling mental states and made them fresh again. The distinctive blend of comedy and horror perfected way back in the League days worked a treat throughout.

Brooklyn Nine-Nine followed most of the usual roles of sitcom, cross-pollinated with the case of the week structure of telly cop shows, but didn't suck largely due to the array of genuinely funny characters and great performances. As with Parks & Recreation, you could argue for ages about the best characters or funniest lines; the former would certainly include needy Boyle, perma-scowling Rosa, panic-prone Terry (Terry Crews sending himself up something rotten) and the deadpan Captain Holt. Oh, and Gina. And Scully.

Seriously, man, Caroline Flack's Argentine tango was incredible.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Sons Of The Stage Part 3: The Strange Tale Of The Gilamonsters

This is a story that could start in a few different places. In a sense, the entirety of this blog up till now is an extended intro; my getting into music, getting into metal, learning guitar... and also the fact that one of my six-string teacher's other budding axe-wielders was a lad called Ben, a couple of years below me, who we'll be meeting again soon.

Or perhaps you could start this tale up north, where two fellows called Jimmy and Steen independently followed the same path to enlightenment through metal, starting the now-seminal bands Bananas Of Deth and Anal Bleeding, respectively. Anyone who thinks I'm going to mock those monickers needs reminding that I was in a band called Nine Inch Snails at roughly the same time.

In 1993, as I headed to Southampton and into Carp Fever, these two made their way down south to alight in nearby Winchester. Swiftly gravitating towards each other, not to mention an enviably close-knit bunch of like-minded scoundrels, they were soon tearing it up in various bands. Steen formed Spengler (named, one assumes, after Egon Spengler out of Ghostbusters (RIP), although Wikipedia's top hit is for German historian Oswald Spengler, so who knows?) and then Springwater, while Jimmy joined Third Earth, who, on the basis of the two-track demo I've got, were something like an upmarket Back To The Planet. The latter morphed into Omeriah, who did a tune accompanied by the reading of a passage from the novel American Psycho, alongside covers of Spectre and Beats International, and another which sampled the into to Dubstar's Stars. Now, it would be easy to mock an entirely caucasian band based in the middle class enclave of Winch whose dub references tended towards Dub Be Good To Me and Dubstar, but they were actually pretty good, and it would have been far more embarrassing if anyone had tried toasting in Jamaican patois over the top, or they'd attempted to portray themselves as natural successors to Lee 'Scratch' Perry and King Tubby.

Inevitably, Jimmy and Steen ended up in the same band, namely country rock quintet Mondo Diablo. Formed by songwriter Phil from members of the aforementioned bands, they tended towards the Gram Parsons/Flying Burrito Brothers/Buffalo Springfield neck of the woods, though not without a few twists, whether the heavy riffing of Secret Of... or their Jimmy-fronted cover of Nick Cave's Jack The Ripper.

By this point, I'd become friends with Jimmy through work, and took to going to see Mondo Diablo and Omeriah most times they played in Southampton, meeting Steen and the rest of their incredibly sound social circle in the process. One memorable show saw Steen grow frustrated with his guitar's inability to stay in tune and decide to teach it a lesson by pummelling it into the floor. Clocking himself on the back of the head, he had to be taken to A&E after the show. Apparently, his concussed brain spent the drive reciting the Discharge discography, and while driving past a DIY store, he evoked Cypress Hill with the immortal words "B to the motherfucking Q, Homebase."

At another, slightly less rambunctious Mondo Diablo gig, in popular student pub The Hobbit on a Sunday afternoon, a familiar face turned up to say hi; turned out Ben, as mentioned above, was a Winchester type who'd also fallen in with the crew.

There is, meanwhile, another place to start the story, with a fellow called Chris returning to his native UK after a sojourn in the Americas. In his words, he left the US because The Incredible Hulk TV show had been cancelled, and KISS had taken their make-up off. This would have been about 1983; Chris was still in single figures at this point.

Finding himself in Totton, now famous internationally as the 'T' in the STE Collective, he made friends with a bunch of characters from the area, some of whom would go on to become movers and shakers in local weird music circles by the end of the millennium. While still at school, a band they formed won first prize in a talent contest at a local Indian restaurant with their version of Nirvana's Smells Like Teen Spirit (with death metal vocals, natch). Their only competition, a child wizard, apparently dropped out due to stage fright.

This may have been an early incarnation of the seminal Canister, a band now spoken of in hushed tones (mainly by themselves) as an "experimental renegade 1990s industrial scrap metal rubbish cassette band". But then again, it might not have been. The only Canister song I can name off the top of my head is called Baggage Handlers. I heard it once, at some point in the early 21st Century, but I can confirm that it's ruddy marvellous.

Chris will appear again in due course, but for now let's head to Winchester, sometime on the late 90s. One of the many degenerates with whom Steen associates is expressing his disgust that Steen is in a band with a name like Springwater. "You should be in a band," this fellow opined, "called something like...I dunno... LEATHERFUCK?"

Either way, it was inevitable that Jiimy and Steen would be unable to resist scratching an itch for music of a heavier stripe than that offered by any of their then bands. With them established as dual guitar heroes (and Jimmy handling the vokills too), they recruited Ben, who since school days had diversified his musical repertoire to become a splendid drummer. A character called Alex was also in the band, which at this stage was called, yes, Leatherfuck. After Alex left, Jimmy asked if I'd be interested in joining on bass. Now, I'd never played bass before. And I didn't have a bass guitar. Neither of these stopped me, and so with support from my by-now ex Clare (who lent me her bass and practice amp) I took the plunge and joined my first proper rock band.

Our first rehearsal took place in a room above Winchester pub The North Pole in summer '99. (I later learnt that my school-era girlfriend's brother Tom worked at this pub around the same time, though our paths never crossed). It was a ridiculously hot, airless room, and to add to my discomfort, although I'd borrowed the previously mentioned equipment from Clare, I'd forgotten I might need a guitar strap. So I sat down while we started playing embryonic versions of songs, possibly including Vixen 13, Bobby Davros and a cover of The Litter's Action Woman.

At this stage, our influences were garage rock of a Stooges/MC5/Nuggets stripe, a bit of yer Sonic Youth-style effects pedal spizz and an unashamed dollop of the 80s cock rock which had been part of Jimmy's staple diet since, well, the 80s. Leatherfuck probably would have been a suitable name, but we decided we'd rather call ourselves something which we could put on flyers without getting arrested under the obscenity laws. I recently found a sheet of brainstormed band names, some of which were demonstrably worse than Leatherfuck, and at least two of which would have ensured our gigs would have been picketed by rightly enraged feminist groups. After much deliberating, we went with The Gilamonsters. Unlike the lizard whose name we'd co-opted, we opted for a hard-G pronunciation, figuring both that people would say it like that anyway, and that it sounded, well, dumber, which was kind of our aim. I also feel the need to point out that this was a summer or two before "The" band names came back into vogue; we were thinking The Hellacopters or any number of 60s garage combos, not The sodding Libertines!

By the end of the year, we were booked for our first live appearance, at the inaugural night of my friend the lovely Tiffanie's fetish night at The Joiners. Now, at the time of writing, I haven't been back to Southampton for five years, so for all I know it's now a pan-sexual mecca where erotic boutiques outnumber chain pubs on Above Bar Street and everyone's up for a good fisting (of the sexual, rather than fighting, variety. A lot of people seemed to be up for the latter back then). However, in 1999, it...wasn't. The crowd that night were largely good-natured goths, although I do remember one older chap wearing a leather suit, sadly with his arse cheeks covered and unaccompanied by gimp mask or ball gag. I made a vague effort by wearing some tartan trousers (inherited from Steph) which I thought kinda resembled bondage trousers, a pair of big boots which I'd got off Clare (I was big on hand-me-downs at this point), a leather wrist cuff (also once a possession of Clare's, which I wear to this day onstage to prevent unnecessary chafing to my right wrist while thrashing about - safety first, right?) and - my one actual purchase for the occasion - a studded leather collar.

We were first on, putting us in the vaguely Spinal Tap-esque situation of being billed below the belly dancer. Quite right too, as I was still yet to master the bass (some would say this is still the case fifteen years later), struggling with simple tunes like the previously mentioned Bobby Davros and Action Woman. Ben taped the set and later said that something must have gone wrong with the recording equipment, as my bass sounded like random noises beamed in from outer space. I'm still not sure if he was just being charitable, but I fear this may have been an all-too-accurate representation of my playing that night. I did manage to contribute a rousing between-song speech about how nothing was weird or perverse as long as it took place between consenting parties. Jimmy later described it as a "Paul Stanley-style rap", which was the first and only time I've ever been compared to the lead singer of KISS. Must have been the leather collar.

Despite my playing, we seemed to go down OK. After the belly dancer had done her thing (which I think was quite good, although I have little to which to compare it), headliners Zonei appeared in a puff of dry ice. I don't remember much about them, apart from they were a goth duo who glowered and wore hats. I don't imagine they remember a great deal about us either, to be fair.

In February of 2000, Tiff very kindly asked us to open her next night. I'm not sure which newer songs were aired - Sugarcrash, High Heel Stigmata and Iloveyoumorethankyuss would have all been written around this time. Sugarcrash was a perky number featuring some nifty NWOBHM-style dual lead guitar action; High Heel Stigmata was mellower, in my head a little like the gentler side of Sonic Youth (and, a few years later, I thought it maybe sounded a bit ...Trail Of Deady too), although Jimmy has subsequently admitted to drawing inspiration from a long-forgotten indie band called Bawl, and was once told it sounded like, er, Sleeper; and Iloveyoumorethankyuss drew titular inspiration from a genuine Valentines message printed in Kerrang!, which wasn't actually stoner rock.

Anyway, this time we were billed below a fire breathing act, who was more immediately impressive than his belly-dancing predecessor. He actually performed his "set" out in the street in an example of health & safety gone quite sensible. I'm still not sure how we got away with it without the police being called, but as St Mary's Street was still clinging on to its reputation as a bastion of lawlessness, chances are nobody gave that much of a shit. After that, back indoors, Twisted Corporation were the evening's headliners.This lot were, roughly speaking, in the same vein as early Atari Teenage Riot, when they were more of a rave-pop act than the digital hardcore politicos they later became. Basically, they were pretty silly. Chris was in attendance with his Canister partner John, who remarked to me that Twisted Corporation were "the sort of band Richard James would sign to his label for a laugh." Sadly, AFX never crossed paths with T-Corp; a swift internet search has, however, revealed that they once had a remix done called Blu Peter's James Had Kittens Mix. So that's alright, then.

While it would certainly be an exaggeration to say that the gig offers started rolling in thick and fast, it appears that we played two more gigs that February, both of which proved pretty memorable. This was also the point me and Jimmy started doing multiple flyers for our shows...

On the 10th, we made our Winchester debut opening up for the Almighty Inbredz, a bunch of Salisbury geezers of a certain age fronted by one Paul Di'Anno, the fellow responsible for the vocals on the first two Iron Maiden albums. As these records are both deathless classics, we were pretty excited to be playing with Di'Anno, but things took a nosedive pretty much as soon as he entered the building. One of our mates was playing Bummer by Monster Magnet over the PA, which the former Maiden helmsman took issue with as, and I quote, "I thought this was a punk gig, not a facking metal gig!" Meanwhile, Ben had come straight from his job at a kebab house, whose uniform happened to share colours with the Brazilian flag, or football strip, or some shit. Anyway, as a sometime resident of Brazil, the man once described in his earlier days as possessing "rough-hewn stable boy charm"( by an over-excited Geoff Barton of Kerrang!) decided that Ben was clearly taking the piss and grumbled at him menacingly.

How paranoid do you have to be to think that someone would go to the trouble of wearing a shirt in the colours of your adopted country as a pisstake?

Anyway, it's possibly damning ourselves with faint praise to say that we were the best band of the night, but, hell, we were. Our competition were the other support band, Spankboy, a dreadful Salisbury ska punk proposition who included in their number a young lady in the Wendy O Williams-esque attire of long trenchcoat, accessorised with tape over her nipples. Needless to say, they appealed to the Inbredz and their chums a lot more than we did.

This being "not a facking metal gig", there was zero Maiden in the Almighty Inbredz' set. Instead, we got a bunch of pub punk covers (including, tragically, a version of Teenage Kicks which may remain unrivalled for seemingly unintended irony for all eternity). There was also at least one original, glorying in the title Gary Glitter Babysitter. One of Di'Anno's henchmen introduced one song as being Tales From Topographical Oceans (sic). It wasn't, it was some more facking shit.

A week later, we found ourselves in the rather more welcoming environment of our first show for old chums the STE Collective. Jimmy and myself had been independently attending their shows since around 1994, and it felt great to be invited to play at one, even if I slightly suspected that our stuff was a bit too close to cock rock for punker tastes. We very nearly played this show as a three-piece, as Steen didn't show up until the last minute. We were already onstage (well, not actually on a stage, but all set up at the end of the upstairs room at Voltz, one of the venues the STE was using since falling out with The Joiners) figuring out which tunes we could do with only one guitar when Steen appeared, slung off his coat and plugged in. In all honesty, this was pretty cool. (As an aside, it wouldn't be the only time Steen's time-keeping left a little to be desired. One time, when practicing in Southampton, we phoned an absent Steen to see where he'd got to. It was OK, he said, he was just finishing a pizza and then he'd be with us. It turned out he was eating this pizza in Basingstoke.) We played a pretty rocking set, managing to avoid trapping guitars or hair in the fairly low ceiling fans rotating dangerously above our flamboyant heads, but as it happened we would be totally upstaged by the next band, the mighty Green Hearse.

Green Hearse featured our buddy Chris on drums, the Minute Manifesto pair of Lobster and Sweet Mat on bass/vocals and guitar respectively, and Trophy Girl Clive Henry on guitar. Mat's switch from drums to guitar later made Chris channel the spirit of Ringo by declaring himself the second best drummer in Green Hearse. Anyway, rather than the speedy thrashcore of MM or the the spindly instrumentals of Trophy Girls, Green Hearse dealt in full-blooded, slow'n'low aggro metal, inspired by the likes of Iron Monkey and Electric Wizard. They were fucking ripper, so it was unfortunate that they didn't last long after this show (I can't remember if they even played live again.) They did, however, record a demo tape, intended for release as an album on Rosewood Union but sadly shelved. Brilliantly, as I write this, somebody called ctzn_smith is listening to their tune Wizard Of Cock on, and I strongly advise you to do the same.

Headliners Victory At Sea, an indie rock band from the American Boston playing sweet lo-fi tunes somewhere in the vicinity of early Cat Power, could have been forgiven for being slightly confused that they had been paired with two lots of heavy rockers, but were reportedly so impressed by Green Hearse that they couldn't believe that they weren't signed. Perhaps inevitably, their set felt like a bit of a wind-down after the preceding heaviness, but the STE were all about varied bills, and there was much to admire in the headliners' gentle indie tuneage.

About a month later, we were back at The Joiners supporting The Jellys. We'd got this gig through our chum Mint, who was now working for Ian Biddington's promotion company PVC. (This stood for Portsmouth Venue Campaign, named for its original intention of securing a decent venue for Pompey, rather than being a front for more kinky action.) Portsmouth having been conquered, Biddington went on to become a major player in the South Coast gig scene, while allowing local representatives like Mint to have some say in the bills.

We had, of course, met The Jellys the year before, when Mondo Diablo supported them and me and Jimmy interviewed them for our non-zine. Jeff Hateley was on friendly form again. When we lined up onstage for our soundcheck, he looked at us and said "(to Steen) You look like you should be in Lynyrd Skynyrd, (to Jimmy) you look like you should be in Radiohead, and (to me) you look like you should be in Black Sabbath." "They're my favourite bands!" replied Steen. "Well, two of them, anyway." I'll let you figure out which ones he was swiftly counting out.

By the spring of 2000, we decided to record the demo which would ultimately (at least, to date) be The Gilamonsters' only physical manifestation. Using The Joiners during the daytime one weekend, with our Winchester mate Stef on the controls, we laid down Vixen 13, Sugarcrash, Iloveyoumorethankyuss and High Heel Stigmata for a tape which, according to the copy Jimmy gave me, was called Danger Attack!. Despite the quick recording time, the tunes came out pretty well. I don't remember how many of these we circulated, or whether we got any gigs off the back of it, but it was great to be able to put a tape in my stereo, press play and hear us coming out of the speakers.

Sometime around this point, Ben headed off to go scuba diving in Australia or somewhere similarly awkward for making it to practice. With his blessing, we recruited Chris to stand in on drums, and almost immediately we started mutating into something heavier. Snakemaster Rising was a key tune in our development, and possibly remains my favourite Gilamonsters tune. There'd always been a bit of Sabbath in The Gilas, but here the influence of Cathedral and Electric Wizard began making itself felt. The Hooded Ghoul also reared its head around this point, another metal banger but in more of a death'n'roll vein.

The next gig I can recall was in November, another PVC show at The Joiners. This time we were supporting a band called Union Kid, described on one YouTube entry as a "little known band from Braintree, Essex." They were kinda grungey, I think. Our work friend Mark, who'd been to see us at one of the fetish nights, commented after our set that I'd got much better at the bass, which was a relief. This might also have been the night he took a photo of us, in The Joiners toilets.

By February 2001, Ben was back in the country and the band. At this point, Southampton's finest indie DJ Hammy was doing a regular Friday night gig at The Joiners, where he'd DJ alongside a couple of live bands. All round good egg that he is, he invited us to play one of these, alongside another local band called The Equidistant Sound. This lot could perhaps have been described as "skunk rock", the scuzzy, dubby reboot of baggy which appeared in the late 90s through folk like Lo-Fidelity Allstars and Regular Fries. As far as massive mismatches go, it was one of the more enjoyable, and The Equidistant Sound, several of whom I recognised as regular shoppers at my place of work, turned out be likable coves. One of them even said that we should let him know the next time we went to see Maiden and he'd come along.

Thinking about it, we played another Hammy night sometime. His main gig back then was Wednesday night at The Rhino, and bands and DJs would play in the downstairs bar while he ripped it up upstairs. This was something of a mixed blessing for the subterranean crew, as everybody in the club basically wanted to dance to Hammy's selections in the main room. I forget exactly who we played with, but it was pretty late when we went on, and we ended up playing to our girlfriends and the bar staff. One of the latter shouted out "Black Sabbath!" and we dutifully busted out an off-the-cuff cover of Paranoid. It was that sort of a night.

Anyway, a few days after the Equidistant Sound show, we found ourselves heading to London for the first time, on Valentine's Day (not sure this went down well with my then-new girlfriend Anna; sadly, it wouldn't even be the last time I ended up playing a show in London on February 14th). Jimmy had been living in the smoke for a year or so by this point, and got us onto a bill with two other band featuring people he worked with. One was Stonewall Jackson, a classic rock-type band fronted by a fellow called Matt who I'd end up friends with in Brighton a few years down the line. The headline band were Neon Bomb, a London glam institution. (I just googled Neon Bomb London, which hopefully hasn't flagged me up with the NSA as a potential terrorist).

Ben drove me and Steen up to London for the show, with Maiden and the first W.A.S.P album providing suitable road trip sounds. The gig was at the Dublin Castle, and my old girlfriend Sophie and our mate Mikki came along, which was darned sporting of them given that we were clearly not their bag. Sophie said after we played that she didn't realise bands like us still existed! It was fun to play outside of our usual Southampton/Winchester stomping ground, though sadly it would be another five years before we did another London show...

At some point, Ben admitted that he wasn't so into our new direction, and graciously stepped aside to allow Chris to rejoin as a permanent member. The metal tunes kept coming, with Steen writing The Witch's Tomb, which was about a witch who'd been unjustly executed returning from the grave to wreak terrible vengeance on the evil priest who'd been responsible for her downfall. Nobody could say we weren't writing about the issues that mattered.

The next show I have documented evidence of is one back at The Joiners, supporting a Welsh band called Goatboy. Presumably named after the Bill Hicks routine, they had an eclectic sound which I described as punk/funk on a flyer for the show. Wikipedia prefers to mention blues, hip hop, drum'n'bass and stoner rock. That sounds pretty horrible, but I think they were OK. Also on the bill were Black Blue Fish...Very Beautiful, who included our Winchester mate Dave on keyboards. Another outfit with a smorgasbord of styles at their departure, they were compared (by me, on that flyer again) to Captain Beefheart, The Beta Band and Faith No More. Sometimes it's nice to be the most straightforward band on a bill.

Was it Christmas 2001 or 2002 that we played my work party? I can't remember - no flyers for this one, obviously - but it was a blast. We asked our erstwhile STE/Minute Manifesto/Trophy Girls/Disoma chum Rob to be our sound guy for the night, a job which he undertook despite the fact that he knew nobody else there, was giving up a Saturday night and couldn't, as a teetotaller, even be given free beers. I hope we forced some money onto him, or at least made our gratitude felt. If not - a belated cheers to you, sir!

As it was a Christmas party, we figured we should concentrate on covers, and put together a set from ones we'd bashed out at previous gigs, alongside others we learnt especially. Off the top of my head, these included Prowler (Iron Maiden - facking Di'Anno era), Denim And Leather (Saxon), Breaking The Law (Judas Priest), I Wanna Be Your Dog (The Stooges) and possibly Ace Of Spades (Motorhead). We might also have played a medley of early Queen tunes (Keep Yourself Alive/Son And Daughter/Dragon Attack) - this was certainly a staple of our usual set at some point. Jimmy broke a string or something and Steen led the rest of us through an impromptu jam of Sabbath's Sweet Leaf. We also played Vixen 13 and Snakemaster Rising, and were pleasantly surprised - no, actually amazed - that people were dancing to our own tunes as well as the covers. A great night.

Come April 2002, we were asked back by the STE, to play what might have been our best show. Excellent Portsmouth hardcore crew Jets Vs Sharks opened the show at The King Alf, before we attempted to live up to our billing on the flyer as "scuzz rockers - up to no good". By this point, we were more than settled in to our metallic sound - we evidently looked the part too, as my friend Wez later showed a friend a photo he took of us at this gig, to be met with the question "Why are you taking pictures of death metal bands?". As a recognition of our punkier than usual surroundings, or, if you prefer, an attempt to curry favour, we threw in a cover of Discharge's The Possibility Of Life's Destruction. Jimmy also dedicated a song to a guy in the crowd who looked like Tom G. Warrior out of Celtic Frost. Approaching said punter after the set to apologise if he'd caused offence (Tom G. not being the most handsome bugger), Jimmy was met with the response "I'll tell you what offended me, mate, your cover of The Possibility Of Life's Destruction."

After we played, Disoma did their thing. When they first started, this emo/post-rock combo were a little shakey, but by now they'd added Rob (see above) on bass and Nick on vocals, and had stepped into the vacancy for intelligent Southampton oddballs created when Trophy Girls called it a day. Anyway, what you really need to know is that Nick played the set with no shoes on, and one of my workmates was horrified at the state of his socks.

The evening's headliners were Dead & Gone, a great American thrash/punk/noise band. To my shame, along with Chris, I was convinced by Anna and our friend Leesey to decamp to (him again) DJ Hammy's night at The Dorchester before they played. Jimmy and Steen met us there later and informed us that we'd missed a ripping set. Whoops. Then we all danced to Space Truckin', I shouldn't wonder. (As an aside, I'm sure Hammy sometimes used to call us The Gillan Monsters. He'd certainly always play Deep Purple when we were in attendance at one of his nights at The Dorch. Not sure if he genuinely thought we'd named ourselves after Ian Gillan)(Also, I'm sure somebody once thought we were called the Tequila Monsters. Now that would have been a shit name).

A less satisfactory experience playing on a punk bill came when did a show at The Hobbit with The Good Time Charlies and Parade Of Enemies. I think it might have been on a Sunday afternoon, and Steen couldn't make it, so we played a three-piece. It just didn't work without him, and compared to the other bands (unpretentious garage rock and thrashcore fronted by Jamie Festo respectively) I felt like we might as well have been Whitesnake or something.

In June, our friends Daughters Courageous asked us to play with them at The Greene Cellar in Southampton. I'd actually briefly been a member of Daughters Courageous, possibly before they had a name. It didn't work out, but we remained friends  - Greg out of DC even named The Gilas as one of his favourite Soton bands in an interview with some local mag - so it was good to play with them. We gave it our all and played another great set. At one point during the stop-start verse riff of The Witch's Tomb, me, Jimmy and Steen all jumped into the air. Afterwards, my friend Lisa complimented us on our choreography and I had to convince her that it was a spontaneous moment. Wez also came up to offer congratulations afterwards. Attempting to convey how exhausted I was in the summer evening's heat, I told him that I was "wasted". This didn't go down too well, as Wez was straight edge, and I had to rapidly reassure him that I meant "knackered".

2002 also saw us play The Railway in Winchester a couple more times, thanks to our friend Jim out of Scarlet Soho. One of these was with Plan A, one of the 300 bands in the UK to feature an ex-member of The Wildhearts (they weren't even the first one we'd played with!). They were fronted by Jef Streatfield, who'd been drafted in to The 'hearts after their brief, unsuccessful attempt to amalgamate loose cannon Mark Keds out of The Senseless Things into the line-up. I'm not sure Jim had seen us for a while, describing us on his flyer for the show as "Iggy meets G'n'R stomp". This would have been pretty much catnip for the people who went to Jim's shows. I can't remember how much we bummed them out, but maybe not too much, as Jim invited us back a while later to play with a band that none of us can for the life of us remember now. I thought they were Welsh and kinda post-hardcore, Jimmy remembers them as a Faith No More-type band from Nottingham "or somewhere". Who knows? I think Leesey told me off for wearing a Massive Attack t-shirt at that gig, though. Not very metal, apparently. Oh yeah, Downtown Maniacs also played both of those shows. They were quite similar to early Manics, and certainly more memorable than that band none of us can remember.

Sometime around then, we'd have written the last full song of our career. Called Psychedelic Medusa, it was influenced by dreadlocked Sooz out of now-forgotten Channel 4 teen soap As If. This song might be the one thing we have in common with McFly, who also took Sooz-shaped inspiration for their tune Five Colours In Her Hair. Yeah, I like our title better. Sadly, this fact has thus far failed to be recognised in the shape of a seven-figure offer for The Gilas to reform as support on the McBusted tour. 

By this point, it would be less than a year before I moved to Brighton, and the gigs kinda dried up as we all started playing in other bands. We managed one more in 2002, supporting local punk kids Disposable Heroes (not to be confused with the ...Of Hiphoprisy variety, clearly) at The King Alf, but hardly anyone turned up and it was a bit of a damp squib. We played our last Southampton show in June 2003, on the night before I left town for good, and it was a hell of a show to get on. 

Fans of weird Japanese psychedelia will be familiar with Acid Mothers Temple; well, three acts made up of members of AMT were touring as Acid Mothers Soul Collective. Band leader Makoto Kawabata did a solo set, Cotton Casino and (I think) Higashi Hiroshi performed as Pardons, and all three of them closed the show as Tsurubami. Thanks once again to Mint, we were the opening band. This was possibly a disappointment for some AMT fans, as there seemed to be some sort of rumour that Daevid Allan from Gong was going to be playing a surprise set. Tough luck, hippies, you got us instead. I'd been bought a new bass as a (really, really generous) leaving gift from my workmates, a few of whom came down to see me wielding it. We played a good set, all the Acid Mothers types were great too, and Jimmy and Cotton Casino even had a non-verbal communication using the power of air guitar to get round the language barrier. I nearly went to see the Brighton show of the tour two days later, but it would probably have blown my mind, maaan.

So, now two of us were living elsewhere, our (hardly regular in the first place) rehearsals became few and far between. Eventually, in 2006, we arranged two gigs - I was going to put one on in venerable Brighton venue, while Jimmy got us on a bill at Catch in London's trendy Shoreditch.

Unfortunately, we had to cancel the Brighton show because Chris had injured himself in a dog-walking accident. The other two bands I'd booked - B-town noiseniks The Plague Sermon and Pompey psych'n'rollers You're Smiling Now...But We'll All Turn Into Demons - still played, and Aaron out of The Plague Sermon helped me out by recruiting the excellent Stuart Lee (not that one) out of Jacob's Stories to do a set. Jimmy also came down for moral support, and to help me do the door.

Catch did happen, with those Pompey ...Demons opening and London wrecking crew Among The Missing headlining. Chris arrived massively stressed out from London traffic, although he was at least less angry than the time he went to Wacken with Jimmy and the red mist descended when unable to get served at the bar due to the lairy nature of thirsty punters at a German metal festival. Our last (to date) show was only average, largely because the audience was mainly composed of loyal ...Demons fans, meaning that us and Among The Missing played to a dwindling amount of punters (although I believe my old Southampton mate MA Tovey was in attendance). And, as of now, that was the last time The Gilas played a show. And so it goes.

As I said, all of us had started playing in other bands during The Gilas' reign; if you were going to bet on which one would still be going over a decade later, it probably wouldn't be the misanthropic doom trio. Chris formed Moss with a couple of younger kids called Olly and Dom. Dom had first come to our attention as the boyfriend of a work experience girl at our place of work (for a while, Chris was sharing work hours with me and Jimmy), and I'm sure it was while chatting to these two by the metal section that he sewed the seeds of Moss. Their first show was as the opening band at a punk all-dayer in the downstairs bar of the King Alf, which meant they played before a ska punk band while sunlight streamed in through the windows and punters played pool. From these unpromising beginnings, they've established a lengthy career, with releases on Aurora Borealis and Rise Above. One of their albums was even produced by Jus Oborn of the mighty Electric Wizard. One evening during recording, Jus's other half in life and in the Wizard, the American guitarist Liz Buckingham, had a pressing question about British customs for their guests. "Do any of your dads wear suits?" she asked. "Jus said the only time his dad wore suits was when he was in court. I just didn't know if that was weird or not."

While the achievements of Moss are not to be sniffed at, I suspect Chris may be even prouder of the fact that he's become friends with Barry Cryer. This happened through his comedy writing, which has led to various radio slots like the spoof obituary (fauxbituary?) show Quietly In Their Sleeps. With his writing partner Howard, he's also been responsible for some children's television. There was a pilot for a show about a child who ends up in an old people's home due to a clerical error, which also starred Rik Mayall, but the programme which actually won awards and stuff was the excellent Little Howard's Big Question, which starred a cartoon boy (Little Howard, natch) and the real life Howard (Big How... oh, you're ahead of me). Every week Little Howard would grab a cartoon loudhailer and demand answers to pressing questions like "Why can't I fly?" or "Can I make a monster?". Two things would generally happen in the course of answering these Big Questions: Big Howard would find himself getting hurt and/or humiliated, and Chris would make a cameo appearance in some form or another (during the monster episode, this meant playing drums in corpsepaint and a comfy jumper alongside David Schneider on guitar. The (very good) song was called I'm Becoming A Monster). The very first episode also featured what might be the only joke about grindcore ever to feature on CBBC.

Sadly, Chris's idea for a show called the Wu-Tang Clangers remains unfilmable.

Steen and Ben went on to play in bluesy rockers The Bullycats, before hooking up with Ben's wife Polly to form Polly & The Billets Doux. Some distance from Moss' despairing doom, they're more of a folk/jazz/rock'n'roll proposition, perhaps somewhere between Imelda May and Emily Barker. With a bunch of tours and festival slots under their belt, along with a couple of BBC radio sessions, they've built up a fair head of steam. Also, when I saw them play in Hove a few years back, I was gratified to see that, despite his band's more delicate sounds, Steen was rocking a Black Flag Nervous Breakdown t-shirt.

Jimmy's probably been in the most bands of any of us, including a brief stint in Neon Bomb. In London, he formed The Blood Group, who then became Blood Valley, alongside Alex (ex-Leatherfuck) and a couple of other degenerates called Sam and Tom. They released an album on the great-if-underappreciated Captains Of Industry label and played a bunch of chaotic shows, including a tour with The Dillinger Escape Plan. I saw them a number of times, and will probably go into more detail in a later chapter.

After Blood Valley folded, some members regrouped as A Life In Bandages. Jimmy and Sam also played in covers band Tiff & The Tantrums, while Jimmy played guitar in Proxy Music, a tribute band to... well, you can probably work that out for yourself.

After a Wolf Eyes show, Jimmy and Sam resolved to form a band with a couple of other London noiseniks. This was originally to be called Jaws, but the gang got the fear that Spielberg's lawyers might come knocking and - rather cleverly, I thought - took the title given to Jaws in France, Les Dents De La Mer, and translated it into English, to get their current monicker, Teeth Of The Sea. While their fears were probably unfounded - an inferior unit called Jaws is currently doing the rounds, untroubled by lawsuits from American directors - their paranoia gave them a far better name.

At some point, Mat out of Proxy Music (and various Brighton noise-making units like Medicine & Duty) joined the line-up of Jimmy, Sam and Mike, and they got on with releasing some fine music. Despite the Wolf Eyes-related origin story, there's little in the way of hellish noise in the world of ToTS. I guess you could bandy around phrases like spacerock and psychedelia, though there's also plenty of influences from soundtrack types like Goblin and John Carpenter. Indeed, they've established a creatively profitable sideline in providing alternative scores to films; in parallel to their three (great) albums on Rocket Recordings, they've performed a live version of Queen's Flash Gordon soundtrack and written their own accompaniments to the likes of Doomsday, 2001 and A Field In England. At the time of writing, they're soon to perform a musical interpretation of Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four at CERN, the home of the Large Hadron Collider.

You could argue that this is a bit of a step up from The Railway Inn in Winchester. 

And as for me? Well, in the name of Chris's beloved Spice Girls, "Ha ha, you'll see..." The next Sons Of The Stage will detail the various punk-affiliated bands I did time in back in early 21st Century Southampton, while, as some of you will know, I currently play in Brighton power trio Gorse, who, at the present rate, will get written about here in ten years or so.

But what about The Gilamonsters? Well, we never actually split up, we just... stopped. Some of us moved away, all of us started doing different things, and the original momentum we built up just faded away. But, who knows? Maybe we might just rise again. This year would be the fifteenth anniversary of our beginnings. Keep 'em peeled.

We never did an album, so never got to write a thanks list. Here's a quick one, off the top of my head:
Tiff; Rich, Rob and everyone involved in the STE; DJ Hammy; Jim and Scarlet Soho; Greg and Daughters Courageous; all our Winchester friends, especially Dave, Stef, Vicky, Maria, Thomps, Colleen, David, Nathan and everyone in Mondo Diablo/Omeriah; the Gerrards; Leesifer Francis; the 515 crew, for the bass and the dancing; all -well, OK, most of - the bands we played with, especially Green Hearse, plus some we never did, like Black Nielson and Minute Manifesto; everyone at The Joiners, The Railway and Valley Studios; any promoters I've forgotten to mention; long-suffering girlfriends, especially Anna. 

RIP: Mint and Lobster.

25% Standing outside the practice room, drinking and plotting
25% Steen playing classic rock riffs
25% Talking about heavy metal trivia, classic works of literature* and/or 70s sitcoms
25% Practicing

*I distinctly remember one conversation about Trollope's The Way We Live Now, which you probably wouldn't get at an Orange Goblin rehearsal.

We came up with a lot of ideas, did The Gilas. This is the stuff we talked about doing but never quite got round to...

 a) Lost Songs
Early on, I wanted to write a song called The Virus That Destroyed An Entire Solar System, but I don't think it ever got written, though I latterly assigned the title (in my head) to the riff we habitually played as an intro to our sets. One I did write was The Beast With 1,000 Eyes, which was about alcoholism and misanthropy. We practiced it a couple of times, but it never quite got finished. Shadow Of The Gallows was the last song we wrote, but again never completed. Or was that Idol Of The Pagan Gods? There was also an idea called Duel Of The Snipers, though my memory fails me as to whether that was ever more than a title.

b) Covered Up
As detailed above, there were a bunch of covers we did play live, but a couple of notable ideas never saw fruition. One was a medley of Alligator Man (as played by Stoneground in the movie Dracula AD 1972) with an original called Crocodilian Mistress (lyrics written by Chris on a napkin). There was also talk of a medley of songs called Axeman, including those by Amebix and, I think, Omen.

c) The Golden Age Of Steam concept album
As Steen's Dad was a steam train enthusiast, he figured we could get a whole album's worth of lyrics out of this subject. The Flying Dutchman was going to be incorporated into the concept, as I recall. Never happened.

d) General Horseplay
This was going to be a side project where we all took on names made up of characters from the Old West and the American Civil War, coupled with classic British comedy actors. The names I can remember were General Custer Merryfield and Wild Bill Owen. Was the music going to be Southern Rock? Probably. 

e) AC/DC
Steen had a few ideas for lyrics which would have suited an AC/DC-style side project. There was Wet Denim, inspired by a walk to the pub on a rainy evening. There was Heavy Money, about walking home from the pub with a pocket full of change. And there was Big Knickers, which was about, well, big knickers. We actually jammed Wet Denim once, playing a typical DC chord progression for about twenty minutes, which sounds like something Endless Boogie might do. I suspect our version was markedly less cosmic...

I think that's a good place to leave it, right?