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?

Thursday, 16 January 2014

2013: Slow Focus

Well, that was a shit year.

Obviously, there was plenty going on outside my brain to be concerned about. Poverty (and, on these shores, a government that seemed hellbent on making it worse while scapegoating its victims), natural disasters, bloody conflicts, the rolling back of gay rights around the world, the list goes on...

On a more personal level, the year started with my job hanging by a thread. Later in the year, the bedroom in our flat was rendered uninhabitable by two walls and part of a ceiling coming down, a situation which has yet to be resolved. Meanwhile, ill health seemed to surround me, my family and friends like a horrid miasma. At its worst, this led to a good man dying far too young.

Of course, that puts everything else into some sort of perspective, and in truth there was plenty to be thankful for this year. After a few months of uncertainty, my job was saved. We managed to get away three times this year: a weekend in France, a week in South Devon and, best of all, a week in Belgium culminating with the excellent Muddy Roots Europe festival. The summer was also great, with many a long afternoon/evening spent knocking back pints and chatting shit with friends old and new in our local's beer garden. Emily, Burton, Tasha, Andrew: thanks for your company! My band didn't get to play out much (just three shows in 2013, one of which was in Redhill), but we did release a new album (, have already got a few new songs on the go, and there's at least one gig on the horizon (

It was also a pretty terrific year for music. I reckon I could have done a Top 50 albums at least, but 20 seems like a more reasonable amount to expect anyone to trawl through. So, here's what overtook my senses throughout 2013: albums, tunes, gigs and telly. I do read books and watch films too, but not often in the years they come out...

This is dedicated to Caroline and Ashley, who would almost certainly have complained that Alter Bridge are nowhere to be seen...

1. Future Of The Left - How To Stop Your Brain In An Accident

2. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Push The Sky Away

3. Nails - Abandon All Life

4. Wooden Shjips - Back To Land

5. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mind Control

6. Carlton Melton - Always Even

7. The Icarus Line - Slave Vows

8. Coliseum - Sister Faith

9. Teeth Of The Sea - Master

10.  Pissed Jeans - Honeys

11. Fuck Buttons - Slow Focus

12. Mogwai - Les Revenants

13. Boduf Songs - Burnt Up On Re-Entry

14. Retox - YPLL

15. Centuries - Taedium Vitae

16. Savages - Silence Yourself

17. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold

18. Hey Colossus - Cuckoo Live Life Like Cuckoo

19. The Dillinger Escape Plan - One Of Us Is The Killer

20. Daniel Avery - Drone Logic

OK, it feels a little tokenistic to publish a separate list for Brighton bands, but like I said earlier, there were way more albums I dig this year than I could fit into a Top 20. Disclaimer: all of the below feature at least one person I know, but if you can't be biased on a blog where the hell can you be? Apologies to anyone I've either forgotten or haven't heard yet. Here, in alphabetical order, are the Brighton bands who've left an impression on me this year...

Anacondas - Sub Contra Blues

Death Ape Disco - Supervolcano

Ewigkeit - Back To Beyond

Jaldaboath - The Further Adventures

Kemper Norton - Carn

King Goat - EP

Sea Bastard - Sea Bastard/Scabrous

War Wolf - Riding With Demons EP/Crushing The Ways Of The Old

1.Future Of The Left - Johnny Borrell Afterlife

2. Kvelertak - Bruane Brenn

3. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats - Mt. Abraxas

4. Daft Punk - Get Lucky

5. Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats -Mind Crawler

6. Coliseum - Black Magic Punks

7. Machinedrum - Gunshotta

8. Nails - Tyrant

9. Satan's Wrath - Ecstasies Of Sorcery

10. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - We No Who U R

GIGS OF 2013
Once again, it feels like I didn't go to as many gigs as I should have this year, and once again DIY punk shows and Colin's TST shindigs have been particularly neglected. But looking at this list (non-exhaustive, merely the ones I enjoyed the most) I clearly did go to quite a few shows in 2013 (even if there are multiple entries for sets at Muddy Roots Europe and the TST X weekender). Once again, in alphabetical order...

The Answer @ The Concorde
Art Of Burning Water/DKH @ The Prince Albert
Boredom @ The Prince Albert
Broker @ The Green Door Store & The Prince Albert
Joe Buck Yourself @ Muddy Roots Europe

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds @ The Dome
China Drum @ The Garage
Circle Takes The Square/Full Of Hell/We Came Out Like Tigers @ The Haunt
Coliseum/Narrows @ The Green Door Store
Crazy Arm @ The Prince Albert
Dethscalator @ TST X, The Green Door Store
The Dillinger Escape Plan/Three Trapped Tigers/Maybeshewill @ The Concorde
The Dirt Daubers @ Muddy Roots Europe
Future Of The Left/The Wytches @ The Haunt
Grey Hairs @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Hatebreed/Black Dogs @ The Concorde
Hellshock/Constant State Of Terror/Wyrdforge @ The Hope

Hey Colossus @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Hoax @ Sticky Mike's  
James Hunnicutt @ Muddy Roots Europe

The Icarus Line/Bad For Lazarus @ The Hope
I'm Being Good @ TST X, The Green Door Store

Jessica Bailiff/Boduf Songs @ The Green Door Store
Joeyfat @ TST X, The Green Door Store
June Paik @ The Prince Albert
Koffin Kats @ Muddy Roots Europe

Kogumaza @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Larry & His Flask @ The Prince Albert & The Hope
Loop @ The Concorde
LostAlone @ Audio
Austin Lucas @ The Palmeira
Metz @ Audio & The Concorde
Jayke Orvis & The Broken Band @ Muddy Roots Europe
Mine @ The Green Door Store
Mission Of Burma @ The Haunt
Monster Magnet @ The Concorde
1981 @ Sticky Mike's
Part Chimp @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Possessed By Paul James @ Muddy Roots Europe
Pye Corner Audio/Kemper Norton @ The Hope

Raein/Crash Of Rhinos @ The Green Door Store
Saint Vitus @ The Haunt
Sea Bastard/Bad Guys @ The Prince Albert
Sleep Committee @ The Green Door Store(three times!), The Black Dove & The Prince Albert
Sloath @ TST X, The Green Door Store
Spiers & Boden @ The Ropetackle
Swans @ The Concorde
Teeth Of The Sea/Thought Forms @ Sticky Mike's

Title Fight @ The Concorde
Torche @ The Garage
Touche Amore @ Audio
Trash Talk @ The Green Door Store
Ugly Kid Joe(!) @ The Concorde
Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats @ The Garage
Vile Imbeciles @ The Albert
Viva Le Vox @ Muddy Roots Europe
War Wolf @ Sticky Mike's (twice), The Prince Albert (twice), The Green Door Store
Witchsorrow @ The Black Heart
Your Demise/Heights @ The Haunt
You're Smiling Now...But We'll All Turn Into Demons @ TST X, The Green Door Store

1. Broadchurch
In a less outstanding year for TV, most of the shows at the top end of this list could have been a contender for top spot, but even amongst such competition, Broadchurch won out. Its pacing, atmosphere and multi-layered narratives might have displayed influence from Nordic Noir (absent from this list this year, though there'll be some undead Frenchies along in a bit) but nobody who found themselves consumed by this one could dispute that it succeeded on its own terms. David Tennant and Olivia Colman might have been the (very good) headline stars, but this was vey much an ensemble piece, with particular kudos for Jodie Whittaker's turn as grieving mother Beth, providing a portrait of devastation but still allowing the character's personality to shine through. What was rare throughout was that you got a sense of who these characters were before the events of the show, and who they might be again in time. While Broadchurch was, clearly, a murder mystery at heart - and one which gripped the nation to the tune of over 8 million viewers for its conclusion - its heart was with its characters, not the crime which set events in motion.

2. Utopia
There was something brilliantly gleeful about Utopia. A conspiracy thriller, a black comedy, a surrealist nightmare... whatever tag you wanted to put on it, this was television which refused to conform. Its violence broke unwritten but keenly-felt rules about what you can get away with on telly (without falling into the tedious trap of mysoginistic torture porn); its humour was effective while never removing the feeling of unease which preyed on your mind throught a series where nobody was safe. Alumni from various top notch Brit flicks and shows (The Thick Of It, Four Lions, Misfits) were led by an incredible performance from Kill List's Neil Maskell (probably allowing his talent to be sold short by an appearance in yet another gangster flick right now) as troublingly unfeeling killer Arby, while old-stagers Stephen Rea, James Fox and Geraldine James provided gravitas. You could tell whether or not you were going to like Utopia from its opening scene; if you missed it, give it a go.

3. The Returned
Les Revenants came to Britain with a stylishness familiar from its Nordic cousins, but it could hardly have been more French. Anybody in doubt about this is directed to the fact that it features a sexy psychic who conducts sessions with her clients by making love to them, or indeed to the face (and name!) of Frédéric Pierrot, whose character Jerome could have been constructed from British cliches about French blokes. Maybe its origin helped to make The Returned the most original reimagining of the undead for decades. Instead of coming back as zombies, the deceased simply reappear, years after their deaths, unchanged, potentially immortal and with no understanding of what's happened to them. As you can imagine, this rather puts the cat amongst the pigeons. The idea of creepy twins is given a fresh new spin, Mogwai provide effective musical backing, young Victor freaks everyone the fuck out, and (spoiler alert!) none of your questions are answered. Magnifique!

4. The Fall
While Broadchurch spent time with the families and townsfolk, The Fall took the opposite approach, focussing attention on the cat and mouse game being played by handsome psychopath Jamie Dornan and driven cop Gillian Anderson. OK, there were other characters - Hollyoaks refugee Bronagh Waugh did a great job as Dornan's wife, although her old chum Emmett J. Scanlan was given fuck all to do - as well as the context of events playing out in a still troubled Belfast, but really, it all came down to these two charismatic, intelligent individuals. As with The Returned, it frustrated viewers by choosing to leave events hanging for a second series, but this was still a classy take on the hoary old serial killer genre.

5. Ripper Street
Ripper Street enjoyed a curious, crash and burn trajectory. Its first series was evidently popular enough to be paid the rare compliment of having a second series air within the same calendar year, pretty much unheard of outside reality TV and "continuing dramas" like Casualty. However, pitched against idiots in a jungle on ITV, said second series underperformed in the ratings, and the future of the show is now up in the air. Which is a shame, as the second series took the first's potential and ramped it up with a more satisfying story arc and a bravura performance from Jopseph Mawle, revealing hitherto hidden depths of evil (not to mention a ripped physique) as the year's most villainous villain, Jedediah Shine. Not the tired old retread of the Jack The Ripper story its name suggests, Ripper Street is in fact set after Saucy Jack's reign, and while there are still echoes and shadows of the killings reverberating throughout the squalid Whitechapel streets, there's plenty more violence, venality and corruption to keep the lead trio of 19th Century feds busy. And while there initially seemed to be a danger that the female characters would be ill-used - the first episode was essentially about someone inventing snuff movies, complete with copious violence against women - it turned out that they could all hold their own. Ripper Street is also siginificant in its rehabiltation of Jerome Flynn, a man formerly known primarily for crooning alongside laughable fisherman Robson Green in the 1990s, who's turned into a fine character actor. Of course, if you still can't forgive him for Robson & Jerome, you do get to see him being remorselessly bludgeoned in a boxing ring, so everyone's a winner there.

6. Southcliffe
So, time to get away from shows about death...ah. The bleakest of the lot, Southcliffe might have sounded like it was just down the road from Broadchurch, but its fractured narrative and unremitting darkness was something else entirely. A series based on a child murder didn't stop tourists flocking to the Dorset Coast, but it's hard to imagine anyone watching the aftermath of a killing spree in Southcliffe and thinking they simply had to visit Kent's marshes and market towns. Another stellar cast helped tell this story of tragedy and grief to provide one of the year's most grown-up highlights.

7. Doctor Who
A better year for the Doctor, this one. New assistant Clara energised proceedings, and the second half of Series 7 proved far more satisfying than its flakier predecessor, even if it did start with the Doctor riding a motorbike up the side of The Shard. Things reached their peak with the brilliant 50th Anniversary episode, John Hurt's War Doctor lending a heft to proceedings without hindering the humour in Tennant and Smith's double act. OK, Matt Smith's swansong in the Christmas episode was a disappointing muddle, but hopes remain high that with Capaldi at the helm of the TARDIS, we could be in for the most interesting incarnation of the Doctor in some time.

8. Parks & Recreation
Not really from 2013 at all, but as this was the year it finally aired in the UK, this superior comedy deserves a mention here. Apparently it gets even better, but the two series I've seen so far reveal this to be the best faux-documentary comedy - fuck it, just one of the most whipsmart comedies of any stripe - in years. The entire cast of characters are more quotable and memorable than any in recent memory, and the fact that we're kinda rooting for all of them without any descent into soapy sentimentality also makes it one of the kindest-hearted. Just great.

9. Walking Wounded: Return To The Frontline
Pretty rare for me to recommend standalone documentaries here, and I have to admit a connection to its subject. Giles Duley went to the same school as me, although as he was three years ahead, it's not like we're chums or anything. But if seeing someone I knew, a bit, thirty years ago, on the telly, was a vague hook to watch something, the story told therein is worth anyone's time. A photographer who'd moved from shooting pop stars to serious documentary work, Duley was reporting on the war in Afghanistan in 2011 when he stood on an IED. Now a triple amputee, he hasn't just found the courage to carry on with his life; he hasn't just found the fortitude to carry on with his career. This documentary found him fighting back fear to return to Afghanistan for a project where he takes photos of locals who've also lost limbs. As a portrait of an incredible individual, it more than works, but this is also a serious study of what war physically does to people, more eloquent than many more dogmatic visions of conflict. And, seriously, I've got tears in my eyes just thinking about it.

10. Gogglebox
24 Hours In A&E and the Educating... strand continued to inspire, but for my last choice I'm going to plump for the thing which surprised me most this year. The idea of watching people watching telly and commenting on it sounds like the death of something in the nation's soul; in theory, it should be even worse than trawling through below-the-line comments on tabloid papers' websites. As it turned out, once discovered on return from the pub, it proved an  irresistible pleasure, its cast of commentators providing a hilarious scattershot of attitudes across class, race, gender, locality and sexuality. Our favourites are Liverpudlian pensioners Leon and June and the deadpan Siddiqui family from Derby, though many of the best lines come from Brighton boys Stephen and Chris, and even the people we might find slightly appalling are good value. A word of warning, though; don't think too much about the fact that you're sat there commenting on people who are in turn sat there commenting on something else.