Taking a short break

 For family reasons I won't be posting here for a little while but will be back when possible. 

Thanks, John 


Shazam! Fury of the Gods review


As a big fan of the first movie, I was looking forward to reuniting with the Shazamily and this sequel surpasses my expectations. It is bold, pacy and packed with loads of action plus quite a bit of humour. And it’s features Helen Mirren! Critics seem sniffier and bad word of mouth is spreading but all I can say is that this film is hugely enjoyable and feels fresh despite the zillions of superhero movies we’ve all seen in recent years.

Some spoilers after the break....


Top of the Pops 25 February 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Peter Powell: “Hello! Welcome to another edition of Top of the Pops! We've got some wonderful tracks on the show tonight! We've got Vanessa Paradis, we've got, er, Eddie Grant, we've got The Mission, and making his debut, Mark Goodier!”

Mark Goodier: “Thank you very much indeed Peter! Here's a band from Coventry who make their first appearance on Top of the Pops tonight! It's the Primitives and Crash!”

[29] PRIMITIVES: crash. Eric Wallis is on Lighting and he takes an early opportunity to shine. Look how the studio lights are shut down in the first seconds of the camera pan from the hosts to the Primitives. By the time the camera reaches the band the stage is in darkness apart from a couple of strategically angled white spotlights and a few pulsing red lights. It looks great when all the lights burst back into life as the song begins.

Down at the far right of the screen someone chucks a handful of glitter as the lights come back on. It's too small a moment to be part of the performance. If Paul Ciani had organised it as a moment to start the show then more people would be taking part. So who is it? A member of the audience trying to make their mark on the show? Someone from the record company or band being silly? We'll never know.



Locke and Key


Imagine you could unlock a door and go anywhere! Or look inside someone’s head and find their memories! This is the slightly eccentric premise behind the series Locke and Key which recently completed a three-season run on Netflix. The story is based on a comic book series penned by Joe Hill (Stephen King’s son) and Gabriel Rodriguez and came to the screen after two previously failed attempts at a tv series (one even had a pilot filmed) as well as a projected film trilogy. Aficionados say this series dilutes the darker elements of the comic, but it seems to have gone down well with a lot of people plus unlike many streaming shows it even went beyond one season and got to finish its story with a third! And, really, when you hear the words `magical keys`, you must give it a try don’t you think?




Top of the Pops 18 February 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Hi, good evening. Welcome to another mega Top of the Pops. In the studio tonight we have Billy Ocean, T'Pau, Was Not Was, Coldcut, and making his first appearance tonight, Nicky Campbell.” 
Nicky Campbell: “And also making their first appearance on Top of the Pops, with Beat Dis, the highest chart new entry, Bomb The Bass.”

 [5] BOMB THE BASS: beat dis. Straight in at [5] that's impressive. Bomb the Bass also deserve praise for not calling their single [something] the House; Beat Da House, possibly? This is an episode of firsts; first appearance of Bomb the Bass; first time hosting for Nicky Campbell; and the first time Paul Ciani has gone solo, Michael Hurll doesn't take the Executive Producer credit this week. The episode is Produced and Directed by Mr P alone. So how does he do? Not bad.

Bomb the Bass have packed the main stage with people, to avoid this just being three and a half minutes of record producer Tim Simenon playing with his sampler. The three keytarist/dancers obviously draw the most focus because they are doing most of the work, but there's also a guitarist who gets to mime some of the samples (she also probably gets to (probably) pretend to play the guitar -I'm no expert but I'm pretty sure you don't routinely play the guitar by clapping your hands above your head). There's another bloke fussing over a pair of record decks, and Mr Simenon himself who is wearing a luxurious hat.

Paul Ciani defaults to long sweeping wide shots of the stage which lose some of the energy of the performance. It's frustrating when the crowd start whooping at something the dancers are doing but the viewer at home can't see because the dancers are small figures in the middle distance who keep getting lost behind the heads of the audience. It's much better when he allows Vision Mixer Hilary West to cut between low-angled hand held camera shots.



London photo post

Some photos I took on recent trips to London last October and this month posted for no particular reason!


Moulin Rouge! @Piccadilly Theatre, London


It is over twenty years now since Baz Luhrmann’s fiesta of a film exploded into cinemas and he had a hand in this stage adaptation which first opened in 2018 and came to London in autumn 2021 and has been playing to packed houses ever since. A celebration of “truth, beauty, freedom and love”, it’s broad appeal has been widened by the addition of a number of songs written after the film so it has a more contemporary feel yet the lynchpin tunes are still in place. It’s a concept Luhrmann himself once described as a “preposterous conceit” but it works. This has been the first chance I’ve had to see it and as a fan of the movie I can only applaud what this production has done to make essentially the same story work in a different medium.


Top of the Pops 11 February 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Bruno Brookes: “Hello and welcome [Gary Davies: “hello!”] to Top of the Pops, in the studio tonight we have Sinead O'Connor, Taylor Dane, Debbie Gibson, and the Mission.” Gary Davies: “And a very noisy audience. We start tonight with a guy who last appeared on Top of the Pops eight years ago with a song called Do You Feel My Love. He's back in the charts at twenty five. Gimmie Hope Jo'Anna welcome back Eddy Grant.”

[25] EDDY GRANT: gimmie hope jo'anna. A bouncy and cheerful song which hides incredibly gloomy lyrics in plain site, “While every mother in black Soweto fears/The killing of another son.” Jo'Anna being Johannesburg.

I'm always fascinated how comfortable Top of the Pops was about highlighting nakedly political songs about South Africa. There's this along with (Something Inside) So Strong (30/04/1987 and 14/05/1987), Free Nelson Mandela (29/03/1984 and 19/04/1984), the “Soweto Bloodbath” newspaper suits Madness wore while performing Waiting for the Ghost Train (13/11/1986), and probably more I've forgotten. It shows how widely accepted the view was that ending apartheid was simply a matter of common sense. It also shows it's easier for the national broadcaster to deal with songs criticising other governments; number of Top of the Pops appearances for Paul McCartney with Give Ireland Back to the Irish? Zero. The song spent eight weeks in the charts and got to [16] despite (or perhaps because of) being banned by the BBC.

Top of the Pops leans into the politics of the song. Eddy Grant's caption at the end is decorated with stick figure representations of people of all colours or, at least, all the colours the BBC caption generator can cope with; three. Moving away from geopolitics. It seems like ages since Bruno Brookes last hosted, and it is, 27/03/1986. His daily Radio 1 show ran from  17.45 to 19.30 which pretty much cut across the rehearsal and recording time for Top of the Pops (which I think, but I'm not 100% sure, was normally on a Wednesday evening. We'll be seeing a little more of him in 1988.



Top of the Pops 4 February 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Smith: “Good evening. Welcome to Television Centre and Top of the Pops once again. We have Bros in the studio tonight, Elton John is with us, we have the Screaming Blue Messiahs, and over here with Get Out Of My Dreams. Billy Ocean.”

 [27] BILLY OCEAN: get out of my dreams. Eric Wallis starts off the show with a simple but effective Lighting trick. The camera pans across the studio during the introduction to the song (the bit that does the rising “wwooooooohhh”) and only Billy himself is visible, lit from above by a white spotlight, then as the song kicks in the rest of the studio lights are turned up revealing the group and, how many people are on stage? Three backing singers, two guitarists, two keyboard player, a saxophonist, a drummer, and Mr Ocean himself. There's a lot of people crammed on to one smallish stage. I think it's more people than featured last week with the inaccurately named Two Men A Drum Machine And A Trumpet.

Top of the Pops doesn't tend to open with performances on what I've always called the main stage, the one with the neon logo to stage left and the big screen to stage right. The trend recently has been to reserve then for big set piece performances, see Krush, 14/01/1988, or TMADMAAT as I've taken to calling Two Men A Drum Machine And A Trumpet (it's quicker than typing out the full name). Given the size of Billy Ocean's band, why don't they get given the bigger stage? What's the big set piece performance coming this week? Stay tuned listeners.

Fact. Billy Ocean's entire band could fit in the capacious pockets of his enormous coat



The Irregulars


The idea of a group of street urchins helping out the great detective Sherlock Holmes sounds like something dreamed up by a children’s programming producer in the 70s but they did feature in two of the original novels. The concept has been developed several times though rarely with the approach taken by Tom Bidwell’s series first shown in 2021 and filmed up here in Liverpool. He had considerable television writing experience by the time he came to make The Irregulars having worked on the likes of EastEnders, Casualty and My Mad Fat Diary amongst others. However, he described this series as his dream project and this definitely brings a sense of purpose to the narrative into which he toys with established Sherlock lore with glee. He introduces supernatural and fantasy elements into the mix and also changes a lot of the established story of Holmes as well as bringing a macabre touch especially to the first half of the series some of which is not suitable for the more sensitive viewer (and in instance me!)


Film Review round up- 2 Oscar nominees + latest Marvel


Everything Everywhere All at Once definitively lives up to its title. In a frenetic and remarkable narrative, there is so much content, so many twists and turns that you could feel overwhelmed yet you will likely end up satisfied. Middle aged Chinese American Evelyn Wang is deep in debt, struggling to run her laundry business with the IRS watching her every unpaid bill. Her husband Waymond is about to serve divorce papers (albeit for the sweetest reason) while she tries to find a way to explain to her demanding father that her daughter Joy is gay. Then one day when the family are in the IRS offices Waymond is suddenly taken over by a more confident `alternative` version of himself from the Alphaverse – one of an infinite number of alternatives - who is trying to stop his dimension’s version of Joy who could destroy the entire multiverse. 



Top of the Pops 28 January 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Mike Smith: “Good evening. Welcome to Television Centre for another spiffing edition of Top of the Pops. Tonight we've all sorts of people in the studio who you'll meet later on.” Gary Davies: “But first we start with a lady who's first two singles went top five in America. She's the biggest climber in the chart this week at seventeen. Here's Debbie Gibson. Shake Your Love.”

[17] DEBBIE GIBSON: shake your love. As a jaded Gen X-er I'm mainly familiar with Debbie Gibson via the medium of Bill Hicks. Unfortunately all Bill Hicks’comments about Debbie Gibson are unrepeatable so maybe I should just swiftly move on. You know what Bill? Debbie's fine. It's not great art but I don't come to Top of the Pops for great art. I come to Top of the Pops for thirty minutes of flashing lights and an occasional bilious retch at Steve Wright which proves to me I can still feel anger. Speaking of anger. The keyboard player, well one of them there are two, is wearing a white tie with a black shirt. I feel this is some sort of terrible fashion crime.



Z Nation Season 2


First shown in 2015, the second season finds a surprisingly varied amount of things to do with its premise across fifteen episodes. Setting itself up as an epic journey across the country it  doesn’t fudge on the cliffhanger of the first season despite some unlikely escapes (how far is that blast zone?). Fact is the bomb does obliterate the centre sending a wintery shockwave for many a mile adding to the perils our heroes have to face. Having literally shed his skin at the end of season one the now zombie tinged Murphy has also had a change of heart. This may be because he is a wanted man, thanks to Citizen Z’s unwitting broadcasts a lot of armed people are eager to catch “The Murphy” as he has become known and which is also the title of the opening episode but he has other ideas. Raiding clothes stores he and the now feral Cassandra are determined to avoid any fellow travellers. The first episode certainly knows how to pile peril on peril but somehow our friends are reunited by its conclusion though then they are propelled into the second episode.



Top of the Pops 21 January 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Gary Davies: “Hello, good evening. Welcome to Top of the Pops. Nice to see you. In the studio tonight we have The Christians, we also have Dollar, and Joyce Sims, and a born again trendy.” Steve Wright: “Thank you!! Thank you very much!! Listen!! We've got Bros to start!! They are so young!! They are hideously young!! When Will I Be Famous!! On Top of the Pops!!”

 [16] BROS: when will i be famous. Steve Wright and Bros in the same edition? The gods must be angry. I don't have anything constructive to say about Bros. I hated them at the time. I don't much like them now. Which I'm sure comes as a terrible disappointment to the trio. Still, I sat through the song on repeat which is more than I can say about Lady In Red.

Speaking of the trio. Viz used to dismiss Bros as “Matt, Luke, and Ken.” I always assumed Ken was the drummer. Watching now I realise Ken played the guitar and Matt or Luke, probably Luke, did the drums. (John- Actually Ken was really Craig, the bass player and the member of Bros who was not a brother. He was called Ken for some obscure reason. I always thought Smash Hits invented that but if it featured here then perhaps it was Steve Wright?)

Bros: Ken looks fed up from the start


Burt Bacharach


One of my earliest memories is being left in the car with the radio on and there were was one song that stood out - `I’ll Never Fall In Love Again`. Of course at such a young age I had no idea what the lyrics were about but there was something engaging about that tune, something memorable. The way the middle eight soars out of the verse is spectacular. Like all great songs it feels unusual yet familiar. Burt Bacharach, who died this week, was the composer of that and many, many more gems. Its incredible now how he was viewed for a while as outdated when these are songs with a timelessness that allows them to be updated and remade.



Top of the Pops 14 January 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby. Simon Mayo: “Hi. Good evening. Welcome to Top of the Pops. In our London studio we have Krush, and we also have Terence Trent D'Arby.”Gary Davies: “In our American studio we have Tiffany and Belinda Carlisle but first we start with a band who are really living up to their name. At number ten Clime Fisher, Rise to the Occasion.”

[10] CLIMIE FISHER: rise to the occasion. Gary Davies is wearing a really nasty jumper.  The bulk of the front is orange but the collar is black and there's a black and white chequered band across the middle. It's decorated with various yellow triangles which look a bit like warning signs and number plates; is the jumper road themed, or Formula 1?

We're in a medium long shot so it's difficult to be sure, but I expect there will be further chances to study this disaster over the next 30 minutes.

Lead singer Simon Climie has been given Pop Star lessons in the two weeks since the band first appeared. Then he looked uncomfortable and clutched a denim jacket like a security blanket. This time round he at least gives the appearance of being more relaxed and roams across the stage interacting with the backing singers, and fellow band member and keyboard player, Rob Fisher. They've worked out a little bit of business to go with some of the samples, including Simon Climie pretending to fiddle with the keyboard before the “don't touch that” sample is played, better known from Pump Up The Volume. Climie Fisher is also boldly using a sample from The Jungle Book, Baloo saying “come on buddy, get with the beat.” Disney could crush them like bugs.



Lockwood & Co episodes 7 and 8 reviewed


There’s an art of finishing a series that isn’t always easy. Lockwood & Co nails it I’m pleased to say bringing together its multiple strands to create a satisfying finale


Spoilers past this point…



Lockwood & Co episodes 4 to 6 reviewed


The mid point of a series is critical in order to hold on to the viewers who watched out of curiosity or because they liked the trailer. Since it debuted last Friday, there have been mixed interpretations from the media regarding how successful the show has been thus far. While clearly beloved by those familiar with the books and liked by many people like me who had no prior knowledge its as yet unclear whether Lockwood & Co has made an impact in the wider audience. It may be too soon to tell; one report says it could become one of Netflix's biggest series, another claimed that due to being a YA series it may not even get a second season. What is clear is that this review is stalling because anything I say about these episodes amounts to one big spooky spoiler!!! So if you've not seen it yet, please watch first.


Lockwood & Co episodes 1- 3 reviewed


Based on a series of books by Jonathan Stroud, Lockwood & Co is being bigged up as a key new Netflix show with one reviewer even going so far as to suggest it could be as big as Stranger Things. That would be good though I suspect it’s just a little too English to hit those heights but nonetheless it seems to have had a good reception. Not that it shares much with that other series by the way except for focussing on kids taking on evil. There’s something old fashioned about Lockwood & Co which is best manifested by some great scares, a lot of slightly posh banter, a complete lack of smartphones and an emphasis on the importance of very English things like breakfast and cups of tea. Although some of the production appears to suggest modern day, it is an alternative timeline as there are still newspapers aplenty and when a mobile phone does appear it is one of those brick sized examples complete with an aerial. After so many modern dramas amp up the tech to appeal to younger viewers its very satisfying indeed to see something that chooses to rely on something more inventive.


Beware - spoilers past this point..



Top of the Pops 7 January 1988


Reviewed by Chris Arnsby.

Mike Read: “Good evening. Not a window cleaner in sight. That means it must be Top of the Pops.”

Simon Bates: “Absolutely no milkmen either. We've got the new Terrence Trent D'Arby video, the number one, and also Sinitta on Top of the Pops. Here she is. Right live. And it's GTO.

[20] SINITTA: g.t.o. Thirty seconds into the programme and the to-do list is spiralling out of control. One, what does Mike Read's “window cleaner” comment mean? Initially I thought it might be a reference to Brush Stokes, back for a new series on  9January. Except, Jacko from Brush Strokes was a house painter, hence the name of the show, and, more importantly, series 3 episode 5 aired on 9th January 1989, not 1988 as I misread. I doubt the BBC plans its schedules that far in advance, and shares them with Mike Read. Nothing else springs to mind. Was there a window cleaner/milkman scandal unfolding at the time that I've forgotten? It must have meant something to the audience at home.

Two, is Top of the Pops really starting 1988 with this song? I'm almost certainly putting more thought into this than the production team but it feels like the first song of the year requires a little effort. It's an occasion to set out your stall and show what the programme can achieve. Isn't it? Apparently not. I've just looked back to the start of 1987 where the first band of the year was Status Quo. Ironically Sinitta represents the 1988 status quo, bland, safe, poppy, nothing political. It's a rotten song.


MacArthur Park

 Some songs are instant classics and you know why. Others have something different about them, something that must have sounded distinctly odd when they were first aired. Yet one way or another they have become standards and `MacArthur Park` is one of those. On first listen it sounds like some surreal fantasy, perhaps evolving due to excessive access to certain substances- it was after all penned in the late Sixties. Of course it’s not and when you take a look it’s a song that makes perfect sense, cake, rain and all.



Top of the Pops 17th & 31st December 1987


Presented  by Chris Arnsby. December in January. This really is the new year's hangover. If it wasn't for my pedantic need to finish of 1987 I could be into the early weeks of January by now.

Gary Davies: “Hi. Good evening. Welcome to the last Top of the Pops before Christmas. In the studio tonight we have The Pogues with Kirsty McColl, Simply Red, and the Pet Shop Boys.”
Mike Read: “And up eleven places to this week's twenty one, Wet Wet Wet with Angel Eyes.”
Gary Davies: “Yay! Woo!”

 [21] WET WET WET: angel eyes. Note to self, check typing to make sure you haven't misnamed the song Angle Eyes. Angel Eyes by Wet Wet Wet is a different song to Angeleyes by ABBA. What's going on with the charts at the moment? (By, at the moment, I obviously mean 36 years ago. I am nothing if not topical). They contain two re-releases of old songs, nine covers, and two songs which have the same title as earlier hits, this and The Look of Love by Madonna. It's 1987, it's too early for repeats on this scale.

Angel Eyes is “serious” Wet Wet Wet so Marty Pellow reduces the jauntiness by fifty. He's wearing a black suit (sombre), not dancing, gazing straight ahead, and trying not to smile. You can still see the gor-blimey-Mary-Poppins loveable scamp persona moving under his skin, trying to break free.



The Rig review


A lot of modern tv drama attempts to be so meta or postmodern or over clever that its something of a pleasant change to find a serial so defiantly old school. The Rig, Amazon Prime’s new six-part series is very traditional while striving for some realism amidst the crisis. It’s a recipe that generally works and even though much of the plot seems familiar there is enough spark to keep the viewer intrigued. It’s a series that refuses to sit still and be one thing so elements of business, ecology, employment and technology are knitted together and the sci-fi aspect is kept believably shadowy. In short, it is a great yarn!

 Spoilers from here...


His Dark Materials Season 3 Parts 6-8 review

 Part 6 The Abyss

This has been a season that feels very much like an artist's third album. The simpler stories of the first two seasons are unfurling into something more mature, something more interesting. The two year gap though has caused this to seem an initially slow affair but the reward comes in the latter half of the season and these final three episodes are the full flowering of this. 

Spoilers after the break.


His Dark Materials Season 3 Parts 3 - 5 review


Part 3 The Intention Craft

In the midst of an episode heavy on travelling between worlds, scary technology and impending war it is somewhat reassuring to come across a former couple having an almighty row. Never mind that they are arguing about most of those aforementioned topics, you can see in the way the lengthy scene is played that these are two people who once loved but now no longer even understand each other yet sort of want to do so. “Why can’t you be who I want you to be?” says a frustrated Asriel as he and Marissa say all those things that have been building up for some time now. It is scenes like this when the series flares into life, when you can dig beneath the plot and find some humanity. And when you have actors of the calibre of James McAvoy and Ruth Wilson, even better because they utterly convince you.


The Lost King review


An unlikely but true story, this charming film depicts the long search by an ordinary housewife to locate and unearth the grave of Richard the Third, a King whose reputation reasts largely on Shakespeare’s interpretation of him. History tells us Richard was “ a usurper” who only became monarch my  murdering two princes whose claim to the throne was stronger. And he was a hunchback too and is often to be seen portrayed as a grotesque. It’s a version Philippa herself sees in a production in Edinburgh where she lives with her two sons and estranged husband played by Steve Coogan who also co-wrote the script.


Wednesday season one review


The streaming revolution means we now have more drama content than ever but that doesn’t always mean it is better. Running across eight episodes, Wednesday, which debuted in late November on Netflix, is a typical example of a series that starts off firing on all six but then falters a bit. The reason is that is gives away all its smarts in the opening couple of episodes; thereafter there is nothing else in its armoury save for a series of twists that make the show less humorous. Only then it delivers in the last two episodes which dial up the excitement in a delightfully bombastic finale.