ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs

ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs
It’s Viet Nam in space, a proto-feminist battle royale, and the most relentless sci-fi action movie ever made – and it came out in the UK exactly 30 years ago, on 29 August 1986. IAN NATHAN discovers how only a single-minded obsessive at war with his colleagues could incubate Aliens.

They thought he was completely out of his mind. The young director wanted to build a 12-foot Alien with room inside for two puppeteers to operate the arms and legs. He’d even done a sketch to show how. Now he proposed a test. So his effects team constructed a fibreglass mould with a foam head and body and covered it in black bin bags. They then carted it out to the car park and slung it from a crane. As it bobbed it up down, the director was there with a camera shouting instructions. It may have been rudimentary, but that bin-bag monstrosity actually looked pretty cool. This director’s ideas always seemed to work. And this was his plan to out-do a classic. Continue reading “ALIENS AT 30: Inside the War on Bugs”

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare

ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare
AGGRO! In the long, hot summer of 1976, ACTION comic’s blood-crazed sharks, spy thugs and football yobs warped young minds across Britain. Creator Pat Mills tells JOHN NAUGHTON about the comic The Sun called the Sevenpenny Nightmare.

In the recent trend for publishing books based around specific years, no-one has yet laid claim to 1976. Like visitors strolling past a boss-eyed mongrel at Battersea Dogs’ Home, prospective authors have failed to see the appeal of a year that began with 15 people murdered in Northern Ireland before the Christmas decorations came down and continued in grindingly grim fashion with front pages dominated by endless tales of industrial aggro or Cod and Cold War stand-offs. Civil war raged in Angola and bombs exploded throughout London. Is this the MPLA, is this the IRA? Yes, on both counts, Johnny.

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Action’s most infamous cover, as seen in High-Rise.

Listen closely and you can hear the tectonic plates of post-war political consensus pulling apart as Harold Wilson bailed out, James Callaghan took over and Labour tottered on with a majority as insubstantial as a Hill’s Angel halter top.

Inflation hit 24%, while interest rates ran at 11.5% and the pound dipped below $2. Seven years earlier, the Labour government had produced its white paper entitled In Place Of Strife. In 1976, there didn’t seem to be anything else.

Against this febrile backdrop, a story played out in the world of comic publishing that continues to fascinate to this day. Action – a weekly boys’ comic with a new attitude and a roster of radical characters – debuted a week before Valentine’s Day and was closed down by Bonfire Night. This wasn’t due to lack of popularity; when it shut, the comic was selling 180,000 copies per week. Instead, having attracted questions in the House and outrage in the media, its publishers, IPC, withdrew it “for editorial reconsideration”. Like Jack Nicholson’s Randle McMurphy at the conclusion of that year’s multiple Oscar-winner One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, it re-emerged a shadow of its former self on December 4. The following year IPC applied the metaphorical pillow over the face when it was merged with Battle and five years later, it quietly expired. Continue reading “ACTION: How Britain’s most brutal comic laid the real ’70s bare”

Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine

Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine
Tired of being a slave to the algorithm? Try rare, handpicked musical delights from Radiooooo.com. ANDREW HARRISON introduces your next addiction

You know how it is. You’re sailing along the French Riviera with your father in his newly-acquired 1950s classic Renault, savouring the sunshine, the fine red leather seats, the sophisticated interior, and the general chic-ness of the moment. You decide to turn on the vintage dashboard radio… and out tumbles a load of terrible daytime radio rubbish, ruining the ambience with its tinny overproduced racket and bursting your bubble for good.

That’s what happened to Benjamin Moreau, a French DJ and artist, back in 2012. But instead of cursing radio programmers and all their works, he decided to do something about the scourge of music that ruins your day. If a song is the most powerful mnemonic there is, can you summon up moments in time through music? “The idea of a musical machine allowing you to travel not only through space but time as well popped into my mind,” he says. And now it exists as a brilliantly strange, quixotic and compelling digital service called Radiooooo.com (type in as many o’s as you like, it doesn’t really matter). Continue reading “Streamadelica! Radiooo.com is the weird music time machine”

Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists

Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists
ROCK’N’ROLL BED-BLOCKERS: The same records keep appearing on every list of Greatest Albums Ever. And we’re sick of them. Which ones should we get rid of? DAVID STUBBS wields the red card…

Time was when lists of the Greatest Rock Albums Of All Time were rare treats. Intrigue would build in advance of these rundowns, to see who’d get to be the second best ever made after ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’. In today’s retro age, these lists are more commonplace, spacefillers, practically fortnightly occurrences.

However, while the bleedin’ obvious selections that invariably top these lists are there for a bleedin’ obvious reason – i.e. they’re bleedin’ brilliant – some seem lazily and thoughtlessly recycled from lists past, their actual worth unexamined. So let’s take a look at ten of the more questionable Best Albums Ever that crop up over and over and over and again. Continue reading “Ten albums to banish from Best Ever lists”

Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard

Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard
ARENA SPECIAL: Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour meets classicist and secret Floyd-head Mary Beard in the ruins of Pompeii. LAURA BARTON sees a funny thing happen on the way to the amphitheatre… Pictures: Sarah Lee

“I probably first saw the Pompeiian amphitheatre with Floyd in it,” says Mary Beard. “And I only visited it later. Because back in the day I was quite a Pink Floyd fan.” We are standing in the middle of Pompeii in the blazing sun of a July afternoon, and Beard, famed Professor of Classics at the University of Cambridge, author of numerous books on ancient Rome, and celebrated host of BBC Two’s Meet The Romans, is granting David Gilmour and his wife, the author Polly Samson, a guided tour of the ruins. Beard is resplendent in snakeskin trainers; Gilmour is in black t-shirt and jeans, a faint sheen blooming across his forehead. “This,” says Beard, brightly, “was the Saffron Walden of the ancient world.”

Over their shoulders, at the far side of the arena, stands a very modern stage, across which black-clad roadies beetle about in the heat trailing cables, testing lights, snares, amplifiers. This evening Gilmour will play here in the amphitheatre as part of a two-night residency. These two shows carry considerable sentimental weight for Gilmour and his fans. In 1971, Pink Floyd famously played here, but with an audience not permitted inside the ancient ruins they performed to an empty arena, the concert filmed and released as the 1972 documentary Pink Floyd: Live At Pompeii. Continue reading “Up Pompeii! David Gilmour meets Pink Floyd fan Mary Beard”

In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup

In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup
With his new McCartney biography, can famous Lennon man Philip Norman cross the floor to join Team Macca? PAUL DU NOYER explores Norman’s long and winding road from Lenninist to Macolyte.

A small annoyance of being in The Beatles, alongside all the good stuff like money and the adulation of millions, was the typecasting. Each Fab was given an official personality and nothing they did could ever shift it. We all know Paul McCartney’s: he was the cute one, the crafter of winsome ballads and (a double-edged attribute, this one) the diplomatic fixer. The PR man.

It was all a bit reductive, as stereotypes will tend to be. But it persisted, because there was just enough of the truth in there to make the image stick. And now, with the publication of a mammoth new book about him, it could be that McCartney has scored his greatest PR coup so far.

Philip Norman, author of the latest biography, was for years our bassman’s journalistic nemesis. Even before the publication of Shout!, his 1981 biography of the Beatles that casts Macca as a scheming lightweight, forever in John Lennon’s artistic shadow, Norman was no friend to the Paul faction. He had penned, most notoriously, a brutally dismissive poem in the Sunday Times that all but called for his assassination. Continue reading “In the battle for The Beatles, Macca’s greatest PR coup”

How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album

How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album
Fifty years ago Bob Dylan turned pop entertainment into a vehicle for dazzling visions – and it’s been that way ever since. James Medd investigates the album that invented an art form.

In 2016, the single is king. iTunes’ unbundling of the album into single tracks for sale individually changed the way we buy and listen to music. We all know it, but we often act is if it isn’t so: though we most likely access music through streaming services or downloads, we still talk about “new albums”, and newspapers and magazines still review them over individual tracks. Strangely, many artists think this way too. The most innovative and ambitious of them, such as Kanye West or Kendrick Lamar, release albums and even a pop sensation like Miley Cyrus turns to the long format when she wants to be taken seriously. We continue to view the album as the mode for music worthy of attention, for art. The reason for that is ‘Blonde On Blonde’.

Released 50 years ago this May, ‘Blonde On Blonde’ still sounds fresh and unlike anything else – a sprawling double album that’s the perfect entry point to Bob Dylan’s sprawling career. Even unbundled, it is astonishing. There’s ‘I Want You’, a pop song that could compete with The Beatles for catchiness; ‘Just Like A Woman’, a torch song Sinatra could have covered; ‘Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’, the original epic love ballad; and ‘Visions Of Johanna’, a stream-of-consciousness tone poem that’s as enigmatic and atmospheric as anything in popular music – and none of them are the best song on the album.

Crucially, though, it’s the other tracks, the “filler”, that make it. What ‘Blonde On Blonde’ has, above all, is cohesion: it’s an album – in fact, it’s pretty much the album. It’s where rock – or pop as art – started, and where a new kind of listening began, one that’s only just coming to an end now. Continue reading “How Dylan’s ‘Blonde On Blonde’ created the modern album”