The Total 2013 Backtrack Trip Before We Bring the Axe Down Ahead of New Year Revolutions…

I’m bringing down the axe on 2013…

It’s New Year’s Eve, so following on from the end-of-year musical retrospective of the other day and doing what it seems right to do at the calendar climax, here’s another look-back blog post. I will keep it brief and will try not to be boring and self-indulgent. In truth, the coming of a New Year is always an auspicious opportunity to eyeball boringness and self-indulgence and say “A pox on all your pernicious devices! Begone!” And then we explode boringness, self-indulgence and their dyspeptic brethren with our Positive Mental Attitude in a multiple-Boss Fight and level up. Erm, yeah. Basically I’m just going to write my personal sheepdip blogpost equivalent of Charlie Brooker’s 2013 Wipe though I guarantee that it won’t be as funny or as depressing as that. If you want a more worldly or insightful view on all that’s happened this year, all the newspapers and websites in the Solar System have got you more than covered. You can navel-gaze and dwell in premature-nostalgia as much as you want – it’s all out there…

Anyway, armed with the extra experience (accumulated in the multiple-Boss Fight) and resolve to get on with it, here’s the rest of the round-up of my 2013. All in all, it was a pretty good year and I’ve done some cool things and had some awemazing experiences. The highlight of the highlights was definitely spending the entirety of June in Italy, going back out there to work as a English-language summer camp tutor in Italy. I got to see old friends, make new friends and have an absolute blast with the bambini in a country and culture I love. I cherish all the memories of Milano, Torino, Borgo val di Taro and all the things I saw, did, soaked up and appreciated on the way. Good times…

Trip-wise, a birthday weekend excursion to London to see Shakespeare on stage (Macbeth at The Globe, no less) was special. Also special was watching the Charlie Chaplin silent masterpiece Modern Times with a live orchestra accompaniment at the Royal Northern College of Music. I also got to see some heroes this year and had starstruck moments in front of Neil Gaiman and Matt Fraction. Sticking with comics, Exhibiting at the Thought Bubble convention in Leeds was a really good time. Oh and while my mind’s in Yorkshire I remember that I actually drove over the Pennines and automobiled over Britain’s highest stretch of motorway for my Pass Plus lesson. I passed my driving test in February! Achievement! An achievement completely forgotten because I don’t have access to a car but, hey, I passed!

Achievements otherwise generally revolve around creative output and I’ve churned out a lot of mess over the past 12 months (though never as much as I’d like). Den of Geek columns most weeks; Alternate Reality News and the Alternate Reality News Timequake Expanded Edition reboot; several Fight! Fight! Fight! episodes; a number of Working Barbarian instalments; monthly Pictonaut short story experiments; several doodly projects like #DrawAugust and the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar; and a whole lot of stuff that no one will ever see or that people will hopefully see once I’ve done the necessary reprocessing, perfecting or completing. I’ve got a lot of things in pipelines, in notebooks, in neglected files, in locked-up parts of my brain and in other places out of sight but I can smell them and they’re scaring me and i’m going to have to face them at some point before they become even more fearsome. 2014 is ‘get your hands dirty and wrassle with demons’, time…

Before then, though, I’ll tie up 2013 with a few cultural highlights. My favourite comics of the year have been Battling Boy by Paul Pope and Hawkeye (or Hawkguy) by Matt Fraction, David Aja and Matt Hollingsworth. I’ve also been getting jazzed about Fraction and Chip Zdarsky’s Sex Criminals in recent months and am ultra, ultra excited about catching up on with all the Mike Mignola-related comics (B.P.R.D. and Hellboy) that came to stay at Christmas. Televisually, everything is ultimately overshadowed by the end of Spartacus and I was in mourning for a week when it finished.

Really, I don’t watch a massive amount of TV because most of my square-eye time takes place at the cinema. I used and abused my Cineworld Unlimited card to maximum this year and saw over 100 films. That’s an unhealthy amount of time sitting alone in the dark crying about people who aren’t real but, hey, I got to see some great movies and I enjoyed and got something out of most of them. Trying to nail it down to an exclusive few (I like pretty much everything so it’s hard) my favourite films released in 2013 were Only God Forgives, Gravity, Stoker, Pacific Rim, Pain & Gain, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and The Way, Way Back. My sweetest movie memory would be getting so high on Pacific Rim that after watching it I ran all the way home punching imaginary kaiju monsters. Yes, that happened…

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix...

A really happy guy after his giant monster/giant robot fix…

I also experimented with growing a beard for a bit, participated in an all-day meditation retreat for the first time (it was cold and uncomfortable battling with my mind in silence) and dressed up as a pretty witch for Halloween. I’m sure that there’s loads more but I’m going to bring the axe down on this self-indulgent bore ramble and put the year to bed (graveyard bed ’cause ding dong the year is dead. I’ve put an axe through its chest and it breathes no more). 2013 is beasted and I’ve levelled up to bounce my way through 2014 which is an even more exciting stage with fresh challenges. I have more powers, I have more experience and I’m game on to have some fun in the future and get better on the way.

On with the New Year Revolutions (I have so many) and ‘thanks ta-ra’ to 2013, then. Thanks and appreciative cyber-hugs are also sent out to everyone who’s been nice to me this year and taken a moment to give me or my shenanigans some consideration. And with that I’m off into the future. Happy New Year and see you in 2014…

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Rock ‘n’ Roll, Sonic Sensations and My Retrospective 2013 Musical Mixtape…

Rock ‘n’ roll! I hope you, reader (hey you! Thanks for stopping by!), had a very excellent Christmas. I did (thanks for asking. Sweet of you.) and I’m now in the post-Christmas, pre-New Year place of reflection. I am reflecting. I’m like a mirror. No, I’m like a looking glass. No, I’m now through the looking glass, Alice, and everything just gets curioser and curioser. I don’t know – bear (white rabbit?) with me. Everything is all a bit weird in this still-Christmas-but-not-really-Christmas-anymore phase. It takes time to get into some kind of rhythm and reason, y’know?

Anyway, back to rock ‘n’ roll action after a rest and on to rumination at the end of the year. ‘Tis the season to do navel gazing, drink down some Nostalgia-Lite (it never goes down smooth) and work out what you did over the course of the past 12 months, just because that’s what people do. This stuff gets really boring and self-indulgent really, really fast so I’ll keep it brief because I don’t want to be really boring and self-indulgent and you don’t want me to be really boring and self-indulgent either.

The vital info: last night I joined my Old Man and Sean McGinty on BBC Radio Lancashire again for the final FNAT show of the year. We talked about curry-dusted parsnips, Professor Brian Cox and the phenomenal lack of body odour in Korea (none of them are related but, actually, all of them are related because everything’s connected and we’re all made of the same matter that exploded out of the Big Bang at the very beginning of the Universe and it’s amazing). We also did a fair bit of retrospective stuff looking back at the past year in rock music and if that sounds interesting to you you can find it on the iPlayer for the next seven days.

To prepare for that programme I took a sweep across the year’s sonic landscape and, in doing so, I realised that I haven’t been listening to a massive amount of new music. Altogether it reminds me that my approach to music is still shamefully immature and rigid and that’s a rut I’m eager to get out of. The majority of the time I’m on autopilot, listening to the same things over and over and over again, ad nauseum until I get bored. Too much of a good thing is actually overkill, Liberace

When I do consciously attempt to take control over the reflex insta-groove it takes a while for fresh material and new (or ‘new old’) artists to sink in. I can put this down to several factors: 1. I (ab)use music as background noise and that means that it’s degraded when it deserves to be appreciated properly as something more than supplementary aural wallpaper; 2. I’m using digital streaming services and that means I’m no longer buying CDs and physically handling music which, in spite of the positives (space, instant availability of near-infinite material), also induces passive indifference and decreased imminence when it comes to listening to music; 3. I’d say I’m still slightly hindered by the sensory damage done during a prolonged past period of depression in which enjoyment of music was impossible. I have to work a bit harder to establish a relationship with music but it’s well worth doing ’cause I want to rock out and feel some rhythms.

The moral is don’t get depressed and take time to consciously experience and enjoy music in open-minded, highly-aware fashion. Attempting to take my own advice and embrace aural exploration, I put aside some time and space to go over the new releases of 2013 that I actually got round to listening to. I then picked my top 10 tracks from the records I’ve really dug and compiled my 2013 Primo-Grade Supreme Sonic Splash Playlist Mixtape on Spotify. Here’s a run-down of those righteous jams…

  1. KvelertakÅpenbaring from the Meir album. I can dig Norse metal that makes you want to rip holes in mountains.
  2. Föllakzoid9 from the II album. I can dig Chilean cosmic psych-dirges that make you want to go for a float through interstellar space.
  3. AirbourneReady to Rock from the Black Dog Barking album. I can always dig stright up fist-pumpin’, headbangin’ Aussie rawk ‘n’ roll.
  4. MelvinsDoctor Mule from the Tres Cabrones album. I can dig bizarro bludgeon riffola that makes your eyebrows dance of their own accord.
  5. Monster MagnetMindless Ones from the Last Patrol album. I can always dig more psychedelic space rock jams from the Bull God.
  6. KavinskyProtoVision from the OutRun album. I can dig French electro instrumental concept albums about an undead ’80s Testarossa crash victim who’s come back to haunt his girlfriend..
  7. Queens of the Stone AgeThe Vampyre of Time and Memory from the …Like Clockwork album. I can dig it when QotSA get really dark and broody and produce the most beautiful and poignant soundtracks to an existential crisis.
  8. Dinosaur Pile-UpLip Hook Kiss from the Nature Nurture album. I can dig surging, bittersweet alternative rock anthems that make me want to fall in love with a girl with a lip ring.
  9. PixiesAndro Queen from the EP1 EP. I can always dig Pixies, especially when they do the washy-dream surf guitar thing.
  10. Daft PunkContact from the Random Access Memories album. I can always dig Daft Punk and RAM was my most-played, favourite album of the year. Electric throwback French disco was, thus, my jam of 2013 and the absolute absolute of the whole thing is the final track which sends me a transcendental cosmic trip. I hear this and feel at one with the Universe. Yeah, after the disco comes the deep and metaphysical…

I guess that works as a Top 10 then and probably does a decent job of representing the kind of stuff I’ve been crankin’ repeatedly alongside old familiars and a few ‘new old familiars’. Gigwise I got to see The Sword, Whitesnake, Avenged Sevenfold, Pixies and Airbourne supported by Orange Goblin so they were all a bonus. Back home, I also listened to a lot of movie soundtracks – my personal favourites of 2013 being the Maniac OST – because I love film music and its easier to write and work to scores because there are fewer distracting singalong moments. I’ve also got an extra shot of impetus to seriously delve even further into classical and opera music. That came from watching the BBC documentary series Howard Goodall’s Story of Music and from visiting La Scala in Milano when I was over there in the summer.

I need to open my mind and ears more in 2014, so feel free to throw sounds at me. I’m all amped up for aural exploration and new sonic sensations and I will now go and listen to them and curtail this self indulgent, boring ramble about what I did in 2013. A few more brief retrospective blogposts may surface in coming days before 2014 but I’ll keep ’em brief. Less talk, more rock. Cut the chatter, spin the platter.

Ah enough, I’m getting up and going off to dance to some French disco…

‘Twas the Blogpost Before Christmas…

The final window on my Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar – the Star of Wonder…

Hark! ‘Tis Christmas Eve, and that means it’s time to tune out and kind of get into the ‘Christmas Holiday Shutdown’ mindset. ‘Tis time to say “Ah, fuhgeddaboutit” to everything and just focus all energies on celebrating the celebration. Everything else can rest – now I’m mainly interested in spending a few days enjoying the weird limbo period where time and space disintegrate and you just kind of ‘Be Christmassy’. And I have been very Christmassy these past few weeks so this is the point where I reach the zenith of my ‘Be Christmassyness’.

So, yes, Hark! I’m off to spend quality time in the semi-quiet with my blood brethren, some sprouts, some books and a stack of movies. I’m also going to do some wistful reflection and meditate on what it all means, what life’s all about and contemplate my New Year Revolutions.

‘Tis the season to do those things and not the season to be ultra-wired up to the web so, yes, I’m off. Several daily Alternate Reality News bulletins will be published because news never stops but aside from that, for the most part I’m going to be avoiding the internet and lots of (anti)social media engagement. I will therefore now depart these cyber-realms and leave you (whoever you are) with a  link to my Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar (the final piece being the Star of Wonder, up above guiding shepherds, magi and other assorted characters towards a Christmas miracle) and my Christmas Den of Geek column.

Family and the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future are calling for me and the Christmas tree is pining for company (it wants to start a sing-a-long) so, yeah, I’m off to enjoy my holly jolly holiday. To all of you passing by these parts, I wish you a very Merry Christmas and I hope that it’s a great one no matter where you are wherever you are, whoever you’re with and whatever you’re doing, it’s a great one.

And this is the point where Tiny Tim says “God bless us! Every one!” and where angels get their wings. Awww, Christmas!

Yay Christmas!

Pictonaut Short Story Challenge: ‘Drawing Up the Final Dagger’…

Hark! In the midst of all the festive faffing around, there’s a monthly short story challenge to handle. As per usual, I’ve handled it and answered the Venerable and Very Excellent Mister John Steele‘s call for fresh fiction. On the first day of December, British Steele set the following painting – Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks  by Ilya Repin – as the inspirational image for this month’s Pictonaut challenge

“Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire” by Ilya Repin, 1880-1891.

Repin’s painting is a striking one and the whole background history behind the artwork is fascinating. It’s a fantastic story of the drafting of the most profane and vulgar riposte to a belligerent enemy’s unreasonable demands ever. It contains a “your mum” joke and, quite frankly there’s no response to that and any words I write about the Cossacks will be pale and pitiful in comparison. I can’t do justice to those audacious historical heroes…

Fortunately when I went about the process of studying the picture and trying to work out what story I wanted to tell I got hit by outside influences. The outside influence is something I’m personally obsessed with and spend a lot of my time thinking about and following. It has nothing at all to do with 17th century Ukrainian history but in the positioning of the figures in the frame I felt a visual symmetry to something else. I also really wanted to grapple with one of my biggest enthusiasms and represent it in a fresh creative experimentation so yeah, why not? An idea for a short story with a twist and total off-tangent possibility stepped up and I just shot it and produced the following tale – Drawing Up the Final Dagger.

I will not say anything else about it ’cause it would probably kill the mystique and the effect. I hope you enjoy my December Pictonaut dribble…

Crankin’ Up the Rock ‘n’ Roll Christmas Audio Carnage…

 

Yulekulele solo! *shreds*

Rock out! That above is the Yulekulele and it’s one of the Magical Christmas Artefacts on my Advent Calendar. I’ve got a lot of air Yulekulele action going down at the moment because I’m listening to a lot of festive rock music. Nay, I don’t just listen to the music – I feel the music. I respond in harmony. I thrash around, howl out th’words, throw shapes and headbang like a ho-ho-ho-mofoco. ‘Tis the season, after all…

I do this because ‘Christmas is Awesome‘ and because the sound of seasonal music is, erm, music to my ears in a period I figure with should appreciate with a perky, celebratory attitude. It’s also been sweet to discover that certain artists have laid down surprising festive tracks that I never knew they existed. Sir Christopher Lee has done multiple heavy metal Christmases! Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish have a beautiful cover of Walking in the Air! Bad Religion have recently released an EP called Christmas Songs and it’s a wonderful, spiritually-uplifting irony-free punk rock blast!

Some of these things will be getting cranked on tonight’s FNAT radio show on BBC Radio Lancashire. I’m going to be joining my old man and Sean McGinty again from 10pm to 1am and I’m mainly doing it to mash Merry Christmas Rock Music in everyone’s earholes. If you would like to hear some yulerific riffage you can tune in online. It’ll be fun and may boost your spirits and help you battle pre-Christmas stress. You will definitely get to hear some odd versions of old yuletide favourites and it may help you feel a bit more festive if you’ve not already (like me) gone completely Christmas crackers.

For now though, I will leave you with a link to my Christmas Den of Geek column, a  link to my current jam (erm, cranberry sauce?) and a singing gingerbread man because it’s Christmas and ’tis the season for music and magic…

Crumbs, that’s a beautiful rendition of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’…

Hailing Hobbits and Hearing Tolkien Rock on the Radio…

Hum hum hum! (Those are seasonal Dwarf hums. Misty mountains cold? Forgotten gold? Aye?) What’s happening? I’ve been busy humming on, all hopped up on doing Christmassy things, in case you were wondering. Joining the Alternate Reality News bulletins on the ‘things I do daily’ list, the Magical Christmas Artefacts Advent Calendar has been opening up every day of December over on my sketchy doodle blog. One of my favourites so far is the Jolly Holly 3D FestSpecs…

I might stick these on and go and see The Hobbit in 3D…

Today, however, celebrating Christmas is taking back seat while I celebrate something else, for ’tis Hobbit Day. Happy Hobbit Day! The Desolation of Smaug is out in cinemas and I’ve been to see it and, oh by Gandalf the Grey’s undergarments, it’s glorious. In honour of the momentous occasion several Tolkientastic things are going down. Over on Den of Geek my weekly column is devoted to Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth movies -mainly focusing on their epic length and defending said ludicrous runtimes. These films need to be overlong affairs because the material is epic and because we need to immerse ourselves in larger-than-life blockbuster films every so often. It’s an event and we should savour the spectacle and enjoy spending as much time in the Tolkienverse (or any other fictional fantasy realm) as possible.

But wait there’s more, my Precious! Tonight I’ll be joining my old man (he’s a wizard who should know better) and Sean McGinty for the FNAT show on BBC Radio Lancashire. I’m going to rock out, ramble on nonsense and present an interview I did with Airbourne frontman Joel O’Keeffe. Mainly though – getting back to Middle Earth – I’m going to be leading the team through an hour of tracks all inspired by Tolkien’s works. There are some great prog rock tributes to The Lord of the Rings, I tell thee. I also hope we’ll be playing Flight of the Conchords’ “Frodo, Don’t Wear the Ring” and Leonard Nimoy’s “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins”. It just wouldn’t be a ‘Best Songs About The Lord of the Rings’ playlist without those classics…

That will be on air at Midnight though the main show starts at 10pm and is subsequently available on the BBC iPlayer. In the meantime you can go and see The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug at most cinemas and I recommend it. This update blogpost needs an appropriate image so I’ll leave you with Gandalf wearing 3D specs (not as magical as my Holly Jolly 3D FestSpecs)…

He is not a conjurer of cheap tricks. I don’t think he likes the 48fps gimmick…

Fantasy fiction thrills and the best in life (and death) with the Working Barbarian…

What is best in life? It’s a question that needs to be asked over and over again for in asking it you truly realise what is best in life. Some believe that the answer to the question is To crush your enemies, to see them driven before you and to hear the lamentation of their women. That is good but I do not always believe that is best in life. Though it varies depending on time, mood and circumstance, I’d offer up the alternative answer of: “To write fantasy fiction and tell tales of violence, magic and high adventure!”

It’s definitely the best thing in life when I’m doing it and I’ve been doing it again. This week’s fresh instalment of The Working Barbarian – Part 18 of the saga – was written by me and it contains bloody violence, magical nudity, softcore bestiality and root vegetable cosplay. I had a lot of fun spawning it and hopefully it makes for an intriguing read and a worthy addition to the ongoing online pseudo-epic we’re fabricating.

To recap if you’re a little lost or very forgetful, The Working Barbarian is a collaborative fantasy fiction saga developed by a coven of quite kickarse scribes (and Art-Wizard, Eoin ‘Ultimate Hurl’ Hurrell). It’s forged in unison, born of a love of things like The Lord of the Rings and Discworld novels and from memories of playing through Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and Fighting Fantasy books. The latter part is especially significant as this adventure relies on reader input. At the end of each chapter, users of the internet who just happen to be passing are given a choice and the choice they make affects which direction the story goes in. It’s an appealing proposition – you get to read a ripping yarn and then go on a powertrip by wielding your voting privileges to decide the fate of our unfortunate characters. Oh, and it’s all for free as well so that’s a bonus.

Even though we’ve collectively managed to amass over 38,000 words (By Crom!), you can quickly get up to speed or, possibly, just jump right in. Focusing on this week’s episode, in Part 17 Warlord Andrew of Blair anticipated “something drastic” to come. Readers also voted to show that they didn’t want Jala to offer help to a vulnerable dancing girl in a bathhouse-turned-into-a-bloodbath.

I acted accordingly in confluence with all of these things and the established narrative arcs and mythos features. I duly wrote up the next part of the tale and your vote will affect what Sagameister Magus John the Steele has to write for the Christmas cliffhanger. Go forth and read and cast your vote then we’ll all revel in our omnipotent mastery over fictional universes and go on to share more epic tales of high adventure.

These things are all what is best in life…

Here's the Working Barbarian's calling card...

Here’s the Working Barbarian’s calling card…

Open up the Advent Calendar of Magical Christmas Artefacts…

Happy December! It’s okay to start feeling festive and talking about Christmas now. People have opened up the first window on their advent calendars. I’ve opened up the first window on my advent calendar. It looks like this…

Day 1 of the Magical Artefact Advent Calendar turns out to be the Seasonal Peace Pipe…

And so it shall continue. Every day up until Christmas Eve I’m going to be sketching one of the Magical Christmas Artefacts and displaying it on my arty-doodle blog. Expect lots of mystical seasonal relics, kitschy winter paraphernalia and surrounding squigglies. Oh, and with it being December I’m also going to get on the greeting card trail so if you’d like Christmas correspondence from me, just say hello (as instructed in this blogpost). I’m listening to Bob Dylan’s Christmas album and lighting up up with the festive spirit! Can you feel the magic in the air?!

It may take a bit more time actually ’cause it’s still early. Regardless, the advent calendar is open, welcome to December and here’s to a nice Yuletide season. Fa la la la la, friends…