2015 Awards and Review

Around about this time of year I meet up with a friend and we dish out our Annual Awards for the year. The awards are highly prized even though the recipients don’t know they’ve won. (That’s how exclusive these awards are)

Most people hold some kind of annual review, but I won’t do that. Instead, I’ll look back at the last twelve months to tell you what were the highlights and the lowlights. It won’t be in chronological order because I can’t remember when things happened. I should also warn you, there’ll be some blatant self-promotion in here too.

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May Contain Nuts

Human civilisation has reached a point where it cannot survive without putting nuts into everything, which of course is terrible news if you have an allergy to nuts. And in our attempts to reconcile our nut frenzy with our nut allergies we place warning signs on everything from coffee bags to vacuum cleaners: may contain nuts.

What puzzles me is not the fact that the words ‘may contain nuts’ appear on packets of nuts, but that the warning isn’t more conclusive. May contain nuts? What if you have one of the safe packets of nuts that doesn’t contain nuts? A real Kafkaesque existential nightmare arises.

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Come and Join the Baddies

In a sketch by British comedians Mitchell and Webb, two SS officers sit next to a roaring campfire. One turns to the other and says, ”Have you noticed we’ve got skulls on our caps? Are we the baddies?”

In the real world it’s not always obvious who the goodies are and who the baddies are. The fact that George W Bush and Tony Blair don’t have toothbrush moustaches makes it near impossible to indict them for war crimes, and besides, they’re on our side; they can’t possibly be the baddies.

However, in fiction, film, television and so on, life is a lot simpler. A few years ago I drafted a script for a radio comedy* about a supervillain called Sharabang. The conceit of the comedy was that in the 21st century life was hard for supervillains. In the old days anyone could hollow out a mountain and build a missile silo inside it. The sight of hundreds of lorries and cement mixers trundling along Honister Pass in the Lake District wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. Test exercises in which the top two hundred feet of the Old Man of Coniston open up like a giant manhole cover would come and go with barely a murmur.

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The Many Species of Author Advice

Inspired by a recent article on Matthew Wright’s blog (‘Why All Who Write Should Think of Themselves as Writers. Period’) I started to think again about advice in the literary world. Advice in the literary world is one of the reasons why I’m metaphorically as bald as an egg; tearing out my hair has become an affliction that shows no sign of getting any better.

As a form of therapy I’ve decided to categorise all the various advisors you’ll come across on the internet, so next time you see a blog post entitled ‘#5 sure fire ways of #increasing your #Kindle #sales’ you’ll be able to get out this handy guide and spot which species of Charlatanus literi purpurea it is.

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Samlesbury Hall and Ancestral What-Might-Have-Beens

Many years ago, and I’m talking decades, like, last century dude when everything was in black and white, my Uncle George convinced himself we, the Harrisons, were related to another set of Harrisons at Samlesbury Hall in Lancashire.

His proof, which probably wouldn’t hold much water in court, relied on the portrait of a man with an uncanny resemblance to Uncle Jimmy. Uncle George and Uncle Jimmy are currently occupying clouds in the same celestial vicinity as the Harrisons of Samlesbury Hall, but it makes you think.

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Science and the Supernatural

I had an idea the other day. Start a group on Goodreads where people can meet and discuss the science behind ghosts, vampires, werewolves, witchcraft and other elements of the nether regions. The idea would be for a light hearted exploration where scientists don’t poo-poo ideas, but contribute to add, for example, a plausibility to the quantum physics behind vampires having no reflection.

Let me give you a taste of what I mean. In my world, the world of the Malandanti, witches ride broomsticks, but they don’t sit on them. That would be too unstable when you consider how the broomstick flies.

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Real Beer

Countdown to darkness. The frivolity is coming to an end as I move the Opening Sentence to ever gloomier subject matter. But there are still a few waifs and strays to publish before we hit the long dark night. Today, I talk about beer. Peculiar beer.

Around the world, at any one moment in time, people are drinking beer. Most of it is horrible. American beer is basically chilled water that’s had a loaf of bread waved over it to add taste. The beer in continental Europe is better, but still tends towards a gaseous fizzy pop.

No. Real beer can only be found in one part of the world. Britain. And in Britain, the best beers are not made by multinational corporations producing billions of gallons of tasteless froth, but in the sheds and microbreweries of forgotten corners of the country by men with beards and a terrible attraction to puns.

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Vampires and The Bloodthirsty

Strictly speaking, one of them wasn’t a vampire and one of them is my own creation, but myths have to start somewhere. Contrary to what people will tell you vampires are not yesterday’s news, they’re still the top of the foodchain when it comes to folklore. Here are my top five bloodsuckers and bloodthirsty individuals.

5 . . . Spike (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, tv series.)

vampires spikeIf you’ve ever seen Billy Idol you’ll probably recognise where James Marsters was coming from when he brought life to the undead in the form of Spike. Bad to the bone, Spike was a constant thorn in the side of Buffy, but over several seasons their love hate relationship brought a fascinating twist to the old theme of vampire and vampire hunter.

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Motorbike Rider

There was a time when I got my thrills through intellectual endeavour. Deciphering a piece of architecture by Peter Eisenmann was a big thing, and then I bought a motorbike.

The year was 1997 and it was the first motorbike I had ever owned. Prior to that the only two wheeled contraptions I had sat on were bicycles and those 125cc workhorses used by motorbike training schools. But my first bike was an Aprilia.

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Greece’s Humiliation

Even if you live under a rock in Guatemala, you can’t have failed to see and hear the ongoing farce that is the financial wrestling match over Greece’s financial predicament. I’m not a financial expert or an economist, but when has that ever stopped anyone thinking they had the answer to Greece’s problems?

No, I’m not here to offer my thoughts on how this particular economic corpse is supposed to be resuscitated, I’m just curious to know how a handful of supposedly intelligent people can systematically and comprehensively shaft an entire nation of human beings.

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Writing By Numbers

We all love a hero, don’t we? Well, I don’t. I don’t see the point. One of the reasons why I read very few novels is because they don’t interest me. They’re boring. They’re all the same. But so many people advise writers to read. Well, that’s great if you want to learn how to write by numbers.

There’s a contradiction in the world of published writing. Agents and editors are constantly asking and looking for ‘fresh voices’ or some variation of that. But common advice tells writers to stick to certain rules usually concerning structure and character. Deviate from these rules at your peril, they say, unless you’re a) famous and/or b) know what you’re doing.

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Why I Listen to Trance

At the risk of tempting fate I’m going to predict something: I’ll be struck by lightning before my brain falls to bits. Why? Because of euphoric trance. And before you start shouting ‘it’s uplifting trance, moron’ I couldn’t care less what you call it. I’m sticking with euphoric because uplifting trance sounds like a geological term.

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Lost childhood

If you could recreate one element of your childhood, what would it be? Just one; not a single memory like that amazing holiday in Milnthorpe, or your first kiss with Sharon Fothersdike outside Grimethorpe Social Club. A real rose-tinted-spectacle general condition that made childhood so much better than the living hell that is adulthood.

To give you a clue what I mean, let me provide one example.

When I was growing up in the soot blackened north west of England there was a fairytale land called continental Europe. Some people were lucky enough to live there, some lucky enough to travel there, but for me continental Europe existed in one of several peculiar forms: the Eurovision Song Contest, European football, and Jeux Sans Frontieres.

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Raven Rants – guide to the British general election

raven-rantsWith only days to go Toten Herzen’s number one fangirl Raven (real name [REDACTED]) gives you a guide to the British general election.


I hate my life. And a lot of it is because of politicians meddling and scheming and turning everything upside down. But give them credit, every five years they let us decide which bunch of no hopers and losers can replace the last lot of no hopers and losers. Rob (Wallet), determined to stop me getting bored, suggested I write something to mobilise all the young people who never bother voting. Like I’m some kind of Bodecea [Edit: Boudicca! Rob]

So, here’s the main parties. I’ve not included the nutters except for UKIP.

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#Ten #SureFire Ways To #Promote #YourNovel

Not all these tips are appropriate for every author. You need to pick the ones you think will work for you. Note: the author accepts no responsibility for any injury or embarrassment sustained in the course of following this advice.


 

1 QR codes

pros – They’re mysterious and people love a mystery. ‘Ooh, where does this QR code point me to?’ For effective and permanent exposure tattoo the QR code to your forehead

cons – not everyone has a QR code reader on their gadget, and if the URL changes you’re stuck with an unsightly scar on your head

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Conspiracy Theory Is Dead

Who cares about anything? NSA spying on us all, who cares? Aliens in Area 51, nobody cares? Engineers blew up the World Trade Centre towers… see that’s when it started. That’s when conspiracy theory went too far and everyone switched off. Conspiracy theory was no longer fascinating, it was the haunting ground of the nutcase.


There was a time when conspiracy theory dabbled in pseudo-science and all us thickos who weren’t geologists and archeologists and historians looked at the Bermuda Triangle and the Nazca lines and pyramids built by aliens and thought ‘you know, this Erik von Daniken might have a point.’

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Will someone sort out the date for Easter?

As it’s Easter Sunday and I haven’t posted anything for a while and I couldn’t get into the garden centre cafe because everywhere’s closed, I’ve resurrected my post from two years ago about Easter…

What is it about Easter that gets the planners in such a fuss? Every year it chops and changes: this year it’s the 5th April, last year it was the 20th, the year before that it was in August!


I know it’s something to do with the phases of the moon. The first Sunday after a Paschal moon, the first full moon after the spring equinox, but it doesn’t have to be so complicated. Find the date when Jesus was crucified and choose the Friday and the Sunday nearest to that date. All the stations of the cross still fall on the correct weekday and everyone knows when they can start booking their caravan holidays.

But with the current system the date floats around the calendar like a Pagan festival.

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Clean Reader app Update

Apparently, the Clean Reader app (you know the one that changes words like bum to something  less inflammatory like baby peaches) has been well and truly caned by authors everywhere. So much so that Clean Reader has removed all novels from its catalogue.

And one or two people have raised some interesting legal points, notably The Society of Authors, which raised the issue of false attribution, ie attributing an author’s name to a work they haven’t authored (in that, the author has not made the changes to the text inside the book, but still carries his or her name on the cover).

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Supporting Valencia

You might not be interested in football (and let’s just pause here to remind our non-European friends it is football, not soccer), but Spanish side Valencia have in recent years transcended the sport to such a degree even die-hard football haters would sit up and take notice.


Settled on Spain’s Mediterranean coast, Valencia Club de Futbol have several nicknames: Els Taronges (the oranges), Los Che (the boys), Los Murcielagos (the bats), Los Coppas de los Keystone. (I made that one up) and probably a few more gifted by supporters of local rivals Levante.

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When the Clean Reader App Goes Haywire

For those who are pure of heart and chaste of tongue, the Clean Reader app is a godsend. (Sorry that should be ‘is heaven sent;’ can’t have anything blasphemous.)


Clean Reader removes naughty words from ebooks. So if the words ****, ****, **** and **** offend you then Clean Reader is what you need. It replaces all those profanities with a safe alternative: thus ****ing hell becomes ‘well I never’ and **** off becomes ‘away with you.’

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Origins of the Malandanti – update

Who were (are) the Malandanti? I came across them when I was researching witchcraft for the second Toten Herzen novel. To understand the Malandanti you must first learn about the Benandanti.

banner-malandanti

Benandanti means ‘good walkers’ (Benandante is the singular) and were a group of people from the Friuli region of northeastern Italy in the 16th Century. Their story is rare in that they were tried for heresy by the Inquisition, but survived. Their secret magic brought them to the attention of the Inquisition along with the charges of witchcraft, but when the trial judges heard what the Benandanti were doing they found themselves with a moral and religious dilemma.

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The fracas over Jeremy Clarkson’s fracas

Every so often you read a quote that appears to be about a current issue, but then turns out to have been written four hundred years ago. Anyone who has seen the latest kerfuffle involving Jeremy Clarkson (BBC fracas pulls Top Gear from Sunday night schedule etc) might think the lynch mobs out to get him are a recent phenomenon, but no… The knee-jerk reaction is painfully familiar and was going on ten years ago when I wrote the following article for The Rockall Times, an online spoof newspaper, in 2005. What goes around comes around.


UK SOCIETY MOBILISES AGAINST JEREMY CLARKSON
Co-ordinated campaign to suppress Top Gear presenter

by Bob Wallet

An alliance of Greens, Environmentalists, Road Safety Campaigners and Public Decency advocates are to lobby the next government to have BBC’s Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson banned. The alliance also includes the Campaign for Rural England, the Berkshire Soroptomist Chapter, the British Vauxhall Owners Club, Men Who Like Motorbikes, the Caravan Club, Kill Your Speed, the UK Woolie Pullie Confederation, UKIP and Christian Voice. Transport 2000, Sustrans, the Environment Agency, the Scottish Tourist Board, the Welsh Tourist Board, Plaid Cymru, the Vegan Society, the League Against Cruel Sports, the Women’s Institute, the Women’s Guild, Women’s Own Magazine, British Waterways, the Civil Aviation Authority and the EU also backed the plans to have Clarkson — real name Jeremiah Dibnah Clarkson Jnr, 47 — removed from his post at BBC2’s flagship motoring programme.

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Raven Rants – boring books

raven-rantsA new regular feature in which Toten Herzen’s number one fangirl Raven (real name [REDACTED]) mouths off about everything and anything.


I hate my life. It was supposed to be exciting. I followed Toten Herzen across Rotterdam at three in the morning and it came to this. Boredom. Terminal boredom. And then Rob Wallet comes along with this crap idea to review books and they’re all boring!

‘It’ll keep you occupied when the band are on tour.’ Well, sorry Rob, but it doesn’t keep me occupied. I could be brewing tea, that would keep me occupied, so what?

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A real superhero. . .

In a place far away the Son of Dodgy Folk did come down upon the Earth and the people stood aghast at his ability to float in mid-air. And lo, a woman came along and kicked his do-gooding ass from one end of the street to the other. Her name?

Faora-Ul

We shouldn’t really get all het up about films, especially superhero comic book films. Life is too short. But in a world in which sixty years of freedom for ordinary people are beingly rapidly eroded by corporate lobbying, what are we to make of the sub-text contained within 2013’s Man of Steel, Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot? And why is Faora-Ul the real superhero in this film?

Faora-Ui 1

Rumour has it butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. (Copyright Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures)

The story begins on Krypton where a race of elites have overseen environmental desolation, planet destruction and eugenics. Two of this Ubermensch, Jor-El and his wife Lara Lor-Van, ignore the deaths of millions and selfishly try to save their own son by catapulting him into space where he eventually lands on a planet populated by a race with a long history of believing in any old hogwash.

The individuals responsible for what happens next are producer Christopher Nolan, director Zack Snyder and screenplay writer David S Goyer. Kal-El, Son of Jor-El, Son of Bloody-El, becomes a Jesus-like figure armed with more metaphors, allegories and symbolism than the human mind can comprehend. A bearded fisherman, adopted father, and that mid-air floating so beloved by messianic types.

It’s easy to be dragged into the adulation, but remember where this guy comes from? What he is descended from? Nolan, Snyder and Goyer expect us to root for this figure at the expense of General Zod whose only crime was an attempted regime change. Regime change is such a dirty phrase in the 21st Century. But in Man of Steel it means one thing: you’re the villain.

Faora-Ui 2

(Copyright Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures)

Except, General Zod isn’t the villain and his second in command Faora-Ul is the one we should be praising to the skies. After all, in the logic of the Superman context, she was born and bred to be a menace. She is the product of Superman’s parents’ elite’s eugenics programme. In a court of law that would be a pretty strong case for her defence and reduce most murder charges to manslaughter, possibly even assault with intent leading to a suspended sentence.

If you didn’t inwardly cheer when she set on Superman and beat his soppy arse to a spandex pulp you’re either a relative of Dick Cheney or an employee of Starbucks. If she committed one crime it was not finishing him off when she had the chance. Then we could have sat back and enjoyed a film about how the real heroes lived happily ever after and guffawed at how Krypton’s only son was forced to reap what was sown by his own kind.

If we persist with the Jesus metaphor, then Faora-Ul could be a sort of violent Mary Magdalene. Except she doesn’t lower herself to wash Superman’s size twelves. She is the fallen woman who has the temerity to present herself to a so-called saviour. Man of Steel misses a trick here; Superman symbolically licking her boots would have rammed home the message even to the most simple minded idiots in the audience.

If you feel the same way as I do, there is a trick you can try out next time you watch Man of Steel. Imagine Zod, Faora-Ul and all the others as the heroes and consider their end as something from a Greek tragedy. True heroes always perish in Greek tragedies. Or you can take the easy option and simply enjoy an awesome performance by German actor Antje Traue, who has a bright future ahead of her if this portrayal is anything to go by.

traue pandorum

As Nadia in Pandorum, Traue spends her time avoiding trouble instead of causing it. (Copyright Constantin Film Produktion, Impact Pictures)

Show stopper, scene stealer, arch-bothermaker, whispering mayhem, Traue is a tour de force and the one redeeming factor in a film that has the abilty to make you gnaw your own arm off in frustration. Born and raised in the former East Germany, Traue caught people’s attention in another sci-fi yarn Pandorum, fighting off interstellar ghouls. Her softly spoken accent is a disconcerting contrast to the force of character she portrays, which in Man of Steel only adds to Faora-Ul’s indifference to the havoc she wreaks.

As for Nolan, Snyder and Goyer, they might know how to make a blockbuster superhero movie, but their ethics and morality are upside down. But then, a race with a long history of believing in any old hogwash can be told Superman is a hero and swallow it hook, line and sinker.

And lo, the people did cover their eyes and ears and refuse to look upon she who was good. And there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth when she did lose her temper and start to knock the living daylights out of folk.

Antje Traue

The woman behind the mask: Antje Traue. (Copyright Warner Brothers, Legendary Pictures)

If all that has wetted your appetite you can check out both films on DVD: Man of Steel and Pandorum

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MetalMonth – Delain

Elsewhere, in my feature on Nemesea, I recalled how close I came to losing two of my hands. The threat, the near miss came from Delain’s album, April Rain. Was it better than Nemesea’s The Quiet Resistance? My hands survived thanks to the release dates and a technicality.

For the kind of metalheads who like their music to sound as if it was recorded in a tin shack Delain are probably a bit too polished, a bit too musical. Keyboards! Strings. Songwriting. (They write music, for fuck’s sake. . . . Can’t be heavy metal if it’s musical!!!!!!)

One of the problems with a lot of contemporary metal is that the bands have forgotten how to write a decent song. Afraid they’ll be accused of being a pop group. Well, the fact is you can still write a decent song and be as heavy as fuck.

Delain’s roots lay in symphonic metal. What they did that a number of other symphonic metal bands should have done, was tone down the pomp and work on arrangements; forget how Wagnerian they could sound after the Korg plug-ins went through Pro Tools.

On April Rain they hit a glorious sweet spot and produced one of those rare albums: filler free. Every track a gem. On the third album We Are The Others they actually defied expectations and went one better. WATO was a slow burner. Where April Rain danced around the palate, WATO had all sorts of mysterious aftertastes that lingered.

Key to Delain’s sound is lead singer Charlotte Wessels. Her voice wraps itself around every word and phrase like warm mead, or honey. Hers is an extraordinary richness of delivery that holds the attention, lures you siren-like before the rest of the band turn up and take your head off. See, they’re at it again. Threatening to lop off limbs and what have you.

Their fourth album, The Human Contradiction came out earlier this year. On it is a song called Your Body is a Battleground. It’s a big song, it has the Goblin King himself, Marco Hietala from Nightwish, providing guest vocals. It’s an enormous song. It’s the Grand Canyon of rock music. And when your prickles are still crackling they hit you with the stomping riffs of Stardust. And in Lullaby they’ve written one of the eeriest rock songs of all time. What is it about? ‘We are sinking the ship now. . .’ This from a band who have performed on a cruise liner; not the kind of song I’d want to hear in the middle of the North Sea. (Alissa White-Gluz also made a guest appearance on the album and was rumoured to have been paid in throat lozenges.)

They’re in America, in theatres supporting Nightwish, but in an ideal world Delain would be part of a triple headlining bill alongside Nightwish and Nemesea in an arena with a big light show and perfect sound. Maybe throw in an orchestra a la Within Temptation Black Symphony. Five hours of thrilling, challenging, interesting, crafted rock written by musicians, performed by musicians. Bands who don’t read the Heavy Metal Handbook with its diagrams on how to stand, correct facial expressions and places where you can jump on the latest bandwagon.

And as if the best album of 2014 isn’t enough they have the ‘Official Greatest Guitarist in the World.’ Yes, official. Timo Somers is leading the Metal Month guitarists poll, ahead of Hendrix, ahead of Blackmore, ahead of van Halen. (Okay, There was no Bert Weedon), but he’s in the lead which makes him the man.

And The Human Contradiction is the business. Go and buy it (directly from the band or the label, not those tax-avoiding tossers at Amazon) and listen to some real music.

Official site Delain

MetalMonth – Hair Metal

Can I write an article about hair metal withour mentioning Steel Panther?

Let’s give it a go.

I can see the lights flicker as a million internet users switch off at the phrase hair metal. My laptop screen has just been sucked inwards as a vacuum replaces the space where WordPress used to be, but wait a moment . . . You have no idea how pervasive, how all-encompassing hair metal became in the 1980s. Even James Hetfield permed his hair!

It consumed everyone and everything. Saxon’s Biff Bifford wore a suit with the sleeves roled up in their cover version of Cristopher Cross’s Ride Like the Wind. Only Lemmy and a few tossers with no access to MTV escaped the evil.

So where did it come from and why did it take hold with such an uncompromising grip? Some say the New York Dolls paved the way, others blame Hanoi Rocks. Me, I couldn’t care less. Without it I would never have seen George Lynch wringing the life out of his ESPs.

At its peak hair metal was responsible for 94% of worldwide music sales, and was the sole cause of the hole in the ozone layer from the overuse of hairspray. (Greenpeace estimated that Sunset Strip in Los Angeles emitted four hundred thousand tons of CFC particles every weekend when Motley Crue were in town.) And if you believe any of that you’ll believe any old horse shit.

At one end of the hair metal spectrum where the likes of Crue, Poison, Ratt, TNT, Winger, Vixen (who were unusual in that they were women who looked like women), running all the way along the spectrum to long haired yobbos like Dave Mustaine and an incredibly tassled Lars Ulrich. They might have been thrash, they might have gone round kicking people’s teeth in for wearing sparkly bandanas, but, whisper it: they looked a bit glam!

Nowhere on earth was safe. Even the Germans succumbed. The Scorpions had Mathias Jabs in technicoloured jackets. Bonfire and Victory started wearing stone washed denim. Only Udo Dirkschneider from Accept found himself immune. Like the solitary survivor in an inverted zombie film, where the zombies are made up to look like Christy Turlington, Udo was a squat response to the beautiful people. He even sounded as rough as a bear’s arse, just in case anyone was still in any doubt.

In Japan the likes of Earthshaker and Vow Wow adopted the look. The contagion spread and in Britain, where heavy rock was usually soaked in Watneys Red Barrel, everyone was wearing coloured spandex and adding huge amounts of reverb to the snare drum. Sales of synthesisers went through the roof.

Spare a thought for Bon Jovi. As he crawled up the charts with You Give Love A Bad Name and Living on a Prayer, he was all set to reach number one when a load of pompous upstarts from Sweden beat him to it with The Final Countdown. Joey Tempest was momentarily a household name in Britain until a tooth-scratchingly embarrassing interview with Paula Yates on The Tube put the mockers on Europe’s plan to invade the country.

Ozzy Osbourne, the so-called Prince of Darkness, stopped biting the heads off everything and had diamante material glued to his microphone. W.A.S.P made sure the disgusting dog on the cover of Animal (F**k Like A Beast) was properly shampooed, and David Coverdale ordered everyone in Whitesnake over the age of fifty (which was most of them) to suck their cheeks in for publicity photos.

Kiss removed the make-up so that they could put on new make-up. David Lee Roth inspired a million gigolos to go for the Vince Neill look and every other band was called White Something Or Other.

It couldn’t last, of course. The party would eventually come to an end, but it wasn’t a shortage of hair gel that nobbled it all. It was a greasy haired left handed guitarist from Seattle with a song called Smells Like Teen Spirit. And then a raucous bunch of drugged up halfwits called Guns n Roses joined in to form a pincer movement, which cut off the hair metallists from the hair salons, depriving them of oxygen. Like Samson going bald, the movement was neutered. The ESPs fell silent. The world entered a new Dark Age.

Now everyone wanted to kill themelves. Everyone walked with a hunch and the zombies looked like zombies. The 1990s attacked. The flamboyance and hedonistic euphoria of the 80s was replaced by a nihilistic self-destruction. Ultimately, we would arrive at nu-metal and the war on terror and no one would be happy anymore. Nirvana and Guns n Roses together destroyed the hopes and aspirations of the entire human race.

Did you spot what I did there? I interjected a bit of hyperbole, a slither of exaggeration; a frisson of ‘over the topness.’ Hair metal lives! It hasn’t gone away. It lies dormant in all of us, yes even you growlers and moshers and Nordic church burn-downerers, you metalcorists and death/gloom/satanic/technocore/whatsit metalheads. Ye shall suffer the sins of your ancestors. Ye shall carry the strain in your genes for a thousand generations because the gods of hair metal did decree it will never die. As long as Don Dokken has the strength to form a fist every time he sings the punchline to one of his choruses hair metal shall live on in all of us.

Problem is, a lot of the old hair metallists are almost as bald as eggs and have skin like four day old custard. They didn’t age well. All that sun and foundation cream. Blocked the pores, you see. The men finally look like men and the women have their women’s fashion back where it belongs. In the women’s section of the clothes shop.

If you’re still reading this you are either a) an original fan of hair metal, b) very very bored, c) astonished at the sheer brazen confidence to write about one of the most embarrassing periods of hard rock’s history, or d) Udo Dirkschneider overjoyed to find his name used as a keyword in a blog post.

Disagree at your peril.

(And no mention of Steel Panther. Get in there!!)

MetalMonth – Toten Herzen, fact or fiction? Pt. 2

In 1977 four members of the rock band Toten Herzen were murdered in London by Lenny Harper. Harper was only charged with wasting police time and the bodies disappeared. The killing of Toten Herzen is now one of the forgotten events of the decade, which is why in 2012 UK music journalist Rob Wallet decided to find out what actually happened.

This is the second part of his two part article on how he solved the riddle and finally revealed the truth behind one of the great mysteries of rock music.

transparent

Nobody was killed, no one held to account, the band were obviously not going to come forward and confess, so putting it all together you have only one conclusion…

ii – a disappearance due to unpublicised difficulties

If the band had come to the end of its natural life what might have prompted the four of them to split? ‘Musical differences’ is the usual culprit. If the five albums are examined they were becoming more complex and the shifting time signatures was a prelude of what would become an important ingredient of thrash metal in years to come.

live-v-2

Close up of Rene van Voors.

Bogdan Misic of the NME described the band as being musically ahead of their time. “The only ones doing that kind of complexity were the prog rockers such as Yes and ELP and, god forbid, Toten Herzen never wanted to be taken seriously musically.” They were a contradiction; hell bent on shocking people with their monstrous looks and bad behaviour, but at the same time very accomplished musicians with Dee Vincent’s hypnotic vocals out on top of it all.

I asked Lance Beauly if they ever talked about the music writing. “Bekker was serious about the music. Of the two bands that Toten Herzen came out of, After Sunset were the better band musically. Bekker and van Voors actually practised. I think they enjoyed the music. Vincent and Daley were more prototype punks.

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Elaine Daley looking worse for wear in 1975. Daley was considered the most private (or reclusive) member of the band and never conducted interviews. As a result, very little is known about Daley’s life prior to Cat’s Cradle. (photo Adam Crijzek)

Vincent was quite wild at times which exasperated Bekker. I saw them arguing a few times, but it never looked like anything that would split the band. It wasn’t like Blackmore and Gillan or Don Dokken and George Lynch who could barely sit in the same room together.”

So as the music became more accomplished it would have been increasingly at odds with their ridiculous image. The logical conclusion would have seen Toten Herzen morphing into a heavy prog rock band. Sort of Genesis meets Metallica!

Dee Vincent and Elaine Daley, the prototype punks, as Beauly describes them, would have suited the punk explosion that was just around the corner, whilst Bekker and van Voors would have been two Dutch musicians equally at home with the New Wave of British Heavy Metal that was on the way. The band had options. Without the make up they could have continued knowing that there was a place for whatever musical style they wanted to play.

But life without the make up? “It was fucking convincing make up,” says Lemmy from Motorhead, on a crackly phone line from Bucharest. “I met them at Hammersmith and they looked like they needed a good meal inside them. I used to think if they drank as much blood as they claimed they’d be a bit more rosy cheeked than they were.”

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Dee Vincent on tour to promote Black Rose in 1976.

They never drank from his jugular, he confirms. Did Izzy Starling think they could continue without the make up, a la Kiss? “I think it was part of them personally, not a musical act. When Micky exploited the image of the band it was more to do with their actions rather than the looks. They just thought they looked natural. It wasn’t an act.”

Starting in 1973 would have seen them pitched into the middle of the glam rock scene. If you looked normal you were a rock band, if you looked abnormal you were glam, and in the glam spectrum there was Abba at one end and Sweet at the other. Toten Herzen were never comfortable in the make up contests, going out of their way to be anything but glam. That’s why in 1974 they careered recklessly off the spectrum to make sure their name was never uttered in the same breath as Roxy Music or David Bowie.

The warning signs were there; as the decade wore on Sweet shed the eyeliner and watched their record sales nose dive. If only Bekker had owned a crystal ball she would have seen punk come and go, followed by goth and the new romantics; a myriad of looks that could have been adapted if they wanted to remain behind their masks.

And they probably had the money to hang on. According to John Whiggs at Backman Rogers Financial Consultants, totting up record sales and other 360 degree deals (although not a term that was in use at the time) the band probably had enough money to last ten years and that’s not counting money from any material reissued in that time.

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Susan Bekker in a publicity shot from early 1977 just weeks before the assault by Lenny Harper. Bekker’s ambition to make Toten Herzen more than a freak show would strain her relationship with manager Micky Redwall.

The question wouldn’t have been ‘how’ but ‘where?’ Publicist Izzy Starling recalls the band moving all over the place. She now lives in a cul de sac in Great Yarmouth, but remembers the band living in hotels, other people’s flats and occasionally houses in Holland where Bekker and van Voors originally came from. “They always travelled at night so the press didn’t follow them.”

Was it true that they once kept awake an entire floor of guests at a hotel in Brussels?

“Yes. There was howling and screams all night, but when hotel staff checked the rooms everyone was asleep with the lights off. Then the noises would start again. I didn’t sleep all night, and the next morning the band didn’t remember anything. They obviously had a big laugh at everyone’s expense. I don’t believe they were charged. The hotel was glad to see the back of them.”

When was that?

“Late 76. Towards the end.”

Without anything directly from the band it’s hard to truly figure out what they were thinking. Anecdotal evidence isn’t given much weight in a court of law for obvious reasons and the best you can do is put the pieces together and hope a picture is formed. My theory is this: some or all of the members of the band were ill and faced with shifting styles in music that had no place for monster rockers, decided to take a break. Being the nutters that they were a quiet exit was never on the cards so they faked a murder and cleared off leaving Lenny Harper to face the wrath of the authorities and a charge of wasting police time. Now, they have been overtaken by changing times and musical tastes and decided they’re better off where they are. Wherever they are!

The only thing we can be sure about… they were not murdered by Lenny Harper in a tragic publicity stunt. Far from it. It all seems to have been rather effective!

And let’s not forget, there was the third rumour…

iii – they really were vampires!

It’s hard to pin down exactly when this rumour started, but it may have been a novel by London based occult writer Jonathan Knight. He was an author of several gothic horror books and in 1977, seven months after the band’s grisly demise, published ‘The Dead Heart Weeps’ in which a fictitious vampire rock band are hunted down and killed by a descendant of Van Helsing.

‘The din of the storm outside failed to raise the sleeping ghouls. Their faces red and healthy with the evening’s feast, their bodies bloated. Each gazed into infinity with all the calm and peace of satisfied devils. I feared they would catch my eye and reach for the stake, but they remained motionless and oblivious to my intentions. I looked upon the pretty face of evil one last time. The singer, for she would be the first to perish, would utter no more melodies. She had beguiled and enchanted her final audience. I placed the stake on her breast, gathered myself for the ear shattering scream and with a terrible blow of the hammer drove the stake deep into the wretched monster’s dead heart…’

The Dead Heart Weeps, Jonathan Knight (Stone Lion Books 1977)

Knight insists the band in the novel was based on Toten Herzen and that he wrote the book to alert people to the truth. He claims the band regularly visited the gothic scene in London and always claimed to be vampires. He could identify witnesses, people sworn to secrecy and members of the band’s ‘inner circle.’ He says this was a euphemism for other vampires.

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Rob Wallet often suspected Jonathan Knight knew more than he let on. He would later play a key role in identifying the band’s ‘hiding place’. (photo Pedro Ribeiro Simoes)

In an interview in Fortean Times in 1983 he revealed that Lenny Harper was not a crazed fan, but the son of a Presbyterian minister called Arthur Harper. Lenny found out where the band stayed during the day and killed them by staking them while they slept.

I exchanged emails with Knight in November and he claimed to have some information, not known to him in 1983. Lenny didn’t act alone. He was helped by a friend called Eric Mortimer who is still alive and works as a librarian in Norwich.

Knight is absolutely convinced the band were real vampires, but the problem with his story is that he’s obviously never spoken to PC Barry Bush, the first officer to arrive at the crime scene. Knight would have been aware of Lenny’s vampire-hunting incompetence and the fact that the band were staked through the lungs. The worst thing Lenny could have inflicted on them was a seriously bad cough.

I think it’s time to find out once and for all where they really are.

You can read Rob Wallet’s blog and how he eventually solved the mystery at the official Toten Herzen website. >Discover the truth…

And the official Toten Herzen biographies are available from Smashwords by clicking on the covers:

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MetalMonth – Ronnie James Dio

Ronaldo Padavona does not play for Real Madrid. Ronaldo Padavona is better know as Ronnie James Dio. Where the name Dio came from is open to speculation, but he became one of the most admired and respected vocalists in rock music.

I could have written a ‘How I Discovered’ post on Ronnie Dio, except how I discovered him was weird. I didn’t actually know it was him. In 1974 he sang vocals on three songs for Roger Glover’s The Butterfly Ball and The Grasshopper’s Feast.

I heard one of them as a child; Love Is All. I saw the cartoon frog leading a disturbing array of animals towards some bachanalian carry on and thought ‘what a fantastic singer.’ I only found out about three years ago that the singing frog was Ronnie Dio.

Of course it was. Providing the vocals for a cartoon frog was all in a day’s work for a man brought up playing the trumpet. Dio had a band called The Electric Elves, later shortened to The Elves and eventually just Elf. (Had the band survived they would have become E and then probably dispensed with using any letters at all.)

But greater things were to come and the greater part of Elf became the greater part of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow in 1975. Ronnie Dio sang for three albums before joining Black Sabbath after Ozzy Osbourne left/died/got kicked out.

I must have come across Ronnie Dio when he went seriously solo and released Holy Diver. Surrounded by polystyrene castles and a fire breathing animatronic dragon he made Yngwie J Malmsteen look like Arthur C Clarke. The dungeons and dragons persona was perfect for an ex-trumpet player who used to be in a band called Elf.

I know, it sounds like I’m taking the piss, but it’s a light hearted piss-take towards a man who was one of the most honest and straight talking members of the rock community in the 1980s. Dio delivered. He gave you your money’s worth and presented it all in a larger than life setting that he would have been the first to admit was pure theatre.

Read any article, watch him interviewed on Youtube and listen to his common sense and common decency. He was instrumental in organising Hear ‘n Aid, the rock response to Geldof’s Live Aid initiative. He believed in honesty and integrity and never took his audience for granted.

And everyone who ever made the devil’s horns symbol probably has Dio to thank for either introducing it to rock, or at least making it part of the visual vocabulary.

In 2009 his stomach cancer was made public and a year later it took his life. But like all heroes his legacy lived on. You don’t have to like his brand of hard rock or his ‘scary’ videos, but you have to admire the little guy from New Hampshire who deservedly became a big presence in the world of rock.

MetalMonth – Wild Wimmin

Next week I’ll write about Mad Men, but today, as it’s Sunday. . . .

I’m not sure which female singer first caught my attention. Back in the late neolithic period I can remember Suzi Quatro appearing on Top of the Pops singing Can the Can and being christened Tin Tin Suzi by my sister. (Very droll.)

In the intervening years there were the occasional nutters coming and going, but none of them were rock singers. It wasn’t until Doro appeared in the pages of Kerrang that female fronted bands, on my radar at least, stepped up a notch. (See How I Discovered . . . Doro for the full story.) The blue eyed whispy haired blonde from Dusseldorf had a shriek that could set off car alarms.

In the eighties there were tons of female artists knocking the balls off the men. Some of them glowed like supernovae for a criminally short period, one of whom was Sandi Saraya. Why she gave up, I don’t know. She never reappeared thirty years later in any of those weird MTV reunion shows where ex-famous people are found in barns in Wyoming and brought out for one last gig.

Saraya released two albums: Saraya and When the Blackbird Sings. They weren’t exactly groundbreaking; more a product of the times, but something about them touched a neural network and I still listen to those songs to this day.

One artist from the 80s who did make a comeback, after a period singing jazz – and singing it very well, it has to be said – is Lee Aaron. Cheeky faced Aaron slowly evolved from big-sword wieldy metal queen to melodic rock imp, surrounded by hair-metally men. I suppose she hit her peak at a period in rock’s history when everyone was hitting their peak. Inevitably, some superb artists would be lost in the babble. Lee Aaron’s voice was always one of the best.

Her Canadian contemporary, Ann Wilson, enjoyed something of a second coming in the 80s when Heart went all glam, stopped playing Barracuda and instead bothered the charts with a string of hits written by the likes of Dianne Warren. If there was a note Ann Wilson couldn’t hit it probably couldn’t be heard by the human ear. Whilst sister Nancy threw herself about on guitar, big sister Ann delivered the goods to such an extent even Lemmy was moved. (Describing her as Morticia in one interview.)

Honourable 80s mentions to Pat Benatar, Terri Nunn (Berlin) and Andrea Schwarz in Rosy Vista.

And while were on the subject of female vocalists in the 80s, was there ever an answer to the Alexa Anastasia controversy? Did Paul Sabu fake his own vocals to record that Alexa album in 1988? We may never know.

I don’t remember the nineties so I probably wasn’t there, but when I started to recover I found a rock scene awash with extraordinary singers. If I were to write an article called How I Discovered . . . Symphonic Metal it might start with William Orbit!

You see, William Orbit’s remix of a classical song sent me down the trance road which ultimately arrived at Armin van Buuren’s collaboration with Sharon den Adel. In and Out of Love was a cracker in it’s own right, but van Adel’s work with Within Temptation guided me towards a casket of artefacts that included Nightwish and Nemesea and Delain and Lacuna Coil and the contagion spread from there.

Tarja was up next, via Anette Olzon who was the Nightwish singer when I discovered them. (Tarja along with Nemesea and Delain have their own articles.)

Nemesea article

Tarja article

From Nightwish and the Showtime, Storytime dvd came the voice, or should that be the floor scraping growl of Alissa White-Gluz. Now I have to say I just don’t get this growling business, and a female growler perplexes me even more, but when I saw the film Please Learn the Setlist in 48 Hours, the way White-Gluz and Elize Ryd stepped up to the challenge of performing with Nightwish at such short notice brought home the difference between a professional and the millions of pub bands who never quite make it off the amateur circuit.

In terms of sheer vocal richness few come close to Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia. If her voice was haute cuisine it would be something cooked in red wine. And how clever to team up alongside the grainy voice of Andrea Ferro to produce the distinctive Lacuna sound.

Honourable mentions to Charlotte Wessels, Manda Ophuis, Simone Simons. Leave a comment if you want to add others to the list.

I can’t finish this piece without a nod to four women who are possibly nutters in the true sense of the word. God bless Crucified Barbara. Two of them play Gibson Flying Vs and Explorers, just like Toten Herzen’s front two. Crucified Barbara don’t use their real names, unless Mia Coldheart, Klara Force, Ida Evileye and Nicki Wicked are their real names. They play superheated classic rock with lead vocals that sound like Lee Aaron after a night drinking caustic soda. I wouldn’t like to be trapped in a lift with them, but they seem a fitting way to round off this quick exploration of women who step up to the mic and scare the vicar.

Take it away ladies. A one, a two, a one two three four. . . .

MetalMonth – Author Feature: Jaq D Hawkins

For the second author profile during Metal Month say hello to Steampunk author Jaq D Hawkins. Jaq is the writer of numerous books on magick and esoterica, along with the Goblin Trilogy. Climb aboard. . . .

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I started as an occult book writer and began my goblin series as a sort of anti-political statement, threw in some magicians and they took over. Who knew…

The Steampunk writing was inspired by Steampunk music, specifically Abney Park. After seeing their video for the song Airship Pirates, I felt there had to be a book about airship pirates and the rest grew out of that original impulse. Naturally just a touch of the mystical had to find its way in, in the form of a Basque air goddess and the superstitions of sailors/airmen everywhere.

mm-jaqd TrilogyFront300I tend to write contemplative characters, at least for the main characters. I’m making more and more of a point of making sure there is plenty of action in my more recent books, but my early Fantasy work was directed towards the thinking person more than the quick fix YA-type reader.

I hope that readers take some deep thoughts away from my work, especially in the way that I wrapped up the Goblin Trilogy. But also I hope they take away the enjoyment of an adventure lived vicariously through the written word. After all, adventures on an airship have a lot of scope and I haven’t finished working in that world. Getting on with goblins is a different experience entirely of course, but the clever human might survive unscathed.

I was traditionally published for years, but the market was changing just after my first fiction novel came out and I’ve gone indie since then, despite the crowded marketplace. Yes, it is a challenge to get your work noticed by the target audience with every aspiring writer on the planet using all the same resources, but with patience and observation, it is possible to start the word of mouth flowing that makes good writing float to the top.

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As for my future plans, I have several Mind, Body, Spirit books to write to bring that side of my work into the digital market. Mister Bale, from The Wake of the Dragon has demanded a sequel book. I have a few short stories to fill in information about the goblin world which I will continue to add to for a couple of volumes of short stories. It’s a world I never tire of visiting.

I also have a science fiction novel brewing and an old story about dimension travelling magicians that I intend to finish at last. There are always more projects to do.

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You can find Jaq’s Goblin Trilogy at Amazon by clicking here

And The Wake Dragon Steampunk Adventure at Amazon is here

And for more information about Jaq and her writing visit

jaqdhawkins.co.uk

and

indiewritenet.com/jaqdhawkins