Man of the Woods. Bunker of Awesome.

…. and then Bobby walked into the bathroom and Pam knew it was all a dream. No-one shot JR.

Feels like the past 18 months could out-Dallas, Dallas.

Relieving, then, that Justin Timberlake* should release a new album round about now. *Henceforth known as JT.

Here, at the House of Hairbrain – there is no time to dig through crates of vinyl for hidden gems. I leave that to the specialists on MixCloud and always read someone else’s review first; saving myself from the utter inconvenience of being ahead of the pack.

Today is no different. So, after the seventh ‘mixed review’ of a ‘mixed bag’ of an album, it was time to find out what went wrong with JT’s latest work.

Turns out, a whole bag of nothing went wrong and JT is alive and well (if hiding out in a concept-bunker with “The Good, The Bad and The Ugly” looped on the Plasma of Survival – and Pharrell wigging out in the corner on a brown acid tab from Woodstock he ‘bought off of eBay’).

Cut to the chase – every track has a berth in the Bunker of Awesome. Man of the Woods will survive Trump (how many on the Axis of Evil can say that?), Man of the Woods will hunt, gather and flavour up his pop with whatever tools he can find, out there, in the hinterland of the Neptunes studio.  True, Perry was quicker off the mark with Chained to the Rhythm but JT is no also-ran here.

Do yourself a favour – to carry this out authentically, you may need some brown leather sofas and shag pile ceiling carpet – and give yourself a good old fashioned concept album listening afternoon, staring at your shoes, nodding ferociously because you DO have a sense of rhythm.

Here are some of my notes – but you can make your own:

Track 1: Filthy – Alice Cooper scores “007: Man of the Woods” before Daft Punk takes over the whoopty whoop machine. JT’s punchy recitative melts into sweet west coast road-mixtape melody. Funky guitar n bass hoves into view before Daft Punk whoops and swoops in aluminium tracksuits. Alice reprises straight outta nowhere. Stop. Turn on a dime to Daft Punk this time sporting Timo Maas  sensibilities. JT is sassy ol’ self (not unlike George Michael in tuneage). Finish with absurdist spoken monologue.

What’s not to love?

(My full album listening notes for the boffins will be posted elsewhere.)

So why the bad press then? Maybe they don’t love Country / West Coast Yacht Rock / Alice Cooper / Pixar-worthy “put you in my left pocket” balladeering? The man was a Mouseketeer!! If anyone is going to put you in his left pocket, it will be JT. And you will enjoy it (promise).

Or maybe they do.

Once upon a time, in a hot, sweaty WWII weatherboard shed (not unlike JTs bunker, sans the acid) on the NSW Uni campus Music Department – one Dr Jill gave us the following essay topic: Is Yothu Yindi’s “Treaty” an Australian aboriginal song with Dance music elements bolted on – or is it a Dance track, with an aboriginal song flavour?

Burning issue, Ethnomusicologists! But for all the whys and wherefores (it was an Aboriginal song primarily) was it a) awesome and b) could you love it if you got out of your own way and gave it a proper listen?

Yes we can.


Book Review: “The Cancer Survivors Club” Chris Geiger

The Cancer Survivors Club by Chris Geiger
The Cancer Survivors Club by Chris Geiger

Reading “The Cancer Survivors Club: A collection of inspirational and uplifting survival stories” by Chris Geiger, is like finding someone’s diary – opening it to the most devastating day of that person’s life – and reading on and on because you can’t stop.  Only, this is a collection of stories from twenty-three people, who have had cancer dumped in their laps, right out of the blue. One of your greatest fears, right?

However scary this all seems, the title of the book gives its premise away: you see, these are the stories of cancer Survivors. These brave souls have weathered their various storms and have come out the other side on a wave of positive energy. The Cancer Survivors Club has offered up its stories for the greater good. What’s so great about that?

Well, when it comes to the “Big Bad C” there is a lot of fear and negativity swirling around. Magnify it by a million, when all that crazy happens to you. Hearing about someone else’s sh*tstorm – which has been conquered – is bloody marvellous. These folk (and little folk) have endured hellish chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and the full gamut of surgeries. Best of all: Cancer has been in their rear view mirrors for a good 5, 10, 15 years and more. Good News indeed.

If you want to know how any of these stories might relate directly to you – I can report that the cancers discussed in the book are: Lymphoma (Non-Hodgkin & Hodgkin), Pancreatic, Breast, Bowel, Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), Testicular, Spinal / Brain & Stomach tumours and the very rare Pseudomyxoma Peritonei (PMP) – with its equally rare course of treatment:  MOAS (Mother of all Surgeries) – look it up – or better still – get the book. If your friend tells you they have cancer and you don’t know what to say – get the book and give it to them. I can guarantee they will appreciate it.

The stories which particularly resonated for me were not – as I had presumed – in my own area of expertise. They were Kate Beynon’s “Animal Therapy” (Kate used to have Non Hodgkin Lymphoma) and Mark Davies’ “How Do You Solve a Problem Like My Rear?” (Mark used to have Bowel Cancer) – Gotta love a Sound of Music reference!

A few of these stories told the heartbreak of babes lost, babes born prematurely due to competing with a tumour in utero – and – as was the case in “Animal Therapy” – babes born against all the odds. After completing her treatment, and being told she wouldn’t be able to have children, Kate proved the experts wrong and went on to have three healthy children. With the aforementioned Bowel cancer story, I felt the direct hit of Mark’s built-up tension and one of those “delayed reactions” you have when something is too big to deal with at the time. It made me cry. Then I pulled myself together. Ultimately, Mark’s story is one of seeing life through new lenses, as he found he was able to live a more centred life, up north, post-cancer.

I found myself open-mouthed at times to see just how busy these folk were whilst recovering from chemo/radio/surgery: there were house moves, charity walks, marathons and riding a new horse home after a painful bone marrow harvest! OMG! All I could manage was a lot of sleeping in bed on an extremely large amount of codeine!

Two of the stories are from the perspective of parents. The father of a young woman who very sadly lost her baby due to emergency surgery and the mother of an 11 year old boy. Sometimes it is so much harder to watch another go through a dreadful illness (and the subsequent treatment) than it is to go through it yourself. There were silver linings here too as the young boy discovered his passion for music, during the lonely and boring months of recovery in a foreign country.

A couple of the people in this book also question their course of treatment: Mark Davies refused the standard “cut you open and whip it ALL out” approach to his bowel cancer. Instead, he used a technique his mum found out about from talking with a neighbour who turned out to be a cutting-edge colorectal surgeon! How lucky was that?! The new technique used Papillon radiotherapy and TEM microsurgery which spares the patient incontinence and impotence and the loss of the large intestine. Another lady, who knew her limits due to her allergies, declined to go further with her chemotherapy. Instead, she used an alternative approach in conjunction with the Penny Brohn Cancer Care organisation – with great results for her.

I love hearing about good news + cancer. The “Survivors” all wanted to share their stories so they could offer hope and inspiration to other people experiencing a cancer diagnosis. Here’s to their continuing good health and yours too. I hope this book reaches the many, many, many people who need to read it.

Oh, by the thrice beshitten shroud of Lazarus …. ! How good is that Score? #WolfHall

Calling all Wolfies! Did y’all enjoy Episode 3 of “Wolf Hall”?

Now what I really want to know, ever since reading the book (and I did tweet @HilaryMantel, so I’ll let you know if I get an answer): Did she make up that totally Tudor cuss – or did she come across it during her research phase, inscribed in a leather tankard somewhere: “Oh, by the thrice beshitten shroud of Lazarus, where’s me meade?” It is magnificent, so much so that I did urge my stockbrokin’ brother to try and weave it into a conversation at work for laffs. Not sure how he got on there …. perhaps someone else can have a go?

The standout performance from last night’s episode, was ….. The Score! (NB to ‘im indoors: My birthday is only a week away ….)

The music is quite fabulous (if not quite “authentic” – electric Tudor keyboards anyone?) but I’m not on that jag today – what wait? Looky here – an explanation for the instrument selection, from the Amazon listing:

Leading British film and TV composer Debbie Wiseman in her sixth collaboration with BAFTA Award winning director Peter Kosminsky has created a highly original score mixing Tudor instruments with modern to create the austere and vivid musical atmosphere of the time.

The final scene where Cromwell watches Queen Anne being sent up the river, up the duff, with many paddles – for now (so he thinks – oh, the imagery!) is an absolute corker. Cromwell is thinking, thinking, always thinking and the electric minimalism carries such introspective suspense with a bloop here and blip there; little (dark) ideas are popping into his head.

Cromwell doesn’t need a soundtrack to be walking tall these days (unlike the rest of us): Perhaps there is an animal’s last “spray” in those furry collars, a hidden pheromone if you will, as the Ladies are a’likin what they’re seeing! The “action” was definitely missing in the book, it was ‘reported’ but we never really caught them at it. Obvie, that kind of restraint ain’t going to work on the telly. The producers, rightly, are giving us the “Lupine Lodge” version of Wolf Hall; hands on heaving breasts, going in for a pash/snog/kiss, and a bit of post-coital pillow talk. Pass me my fan!

A final word: Falling short of an explanation for the explosive outburst of Sir-Swearsalot (Norfolk was it?) for today’s post, I went to my source of all things Biblical / post-Medieval: My friend Sza says: Perhaps Lazarus died of dysentery?

I’m off now to look up The Locrian Ensemble of London! Anyone up for a Volta?

#WorldCancerDay – What the hell do I know about “The Cancer Survivors Club”?

Oh Lordie – a bit too much, I’m sorry to say. But that’s where the fear ends.

The Cancer Survivors Club by Chris Geiger
The Cancer Survivors Club by Chris Geiger

Today, I have been listening to Vanessa Feltz’s show on BBC London (because I love her) and a most genial man, by the name of Chris Geiger, has been talking about a book which is out today. It’s called “The Cancer Survivors Club: A Collection of inspirational and uplifting stories” and a summary can be found on his website of the same name.

It was so good to hear someone (else) feeling positive about surviving cancer and I’ve tweeted the man to let him know – especially (or more likely because it is) on #WorldCancerDay. The scary statistic of “50% of us in the UK will be diagnosed with Cancer” was released by Cancer Research UK today – and whilst there is safety in numbers most of the time, this is definitely not one of those times! Reassuringly, the survival rates are lot better these days too – so it is those stats I’ll be keeping in the front of my mind today.

I will read & review “The Cancer Survivors Club” in the not too distant future (two copies on the way from Amazon – one for you Mum!). For those of my subscribers who tune in for a laugh – you’ll know I’m a purveyor of fine gallows humour – so I’m sure among the angst & poignancy of cancer survivor stories, there will be a smile or two, too.

Lastly, I am reminded of the late, great  Yul Brynner and another famous health campaign of the past “Whatever you do … Don’t Smoke” so I’m going to send that thought out to all my friends and family who are still smoking, on World Cancer Day! (that’s you, and you, and you, and you, and …. YOU)

It is probably a more than a little bit wrong to say “Happy” World Cancer Day – but I am having a happy day regardless. Hope you are too.

Wolf Hall: Where has my sexy beast gone? (BBC 2: 8pm Wednesdays)

Aye, four score times more sex’ed Thomas Cromwell didst appear on the page of Hilary Mantel‘s book (OK I’ll stop the half-baked Tudor-talk now) but maybe that was just the “eye of the beholder” syndrome? See, in my version, TC’s hair would be darker & silkier, his nose a bit more crooked & sinister, his lip cru-ell …. I think I gave all the smarts of Mantel’s Cromwell to the visage of an Alan Rickman (circa: “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” in ’91) and now I’m having the Dickens of a time trying to reconcile the bloke on telly aka Mark Rylance with my sexy beast!

A quick squizz to the bible ( tells me that Rylance has done this sort of a gig before: in film, playing Thomas Boleyn in “The Other Boleyn Girl” in 2008 (with Portman, Johansson, Bana etc.) and a thoroughly enjoyable example of the Bodice-ripper genre it was too.

Which brings me back to Wolf Hall on BBC2. It’s not a Bodice-ripper and neither was Mantel’s book; so who is this version of Thomas Cromwell and am I going to warm to him, as much as I warmed-right-up-to the man on the page?

Well, for one thing I am digging his accent; it’s noticeably thickened and more countrified than his aristocratic work-mates. It immediately locates him outside the King’s traditional circle-of-trust; a fact which Mantel also drums into us on the page – and not something even she could fully convey with words. You really do need to hear it to feel it.

Mark Rylance’s whipped hound-dog expression, is a constant reminder to the violence we all had to endure in the book; that of an extremely violent father battering his boy within an inch of his life. A few wince-y flashes on the screen were enough, thanks, but it is precisely this constant tail between the leggedness which is at odds with the “Hollywood Cromwell” version. I fell in love with my Cromwell because he was shrewd and clever and got away from his drunk-mean Dad, travelled the world, soaked it all in and came home to make big, bloody deal of himself. All because he knew his place and refused to sit in it.

Cromwell was loyal (give or take some shenanigans with his sister-in-law), was a loving-then-much-bereaved husband and father with the midas touch. He was the Tudor Money Saving Expert and signed the King up. If Cromwell was on the US show “The Bachelor” you’d jump up and down screaming “He has the whole package!” Mantel put us in his cerebral cortex (rhymes with Vortex, little else does) and there was no “hang dog” lurking there, just a big ol’ sexy beast. Of course, later on he stitched up one or two innocent people, in a deadly game of “he said, she said” …. but that’s another episode.

Is your Cromwell manifesting on screen, or, doth your eye behold another?

Running up that Hill; Three rows in at the Kate Bush concert 3/9/2014

Let me state up front – I wasn’t the world’s biggest Kate Bush fan before Wednesday night’s show …  but I kind of totally love her now!! Oh sure, “Running up that Hill” is a favourite of mine (and everyone else as it happened; I’d never seen so many grown men weeping simultaneously as in front of her that night. Come to think of it, people were still weeping on the train on the way home – a dose of Beatle-mania fifty years on) and it sounded every bit as groovy in concert as it did on my car stereo in 198*. But I have to confess, I hadn’t heard about 65% of the material, I reckon, until that night. What an introduction!

Let me also state up front – we were in row “G” – 3 rows from the front. Yep – read ’em and weep, the likes of Bjork (back of the stalls??), Mr Walliams (somewhere else “up the back”??) et al. “Well these are just terrible seats!!!” Cackle, Cackle … Until the guy sitting in front of me told me he had just made the same joke. It was the most thrilling experience of recent years to be so close, nay part of, such a remarkable piece of musical theatre; at times I felt as though she was looking straight at me.

Up on stage, singing, Kate Bush was a ‘powerful figure‘ (quoting my friend Murray, who was actually the one in the fan club who got the great seats and suggested I come along  in the first place), and she was mesmerising even with all the highly competitive activity going on around her. She was graceful and elegant in movement – a little ‘groove’ here and there with her shoulders (a ‘mum dance’ if you will: Why does that happen to us?) but it was her voice which gave your goose its bumps, it was golden. I suspected there was a secret mixing desk somewhere making her voice sound like it had a little ‘MSG’ sprinkled on it – but no, no, no – that’s how good she really sounds. Her concert face was still the same and beautiful – all shy smiles & sad, sparkly eyes. And Hair.

I’m not going to give a run down of the order of events of show – others have done that quite successfully [and let’s face it – you WILL want to be surprised when the DVD comes out]  other than to say there were 3 main segments: “Kate + Band: The Hits!” (No, not WH or Babushka – I didn’t mind and it didn’t seem necessary at the time either) “The Ninth Wave: Search & Rescue” and “The Sky of Honey: Totally Avian!”.

The only extra piece of production I will comment on was “The Technical Hitch”. It’s funny, because even though I go on and on and on and on and on to family ‘n’ friends about how AWESOME the show was, I don’t really pause to mention that the show stopped for about half an hour at a crucial moment, just after the “amateur astronomer” film between “Kate + Band” and “The Ninth Wave” due to a technical difficulty. It was really unfortunate timing as this was THE moment when we moved from a kind of “faux start” to “Now, This is What I Call a Kate Bush Concept” and yes, it would have intensified our surprise if we’d gone straight from one t’other. Rhubarb, Rhurbarb went the crowd, grab another drink, go to the loo, flip through the programe and we were back in business. No matter. “D’you know what?/I love you better now.”

Almost every time KB disappeared from the stage, she was greeted with a standing ovation upon her return. Now, I don’t like to brag (but I’m going to) I’ve been to a few good shows in my time. You’ve got your Madonnas, your Princes, your M.J.s, your James Browns, your Ramones, your Kraftwerks, your Iggy Pops, your Fugazis, your Wayne Newtons (c’mon! it was 80s Vegas!), your George Bensons, your Culture Clubs, your Cures, your Pavarottis (mum made me go), your Cramps’, your INXSs, your U2s (my friend Debra Murphy touched Bono’s boot) your KISSes and my very first show at the impressionable age of 6, your ABBAs, but NEVER, I say NEVER have I seen a reaction to a performance like the one she got. It was worship at the altar of Kate Bush. And if that’s how the all the reviews and reports of her shows come across, they be speaking the truth.

Breathtaking stuff. As Murray said mid-show: “Nostalgia is a powerful thing“. Yes, Kate Bush and her voice were a part of the fabric of my musical youth – but it was her show and the music I was hearing for the first time the other night which really blew me away. No wonder she’s clogging up the UK Top 40 Album charts. She Is Risen.

I loved it. Can’t you tell?

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