Monday, 30 September 2019

Doctor Who and the Target Books of Terror

I grew up with Doctor Who but that didn't always mean watching it. Although my first recollection of watching it 'live' was the Tom Baker story Full Circle and I have watched avidly ever since (excepting the most recent series but that's a whole different article) I had to read more than watch. It's hardly to believe that when I was a child there wasn't the access to the entire Who universe like there is today. Even predating UK Gold, the first experience I had of of the Classic era was through the Target book adaptations (a huge number written by the late great Terrance Dicks). In fact, other than reading it, my first audio experience of Genesis of the Daleks was just that, audio. I had a 4 cassette set of the audio only story and I wore it out. The moment when Davros introduces the 'Mark 3 travel machine' sent shivers down my spine. Hearing as The Doctor wrestles with committing genocide to save millions and actually hearing the anguish in his voice was something new to me. Up to that point I had imagined the pain, imagined the terror and tension and that was the brilliance of the Target novelisations. I would never have imagined back then that I would own a complete set of Doctor Who stories to watch whenever I please and even the lost or incomplete stories would have a new lease of life thanks to the hard work of the animation teams. 

"Do I have the right? Simply touch one wire against the other and that's it. The Daleks cease to exist. Hundreds of millions of people, thousands of generations can live without fear... in peace, and never even know the word "Dalek"."

Because of Terrance Dicks close affiliation with the show his adaptations were flawless in their faithful telling of a story that few in my generation had ever seen. In a lot of ways the novelisations were superior to the actual reality of the visuals. In my mind the corridors didn't all look the same, the sets didn't wobble and the creatures encountered were truly terrifying. A good example can be drawn with the novelisation of 'The Ark In Space' Words are only limited by the imagination of the reader and as Noah's horrific transformation from human to Wirrn is on par with anything David Cronenberg could dream up. Ian Marter describes a man who is completely consumed by an alien force and as his body is mutated you can almost hear the bones crack. Doctor Who and The Ark In Space was one of the first videos I ever purchased and this is what this scene actually looked like! 

Green painted bubble wrap is what we got! I imagined something much more believable but budget and technological limitations got in the way! Marter does describe the Fourth Doctor as being 'a tall man with a riot of curly hair' possibly one of the best descriptions of Baker's Doctor ever. Had it not been for the Target books I truly wonder if I would have become the Doctor Who fan that I have. Or at least it wouldn't have been until the more recent DVD releases and my childhood would have been poorer because of their absence. The novelisations were also to be an essential lifeline to Who during the wilderness years of hiatus and I (as most fans did) wondered whether my beloved show would ever return to the TV screen. I read and re read every book so many times and never once lost the sense of mystery that is central to the magic of Doctor Who. Somehow in reading them I became a companion and closer to the Timelord himself than I ever felt just by watching. It's relatively to sit back and watch an episode almost lazily letting it wash over you but to read and engage takes effort and to imagine yourself in the story even more still. 

I have read some truly terrible screen novelisations and it is no easy task to transfer the pace and tension from screen to page. Yet the writers of the Target books have lovingly transferred the adventures of The Doctor in a way that (dodgy monsters and wobbly sets aside) faithfully represents what you see on screen. Even the cliff hangers at the end of an episode are so successfully written that you cant help inserting the familiar end credit music before continuing reading. Whilst it's true that the novels varied hugely with regards to story and likability this doesn't in anyway denigrate the writing itself. It was more to do with the quality of the original TV story and script and in a number of cases the novelisations were far better. Trial of a Timelord's Terror of the Vervoids worked much better on paper than onscreen but that may have something to do with my dislike of Bonnie Langford and her ear piercingly horrendous screaming. It may also be due to the fact that the Vervoids themselves suffered from a terrible design flaw that made them look, well let's say, not exactly scary. This could be said for a lot of the monsters of Classic Who and once again my imagination made them far more imposing. Melkur (the statue in Keeper of Traken) was a towering foe who imposed his will upon the poor peace loving people of Traken. Onscreen, however he was only slightly taller than the Doctor himself and a heft shove in the right place would have sent him flying. 

Even though all of the Classic Who stories (the ones that havent been lost anyway) have now been released on DVD and or Blu Ray I still re read the Target books. Partly for nostalgia but also because they are fantastic novels in their own right. I am indebted to Terrance Dicks and the other writers for bringing the whole of the Who universe to me and for making me feel like The Doctor had given me my own Tardis key. 

Monday, 16 September 2019


"There are some places where the road doesn't go in a circle. There are some places where the road  keeps going"

 I've never understood Film Marketing and it's fascination with likening films to other previous hits. It's lazy! kinda implying if you like this huge film you will LOVE ours so just buy a ticket ok? Sometimes they get it really wrong and massively undervalue a new films power to capture it's own audience. Pleasantville is one such film and please ignore the lazy PR! It is so much more than "Back To The Future meets The Trueman Show" and the 1996 released film has a greater relevance in today's tumultuous times. You need to watch Pleasantville because it screams out to be seen and if you have seen it you need to watch it again. Here's why!

Pleasantville is both a place and a yesteryear tv show where nothing goes wrong, everything is always the same and it doesn't even rain. The old black and white show has a cult following and mega fan, David (Tobey Maguire) can't wait to watch the marathon. His sister, Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) has other plans and has a hot date with some attractive college guy. David and Jennifer couldn't be more different and yet they suffer from the same problem. David is the classic college nerd who never quite has the guts to ask out his college crush. Whilst Jennifer is a school drop out in waiting and her vapid existence has no meaning or purpose other than to satisfy her immediate cravings. They are both trapped in living how they are expected to live. They find themselves transported into the fiction of Pleasantville and become as black and white as the occupants of the show themselves. So far so Trueman Show like, for the other characters in Pleasantville are as real as David and Jennifer. For David, this is a dream come true and an opportunity to live a life surrounded people that he shares commonality with. For Jennifer, though, it is her worse nightmare as her wild rebellious side is now straight jacketed into the sort of banal existence she has sought to resist all her life. David and Jennifer are now forced to become Bud and Mary Sue but things begin to change when they both attempt to be themselves

Pleasantville has a powerful message of non conformity, of being yourself no matter what others think of you. It shows us that we all have a choice in how we live our lives. We can be ourselves, vibrantly colourful in all our mistakes and successes or we can conform to what society says we should be. We can be black and white! As David and Jennifer introduce Pleasantville to really living and not just following the same rutted road, the town and its residents change. It's the small things at first, red lips or a red rose. But soon it spreads and people change, people become alive. Books which previously had been blank are filled with words and the stories that inspire generations. Pleasantville becomes full of dreamers who dare to dream and artists who dare to create. All of a sudden what they have been told they are is no longer the truth. As Husbands come home to burnt shirts and empty tables the old guard are scared, scared of change and they attempt to maintain order, to enshrine their truth and hold it in place.

As Soda Shop owner Bill Johnson paints, discovering artistic creativity for the first time and Pleasantville is bathed in colour, the Mayor attempts to stop change and to force things back to the way they used to be. It is at this point that Pleasantville becomes more than a mere whimsical tale to encourage us to be ourselves. Because their is a cost to being truly us and it can be dangerous. Throughout history, those that hold the power have attempted to box, to limit our ability to think freely. To control our minds with misinformation and lies, to force us to conform to their ideals, to their world view. Limiting our access to dangerous literature, art and music when it is deemed to threaten their own ability to control. Burning of books, mob violence and then the rules are agreed on. Always in the interests of safety, of decency, always to protect us but the end result is always the same. We find ourselves with newly forged chains, shackled mentally and forced away from colour and back into black and white. When this rule of law is resisted we are ridiculed, isolated and controlled, then we are silenced. However, once you have started to live in colour why would you want to go back to black and white? even if you could.

 David's chains are different to Jennifer's and yet both of them have to discover who they really are, in order to transform. All our journeys are different and our path to discovery is one we travel at varying paces. There are some that are happy with conforming, comforted by the routine and reassured by the lack of variation. But there are some of us who yearn for more and seek enlightenment, allowing us to be who we were created to be. Not what others want, need us to be. Without resistance what follows is always what does. Apartheid, segregation, allienation, violence and death. The dehumanisation of those that are different because unrestricted creativity and self expression terrifies those who crave control. Pleasantville has changed and those that resist what is the new reality seek to deny what is obvious to others.

As a Musician I use my music to express my heart, my mind as well as to celebrate my individuality. Creativity, free thought are fought against by those that know the power they hold to free those in chains. As Pleasantville is bathed in full Technicolour it is a victory not just for free thinking but it stands as a loud cry for anyone that wants to be more, passionately seeks to be more fully them. Watching Pleasantville again made me realise that I will never go back to being black and white and perhaps for the first time in my life I KNOW WHO I AM. It started with one red rose and ended with a colourful explosion.

The Show Must Go On- Freddie Celebration Days (Montreux 2019)

I remember when the statue of Freddie was unveiled on the shores of Lake Geneva, way back in 1996, I vowed to visit one day. Freddie meant the world to me and his unrivalled vocal talents and sheer stage presence will never be equalled. I grew up listening and playing Queen music and, despite the decades that have elapsed since his death, I will never get over his untimely passing. It seems I am not alone with this as, every year, to celebrate his birthday on the 5th September the town of Montreux throws a weekend party which culminates in the Mercury Phoenix Trust fundraiser on the Saturday night. Last year I released a Queen tribute EP and I also secured a ticket to this sold out party. If Queen could rock Montreux then so would I. I was also planning to play the piano in the venue and relished the opportunity to celebrate the life of a man who I knew only through music and yet felt the connection as personally as any one I had met in real life. Music is my voice, the way I express my feelings and the way I earn my living. As a film composer I know the power that music has coursing through its notes and to have such an opportunity was something that I relished.

What follows is an account of my weekend in Montreux. I believe that the majority of us have respect and admiration for Queen, for Freddie and the back catalogue that spans decades. Last years release of the biopic, Bohemian Rhapsody, has only increased the appeal of a band that just don't know when to stop. But to be in the company of hundreds of fans who view Queen as more than just another rock band and hold the striking front man close to their hearts it was always going to be emotional. As I boarded the plane to Geneva early on Thursday morning I was expecting tears to be shed. The show must go on!

Thursday 5th September

6.30pm - Festival opens with cake cutting
7.30pm 39 Queen Tribute (band)

As I landed in Geneva Airport, about 10.30am local time, I experienced a stab of panic as I worried about finding my way to the train station. I don't speak a word of French (apart from bonjour but that isn't really going to get me far) Fortunately finding my connecting train to Montreux was actually very easy and as I settled into my seat I found time to think about what had brought me to be here. Live Aid! Like so many of Freddie's young (ish) fans this was my first opportunity to see Freddie perform live. He owned the stage, but then he always did and I couldn't take my eyes off this man who seemed to make Wembley Stadium small. He didn't just own the stage, he took out a mortgage and moved in! That performance was why I consider myself not just a Queen fan, but a Freddie fan. I had grown up listening to Queen and as a musician had appreciated the anthemic songs that the band seemed to release. I marvelled at the sheer level of musical skill and that voice, THAT VOICE! The power from low to high register is unrivalled before or since but it was the way Freddie held the audience that astounded me. They loved him, we love him, I love him.

As I stepped from the train and made my way through Montreux train station I felt both happy and sad. Excited to be celebrating the life of Freddie but saddened that it was required. I had decided to check in to my hotel before making the short walk to the statue, at the shore of Lake Geneva. I wanted this moment to be perfect and I also wanted to be unhindered by my luggage. As I walked back down the hill to the indoor market place and to Freddie I knew that this was a moment I would never forget. It was about midday and already there was a large crowd of fans, posing for photos and chatting with each other. Shared memories were to be  central to this weekend and what has really struck me is how Queen truly bridge cultural and language barriers. We were all in Montreux for the same reason!

The atmosphere was  amazing and instantly moving- The Statue of Freddie is placed so that he looks out over Lake Geneva and as people take photos there is a feeling that already the trip was worth the effort. As Queen music plays out over the main speakers the air of expectation for what is to be a weekend of fun and memories has already settled and as the cake opening ceremony begins it is clear that the local people of Montreux viewed Freddie as part of their town and, by extension, anyone taking the trouble to pay their respects is afforded the same courtesy.  As the Italian Queen Tribute band start their set the crowd are already loud and in high spirits and 39 Queen Tribute- rocked Montreux. No one can sing like Freddie and yet the band play the well known songs so well it doesn't matter that the singer doesn't sound like Freddie. It is a tribute act rather than a sound alike and all members of the band convey their own personal affection for Freddie and Queen in such a way that the crowd are completely as one. Swiss live music licences don't allow for outside concerts to go on later than 10pm but by the time I make my way back to the hotel I have cried tears and met people who have travelled from around the globe. I decide to go to bed early as Friday and Saturday will be full, long days. Tomorrow is The Queen Studio Experience! Happy 73rd Birthday Freddie

Friday 6th September

10am- Market place opens up with displays of rare Queen memorabilia

7.30pm- Peter Freestone Evening

8.30pm Vladimir Hron and The Drops (Tribute Band)

Coffee and breakfast by Lake Geneva seemed a perfect way to start the day so I sat by the Lake shore and enjoyed a rare moment of quiet. Actually, one of the things I liked the most about this weekend was that it was possible to "connect' in a very intimate and personal way with my own thoughts and memories as well as enjoying more communal celebrations. Both are really important to me and one of the characteristics I admire in Freddie the most was his refusal to compromise. Some may say stubborn but yet it was this drive and passion that catapulted Queen to be the super group they were, are!

The Queen Studio Experience was set up by The Mercury Phoenix Trust and Queen recorded seven albums there (including Made In Heaven) The studio control room remains unchanged from those days and provides Queen fans with a unique insight into the recording process. It is hard not to walk through the exhibition without shedding a few tears. The loud and exuberant stage shows were merely the tip of the ice berg ( the showy offy bit) Queen were a hard working rock band and the competition for individual band members to have their compositions on an album line up is legendary. The production on a Queen album is astonishing and when you see the sheer size of the main console it is easy to see why. What struck me was how equipment that was state of the art at the time now seems over sized and dated. Obvious though this is it is amazing to consider that it is possible to record and produce albums with minimal tech and money from the comfort of your own home. I also feel that synth technology has moved on in an astonishing way. Proudly on display, nestling next to Roger Taylor's extensive kit was a Roland DX7. An amazing synth back in the day but now seems very limited compared to modern output. As you would expect Freddie's costumes take centre stage and the attention to detail is astonishing. It is wonderful to see the actual stage outfits he wore up close and personal.

In the production suite there is an opportunity to remix two Queen classics as well as to hear two surround sound mixes. Invisible Man and Fat Bottomed Girls sound fresh and new with the music mix coming from all around the studio. I have always loved Deacon's blistering bass on Invisible Man and May's axe work was truly given a new lease of life. Hearing Freddie's vocals sounding like he was singing next to me was a surreal and moving experience. Yet again my excitement gave way to tears as I feel sadness with the loss of such a charismatic and wonderfully talented creative genius.

The Queen Experience is housed within the Casino Barriere which was also to be the venue for Saturday nights Party. But as I return to the main town area for more Freddie celebrations I remember feeling that Freddie would adore how much he is loved and remembered. A legacy that grows stronger and more profound with every passing year. As he once said "not bad for four ageing Queens"

The evening started with a very intimate glimpse of Freddie from Peter Freestone, who's biography is one of my favourites. I don't care about the over told stories of partying and tantrums. I have always been more interested in understanding and learning about the 'real' Freddie. Freestone was his personal assistant for over 12 years and one of the few people who was really part of the inner circle. His stories and photos provided a heartfelt and touching tribute to a man who was a showman but, at the same time, hugely private. Always ready to sign an autograph and so grateful for the fans who bought his albums and attended the shows. I was looking forward to the second tribute band of the weekend but it was to be a somewhat different a show to the previous evening.

I have a problem with any Queen tribute band that has as keyboard player who is constantly upstaging 'Freddie' (Queen keyboard player Morgan Fisher allegedly fell out with 'Fred' for committing this crime) He may well own the band but it is hugely disrespectful to the memory of Freddie. His constant running around the stage (when not playing keys) and raising his arm, as if he was advertising a well known deodorant, really irritated me. I found that the best place to enjoy the band was outside. Their commitment in performing fantastic Queen songs was outstanding and, once I couldn't see his continual mincing around the stage, I enjoyed it a great deal better. See what you think! Oh and one more thing never ever ever upstage 'Freddie' when he is doing his "eh oh" audience thing

Overly mobile keyboard player aside it was a fantastic evening!

Saturday 7th September

12:00 Smile (Children's Choir)

2:00pm Alfie (13 year old Freddie Mercury fan)

7:00pm- Mercury Phoenix Trust Freddie Mercury Birthday Party

I awoke with real excitement as the party in the evening was the entire reason for my trip. It was a fancy dress party (Freddie loved hats) and I was going to have the opportunity to play a very gorgeous glass piano during the evening. It was also going to be an opportunity to hear the entire The Miracle performed live by Bulsara and His Queenies (possibly one of the best tribute bands you can wish to experience). Much Queen music and all to raise money for the work that Mercury Phoenix do as a charity. The day itself was also looking like a busy one with the sun out and more people arriving the Freddie statue was already mobbed when I arrived in the morning. Despite all the crowds there was no trouble and no real security presence. The atmosphere for the whole weekend was one of celebration and of enjoying the time together. All ages and all backgrounds together to celebrate the life of Freddie Mercury and what he means to us collectively and individually.

Now, if I'm honest, I am not a big fan of children's choirs. I blame it on too many Christmas shows as a kid but it is just something I don't particularly enjoy. However, Smile were amazing and to see them perform Queen songs with the obvious love and care that they had for Queen was truly moving. Later in the afternoon they even performed on a boat as it sailed passed on the lake, one of the amazing moments you just have to experience. I think the release of the film, Bohemian Rhapsody, has brought Freddie and Queen to a whole different audience. Perhaps some of those now enjoying the band may not have even bothered without the biopic. Despite it's much maligned factual discrepancies it was intended as a love letter for Freddie and for fans and it delivered!

Alfie is only 13 years old and yet his desire to perform as Freddie has led him to a wonderful place. His voice was powerful and a musical career must surely follow. It would be interesting to see him perform with a live band for that truly authentic tribute experience. But to have the guts to stand up and sing in Montreux in front of a crowd did certainly garner my huge respect. The day seemed to dash by at some pace and I needed time to get ready. In true Freddie style I had decided to wear something a little more daring than my normal t shirt and jeans, Purple tails and spats with a glittery purple fedora. You have to understand that I don't normally dress to get attention and certainly not when playing the piano. I am happy at the back of the stage doing what I do without anyone really noticing me. This was a big step for me but I felt I owed it to my love of Queen to step up and well out of my comfort zone.

I arrived at the party and started to play my 'set' seemingly impromptu and interestingly the piano was played regularly through the evening. I played One Vision and ended with These Are The Days Of Our Lives, the time went all too quickly but it was amazing to feel that my personal little tribute was enjoyed by others as well as me. The costumes were amazing and personal favourite was a lady who dressed with the Freddie costume from I'm Going Slightly Mad, complete with bunch of bananas on her head. It was a tremendous evening and Bulsara and His Queenies rocked Montreux before handing over to the dj's. One lucky guest also won a prize of a miniature May guitar signed by Taylor and May but also John Deacon. I can only imagine the care that was taken getting this treasured possession back home. Throughout the weekend conversations were shared and I met people who had been at Live Aid as well as the classic Wembley Stadium gigs. As I returned to my hotel room for the final night before living for home the next I realised something had happened that I never thought possible. I was even more of a Queen fan than when I had started my journey. I loved Freddie more and I had created memories that would never ever be forgotten. I promised myself that I wouldn't by a replica statue unless it was in Montreux. I left with my own boxed and certified miniature Freddie and more determined to strive for creative brilliance and not to allow boundaries or obstacles to stop me from reaching my music goals. Thank you Freddie and thank you Montreux, You rock!

Today, I release my own personal version of Who Wants To Live Forever, an orchestral version that took over 2 weeks to arrange and perform. Whatever your dreams may be, make them big and give all you have to achieve them. A baggage handler from Heathrow once vowed to be a rock star and now his influence reaches round the globe as his statue commands the beautiful Lake Geneva. My Mercury Phoenix Trust EP- Forever Freddie