Sunday, August 12, 2018

Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday, and the music

Lzzy Hale, vocals and guitar, Halestorm
This is NOT Alestorm. This is Halestorm, Aftershock 2017
See below for the real Alestorm info! (any excuse to include
one of my photos... any excuse. Pirates make a good excuse.)
Before anybody asks: I do not have photos from Bloodstock Open Air this year. I was there to enjoy the music as a festival-goer, not as a photographer... but that didn't stop me wanting to grab a camera each and every time I saw a picture... next time!

Saturday's lineup at Bloodstock Open Air: spread across four stages, from early until very-very late. These are the performances that most drew me in to their musical being. If you were there, you may have different favourites: that's part of the joy, we all find something to celebrate.

Orphaned Land  (Sophie Lancaster Stage)
I'll start with these guys because of all the Saturday bands, they were who I had travelled to see.

Would the show be as inspiring live, as Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs? on record? You bet it would... from the opening notes of The Cave, through songs from earlier albums including Mabool, to the very-last, post-midnight notes, they kept the audienced entranced, clapping, cheering. Such a presence. So very happy I heard Orphaned Land's music. And so very glad I made it to Bloodstock Open Air.

Performing on the S.O.P.H.I.E. stage, Orphaned Land performed immediately after main stage headliner Gojira's set on the main stage; unusual timing at the end of the night, but it allowed everyone to return from Gojira and hear the entirety of Orphaned Land's set. Brilliant move!

Next year in Jerusalem. It's a date. If you know what I mean.

Power Trip (Ronnie James Dio Stage)
Huge energy from Texas, Power Trip were on the main stage, early in the day. Inspired the first Wall of Death on Saturday at 12.13 p.m. You know, where the crowd splits in two, like the biblical Red Sea... and then rushes at each other. Never seen one? Google it and see. Ignore the motorbikes. There are no motobikes involved. Not one. Just a million crazy metal-heads having fun.

Septicflesh (Ronnie James Dio Stage)
Melodic-symphonic-death-doom-metal from Greece, with a wonderful, booming vocal. And cool artwork. Very, very cool artwork. Giger-esque but more organic. If that makes any sense as a description. I'm doing this without photos... mind pictures. Check out Septicflesh here.



Vola (Sophie Lancaster Stage)
Very interesting sound inspired by everything from 70's progressive through industrial to extreme metal; the band hails from Denmark. Take a listen here.

Combichrist
I totally fell in love with their set: the industrial, get-up-and-dance beat that went on, and on, and on. The two drummers, pounding, pushing the music. The makeup, the thrown and caught drumsticks, the runaway bass, the vocals. Not always the most-eloquent lyrics of all times, but hell who cares when you have that beat. We were dancing. Great set. I want more Combichrist.

Gojira
Well-deserved main-stage headliner, Gojira brought not only their huge music from France (it's so beautifully heavy, it must take a mountain to hold), but also an enormous light show, best of the Bloodstock day. I have seen Gojira many times in the USA, and they always put on a wonderful show. Gorgeous... and if you went into the Bloodstock art exhibition, there were a set of paintings by Gojira drummer, Mario Duplantier. I wanted to take them all home...

Exhibition of paintings by Mario Duplantier

Cannibal Corpse
As well as pirates (see below), there were a huge number of people wearing Hawaiian shirts. In amongst all the usual black T's with band logos and inspiring messages: Hawaiian shirts.

Just blame it all on Ace Ventura.

(Cannibal Corpse was my teen daughter's musical weapon, just as Black Sabbath was mine. I can't say that I ever learned to love their entire repertoire, but over the years, I have learned to appreciate the skill and the complexity, the vocals and the following. And my mum loves Ozzy. It all works out in the end. It's all music.)



Alestorm
This was my very first encounter with Alestorm. You are hearing that right: Alestorm. I'm not dropping the H. Ale (as in beer) Storm (as in thunder). Not Halestorm, who I last saw at Aftershock late last year, and who have recently released a new album, Vicious... Alestorm are nothing like Lzzy and crew! Nothing. At. All.

This is where the pirates come in. Just before Alestorm's set, when I had no clue what was about to go down, another pirate--this time a young woman in full pirate gear, from tricorn hat to swashbuckling sword, topped off by a not-so-pirate clear, plastic rain-poncho, almost barrelled into me yelling, "Where's the boat gone? Where's the Effing Boat gone?" swiftly followed by three other (male) pirates, and then disappeared back into the crowd. I looked up onto the stage, and there wasn't a boat, but there was a giant rubber duck. The crowd was excited, roiling, like a tide on the turn. The band came on stage.. perhaps the only member of the Pirate Metal genre, they are certainly unique, and we might want it to stay that way! Originally from Perth in Scotland, the band's music is a metal twist on the seashanty and other folk-inspired delights... it's rollicking good fun, and while they are singing and making the music, a whole ocean of beings swims across the surf of the crowd.

The Effing Boat reappeared on top of the audience, carrying the young piratess across the hands and heads of the crowd, right into the pit, over and again, many times with different yoyagers. Then there were at least three species of (inflatable) whale, a few sharks, and several dolphins. A swan, a flamingo, a huge, yellow duck, a few rubber rings, and a banana. There is always a banana somewhere. A large parrot put in a reappearance, looking a little deflated, hanging out on the shore up against the barrier. And the audience was full, full of pirates (somewhere in the middle, I hope, the revitalized and regenerated Comatose Pirate from the Sophie tent!

Alestorm have toured the world and have a huge following here; they've been to the USA on Warped and many other tours, but I somehow seem to have managed to miss them until yesterday at Bloodstock!

There were many, many more excellent bands; I've just highlighted those that grabbed me by the heart, eyes, ears and soul, or who are (still) holding my brain ransom for sixteen pieces of eight and a wooden leg. Full Bloodstock Open Air 2018 lineup here. Making your plans for next year yet? You bet!

See also: Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday... the story, the experience, a near-miss, and a few comparisons with my USA experiences

If you are visiting Toon's Tunes/Cameras and Cargos for the first time, you can bookmark the site here. Photo galleries from many festivals and concerts worldwide, including Aftershock (California), Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky), Houston Open Air, TBD and City of Trees  (Sacramento, California), Cropredy and Cromer Folk (UK) and Marillion (Poland, Netherlands, UK and USA) can be found here. Follow @alisontoonphotographer on IG, @alisontoon on Twitter, and @therealtoonstunes on Facebook.

Review: Bloodstock Open Air, Saturday... the story, the experience, a near-miss, and a few comparisons with my USA experiences


(Note: where this article reads "USA festivals", insert, "USA festivals that members of the Toon's Tunes team have personally experienced during the past 18 years"--we don't presume to know the nuances of each and every festival held on USA soil since 2000!)

I just arrived home after driving back to Norfolk, England, from Bloodstock Open Air, at Catton Hall in Derbyshire. I was very happy to be able to attend the Saturday of the four-day festival this year: hopefully all the festival, next year. It was my first rock festival on UK soil since moving away from the country in 1988, apart from Cropredy Folk in 2014, (which includes some rock and progressive performers but is rooted firmly in folk). The first true rock festival homecoming (after thirty years... I wish I hadn't counted that!) I was expecting excellent, varied and very-heavy music, I was expecting the possibility of (a little) mud, and I was not at all disappointed!

People having fun at Aftershock
Happy festival attendees, Aftershock 2017
Festival one-day tickets are wonderful things. Even if you have other commitments or constraints that don't allow you to make a weekend of it, a one-day ticket allows you to see a favourite performer and experience all that the festival has to offer. Yes, being able to experience the entire weekend is huge, but don't ever let that put you off going for just a part of a festival. Take advantage of what the one-day ticket provides: go early, see all the bands, hear and see something new, taste the food (and drink) offerings... and see your stars. Festivals on both sides of the Atlantic offer both weekend and one-day options.

I'll get to the music soon, but let's begin with a few of the differences that I noticed between Bloodstock Open Air and the USA festivals.

Families: I saw more families at Bloodstock than at any USA rock and metal festival. While children are definitely allowed and are present at all ages at USA festivals, there are fewer families than at Bloodstock. There are two things that I believe contribute to this, which USA festival organizers might like to think about if they are aiming to become more family-friendly (and I hope they are): the pricing structure, and the ability to take strollers/pushchairs into the event. Bloodstock Open Air has significantly reduced prices for children, and those under four years old go free. That's huge. It's enormous. Taking a family of four or five to a USA festival can be a budget-breaker--and if the only alternative is paid child care, it usually means that the parents won't be there at all. If you have ever carried a couple of tired or sleeping children, and their stuff, around for hours, you'll understand how sensible it is to allow parents to take pushchairs/strollers along with the children. There's something magical about introducing children to live music at an early age (with the necessary ear-protection, of course), whether metal and rock or classical or jazz: removing or reducing the practical barriers, such as price and accessibility, is a huge stride in the right direction.


Belongings: There are fewer restrictions on what can be taken into Bloodstock than into most USA festivals. As well as the strollers/pushchairs: what stood out was the folding chairs. You can take chairs in, and you can buy them inside the festival (about 8 pounds/11 dollars US). People were sensible about where they put their chairs; around the periphery of the crowd for the main stage, towards the back inside the tents for the secondary stages. If you don't want to, or can't stand all day, it sure as heck beats sitting on a blanket on the UK soil when it's been raining (and I'm guessing the Bloodstock folks are really pleased to have brought their chairs today, after an evening and night of rain). I also saw people bring in various other things that they couldn't attend the festival without... a horse's head on a stick (which was, I believe, searched), various inflatables of all shapes and sizes, a giant pull-along rubber duck... (all will be explained in the music review, see the next post).


Comings and goings: I was surprised by the action of the audience after each show on the Ronnie James Dio main stage. While many people moved on to see performances on the Sophie Lancaster stage, the Hobgoblin New Blood Stage, and the little Jaegermeister stage, there was also an exodus, back towards the main gates. After it happened three times early in the day, I just had to follow and find out what was going on: was there another stage that I had missed? Nope... people were going back to their tents, or cars. In-and-out is managed differently at Bloodstock to USA festivals. (What this also meant was that nobody was glued to the barrier from 11 in the morning until the headliners took the stage, which is often seen in the USA. At least during the first half of the day, the barrier crowd changed with each band at Bloodstock. I don't know if this is good, bad, nothing special or just-because a lot of people were still nursing their heads from the night before. It was simply different and surprised me enough to comment on.) (NOTE: If you don't know about S.O.P.H.I.E and why the stage is named after Sophie Lancaster, click here.)

Sophie Lancaster stage
Food and drink: They let you keep the top on your water bottle at Bloodstock. You have no idea how happy that makes me, unless you are used to running from one end of a festival to another in 100 degrees F with 15lb+ of equipment and a topless water bottle. THEY LET YOU KEEP THE TOP ON YOUR WATER BOTTLE! The variety of food on offer was yummy and included quite a few vegetarian and gluten-free options (I sampled loads), while there was plenty for the carnivores too. I was a little surprised that more people were not queuing to buy food: the service was good and fast and that's part of it, but maybe this is the downside (to the festival and vendor accounts) of people returning to their tents and campers so often?

New friends and old: I went on my own. Don't ever be afraid to go to a festival on your own. (Don't be afraid to go anywhere on your own, for that matter, unless your spidey senses say it's not safe.) There are new friends there, just waiting to meet you. We all meet up in music! And you always, always bump into an old friend. Mine? How random is this. I was directed to park in the overflow parking, as the main lot was full. I pulled in two cars away from my pal Thomas, who I know from my coverage of USA festivals and who runs AntiHero Magazine. He was over from the USA to cover Bloodstock. I'd driven from Cromer, Norfolk, by way of a family event and a funeral; he'd flown in a few days earlier from the USA, and we end up one car apart in the distant parking field. Check out and bookmark AntiHero because they will have photos, interviews and reviews from the entire Bloodstock Open Air weekend, very soon!

Tented stages: While Bloodstock's main stage is out in the open, the three other stages are inside tents, and by "tent" I mean "circus big top" size and construction tents. Of course, this is practically a requirement given the changeability of the British weather, but what it also meant was that early in the day, the Sophie Lancaster stage had the best light show. The drawback was that because of the change from the bright sunlight outside to the darkness of the tent, you had to be careful to avoid falling over the dead pirate who was lying behind the sound desk. Yes, a dead pirate. He might have been a Comatose Pirate. I hope he was Comatose Pirate. What-shall-we-do-with-the-drunken sailor type comatose, or just-having-a-nap comatose? There were pirates everywhere. More about them later, when we get to the music.

A near-miss. I nearly washed my hands.  OK, everyone's favourite question: "what were the toilets like?" At Bloodstock, as at USA festivals, there were lines of portapotties, and they were all kept very clean, stocked with loo paper and with hand sanitizer. The first time I checked them out, as you do, I saw that the sinks, for washing your hands were all at the end of the line of portapotties. But as there was hand sanitizer aplenty, I used that instead. As I left the loo, out of the corner of my eye, I swear I saw a dude peeing in the sink. Too much beer too early in the day, I thought, but goodness... a couple of hours later there was a whole line of men, peeing in the sinks. Then the penny dropped... they were not sinks, they were urinals. The urinals at Bloodstock looked just like the hand sinks at USA festivals, I am so glad I realised before I barged in to wash my hands!

Conclusion: Wonderful festival! Bloodstock is not so enormous as to be overwhelming, but it's a serious-festival-goer's event with a big attendence and long history. The music is on the heavier side of the metal/rock spectrum, with something for everyone's ears and with performers from around the world. It takes place within beautiful settings in the middle of England, not far from the birthplace of heavy metal in the West Midlands. There are lots of camping and ticket options, the pricing is family-friendly, and if it rains, which you know it will at some point, there's a big top or two complete with music. Put Bloodstock on your calendar, in your diary, for next year. If you are bringing your own tent? Bring a waterproof one, not a beach shelter! (My gem of wisdom for today, based on a couple of conversations after the rain began. Yes, people do that.)

Anyone who has been to one or more of the USA metal and rock festivals would feel at home at Bloodstock Open Air, and vice-versa: if you love Bloodstock, why not experience a festival on the other side of the pond, too? There are several happening soon over there: Louder Than Life (September 28-30),   Rock Allegience (October 6th), Aftershock (October 13-14) to name but a few. Just... guys please don't be confused by the sinks by the portapotties, OK? The ones at USA festivals are for washing your hands.

A few thoughts on the Saturday music at Bloodstock Open Air are here.

If you are visiting Toon's Tunes/Cameras and Cargos for the first time, you can bookmark the site here. Photo galleries from many festivals and concerts worldwide, including Aftershock (California), Chicago Open Air, Louder Than Life (Louisville, Kentucky), Houston Open Air, TBD and City of Trees  (Sacramento, California), Cropredy and Cromer Folk (UK) and Marillion (Poland, Netherlands, UK and USA) can be found here. Follow @alisontoonphotographer on IG, @alisontoon on Twitter, and @therealtoonstunes on Facebook.

Friday, August 3, 2018

On micro-stock photography... earnings, getting rich, and finding-out where your photos are used

Sea glass and cockle shells, for licensing through Adobe
There has been a story making the rounds this week, about a woman discovering where her photograph has been used. She signed a release allowing the photographer to sell her photo, the photographer put the image up for sale, and it has been used around the world. There's another story in the news, too: about a political campaign is using Shutterstock images to suggest that people are changing their political views. Shutterstock, along with other micro-stock agencies including Fotolia (now part of Adobe Stock), are agencies that I have been approved to submit images to, and I have had a (very) small subset of my portfolio available through those channels for a while. The photographer has zero control over who buys the images. The only way you can find out where an image has been used is to search for the image (hint: right click on the image, then choose Search Google for Image.)

You wouldn't believe how much I have earned!!! No. Seriously. You wouldn't believe it.

Receiving a cheerful email that says, Congratulations! You just sold an image! and announcing that you have just earned $0.29 is a little disheartening. (Example of what the buyer pays? Adobe charges $29 a month for bloggers and other buyers to download three images. Shutterstock charges are here. The prices are not enormous, but they are huge in comparison to what the photographer earns.)

Yes, I hear you, all the $0.29 sales add up. Full disclosure: all those $0.29's (and an occasional $2 for an extended license) have, so far in 2018, earned me less than $300. Pre-tax.

It's my own fault and I am not complaining... much. While big-scale business marketers are paying lip-service to "authenticity" in images, what they still buy, more than anything else, is the ubiquitous posed, multi-racial-and-mixed-gender-group-with-toothpaste-ad-teeth-and-at-least-one-person-wearing-designer-glasses group shot of people, and I don't do those. I don't do posed people, I'm not into "lifestyle" family images-for-hire, and I just won't sell photos of children through micro-stock sites. So I'm not really expecting to make the top-stock-seller list anytime soon. Much as I would like to earn a fair price from the photos that I do sell there, my focus (sic) is on other types of photography.

The picture at the top of this post is one of my best-sellers, as it appears today on Adobe/Fotolia. I shot it in a fit of pique one day, after studying micro-stock sites, seeing all the (what I felt were) contrived images, and trying to work out what sells. I took a dollar-store jar of sea-glass and cockle-shells, dumped them on a table, and took the shot, indoors, no studio lighting, nothing. And yeah... it sold then and it still sells. Usually for $0.29 a pop.

Baby raccoon ventures from nest
Rocky (or Rochelle) Raccoon, born under my home in New York in 2008
My other top seller? This dude! I call him Rocky, but she might be Rochelle. He (or she) has appeared on many pest-control websites, including this one, badly distorted, and on this one, and accused of being smelly and destructive and nasty. He is part of an Alligator Farm and Petting Zoo in Arkansas (see the video at the top of the page), a character in a tale about wild birds, he's apparently been to Hawaii, he (or she) is the best-looking raccoon on this rather suspect 'naval' website and many other "cute animal" sites that you probably don't want to visit. He's present on many stock and photo sites that I, the photographer, didn't directly license him to BUT those sites just buy an extended license from another site and lo... Rocky's picture is for resale, everywhere. And I promise you, he didn't sign a release form, I just pimped him out for pennies. Don't be surprised if he sets up his own Twitter feed to complain. If he does, I'll expose the story of how his ancestors Ate My Goldfish.

Baby raccoon ventures from nest
But seriously... most of my photos will never end up on micro-stock sites. None of my photography of performers, for example--they are for editorial use only (talk to me directly about those). But I am very happy to have discovered a new stock photography site, PicFair.com, which strives to be fair to photographers. If you buy photos for a blog, or for your company, please consider photos found there, because... they are fair to the photographers. Think of it like Fair Trade coffee. I'm waiting to see if it works.

(You can find Rocky/Rochelle here now on PicFair and on my own website for prints here, where the licensing costs for editorial or commercial use are extremely low in comparison to rights-managed Getty Images, but way higher than any micro-stock site. Confused, yet? Me too!)

All of my photos for print, and for editorial and/or commercial licensing can always be found here: http://alisontoon.com  It may be easy and inexpensive to buy images from a micro-stock site; if you are concerned, at all, about fair trade, maybe it's time to consider another way of finding the images that you need.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Going to Bloodstock Open Air??? You are in for a treat!


By this time, next year, I promise to have my house in order, my ducks in a row, my boxes crossed and checked, and everything else done that I have to do to be on time, up-to-date, fully-informed and right there for all the UK and European festivals. I will have found, or created, my festival calendar. I will have my press credentials sorted, cameras ready, and my place in the pit arranged, on time and fully loaded to bring you the best of British! This year... well this year is just this year. Think Transition. If you've never moved internationally, don't judge ;-)

One festival that I should have known about wayyyyyyy far in advance, is coming up soon: Bloodstock Open Air, in Catton Park, Derbyshire, from 9th to 12th August--that's a week tomorrow! Not ony is the lineup huge, the whole experience looks amazing... including all the camping options (which, my bad, are of course all sold out now). Camping, glamping, and even beach-hutting-without-the-beach-but-with-lots-of-metal. Here's all the info on the variety that was available. Where I would have been staying, had I been awake.

Joe Duplantier, vocals, Gojira
Joe Duplantier, Gojira, at last year's Louder Than Life, Louisville, Kentucky
And the music? That's what it's all about!

Birmingham UK's own Judas Priest, heros of heavy metal headline Friday's show; Gojira from France are Saturday's top-of-the-bill, so heavy and so very, very good: with Nightwish from Finland closing the whole event on Sunday night, but there are so many bands from around the metal globe on four stages, beginning Thursday: see the full lineup here.

Check out Fozzy, on Sunday, for example. I last saw them in Sacramento, California, last year at Aftershock... another wonderful festival. Hey here's an idea... Bloodstock Open Air next weekend. Louder Than Life at the end of September. Aftershock in October? Don't mind if I do...

Bloodstock Open Air is going to be enormous. It's going to be so heavy, the planet might melt.

Me? Believe it or not, there are still a few day and weekend tickets available. I grabbed one for Saturday. I'll be right there to see Orphaned Land, on the Sophie Lancaster stage, on Saturday. Can't wait! (Yesterday, I thought that they were performing near Liverpool (fixed it now)... I need to revise my British geography. Been away far too long.)

Now where the heck will I sleep...

Chris Jericho, vocals, Fozzy
Chris Jericho of Fozzy, Aftershock Sacramento, and in the Bloodstock lineup 

Monday, July 30, 2018

Review: Orphaned Land, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs

Why, why, why, have I never heard Orphaned Land before??? Why? And what is it, about certain music, that at the very first note you know... this is special?

(You may recall that I asked the same question, the first time that I heard another band, a few years back. Same effect. Hooked from the very first note. More on that later.)

Orphaned Land's latest album, Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs, is a gigantic, gorgeous, over-the-top musical feast. On hearing them for the very first time, it's like a festival where Blind Guardian and In Flames are dancing together to the beat of the heaviest, double-bass-laden-metal drumming, with twenty Fiddlers on the roof and vocals that range from a deep growl to something from your own personal heaven. It's a fusion of western rock, northern metal, middle-eastern melody and rhythm, and a message or twenty of peace. Steve Hackett makes an appearance--you recognize his timeless guitar in a moment--and there are some very telling, poetic snippets, the final one perhaps the most famous, from George Orwell's 1984:

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face, forever.

And then... how to stop it happening.

Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs is such a musical feast that I now have to go and gorge myself on their back catalog... and to try to catch Orphaned Land live, sometime soon. They will be here in the UK next weekend, performing at Bloodstock Open Air at Catton Park in Derbyshire.  All other tour dates are here.

Orphaned Land promo photo, https://orphaned-land.com 
But why, you might ask, did I only hear Orphaned Land for the very first time, today? They've been around, in one form or another--always with vocalist Kobi Fahri and bassist Uri Zelcha--since 1991. And yet... only today. I'm sorry I missed so many years. It's going to be fun catching up. Yes... the reason I heard them today: I went to vote in the 2018 Progressive Music Awards. One of the categories is Video of the Year; one of the nominees in that category is Orphan Land's Like Orpheus, from Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs... and I noticed that it features Hansi K├╝rsch, so I had to watch it, seeing as Hansi is one of my favourite vocalists (and the singer with Blind Guardian, the band mentioned above where I asked, why have I never heard this band before??)

Here's the video: there's an important message, at the very end. Don't miss it!


Sunday, July 29, 2018

Sheringham carnival: Newfoundland Working Dogs Display

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundland Working Dogs Display at Sheringham Carnival, Norfolk, 2018
One of the many things that is wonderful about the North Norfolk coast is how dog-friendly the towns are--and how friendly the dogs. There's always a dog to say hello to (and I do), or to watch enjoying the beach. Whether a family retriever chasing a ball in the waves, a tall-and-graceful retired racing greyhound, a sedate corgi taking a stroll, or a springer spaniel determined to swim to Spain, dogs are welcome here. You don't, however, often see a beach entirely populated by Newfoundlands!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, waiting for their turn to rescue someone

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
That's what happened this morning, in Sheringham. As part of the Sheringham Carnival, a group of Newfoundlands and their humans gave a demonstration of the work that these gentle giants are capable of. With their webbed feet, strong muscles, huge size and double coats for buoyancy and waterproofing, they swim, pull, tow and rescue.

The dogs swam out from the beach, and pulled people back. They carried them a lifeline. They jumped from a boat and did the rescue. Two dogs pulled in a boat carrying three humans. And two of them towed back a chain of seven people each!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Rescued!!!
And while each of the demonstrations was happening, all of the other dogs sat on the beach, watching intently, occasionally barking as if to say, I want to help, I want to rescue, here I am, I'm ready too.

A seriously-giant breed, Newfoundlands usually weigh between 50-69kg (110-152lb). They are black, brown, or black-and-white (the black-and-white ones sometimes called "Landseer" rather than Newfoundlands). They are like giant retrievers with a little mastiff mixed in. Gentle, protective and kind to children too. Did you read J. M. Barrie's Peter Pan? The dog, Nana, was a Newfoundland. They can swim a long way, and in cold water and strong seas, too. Did that springer disappear over the horizon, yet? We might have to send a Newfoundland to rescue her, too!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands, working dogs display on the beach, Sheringham Carnival
You can see the Newfoundland Working Dogs Display again soon, at Happisburgh next weekend and at Cromer Carnival, starting on Sunday 12th August on the East Beach (but check the carnival program for other times), and then in Hemsby. You can find all their events here.

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
Newfoundlands and crowd alike, watching the demonstration
Find out what else is happening in Sheringham during the carnival here. And for Cromer's carnival here!

Many more photos of the Newfoundlands here in the photo gallery. Just click!

Newfoundland Working Dogs Display, Sheringham Carnival 2018
One dog, many people rescued!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Fairs and carnivals and circuses

Wave Swinger ride, California State Fair
Wave Swinger, California State Fair
I have been missing the California State Fair this year, after attending and covering it for so many years, and I will miss the California Capital Air Show too. This weekend is the last weekend of the state fair--have fun if you are there, say hi for me! But... I have only just found out how much happens here during carnival weeks on the North Norfolk coast in England. It's huge!!! And there are all the elements that I love from both the State Fair, and the air show!

First, the circus set up, between Cromer and Sheringham, and Circus Fantasia is set up and running from 18th July until 5th August. Then today, Sheringham Carnival begins! To keep up-to-date with everything that's happening, follow the Carnival Week on Facebook. Things are happening every day: from the Harley Davidson ride into town today, the Yak 52 air display tomorrow, the carnival parade on Wednesday... right through to fireworks next Sunday, August 5th!

Patriots Jet Team
Patriots Jet Team, California 

And then it's Cromer Carnival! With kids events beginning this week too, the main events can all be found on the Cromer Carnival Facebook page -- follow that one too! Carnival Day and The Red Arrows on August 15th!!! It's a huge week for the town... so much going on. There are signs all around with lists of the events; something for everyone.

Both Sheringham and Cromer carnivals have programs available around town--look out for them. And I will see you there!

Jack in the Box Freestyle Motocross
Motocross, California State Fair 
(And yes, there is motocross here too.)

Friday, July 27, 2018

Rebirth of the protest song: Otep and Marillion, new releases

North Norfolk seascape
I do a lot of thinking on the beach. No, really. I have an ancient iPod Classic with about 30 days of continuous music, to which I'm adding constantly, and I average about eight miles walking a day. No, the knee cartilage hasn't regenerated yet due to self-imposed-heavy-wear-and-tear, but the theory is still in it's early months of testing.

Last week, I rediscovered an old playlist--one of the songs being Ritchie Haven's wonderful What About Me. Probably the ultimate in civil rights and protest songs, it's timeless--and just as valid today. If you don't know it, take a listen and read the lyrics. Released in the early 1970's on The Great Blind Degree, an album which is unexplainably difficult to find today, it was the time when America was protesting a lying, warmongering president--Richard Nixon, the only US president (so far) to resign from office. So I was walking along the beach, listening to Ritchie Havens over and over again, and wondering: where the hell are the protest songs for this year, this time, these days? Where are this generation's Havens, Baez, Dylan?

I work in your factories and I study in your schools
I fill your penitentiaries and your military too
I can feel the future trembling as the word is passed around
If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down

Then I remembered: Marillion's F.E.A.R.
Then I remembered: Otep's promised release, Kult 45.


You won't often see Marillion and Otep written about on the same page, nor see many of their fans at the other's shows (though they should be). They are, by all accounts, very different. But let's imagine, for a moment, that the labels are removed; there's no such thing as 'prog' or 'nu-metal' or 'rock' or anything else. There are words, and heart, and soul, and thought and intelligence and the music that brings it all together. Then it all makes sense.

Today, both Otep and Marillion released new albums: Otep's Kult 45, which arrived on my doorstep this morning in full, blood-red, vinyl glory, and Marillion's live album, All One Tonight, recorded at their sold-out performance at the Royal Albert Hall, which includes all of F.E.A.R plus more.

We are the new Kings 
We had the keys to Old Russia's locked doors 
We are the new Kings 
Here on the corporation's top floor 
If you cross us we'll buy you and you can retire 
Your children set up for life 
Think about it... 
Greed is good... 


Kult 45 is, as its title suggests, very much a protest against Donald Trump, the USA's 45th president, and the terrible things that are happening, right now, in the USA. At a time when, as in 1972, there are protestors outside the White House and an elected president intent on enforcing hateful policies, these songs are the voice of protest--a megaphone for what so many people are thinking. Always known for speaking out--hard--against social injustice, vocalist and poet Otep Shamaya hits out with Kult 45 against racism, rape culture, white privilege, school shootings and just about everything that's wrong with the USA (and to a lesser but no less important extent, with other countries where the extreme right feels free to emerge--nowhere in the world is immune).

When was America greater?
When it was criminal for women to vote?
When was America greater?
When slaves were bought and sold?
When was America greater?
Before the Natives lost control?

Otep's songs are 'explicit' and yes, that means they contain words that my mother won't like. (But... I can't think about Trump without being explicit. I cannot hear his voice or see his orange face, without my middle finger coming up. It's automatic. What is happening is so very, very wrong. Whatever your views on people claiming asylum, surely you cannot condone the forceful separation of families. Whatever your views on gun ownership, surely you cannot ignore the almost-daily assassination of children in American schools. Whatever your views on law enforcement, surely you cannot agree with the blatantly different approach to rich white men versus minorities. Surely... )

How many people have they taken?
How many doors have they broken down?
How mny more till it makes you
feel less like an impotent coward?

If Jesus was a refugee
He'd be a target of I C E
They'd send him back to Galilee

But in the middle of so many strong, angry, hard-spoken and very strong resistance to #45 and all he stands for, is a beautiful and unexpected gem: I held my breath the first time I heard, 'Be Brave'. Made more poignant by the songs surrounding it, and in turn, making them even stronger by its gentleness. Like Marillion's White Paper, in the middle of Fuck Everyone And Run.

Two albums, both available today: Kult 45 and All One Tonight. Listen to them both. Both vocalists and lyricists are poets. Hear the message... and for goodness sake, stand up and be counted. Because if each and every one of us does not stand up for what we believe in, and speak out against what we believe is wrong, then these musicians who are putting themselves out there--right out there--and voicing the protest, then if we too do not use our own voices, then their words are just words in the sand. And in the words of Ritchie Havens: If you stick up for what you do believe in, be prepared to be shot down. (Hopefully by words. Not by some Russian NRA fiend with a Stepford wife. Use your words. Use your vote. Make a difference.)

There is a bonus track on Otep's Kult 45 digital version--it's a set of messages left by people who have heard the band's music, talking about what Otep means to them. Yes, they are messages from fans, but more than that, they are a reflection of the influence that people in the spotlight can have. In Otep's case, for the good. There are some very moving testimonies. It speaks to how important it is for any performer, celebrity, politician--anyone in the public eye--to be a power for the good. And it contrasts, once again, with what the current President of the USA is all about. One of the most moving comments? Something like, "it's amazing how much healing one tweet can do for years after". Trump should learn that. But he won't. WE ALL NEED TO SPEAK OUT.

It's OK to look at a performer as giving you a voice, but... even better if we also find our own.

Think about it. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and others from the sixties and seventies' protest movements are legends. They are legends because people, like you and I and so many others, listened to their words, and shared them. If you hear the message in Otep's words, in those of Marillion, or of any other performer who is today speaking out against injustice, then share them. Tell your friends. Have them listen. Because despite unlimited access to music, it can be really, really difficult to find what is meaningful within a constant stream of auto-tuned, reality-TV-unreal, top-twenty-fodder sounds. Please: spread the word. And join the #resistance.

More info:
- Video about the making of Kult 45 from Otep
- Video: F.E.A.R. and making a protest album, from Marillion

(I hope that fans of Otep will now discover Marillion. And that fans of Marillion will now discover Otep. Together we can build a better world. We are all immigrants... we are all refugees. Cross the musical borders and make some new friends. We are all human.)

P. S. I forgot to mention Ministry's AmeriKKKant among recent protest songs... earlier review here!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Cromer Pier Show: show two! Phantom of the Opera, Madame Butterfly and... Potato Wave???

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Cromer Pier Show Two, 2018
Cromer Pier's summer show has two versions: Show One (review and photos here), and Show Two, which I saw this week for the first time. (There's also an end-of-summer best-of-both Ultimate version in September.) It's the same cast performing, every evening and matinee throughout the summer, and in rep theatre style they bring a host of characters to life with every show.

Show Two, like Show One, is a huge variety of entertainment--it's called a "variety show" for a very good reason--and includes pop, opera, classical ballet, modern dance, musicals and magic.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Emily Yarrow, Cromer Pier Show
Show Two begins with the day's news, read by compere-comedian Steve Terry. Seriously funny... and it just keeps going from there. Entertaining, funny, beautiful and inspiring. Did you get your tickets yet?

Emily Yarrow is spellbinding as she sings songs from Madame Butterfly and pop classics alike, with Harvey James as the male vocal lead, and with gorgeous choreography for scenes from The Phantom of the Opera.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Phantom of the Opera, Cromer Pier Show 2018
The young ladies from Cromer's Marlene's School of Dancing are delightful, and the dance team of Gemma, Jazzy, Connor, Mason, Sian and Emily have a huge repertoire of styles. And they can jump!!! At the end of both this show, and Show One, I came away astonished that so much dancing was done so magically by just six dancers. Entranced by the show, I didn't notice until the finale, when I counted the people on stage. Wait. Was all that show, all that entertainement, provided by just this wonderful group of people? Yes, indeed, every night and matinee show, throughout the summer.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Marlene's School of Dancing on stage at the Cromer Pier Show 2018
In Show Two, Zooka and Suzie Q are pure magic... together with white doves, escapes, quick changes and never-ending string (just how did they do that???).

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Zooka and Suzie Q and a dove, Cromer Pier Show
There is a hilarious, cheeky, naughty comedy routine when G (the man of a thousand voices) and Steve Terry do some bird-watching. Their timing is natural, perfect and so very, very funny. I want everyone to see this and laugh: like Morecambe and Wise, like the Two Ronnies, like Fry and Laurie, they bring out the funny in each other until both they and the audience alike are crying with laughter. It's infectious, its happy and it's not to be missed. It's like they've been working together forever--and maybe they should.

Cromer Pier Show 2018
G and Steve Terry, and the birds. Cromer Pier Show 2018
The show finale has the entire cast sharing a set of The Village People's music, on a ship, with flags and dancing and singing and... watch out for that smokestack!

(Note... I will never, ever be able to listen to La Bamba again, without remembering one part of Show Two: G's version of the Spanish song sung by Ritchie Valens and Los Lobos. G's version has to rank way, way up there in the top ten list of "misheard lyrics", right next to Potato Wave. You know... Potato Wave. Life will never be the same again... thank goodness.)

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Cromer Pier Show 2018
Find tickets for the Cromer Pier shows here on the pier website. And, if you book an adult seat before the 4th August--either online, with the code holidays, or at the box office on the pier--you can also have a child's ticket free! What a real opportunity to introduce the family to so much entertainment... and to sow the seeds for enjoying music of all styles, dance and comedy for the rest of their lives.

I'll see you at the show!

Many more photos, from both shows One and Two, here in the Cromer Pier Show gallery. Click!

Cromer Pier Show 2018
Harvey James and dancers, Cromer Pier Show 2018

Friday, July 20, 2018

New from the Soft White Sixties... The Overpass

The Soft White Sixties at the Assembly, Sacramento
The Soft White Sixties
New from one of my favourite California bands, who I first saw in a small-and-now-closed venue in Sacramento, supporting another excellent band, but from whom the 'Sixties absolutely stole the show (it was, indeed, an excellent evening of music): The Soft White Sixties. This is The Overpass, from their upcoming album, Alta California:



Wonderful, both live and on album. Take a listen to this, to previous release Brick By Brick, and check out some of their live videos too.

More info: see The Soft White Sixties Facebook, and their website too.  You can preorder Alta California here.

Maybe we'll get to see them over here in the UK one day soon... you never know. Let them know if you feel the love!!! (For those of you in LA, Santa Cruz, Boise, Reno, Seattle and San Francisco, check out some tour dates here. Then point them over the pond, please!)

(Think of me as your mid-Atlantic music connector... bringing US sounds to the UK. Sending UK sounds over there. Because good music has the power to bring us all together. Right now, this world needs all the good music it can get.)

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Review: The Bloodshake Chorus at Cromer Social Club

The Bloodshake Chorus
Mann Slaughter, vocals, The Bloodshake Chorus
My first, happy memories of rock concerts are from a social club, Syston Working Mens' Club in Leicestershire, England, to be precise. A dark room with a bar in the corner, a badly-lit stage at one end, lots of seats around small, wonky tables that spilled fizzy drinks and booze onto the carpet. Young mothers dressed up for a night out; men with glasses of beer, happy to be at the end of a working week; the older, purple-rinse crowd waiting for the bingo and the raffle, and we kids dancing in front of the stage. The band played 50's and 60's covers, and if they didn't already include it, by the end of the night there was always a group of young women shouting for the Shadows' Apache. So last night's show at Cromer Social Club was a bit like a time-warp and going home, right down to the kids dancing. Almost.

Until, that is, it comes to the band.

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus do, indeed, play 50's and 60's covers, with the occasional 70's hit thrown in... but not in any way that you've heard before. They look nothing-at-all like a throwback to mid-century modern: they're a team of blood-drenched zombies with Ivan-Moodyesque handprints, and they turn these wonderful, classic songs into hard-rock-metal masterpieces. Vocalist Mann Slaughter's voice is huge. It's like Hallow'een at an Elvis convention, without the Elvis but with every other musician from his era. I loved it.

The Bloodshake Chorus
Frank Ensteinway, keys, The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus have been on stages much bigger than this, supporting and with artists including Madness, Toyah, Skunk Anansie, The Slaves and many more. I could easily see them entertaining a huge crowd at big rock-and-metal festivals... seriously good!

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus, Cromer Social Club
I'm not sure that the regular patrons of the Social Club were quite ready for this, but by the end of the evening, the entire room was singing along. And not one person called for the Shadows.

The Bloodshake Chorus
The Bloodshake Chorus at Cromer Social Club
(Most surreal part of the evening? An intermission... for a raffle. Yes, a raffle. Seems that all shows in Cromer, whether for a pier show, a tribute band, or a group of hard-rock-metal-zombies-playing-exquisite-unique-covers has to have an intermission. Is that just a Cromer thing, or have I missed something during my many years overseas??? No bingo though... that's on Thursday!)

The Bloodshake Chorus

The Kinks. Shirley Bassey. The Animals. The Zombies. Dolly Parton. Tom Jones and many more... all given the Bloodshake Chorus treatment. Here's an example:



A few more photos (grainy, very 60's because... zero light), here, in the photo gallery from last night: http://www.alisontoon.com/-/galleries/music/the-bloodshake-chorus 

Catch The Bloodshake Chorus if you possibly can... well worth a trip! Find dates all over East Anglia, here on their Facebook. They'll be back in Cromer for the Carnival and to perform at The Welly in August... next weekend at the Brickmaker's in Norwich, which looks a bit more like a regular concert venue. (See, I'm starting to find the local music scene.)

Saturday, July 14, 2018

GoGo Hares: beautiful hares, all around the Norwich city centre and the county of Norfolk, England

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
I'm loving the GoGo Hares!

In Norwich yesterday for the anti-Trump protest outside City Hall, I was able to find a few of the fifty city hares around the town centre, and see a few of the 164 leverets, too (the little guys I found were mostly in shop windows). In addition to the fifty city hares, there are another eighteen GoGo Hares around the county of Norfolk, including a beautiful chrome, stargazing hare here in Cromer.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
Celebrating 50 years of the Norfolk children's charity, Break, and in partnership with Wild In Art, the hares are all unique: colourful, symbolic, cheerful and inspiring. Each one has a story to tell.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
Find out all about the GoGo Hares here, on their website--there's a trail map to download so that you can find them all, and an app too.

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich
The hares are here until September 8th. See if you can find them all! They are all numbered, and you can read all about the individual artists here. And if you want a GoGo Hare to call your own, all of the city hares, and a few of the county hares, will be auctioned in October! Information here! The proceeds will go to support Break in their work with children.

More photos of the hares here (and I will add more as I find them). They are not numbered and I have not included their locations: you have to go track them down yourselves!

GoGo Hares in Norwich
GoGo Hare, Norwich

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Out-of-sorts and all behind-hand... catching-up in the UK, and bad awakenings

English lavender
Lavender, to help me sleep tonight
I woke up rudely this morning, launched from a deep-and-dream-filled sleep to bolt-upright-and-wide-awake without a fraction of a moment between; no eye-rubbing, yawning, stretching, just a gut-wrenching explosion of sound as some idiot decided to roar and rev his or her clanking, rattling and damaged motorbike through the centre of this calm-and-silent 5 a.m. Sunday seaside town. I never feel anger towards bikers--I have my own fair share of bionics and metalwork and have tasted hot tarmac far too closely for that. But forgive me: the word that has been going through my head every few minutes since that moment is "clothesline". So not only did you wake me up, you w*nker, you have had me thinking appalling thoughts all day, grumpy, out-of-sorts, muttering at people who don't wash their hands after using a public loo... May you read this and sober up before you get on your bike again.

It's been a busy, exciting, hard-working and intriguing week, much of which will become evident later in the year (my lips are sealed until then)... part of which has me once again hankering and yearning for a garden to care for (which was not the intended outcome), and which sent me to Heacham to the beautiful Norfolk Lavender farm on Friday (may have made the yearning worse, not better); and wandering around the town listlessly today rather than doing anything constructive, like sorting out a list of festivals and concerts to go to and to review. I have been here in this lovely part of the world for six months now, and I still feel so way-behind-hand in catching-up-with and learning-about all the wonderful UK festivals and events. It's not that there is a shortage, far from it: there is so much going on, in so many different places, and with so many different musical and artistic styles, I hardly know where to begin, and then allow another long walk on the beach to distract, because each day and each hour is new and different by the sea.

For example, this is what is displayed in a local shop window:


All local to this pretty town... which is under an hour from the county town, with county town events and big-name concerts... and a couple more hours from London, where I went just a few weeks back for a show and where I will be heading much more frequently as the year edges on.

But this summer, I am playing catch-up, chasing my own tail; it feels like this year is going to be one of experiments and of finding the way in the music environment that is the UK. It's a learning experience...

(And of other events... I wanted to see the horses training at Holkham beach, but found out they were there, two days too late. That is in the diary for next year. Maybe this is how the year will play out, filling in the dates for the next?)

Don't you dare wake me up tomorrow. Don't you dare.