Brave, boys – O.M.D & their ‘Dazzle Ships’ (1983)

An album ahead of its time? After listening to the thing several times, I have got to say that OMD probably were preceding the likes of Boards of Canada, amongst others, by at least 15 years. While some of the tracks are not songs, but random snatches of radio broadcasts (like the eerie opener, Radio Prague, which, though melodic, still feels like it is being dredged from the depths of a bad dream), others are sugarsweet pop melodies with bouncy electro. Sugarsweet melodies, bouncy electro – and lyrical themes that tackle subjects such as Genetic Engineering (on ‘Genetic Engineering’, obviously). The lyrics, in typical OMD style, do not deal with the usual themes like boy-mmets-girl. In previous years, for example, they had sung about the US Air Force B-29 bomber that dropped the first nuclear bomb during wartime (‘Enola Gay’). The lead single of this album, ‘Telegraph’, is a blissful hymn to maybe not understanding, but embracing new ideas anyway (in this case, mass communication). The confusion in the lyrics seems to encapsulate the initial reaction to the album, which was not favourably reviewed on its initial release, and not met with mass approval by listeners.

1. Radio Prague
2. Genetic Engineering
3. ABC Auto Indistry
4. Telegraph
5. This Is Helena
6. International
7. Romance Of The Telescope
8. Silent Running
9. Radio Waves
10. Time Zones
11. Of All The Things We’ve Made
12. Dazzle Ships

‘Dazzle Ships’ was borne out of the frustration of writers block that affected Andy McCluskey, and there are signs of this, such as the inclusion of reworked B-Sides (like ‘Romance of the Telescope’), but the overall composition of the album, with its snatches of Eastern Bloc radio broadcasts, robotic voices, upbeat melodies and musique concrete making sense in todays musical framework, where the likes of Kraftwerk (an obvious influence here) have long been feted.

The whole point of this post, as well as stressing that the album is really worth your time and money, is to direct you towards an article that gives you an appreciation of how brave OMD were in releasing this album, that appeared in the Guardian a while back;

‘How to lose 3 million fans in one easy step’ in the Guardian Online

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (to use their full name) produced some fantastic electro/futurist pop in the eighties, with gems such as ‘Electricity’ and ‘Enola Gay’ still sounding great today. ‘Dazzle Ships’ can be viewed as their great leap forward, and their creative highpoint. Brave to the point of risking their fanbase, this album is a fitting tribute to those artists willing to challenge the expectations of the listener without being wilfully obtuse. They were never this challenging again – in 1984 they released the album ‘Junk Culture’, a more upbeat collection including top 5 UK hit ‘Locomotion’.

Further links;

OMD fan site talks about the album
BBC review of ‘Dazzle Ships’
Wiki entry for ‘Dazzle Ships’
All about the album at Sid Smiths blog

What is a dazzle ship? Want to know? Find out here

Resident Evil – Deal or no Deal?


Deal ‘or no’ Deal is by far the best thing on telly (now that The Wire and The Sopranos are gone, and Doctor Who is only pretty good, but this is before Peep Show comes back next week). So let me elaborate – Deal “or no” Deal is THE best quiz show around, and i’m not even a fan of quiz shows! It makes afternoons on Channel 4 SEXY (yeah Carol Vorderman) and it has made me forget about the loss of William G Stewart from our Nations screens. Deal…is a tv programme designed for the 21st century – for example, if I miss the show at 16:15, I can watch it on ch4 plus one, or on 4OD, or on Virgin Media On Demand. If I watch it via 4OD or Virgin Media On Demand, you get the ads cut out, condensing the thrill of it all, but to really cut to the chase, you can just fast forward the talking bits and see the boxes flash by along with the Bankers offers. Depends what mood I am in, because with the superfast option, you miss all the tension and emotion as you find out whether the contestant dealt at the right or wrong time. I love the show, its gambling by proxy, and I really enjoy it when people win the ‘life-changing’ (one of Noel Edmonds favourite phrases) sums of money.

There is a sense of community amongst the contestants – this is not a game show where they pit player vs player, it is all about one of the team getting as much money as possible from the ‘Man’ (ie the ‘Banker’). Its kind of like David vs Goliath, with Noel Edmonds hosting and the other contestants giving advice from the sidelines. Noel Edmonds isn’t too smug or annoying. In fact, he is really very good, and has made the show his own with his ‘common touch’ and left-field moments (like taking contestants outside the confines of the studio, going into the control room, allowing other contestants to run the show etc).

Anyway, the reason I write about Deal or no Deal is not just to flag it as a great bit of entertainment (though it is), or to lay bare my admiration for it (though I have). No, the purpose of this post is to show up the hitherto unseen link between “Deal or no deal”, a TV quiz show, and the “Resident Evil” survival horror franchise. Astounding as it may seem, the quiet reflective periods of both games have very similar background music. Let me give you 2 example of the ‘Deal or no Deal’ music – on the first clip, the music kicks in straight away (sometimes it is hard to hear it, but bear with it);

See?

If you are still not convinced, try running the Resi clip while watching the “Deal…” videos, so that you can hear the Resident Evil music play while contestants weigh up their options. It works for me.

I think I have given sufficient audio evidence – to create their unique brand of calm, the “Deal or no Deal” team have employed similair music to that used in “Resident Evil”. What does it mean? In my view, I think it means that this quiz show will be around when the T-Virus starts turning the East Wing and the West Wing contestants into raving revenants. The Bankers offer is a helicopter ride out of town, a Magnum 45 with a full clip and 2 tins of baked beans – deal or no deal??

The Power of Cover Art – The Walking Dead #53 cover!!!

*Deep breath*……came across this today – http://www.comicscontinuum.com/stories/0804/18/imagejuly.htm – and amongst all the other Image solicitations for July 2008, we now know the cover art (very new, doesn’t even have the lettering on it) for Walking Dead #53 – are you ready???? It is a beauty, and asks a lot more questions than it answers – which is great!

THE WALKING DEAD #53

Written by Robert Kirkman, art and cover by Charlie Adlard and Cliff Rathburn.

To the rescue.

32 pages, black and white, $2.99, in stores on July 16.

So – speculation……..are they the new major characters? Are they meeting up with Rick? Are they Military? Are we about to see the beginning of the fightback against the undead???? Does it suggest well organised, fully resourced communities out there beyond the devastated Prison compound? Maybe (and this is probably unlikely) they are Woodbury folk. If they are Woodbury folk, things could go one of two ways, and one way could be very bad for Rick….

Once again, the best comicbook series ANYWHERE teases and tantalises and promises – and I doubt doubt that Kirkman & co will deliver…….

Matchbox Fighting Furies (Mid 1970’s)

Pirates were big news in the mid 70’s. Well, Pirates were big news in our house anyway. For a couple of years Pirate action figures hung around, courtesy of Matchbox (who were a lot more famous for their small toy cars) and their ‘Fighting Furies’ range (though when I say range, it wasnt much of a choice – 3 figures in total…)

You had Captain Pegleg;

and Hook;

and then there was another one – a GHOST. The Ghost of Cap’n Kidd lived in a coffin and was a sort of light lime green. Anyway, as soon as you took him into the dark, you could see his luminous ghostly skeleton – aarrghhhh! and aaaaa-hhhaaaarrrrr!

My memory is of the treasure map in the peg leg, and how difficult it was to get it to go back in after thumbing the map a few times. Then, of course, the map got lost. You could press a button somewhere on the body and the figure would wave their sword arm around so you could have fantastic mini pirate battles. I think the treasure map and peg-leg fascinated me more to be honest, that and the purple tattoo on Hooks chest (see top picture).

Saw this on ebay recently – looks to be part of a collection available in Europe, where you put the outfit on one of the action figures you have already – this one is ‘Kung Fu Master Adventure’

and this is from the back, with all the other costumes you can get for the figures;

Links;


The Big Red Toybox talks ‘Fighting Furies’

http://www.geocities.com/toyhead_classics/fightingfuries.html – probably the best resource on these toys

Plaid Stallions blog with a nice piece about Fighting Furies

Forum discussion on Fighting Furies

Here is a press advert for Matchbox Fighting Furies from the mid-Seventies (looks like it is taken from some sort of Trade Magazine or paper);

Over in the States, but not over here in the UK, you had Mego producing a line of Pirate action figures at the same time as ‘Fighting Furies’, including Blackbeard and the intriguingly named ‘Jean LaFitte’…..


Remembering Ice Lollies, pop men, Corona, Cresta, Sports Day and assorted junk food with The Cobwebbed Room & lewstringer.blogspot.com





On sports day at Longwood Primary School, one of the treats, alongside the fact there were no lessons on that day, was the arrival of the Ice Cream van. Either a blue & white or a yellow & white affair, with the Lyons Maid or Walls logo emblazoned on the back and sides and the various wares advertised with stickers on the serving windows. This symbol of our after school life, at school, was a very pleasant juxtaposition. Whats with the reminiscing? I’m coming to it.

Walls and Lyons Maid were the Lords of Lollies in the Seventies – Funny Face, Funny Feet, Bionic Lolly, Choc-a-bloc, Lord Toffingham, Haunted House, Pineapple Mivvi or, if your folks were particularly skint, a Lemonade Sparkle or Mini-Milk ….

Back to the point! The reason for my reverie is that 2 wonderful blogsites have reawakened my childhood memories of one of the best ice lollies I have tasted, and reminded me of the ice cream vans at sports day. This particular lolly was the one I always asked for after the egg and spoon race – it was called ‘Count Draculas Deadly Secret’, and not only did it have an amazing name, it also had a ‘deadly secret’ – that secret was the blood red jelly centre once you had eaten through the black lolly and white ice cream – aaagggghhhhhhhh!

Here is one of the press adverts, usually seen in comics of the time (around the mid 70’s) courtesy of both the the cobwebbed room and lewstringer.blogspot;

<img style="display:block; margin:0px auto 10px; text-align:center;cursor:pointer; cursor:hand;" src="http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_Ruf9JBv9V4U/SAdeigOuhlI/AAAAAAAAAbU/ktOD0TseQVU/s400/count%2Bdracula.jpg" border="0"

That really does just jolt me back 30 years in an instant – amazing. This is where I found it;

http://cobwebbedroom.blogspot.com/2007/08/count-draculas-secret-ice-lolly-ads.html

and this site has loads more goodies – for instance, remember ‘Horror Bags’of crisps by Smiths?

http://cobwebbedroom.blogspot.com/2008/01/horror-bags-fangs-packet.html

not only, but also……Lew Stringers blog manages to drag a big carrier bag of junk food and drink related advertising goodness back to his site – there’s Cresta (which was up against Corona in a low budget British pepsi vs coke war) amongst other stuff. Does anyone else remember the pop man? He used to deliver Corona pop and you got ‘busy with the fizzy’ stickers and pop bottles in crates…..Anyway, Lew Stringers site is amazing – his blog is a real treat. Here’s the post – but the site is just great in general;

http://lewstringer.blogspot.com/2007/03/junk-food-and-comics.html

Fascinating history of Lyons Maid with lots of great pictures (like the ice lolly wrappers at the top of this post)

If you like food and nostalgia, this book could be for you – ‘Let Me Eat Cake’ by Paul Arnott

If you look here there’s an old advert for Anglo Bubbly bubble gum from waaaay back.

A request – Can anyone provide me with a link or a picture of a Lord Toffingham lolly wrapper? I remember it being a brown wrapper with a ‘Lord Snooty’ type illustration of a young man wearing a monocle. I would love to see one of those….

By the way, I found this on youtube – did you pass the Corona fizzical???

British Comics Part II – Scream! the fleeting British Horror comic (1984)

After the runaway success of the British Science Fiction comic 2000AD, IPC launched a series of short lived titles in its wake to capitalise on its popularity. However, the likes of Starlord and Tornado had a very short life before becoming integrated into 2000AD. In the mid eighties, a new title, ‘Scream!’ was their attempt to move into the relatively untapped Horror comic genre.

There may have been several factors as to why they chose horror as the theme, such as the popularity of Stephen King books and the novels of British author of James Herbert, who had seen success with the likes of The Rats and The Fog.

Another reason why IPC chose Horror as a good platform for a new comic launch could have been the greater access to horror movies due to the home video boom of the early eighties. Horror films proliferated in the early days of video rental, a situation that created the Video Nasties phenomena and its resultant legislation encapsulated in the Video Recordings Act. The controversy surrounding films such as ‘The Evil Dead’ and ‘The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’ only gave Horror greater exposure. Also, the theatrical and subsequent video release of Horror anthology ‘Creepshow‘ introduced the world of EC horror comics to a wider audience, years after controvery and political pressure had killed off the likes of ‘Tales from the Crypt’.

British produced Horror comics had been around in the 1970’s, with the likes of Shiver & Shake and Monster Fun, but these had been played for laughs and were more Scooby Doo crossed with The Beano than Hammer Horror in tone. Scream was generally a serious attempt at a British Horror comic, though some times it could not quite decide what it wanted to be – more on that later.

Further back in time, British readers had been thrilled by the American imports of EC comics. In an event that preceded yet predicted both the backlash against ‘Action’, and the type of moral panic that enabled the legislation against so-called ‘Video Nasties’, the British Conservative Government introduced the ‘Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications)’ act in 1954, becoming law in 1955. The american horror comic imports were almost immediately removed from sale. For more information on this subject, Martin Bakers definitive account ‘Haunt of Fears’ is a must. There is a link to the google book at the bottom of the post.

By the late Sixties and early Seventies, the publisher Warren was re-introducing the British public to horror with the likes of Eerie and Vampirella. There was an appetite amongst the British for a serious Horror title, and IPC aimed to fill that gap in the market.

Issue #1 of Scream! was released on the 24th of March 1984, with its end coming abruptly on June 30th of the same year. 15 issues in all. Screams demise was so unexpected that issue 15 carried preview captions for the aborted issue 16, the one below from the ‘Monster’ strip;

Why was it cancelled? There are some theories that stick when googling, such as;

1) National Union of Journalists action in the Summer of 1984 helped kill off the title as production was affected

2) The sales figures simply were not good enough

3) Due to the comics content, IPC executives were quick to avoid any repeat of the controversy that ruined the Seventies boys comic Action, another IPC comic, and therefore pulled the plug on Scream!

Here is an extract from Graham Kibble-Whites book on the history of British comics as he summarises the reasons for Screams failure;

“As for why the axe fell, rumours still persist to this day. Was the comic just too gruesome for the IPC bigwigs? Or was it just another victim of the hard financial realities of the Eighties? Whatever; with those fifteen Scream! comics now considered collector’s items by latter-day fans, it’s achieved some sort of life after death – which is entirely appropriate when you think about it.”

(from The Ultimate Book Of British Comics by Graham Kibble-White)

Scream was absorbed into another IPC comic, the revived Eagle (aka Eagle Mk II) from the middle of July 1984 until March 1985, when its name was dropped from the title. Naturally, due to limitations on the amount of pages in comics, very few of the strips from Scream! made the transition. Only The Thirteenth Floor and Monster made notable appearances in Eagle. The fact there was no mention of the merger in the last issue of Scream, coupled with the delay in Scream appearing in Eagle (a matter of weeks as opposed to a seamless handover) suggests the cancellation of the title was an abrupt one.

I have all 15 of the original issues – I may even have one of the summer specials. My memory of it was of a good read, especially The Dracula File and The Thirteenth Floor. Despite a lot of it being fairly credible, with some great artwork by the likes of Jesus Redondo, there were some problems with it. In terms of consistency it did suffer – the attempts at humour, with the likes of ‘Fiends and Neighbours’ were lame. That strip (‘Fiends..’) looked like a throwback to an earlier time, and it was in fact a reprint from the archives of Cor!! and Buster comic (see here). Also, the typical IPC device of having someone/thing other than a normal human editing the comic was present with this title. Whereas 2000AD had Tharg and Starlord had, er, Starlord, Scream had Ghastly McNasty. Ghastly was a Grim Reaper type figure, in what you can assume to be a reference to the EC Horror Comics such as Tales from the Crypt where characters like The Crypt Keeper acted as the host to the stories. However, Ghastly did not have the humour or personality of the Crypt Keeper, and if anything was rather bland and one-dimensional. Some of the stories didnt quite convince either – ‘Terror of the Cats’ seemed to be a nod to previous ‘animal horror’ works. These had proliferated in the Seventies, with novels like James Herberts ‘The Rats’, Peter Benchleys ‘Jaws’ and films such as Spielbergs adaptation of ‘Jaws’ and other producitons such as ‘Orca Killer Whale’ and the low-budget 1976 horror ‘Grizzly‘. However, ‘Terror of the Cats’ really failed to convince. Whereas predators such as Sharks and large animals such as Grizzly Bears are inherently fearsome, domestic cats are not. Large dogs would have made a much better subject matter. As you can see from the opening page of the first part of this tale, it really is not very convincing or frightening;

My memory of its end was like this – I went to get issue 16 on a Saturday, along with my 2000ad, and it wasn’t there. After a few weeks of being told by the newsagent that it hadnt turned up, I got the message that it was not coming back. I didn’t follow it over to the Eagle when it was merged into that title in the July of 1984.

Scream! was a brave attempt by IPC to produce something other than a war or science fiction comic. I do not know the exact reason why it was pulled, but it could have been due to the variety of reasons that have been mentioned here. It has retained a fan base who regard it with warmth and fondness, and this is really well represented at the fan site http://backfromthedepths.co.uk
where there are plans afoot to produce further issues of the comic.

I wonder if there is a copy of issue 16 anywhere??? Anyone know?

The sites and resources I used for this post are;

Back from the Depths – Brilliant fan site dedicated to Scream! with issues 1, 15 and a Summer Special reprinted in full

Short piece on Scream! at 26pigs

Scream! at Wikipedia

First 4 issues to view at The Manchester Morgue site

I used the excellent Toonhound site for some of the research – a great site and well worth your time.

Just to let you know, you can read Martin Barkers book, ‘Haunt Of Fears’ as a Google book

Lew Stringers wonderful blog has some detail on a new book that reprints pre-comics code Horror titles in a new book – read it here.

There is another useful google book on Warren, called ‘The Warren Companion’ by Jon B Cooke and David Roach – check it out here

The Manchester Morgue site has some scans of the Warren title Eerie

The Specials – from despair to here

It is great news that The Specials are reforming to play some live dates again this autumn. Why shouldn’t they cash in? Potentially seeing a sizeable proportion of a gig consisting of 50 year old men in Harrington Jackets has got to be worth the admission price alone. They also produced some of the most politically charged working class music in the last 50 years, while managing to get the message across to a whole cross-section of the UK by also being fantastically gifted musicians, and in Terry Hall, a unique vocalist. They had No.1 singles that challenged the Thatcher vision of Britain (‘Ghost Town’) and could produce B-side tracks that were better than most bands A-sides (‘Saturday Night, Sunday Morning’, ‘Why’). The 2 albums (‘The Specials’ and ‘More Specials’, they produced still stand up today, they had their own iconic record label (2 Tone) and even released classic singles as stand alone works (ie they didnt end up on albums) such as ‘Rat Race’ and ‘Ghost Town’. Their influence was not only confined to the UK, with bands such as Rancid and No Doubt confirming the Coventry bands influence on them.

They also looked amazing as a band – dressed smart, dressed to compliment each other, and when they played, they moved as one – check this out;

Looks like Mike Barson from Madness took some sartorial cues from Jerry Dammers – the Crombie overcoat, shades and tall hat (fez or otherwise).

Yup, everyone else has pretty much done it – The Beat nearly did it thanks to the help of music channel VH1 and their ‘Bands Reunited’ programme, but David Steele and Andy Cox were having none of it. Madness do it all the time, so I think this reunion should be celebrated. I reckon it is going to be a dignified celebration of one of the best British bands.

Here is the news – The BBC confirm The Specials are back.
Official site of The Specials
Wiki entry for The Specials
Official Youtube channel for The Specials – lots of videos!!!
Great fan site including a transcript of the recent MOJO magazine feature by Alex Petridis