Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Hobbit

Peter Jackson's long-awaited first film based on J. J. R. Tolkien's novel "The Hobbit" opened in theatres on the 12.12.12. I loved Peter Jackson's versions of "Lord of the Rings", but I must admit that when I learned that "The Hobbit" was going to be made into not one but three films, I was a little sceptical. Even more so when I found out that this first film, entitled "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" lasted 169 minutes! That's almost 3 hours! I wondered why on earth (or Middle-earth) Jackson needed so much time to tell the rather short tale of Bilbo Baggins' quest.

Well, I went to see the film with a friend and although it was rated PG-13, most of the audience were people between 30 and 70. They had without doubt all read the book, but if they thought they were going to see the film-version of this book, they had another thought coming. The fairly easy-to-follow story about Bilbo's journeys to the Lonely Mountain with a group of dwarves to reclaim a treasure stolen from them by the dragon Smaug is more or less just a side-story in this film. The trigger, so to speak.

Smaug is no longer the main "villain", instead the main enemies are the white orc Azog (Manu Bennett) and the mysterious Necromancer (Benedict Cumberbatch) who lives in Dol Guldur. Being a Dane I've always had a problem with the name Dol Guldur, because in Danish it doesn't mean "Hill of Sorcery" but "The public management training gold watch", which makes it very hard not to laugh when you hear it! The events concerning these new enemies you won't find in the novel and there's a whole lot about the brown wizard Radagast (Sylvester McCoy) too, who really belongs in "The Lord of the Ring", along with the 15 minutes long prologue with old Bilbo and Frodo.

It is nice to see Ian Holm as old Bilbo and Elijah Wood as Frodo again, though, and Ian McKellen gives his usual brilliant performance as Gandalf. Martin Freeman is believable as young Bilbo and at least I understand his Bilbo better than I did with the Bilbo of the book. Maybe because there is a certain "Arthur Dent"-ness about Freeman's version! As for the dwarves, Richard Armitage is proud and stubborn as the exiled dwarf-king Thorin, but the rest of the dwarves are hard to tell apart. You'll notice the white-bearded Balin (Ken Stott), the frank Bofur (James Nesbitt) and the young brothers Kili (Aidan Turner) and Fili (Dean O'Gorman). The rest you don't really notice as they are hard to distinguish from each other, maybe with the exception of the fat Bombur (Stephen Hunter) who looks a bit like Obelix! I was however surprised that Gollum (Andy Serkis) is so much more a comical character than a scary one in this film and I was even more surprised that the ugly, fat Great Goblin speaks very eloquently with the voice of Barry Humphries. He doesn't sound like a daft goblin at all!

When that is said, it is not the acting that you notice in this film. It is the beautiful scenery, the wonderful sets, every picture is amazing down to the very last detail. Just for that, the film is worth seeing.

All in all I think "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" is a wonderful film, but to be honest, I think it would have been even better if Jackson had cut down on all the endless battle scenes and stuck to the story of the book. And I would still have preferred it to be just one film instead of three.

Four out of five stars: ****

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Build Me a Bridge

 My new novel "Build Me a Bridge" is now available from Smashwords. It is a psychological novel about interdependence, age, love and murder.

Identical twins, Adrian and Charles Lewis, have reached success with their heavy rock band, Pan’s Revenge, but their world is shaken when death and love enter their lives. Emotional insecurities, fear, prejudice and an elusive killer threaten to tear the brothers apart. In the end they have to recognise the disturbing truth about their interdependence.

“Build Me a Bridge” gives an insight into the British music industry and at the same time it is a murder mystery and a story about love’s many faces. The three layers of story are told by each of the twins as well as their bodyguard and the use of three narrators gives the reader an opportunity to explore the different layers of the story from different perspectives and with different insights.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Super 8

 Usually I don't review films that are more than 6 months old, but with "Super 8" I'm going to make an exception. I had really looked forward to watching this film as it is written and directed by J. J: Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, but it turned out to be almost impossible to get to watch it!

"Super 8" opened in theatres in June 2011 and made it to Denmark, where I live, on July 28th, 2011. That's all well and good, but the problem was that although it was shown in two different cinemas in my hometown, it disappeared almost immediately again. I only had one shot at it the day before the last show, but when I realised that the film didn't start until 9.30 p.m. - which meant that with its 112 minutes running time + commercials and trailers it wouldn't end until midnight - I gave up. At that point our local public transportation had stopped for the day and there was no way I was able to get back home, so I had to wait for the DVD.

The DVD was released in early 2012 and I expected to get it for my birthday, but I didn't. After that I forgot about it until recently when I spotted it in the local DVD store for only £4.95. I bought it straight away and watched it the same evening with my 13 year old daughter and we were both surprised at what we saw.

"Super 8" is not really horror and it's not really sci-fi, either, but a supernatural suspense film, telling the story of a bunch of kids who in the summer of 1979 shoot a super 8 film in a small town in Ohio. While filming, they witness a catastrophic train crash and shortly after people, dogs and electric appliances start to disappear from town. Something inexplicable and terrifying has been set in motion due to the train wreck and despite military opposition, the kids set out to solve the mystery.

When I watched the film, I guess what I had expected to see was a "mashup" of "The Blair Witch Project", "The Day of the Triffids" and John Carpenter's "The Fog". Instead I got a cross between "The Goonies" and "E.T." with a dash of "District 9". Furthermore it's a film that will appeal to mostly a young audience aged 10-12 despite the PG-13 rating.

When that is said, it's a charming little film, funny, moving and exciting, and the young cast acts so well. Joel Courtney as Joe Lamb - the young hero of the film - is believable, touching and very likeable. Elle Fanning as Alice Dainard is impressive, showing her wide range as an actress, and Riley Griffiths portraying Charles Kaznyk - a part that reminded me of a young Orson Welles - is confident, cool and a bit manic, like he should be. The rest of the kids are great, too. Of the adult cast especially Ron Eldard as Alice's father Louis Dainard stays in mind. His portray of a poor, disillusioned (and drunk) single parent is superb.

I can't say that I was disappointed in "Super 8" as it is a good film, but it was just so different from what I had expected. I guess what I liked the most about it was that over the film's credits, you actually get to see Charles' super 8 film "The Case", which the kids had been shooting during the entire film. That bit was hilarious and a very nice surprise.

Four out of five stars: **** (but only because my PC won't allow me to give it 3½ stars!)

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tankens bager

The Danish indie band "Tankens bager" (the baker of thoughts), was founded in 2008 and last year they made a CD named "Tankens bager" too. It's an EP with six songs, all in Tankens bager's characteristic folk-pop style.
The songs on the EP are all more or less cut from the same cloth with traces of Danish folk-rock from the seventies. The songs are slow, dreamy, melancholy and very catchy and Claus Dencher's lead vocal reaches back to the Danish singer-songwriter sound of the seventies, subdued and sensitive. Mikkel Schacht-Petersen's lead guitar is both soft and sharp, Nicolai Dall Lorenzen's sax playful and the rhythm section consisting on Jesper Vang on bass and René Moeller Dehnfjeld on drums is a driving force, propelling the songs forward.

All songs are written by Claus Dencher except for "Laengsel" (Longing) that is written by Jesper Vang, and my favourite is probably "Redning" (Rescue) with its deep and somewhat droll lyrics. The lyrics to all of the songs are in Danish, by the way.

If you like poetic pop, this EP is a must. The only thing I'm not so keen on is that the songs end rather abruptly as if the band hasn't figured out yet how to end a song properly. But that's just a minor detail as all in all the EP "Tankens bager" is a little folk-pop gem.
For more info, you can visit the band's Facebook page: http://da-dk.facebook.com/pages/Tankens-Bager/179878572055234.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

You, Me and a Cup of Tea

 "You, Me and a Cup of Tea" is the title of an English coffee table book - or should I say tea table book? The book is a celebration of Tetley Tea's 175 anniversary and it is made in partnership with CLIC Sargent, the UK’s leading children and young people’s cancer charity.

This limited edition book is a collection of 175 stories from tea drinkers from across the UK including Tetley Tea employees, families affected by cancer, who have been supported by CLIC Sargent, and then a handful of British celebrities. To be honest, I didn't know very many of the celebrities, though, only Jane Asher, Derren Brown, Melanie C, Bryan Ferry, Katie Melua, James Phelps, Oliver Phelps and Alan Titchmarsh, but then again, I'm not British. Most of the stories are told by "ordinary people", anyway, sharing their "magical" tea memories as Tetley puts it.
When you read the book, the first thing that you'll notice is that this is just a 112 pages long Tetley tea ad. As such it is not a very good read and the main reason for buying this book would be to support CLIC Sargent, as proceeds from the sale of the book go to this charity.

The second thing you'll notice is that the "magical" memories are all more or less the same. You can divide them into only 9 categories, the categories being:
1. Tea consumed in connection with pregnancies/births
2. Drinking tea with friends/family
3. Having your husband/children bring you a cup of tea in bed
4. Drinking tea when being asked to become a bridesmaid/Godmother
5. Drinking tea with celebrities
6. Drinking tea in bad weather
7. Missing Tetley tea when you are abroad
8. Celebrating new careers with tea
9. Comforting yourself with tea after having received bad news
Statistically you'll find 19.4 stories in each category, although some categories are more frequent than others. The most frequent are stories about mothers and daughters who live in separate countries but stay in touch on Skype while drinking tea. It is pretty boring having to read the same kind of stories over and over again, but at least it's better than the so-called "poems" that some people have written about their special tea moment. These poems are all clumsy and embarrassing to put it mildly.

I must say that I'm rather surprised that the stories vary so little. One should think that when you ask the British nation to share their most special tea moments, you'd come up with something better than "I had a cuppa with my nan" or "we were drinking tea when my friend asked me to be her bridesmaid". It seems that people never do anything interesting while drinking tea, or maybe the people contributing just have very boring lives?

I would have thought that a strong tea-drinking nation like the UK would have had better stories to tell, but no. In fact I had a hard time coming up with some favourite stories from the book as they are all more or less the same, but in the end I found 3 stories that were a bit extraordinary. One is by Helen Brannagan who discovered that her blind son is able to distinguish contrast colours. Another is by Jonny McNee who tells about making his first cup of tea at the age of 19 - this guy can really write! And finally there is illusionist Derren Brown's contribution about why it's often a bad idea to meet your idols - this guy can write, too.

I guess with a book like "You, Me and a Cup of Tea", the idea is that you're not supposed to read it from cover to cover. It is after all a "tea table book", suited only to flick through and then maybe read a page here and there. And at least the book looks nice with lots of photos and a pretty layout, but it really could do with some proofreading. I've never seen so many typos in a single book before!

"You, Me and a Cup of Tea" can be ordered from www.tetley.com and it costs £7.99.

Three out of five stars: ***

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Treasury - Harry Potter's Universe

"Treasury - Harry Potter's Universe" is the name of an (unauthorised?) exhibition at the Funen Art Museum in Odense, Denmark. The exhibition consists of Harry Potter related items borrowed from different museums, libraries, schools and private collectors.
When first I heard about the exhibition, I thought, "Oh, no! This can't be good." I had imagined to see a lot of bric-a-brac and stuffed animals from the museum vault that had little or nothing to do with Harry Potter, but to be honest I was pleasantly surprised.
 The exhibition consisted of three small rooms called "Professor Snape's potion workshop", "The Hogwart's Hall" and "The Forbidden Forest". The first room, the potion workshop, seemed rather empty, as there were only two display cases, one with different potions and potion remedies, the other with a bezoar, floo powder and dead animals in formaldehyde. Although the items were few, they were still pretty interesting.
The next room, "The Hogwart's Hall", was the biggest. Here you could see a lot of different items on display connected to the story of Harry Potter. There was a Nimbus 2000 broom, the wands of Harry, Hermione, Ron, Dumbledore and Voldemort, the Golden Snitch, The Philosopher's Stone, the head from HP3, the Mirror of Erised (although it didn't work properly), the Marauder's Map, different Weasley Wizard Wheezes products, Hermione's timetable, Lily Potter's letter to Sirius Black and a lot more.
 Most of the stuff had no doubt been bought in either "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" at Universal Orlando or at the "Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter", but still it was quite interesting and there was a lot to see.
 The last room, the smallest, was "The Forbidden Forest". Here you'd find the stuffed animals that I had expected to see! A stuffed owl was said to be Hedwig, a rat was Scabbers (although it had all its toes), Pigwidgeon and Mrs. Norris were there as well and a dragon egg.
All in all I enjoyed the experience, especially the Hogwart's Hall, but Snape's workshop was okay, too. I also liked that "Hedwig's Theme" (played on harp) could be heard in every room. Very nice. The exhibition was too small, though, as you could hardly use half an hour there, so it was a good thing that the £5 entrance ticket provided access to the rest of the museum as well. That way I came to see four exhibitions of contemporary art, too!
"Treasure - Harry Potter's Universe" is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. (except Mondays) and if you live in Denmark, I would recommend that you go see it, because let's face it. Denmark loves Harry Potter, but Harry Potter doesn't love Denmark. Up until now only the Weasley twins (Phelps twins) have graced our capital Copenhagen with their presence at the Danish premiere of Harry Potter 7, part 1 and then J. K. Rowling visited the Danish "Harry Potter capital" Odense when she received the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award. Both visits were back in 2010. In my opinion, there is no way that the official "Harry Potter - The Exhibition" is ever going to reach Denmark, so the "Treasury - Harry Potter Universe" at the Funen Art Museum is probably the closest we'll get. The exhibition runs until December 2nd, 2012.

Saturday, November 03, 2012

Harry Potter Festival 2012

The Harry Potter Festival in Odense, Denmark, celebrated its 10th anniversary on October 18-21, 2012. I wasn't able to attend the festival myself as I was in England, attending a charity ball with some REAL Harry Potter stars, but that's a whole different story, which you can read about in my Harry Moseley Charity Ball blog post. Instead of me, my daughter went to the festival with her dad and she wasn't impressed.
 The Harry Potter Festival in Odense used to be one of the best in the world, the kids going to Hogwarts and the entire city centre turning into a cross between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Two years ago Hogwarts was closed, which was a really bad idea as it was the heart of the festival, but unfortunately Odense City and the main library, that organise the festival, have decided to stick to this folly, so Hogwarts was closed this year as well. Furthermore they had come up with another bad idea. The Town Square, where Diagon Alley used to be situated next to Hogwarts, Hagrid's hut, Snape's dungeon and the Forbidden Forrest, had been abandoned all together. Instead the Forbidden Forrest had been closed, Hagrid had been moved to a church in Jernbanegade (Station Street), Snape to the Funen Art Museum, Diagon Alley to Grey Friars Square and Hogsmeade to Vintapper Straede (Tapster Alley). Because of that, there was no physical core to the festival anymore and people had to run around town to find the different Harry Potter events, which was quite confusing according to my daughter.

Furthermore the festival had turned into a moneymaking machine. In "the old days" you had to pay a small fee to attend Hogwarts, but everything else was free. Nowadays you have to pay for most of what is happening and there's a strict age-limit to several of the events. Thursday the 8-12 year olds were thus able to ride the Hogwart's Express if they paid £7.50 for 75 minutes. Friday the 8-15 year olds could participate in a Harry Potter role play if they paid £12.50 for a couple of hours. And also Friday you could listen to Odense Symphony Orchestra play music from the Harry Potter films if you paid £10 for 90 minutes. Furthermore you had to pay £2.50 (which is an increase of 25%) to shop in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and you had to pay for food and drink in huge catering tents instead of getting it for free in The Leaky Cauldron and Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon. This way you could easily get to spend £50 per person in order to take part in the festival, which is quite over the top, I think.
Anyway, the Harry Potter Festival 2012 was the biggest ever, or so the papers said. 10,000 people attended it, but when my daughter was there Saturday - which is usually the busiest day as that is when the Harry Potter marked takes place - she only met a handful. She said that Diagon Alley (the marked) was more or less empty and there was hardly anything to look at except for Gringotts Wizarding Bank and St. Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries.
 She managed to locate Quality Quidditch Supplies as well, but that had been moved to Snape's former dungeon in the old town monastery away from the rest of Diagon Alley. The only good thing about that was that the shop is now closer to the Quidditch pitch, which is situated in the nearby Hans Christian Andersen Garden, locally known as the fairytale garden. As something new you could even try to fly a broom across Odense River, but my daughter didn't see anyone doing it as you had to pay for that, too.
All in all it's safe to say that my daughter won't be visiting the Harry Potter Festival next year and if it doesn't improve, I probably won't either. Although the festival attracts more and more people, Odense City and the library seem set on destroying the great concept they once had. Don't get me wrong. I think it's great that a larger area of the city is in use during the festival, but please choose locations close to each other, so that kids don't have to run around town on their own, and please bring the Harry Potter/Diagon Alley marked back to the Town Square and please, please, PLEASE reopen Hogwarts!!!

Monday, October 29, 2012

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

The last time I was in Birmingham in the UK, I visited Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. Since 2005 Birmingham has been my home away from home, but I had never been to the BMAG before which is quite strange as it's situated in the centre of the city, it's free and it's beautiful!
On street level you'll find the Gas Hall exhibition gallery housing temporary exhibitions, but when I was there, "Pharaoh: King of Egypt" had just closed, so I entered the building from Chamberlain Square and walked up the stone steps inside, where I was greeted by the charming Coronation Street mural.
Upstairs there's a reception where you can buy a visitor guide and map (advisable!) and then you reach the Round Room. This is probably my favourite room of the entire museum. The round, red walls boast paintings in three tiers including Walter Langley's "Never Morning Wore to Evening but Some Heart Did Break" and Henry Stacy Marks' "Dominicans in Feathers". The most spectacular thing in the Round Room is, however, the centrepiece: Jacob Epstein's sculpture "The Archangel Lucifer". This wonderful, ambiguous bronze sculpture from 1945 is in my opinion the most intriguing work of art in the entire museum, but you won't find it on postcards anywhere. On BMAG's virtual online tour of the museum it isn't quite there either, as the private parts of Lucifer is covered with leaves. Epstein used a female model for Lucifer's head, but a male model for the body, and the penis of the angel was thought quite obscene as it isn't one of the small ones you'll see on renaissance sculptures, but a normal sized one. There is a certain amount of sexuality stemming from the winged devil, not just because of that much talked about penis, but in Lucifer's face and posture, too. At the same time it depicts something both sly and beautiful and I think Epstein has really succeeded in portraying a fallen angel. I love this sculpture.
Turning to the right in the Round Room you walk through the gift shop and on to the Industrial Gallery which is another breathtaking room. With its skylight, wrought iron details and Soho sphinxes, this original part of the gallery is itself even more interesting than the items on display, which consist mostly of a collection of stain-glassed windows and different items of arts and crafts.
The Industrial Gallery leads to the Buddha Gallery, a whole room with sculptures and other images of Buddha. I found that very interesting as I had never seen a gallery in any other museum in the western world dedicated to Buddha. Wonderful. From the Buddha Gallery you reach the entrance to the Edwardian Tea Room, a beautiful room for sure, but the counter and the rather boring tables and chairs ruin it a bit. They make the room look what it is: the cafeteria of the museum.
Back in the Round Room instead of turning right, you can also go straight ahead through a room with Asian art to the rest of the museum. The main level of the museum has 33 galleries in all, so you can easily get lost. The artworks span from the Greeks and Romans over 14th to 19th century art to modern and contemporary works. The most famous works are probably BMAG's collections of Edward Burne-Jones paintings and then their Pre-Raphaelite collection. I must admit that Burne-Jones is not exactly my cup of tea, although I've always loved the Pre-Raphaelites. The rigidity and muddy colours in his paintings don't appeal to me, though, and to be honest, I found the Pre-Raphaelite collection a bit disappointing, too. I know it is one of the world's largest, but the paintings on display are not very interesting. To me only a few were really good, namely Arthur Hughes' "The Long Engagement"; William Holman Hunt's portrait of Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Dante Gabriel Rosetti's "Proserpine".
I have seen much better Pre-Raphaelite collections other places in the world, among them in Tate Gallery in London. While I visited the BMAG there was an exhibition of Victorian art from the Tate named "Love and Death" and it featured some of these works along with the best of BMAG's Pre-Raphaelite works. I was disappointed that the exhibition only consisted of about 20 paintings and a handful of drawings and etchings, but when that is said, the works themselves were amazing. Most of the paintings depicted love as a young, naked boy, who probably didn't seem as offensive in Victorian days as Epstein's Lucifer did in 1945, but today these images of love came across a bit paedophile to be honest! I had to snigger too, when I realised that most of the women on the paintings looked exactly like Helena Bonham Carter, especially Anthony Frederick Sandys' "Morgan Le Fay".
The main work was "The Lady of Shalott" by John William Waterhouse, which of course is brilliant, but other paintings attracted me even more, among them Waterhouse's "Saint Eulalia", Herbert James Draper's "The Lament for Icarus" and Sydney Harold Meteyard's "Hope Comforting Love in Bondage".
 As most of these wonderful paintings aren't depicted on any of the BMAG store's postcards, I was glad that you were allowed to take photos without flash. The pics turned out a little dark, but it's better than nothing.
Other interesting exhibitions on the main level include "The Staffordshire Hoard" and "The Birmingham School of Art". In fact I found the latter much better than the Pre-Raphaelite collection!
On the top level of the museum, you'll find another 12 galleries, some of them covering ancient cultures, but half of them are dedicated to "Birmingham: it's people, it's history". I really liked that as it told the story of Birmingham in a very entertaining way, showing both items from everyday life and items of historic value. If you're interested in Birmingham, you really have to see it and especially a working model showing how guns were made was amazing along with the World War I and II exhibits.
All in all I spent 3 hours at the museum, but I could easily have spent 3 more, so if you plan to visit BMAG, be sure to have plenty of time. There's a lot to see, the building itself being one of the main attractions, and I'm sure I'll return to this museum not just once or twice, but over and over again.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Harry Moseley Charity Ball, 2012

The inaugural Harry Moseley Charity Ball took place at the ICC in Birmingham on October 19th, 2012.
 With the help of solicitor/Big Brother star PJ Ellis, who was the brains behind the ball, I had secured myself a ticket and I made my way to the venue at 6.15 p.m.
 Inside the ICC you had to take an escalator to the first floor where the charity ball took place. Here you were greeted with a champagne reception and the reception area soon filled up as the 1,260 paying guests arrived.
 In the area different auction items were on display; signed football jerseys, Andy Warhol prints, Downton Abbey memorabilia and a lot more. Free Radio's HumFree the Hamster and the Hollywood Monster went around greeting the guests and the whole event was covered by OK! magazine.
Dinner was served at 7.15 and the ballroom looked beautiful with 126 round tables, each seating ten people, huge TV screens and a fantastic light display on stage. I was seated at a table right in front of the stage and I was in good company as most of the celebrities were seated in the same row.
 From my table I could spot Olympic gymnast Kristian Thomas on my left, the Phelps twins on my right and football legends Ian Taylor and Michael Johnson behind me. The first course was already on the table: a vegetable spit with potato tureen and bread. I don't know what the "meat eaters" got instead of the vegetable spit, but it looked like chicken filet.
Russ Morris and Tom Ross from Free Radio were the hosts of the evening and when they had made their welcome speeches, PJ Ellis and Tim Andrews from Hollywood Monster went on stage to speak, too.
 They both told how much they had been inspired by Harry Moseley, the young school boy who had suffered from a brain tumour, but went on and raised a lot of money for cancer research by selling home made bracelets, before he died of his disease. In fact each of the guests at the ball were given a bracelet made by black and "golden" beads and I proudly wore mine next to the claret and blue one that I bought off Harry before he died.
 Harry's mother, Georgina Moseley, gave a speech too, telling about her personal loss and the meaninglessness of her life now that Harry is gone, her husband and two other children sitting in the front row, listening to her. A few of the ladies around me were in tears after the speech.
Even more people had to bring out their hankies, when a film about Harry was shown on the screens. It told the story of his life and several celebrities were interviewed as well. When footballer John Terry broke down and cried on screen, so did most of the audience!
The main course was served at 8.30 and the vegetarian version consisted of a couscous pie with spinach and green asparagus and a delicious red and yellow pepper sauce. Again I'm not sure what the "meat eaters" had, but it looked like some kind of spareribs. The dishes were accompanied by wine - there were four to six bottles on each table and on the VIP tables there was champagne, too. If you wanted something else, you could buy it from one of the two bars in the ballroom.
To get to the bar - and the ladies rooms - I had to pass Oliver Phelps, so of course I went over to say hi. I hadn't seen him for five months, so I got a hug and a handshake. He was in the company of his parents, his long term girlfriend Katy, his housemate David and his friend Geoff. In fact he had David as his dinner partner instead of Katy, which was a bit of a laugh. At the table he was joined by his twin brother James and James' girlfriend.
Anyway, like it is with these events, there were not enough toilets for the ladies, so a bunch of us ended up in the men's room, which was quite hilarious. I also got to talk to a very nice lady from Wolverhampton and I only wish I knew her name as I would like to thank her for being so kind!
Back in the ballroom it was time for the raffle prize draw. At each place setting there had been an envelop in which you were to put £10 and write your name and table number in order to participate in the raffle. There were 30 prizes in all, the first prize being an ultimate Birmingham weekend donated by the Hyatt Regency and the second prize being a diamond necklace worth £1,500. Of course it was a man who won the necklace!
The raffle prize draw was followed by desserts and a live auction. The dessert consisted of ice cream with chocolate sauce and caramel cake with whipped cream and strawberries. Very tasty. The live auction was solely for the very rich, though. The eight auction items were a day on a luxurious motor yacht, a six-night all inclusive cruise in the south of France, a week for fourteen in a ski chalet in La Place, a golf day at David Gold's private golf course, a photograph in OK! magazine, dinner for six cooked by chef Glynn Purnell and finally a framed Harry Moseley bracelet. The bids were high, especially on the dinner and the bracelet, in fact the bracelet went for £5,000 in the end. That made me wonder how much my own claret and blue bracelet is worth as it was made by Harry himself, too!
After the auction we had coffee while the very talented Beverly Knight went on stage to perform a string of songs. She was very good and very popular, as she is more or less a "local girl", her being from Wolverhampton. We all enjoyed her performance very much.
 When Beverly Knight went off stage, the silent auction ended. All the time during the evening a silent auction had been going on, people being able to bid on various items through the iPads that were placed on the tables. The auction ended at 11.30 p.m. where Georgina Moseley was handed a check of £110,000 which was the amount that people had spent that evening. Quite overwhelming. Actor Adam Rickitt from Coronation Street entered the stage as well to take part in the presenting of the check.
The last two hours of the evening, the ball took off with a disco. Kristian Thomas and Oliver Phelps were some of the first on the surprisingly small dance floor, whereas Oliver's brother James preferred to slow dance with his girlfriend among the tables.
 I spent quite a lot of time on the dance floor myself - I even danced with that nice lady from Wolverhampton and her husband! - but I had time to say hi to PJ Ellis and have my photo taken as well.
 At 1.20 a.m. coaches arrived at the ICC to take the guests to an afterparty on the 25th floor of The Cube. The afterparty lasted until 5 a.m., but I must admit that I didn't! Luckily my hotel was situated only 300 meters away so it was easy for me to get back.
All in all the Harry Moseley Charity Ball was a wonderful event, in fact I was told it had been the best charity event in Birmingham ever! Thank you Peter (PJ) Ellis, Oliver Phelps and that lady from Wolverhampton for making the evening special for me, too. And thank you Harry Moseley. Your life was short, but inspirational. RIP. You won't be forgotten.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Play nicely!

"I've been in print for 29 years and I've always been met with respect and love which I give back in my art. That connection is sacred to me." This quote is from Twitter, written by my writer colleague Clive Barker, but it could as well have been written by me. Clive Barker and I both had our debut in 1983 and after all these years he is now disappointed that somebody has opened a FB page pretending to be him, thereby betraying his respect and love. As for me, I'm disappointed because of the increasing insults, harassment and threats I receive from Slade fans on FB and elsewhere. I know you are frustrated because Don Powell's biography hasn't been published yet, and believe me, so am I, but this is not a reason to harm and hurt the person who has worked extremely hard over the past years in order to give you this biography! In fact, when I read the bad things you write about me, I wonder if it has been worth writing this book at all, as obviously some of you don't appreciate the work that went into it.

First of all you have to realise that this book is not a flimsy biography pieced together in three months by a ghost writer in order to make money. This book is a thorough account of Don's life, not just as a Slade drummer, but as a person who has had to overcome huge obstacles in his life in order to get to where he is today. The book is based on more than 50 hours of interviews with Don as well as 20 years of diaries and interviews with and contributions from 28 of Don's friends, colleagues and family members. Do you have any idea how long it takes to read through all these diaries, make all these interviews and put it all together in a way that is both entertaining and informative? No matter how hard I have worked, it should be obvious that you can't do this within a year or two. Especially as many of the interviews have been with touring musicians with full schedules, making it quite common that I sometimes had to wait a year or two to secure the interviews.

Furthermore you have to understand the process of publishing. Although we had a publisher interested at an early stage, the delays in working with the biography made the publisher back away as the book no longer fitted into their schedule. Publishing houses have schedules, you know, as their publications are planned years ahead, and if you don't fit into the slot, you are bumped back and have to wait another couple of years before the book fits in again. We decided to take the book elsewhere so that we didn't have to wait until 2015 or something to get the book out. Furthermore most British publishing houses don't accept unsolicited manuscripts, so with the first publisher gone, we had to find an agent, but agents are like publishing houses: they have schedules. The agents we have talked to so far have all been very positive regarding the biography, calling it "well written" and "very readable" and telling us that they "reluctantly have decided that [we] just don’t have the time to represent you. Which is a pity." We are still negotiating with 4 agents, and hopefully one of them will have the time soon.

Why don't you just publish the biography independently, you could ask. Well, the book contains 34 photos of which professional photographers own the copyright to at least half of them, demanding up to £400 per photo and that is way out of our league. We need a publishing house to deal with that and furthermore we need a publishing house to back the promotion, book signing tours etc. so indie publishing is out of the question.

Due to the delay in the publishing of Don's book, some of you have started wondering about how professional I really am and thinking that I'm not worthy to write the book. Well, if I wasn't a professional and if I wasn't worthy, do you think Don would have picked me? Besides, could you have done it better? Reading 7,300 hand-written diary pages, conducting 80 interviews, spending days on end researching and writing a 300 page biography in 5 years while dealing with a severe handicap (yes, as of 2008 I've been an invalid) and being a single parent of a teenager is not bad in my opinion.

Don and I have aimed at giving you the best biography possible, the most honest, precise and entertaining account of his life. We have met obstacles and delays, we have been (and are) as frustrated as you, but we couldn't have done it any other way. I know it is hard to be patient, but we are so close now, that the increasing harassment is really a slap in the face. We start to wonder if what you want is not that precise and honest account? Would you rather have the usual drivel that we all know by heart and that we could all have written down and self-published within a few months? I hope not, because if that is the case, all our hard work has been in vain.

Anyway, I started the Don Powell biography blog in order for you to follow the progress of the book so that you didn't have to wonder what was happening to it, now that you've had to wait so long for it to be published. I did it as a service to you, but now some of you have turned it against me and use the blog (and FB) to harass me instead. I'm afraid that if this continues, I'll have to close the blog, as I don't need that kind of hatred. Couldn't we just play nicely instead, bringing back the respect and love we all deserve? I hope so. I truely hope so.

Below you'll find my biography interview/meetings schedule from the past years. That'll hopefully give you some idea of why you've had to wait so long for the biography to be published and why you are still waiting:

2006:
March: Don asks me to write his biography
July: talks about the biography
August: talks about the biography

2007:
January: first interview session with Don
March: interview session with Don
May: interview session with Don
September: interview session with Don
November: interview session with Don
December: interview w. Carol (Don's sister)
December: interview w. Gerald (Don's brother-in-law)
December: interview w.  Johnny Howells ('N Betweens)
December: interview w. Mick Marson ('N Betweens)
December: interview w. Carole Williams (friend and former fan-club secretary)
December: interview w. Vicky Pearson (friend and former hairdresser)

2008:
January: Two interview sessions with Don
February: I receive Don's diaries and I'm finally able to start writing
March: interview w. Graham "Swinn" Swinnerton (school friend and former tour manager)
April: interview session with Don
May: interview session with Don
July: interview session with Don
July: Q&A with Andrew Birkin (screenwriter)
August: Q&A with Jim Lea
September: interview session with Don
October: interview w. Dave Hill
October: interview w. Robin Lavender (front of house)
October: Q&A with Craig Fenney (former Slade)
November: interview session with Don
December: interview w. Francis Rossi (Status Quo)

2009:
January: contribution from Henry Weck (Brownsville Station)
January: contribution from Suzi Quatro
January: contribution from Keith Altham (journalist)
February: interview session with Don
April: interview w. Tim Ramage (tour manager)
March: contribution from Bob Young (Status Quo)
March: contribution from Len Tuckey (former manager)
June: interview w. Anne Kirstine (Don's stepdaughter)
June: interview w. Andreas (Don's stepson)
June: interview w. Haden Donovan (former tour manager)
June: interview w. Dave Donovan (former driver)
July: second Q&A with Jim Lea
September: interview session with Don
November: interview w. Andy Scott (Sweet)
November: contribution from Jona Lewie

2010:
February: interview w. Emilie (Don's stepdaughter)
May: interview session with Don
August: interview session with Don
November: Don finds 6 years of missing diaries
November: deadline not met due to missing diaries. We have to start over finding a new publisher

2011:
March: contribution from Gene Simmons (Kiss)
April: interview session with Don
July: I'm handed the missing diaries and start working on them
September: contribution from Ric Lee (Ten Years After)
October: last interview session with Don

2012:
February: approach from British publisher. Agents advise against this particular publisher
February: Proof meeting with Don
March: Don finishes proof reading the biography
March: the proofs are returned from our 2 "professional" proof readers
April: the book is finally finished
June: agent's delay. New agent needed if the book is to be published this side of 2015.
September: negotiations with new agents

Monday, September 03, 2012

The Monkees - caught in a false image

My "old" Monkees biography is now available from Smashwords as an ebook in a new, fully updated version.

The press wrote:

"I was impressed. I would highly recommend this book to fans and I would rate it in my top 5 Monkees books." – Monkeemania Downunder, Australia

"Falkenberg's book would be a nice addition to any Monkees fan's collection. It's analysis is more thorough than any other book available on the market." – Band 6, The Monkees Official UK Fan Club, England

"Danish writer settles accounts with the myths about the sixties band The Monkees in her new book" – Fyens Stiftstidende, Denmark

You can buy the book here. Please, leave a review if you do.



Saturday, August 25, 2012

OFF12 - Odense International Film Festival

The 27th Odense International Film Festival took place on August 20-25. As always the festival concentrated on short films, animations and documentaries. The films competed in fourteen different categories, best international, national and animation being the most important, and this year the animations were amazingly good. As for the short films and documentaries…well…

The films weren't bad, not at all, but they weren't really good, either. I don't know if it's a new trend in filmmaking, but the thing is that most of the films stopped in mid-story. They had no ending, in fact it felt as if half of the films were missing and I can't figure out why. Maybe it IS fashionable among directors only to show the first half of a film or maybe they ran out of money when they got that far? Some chose to tell the rest of the story in writing on signs, others just didn't care. Maybe the new generation of filmmakers doesn't care about plots? Many of the films were pretty violent and bloody and it seemed that, as long as the directors were able show the bloody, gory, violent bits, they couldn't be bothered with endings.

Worth mentioning are, however, the Hungarian "Finale", a funny and surprising short film by Balazs Simonyi, the humorous and strange Swedish short film "The Twin" by Gustav Danielson and the French "The End" by Barcelo, featuring Charlotte Rampling in an eerie tale about the actress being digitally replaced by an up and coming talent in her old movies. As for the animations, there were so many good ones this year. Some of my favourites were the British "A Morning Stroll" by Grant Orchard about a man and a chicken in New York, the musical and very funny "Big House" by Estonian Kristjan Holm and the Danish "Dog in Heaven" by Jeanette Nørgaard based on Hanne Kvist's children's book by the same name.

This year's winner of the International Grand Prix was the Swedish "The Twin" and the National Grand Prix went to "Dog in Heaven" (both mentioned above). The Bulgarian "Rew Day" by Svilen Dimitrov won "Best Animation", showing the last day of a man's life, seen as on a videotape that is being rewound. They were all pretty good films, but not my favourites. Had it been up to me, the International Grand Prix would have been won by the Dutch "Small" by Sanne Vogel, a funny and charming short film about being touched by man for the first time. For the National Grand Prix I would have chosen Søren Grinderslev Hansen's "The Black Sheep", a chilling tale of a man and his brother who is a true monster. Best animation for me was the Danish "Slug Invasion" by Morten Helgeland, brilliantly animated and very funny, about killer slugs in the garden of an elderly lady.

As usual the festival had its problems. For one there were not enough ballot papers, so several hundred people didn't get to vote. Another problem was the so-called "Artist portraits", short portrait films sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. There were three in all, each featuring a Danish artist, none of them being particularly famous. What was wrong with that was, that at each OFF12 screening you had to watch one of these portraits first, meaning that you had to see the same film over and over again. It was unbearable! Personally I came to see the films about clothes designer Stine Goya and director Michael Noer four or five times and the one about musician Kim Kix no less than seven times! In the end I felt like screaming when his face appeared on the screen and I promised myself never to listen to any of his music as I'm just fed up with the guy! So these promotional portraits were not a success.

Last year the festival had solved its biggest problem - not enough room for the audience - by screening each show 3 times, but this year the problem was back as the audience had grown. At every screening people were rejected at the door, not just the "ordinary" audience, but even the press and the directors of the films! The main reason for this was (like in previous years) that schools were able to pre-book seats. A school class is roughly 30 people and often 2 classes had pre-booked the same screenings. As the cinemas only had respectively 50 and 100 seats, there were no room for anybody else, especially if the Youth Jury showed up as well as they counted another 30 persons! For some reason the Youth Jury preferred to watch the screenings together instead of going on their own like the adult jurors, so that caused a bit of overcrowding as well.

As this is recurring problem that has existed since the festival opened for pre-bookings from schools, my suggestion would be that the festival has special screenings for schools and the Youth Jury, this way making room for the "ordinary" audience. Either that or the festival could go back to using the "big" cinema complex by the railway station again like they did some years ago. This cinema complex has 9 screens and seats 1,000+.

The lack of capacity is a huge problem at the festival, because people who are rejected at the door get very angry and aggressive and they take it out on the ones who got a seat. I got the last seat at one of the screenings and I was verbally assaulted by a little old lady because of that. And I'm not the only one. People get very rude, pushing and shouting at the ones who got a seat and it surely takes the fun out of watching the films, when you literally have to run the gauntlet to get there.

As usual the festival had lots of extra activities - for free of course - like open air screenings of movies like Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", workshops, masterclasses, concerts and a video bar and then of course there was "The Old Theatre". At "The Old Theatre" old silent movies are screened accompanied divinely on piano by composer Lars Fjeldmose and introduced by the witty and insightful film historian Ulrich Breuning. The films this year were "First Public Screening", "L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat" and "Démolition d'un Mur" all from 1895 by Louis & Auguste Lumière, "Le Voyage dans la Lune" from 1902 by Georges Méliès, "One A.M." from 1916 by Charles Chaplin and finally the Laurel & Hardy movie "Big Business" from 1929. As usual this was the highlight of the festival for me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Odense Flower Festival 2012

Once again the Flower Festival is here, so it must be August. Each year Odense City, Denmark has a flower festival with huge displays of flowers based on a new theme each year. This year the theme was Nordic Children's Literature, but like the past 3 years, the flower displays were a huge disappointment. I don't understand it. In the early years of the festival, the displays were beautiful and imaginative with floral sculptures made in the shape of dinosaurs, the sights of European capital cities, the French revolution etc., but nowadays the festival has turned into just a few flowerbeds and a lot of nursing schools selling their flowers. Not much to look at, which is a shame, as people come from all over Europe to see the flower sculptures that are no longer there.
Over the years, the festival has got smaller and smaller, no longer covering the entire city. This year it was even smaller than the very small one last year. In fact it only covered three streets and three squares this year as opposed to two parks, three streets and five squares last year. Very disappointing. As for the displays, 99% consisted of flowerbeds with cardboard cut-outs of characters from Nordic children's literature. Except for a few dogs from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Tinderbox" none of the characters were made by flowers, which was also very disappointing.
Although the makers of the displays could have used any character from any book, they all concentrated on characters of only three authors, namely Danish Hans Christian Andersen, Swedish Astrid Lindgren and Norwegian Thorbjorn Egner. These three are of course some of the most famous and beloved authors of Scandinavian children's literature, but it would have been nice to see characters by other authors, too. What about the Moomins by Finnish Tove Jansson, Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender by Swedish Elsa Bescow or the Eight Children by Norwegian Anne-Cath. Vestly? The only other author represented was Swedish Selma Lagerlöf as there was one, ONE, display showing "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils". The funny thing here was, that the display was situated in a square that usually houses a sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes", but instead of using this sculpture in a display, it had been covered up by trees and cloth in order to give room for Nils!
Of the three authors represented, the same characters were used again and again to the extend that the displays used the exact same cardboard cutouts! The ones used the most were Thorbjorn Egner's tooth trolls "Karius and Bactus", Astrid Lindgren's "Pippi Longstocking" and Hans Christian Andersen's "Thumbelina".
 Apart from that, Thorbjorn Egner was represented by his "Climbing-Mouse and Other Animals in the Hunchback Wood" and "When the Robbers came to Cardamom Town."
 Astrid Lindgren was represented by "Karlsson-on-the-roof", "Nils Karlsson, the Elf", "Emil of Lönneberga" and "The Brothers Lionheart."
 As for Hans Christian Andersen, you could find displays inspired by his fairytales "Clumsy Hans", "The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Nightingale", "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", "The Woman with the Eggs" and "The Ugly Duckling".
 The reason why you'd find so many Hans Christian Andersen-inspired display is, that Odense is in fact the hometown of Hans Christian Andersen and many of the displays had already been shown at earlier flower festival in town!
It's safe to say that the flower displays were disappointing this year, but at least the different activities connected to the festival were great. There were design exhibitions, storytelling, free theatre performances and kids were able to play with water and get a makeover in order to become trees and flowers.
Norwegian actors went around town, acting out scenes from "When the Robbers came to Cardamom Town", Swedish actors made a "Pippi Parade" and Danish child actors and actresses acted out scenes from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. The festival also included a lot of free concerts with everything from gospel and church organ music to rock and pop. My childhood friend Claus performed there with his poetic pop band "Tankens Bager" ("The Baker of Thoughts") and they gave a great 2 hour concert for free.
 While they were on stage, the festival got a visit from the Danish Crown Princess Mary who was there to open the festival and name a new plant. I hadn't expected to meet her, but I did, which of course was one of the more interesting moments of the festival for me.
All in all the festival was a disappointment, though, and I'm seriously thinking of boycotting it next year like I did in 2010. Just saying…

Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Carnivorous Lamb" by Agustin Gomez-Arcos

This summer I got to read Agustin Gomez-Arcos' brilliant novel "The Carnivorous Lamb" and all I can say is: how come I hadn't heard about this book before? It's wonderful, amazing, one of the best books I've ever read and I fell in love with it straight away.

First published in French (and titled "L'agneau carnivore") in 1975, this novel written by a Spanish author who immigrated to first London, then Paris, is an allegorical criticism of Franco's Spain and its Catholic Church. It tells the story of a young boy who grows up during Franco's regime in a decaying house, cut off from the rest of the world. When first he is born, he refuses to open his eyes for 15 days as a protest to the world into which he is born, and when he finally opens them, it is only to look at his 6 years older brother. His mother, who belongs to a wealthy family, that aligned with Franco’s Nationalists, hates him. His father, who is a Republican saved from imprisonment by his wife's wealth, ignores him. But his brother, Antonio, loves him and becomes his mentor, saviour and eventually - as the young boy is not allowed outside the house - his lover.

The incestuous love between the two brothers spears Franco, Catholicism, Spain, family, morals in this dark, biting tale with its vicious humour and social absurdity that is so often characteristic of Spanish literature. The psychological portraits of the characters are deep and twisted; the mother, so sickly absorbed in death, cataclysms and "yellowness", the father, withering away in his study to the voice of Franco, the maid Clara, a childhood friend of the parents, who lost her husband during the Civil War, and then of course the boys. Antonio, who looks so much like his father and the young narrator (we don't get to know his name until the very end of the story, so I won't use it here as it is part of the plot), who looks so much like his mother. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that the incestuous relationship between the brothers is not only their rejection of the world into which they are born, but also the subtle revenge of the grown-ups on society.

"The Carnivorous Lamb" is like no other book I have ever read. Although my thoughts sometimes wandered to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez' "Autumn of the Patriarch", to William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and even to Floortje Zwigtman's Adrian Mayfield-series, it clearly has its own vile, dark, funny, political, psychological and sensual voice. The language is beautiful, the metaphors and allegories are amazing and the story is one you'll never forget. I just wish I had discovered this book years ago, so that I would have been able read it a hundred times more than I will now.

Five out of five stars: *****

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Sladest

Last year Salvo re-released Slade's compilation album "Sladest" and as such a review is long overdue. My excuse is, that I didn't get my review copy until now, but better late than never as they say…

"Sladest" was originally released in 1973, just before Slade had their greatest hit ever, "Merry Xmas Everybody", so that particular song is not featured on the album. Instead you'll find a pleasant mix of hits and more obscure songs from Slade's past before they reached fame. Fourteen songs all in all from the first single they made with their manager Chas Chandler "Wild Winds Are Blowing" (1969) to Slade's number one hit Squeeze Me, Pleeze Me (1973) compiled in a non-chronological running order.

Salvo's version includes four bonus tracks: the three 1973 tunes "My Friend Stan", "My Town", "Kill 'Em At The Hot Club Tonight" and a rare studio recording of Slade's cover version of Ten Years After's "Hear Me Calling". If you're a Slade, fan you've probable heard all of the songs on the album before, but this studio recording that was recently discovered on a vinyl acetate, is something new and well worth the price of the album, more tightly structured and with an interesting double vocal from Noddy Holder and Jim Lea.

The album comes complete with photos, original liner notes by Bob Houston from 1973 and new liner notes by Chris Ingham. As usually the tracks are beautifully remastered by Tim Turan at Turan Audio.

LONDON

For years and years, I have written about Harry Potter, the books, the films, the festivals, and the stars and since 2012 I’ve been asked...