Charity Book update

Just a brief note regarding the “Lower Ranks” book of collected Transformers fan-fiction – to date, it’s raised £600 for the Samaritans (which has been paid to the charity in three instances since May 2016 – £570, £15 and £15 respectively). So a big thank you to everyone so far who’s contributed to making that happen. I still have about 25 books left if anyone is still wanting to take a punt on the book – details and ordering info can be found…

Here

 

 

Track Days Gone By…

I’ve been living in Rhydyfelin for almost ten years, and since moving to the area I’ve been fascinated by the history of the place, but also frustrated at the lack of photographic evidence for lots of it too.

Over the years, I’ve passed a local football ground countless times, and never though much of it. It was only after researching the local railway history that I realised it hadn’t always been a football ground…

hawthorn_race_track_2016_2

The home of Rhydyfelin AFC, 2016

The fact that the grounds of Rhydyfelin AFC are known locally as “The Dog Track”, should have been a dead giveaway. Here’s the modern day view from Google Maps.

hawthorn_race_track_2016

So it turns out that the field used to be a grayhound racing track back in the day, which I find fascinating, because it’s not a sport you see much of in this area at all nowadays. According to what little I can find of the site online, racing began at the stadium in March of 1932, and ended sometime in the  1970s. Frustratingly, I can’t find any pics online of the site in it’s racing heyday. But here’s what I have managed to dig up…

Used by kind permission of Rhondda Cynon Taff Libraries

Used by kind permission of Rhondda Cynon Taff Libraries

In use as a rugby field, here’s the site in the late 1970’s.

hawthorn_race_track hawthorn_race_track2

Here are two aerial views of the Steinburg & Sons Alexon clothing factory, from April of 1950. But just sneaking in at the bottom left corner – the grayhound racing track! Football goalposts are visible instead of rugby posts at this point, but you can clearly see part of the actual track! I recall that up until a recent update on Google maps, the modern day aerial view of the site did show the faint outline of the racetrack, but recent landscaping appears to have finally gotten rid of it.

And going back even further, just for shits n giggles, here’s a turn of the century view of Cardiff Road, looking up to where the racetrack site would eventually be built (in the distance, on the right, past the trees).

Used by kind permission of Rhondda Cynon Taff Libraries

Used by kind permission of Rhondda Cynon Taff Libraries

If anyone does happen to have any other pics of the old racetrack, drop me a line – I’d love to see ’em.

 

Bruce Outback!

Bruce

Can’t believe I forgot to update my own blog with this! Bruce Outback, a fun time-travel, cop caper starring Australia’s greatest detective, is now into it’s final week on Kickstarter! Bruce gets sent back through time to solve unsolved crimes … Continue reading

Red Dwarf

BBC Two’s (and later, UKTV’s) sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf, is one of my favourite things in the whole world. It was thrust upon me in November of 1989, when I was 11 years old, and 25 years later it has a hold on my heart that will never let go.

The first episode I ever saw in full was Series III’s “Backwards”. There was something about this surreal, insane, gimmicky show that just immediately appealed to me, even though I knew nothing about it. Why was that man called a cat? Why did that man have a blocky head? Why did that man have a H on his forehead? It didn’t matter. It just made laugh and laugh. I recorded all of Series III to VHS, and watched it religiously, memorising each line, every aspect of delivery. I watched those six glorious episodes to death, and to this day Series III is just… wonderful. It’s warm, nostalgic, I still laugh at it, and it feels fresh to me even a quarter of a century on.

After Series III my friend Aaron revealed that a book of the show existed – I devoured that novel, and soon, it’s sequel. Red Dwarf IV and V appeared, and by now I was in the mad grip of pure obsession. VHS releases had started, and I remember eagerly watching Red Dwarf II at my friend Leonard’s house – 6 new episodes! Well, new to me. They looked so much more primitive than the later shows, but I didn’t care. The characters, the writing, the humour, it was all there.

I was 14 now, and I’d subscribed to the Red Dwarf Smegazine, and eagerly awaited it’s arrival each month. I loved the comics, and especially the art by Nigel Kitching, and the emergence and familiarity of other die-hard Red Dwarf fans. I pored over the set reports of the sixth series filming, and loved every second of Series VI upon broadcast. I remember sitting, numb with shock, as Series VI ended on a cliffhanger with all the crew seemingly killed by their future selves. For a fourteen year old, the three and a half year gap between Series VI and VII was torturous.

I killed that time by joining the Red Dwarf fan club. Contributing regularly to the Better Than Life magazine, I encountered other fans like me, and got swept up in this wonderful community. People like Andrew Ellard, Phillipa Drakeford, MJ Fouldes, Ian Symes, Simon Bromley, Seb Patrick, and countless others all influenced and amused me, and I treasure those fanzines. I still have a folder stuffed to the brim with my crudely drawn and hand-lettered Red Dwarf comic strips. It sits next to my equally-crammed folder of Red Dwarf news-clippings from Starburst, SFX and TV Zone magazines.

At this point in time there was a definite air of shakiness to the return of Red Dwarf – Craig Charles had been held on remand for a (thankfully baseless) rape charge, and Chris Barrie had been vocal about his dissatisfaction with Series VI production issues. The writing team of Rob Grant and Doug Naylor had also parted ways, and it all seemed a bit… final.

I was also into a full blown obsession with the show at this point, even occasionally calling the production company to ask for updates on production, and could I get audience tickets please. I may have been the most irritating person in the world at this point.

As it happened, Red Dwarf VII came to pass, albeit with changes. Doug Naylor now ran the show, original director Ed Bye had returned, Chris Barrie would only appear in four episodes, and Kochanski would return as a regular cast member, now played by Chloe Annett. The whole show would be pre-filmed, then shown to an audience, and as luck would have it, I had secured three tickets to go and see the first showing! I was ecstatic – I was going to be on the laughter track for Red Dwarf! A fan’s dream come true.

Me, my dad, and my friend Johnny drove to Teddington Studios, and watched the first showing. I was chuffed – after waiting for years, I’d find out how they resolved the cliffhanger ending for Series VI! Er, no. They showed us episodes 2, 3 and 5. So I would still have to wait for the actual TV broadcast… pah. But either way – I was IN the audience. I was chuffed, “Stoke Me A Clipper” was the first ep I was in the audience for, so it’ll always hold a special slot in my heart.

A year or so later, and  I was ending my sixth form year, and my final project focused on, naturally, Red Dwarf – a chunky little thesis comparing and contrasting the set designs from Series I & II, and Series III – VI. I was extremely fortunate enough to have an in-depth interview with Mel Bibby, the production designer for Series III – VIII, and he was just the nicest guy, god rest his soul. He even provided me with copies of set designs and blueprints. What a guy. Around this time Series VIII was filming, and I’d again been lucky in grabbing tickets to go and see it at Shepperton Studios. This time, I got tickets to the first recording, and got to see what would eventually be  “Back In The Red part 1” and “Back In The Red part 2”. I really enjoyed the experience, but it’s fair to say the episodes themselves start off well and decline in quality pretty quickly, sadly. Mel Bibby also managed to nab me a ticket to go and see the final recording – confusingly, ALSO “Back In The Red”, this time re-doing scenes and recording additional material to make the episode into a three-parter.

I was so disappointed with Series VIII upon broadcast. I think I lucked out seeing the episodes I saw being recorded. Series VIII just didn’t work for me, and time isn’t helping it. I never even owned the VHS tapes of that series… just my off-air copies. It ended on a damp fart of a cliffhanger, and that seemed to be it for Red Dwarf on the telly.

Red Dwarf’s fan community still thrived though, and I was still an active part of it. I managed to attend the Dimension Jump conventions, meeting yet more friends, and dressing up as the Blue Midget spacecraft… Good times! I made penpals across the globe, and Red Dwarf was directly responsible for me meeting my first wife, and therefore moving to the United States for a few years until the marriage eventually didn’t work out.

Upon returning to the UK I began collecting DVDs of Red Dwarf as they were being released, and was blown away by the level of excellence of the extra content – as fans we were well and truly spoilt, and those DVD’s and their documentaries are still the bar to be attained by other DVD’s and Blu-Rays.

I’d re-joined the Red Dwarf fan club when the Dave channel announced the return of Red Dwarf in the guise of the ‘Back To Earth’ special, and I had started drawing (much better looking) comics based on it, and also drew a comic that my fellow fan Ben Paddon wrote. They even got name-checked on the official Red Dwarf site eventually too, which I was crazily over-pleased about.

With the success of ‘Back To Earth’, Series X followed, mere years later. I’d managed to nab tickets to two recordings ‘Entangled’ and ‘Dear Dave’, and eagerly lapped up more studio audience shenanigans, even though the episodes were both unfinished at those recordings. Everyone at these recordings now knows to cherish them more than most things, as they’re always potentially the last…. and it was gratifying to see a solid return to form for the boys from the Dwarf.

Following another few years of waiting for the official announcements, the back-to-back recordings for Series XI and XII have now started. I’ve only been able to attend one recording this time (now at Pinewood Studios), for the fourth episode of Series XI, but I enjoyed it immensely, and I can’t wait to see the rest of the two new series. It really feels like a Red Dwarf renaissance.

One of my goals is to contribute something to the show in an official capacity at some point, ideally on a comic of the show, or (pipe dream) to the show itself – which I kinda have, albeit as a laugh lost in the cacophony of the studio audience. But I’ve been a complete nut for this show for 26 years and counting, and even if I never achieve my goal, I know I’ll be a fan forever. Through good and bad, through long waits and bursts of frantic happenings, Red Dwarf has helped shape my sense of humour, and how I create my own stories and comic books. It’s helped define me as a person, and brought such happiness to me over the years it’s unreal.

Thanks Red Dwarf. You’re amazing.

 

 

Down Sunday.

What do you do when you don’t know what you want to do?

I’ve completed my MA now. The whole point of doing the degree was to give me more options in getting jobs.

But I don’t know what I want to do. Only what I don’t want to do. I don’t want to work with financial stuff. I don’t want to talk on the phone. I want something nice and solitary.

What the fuck am I doing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Telling myself off.

I need to sort myself out, and this post is me, actually getting this stuff out of my head and into reality to try and make me act on this stuff.

I’m too easily distracted. I’ve been chipping away at various freelance work in the evenings and weekends. Jobs that I know I can get done in a reasonable time, and yet, they’re taking me ages, because my attention span lately has been dreadful. I’m forever checking Facebook. Twitter. Looking at Transformer’s message boards. Star Wars message boards. Reading nonsense Wikipedia entries about aliens and conspiracies or other useless crap. Or I’m finding ways to distract myself by firing up OpenEmu and playing Virtua Racing, or Road Rash, or whatever other little distractions I can muster. And doing my work in this highly piecemeal fashion is hurting the quality of the work, and meaning I stay up later than I need to, and then I’m more tired the next day, and get more distracted… you get the idea.

So I’m going to try and get some focus back, knuckle down and concentrate on the work, and GET IT DONE.  I need to get my shit together, and stop getting distracted. This is getting silly now.

Renegade Angel: Jim Steinman & Meatloaf’s lost album

Rock’ N’Roll Hero

Sit back ladies and gents, this is going to be a BIGGIE.

When I was 14, I first heard Meat Loaf’s “I Would Do Anything For Love”, and it blew my mind, and opened a lifelong love of the man’s voice and Jim Steinman’s epic rock opera lyrics and music. For Christmas ’93, my folks bought me “Bat Out Of Hell II”, my first CD and a CD I still own to this day. I was intrigued – II? What the hell was Bat Out Of Hell I?

My Uncle Jeff provided the answer. A battered and worn cassette tape copy of Meat ‘n’ Jim’s first album. I listened it to through old headphones, on my Uncle’s threadbare carpet, and fell in love with it. I soon found a copy of that on CD, followed in swift succession by “Dead Ringer”, and Meat’s subsequent Steinman-free albums, which I still enjoyed (but not as much as the partnership songs).

This was all pre-internet of course, and it wasn’t until years later that I discovered Jim Steinman has recorded a solo album, “Bad For Good”. And it was a crazy, vocally strained, music archaeology surprise to me. For this was the true follow-up to “Bat Out Of Hell”, written before “Dead Ringer” – and I’d heard unknowingly heard many of it’s tracks in some shape  or form in many other places over the years…

So What The Hell Happened?

“Bat Out Of Hell” was released in 1977 to massive success, and Meat Loaf toured extensively off the back of the album throughout 1978. While Meat toured, Steinman had been working away on the songs for the follow-up, an album to be entitled “Renegade Angel”. Unfortunately, the strain of touring so extensively had ruined Meat Loaf’s voice, and struggles with coping with the new-found fame and popularity had also contributed to delaying “Renegade Angel”. As more and more time passed, Steinman grew frustrated, and eventually opted to record the album himself, released under the title “Bad For Good” in 1981.

The album is a fun oddity, and it’s clear from the outset that it was intended for Meat Loaf’s powerful vocals. Steinman’s vocals are good, but it’s clear he lacks the sheer power and range to really make the songs soar the way Meat Loaf later would. It didn’t stop the album from being a success (mainly in Europe, not so much States-side)

Bad For Good – What became of the Renegade Angel?

  1. “Bad for Good”
  2. “Lost Boys and Golden Girls”
  3. “Love and Death and an American Guitar”
  4. “Stark Raving Love”
  5. “Out of the Frying Pan (And into the Fire)”
  6. “Surf’s Up”
  7. “Dance in My Pants” (duet with Karla DeVito)
  8. “Left in the Dark”

Extra EP

  1. “The Storm”
  2. “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through”

When I first read the track listing it was immediately apparent that many of these songs had appeared (and often gained better exposure) elsewhere. And after listening to the album, it’s clear that it had further musical influence on lots of the Steinman songs that followed it.

Although “Renegade Angel” never materialised as a true Meat Loaf album, it’s possible to resconstruct a version of it as over the last two decasdes, Meat Loaf has periodically gone back and covered many of the songs from “Bad For Good”.

Let’s start at the beginning, compare the originals to the covers, and rebuild the album from the ground up.

Bad for Good

(re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Bat Out of Hell III”)

Personally, I prefer Steinman’s version to Meat Loaf’s. Steinman’s version may be more strained, and a bit raw, but it’s feels less over-blown and less over-produced than the version that Meat Loaf covered for “Bat Out Of Hell III”. I think after so long, the newer version is almost trying too hard t impress, and it shows.

The epic Steinman original…

The over-produced Meat Loaf version…

Lost Boys and Golden Girls

(re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Bat Out of Hell II”)

The “Bat II” version wins out here, primarily because Steinman himself assisted with the cover. It really shows how beneficial it is to the song when the two artists combine their strengths – Meat’s vocals and Steinman’s improved production really lift this one.

Steinman’s original…

Meat Loaf’s cover…

Love and Death and An American Guitar

(remixed by Jim Steinman for “Bat Out Of Hell II”, retitled “Wasted Youth”)

A spoken track, the same Steinman vocal is used for “Bat II”, but with added sound effects. The “wasted youth” spoken sample is used from the following track on “Bat II”, “Good Girls Go To Heaven”, to tie this track in as a mini prologue for it..

Steinman speaks…

The sound effected version for “Bat Out Of Hell II”

Stark Raving Love

(later used as the basis for Bonnie Tyler’s “I Need A Hero”)

For me, one of the highlights of the album, especially as it’s one of the few songs on the album not to have been re-recorded by Meat Loaf, although it’s clearly BEGGING to be re-done with his legendary bombast. It tests Steinman, but he’s singing his heart out on this sheer madness. Steinman would later use the intro of the song,  some other bits of it and an all new set of lyrics to engineer Bonnie Tyler’s massive hit “Holding Out For A Hero”. A contender for “Bat Out Of Hell IV”…?

Steinman’s bombastic original version…

Bonnie Tyler’s “Holding Out For A Hero”, with a familiar intro…

Out of the Frying Pan

(re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Bat Out of Hell II”)

Another case of the “Bat II” version being hugely superior, again primarily because Steinman himself assisted with the cover. Meat’s vocals are strongier, the music is ballsier, the production greater… a terrific update and one of my favourite tracks.

Jim Steinman’s barnstorming original….

… and Meat Loaf’s terrific cover for “Bat Out Of Hell II”

Surf’s Up

(re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Bad Attitude”)

There’s not a vast amount of difference here. Meat Loaf’s vocal are predictably stronger, but the song itself actually lends itself to Stienman’s style fairly well.

Here’s the Meat Loaf cover…

And the original by Steinman…

Dance in My Pants 

(never re-recorded)

A spiritual successor to the “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” duet from “Bat I”, this crazy song featuring Steinman absolutely HAMMING it, has not been (yet) re-done by Meat Loaf for any of his albums.

Meat Loaf has covered this track, but only at live shows….

And for my money, the more impressive original (with bonkers video)..

Left in the Dark

(re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Welcome to the Neighborhood”)

Steinman’s original version was slightly longer with a spoken intro, with a vocal performance from Steinman that strains but actually works really given the song’s content. The subsequent Meat Loaf (and before that, Streisand) version has more powerful vocals, but the original fares well against them.

The original, with Steinman’s spoken intro…

Meat Loaf’s version…

Barbara Streisand’s version of this song, prior to Meat Loaf’s take on it.

The Storm

(never fully re-recorded, used in part as an intro for “Seize The Night” on “Bat Out Of Hell III”)

Right, this one is a weird one…. An instrumental-only track from the bonus EP, the first portion of the “The Storm” was re-orchestrated as the intro for “Seize The Night” on “Bat Out Of Hell III”. The rest of “Seize The Night” was pulled together from an aborted song Steinman was writing for a Batman musical that never got completed, which itself was subsequently reworked into a German vampire musical, “Tanz der Vampire” as the song “Carpe Noctem”. Absolutely crazy patchworking there. The lyrics from “Seize The Night” seem more Batman than vampire though…. Seize this insanity.

Jim Steinman’s original

Jim Steinman’s re-working into “Tanz der Vampire”

“Carpe Noctem”

Meat Loaf’s cannibalised Frankensong….

Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through

(Re-recorded by Meat Loaf for “Bat Out of Hell II”)

The last track of the bonus EP, this song is yet another example of where the partnership of Steinman and Meat Loaf just massively improves the work. The later version is more confidently orchestrated, strongly sung, and just richer sounding in general.

Jim Steinman’s slow, tinkly version

Meat Loaf’s smooth cover.

Dead Ringer

So there you have it – that’s what you can reconstruct of “Renegade Angel”, at least for now. Jim Steinman would later write a new album’s worth of material for Meat Loaf to record, resulting in “Dead Ringer” being released in 1981, becoming their true second album, but it’s interesting and tantalising to see what could have been…

 

Post Master(s)

So, with the conclusion of my MA this September, I’ve been catching up on some commission work that I’ve had on hold, and I’m also now starting the push to try and get the creative freelancing off the ground somewhat.

I’ve completed a few sketches and digi-sketch items for people, that they seemed to like, so that’s good. The big news is that I’ll be illustrating a children’s book for Velindre Cancer Care, to help kids cope with parents undergoing treatment for cancer. I’d previously helped out on an older version of the book, doing art corrections and colour adjustments, so it’ll be nice to fully assume art duties on this. It’ll end up looking a bit like this… KC_TEST_01

So that’ll keep me busy for a few months…

I’m also in the middle of trying to establish contacts within the comic book world to try and get back to properly colouring some books again… so we’ll see how this all pans out!

MA

Two years ago, I took the last chance to do a Masters Degree. The costs were going to steeply rise soon, and I had never completed my BA, but had enough industry experience to skip to the MA. I feel I need the qualifications, so I decided to do it.

Due to my circumstances, I had to do it part-time over two years. And now, I’m three weeks from the end.

The first year was promising, but the second year has comprehensively fallen to pieces, and tonight I hit my lowest, I-can’t-be-fucked-with-this-waste-of-time moment. In-between years, the University of Glamorgan merged with the University of Newport to form the University of South Wales, and I feel it’s had a hugely negative impact on the MA course. no-one seems to know what they are doing, and communication has ground to a halt. And personally, what with job changes and financial woes, and dealing with other personal issues, it’s fair to say I’ve not been able to devote any meaningful time to my project.

I managed to produce a teeny amount of animation, and to try and salvage something from this train wreck, I did the rest of the film as a comic. Yeah, I thought it was weird for an animation degree too. I think I’ve done the barest assest amount of work needed to actually gain a pass, so I’ll get the qual… but I’m so deflated by the whole thing. Realistically, I’ve learned a tiny bit of After Effects and Premiere. And that’s it. And I wasn’t taught any of that, I may add – I learned it from watching fucking YouTube tutorials, at home. I’ve not produced one god-damn frame of animation in the university. I’ve not drawn or coloured a panel of the comic on the campus. And for this privilage, I’ve paid the University over £4000. And on top of that, I’m paying out more bucks to print the book. Chalk it up to another fucking monumental life cock-up in my time. I tend to do this every ten years or so.

What makes it worse, is that I genuinely like the tutors, and I feel bad letting them down, letting myself down, and ragging on the course.

But it is what it is.