10 November 2015


Fischerspooner: New York Retro-Electro Performance Artists
'Fischerspooner is probably the strangest band ever' - Vanity Fair
When it comes to Fischerspooner there are two prevalent views. Firstly, that they are a triumph of style over substance. Alternately, they are a triumph of substance who just happen to have a great sense of style. That said, there are those who love (or hate) Fischerspooner simply for the music and don't even stop to consider their hidden depths.
The music is blatantly electronic and manipulated to the extreme with samplers, computers and pro tools. Rarely does an entire verse of song go by without some vocal effect taking the lyrics and stretching them out into an ecstasy of robotic noise. Pulsing, eighties-style basslines prove that Giorgio Moroder was truly a genius, and that the description 'Flashdance meets Kraftwerk' isn't too far from the mark. But there's more than just the music... Vanity Fair isn't wrong when they say that Fischerspooner is probably the strangest band ever...
The Two Sides Of Fischerspooner
Fischerspooner are, at their most complex, a group of New York performance artists who combine elaborate costumes and complex choreography with retro electronic music. They are, according to Casey Spooner, an 'experiment in entertainment and all the things that entertainment entails, from image to publicity to live events...', and he and Warren Fischer are joined by an entire troupe of dancers and wardrobe personnel to produce their all-encompassing live show.
Simplifying this a little, we have the Fischerspooner that most people are familiar with. Stripped down to Casey Spooner and Warren Fischer, this version of Fischerspooner have so far produced one album, remixed Kylie's Come Into My World and made a name for themselves with the track Emerge, now remixed a myriad times, as only a band's flagship song can be.
Fischerspooner: The Performance Art Aspect
Fischerspooner have a problem with the truth. As Casey Spooner puts it, 'If there's anything you want to write, lie. It would be great to read a whole load of press cuttings that didn't resemble each other'. Which explains, quite neatly, why it's virtually impossible to pin down the members of Fischerspooner's live show: some reports list around fifteen members, others as many as twenty-five. What is clear, however, is the central core: five main members, accompanied by however many dancers, choreographers, filmmakers, photographers and graphic designers as are necessary.
Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner form the main impetus for the performance, ably assisted by Jeremiah Clancy, more often known as Peanuts. The two final members of the inner circle are Lizzy Yoder and Cindy Greene.
The Fischerspooner Five: A Little More Detail:
Warren Fischer: The son of a psychology professor and an opera diva, Warren grew up in Los Angeles and Wisconsin. He spent much of his youth performing as a violinist and, eventually, headed for the Art Institute of Chicago where, in a video arts class he ran into Casey Spooner.
Casey Spooner: Brought up in Athens, Georgia in South Carolina, Casey Spooner is a self-confessed art fag. Attending the same school as Warren Fischer, he originally started out with an experimental theatrical group, leading to a fledgling band, Table and an eventual collaboration with Warren Fischer.
Peanuts: An attendee of Marquette University, Wisconsin, Peanuts was inspired by a cassette of Fischerspooner playing live. Peanuts' main task is to assist Casey with his costume changes whilst onstage.
Lizzy Yoder / Cindy Greene: Lizzy and Cindy's tasks are very similar to Casey's. More than backup singers but not quite lead performers, Lizzy and Cindy enjoy the same attention to costume as Casey, and are an integral part of the Fischerspooner live performance.
Fischerspooner: The Retro-Electro Aspect
Electroclash is now a dirty word. Founder Larry Tee verged on genius when he coined the phrase, but nodes like How To Make Electroclash are perfect examples of just how low a genre can go.
It is unfortunate for Fischerspooner, then, that following a couple of self-funded releases and an under-noticed release under International Deejay Gigolos, they were quickly snapped up by Ministry Of Sound and touted as pure electroclash. It worked well at the time, but even stalwarts of the scene like Miss Kittin and DJ Hell are eschewing its virtues for a more rounded, modern style of music.
Regardless, Fischerspooner's demurely titled initial album '#1' - either a logical choice of name intended to be followed by '#2' or a rather hopeful bid for a chart position - rapidly made an impression and their popularity seems to have endured beyond the brief electroclash scene. Hailed by NME as the 'best thing to happen to music since electricity', Fischerspooner have had no trouble eliciting similar responses from a whole range of journalists. The release of a successful album and a well-known single, Emerge, is an important time for any band. It was at this point, rather strangely, that Fischerspooner elected to go quiet for a while.
And so it is that Fischerspooner have, since #1's 2002 release, remained virtually silent, popping up once more in late 2002 to give Kylie the retro electronic treatment on Top Of The Pops. Recent activity (a cover of the Pink Panther theme and a mashed-up remix of Emerge on the Queer Eye For The Straight Guy soundtrack) along with the odd press release shows, however, that this time is coming to an end. With finishing touches from French producer Mirwais, Fischerspooner have collaborated with David Byrne, Susan Sontag and Tony Hoffer to produce their follow-up album. Just Let Go was released as a single, for which many fans were truly thankful, and the album Odyssey was finally released into the wild in 2005.

08 November 2015

The Wolves Of Willoughby Chase

"A masterpiece... a copybook lesson in those virtues that a classic children's book must possess." (Time Magazine)

So, Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is considered to be a classic children's book. Do not allow this to put you off. Even when you pick up the book and read the back cover, do not be put off. Yes, it involves a cruel governess, an ancestral home, running away and orphanages. Put like that, it sounds dreadful and makes you want to brace yourself for an onslaught of dense, Victorian-esque prose.

But the Wolves of Willoughby Chase is far from dreadful. Set in an alternate version of the 18th century, England is chock-full of wolves, who have entered Britain through the Channel Tunnel. (Yes, Aiken was well aware of the usefulness of connecting France and England way back in 1962.) The wolves are everywhere, and make travel dangerous - even the train does not afford complete safety. More practically, the wolves provide another aspect of tension and horror to the story, as if that provided by the adult characters were not enough...

The story centres around two little girls, Bonnie and Sylvia. Sylvia is an orphan cousin, who arrives at the stunning home of Lord Willoughby and Lady Green just in time for the two adults to vanish off to sea in an attempt to improve Lady Green's health. The house is left in the charge of yet another distant relative, the grimly-named Letitia Slighcarp. Rapidly, the idyllic plot thickens and turns rather sour. With her accomplice, Mr Grimshaw, Slighcarp despatches the two children to a distant orphanage and sets about claiming Willoughby Chase as her own.

Inevitably, the two girls are keen for Bonnie's parents to return. With the aid of Simon, an independent and resourceful young lad, they escape from the orphanage and, as you'd expect, set about ensuring a happy ending.

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is, at its simplest, a classic Victorian romance. Orphans and vicious criminals abound, there are sudden deaths, miraculous resurrections and forged wills all over the place. It could have, quite easily, turned into a seething miasma of overly-plotted rubbish, yet Aiken, with undeniable skill, draws the whole thing together into a classic, readable children's story which has stood the test of time. Readers will wish to move onto the sequel, the intriguingly-titled 'Black Hearts In Battersea'.

Those of a less literary nature will wish to check out the film version, a 1988 UK production which features a young Jane Horrocks and an intensely creepy Stephanie Beacham as Slighcarp. There's even a soundtrack CD available.

05 November 2015


Found throughout India, kalonji bushes grow to approximately half a meter and possess blue flowers. Originally from Turkey and Italy, particular effort has been made to cultivate the plant in Asia. After flowering the plant produces small black seeds about the same size as sesame seeds - they are slightly triangular in shape, and are about 40% oil, along with albumen, sugar, organic acids, glucoside melanthin metarbin and other bitter subtances, all of which combine to give a slightly peppery, vaguely nutty flavour.This explains kalonjis use in curries, dahls, as a topping for naan bread and other Indian dishes. A quarter of a tablespoon of kalonji, dry roasted in a pan for a few minutes, will add a delicious flavour to almost anything.

However, by far the most interesting thing about kalonji is its medicinal qualities, which really are quite legendary, though almost certainly apocryphal. The tongue-in-cheek declaration that kalonji is a cure for everything except death is a grand, if rather unlikely, claim. However, kalonji is rumoured to be an emmenagogue, lactogogue and diuretic. When taken with vinegar it is an anti-helminthic and its smell is rumoured to help with the common cold. Kalonji oil supposedly makes short work of alopecia, and asthmatics may find it helpful to make tea out of half a teaspoon. The toxic effects of bee and wasp stings are neutralised along with, hopefully, those less common but just as pesky mad dog bites. Paralysis, facial palsy, migraine, amnesia and palpitation have no chance against kalonji, and its use as an expectorant and antipyretic is legendary, too. Jaundice, kidney stones, inflamed gums - even haemorrhoids. Having rounded off all those, you are left wondering just what's so complicated about death that a spoonful of kalonji couldn't get you back on your feet.

The kalonji bush's Latin name is Nigella sativa, leading to the seeds sometimes being known as Nigella, though they are also sometimes known as black onion seeds. They need to be kept away from light, really, if they are to maintain their flavour. The most enjoyable way to do this is to hide them in Bombay potatoes and mercilessly devour them.

Heart Of Glass

Heart Of Glass is one of Blondie's most popular and well-known tracks, first appearing as track ten of the album Parallel Lines alongside four other well known Blondie hits: Hanging On the Telephone, One Way Or Another, Picture This and Sunday Girl.

The album Parallel Lines is considered by many to be Blondie's best album, and it must be said that if the Parallel Lines album was the one that catapulted Blondie into the public eye on both sides of the Atlantic, then Heart Of Glass was the song that made it all happen. A departure from previous styles, the driving bass and glimmering synths all layered beautifully over Debbie Harry's voice to produce a storming disco hit. Released as a single in April 1979, following the album release in September of the previous year, Heart Of Glass went to number one, leading bass guitarist Nigel Harrison to apologise for the sound, calling it a compromise with commerciality. Debbie Harry didn't see it that way, particularly since the phrase pain in the ass caused objections from some radiostations. (These radio stations were eventually issued with an alternate version missing the offending line...)

The song itself was given a reggae twist to produce the bonus track Once I Had A Love, and was also taken to greater extremes of synth-heaven with the Disco Version. What's more, Debbie took to opportunity to showcase her new haircut, and more extreme quantities of lipgloss than should ever appear in a pop video.

A 1995 re-release offered the opportunity for new single releases taken from the Blondie Beautiful remix album; one of the three songs chosen was Heart Of Glass. This remixed version (Diddy's Adorable Illusion Edit) reached 15 in the UK charts, though it stayed there for only three weeks. Also included were the full version of Diddy's Adorable Illusion Mix, Richie Jones Club Mix, MK 12" Mix and the Original 12" Mix.

Of course, such a popular song has appeared on a thousand compilation CDs, and has been covered many times, by such diverse bands as Erasure (who performed the track live before releasing it as a b-side, and went on to cover Rapture, complete with Vince Clarke rap), The Shadows, Lunachicks and a veritable range of cut-price Blondie-wannabe drag queens.

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out had a heart of glass
Seemed like the real thing only to find
Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind

In between what I find is pleasing
And I'm feeling fine, love is so confusing
There's no peace of mind if I fear I'm losin' you
It's just no good, you teasin' like you do

Once I had a love and it was divine
Soon found out I was losing my mind
It seemed like the real thing but I was so blind
Mucho mistrust, love's gone blind

Lost inside adorable illusion and I cannot hide
I'm the one you're using, please don't push me aside
We coulda made it cruisin', yeah
Coulda made it cruisin', yeah

Once I had a love and it was a gas
Soon turned out to be a pain in the ass
But I was so blind
Mucho mistrust, love's gone behind

Yeah, riding high on love's true bluish light...

Heart Of Glass was produced by Mike Chapman and was given a UK release in January 1979 and a US release in April of the same year. It reached number one in both countries, and spent twelve weeks in the UK chart. A July 1995 UK re-release reached only 15, spending three weeks in the chart.

03 November 2015

Cheese Scones

Cheese scones were always regarded as a bit of a luxury when I was a child. The reasoning behind this was the cheese, you see, which cost money. And despite this, the cheese scones were never very cheesy. Presumably it was the cost. Recipes for cheese scones abound with the cheese weighing in at about one ninth of the weight of the recipe. The rest is self-raising flour, which is cheap, cheap, cheap.

But, to my mind, if you're going to make cheese scones then the damn things should taste of cheese. And I don't mean just the top half a centimetre where someone's sprinkled some grated cheese prior to slamming them in the oven. There are a couple of practical ways of doing this. Firstly, you could add more cheese. Or, secondly, you could chop the cheese coarsely and add it to the mixture rather than grating it. Then you get chunks of intense cheese flavour rather than a diluted cheesy vagueness. Apparently.


225g of self raising flour. We have this here in the UK. It's plain flour with a bit of baking powder in it. Consult a chef or the side of a tub of baking powder if you want to make your own; they'll give you proper instructions.

55g of butter. Add a bit more if you're feeling generous.

25g of cheese. But no - let's ignore that. Double it. And add some more. But don't go wild. Let's say 75g of good tasty cheese, keeping a bit to scatter on top.

150ml milk. Cow's, usually, but feel free to experiment with soya, rice, almond, goat or whatever comes to hand.


Quite literally easier than pie. Rub the butter into the flour, add a pinch of salt to season and then add the cheese. Make a dough with the milk and it's all ready to roll out to about 2cm thick (about 3/4 of an inch) and cut into little circles with an appropriately sized cutter. Aim for about twelve.

Pop them in the oven at 220°C (or 425°F) and wait for about 15 minutes until they're golden brown, maybe a little less. I made some and they were very brown by the time quarter of an hour had gone past. Oh, and they'll rise during cooking, as well.

A word about 'scones'

Now you've finished, was that what you were expecting? We call them scones over here in the UK, and they seem to originate from Scotland. Most of us pronounce it 'sc-on' and some of us pronounce it 'sc-oh!-n'. It's a bit like bread buns, tea cakes, barm cakes, rollsand baps; all the same thing, just pronounced differently.

Perhaps you call them biscuits, in which case what do you call proper biscuits? Probably cookies. Over here, we call cookies biscuits and biscuits scones, then. Exciting, isn't it?

Regardless of nomenclature: make... and enjoy.

02 November 2015

Lord of Illusions

In brief:

The Lord Of Illusions is a 1995 film from Clive Barker which attempts to blend the horror and film noir genres. It stars Scott Bakula, most famed for his time-travelling adventures in 80s sci-fi series Quantum Leap, and Daniel von Bargen. Bakula, at the time not an obvious choice for the role of detective Harry d'Amour, is now enjoying some success in Enterprise, and his performance in the film is certainly competent enough. Von Bargen, d'Amour's opposite, offers a similarly appropriate performance as Nix, a misguided and murderous cult leader, determined to destroy the world one piece at a time.

Plot Summary:

As is common with Barker's film work (see Nightbreed and Hellraiser), the script is based upon Barker's writing. In this case a short story, The Last Illusion, provides the basis for the screenplay, although it has undergone significant changes. Best thought of as variations on a theme, both versions are based upon a simple premise: there are two worlds of magic. One, the domain of the conjuror, based on trickery and sleight of hand. The other is real. Real in the sense of blood, grit, power and a sinister desire to take over the world. Nix, as is so common in such films, has both the necessary power to destroy and a lust for destruction to go with it. Early on in the film he is shot, bound and buried by a young ex-cult member, Swann, yet still presents a threat to the world. His loyal cult members, though disbanded, patiently await his resurrection. Their efforts are hampered only by Swann, who has used Nix's teachings to become a highly successful stage magician. Through Swann d'Amour becomes drawn into this shadowy world and, ultimately, must battle to stop the resurrection taking place.


As is unfortunately becoming common with Barker's film work since Nightbreed, a glittering, promise-filled launch led to mediocre reviews and poor viewing figures. Such poor performance is ultimately blamed on unneccessary cuts, lack of specific genre and too much intelligent script. To be fair, the cinematic release did feature many minutes of cuts which entirely altered the structure of the story; with the director's cut a whole plethora of background information is restored, and the rather strange actions of Nix's cultsuddenly become much easier to understand. As is standard with Barker, a whole host of torn flesh and gore was removed. Barker himself muses during the DVD commentary on how certain scenes were only allowed by the censors if they were rendered in black and white to dull the effect of the blood.

The movie was accompanied by a haunting Simon Boswell soundtrack, and also featured songs by Diamanda Galas, Joshua White, Brave Combo and a rather sinister version of Magic Moments by Erasure. The soundtrack CD is available on Mute Records.

A sterling performance in the movie, one which must be acknowledged, is that of Barry Del Sherman, whose rendition of Butterfield is astounding. Sexually ambiguous and possessed of cold, calculating cruelty, the scene in which he tortures Swann's right hand man for vital information about Nix's grave is both chilling and terrifying.

Those familiar with Barker's work will, of course, recognise the character of d'Amour, who is the nearest thing Barker has to a recurring character. His appearances throughout Clive's work are few but interesting: thus far he has appeared in the short story The Last Illusion and has bit-parts in The Great And Secret Show and Everville.

Release Details:

Lord Of Illusions was directed by Clive Barker, and released by MGM in 1995.

Video and DVD versions of Lord Of Illusions are easily available, both of which contain the superior Director's Cut. Additionally, the DVD features a commentary by Clive Barker, various deleted scenes and an opportunity to hear the isolated music score, which is also available on CD.

Cast Details:

Scott Bakula: Harry D'Amour
Kevin J. O'Connor: Philip Swann
Famke Janssen: Dorothea Swann
Vincent Schiavelli: Valentin Vinovich
Barry Del Sherman: Butterfield
Sheila Tousey: Jennifer Desiderio
Joel Swetow: Valentin
Joseph Latimore: Caspar Quaid
Susan Traylor: Maureen Pimm
Daniel von Bargen: Nix

01 November 2015

Nighty Night

Nighty Night is a rather dark British comedy which was originally broadcast on the BBC from January 2004 onwards. There have been two series, and it would seem from the ending of the second series that while it's not entirely out of the question, it's unlikely to be back for a third.

The show's writer and star is Julia Davis, who'll be familiar to many comedy fans from Chris Morris' Jam series, Human Remains in which she starred with Rob Brydon, and the sketch programme Big Train. The programme, actually, has much in common with the Jam style of humour - when I said 'dark British comedy', I meant it.

Jill Tyrell, the focus of the series, is essentially a sociopath. She manipulates those around her ruthlessly, and by the end of the first series she's been instrumental in the murder of an increasing number of people. I don't want to spoil anything, so we'll be vague about the exact number. Regardless, things continue: by the end of the second series, she's kidnapped a baby, hacked a young girl's nose off, run down and subsequently impersonated an innocent woman, and accused an eleven year old boy of rape. She manages to tear apart a couple of relationships, systematically bullies and abuses a woman with MS, and holds an elaborate funeral for her still-living husband, whose slow recovery from cancer doesn't quite fit in with Jill's plans for a bachelorette lifestyle.

It doesn't sound that funny, actually, does it? Cancer, murder, rape and a large carrier bag full of dog poo. But, oh, it is! Honestly - if you've enjoyed the slightly off the wall humour of The League Of Gentlemen or Jam, you'll take to Nighty Night like a duck to a particularly dark and menacing body of water.

Series 1 and 2 are both available on DVD here in the UK, and Amazon.com carries a region 1 version aimed at the US market. Indeed, there are rumoured plans for a US version, directed by the guy who does Sex And The City, Darren Star. So far it hasn't materialised, and given the track record for taking successful UK comedies and remaking them in the US, that might not be a bad thing.


Julia Davis - Jill Tyrell
Kevin Eldon - Terry Tyrell
Angus Deayton - Don Cole
Rebecca Front - Cathy Cole
Mark Gatiss - Glen Bulb
Ruth Jones - Linda
Michael Fenton Stevens - Gordon Fox
Felicity Montagu - Sue Fox


Nebulous is a science fiction radio comedy which was first broadcast in 2005. There are currently three series, the first of which is available on CD from BBC Audio.

The comedy of Nebulous is mainly parody and clever wordplay, although the series does feature recurring jokes and numerous catchphrases. It clearly pays homage to Doctor Who, right from the first bars of the swirling, retro-electronic theme tune, but there are hints of Professor Quatermass in there. I'm even told it bears elements in common with Doomwatch, though I'm unfamiliar with the programme and so usually shrug and say 'Oh, really?'. Which is a shame, because Wikipedia says Doomwatch 'dealt with a scientific government agency led by Doctor Spencer Quist, responsible for investigating and combating various ecological and technological dangers'.

The world of Nebulous is on a post-apocalyptic Earth, in 2099 after 'the Withering'. During the Withering, much of human knowledge was destroyed, and a dreadful cattle-clasm destroyed almost all livestock. The Earth's geography has been altered, and there is a new season called Hamble - permanently dark, cold and drizzly. Information pieced together since the Withering is distorted - the knowledge of the vacuum cleaner has been lost forever, and children's television programme Bod is now worshipped as the creator of the universe, along with three other mistakenly-identified gods.

To cope with this trauma, K.E.N.T. (the Key Environmental Non-Judgemental Taskforce) was formed, its goal to ensure natural balance and harmony on Earth. They're not very good at it, yet every episode manage to come out on top. Tragically underfunded, K.E.N.T. are forced to supplement their economy with laundry services.

I could ramble on like this forever, so lets just put it this way: Did you like Red Dwarf, but wouldn't have minded it being a little less childish and a bit more intelligent? Did you enjoy Hitchhikers but wouldn't have minded it being a little less meaning-of-life and a bit more childish? Then here's Nebulous - it's bloody brilliant.

The programme is written by Graham Duff, who also stars as Rory Lawson. Professor Nebulous is none other than the simply divinely splendid Mark Gatiss, and there's Paul Putner and Rosie Cavaliero in there as Harry and Paula. Harry was disfigured in an awful accident while Nebulous tried to move the Isle Of Wight just a bit to the left, and Paula is as thick as two short planks and hopelessly in love with the professor. Graham Crowden is as sublimely dry as ever, and David Warner makes a most wonderfully sinister arch-nemesis Klench. There are even guest stars in series two and three - Peter Davidson, Steve Coogan, Kate O'Mara, Julia Davis and David Tennant.

Did I mention that it was bloody brilliant?

António de Oliveira Salazar

António de Oliveira Salazar (April 28, 1889 - July 27, 1970)

Originally the professor of political economics at a Portuguese university, in 1932 Salazar was handed power by President Carmona and became the Prime Minister of Portugal, a position he was to hold for the next 36 years, until 1968.

In the year following his rise to authority, Salazar introduced a new constitution, providing him with near unlimited power and establishing an authoritarian fascist regime under which Salazar functioned more as a dictator than prime minister. His Estado Novo penalised the poorer sections of Portuguese society and enhanced the life of the upper classes, all at the expense of education and other areas Salazar saw as relatively unimportant.

Despite the existence of a secret police, the PIDE, whose function was, as expected, to repress any form of dissent, the Salazar regime was far less bloody than that of his contemporaries; the lack of a Portuguese death penalty no doubt influencing this to a certain degree.

Through World War II, Salazar was careful to steer an uncontroversial middle path, never overtly allying with the Nazis and, on occasion, providing aid to the Allied forces, undoubtedly to ensure that Portuguese colonies would remain free of Allied intervention. It was because of this that the Azores were available to the Allies as a base.

Indeed, at this time, Portugal was in control of a range of colonies, and it was a source of some pride to Salazar that Portugal could claim status as the third major colonial power. Although Salazar felt no need to expand any colonies, he maintained outposts in Azores, Madeira, Cape Verde Islands, Principe Island, Sao Tome Island, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cabinda and Mozambique, various parts of India, as well as Macau and East Timor in Southeast Asia.

The importance to Salazar that Portugal be considered an international success led to him seeking admittance to NATO, which took place in 1949. This too, reflected Portugal in a new light, taking its place as an ally against communism. The empire, however, remained a continual source of trouble for Salazar, particularly during the times of the African colonial wars, and the Indian capture of various Portuguese cities in 1961.

In 1968, Salazar fell victim to brain damage after falling from a chair, and was later dismissed by President Américo Tomás. As a result of this illness, Salazar continued to believe himself to be Prime Minister, remaining unaware that he had been succeeded by Marcelo Caetano in September of 1969.

Sources: www.bartleby.com, www.free-definition.com, Encyclopaedia Britannica.