SCIENTIFIC SMARTARSES

I can’t help but feel that I am tugging the capes of the more seasoned diabetics when writing about my relatively short lived experiences – nobody likes a smartarse, do they? But, had I been diagnosed over 10 years ago, my arse would not be so smart. My diabetes is easily manageable because of the development of rapid acting insulin. I am a diabetic smartarse because of scientific smartarses.

Rapid insulin does exactly as it says on the veil: it rapidly enters the bloodstream and breaks down glucose that is released into the body from food. If a certain diabetic smartarse is able to calculate how much insulin to inject in relation to how much carbohydrate he consumes, he would be capable of sustaining his blood levels at near-normal levels for most of the time; greatly reducing the likelihood of future complications.

Before the implementation of rapid insulin, sugar levels ran higher for longer; complications such as deteriorated vision, liver and kidney damage, stroke, amputation, heart disease, nerve damage and trouble ‘getting it up’ were more common.

A few months after diagnosis, I attended a course at my local hospital on how to become a smartarse at manage diabetes in everyday life. A woman on the course was in her late 40’s and had been diabetic since her youth. She observed that what was being taught on the course was, at one time, the exact opposite to the way she managed her diabetes twenty years ago – before rapid insulin.

Back in the dark ages of glass syringes, regimes were more militaristic; one insulin injection lasted 12-24 hours. Meals had to be eaten at set times and carbohydrate counting was a required science. Unscheduled eating would cause sugar levels to rise, and there wasn’t an easy way to lower them. Diabetes, back then, was like treading an invisible, constantly-moving tightrope.

Diabetic control has been made easier today; thanks to scientific smartarses making rapid insulin possible. Diabetes is centered around our lives, now. I am not limited to how much I can eat, or how many rapid insulin shots I can inject myself with. If my glucose levels are high, I simply inject a corrective dose.

The risk of complications may be greatly reduced, but they have not been totally eradicated! Diabetes is, and always will be, a chronic condition that must be managed with great care and responsibility – it is a life partner that demands a certain degree of give-and-take.

With the relatively new introduction of the insulin pump and the positive progress being made by medical smartarses, there are some potentially life-changing developments on the horizon, like oral insulin pills, an artificial pancreas and the re-coding of beta cells that attack internal invaders (like replacement organs).

Who knows, maybe in 20 years from now people with diabetic symptoms may only require a course of tablets: ‘Remember, take two-a-day for three weeks, avoid cake, and you’ll be as fit as a fiddle in no time.’

Wouldn’t that be sweet!

TEQUILAS AT SUNSET

 A trip to London’s south bank resulted in my first public encounter with another diabetic (Written in 2009).

My girlfriend and I had spent the day at the Christmas markets in London’s Hyde Park; and later at the South Bank where we stumbled upon Las Iguanas – a South American themed cocktail bar that, once upon a time, served the best Tequila Sunrises this side of Saturn.

Las Iguanas have since decided to scrub Tequila Sunrises off the drinks menu – which is like Severn Trent Water deciding not to supply H2O anymore. In all fairness, though we asked if they could mix us some Sunrises anyway, and they did – at happy hour prices, too!

I did have get narky with one of the bar staff at one point; he decided that he would only serve Tequila Sunrises in pitchers – priced at un-competitive mortgage rates. I assertively remarked that this was our third call to the bar – for the same drink – and challenged him to explain his sudden shift to the right-wing of bar politics.

Upon my triumphant return to our table, another couple had perched themselves on the sofa beside us. I noticed that the blond girlfriend who was injecting into her right arm, using something that looked familiar: it was the same insulin pen that I use.

“Excuse me,” I asked, holding my own insulin pen aloft; like a secret hand shake of the Freemasons. “Are you Type 1?” She smiled and nodded. I couldn’t help but give a wry grin at her response when I told her that I was a recent type 1, “How’s that working out for you?” It was like a prison inmate asking another prison inmate ‘what are you in for?’

The diabetic I had just introduced myself to was named Lucy. She was 24 years old and had been ‘doing her time’ since the age of 11 – just as she should have been starting to enjoy the fruits of life. Lucy and her boyfriend, James, were out on a day trip toLondonin an attempt to ‘do something cultured’ with their day.

After a while we began swapping stories and comparing our likes and hates of our disease; like the overwhelming temptations of certain foods – and, generally, the general unfairness of it all. We soon discovered a mutual adoration for adopting spirits as a coping method – well, spirits are sugar free!

Naturally, being so young, Lucy took the news of being insulin dependent quite hard and constantly rebelled against her diabetes; stubbornly doing the same things as her friends, only to end up getting incapacitated by hypos. She even secluded herself from the other diabetics at the local clinic; resenting being viewed as different from her friends.

Lucy’s gung-ho attitude was swiftly rectified at the age of sixteen when she found herself in hospital as a result a severe hypo. Lucy recalled hearing her mother asking the doctor if she was going to pull through; the doctor simply shrugged his shoulders.

It was during that brief spell in hospital were Lucy acknowledged the fragility of diabetes – how easy it is to kill yourself without trying. It was the wake-up call she needed and has since grabbed the diabetes bull by the horns.

She still goes off the rails from time to time, but she is still young and comes across as mature enough to understand that anything can be enjoyed in moderation. I have since met a few other diabetics who were diagnosed quite early in life; I can’t imagine how restricted they must have felt during the times when rebellious instinct was at the forefront of their adolescence.

I was diagnosed quite late in life and had already enjoyed my rebellious teenage years in pirate fashion; drowning myself in murky, snakebite infested waters and high spirits; chocking on the thick layers of fog as I passed duchies on the port side.

I have since become far too cautious for my own good; even my diabetic nurses feel the need to persuade me that it is okay to ‘let go of the reigns every now and again’. Meeting and talking to people like Lucy has definitely helped me come around to their way of thinking.

Lucy told us that her handbag had recently been stolen, containing the essential glucose meter and insulin pen. While waiting for a replacement glucose meter she was getting by on sheer guess-work. Lucy’s improvisations had recently resulted in a nasty ‘episode’ on a tube train; I had a similar experience.

Lucy’s boyfriend, James – who eventually managed to get a word in – works with dogs. He provided a fascinating insight into the new training techniques being developed for medical benefits, including ‘hypo awareness dogs’ for people with poor diabetic control.

Happy at having had his chance to speak, and Lucy finding that her cocktail glass was empty, the couple set off on their cultural adventure.  After all the help and advice she gave me, I felt like should have offered something in return, but the only helpful thing that sprung to mind at the time was, ‘don’t go to the Tate, it’s really shit’. So, I wished them well on their adventures and returned to the bar.

Update:  Las Iguanas have once again started selling Tequila Sunrises.

MY ANNUAL M.O.T.

As a type 1 diabetic I am examined on an annual basis. It’s a bit like an end-of-term report, but without the cheating. These tests are designed to assess my liver & kidney functions, weight, cholesterol and average blood glucose levels – and to detect and prevent the many occupational hazards that come with being pancreatically challenged.

When I was first summoned to the local GP for my end of term blood test, I was required to fast for ten hours prior to my appointment. This was daunting for me because I’ve never fasted before. I was conscious that I could go hypo in my sleep. There was also the added complication of shift work; which has varying affects on metabolism and sugar levels.

I worked a way around this dilemma by only taking half of my meal insulin before bed. By morning my blood levels were still high enough not to spring any surprises. I arrived at the doctors, promptly late, and presented the nurse with an early morning urine sample – it still pains me to know that I’ll be filling those little samples for the rest of my life.

A few weeks later I returned to discuss the results with my practice nurse. We had met before, but she couldn’t remember; that was until she looked at my results; apparently, I’m their best student. I was delighted to be told that my cholesterol, blood pressure and Hb1Ac were bang on target. She then examined my feet –which could have wilted a cactus.

What I was not prepared for were the concerns the nurse seemed to have about my tight diabetic control. She appeared under the assumption that I was letting my diabetes control my quality of life. I immediately jumped to my defense and argued that I keep good control of my diabetes because I know my routines and I am playing the long-game.

She gave me a suspicious gaze; like that of a wife whose husband claims he reads Playboy magazine for the cutting-edge journalistic content. I returned her gaze; like that of a husband about to tell his wife that he really reads Playboy magazine for the tits. I began telling her how much of a committed perfectionist I am by nature; that I’d gotten the hang of diabetes quite early and that I am in no way restricted by my condition.

By the second month of becoming diabetic I had perfected my own routine. I recall having a conversation with my mother during that time in which she said, “So, you’ve decided to disregard the advice that the specialists have given you and do things your own way? You are definitely my son!”

I pointed out to the nurse that if diabetes was controlling my life then I wouldn’t have started going to more concerts and other events; I wouldn’t have passed my driving test or began travelling to other countries again. I wouldn’t be enjoying a new-found appreciation for fine food or sipping Tequila Sunrise under the Cardiff sunlight; seemingly freeze-framed as the frantic rat-race unfolds around me.

I wouldn’t have started writing, or perused hobbies that have enhanced and enriched my life; changing my overall outlook; my sense of identity, my beliefs, my philosophies. I wouldn’t be the unique, balanced and grounded individual that I am today.

And with that, I clinched the argument.

KELVEDON HATCH: THE NOT-SO-SECRET BUNKER

I decided to pay a visit to the Secret (well, not any more) Nuclear Bunker at Kelvedon Hatch, tucked neatly away in the Borough of Brentwood (unavoidably situated in Essex). Now a Cold War museum, Kelvedon Hatch was originally built in 1952–53 to provide command and control of the London Sector of Fighter Command air defense station in the event of a nuclear conflict. It was built to sustain 600 occupants for up to three months.

The Home Office maintained the bunker until its decommissioning in 1992 when nuclear threat appeared to have subsided – the current Russian president is too busy diving for lost treasure and wrestling bears. Though it is no longer in use, the bunker would be re-commissioned if Britain should ever offend a button-happy Communist regime, or poke its crude nose into the wrong Middle Eastern oil business.

The entrance to the bunker would have been impossible to find if not for a sign with ‘SECRET BUNKER’ painted in large friendly letters below a directional arrow. A windy path led to a quaint little bungalow huddled in the corner of a steep hill. The perimeter was surrounded by uniform rows of tall trees and a reassuring sign was attached to the wall at the bottom of some steps to inform visitors that they were where they intended to be – unless they intended to be lost.

I entered the bungalow and collected one of the audio commentary devices and headed down a few steps that led to a 100 yard tunnel. At the end of the tunnel was a guard room – strategically placed to shoot unwanted visitors and life insurance salesmen. Two blast doors, each weighing one tonne each, marked the entrance to the bunker.

I didn’t realise until the commentary piped in that I was now 120 feet underground, encased in a fortress of solid steel that rested at the bottom of a huge crater surrounded by three foot thick walls of concrete; surrounded by more concrete and smothered by a mound of earth for good measure. I wondered if they ever find spiders in the bath.

As I worked my way through the bunker the stiff-upper-lip commentary matter-of-factually relayed cold facts and sobering glimpses of future military rule, where, in the event of nuclear fall-out, the elderly and disabled would be rounded up and exterminated to save valuable resources – and, startlingly, we would have to rely on Local Authorities to know what they are doing. The laws we all know, break, or abide by would be null and void; the only decisive punishment, no matter how petty or severe, will be a bullet through the head. I wondered where diabetics would fit in all of this.

In selected rooms, chilling documentaries showed footage of bomb explosions; intimidating images of automobile steel getting scorched in the blink of an eye and then blown away like a cigarette paper in the path of a jet engine. Palm trees disintegrated and shorelines dissolved as a nuclear blast stormed the beach of a tropical test site. Every now and again William Shatner offered insights into what was being shown (no, he didn’t leap out of a cupboard). If that documentary didn’t tempt anybody to sign up to the CND, I don’t know what would. I started wondering if Trident wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

There was no modern technology in any of the operations rooms. If it wasn’t for the audio commentary I wouldn’t have known what the equipment was for. I think its un-impressiveness reflects on how far technology has come in the last decade. Most disturbing of all were manikins wearing Margaret Thatcher masks.

I found one documentary about preparing for a nuclear attack to be quite… ambitious. It reminded me of The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy when Ford Prefect tells the barman of the Red Lion pub that the world is about to end (lucky escape for Arsenal if it did). The barman says, ”I always thought we were supposed to do something, like lie down and put a paper bag over our heads”.

This documentary projected pretty much the same misguided optimism. It sounded good in theory, but a 100 megaton bomb isn’t going to care if you’ve correctly angled your doors at 45 degrees against the wall of a secure room, furthest away from any windows, and barricaded yourself in with furniture, celebrity autobiographies, and a few dusty old suitcases (imagine this is your house). And, yes, the documentary did suggest that if you are outdoors, lie down! I wondered if living in a house with an open-plan living room was such a good idea after all.

Not to matter. The startling likelihood is that most of us are going to die anyway. If we survive getting blinded by the flash, chargrilled by the intense heat and our flesh getting torn off by a 200 mph gust of radioactive wind, there are always the subzero fall-out temperatures and radiation sickness induced death to contend with. The cruel twist is that the longer you evade the Grim Reaper, the better chance there is of your death being a prolonged and agonizing one – but at least you’ll get to finish reading Luna Park before you go.

If you are jammy enough to survive the first fourteen days, you are going to need to rely on the signal from your trusted battery operated transistor radio to tell you when it’s safe to crawl out from under the desk and into the new age. I wondered if the digital switch-over was such a good idea after all.

This documentary also assumed that Britain will already have engaged in a few weeks of ground combat, before stopping to take tea and challenging the opponent to a three minute round of beat the buzzer. In an era where suicidal religious extremists get kicks out of exploding in public, I hold little hope for us should the shit hit the fan. A few drops of the right feuding chemicals and Trident would find its self on Job Seekers Allowance.

It’s terrifying to imagine there are weapons capable of reducing the entire city of London (and Essex, with luck, anyway) to rubble and dust. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying, “If the next war is fought with nuclear weapons, the next will be fought with bows and arrows.” I fear it is inevitable. Rest assured, friends of the earth; rest assured with the thought that a select herd of Etonian millionaires with pantomime tendencies and a Bullingdon brawler’s mentality will be the chosen ones left behind to string the bows.

They can’t do any more damage than they have already, can they?

MEMORIES UNDER THE METEOR SHOWER

I arrived home from work in the early hours. The sky was cloud-free, so I grabbed a fold-up chair, made a cup of tea, and headed out to watch the meteor shower.

Sat immersed in the sound-scapes of Brian Eno’s ‘‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’‘ album I waited for the cosmic ballet to befall. Evanescing streaks of light traversed the glittering canvas while puffs of ghost-ship clouds sailed majestically by. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted two faint dots in the blackness; one suddenly made a sharp left turn. A few minutes later I saw another faint light dance and fade into the night.

I was transported back to my childhood in Guyana, cradled in my hammock on a tall veranda beneath a immeasurable blanket of stars; made all the more magisterial by the equally boundless Guyanese planes. The lethargic moon would attempt to cast a lackluster glow over proceedings, but no shadow or silhouette seemed courageous enough to bestow itself to the vast, baron landscape.

There was no street lighting in Guyana; only the crickets, sounding their residency among the sugar cane fields, provided any hints that life hadn’t up-and-left when no one was looking. The distant lantern glows of huts were effortlessly assimilated by the brilliance of the interstellar garden above.

To a child’s imagination it was like being alone on another world. The wonder and insignificance that I felt was augmented by dialing the long wave frequencies of my battery powered radio to the Morse code-like chirp and chatter of unknown origins. For hours I would stare at the stars and dream of one day living among them.

Twenty five years later and three thousand miles across the ocean – and the acceptance that I am too spaced out to be a spaceman – I sat, awed once more by the astral showers and the intensity and immediacy of their endings. Objects that have roamed the universe for billions of years, hurtling towards our own fragile earth, spectacularly reduced to dust in a blink of time’s eye.

‘Apollo’ faded out and an early morning silence fell – making no sound as it did; a curious scent teased the cool night air. There’s nothing like a dose of perspective in an increasingly materialistic and self-serving world; marred with wars and poisoned waters, floods and fierce fires; of clashing classes, cluttered culture, and cruel Con-Dem Nation. We couldn’t be fucking things up any more than we are.

I sometimes like to sit under the stars; to recharge and refocus my thoughts following a long and lonesome week at the shift workers’ grindstone. My happy place is any place under the stars, where I can be the ‘Valleys Tarzan’ again; without a single care in the world; basking in the Cimmerian ambiance of magnificent desolation.

Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983) is available on Spotify

LIVING THE ASTRAL DREAM (FOR ALL MANKIND)

‘What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties… in apprehension how like a God!’

Tonight I had ‘a moment’; a moment that took me away from a material world encumbered in scandal, conspiracy, greed and indifference; to an awe inspiring era where astral aspirations became the living dreams of inspirational heroes.

For All Mankind is an 80-minute movie compiled entirely of NASA footage documenting the 12 American astronauts’ endeavors to the moon; from Apollo 11’s first historic landing on 20th July 1969 to the final moon mission of Apollo 17 on 11 December 1972. Between them, these men spent 170 hours on the moon covering over 60 miles, planting six flags, and bringing home 880 pounds of soil and rock, and over 30,000 photographs.

This seminal footage features thoughtful and reflective quotes from the astronauts who undertook these adventures. The soundtrack is Brian Eno’s ‘Apollo’ album. An Ending (Ascent) is one of the most ethereal pieces of ambient music I have ever heard; haunting and majestic. This dreamy combination of sound and vision is so clear and vivid that I could easily believe that I was there. During my moment, I was there.

‘You get sweaty palms and your heart starts pounding. It was like the big game was about to start’, says a voice, as a trio of astronauts are being secured in their space suits and composing themselves for the big show. There is trepidation and tension in the air. In the background is a large poster with a smiley face; ‘have a nice day’. One of the crew is lying down with a towel covering his visor; blanking-out his surroundings.

They receive the call to proceed to the spacecraft and make their way up the slow, endless elevator to the top gantry. A breathtaking view awaits; the low sun is casting an imposing shadow of the space craft across the desert; the crew are merely small black dots next to this behemoth spacecraft. ‘I just stood around and waited until they strapped in. There was a kind of a strange quiet. You look out and you can see the large part of the state, and ocean, and this… this thing… out here. You have the feeling that it’s alive’.

Countdown commences, ‘It won’t fail because of me…’ The rocket blasts off, travelling at seven miles per second. ‘It feels just like it sounds… There’s a moment, a spring release, a complete release of tensions. To feel all that power being precisely directed… At last, I’m leaving the earth; I’m destined for the moon’.

Soon Apollo is in earth orbit. The crew unbuckle their straps and experience the zero G, ‘I was getting the impression that this was such an amazing thing, that I’m going to forget these things. I’m going to lose this image and it’s going to be quickly replaced by another’.

We see images of the earth below. ‘In Africa there are a lot of Nomads out in the desert. You see the fires from all of these… you realise the broad areas that you’re looking at. Each of those little dots represents people – other humans out there in the environment that I would consider stranger that the environment they might think about, here’.

One of the crew members prepares to go EVA. ‘There are no boundaries to what you’re seeing. It’s like having a gold fish bowl over your head, which gives you unlimited visibility… It’s as if you’re out there without anything on’. He is floating over the earth; it looks so peaceful and majestic. ‘There’s a total and complete silence in that beautiful view; and the realization, of course, that you’re going 25,000 miles an hour… You are a representative of humanity at that point in history; having that experience, in a sense, for the rest of mankind’.

He receives instruction for mission control to return to the craft. Preparation begins for the three-day journey to the moon. They will reach speeds of 6000 feet per second; faster than any human being has traveled before. There is nothing else to do but sit back and enjoy the interstellar ride.

The crew have a portable cassette player. ‘Fly me to the moon, let me play among the stars…’ Ground control appears to be caught up in the moment too. There is a playful atmosphere as the crew perform to the camera; filming zero-G antics and mealtime preparation. ‘ You’ve got to stick it somewhere so it doesn’t float away’.

What goes in must come out, eventually; ‘For the feces was a bag. You put this bag in the right position and you go, but the only thing is that nothing goes to the bottom of the bag… Everything floats!’.

Television pictures begin beaming across the globe, showing the people on earth a unique view of their home from space. ‘What I keep imagining is that I’m some lonely traveler from another planet. Would I land on the blue or the brown part of the earth?’

‘When you’re out there in this little command module you see the risk you’re taking because you realise that if the glass breaks or the computer stops working you’re not going to get back. You have time to contemplate this, you have time to think about it and you have time to run it through your mind different times.’

The lunar bound crew play the music from Arthur C. Clarke’s2001: A Space Odyssey. All of a sudden the music and pictures abruptly cut out and alarms start sounding. ‘OK Huston, we got a problem here… We had everything drop out’. An oxygen pump is venting vital supplies into space. Huston and the crew frantically collaborate to fix the issue in a chaotic and frightening period that must have felt like forever.

A solution is found and normality is restored; the mission resumes. This was a bitter taste of how quickly things can go wrong; how fragile they are in space. It is hard to believe that the complex on-board computers of the Apollo craft are no more powerful than the mobile phones from the 1990’s.

‘One of the things about a lunar trip is that you don’t pass anything on the way… That lack of way points has the effect of making it magical and mystical…’ Apollo is approaching the moon, bound for the dark side; it looms, foreboding and hostile. Appearing below the large prominent moonscape is the small, insignificant looking earth.

‘It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant. I felt very, very small.’

Two of the three men prepare for the decent to the surface in the lunar module. One of the crew will remain in the command module. The countdown to separation commences, ‘I wanna go with them so bad I could taste it’. The lunar module departs. ‘You’ll never know how big this thing gets when there’s nobody in here but one guy’. The lunar module drifts away leaving the sole crew mate to contemplate; ‘I wish the damn thing could hold three people!’

The big moment arrives. This is what the mission is about – the culmination of billions of dollars to cover millions of miles. There is an initial sinking feeling of not recognising any of the landscape; a feeling of being lost. As the craft gets closer to the surface, its shadow is visible in the distance, growing as the module closes. They soon touch down. ‘The eagle has landed’.

I watched the images that I have seen countless times; Armstrong climbing down the ladder to take those first steps. Buzz Aldrin, who had bet five hundred dollars that no one would remember the words of the second man to touch down on the moon, says, ‘That may have been a small step for Neil but it was a long one for me’.

‘The moon is essentially grey; no colour. It looks like plaster of Paris; like dirty beach sand with lots of footprints in it – bland in colour, but majestically beautiful’. Caught in a moment if their own, hopping, skipping and jumping on the lunar tundra, the two astronauts engage in a sing-song ‘I was strolling on the moon one day, in the merry, merry month of May…’ They were human after all. ‘We were the only two there… we felt an unseen love… we were not alone’.

If I were religious, I would be thinking I was witnessing all of Gods creation; the carrying out of God’s work. I am fortunate not to have such a sterilised perspective. Caught in the moment, I am feeling what it is like to be a mortal man away from his natural element. I feel the fear, anxiety, excitement, awe and disbelief.

I feel alive on a dead, lifeless landscape; an eerie charcoal expanse where grains of dust have remained untouched for billions of years. Above me is the cold, endless skyline of space. Visible on the horizon is the living, breathing pale blue dot; mother earth.

I feel an impossible longing to witness the pure beauty and tranquillity of moon for myself; to see the earth through my own eyes; to put into perspective our place in the universe – how small and insignificant we really are. One thing is certain, humankind is far from being the centre of this intimidating universe.

‘Tranquillity base… you are cleared for take-off’. In my moment, I experience the feeling of leaving behind the lunar peace and tranquillity; bound for disorder and chaos ‘That’s our home. That’s where we lived; explored the mountains and the valleys… You leave it with the same feeling and awe that you left the earth with’.

In appearance, the moon is grey and baron. On the surface, however, the moon has an indescribable emotional presence. ‘Man did not reach out and touch the moon by the grace of God, but by harnessing the vision and integrity that has driven our species for millions of years, and will continue to drive us to the stars and beyond’.

‘We set sail on this new sea because there is new knowledge to be gained and new rights to be won. And they must be won, and used for the progress of all mankind’

For All Mankind Trailer from Cinefamily on Vimeo.

 

PLAYLIST TO THE STARS

Playlist to the Stars is a 15 track celebration of my life-long affair with music, space exploration and science fiction. It is a musical journey compiling the quirky melodies of Sparks and the Rezillos, the classical swells of Holst and Strauss, and the genre-defining soundscapes of Vangelis and Jeff Wayne -- with a bit of Queen and Muse pomp for good measure. The musical journey concludes with two tributes: Jean--Michel Jarre‘s haunting tribute to the crew of the Space Shuttle Challenger, ‘Last Rendez Vous’ and Alpha Wave Movement’s dreamy ‘Requiem for C.S. (Carl Sagan)’.

So, buckle up and set the controls for  an eclectic odyssey, featuring interstellar visitors that live among us, titans that plot to destroy us, and mortals that fell to earth in the name of science and exploration.

TRACK LIST:

The flashback five – Spacemen Spiff
Carpenters – Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft
Sparks – A Fun Bunch of Guys From Outer Space
The Rezillos – Destination Venus
Joby Talbot – Journey Of The Sorcerer
The Hit Crew – Also Sprach Zarathustra
Daniel Schmidt – Mars
Muse – Exogenesis: Symphony Part 2 [Cross-pollination]
Daft Punk – Solar Sailer
Jeff Wayne feat. Richard Burton – The Eve Of The War & Forever Autumn Medley
Queen – In The Space Capsule (The Love Theme)
Vangelis – Tears In Rain
Pantera – Planet Caravan
Jean Michel Jarre – Ron’s Piece
Alpha Wave Movement – Requiem For C.S.(Carl Sagan)

 

IMELDA MAY AT THE COLSTON HALL

Bristol’s Colston Hall is a tale of two centuries. Firstly, there is the modern lobby and adjoined café where cubed seats and glass tables cling to the walls like a forgotten game of dice. In a masterstroke of artistic modernity there weren’t enough cubes for the restless latecomers who had no choice but to loiter and form orderly queues just for the hell of it. On the ground floor a jazz singer battled against the wash of sound checks and arithmetic that filtered through the walls of the auditorium – ‘one-two one-two…rubber duck…’  Sympathetic clapping grew more lacklustre as it spiralled up each level. On the top floor, as if dragged by the tide of a Mexican wave, we gently applauded what we hadn’t heard.

In contrast to its modern foyer, the entrance to the Colston Hall arena is like stepping through a time warp. The worn wooden seats had stories to tell and the panelled balconies glistened with thick gloss; layers peeled in places to reveal a more colourful past. The assembling audience was a charismatic array of period pieces and slick-backs. I hadn’t seen so many casualties of leopard print and Brill cream since the local feminist alliance boycotted Teddy Boy Tuesday at the Pontypool Workingman’s Club.

The supporting act was rock’n’roll home-boy  The Real John Lewis, “No toasters, here!”.  Either Gremlins had been let loose on the soundboard or the sound guy needed a good dapping. Regardless,  Johnny Bach didn’t skip a beat; always at ease and engaging the crowd  between pacey numbers, coupled with irreverent bursts of down-to-earth character from ‘across the bridge’. In our beloved Wenglish mother-tongue, Johnny Bach modestly announced that there were, “see-deez for sale in the foya” (sic), before dropping in a John Lewis iPad gag, and then bursting into a playful medley.  As momentum reached full pace the thick sea of slick-backs and throw-backs rocked and applauded. The Real John Lewis acknowledged the hall after the final song -and with a bow, exited stage-right. Live is where the rockabilly heart is!

At around 9pm Imelda May graced the stage. She looked like the femme fatal that film noir had forgot, sporting her trademark blonde curl, an Elvis printed dress and red high-heels. Her powerful voice punched the air as if celebrating liberation; between songs, snappy wit and lush Dublin tones passed sweetly through her cherry red lips. The set featured most of the tracks from the ‘Mayhem’ album, a few songs from ‘Love Tattoo’ and some rockabilly covers. ‘Kentish Town Waltz’ induced gentle sways while ‘Johnny Got A Boom Boom’ and ‘Big Bad Handsome Man’ had us stomping the Colston floorboards for all they were worth.

The ninety minutes of high octane rockabilly blues and sensual soul flew by like a bullet train. For the encore Imelda effortlessly belted out an Elvis Presley number followed by a rockabilly version of Tainted Love which was simply sublime. The biggest ovation of the night came during the band introductions when someone from the back row shouted, ‘what about Imelda May?’  You can add modesty to the growing list of May’s endearments.

To tell the truth, if anybody had asked me what I thought of Imelda May prior to the release of ‘Love Tattoo’ I would have claimed to know little about virulent strains of tree disease. I’m not generally interested 1950’s rockabilly music but May’s contemporary touch has transformed the rockabilly sound into something more modern and accessible – while retaining the roots and echoes of yesteryear’s pressed vinyl.

Over the years Imelda May has stuck firmly to her guns in terms of musical direction by refusing to bow to the expectations of record labels eager to groom, mould and market her into a different product; I respect her for doing so. The fact that this endearing Dubliner was not featured among any of the Simon Cowell’s cash-converters at the recent Brit Awards is the most telling evidence yet that the British music industry is robbing us all blind.

THE ORB & DAVID GILMOUR – METALLIC SPHERES

David Gilmour and part-time Orb turncoat, Martin “Youth” Glover had initially joined talents to collaborate on a version of Graham Nash’s Chicago for a charity project in late 2009.  During the subsequent recording sessions and remixes at Glover’s house – in the company of The Orb’s Alex Patterson – the collaborators became increasingly immersed in the music and went on to record an entire album called Metallic Spheres.

Metallic Spears harks back to the old school concept albums of the 70’s; consisting of two ‘sides’ – the Metallic side and Spheres side. It measures in at roughly 20 minutes each side – roughly the same length as a slice of vintage vinyl.  Each side is composed of five conspicuously intertwined ‘movements’ that will no doubt throw the mp3 generation into shuffles of confusion because there are no individual tracks to download. The movements are so seamlessly melded together that the CD version plays like one long, pleasing opus – with no obvious bridges that separate movements or sides.

The Metallic Slide side of the album features lush guitar layers trickling through oceans and forest Foleys to a hypnotic groove that gradually evolves into a voyeuristic journey through time and space. The coherent drum beats fade away into the void leaving the Floydian strings of David Gilmour and playful samples of Alex Patterson to ebb and flow between Martin Glover’s haunting swells and chords – that sound remarkably similar to the late Richard Wright in places.  It is difficult not to draw comparisons between Metallic Spheres and Pink Floyd; with the latter part of the Metallic Slide falling into the ‘Echoes’ category.

The Spheres side of the album has a more tribal and purposeful timbre. Gilmour’s breathy strums gradually sink deeper into the resonant mix to be replaced by subtle layers of angelic vocals – that could have easily been plucked straight from Pink Floyd’s Live in Pompeii. In contradiction to the Metallic side, the rigid drums carry the momentum through to the end where a concluding symphonic arrangement builds to a crescendo fit for an Olympic closing ceremony – complete with double-decker busses, flying pigs, and a trippy laser show.

A big selling point of Metallic Spheres is the voice and guitar of Pink Floyd: David Gilmour. Such is his style that he only needs a single string to exude poignancy and mood. On Metallic Spheres, Gilmour’s sublime notes weave themselves soulfully in the mix; reverberating across the sound waves like whale song in a deep, blue ocean.  This is signature David Gilmour: simplicity over complexity; understated and sensational. The album does feature some of his recorded Chicago vocals, which is my only criticism:  David Gilmour can hold a note; it’s just a shame that on Metallic Spheres he doesn’t.

Metallic Spheres is arguably the warmest album that The Orb has produced this century. David Gilmour effortlessly utilizes his electric and lap steel guitars to complement the mélange of beats, chords and rich samples. Alex Patterson’s transient dubs and samples, combined with Martin Glover’s expansive chords, wraps the listener in a blanket of tried and tested ambient house that drifts across meandering cosmic landscapes, lush terrains and audible pools not too distant from Vangelis or Jean Michael Jarre.

This coalition of the ages between Gilmour, Patterson and Glover is a very pleasing and rewarding journey, but it is best suited to the genre enthusiast.  It is unlikely that anyone who tunes in to watch cheesy karaoke singers murder good songs in front of an X-Factor audience is going to be moved by Metallic Spheres.  For anybody who thinks that The Orb is the new Blackberry phone, or that Pink Floyd is a two-for-one cocktail, my advice would be to stick with the mainstream and buy the latest Scouting for Girls album. For ambient explorers and acid refugees, Metallic Spheres is a dreamer’s tangerine dream.