‘SHERLOCK HOLMES…THE DEATH AND LIFE’

The first time I saw Roger Llewellyn’s sublime one man performance as the near unbalanced and eccentric consulting detective Sherlock Holmes was in 2001. ‘The Last Act’ was set after Watson’s funeral in the backdrop of  World War One. Holmes is sat alone in Baker Street, everything he once knew and held dear in the world has changed around him. He feels out of place in the world, out of touch and out of time. He reminisces of old adventures with his loyal companion, confessing past sins, and finally reveals the painful truths to his departed friend about his youth and upbringing around an alcoholic and violent father. I enjoyed Robert Llewellyn’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes so much that I went to see him again the following year. I have come to look at Roger Llewellyn as a definitive performer of Sherlock Holmes in modern times, second only to Jeremy Brett.

2009 saw a new production of Sherlock Holmes being toured around the UK.  ‘Sherlock Holmes…The Death and Life’ combines the worlds of fiction and reality as we shift between Doyle’s inner psyche and Sherlock Holmes’ fictional world of 19th century London. Doyle has grown tired of being referred to as ‘the Sherlock Holmes man’ and has decided, once and for all, to kill off the great detective – favouring to write about the fantasy and spiritual worlds – his latest obsession. He invents arch villain Moriarty to eliminate the detective.

During a confrontation between Holmes and his nemesis at 221b Baker Street, Moriarty reveals to Holmes that they are both mere works of fiction; the foggy London surroundings merely infantile window dressing for the sleuth to inhabit. Even his faithful Boswell – Dr Watson – is a mere conduit through which Doyle channels his fiction. During a spirit meeting Doyle is confronted by Sherlock Holmes. He persuades Doyle that because he exists in the dark recesses of his mind, he cannot be destroyed; he will always live on as an immortal work of fiction.

Sherlock Holmes…The Death and Life sees Roger Llewellyn pull off another masterful and frighteningly real portrayal of the world’s first consulting detective. The play is both light hearted and downright cutting in places and Llewellyn makes it look easy as he seamlessly morphs into several characters – including Holmes, Lestrade, Moriarty, and Doyle – with no more than a some subtle lighting and a change of hat; expertly altering the tempo of his voice, demeanour, gait, and mood. The grace and ease at which Llewellyn brought these characters to life is a clear reflection of his passion and knowledge of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fictional world.

MUSE: THE RESISTANCE

There are claims that the Punk movement killed off Progressive Rock in the early 80’s, and that Country Life Butter really is the best. I’m more of an Anchor man myself, but I do believe that Punk forced a much needed re-invention of the Progressive Rock genre. There is clear evidence that the layered textures and rampant creativity of progressive rock continues to shine on; its coat of many chord changes encumbered in a more indie driven sound.
 
Waving the flag for Progressive Rock in 2009 is Muse with ‘The Resistance’. Muse have always shown the middle finger to the mainstream music industry by releasing what the hell they want, and this album shows no restraint in terms of their lust for experimentation. ‘The Resistance’ is rich in harmony, with melodies far more rewarding than anything the vapid X-Factor production line is serving up. This is music for listeners.
 
It’s difficult to rate this album against what Muse have released in the past because it is clearly intended to follow in a different direction; adopting a more piano driven electro-pop sound. With its musical diversity and varying pace, it takes a few listens for ‘The Resistance’ to sink in – but doesn’t any music with substance require the same? The conceptual soundscapes of the music will no doubt come across as pompous, bizarre and self indulgent, just as Queen were labelled back in their early day.  Good on Muse, I say!
 
Modern music has a habit of reproducing its closest rivals. In a masterstroke, Muse have borrowed from a diverse list of artists while managing to maintain their firm, melodic and textured stamp in the process. There is not a track on this album that I would want to skip through, and that is extremely rare for me.
 
I will not attempt to breakdown each individual track but I will mention that the final trilogy called ‘Exogenesis‘ is the instigation of a science fiction soundtrack if ever I heard one, complete with classical strings and piano pieces. With references to George Orwell, thought police, and its romantic rebellious overtones, the lyrical content of ‘The Resistance’ once again stamps the creative complexity of this band.
 
‘The Resistance’ is a refreshing alternative to the same old offerings being dished out by the cheap, accessible, blood clotting, greasy spoons of the industry. Contained in this classic recipe is a wisp of Led Zeppelin, some lashings of Queen, a synth-teasing taster of Depeche Mode, and subtle blends of The Stranglers, The Beatles, Goldfrapp, Brian Eno, Ultravox and U2. Add an accompaniment of classical piano overtones, lyrically intertwined with literature, and what one is presented with is a bold, sonic cuisine, executed with great panache. This isn’t any old Vindaloo; this is a feast fit for a Crimson King.

BACK TO THERAPY?

Therapy? were my instrument of torture for family and Brit Pop loving friends during my teens; my rebellious musical equivalent of the Sex Pistols. This Irish punk influenced band was responsible for tuning my ears into the energy, power, and aggression of metal.

It seems fitting to now reminisce about the first time I saw them live because it was my first proper, stripped-down gig. That night in November 30th, 1994, at the Cardiff Astoria is an experience that has always been fondly etched in my mind; a time when the decibel police didn’t exist to protect anyone from happily going deaf, and the bars would serve watered-down piss to any acne with a fake ID.

I was armed with 30 quid, 20 Marlboro, and the obligatory Zippo. Out of the 30 quid I had managed to hose myself down with eight pints of cider and black. I can still remember the gig and the state I left in; puking in a flower bed, proposing marriage, and passing out.

Therapy? blasted on to the stage, performing ‘Isolation’ as the opening number, relentlessly stampeding through ‘Potato Junkie’, ‘Stop It You’re Killing Me’, ‘Accelerator’, and ‘Nowhere’. Fyfe Ewing was still drumming for the band;. I really got off on his drumming, concentrating on him more than Andy and Michael.

I had found a strategic vantage point in order to get the best view  – the upstairs bar overlooking the stage. I will never forget being sat in the company of two female friends during ‘Femtex’. I raised my pint to Andy Cairns and nodded to him. In acknowledgment he looked me straight in the eye, gave his wicked grin, winked, and nodded back before singing the lines, “Do you want a fuck, do you want a friend…?” Those were the good old days!

After Donington and Reading in ’94/95, it would be 15 years before I would see Therapy? Again – at TJ’s Rock Club in Newport on the 16th October, 2009 with its stone and rustic interior resembling Santa’s Grotto after being gate crashed by rowdy Klingons.

The tables rock – not in a good way – and the chairs are all retired bar-brawl veterans. The bar taps were part of the décor. In defiance of the Rock Gods there is no Newcastle Brown Ale, only cheap cans of Fosters and Carling.

The main stage, or balcony, is small enough to make the Spinal Tap ‘Stone  Henge’ look impressive. It was a fitting venue for a heavy metal gig. Most of the crowd in attendance – married couples who sat on bar stools – were in their late teens during the 90’s; it was a sea of greying, receding hairlines with sensible haircuts, facial hair; grown-ups with jobs and mortgages. This was a mature, dedicated fan base that out-grew the need to look cool and trendy at the turn of the century (or was that just me?).

I wasn’t expecting anything special from tonight’s event; a few recognisable songs slung in among the newer material for nostalgia. I had become skeptical of Therapy? All the new stuff seemed pale in comparison to the earlier albums – ‘Babyteeth’, ‘Nurse’, ‘Pleasure Death’ and ‘Troublegum’ – listened to as they were through younger, less expectant ears. For me, the bands decline had coincided with the departure of Fyfe Ewing who always added an extra groove to the Andy Cairns/Mike McKeegan freight train. I was, however, about to be force-fed a molten slice of metal pie, served with a firm reminder of why Therapy? were my metal messiahs during my teens.

Therapy? took to the stage quite late. A displeased member of the crowd lobbed his pint at Andy, calling him a mother-fucking ‘female’s front bottom’. Welcomes to Newport, brah! Unabated they kick-started the proceedings with the classic ‘Opal Mantra’, steamrolling through ‘Turn’ and ‘Isolation’, stopping briefly to announce the next song; dedicated to Spike Milligan entitled ‘I Told You I Was Ill’.

I’d forgotten what good craftsmen Andy and Michael were. Andy can still deliver the vocal goods too, his voice sounding more mature, less strained and gruff. The drummer wasn’t too shabby either. His style seemed more rigid and less showy than his predecessor. This showed through on songs like ‘Isolation’ where (remembering 1994) Fyfe’s free-flowing style brought the song to life. Still, it wasn’t enough to stop me losing myself like a deranged idiot.

Two new songs – ‘Blacken The Page’, and ‘Enjoy The Struggle’ – from the ‘Crooked Timber’ album followed. Orbiting around us during the first few numbers was a freaky looking college couple that seemed determined to tongue the last breath out of each other while taking selfie photos at odd angles (I was a virgin, once).

During a belting version of ‘Teethgrinder’ some tanked-up idiots broke on to the stage in an attempt to stage-dive (have you ever tried to stage-dive in a wardrobe?). Andy Cairns ended up on his back and his guitar stopped working. The rest of the band carried on un-phased, waiting for Andy to rise to his feet. While waiting for the techies to get his guitar grinding again he serenaded the crowd with a chorus of “Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down, never gonna turn around or desert you…” Then, with his axe back in business, they ploughed on. “If you’re gonna come on to the stage, at least have the decency to feel my balls before you jump off!” adds Mc Keegan.

After ‘Teethgrinder’ and a surprise performance of the accompanying B-side – ‘Summer of Hate – Andy thanked everyone for turning up and supporting the band during difficult times; by the look on his face he was clearly being sincere. This is where I swallowed my metal pie, before certifiably rocking to ‘Innocent-X’.

A few post Infernal Love numbers followed, most noticeably ‘Live Like A Fucker, Die Like A Mother-Fucker’ – dedicated to Gordon Brown & Co. My deranged dance moves continued into the next two old-school memories ‘Fantasy Bag’ from ‘Pleasure Death’ and ‘Nausea’ from the ‘Born in a Crash’ EP. ‘Stories’, ‘Diane’, ‘Die laughing’, ‘Nowhere’, ‘Potato Junkie’, and ‘Screamager’, relentlessly pounded the adoring crowd. Fuck, this is what feeling young again is!

Over the next few days I would dig out my old albums and bootlegs and make up for what I had missed all these years. They don’t make bands like this anymore and I doubt – for me – they ever will. I’m older, more cynical and less inspired.

For years I have been going to concerts with blinding light shows designed to compensate for the fact that the performers are merely matchsticks in the distance. But gigs like Therapy? at TJ’s are as raw and stripped down as they come; up close and personal.

Commercial obscurity has not dampened Therapy?’s passion and enthusiasm. At TJ’s in Newport, these old-school Irish metal-heads reminded everyone of what they do best: they blew the mother-fucking doors off Newport!