Surprising project with Deep Purple

In my role as Creative Producer at Bait Studio I've been fortunate enough to combine two of my passions on a recent project, comics and music. When the studio was approached by Coolhead Productions to discuss the prospect of a potential animated music video for Deep Purple I was very excited.  Way back when I was about 11 my class teacher played us Smoke on the Water to explain how stories can be told through song and I've held the band in high esteem ever since, sitting alongside the likes of other rock luminaries Black Sabbath and Led Zeppelin. 

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The script was ambitious and some of the visual references were from the comics world, specifically the Corto Maltese Italian adventure comics created by Hugo Pratt. With this in mind I suggested a motion comics approach, rather than full animation and put forward some artists I felt could create something epic and also capture the likenesses of the band members. 

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Matt Rooke was the artist we brought on board, following consultation with the producers and our contacts at record label Ear Music. I was already used to work with Matt, as Stephen Aryan and myself are currently developing a comic series called The Promise with him. His portfolio already included some excellent likenesses and as he is a motion graphics artist himself, so he knew how we would need to receive the artwork in order to animate it.  He also plays guitar in a rock and pop covers band called Kong which also helps. 

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The song that the video was for, The Surprising, happened to be my favourite on the Infinite album, Deep Purple's 20th studio outing. It has a strong progressive rock feel, having been written by the band from an idea that started with guitarist Steve Morse whose work I knew well from the band Flying Colours.  Matt did an amazing job, not only illustrating and colouring all of the art, but also co-directing alongside me and working with the producers Collin Ganes, who also edited the film, and Craig Hooper. Alex Hollowood, Aidan Brook, Francesca Fornoni and Nick Dacey from Bait's motion design team and Production Manager Helen Pooler worked tirelessly to bring the video to life.  I'm still pinching myself that I've worked on something that involves legendary music producer Bob Ezrin (Pink Floyd, Peter Gabriel, Deftones, Jane's Addiction). 

“The official video for The Surprising takes the viewer on a journey through the magical 50-year history of the band. With high attention to detail, the animated masterpiece follows the five heroes of our story – Ian Gillan, Ian Paice, Roger Glover, Don Airey and Steve Morse – through a stormy ship cruise full of allusions and sees them riding off into the sunset.”

 

Feedback on the video has been universally positive and I've enjoyed reading the YouTube comments where people have been trying to identify the different Deep Purple albums that are referenced within the video. I have some more work in my role at Bait with some other musicians in the coming months, so watch this space. Also, if you order the gold edition of the Infinite Gold CD, you will get your hands on more of Matt's artwork.

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Big Big Inspiration Part Two

As I'm writing this I'm listening to Along the Ridgeway, the third song on the new Big Big Train album Folklore (which isn't in shops until May 27th, so I highly recommend that you pre-order it now). If you've been reading my blog for a while you'll remember the name of the band, as they were the subject of a long and praise laden post last August.  

Since that blog post, my daughter and I have had two more unforgettable days that revolve around the critically acclaimed band . In March we spent the day on St.Catherine's Hill in Winchester being extras in the video for the album's title track  (which you can watch below) and yesterday we were with the band again, this time in Box, Wiltshire. We were lucky enough to spend the day alongside many more of the band's fans, known collectively as Passengers, at the Folklore listening party at Real World Studios, musical home to legendary singer Peter Gabriel and the place where the album was recorded. 

We were also treated to a two song acoustic set by the band, minus drummer Nick D'Virgilio who was back in the States but did join us by video later. Hearing Wassail and Uncle Jack played up close and personal was an unexpected treat.

This is all very good and well and just like the concert last year at Kings Place in London both these days will live long in the memory, but what exactly does it have to do with my writing? Well in my August 2015 post I said the following and it has proven to be very true. 

Music has always shaped me as a person and as a creative and Big Big Train will continue to be a big part of that. 

I'm working on a new comic project currently, I can't say much about it yet as it's very early days with no artist attached and nothing pitched to publishers. What I can say is that I've loosely plotted it as a five issue series and Issue 1 is completely broken down with seventeen first draft pages written. Tonally it's not a million miles away from my 2011 book 'The Interactives' and it's already it's shaping up to be a book only I could write. I've taken inspiration from lots of sources, including Big Big Train's back catalogue and some of the iconography surrounding their latest release. I've also been listening to two albums by another modern prog band Phideaux, The Great Leap and in particular Doomsday Afternoon along with anything I can find on Spotify's The Sound of Neo-Progressive playlist, while working through the plot. I find that the best bands in the genre have music that really helps expand your mind and frees up the imagination. I do almost all of my plotting in the gym these days, on the treadmill doing something I've christened "Running through a story", which should probably be the subject of a process post all of its own.  

If you read the previous blog, it outlined some things that becoming a fan of BBT had made me think about when approaching a new project.

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people.
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British.
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional.
  5. Smile.

Does this new series meet those criteria? Not intentionally, as this wasn't set out as a plan or manifesto. However, by being true to myself and evoking the mood and spirit of Big Big Train's music has definitely taken me in the right direction. 

  1.  Collaborate with lots of talented people. I'm on the look out for an artist. 
  2.  Don't be afraid to be British. The story is all set in England. 
  3. Take risks, put things together that may not obviously belong with each other. There are some interesting things in Issue 1 already. 
  4. Don't be afraid to be emotional. I can see the book going more that way over time. 
  5. Smile. I've been doing that every day while working on this story, it's been great fun. 

I'm sure that as I become more accustomed to BBT's latest long player (I'm only on listen number four) it will have an even more profound impact on my approach to my work. I should have a first draft of Issue 1 of the new book completed this month and I'm hoping that once I have an artist I can start sharing a few more details. In the meantime....Wassail! 

 

 

Favourite things in 2015

This year has absolutely flown by, and I find myself compiling my favourites of the year list all over again. Like last year this isn't a definitive 'best of' list, merely a compilation of what I most enjoyed in the last twelve months. You can see the 2014 list here

TV Drama – Marvel's Daredevil.

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By no means perfect, Daredevil was a bold new step in the right direction for Marvel's broadcast output, bringing the Marvel Knights world to play alongside the more family friendly cinematic universe. After the 2003 film version it looked like the Hell's Kitchen blind lawyer's story was unlikely to be told again, but they managed to pull it off by making a series that really felt like the book it was based on.  This was a show I never imagined existing and I'm pleased that it does. 

Honourable mentions – I was very close to picking Ray Donovan Season Three as my favourite show, it was certainly my favourite returning series this year. After the slightly hit and miss nature of Season Two it was good to see the show returning to the edge of your seat tension that made the first season so compelling. Liev Schreiber, Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok continue to deliver exceptional performances each week and I can't wait for the next series. Better Call Saul helped me get over my general distrust of prequels, the show featured some brilliant writing and excellent performances too. It both worked as part of the Breaking Bad world and also as its own thing, mixing comedy and tragedy to great effect. On this side of the pond it was River that held my interest the most, a slightly surreal detective series set in London featuring a powerhouse performance from Stellan Skarsgard, who should be showered with plaudits and awards.  It's also the second of my favourite shows this year to feature the ever versatile Eddie Marsan.  Marvel's second Netflix show Jessica Jones rounds off the list, we're only seven episodes in and I don't think we'll get it all watched before the year is out. Another interesting show and proof the Marvel/Netflix deal was a very good thing. And for the second year running, yes I know I need to watch Fargo.

Film – Star Wars - The Force Awakens

This really isn't the film I was expecting to top this list, but I'm pleasantly surprised that it did. I was grinning from start to finish and there were moments where my skin was actually tingling. We live in an age where trying to recapture the feelings of our youth dominates mainstream media, this is often to the detriment of quality. Having felt like a nine year old for a couple of hours again this is one occasion where touching on old themes and bringing back familiar characters worked exceptionally well. Unlike the prequels this completely felt like a Star Wars film and you were immersed in another world. The new characters were brilliant and the torch has very much been passed. Between this and last year's Guardians of the Galaxy it's fun to go into space again. 

Honourable mentions –

Birdman was nothing like I expected and all the better for it. I've always been a fan of Ed Norton and it was good to see him stretching his acting muscles again and for Michael Keaton to get to explore a character that parallels his own Batman experiences. The film made me think a lot about life, creativity and mortality and it is deserving of all the praise it has received.  Southpaw isn't the boxing film I was expecting to put on this list, but with Creed's UK release date being in January, this was the one big screen piece of ringside action for me this year. Like most of these kind of films it was very predictable, but it hit all the right emotional beats for me, coming close to being a modern day Champ. I could watch Forest Whitaker train Jake Gyllenhaal all day and before I saw The Force Awakens this would have been my pick. Ant-Man was far better than expected and the casting of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly worked very well. There were still some Edgar Wright touches in there alongside what was added later. It wasn't close to being my favourite film of the year, but was certainly my preferred Marvel movie of the 2015.  Inside Out was exceptional, thoughtful, moving and inspirational in a way that most live actin films aren't and I'm really looking forward to watching it again.  Indie horror romance Spring was a film that would have flown under my radar if I hadn't watched it as part of a workshop I was working on. The main performances are excellent and it has its own unique vibe, if you haven't seen it I'd recommend you do.  John Wick and Big Hero 6 were both late releases in the UK, having been shown elsewhere in 2014. Big Hero 6 was great fun, but like The Good Dinosaur it suffered by comparison from being in the same year as Inside Out.   John Wick was one of the best action movies I've seen in years, I'm someone who's always championed Keanu Reeves and it's great to see him have a film like this and the planned sequel to sink his teeth into.  I didn't get to see Whiplash to see if that film would have made it onto the list.  Mad Max Fury Road looked amazing and I definitely enjoyed it, but I didn't seem to get the same level of enjoyment as others did so it sneaks onto this list for the visual spectacle. 

Album – Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson

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When Hand. Cannot. Erase. came out in February I knew straight away it was something special. I've been a fan of Mr Wilson since i first heard Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album playing in a record shop in 1999. A concept album inspired by the death of a London woman, which went unnoticed for three years, it's a exceptionally emotional 65 minutes of music. Regardless of whether you like progressive rock, I think everyone should listen to it, to feel its impact. Probably the first album to almost bring me to tears. I wish I'd got to see it performed live. 

Honourable mentions –

It took a very impressive set of songs to mean that Sol Invictus by Faith No More wasn't my favourite album of 2015. I'm a huge Mike Patton devotee and a big fan of all the band's work, rather than just the high profile Jim Martin period that the media tends to latch onto. I'd been eagerly waiting this new set of songs and they didn't disappoint, there was just one album that connected with me more this year, otherwise this would have taken the crown as expected.  Meliora by Ghost was another excellent long player and might just be their best album to date, immediate and evocative and overall great fun to listen to. It was great to have Baroness back at the end of the year with Purple, with their first release since the coach crash that caused two of the band to call it quits. And so we watch you from Afar were a band I discovered at the start of the year as the soundtrack to much of my writing, their Heirs album continued their rich vein of form.  +4626-COMFORTZONE by Beardfish and Wolflight by Steve Hackett, both prog albums I discovered via my love of Big Big Train, got a lot of play from me in 2015 too.  Higher Ground by Chris Cornell was another album I played a lot this year and there was a lot to like about it, particularly the folk vibe on some songs. Sadly I will always compare his solo work to his first solitary outing Euphoria Morning which is one of my favourite records, although in some ways that was him fronting Eleven. 

Song -  Superhero by Faith No More


When I first Superhero  I really wasn't sure about it, it felt a bit like FnM by numbers but after a few listens to the true genius of this anthemic track shone through. It's up there with their best songs and I've been singing along to this aural gut punch all year. 

Honourable mentions –

Wassail by Big Big Train was within a hairs breadth of being my pick (it was was certainly robbed at the Prog Awards this year) and it's another singalong anthem albeit with a very different tone. It's brilliant on record and even better live.  Nearly forgot my broken heart by Chris Cornell was the other single that I really liked this year, it's quite poppy but still maintains the immaculate attention to detail and superb vocals you'd expect from the Soundgarden frontman. Spectral Mornings 2015 was a song I played a lot, not a new track but a new charity version complete with vocals (the original as an instrumental). The track featured s who's who of modern prog and Steve Hackett himself. 

GigBig Big Train (London)

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This was by far the easiest decision to make when looking back on the year. On Sunday 16th August my daughter and I were truly captivated by a phenomenal performance by a world class group of musicians, when we were lucky enough to see Big Big Train play Kings Place in London. We were in the second row and make a few brief cameo appearances in the Victorian Brickwork video from the show. I'm not sure another gig would ever top it in my lifetime, let alone this year, I still think about that show every day. Life affirming, majestic stuff. 

Honourable mentions –

Shawn Smith at Bristol Folk House in April was another intimate seated affair and it isn't often that you get to share the toilet hand dryer with the act you've just seen. It was great to see him solo a few years after enjoying him with Brad. The live album of this show is available hereThe Manic Street Preachers playing all of Holy Bible, followed by a greatest hits set would have been a dream gig for me at one time. It was great to hear arguably their best album played live, but the sunny June daytime Cardiff Castle setting and crowd of anthem lovers alongside the more rabid fans made it a real mixed bag.  If only I'd made it to the Tin Spirits gig in Swindon, as I have a strong feeling that would have made this list. 

Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics) 

 

For the second year running Lazarus is my favourite book and by the end of the year it was the only thing I was reading in single issues, as I'm reading the likes of Nailbiter, Revival, Zero, Saga, Southern Bastards, Deadly Class. It's a top drawer sci-fi, with gorgeous art, well rounded characters and the ability to surprise. If you aren't reading it you should be. 

Podcast – iFanboy

This was the year that I realised how much this podcast has become part of my weekly routine. Monday morning wouldn't be Monday morning without their Pick of the Week show, even though I am reading most books in trade so have to skip forward chunks. With Ron back on the show (although it was sad to see Paul go) I'm reminded how much time I've spent listening to these guys over the years. The first thing I do after seeing a geeky movie or TV show is to listen to the special edition podcast to find out if we agree, we usually do. If you've seen Star Wars The Force Awakens, they articulate what I thought far better than me, listen to that episode here

Honourable mentions –

It's the usual suspects for me, Geek Syndicate, Nerdist Writers Panel, Austin Film Festival's On Story podcast, Comics Experience Make Comics, Comic Book Outsiders, Word Balloon and The Hat Decides (which I hear is due back very soon). Plaudits must got to PJ and Doktor Andy for taking over The Sidekickcast and making it their own thing. I will, of course, direct you to Bags of Action the action movie show I present with my friend and writing partner Steve Aryan. 

So, there you have it. Those choices were a lot harder than last  year, with a wealth of things I really enjoyed across all mediums. That's not including some of the older things that I really liked such as the whole run of Battlestar Galactica, classic albums by Peter Gabriel era Genesis, The Dark Tower comics from Marvel and the exceptional Secret Identity Superman book by Busiek and Immonen - all of which were ineligible of course. Anyway, here's to another year filled with things to enjoy.