Monday 9 November 2015

Downtime (one last time)


Pass the crystal/Spread the tarot
- Eldritch, Alice

This ‘review’ of Downtime has been wandering around the internet in various forms for the last couple of years.  Seeing as Downtime itself is showing signs of escaping captivity within the next week, it seemed only fair to trot this disorientating chunk of text out for a final canter: let it feel the wind in its face, the sun in its fur, the screams in its ears – that sort of thing.

As with fairly much everything on this blog, it’s probably not about what it looks like it’s about.  You might want to scatter some breadcrumbs as you wander through it.  Y’know, in case you get lost.

It’s at this point that I feel obliged to state for the record that I’m not at this time, and have never been, a goth.


In illusion/Comfort lies
- Eldritch, Alice

It's been twenty-three years since Wembley.  The Doctor turned twenty-seven yesterday. 

Twenty-three years (and change) since Wembley.  In that time an ocean of river's run under more bridges than you'd even find in Hamburg.  New names; loads of pack-drill.

Shaved for the occasion.  Head right to the front, crush up against the barrier and get the sweating in early.  Every drop picks out tiny razor tears and magnifies them.

Lights.  Smoke.  Scream for speed, girls - here we go.

It's a different gig in the front.  Up with the gods twenty-three years (and a lifetime) ago, trying to guess which blur was which.  Now the Abyss looks right on back.  And points.

"It's for you.  It's all for you."   

Rise; reverberating.


No confusion/No surprise
- Eldritch, Alice

So, yeah, I loved The Sisters of Mercy.

I came to music fairly slowly.  When I was really small it didn’t bother me, I was much more into reading.  The writing, drawing and falling off things came later.  Books, comics, trees and toys – that’s where satori came from.  Childhood’s an odd state where everything’s incomprehensible and slightly bigger; dreams and colours are clearer than they’ll ever be again, you might say.  And I will.1

The first record I remember having was an accidental purchase.  I’d really, really wanted the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back – so this must’ve been 1980.  The WH Smiths in Newport used to be a double-level beauty crouching opposite the Market,2 with all the vinyl stocked on the first floor.  They didn’t have the record I was after, so I picked up Jeff Wayne’s Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds instead.6 After that, I was taping radio dramas, picking up soundtracks on cassette where possible and recording TV programmes onto cassettes, so I could listen to them later.  (Alfred Hitchcock Presents rather than Doctor Who, like you’d think.)

I graduated from soundtracks onto Adam and the Ants and a selection of compilation records that collected hits of the day.  These would either be picked up in branches of Boots, Smiths, Woolworths or from Seeley’s on Hill Road.  Nobody reading this’ll have a clue where that is, which is shame as it’ll almost crop up again after the next paragraph.

I’d listen to soundtracks while reading books or reading and drawing comics.  The soundtracks I liked the best were the ones that had moments of proper drama.  The truck chase in Raiders of the Lost Ark still sticks out.  I got the same trigger from the Burundi-influenced drum twins, Terry Lee Miall and Merrick7 and that started driving me toward more full-on music.  Well, that and puberty.  After a brief dalliance with metal in its hairiest forms, I settled on early The Queen, which in turn led to The Sisters of Mercy, long hair, cowboy boots and recording studios.

My first gig was in a venue you can see in M*****man.8  The third was in an underground bar opposite Seeley’s and hidden in fog.  We did a lot of Sisters songs but none by The Queen.  Over Christmas we recorded a demo in Bristol’s Rizound Studios and in the New Year we headlined the Bierkeller.  We did one more gig and then split up due to ‘physical differences’.  I went to college and formed another band along with a chap who’d already had a letter published in Doctor Who Comic (that’s what it’s called).  We listened to a lot of Sisters but didn’t cover any. 

In 1995 I formed a new band with a Frenchman.  We played Floorshow for a while before moving on to other things. In the University of East Anglia, similar madness was taking place, albeit on a much grander scale.

Downtime9 is a sequel to The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear.  Although it wasn’t endorsed by the BBC, they sure let a lot of their staff have a crack at it.  The Reeltime film came out as a video premiere in September.  Written by Marc (Ghost Light) Platt, it begins with Victoria Waterfield returning to Det-Sen Monastery fifteen years ago and continues in a fan-pleasing vein for much of the rest of its sixty-seven minutes.  Familiar faces, lines and locations make an appearance in something that should really be unwatchable, but isn’t.  I’m not going to give the story away, because it would be nice if this cropped up as VAM on a future “Yeti Tales” boxset.  Well, a guy can dream. 

I was going to say a lot of clever things about the character of Hinton being a double-bluff – referencing both the late Craig Hinton and the inventor of the tesseract – designed with Moffatian precision to distract the fan from what’s actually going on.  I planned to point out the themes of education, aging, technology and the way that time is a perceptive illusion.  Platt’s lifted moments of (almost) occult mathematics from the gutters of From Hell - check out the two guys on the beach in the dream sequence if you don’t believe me.  This is a writer who totally understands the Cartmel Masterplan.  Throughout, the whole thing's suffused with the terror of the Millennium Bug: its huge wings and invisible teeth.

This makes sense to me.

In 1999 things were going gooey.  I screamed a pop song that wasn’t into a Maida Vale microphone in the same building that gave us the Greatest Theme in the History of Ever.  Laughing at the bear under the stairs as it eats off your leg isn’t really a career move.  These things only look cool if you can get the angle right.

Whatever’s wrong with it, Downtime is made from love and high-energy enthusiasm.  Every penny is on the screen.  The old chums shine, the guests…  Not so much. 

Other criticisms?  The music tries too hard; the camera direction’s inconsistent; the editing’s flabby and you can see the seeds of Craig Hinton’s greatest term in every in-joke that plays to the inner-circle.  That’s about it though.  It’s on a par with School Reunion and The Sontaran Stratagem by dint of spawning them, which is about all you really need to know.   

Fan love manifests in strange ways.  Sometimes it’s a success; sometimes it’s weird; sometimes it makes a difference, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes you can’t tell what’s happened.  Or how you ended up wherever the hell it is you are.

So, yeah, I loved The Sisters of Mercy.  Seriously loved them. 

Still do.

1.  And did.  “If I have to explain then you’ll never understand.” 

2.  Newport Market was a treasure trove for a while.  When I was heading toward my teens, I found that the second-hand bookshop on the balcony also sold comics and seemed to have back issues of all the must-have titles that couldn’t be found anywhere.  I still hadn’t heard about comic shops at this point, so most of my periodical-excavating was being done in newsagents.3

Later on I discovered where they hid the record shops.  In fact, for a while there – around the age of 14 - I could sniff out shops selling comics or records in a city that I’d never visited before. These days I don’t go anywhere new.

3. There used to be three comic shops/stalls in Cardiff.  One was in Jacob’s Market where the Abzorbaloff later lived; one was stocked by the Roach brothers (only half of whom now draw the really black bits of the Doctor Who Comic strip) slightly above where the Philharmonic4 spewed onto Saint Mary Street and the last one was Roath Books which sat on City Road.  Roath Books was fantastic.  I’d spend hours in there.  Saturdays would fade away to the flicking sound of mylar bags as I went through every single box, the proprietor chatting to the weird little goblin creature while it distracted him from whichever sign he was painting that week.5 

I’ll tell you about Adam Warlock one day. 

4.  Years later, the band played many gigs there; a couple were doomed, one got bootlegged and one got written up by the Big Issue. 

5.  I remember when all this were motorway/jumpers for goalposts/Spangles/Yorkies made your gums bleed etc. etc. 

6.  I’ve told you about the time that I didn’t meet Phil Lynott, yeah?  Very strange.  The pub it happened in, the Park Vaults, doesn’t seem to exist anymore.5 

7.  Years later the band recorded a version of Kings of the Wild Frontier as part of a radio session for BBC Wales, closing something shaped a bit like a circle.  The Adam and the Ants Fan Club said they liked it and gave it a bronze medal at a convention.

8.  See The Payphone Story and Judge Minty blog posts for the gory details. Oddly enough, the story in question was reprinted by Marvel a couple of months ago.  It was quite a big deal.  Probably in almost every comic shop in the country.  That wheel keeps spinning.

9.  For a week there, every Doctor Who spin-off had a compound word for a title.

Most of this ‘review’ of Downtime was originally published in the Travers Tales Winter Special. 
It then went through a couple of revisions which’re here and here.
This (final) revision is dedicated to 
my long-suffering PA.

Extra blame (in no particular): 

 the encyclopaedic for release dates and images   
(I should really have laid everything on the floor, climbed a stepladder and just taken a photo),
, Bev, Kev, Rev (not that one),

Gruff, Giz, Brian, Rob,
Stony, Mark, Tony,
 Phil, Way, Dr. Will, Sklav,
, Emma, Adam, Glyn,

the Rev (not that one), Rated, Dems, Rhods

It also comes with 

an extra-special cheery wave of the arms to all the folk in the Heartland.

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