Sunday, 28 March 2010

Tru Thoughts Funk: Review

Genre spanning Brighton label Tru Thoughts has enjoyed a fantastic eleven years, putting on some of the area's most essential club nights, hosting a killer radio show and of course, putting out records. But whilst a great deal of their roster have left in recent years, signing for American labels like Ninjatune or the larger British label, Warp- Tru Thoughts have kept going, building a formidable catalogue of releases and artists. This is clearly demonstrated on this Tru Thoughts Funk, which pulls in 18 tracks from the label's funk-inflicted artists. There's always a danger of record label retrospective compilations being both self-congratulatory and an irrelevance. Anyone who owns the albums from which these tracks are pulled will find little they couldn't knock up with a playlist, save an out-of-print recording and the almost mandatory 'two original tracks'. But the partisan audience isn't this record's preferred audience; it's raison d'etre instead is to educate the uninformed listener on all that crazy funk thats been happening in Brighton for the past decade. And in this light, Tru Thoughts Funk gives a very decent account.

Production is impeccable (and you'd suspect, digital) throughout. As an aside, it may be that the genre constantly references an age when music was digested on vinyl, I do feel that the polished sound of contemporary recordings does the musicianship a disservice. This is especially evident on some of the record's instrumental pieces- where the urgency of the groove is lost under the weight of 'clean' digital sound aesthetics. Perhaps I just miss the vinyl hiss. But such moments are rare. Opening with the 70s-inspired strumming of the Quantic Soul Orchestra before giving the platform to brightly-voiced soul diva Alice Russel- guesting with The Bamboos, the record shirks instrumental jams between lyrical numbers. Kyle Auldist's 'It's On' is frank, sun-drenched and everso horny. It's one of the best songs on the comp, delivered with insistence and guile. The backing band playing like they mean it, everyone smiles. In moments like this, it's impossible not to start moving, or smiling with them. Tru Thoughts Funk is a hugely enjoyable start-to-finish listen, perfect DJ fodder and a fine testament to the continued success of this Brighton record label.

Monday, 15 March 2010

NCL Freestyle cruising: Review

In the midst of a rather wintery Spring, escaped it all and went cruising around the strait of Gibraltar with NCL. With sunglasses and suntan lotion packed, we were ready to set sail!

NCL is famed for it's 'freestyle' concept, which allows you the freedom to enjoy your cruise as you will. Unlike other cruise operators, there's no enforced dress code, nor are meals and activities at set times. Being on your own schedule is crucial, allowing you to relax and explore the Norwegian Jade's 15 decks of bars, restaurants, nightclubs, pools and spas at your own pace. At first, we have to admit, we found the size of the ship a little daunting- but a little exploring and it soon began to feel like a home from home. Our stateroom came with a fantastic balcony and outdoor chairs. Overlooking the side of the vessel, it made for a beautiful view both whilst at sea and when pulling into port. What better way to relax than cruising in the gorgeous sun off the Mediterranean?


Whilst sailing from Barcelona to our first stop in Morocco, we enjoyed the rare luxury of an entire day at sea. And though land was nowhere to be seen, there's simply so much to do onboard that boredom rarely sets in. From the basketball and tennis courts to the video arcades and casino, there's something for all ages to enjoy- and we found ourselves quickly sampling a little of everything. The on-ship theatre offers a range of shows performed at regular intervals and there's even a fitness centre and gym to help you stay in shape. Of course, for those with a slightly less adventurous spirit; the poolside bars and loungers offer a perfect place to escape and soak up the rays with a book and a cocktail. After all this, wind down with a pampering spa treatment in the Jade's luxurious onboard spa and beauty lounge. For the evening's sailing, the Spinnaker Lounge overlooking the rear of the ship offers drink and dancing til the early hours- it quickly became a regular haunt of ours as we danced the nights away to live bands and disco.

The Food

The Norwegian Jade offers 3 food lounges for complementary eating, but also offers a number of specialist restaurants whose chefs offer fine dining and authentic tastes of the world. The French bistro, with it's magnificent original Van Goth, is a sultry and romantic venue with an enticing gourmet menu of grilled escargot, cheeses and the obligatory seafood. Papa's, the Norwegian Jade's Italian- has an atmosphere like no other; the aroma of herbs and antipasti hitting you as soon as you enter. From there it's the Italian tradition of having at least four courses- harder than it sounds! Up a deck, and the Teppanyaki restaurant is an experience we won't be forgetting in a while! Our very own chef prepared an array of mouth-watering oriental meat and vegetable dishes with a skillful acrobatic display in front of our tables. Elsewhere, Cagney's- with it's law-enforcement themed decor (inspired by 80s cop shop 'Cagney and Lacey') is the place to be for an all-American feast. With a steak menu that runs an entire page, ribs, giant shrimp and the most heavenly chips (fried with oyster!) - Cagney's uncomplicated but deeply satisfying menu quickly became a favourite.


After our relaxing 'sea day', we were about ready to hop on land and explore Morocco's second largest city, the romantic Casablanca. Following a five minute drive to the city centre, we were let loose upon this inviting, but disparate city. It's a melting pot of ethnicities and is one of the more tourist friendly parts of the country. Moseying through the narrow streets of markets and cafes, we were immediately struck by the number of cats that live wild there. Nursed and loved by all the locals and fed fish from the evening's catch- cats enjoy the freedom of the city and it's a charming sight if like us, you are an avowed feline-lover. Overlooking the coast is the Hassan II Mosque, the largest in Morocco and third largest in the world, a beautiful and ornate building with wide-open spaces and stunning Islamic patterns adorning every wall and pillar. It's a grand spectacle regardless of your religious persuasion; a magnificent building and space to be in. When visiting the Mosque, as with all ethnic or religious spaces- it's a good idea to respect the local customs, in this case, covering your hair with a veil. But don't feel stifled, this is a great summer look anyway and you wouldn't want to miss out on the majesty of this building.

From there, it's only a ten minute walk to probably the best-known bar in all of Africa: Rick's Place. Lovingly restored to an exact pastiche of the establishment made famous in the 1942 Humphrey Bogard / Ingrid Bergmann film 'Casablanca'- it's a tourist friendly environment to enjoy a bloody Mary and note how Bogard's character never actually said "Play it again, Sam".

Agadir, Taroudant and Tiout

So after sailing again overnight, we docked in the port of Agadir and set off on one of the Norwegian Jade's many 'Shore Excursions' - packaged adventures, if you like. This involved a driven tour of the area with a local guide. Agadir is a popular town with tourists and surfers; it's vast beach and good waves contributing to a chilled-out vibe. Our driver took us first to a mountaintop overlooking the city, with splendid views and the opportunity for camel riding. Then a drive through Morocco's vast countryside, through fields of crops and stopping to see how the local produce of Argan oil is carefully extracted. The Argan trees are everywhere in Morocco, and we stop again to see for ourselves that most mythical of Moroccan sights: goats in trees. Whilst we had heard rumours, we had quietly disbelieved them: however, the sight of a local goatforaging in an Argan tree to get at the fruit toward it's top is an endearing one.

We arrived in the busy market town of Taroudant; it's 16th Century clay walls enshrouding a busy hub of commerce. Taroudant is a fantastic place to shop for authentic Moroccan fabrics and other products- it's winding indoor lanes bustle with activity and we could literally have spent all day there, admiring clothes and adorning ourselves with traditional Berber jewellery.

Another short drive away was the Berber village of Tiout. Berbers are the indigenous people of this region and have their own customs, but like so many indigenous peoples now rely largely on tourism. Tiout is tucked away between mountains and oasis, basking in sunlight and jungle. We were treated to a magnificent Tajine feast before being taken on a bumpy but thoroughly enjoyably donkey ride through the oasis, past ancient ruins and around the mountains- before saying our goodbyes and driving back toward the Norwegian Jade. It's worth mentioning that whilst a great number of Moroccan peoples may offer to help you, take a photograph or offer something- that these people rely on tourism for their livelihood and in Morocco, precious little comes for free. But this in mind, the tourist shots of us riding donkeys and camels were well worth it, after a little haggling down.

Las Palmas De Gran Canaria

Last stop on our jaunt across the Mediterranean was Gran Canaria. Without doubt, the most tourist friendly and 'westernised' of the locations we had visited- Gran Canaria is, at it's core, a resort; and while the island's 800,000 residents live are spread across the now dormant volcanic island in colourful but poor urban housing- the city centre is much like any other. Although the shopping districts allured, we taxi'd past them in lieu of the 'Old Town'- a charming sub-section of the city where traditional architecture and history have stood the test of time. Here, we explored beautiful cathedrals and turning a corner, stumbled across Christopher Columbus' home- now a museum dedicated to his legacy. Once we'd escaped the hubub, our day in Las Palmas was a relaxing one spent strolling around in the sun, helping ourselves to iced creams when the opportunity took us. And as the sun set and the evening drew in, our adventures in the Strait of Gibraltar were coming to an end. Cruising with NCL had offered an intense few days, packed with adventure we'll not be forgetting in a hurry. A few hours flight later, we'd were returned to a country in deep freeze, with only our newly acquired tan as evidence.

Twin Peaks: Season 3?

Twin Peaks was originally intended to run forever like a soap, but producers brought it to an end in series two with a tantalising cliffhanger. Fansites have speculated and a graphic novel was briefly planned but it's unlikely anything will materialise. Still, audiences are pondering: what would happen in a third series? We've been scratching our heads and come up with a few ideas.

Last time we saw Agent Cooper, he wasn't looking so good. He escaped the Black Lodge but is possessed by Bob. With the murder case seemingly closed, Cooper/Bob returns to FBI headquarters and begins committing more atrocities. As noone in Washington would believe in the supernatural, Twin Peaks' vigilante group 'The Bookhouse Boys', led by Sheriff Truman- must discovery the White Lodge (the spiritual realm of 'good') to defeat the demon inside Cooper.

In Twin Peaks' final episode, a reborn Ben Horne admits an affair with Donna Hayward's mother, hinting that Donna is his daughter. It's ambiguous whether Audrey Horne survived the Mill fire, but actress Sherilyn Fenn has stated in interviews that Audrey lived. Rumours abound that David Lynch's 2001 film 'Mulholland Drive' was originally intended to be about Audrey's future, having gone to Hollywood to live her dream as an actress. Donna and Audrey become close friends and, disillusioned with Ben, decide to leave Twin Peaks together. Their paths cross with Donna's ex, James Hurley, along the way.

Local thug Leo Johnson was left trapped with a cage of tarantulas over his head. Feeling guilt for how they had treated him, Bobby Briggs and girlfriend Shelley Johnson rescue him, only for Leo to enact his revenge on them..

And, of course- Deputy Andy Brennan marries receptionist Lucy Moran in the sweetest of happy endings.

Twin Peaks: A history

Years before TV audiences were exposed to murderous vigilante Dexter or the gruesome comedy of Six Feet Under- there was Twin Peaks. David Lynch's award winning drama spanned two series, spawned a feature length prequel and inspired many novels. Revered by it's cult following, it continues to draw in new generations of devotees- but why the enduring fascination with this sleepy town and it's seemingly ordinary inhabitants?

"It's brilliant!" exclaimed Homer Simpson when asked about the show, "But I have absolutely no idea what's going on!". In many ways, it's astounding that Twin Peaks was ever broadcast- this was 1990 and Lynch was attempting avant-garde 'dream sequences'. Dealing with uncomfortable subjects like incest, drugs and murder with a macabre wit and genial tone, Twin Peaks flits between horror and humour with a surrealism that has become the director's calling card. It is far from 'easy viewing', but approach with an open mind and you'll uncover one of the most rewarding series of recent time. Everyone has secrets and even the most pleasant of locales can hide the very darkest of truths.

Twin Peaks doesn't have a central figure or storyline as such, but it underpins it's multitude of characters and plots through a thrilling murder mystery. The intro sequence lulls you into pleasant thoughts: forests, shots of birds in trees, a lumber mill, Angelo Badalamenti's dreamy soundtrack- but not a minute into the pilot episode and high-school kid Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee)'s naked corpse is discovered floating down a river, wrapped in plastic. Immediately, the cosy veneer is shattered and excusing recent dramas Lost and The Wire, no other TV series was ever so instantly engrossing. The 'whodunnit' moves backwards, allowing us into the lives of all the town's residents as they speculate, gossip and grieve- revealing a web of hedonism, violence and evil.

There's Laura's peers- a group rapt in melodrama and lovesickness. The icy Donna Hayward (Lara Flynn Boyle) and confused boyfriend James Hurley (James Marshall). Laura's ex, Bobby Briggs (Dana Ashbrook) a coke peddling wise-cracker. And the iconic Audrey Horne (Sherilyn Fenn)- a coy but manipulative 'rich girl'. Family lives are explored, as are the business relationships of entrepreneurs Ben Horne (Richard Beymer) and Leland Palmer (Ray Wise), Japanese gansgters and the seedy underworld of casino/brothel 'One Eyed Jacks', run by the shady Renault brothers. But it's FBI Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlin)- a quirky, polite but brilliant detective assigned to solving the murder who is the real star of the show. Cooper experiences the world through curiosity and wonder, and is the vehicle through which Lynch can speak his mind.

If these residents of Twin Peaks seem normal enough, there are a wealth of eccentrics and crazies. Deputy Detective Andy Brennan (Harry Goaz) is an endearing simpleton, lumberjack Pete Martell (Jack Nanse) is the softest of old fools, the bizarre Margaret Lanterman (Catherine E Coulson), known as the "Log Lady" for her insistence on carrying a block of lumber in the belief that it talks to her. But for these characters' comic relief- there is a horrifying evil in equal measure. Apparitions terrify through dreams and demons lurk in the recesses of the subconscious. The sight of Bob, a lank-haired demon, hiding behind the Palmer's sofa, is one of the show's most affecting images. As the mystery unravels, Cooper is led to a hellish alter-realm, 'The Black Lodge', a place where demons thrive. It's the stuff of nightmares.

But for it's dark theme and scenes of violence and horror, Twin Peaks maintains a charm throughout. Although it was was cancelled midway through it's second series (forcing the writers to 'wrap it up'), the show was originally intended to play on like a soap. But a third series never materialised and the show ended on the grandest of cliffhangers, leading audiences to ask: what would happen next?