Hot Games

Friday, 27 May 2011

Book Review: Fortress of Spears

Fortress of Spears (Empire, #3)Fortress of Spears by Anthony Riches

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the third outing for Anthony Riches series about a Roman Centurion/Fugitive from Justice based around Hadrian's Wall. Like the previous books this is an excellent romp, with some interesting scenarios and storylines. The book is well worth reading and I'm already looking forward to #4 in the series.

So, why only 4 stars? The fact that I had the book for 3 weeks before picking it up speaks volumes - a Giles Kristian or Sam Barone book would have been started immediately. I would rate these books slightly below those of Cornwell, Scarrow, Kristian or Barone, but not too far behind. The main problem with the book is that the main character is almost a super-hero and is simply not believable. Added to that the dialogue, although improved from the previous books, still does not ring true as being of the correct era. Finally the status of Marcus as a fugitive has been played out to the full - I cannot recall the details of how this came to be, and don't particularly care anymore. I hope that the author will concentrate more on the relationship between Marcus and his colleagues moving forwards.

Having said all the above, this is a very good book and I will definitely pre-order the follow-up.

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Saturday, 21 May 2011

Book Review: Odin's Wolves

Odin's Wolves (Raven #3)Odin's Wolves by Giles Kristian

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is the third book in the Raven saga, and a worthy follow-up to the two others, both of which were 5* books. It is over a month since I finished the book, so some of the details are not so clear, but needless to say, I pre-ordered the book and eagerly devoured it as soon as it arrived.

The book describes the Viking band's journey from the French coast to Rome and Miklagard (Constantinople). The book really takes off from about the half-way stage and the sections describing the band's adventures in Rome and Miklagard are riveting and extremely well written. Of course there is a surprise at the end, but I won't be spoiling that here.

One of the best aspects of the first two instalments was the development of the characters. Unfortunately many of these have now been killed off, so more will have to be introduced in the fourth book. The author shouldn't shy away from this, as he did such a good job before.

What sets these books apart from others in the genre is the quality of the dialogue in Giles Kristian's books. You really feel that the characters are real and 100% believable. I think he does this better than any of his contemporaries, including Messrs Cornwell, Scarrow and Iggulden, and that's a mighty fine list of authors!

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Wilko Johnson

The Fleece, Bristol 6th May

Growing up in the seventies, I liked T-Rex and I liked Slade and, of course, I fancied Suzi Quattro and Linda Ronstadt, but the first group I was really into were Dr Feelgood in 1976. I still remember coming home clutching the seminal Stupidity album the week of it's release with it's classic cover picture of Lee Brilleaux and Wilko. That album remains my #1 favourite live album, and yes, even better than the Johnny Cash live prison albums.

I finally got to see Dr Feelgood live in Autumn 1978 at Brighton Top Rank. Of course by this time Wilko had left, but nevertheless they were still storming live. I saw Wilko live for the first time shortly afterwards at the Marquee. I’ve seen him since, of course, and also with Ian Dury (on the DIY tour). To my mind, Wilko is a national treasure that needs preserving and it's great that he's still strutting his stuff over 30 years later.

So to the Fleece on a Friday night. It is warm and packed, almost definitely sold-out. Just the sort of atmosphere you want for a slice of R&B. First band up were Billy Whizz: dire. Second up were 3-piece The Soulvents whose musical influences were given away by the singer's Fred Perry shirt and Mod-ish haircut. The guy was one excellent guitarist and his repertoire was impressive, unfortunately he had no stage presence whatsoever. Anyway Steve Marriott & Weller influences aplenty, he covered one Weller track and finished with a crowd pleasing All through the City. Definitely worth catching again.

And so to Mr Johnson, who as per usual was joined by Blockhead Norman Watt-Roy and Dylan Howe on drums. Wilko looks more and more like Alf Garnett every year and Norman is like the butler in a Hammer Horror film. Pretty they ain’t, but my God can they still brew up some R&B! Wilko is as energetic as the very first time I saw him and this is music as it should be – R&B in a small sweaty bar.

As usual the Dr Feelgood songs go down best – I remember Back in the Night, She Does It Right, Don’t Let Your Daddy Know, Sneakin’ Suspicion, Keep it Out of Sight, The More I Give, Paradise and Twenty Yards Behind. Wilko was joined by Jerry Tremaine (I think that was his name) on vocals and harp for a storming Woolly Bully and Roxette. Dr Dupree was also in the mix somewhere. A single encore – a rollicking Bye Bye Johnny – it is always good to see Mr B Goode, the patron saint of R&B, make an appearance!

I’m already looking forward to the next time Wilko and co. are in town!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

John Otway & Wild Willy Barrett

Reading South Park, 5th May

I first saw John Otway live around 1981/82 on the same bill as UK Subs and Gary Glitter (go figure!). I need to point out that this was before Mr Glitter had been outed as a paedophile. On the night, the UK Subs were Sh1t, I was totally underwhelmed by the young-ish Otway and Gary Glitter (and the original Glitter Band with 2 drummers) were superb!

Rolling forward to about 2 years ago, on a whim my friend Jarrod and I caught a JO & WWB show at the Windsor Arts Centre. I remember saying at the interval that what we had witnessed was either total cobblers or absolute brilliance, but I didn’t know which. Anyway after the second half we decided it was the latter and are both now confirmed fans. We also saw him last autumn in Gloucester, with his ‘Big Band’, although I drank so much that night that frankly, memories of the show, and the afternoon rugby game, are somewhat hazy!

Anyway to Reading: instead of the usual tiered seating at the venue, there were just chairs on the floor. The audience was perhaps 200-250 people, mostly fat fifty-somethings (yes … like me!), but with a smattering of people outside that profile. As usual a fair number were diehard fans and, again as usual, both Otway & WWB mingled with the audience before the gig, in the interval and after the gig. Pretentious they are not.

Seeing Otway is an event rather than a gig. The songs don’t change much, the patter between songs is familiar, Otway’s boy-ish enthusiasm, honesty and showing off would be totally daft in other settings but just works. Add in WWB’s excellent musicianship and dead-pan humour and you have a winning formulae. As Otway says … Wild Willy is just a Musician, whereas I’m a star!

So what was new on the night? It’s the first time I’ve ever seen a wheely-bin used in an act for a start. It housed Wild Willy’s amp for his electric guitar and was open and closed as appropriate. Totally idiotic, but it worked brilliantly. WWB also introduced a Pete Townshend guitar wrecking segment, although the damage was done DIY-style with a hammer and saw! After the show the guitar was flogged for £35! Musically, the highlight may well have been a touching(!!) rendition of Rolf Harris’ ‘Two Little Boys’.

An Otway concert is like a Jonathan Richman concert (another favourite of mine), in that you smile all the way through it and all the way home. It is that kind of experience.