Leicester Comedy Festival 2017 Part 1

Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer

The Leicester Comedy Festival is always one of the highlights of my year and I always book the shows I want see as soon as they are announced. This year I only booked to see six shows and this blog covers the first four.
My first show was Stewart Lee: Content Provider at De Montfort Hall. In his show last year he was running-in half-hour blocks of material for his TV show but this year was his first themed show since Carpet Remnant World. It was excellent stuff, dealing with the state of flux in the world of politics and other more unusual topics.

The second show I saw was Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer’s Dandy Valentine at The Y Theatre. I’m a huge fan of Mr B and enjoyed the fact that he played a lot more of his original material, whilst also including a couple of his hilarious mash-ups. The Y’s grand piano was brought into service and one of the songs he played on it was It Doesn’t Pay To Turn Up Late To An Orgy which was hilarious. I also bought his new album, There’s A Rumpus Going On, after the show.

I don’t like to be negative in my blog if I can help it but I’ll just say that a show I saw at The Cookie on Friday 17th left me feeling like I’d been preached at rather than cheered up. Perhaps the comedian concerned caught me on a bad day, but I watched Katherine Ryan on Netflix when I got home so she ended up cheering me up instead.

The last show I’ll mention in this part is Sue Perkins’ show Spectacles, based on her autobiography. It was wonderfully funny and ended with a hilarious Q&A where she would answer each audience member’s question by launching into another hysterical story. I think if the questions had been allowed to keep coming she would have had everyone in stitches all night.

My next two shows will be Josie Long and Zoe Lyons.

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Iron Maiden: Somewhere in Time review

Somewhere in Time was recorded after the mammoth World Slavery Tour to promote Powerslave, and the release of one of the greatest heavy metal live albums ever made: Live After Death. But Bruce Dickinson was in a different creative place to the rest of the band after the rigours of touring for such a long time, and none of these songs bear his name in the wrting credits, so it was up to Adrian Smith to fill the gap by contributing a huge amount to this album.

Caught Somewhere in Time, written by Steve Harris, kicks off with guitar synths and Smith/Murray harmonies before plunging into a headlong classic Maiden gallop. There is a significant change to the Maiden sound in evidence. It sounds more sophisticated and progressive and, despite not contributing to the writing, Bruce Dickinson’s voice is in fine form.

Wasted Years is the first track written solely by Adrian Smith on the album. It has one of his greatest riffs and heartfelt, melancholy lyrics with a brilliant chorus. It has since become a huge live favourite. The guitar solo is brilliant and, as in all his writing, he never overdoes the drama but gets the emotional power and tension just right.

Sea of Madness is another Adrian Smith track with a great heavy, bluesy riff and pounding bass. It has another great, melodic chorus and the lyrics are wonderfully melancholy again, but with such gorgeous uplifting melodies. The quiet middle section is a huge departure for Maiden and adds another dimension to the album.

Heaven Can Wait is a brilliant Steve Harris anthem that has become another live favourite. It sounds so uplifting in the verses and has a huge chorus, with a singalong bit in the middle which prompts the entire road crew to join the band onstage when they play it live. Dave Murray’s guitar solo is particularly wonderful before the singalong, and then Adrian Smith launches into one of his great bluesy solos with lashings of tremolo.

The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner is another Steve Harris track. It’s a ferocious galloper with some terrific guitar harmonies and the always-brilliant Nicko McBrain pounding the hell out of his drums. The track also has some synth sounds in the background which began to feature more and more in Maiden’s music. Some of Kai Hansen’s guitar solos with Helloween particularly remind me of the solos in this track.

Stranger in a Strange Land is one of my favourite songs. Written by Adrian Smith, it starts with Nicko’s drums and Steve’s bass and builds into another classic Smith riff. The lyrics, about solitude and Polar exploration, are terrific and it has another great chorus. Adrian’s guitar solo is gorgeous, building from quiet and melancholy to a goosebump-inducing roar. He is my favourite rock guitarist and this album really shows off his brilliant songwriting.

Deja-Vu is a Murray/Harris track. The subject matter isn’t perhaps the most profound, but is Fear of the Dark? It’s a nice little track with some lovely guitar harmonies and fits in as a sort of next-to-last kind of song. It just has the misfortune of being surrounded by stronger material. But you need different flavours on any album so that’s fine.

Alexander the Great is a Steve Harris epic. It doesn’t quite fit thematically or musically with the rest of the album, but it is brilliant in its own right. It just sounds a bit like Maiden looking back to A Piece of Mind or Powerslave than looking forward, but it’s no bad thing to have just one retro track, and as a history lesson it’s excellent.

Somewhere in Time can sometimes feel a little forgotten as it comes after Powerslave and Live After Death, before Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, and no live video was made of this tour, but it has some amazing songs that are still live favourites and shows some real progression in Maiden’s sound and the flourishing of Adrian Smith’s songwriting. Wasted Years also featured Reach Out as a b-side with Adrian Smith on lead vocals.

Next time… a concept album? It must be madness.

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Iron Maiden: Powerslave review

I think Powerslave is arguably Iron Maiden’s most consistent album. Aces High is an incredible opening track with gorgeous guitar harmonies and soaring vocals, leading into 2 Minutes to Midnight, a Smith/Dickinson composition, and one of the band’s very best tracks, particularly when it comes to the lyrics, dealing with the Cold War, the arms race and the threat of nuclear conflict. The next track is Losfer Words (Big ‘Orra), an instrumental track, which lifts the mood of the album after the dark themes of the previous track, and there’s so much good stuff going on in the music that it doesn’t become self-indulgent. Flash of the Blade is a Dickinson composition with sword fighting as its theme. It has a hypnotic riff, exquisite guitar harmonies and a great chorus. The Duellists is a Harris-penned track. The notes in the chorus are so high that Bruce sounds a bit like Michael Kiske in late 80s Helloween. It’s a pretty solid track with a lovely bluesy Smith guitar solo and Smith/Murray trademark guitar harmonies. Back in the Village is another Smith/Dickinson track with a terrific, fast bluesy riff and a gorgeous middle eight. The guitar harmonies on this track, and throughout the whole album, are amazing. The title track is a Dickinson masterpiece, with its Egyptian theme, expressive vocals, multiple time changes and beautiful guitar work. The final track is the incredible Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Thirteen minutes of prog metal wonderment. The whole band excel themselves on this masterpiece, written by Steve Harris. I don’t think it’s easy to find any real weak points on this album. It really is one of their absolute best and the quality of the songs is strong and consistent throughout.

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Iron Maiden: Piece of Mind review

Beginning with a flurry of drums, Piece of Mind introduces the new member of the family: Nicko McBrain, former drummer with Trust, now Maiden powerhouse. Where Eagles Dare is an elaborate, progressive, opening track. Then the first official Bruce Dickinson songwriting masterpiece, Revelations. Borrowing from G.K. Chesterton for its opening is never a bad thing when it comes to Maiden. Epic riffs, great time changes, melancholy lyrics, make for a Maiden classic. Flight of Icarus was a Smith/Dickinson classic, forcefully sticking to its steady pace, despite Steve wanting a more brisk tempo. It’s often the unusual that stands out, and this was no exception, as Bruce and Adrian embarked on a fruitful collaborative partnership that endures to this day. Die With Your Boots On saw Maiden’s three principal songwriters (Steve/Bruce/Adrian) embarking on a pretty good track. Good chorus and plenty of variety, but its only downfall is being followed by The Trooper, a solid gold classic written by Steve. A mainstay of the band’s live set, it features the classic Maiden galloping tempo, screaming vocals and fantastic guitar solos from Dave and Adrian. Still Life was written by Dave and Steve and offers a nice change of pace, with a gentle beginning which picks up, with its tale of nightmares, a recurring theme in Steve’s lyrics. Excellent solos by both guitarists really lift this track. Quest for Fire is awful. Fortunately it’s only 3:42 long. Sun and Steel is another Bruce/Adrian track and is another galloper with a great chorus. To Tame A Land is the final track, written by Steve, and about Frank Herbert’s Dune stories. It’s a pretty lame way to finish a good album, but when you’ve got an album with The Trooper and Revelations on it, you don’t have a lot to worry about. But what’s this? A ticket to ancient Egypt? Sounds good to me.

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Gumbrich – a short story


Gumbrich – The Scariest Monster of All

A short story Paul Carden

Gumbrich lived in an old ruined tower on top of a hill overlooking the village of Spidgewell. He was employed by the Guild of Baddies to be the town monster but unfortunately he wasn’t very good at it.  With pointy teeth, pointy ears and green skin he certainly looked the part, but when it came to scaring and terrorising the villagers he just wasn’t up to the job.  Instead of frightening old ladies he would usually end up helping them home with their shopping, instead of scaring children he would usually end up playing in goal in their football games, and instead of causing people to be too afraid to venture out after dark he would go around lighting the street lamps for them as he was quite tall and could reach the lamps easier.  Basically, Gumbrich was not very good at being bad.

The Guild of Baddies were not at all happy with his work and Gumbrich was regularly warned that if he didn’t shape up and start terrorising people they would find another monster to replace him.  Gumbrich liked living in Spidgewell and the villagers liked him so he didn’t want to be replaced.  After many years the Guild gave him a final warning, their executive committee would visit Spidgewell on Halloween, the scariest night of the year, and if they found the villagers were not as terrified as they should be then Gumbrich would be sacked.

Gumbrich was terribly worried.  He wanted to stay in Spidgewell but didn’t want to have to scare his friends in the village.  When he didn’t turn up to play in goal at the children’s football game they became worried and wondered if anything was wrong.  A group of the children decided to go up to his tower to find out if he was okay.  When they arrived they found that he was terribly worried about what would happen when the committee from the Guild of Baddies arrived for their inspection on Halloween.  None of the children wanted Gumbrich to have to leave so they decided to hatch a plan to save him from being replaced.

The children assured Gumbrich that everything would be okay and went back to the village to tell their parents their plan.  They would decorate their houses in such a way as to make the usually jolly and quaint village of Spidgewell look bleak and scary with fake cobwebs, jack o’ lanterns, rubber rats and all manner of spooky decorations.  Also, instead of the usual smiling villagers, they would dress up as ghosts and monsters in order to fool the committee from the League of Baddies into thinking that all the villagers had been driven away because they were all too afraid of Gumbrich.

When the committee arrived they were overjoyed to see such a bleak, sinister place and when they saw it was now only inhabited by ghosts and beasties they congratulated Gumbrich on his excellent work.  In fact they were so impressed that they apologised for ever doubting him.

After the committee had gone, the villagers told Gumbrich that they had all enjoyed dressing up and decorating their houses so much that they had decided to do it every year on Halloween, and at the next meeting of the Guild of Baddies the executive committee declared Gumbrich to be the scariest monster of all.

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Finn Can Fly – a short story


Finn Can Fly

A short story by Paul Carden

Finn had often dreamed that he could fly.  He would dream that he could just spread his arms wide and he would float up into the air and fly around inside his dream wherever he liked.  He sometimes drew pictures of the places he had flown to in his dreams and showed them to his mum.  She thought it was wonderful that he could dream such fantastic things.

But one Saturday morning Finn’s mum got an incredible surprise when she came to wake him up, because Finn was floating a metre above his mattress while he was still fast asleep.  Finn’s mum was astonished and whispered quietly in order to wake him without startling him.  Finn slowly opened his eyes as his mum called to him.  He knew something was wrong straight away and started to panic but his mum asked him to try to think himself down gently like he did in his dreams.  Once Finn was back on the ground he was very excited.  He quickly washed and dressed and came down to breakfast where his mum was anxious to discuss what to do.  Finn was full of plans to fly to all the fantastic places he had been to in his dreams, like the Pyramids, the Statue of Liberty and the Taj Mahal, but his mum suggested that it would be safer if he didn’t fly so far to start off with in case he got lost, so first of all Finn, with his mum watching, flew to the park and back.  After this was a success he flew to the shops and back.

Finn was now really excited but his mum was still worried about him travelling too far in case he lost his way, so she came up with the idea of mowing a large X on the lawn so that when Finn was flying overhead he would always be able to see where home was.  Finn rushed upstairs to get a book about things to see in Britain and put it in his rucksack so that he would be able to find all the places he wanted to see, and, after his mum had made him a packed lunch, he spread his arms wide and rose gently into the air.  He checked his dad’s old compass to make sure he knew which direction to go, and flew off through the clear summer sky.

First of all Finn flew over London and saw Canary Wharf, St Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.  After that he flew to Dover to see the white cliffs.  He then flew west to see the sunny coasts of Devon and Cornwall.  Then Finn headed north to see Snowdonia in Wales and then up to Scotland to see Ben Nevis and Loch Lomond.  On his way back through England he saw the Angel of the North and after a full day of sight-seeing he decided to head home.

Just as he was flying towards his home town a passenger jet roared past him and sent him into an uncontrollable spin.  Finn could see the lawn with the X that his mum had mown onto it so that he would be able to find his way back, but he was out of control and falling fast.  He thought he saw his mum run out into the back garden as he tumbled towards the ground.

When Finn woke up he was in his bed.  His mum came and asked him what he would like for breakfast and he asked her what had happened when he had landed.  His mum didn’t seem to know what he was talking about so he explained everything that had happened to him when he had flown off around the country and then lost control and fallen towards the garden, but his mum told him it must have been a dream.  Finn jumped out of bed and rushed to the window but he couldn’t see an X mown into the lawn.  He sighed with disappointment but then told his mum that he was actually glad it had been a dream because flying had been far too dangerous.

As his mum went downstairs to make his breakfast Finn decided that he would draw some pictures of where he had been in his dream, but he couldn’t help feeling that, before he had woken up, he had heard the sound of a lawnmower.

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Iron Maiden: The Number of the Beast review

The Number of the Beast was Iron Maiden’s breakthrough album. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith’s guitar harmonies were in place and Adrian had started contributing really strong songs. The band had also poached singer Bruce Dickinson from Samson with his extraordinary stage presence and incredible voice. The next piece of the puzzle for this album was that Steve was about to write some of his greatest songs.

Listening to the opening track, Invaders, it’s not as bad as I remember it, but the chorus is terrible. Children of the Damned follows and the songwriting goes to another level. An epic sounding track, albeit only 4:36 long, that starts slowly, building to a powerful chorus, and then to the time change as it races to the finish, with a final piercing scream from Bruce Dickinson. The Prisoner is one of my favourites, with its spoken opening, included with Patrick McGoohan’s permission. The song has one of Maiden’s greatest, most uplifting choruses, and a brilliant middle section where Adrian and Dave trade brilliant guitar solos. 22 Acacia Avenue continues the story of Charlotte the Harlot. Despite the lyrics by Steve, which haven’t aged well, this is another great Adrian track with cool time changes, awesome riffs and a lovely soulful guitar solo in the slower section. The title track begins with its famous spoken intro by Barry Clayton. This is obviously one of Maiden’s greatest songs and has featured in their live set ever since. For many years during Adrian’s guitar solo Bruce would lift Dave up on his shoulders and run around the stage with him, which was a great surprise to Dave the first time it happened. Run to the Hills follows, another of the band’s greatest songs with a brilliant chorus and the famous galloping rhythm which was to also feature in some of the band’s future songs. Bruce’s final scream is also extraordinary. Gangland features some great drumming by Clive Burr and has a nice instrumental section with the twin guitars playing some lovely harmonies, but the track suffers from being surrounded by some of Maiden’s greatest ever songs. Total Eclipse did not feature on the original album as it was the b-side of the Run to the Hills single, but it was included on the 1998 re-issue. It’s not bad, despite the section near the end where the vocals go wierdly high, but it ends up feeling like an unnecessary obstacle in getting to one of Maiden’s greatest songs of all. Hallowed be thy Name is the band’s first genuine epic, clocking in at 7:15. This is another track the band has to play in every live set. Steve Harris has long regarded it as one of the very best songs he’s written. The music is full of drama, brilliant time changes and blistering guitar solos.

Looking at the tracklisting, it’s easy to see why TNOTB is regarded as one of Maiden’s very best albums. With the title track, Run to the Hills, Children of the Damned, The Prisoner and Hallowed be thy Name being some of the band’s very best songs, and with Bruce Dickinson in place as the new singer, this was the album which broke band worldwide. Next, we meet Sooty’s best mate.

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