Tag Archives: Featured

Lonely Robot, Touchstone and Ghost Community for Trinity 2

Trinity Live 2 Poster

After the success of Trinity Live in 2014, the all-day progressive rock charity show at Leamington Assembly, they’re doing it again. This year’s bash wil feature Ghost Community, Touchstone and Lonely Robot, with more acts to be announced.

“It is with great pride and excitement we can announce, in association with Prog! magazine that Trinity will be back with a bang on Saturday 27thMay 2017. Put the date in your diaries folks and get ready to rock in support of some fantastic causes!

The venue will again be The Assembly in Leamington Spa. We have the lineup complete and we have many special events going on throughout the day. The day will be split in to 3 parts – the afternoon session, the evening session and the after show.

We are also delighted to announce that the headline act will be the amazing Lonely Robot. This is an exclusive as it will be first public performance of the all new, yet to be released, Lonely Robot II album. As many of you know, their performance in London in December 2015 was a sell out and featured a fantastic stage show. This full production will also be brought to the Trinity stage. To top it off, we can also announce that Touchstone and Ghost Community, will be part of the evening session. Three rocking bands to get you dancing in the aisles.
The afternoon bands will be announced very soon. The after show party will have a very special guest live performance plus one of Jerry Ewing’s infamous DJ sets. A fantastic way to end a fantastic day with the bands and the organisers! Jerry will have you bouncing around that dance floor, we promise.

With your amazing support, the first Trinity show enabled the organisers to donate £12,000 amongst three cancer charities, and next year we want to smash that figure out of the ball park. Each and everyone of us has been exposed to someone who has dealt with cancer so let’s pull together and help raise some serious money to allow amazing organisations to fight this vile disease.

Get them while they’re hot and please, let’s light up social media and make this an event that will shine brightly for years to come and which will continue to raise more money, every year it takes place. Through music, through love, through adversity, together we can all make a real different”

It it’s anything like as good as the last one, this will be a show well worth seeing. And it’s all in a good cause.

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President Trump represents the failure of the Liberal Left

Trump’s victory is America’s Brexit. A victory for narrow-minded populism. Again, even though not everyone who voted for Trump is a racist bigot, every knuckle-dragging racist idiot believes half the country agree with them, and minorities will pay a bitter price for the swagger in their step.

But just like Brexit it was an avoidable tragedy caused by a complacent liberal establishment out of touch with significant parts of their own nation.

When The Guardian and rightwing Sad Puppy author Brad Torgersen are in agreement, something is happening.

Here’s Thomas Frank writing in The Guardian

What we need to focus on now is the obvious question: what the hell went wrong? What species of cluelessness guided our Democratic leaders as they went about losing what they told us was the most important election of our lifetimes?

Start at the top. Why, oh why, did it have to be Hillary Clinton? Yes, she has an impressive resume; yes, she worked hard on the campaign trail. But she was exactly the wrong candidate for this angry, populist moment. An insider when the country was screaming for an outsider. A technocrat who offered fine-tuning when the country wanted to take a sledgehammer to the machine.

She was the Democratic candidate because it was her turn and because a Clinton victory would have moved every Democrat in Washington up a notch. Whether or not she would win was always a secondary matter, something that was taken for granted. Had winning been the party’s number one concern, several more suitable candidates were ready to go. There was Joe Biden, with his powerful plainspoken style, and there was Bernie Sanders, an inspiring and largely scandal-free figure. Each of them would probably have beaten Trump, but neither of them would really have served the interests of the party insiders.

We’ve had months of Hillary supporters endless repeating the mantra that if you don’t love Hillary it’s because you’ve sexist. And it didn’t work. Hillary Clinton did not lose purely because she was a woman.

The roots of Trump’s victory lie in the dirty way in which the Clinton campaign fought Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primaries. All those lies and smears painting him and his supporters as misogynists. Those malicuously dishonest hit-pieces by toxic ideologues railing at the “Bernie Bros” who never actually existed.

We’re about to endure a fightening four years, but it’s four years in which to build a movement to defeat Trump or his successor in 2020. Perhaps we should take comfort in these words from Stephen Tall written a few days before the election?

I remember how important the 2004 Bush-Kerry election seemed at the time. Here, after all, was a chance for America to deliver a slap-down to its neo-con president. Matthew Parris wrote a typically shrewd article arguing that a second Bush win was the best outcome, that his ideas had to be allowed to reach their logical, failed conclusion so that voters could see they’d been tested to destruction. Indeed, his victory set up Obama’s in 2008. I say that to console myself in case Trump wins. Sometimes bad things happen for a reason (or, more rationally, Good Things follow Bad Things because reversion to the mean). Besides if we think the 2016 election has been gruesome, think how much worse 2020 might be. Chances are Hillary will be a one-term president. Chances are, if she wins tomorrow, the presidency will revert to the Republicans after 12 years of Democrat incumbency. Then imagine a Trump with some self-control, a Trump capable of pivoting, a Trump who understands how to organise a campaign. And then keep your fingers crossed a Republican emerges who can put Trump’s proto-fascism back in its box.

He may be optimistic, and may be underestimating the harm four years of Trump might do. But the only rational response to electoral defeat must be to begin the work of winning the next one.

And if the tide of right-wing populism is to be rolled back, the liberal-left needs a compelling alternative vision. At the moment, it has none, and that’s a massive part of the problem.

Posted in Religion and Politics | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Great Western Electrification Woes

gwr-800The Great Western Electrification project has been going badly off the rails for a long time, running massively late with knock-on effects on subsequent electrification projects such as the Midland Main Line.

Now several sections are being deferred:

We have been clear that there have been difficulties with this programme. These were set out last year in the review of Network Rail’s delivery plan by Sir Peter Hendy. Following the re-planning of work that followed this review, the programme has been placed on a more efficient footing. A key part of this is the ongoing assessment of investment decisions so that passengers and taxpayers get maximum value.

As a result of this scrutiny from the Hendy review I have decided to defer 4 electrification projects that are part of the programme of work along the Great Western route. The 4 projects being deferred are:

  • electrification between Oxford and Didcot Parkway
  • electrification of Filton Bank (Bristol Parkway to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification west of Thingley Junction (Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads)
  • electrification of Thames Valley Branches (Henley & Windsor)

This is because we can bring in the benefits expected by passengers – newer trains with more capacity – without requiring costly and disruptive electrification works. This will provide between £146 million to £165 million in this spending period, to be focused on improvements that will deliver additional benefits to passengers. We remain committed to modernising the Great Western mainline and ensuring that passenger benefits are achieved.

This looks worse that it is. Since the new class 800 trains are bi-mode they can run on diesel power for the last few miles into Bristol. The one deferment that makes less sense is the Didcot-Oxford section, which would prevent the use of GWR’s new class 387 EMUs on Paddington-Oxford semi-fasts. Will these trains terminate at Didcot with a DMU shuttle to Oxford in the interim?

The reasons for the delays in the Great Western electrification are many, but the biggest has got to be the fact that there hasn’t been a major main line electrification project in Britain for a generation, and the knowledge base has been lost. The people who managed the East Coast Main Line electrification in the late 1980s have long retired.

Commenter “Phil-b259″ on RMWeb (There are an awful lot of knowledgable people on that forum) lays out some of the reasons why the project has run into so many difficulties:

  • NR having hardly any experience in undertaking electrification projects thanks to Governments of all colours not undertaking any such schemes since privatisation.
  • NR not having key historic data due to much if it being thrown out as ‘not needed’ by Railtrack and the IMCs who were supposed to manage the infrastructure in the years immediately after privatisation.
  • NR making lots of mistakes (sometimes repeatedly) as it tries to re- learn all the skills necessary or rebuild its route knowledge to overcome (1) and (2)
  • The fact that most of the work all has to be contracted out leading to extra interfaces and potential sources for delay / dispute compared to 30 years ago when the work was all done ‘in house’
  • Poor project management on the part of NR and the seeming inability to get on top of things – though this again is in part due to the sheer size of the project.
  • Health and Safety regs having got tougher since the late 1980s with knock on effects on costs and what can be achieved in any given possession, etc.
  • The various big railway contractors (e.g. Balfour Beatty) having no recent experience of electrification work in the UK – for the same reasons as NR, i.e. a lack of Government action for over 20 years.
  • The Government dumping several big electrification schemes on NR within the space of six months and not taking into account its lack of action in the previous 20 years.
  • The Government pushing ahead with train procurement themselves resulting in the most expensive to lease in the Uk trains being delivered before the wires will be ready for them.

Is anyone else getting flashbacks to the 1955 Modernisation Plan?

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Cult heroes: Mostly Autumn

gu-mostly-autumnMy “Cult Heroes” piece on Mostly Autumn is now published in The Guardian Music Blog.

It’s both a great honour and more than a bit scary to be asked to write about a favourite band for the online section of a national newspaper, especially when I’m on first name terms with many past and present members of the band. They have always had a few noisy detractors, mostly jealous fans of less successful acts. They also had some very defensive obsessives who used to take the mildest criticism as an personal attack on the band. There was always an outside chance of the comments turning ugly.

I wanted it to read authentically rather than something fanboyish, so I covered the downs as well as the ups; mentioning the mis-marketing during the Classic Rock Productions years as well as the wobbly period when Iain Jennings (briefly) left in 2006. But I hope those are balanced by more than enough strong positives.

With a word count of a thousand words give or take a hundred, there wasn’t room for everything I wanted to include. One thing I’d like to have said more about was the extended family of related bands in their orbit. That includes side-projects like Odin Dragonfly and Josh & Co, as well as separate creative projects by past and present members, such as The Heather Findlay Band, Halo Blind and Cloud Atlas. Or Breathing Space, the side project that took on a life of its own before being reabsorbed back into the mothership. They’re all part of the Mostly Autumn story, and they’re a part of what the fandom is about.

Posted in Music Opinion | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Poseidon’s Children

poseidons-children

Alastair Reynolds writes hard-SF space opera constrained by current understandings of physics. That means than in his worlds, there is no magical faster-then-light travel, so spacecraft must take many years to cross the gap between stars. This in turn makes interstellar travel a one-way trip, which has a big impact on the sorts of stories you can tell. I haven’t get read his most recent “Revenger”, but here are some thoughts on his recent Poseidon’s Children trilogy, comprising “Blue Remembered Earth”, “On The Steel Breeze” and “Poseidon’s Wake”.

The three novels cover a time span of hundreds of years, with the point-of-view characters from different generations of an extended wealthy Kenyan family, the matriarch Eunice Akinya playing a central role across the whole saga despite being dead at the beginning of the first book.

With each volume, Reynolds turns up the scale. The first book, “Blue Remembered Earth” is part mystery, part family drama, taking place on Earth and all over the solar system. It’s the 2160s, Earth has been through some turbulent times and come out of the other side with nations like Kenya and India as major powers, and the Kenyan Akinya family has grown rich out of space exploration.

By the time of “On The Steel Breeze”, a fleet of generation ships made from hollowed-out asteroids is en-route to a planet orbiting a nearby star, where telescopes in the solar system have detected the presence of enigmatic alien structures. The action shifts between the generation ships and the solar system, as it slowly becomes apparent that things are not what they seem, and somebody or something wants the mission to fail.

In the final volume, “Poseidon’s Wake” a successful colony has been established on that distant planet, and an inscrutable alien machine intelligence has entered the picture. After early events on the colony world, on Mars and on Earth, the focus shifts to a third star system which might provide the key to the mysteries of those enigmatic ancient structures. Multiple factions, not all of them human, struggle over how or whether to interact with them.

Some themes recur from his earlier “Revelation Space” saga; in particular the Fermi Paradox and the Great Filter, machine intelligences, generic engineering, and uplifted sentient animals. But where that earlier series was dark and gothic, the mood here is far brighter and more optimistic. Dealing with ancient and very alien machine intelligences is still highly dangerous, but the backdrop of Lovecraftian doom of that earlier saga is absent.

The believable future politics is another strong point. The politically-motivated minor villains aren’t the thinly-disguised caricatures of Tories, Communists, Republicans or Democrats typical of lesser authors. Instead they’re the result of far-future political faultlines in a world as far away from ours as we are from the high middle ages.

With this trilogy in particular, Reynolds is successful in combining an old-school Campbellian sense of wonder with well-realised three-dimensional characters. While it’s a long way from swashbuckling pulp there are some gripping action sequences and more than one supporting character dies in a seemingly futile and avoidable way. The result is something that’s old-fashioned in one respect and modern in another.

At a time when the world of SF seems divided into two warring camps, one championing socially aware work with ambitions towards literature, the other rooting for entertaining action adventure, Reynolds stands with a foot in both camps. It’s precisely the sort of thing that ought to be nominated more often for major SF awards.

Posted in Science Fiction | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Mostly Autumn – Ten of the Best

Heather Findlay and Olivia Sparnenn at Gloucester Guildhall in 2009

Another Ten of the Best for a band which have featured a lot on this blog ever since the beginning.

As you should have come to expect by now, this is ten of the best, not the “ten best”, and omits some of most the obvious standards in favour some of the overlooked diamonds in the back catalogue.

Continue reading

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Touchstone announce Lights From The Sky EP

touchstone-lights-from-the-skyTouchstone announce their new EP “Lights From The Sky”, released on November 28, and available for pre-order now from The Merch Desk.

Starting a new chapter in the band’s story, this will be their first release to feature new vocalist Aggie Figurska and keyboard player Liam Holmes, and its four tracks include both English and Polish language versions of the title track.

And here”s a very brief teaser for the EP

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Heather Findlay postpones tour, but announces new album

i-am-snow

Two pieces of news from Heather Findlay, one very exciting, the other a ittle disappointng.

To get the bad news out of the way first, the next run of full-band gigs, including the show at Maltby and the four gigs next month in The Netherlands are postponed until next year due to illness. The acoustic shows in support of Touchstone in December and the Christmas gig in York are still going ahead.

To quote Heather herself

Unfortunately, due to doctor’s orders because of illness, I have been advised not to travel and to rest for the next couple of months which means we have to postpone all current plans for the shows beginning this weekend and throughout November. I can only express my sincere apologies to those that will be let down as a result.

All of these shows will be moved to 2017 and all tickets will be either honoured at the rescheduled shows, or fully refunded. This has been a very tough decision to make at this time and although fortunately it is not a hugely drastic or threatening health concern, it is one I have to take seriously to ensure I can continue to reach you in tip top condition!

In far more positive news, Heather has a new album coming out. “I Am Snow” is due for release in late November. It’s a mixture of re-worked songs from across her back catalogue and brand new material, and celebrates the folky, proggy side of her music. It features a cover by Richard Nagy, who did the artwork for Mostly Autumn’s “Glass Shadows”.

Heather describes the album as a “candle-lit, baroque-tinged companion for the winter month’s ahead“. It includes a cover of Fotheringay’s “Winter Winds”, and a “chamber-esque, harp-spangled” version of one song from Ayreon’s prog-opera “The Human Equation”.

Full details will be revealed on Heather’s website over the weekend, and The Merch Desk will be taking pre-orders from November 1st

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Riverside – Eye of the Soundscape

riverside-eye-of-the-soundscape Riverside are not only one of the best bands to come out of Poland, but they’re in the vanguard of the modern progressive rock scene, picking up the torch from Porcupine Tree when Steven Wilson put his band on hold and took off in a different direction. The tragic and sudden death of guitarist Piotr Grudziński in February put the future of the band in doubt, but band leader Mariusz Duda has since stated their intention to continue as a trio.

Released as a tribute to Piotr Grudziński, “Eye of the Soundscape” is something of a departure from the song-focussed rock of Riverside’s recent albums, taking the form of 100 minutes of ambient electronica. It’s actually a compilation, combining material previously released as bonus tracks on earlier albums with a couple of remixes of older songs, and some completely new tracks that were works in progress at the time of Piotr’s untimely death.

It’s not completely instrumental, as there’s an occasional ghostly vocal. Nor is it completely electronic; though not as prominent as on earlier albums there’s still room for some of the late Piotr Grudzień distinctive fluid guitar on a few tracks.

The album begins with the icy minimalism of “Sleepwalkers”, the sort of thing that might have caused a lot of excitement had it been made by a fashionable DJ rather than by a bunch of Polish prog-rockers. “Shine”, another new track, has more of a Riverside feel even though loops take prominence over guitars.

The shimmering arpeggios of “Where The River Flows” and the electronic pulse of “Night Sessions part 1″ with its lead synth line and spooky background guitars recall mid-70s Tangerine Dream. “Night Sessions part 2″ even features some evocative mournful sax, and the album ends with eleven minutes of ghostly ambient soundscape of the title track.

It all amounts to very different record from “Shrine of the New Generation Slaves” and “Love. Fear and The Time Machine”, at times referencing Tangerine Dream in the same way as some of their earlier work recalled Porcupine Tree. But it’s always their own take on things, never a derivative pastiche, and there are plenty of reminders that there always was an electronica side to their music. It will be very interesting to see where they go next.

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The Literary Origins of RPGs

Interesting post on Jeffro’s Space Gaming Blog on how the first generation of roleplaying games from the late 1970s weren’t influenced by the ackowleged greats of the golden age of science fiction such as Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein or Arthur C Clarke, but by a host of less well-know authors, many of which are long out of print.

If you take some time to read what the early rpg designers had read, you will see that they almost compulsively lifted material from pulp and new wave writers. The most surprising thing about this is the extent to which they passed over the grand masters of Campbellian science fiction. The authors that are synonymous with the field seemed to hold not one iota of attraction or influence to them. Mike Mearls thinks almost entirely in terms of television and movies. These things had a negligible impact on the first wave of rpg designers. For them it was short stories and novellas and short novels from dozens of authors that were primary. There was no “big three” for them: they read everything they could get their hands on.

He makes the valid point that Asimov, Heinlein and Clarke wrote serious stories about big ideas, which don’t translate well into roleplaying settings or scenarios. Meanwhile it was the lowbrow pulpy action-adventures that inspired Gary Gygaz and Marc Miller to create D&D and Traveller. In particular he cites Jack Vance as a huge influence on both.

Where, I wonder, does H. P. Lovecraft fit in? He was surely a pulp writer, and his work inspired what has to be the most successful licenced RPG of all time. How much has the Call of Cthulhu game contributed towards Lovecraft’s status as a cult author? I can’t be the only person who came to his fiction through the game.

Today’s generation of RPG designers get their ideas more from film and television than from books, with some games designed around the tropes and beats of a typical television episode, and combat systems designed to reproduce the fight scenes from action movies. As D&D line editor Mike Mearls says to Polygon.

“If you look at science fiction follows, I think an arc that fantasy is following now. In the 50’s, science fiction was very iconic, and at least in movies, very much templated. You had the flying saucer, or the rocket ship, you had either the aliens who were clearly monsters — like the guy in the deep sea diving helmet wearing the gorilla coming to eat people or whatever. Or they were people in funny outfits who were very inscrutable and so much more advanced that we were, and that was your pantheon.”

Later, as science fiction entered the ‘60s and the ‘70s, it began to be entrusted with more serious themes and dealt with issues of change in modern culture as a whole.

“So you have this new wave of science fiction coming through and science fiction grows up,” Mearls said. “It became Alien — a horror movie in outer space. It becomes Soylent Green, which is kind of like this social commentary on science fiction. It’s Rollerball, right? This entire thing about what’s it really mean to have free will, and can there really be freedom in a technological society? But it’s still science fiction.”

Barely a mention of books at all. Is this because the current generation of gamers read fewer books and watch more telly? Or is it because literary SF and fantasy have moved away from the sort of pulpy action-adventure that makes a good RPG in favour of more weighty topics, and the action-adventure genre in turn has switched to other media?

Posted in Games, Science Fiction | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments