Wednesday, 19 September 2018

NFL 2018 - Week 3 Preview

By the end of Week 2 there are some events becoming more set in stone; this occurs because teams maintain a week 1 performance level or they have a drop off because they may be on the road or suffering from home debut nerves. Other people maintain performance and still we are surprised - those that we are surprised by are Ryan Fitzpatrick and Patrick Mahomes; Mahomes has started his career with three road games and three road wins.

On Sunday in Pittsburgh, he showed no nerves as he threw for 6 touchdowns and no turnovers as the Chiefs gained their second win of the season; they are tied with the Broncos who defeated the Raiders at home. The Chiefs are in better shape and more impressive as they opened on the road while Denver have had the comfort of Mile High.

Cleveland still cannot catch a break; they lose by three points in New Orleans with new field goal kicker missing two extra points and two field goals. A team that cannot win, will always find a new way to lose.

Jacksonville are not going away and neither is Blake Bortles - he shouldered responsibility with Leonard Fournette hamstrung - throwing for four touchdowns as the Patriots questionable defence cost them again. Early days in the season but the Pats are behind the Dolphins for East supremacy but no shame in losing to a genuine contender in the AFC but may count come playoffs and home field advantage.

Week 3 Preview
Thursday Night
New York Jets (1-1) at Cleveland Browns (0-1-1)
A team that conspires its own downfall play a team that came back down to earth. Tyrod Taylor again played badly but he will probably get the start due to quick turnaround, while Sam Darnold threw for over 300 yards but two interceptions proved costly as the early scores came from costly turnovers. Miami did not have do much to gain the victory. The Jets may have a few more weapons but can the Browns get it together, we hope.
Prediction: Browns by 2

New Orleans Saints (1-1) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)
The NFC South is going to be the toughest division this year, three good teams anyway but one team exceeding expectation. The Saints got over the line versus Cleveland though they the reliance on Kamara is proving them to be one-dimensional. The Falcons bounced back at home to Carolina, and they are a different beast in the Mercedes-Benz stadium seemingly. The Falcons have a greater balance on both sides while the Saints look for an answer before Ingram returns.
Prediction: Falcons by 7

San Francisco 49ers (1-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-0)
The Chiefs finally get home to Arrowhead and the atmosphere will be electric, the 49ers will be buoyant after their first victory of the season however they are going up against a rampant KC offense led by the lights out Patrick Mahomes who had six touchdowns and no turnovers on the day in Pittsburgh. The defence is giving up numbers though so it will again be a 60 point game probably, but does JimmyG have the firepower to contend with Tyreek Hill and company.
Prediction: Chiefs by 10

Oakland Raiders (0-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-0)
The Dolphins have quietly gone under the radar gaining two wins to lead the division, and they face the woeful Raiders at home who have to travel from coast to coast. Although they showed improvement and lost only by one point, you feel the chance was gone and this will be a tough trip for them. Miami though have an efficiency and force turnovers that result in points; facing a mistake prone Oakland side that could be a match made in heaven.
Prediction: Dolphins by 3

Buffalo Bills (0-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-0-1)
The Vikings have a lot going for them, but for a questionable roughing the passer call they may have lost to Green Bay; while the Bills were again abysmal versus the Chargers. Josh Allen is starting for Buffalo and he showed promise but he has no talent outside and if LeSean McCoy cannot get running room there is little chance for productivity. The Vikings defence will be too strong for the Bills
Prediction: Vikings by 9

Indianapolis Colts (1-1) at Philadelphia Eagles (1-1)
Andrew Luck is an inspiring figure gaining his first win since his return usurping Alex Smith and the Washington franchise who stutter despite the good efforts of Chris Thompson. The Eagles meanwhile, got thrashed by the Bucs and Fitzpatrick who showed up their questionable secondary. The Colts have one great receiver and the Eagles did well against one great WR such as Julio Jones, the problem was against a squadron of WR. The Eagles may have Carson Wentz back which would be interesting to see, and they may have enough.
Prediction: Eagles by 6

Green Bay Packers (1-1-0) at Washington Redskins (1-1)
The Packers have Aaron Rodgers who is nursing himself through a knee injury, this may be the toughest game to pick as the Packers have a questionable secondary which Washington may exploit. Alex Smith has the skills to manage this game, while the Packers still need to find their offensive identity despite having a great quarterback.
Prediction: Washington by 3

Cincinnati Bengals (2-0) at Carolina Panthers (1-1)
This should be a great contest, the Bengals came out firing against the Ravens and shot out to a huge lead that they never gave up. The Panthers will be licking their wounds after losing in Atlanta, but McCaffrey got a huge amount of yardage and can Carolina get to Dalton enough to force mistakes.
Prediction: Panthers by 4

Tennessee Titans (1-1) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-0)
The Jaguars are for real, despite the injury to Leonard Fournette, Blake Bortles had the keys to the cars and drove through New England with reckless abandon, Keenan Cole had a huge day with great runs supplemented by Ryan Grant. Bortles was able to find receivers open anywhere on the field. The Titans got a good game out of Blaine Gabbert but can imagine Sacksonville having a field day here.
Prediction: Jaguars by 7

Denver Broncos (2-0) at Baltimore Ravens (1-1)
Another good even contest, the Ravens will be in need of a reaction following the woeful submission to the Bengals on Thursday night. The Broncos rode their luck at home to Oakland but they have a perfect record. Again though the big travel across country may count against them, the Ravens though face a formidable defensive line while Keenum has shown great poise under duress. A field goal to split them here.
Prediction: Ravens by 3

New York Giants (0-2) at Houston Texans (0-2)
One team will get a win, unless we have our third consecutive tie, and for all the promise and talent on display in the Big Apple there is a real worry that the Giants may be looking at a terrible September; is Eli Manning just past it now? The Texans have a home game opener and they showed promise but need to find better protection for Deshaun Watson who nevertheless threw to both DeAndre Hopkins and Will Fuller for over 100 yards each. The Texans may have enough, while the Giants are merely treading water.
Prediction: Texans by 6

Los Angeles Chargers (1-1) at Los Angles Rams (2-0)
The Battle for LA - but the Rams are appearing to be the most complete team in the NFL, they brushed aside the Arizona Cardianls 34-0, Todd Gurley ripped them up and the defence swallowed up Sam Bradford. Goff is executing McVay's game plan with little fuss and you cannot see anything but a Rams victory here. The prediction may seem harsh but this due partly to Rivers prone to errors be it fumbles or interceptions.
Prediction: Rams by 10

Chicago Bears (1-1) at Arizona Cardinals (0-2)
This Bears defence is frightening, they looked good admittedly against a poor O-line of Seattle which necessitated to Russell Wilson having kittens; yet it is Trubizky doing enough when required either with passes or on his feet. There is a nice balance in Chicago which may come to greater fruition, and this defence against a weak Cardinals side may eat up more sacks again on the road.
Prediction: Bears by 6

Dallas Cowboys (1-1) at Seattle Seahawks (0-2)
A few seasons ago this would have been a prime time fixture, now it is two franchises in a state of flux and flabbergast. A one-dimensional Dallas side reliant upon a running back due to the lack of receivers against a Seahawks side who still have defenders to make plays. Can Seattle get to Dak enough, does Dallas have enough pressure to force Russell to get out of his comfort zone with Doug Baldwin still sidelined. Feel the Seahawks will sneak this one in an ugly contest.
Prediction: Seahawks by 3

New England Patriots (1-1) at Detroit Lions (0-2)
The Patriots have a questionable defence, they leave receivers wide open and cannot get pressure up front on third downs to force mistakes from the relevant quarterback; they face a good quarterback with receivers but their old defensive co-ordinator Matt Patricia who has not had a good start to his head coaching career. The Patriots should have enough to overcome this defence and the importance of having match ups and fooling the Lions is key, would like to see more of James White.  The Patriots got outplayed and even Brady cannot overcome that defence and scoreline.
Prediction: Patriots by 7

Monday Night Football
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-1-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-0)
It is strange how schedulers are sometimes laughed at, and yet happen stance or good fortune results in hot properties getting their due attention. The Buccaneers have turned some heads with a road win in the opener in the Superdome followed by a defeat at home of the Superbowl champions, Philadelphia Eagles. Thanks in no small part to the resurgent Ryan Fitzpatrick, with 8 touchdowns in two games, but a defence that is swallowing up offensive lines. This is the last game of Jameis Winston's suspension, meaning the Bucs will have a huge decision to make. Fitzpatrick has made great start to seasons before and tailed off, but he gives a level of dependency you will not ordinarily get from Winston with fewer turnovers. Plus the explosive nature of three wide receivers gives them a match up nightmare for any defence, and facing a Steelers secondary that gives up big plays after big plays - can you see anything but the continuing Fitzmagic spell?
Prediction: Bucs by 8

Fantasy Advice
- Austin Ekeler (LAC, RB) - has to share workload with Melvin Gordon for carries but outrushed Gordon who was used more in screens, had 98 total yards on Sunday in Buffalo. Will aim to get a TD this week albeit against the stellar Rams defence.
- Philip Lindsay (DEN, RB) does all the hard work - 107 yards off 14 carries but Royce Freeman got the TD. On the road at Baltimore that may alter this week.
- Philip Richardson (WAS, WR) - 63 yards off of four targets, they are at home to Green Bay and their questionable secondary. Ample opportunity there for big numbers.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Spirit of the Beehive 'hypnic jerks'

The Spirit of the Beehive release their third album, second with Tiny Engines label, and it is an album that is part dream and part consciousness - a piece of work that is at times blissful but angry.

Starting with odd audio samples, which drop in and out throughout the album, it gives the impression of an album that is very much of the now and the moment; but while the album lilts along with the electronica influence and dreamy soundscapes, the audio samples jolts you back to earth away from the synthesizers.

There are moments in this album that remind me of Kevin Shield's work with My Bloody Valentine and the Lost in Translation soundtrack which featured Shields, Air and Phoenix; that film felt very much as a dream for a fish out of water; this album is full of harmony and swooning.

Something came to mind when listening was that the electronica clashing with the guitars creating these moments of reverb made me think that this would be an album made by At the Drive-in if they had any semblance of romanticism or sentimentality.

There are moments though of beauty coupled with grim lyrics giving the impression of a fantasy dream pop, the subtext may be grim but on the exterior the album is light - such as 'd.o.u.b.l.e.u.r.o.n.g.' in contrast to the lighter 'fell asleep with a vision'; this juxtaposition much like Jim James' album Uniform Distortion this year the height of euphoria undercut by some sombre.

This is one of those albums that will be benefited by numerous listens to create a sonic soundscape which is unlikely anything you will likely hear this year.

As frontman of the quintet,  Zack Schwartz puts it, '(the album is) the state between wakefulness and sleep', and the band Spirit of the Beehive is awake loud and clear.

Another brilliant release from Tiny Engines, who I thank for the review opportunity and audio link.

hypnic jerks is released from Tiny Engines on 14th September


Directed by character actor John Carroll Lynch in his directorial debut, Lucky stars Harry Dean Stanton in the final role of his career before his death in late last year.

Lucky is a combative and cantankerous 90 year old atheist, who has out-smoked and out-lived his contemporaries and lives a happy life going from the coffee shop in the morning where he does his crossword to a bar at night where he listens to the same old stories.

'Lucky' is surrounded by equally memorable and quirky characters who admire his longevity; yet a brief fall leads Lucky on an unlikely journey of self-discovery and enlightenment towards self-exploration; these characters from David Lynch (in a rare acting role) and Tom Skerritt act like ghost of acting past from Stanton's career.

Carroll Lynch has worked with various luminaries of the cinema world from the Coen Brothers to Martin Scorsese to Clint Eastwood - and he embues the film with an unbusy camera, allowing the performer Stanton to be front and centre in an understated manner.

In another year, Stanton's performance would be lauded by awards and showered with praise on a farewell tour; however, his passing gives the film the polish it deserves as a film that stands as the lasting memory to his esteemed career.

Stanton's recognisable face acts like a blank canvas to which he exudes the story of a life lived to the full, its own special effect for which Carroll Lynch can craft a story worth telling, one lucky enough to stay with you thanks in no small part to the wonderous performance of Stanton.

Lucky is out from Eureka Entertainment on Friday 14th September at selected cinemas.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

NFL 2018 - Week 2 Preview

It has been a while since I have done an NFL piece, but I enjoy writing these preview pieces and following the absolutely insane Week 1 this first draft takes place before the Monday Night Football double-header.

Week 1 was crazy, road teams doing the business. Some teams that promised mediocrity exceeded themselves and were even worse (Bills), while a team that has been mediocre did not lose (Browns).  Some things remain true - Aaron Rodgers is the best QB in the league, Tyreek Hill is the most dynamic player right now, Julio Jones still cannot find the end zone and Russell Wilson still runs like a headless chicken avoiding sacks.

It was a pleasant welcome back to Andrew Luck and David Johnson; and perhaps Patrick Mahomes is the real deal while maybe some quarterbacks are in regression like Matthew Stafford

Thursday Night
Baltimore Ravens (1-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (1-0)
Crazy that we have a TNF in Week 2, perhaps they should bring in short weeks after the first bye week but the NFL demands a product and this should be a good inter-division clash as both sides look to build on a first week win following the tie between Pittsburgh and Cleveland.  Bengals should be favoured at home but the Ravens defence looked particularly strong and Dalton is prone to errors and pressure. This is a game that will be won in the trenches. Fancy the Ravens in this one.
Prediction: Ravens by 4

Carolina Panthers (1-0) at Atlanta Falcons (0-1)
The Panthers beat the Cowboys in opening day but was not convincing, while the Falcons were not firing on all cylinders versus Philly.  Matt Ryan is at risk of becoming the new Big Ben in terms of being better at home than on the road, the over-reliance of Julio Jones came to the fore again and freezing in the red zone cost them; despite their defence being strong. That will be key for them versus the versatile Cam Newton.  Feel the Falcons will iron out those weaknesses in home opener.
Prediction: Falcons by 3

Indianapolis Colts (0-1) at Washington Redskins (1-0)
Andrew Luck is back but a mixture of bad talent and bad luck cost him a comeback victory, while Washington led by Alex Smith were very professional on the road to Arizona.  That is the difference here I feel, Smith will marshal his troops he has Adrian Peterson doing his best and a fit Jordan Reed coupled with a solid defence. Again Luck will have too much to do and will end up chasing the game.
Prediction: Washington by 7

Houston Texans (0-1) at Tennessee Titans (0-1)
It was always tough for Houston to go into Foxboro and beat the Patriots so no shame in that, while Tennessee again laid an egg when the Dolphins were there for the taking; but again bad play calling, bad play by Mariota who again got injured and they have lost Delanie Walker for the season.  Just when they get a chance to win they turned the ball over allowing Miami an unlikely win.  Two winless teams go head to head but you think the pass rush of Houston might overcome any trickery the Titans may have as they compensate for the injuries that have already started to mount up.
Prediction: Texans by 3

Philadelphia Eagles (1-0) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0)
Due to the Bucs amazing performance in New Orleans, this is the game of the week which could be a high scoring affair. Ryan Fitzpatrick again silenced his critics with a near perfect game and the Eagles stumbled through their opener. The Eagles need to find a balance and give Foles a fluency until Wentz is fit to start and can the two headed monster of Bucs' WRs Jackson and Evans pay dividends again.
Prediction: Bucs by 6

Kansas City Chiefs (1-0) at Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0-1)
The Chiefs were very impressive against a stellar Chargers defence with Patrick Mahomes ripping up the scoreline as Hill had a huge day.  The Steelers were 14 points up in Cleveland yet conspired to tie and with Le'Veon Bell still holding out, they have a ready made replacement in James Connor but the three interceptions suffered by Big Ben will be a worry.
Prediction: Chiefs by 7

Miami Dolphins (1-0) at New York Jets (1-0)
This is not a game where you thought it would be between two winning sides, instead we have a game pairing a tenacious Dolphins side who are being underrated perhaps versus the next big thing in Sam Darnold who was excellent following his first pass being a pick Six. Darnold was helped by the expert running of Isaiah Crowell who had 102 yards and two touchdowns, Crowell and Bilal Powell will keep the pressure off of Darnold who will be called upon to throw accurately and not force the issue. The Jets may well be 2-0 come Sunday.
Prediction: Jets by 3

LA Chargers (0-1) at Buffalo Bills (0-1)
The Bills were abysmal versus the formidable Ravens defence garnering 153 total yards and giving up 369 to Baltimore. Josh Allen will most likely start following Nathan Peterman's dire first half yet Allen was only 6-15 for 74 yards. He has promise but he is going up against that defensive line. With Rivers throwing for fun - 424 yards against KC - you can imagine the Bills giving up 40 points again.
Prediction: Chargers by 9

Minnesota Vikings (1-0) at Green Bay Packers (1-0)
The storyline will be more about Aaron Rodgers health which again is paramount to the success of the Packers as Deshone Kizer was woeful when called upon, forcing Rodgers to lead a comeback from a 20 point deficit off of one leg. The Vikings were solid, not having turnovers and being professional and with Dalvin Cook in space gaining yardage with ball in hand or catching it will be key against a still questionable Packers defence.
Prediction: Vikings by 7

Cleveland Browns (0-0-1) at New Orleans Saints (0-1)
There is hope in Ohio, the Browns did not lose an opening game but they probably should have won but they maybe should have lost despite the play of Tyrod Taylor (15-40 for 150 yards) who outrushed their quarterback. The Saints were taken by surprise by the Bucs and being at home will help them but perhaps not having the one-two punch of Mark Ingram to complement Alvin Kamara is evident. The Saints should have enough though the Browns defence led by Myles Garrett is one to watch.
Prediction: Saints by 6

Detroit Lions (0-1) at San Francisco 49ers (0-1)
Following their woeful MNF performance where they suffered countless turnovers, giving up big plays on special teams and could not put pressure on Sam Darnold following his first interception - it could be a long season in the Motor City which has talent but no consistency. They now travel cross country to San Francisco to play Jimmy G, who showed promise and whose defence got better the longer they played in Minnesota, and have capable cornerbacks to nullify the wide receiver threat of Detroit.
Prediction: 49ers by 7

Arizona Cardinals (0-1) at LA Rams (1-0)
The Rams were not entirely convincing in their own MNF triumph against the Oakland Grudens benefiting from Raiders turnovers, the Cardinals themselves seem solid and have a game changer in David Johnson. However, you feel the Rams have more than enough to go two for two.
Prediction: Rams by 10

New England Patriots (1-0) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-0)
A rematch of the AFC Championship sees the Patriots travel to Florida to face Blake Bortles. The Patriots did not set the world alight due to some bad turnovers which made the scoreline perhaps flatter Houston. Jacksonville's D-line ate up the Giants O-line which gave Eli Manning no protection so this will be a severe test for Brady.
Prediction: Jacksonville by 3

Oakland Raiders (0-1) at Denver Broncos (1-0)
The Broncos did a good job to upset the Seahawks, yet the Seahawks are going through a huge amount of transition in terms of personnel. The Broncos have a dominant D-line which will seek to chase Derek Carr and stop Beast Mode from exacting his power. Coupled with the lack of pressure the Raiders got on to Jared Goff, the consistently inconsistent Case Keenum (3 interceptions) may be the guy to marshal this offence with a plethora of running backs along with Emmanuel Sanders and Demaryius Thomas outside.
Prediction: Broncos by 6

New York Giants (0-1) at Dallas Cowboys (0-1)
The eternal battle for NFC East bragging rights has been bypassed by the Philly special but the Giants have promise due to the debut of Saquon Barkley and this is a battle of running backs with Barkley versus Ezekiel Elliott, who will win out and which QB will find his receivers. Janoris Jenkins was stellar despite the defeat versus Jags, and the Giants do not fear Jerryworld.
Prediction: Giants by 3

Monday Night Football
Seattle Seahawks (0-1) at Chicago Bears (0-1)
Really NFL this is a Monday night football worthy game? Seattle travel across the country to Chicago to have Russell Wilson get eaten up by Khalil Mack who was dominant in the first half versus Green Bay. Chicago took their foot off the gas when up twenty points in Lambeau and this young side needs to make that step up and win a game.
Prediction: Bears by 7

Fantasy Football picks:
- Ryan Fitzpatrick (TB) might well keep the job in Tampa, coupled with Chris Godwin (TB) at home to Eagles
- Get on Darnold (NYJ) at home
- Courtland Sutton (DEN) - the slot option underneath had 45 yards off of 2 receptions and 5 targets
- Bears defence as Wilson cannot get protection;
- James Connor (PIT) so long as Bell is out of the game,
- Adam Thielen (MIN) will get a TD this week consistently gets big yardage but Diggs get dibs on TDs

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Monday, 3 September 2018

illuminati hotties 'Kiss Yr Frenemies'

From the esteemed indie label, Tiny Engines, this album from producer Sarah Tudzin, the album features a plethora of female talent that has enthused this album Kiss Yr Frenemies with a passion and energy that you rarely hear on albums.

Focusing on relationships, friendships, love and loss with the odd message of skateboarding; this album from the sunshine of California is of a sunny disposition but has an abundance of layers and subtext.

From the slow build of short album opener title track we crash into the jaunty '(You're Better) Than Ever' which is reminiscent of recent female stars Courtney Barrett and the band Goat Girl.  The illuminati hotties have a catchiness and hook to their work which is at times infectious.

This trend continues in Track 3 'Shape of My Hands' and then into single 'Cuff' there is the riffing guitars and the powerful vocal lead.

Other good tracks are 'Paying off the Happiness' and while the albums intensity does slow down come the end of the eleven tracks; the initial response to the album's beginning is a favourable one that will stay with you.

Following on from the Wild Pink album, Tiny Engines remains a label to keep an eye on; one of promise and potential married with the passion of young artists.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Under The Tree

Released from Eureka Entertainment, Under The Tree is a tale about how relationships can break down quickly in today's society.

Directed by Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson, Under The Tree is a dark surburban tale that tells the story of a man accused of adultery and forced to move in with his parents. Whilst a custody battle ensues for the daughter, the male Alti (Steinhor Hroar Steinthorsson) is sucked into a dispute between his parents and neighbours surrounding a prominent tree that puts his parents deck in a permanent shadow.

The Icelandic-language film was first premiered at the Venice Film Festival and was Iceland's entry into the 2018 Oscars in the Foreign Language category.

In recent years, European cinema has become this bastion of minor events becoming of greater importance to individuals; as world events become more and more importance on a socio-political scale. This takes a misanthropic approach to the relationships between people and especially neighbours.  In cinema much like life, you cannot get to choose your neighbours; and this film explains how you avoid people in this age of continual communication.

From the outset, there is an ominous air pervading the film; from a father who seeks pleasure in online porn to credit sequence that takes place in a shooting gallery with an eerie violin score playing underneath.

Cleverly, the film juxtaposes this bleakness of tonality by having all the narrative take place over a sun-drenched Icelandic summer full of sunshine and warmth; the characterisation is clear the dispute ferments long brewing resentment within neighbours coupled with a simmering jealousy between generations.

Shot with assured confidence and helped with great naturalistic performances by a unified cast in the majority of hand-held medium close ups, Under The Tree is a clever film full of enrichment and reward that packs an emotional punch.

Under The Tree is out from Eureka Entertainment on 10th August.
My thanks to them for the review opportunity.

Hearts Beat Loud

The new film from Brett Haley is a coming-of-age movie for two people at different ends of the age spectrum, both overcoming life difficulties and hurdles.

Frank (Nick Offerman) is a 40 year old owner of a vinyl record shop in Brooklyn, New York called Red Hook Records; at the outset he is deciding to shut up his business having discussed the lease with his landlady Leslie (Toni Collette). The reason for this big decision is that Frank's daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons) is leaving the Big Apple for college at UCLA where she will study medicine.

Frank is a single parent, following the death of his wife and Sam's mother in a bicycle accident shortly after Sam was born, and there is a kinship between the pair cemented by their weekly jam session.  Helped by the upheaval in their life, Frank's missed opportunity at a career in rock music by the sudden death of his wife and Sam's blossoming lesbian relationship before she departs for LA means the song they start playing around with in the session, ferments to the song that gives the film its title.

Giddy with excitement, Frank publishes the song on Spotify and remarkably it appears on a new Indie playlist along side his idols - Spoon and Iron and Wine - this give Frank a much needed shot of enthusiasm and asks Sam to forego her university career and make a start of being in a band together.

The film is a sweet confection of comedy and drama; from Ted Danson's barman Dave who offers Frank morsels of comfort over bottles of beer to the actual awkwardness of Frank and Leslie's courtship. However, the same sex relationship is handled delicately with real sincerity with Frank instilling the belief that life and love is important to music.

Shot through medium close ups mostly and with a score that is winning, it is a shame that on occasion that the film is very much middle of the road ending in a concert of triumph but the main protagonists are ultimately settling. There may have been ample opportunity to discuss matters such as dementia in old age, the resentment towards missing opportunities and young love in the last summer of childhood.

Hearts Beat Loud is out now from Park Circus Films
Thanks to them for the review opportunity.

Friday, 3 August 2018

Night Driver by Marcelle Parks

Out from Urbane Publications on Thursday 2nd August, the debut novel by Marcelle Perks

Frannie is an English woman living in Germany, married to her Deutscher spouse and heavily pregnant expecting the birth of her first child; she feels like a fish out of water both hopeless with her minimum language skills and struggling to pass her driving test in a foreign country.

In an effort to cope when her baby is born, she attempts to instill herself with some independence and after passing she takes to driving at night to gain confidence on less crowded roads.

She enjoys the freedom the night gives her yet an encounter with a Polish motorcyclist looking for his missing sister leads to her being sucked into a world of nightclubs, autobahn prostitutes and organ trafficking.

Perks is a doyen of horror cinema, having written for publications including British Horror Cinema, Fangoria and Kamera.  This in-depth knowledge comes to the fore, with Perks creating a sinister at times horrific world one that is at times frightening and shocking to read; the author does not hold back during the sexual encounters of these villains leaving nothing to the imagination of gruesome gory detail.

The book whips along at a cracking pace and in the protagonist of Frannie, Perks has written a character that is fiercely independent and one that is on an arc of her own from naïve beginnings to strong ending; the influence of Alice Lowe's Prevenge is prevalent in the work as well as the literary work of J. G. Ballard and his famous Crash novel.

While sold as a thriller, the book is very much a horror novel in context and one that will definitely stay with the reader if my reaction to it is anything to go by - and married with a great cover it is a book that is sure to be discussed at length by many a book group and book lovers.

Night Driver is out from Urbane Publications on 2nd August

My thanks to LoveBooksGroupTours for the review opportunity.

Monday, 30 July 2018

Wild Pink 'Yolk in the Fur'

Its funny sometimes how albums come into your life, by accident by recommendation. On the off chance one morning of browsing via Twitter, this album was reviewed on my feed and I read the review. Part from appreciation of the person's taste but also the gorgeous album cover of the album in question - a birds eye view shot of a landscape but from a different perspective resembles Mr. Incredible pointing westward ho to something if nothing.

So via an Amazon Music app you take a chance on listening to the album; this writer has always had a soft spot for fringe albums the type that may not even engage with the mainstream or near UK radio stations nor garner deserved airplay (I could rant about the 2018 Mercury Music Prize shortlist but I will not).

The album by Wild Pink is one of those growers, an album that is large in scale but small in stature. Lead writer John Ross writes about the environment and the landscapes his feet tread upon in sharp juxtaposition to the band hailing from the urbanity of New York City.

Ross writes about hills in the album opener 'Burger Hill' and lakes in the second 'Lake Erie' with the recurring refrain 'You thought you'd never get out' then the title track itself. Most tracks run at over four and a half minutes allowing songs to form an identity of their own - it reminded me of a little heard album called 'Amusement Parks on Fire' a self-titled album by a Nottingham band which was large in scope but never got the acclaim it deserved.

This is an album rich in harmonies, at times almost tranquil but breezy making the album seem almost laidback to the point of coming across as too easy in terms of production; yet there is more to the album than mere lushness. There is a wanting for simpler times than the ones Americans find them living in now - one where they were in touch with their country thanks to pioneers as Theodore Roosevelt

The euphoric crescendo of 'The Séance on St. Augustine St.' is reminiscent of anything by Doves or My Morning Jacket; these are songs that take time to breathe and become more than humble beginnings.  This is an album that is inventive and seamless with tracks knitting together to form an overall personality.

This is an album that is full of ideas and imagination that you rarely find nowadays in American and perhaps rock music; bombastic and fantastic in equal measure, Wild Pink may well have written the great unknown album of 2018.

Wild Pink's Yolk in the Fur is released by Tiny Engines and available in all formats now.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Smokescreens 'Used to Yesterday'

New album 'Used To Yesterday' out now from Slumberland Records

Hailing originally from New Zealand, the duo of Chris Rosi and Corey Cunningham recruited Jon Greene when they moved to Los Angeles in 2011. After the passing of Greene, the pair re-grouped with Brice Bradley (drums) and Jenny Moffett (bass) that allowed Cunningham to switch to lead guitar and keyboards.

After constant touring throughout last year and recording at Primitive Ears in North Hollywood, the band ended up with the 10 tracks that appear on Used to Yesterday. The result is an ear-worm worthy album of riffs and power pop; that embraces both the kiwi summer zeal with the energy and warmth forever paramount to California.

A sea of guitars hit you from the outset of 'Someone New' the album opener followed quickly by the title track. However, this is not a band rashly flailing on guitars, there are melodic structures and good composition in their songwriting such as 'Waiting for Summer'

There is a rich vein of stylish quality coming out of the speakers even on a hideaway track such as 'Buddy' which culminates in riffs reminiscent of The Velvet Underground. Much like contemporaries such as Major Murphy and Lawn, there is an acknowledgement to the late 1960s Laurel Canyon songwriting; this emblematic on the album closer 'Falling Down' both anthemic and joyous.

How befitting to hear an album end on a high as if Smokescreens are signing off victorious from their efforts; coupled with another gorgeous album cover (a growing theme of this year's releases), the great year of unheralded gems from across the pond continue

Follow the band on Twitter here

Smokescreens 'Used to Yesterday' is out now from Slumberland Records.
My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

An Unwanted Guest

Shari Lapena returns with her third novel, An Unwanted Guest, following the unprecedented success of The Couple Next Door and A Stranger in the House.

Lapena has taken an Agatha Christie template and weaved a fast paced thriller that this reader read in less than two days when on holiday.

On a cold wintry weekend in upstate New York, strangers from varying backgrounds all descend upon the Mitchell's Inn - a remote lodge where there is not great phone signal nor wi-fi.  The blizzard like conditions have led to an understaffed hotel being manned by the father and son team of James and Bradley.

From the get go, it seems a lot of people are keeping cards very close to their chest; the Christie like method of taking six to ten strangers put them in an uncomfortable situation and then let murder commence leads to the thriller taking shape before our eyes as one body appears after another in the polite atmosphere.

Lapena has crafted a winning formula perfect for these times; a thriller centred upon a mad cap 48 hours in the wilderness with the harsh reality of nature having a debilitating effect on proceedings leaving people reliant upon their wits and survival streak.  Characters are dependent upon being able to connect with the outside world, yet they have tried to escape the rat race for various reasons.

These same characters are knee-jerk in their reactions and behaviour, jumping to conclusions from the defence attorney David who was arrested for murdering his wife to Candice who may or may not be writing a real fiction novel on crime.

Lapena writes with such relish the scenes of people talking in confined spaces that once the body counts starts to add up, other writers may have got lost amongst her character's own hysteria, yet Lapena never deviates from the narrative rounding things of with a denouement that is both satisfying and startling.

Some critics may suggest that the ending comes too soon, yet in these hysterical times of constant moral panics; Lapena has been deliberate in treating the characters with respect instead of mere cadavers.

An Unwanted Guest is out in Hardback from 26th July from Bantam Press.
My thanks to Transworld Publishers for the review copy.

Monday, 9 July 2018

Kevin Krauter 'Toss Up'

Debut album release from Kevin Krauter, Toss Up is released from Bayonet Records

Indiana native Kevin Krauter has built up a loyal following in his home state, and whilst the music has slowly gathered a wave of momentum; Krauter is releasing his debut album and the result is Toss Up.

Toss Up proudly wears a wide range of influences from 60s flower pop, 80s yacht rock and upto the modern day indie rock.  There is a shimmer to the music that is both transcendent and illuminating; full of good will and a smoothness that is rarely heard in music recently.

From the ear worm radio friendly 'Suddenly' to the chilled out 'Keep Falling in Love' there is a confidence in the music that permeates from the earphones and yet there is a richness in the complexity of the production; a mixture of rhythmic intricacies and bold melodic artistry.

Krauter has composed an album that is full of lushness and beauty, one that should be shared by all at poolsides, equally aspirational and ambitious it is one of the better albums to come from America in recent times one that is easy on the ear that slowly penetrates your memory and consciousness.

Toss Up is released from Bayonet Records on 13th July.
My thanks to One Beat PR for the opportunity to review.

Rayland Baxter 'Wide Awake'

Out on 13th July from ATO Records, the new album from Rayland Baxter Wide Awake

Following on from the positive word of mouth of recent video and radio hits, 'Casanova' and 'Strange American Dream', Baxter has realised a dream in the production of his third studio album.

The roving rock and roll philosopher has dreamed of produced an album very much of the space in which it has its genesis. The hard-touring led the musician to slow down and find a quiet place for his work, he found in an abandoned rubber band factory in Franklin, Kentucky where he covered the windows, threw a mattress on the floor and with just a guitar and a piano he spent three months writing in the wilderness so to speak.

At night, Baxter would listen to the sounds of America from howling coyotes and the harsh wind with only the endless cycle of TV news for comfort.

The result is a collection of songs that speaks on the isolation of the individual in the vast United States but yet celebrates the best of humanity despite the worst being spoken of at length in the media.

Following in the footsteps of contemporaries, Ezra Furman and Jim James, who have capitalised on the traumatic presidency of a Trump administration where the needs of big business are being heard above those of the masses; Baxter explains, 'This is an album about decision making. It's about being a human at a crossroads. All of these emotions are things I see in myself, and they're the same things I see in everyone else no matter where I go'.

Wide Awake was produced by Butch Walker and features Walker himself on bass; and the production on this album is first rate elevating what must have been scratchy demos and ideas that Baxter had during his weeks of loneliness to raise them up to greater American staples of rock and Americana; songs that speak to the uniqueness of the American experience - one man can make a difference for sure, but one man perhaps has to make himself heard firstly.

Baxter is going the right way about it, creating music that is both accessible and pleasing despite its angry subtext brimming below the sometimes shiny exterior.

Wide Awake is out from ATO Records on 13th July.

My thanks to One Beat PR for the review opportunity.

Friday, 6 July 2018

Zero - Marc Elsberg

For fans of Black Mirror and conspiracy thrillers with a technological spin

This thrilling novel by Marc Elsberg is one of the more prescient novels of recent memory, due the knowledge of recent data swiping by Facebook and how do you know how safe and secure your online personality is from people who track your data and what you like and do not like.

Elsberg has crafted a paranoid conspiracy thriller in the vein of the man done wrong such as the 1970s American cinematic thriller like The Parallex View and The Days of the Condor, the only change of tone is the use of a female protagonist as the person in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Cynthia Bonsant, is a journalist, who starts to uncover the truth of a new Freemee App which infiltrates people's live through immediate gratification. Bonsant is on the lead of an anonymous activist called Zero who promises to uncover the truth of how big business is after your data.

As Cynthia gets closer to the truth and people around her become targets also, her safety is threatened by those she trusted.

Elsberg although crafting a decent thriller, has also written a glossary of how apps and online resources infiltrate our lives through our human need to gain instant satisfaction with a combination of chemical releases.  The data businesses garner from our usage rates and likes, tells them a lot about people and how possibly we could all become drones and cogs of a bigger operation.

While the thriller is a very good in places and goes along at a break-neck pace the stops for exposition sometimes drags down a good thriller to a chamber piece; which is unfortunate as caught between the devil and the blue sea Elsberg requires the exposition to create the paranoia in Cynthia for us to embrace her conspiracy.

Tellingly, the last word of the novel is left to the anonymous bloggers and hackers, who are still out there watching keeping an eye on those who are watching us.

Zero is out from Doubleday Press on Thursday 12th July

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Eyes Turned Skywards

New novel by Ken Lussey, focuses on rumours surrounding a number of real-life events including the death of the Duke of Kent in the summer of 1942 during the Second World War.

Wing Commander Robert (Bob) Sutherland used to be a detective before the War began, he thought those days were behind him, he was wrong.

On 25th August 1942, the Duke of Kent, brother to King George VI is killed in Northern Scotland in an unexplained air crash. A second crash soon after suggests sinister details may be afoot. Sutherland is tasked with visiting the base in Oban and the first crash site in Caithness to gather clues and rule out the threat of sabotage.

Reflecting on a country that is not as united as Winston Churchill nor history would have us believe, and with the kingdom recovering from the bombardment of the blitz, we follow Bob as he unravels lies and deceit from corners of the nation he did not expect.

There is a lovely economy to the writing of Lussey in the growth of Sutherland as a character and how the narrative progresses as he attempts to uncover the truth of the Duke's crash.  Lussey weaves a winning formula of transplanting a detective storyline into the wartime narrative, Sutherland is smart enough to be one step ahead of people and yet stay cool under pressure of which there is many.

Lussey writes with a real efficiency and the dialogue is indicative of putting fictional stories into a historical narrative; a lot of dialogue is exposition so we learn about various medals awarded to Sutherland and the different type of aircraft but it serves as important in the grander scheme of things.

Sutherland has an everyman quality that resonates throughout the book and makes you want to know what is going to happen to him during the remainder of the war time years as well as beyond once he returns to Edinburgh - the possibility of stories from Sutherland's pre-war days in the police force is both enticing.

As an introduction to a new charming character, Eyes Turned Skywards is enlightening and full of enterprise both gripping in its thriller form and wartime context.

Eyes Turned Skywards is released from Fledgling Press on Thursday 28th June

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Jim James - Uniform Distortion

Jim James, the angelic voice of My Morning Jacket, has ventured into areas his band would not have been renowned for when together. Following on from the politically conscious 'Eternally Even' from 2016; James returns with the new album Uniform Distortion.

Whereas, the previous album was a comment within an election year, the new album is more of a reaction to the Trump presidency - an album of anger and looking back.  In the press release for the album, James has mentioned how in the world today 'my head feels like it is exploding with the amount of information we are forced to consume on a daily basis and how that information is so DISTORTED'

Having listened to other American albums from such luminaries as Ezra Furman, there is a general anger simmering in American musicians about how their lives are being governed by a man who distorts his own way of thinking on a regular basis changing the narrative to suit his needs and wants; and thrusting it upon his people.

Whilst James' first album was one of meditation closer to that of MMJ releases, the further he goes down a solo career the more relevant to today's world he is becoming. Whereas MMJ albums would play like psychedelic work from another dimension full of hipster bohemia; James is certainly more of a rock and roll performer currently - in the same vein as Neil Young.

From title opener with its scratching hook 'Just A Fool' to the vitriolic 'Yes to Everything'; James is trying to make sense of the world and of his own place in the world - the latter track being more about regret and remorse than anything else.

There are still moments of lushness such as 'Throwback' a sonic blast of euphoria reminiscent of the best moments of MMJ with soaring backing vocals embracing the hook line, 'When we were young' before rocking out akin to Neil Young at his most bombastic.

Because of Trump, perhaps this is where rock music has to be on this permanent Eddie Vedder type show of angst. A reflective strain of songwriting in reaction to the nature of the world with a slight resignation to the belief that MAGA can happen in this first term of a loose cannon presidency.

From the rock out nature of 'Out of Time' and 'You Get To Rome', there remains an energy throughout the album that rivals many the qualities of a band of four or five. James wants to be heard on this record and heard loud and clear.

However, you cannot discount the voice of James one of those rare instruments in today's music scene that deserves the praise showered upon him, a voice that is full of soul, gravitas and power.

Uniform Distortion is out from ATO Records on 29th June.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Corrupted by Simon Michael

Published by Urbane Publications on Paperback on 21st June, Corrupted is the fourth book in the Charles Holborne series

Having never known of the Charles Holborne series you fear that you may be late to the party, much like the swinging dance parties and afternoon teas that take place at the Ritz in 1964, the year in which the latest Simon Michael novel is set.

There is no fear of that though, Michael has been lucky enough to create a central protagonist in the same vein as Jack Reacher; a likeable everyman who is one step ahead of most people, but one who is not afraid to throw punches (literally) nor get his hands dirty in the eternal pursuit of justice and truth.

Charles Holborne (or Horowitz - to show his birth name, and the still relevant anti-Semitism taking place in London), is 39 a Barrister working in Chambers at the Temple and the Old Bailey, he presides over a variety of cases - yet he himself has a criminal past which will not let go of him. He is well liked by his peers, colleagues and his unwillingness to fall in line with the old boy network does ruffle feathers, he nevertheless gets results.

The book is set in a hot summer of 1964, a year where the Beatles are returning home from conquering America, Sonny Liston just lost to Cassius Clay and the beginnings of the sexual revolution are slowly fermenting around the swinging London scene.  We first encounter Charles at home with his partner Sally, having recently moved in to a new house in North London; even Charles moans about the commute to work.

Upon his desk though comes a case involving his old nemesis, the Krays twins; the legendary Ronnie and Reggie whose criminal underworld dealings were known and held a vice like grip over London's night life.  The Krays are at war with the Mafiosa, and this leads to a footsoldier Mo Drake being murdered at his home supposedly by the Italians in revenge; yet there is more to the case than meets the eye.

It had long been rumoured for some time that Reggie Kray was homosexual and he was played as such by Tom Hardy in Legend as such; and yet the narrative revolves around a scandalous sex party that takes place at one of Reggie's residencies in Walthamstow, where all manner of high profile dignatries and cabinet members including Lord Robert Boothby attended indulging in fornication and sexual conquests.  In the narrative, a runaway boy Teddy is taken in by Mo and attends the party leading to Mo's death later that same night.

Charles takes on the case to clear the boy whom has been arrested for Mo's murder; yet Charles also has problems at home with Sally (who sadly vacates the scene somewhat abruptly) as Charles will not relent on his dream of fighting in the boxing ring one last time before his fortieth birthday, following a successful amateur career.   Charles goes for long runs on Saturday mornings and sometime evenings, which allows the author to write fondly of London before overpopulation took hold.

Even the premise of placing historical figures such as the Kray twins and all the mythos and legend they carry with them does not restrict nor overawe the character development of Charles Holborne, our protagonist remains front and center and the heart and soul of the book; you never feel your allegiance being swayed by the celebrity gangsters who themselves are written with great clarity and care by Michael, not becoming these overbearing larger than life figures, merely important people doing their job like anyone else.

Author Simon Michael

That is the beauty of this book, for all the gripping thriller elements and the page-turning quality of the narrative that rips along as quickly as that of Child or Grisham; Michael has gone to great lengths to paint a vivid picture of London at that time, as if it was the centre of the world - the glamour of the Ritz, to the stuffy tradition of the Old Bailey.

There is a vibrancy in the writing from the back and forth dialogue from each colourful character Charles meets to the vigour of the scene-setting of nightclubs and bagel shops, you feel a part of the story - something that this reader has not felt for quite sometime.

And with the protagonist Charles, Michael has created an anti-hero who is very much of his time - a chameleon like individual who is changing with the times much like his own city and world is in flux itself in terms of the rise of sexual freedom, feminism with Charles embodying the new breed of outsider and non-public schoolboy combating prejudices daily in his professional career; something the author had to confront during his career as a barrister.

As mentioned, the books 420 pages rips along at quite a clip that you will would be wanting more and with there still six years left in the 1960s for Charles to indulge in, it promises for more yarns for Michael to tell.  This reader for one will be looking back at the three previous installments of the series and looks forward with relish to the rest.

Corrupted by Simon Michael is released by Urbane Publications on 21st June.

In The Wake Extract

Helen Treverrow's debut novel is released from Urbane Publications on 28th June

In anticipation of the release of Helen Treverrow's gripping London based thriller, here is an exclusive extract which features our protagonist Kay heading home after a bad day at work and it encapsulates the psyche of the lead with her emotional upheaval at work, where she comes from and her fraught relationship with her father, Jim and the rewarding relationship with alcohol.

Check out my review here of In The Wake 

Follow Helen Trevorrow on Twitter @helentrevorrow
Follow Urbane Books on Twitter @UrbaneBooks

My thanks to #LoveBooksGroupTours for the opportunity to review

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Lawn - Blood on the Tracks

The new album Blood on the Tracks by Lawn, out now from Forged Artifacts.

It is weird how certain bands and albums come into your life; my brother is a big fan of The Gaslight Anthem, but I missed the release of The '59 Sound; a seminal album of that generation and now 10 years old, as if I need reminding how old I am getting.

The beauty of music and albums is that it connects with you on an emotional level. That is why some people like The Smiths more than Led Zeppelin and vice versa.  Sometimes an album comes out of nowhere that connects with you on a level that is hard to explain, but you know you love the album because it is a breathe of fresh air.

One such album is the album 'Blood on the Tracks' by New Orleans based band Lawn.  Oddly, the band followed me on Twitter before I had ever heard of them, partly because I tweet new music videos and they must have taken a punt on me.

Lawn are comprised primarily of Mac Fogler on guitar and vocals and Rui De Magahales on bass and vocals, with support from Nicholas Corson on drums and percussions and Duncan Troast on keyboards; and they prove to be a tight unit together.

Lawn image

So through the link on their twitter feed, I went to Gold Flake Paint website which carried an album stream which was released on 11th May by Forged Artifacts and was blown away by the simplistic 1960s feel of the tracks and with the swelling punk rock energy.

With a mixture of good songs swaying from serious to fun. There is an energy of abundant glee running throughout the album, from opener '2000 Boy' to the ear catching quality of the title track. Interspersed throughout are quick fire cuts like 'Rats' and 'Suzanne' full of fire; as well as the sheer driving force of 'Restless and Tired' which reminded me of early REM and Orange Juice.

A lot has been made in press releases that the band show the influence of The Kinks and The Beatles on their tracks, which is great to hear and there has been a plethora of bands in recent years mining the swinging Sixties for inspiration from Lab Coast and Major Murphy, evident in 'Vinnie' track 6.

The reason being is that there is a colourfulness to the music being produced, a vitality that is being lost in the programmed mainstream, music that is lovely to listen to - the type of music you can put on in the background at work or a BBQ and it slowly earworms its way into your consciousness.  The music of the 1960s laid down the foundations for future musics, it was rock and roll that would eventually morph into glam, heavy and metal.


All songs start with a guitar and the music of Lawn is the type that firstly sounds great to listen to, but also sounds like fun to play - it comes full circle as they have sing-along hooks and a hum-ability not often given the credit or airplay. For this just listen to 'My Boy' track 5.

Lawn have done some shows in America recently as well as playing at South By Southwest - and this album is very much an album of context and location; hailing from the Big Easy in New Orleans there is an almost horizontal laconic ease to their performance and playing that could almost be too laidback, but this comes across in a swath of cool not arrogance.

It has been a while since  an album got me this excited about and left me wanting to share with my followers in sometime; there is a track for everybody on this and it should be heard by as many people as possible with this album being one for music lovers as much as anything.

Too often albums like these get lost in the graveyard shifts of late night alternative radio or playlists, Lawn deserves to be heard by more people.

Blood on the Tracks is out now from Forged Artifacts.

Check out more music at Gold Flake Paint

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

In The Wake - Helen Treverrow

Helen Treverrow's debut novel is released from Urbane Publications on 28th June

When a body is found floating in London's Royal Albert Dock, public relations expert Kay Christie is sent to quiet the media, but things become complicated when it emerges she knows the victim.

Centered around the Excel center in London, a major exhibition is overshadowed by this body being found.  A convoluted narrative structure involving Kay's father who works at the exhibition hall, and the tightly knit support network around her starts to unravel as secrets much like the body rise to the surface.

Opening with the disappearance of a French nurse from her London hospital around Christmas time - the imagery Trevorrow evokes the harshness and cold of the London winter is depicted succinctly, showing the combination of how lonely the big city can be when you are questioning your own decisions in life.

Kay is in her 40s, gay and partnered with Julia, a woman who is enjoying an Indian summer with high-profile media commitments; and yet Kay is not happy. Kay drinks regularly, she is in love with her job but not in love with her routine. The introduction of a female police officer, Polly - younger and vital stirs some lustful yearnings within her which has been absent for sometime.

This melodramatic shift to a women's narrative in unison with the crime story is a risky venture, and on occasion the crime story struggles to be heard beside the Sapphic storyline; at times this reader felt that the love scenes were overpowering the actual crime story narrative and the interest in the case being solved.  Kay is an intelligent, successful woman and yet her life is full of quandry with Treverrow delicately explaining her psyche following a sexual assault from years past; which is told to us in flashback.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Gary McAllister

Full piece appears here

Gary McAllister is one of those players, that when people talk of them they are remembered fondly - not a bad word to be spoken of them, glowing praise radiates in odes to their past glories.

When people think of the Scottish midfielder what comes to mind firstly? A receding hairline or lack of hair altogether. A midfield maestro who could pick a pass with pin point accuracy. A reliable player who elevated every side he played for.

From his early career days for hometown Motherwell he left for Leicester City where in the then Second Division he drew acclaim before joining Leeds United in 1990. For many, McAllister was a key missing piece of a side that eventually won the First Division title, the last before the dawn of the Premier League and he was the lynchpin of a formidable midfield foursome of himself, Gordon Strachan, David Batty and the late Gary Speed - a best of British midfield.

Following a move to Coventry where he rekindled a partnership with Strachan, McAllister was nearing the end of his playing days and in July 2000 he signed a free transfer with Liverpool.  To many an observer it was a strange signing for both the club to sign an ageing but gifted individual, and seen as a retirement move for the Scot taking the bigger payday to seat behind younger team-mates on the bench.

Yet the importance and quality of McAllister's dead-ball expertise came to fruition the longer the season went on culminating in a triumphant triumvate of trophies for the red side of Merseyside; in a season where they also finished third in the Premier League.

Starting with a League Cup triumph in Cardiff where Liverpool beat Birmingham 5-4 on penalties on 25th February. Birmingham were a Championship side at that time and came so close to causing an upset, yet the lottery of a penalty shoot-out fell in Liverpool's favour; tellingly McAllister scored the first penalty of the shoot-out, Birmingham missed their first attempt and momentum was with them.

From that game, Liverpool only lost two more games all season (a 2-0 defeat at Leicester and a 2-1 defeat at home to Leeds, who finished fourth and were on the crest of a great season themselves); most famously McAllister had the final say in the Merseyside derby on 16th April on Easter weekend at Goodison Park. An always tense match was locked at 2-2 when deep in injury time a free-kick was awarded to Liverpool the ball safely positioned some 40 yards away from goal. 

Using his wealth of experience and intelligence, McAllister knowing the pitch was wet from rain took the decision to shoot for goal hoping for a shot on target might induce a goalkeeping error; a long run up was met by a shot on target and the ball found the corner of the net under the despairing arm of Paul Gerrard.

It was the first game, three days after the home defeat to Leeds, and the result galvanised Liverpool to go undefeated in the league for the remaining six games of the season to finish ahead of McAllister's former employer in the league. 

McAllister had become the figurehead of the side surrounded by the burgeoning youth of England's finest - Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard and Emile Heskey. McAllister was the focal point of the side becoming as talismanic as Bryan Robson, Ray Wilkins and dare I say, Andres Iniesta.  By being able to read the game with a brain, the game can slow down for you and he was able to see passes many would not.

McAllister became the shepherd of the new flock of superstars coercing the best out of this new breed of footballer in the soon to be christened Golden Generation with Owen himself taking over the mantle from Robbie Fowler. Credit should go to Houllier who was able to fit three midfielders like McAllister, Gerrard and Dietmar Hamann into an XI - Hamann could do the dirty work in front of a defence which allowed Gerrard and McAllister to express themselves fully with probing runs and assists.

McAllister's calm from the penalty spot was also seen as the responsibility would fall on his shoulders to convert the spot kick - there was never any doubt when he stood from 14 yards ready to give his side the lead.

Liverpool returned to the Millennium Stadium again in May to come from behind to defeat Arsenal with Michael Owen scoring twice in the final 10 minutes; McAllister himself came off the bench to help change the course of the tie.  Trophy two had been gained.

A mere four days later, Liverpool heading to Dortmund to face Alaves in the final of the UEFA Cup.  McAllister started this game and his influence was everywhere on the night. At the age of 36, McAllister was Man of the Match coolly converting a penalty in the 41st minute to give Liverpool a 3-1 half time lead. Despite the grit of Alaves to keep fighting and pulling back the tie, McAllister would have the final say.

With the game heading to a penalty shoot-out and Alaves down to 9 men; G-Mac stood over a free kick from the left wing; his quality of delivery was telling as an inswinging delivery was met by the fateful head of Delfi Geli who cruelly converted into his own net. With this being the dreaded period of Golden Goal, that settled and ended the match in an instant.  Liverpool players swallowed up the Scottish veteran and jubilation rained on the field as Liverpool completed the cup treble. The first time ever an English side had won both domestic cup competitions and an European trophy in the same season.

McAllister's late season form means that it is his exploits that are more fondly remembered than that of the PFA and FWA Player of the Year Teddy Sheringham; many felt that McAllister's influence and far ranging appeal should have been acknowledged in some respect. However, to many Liverpool fans he is fondly recalled and for two months of 2001, Gary McAllister was perhaps the most important footballer in Europe.

Not bad for someone who was thought to be too slow for the quickening English Premier League.