An Evening with Josh Ritter // RNCM, Manchester // Monday 28th October 2013

© 2010 Neff Connor, used under a creative commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/
© 2010 Neff Connor, used under a creative commons Attribution license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Stumbling in from the rain the audience take their seats within the concert hall; the stage is dressed for the night ahead. At the back of the concert hall looms a gigantic blue eye staring out towards the crowd. After a short wait, the lights dim and the audience let out a cheer. A female musician takes her place at the center of the stage; this is Tift Merritt, an American singer-songwriter from North Carolina.

She plays through a collection of her tracks, originating from the vast supply of material she has gathered over the years. The audience is entranced. After the first couple of songs, she turns to her microphone and comments wryly: “I have never seen Manchester so well behaved before.”

Amongst her most well received tracks of the night are a cover of Tom Waits’s ‘Train Song’, performed without the aid of a microphone, and a rendition of her own song ‘Another Country’. The standout attribute of the performance is her magnificent voice that never fails to reach a note. She leaves the stage to tumultuous applause following a spectacular performance. The audience wants more, but it is now time for the headline act.

There is a brief intermission before the lights dim again, ushering in the headline performer. Two individuals begin to play ‘Best For The Best’ from Josh Ritter’s fourth studio album, The Animal Years, but there is no sign of the man himself; he comes out not long after to a rapturous ovation from those in attendance, completing the band. The atmosphere is extraordinarily intimate within the concert hall.

Following on from this opening track, they launch into a song from his latest record, The Beast in its Tracks. The song is ‘Certain Light’, one of the standout pieces of music from his career spanning over a decade.

This is followed by two tracks from 2010’s So Runs The World Away, ‘Southern Pacifica’ and ‘Folk Bloodbath’.

The first of these is a reflective tune about a central protagonist being on a train, not knowing where he is heading but being sure that he will meet his destiny wherever he ends up. This is an incredibly poignant piece, as is reflected by the stunned silence from the crowd throughout the whole of its duration.

The second track, meanwhile, follows more of a narrative, Josh Ritter taking a third-person approach to songwriting. ‘Folk Bloodbath’ follows the exploits of a bunch of characters from other notable folk songs, tracing their activities as they all eventually get buried “six feet beneath the clay”. This song in particular is an example of the artist’s impeccable ability for telling stories within his music.

Other notable tracks that follow are ‘The Curse’, ‘Hopeful’, and ‘Darlin’. The first is an allegory based around the relationship between a mummy and a Victorian archaeologist. For the performance of this song the musician asked that the lights be turned off, meaning that it was performed entirely in the dark; this created a remarkable ambience to the piece.

The next track of the above, ‘Hopeful’, contrasted significantly. It carried a much lighter tone, demonstrating the versatility of Josh Ritter’s work. This was something that was later expanded upon with ‘Darlin’, a track taken from his 2012 EP Bringing in the Darlings.

The songs ‘Girl in The War’ and ‘Kathleen’ were also received extremely well: both of the tracks provoking a tremendous round of applause from the crowd.

As an encore, guitarist Zach Hickman returns to the stage to the surprise of the audience, acknowledging their shock with a simple, rather comical statement: ‘I bet you guys weren’t expecting this.’

Regardless, the audience is welcoming to the musician. They warm to his humour and listen attentively to his song about a lonely cephalopod in the deep sea, inspired by his interest in the BBC documentary Planet Earth.

After its completion, he welcomes the headliner, Josh Ritter, back to the stage. The musicians onstage begin to play the song ‘Wait For Love’, a track that draws attention to Josh Ritter’s ability to manipulate an audience. Somehow he miraculously manages to stir the crowd from their passivity into singing along with the refrain. He leaves the audience following this with a series of kind words.

The audience departs back into wet and dreary streets of Manchester transformed by a perfect evening of music. Josh Ritter truly made his talent known tonight, as did the support. If you have the chance to catch him on his current UK tour, please don’t hesitate to snap up tickets.

Written by: Jack Yarwood

5/5

Thor: The Dark World Review

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Continuing where last year’s multi-million-pound blockbuster Marvel’s Avengers Assemble left off, Thor: The Dark World is a rollicking superhero adventure packed with special effects and heaps of action. Much like its predecessor, 2011’s Thor, it borrows heavily from Marvel’s expansive source material to tell a story that is accessible not only to fans of the genre but to casual filmgoers as well.

But whilst it is impressive in many aspects of its creation, in others it is certainly lacking. Helmed by Alan Taylor, director on several episodes of the popular TV show Game of Thrones, the film struggles in many of the same areas that the previous did.

One of the key problems is that they have not yet managed to perfect the shifts in tone needed between the two worlds; this was also problematic within the first film. At times Thor: The Dark World feels almost sitcom-esque in its presentation before changing swiftly to a more grandiose style, for the scenes set within Asgard. This shift in tone is incredibly noticeable throughout, and also very distracting.

Another flaw with the film is that several members of the characters are criminally underused. These include Idris Elba’s Heimdell and Anthony Hopkins’ Odin. Both take a back seat for the majority of the film, sacrificing their onscreen time to the far inferior character of Darcy (Kat Dennings). She serves as comic relief throughout the film, though she often strays into the annoying sidekick category.

The villain Malekith, played by Christopher Eccleston, is also underdeveloped within the film. He lacks the characterization of other Marvel villains, appearing generic in comparison to the likes of the Mandarin and Obadiah Stane.

The film does have some features to celebrate. One of these is the magnificent onscreen chemistry between Loki (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor (Chris Hemsworth). This helps the film to remain interesting for the viewer, as both actors appear unbelievably comfortable in their roles. Hiddleston, in particular, is spectacular this time around; Loki continues to be one of the most fascinating characters the Marvel film universe has to offer.

The film excels in other areas as well, most notably its fight scenes. The final fight is a magnificent affair, which is unusually inventive considering the often-formulaic nature of superhero third acts.

Thor: The Dark World is an enjoyable superhero romp from Marvel and Disney, but suffers under scrutiny. If you can get past the film’s many flaws, it is a great piece of popcorn cinema, accessible for families and fans alike.

3/5

Written by: Jack Yarwood

Thorpe Park ignores concerns over its asylum attraction

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Thorpe Park has defended their Halloween attraction “The Asylum”, despite claims from individuals that it stigmatizes mental health patients.

Amongst those concerned over the potential impact of the attraction are the mental health charities Mind, Time to Change, and Rethink Illness. They argue that Thorpe Park have failed to take into account several factors, including: ‘the history of mental health institutions, and the continuing suffering of patients in substandard facilities worldwide; second, the fact that attractions…don’t just “[draw] on classic horror film content” but shape culture as a whole; and third, the sheer extent of the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems every day.’

They therefore suggest that Thorpe Park are making light of a very serious topic, disregarding the fact that many mental health patients are still unable to find adequate treatment in asylums all over the world.

In a recent study, carried out by the Mental Health and Justice Researchers group, it was shown that those who suffer from mental illness were more susceptible to become victims of assault than those within the general population. According to this study, 45% of those with severe mental illness were victims of crime over the course of one year. This is contrary to the myth perpetuated by Thorpe Park and “The Asylum”, which casts mental health patients as being the instigators of violence. This study suggests that the opposite is true.

Thorpe Park have stated that they believe “the maze is not intended, nor is it deemed by those who have actually experienced it, to be in any way offensive or to be a realistic portrayal of a mental health or indeed any other institution”. But this seems to ignore both the overwhelming response on social media in condemning the attraction, and Thorpe Park’s own responsibility in shaping popular culture.

Individuals who have commented on this issue online include mental health activists, charities, psychiatrists, and members of the general public.

Charlotte Walker (known also by her Twitter handle @BipolarBlogger) is a mental health activist and expert on mental illness. She argues: ‘any reference to “patients” being dangerous or frightening feeds into a myth that leads to people with mental health problems being shunned and stigmatised.’

In another statement on her blog, she concedes that “it is probably too late to simply pull “The Asylum.” She instead suggests that Thorpe Park should make amends by discontinuing it next year. In addition, she also proposes that Thorpe Park consider donating the proceeds raised from the ride to mental health charities, who are responsible for battling discrimination against those suffering from mental illnesses.

The tabloid newspaper The Sun were recently forced to apologize over a similar misrepresentation of those suffering from mental illness. Their headline “1200 killed by mental health patients” was responsible for reinforcing the same negative stereotype of mental health patients that “The Asylum” seems to support.

Fortunately, after much backlash, The Sun saw the error of their ways. But those responsible at Thorpe Park are still reluctant to admit that they have made a mistake.

The online petition ‘Thorpe Park: Close down the stigmatising Asylum maze’ currently has 5,171 supporters on Change.org. With pressure mounting, it remains to be seen whether Thorpe Park will apologize for the offence they have caused.

Written by Jack Yarwood

Tribute to Comedy icon unveiled in Timperley

Lib Dem Councillor Neil Taylor with the statue of Frank Sidebottom
Lib Dem Councillor Neil Taylor with the statue of Frank Sidebottom

Hundreds turned up to witness the unveiling of a statue to comedy icon Frank Sidebottom, in his hometown of Timperley.

Frank Sidebottom, the creation of musician and comedian Chris Sievey, is perhaps best known for his TV appearances throughout the years. Over the course of his career he has appeared regularly on Granada, Channel 4, and Channel M.

In addition to this, he also had some success in the nineties with his own TV show, which was called Frank Sidebottom’s Fantastic Shed Show.

Neil Taylor, the Lib Dem Councillor for Timperley, who helped raise donations for the statue, explained the origins of the statue: ‘a group of us were deciding in what way we could make a memorial for Chris; so we decided to create a Frank Sidebottom statue in his hometown of Timperley’.

He also stressed the effort of Frank’s fans in fundraising for the statue, stating, ‘one of the really special things is that every penny has been raised by fans, for fans. No money has been taken from the public purse, or from lottery grants.’

At the unveiling there was a tribute to Frank’s music, supplied by a brass band, and plenty of homemade costumes on display. Many adults brought their children to witness the unveiling, demonstrating a true sense of community support in favour of the statue.

Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough paying tribute to his friend, Chris Sievey.
Badly Drawn Boy, Damon Gough paying tribute to his friend, Chris Sievey.

Collections were also made during the event for the cancer charity Marie Curie, with many of the visitors donating their money to the cause.

Next year actor Michael Fassbender is set to star in a film based on the character of Frank Sidebottom, which is to be entitled Frank. Irish filmmaker Lenny Abramhamsom will direct.

Written By Jack Yarwood
Twitter: www.twitter.com/JackGYarwood

 

  

Play Expo Comes To Manchester

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The highly anticipated gaming event, Play Expo 2013, came to Manchester’s Event City last weekend, showcasing the latest in gaming. At the event there were stalls selling retro consoles, old videogames, and other merchandise, as well as stands previewing new games from Nintendo and Ubisoft, amongst others.

The hall at Event City was packed with videogame enthusiasts throughout the duration of the expo, some turning up in costume to cosplay as their favourite characters from gaming lore.

One of the main attractions of the event was inevitably the PS4, which was on display almost immediately upon entering. Gamers who waited in line were given the chance to play Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag on the next-gen console, almost a full month before Sony releases the PS4 on the market.

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Also available nearby was a playable demo of Dark Souls II for PS3, the sequel to the 2011 action role-playing game developed by From Software. The game launches in March, next year in the UK and the US, but gamers were given an incredible chance to try it before its official release.

At the event there was another product that drew considerable attention. This was the Oculus Rift: a virtual reality headset that places gamers in amidst the action.

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The device, which is developed by the company Oculus VR, is still currently in development for consumers, with no specific release date attached, as of yet. However, company CEO, Brendan Iribe, has stated his desire to release the device to the public before the end of 2014, should it be possible to do so.

At the Nintendo booth gamers were given a hands-on impression of several Wii U games, including Mario Kart 8, Super Mario 3D World, and Sonic Lost World. In addition to this, they also had the chance to play some of the new and upcoming 3DS games, such as Pokemon X & Y, and the Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds.

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The general response to Nintendo’s booth was positive, with many individuals praising the intuitive controls of the Wii U game pad, and the creativity of the new releases.

Other than the previews of these upcoming titles, there was also plenty of other stuff to see at the event. In the re.play area gamers were encouraged to revisit old gaming consoles, with the likes of the PS1, Dreamcast, and Super Nintendo available to play. Also, within the event hall, there were a collection of merchandise stalls and pinball machines to satisfy visitors.

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In short, Play Expo was a success. The two-day event managed to strike a perfect balance between providing for a casual audience and more hardcore gamers, offering enough entertainment for both to enjoy over its run.

Twitter: www.twitter.com/JackGYarwood

The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) Review

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“What is a ghost? A tragedy condemned to repeat itself time and again? An instant of pain, perhaps. Something dead which still seems to be alive. An emotion suspended in time. Like a blurred photograph. Like an insect trapped in amber” – Casares

Set during the final years of the Spanish Civil War, The Devil’s Backbone (El espinazo del diablo) is the third feature film from Guillermo del Toro, following both his debut feature Cronos and his nineties horror picture Mimic. The narrative of the film focuses upon an orphanage in rural Spain and its latest arrival, Carlos (Fernando Tielve). Through his actions we experience the story, learning gradually the significance of characters, as well as the troubled history of the orphanage itself.

The boy’s initial impressions of the orphanage are grim. In the centre of the courtyard there lies an unexploded bomb nose down in the dust. Amongst the children there is talk that a child is missing. Others say that he now haunts the orphanage. Carlos begins to hear and see things.

Throughout the course of the movie del Toro exhibits a spectacular ability in crafting a story that is both unsettling and sympathetic. By presenting a fiction based upon a small child, especially one without a parental figure to protect him, he plunges the audience into a world that is both uncertain and unsafe. Early on, in fact, we come to realize that it is not only the supernatural that is a threat to the boy, but also the older inhabitants of the orphanage, who display a bullying attitude towards the younger children.

In terms of the performances the film again excels. The presence of the much older characters, such as Jacinto (Eduardo Noriega), Carmen (Marisa Paredes), and Dr Casares (Federico Luppi) is measured perfectly and each character is given distinctive attributes to set them apart; Jacinto is boisterous and a bully, Carmen is curt yet caring, and Casares is kind and respectable. The children within the film, many of them first time actors, also impress when onscreen; they help throughout to reinforce the sense of dread and despondency that has inhabited the orphanage, to their credit.

Another point of interest is del Toro’s use of symbolism within the film, which is impeccable for the duration of the film. Within The Devil’s Backbone objects and situations, such as The Spanish Civil War, may seem to be merely embellishment to the story, yet they draw interesting parallels within the plot. An example of this is displayed within the characterisation of Jacinto, who bullies the children in a manner similar to how the socialists had come to be oppressed by Franco’s forces during the conflict. In fact, the film has been construed by many as an allegory for the strife of the Spanish people in general during this tumultuous period, the ghosts and monsters being representations, as is also suggested by Casares, for “an instant of pain…[or]…an emotion suspended in time.”

However you may choose to view the film, it is an interesting and enjoyable piece of European cinema. Not only does it manage to provide the usual scares expected of the horror genre, it also engages with the audience on a deeper level, offering a poignant tale of resistance and empowerment. Although, it may in many ways be overlooked in favour of its more successful sister film, Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone is well worth a look.

4/5

Twitter: www.twitter.com/jackgyarwood