What better way to celebrate the lifting of restrictions than with a really special lift, in a helicopter ride over London! This was a trip that my friend James had originally organised for a few of us 3 years ago, to celebrate his 40th birthday. But it was postponed a few times thanks to the weather, and then of course the pandemic scuppered it completely, so it felt like it would never happen. But last weekend, not long after James’s 43rd birthday, we finally did it. And it was well worth the wait!Continue reading “Eye In The Sky – Helicopter Ride”
Hello again, I hope you all had a good Easter. My mother and I happily over-indulged on hot cross buns, Easter eggs and other unhealthy things as usual, but hopefully I’ve offset that a bit with the long walks I’ve continued doing. And I’m glad to say my mother had her 4th Covid jab over Easter too, without any side effects.
As well as the treats and sweets and my feet on the streets, another big part of April for me was rounding up things from March, as there was a lot to share about my trip to Milton Keynes. In particular, I wrote detailed reviews, including lots of photos, about the museums I visited, the We Will Rock You musical and exploring the theatre district. Meanwhile on Youtube I included a travel vlog in last month’s Favourites video, and shared some footage from Bletchley Park. So do go and check all of that out if you haven’t already.
Apart from that, I didn’t go to any museums or theatres in April, but I’ve got quite a lot in the pipeline on that front, with lots of exhibitions I want to see, and a variety of shows booked for the coming months, among other things. And there’s a potentially big opportunity on the horizon that I can’t talk about just yet, but it might prove to be very interesting. All of which means I have a busy year ahead, and it’s caused me to reassess how I use my time, especially as we’re all emerging from the depths of the pandemic and making a bit of a fresh start.
I’ve therefore decided to cut back on the Favourites videos I do with these posts. They do take a fair amount of time to produce, and I’ve done about 60 of them over the past 4 years, which is pretty good going. I’d rather focus on my writing, and I’ll continue doing these detailed blog posts every month, as I have a lot more time and flexibility to construct, edit, update and correct them, compared to videos. Plus I have a variety of other things that I want to write about in the months ahead. I’ll still do little updates on my Youtube channel every so often though, and I’ll continue to share footage from my outings and travels there (indeed, there’s a very special video coming up shortly). But I just want to keep things a bit simpler on the video front, that’s all.
So with all that said, let’s get on with this month’s roundup. Apart from my walks, there’s also quite a bit to tell you about the various forms of home entertainment I’ve been into, including a special 50th anniversary tribute to one of my favourite radio shows. None of it’s sponsored or gifted as usual, and I hope you enjoy!Continue reading “April 2022 Favourites”
Following on from my previous posts about the museums I visited and the We Will Rock You musical, I want to finish my trilogy about my recent break in Milton Keynes by giving an overview of the area I was staying in near the theatre, as I spent a bit of time having a wander around. As with my other posts, none of this is sponsored or gifted, and you can see some footage from the area as part of the vlog in my March Favourites video.Continue reading “My MK Getaway – Theatre District”
Considering I’m a huge Queen fan, as evidenced by my ongoing Queen At 50 series of ridiculously obsessive album reviews, it seems hard to believe that I’ve never seen We Will Rock You before. But when it was in London I lived too far away to get to it easily, and I wasn’t aware of audio described performances back then either (if they even existed at that time), so I didn’t go to the theatre much as I often couldn’t see what was going on very well.
In its early days there was also a part of me that was uncertain how well Queen’s songs would transfer to a stage musical, or how such a wildly varied catalogue of hits could possibly be shoehorned into some kind of coherent story. Some theatrical adaptations of songs can be rather bland or overly cheesy, rather than captivating entertainment. And anyone you compare with Freddie and the original band is always going to be inferior to some degree. So I’m always a bit wary of anyone covering their material, some of which is rather complex in its structure and harmonies. Plus the story, written by Ben Elton (who has returned to direct the 20th anniversary tour), also sounded a bit silly when I first heard about it. And there seemed to be a lot of reviews by critics that were less than favourable.
However, much like my early misgivings about the Adam Lambert touring collaboration, the more I learnt about the Queen musical and the more popular it became as time went on, the more interested I became in going to see it one day. I got the soundtrack album, which demonstrated how they’d adapted the songs, and I’ve seen various clips of the cast on TV, DVD extras and online over the years, all of which have helped to fuel my interest.
And so finally, in March this year, I had the opportunity to see the 20th anniversary touring production, when an audio described performance was announced at the Milton Keynes Theatre. Hence that was my main reason for visiting the town. I just decided to make a week of it to see other things as well, including the museums I’ve written about in my previous post.
It’s been a long time but, now that things have finally opened up again, I’m happy to say I’ve just had my first little holiday in over 2 years. While I’ll always be obsessed with exploring London itself, I’m also keen to poke around places further afield a bit more, as it’s so easy to hop on fast trains out of the city, to practically any part of the UK, unlike where I used to live. I’ve settled into London very well over the past 5 years, even if I have been largely stuck indoors for the last 2 of them, so I’m looking forward to broadening my horizons.
So at the end of March I spent a week in Milton Keynes. Hardly an exotic location, I know, but still an enjoyable and worthwhile change of scenery. And it was all off my own back, meaning nothing here is sponsored or gifted.
As well as seeing an audio described theatre show, which I’ll mention in my next post, I also spent a few days checking out the most famous museums in the area, marking the first time I’ve been to such places since the pandemic began. So that’s what I’m going to tell you about here, focusing primarily on the most significant location – Bletchley Park – as what was achieved there was nothing short of extraordinary, but there are a few other things to mention as well. And I’ve also uploaded some video clips I recorded at Bletchley Park, which will give you a small sense of the atmosphere, so do check that out too.Continue reading “My MK Getaway – Codebreakers, Computers & Collectors”
Well, that’s more like it. March was a very busy month for me, as I’ve been getting out and about a great deal again. In particular, I’ve just had my first little getaway in well over 2 years, as I spent a week in Milton Keynes, where I attended an audio described musical and visited a few of their museums. Meanwhile back in London I went to another theatre show, had plenty of walks, and watched various TV shows and films as usual.
So there’s a lot to get through, and it won’t all be in this post. I’ve already written a separate detailed review for the play I went to in London, and I’m sharing dedicated posts about my Milton Keynes adventures too. So all of that stuff will just be summarised below, with relevant links added so you can find out more.
That said, however, my Favourites video accompanying this post includes an extensive vlog filmed during my Milton Keynes trip, which will give you a good insight into what I got up to. And in this post I still go into detail about the other entertainment I enjoyed back in London too. So there’s plenty to check out here, none of which is sponsored or gifted, and all opinions are my own. So I hope you enjoy!
Last updated 4 April 2022
As always with Queen’s albums, Jazz is a mixture of famously popular hits and underrated lesser-known gems. The first side, which I reviewed in my previous post, is proof of that on its own, with Fat Bottomed Girls and Bicycle Race making a particularly big impact. But the second side is also a fantastic collection of songs, by far the most significant being Don’t Stop Me Now by Freddie of course, for which there is a great deal to write about. Plus we get both of the tracks that Roger contributed, 3 more compositions by Brian, and another song by John. So this is my in-depth review of Side 2, with the usual mix of alternate versions, live performances, covers and more. I hope you enjoy!
Following News Of The World, an album of raw energy that spawned the mega-hits We Will Rock You & We Are The Champions, on top of their previous successes, was always going to be a very tall order for Queen. But, as always, they weren’t deterred by that, and opted to explore a variety of musical styles on their 7th album (though not including jazz itself as the title might suggest). And it didn’t do them any harm, as the LP peaked at Number 2 in the UK charts (held off the top spot by the Grease soundtrack), and Number 6 on the US Billboard Chart, going Platinum in both countries.
Overall the album perhaps isn’t as stunning as some of their previous work, but only because of the incredibly high bar they’d set themselves, and it’s still really good in its own right. For a start, it gave us their well-loved songs Fat Bottomed Girls, Bicycle Race and Don’t Stop Me Now, a trio that makes it worth the price of entry alone (although surprisingly the latter wasn’t a big hit to begin with). And the other ten tracks are an enjoyable mixture too, with some relatively obscure gems amongst them as usual.
The heavy criticism it received in the music press at the time was certainly unwarranted, with the band even being described as “fascist” and “creeps” with “polluting ideas” by Rolling Stone reviewer Dave Marsh. But it was often fashionable for music critics to bash the band, and reviewers tended to be thrown off guard whenever Queen tried something different (which was always), not knowing how to react to it and simply not ‘getting it’. Queen’s humour and sense of fun often went over journalists’ heads.
Hindsight has been kinder though, with retrospective reviews often being more favourable, such as Loudersound ranking it as their 4th best album, and Rolling Stone magazine admitting they were wrong. It is now rightly acknowledged that the album is rather underrated, as it’s never had as much attention as some of their earlier work.
And so, as the latest instalment in my Queen At 50 series, this post is my personal run-through of all the tracks on Side 1 of the album, including the usual mixture of alternate versions, live performances, covers and more. Freddie Mercury dominates here, with 4 of the 6 songs written by him, while Brian and John contribute one each. Then in my next post I’ll share my review of Side 2. I hope you enjoy!
After a quiet couple of months, I recently went to the theatre for the first time this year. And my first venue of 2022 was the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park. I’ve been there once before, when I saw A Pupil in November 2018. It’s a nice little place, and they make a lot of effort to be accessible and inclusive. They’re also a charity, but they don’t get funding from the government or the Arts Council, so they encourage people to support them in a variety of ways. That includes this special fundraising production, which finished its run today as I write this, so the ticket prices were a little bit higher than they usually charge. But it was still very cheap compared to many shows over in the West End, and it was well worth my purchase.
Well, what a month this has turned out to be, as the world lurches from dealing with a nasty microscopic invader to a much larger and more evil one. I’m not remotely qualified to talk about the catastrophe unfolding overseas, but my thoughts are with the Ukrainian people at this unimaginably horrific time, along with all those working to support and defend them, and all the journalists reporting from the area. A lot of courage is being shown out there against the onslaught, supported by unprecedented unity amongst countries around the world, all far greater than Russia had bargained on.
There are many ways to help the Ukrainians, including donations to appeals by the Disasters Emergency Committee, British Red Cross, UNHCR Refugee Agency & United Help Ukraine, along with children’s charities Save The Children, UNICEF & Voices Of Children, as some examples. But it’s also important to find ways to help yourself, your children and others, given that a lot of the news is very distressing. For example, there’s no shame in muting words on Twitter, unsubscribing from news feeds, and generally reducing how often you access the news on TV and online, as I’ve been trying to do. It doesn’t mean you don’t care, it just gives you control over how much you’re exposed to it, so it isn’t too distracting or overwhelming. It’s also great to see that the BBC are making use of shortwave radio and the dark web to make the news available to Ukrainian and Russian civilians who would otherwise be prevented from accessing it.
All of that has completely overshadowed everything else of course, in what was already a busy month for news, with the final Covid restrictions being lifted in England as we cautiously return to relative normality, the excellent gold medal won by Great Britain’s female curlers and the silver won by the men in the Winter Olympics (and good luck to our Winter Paralympians too!), plus the rough weather from Storm Eunice that caused myself and many others to get sucked into a live stream by Big Jet TV, of planes attempting to land at Heathrow, with Jerry Dyer‘s entertaining commentary. There’s certainly been a lot going on!
As for me, however, things have been pretty quiet this month, as expected. I haven’t been to any museums or theatres for a start, but I am getting back into all that stuff in March, where I’ve got quite a lot booked or planned. And I did still go out and about in February. In particular I was delighted to do my first bit of socialising this year, when I met up with a good friend for a meal in Pizza Express and a walk around Regent’s Park. And I’ve had some nice long walks in Central London, ticking several more streets off my map. You can see a few photos of things I saw on my Instagram & Facebook pages, including Westminster Cathedral, the Little Ben clock outside Victoria Station, and nearby sculptures called Lioness and Lesser Kudu & Essential Bonds.
Apart from that though, it’s mainly just a few TV shows and films that I have to mention in this month’s post and video. So this is going to be relatively short, but I hope you enjoy!