November 2020 Favourites

Hello again, hope you’re all keeping safe and well. As you’ll no doubt be aware, November here in England was a very quiet month due to our second national lockdown, which saw non-essential places closed once again and further restrictions on gatherings. it didn’t really feel like a lockdown this time though, as the streets were still fairly busy with traffic and pedestrians, and I was already in the habit of not going out anywhere special anyway, so it didn’t feel like anything had changed for my mother and I.

Even as we move back into the 3-tier system, which is now stricter than before, things for my mother and I still won’t be any different. Having a consistent routine this year despite all the many rule changes has really helped us to ride the waves. And I’m still going out for walks every weekend, continuing to explore new streets in my area every time, so I’m getting a bit of fresh air and exercise regularly.

So what with all that, and the fact that we’ve been in the traditional lull of new TV shows before they bring out their Christmas treats, it means there isn’t a huge amount to mention this month, relative to some of the more epic essays I’ve been writing this year. That said, we have of course had some very good news lately, and I still have some TV and music content to mention, so there’s still a fair selection of bits and pieces to share in this month’s post and video. And as usual none of it is sponsored or gifted. So I hope you enjoy as always!

Continue reading “November 2020 Favourites”

October 2020 Favourites

Here we go again. It’s time for Lockdown 2: Electric Avenue, so the cases don’t get higher. It’s not quite as severe as the first one, with education settings remaining open in particular, but there are still very tight restrictions nonetheless. And it had been inevitable for some time. The use of different ‘tiers’ to set regional rules was keeping the infection rate lower than it otherwise would have been, but it wasn’t quite doing enough to drive cases down. So we didn’t have a choice, sadly, as many other countries have found.

There are still lots of reasons to be optimistic, thanks to the ever-improving knowledge about the virus, the better treatments now available, the developments of mass testing, and the very promising results of vaccine trials. But right now we have to be vigilant to get through the winter safely, and it’s important to take care of ourselves and look after our mental health during this time.

I feel relatively calm about it thankfully, as I’m fortunate to have a steady job, priority grocery deliveries, family support, regular contact with friends, blogging projects, local walks, entertainment, etc to help pass the time. And we’ve pre-ordered our meat for Christmas from a farm we like, so that gives us peace of mind too. I still greatly miss seeing friends in person and visiting interesting places of course, nobody wants this. But right now my mother and I feel safe and comfortable, which is the important thing. We’re more prepared than the first time around, when the uncertainty and panic buying made it really difficult to begin with. So we know we can get through it, having done it once already.

But for many other people it’s going to be a lot harder, due to physical and mental health issues, loneliness, loss of employment and business, financial worries, family and domestic problems, the loss of loved ones from the virus or other causes, and so on. So please do help others if you can, either by direct support or by charitable donations, because every little bit helps. And do also sign the petition by Mind calling on the Government to invest in a Winter Mental Health Support Package.

And if you’re in a position where you’re struggling, then my thoughts are with you, and please know that you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid to seek help or support, there’s absolutely no shame in that. If you’re unable or too anxious to talk to someone you know, then there’s lots of advice and support available from the Samaritans, counsellors, mental health charities, other charities relevant to disabilities and health conditions, support groups on social media, etc. I know it’s easier said than done – I’ve had to confide in friends about difficult things in the past, most of us have to at some point in our lives. But having any kind of support network, even if it’s just one person you can reach out and talk to when you need it, is a massive lifeline. Use it.

And to my American friends, who are going through a stressful period with their election right now, we’re all thinking of you too. You’ve had enough to deal with in 2020 on top of the pandemic as it is, without this in the mix as well. At the time of publishing this post, the outcome is still not clear, but I sincerely hope that common sense and decency prevails in the end. Stay safe out there.

But anyway, with all that said and done, let’s get into my latest monthly update, which is what you came here for in the first place. In this post and video for October there’s plenty to mention as usual, including my latest appearance on national radio, my walks out and about, and the various bits of entertainment I’ve been enjoying. None of it’s sponsored or gifted as usual, and I hope you find it interesting!

Continue reading “October 2020 Favourites”

Queen At 50 Reviews – Live Around The World with Adam Lambert

Over the last few months, because they’re my favourite band of all time, I’ve started posting deep-dive reviews of Queen’s original studio albums, to celebrate their 50th anniversary (so far covering their debut album, Queen II & Sheer Heart Attack, with the rest to follow in the coming months). There’s such a huge legacy of amazing music that it’s a joy digging through it all yet again (as if I need an excuse), making lots of fun discoveries along the way.

However, it’s also important to acknowledge their current work, as original members Brian May and Roger Taylor are still keeping the Queen machine alive today, with Adam Lambert as their new frontman. The Queen + Adam Lambert (Q+AL) collaboration has been running for nearly 10 years, after they started performing shows in 2011.

Yet in all that time, they’ve never released any albums or DVDs (apart from a Japanese exclusive live release in 2016). So if, like me, you haven’t attended any of their gigs, then you’ve been limited to watching fan footage online or catching their TV appearances if you wanted to experience them in action.

But now, having been unable to tour for most of this year for obvious reasons, they’ve just released a compilation of live performances called Live Around The Worldon CD, DVD, Blu-ray and Vinyl, with additional merchandise available too.

It stormed to number 1 in the UK album chart in its first week, making it Queen’s 10th album to hit the top spot, 25 years since the previous release that did so (Made In Heaven), and 45 years since their first number 1 album (A Night At The Opera). They’ve now jumped ahead of Bob Dylan to reach joint 6th place in the list of artists with the most number 1 albums, level with Michael Jackson, Rod Stewart and Eminem. It’s also Adam Lambert’s first number 1 in the UK, and it’s reached number 1 in Australia as well.

So I wanted to review it and give you my thoughts. And just to be clear, this isn’t sponsored or gifted – I bought this myself and all opinions are my own. So I hope you enjoy!

Continue reading “Queen At 50 Reviews – Live Around The World with Adam Lambert”

September 2020 Favourites

Autumn is now upon us, as is the second wave of the pandemic, and I know this will be a very difficult period for many, just as the whole year has been. So I hope you’re all continuing to keep safe and well as best you can.

For my part I’m still doing fine thus far, and still keeping myself occupied. I’ve been getting out and about more, and have continued to enjoy various forms of entertainment at home. So here’s my latest post and video roundup, in which nothing is sponsored or gifted as usual. I hope you enjoy!

Continue reading “September 2020 Favourites”

Queen At 50 Reviews – Sheer Heart Attack

After the release of Queen II (which I reviewed last month), Queen made the most of its rightful success by going on tour in the UK, even playing in the Devon seaside town of Paignton where I was raised a decade later, and having their biggest gig at the Rainbow Theatre in London. They then embarked on their first ever tour of the USA, as the support act for Mott The Hoople, a role they’d also taken on during a UK tour the previous year.

Although Queen knew what they wanted and were keen to do their own thing, they also took the valuable opportunity to observe Hoople closely, and learnt a lot from them about performing live. The outcome was an everlasting respect and close friendship between the two groups, as recognised by the inclusion of All The Young Dudes during Freddie’s Tribute Concert in 1992.

Freddie didn’t enjoy being a secondary act however, recalling it as “one of the most traumatic experiences of my life”. But it’s Brian who can truly describe the experience in such terms, as he was struck down by hepatitis towards the end of the tour, from a dirty needle used for vaccinations earlier in the year, forcing their remaining gigs to be cancelled. He spent 6 weeks in hospital, doing a bit of songwriting when he could, while the rest of the band started to work on other new material in his absence. The initial joy at being discharged and returning to the studio was short-lived for Brian, however, as it transpired the hepatitis had aggravated an undiagnosed stomach ulcer, sending him back to hospital again.

When he was finally able to resume normal life weeks later, he found the band had been very busy on the new album, adding songs he hadn’t yet heard and leaving spaces for him to add his guitar and vocal parts. He later described it as being “very weird, because I was able to see the group from the outside, and was pretty excited by what I saw.” See this clip from the Days Of Our Lives documentary for a bit more detail into how it came together.

Despite those setbacks, what ultimately resulted was another wonderful record, that went to number 2 in the UK and number 12 in the USA. Having been excessively complicated with Queen II, deliberately and delightfully so, they now wanted to aim for a more chart-friendly sound with comparatively simpler rock songs. But there were still many carefully constructed layers and harmonies, and the use of varied styles and instruments, across all of the tracks. So it was still quite a complicated production really, and the glamour and majesty of Queen was still very much forefront. But this album marked the transition from their progressive rock roots and fantasy songs to the more accessible classic style of rock and pop that they became best known for.

The cover contains a nice photo by Mick Rock of the band members spread out on the floor, shining from the glycerine and water they’ve been covered with. The band wanted it to look a bit like they’d been washed up on an island. It’s a nice look, and is perhaps reflective of the metaphorical rough seas they had to battle through to produce the album. I imagine Brian in particular was quite exhausted by the end of it.

So yet again it’s a pivotal part of the band’s story. And here are my personal reviews of each of the tracks, along with many other related versions and performances that have caught my attention. I hope you enjoy!

Continue reading “Queen At 50 Reviews – Sheer Heart Attack”

August 2020 Favourites

Hello again. Hope you’re all keeping well and have been enjoying the summer safely. Thank you for the many birthday wishes too, they were much appreciated. I went out to celebrate the occasion, and bought a few things to treat myself, which I’ll mention during this post.

Apart from that, I’ve been out for a few walks, and have continued to keep myself occupied and entertained in various ways at home. So as always there’s plenty to mention for the month in this latest post and video, none of which is sponsored or gifted. I hope you enjoy!

Continue reading “August 2020 Favourites”

Queen At 50 Reviews – Queen II

Following on from my in-depth review of Queen’s debut album, we now move on to the imaginatively titled Queen II, released in 1974. It’s not a very well known album amongst casual greatest hits consufmers, but there are many in the Queen fanbase who regard it as their favourite of all the band’s studio releases. It’s certainly one of mine, it’s amazing.

Artists including Axl Rose and Steve Vai have cited the album as an influence on their own work. And Brian May once told Classic Rock Magazine that it was his favourite album for a long time too, only superseded by Made In Heaven decades later. So the band themselves are very fond of it. They certainly prefer it to their first LP, which they were never fully happy with.

Centre booklet spread from the Queen 2 album. The 4 band members are dressed in white against a white background, so only their heads are visible. Again they're in a diamond formation - Brian at the top, Freddie at the bottom, Roger on the left and John on the right.

And it’s easy to see (or indeed hear) why Queen II gets so much love, because this is where things really start to get interesting, with its intricately arranged, artistically multilayered and beautifully harmonic compositions in a mixture of styles. It’s essential to listen to the album with headphones to fully appreciate how much work and perfectionism went into it. And they had more of a structure to the album this time, with a White side containing more emotional songs (4 written by Brian and 1 by Roger), and a Black side presenting songs in more of a fantasy vein (all written by Freddie).

Queen were ready to experiment, explore and be excessive. They were keen to push the boundaries and the technology, even wearing the oxide layers off the tapes as they added more and more musical layers to get a grand orchestral effect. And they were determined not to be bossed around or fit in with any expected norms. Yet remarkably they completed the recording within a month. Check out this clip from the Days Of Our Lives documentary for an insight into how it came together.

This was their moment. They needed to stand out from the crowd if they were to have any chance of success. And they did. The album reached number 5 in the UK, staying in the charts for 29 weeks and achieving Gold status, a significant improvement over their debut. Their dominance of overseas markets was still yet to come, but they were already doing a bit better there too, peaking at number 49 in America.

So here’s my review of each of the tracks, including a look at alternate versions, live performances, covers and more that I’m aware of, as explained in my previous post. And as I’ve said before, I’m not a music expert, just a very keen fan, and I’m sure there will be other Queen fans who disagree with some of my opinions, which is fine. Ultimately, this is all just for fun. So I hope you enjoy!

A black drawing of the Queen crest on a white background, below the album's title Queen 2. The crest has a large phoenix with outstretched wings looking over a large letter Q. A royal crown sits inside the Q, on the bottom, while a small crab sits on top of the Q. 2 lions and 2 fairies complete the picture, 1 of each sitting on each side of the Q and facing towards it.

Continue reading “Queen At 50 Reviews – Queen II”

Queen At 50 Reviews – Debut Album

Queen are my favourite band of all time. Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon produced such incredible songs, albums, videos and live performances throughout their reign, with their own exceptional and wonderful sound, gifting us a magical legacy that will live on forever. Their music always makes me feel good, or in tougher times it makes me feel supported, and I never tire of listening to them.

Freddie’s premature passing will forever remain a heartbreaking loss, as nobody else has (or ever will) be able to match him. Yes, of course there are many other fabulously talented singers and musicians whom I also love, but Freddie was very much a one-off, in the best possible way. There was even a scientific study analysing his amazing voice a few years ago.

It’s also essential to credit the contributions of Brian, Roger and John too, of course, all of whom are awesome musicians in their own right. And as well as being great performers, Queen are the only band where every member has composed more than one chart-topping single, and all 4 members were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame. And there are many other impressive sales figures and single statistics out there, including 50 incredible facts from the Official Charts, if further proof were needed,

I first discovered Queen back in the 1990s when I went to see a tribute act in concert with some school friends. I already knew a few of their biggest hits, naturally, but the show opened my ears to so much more. I immediately got Queen’s Greatest Hits compilations, then in later years dug deeper to explore their albums and videos, and have continued to be in love with them ever since.

And we’re now approaching a highly significant milestone, as it will soon be Queen’s 50th anniversary – although exactly when you celebrate it depends on which date you use. They first performed under that name on 18 July 1970, hence I’m posting this exactly 50 years on from that date, as it’s as good a reason as any. However, the lineup was only finalised when John Deacon joined the band on 1 March 1971. So the latter is really more appropriate, and for that reason Queen are going to be officially celebrating their 50th in 2021. But hey, as our actual Queen has 2 birthdays every year, I think her majestic musical namesake can have 2 as well, right?

With that in mind, therefore, and because I have plenty of time to kill given the current worldwide situation, it’s the perfect opportunity for me to do a deep dive into all of their albums, DVDs and other bits and pieces, and write some reviews in the process. After all, there’s so much to explore, with such a wonderful variety to their music, and they weren’t afraid to be ambitious and experimental. Even now I sometimes discover new things that I hadn’t noticed before. It’ll take me a while to do all of this, of course – I’ll try and do a post every 2 or 3 weeks, but we’ll see how it goes. In any case, it’ll be fun to go through their output in detail, and I hope you enjoy coming on the journey with me!

Continue reading “Queen At 50 Reviews – Debut Album”

Lockdown Favourites – Weeks 11-12

Hey there, hope you’re all continuing to keep safe and well! Here in the UK lockdown has been eased further, including the re-opening of non-essential shops, the compulsory use of face coverings on public transport, and the partial re-opening of schools. So some small sense of normality is returning, albeit with lots of distancing and hygiene measures in place.

I’m still happy staying at home though, because I have no compelling reason to go out and my priority is still protecting Mum by not bringing the virus home. Our shopping’s being delivered every week, and despite the new rules public transport is still a no-go, as it’s only for essential journeys and distancing is much harder on a Tube train or bus. So there’s little incentive to go anywhere. Mum and I will be leaving the house to attend my uncle’s funeral with my aunt in a couple of week’s time, and I’m starting to feel more open to having a socially distanced outdoor meeting or picnic with a friend or two, as that appears to be relatively safe having been aware of others who have done it. But that’s about it.

In any case, I’ve been keeping myself very busy lately. I’ve actually been using Zoom for the first time recently, to talk to workmates, some friends and other people I’ll mention a bit later in this post. It’s strange how I didn’t get asked to do any video calls for the first 2 months of lockdown, then had one last month, followed by loads in June, about half of which are on Zoom. It’ll probably go quiet again in July!

And I’m also busy on my blog too. Hopefully you’ve already seen my Def Leppard – London To Vegas Unboxing, which I produced after they very kindly set me a copy of the box set to review. But if you haven’t seen it yet, do go and check it out. It’s the first time I’ve ever been sent a product to review, and I had no hesitation in accepting the offer as it’s from one of my favourite bands! I also have some other blog posts I’m working on too, by which I mean a couple of big series that should guarantee me regular posts over the summer and beyond. So I’m in no danger of running out of content just yet!

And of course my Favourites posts will continue, now on a fortnightly basis for the time being, as that frees up my time much more. So here’s my latest recap, with plenty to cover, including disability events & discussions, theatre, Blu-rays, comedy, music and more. So let’s get on with it, and I hope you enjoy my latest post and video!

Continue reading “Lockdown Favourites – Weeks 11-12”

Lockdown Favourites – Week 10

Hello again. I hope you’re all doing ok – especially my friends and followers in the USA, all our thoughts are with you right now. Black Lives Matter and there are many ways to get involved and show your support, while those taking advantage of peaceful protests to cause destruction and misery have no respect for peace and equality. I sincerely hope that stability and civility is restored very soon. We should all be pulling together at all times, but it’s more important than ever during this pandemic.

Here in England, our lockdown has been eased in recent days, even though many scientists, including some of the government’s own advisors, feel too much is being done too soon. And if the experts are wary, then so am I, because I trust their judgement the most. So I’m going to continue staying locked down while we wait to see what happens, and until doctors and scientists can reassure us that it really is safer out there. It’s important for me because I live with my mother, who is elderly and blind, so the last thing I want is to bring the virus home and infect her, so that she ends up in hospital where I can’t visit her. So I’m staying indoors to keep her safe, that’s my priority.

And while I’m doing that, I’m still keeping myself entertained, which is taking my mind off the news very effectively as usual. So I hope this week’s post and video, which as always doesn’t contain anything sponsored or gifted, is a nice distraction for you too!

Continue reading “Lockdown Favourites – Week 10”