A Piece of Cake

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2017-05-28a by CH - Annabel de Vetten (detail2).JPG

Chrissie and I were invited along to Birmingham’s Electric Cinema on 28 May, to meet Annabel de Vetten, founder of speciality bakery Conjurer’s Kitchen, and Victoria Price, author of Vincent Price: A Daughter’s Biography. The resulting interview turned out to be our final appearance on Made in Birmingham TV, as we finally lost patience with a company which treats its outside contributors with utter contempt.

An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear. [3]

As anticipated in an earlier post, I pulled the plug on the Birmingham FearFest shortly after 7pm on Monday. Once I’d spoken to the guests, I began the process of refunding ticket monies (Eventbrite forces you to reverse every payment individually, almost as though the company was attempting to dissuade organisers from cancelling and thus voiding its booking fee); needless to say, it was not the most uplifting of experiences.

Another Nice Mess

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Usually, when I interview someone about a shared enthusiasm, it’s related to horror, science fiction or maybe comics, but my latest piece for Made in Birmingham TV took me to the home of John Ullah, ‘Grand Sheik’ of Laughing Gravy, the Birmingham ‘tent’ of the international Laurel & Hardy appreciation society the Sons of the Desert. As well as having a long and highly enjoyable conversation, the first part of which is due to air on Saturday evening, I actually got to touch a pair of Stan Laurel’s socks, which beats any variation of that Kevin Bacon game hands-down.

[Photograph by Chrissie Harper]

An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear. [2]

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It’s four days since I posted about the Birmingham FearFest, during which time I believe we’ve sold one additional ticket. I’m giving it until next Monday before making a final decision, but it would take a major shift in reality for this event’s fortunes to turn around. We’re grateful to everyone who tried plugging it via their social media outlets, but it appears to have little or no impact. Then again, neither did a print in The Dark Side, back in mid-February, so traditional media seems just as ineffectual. It’s not just that I don’t know the answers, I’m no longer even sure what the questions are.

Time Czech

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Saturday evening found me back at the Two Towers Brewery, but for once it was not the Birmingham Horror Group which drew me there but Czech Club Birmingham, which had invited me to introduce a screening of the 1977 time travel comedy Zítra vstanu a oparím se cajem (aka Tomorrow I’ll Wake Up and Scald Myself with Tea). You can see the footage on YouTube, though it would have been nice to have the use of a real time machine to fix my comment that Josef Nesvadba was born in 1912 (it was actually 1926, a year he shared with the first true science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories).

An Old-Fashioned Horror Convention? No Fear.

One of the long-term plans for the Birmingham Horror Group when it launched in December 2015 was for members to host an old-style horror event in the city, as opposed to the soulless, commercially-orientated merchandise and autograph fairs which have proliferated since “geek culture” became fully monetised. After all, what’s the point in hanging out with friends in a pub, discussing old episodes of Doctor Who or your favourite comics, when you can stand in line to pay £45 to be photographed next to John Barrowman (£10 extra if he wears his “Captain Jack” overcoat) or buy five versions of the same superhero reboot with different covers but the same identical Manga-style interior art? In fact, why even hang out with friends in the first place, when there are thousands of “friends” willing to give pretty much any passing comment a ‘like’ on Facebook?

Well, I believed there was still life in the original concept — and boy, does it look as though I was wrong. Running the monthly group has long ago ceased to be the fun it should have been, the erratic turn-out proving most “fans” are now only willing to show up if there’s some kind of gimmick, like a guest speaker or a free screening, and prefer to scurry back to the warm glow of their computer screens as soon as that part’s over. As for the Birmingham FearFest, ticket sales have been embarrassingly lack-lustre, and we’re currently facing the very real likelihood of having to pull the plug on its incubator. It’s been suggested to me that it could simply be postponed until later in the year, allowing a new round of publicity, but I’m not convinced I have a sufficiently deep reservoir of energy or optimism.

A little over thirty years ago,so many people turned up at a Novacon I chaired in Birmingham that we ran out of programme books, and we’d printed more than 500. These days, I find myself quite literally unable to run a party in a brewery. The world has allegedly evolved, but I’m not sure whether I want any part of this latest mutation; it clearly wants no part of me.

Updated 4 May.

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Down the Tube [5]

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The latest of my reports for Made in Birmingham TV aired Saturday evening. the first half of a discussion with local rock musician Joe Dempster, whose band The Bloodthirsters has since supplied the theme tune for the first of Chrissie Harper’s and my Club Vamporama minisodes.

Other recent contributions to Birmingham News Weekend Magazine have featured Vamos Theatre (whose performers wear full-face masks), the producer and director of Worcester-based crime thriller Artichoke, performance duo notnow Collective, Birmingham-based space artist David A Hardy, Birmingham CAMRA chair Sally Lavender and award-winning licensee Brendon Daly (whose pub has already served as an ad hoc studio on three occasions). The majority are now available to view on our YouTube channel.

Clockwise, from top left: with musician Joe Dempster; with film-makers Fernando Antonio Maffei and Lawrence Donello; with artist David A Hardy; with performers Hannah Kimpton and Aron De Casmaker of Vamos Theatre.

Escape From Old Trafford

I once had the enormous pleasure of meeting the director John Carpenter at the National Film Theatre, where he’d presented a lecture on his idol, Howard Hawks. I pointed out that he’d paid homage to Hawks’ westerns (Assault on Precinct 13) and science fiction (The Thing), but never tried his hand at a ‘screwball’ comedy. He joked that he might do just that, but with only two movie credits this century (2001’s lacklustre Ghosts of Mars and 2010’s barely-released The Ward), it’s unlikely we’ll ever see him in Bringing Up Baby mode.

In any case, Mr Carpenter is now pursuing a different path, albeit one which feeds on his parallel career as a soundtrack composer: rock star. Which is why Saturday evening found me at the Victoria Warehouse, a short distance from Manchester United FC’s home ground. The European leg of his Release the Bats tour had originally included two nights at Manchester’s Albert Hall, but a switch in promoters precipitated a conflation of both events into one venue, a massive concrete box with all the ambience of a multi-storey car park (and comparable acoustics, according to some who ended up standing at the back). A makeshift sign near the entrance alluded to Escape From New York, but the building itself was a far more convincing nod to that movie.

Doors opened at 6:30pm, and most of the 4,000 ticket-holders seemed to have made their way inside by 7pm, but other than a couple of technicians, the stage remained empty until 8:30pm. Luckily, I’d managed to finesse my way into the balcony area, which offered very limited seating, but the vast majority who’d expected to watch the concert in relative comfort were instead forced to stand for three hours with a restricted — or non-existent — view of the 75-minute set.

The sole saving grace was the performance by Mr Carpenter and his band, which was excellent, although the balcony may have been the only place where it could be properly enjoyed. In amongst the instantly recognisable Halloween, The Fog, Big Trouble in Little China et al, we were treated to tracks from his two volumes of Lost Themes, belted out in a mesh of synthesiser and heavy guitar.

So, great gig, lousy location. To quote Beth Abbit’s review in the Manchester Evening News, “It’s disappointing that this highly anticipated opportunity to see a hugely iconic movie man at work was hampered by an unsuitable alternative choice of venue.”

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Towards the next frontier [3]

The inaugural episode of Ghostwords TV is now available online, featuring an interview with Ramsey Campbell, news and reviews, editorial opinion and a personal tribute to David Bowie. You can subscribe to the feed here.

Festival memories [2]

Here’s a nice photo of the actress Valerie Leon and myself at the 1996 Festival of Fantastic Films in Manchester. She’s reportedly busy filming a new horror comedy, Pitfire of Hell, co-starring fellow scream queen Ellie Church, directed and co-written by Bob East. Ms Leon is 5’11” tall, by the way, and I’m pretty sure she was wearing high heels.