Category Archives: Reviews

Sunday Driver reviewed in the Financial Times!

OK, so it’s not quite the Rock’n’Roll heights I’d imagined, but we’re more than happy with a 4-star review in the FT. Hell, those people have money.

Sunday Driver FT review May2012

Sunday Driver in the Sunday Times! “A band to watch, without question”

Totally stoked to see this review of the new Sunday Driver album The Mutiny  – out now!!! –  in the Sunday Times Culture magazine this weekend (page 35 if you’ve got it to hand).

SD_STimes_220412

This was a perfect topping to an amazing couple of weeks in which we hit our Pledge campaign target, played an incredible album launch gig at Hoxton Hall, and made our debut at White Mischief at the Scala. Can I sleep now, please?

Junkhearts Premier – London Film Festival

Junkhearts posterLast Friday, the members of Talk In Colour (formerly the Shadow Orchestra) donned our smartest clothes and headed to Leicester Square for the premier of Junkhearts – directed by Chris’ wife Tinge Krishnan – as part of the London Film Festival.

Chris did the soundtrack for the film, and two of the most significant scenes heavily feature the Shadow Orchestra track Nick’s Lament (the instrumental version of new Talk In Colour single, Nightshifts – get it for free here!) as well as other bits and bobs played by members of the band. Regular readers may remember this post from more than a year ago, when I did my recording session for the soundtrack during the worst bout of RSI I’ve had so far.

Junkhearts explores the story of Frank (played brilliantly by Eddie Marsan), an alcoholic ex-soldier whose current battle is against Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. A chance encounter with young homeless girl Lynette – the frankly phenomenal Candese Reid in her first film role –  leads to a seemingly unstoppable spiral of events that can only head one way.

Scripted by Simon Frank, the film deals with a lot of difficult themes – PTSD, homelessness, addiction, loneliness – and isn’t afraid to confront them head on. Lest this sound unrelentingly bleak, the film is packed with uplifting moments, with plenty of humour, gorgeous cinematography and – of course – Chris’ score. And from a purely personal perspective it was frankly spine-tingling to sit in a massive cinema and hear my harp twinkling around the room.

The performances from all the cast make it a riveting watch, thanks to some great casting. As well as Marsan and Reid, Romola Garai is luminous as frantically unravelling middle-class mum Christine, and Tom Sturridge is a convincingly nasty piece of work as Lynette’s boyfriend Danny. Together, they’ve created believable characters that I really warmed to, and tell an engaging story.

The soundtrack also features tracks from my other band Sunday Driver, along with other upcoming independent musicians, including Laura Kidd (She Makes War) and Robyn Sherwell. Sadly all of these are rather blink-and-you’ll-miss it appearances, but we’re all in the credits 🙂

Junkhearts will be out nationally from early November in arthouse cinemas across the country.  I highly recommend it. Yes, I’m biased, but I also genuinely think it’s fantastic.

Here are a few frankly terrible photos from the premier. I was clearly too busy hoovering up free champagne to hold the camera straight.

London Film Festival

Free bar!

Mary and Tinge

Mary with director Tinge Krishnan

Romola Garai, Eddie Marsan, Candese Reid - Junkhearts cast

The cast - Romola Garai, Eddie Marsan and Candese Reid

Talk In Colour/Shadow Orchestra - junkhearts

Talk In Colour (though we're the Shadow Orchestra in the film credits)

Dave Talk In Colour

Drummer Dave hobnobs with the stars

Gig review: Givers at the Shacklewell Arms, Dalston

I have a new hero, and her name is Tiffany Lamson.

Givers - Shacklewell Arms

She’s the fiery (and tiny) co-lead of Givers – a US band that I saw at the Shacklewell Arms in Dalston at the weekend.  Attentive readers may remember me featuring them on the blog a week or two ago, and they were even better in the flesh than they are on record.

It was one of the best gigs I’ve been to for ages – tiny room, massive sound, and a stonking performance from the band, who wrapped things up by kicking over their drumkits and stumbling sweatily off-stage into the tiny beer-garden (the Shacklewell is not exactly purpose-built as a music venue). Also, because I am pathetically short, I managed to weasel my way right to the very front, jammed up against the lead singer/guitarist’s monitor.

I didn’t really notice him much though, as I was transfixed by Tiffany. She’s a great singer, talented percussionist and charismatic performer who kicks ass with a ukulele. I’m pretty sure that all the men and women in the room were more than a little bit in love with her by the end of the night. Awesome.

The band mostly stuck to songs from the recent album In Light, but also pulled out a 3-song Talking Heads medley. I’m not really a Head-head, so I didn’t recognise the songs, but it helped me see where some of Givers’ influences come from, given the little I know of David Byrne and co.

I also got the feeling they were a little bit confused by the whole “London audiences don’t dance” thing. Although a few of us in the front row were doing our best, it’s a sad fact that London crowds are the hardest bunch to get moving in the entire world. (Ask me how I know…)

Here’s a crappy photo taken on my phone, to remind me of a brilliant night full of great music. They’re back in the UK in August playing at Field Day, Hoxton Bar & Grill and some other places around the country (gig list on their website). Don’t miss them – they are AMAZING. Consider yourself told.

Givers - Shacklewell arms 2

Review: An Optimist’s Tour of the Future by Mark Stevenson

Optimist on tour cover

Click to buy on Amazon

I first met “The Optimist” – or Mark as I like to call him – when he rescued me from a bothersome sex pest at a formal dinner (insert your own frying pan/fire joke here…).

We instantly hit it off with a shared love of geekery, music and bad jokes, meeting up whenever our diaries permit to drink pricey booze and laugh till it hurts.

After more than a year of travelling, researching and writing, he’s finally finished his first book – An Optimist’s Tour of the Future. Like its writer, the book is by turns geeky, funny, thought-provoking and  – at times – controversial.

An Optimist’s Tour is a rollercoaster headfuck of a book that leaves you shaking your head and muttering “wow!” as it speeds around the world asking the question “what next?” The premise is simple, but the answers are incredible and have the potential to change humanity as we know it.

Rather than all the doomsayers predicting war, famine, death, drought, pestilence, climate catastrophe and Katie Price’s next book, Mark asks what would happen if all the amazing technology that scientists are working on actually comes off. What if we can make robots that can think and feel? What about cheating death and engineering humans that can live for thousands of years? Solving the energy crisis using only some humble algae or a giant cauldron? How about restoring the drought-stricken Australian outback with nothing more than a few fence panels and a motorbike?

To answer these questions, he went on an incredible journey to meet some of the most visionary (and geeky) people in the world – Google’s Vint Cerf, futurist maverick Ray Kurzweil, Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed, transhumanist Nick Bostrom, one-woman Kiwi superhero Vicki Buck and robot “godmother” Cynthia Breazeal are just a few of the characters brought to life in glorious detail. You get a real feel for what it’s like to meet these people and get caught up by their energy and ideas. It helps that much of the book is written using direct quotes as the scientists set out their stalls in their own words, handily sidestepping the acres of dreary prose that can dog popular science books.

The stories they have to tell are just as vivid, and have major implications for the future of humanity.  As I read the book, my mind kept filling with plots for schlocky science fiction stories – The man who lived forever! The sludge that saved the world! – but these are real-life scenarios that Mark’s describing. Technology is advancing at an unprecedented pace, and he finds out that we already have – or nearly have –  within our grasp a lot of the tools that we need to significantly improve human health and lifespan, reverse rising CO2 levels, solve the energy crisis and even create a networked tube of toothpaste that can re-order itself when it’s empty.

But here’s the rub – how do we actually cope with it all? There’s a nice bit of pacing at work in the book, as Mark pulls the reader through three sections entitled Man, Machine and Earth, laying out not just the “what ifs” but the “what whens” of this new technology. It’s enough to leave you feeling amazed, dazed and not a little bit frightened. How does it all fit together? What will the future look like?

It’s hard to imagine that our lives will be significantly different from today in ten years time, or even 20, 30 or 50. Will it really have changed that much, or will I still be yelling down the phone at my broadband provider while dodging the feral children roaming the streets of Hackney? And haven’t we always had this promise of a glorious techno-future dangled at us? It’s 2011 already – I want my hoverboard, dammit!

Luckily just at this point, there’s the final section – Re-boot – where Mark tries to pull it all together and make some kind of sense from the tsunami of ideas he’s collected. The main conclusion seems to be that human curiosity, ingenuity and creativity has never been a problem – after all, that’s why we’re not (mostly) still living in caves and grunting at each other. It’s whether we actually have the will, both personal and political, and the vision to embrace change and run with these new ideas that could make the world a better place.

To me, this is summed up in the quote from Mark Bedau, telling us that “Change will happen and we can either try to influence it in a constructive way, or we can try and stop it from happening, or we can ignore it. Trying to stop it from happening is futile. Ignoring it seems irresponsible.” In summary, Yay! For technology, and fingers crossed for human nature.

An Optimist’s Tour is an exciting and engaging book, but not just because of the gee-whizz subject matter. It’s clear that Mark knows his stuff and has done his research, as the book bristles with facts, figures and scientific detail. That’s not to say it’s a dull read. He uses stats like Rocky uses his left hook, delivering killer blows to support his arguments. Clever analogies and metaphors, coupled with his easy-going, conversational writing style, make complicated scientific principles pop off the page into graspable reality.

Although I really enjoyed reading the book, I do have to vehemently disagree with one of Mark’s premises. Duran Duran are clearly NOT better than the Pet Shop Boys.  Despite this lapse in musical taste, An Optimist’s Tour is an absolutely cracking read, providing plenty of food for thought and discussion, and I highly recommend it.

Book review: The Honest Look by Jennifer L Rohn

The Honest Look

The Honest Look - click the pic to buy on Amazon

Disclaimer: This is another review of a book written by a friend (see also Dance you Way to Psychic Sex).

It’s tough to review mates’ books. If I love it, I sound like a sycophant – and of course, I’d rather keep schtum than publish a damning review. But I’ll start by saying that I do love this book, and you should all buy it (and not just if you’re a scientist).

Set in the world of scientific research, Jenny Rohn’s second novel – The Honest Look – is all about interactions. From the mysterious interplay between proteins buried deep within cells to the emotional interactions between colleagues, friends and lovers, The Honest Look teases them apart to show us how they work.

The plot centres on Dr Claire Cyrus, fresh from her PhD and harbouring a secret double life as a poet. She’s one of the three people in the world who can work a mysterious and idiosyncratic machine known as the Interactrex 3000. This beast – seemingly part HAL, part Heath Robinson – hoovers up tiny samples of gloop from cells, identifying the protein players duetting in the molecular ballet within.

Packed off to an up-and-coming biotech company in the Netherlands who have just forked out a significant amount of cash for the machine, Claire’s arrival goes unheralded by resentful and dismissive colleagues. She ignores them and settles in to work, but gets distracted by a sexy and charismatic researcher (yes, they do exist, trust me…) and starts working on a sneaky side project – partly to fire up her own scientific mojo, and partly to impress him.

Things start to unravel when Claire makes an unfortunate discovery that throws a dark shadow of doubt on the effectiveness of the company’s sole output – a seemingly near-magical drug for Alzheimer’s disease. But coming clean gets tricky when she starts an affair with the aforementioned sexy researcher, whose future financial gains are dependent on the company’s success.

As we all know, secrets can’t stay hidden for long. Eventually everything comes crashing down, leaving Claire to be salvaged from the wreckage of the company, her relationship, and her scientific career by a different sexy, charismatic scientist (Yes! Another one!)

The whole book is scattered with snippets of poems, as Claire seeks solace and meaning in poetry – both in books and her own. As a writer as well as a scientist, I really enjoyed the insights into the poetical, as well as scientific, side of Claire’s mind.

Although it ends a little too neatly for my liking – any struggling artists reading the book are likely to laugh bitterly at the last scene – it’s a fantastic read. I devoured the whole thing in just a couple of days, and got totally wrapped up in the action.

If I’m to criticise anything (and I’m having to dig deep here) it might have to be the slightly excessive intrusion of Amsterdam into the book. Rohn paints a wonderfully evocative picture of what it’s like to live in the city, although at times it’s just a little bit of overkill, with Dutch references crammed into almost every page. But that’s being really petty, and generally her references to the people, places, culture and food of the place – one that I’ve visited many times – really do conjour up the spirit of the ‘Dam.

I recently read Jenny’s first book, Experimental Heart – a romantic science thriller (is that a real genre?) telling the tale of a hapless postdoc, a glamorous virus researcher, and a dodgy biotech company. Again, I loved it. The writing is pacey and engaging, and the plot twists and turns like the process of discovery itself.

I’d definitely recommend Experimental Heart to my scientist friends, but I wouldn’t suggest it to a non-scientist reader. In my opinion it’s just got a bit too much jargon in it, and the plot depends just a little too much on understanding the biological principles at work. But that’s not the case for The Honest Look, which I’ve been recommending to pretty much everyone since I finished it.

Yes, it’s set in a lab. Yes, the plot hangs on a point of biology. But there’s so much else to it that it doesn’t matter if you don’t know your nuclei from your neurons. It’s just a really great book, extremely well-written, and packed with action, intrigue, romance, poetry and – yay! – science.

Janelle Monae at KOKO

My housemate Duck (half of the excellent Bam Bam Sound DJs and podcasters) has been banging on about Janelle Monae for ages, and now the rest of the world seems to have caught up. So a week or so ago I trotted along to KOKO in Camden to see her, and it was ace.

Supporting her were hipsters Wolf Gang, who sounded a bit like Aha doing covers of the Cure. I liked their home-made light-cube thing, which was just on the right side of crappy to be cool:

Wolf Gang

Wolf Gang. They had trendy hair.

Janelle herself was awesome – I just love her blend of prog R&B, for want of a better description. Her voice is incredible, although the effect was slightly spoiled by the rubbish sound mix.  At some points you could barely hear her over the band, although she was clearly belting it out.

I missed a lot of the stage action and her famous dancing, as I’m barely 5 ft tall and couldn’t see anything. But there was a great atmosphere on the floor, and I really enjoyed the gig. I also loved the little Janelle-a-likes in the audience, wearing tuxes and tap shoes. So cute 🙂

Janelle Monae at KOKO 1

Janelle Monae, belting it out

Janelle Monae at KOKO 2

What a voice! Cool guitarist too, like Andre 300 crossed with one of the Muppets (this pic taken by Duck)