The Blackpool Tower Dungeon and Carnage at the Market!

Blackpool dungeon
   I remained nervously static, trying to maintain a poker face as beads of sweat convened with frustrating urgency above my brow. I had a secret. A deep, dark one which, if I betrayed myself, could have resulted in violent imprisonment.

   In Blackpool's Tower Dungeon, I had found myself transported back in time to the midst of the War of the Roses. Lancashire and Yorkshire were engaged in a bitter conflict and here I was, a proud Bradfordian, stood in the heart of Red Rose territory being interrogated as to where my allegiances lay. A violent sadist, wielding various instruments of barbaric torture, demanded with increasing intensity if I was from the county across the Pennines or, indeed, if I even knew of anyone from there.

   This was part of the latest interactive experience at one of Blackpool's premier attractions - a show named Deadly Diseases (which runs until the 30th September).

   Having been greeted by a rather threatening jester, the tour of Blackpool's gruesome past takes us visitors through a series of rooms manned by ten live actors role-playing a motley gang of plague doctors, ruthless judges and perverted inquisitors.

   Each location is perfectly decorated to represent the squalor of bygone eras and each of the actors is fully committed, some with lunatic abandon, to their larger than life characters. The result is a rather enjoyable piece of interactive theatre which flits from pleasingly scary to understated mirth. Whilst it should be noted that a few children (accompanied by parents) did decide to explore the dungeon during the show I attended, some of the younger, more timid ones left the show early - for those planning on taking kids, parental discretion is advised. The main frights come from jump scares in the dark and, rather than outright terror, the overall effect of Deadly Diseases is a continual sense of nervous laughter.

   The experience ends with a rather short drop ride - I had no idea what to expect when buckling in and will refrain from spoilers in this review. My one tip is to note that your photo will be taken during the "death drop"; my gurning face, upper and lower teeth grinding heavily into one another, captured by the dungeon's camera is testament to the visceral anxiety I felt. Wisely, perhaps, I decided not to invest in this less than-flattering-photo from the gift shop at the end of the day.

   Seeking a cold beverage to recuperate my nerves, I was very pleased to discover the presence of a beer-stop, The Hangman's Tavern, at the end of the trip. The olde style pub, replete with barrel-tables and saloon-style doors, was both welcoming and a welcome place to recompose myself after my voyage into some of the darkest times in this country's history.

   The visit ended, of course, with a trip to the gift shop which sold a plethora of mementos and, even, show props (including these viking helmets). Unfortunately my visit to the attraction came a short while after the dungeons had taken part in a sell off of some of their most extravagant and extreme props at Blackpool market (as seen below on September 10th).

   Whilst I did indeed invest in a souvenir picture of the day (a print of myself about to be beheaded), the opportunity to purchase a disemboweled body or a decapitated cranium had passed me by. Instead, I'll take home tales of terror and a growing fear of what is waiting for me in the shadows.

* Tickets for this review were provided free of charge but opinions, and horror, are entirely (and frightfully) my own.

Film Review: In Conversation With Jeremy Corbyn

   In Conversation With Jeremy Corbyn, when reading the premise, may sound like a self-congratulatory film for those who are already confirmed as great admirers of the Labour politician. A critic would suggest the sole function of these sixty minutes is to exist in an already cacophonous echo chamber, bouncing delicately into the ears of only those who wish to hear.

   Whilst it may be correct that advocates for Mr Corbyn may be the most appreciative audience for Ken Loach's latest documentary, this is, much more importantly, a short movie designed for those who have forgotten or misdirected their rage. Those who are, hypothetically, on the political left but have found themselves stranded by the chaos of the last few months, and those who have wavered, may be the group who most need this movie to be.

   During the ongoing leadership campaign, many of us within Labour have found our fury misdirected - phony outrage has spewed up from our souls as we feign indignation at the MP's love of jam and of his fondness for Ulysses. When a society is broken like ours, we have no time for such self-indulgent narcissism we have shamefully sown - our passions must, instead, be turned to those who need us most and our vitriol targeted to those who ensure that the weakest in our communities carry the greatest weights.

   This is a film which shows who exactly we are fighting for when we engage in politics; although the features' title may bear Corbyn's name this isn't exclusively, or even primarily, about him. To hold a successful conversation one must listen as much as, if not more than, one should speak - this is, then, a film predominantly about Labour's leader listening to people and their concerns, their struggles, their hopes and their fears too. The cameras give us this same access and, as we witness ordinary people communicate their dreams we become part of the conversation through empathy.

   Throughout the movie we hear a wide array of individuals address their concerns to the camera, to Corbyn and, therefore, to us. The chair of Disability Labour speaks of how the social security cuts imposed under the Conservative government have impacted on his life - we're reminded in this moment of Labour's hesitancy to challenge these austerity measures and we note to ourselves how we, as a party and a community, can never lose our humanity in this way again. The common enemy of the left, we remember, isn't a 67 year old man championing the rights of the dispirited; its the wicked individuals who care not for the victims of their unquenchable avarice, the ones who perpetuate the "scrounger" and "dosser" narrative on those they stamp on.

   We're introduced to students who are afraid of the humongous debt they will accrue; veterans of the armed forces who can't get sufficient access to mental health care ("I feel like my mental health was swapped for a few barrels of oil"); charity workers unable to help the homeless. That we've expended energy on attacking politicians for not bowing deeply enough instead of addressing these problems constitutes a profound shame, a repugnant stain smeared on our nation's character.

   Our efforts should be addressed at righting these wrongs and we should do so together. We live in an unjust society - and it doesn't need to be this way. As Corbyn says in the film: "Great people don't go off and achieve things on their own. Ordinary people achieve things because all of us come together to make sure that we all benefit from it. When you bring people together, you achieve things. When you divide people, we all lose."

   Yet, despite quoting the Islington North MP in the last paragraph, what Corbyn says is not the most important thing here by any stretch. What we see in Loach's film is not just one conversation and nor are the ones we do see are at all complete - this documentary is the start of many talks we, as a nation, need to have and it is important, above all else, to add your voice to them. Loach and Corbyn are inviting you to join, they're requesting us to speak and to listen too and, in doing so, to turn the bleakness around us into something we can all radiate in.

   During one passage of the movie, we see Corbyn addressing an assembled throng of people at one of his many rallies this summer. His voice speaks of the situation of the day but, simultaneously, of the country we could live in if we come together for the benefit of each other:

   "We've done well today - the rain has stopped and the sun has come out. What's better than that?"

   The full film is available below:

An Interview with Todd Haberman

   In Cameron Crowe's classic 1989 movie Say Anything..., we're introduced to one of the all time great heroes of film.

   Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) doesn't have any superpowers or wealth or connections which make him stand out from his peers yet, somehow, against all odds, it is he who manages to convince the school's sweetheart, Diane Court (Ione Skye), to go out on a date. His friends are in awe and want to know his secret - how, just how, did our protagonist achieve this feat?

   Dobler, as succinct as he is bold, replies with four straightforward words: "I called her up."

   Many years later, as I'm speaking to composer Todd Haberman, I'm reminded once more of Dobler's "dare to be great situation". As I interview the musician over Skype he reminisces with me of the moment when, having finished college, he had to make a choice on where his life should head next. Many of us plump for the simple option of stacking shelves or working as a barista whilst life figures itself out for us. Many of us believe our dreams will come to us and not the other way around. Not so Haberman.

   "My girlfriend at the time, we were talking, and she said: 'What do you want to do now?' And I was like: 'I dunno - I'd love to go work for Hans Zimmer but you can't just knock on a guys door who's just won an Oscar you know?'" This seemed like a reasonable conclusion to me but, as Haberman further recalls this is not where the life-changing conversation ended. His partner decided to challenge him. "Why not?"

   Haberman concurred - perhaps this was a good point. Why shouldn't he just pick up a phone, like Lloyd Dobler, and see what happened next? "I called up [Zimmer's Californian studio Remote Control] and the woman who answered is still a good friend of mine today. She was like, 'Yeah - come on over! Have an interview and there could be an internship open'. I came out from New York, did an interview and got the gig."

   I ask Haberman, who has since gone on to write for multiple films and TV shows including Arrow and Hemlock Grove, what it was that inspired him to pursue composing  as a vocation - was there one particular soundtrack which influenced his career? It is not a surprise when, taking the previous anecdote into account, the musician takes me back to a point in his young adulthood when he went to see the Hans Zimmer scored True Romance.

   "I had just gotten to college and my freshman friends were in the film school and they were all excited to go see this new Quentin Tarantino movie or whatever - y'know we all went out to watch it." The experience has clearly stayed with the musician. "I just remember loving the music and talking about how interesting it was. It wasn't a traditional orchestral score by any means. It was a lot of fun to talk about and dissect. That really got me involved in film music, that one particular score."

   Prior to his career in composition, Haberman was always interested in music - he played the trumpet initially before learning guitar. "That changed everything for me - [I] started growing out the hair and doing all that stuff. My background was all in rock and roll and jazz."

   This too helps explain his attraction towards working with Zimmer - a musician who found his way to film scoring via his band The Buggles (most famous, of course, for their 1979 breakthrough song Video Killed The Radio Star). "I got into film music in college, that's where the orchestral side of things kind of came at me but my brain is still rock and roll. So working with Hans was great - what he was doing with an orchestra was so powerful!"

   Indeed, in a career which has seen him compose for Gladiator, Inception, The Lion King and many more, Zimmer has won much acclaim (and occasional criticism) for the manner in which he diverges from traditional approaches to "classic" movie-scoring techniques. Dr Emilio Audissino, the film-maker and academic, has described Zimmer's work as containing "simple motifs characterized by homophony, basic chord progressions, no contrapuntal writing or use of inner voices, synthesizer pads as harmonic backing for acoustical instruments, a pounding rhythmic section, and overwhelming low frequencies."

   Whilst the passage is meant to primarily highlight the negative aspects of the German composer's work, it unfairly negates the ground breaking, often-visceral and pulsating qualities which make Zimmer's frenetic pieces loved by directors, producers and cinema-goers worldwide. His edge-of-your-seat compositions are largely written behind sets of keyboards, synthesizers and laptops - something which undoubtedly causes suspicion, and negative judgement, for those such as Dr Audissino who hold specific, and perhaps archaic, notions of what a score could and should be.

   Haberman, it should be noted, is very much a modern composer of the Zimmer school of thought and one who also composes primarily through digital equipment. "I'm on a Mac right now for my sequencer and I write in a programme called Cubase," Haberman explains. "I have another Mac where I have my Pro Tools rigged on where everything is mixed and where my video lives too. And then I have one more machine - a Windows based machine - which is a sample tank running VE Pro. Its down to three computers [whereas] the first studio I set up had maybe 12. I have guitars here, I've got some cool synths - I have a Moog."

   It is rather clear from the composer's explanation that he is more than au fait with the inside of a modern recording studio but, thinking back to the first days of his internship, I wondered what it must have been like for a self-confessed rock and roll enthusiast walking into as Oscar-winners' studio full of the most cutting edge technology for the first time?

   Haberman remembers how he'd begun to look into music technology himself whilst at college. "I had bought a computer and a synthesizer and was learning that stuff really on my own - studying manuals and looking online at forums. It was all so new! So getting over to Hans' studio was so amazing - all these synthesizers and computers and all these fun toys I was reading about in magazine, he actually owns!"

   Despite the many years which have passed since this moment, its impossible for the musician to disguise the glee in his voice as he recalls his introduction to the studio. "Anything you could read about, you could actually touch at his place - it was an amazing place to learn. What I got out of that place in the first four weeks versus what I got out of college in four years were just night and day. It was a truly eye opening experience - amazing!"

   So, I wondered, what is it actually like interning for such a big name in the film industry? What does that actually entail? The beginning of Haberman's recollection doesn't veer too far from what one might expect from any such work placement: "The first three months as an intern - I was getting coffees and running to Staples for blank CDs and all that, you know?" Yet, even this proved invaluable in the long-term: "For me, to tell you the truth, it was great - I was learning LA."

   As the internship progressed, the recent graduate was able to get more hands-on with his involvement at the studio. "After a while I started working for two specific composers there - this guy PJ Hanke and another guy Roy Hay" (of Culture Club fame). "That was amazing - they were both doing network TV shows. I didn't know what the process was, what the schedule was. Watching those guys bang out so much music every week no matter what - if you're computer breaks down, you have to fix it and get back to work. You have to get it done on time and get it out of the door. There's so much more than jut writing the notes."

   As noted earlier, the experience proved both eye-opening and of incredible value. "Just being involved with the projects you learn so much just by keeping your eyes open. And those guys were really great just letting us sit in the room with them whilst they were writing so I could watch the process go down."

   Having worked with leading figures in the industry, and with a wealth of experience accumulated on dozens of scores himself, I take the opportunity to ask Haberman if he has any specific processes for composing he's able to share with me. Our exchange, however, mirrors that of Death and Block in Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal. The dialogue in the movie sees Death carefully consider a request to share the answer to life's mysteries with four short words: "I have no secrets".

   "I wish there was a process!" responds Haberman. "I wish I had a better answer - I wish I had a process as that would make every day of my life easier." It is clear that much of Haberman's methods are based on the type of intuition which can only come from years immersed in music.

   "I would say every project kind of takes on its own life, y'know? How I approach the music varies based on the project. As I'm watching it, I'm figuring out in my head where the music needs to change and what should the music be conveying."

   The composer continues with some recent examples of his own work, beginning with 12 Foot Deep and as he speaks, his NY accent occasionally rings out - the vowels in the word "sounds", for instance, betray his birthplace: "With this music its more about sonic textures than it is about melodies. With this particular film I'm looking for sounds which really speak to me about what the scene is trying to do - it all stems out from there."

   As a counter-example, Haberman explains: "Other things I've done (like Hemlock Grove) it really started with the melody or string movement and then everything kind of came from there."

   Throughout his eclectic career, Haberman has composed multiple works across a number of different genres. I often wonder how musicians manage to keep their ideas fresh as they keep working, managing to avoid repetition or formulaic works?

   "That's also a great question - I wish I had the answer to that! I guess listening - always listening to new music that's out there or old music that's always inspired me in the past."

   Haberman ponders and suggests a practical way he keeps his mind open. "A funny thing - even just buying new sound libraries, things like that. Going through a synthesizer and looking for new sounds... these little things which just spark creativity. And you never know where they going to take you so you have to look for inspiration wherever you can find it. There might be a sounds that's really good but, you know, I've used it thirty times! When I hear it I just don't want to hear it any more so I find a sound that does the same thing and that just refreshes my brain."

   In a career which has encompassed film, TV and even video games, Haberman has written for practically every genre imaginable and has, too, created a rather substantial back catalogue of ghost-written work. I suggest that music is one of the most personal and intimate forms of expression imaginable and that to give away a little piece of one's self, of one's heart, must be incredibly difficult. How, I wondered, would it be possible to reconcile with this?

   Haberman takes a moment and replies with brutal honesty: "The need to get paid?!" We both laugh as I realise the composer isn't just a Dobler-esque dreamer as the opening to this post may suggest - he's also a realist and a pragmatist.

   "I never had any idea ghostwriting even existed - you see someone's name on a movie or on a TV show and you assumed they were the person doing all of that work. You come out to LA and you see that that's not necessarily the case! It basically boils down to time and budget constraints -with a TV show you have to get so much music done every week. You've got to write the music, get notes back on the music from producers, you've got to do the notes and get it off on time. It can be physically impossible for just one person to do - depending on the show of course. I was never concerned with giving away a piece of me - I was more concerned with gaining the experience I don't have any problems with it at all."

   I push for one such example of a positive experience and wonder, too, if trying to ape someone else's style during such projects is a good way of learning new tricks or achieving new perspectives? "I've worked with Blake Neely [and] every time I've written for him, its been a great thing. Any time I work for him I get better - how's that a bad thing?! I don't lose a piece of me at all, I gain a skill set."

   With such a broad background, spanning years, I wonder how one steers clear of fatigue too and I'm delighted to hear a very positive response: "I have a good time doing everything - its one of the things I love about the job. Maybe its a cliche to say 'It keeps you young' - that constantly changing... I've done TV shows for 8 or 9 months but its funny to thing 8 or 9 months is a long time to be on a job, you know what I mean? I've got friends who've come out of college and they got their job and still have that job twenty years later. I've done 5 or 6 films in the past 8 or 9 months or something. Its one of the things I love about this job, the constantly changing. Your brain never gets stale in one area. You work on something for a while and really dig in, finding all the nooks and crannies... and then I'll have to open up my brain for a totally new experience. That is just so much fun!"

   As we reach the end of the interview it's clear to me that Haberman is living the dream - he's doing the job he loves but knows that its hard-work and studious endeavour which allows him to keep at it. I wrap up the interview by asking about future projects and it is almost like I can hear his smile down the phone as he replies: "I don't know what's coming up next... but I know its going to be something!"

Thank you

A huge thank you to Mr Haberman for following for volunteering his time for this interview.

Please be sure to check out Tod Haberman's website:

Bradford Curry Festival: Faith In Food

   Readers of this blog may be under the assumption that I sustain myself almost entirely on crisps. Whether the potato snack are Chinese seaweed, Guinness beef, "Cheezburger" or even Jolokia Pepper flavour, it remains true (albeit exaggerated somewhat) that a large part of my diet consists of what could be reasonably labelled as junk food.

   Yet, particularly as the years progress, I have become more and more inclined to remove myself from one's gastronomical comfort zone. I'll never truly renounce the profound and simple satisfaction that comes with devouring a pack of Mexican Chilli crisps, but its with satisfaction I can note I've expanded my culinary palette significantly in recent times.

   This, in no small part, comes from living where I do - in the wonderful city of Bradford. Its a delightful, multi-cultural area which is rich with fine dinning. I doubt very much there is a better location in the whole of the UK, for example, to sample such a wide variety of aromatic and flavoursome curries. This is a fact celebrated annually with the Bradford hosted World Curry Festival. What's not to like about two solid weeks of fun, food and fraternity?

   This year the first event I attended was at the Bradford Reform Synagogue - a holy building many of you may have heard of due to the international coverage it received when this fine city's Muslim community stepped in to help keep the place open. When people ask me what it is that I love about Bradford I find myself pointing them in the direction of this story; that the city took in almost half of all Syrian refugees in the UK last year similarly shows what an inclusive place, full of the most generous spirited individuals I have ever known, this truly is.

   An event titled "Faith In Food", then, seemed like a perfect place for me to start my festivities. Here was a get together which promised authentic Israeli cuisine (something I had never, to my shame, previously sampled before) and an opportunity to "learn about the important role food plays in religious festivities". A chance to expand one's knowledge of food and religious culture simultaneously is rare and, as such, unmissable.

   It wasn't long into my visit to the beautiful synagogue that I realised that the food (as tasty as it was) wasn't the main reason for my visit or for the building being opened up to the public. This was an evening to celebrate togetherness, the things that unite us - that we got to do so with home-made couscous constituted an added bonus. Over the course of the evening, one which entailed a short service before food was served, I spoke with several members of the Jewish community and was humbled by the way they welcomed me, an areligious gentile, as a guest into their place of worship. The event left me nourished and enriched, spiritually a much as anything.

   As I removed my Kippah at the evening's conclusion and left the synagogue, I did so a richer man than the one who had entered. Whilst I may have tried new food, and enjoyed it very much, what I learnt most from the event was something I already knew - Bradford is a special city full of special people. Whilst I'm not willing to renounce my love of junk food just yet, I'm delighted to have once more tried new cuisines thanks to this amazing city I call home.

Amaluna (Cirque Du Soleil) Review

   Long time readers of this site will remember my trip to the weird and wonderful world of Las Vegas earlier this year.

   Aside from indulging in the odd alcoholic beverage in decadent establishments, and visiting my personal Mecca (Everything Coca-Cola), I fell in love with the glitz and the glamour of the place; the sense of occasion, the feeling of extravagance.

   Nowhere could my fondness for Las Vegas be better encapsulated than in the many bravura shows on display there, enchanting audiences night after night.

   A part of me still giggles with euphoric glee as I recall Evil Dead - The Musical, yet it is the multiple Cirque Du Soleil shows which really encapture the vibe of Sin City. Although I was sad to ultimately leave Nevada as my trip concluded, I was thrilled to take memories of Cirque's Zarkana show with me.

   As fond as my recollections of Las Vegas are, my accountant sadly won't be allowing me the gratification of a return to the place any time soon. As such, I'm glad to report my desire to return has been assuaged somewhat by Cirque Du Soleil's new show rolling up in England. I could get my fix of world-class acrobatics, breath-taking stunt-work and intense musical performances without hopping a plane after all. My wallet has never been happier and, I'm happy to report, seldom have I been so satisfied with a live show either.

   Amaluna, currently located under a specifically assembled Big Top next to the Trafford Centre in Manchester, may be the most aesthetically pleasing show I've ever had the pleasure of viewing.

   The performance brings all the thrills of a circus - the death defying stunts, the seemingly impossible contortions, and the flamboyant costumes - and combines it with a romantic story of a love which must battle for survival. The saying "something for all the family" is overused but in this instance rings true. As I sat transfixed on opening night I heard children gasp in a combination of terror and delight, adults laughing in uproarious cacophony and, as our male protagonist appeared shirtless, even the odd wolf whistle or too.

   To say the show was mind-blowing would be an understatement. Some of the wire-work, leaps and twists conducted by the cast of the show seemed physically and gravitationally impossible. I would have liked to have seen a lay-person, such as myself, attempt and fail some of the stunts for reference - just to show how truly ludicrously preposterous some of these feats were.

   My favourite thing about Amaluna, and indeed each of Cirque's shows, is that these are performances which you don't just watch but ones you take with you. The wonder of bodies flying across the stage in unison is something one stores with them, in their memory and in their soul, for long after the applause has died down from the cast's final bow. This is a circus show at its best; a magical performance.

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