Saturday, 30 October 2010

Pooh Watercolour finished!

So, early in October (only slightly later than planned), I put the final stitches to my Pooh Watercolour cross stitch. This year is going well for stitching so far, I'm on track to finish the 4 pieces I had in mind by the end of the year, although with the dark evenings, it's a little trickier.

I think it turned out pretty well, it's going to a work colleague, so hopefully her daughter will enjoy it.

Here's a little piccie of the finished piece.

Showcase:Live, Queen of Hoxton

My first time downstairs at the Queen of Hoxton, and what a super little venue!

This was my first time at Showcase:Live, and I'll definitely be going back. We had the pleasure of seeing Polar Night, The Pictures and finally Steve Appleton.

First on, Polar Night had that lovely full band sound, and to say this was their first London show I was mighty impressed. The room was already packed when we arrived, and I could feel my feet tapping along as I stood at the bar, I could happily listen to this music anytime, I look forward to seeing what's next for them.

The Pictures played a two person acoustic set. Apparently these guys were well known from the TV show Must Be The Music, which I have to admit I never watched, so really, not a clue what to expect. Bizarrely, the two people who played the set were the lead singer and the one who appears to be the drummer in the full band setup, but here was playing guitar. I have to say that the three of us were TOTALLY mesmerised by the drummer's cheeky grin...this was lighting up the room with his smile territory, not many people can do that. The lead singer was a bit nuts, but they were really excellent, so I'd love to see them as a full band. Here's the video from Must Be The Music.

Finally, Steve Appleton. You'll see that we saw Steve Appleton earlier in the year, and he was the main draw for us to this gig. A little bit different to last time, and without a full band, he played a couple of older songs, but mostly demo'd some new ones, which were really great. This man has more talent in his little finger than I have in my whole body, and between the guitar, the keyboard and using his new loop station, the sound was full and interesting. He even managed to pull off Twist and Shout out at the end for an encore. I very much look forward to hearing more from him.

Gotan Project, Troxy

And now for something completely different.

I really don't know how to describe the Gotan Project. They make sexy, sultry Tango music. I wasn't sure how this would translate to a live show, but with the Troxy as a venue, and a packed house to play to, it worked well.

Gotan Project are a band that I hear a lot, Rob likes to play this as music to relax to, and this works well for both of us. Their sound is distinctive, chilled out, and people at the gig moved to the back of the standing area to dance with each other...the type of live music where you're able to do that, despite being in a room with well over 2000 other people, well, that's a bit special.

I was worried that it'd all sound a bit samey, but thankfully the songs all sounded sufficiently different. The background projected visually interesting videos, a feast for the eyes and with the guys and ladies on the stage radiating sexiness, the Tango 3.0 show was enjoyable from beginning to end.

If you're not familiar with these guys, check them out... here is the new video Rayuela.


I had a lot of comments and eyerolling from people when I said I was going to see McFly. This I do not understand, because I think secretly some of these people guiltily like them. I think there was some jealousy going on because I was openly able to admit that I like them and I was going to see them live.

There's a bit of a backstory here... In the place where I work, there also used to work a grown man, we will call him M. On Fridays, M would get woken up by the radio wishing him a Happy McFly Day and with the playing of the McFly track 'Star Girl'. M would then make his way into the office, and pass on Happy McFly Day with the playing of the track out loud to the office and singing along with it. This reminded me how good and fun and silly they actually are, and that I really enjoy their music. Therefore when the show came along, we got tickets to see it, but sadly M couldn't come along with me, so I took my cousin instead.

So... the gig!

The boys kicked off with the track 'Party Girl' from the new album (Above the Noise, released 15th November 2010). Now, the video for this track is rather a lot raunchier than the McFly that I'd seen before. Interesting for me that they are taking this new direction, McFly are getting sexy. They are also releasing their first mini-feature film, which has 7 of the songs from the new album. More information on that is on their website, but it seems that they've been very busy boys!

The live version of Party Girl sounded pretty close to the recorded one, and I'd say that most of the audience knew it, so from the first note, everyone was up and jumping and dancing around and singing their little hearts out. The vibe was one of pure entertainment, and that's the reason I love bands like this, it's a complete pleasure to be at their gigs, and the audience ranged from pre-teen kids all the way to people my age, older and a few with white hair! Fun for all the family :)

The band played through a number of the tracks from older albums... I felt especially giddy at hearing them do Star Girl live... but they also tried out some of the material from the new album. I very much liked it, and I'm sure it'll only grow on me... a little bit older and wiser but still with a polished sound and lights show that makes you feel on top of the world, these boys really do know how to throw a concert.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Mayday Parade, Islington O2 Academy

8th October & 11th October
Yep, Mayday Parade were double-headlining alongside The Maine. I decided to write them up separately. For me, these were dream gigs. Two of my top 5 bands playing on the same night.

I love both the Mayday Parade albums, they are two of the favourite albums that I own, love every song from both of them. The last time I saw them in April, the sound in the Forum was terrible. I wasn't sure what to expect this time.

Almost as soon as The Maine had left the stage, the pushing forward started. It was the same in April, I don't know what makes these fans go nuts for Mayday, but the queues round the block and the crazy fan moshing are unlike anything I've ever seen for any other band. It's like they spray some magic potion into the air. The thing is, Mayday are good live, if you know the songs, but they are not the most brilliant band ever - at some points they sound like just a lot of noise. They are a bit wild, a bit wacky, they jump around a lot and play their guitars over their heads.

Yes, I love the songs, I really get into it and sing along, and jump a lot, but whereas The Maine improved on their songs by singing them live, this wasn't the case for Mayday - which was disappointing for me - the recorded stuff sounds much better. A couple of times, the band stopped mid song to speak to the audience, which felt a bit gimmicky and I don't think went down particularly well.

However, they did pull together an impressive setlist from their songbook, and it made the set seem longer than just over the hour that it actually was. Everyone got to sing along to the hugely popular 'Miserable at Best', which was pretty sweet, and with both Black Cat and Jamie All Over in there as well, it made it a good gig for me. Given that the tickets for both The Maine and Mayday Parade were only £12, I'm giving it 7.5/10.

The Maine, Islington O2 Academy

8th October & 11th October
That was the thought I had. It was the same comment that Steve made on Monday. Rob was also impressed with the live show and said he'd see them live again.
It's the first time I've seen the same group more than once on the same tour. I wouldn't do it for just anyone. But there's something about The Maine.
They were only on the stage for just over an hour, but they blasted through all of my favourite songs from both Can't Stop, Won't Stop and their new album Black and White.

They also kickstarted the evening with a romping, stomping new track, a bit of audience participation, and given that there was no support act, this was a great way to kick off the show and get everyone moving.

It's pretty clear how seriously The Maine take their jobs. They look like they are having fun, but everything is spot on. They've grown up a little with the second album - in every sense - music, lyrics, visually - gone is the long hair and young band look, replaced by something a bit mature, a bit edgier. John's voice has matured, it's more rock-n-rolly, quite a unique sound to it, and I actually thought that many of the songs they sang from the first album sounded better than on that album - whether this was more down to the 'liveness' or the maturity, I'm not sure.

How well known the band are over here in the UK is hard to say. This is their second trip to the UK, and certainly the songs from Can't Stop, Won't Stop were well known amongst the audience, the newer songs that were played have been publicised on, but I've not really seen Black and White selling over here in retail stores, I had to order mine from the US. Having said that, it didn't seem to stop the members of the audience getting right into the newer music, all the people right next to me were very much getting involved (the boys and the girls).

I can see massive potential in these guys, and I hope that they continue to tour the UK periodically. I'd love for them to get enough of a following to play somewhere like Somerset House and record a live album once they have another album or so under their belts. More than anything else, they work damn hard and they are likeable guys. I want them to succeed :)

Their live show was one of the most enjoyable I've seen, I just wish I'd been closer to the front. I woke up at 6am the next morning, grinning, counting myself lucky, and unable to get back to sleep for thinking about how good it was. 9/10

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Eurogamer Expo, Earls Court

At the beginning of October, I headed on down the Earls Court for this years Eurogamer Expo 2010. A whole roomful of fun, many teenage geeky boys and a handful of bored looking girls tagging along after them. Ok, I'm being sexist, there were some girls like me who went to actually have a go on the games, but the majority of the crowd were the boy variety.

This was a chance to see what's up and coming on the gaming scene, to oooh and aaaah at the graphics and to try on some of those silly 3D specs, which actually were a big improvement from the ones you get at the cinema.

I'm not a big fan of playing shoot-em-ups, I find the whole thing rather time consuming and dull and a bit repetitive, but it was obvious that a big focus of the show was the latest Assassins Creed game that took up the most floor space.

One of the more interesting games for me was seeing Killzone 3 with the 3D gaming. It being my first experience of 3D games, I popped on the glasses and watched one of the other guys having a go. It was a pretty immersive experience, but I'm sure that, like with most of the 3D games I saw, you have to be close to the screen and also that you couldn't play this for any long period of time as it's just too in your face. I tried out the GT5 game for PS3 with the 3D glasses and it was a similar story, really good for a while, but I think it'd get tiresome. However, looking at GT5 without the 3D was a pretty impressive experience. The graphics looked amazing - smooth and sleek, and this will definitely be a game that I buy. When it finally comes out.

Other driving games on show were F1 2010 and the new Motorstorm: Apocolypse, which, if I'm honest just seemed really frustrating - half of the time it was impossible to see where you were driving, so I felt that the only way to win at this game was to learn what obstacles appeared where, which takes the fun out of it a bit.

However, by far the most spectacular demo of 3D was with Starcraft II for the PC. Oh my word, the clarity and the popping out of the screen, I just wanted to put my hand out and touch things that weren't even really there. It stood out way ahead of any of the other 3D games.

I also had a go on the Playstation Move, playing table tennis. To me, it seemed a lot like playing on the Wii, and seeing as I already have one of those, I can't see myself investing in the PS Move any time soon.

The similar offering from Xbox, Kinect, has no controllers, you control it with your body. This made for some interesting demos, as I watched people playing table tennis with their hands, driving a car with their hands but no steering wheel, and jumping up and down in some water rafting game. Not very impressed with this, I like the feedback that I get from holding something in my hands. However, there was also Dance Central, using the same equipment, which looked huge amounts of fun, and was a game that I could really see this tech working for. Having said that, the kit is pretty expensive at £129, I doubt I'll be likely to buy it until it comes down in price or until there are more games that I want to play with it.

Saving the best for last, the new kit for Rock Band 3 was on show, with the extended drum kit (now 4 pads, 3 cymbals), the new keyboard, and of course the guitars for the Pro version. My word the guitars look complex. not only do you now have to hit the right colour, but you also have to hit the correct button (e.g. red 5, blue 3 etc). I'm more a fan of the drums myself, but I'm only just levelling up to medium, so it'll be a while until I get anywhere near pro. All good fun though, and I fully expect to buy RB3.

Most ridiculous looking game of the show I think had to go to Def Jam Rapstar - I imagine if you like rapping it might be quite good fun, but it had me in hysterics even at the idea of it, let alone the couple giving it a go (even though they were quite good!) Just a step too far for me!

Overall then, the show was really interesting and gave me a lot of ideas for what I'll be looking out for in the coming months. Its always nice to go and try out the new stuff, the show was really well organised, with a separate area for the over 18 games, everyone was well behaved and the queues weren't too big for any of the games. There were also some workshops and developer sessions, although I didn't attend any of these. And for £8, I thought it was an absolute bargin.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Innocent Cafe

A couple of weeks ago, the Innocent newsletter plonked into our inbox containing some good news. Innocent were opening a cafe for a week, and oh, how much excitement, it was just around the corner from our office. Two things excited me about this... the mention of food, and the fact that they were offering 5 portions of fruit/veg for a fiver, to show people how easy it is to get your five portions a day. Can't really go wrong then, can we?

Yesterday, 6 of us headed out for lunch at the Innocent 5 for 5 cafe in the Tramshed just close to Hoxton Square. It's only open for a week, and this was their first day.

We were greeted by some very happy smiley innocent employees, all far too hyped up, but well they should be because the Tramshed looked great. All big long wooden tables, twinkly fairy lights, lots of cute little pot plants, and well, it looked magic.

The deal is that you get two courses, either starter and main or main and pudding for £5. Drinks are an extra £1.50 on top, and you can choose from one of the innocent smoothies, some This Water, or else if you want to bring your own wine or beer, they charge £1.50 a head for that too. All is good so far. The menu sounds great, and we are seated opposite a big hotplate where the food comes out before delivery. We spot food that looks delicious, fresh and colourful. We get excited.

Ok, it's their first day. but it seemed to take a long time to get anyone to give us any attention. We were one of the first groups of people through the door, and we had to ask someone to come and take our order. And it seemed that he could only do drinks. We had to ask again for someone to take our meal order. Three of our starters arrived. We had to ask for the other two. The drinks weren't all right. It was sort of funny really. A bit fawlty towers. If you had been in a hurry, it would have been a problem. But, it was their first day, and the tramshed is huge, a lot of pressure and the waiters looked a tad lost and all very stressed out. I'm sure they just need to work through it.

The food itself was really tasty. I enjoyed Beetroot and horseradish pierogi with sour cream, pickled red cabbage and paprika.

This was followed by Sweet potato brik with roasted pepper, courgette and chickpea salad. Here's a photo:

The brik was really great, I thought very tasty and something I'd consider making at home. Which is cool really, cos on the way out we also were given a pack full of tasty recipes that they are preparing this week, one of them being the delicious sweet potato brik. You can also find a whole bunch of recipes on their website here.

So, I guess that I'd say that it was a lunchtime well spent. Apart from the few hiccups with the waiters, the atmosphere was great and fun and exciting, the food was really very tasty and the price was a total bargin. The cafe will be serving until the 8th of October, but is sadly sold out now, so if you're one of the lucky ones who bagged yourself a £5 lunch, enjoy it!