Saturday, 26 May 2012

The Chronicles of Jack The Axe

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The book of Knowledge

The Necromancer closed the book and sat down, and joining his fingers in the shape of a steeple, stared intently at the leather bound tome in front of him.
Something wasn’t right.
The book had changed his life, brought him a wealth of knowledge and made him capable of amazing deeds, the reanimation of Humpty Dumpty probably his most remarkable, but lately he wondered whether he might have a problem on his hands.

The Necromancer – in his guise as Post Master General – had discovered the book in the Dead Letter Office earlier in the year on a routine search of valuables he thought may be worth keeping - one of the perks of the position. Still in its wrapping, the book had seemed to call to him and when he unwrapped it, as a lover of antiques its ancient leather and brass binding appealed to him on sight - it was only after he began to read the contents that it revealed it secrets.

The book translated every page for the Necromancer as he read them and when he was disturbed by some of his colleagues they actually believed he was reading another language. It seemed the book was only allowing itself to be read by him.

The only words that the Necromancer couldn’t read and the book wouldn’t translate were the heavy embossed letters on the cover. Any clues to its title inside the book were sadly missing.
After much searching in the King’s library the Necromancer discovered an ancient alphabet that Scholars had been working on but had abandoned.

After much guess work the Necromancer had concluded that the title must be the Book of the Dead, even though he wasn’t exactly sure.

It was this title and the secrets revealed to him about the rising of the dead that made him take his secret title The Necromancer. Plus it gave him an excuse to wear a big black robe and pointy hat without feeling silly.

Now dressed in said attire, looking at the book the Necromancer was worried because it had seemed to suddenly stop revealing any more pages to him. Even the ones he read earlier seemed to be hidden from his eyes. It was like the book was shutting down.

The Necromancer threw his pointy hat onto the book and left the large reading room to make some lunch.

Had he maybe used up all of its magic? he wondered and then his mind went back to thinking of his stomach, and how well a nice roast beef sandwich would hit the spot.

As he closed the reading room door he couldn’t hear the distinctive but muffled cackling laughter coming from between the covers upon which the hat now perched.

Jack of all trades

Jack swung the axe over his shoulder and made his way towards the stream. The midday sun had reached the perfect spot for him to escape the constant shadows of the mighty forest surrounding the Kingdom. The sun always felt good on his face after a morning of tree felling.

Jack led a good, structured life, one week marking and cutting down dying or diseased trees, the next reducing and splitting wood, the next hauling it into the town square in the Kingdom.

Just the right amount of alone time, good solid hard work and time spent in the hell hole of a market. The structured routine of his life was something he loved and inherited from the twenty odd years he had worked with the King’s Elite Guard. It was now embedded deep into his very soul.

He didn’t miss the constant danger and ridiculous orders at all, but the self-discipline he had learned made him who he was today. Responsible only to himself and that’s exactly how he liked it. Master of his own domain.

His solitary life was only rarely interrupted by the occasional visitor to the forest (usually lost) or when he went to market to sell his wood, and even then he often paid others rather handsomely to man his stall and sell his goods.

He didn’t really have any use for money, as his life was simple and uncluttered.
The woodsman knew of the Kingdom’s wealth and could have been as rich as the King if had wished, because Jack was the one responsible for the King owning the Golden Goose in the first place.

Jack’s axe was more than his work tool; in his past life as a member of the Elite Guard it had become Jack’s weapon of choice and earned him the unwanted title of Jack the Giant Killer from the King.

A moniker he wanted nothing to do with these days.

He knew he was a wanted man by the Giant community, lucky for him they were few and far away these days not being a clan to mingle with Fairy folk or humans.

He often thought of the sacrifice he had made for his King in killing the poor giant whose goose was the financial saviour of the struggling Kingdom. Admittedly, it wasn’t as big a sacrifice as the giant had made and to this day the body still lay where it fell.

The King needed bold measures to save the Kingdom from bankruptcy and Jack was a loyal subject. Still it wasn’t enough reason for him to leave the guard, that was a whole different matter.

When he had been unable to save an elderly woman and her grand daughter from the lies and deception of an enchanted wolf he was devastated. Their remains still haunted his dreams and he often stood outside the deserted cottage whenever he felt depressed to convince himself that things could be worse.
The whole episode reeked of conspiracy and was the nail in the coffin that made Jack resign his commission.

The Woodsman never forgot the look of despair on the face of the postman whose Grandmother and niece had been murdered or the white wash carried out by the King due to lack of evidence and prejudices against Fairy folk.

Jack felt powerless and thought about going after the culprit himself. As it was, the Wolf left the area and as Jack had lost the stomach for his work and took his pension and his guilt and retired to the forest.

To be continued.......

Edited by Cathie Tranent, art by Simon Sherry

Saturday, 19 May 2012

The Chronicles of Jack The Axe

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The King’s secret

It was long held opinion of those in fiscal circles that the Kingdom’s economy should have collapsed years ago with the influx of the Fairy creatures. The sudden and rapid population growth due to their immigration was more than the Feudal based economy could sustain. The Kingdom was small and surrounded by ocean on three sides and an impassable mountain range on the other what had been cleared for agricultural purposes and live stock over the years had been heavily forested after the emergence of the Fairy folk. When the Fairy folk came the Kingdom increased its import from the larger and much richer neighbouring countries.
The Fairy folk contributed little to the financial status of the Kingdom and generally bartered for goods with the humans or passed themselves off as entertainers as a means to support their kin. They were also a burden on the Kingdom’s social security budget.
But still the roads into the Kingdom continued to be upgraded and the Town prospered and grew outward as the Kingdom managed to meet its debts.
While the humans still tended their small farms and those that ran the markets lived in small cottages on the town perimeter, the Fairy folk were content to live in tree hollows, mushrooms and under bridges. One old lady moved her extended family into a discarded giant’s boot.
The secret to the Kingdom’s sustainable wealth lay hidden on a small island behind a heavily guarded part of the Palace.

Surrounded by armed guards all day and night on all boundaries, the island was accessible only by the King and then only via the royal barge.
The reason for this was due to the massive Troll that cohabitated the island with the secret. Due to a pact with the King years earlier the Troll was given free food and lodging to protect the secret and allow only his Royal Highness unlimited access anytime deemed necessary.

Trolls are a rare and vicious species and almost impossible to ambush but are happily bound by legal contracts that they pore over in meticulous detail before declaring their oaths. Quite surprising for a creature that looked like it would pierce its brain when picking its nose.
The King was never in doubt that the secret was safe on the island. Given a couple of goats a week, the Troll was more than content to idle his hours away growing shrubberies.

The King stepped onto the short pier which was almost obscured by tall weeds, careful to make sure the barge operator was the agreed 10 footsteps from the pier meaning the oarsman was sitting high up on the bow of the barge. If the oarsman was able to have his way he’d be on the other side of the lake still. The island gave him the creeps in a big way.

The King walked onto the island and past the Troll, both totally ignoring each other; (mainly because it was Monday and goat days were Wednesday and Saturday) the Troll weeding under some hedgerows hoping for some worms to dry out for a snack later.
The King made his way through the ornate arrangements and paths that the Troll had decorated the island with. He did a sharp turn at what appeared to be an extremely large rib cage rising up on his left (in actual fact it was) that had been converted into a shelter using sacks of hessian, instinctively stepping over what appeared to be a moss covered log. That was, in fact, a fibula once belonging to same giant who had owned the rib cage.
Moving on just a few dozen steps more the King came to a large enclosure in the middle of the island proper. Opening up the gate and then making sure it was secured behind him before he proceeded, the King stood stationary listening for a noise. A loud HONK made the King’s face light up and he moved across the large pen towards the sound.
Sitting on a shady patch of grass under a large willow tree sat a large pure white goose casually cleaning under its wing.
The King walked past the goose into the coop that obviously housed the goose. Reaching in and feeling around the King withdrew his arm, and there in his hand he held two large eggs that almost glowed so pure was the gold they were made of.
The secret to the Kingdom’s economical and financial wealth was the fact that King literally owned the goose that laid the golden egg.

To be continued.......

Edited by Cathie Tranent, art by Simon Sherry

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Dr Dee: An English Opera

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Dr Dee An English Opera by Damon Albarn
 Damon Albarn has spent the good part of the last decade producing music a million miles away from his band blur and traveling all over the globe listening to music from as many different cultures as he could. This of course has led to a massive output of original and fascinating pieces. All these travels from Gorillaz to Chinese opera bring him full circle to a different kind of Brit Pop.
Dr Dee An English Opera.
Originally meant to be collaboration between Albarn, Jamie Hewlett and Michael Moore for the Manchester International Festival it fell on Albarn’s broad shoulders to carry the project when Hewlett and Moore moved onto other projects. The original Manchester Festival performance and the later Onefest performance are different from the album reviewed here. Albarn has said the piece has been an evolving project and when it is to be performed in June for the Cultural Olympiad he hopes to have a proper narrative running through the whole performance.
But back to the May album release.
Without the narrative Dr Dee seems like an experiment in medieval pop and there are some wonderful pieces here. The much promoted Apple Carts and The Dancing King (originally titled The Reigning Queen) are two standouts but it’s the three tiered The Moon: Exalted that is a highlight with soprano Victoria Couper and Albarn giving the song a strong emotional edge and mingled in and out some beautiful thematic melodies to add more sadness to what comes across as a song of regret and loss.
The use of traditional instruments builds an atmosphere of time and place but its Albarns vocals that give the album it’s true Englishness. This is no more evident with Marvelous Dream (originally titled Claxton), sadly in the earlier versions the chorus included a woodwind compliment that gave it an almost carnival feel. It still shines as another great piece of poppy traditional music.
All up Dr Dee delivers a great selection of tunes that crosses a broad sphere of musical tastes and once again shows Albarns brilliance as a song craftsman. I look forward to the inevitable DVD release of later performances hopefully with the full stage performance with narrative and actors. Then we will rally see this music shine.

 Other Bits!
 The melody of Apple Carts and part of the Tree of Beauty can be heard on the DVD The making of Plastic Beach soundtrack that came with the special edition of the Plastic Beach CD in 2010. Both Albarn and Moore have conflicting reasons why the colloboration failed to work out but the work Alan Moore did do for the project (unfinished) was published in Strange Attractor.
The track Nine Point Star originally featured an actor reciting matjamatical equations delivered over a Tony Allen's drum progression

 The Moon: Exalted original version (with it's original title To Love Another)
   

Saturday, 12 May 2012

The Chronicles of Jack The Axe

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The Fall and Rise of Humpty Dumpty
Part Three


Humpty finds work


The Necromancer, in his day job as Post Master General was in a prime position to learn of most news happening in and around the Kingdom.
The King’s total ignorance of the problem the Fairy hordes had created within the Kingdom and its massive bureaucracy, had made his home a breeding ground for crime and latent supernatural folly.
Ten years ago a talking pig, giant egg or dragon would have sent the populace into a fear driven frenzy. But by stealth and servitude the fairy folk had worked their way into the hearts of the Townsfolk and now they were tearing it apart from the inside as their true nature rose to the surface.
Infiltrate and destroy was the Fairy motto and through careful research the Post Master had discovered towns that had been laid to waste by Fairy Infestation through the ages, growing derelict while the Fairy folk stole all their resources leaving only when the town was economically and culturally destroyed. A true parasitic horde - a dreamtime locust.
Humpty Dumpty was his solution to the Fairy plague.

Humpty had been quite content to sit in the empty warehouse down by the docks satisfying his appetite with the more than plentiful supply of rats that were infesting the area.

The Necromancer didn’t take long to figure out this was soon going to become a problem. Humpty was not living up to his full potential as a Fairy creature exterminator.
If Humpty was feasting on rats then there was a good chance these weren’t the garbage dwelling, disease-spreading variety the town was used to.
The Necromancer had done his work well and knew that Humpty would pass a human or natural animal as if it were a brick wall or a wooden box.
These rats were from a source of magical mischief.
A few days later the Necromancer’s concerns were justified as the King declared the Kingdom a Rat Infested Disaster Area and was tendering out for the services of a professional Rat Catcher. Within hours The Pied Piper Pest Control was banging on the Castle doors.
The Necromancer, in his guise as Post Master General, was called to the Civic Council meeting that was to commission the Rat Catchers.
Those with more conventional methods were ignored as the Piped Piper Henry Hamlin demonstrated his new sound frequency mind capture device on the rats and in minutes had barrels of the filthy creatures sealed and stacked in the corner.

Of course, he was hired on the spot and a method of payment was devised that meant the quicker the rats were eliminated the higher the wage was that would be paid.
The Necromancer watched these proceedings with interest and was keen to vote on all the council decisions.
One problem at a time he thought to himself.
Within hours the Pied Piper was dancing down the main street of the Kingdom playing his weird instrument followed by an endless procession of vermin.
He played until he reached the docks and stood on a pylon as the conga line of rats dove into the sea and swam out towards the horizon, swimming on and on until, totally exhausted, they drowned.
By the time evening fell upon that very day the Kingdom no longer had a Rat problem, but now however, the Necromancer had a problem with the Rat Catcher.
When the Pied Piper returned to the Civic Council lifted up on the shoulders of the city’s peasants and nobles alike, he was borne into the Chambers with his arms outstretched and hands open wide.
“Time to be paid I believe” he cried as he entered.
The Necromancer knowing only too well how the Kingdom’s bureaucracy worked just leant back in his seat and with a sly smirk watched the drama unfold.
As with any well-oiled government machine the administrators took over and declared that monies would be forthcoming after an inspection had been carried out in the city and a certificate of practical completion had been issued. This would, of course release a portion of the funds after the Pied Piper had submitted a claim and he was made aware of 25% retention was to be held back until 12 months had passed and the job was out of the warranty period. There was also the problem of the Pied Piper not being a registered contractor with the Kingdom (an oversight on the council’s behalf regrettably - but unfortunately the rules had to be adhered to). This would hold up the issuing of the practical completion certificate until all JSA and OH&S paperwork had been submitted and approved by the next sitting of the Approvals Committee.
Understandably the Pied Piper went nuts; demanding payment in full or the council would regret ever hiring him.

The Council, well used to this sort of behavior from contractors warned Mister Hamlin that he was close to breaching the rules of the Chamber and that he could be fined and/or imprisoned for assault and threatening behavior. This last part was declared and recorded by the Kingdom lawyers.
The Pied Piper swore and stormed out of the chambers screaming threats of revenge.
The Council convened for dinner and returned to finish other council business as per the agenda.
The Necromancer, having thoroughly enjoyed the show, went home to await the Pied Piper’s next move.
With the disappearance of the rats Humpty was back out in the alleys and laneways hunting down the drunk and derelict fairy creatures of the Kingdom.
The Pied Piper however, had taken to the streets drumming up support from the townsfolk declaring he had been ripped off and if he wasn’t paid by morning would do something that the town would never forget.
When said townsfolk threatened to stone him on the spot if he bought the rat backs he stole away to execute his revenge regardless and immediately.

By this time the Necromancer’s spies had briefed him of the Pied Piper Pest Control Company and Mister Hamlin’s dealings with other Kingdoms. Like most Fairy Folk he was as predictable as he was devious and in the interim The Necromancer took measures to counter the Piper.
The Piper took to the streets early the next morning playing his pipe and dancing in the city square, and as he played children came from all directions and formed a large crowd. When the Piper was satisfied he had enough youngsters present he began to dance toward the wharfs.
But things had changed since the previous day, and as the Pied Piper came closer to the Docks his way was blocked by road works and construction barriers that detoured him towards the old dry docks and warehouses. He carried on confused and disorientated until he came to a dead end, a decrepit boat shed.
As he stood in front of this door playing loudly to keep the children under his control a pair of skinny arms grabbed him by the throat and ripped his windpipe out.
The music stopped and all of a sudden a thousand children awoke in the wrong part of town.
The Pied Piper had disappeared.
The Necromancer in his wisdom had suggested that the children be followed by the Kingdom guards who herded them back to the square and told them to go home.
The Piper was never seen again and Humpty had completed his first unofficial civic duty.
His reward? A meal and a battered old pipe he didn’t know how to play.

To be continued.......

Edited by Cathie Tranent, art by Simon Sherry

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Virtual /Cartoon Bands through history The Nutty Squirrels

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Virtual /Cartoon Bands through history The Nutty Squirrels

Growing up in Australia in the 1960s you had to grab whatever cartoon action you could get, despite having three commercial  and one government owned station they were all on air  between 6.00AM and 10.00PM most nights.
The Nutty Squirrels were a nightly filler show on just before the news so it meant that it was acceptable to watch by my parents because there was no need to change the channel, even though the high pitched laughter they made annoyed the shit out of Dad,

Though the Nutty Squirrels appeared on Television before Alvin and the Chimpmunks The Nutty Squirrels created in 1959, were pretty much a direct ripoff of Alvin and his crew, but sang bebop jazz songs instead of songs people liked. Their 1960 animated program “The Nutty Squirrels Present” generally had the group introduce unrelated animated shorts with snippets of their songs.
Their television succes was never sustained and were only on air for one season.
During 1959 and 1964 The Nutty Squirrels released three albums and experienced a renaissance in 1976 and again in 1984.
Their tracks "Uh! Oh!" Part One and "Uh! Oh!" Part 2 charted in the US pop charts at 45 and 14 respectively.