Friday 28 November 2008

The Lion: Out Now!

New in Chess have now released The Lion!

See here for further details:

Naturally, a full review will follow here, so stay tuned.

Thursday 27 November 2008

Openings Workshop Number 2

Issue 2 of Norman Stephenson's excellent new series is now available, over at:

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Chess Reviews: 71

The Genius and the Misery of Chess
By Zhivko Kaikamjozov
Mongoose Press
224 pages

'Mongoose Press' have been attracting very good reviews for their books and I'm delighted to welcome them to Marsh Towers.

The author's introduction nicely sets the scene for what to expect:

'This book recounts all of these stories - the woe of the aged master, the triumph of the prodigy, the sometime reversal of fortune in the other extreme’.

'You won’t find full biographies here. What you will find is the essence of players, the triumphs and tragedies that shaped their lives. You will get a fascinating look at chess players from a perspective you never may have considered before’.

The front cover is striking, with pictures of the featured players embedded in the squares of the chess board. The photos are excellent and very well chosen; they are used at the start of each players’ section. Only a small number of them were familiar to me. I particularly enjoyed seeing the pictures of Reshevsky, Junge and a very young Kamsky.

The selected players are taken from a very large period of time, all the way from As-Suli the Exile (880-946) to Magnus Carlsen (born 1990). Each subject is typically given several pages of biography and at least one illustrative game.

There’s been plenty of misery in the lives of chess players, that’s for sure. Lots of poverty, deaths at a young age and even cases of severe mental illness. Fortunately, and very noticeably, the geniuses born from the 1960s onwards have generally enjoyed much happier lives than their illustrious chess predecessors.

Two special sections are included, giving extra emphasis for the conditions of human misery, namely:

The Tragic Fate of the Gamblers

World War II and the chess players

I have always enjoyed reading about the lives of chess players and there are several subjects here which I formerly knew little about.

Here’s a couple of examples:

David Przepiorka should have been at the Buenos Aires Olympiad with the Polish team in 1939 when war broke out, but was delayed by illness. Players such as Najdorf stayed in Argentina and survived. Przepiorka died at Auschwitz.

There’s a very touching account by Vladislav Litmanovich, who visited Akiba Rubinstein in a mental hospital in 1957. The latter insisted on washing hands before shaking, as he had just had his lunch. He still had an interest in chess at that time but ‘…However, he had no idea that Tartakower had died, nor did he know about the recent match for the world title between Smyslov and Botvinnik’.

There are some controversial assertions, such as:

When describing the 1866 Steinitz - Anderssen match: ‘This would be remembered as the fiercest match in chess history’. It certainly was fierce, but the statement is rather too sweeping.
‘Confirming’ that Schlechter needed to beat Lasker by two clear points in their famous 1910 World Championship match; as I understand it, the truth is still very obscure and the version quoted here is still just a theory.

Claiming that Janowski played two title matches with Lasker.

However, little niggles aside, there is an abundance of fine material to enjoy. The purely chess bits are augmented by numerous colourful stories ad quotes. For instance, there’s page of Tartakower’s aphorisms (or ‘Tartakowerisms’).

These include:

‘They don’t give points for moral victories’

‘Only a strong player knows how badly he stands’

‘It’s always better to sacrifice your opponent’s men’

The choice of subjects - demonstrating genius, misery or both - will always be a controversial one. Here, for example, there is no place for Lasker or Tal but there is space for Donner and Short (billed as ‘England’s only chess prodigy).

The annotations are very light and some games are bare scores, but they serve the purpose of adding a little bit of chess to the prose and will hopefully whet the appetite enough to inspire independent research. Indeed, the book concludes with a list of ‘Suggested further reading’. Most are very recent and easily obtainable; some, such as Kotov’s biography of Alekhine, may take a little tracking down. Hopefully readers will make the effort to apply themselves and investigate the rich heritage of chess players and their personalities.

Production-wise, the book is very nicely presented and bound. The format is easy on the eye and the printing is of a very high standard. (There’s a little typo on the back cover, in which a letter is missing from the author’s name, but that’s the only one I spotted).

Here’s a couple of examples of play, with over a thousand years between them.

As-Suli’s mate
White to play and checkmate in three moves

Junge - Kottnauer
Duras Memorial 1942

Junge shared first place in the Duras Memorial with Alekhine but it was the last tournament of a very promising chess career. He was killed in the latter stages of WWII.
17 Bxh7+! Kxh7 18 Qh5+ Kg8 19 Bxg7! F5 20 Be5! 1-0 (32)

For further details regarding this, and other
Mongoose Press books, please visit:

Zuke ‘Em
The Colle-Zukertort Revolution!
By David Rudel
Thinker’s Press
260 pages

That there’s something a little bit different about this book is immediately apparent from the cover, on which a Bishop-shaped plane is busy parachuting players onto the chessboard while a tough looking soldier blasts away in the foreground with his machine gun.

The back blurb contains further indications of the unusual style, offering:

‘Introductory chapters for those who would not know the Zukertort from a Lemon Torte’

GM Aaron Summerscale is a good choice to provide the foreword. His 1996 book, ‘A Killer Chess Opening Repertoire’, advocated the Colle-Zukertort system and he effectively passes the C-Z baton to David Rudel.

The book is split into three distinct sections. The first three chapters present the reader with copious introductory material, highlighting the differences between the Colle-Zukertort and the Colle-Koltanowski variation.

One of the reasons for the appearance of another book on this opening is remarkably honest:
‘The Colle-Zukertort needs help!’

The problem lies in the existence of a number of recommended tries for Black. The author sets out to debunk some of the myths surrounding the typical Anti-Colle systems and their effectiveness.

There’s also a discussion on the correct placings for each piece, illustrative examples and a general round-up of ‘Zukertort Principles, Wisdom, and Guidelines’, such as:

‘Never allow Black to place anything on a3, f4 or e5’

‘It’s ok to let your opponent take your B/d3 with a Knight if you can immediately attack with Rf3’.

Chapters 4-11 contain the meat of the analysis of the various variations.

It’s refreshing to see the author tackling the main repertoire problems head on and not sweeping them under the carpet of a couple of minor notes. I was intrigued to see how the book would deal with two of the noted spanners Black players can throw into the works at their leisure, namely:

Black is limbering up for a choice of two spoiling plans. One is to play a quick …Nb4, to hassle the Bishop on d3. The other the oft-recommended idea of …Qe7 and …Ba3, trading the Bishop on b2. White struggles to avoid both Black plans. The book’s suggestion is to play 8 Ne5, leading into a key position.

The Bd3 cannot be preserved due to the pressure on c2. So the recommendation is: 11 Nc3 Nxd3 12 Qxd3.

As is the norm for this book, extensive prose explanations are given, rather than a thicket of confusing variations. The illustrative games show that Black has plenty of scope to go wrong against the automatic attacking plan of Rf3 and Ng4.

That seems to me to a very interesting way to play the position and one which could catch out opponents, even when they have done their homework.

Another annoying position for Colle players is this one:

Indeed, some sources either omit this possibility or dismiss it with 4 c4 c6 5 Qb3, aiming to exploit the tender Queenside. Unfortunately, Black can play simply 4 …dxc4 with a transposition to the Queen’s Gambit Accepted. It could be that players who use the Colle are less likely to have a full understanding of the nuances of a main line opening and they could even stumble into Black’s pet 1 d4 defence.

The recommended recipe here is 4 h3. Rudel points out that 4 …Bxf3 looks suspect and scores badly in practice. After 4 …Bh5, White is encouraged to chase the Bishop with 5 g4 Bg6 6 Ne5. The positional threat is 7 h4 h6 8 Nxg6 fxg6 9 Bd3 giving Black ‘…a salty cracker to chew’.

Black’s fianchetto is a tough nut to crack too.

'Zuke ‘Em' advocates 4 c4, with transpositions to Grunfeld and Slav defences possible. Grunfeld players will need to study the book to assess the subtle differences White has in store.

The remaining chapters cover ‘Extra Analysis’, (featuring a number of further investigations, thoughtfully given their own chapter so as not to complicate the teaching structure of the earlier chapters), ‘Training’, (seven pages of positions to fine-tune the reader’s skill) ‘New Ideas Index’ (four pages of positions demonstrating new ideas) the indices (utilising chapter number and section, but not page number, which would have been simpler) and a bibliography.

It’s a very interesting book and one that will definitely inspire readers and tempt them to give the Colle-Zukertort a try. It’s not a big hit in Grandmaster circles but can be a devastating weapon at club level.

David Rudel’s presentation and style could well have produced a cult book which - publisher willing - could result in updated editions in years to come (rather like John Watson’s famous books on the French Defence). Indeed, the book has a forum devoted it over at:

The author has written several updates, which can be found here:

For more information regarding Thinkers' Press, please go to:

My 60 Memorable Games
By GM Bobby Fischer
Batsford Chess

The classic games collection of the 11th World Champion has long been described as one of the best chess books ever written. Yet the previous Batsford edition, with its unfortunate errors, left the world waiting for a proper, unadulterated algebraic version.

It’s good to see that Batsford have now made amends for their earlier, frankly poor, version.
Purists will be delighted to see a complete lack of tampering with the content, bar the upgrading to algebraic notation.

The format of the book works well. A short introduction precedes each game, written by GM Larry Evans. These set the scene very nicely for the games, covering, on average, five pages each.

The opponents cover a wide range of strengths of fame. It should be no surprise to see him battling with the likes of Botvinnik, Petrosian, Spassky and Tal within the pages, but the names of Celle, Letelier and Walther will be much less known to readers.

Indeed, that highlights part of the overall ethos of the book; the games are ‘Memorable’ rather than ‘Best’. This gives scope to present losses and draws alongside wins, indicating Fischer’s extreme sense of honesty.

It is striking that even though Fischer was often apparently intolerant of ‘patzers’, he was quite prepared to break down his explanations to a very simple level - including one move variations - when he thought it necessary to do so.

Naturally, some of the text has dated and further reading will be required to fill in the historical gaps. As things stand, it’s like a time capsule from one of the classic eras of chess. For example, game 31 is introduced as ‘…Fischer’s only win against Petrosian’ - how that situation would change in a few short years!

The openings are fairly typical for Fischer. There are numerous examples of the Ruy Lopez (including a detailed look at his resurrection of the Exchange Variation), King’s Indian Defence and Sicilian Defence (especially with his trademark Sozin Attack, 6 Bc4).

A couple of famous positions will surely stir more memories from those familiar with older editions of the book. It’s White to move in both cases and I’m sure the strongest moves are already springing into readers’ minds….

Fischer - Larsen
Portoroz 1958

Fischer v Benko
USA Championship, 1963-4

The 60 games are replete with such memorable moments

Notes by other players are sometimes quoted to augment Fischer’s own. Korchnoi is ‘allowed’ to give extensive views on his side of their classic clash at Stockholm 1962 and Botvinnik is quoted even more as the most famous game of the 1962 Varna Olympiad is analysed.

Indeed, the reader should be able to sense Fischer’s deep frustration at letting the great champion escape with a draw. One gets the feeling that the game is a little too painful for Fischer to reveal all of his emotions; at times, it’s almost as if he’s hiding behind Botvinnik’s notes and that even though the game is obviously very memorable, he can’t quite bring himself to look at ‘the one that got away’.

The production is generally very good, with a high page count allowing plenty of space to make the layout very easy on the eye. Indeed, the format is very similar to the classic Faber edition. New games start on new pages and one doesn’t have to turn a page to match a diagram with the relevant text (two small points often neglected by space-conscious publishers).

The only production blip is that due to the size of the book, the spine of the book is prone to bending; a genuine problem, as the book is sure to be read many times. This could have been averted with more binding glue.

As usual with Fischer, one can easily end up with feelings of great frustration and a plethora of ‘what if?’ questions. Just imagine a sequel, covering his Candidates matches and 1972 match with Spassky. Did he ever think of writing it? ‘My 60 Memorable Games’ leaves the reader not merely hungry for more, but absolutely ravenous.

Just this once, let us refrain from detailing the darker side and deeds of Robert James Fischer and concentrate on the side all chess players admire. This book is an acknowledged classic, with no apparent dissenters.

Incidentally, despite Fischer’s inherent paranoia, it’s not so easy to spot any examples here and when they do appear they are extremely mild. Noting that Stein had surprised him with 1 e4 e5, he comments: ‘I suspect that the Russians ‘‘group think’’ before important games to decide which openings will upset their opponents psychologically’. That’s as strong as it gets; great respect for the opponent is the normal state of affairs.

If you’ve never owned any edition of ‘My 60 Memorable Games’ then the waiting time is over and there is a very big treat in store. Even those with a copy or two already in their libraries will welcome this new algebraic edition.

For full details of all available Batsford chess books, please go to:

The Return of The Lion

I've been enjoying reading the Chronicles of Narnia recently. There's a permanent expectation of The Lion appearing. The same is going to happen very soon in the world of chess. Here's a press release which should be of interest to all fans of 'The Lion'....

Reputable publisher New In Chess presents chess book ‘The Black Lion’

DRECHTSTREEK – The international chess book publishers New In Chess (NIC) are about to publish completely revised Dutch and English editions of the successful book on chess openings The Lion: The Black Weapon. While accessible to anyone who likes to play chess, the book also appeals to average and strong club chess players. The Lion helps players find their way in the opening stages of the game, enabling them to play according to a specific system.

The authors Jerry van Rekom and Leo Jansen are proud of the worldwide success of their book, which first appeared in early 1997 and has since been in consistent demand.

The English version of The Lion will be put on the market in November 2008. The Dutch version is scheduled for presentation on Saturday 10 January 2009, just a few days ahead of the opening of the Corus Chess tournament.

"This is going to be the fourth edition of the opening book. We had no choice because the earlier editions were sold out. But that is not the only reason. At the request of our new publisher, NIC, the book was rewritten to suit international standards and adapted in response to the latest developments in chess. It has in fact become a new book", says the author Jerry van Rekom.

The book, written in the small town of Sliedrecht, has had astounding success in the chess world. As a rule, only books authored by chess title holders enjoy good sales. Leo Jansen and Jerry van Rekom belong to the ranks of strong club chess players. They play, or played, in the national competition of the Dutch Chess Association (KNSB). Perhaps that is why they can also communicate in language that appeals to a broad public. On this point, Jerry van Rekom says that it proves that "it is possible for amateurs to write a popular book that can become a worldwide success."

Chess journalist Lex Jongsma had the privilege of presenting the first printing of the chess book De Leeuw, hét zwarte wapen on 22 February 1997. The book was the culmination of years of diligent work by Leo Jansen, Jerry van Rekom and a team of chess-playing friends. The book featuring this unique chess opening is more than 350 pages long and was an instant success.

Within a year the first printing was sold out and the second the year thereafter. The third printing came in 2000, followed the next year by an English translation. These editions also sold like hotcakes.

Calls for a new edition increased, and in 2007 the authors bowed to popular demand . They partnered with the famous international chess book publishers New In Chess (NIC) in Alkmaar. NIC also expressed the desire to publish the new edition in English.

Leo Jansen, now 80 years old, provided encouragement for the new edition as Van Rekom tackled the revisions.

The author: "Every chapter has been rewritten from the first letter to the last. Many new analyses by grand masters have been added along with many, many new games. We have done quite a lot to improve quality. And we will certainly surprise our fans as well as our adversaries with never-before-seen variants. What’s great about that is that we’ve used games and analyses our fans have sent us from all over the world. In particular, the chapter where white attacks black by an early g4 has undergone a metamorphosis. The Shirov attack is popular with ‘Lion-tamers’, but in the new edition we prove that this attack can also be repelled by the system."

A new feature of the book, in addition to the new analyses and games, is that every chapter is introduced by a prominent chess player that has been associated with the Lion in some way. For example, grand master Jan Timman and the international masters Johan van Mil and Gerard Welling give their comments on the Lion. The American master Keith Hayward also gives his views on the system. Club chess player and Lion promoter Hans van Steenis, son of the former chairman of the KNSB, offers his assessment of the system he so gladly employs.

The presentation of the new Dutch edition on Saturday, 10 January 2009 will be accompanied by a host of chess activities. The Sliedrecht Chess Club, which has garnered fame by organising several large chess events in recent years, will be in charge of the presentation. The Zwijndrecht chairman, Frank Stoute, and Hans Berrevoets of the Dordrecht chess club De Willige Dame have made an important contribution to the event, showing that this new edition of a chess book is important to promoting the game of chess on a wider scale.

Thus, a real celebration is in the works—not only for the Lion enthusiast but for every chess lover. We will ring in the new year at De Lockhorst conference centre, where the festive presentation will begin at 11:00 a.m. and feature the Lion in the leading role.

More news on the new editions can be found on the website of NIC,, on the official The Lion website,, and on the website of Tom van Bokhoven,

Jerry van Rekom

Missed a review? Pop along to my archive:

Saturday 22 November 2008

'Dimensions' 2008

Doctor Who Convention
14 - 16 November 2008
Britannia Hotel, Newcastle Airport

The latest in the very successful series of North East England Doctor Who conventions proved to be every bit as interesting and enjoyable as previous events.

The new venue proved to be just about ideal for the task although the wait for meals took a little longer than one would have hoped (the 'minute steak sandwich' missed out the word 'thirty').

Organisers 10th Planet ( had assembled a fine array of guests for the weekend. Some were making their convention debuts.

The format is simple. Every guest will appear on stage for an hour (or more, in some cases) for an interview, with plenty of opportunity for questions from the audience. Then there is chance to meet the celebrities at the signing sessions. The queues seemed to go down much faster than in earlier years, even though there well over 300 people. Possibly the change of rule to only one autograph per guest (more available by payment) meant less time for people to chat.

There are other bits and pieces too, such as coffee clubs, in which a small number of people can chat with their favourite guest. I tend to stick to the main events and watch as many of the stage talks as possible. The interviewers were especially good this year; probably the most consistently excellent they've ever been at 'Dimensions'.

Here's some pictures from a very fine weekend....

Anneke Wills

Louise Jameson

Wendy Padbury

Christina Cole
'Lilith' (the witch in ‘The Shakespeare Code’ )

Richard Gauntlett
Urak in ‘Time and the Rani’

John Smithson
Camera man for the early William Hartnell stories

Nicholas Courtney
'The Brigadier'

Pop along to: to order volume 1
of Anneke's autobiography, and preorder volume 2 while you're there.

Trevor Martin
The Doctor in the 1974 stage play, ‘The Seven Keys to Doomsday’
(and a Time Lord in ‘The War Games’)

Wendy Padbury



One of the highlights was the reuniting of four of the Second Doctor's
companions, including 'Polly' and 'Victoria'
...later joined by 'Zoe' and 'Jamie'
Frazer Hines

Cheryl Hall
Shirna in ‘A Carnival of Monsters’ (…and Citizen Smith’s girlfriend!)

Claire Rushbrook
'Ida Scott' in ‘The Impossible Planet’ and ‘The Satan Pit’

Sylvester McCoy
The Seventh Doctor

'Big Finish'
Makers of many original Dr Who audio plays and a whole load of other goodies.
Find out all about them and their excellent products here:
Deborah Watling

The final panel saw the Seventh Doctor actively seeking questions from the audience

...and he was joined by 'The Brigadier' for a fine finale

Goodbye - until next year!

Friday 21 November 2008

2009 UK Chess Challenge

It is time to enter your school into the 2009 UK Chess Challenge.

It's the biggest chess tournament in the world and one which always brings a huge amount of enjoyment and pride to the participants, whatever their current level of play.

It is open to every school in the country. The initial stage is normally held in your own school and the top scorers then qualify for the regional 'Megafinals' in which they battle for places in the national 'Gigafinals'.

It's an opportunity not to be missed.

For full details, please visit the official site over at:
Meanwhile, tournament organiser IM Mike Basman has kindly given his permission for me to reproduce his recent fabulous essay....

Saving the World
Essay by UK Chess Challenge Organiser Mike Basman

Ever since the rise of mass communications, saving the world has become a prominent theme. Early prototypes were Dan Dare and his American counterpart Superman. Since then there have been numerous others, and the sprawling fantasy genre from Harry Potter to Eragon have all featured young, energetic heroes doing great deeds.

In 1965 the Beatles sang, ‘All you Need is Love’. Later John Lennon improved the message with ‘You say you want a revolution - we-ell - you know - we all want to save the world…but if you talk about people who hate - well, I’m telling you buddy, you can count me out! Revolution! Etc…’

In 1985 Bob Geldof ran the Band Aid concert and repeated it 20 years later. There are various G-8 summits and at one of the them Gordon Brown wrote off the Third World Debt. Nonetheless, ‘saving the world’ has not graduated out of specific issues or fantasy worlds, and if you suggest the idea to any mature person, they will look at you from behind their glasses as if to say, ‘Who do you think you are?’

So, ever willing to say the wrong thins at the wrong time, I will make an effort.

Improvement in the world must come from improvement in the people in it. It is statistically clear that better educated, more intelligent people are more productive, live longer and are happier than others, so if we can increase the number of these people, and they can help others to become better educated, this will begin a rolling movement which will eventually include the world.

Many young people have idealism - witness the success of the ‘save the world/fantasy’ theme already mentioned - but they do not see the link between this and their everyday life; they do not see that they are the key to improvement and just go through the motions of school life. The death of enthusiasm is particularly marked in the teenage years where an ‘us-and-them’ mentality dominates.

So the teachers bravely try to keep order and drum learning into them, and the pupils resist sullenly, and then go off and do their own thing. Yet if the pupils realised how important they are, that they are each at the centre of the universe, and that their striving for knowledge and self improvement, alongside their help to others, will be the salvation of the world, we tap into a huge source of energy, and one that needs no financial investment - only a change of attitude.

It could be that education is far too important a matter to be left to teachers - or to the government. If we support the ultimate privatisation of education - down to the level of the child - this does not mean that the child should become antagonistic to the teacher. Far from it, the child would work with the teacher to learn as much as possible, but in this case the child is active rather than passive and can see the ultimate goal, not only of benefiting himself or herself, but also the whole of the planet.

This is an ideal to be given to young people, and one which, because of their natural exuberance and optimism (so frequently destroyed by cynicism) they will enthusiastically embrace.

The qualities of character needed at the moment are:-

1. Kindness
2. Knowledge
3. Honesty
4 Ability to work with others
5. Analytical power
6. Decision making ability
7. Ability to withstand pressure

The first four of these qualities I would call the primary virtues - they are the foundation of character, and notably only one of these - knowledge - can be directly acquired through school. Furthermore, any word used is an inexact symbol, even the word ‘knowledge’ I use in a wide sense, rather than as representing ‘factual information’.

The first four qualities are to be acquired through life, through thought, through study, through experience.

The latter three qualities are a means to turbo-charge the character. They permit better assessments to be made, and also develop the sort of character which can put these assessments into action. What is the use of great thought if it is not disseminated, or if the creator of the thought lacks the will power to put it into effect?

We can see throughout the world that great decision makers hold sway, but often they lack kindness and many people suffer needlessly; at other times the decision makers have poor analytical skills, poor knowledge, or are overcome with emotion and cannot assess a situation properly.

The importance of the game of chess is that it develops the last three qualities on the lost to a remarkable degree. Thought, planning, concentration are improved, all important parts of analytical skill. Thought without action is powerless, and action without thought is mindless. So after deliberating a move, the player then has to put his or her money on it - not once, but 40 or 50 times in a game.

There is immense pressure on the ego, and self esteem is severely tested during a long game; something that is often not evident to the onlooker who only sees two people sitting motionless at a board, but is very familiar to the players. This is the sort of pressure that is experienced by a politician or a businessman taking any decision that involves risk and can also be seen when an artist, actor, playwright, or composer produces a new work.

This article is not a pitch for chess as a means for saving the world; it could be pointed out that chess players have not always proved adept at organising their own lives, let alone those of others. But it does show how chess can fit in with the development of character. In this topsy turvy world, it is remarkable that chess is overwhelmingly popular in primary schools, but virtually non existent in secondary schools. It is precisely in the teenage years that the mind should be developing and where chess should be popular; but it is not.

We are not developing the analytical powers of our youth. There are two other groups of people who could particularly benefit from chess - these are females and academics. Physical oppression over centuries has made females risk averse and unwilling to make decisions, but chess can address both these weaknesses and produce a more confident, decisive individual

The same goes for academics, the intellectuals who are more at home in their ivory towers than in getting down and dirty in the messy processes of decision making in real time and in the real world.

So the message of this article is that all of us and all of our children are responsible for saving the world. If we concentrate on the self improvement and the improvement of others and our surroundings, in the space of 40-50 years the major blights on society - war and poverty - will reduce and disappear because these are the result of poor negotiating skills, lack of foresight.

Stupid people will produce a stupid world, average people no more than an average world. Once our children understand that Superman and Harry Potter are imaginary characters, and that they themselves are the reality, they will realise the enormous power and responsibility they have; and they will not want to let others down.

Friday 14 November 2008

Ultravox: Return to Eden

The first album I ever owned was ‘Vienna’ by Ultravox. I thought it was superb and quite unlike anything else I’d ever heard. Consequently, Ultravox were the first group in which I really took an interest. I even went to see them in concert twice; once for the ‘Quartet’ tour and the other for the ‘Lament’ tour; both times in Newcastle.

I have strongest memories of the ‘Quartet’ show; it was the first concert I ever went to. I remember the curtains drawing apart, the first glimpse of the very impressive ‘Monument’ stage set, the dry ice drifting towards the audience, the first tantalising piece of music from ‘Reap the Wild Wind’…and then suddenly Ultravox were there on the stage, giving it their all.

There was Midge Ure, impossibly cool with his greased-back hair, moustache and sideburns; Warren Cann, pounding the drums into submission and every now and then switching his attention to do ‘something electronic’; Chris Cross, stage-left, master of the bass and definitely the one with the coolest name; Billy Currie, stage-right, lost in a world of keyboards, doing extraordinary things with his legs as he played.

The Messengers, the support act, were part of the main show too, taking up their own position amidst the Monument, stage-left, behind Chris Cross.

I’d not had the ‘Quartet’ album very long at all but every song had already burnt its way deep into my brain, where they remain to this day.

Naturally, they covered all the classic songs from ‘Vienna’ and ‘Rage in Eden’ too. Who can ever forget ‘the bit with all the drums’ at the end of ‘The Voice’?

It was one of those ‘nights you never want to end’. After a wonderful couple of hours, it was suddenly time to climb on the bus back home.

I have seen Midge Ure three times in recent years; once with his band (Newcastle) and twice on his own, acoustically (Darlington and Hartlepool). I never thought there’d be the chance to see Ultravox together again, particularly as there were apparently clashes between certain members.

However, following a period of intense speculation, it was announced last week that they are, incredibly, re-forming for a 2009 tour. Pop along to your usual ticket site if you still can’t believe it, but don’t be so shocked that you forget to snap up some tickets while you are there.

It’s been a long time. I was still at college when I last saw them (that makes it about a quarter of a century ago). Sometimes it’s possible to roll back the years; sometimes it’s not. I am very confident that ‘Return to Eden’ will be a huge success.

Will the next time also be the last time, or will further tours and new recordings follow? Who can say. The only important thing now is to go out there and enjoy it as it happens.

The best place to find all the latest Ultravox news is:

It’s best to add:

....(the official John Foxx website) to your favourites too while you’re at it.

Thanks to the dedicated - and much appreciated - efforts of Cerise Reed and Rob Harris, the two sites have risen far above the level of standard websites and their respective forums are well supported and healthily maintained.

A lot of work has been done on the upgrading and reissuing of Ultravox and John Foxx material and this is an evolving project.

'Vienna' and 'Rage in Eden' have just been given the full treatment (see the official site for full details, including downloadable expanded booklets)

For the best selection of John Foxx material, including limited edition releases (such as the recent 'Impossible' and 'Neuro Video' CDs) you need to keep an eye on:


Neuro Video

With so much material being released and 'Return to Eden' a reality, there's never been a better time to (re)discover Ultravox.

Thursday 13 November 2008

Entertainment! Three Great Shows and Two Near Misses

My quest for entertainment recently took me to three fine concerts. It should have been five, but things don't always go according to plan....
Emmylou Harris
Newcastle City Hall

(Please excuse the poor quality of the pictures. I was relying on the camera on my phone and it struggled to rise to the occasion. Nevertheless, the pictures are included to merely provide a flavour of the occasions. A simple Google search should unearth better pictures for the curious.)

It was a real pleasure to Emmylou Harris. She is one of my absolute, all-time favourites and possesses the finest singing voice I have heard.

She looked and sounded amazing. The two-hour set feaured a sprinkling of the new songs from her most recent CD, 'All I Intended To Be' but there was plenty of room for material from all through her career. 'Pancho and Lefty', 'Red Dirt Girl', 'The Pearl' and 'Born to Run' were the stand-out songs for me.

The five-piece band was on great form too, displaying a mastery of all sorts of instruments (various guitars, drums, mandolins, violins, accordian, various items of bass etc).

I hope it's not too long before Emmylou comes back within reasonable striking distance. She's a simply wonderful artiste.

Stray Cats
Manchester Academy

I’ve never seen Stray Cats live but have wanted to for some time. When they announced their ‘Farewell European Tour’ I pounced on a ticket a.s.a.p. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as planned.

At the end of a terrific show in Brixton on the previous night, when they did three encores and still looked set for more, Slim Jim Phantom slipped and fell off the stage, breaking his wrist in three places. Rather unfortunate, especially for a drummer.

Despite first announcing that the next show would go on, the more sensible decision was taken to fly Slim Jim back to America for treatment. Unfortunately, that meant that I had a wasted trip to Manchester, as I only found out the show was cancelled as I was getting to leave the hotel.
As yet, there’s no sign of rescheduled European dates but we live in hope.

Stevie Wonder
MEN Arena, Manchester

I was pleased to return to MEN Arena, in which I’d previously seen the legendary Santana.

This show was similar to the Santana concert in some respects, such as the numerous drummers, generally large amount of musicians (it was quite a packed stage) and the overall sense of rhythm.

I don’t know an awful lot of Stevie Wonder’s work but he was always going to run through his classics. I probably recognised about a third of the songs, mainly those at the latter end of the show.
It was a sell-out show and the audience was very appreciative. Everyone had a whole lot of fun.

Amy MacDonald
Carling Academy, Newcastle

Unfortunately, illness led to the postponement of this show. Fortunately, I hadn’t booked any train tickets or accommodation for this one and I am available for the rearranged date, so all is well.

Bryan Adams
MEN Arena, Manchester

I wouldn’t say Bryan Adams was one of my favourite artists, but certainly, it’s easy to listen to most of his work. In fact, it can be a surprise to most people when they stop to think how many of his songs they actually know.

In the 1980s, wiser heads than mine realised that any cassette tape left in a car for more than a couple of months somehow managed to undergo a curious metamorphosis into ‘Queen’s Greatest Hits’. That’s exactly the reason why the whole world grew up knowing so many Queen songs. 20 years on, car cassettes have been completely outmoded by CDs and the modern metamorphosis changes them all into ‘Best of Bryan Adams’ discs.

Anyway, I knew the show would be an entertaining display of pop-rock and going to such things keeps me off the streets. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised; the show was much better than I was expecting it to be.

Emerging through the crowd to a small stage in the middle of the standing area, he started off with a number of powerful acoustic numbers, before pointing to the main stage and shouting, ‘The band!’ The stage, formerly in darkness, was instantly lit up and the band started playing as Mr Adams started to wend himself towards them, shaking hands all along the way. With a final wiggle of his bottom as he ascended the stage-side ladder, he joined the band and launched into hit after hit after hit.

It was a very energetic performance and it was probably the noisiest audience (in a good way) that I have known. At one point, a young lady, randomly selected, was invited onto the stage to sing a duet. She did well!

The energy levels didn’t dip all night. The encore lasted for five songs (the last three acoustically solo) and then suddenly it was time to go home.

A very impressive display! If any readers have the chance to see Mr Adams and co. doing their thing, I’d advise them to snap up the opportunity. It won’t be regretted.

Coming up next in my quest for entertainment....the 'Dimensions' Doctor Who Convention at Newcastle. A full report will naturally appear in due course.