Sunday, November 23, 2014

10 Things I Hate About Who

Hate is a strong word. But, like a Tyrannosaurus up the Thames, it’s a good attention-grabber even if it ends up having nothing to do with the rest of this blog post.

The fact is, when you’ve been married to something – sorry, when you’ve been a fan of something for a lengthy length of time, you’re bound to encounter difficult phases, there will be certain quirks and foibles that will annoy and irritate or just make you sigh and shake your head and/or drive you to sleep on the sofa for a few nights. Or prompt you to go off and play on your Xbox or do something less boring instead.

It might feel like falling out of love. But it’s not hate. You could never hate the show. You still love the damned thing.

Who am I talking about? Who, I am talking about.

Happy 51st birthday Doctor Who.

With an eighth season of its 21st century incarnation behind us and our first full season of a brand new Doctor, I thought it’d be an interesting exercise to look back on the main niggles that have managed to put a little distance between me and my once-upon-a-time favourite TV show.

These may come across as entirely negative gripes and many fans may protest and disagree – please do, in the comments section. But bear in mind, they a) have no power to affect your enjoyment of the series and b) they’re not negative. Which is my double negative way of saying they’re meant positively.

After all, most of these niggles, if they were remedied for next season, would probably only result in a show that was everything it was already, but significantly improved. In my humble opinion, as they say.

Of course, the humble is optional, as in my recipe for humble pie.

So without further ado, here is The One With The List:

1.        THE MUSIC

Of course I don’t hate the music. Come on, that title theme is eternal. I fully expect some dim corner of my brain will be humming it to itself even when I’ve succumbed to dementia, lost my way on a walk to the local chip shop and forgotten what I was going there for anyway.

But. It’s now been rearranged more times than the Doctor’s facial features and the latest incarnation is just way too busy and bombastic. The accompanying titles are on the busy side too, like a cry for attention – hey, look at me, look at me, there’s lots going on in this show! – but I like the spiralling clock face and they’re at least a visual distraction to help me tune out the dreadful din. A full season of it and it’s almost like I don’t hear it any more. I’m fairly sure the version my dementia-addled brain will be humming will be one of the simpler arrangements. If not, the other residents of the old folks’ home will probably complain about the noise leaking through my eardrums.


One thing the vast majority of reasoning pacifists and militarists will likely have in common is that they do not hate soldiers. And while the Doctor is a singular, unique individual, I’d appreciate it more if his psychology was founded in some sort of reality.

This trait is a relatively recent addition to the Doctor’s character and is generally attributed to the fact that this is a veteran of the Time War. This Doctor has moved on from having friends in the military and sharing a glass of Courvoisier with Bonaparte.

Oh yes, he’s a seasoned soldier himself, embittered by all the horrors of war he’s seen and even the horrors he’s been obliged to perpetrate himself. So yes, that could lead to deep-rooted self-hatred issues, that sort of thing. But war veterans tend to seek counsel and comfort in the company of those who’ve been through similar circumstances. And even if they reject the military, I’m not sure any of them would hate fellow soldiers to the extent that they wouldn’t stand beside one of them or offer one a lift in their car.

This is a (supposedly super-intelligent) 2000 year old guy who has seen countless military personnel exhibiting the full range of qualities found in soldiers: cruelty, narrow-mindedness, violence, courage, compassion, sacrifice etc. All those evils out there that the Doctor defends folks against, erm, when he’s not around who fights the Daleks, who protects the civilians? Soldiers. Giving their lives more than he’s ever done. (Obviously.)

When we add in the fact that this Doctor has been through three regenerations since the Time War plus one thousand years on Christmas and been granted a) the insight into the burden on the shoulders of the War Doctor and b) a wibbly wobbly timey-wimey (see later) change in the timeline that meant he never had to do the thing he was most horrified to have done, none of that adds up to this ingrained phobia. It’s ridiculous. It’s ill-considered. It is, in short, more BS than any Nimon ever produced.

We’re most of us familiar with armchair pacifism, because most of us don’t like war and we can all hand down judgements on soldiers behaving badly from the comfort of our own sofas. This is sub-infantile pacifism from a character who is in a position to form an intelligent, mature informed judgment. I say sub-infantile, because I’m betting even a child understands there is a difference between not liking war and hating a chap (or lass) in uniform.

There has only been one character who might reasonably be expected to hate soldiers with that level of fervour and that was a dead kid. Who wanted to sit at a table with Danny Pink and confront his killer, then ran away, rejecting his sorry attempts to say sorry. But d’you know what? I doubt even that kid hated soldiers. Not really. I doubt he even hated Danny. Looked more scared and confused than anything.

3.        SONIC

D’you remember K9? Dear old K9, wheeled into the world of Doctor Who because the producers saw R2D2 and thought, hey, Doctor Who should have a cute robot. I love K9, think he’s a great design and a fantastic creation. But they had to get rid of him because he encouraged the writers to be lazy, having K9 trundle in and save the day.

The difference between him and the sonic screwdriver is that he had character. All the sonic screwdriver has is function. Oh so many functions.It’s the bane of so many episodes now.

When it was introduced, it unscrewed screws. Later, in the Pertwee era it would do things like set off landmines to drive Sea Devils back into the surf, but generally things that you could reasonably expect to achieve with sonic waves. Not so far-fetched is it, sound waves triggering landmines. Also not vastly instrumental in solving the overall story. Just to extricate the Doctor from a tricky situation. Fair enough.

Now it is a weapon and, make no mistake about it, a magic wand. Which you might justify, now that the Doctor finds himself up against magic more often, but it is the worst kind of plot device. Better if Clara had collected up all the sonic screwdrivers and thrown them in the lava. Better if it hadn’t been a dream either and they were gone. For good.

Even in my favourite episode of the season, Flatline, the Doctor dismisses the flatlanders back to their dimension with a wave of this wand.

Thing is, I don’t have any smart answer as to what to do about this, as they’ve effectively used the instrument to hammer the nail in the drama coffin. Do you get rid of it and come up with some reason why it isn’t replaced? Give the Doctor some sort of handyman amnesia that prevents him making another one? Or he can only make a limited version of it? I don’t know. The damage has been done and it’s tough to reverse convincingly. But I’d be tempted to say any one of those feeble unconvincing solutions to the problem is preferable to the continuance of the problem.

4.        TARDIS

See also Sonic. Similar problem. What was a vehicle to transport the Doctor and companions to fascinating worlds of adventure is too often used as a tool to extricate the Doctor and companions from tight spots and tricky situations that would otherwise have to be overcome with ingenuity.

It’s a bit too late now, but I’d have much preferred this very old Type 40 to grow less reliable and more creaky and unpredictable, instead of more powerful than ever. Maybe it’s time to damage it severely and limit its powers. If nothing else it would prohibit its use as a taxi service for any companions who wanted a regular weekly pick-up every Tuesday.


Hate, as we’ve established, is such a strong word but I think I might actually loathe that phrase. Wibbly wobbly timey-wimey. I even hate that I’ve ended up writing it. Twice.

But the real problem with timey-wimey stories is that they’re frequently wibbly-wobbly.

They’ve been going around the same old circles, like a wheel on a bent axle, they’re also getting tired. Sure, it’s clever to join the dots in something other than a straight line, but you can achieve the same with a compass and a spirograph and we’ve been around this block so many times before we know what’s coming.

Oh, look, we went looking for the cause, strained for effect and turned out to be the cause. No wonder it feels like déjà vu, we’ve done it so often. That, other than the profoundly stupid bit with the kid under the blanket, was the overriding impression I was left with by this year’s ‘classic’ Listen. Worse, was Journey To The Centre Of The TARDIS, where everything is granted a (literal) big reset button.

In other non sci-fi shows that’s like Pam seeing Bobby in the shower and discovering the preceding episodes were all a dream. It’s getting to the point where we may have to start imposing rations on the number of time travel stories in a show that features a time machine.

6.        SOAP

Somewhere in the infinite interior of the TARDIS I am sure there is a kitchen sink. So I’m not sure I see the need to visit Earth for a weekly dose of ‘drama’ around this ubiquitous domestic household fixture.

This year, we were given enough of the Clara-Danny Hollyoaks romance to make it tedious and nowhere near enough to form the basis of the undying love they apparently shared. I mean, on the one hand, thank cripes, because we would have seen even less actual adventure in our favourite sci-fi adventure series. But it seems to me, if we really had to have that thread form such a key element of the season, maybe it would have been better to drag Danny along as a companion and, I don’t know, have him and Clara forge a closer bond through their various ordeals in time and space instead of at Coal Grange Hill. Of course, that would never have happened because the Doctor could never have stomached having such a thoroughly despicable soldier on board the TARDIS.

Either way, the formula of starting most stories in soapland only succeeds in getting me in a lather. Audiences might embrace the spirit of adventure a bit more if the companion did. The idea of someone struggling to juggle a TARDIS life with their mundane earthbound one might have been okay for one season, but we’ve actually had this to one degree or another for eight seasons now.

7.        GENIUS

At the risk of sounding like a tabloid newspaper, I’m going to quote ‘a source’ on Twitter:

They are so busy trying to be clever with their #DoctorWho scripts that they forget to be intelligent. It comes across like bad fan fiction

Instantly favourited tweet, because I couldn’t agree more.

Doctor Who writers are clever. There’s no doubt about that.

Sadly, they seem to suffer from an insecurity that compels them to demonstrate how clever they are, so they are all working away so feverishly to write brilliant, quick-witted exchanges of dialogue and devising original, inventive situations for the Doctor to come up against that they overlook that rather more minor issue of making sure everything makes sense.

Leaving glaring plot holes in their masterworks. Oops. And despite a conscious effort on my part to focus on the positive, perhaps the reason these plot holes remain so vivid in the memory long after the episode has ended is akin to fossilisation. It’s only the animals who’re stupid enough to fall into a tar pit that get preserved.

This special combination of cleverness and massive oversight of the simplest things (you know, the sort of thing that would have Homer Simpson slapping his forehead and saying, “D’oh!”) is known in some circles as ‘genius’. And it’s because it is called ‘genius’ that it will persist and we will continue to see much more of it in Doctor Who.

8.        MAGIC

There are those writers who don’t quite manage to plug their plot holes, and then there are those who just don’t bother. I can only imagine they shrug and say, what the hell, it doesn’t matter, it’s only Doctor Who.

Or maybe when they heard of the magic of Doctor Who, they figured that means we can have amazing appearing and disappearing trees and all sorts of wonderful stuff that would even find more logical basis in Merlin. A glorious space chicken hatching from Moon eggs then laying another Moon egg twice the size of itself. Physically painful to the extent of being most likely fatal, if not actually impossible.

Doctor Who science is generally flimsy enough as it is, thanks, but it needs to be there. Make an effort. Make up some pseudoscientific gobbledegook. Anything is better than bugger all. If you can’t make your story work without magic, maybe you need to come up with another story or sell it to another show.

At least we have Santa and Elves to look forward to in the Christmas special.
And although I say that with a degree of sarcasm, I would actually be fine with it – if there is a decent rational explanation that holds together for longer than it takes a neural impulse to jump a synapse.

9.        NOT-MONSTERS

There’s that line in my favourite tale this season, Flatline: “What if they’re not monsters? That would make a refreshing change.” Which would have been good and entirely fitting if not for the fact that the majority of monsters in Who turn out to be misunderstood. In the end, the monsters in that one turned out to be monsters and that was the refreshing change.

See, back when Brian Hayles made his Ice Warriors a member race of a Galactic Federation in The Curse Of Peladon, that was a novel twist. And having the genuinely scary aliens in last year's Hide turn out to be lovers would have been a wonderfully novel twist in a season that wasn’t absolutely loaded with emo-monsters and weak endings. Now the writers have cried sheep so often, it gets to the point you’re really glad of just one wolf.

10.      CLARA

Let’s be clear on one thing: I do not hate Clara. I lurve her. She’s gorgeous. Jenna Coleman does a superb job in the role, investing the character with depth, charm, wit, intelligence, ferocity and the much-vaunted pluck we have admired in other companions. A companion must always, always be pluckier than a poultry farmer. It’s just that, well, what with the TARDIS and the sonic screwdriver at his disposal, does the Doctor really need the companion to be another device?

The Impossible Girl thread through Season 7 was fair enough, but I rather foolishly entertained hopes, once that was concluded, that there might be some efforts to properly develop her as a character. To that end, the powers that be handed down a storyline in which she struggles to balance a teaching career with her jaunts in the TARDIS (some trips must be so boring and inconsequential, she thinks she can take her marking along) and gets herself a boyfriend. Who turns out to be a plot device for the series finale. Now there are so many plot devices they’ve started dating one another. Next thing you know, they’ll be breeding and we’ll be overrun with plot devices.

In the days when Doctor Who stories were never so determinedly about the Doctor and/or the companions, they were never so blatantly fielded as plot devices. Here’s an idea: characters experience adventures and grow from their experiences. That’s character development. Simples.


So, there they are, the main issues I have with Doctor Who in its current form. Will they be going away any time soon? I’m not sure: if the writers believe they have hit on a successful formula, why would they change anything? Viewing figures at time of broadcast are down, but that can be attributed to the show’s tendency to travel in the programming schedule and Moffat insists that many more folks are watching it on iPlayer. Fair enough.

Doctor Who was never the best show on TV, but it was my favourite for many years. Now there are many more and if I was the sort to make Top 10s, Doctor Who would slip outside of it. Chiefly because of these Top 10 entirely fixable issues.

Now that I’ve lit those ten candles, let’s light another for one element I love. Capaldi, as I’ve said before, is the best thing to happen to Doctor Who since its return. Indeed, he’s so brilliant, such a fantastic Doctor, he makes these issues a bigger deal. Because if you’ve gotten your Doctor so right, it’s strikes me as that bit more important to raise the rest of your game to match.

Happy 51st birthday, Doctor Who.

We don’t want much. I’d just like to have my cake, eat it and be able to write a glowing review afterwards.

No actual hate was used in the making of this blog post.

SAF 2014

Sunday, November 09, 2014

The Wanking Dead

Fanwank was a term coined by a friend of mine, the late great Craig Hinton. We had a lot of larks and laughs attending the Gallifrey convention in LA in 2005, the year Doctor Who returned to our screens. One of his convention highlights was being presented with a T-shirt emblazoned with the words Fanwank God. A title nobody would wrest from him.

This year’s season finale was fanwank extraordinaire.

And for those unfamiliar with the term, that’s not like calling Steven Moffat a wanker. It can amount to the highest praise in Doctor Who land.

And it’s probably best to be absolutely clear on one point: when I say you need tissues at the end, it’s only for the tear-jerking, heart-tugging farewell between the Doctor and Clara. Hate to see her go, but loved to watch her leave. That, for me, was the crowning scene of the whole story. Each lying to one another about the new life they’d found and their hug as a way to hide what’s written in their faces. Magic of the very best kind.

So what about the rest?

In the two-part Dark Water/Death In Heaven we have a packed show with Cybermen, a gender-bending Master, UNIT (or UIT as I guess they should now be called) including Kate Lethbridge Stewart and Osgood, honourable mentions to Gallifrey and even an appearance from a metallic Brigadier (Nickel Courtney?). Liberal splashes of brilliance and outstanding moments, nods to the Troughton Cyberman story, Invasion, with the silver giants on those steps outside St Pauls, scares, creepy atmosphere and a stream of ideas hurled at the screen in quick succession. Cyberpink is the new genre.

Clever and utterly dumb in roughly equal measures. Like a Cyberman it had a number of shiny parts but was generally fairly clunky. Much like the majority of this inaugural season of President Peter Capaldi. Luckily for this story, the second episode was an improvement on the first and it’s always helpful in a two-parter because it avoids the pitfall of a major letdown and failing to meet the promise of the opener.

All’s well that ends well?

Not entirely. Because the stupidity and the crassness lives on from episode one and is built upon with more mind-boggling logic failures in episode two.

When Missy reveals her plan involving uploading dead people’s minds and downloading them into Cybermen, she declares how brilliant it is and wonders why nobody ever thought of it before. Er, because it’s over-complex, rubbish and makes no sense.

While skeletons in tanks provide for some creepy imagery and the idea of ‘dark water’ cloaking non-organic materials is novel, it begs the question why would Cybermen, a race that has replaced all its limbs and organs with cybernetic parts, retain the brittle skeleton? It’s rubbish and makes no sense.

While the scene requiring Clara – or somebody – to shut down Danny Cyberpink’s emotions is great drama, why the hell would Cybermen incorporate an emotion-inhibitor chip that has buttons around the outside for activation? It’s rubbish and makes no sense.

Rainclouds laced with Cyber nanites is a powerful and innovative notion, except the Cyber nanites had the capability to convert living matter amd have now been modified to convert the dead. And the dead outnumber the living, so taking over the world should be a breeze. Er, except that it would be an easier breeze if you converted the living and the dead. It’s honestly a bit rubbish and makes no sense.

The Doctor visiting the afterlife is also something I have a problem with. Not that he did, you understand – it was all a Matrix doo-hickey and that’s fair enough in DW. But Jesus, if you’ll pardon the expression, the story kicks off with Danny dying (preferable to Danny Dyer) and the Doctor agreeing to take Clara to ‘wherever dead people go’. Like that’s a thing. They make use of the psychic navigation gizmo on the TARDIS and hey presto, abracadabra, they’re led to fake heaven. (And I can’t quite fathom why the TARDIS wouldn’t deliver Clara to some past Danny instead of ‘the next time [their] paths intersect.) Whereupon the Doctor refutes everything and declares, exactly as I’d expect the Doctor to do *from the start* that it’s all a lie. The dead just die. If he even once entertained the notion of an actual afterlife, why the hell wouldn’t he have been driven to seek it in the wake of all the countless lives lost in the Time War? Makes no sense.

 The makes-no-sense list is a long one and ultimately there’s not  a great deal of sense in going into every single item on it.

What’s funny, I suppose, is that I have no issues at all with a female Master – due in large part to Michelle Gomez being an absolute star in the role and so much better than John Simm – who should have been brilliant but was, I can only assume, encouraged to sail so far over the top it felt to me too far a departure from the character. Michele Gomez gives us a malign Mary Poppins, a spoonful of sinister to help the evil medicine go down.

Of course, she does kill Osgood, a character I really quite liked. But the Master – or Mistress – has to be allowed to murder and perpetrate genuinely horrific acts. And for that, we have to pay as an audience in the currency of likeable characters. The portrayal, anyway, is inspired and never mind that the Doctor and Master kiss is something that’s probably been done a thousand times in fan slash fic, the actress makes the transformation work.

The ‘revelation’, I will say, came as a bit of a disappointment, because the idea that she could be a female Master was the most obvious possibility on offer. Personally, I had (imaginary) money on it being a corrupted River Song from the Library, where all the dead people were being uploaded. So naturally I would’ve preferred to be right, but I wonder if Moffat could bring himself to do something so horrible to a character he so loves.

Speaking of which... Hmm. The Cyberbrigadier. I understand it would have been intended as an affectionate nod, but my use of the entirely disrespectful Nickel Courtney gag was to illustrate a point. Nick Courtney was a star of the show way back when and was a vital part of the UNIT family chemistry, everything that made Doctor Who tick through my childhood experience of the show. A third heart for the Doctor, if you will. A military-minded foil. And for the record, the Brig would never have drugged the Doctor just to get him on a plane, no matter what a writer makes his daughter say. It wasn’t that kind of relationship and it strikes me as really odd at the tail end of a season in which we have witnessed the Doctor’s newfound hatred for soldiers to have this affectionate nod to an old friend with absolutely no attempt to address the insane psychology behind this phobia. Then to bastardise the memory of this favourite character from the show’s past by making his corpse a Cyberman. It’s like serving cake at a funeral and icing it with silly putty. Let’s all wear Cyberpoppies on Remembrance Sunday.

Honestly, I’ve mixed feelings about it: I guess I respect the intention, but it strikes as a misfire.

It’s a fair epitome of the uneven handling and direction of this two-parter. On the one hand you have a very similar brand of overblown epic from the RTD series finales. This was overly reliant on fx, but more than that it was heavily reliant on effect – skeletons in tanks, Cyber-arms thrusting up from graves as though steeling a scene from DePalma’s Carrie, Cybermen rocketing through the sky and engaging Blair Force One in a riff on Iron Man 3. At times hugely audacious and entertaining stuff, at other times – through most of episode one, for instance – it’s a drag and misses the target it’s striving so hard to hit.

Dark Water, in addition to annoying me (with the Doctor’s belief in an afterlife – but I guess after magic trees, you’d believe anything), managed to drag itself out into a barely dramatised philosophical discussion. Some of the dialogue exchanges were painfully drawn out as though the script was anxious to spell things out for the hard of understanding. When the Doctor insists the guy gets on with it or he’ll hit him with his shoe, it’s both a laugh out loud line and an exact echo of my own sentiments at that point. And where there was opportunity for genuine shocks, the director underplayed it, making too little of the moment when the skeleton in the tank first turns its head, for instance. Unfortunately, the BBC publicity machine also shot this episode in the foot by waving a big cyberflag before hand to announce the Cybermen were back. So for all that Moffat complains (justifiably) about fans who spoiler the series for others, he might want to have a word with the Corporation on that too.

Death In Heaven was blessed with improved pace and a better balance of elements, contributing to a more enjoyable experience. It didn’t manage to redeem the failings of the previous episode but it’s actually very rare in a double for a second part to be better than a first so I’ll colour that a success.

It could have made more of the Cybermen in the cemetery. That reveal should ideally have been made more personal and direct, with a Cyber hand bursting from the ground as Clara wanders the graveyard maybe. Then follow with the  news item to expand it to the national/international picture. And it was disappointing to see the Cybermen emerge only to stumble uselessly around. All very well to rationalise it as their behaving like newborns, but it has all the drama of an unexploded bomb – after it’s been defused.

The episode was also guilty of dubious quantities of grandstanding, with the likes of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart’s entrance, obliging the Cybermen to stand there and listen just because she throws down a head from an alternate Cyberman timeline. Again, nice nod to the past, but the actions of the various players don’t make a lot of sense. It doesn’t pull its punches in the shocks department, what with Missy murdering Osgood, but even there I was left to wonder why the two guards were standing by letting it all happen. These appear to be setpieces that Moffat is so attached to in the draft stage that he has his characters behave abnormally in order to make the scene work. Except it often doesn’t work because you can feel the contrivance like a stiffness in the joints, but at least it allows him to preserve the scene as originally envisioned.

That’s just the impression I get, by the way. I have no insights into Moffat’s writing process.

What is abundantly clear is that the man is fiendishly clever and brimming with great ideas. And (I hope) he’s having tremendous fun. Why wouldn’t he? He’s a Doctor Who fan running the playground he used to play in as a young lad. He’s sticking all the brightly coloured Doctor Who Lego bricks together in every way he can imagine and if his creations won’t quite hold together he’ll blimmin well hammer them into place. Fair to say, I prefer my Doctor Who creations with sounder structural integrity, but I can still appreciate the creative imagination at work.

It’s fanwank of the highest order. Not necessarily the highest quality of story, but – to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life Of Bwian – it wanks as high as any in Who histowy. Alas, I can’t actually speak for Craig Hinton, but it’s my bet he would have bloody loved it.

I wouldn't have been able to wholeheartedly agree, but that would be fine. For me, there’s not quite enough here to scrape together a total win – and not nearly enough to save a disappointing season – but Death In Heaven salvages a poor start and keeps its head above Dark Water. Again, that final scene (before the one with Santa) crowns the whole thing, overcoming logical deficiencies and mechanical parts with pure organic emotion. Stitch that, Cybermen.

Capaldi remains, to my mind, the best thing to happen to Doctor Who since its return to our screens in 2005. We have a fantastic new Doctor and I hope he sticks around for a good long while.

All we really need now is a fantastic new script doctor.

SAF 2014

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Halloween Night Music Club

Sheryl said it best when she remarked that her latest album, Feels Like Home, was classed as a country album but to her it just sounds like a Sheryl Crow album. Good point. Every one of her albums does have its own flavour, but they’re all distinctly and unmistakeably Sheryl Crow.

So when you’re lucky enough – as I was, yay! – to catch her in concert, you get a cracking variety of songs – from moody blues, so to speak, through funky folk and harder rock numbers and, yes, a dash of pop and a light twang of country. All of it quintessential Sheryl Crow.

Served up with heart and soul and smiles and those rich Missouri bourbon vocals. Newer material, old single-malt favourites blend together beautifully.

Last time I saw her live it was on a Wednesday at the Hammersmith Apollo and it was one of my all-time favourite shows. The fact that this occasion was kicking off the Halloween weekend made little difference, to be honest, but the venue had a transformative effect. Maybe I was wowed by my first experience of the Royal Albert Hall – there’s a grandness to the setting you don’t get from larger arenas – but there was something of the splendid old-theatre atmosphere of the Apollo, amplified.  I don’t say it was better – tough, actually, to choose between them, especially as the Apollo gig had that added appeal of a more intimate affair – but it was definitely bigger. More volume to fill the larger volume and raise the higher roof higher.


Sure, I was in the cheap seats, (and the Royal Albert stewards were really zealous in their photo police role, phooey, hence the attached pics are from the Apollo event) but actually had a decent side-on vantage point down onto the stage from a slightly dizzying altitude. Best twenty quid I ever spent and I felt I got more than my money’s worth.

Sheryl and her band rocked. The. House. She knows how to throw a party.

And she didn’t forget to mix in some of those quieter tracks, to tug at the heart strings and allow that voice of hers to shine. Hard to pick the stand-outs, but it can’t hurt to cite a few highlights: the always gorgeous Home, a great rendition of Redemption Day with Johnny Cash mixed in (Sheryl always pays homage to the guy and clearly holds his cover version in the highest esteem), Give It To Me, a ‘good old fashioned love song’, Easy – a drinking song, explained Sheryl – write what you know, she says My Favourite Mistake, which happens to be one of my personal favourites, from her excellent Globe Sessions album.

As usual, there were a number of notable absentee songs from the set list – I happen to love Diamond Road, for example, and there was nothing from Wildflower – but without detaining the lady on stage for twelve hours of encores she’s never going to get through her entire back catalogue. Shame, but you have to be realistic about these things.
Ultimately, there was good representation across most of her CV, opening with Maybe Angels and All I Wanna Do (of course), passing freely up and down the timeline with the likes of Soak Up The Sun, Every Day Is A Winding Road, Leaving Las Vegas and the fab Can’t Cry Anymore, plus her cover of Cat Stevens’ The First Cut Is The Deepest. And many more, as they say on the album ads. Rounding it all off with a rousing encore that included Led Zep’s Rock and Roll.

She’s a gorgeous singer, a beautiful songwriter who clearly loves her music – and not just her music, but music, period – and that fuels every performance. I honestly doubt it had been a long time since she rock’n’rolled. I suspect she does it pretty often.

All in all, a terrific Halloween party. And no tricks in sight. Only one massive treat.

SAF 2014