BBC Radio 2 Country Saved My C2C: Country to Country 2017 Weekend

BBC Radio 2 Country Saved My C2C: Country to Country 2017 Weekend

For a few reasons, which don’t need to be detailed here, for the first year since it started in 2013, I didn’t attended one single second of C2C: Country to Country (C2C) down at The O2 in London. On paper it wasn’t the greatest line up for my tastes, though seeing Brad Paisley on the Friday and Zac Brown Band on the Sunday would have been my top picks, the former being one of my absolute favourites.

As a big country music fan in the UK, C2C is THE ultimate 3-day weekend of music, and not being there had me feeling quite deflated. Enter BBC Radio 2 Country, a pop-up digital radio service that appears a few days before C2C and broadcasts many shows with a variety of presenters, and most importantly, all of the main stage acts from Friday through Sunday. So this year I tuned in and experienced C2C at home.

Without actually being there, this really was the next best thing, with some great shows presented by the likes of Sara Cox and homegrown UK duo The Shires. On Friday I managed to catch some of Jennifer Nettles, half of Chris Young and all of Brad Paisley. Having dinner with friends on the Saturday meant I missed all of that, but thanks to the listen again service on BBC iPlayer, I’ll be catching up on the Daruis Rucker and Reba McEntire performances.

Sunday was the highlight for me though, as I tuned in for the whole evening and got introduced to Brothers Osborne and Marty Stuart. These were both unknown to me and contributed to my lack of desire to get tickets. Oh how wrong was I, as both were absolutely spectacular, and showcased some incredible guitar prowess, something I always look for and cherish in music. Maren Morris in between these two was the disappointment of the night. I’ve heard a few of her songs on the radio and really liked them, but live she didn’t impress one bit. I did think maybe the sound was off, as it can be in The O2 at times, but Twitter was awash with praise. Strange, but I do still like her studio produced material and even had a friend pick me up an autographed copy of her CD at C2C. I’ll have to go to one of her shows on person, at the very least to see My Church performed live

BBC Radio 2 Country Backstage

The main event were Zac Brown band, who much like they did in 2014, blew the roof off the venue, with a combination of their much loved original material, and some triumphant covers. Two of those, The Who’s Baba O’ Riley and Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, were highlights of my radio experience of C2C, and I dearly wished I’d been there in person for that night, and the others in all honesty, as the atmosphere alone is usually enough to compensate for acts that don’t push my buttons.

I am truly thankful for the BBC Radio 2 Country service, for without that I’d have had a weekend bereft of C2C, and that would have been a sad weekend indeed. Many of the artists did backstage sessions for this service, which are available to listen to now, but for a limited time. As are the main stage performances, so I’d head over there now if I were you, and relive C2C while you can.

Not only did BBC Radio 2 Country allow me to enjoy C2C 2017, but it gave me the motivation I needed to book early bird tickets for C2C 2018, which I did last Wednesday. So next year I’ll be there once again in person, but I’ll also be tuning in to BBC Radio 2 Country in the days leading up to it, and listening back to the performances as post festival blues kick in.

Photography for the Sake of Photography – A Somewhat Unsuccessful Photo Session

Almost verbatim, my words yesterday to my wife were I’m going to take my camera into town and take some photos, because I haven’t taken any for ages. I should have known at that point not to expect anything good to come out if it, as photography is about passion, not necessity. Well, photography as a hobby anyway, I can’t speak for the professionals, but I’d imagine passion plays a big part there too.

So off I strolled into town, took a few snaps, tried to be inspired, and these are the results.

First off was St Mary’s Church in Hitchin, which looks beautiful on a sunny day, especially reflected in the river that runs past. I took the obligatory straight on photo, and that can be seen below.

St Mary's Church Hitchin

It’s a pretty photo, but I’ve taken it so many times before, as have most people who walk past. In fact it’s probably the most regularly posted photo on Hitchin Facebook groups. So wanting to be a bit more creative I got down to ground level, and took what I thought was a much better photo of the church, through the stone pillars of the wall that surrounds the car park on the other side of the river.

St Mary's Church Hitchin

My first thought is that I should have taken the photo nearer to the wall and had the pillars as a thin frame on the two edges, and not as such a big feature of the photo as they are here. I could crop it down, but really the view of the church between the pillars is not sufficient that cropping will add anything. The sun was shining which made using my Sony DSC-WX500 a little tricky, even with the tiltlable screen. It’s times this that make you realise how useful a viewfinder is. But I’m not going to make excuses – I really didn’t take enough time composing the shot, and should have reviewed and retaken rather than the shoot and run tactics I used.

I used the black and white function and added a single colour tint to it in Photoshop, trying to convince myself that this adds something to my poorly composed shot, but I’m not sure it does.

Hitchin St Mary's Church

Next to the chruch is the town market, and thinking I could be clever and take a photo of the sign for the market, and have the actual market in the same shot, I took this next photo.

Hitchin Market

I think the bright colours betray the gritty atmosphere of the market so I added a steampunk filter using a Photoshop action downloaded from Spoon Graphics.

Hitchin Market

This one isn’t so bad, though the filter may be a bit strong – something to play with the next time I use it. Still, much better than the original colour vision and it gives the look of a photo from yesteryear, which is what I was after.

Around the corner and a particularly unflappable (terrible pun intended) bird sat atop a hedge, allowing me to get pretty close and take a few photos.

Bird on Hedge

Bird on Hedge

What I like about these two shots is how different the bird looks when stretching up, as opposed to just casually standing in a more relaxed pose. It’s almost like two different birds, especially being taken from different angles with different backgrounds. That’s 3 uses of the word different (4 now) in one sentence – I promise to improve both my photography and the depth of my vocabulary for the next article. The photos aren’t setting the world on fire for creativity, but the zoom on this little compact camera at least performs well.

An arty shot of a padlock on a fence was the idea in my head, but a rather pedestrian shot of said object was the result. I changed the photo from colour to black and white in Photoshop, because that automatically makes it more arty, right?

Arty Padlock Photo

This last photo utilised a function in my camera that turns the image black and white, except for one colour. Given the colour of my orange juice I chose yellow as the colour to keep.

Partial Colour Photo - Yellow

I’m sure there are better uses of this function and now I know it exists I can try to come up with some, but look closely and you’ll see other patches of yellow in the photo aside from just my drink. I particularly like the slight yellow colouration that appears on the first page of my book, projected from the orange juice in the glass with the sun behind it.

So that’s it, the fruits of my first photo session in quite some time, and while galleries are not going to be clamouring to display them, maybe they aren’t as bad as I first thought. I certainly need to work on my composition, something I sometimes find hard with a small compact, which is daft. Creativity comes from within, not from the equipment.

Top 7 Films of 2016

So why a top 7 and not a top 10, or even a top 5? Simply because I’ve only seen 7 new films this past year that I’d consider good, or better in most cases, so I may as well include them all.

1. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I’m sure this comes as no surprise to anyone who knows me, and though I do think it suffers from a lack of pace at times in the first half, the second half more than males up for that with some of the greatest battle scenes ever witnessed in a galaxy far far away. Absolutely has to be seen more than once as there are far too many references and nods to the other films to take in the first time. Plus there’s K-2SO, a fantastically sarcastic addition to the droids we love group within the Star Wars universe.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

2. Batman vs. Superman

All I heard between the cinema and Blu-ray releases were how bad this film was, and I’m not sure if the extended Blu-ray version was just that much better or the lack of expectation on my part made for a nice surprise, but either way I really liked Batman vs. Superman. It was gratifyingly dark, something I’d like to have seen in the massively underwhelming Captain America: Civil War.

3. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them

I had this at number 2 until 5 minutes ago, but honestly I think only because of love and loyalty to the Harry Potter universe. In reality this was a really good film with some interesting characters and more interesting beasts, but it lacked the heart and charm of the Harry Potter stories. This needs a second viewing, and this time I can approach it with the knowledge that it’s from the Harry Potter universe but very much not a Harry Potter film. Something I knew, but still watched in hope.

4. Deadpool

Funny, violent, funny and violent. It’s everything you could want from Deadpool, in by far the best Marvel film of the year, of those that I’ve seen. Of course this one doesn’t sit within the Disney created Marvel Cinematic Universe, which in this case no doubt helped it. Thanks to it’s success both critically and financially, there are sequels and team ups being discussed and planned – Good Deadpool.

5. Star Trek Beyond

Whilst I’m not sure it reached the heights of the first two, this resurrection and reboot of a franchise that I had very little time of in it’s previous forms, offered up a greatly entertaining and beautifully shot third film. The threat was serious and I didn’t guess the twist – not much more you can ask for with Star Trek.

6. X-Men Apocalypse

The second film in a row in this list where it’s 2 franchise predecessors were better. It was still good though, and especially in showing us more of the backstory of Eric/Magneto’s character. Likewise we get introduced to Scott Summers/Cyclops as the foundation of the modern day X-Men is formed. Much like Days of Future Past the threat is a very serious one, almost insurmountable at times, but that only adds depth to the lengths they have to go to defeat it.

7. Zootopia/Zootropolis

A much hyped film that I saw on DVD and found charming, funny and somewhat original, but didn’t live up to the hype surrounding it. That’s not to say I didn’t like it, as I did, but just not to the extent I thought I might. I think that’s the problem with being an active member of the Disney community – there’s always going to be a high level of rose tinted praise, probably not too dissimilar to my appreciation of Star Wars. My son loved it, and especially the character of Nick Wilde whose story is the most interesting throughout.

Before I sign off I must mention Suicide Squad, which even more than Civil War was my biggest letdown of 2016. Being such a fan of the Civil War comic book event I knew it couldn’t live up to that, and it didn’t. Not even close. However, Suicide Squad had more of chance, but it failed miserably. They took the names of the characters from the comics and that’s about it. Aside from Harley Quinn they stripped away the essence of what made them the interesting characters they are, and gave us a film that plodded and bored for large parts – something I’d never associate with Suicide Squad.

There are many films from 2016 that I’m yet to see that could break into this list, and if it lives up to the hype more than Zootropolis, then Moana could be the most likely to do that. I also need to see Dr Strange, Arrival, the new Ghostbusters reboot, The BFG and probably many more. In 2017 Star Wars Episode 8 is the one that I’ll be most eagerly anticipating, but with new Pirates of the Caribbean, Spider-Man, Kong, Guardians of the Galaxy, Justice League and Cars films, to name but a few, there is much to look forward to.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge – 13th October 2016

Even though they are one of my absolute favorites to watch live, this past Thursday was the first time I’ve seen Ward Thomas in just over 2 years, and that in itself is a tragedy, but one that was thankfully rectified. Back when I ran the 4000 Miles to Nashville blog I wrote about Ward Thomas numerous times, both album and gig reviews – take a look there to see my thoughts on their previous musical output. The Portland Arms in Cambridge is a short walk from the city centre, and is a pub which has a 200 person venue attached to it. A very intimate setting for a number 1 album selling act, but along with the location, was one of the main reasons I chose this leg of their Cartwheels Tour. Even just approaching the pub I could see how far things have come for the Sony Music signed Ward Thomas, with their tour bus parked outside!

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

The support was a young lady called Una Healy, whose name rung a bell, but I wasn’t sure from where. She came on stage and announced that she was about to sing these 6 songs for the very first time – we were her guinea pig audience, but that she used those words. It didn’t show, as she sang beautifully and played guitar with poise and skill. Back in August she announcer her signing as a solo artist with Decca, and described her new musical direction as acoustic pop rock folk, with hints of country – perfect description of what we heard that night. Of course, had I read that press release before the gig I’d have realised that Una’s previous work was with girl band The Saturdays.

Gig Review: Una Healy at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

She has an album coming out at some point in the future and all the songs were from that upcoming release. Based on that, I’ll certainly be buying it, as she showed a great range in such a short time, from heartfelt ballads to uptempo numbers that drew more on the pop rock side of things. The highlight for me was a song she wrote about her daughter, and how they both look to the moon when apart, knowing the other would be looking up too. I’m not familair with The Saturdays, though I’m sure I’d recognise some of their songs, but Una Healy has a night future as a solo artist ahead of her and has a strong strong and versatile voice that perfectly fits the new direction she’s going in.

With 4 band members as well as Catherine and Lizzy, this is the biggest set-up I’ve seen Ward Thomas play as, but their set started off as classy and haunting as ever. It’s at this point I want to tell you what sing they kicked things off with it but if I’m honest I can’t be certain. That’s not a knock on the music, but more on my memory of set lists and just being caught up in the excitement of seeing them play live again after so long. I think it was Good On You from their new Cartwheels album, but don’t quote me on that. Whatever the song, it was clear to me that their vocals were as gorgeous as ever, and those harmonies were every bit as good as I remember.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

I can only guess that the Ward Thomas twins are a dream to work with in the studio because live they are faultless, and always do the almost impossible task of improving upon their recorded work when on stage. In the past 2 years they have gone from nudging the Radio 2 playlist to regulars, and even made it to Radio 1 just recently, something they amusingly alluded to as the one song that was deemed cool. It’s Guilty Flowers that Scott Mills liked if you are wondering. What hasn’t changed is their demeanour in front of a crowd which is warm, welcoming and fun, but in a heartbeat going from sisterly banter to unrivaled vocal magnificence. This is all with Lizzy having a cold, which you’d only know from her slightly red nose, not from her triumphant singing.

The set consisted primarily of songs from their latest album Cartwheels, which might leave me pining for songs such as From Where I Stand, but is completely understandable and nice to see these new songs performed live. I’m pretty sure this is the first time I’ve seen Lizzy play keyboards as well as guitar, and along with Catherine’s increased use of guitars showcases how much they are growing as musicians. The endearing bond that only twin sisters have is also still present, with looks at each other whilst singing, which now and then leads to them singing at and with each other, often with smiles that as as a member of the audience looking on you feel compelled to mimic.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016 Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

Cartwheels on CD seems a little more in the pop rock direction than From Where We Stand and on first hearing I likened some of the new songs to Fleetwood Mac. With the expanded band they certainly have a bigger sound with certain songs, like the aforementioned Guilty Flowers, but also gave us some incredibly tender moments with beautiful ballads such as Proof and Cartwheels. The latter I first heard when I saw them play at The Green Note in London back in 2014, an even smaller venue than this. While Catherine and Lizzy are the obvious focus, the band are not just backing musicians and play a big part in the sound, especially guitarist Dan Gordon who has been with the since the beginning.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

Coming on for not an entirely surprising 2 song encore, they finished off the night with Cartwheels lead single Carry You Home. This is a song that manages to build from a soft piano accompanied vocal, very quickly into a full band anthem. I don’t use the word anthem lightly here – Carry You Home sounded that way when I first heard it on Spotify months ago, and live it’s every bit as rousing, with added live magic. The WOAOH (spelling might not be 100% correct) parts would fill an arena, and in that small venue, standing front row, had the hair standing up on the back of neck as much as the harmonies. While on the subject of those harmonies, I have always said and I stand by it, that Catherine and Lizzy sing together with telepathic perfection which is categorically unrivaled in any genre of music the world over. That might sound like hyperbole but I challenge you to see them live and deny that – go on.

In the past two years or so I’ve played Ward Thomas’ music an awful lot, both their debut masterpiece From Where We Stand and last month’s number 1 album Cartwheels, which the more I listen to the more it feels like an album of equal quality. That in itself is pretty much as big a compliment as I can dish out, when you consider how much I adore their debut offering. Live they are an absolute treat, combining superb vocals and musicianship with a vulnerable yet assured stage presence which feels almost like being invited into the home and lives of Ward Thomas.

I got to chat to them a little after the gig, in spite of the saving our voices t-shirts, and as always were so very charming and down to earth. Having a signed copy of the CD already I bought Cartweheels on vinyl, but as it was pre-signed I asked them to sign it again, and date it. Anyone who likes signed bits like I do will understand the need for the record sleeve to be signed live and in my presence.

Gig Review: Ward Thomas at The Portland Arms, Cambridge - 13th October 2016

If they quit tomorrow I’d be thankful for having seen them as many times as I have, but I’m hoping they won’t, and on the strength of their gig in Cambridge they remain one of the very best live acts around and one that I will make every effort to keep seeing perform for years to come.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Soundtrack on Cassette

It was in November last year that my quest to get the very same Sony Walkman that I owned in 1988 started and I was successful, or at least – think I was. I ended up getting the model with the radio as I am sure mine had that feature, but I can’t be 100% sure. Still, it came in handy a few days ago when at midnight I decided to listen to my Transvision Vamp cassette followed by the Ryder Cup, on the radio.

On Sunday night just gone, as the time approached midnight, again, I happened to be browsing Amazon when I came across the soundtrack for Star Wars The Force Awakens on cassette tape. Now bearing in mind I already own this on picture disc vinyl, hologram vinyl and digital version – I still couldn’t resist and ordered it. There was something quite thrilling about ordering a recent release on cassette, something I’ve not done since 1993 when I bought the cassette single for Bon Jovi’s In These Arms, complete with replica backstage pass.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Soundtrack on Cassette

Thanks to Amazon’s exceptional Prime delivery service the cassette arrived the next day, before midday, so less than 12 hours after I’d ordered it. Out of the Amazon packaging the cassette looked very unassuming, and well, very much like the cassette it was, and in fact still is, unsurprisingly. Like I used to a few decades ago, my first port of all was to take the cassette out and study the inlay. At 4 double sides I was quite impressed – I’ve seen better but I’ve also had big releases in the past with just 1 double side inlay that contained little more than the track listing.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Soundtrack on Cassette Inlay

On the inside are photos of 4 of the main characters that we saw used to promote the film, and fit the dimensions of a cassette inlay perfectly. The OCD part of me likes how they are arranged, with ignited lightsabers book ending the two non light up weapons in the middle – bravo design team.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Soundtrack on Cassette Inlay

The outside panels contain the same text from JJ Abrams as can be found in the booklet that comes with the hologram vinyl set, and no doubt is in the CD booklet too. With credits and the familiar photo of Rey, Finn and BB-8 running from a First Order attack that’s all we get to accompany the track listing, which being a soundtrack has way more tracks than you’d usually get with an album on cassette.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Soundtrack on Cassette

I will admit, there was a tiny rush of adrenaline as I slotted the cassette into my Walkman and pressed play. The juxtaposition of hearing this new album on an assumed dead format and via an almost 30 year old player was quite lovely, and I am still listening as I write this article. The sound is really good, albeit for the ever present quiet hiss in the background. That however I find conforming rather than off putting – it’s how my ears started to appreciate music and it’s how now they continue to do so. I’m not expecting everyone to understand, we’re all strange creatures in our own delicious ways.

I do like physical media, and never felt comfortable with the shift from vinyl and cassettes to CDs, let alone the almost alien concept of invisible digital files. This year sees the 4th Cassette Store Day, one that my local charity store come music store is embracing. I didn’t recognise most of the releases this year but wanted to take part, and thanks to a recommendation from my great buddy Kendall I have Hattie Cooke‘s self titled release on order for me to collect this Saturday. Vive la cassette.

McFly Live at the O2 Kentish Town Forum – 27th September 2016

September 26th 2006 was the day I sat in Wembley Arena with thousands of screaming girls around me – I know, standard day out, right? I had booked tickets to take my wife to see her favourite band for the first time, and so I sat dreading the moment McFly would take the stage as the sound levels were almost unbearable already. To cut a long story short I was not only proven wrong, but converted into a McFly fan, after seeing what accomplished musicians and entertainers they were.

Fast forward a few years and last Tuesday was our 4th time seeing McFly live, 5 if you include the McBusted show we saw a couple of years ago, but I’d prefer not to. This was the McFly Anthology Tour with each leg spanning 3 days at a particular venue, with albums being played in full at each one. We chose day 2 which would see them perform our two favourites, Wonderland and Motion in the Ocean. I’ve since promoted Radio:Active to the top spot, but that’s another story for another time.

After a snaking queue which seemed to start miles away from the venue, we were in, and sat on cushioned benches to the left on the balcony area. We were near the VIP section that people kept looking and pointing at, but I had no idea who was sat there – wives/girlfriends of the band maybe? My wife was sure she saw Izzy Judd on the way out, but I’ll have to take her word for that. The crowd were not as young as that first concert, with their fanbase growing older with them, whilst grabbing new ones on the way, from both their music and non McFly activities.

McFly Live at the O2 Kentish Town Forum - 27th September 2016

The support was from a Scandinavian girl called My, I think. Her set was just 4 songs which appeared to mix live music with a backing track that even covered some of her vocals at times, or so it seemed. Soon McFly were out and straight into I’ll Be OK, sounding as great as they always do, and stood as they always do: Tom on the left, Danny in the middle, Dougie on the right, all in front of Harry, elevated with his drums.

Two complete albums is a lot to get through in one night so there wasn’t as much chatty bits as usual, but what there was was the trademark banter and chemistry that few, if any acts today can match. I don’t know Wonderland as well as Motion in the Ocean, so the second half was more to my liking, that’s not to take anything away from the Wonderland performances though. I always love to hear Star Girl as that was debuted on the tour we attended in 2006, and is kind of our song as far as McFly music goes. My wife loves Transylvania and they did a rockier version than on the album, which is a trademark of their shows and why I loved them so much live that first time, and still do.

As a wannabe guitar player (about time I get mine out and have my bi-annual attempt to learn) I always marvel at the 6-sting prowess of both Danny and Tom, the latter of whom seemed to get more into that role from around 2012, where he played my favourite McFly riff ever on the brilliant and I hope one day to be released Red. Dougie, never one to just stand and play, took several tours around the stage, into the crowd, out the back, and anywhere he felt like going really. He, along with Harry were the main talkers of the night, which compared to that first gig in 2006 is a massive shift away from the front men of Tom and Danny. What we get nowadays is a band that no matter what role each person plays, it feels equal with each member getting focus throughout the night.

One of the highlights that I’ve been lucky enough to see at almost every McFly gig I’ve attended so far, is Danny’s solo performance of Walk In The Sun. I first saw it as an acoustic number, but now it’s with electric guitar, but just as strong and vulnerable in equal measure. In a venue like the O2 Kentish Forum, steeped in history and intimate even back in the balcony, it was the best I’ve ever heard it. Likewise Tom sitting at the piano singing Little Joanna, I think, feels like being invited to your own personal house gig, especially with the ever present rugs on stage that have become a McFly signature. Tom, if possible, endeared himself to us members of the audience even more with the way he humbly handled a mistake, with full disclosure and a chuckle. It’s Tom Fletcher, we’d all forgive him taking our last Rolo, a missed key on the piano is nothing.


The venue was hot, almost oppressively so, but the 2 hour set flew by and ending with The Heart Never Lies, with the way it triumphantly builds, was perfect. I say perfect, but it heralded the end of a magnificent performance that each and every one of us wanted to never end – even the girl who turned up late and argued with security because she didn’t have a better seat. Even after 13 years I feel McFly don’t get the credit or recognition they deserve, and I still get sideways glances when I mention them, and that I’m going to see them live.

You absolutely always get your money’s worth when seeing McFly and this was no different, in fact it was better, as it was the longest set I’ve ever seen them do. They have a bond on stage that shines through in the way they play and interact, both with each other and the crowd. This latest gig has only affirmed their position as one of the very best out there, and when they tour again I’ll be there, and I suggest you are too.

A Visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

I’m one of those Harry Potter fans who started with the films, and even though I’d seen people reading the books, especially on the train, I’d never felt compelled to read them myself. As someone who likes to read books before films generally, I felt I’d missed the boat on that one and the films would suffice for me. That was until I watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire in 2005, and on returning from the cinema my then 10 year old brother insisted I read the book, and the subsequent ones thereafter. That’s right, a 31 year old me was schooled by his sibling who wasn’t even at big school yet. So I followed his instruction, read Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and yes, it did go into way more detail about the Quidditch World Cup as he’d promised, and so much more besides. I went back to read the first 3 books and became a release day fan of the books from then on, and the films too.

Fast forward 11 years and over a decade of being a huge Harry Potter fan, and we as a family finally decided to visit the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London. We live less than 30 miles away, so why did it take so long? Well in my mind it was expensive, further away than I realised, and I wanted my son Lucas to get the most of it, and at age 8 I decided that time was now. As for the cost, it was £97 for the three of us, and as someone who goes regularly to Disneyland Paris and has been to Legoland a few times, it’s comparable if not cheaper. A different experience entirely and hard to compare to those, but the Studio Tour would be a very unique experience, and for a family of Potterheads the cost shouldn’t have even come into equation. I did opt for the £3.95 postage option as it stated, and I quote Your tickets, or gift tickets will be posted in a ticket wallet. As someone who likes to collect all kinds of memorabilia, in my mind this could be a great memento of the day out and the associated memories. Plus it’s that piece of mind that actual physical tickets in your hand gives you, that a code or email most certainly doesn’t.

The tickets and wallet didn’t disappoint, and if all goes to plan they will become part of a framed montage of photos and other bits. I say planned because lots of things like this are still in the planning stage, most going back many years.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter Tickets

Just having these themed tickets and the wallet that contained them was enough to turn the excitement levels up a notch, and also a reminder that the Hogwarts Express was now a part of the experience, so we’d be getting a look at The Making of Harry Potter, better than it’s ever been.

Our tickets gave us an entry slot of 2.00 – 2.30pm, but me being me, insisted we leave early and so we were in the car park by 1.15pm, after being guided to an area with spaces. That in itself was a nice touch and guaranteed our visit started off in the most hassle free way possible. Give me free reign in a car park and I could quite easily lose a good chunk of the afternoon, much to the frustration of my family. You can’t miss the place, it’s well sign posted and as you draw near the huge Harry Potter posters, depicting scenes from the films can be seen, as well as three chess giant pieces from the first film, which made me quite giddy on seeing them. After the obligatory photos outside it was time to go in, or at least attempt to get in 30 minutes ahead of our ticket time.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

Just through the doors and already there is almost overwhelming number of things that my eyes darted between. The huge character posters on the walls were great, but then so were the props and costumes for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and then what’s that to the side of the main queue? Bear in mind that at this point I was only in the foyer, and already my geek radar was off the charts – it got overloaded not too long after. It turns out we could go in early and I got to see what it was that people were looking at in the queue – Harry Potter’s under the stairs dwelling from 4 Privet Drive. Inside were so many details and props, it was exactly like the films! It’s at that point the lightbulb went off and I had to remind myself, not like the films actually from the films themselves. One of the the staff members… hang on, in Disneyland Paris we call them Cast Members, which seems a lot warmer and friendly, so I’m going to use that term going forwards. So, one of the Cast Members made sure my son Lucas had spotted everything, including Harry’s glasses sitting on a shelf. I should point out that Lucas went dressed as Draco Malfoy, complete with slicked back hair and grey jumper that my wife had sewn a Slytherin patch on that we’d bought from the Platform 9 3/4 shop in King’s Cross, London.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. The Cupboard Under The Stairs

We were let in pretty quickly, into a waiting area with lots of poster shaped screens on the walls, which showed Harry Potter film posters from all over the world. When the allotted number of people were through the doors, they closed, the lights dimmed and those screens now gave us a short introduction to the Studios Tour. Through another set of doors and we took our seats in a small theatre, where Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint came on screen to tell us a bit more. The Cast Member who introduced the show and addressed us afterwards was very animated, well spoken and helped create an exciting atmosphere. At this point I can say nothing more…magic happens 😉

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. The Great Hall

Walking into The Great Hall was the first of many goosebump moments, and being in such an iconic room was pretty awe inspiring, especially when you looked around and saw everything that you see in the films. The big long tables, 2 instead of 4 so that we had enough room, the light fittings on the walls representing the 4 houses, the teachers table at the top, and even the house point counting system. The teachers table had the costumes of the likes of Dumbledore, Snape, McGonagall and more, all on mannequins that with the wigs added and they way they were positioned – let’s just say it felt very realistic. This was the last part of the tour where there was a time constraint, and we were ushered through to the next area before I’d like to have left, but realistically they can’t have everyone stay there without it becoming overcrowded and unsafe.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter - The Great Hall

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter - The Great Hall

Next came the main hall, in which sat scenes that were instantly recognisable and I defy any Potterhead to not feel quite emotional looking at them. Being the actual sets from the Harry Potter films they were of course accurate, but that didn’t stop me saying “it’s exactly like in the films” or “look, there’s that from that scene” many many times. It’s pinch yourself territory as you gaze upon the Gryffindor Common Room with the staircase leading up to the bedrooms. Inside the boys dormitory are so many props, and as a West Ham fan I was delighted to see Dean Thomas’ football scarf hung up near his bed, complete with West ham bedspread. Dumbledore’s Office is somewhere I could have stayed a lot longer, and will do next time I visit. There are so many props and items from the films, and every one tells a story. I’ll hold my hand up and admit to getting very excited on seeing the pensieve, the very one that Harry used to see the courtroom where his future was being determined.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Gryffindor Common Room

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Gryffindor Bedroom

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Dumbledore's Office

It was very surreal walking around looking at these sets, because although it was my first visit, it felt like coming home, such was the familiarity with everything I was seeing from multiple viewings of the films. It felt very comforting, being in that home that I’d never been in but knew every intimate detail of. Areas like Borgin and Burkes offered so many trinkets to look at and the scene at the table in Malfoy Mansion was terrifying, with Nagini looking every bit as life like as he did in the film. Nearby is the Ministry of Magic and every fibre of my being wished I had some floo powder, but alas I was left to take in the sheer scale of this set and marvel at everything around me.

Malfoy Mansion

Not everything was just look and don’t touch, as the green screen experiences allowed us to fly around the Harry Potter universe, on a broom and dressed in a Gryffindor cloak, or other houses, like Slytherin as Lucas requested. This was a lot of fun, with directions given by the Cast Member so as to look as natural as possible in the video. Speaking of which, photos and videos are available to buy at a cost of £14 for the first photo and £7 for each one thereafter. The video could be bought on a DVD or USB, I chose the latter, paying £5 extra to have it in a special old school video film tin. We came away with 3 photos and two videos, and there would have been more had I not knocked the camera when I got off my broom, and ruined my wife’s photos – sorry Denise! 2 of those photos were Lucas and I on brooms, the 3rd was the 3 of us in the Weasley flying Ford Anglia car – the first green screen photo opportunity before getting to the multiple broom booths.

A Visit to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London - The Making of Harry Potter. Broomstick Green Screen Video

Now I’ve been to the real King’s Cross Station countless times as it’s the station I go into from my home town, but seeing the film set of Platform 9 3/4 was way better. Of course the one in London doesn’t have the Hogwarts Express, and suffers from only 1 trolley through the wall photo location, and that one is always mega busy. Walking through the carriages which change for each film was very cool – seeing the different props left in the carriages, from sweets and books to clothing. Stepping off was another green screen experience – this time in several booths that were set up to look like Hogwarts Express carriages. Just photos and no videos to buy this time, but we got to play Hogwarts’s students and react to the images appearing on the green screen windows. My wife told me off for being silly when I grabbed her arm and cowered behind her when a dementor appeared at the window. Hey, when they shout action I’m all in character – an Oscar awaits.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Express

Around the corner from the train station is the cafeteria which served some great chicken goujons according to Lucas, but for me it was all about the drinks, and one drink specifically – Butterbeer! I selected the souvenir stein as I’m a sucker for memorabilia of all kinds, and imagined it sitting on display in my lounge where in fact it does now reside. I’d been told by friends that the Butterbeer was really sweet and as someone who doesn’t overly sweet things I braced myself, ready to be hit by a sugar overdose. I loved it, absolutely loved it! The official website describes it as reminiscent of shortbread and butterscotch, and the butterscotch was the overriding taste experience for me. The froth on top not only gives it that beer look, but tastes delicious too. Aside from the sip I allowed Denise, I unexpectedly drunk the whole lot, taking time only to tweet @wbtourlondon a photo of my Butterbeer Moustache, which is apparently a thing. While on the topic of their Twitter, I had great interaction with them before, during and after my visit, made a lot easier on the day by free Wi-Fi that actually works, and with decent speeds. A tourist attraction boasting and fulfilling usable free Wi-Fi is somewhat of a rarity, so hats off to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London for that.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Butterbeer

The Knight Bus is parked outside number 4 Privet Drive, so you can get photos with both, though not inside. Well, you can stand at the bottom of the stairs of the Knight Bus, but you can’t enter Privet Drive at all. My guess is that just a facade and not an actual house. The best part of this outside collection of sets though is the bridge to Hogwarts, and being walk along that, admiring all the detail and reenacting Neville’s scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2, should you so desire. The next few rooms we went through in a bit of a rush as we had to get Lucas back for his pantomime rehearsal, but what we did see of the Creature workshop looked amazing, with the Basilisk and Aragog really standing out. The latter was hanging from the ceiling and startled me as I turned the corner – that’s one big spider!

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Aragog

From Aragog to Diagon Alley, and once again I had that giddy childlike feeling, as I walked along looking at shops that I knew so well, from Ollivanders to Gringotts, and the Daily Prophett to Weasley’s Wiazard Wheezes. Because this is a set that spans the whole length of the hall, with building fronts on both sides, it’s self contained and it felt so real that I almost expected Harry and Hagrid to come around the corner at any moment. It was so hard being on tight schedule and having to leave Diagon Alley without giving it the attention it deserved, but that’s something else for next time.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Diagon Alley

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Diagon Alley

The paper models of the sets were fantastic, and so detailed, but what came next blew my mind, possibly more than anything I’d seen up to that point, and that’s saying a lot. The last part, before the shop, of the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter is a 1:24 scale model of Hogwarts and all the surrounding grounds. Words and photos will never do this masterpiece justice and you absolutely have to see it for yourself – I was speechless in awe, managing eventually to utter “this is amazing”. I could have spent hours walking around, seeing in intricate detail so many familiar settings from the 8 films, that have been crafted by people with more skill than I can imagine. It was a humbling experience, being in that room with that model, and was the perfect way to end the tour.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Paper Model

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Model

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter. Hogwarts Model

I say end, but there was the wand room with walls of wands from floor to ceiling, before entering the shop, which sold more Harry Potter merchandise than you could ever dream of. Having bought a total of 5 photos and 2 videos, combined with being short on time, we must have been the only family not to spend money in the shop that day, but that’s not because I didn’t want to. I have my eyes on that Gryffindor Quidditch jumper, a few wands, the Triwizard cup, the game….you get the point. If you are a Harry Potter fan then that shop could quite easily render you bankrupt in mere minutes, and I didn’t even mention all the sweets and chocolate frogs that are boxed exactly like they are in the films, with 3D cards included inside.

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

I’m not sure what I was expecting going through the doors that day, but I got so much more than I could have ever imagined. To be able to walk around the world of a film and book series I love so much, and be so close to the actual sets and scenes I’ve seen on screen was incredibly special. The atmosphere was truly magical and I had a feeling of pure joy the whole way round, as each part offered me something new to stare in wonder and soak in. Inanimate objects for the most part, but I could the feel life and adventures oozing from between each brick and pouring from every prop. I would say that visiting Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter was a once in a lifetime opportunity, but although it felt that special, I can return, as many times as my bank balance and schedule will allow. The Cast Members were all wonderful – happy, fun, helpful and obviously relishing the opportunity to share their love of Harry Potter with the every person who visited. On returning I have since found out there is a season called Hogwarts in the Snow, and so on November 21st Denise I will be returning to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London to experience a combination of Harry Potter and Christmas, and I cant think of anything better. I might very well have found a new favourite place to be.

Meeting Paul Warren / Varmik from Star Wars The Force Awakens and more at Wycombe Comic Con

After a great day at MCM London Comic Con last month I scoured the internet for another comic con I could take my son to, that wasn’t too far away and didn’t cost the earth. London Film & Comic Con looks great, and is even on my birthday weekend, but at £55 for my wife, son and I, before adding in £50+ for train fares it’s just too much for one day. Enter Wycombe Comic Con – only an hour away and just £9 for my son and I booked in advance. Unfortunately my wife was working today, but if she’d been with us, it would have been £15 for all three – the price of one Blu-ray.

It was pouring with rain but we found a parking space not too far away and walked to the venue, Buckinghamshire New University in High Wycombe. Before we even entered the building we were greeted by a trio of iconic cars – the Batmobile from the 1989 and 1992 Batman films, Bumblebee from the Transformers films and Lightning McQueen from Cars, kind of.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Film Cars

The comic con was in two separate buildings, the signings and prop displays in the Student Union Bar and hallway, with the merchandise traders in another building a short walk away. Before we even got to the special guests we were spending money, on a photo of Lucas and I in front of the Tardis, with K9 and Davros flanking us. It was just £5 and the guys running it were very friendly and chatted to us the whole time, including an interesting story about a famous TV star, which I won’t repeat on here! The photo came in a cardboard frame and is already on display in our lounge.

The signing area was smaller than I’m used to at the big events in London, but it didn’t feel cramped and it was actually nice to see so many famous faces in one place. The dimmed lighting and comfortable surrounds made it feel intimate and relaxed, which is what you want for this kind of affair. The big names for us Star Wars fans were Jeremy Bulloch (Boba Fett) and David Prowse (Darth Vader), both of whom we’ve met before, several times in the case of Jeremy. Just about to leave this area and Lucas and I were both drawn to a guy called Paul Warren, who had images of characters from lots of films we recognised on his table – Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain America, Thor, X-Men, Harry Potter and of Course Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Paul had an iPad on his table and was able to show us exactly which character he played in The Force Awakens, which turned out to be Varmik, a Hassk who can be seen in Maz’s place on Takodana. He told us about the inspiration for the character, which came from some classic McQuarrie art, and how two different artists came up with Varmik and Zeb (Star Wars Rebels) at a similar time. Without knowing it they had created two very similar characters, both of who made it to the recent Star Wars projects.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Paul Warren

We went on our way but later returned, as I was keen to grab an action figure that Paul would sign. I’ve always been a fan of Star Wars action figures and have hundreds still boxed from the past few decades – to have one signed by the guy who played the character was too good an opportunity to pass up. We chatted some more and though he couldn’t say definitively yes, I have a feeling we may be seeing him in Star Wars Episode 8, and possibly some of the other upcoming Star Wars films too. Of course it being 2016 I couldn’t walk away without selfie, in which we managed to get Paul, Lucas, myself and the banner of Paul’s character Varmik. Paul was a pleasure to chat to and as a huge Star Wars fan of 35 years, any chance to talk to someone actually involved with the films is a thrill. Lucas wasn’t that bothered about getting the packaging of the action figure signed, until I explained this would be one of Daddy’s toys that wouldn’t be opened and played with!

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Paul Warren Varmik Action Figure

Away from Star Wars and I was delighted to see several tables from the The Hill Valley Preservation Society – a plethora of props from the actual Back to the Future films, that I was certain I’d watched with Lucas but he insists he hasn’t seen them. It was fantastic to see such items as Marty’s skateboard and personal strero (not Walkman as it was AIWA!), the 1950-2000 Grays Sports Almanac and of course the iconic hover board from the second film which people have been trying to recreate ever since.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Back to the Future Props

Over in the trading hall there was pretty good selection of stands selling all kinds of merchandise, with Funko Pops being as omnipresent as they always are these days. I did my usual of looking at some very uniquely designed Star Wars t-shirts that I’d never seen before, several times, but deciding I didn’t need them, and regretting it as soon as I got home. It was business as usual for Lucas who bought yet more knock off imitation LEGO mini figures and some Pirates of the Caribbean Disney Infinity figures.

Wycombe Comic Con 2016 - Selfie With Biker Scout & Stormtrooper

We were at Wycombe Comic Con for about two hours, and that included a few photos Lucas had taken with whichever Star Wars cosplayers he could find – his standard comic con behaviour. The staff were all very friendly and in abundance, making sure there was always someone available to tell us where to go and the ever important intel of where the toilets were. We will definitely return next year and I’d recommend it to anyone as a good introduction to Comic Cons, especially if you have small children. We aren’t due to visit another con until MCM London Comic Con returns in October, unless an opportunity presents itself before then.

Star Wars Episode VIII is delayed until December 2017, and here’s why that’s a good thing

When it was announced that Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens was to be released in December of last year and not the traditional May, there was quite an uproar from fans, myself included. That’s okay though, because Episode 8 is coming out in May next year, and the traditional month for Star Wars film premieres can be upheld once again. Wrong, because as of yesterday Episode 8 will also now come out in December, making it a full 2 years between films.

Star Wars Episode 8

The actual release date is 15th December 2017, and I for one couldn’t be happier. As a huge Star Wars how can that make sense – surely I’d want to see it as soon as possible? Well yes, but December worked so well for the release of The Force Awakens, as it meant lots of free time over the Christmas holiday period to see it multiple times, without having to worry about going to work, or school for the boy. Then there’s Christmas, and shelves full of cool new Star Wars toys, strictly for the boy of course, honest, not for me, nope, none at all for me, at all. Maybe just a few bits. Lastly there’s the box office, and aside from being the most anticipated film of all time, the holiday period allowed people like myself to see it multiple times and make it the third biggest film ever, behind just Titanic and Avatar. What else is there to do during cold wet winter periods? That’s right nothing, just regular return trips to the cinema to see Star Wars again, and again, and again.

So there you have it, it’s absolutely the right decision to move the release date back to December to 2017, also giving them an extra 7 months to make sure it’s absolutely the best it can be. It also gives us another half a year to theorise as to who Rey is, and where she has come from. But that’s another post for another time.

The last night of uneducated moon photography

For a few years now I’ve enjoyed looking at the moon, using the £10 pair of 10×50 binoculars I bought after watching an episode of BBC Stargazing. Naturally, being a wannabee photographer I’ve tried taking photos of the lunar wonder, and was for years terribly unsuccessful. That was until I read up online about spot metering, plus the ISO and exposure settings I should be using. Bear in mind this was all to be done using a compact camera with a very small sensor, so the results, even if I got the settings right, were never going to be that wonderful.

After buying, trying and selling many compact, bridge, compact system and DSLR cameras, I currently have a 5 year old Panasonic TZ10, 3 year old Fuji X10 and a 3 month old Sony RX100. The Panasonic is the one I am most familiar with and have used it to take moon photos a number of times. It’s 12x optical zoom, combined with the 4x digital zoom on top gives a total zoom of 48x. This is great for getting up close and personal with someing as far away as the moon, but due to the aforementioned small sensor, the images are very noisy, especially if you pixel peep. However, I do know how to access the desired settings, so that’s something at least. This is an image I produced, taken during my 45 minute zero degree temperature session in the back garden earlier this evening.

Moon photo taken with Panasonic TZ10

For a £150 compact camera that first came on the market more than half a decade years ago, that’s not too bad. Just don’t view it full resolution and you can be satisfied. The Fuji and Sony I had far less success with, and for some reason could not access the metering options to change it to spot, which meant the cameras focused on the whole of the night sky, which is why the result is a glowing blob in the with no detail. In the case of the Fuji, one wasn’t even in focus at all, so I ended up with a blurred blob, which wasn’t what I was going for.

Moon photo taken with Fuji X10

I have no idea what I was doing with the Sony, which gave me lots of options, but not the ones that gave me anywhere near a decent result. This was definitely a case of not knowing my camera, though in the case of the second shot I’m guessing the exposure time was too long. I will say, the bright blob photo taken with the Sony does look to have a tiny bit of surface detail compared too that taken with the Fuji, around the edge at least. Having by a far biggest sensor it’s obviously wanting to perform, but limited user knowledge is holding it back.

Moon photo taken with Sony RX100

I proclaimed in the title of this post that this was my last night of uneducated moon photography, so what next? First of all I need to read the manuals for both my Fuji and Sony, though with such small optical zooms the results are not going to be great even with a bigger sensor than the Panasonic and having all the settings in order. I’ll give it a go though. After that I might be on the hunt for a new camera – one that offers a bigger optical zoom and better sensor than my Panasonic, but doesn’t break the bank. With those requirements I’m thinking a bridge camera is going to be ideal compromise between performance and price. Maybe down the line I’ll be publishing a clear photo of the moon, and beyond.