Tuesday, March 31, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 5)

Vampire: The Masquerade - White Wolf (1991)

It was the long, dark tea-time of gaming for me. I'd left school. My gaming group had been fractured by some going off to university. I'd started working for the local archaeology unit, and tabletop roleplaying games were the last thing on my mind. The archaeology unit encouraged me to go back into education, and after taking a BTEC in graphic design and a fine art foundation course, I was soon on my way to another part of the country, away from my home town, and off to university myself.

One of the first things I found while in my new location was that a group of students on my course had started roleplaying. A relatively new RPG at the time that was taking the world by storm - Vampire: The Masquerade. Hot on the heels of Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire, White Wolf's Vampire RPG paved the way for a new generation of gaming. Everyone played vampires - members of different clans, struggling to survive in a "World of Darkness" where you wrestled with your own humanity, and desire to feed.

The game was really cool, and I was instantly hooked. I blew a lot of my term's money on buying out the local game shop's stock of rulebooks, clanbooks, guides and so on, and heap of ten-sided dice.

I got so into it that I started running the game for a group in my hometown when I went back between terms, set in the same game that I was running while at university. Then I started another game (this time Werewolf: The Apocalypse) with a group of people I met at the local comic shop that again crossed over with the other game. It was a mass of storytelling, narrative connections, and a whole lot of blood sucking.

I met my wife through the game, and we (foolishly) signed up to join The Camarilla - the live-action global LARP with a storyline and narrative that spanned the world. As we were both into making zines and graphic design, we started making newsletters for our clans which got us promoted quickly through the UK ranks (and Generations) - Debs became head of Clan Toreador, and I became 2nd in command of Clan Tremere. It was at these LARPs that I was introduced to Angus Abranson and Andrew Peregrine, which led to a host of game writing later down the line - and without those introductions I doubt I would have written the Dr Who RPG.

But, some people in the clans were not happy at our promotions, and Debs and I started getting hate mail - both in character and out - and we quickly decided to retire from the Camarilla and I turned my back on White Wolf.

Ironically, while Vampire: The Masquerade had such a massive impact on my gaming, my favourite of the World of Darkness games isn't Vampire. The aforementioned Werewolf gaming group went on to play Mage: The Ascension, and it was freakin' amazing. Paradox realms, secret dimensions, reality changing magic. Absolutely loved it. Vampire quickly took the back seat, and we played Mage a lot.

Things happened and I kinda fell out of love with White Wolf, selling about 80% of my World of Darkness collection. I continued the Mage game we were running by converting the whole thing over to Kult. It was darker, messy, and really quite horrific at times and lead to some of the most intense roleplaying I've GM'd.

Kult drifted away and I converted the game once again - keeping the characters and setting but running it with the next game on my Games That Shaped Me...

Monday, March 30, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 4)

Star Wars - The Roleplaying Game - West End Games (1987)

This, along with James Bond and the Ghostbusters RPG, constantly vie for the top spot in my personal "Greatest RPG of All Time" list. When I was a kid it was all about Star Wars. Star Wars was just about everything to me - when I first picked up Star Frontiers as the first RPG I ever bought and GM'd, it wasn't because it was a cool game (which it was). It was because I looked at that gorgeous cover and thought, "I could play Star Wars with that".

In an act of typically bad timing, just as most of my gaming group had gone off to universities around the country and the remaining members were cutting back on their gaming time (to have something called "a real life" - I know, right?) along comes the perfect game for me. A tabletop RPG of Star Wars, made by my favourite game publisher at the time. I bought just about everything they'd produced already - Paranoia, Ghostbusters, The Price of Freedom - and this partnering of publisher and property had me far too excited.

Upon release I purchased the core rulebook (see above), as well as the Star Wars Sourcebook (on the right), and was completely blown away by how cool they were. Most, if not all, of the RPGs I'd played in the past were completely black and white inside, so the punctuation of some gorgeous full colour inserts in the corebook was amazing. Especially the one that looked like a recruitment advert of the Imperial Navy.

The game system was basically a more complicated version of the D6 system that I'd played before with Ghostbusters, but not too much more complicated. It was fast, easy, and above all, fun. The players quickly created characters, tweaking the templates at the back to suit their own needs, and before we knew it we were playing in a galaxy far, far away.

The smuggler (Deeko Smiggins) piloting the Ballistic Wombat led the group of misfit rebels, tackling ridiculous odds and seeming to come away pretty unscathed. I think I may have let them progress a bit too quickly with experience, as I remember the ship dodging a complete attack wing of TIE Fighters pretty easily to sound of a dozen or so D6 clattering across the table.

Star Warriors slowed ship combat down a bit, a board game spin-off with advice for using it in the RPG, but strangely that was where my gaming of Star Wars (WEG) finished.

I think that may have been when my tabletop gaming came to a bit of an end in general for a while. I was busy writing those adventures for Ghostbusters for West End Games, was unemployed for a little while before I started working for the local council (thanks to being a gamer, I got my first job as the interviewer knew about D&D and knew it would help with my teamwork, map making, and puzzle solving) and it all kinda ground to a halt.


Since then, I have purchased every incarnation of a Star Wars RPG - Wizards of the Coast's D20 version, the Star Wars Saga edition (gotta love those square books), and now the Fantasy Flight Games triple threat (Edge of the Empire, Age of Rebellion, Force and Destiny), and while each is very cool, none of them got me as over excited as that 1st Edition West End Games one. Heck, just last year my lovely wife managed to find me the West End Games' 2nd Edition at the charity shop she volunteers at. It's really nice, but again, I didn't feel that buzz like I did before.

Must have been something about the time and the game being just right for it. That 1st Edition and the Star Wars Sourcebook that came out with it are such stuff of legend that Fantasy Flight Games reissued them for their 30th Anniversary in a slipcase. Just proves I wasn't the only one who thought they were something special.

Maybe I can convince my GM to start up Star Wars again with that system, just for fun...

Sunday, March 29, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 3)

James Bond 007 Roleplaying Game - Victory Games (1983)

Oh boy. Number three in my list of seven tabletop roleplaying games that had a massive impact on me and my gaming is another one of my favourite games of all time. Victory Games' James Bond 007 RPG. It's hard to know where to begin with this one.

My gaming group had diminished a little as a huge chunk of them had vanished off to university, and I was looking for a game I could run with fewer players. Couple that with me being a massive fan of James Bond, it was an ideal choice. Little did I know what I was getting into.

The game is simply stunning and presented some revolutionary game design that has inspired game systems for years since. It ran brilliantly, and tackled aspects that you'd expect from being a secret agent in Bond's world - chases, shootouts, gambling, seduction, torture, and being an expert in high class luxury.

The supplements are something I absolutely adore. Each supplement (well, most of them anyway) came as a boxed set with an envelope of props marked "For Your Eyes Only", along with a mini GM screen, maps, and more. The added genius of it was it took the plots of the movies/books and turned them completely on their heads. If you went into an adventure and you were familiar with the movie, you could assume the way the plot was going to head - but it wouldn't do you any good. It updated the plots, twisted them around, and kept the players on their toes.

The "A View to A Kill" adventure - so darned cool
I ran a lot of the adventures - I seem to remember running For Your Eyes Only two or three times with different players, each with very different outcomes.

I managed to complete the collection a couple of years ago (though I still haven't tracked down an affordable copy of Assault! The tabletop battles game based around the end of You Only Live Twice) when I finally tracked down a relatively cheap copy of Octopussy.

It's still an awesome game, and one I've longed to revive in a new edition for many, many years. Heck, I've written to, called and emailed EON a few times, and even started to put together a pitch for a new Bond RPG... but I wonder if it, like Harry Potter, is an impossible quest.

One day maybe.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 2)

Ghostbusters - West End Games (1986)

Next up on the games that had a massive impact on me is another one of my favourite games of all time. Ghostbusters.

I was obsessed with Ghostbusters (the movie that is) and I desperately wanted to be Venkman when I grew up, so hearing that there was a roleplaying game? I was sold before I'd even looked at the back of the box.

The only disappointment for my youthful brain was the lack of character sheet. Looking back now I see it was a revolutionary work of genius, but despite the character sheet problem (that I remedied with some homegrown efforts) I could tell even then that the game was something special.

I mean, look at the thing - it was a work of perfect simplicity. It didn't need to be full colour, it didn't need anything except that logo on the front, and some dice. And one of those had the logo on it as well.

The thing about it was how quick and simple it was. The rules were possibly the most minimal thing I'd ever seen. And it introduced "Brownie Points", something that I'd never encountered before, allowing the players to fudge rolls, to tweak the outcomes and to generally make the story funnier, better and cooler.

The start of the Rules Chapter from
The Ghostbusters RPG
with thanks to www.gbfans.com
And story was what it was all about. No longer was it a simple dungeon crawl, it was about telling a cool (and funny) story. There were investigation elements, working out who the ghost was, what its typical behaviour was like, and then there was the fun of blasting the place to pieces with Proton Packs. And there was no dying. Buildings could be destroyed (and frequently did) and your characters would stagger out of the rubble in their underwear with a Wile E. Coyote dazed look on their faces.

There were adventures published in the Ghostmaster's rulebook, and what was a revelation, dozens of Story Hooks. Short adventure ideas that could be expanded to complete adventures. Brilliant.

We played Ghostbusters continually, I zipped through all of the Story Hooks in record time. We had some of the most bonkers characters (Coop's character of note was Mr. Oook, an orangutan with a Proton Pack) and some of the craziest adventures ever (I do remember the published adventure "Hot Rods of the Gods" was particularly wacky!).

Of course, without adventures (we'd gone through all the ones published) I had to design my own. And so I did something I hadn't considered before. I contacted the publisher...

A little self portrait I did at the height of
my Ghostbusters writing in 1987
I wrote a letter to West End Games and gushed about how cool and funny their game was, and they kindly supplied me the necessary release forms for budding authors. I saw this as a huge "Go For It!" sign, and promptly set to work.

The problem I had was that my life revolved around gaming and watching movies. So a lot of what I started writing was parodying movies in some way. Also, this was at a time that may seem alien to some... it was B.I. - Before Internet.

Writing was a laborious task involving a huge electric typewriter (not electronic, just electric) that had fans and stuff built in to keep it from overheating. It was about the size of a Volkswagen and when you needed to change the ink ribbon, the front lifted up like the hood of said car. Everything was typed up (double spaced), corrections made with those little Tippex Correction Strips, and then it was all photocopied and posted as a huge mass of A4 paper by airmail to New York to be read by those cool guys at West End Games.

So, what nonsense was I turning out?

The cover I did for Spooky Science.
This is a black and white photocopy
from 1986
I wrote two big adventures. The first was called "Spooky Science", a parody of Call of CthulhuIndiana Jones and Weird Science. 45,000 words of bizarreness where an automated computer system attached to the containment grid goes mad, a fitness cult open a portal to unleash their god, Yogurt-Soggoth, onto an unsuspecting New York, and the Ghostbusters have to escape from the Temple of Yogurt in an epic chase involving shopping trollies. I seem to remember the finale involving New York being flooded in yogurt, and the Ghostbusters arrive on the scene on wet-bikes.

Flicking through the photocopies of the manuscript that I'd recently uncovered, it isn't baaaad...  it's just filled with typos, and it's a little derivative. Mulu Pram, the high priest of Yogurt-Soggoth was an obvious rip-off, but it was a bit of a laugh, and a satirical dig at the fitness craze that was big at the time. I blame Olivia Newton-John. Hell, we all loved Olivia Newton-John at that time.

Anyway, I packaged it up, sent it off, then waited the expected three months for a reply from WEG.

I called New York, which in the days before Skype and Facetime was a costly and scary affair from the UK, and talked to someone at West End Games to confirm it had arrived okay. Then, a couple of months later, I received a reply. It was very positive, but explained that they'd already published a food-based adventure (with the first official scenario, Ghost Toasties) and I saw it as an encouragement to go ahead and write more.

The cover I'd supplied for Back to
Transylvania. Really, not good... (1987-8)
The second of the adventures I finished was "Back to Transylvania"a bizarre time travelling adventure where, through a freak accident in history, Dracula had started a vampire plague and the Ghostbusters had to travel back to 1859 in a time-travelling DeLorean to take on the dark master himself, to prevent the world becoming overrun by vampires.

Again, it drew heavily from Hammer movies, Back to the Future and even had a moment where the filming of the TV series Moonlighting was interrupted and Bruce Willis became a vampire (the scene that initially tips the Ghostbusters off that there's something strange in the neighbourhood).

The scenario also introduced new rules for having non-human Ghostbusters (mainly to include Scooby-Doo as a player-character) and a basic magic system.

Again, I photocopied it, and posted it off to New York, and eagerly awaited a response.

And again, I had a really nice response from the guys at West End. I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan who wrote to me (or it may have been Bill Slavicsek) to let me know what they thought. I have the letter somewhere (though it's in a pile of stuff that has moved since the "moving everything out of mum's house" thing happened), but I remember what it said even now, nearly 25 years later.

It said that "you can obviously write, but..." and then went on to explain that Bruce Willis and Scooby-Doo's owners may sue for using them in a comedy adventure like this. While I understood what they were saying, about not using real people or copyrighted characters, the key thing was that letter said I could write.

I'm sure it was Greg Costikyan (and if it wasn't I'm sorry, and this is directed at you) who wrote to me, and without that positive reply I would never have continued writing. I'd have just packed it in there and then, got a boring job in retail (this is called irony) or something, and given up. So whoever it was who wrote to me, thank you.

The cover to an adventure I didn't finish, based
on John Landis' fake movie title
"See You Next Wednesday" (1988)
Encouraged by this, I kept going, but I didn't get every far. I started work on a new scenario called "See You Next Doomsday" which was going to be a fairly basic zombies and "Evil Dead" inspired story, as I'd just seen Evil Dead II and the idea of a Sam Raimi style comedy-horror with the Ghostbusters sounded awesome to me. The title came from John Landis' "See You Next Wednesday", a non-existent movie that appeared in the background of a lot of Landis' films, which in turn inspired our RPG group's name.

I came to a grinding halt a handful of pages in, when I was inspired to do a different game... based upon the movie "A Nightmare on Elm Street" I ran a proper horror game (strangely, using the Indiana Jones RPG system from the original TSR game) which involved going into peoples' dreams and facing their night-terrors. It seemed to go down pretty well, so I thought about changing it and doing it a little more light-heartedly as a Ghostbusters scenario.

Again, taking its title from another John Landis movie, I started work on "Into the Nightmare", but real life interrupted, and I found myself a real job. It wouldn't be until many years later that I would go back to writing RPGs based on dreams...

Since then, I've been able to continue my obsession with Ghostbusters with a project I did for EN Publishing for their WOIN system. I thought I'd do my take on Ghostbusters with Spirits of Manhattan. Must admit, I loved going back to that comedic style of writing. Just great fun. Check it out - you too can drive around Manhattan in a converted Pope-mobile and face a giant building sized Edgar Allan Poe. 

[Disclaimer - Some of this post was originally featured on this blog back in 2012]

[Disclaimer 2 - My wish to bring the Ghostbusters RPG back with a new edition has not changed.]

Friday, March 27, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Games That Shaped Me (Part 1)

My last twenty posts have been one of those Facebook meme things where I was challenged to list twenty albums that had an impact on my life. It was really quite a challenge as well, but fun trying to think of the music that really changed me.

Right in the middle of that challenge, I was tagged in another one by Anthony Boyd who helps moderate and run the annual #RPGaDAY initiative. This time, I was tasked with listing the games that had the biggest impact on my life. Luckily it's not twenty this time, but D8+2, and I rolled a 5. So the next seven posts will be the tabletop RPGs that had the biggest impact on my life.

So here goes with the first (I'm going to try to do these in chronological order if possible).

Star Frontiers - TSR (1982)

I've written a few times about Star Frontiers on my blog. After my first couple of games being introduced to tabletop roleplaying games, starting with Traveller, and then moving onto Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, when I went to the local game shop - an hour's bus ride away, and hidden in a secret store above a picture framers and gallery - I saw that cover. Okay, so it's a bit beaten up in that picture, but I wanted an image with the cool title text on it.

But look at that cover. It's freakin' gorgeous. It's just oozing potential, crashed spaceships, cool aliens, laser guns, alien planet, freakin' cool goggles. Woo! I was sold. Straight away.

First game I purchased, and we played it a LOT. Our campaigns were epic and mostly silly, involving powered armour, whole armies of Sathar agents, vast space battles, and ridiculous media tie-ins that I added like The Terminator, Transformers, and the like.

The way I played it was far from serious, but it was epic and crazy fun, and I loved it.

When Zebulon's Guide to Frontier Space came out, everything changed (including the game system) and we were fuelled with more to inspire bigger and bolder games. That was 1985, and it wasn't long before a huge chunk of my gaming group went off to University the following year.

Still have very, very fond memories of Star Frontiers, and often wonder why no one has tried to bring it back? I mean, Gamma World, TSR's post-apocalypse mutant game that came out before Star Frontiers has had seven editions by different publishers. Why hasn't Star Frontiers seen the same love?

Thursday, March 26, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 20)

Nine Inch Nails - The Fragile (1999)

This is it, the last entry in my Twenty Albums that had an impact on me meme that I was tagged in many, many moons ago. And I thought for the last one, I'd save my favourite album of all time. The one album I really couldn't do without - the one album I could never tire of.

Nine Inch Nails' album, The Fragile.

For me, it is the perfect album. It's long (2 CDs designated Left and Right) and contains a wide variety of musical styles. The first track, Somewhat Damaged, builds by layering industrial noises to incorporate Trent Reznor's softer vocals, to eventually ending with Reznor's shouting "Where the f*** were you?" over deep noisey guitars.

A few tracks into the album and we're presented with my favourite song of all time - The Wretched. Best listened to with The Frail instrumental track before it serving as a build-up to an angry shout at the world and how things just suck...

"The clouds will part and the sky cracks open,
And God himself will reach his f***ing arm through,
Just to push you down, just to hold you down.
Stuck in this hole with the sh** and the piss,
and it's hard to believe it could come down to this..."

"It didn't turn out the way you wanted it to,
It didn't turn out the way you wanted it, did it?"

God I love that track.

Just after that we're treated to the first proper single of the album, We're in this Together, which Debs and I always listen to when the world seems to kick us in the ass. Amazing .

I could go through the rest of the album like this and rave about how great every track is, but I won't. It's perfect. There are no bad tracks on The Fragile.

And then, Trent Reznor had to top it off with another couple of versions of the album. I mean, who else has three versions of the same album on their iPod for walking in to work? The Fragile: The Definitive Edition was released in 2017, with additional tracks and slightly extended versions of a handful of others. And then there's The Fragile: Deviations, an instrumental version of the album, with instrumental versions of all the tracks with vocals, and slightly different versions of all the instrumental ones (if that makes sense)? Anyway, it's different. It's great. And essential for a sad Nails-fanboy like me.

(I post this just as Nine Inch Nails have released another two albums of instrumental work for free to see us through the hard times of virus isolation. God, I love Nine Inch Nails. Thank you Trent.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 19)

Thirty Seconds to Mars - The Is War (2009)

Here's where there may be a lot of people who follow me on Facebook who suddenly think I've lost all cool and credibility. Not that I really had any. Yes, Thirty Seconds to Mars.

God, I loved Thirty Seconds to Mars. I first saw the video for Attack on MTV and thought "Isn't that guy the one from Fight Club?" and sure enough, Jared Leto was that singer. The track that followed, The Kill (Bury Me) was played all the time on MTV thanks to its cool video tribute to The Shining, and I remember asking Debs for that album, A Beautiful Lie, for Christmas that year. Had no idea what the rest of it was going to be like, but I really liked the singles.

The album was great, and after weeks of playing it a LOT, I tracked down their eponymous first album - which, strangely, I liked even more. A Beautiful Lie sounded like it had taken some influence from The Cure, while the first album felt a bit more U2. There is one track on that first album, The Mission, that has been a constant inspiration for my RPG, WILD.

"I opened up my head inside and find another person's mind..."
"Into the wild..."

Again, I listened to those albums a lot. and followed their fanbase, The Echelon, and kept track of Jared Leto's social media. There was a call out for vocal samples for their next album, and even photos for the cover (the tiger image above was the default cover, but 2000 fan photos were also used as covers - I don't think the ones Debs and I submitted were used).

This Is War is a crazily powerful album. Fuelled by the EMI lawsuit, it's filled with anger, operatic shouts, Queen-like stomping, and cinematic moments. My favourite track is easily Stranger in a Strange Land which still has me questioning why Jared Leto hasn't made that jump into film scores.

On November 25th, 2010, I drove us all the way down to Brighton to see them as part of the Into The Wild tour, and it was bloody amazing.

The next album is pretty awesome too, Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams. While promoting this album I spotted Jared Leto tweeting about being at Soho Sq in London if anyone else wanted to go, and I messaged Debs instantly. Crazy that we were, within an hour we were on a train and headed to London where a group of fans had gathered. The band arrived, and played an impromptu flash gig for about thirty minutes before they rushed off to a waiting car and before the cops came and dispersed the crowd.

Jared Leto in his full-on Jesus look at Soho Square in London. Photo by me (standing on a bench)
We went to see them again 21st November 2013 at the Nottingham Arena as part of the Love, Lust, Faith and Dreams Tour, which was cool (and certainly easier to get to than Brighton for us). A tour where they added circus-style acts to spice things up on stage. 

And that's about it. Their last album, America, felt like a massive disappointment after the cool and edgy music that came before it. With weird collaborations with other artists, strangely looped synths and autotuned vocals, it just didn't do it for me. There were a couple of really stand-out tracks, and Monolith once again made me question why Jared Leto isn't doing epic film scores. 

With the departure of Tomo Miličević during that tour, leaving just Jared and Shannon Leto as the band, I wonder where they will go next. Hopefully, back to their roots...

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 18)

Rob Dougan - Furious Angels (2002)

We finally hit the 2000's in my "20 Albums that had an impact on me" thing that was going around Facebook. This one's a bit like one of my previous posts - the one for Bush's Sixteen Stone - where I took a chance on an album with very little knowledge of it, and it turned out to be amazing.

I have to admit, I'm a big fan of The Matrix. I love all of the movies, the anime, the comics, and even liked the first video game (never played the Path of Neo, or Matrix Online). But I guess my first exposure to the music of Rob Dougan was The Matrix. I had a couple of his tracks from the soundtrack albums, and I remember being back in that Virgin Megastore (where we picked up the Bush album) and seeing the rather cool cover for Rob Dougan's album Furious Angels.

I don't know what did it, but I decided to take a chance on it. Maybe it's because it was two discs and the second disc was all instrumental, I figured even if I didn't like the vocal tracks I could listen to the instrumental ones, imagine I'm in the Matrix a bit more, and it would be great music to have on while I was writing.

However, the first disc, the one with the vocals, is just as awesome. I'd not heard Rob Dougan's vocals before, so when the first vocal track, the title track from the album, started up, I was kinda stunned. A strange, gravelly and defeated sound, like an energetic Tom Waits, with lyrics that often sounded like he was spitting them out through gritted teeth.

"It's not like you stayed at my side
Or you called me a priest
You searched through my mouth
To check for gold teeth
You were pawning my shoes as I bled
You left me for, left me for, left me for dead."

Fantastic stuff. With club-like drum machine rifts, mixed with an orchestral score that takes inspiration from Elgar and Chopin, with those gritty vocals. Amazing.

After that, Rob Dougan kinda vanished. He's resurfaced recently with some studio recordings - massive orchestral pieces with choirs. Must check that out.

Stay safe!

Monday, March 23, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 17)

Stabbing Westward - Wither, Blister, Burn & Peel (1996)

Disclaimer - I was going to put the next album by Stabbing Westward on this list (Darkest Days) as I think I prefer that album, but Wither, Blister, Burn & Peel is such an iconic album, and the one that really got me into Stabbing Westward that I thought I'd better go for this one instead.

Like Bloody Kisses and Metropolis before this, I was introduced to Stabbing Westward by local metal legend Steve. He did his usual "You like Nine Inch Nails, you should listen to this," and played a few tracks from this and their first album Ungod (which I was always know as "Ungoo" as the writing on the cover makes the "d" look a bit like an "o").

See what I mean?

Anyway, Steve was right. They really sounded like a mix of Nine Inch Nails and Depeche Mode, with plenty of really angry vocals and lyrics that pushed all the right buttons in me. First track on WBB&P I don't Believe starts with these amazing lyrics (just what I keep saying to myself even now)...

"I'm such an asshole,
God I'm such a stain,
I just keep f***ing up,
Again and again.

I don't believe, 
I don't believe,
That I could be so stupid,
and so naive."

Stabbing Westward are/were great, and I love their first three albums to bits. Their fourth album, just titled Stabbing Westward, didn't really do it for me, and the band broke up shortly afterwards. They have, thankfully, recently reformed with a new EP that is sounding pretty darn cool. Good to have you back.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 16)

Type O Negative - Bloody Kisses (1993)

Another one of those awesome albums recommended to us by local metal legend Steve. Steve knew we liked the cool, dark, gothy music and recommended this album by another band we'd never heard of - Type O Negative. Fronted by giant Pete Steele, I've never heard vocals as deep as that on a rock album before.

The standout track from the album, Black No1 (Little Miss Scare All) is the ultimate goth anthem, though at its heart it's really kinda mocking goths. I do have a bit of a soft spot for the noisy anthem We Hate Everyone.

Loved this album, and went out and purchased the slightly angrier Slow, Deep and Hard. Always blooming amazing, and the albums that followed are pretty darn epic too. Such a great loss when the world lost Pete Steele ten years ago.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 15)

The Whores of Babylon - Metropolis (1994)

I have to thank our good friend "Metal" Steve (as we know him) who we first met at our local comic shop. Absolute legend that he is, and a recognisable face in the local metal scene with a collection of albums that would make even the most hardcore music collector jealous. Steve introduced us to a great deal of music that we would never have experienced that really stuck with me over the years. So much so, this entry AND the following two albums were all by artists that were recommended to us by Steve. Thanks man!

Steve knew I liked Nine Inch Nails and The Sisters of Mercy, and did his best (when he wasn't recommending extreme metal from bands whose names looked like thorn bushes) to find the coolest stuff we'd be interested in. One of these was a little known band called The Whores of Babylon.

Amazing album.

Dark and operatic, with fantastically epic elements that drew upon filmic scores (even incorporating dialogue from Hellraiser at one point), the album Metropolis came along just as we were starting to play the Kult RPG (which has a realm called Metropolis). So many elements of the album (falling angels, dark urban settings, biblical themes) resonated with the game, and it's a brilliant album on top of that.

I remember they came from Bristol and had ties to fellow Bristol musicians Portishead (Beth Gibbons appears on one of the Whores tracks if I remember correctly). I wonder whatever happened to Whores of Babylon? I'd have loved to have heard more...

Friday, March 20, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 14)

Bush - Sixteen Stone (1994)

Just a quickie today. I remember there was a big deal about Metallica's new album, Load, and the local Virgin Megastore (remember those?) was doing a midnight launch for it - this must have been summer 1996. Being a big Metallica fan, I dragged Debs to the launch night (there were no freebies) and we queued up to get Metallica's newest release.

While queuing, Debs picked up Bush's first album, Sixteen Stone. We were still watching a lot of MTV2, and despite the album being out for a couple of years we'd not really heard of them until they started showing the video for Machinehead that summer. I quite liked the single, and I remember the video for Glycerine being shown late one night too. So we bought the album, thought we'd give it a go.

Over the next couple of days we gave both albums a listen, and despite us going to the midnight launch for Metallica, the Bush album got more play. Just a really cool album, and just as we were getting into it (as we were late to the party) we were only a couple of months away from their follow-up, Razorblade Suitcase. While Swallowed was the big hit from that album, Debs absolutely loved the falling angels video for Greedy Fly.

Those first two albums are fantastic, and still get a lot of play here.

Great stuff!!

Thursday, March 19, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 13)

Radiohead - The Bends (1995)

I'd left Uni, and there was little on the horizon - I mean, my art wasn't brilliant, and I really didn't want to be an animator, despite getting a degree in it. Debs was working in graphic design, and I really wanted to get into publishing my own comic. I remember listening to MTV2 (as it was, before it became MTVRocks) where they played all the rock and indie music, and being fascinated by Radiohead. Creep was always on, the anthem of every weirdo like myself, and the cool new singles from their second album were getting a lot of air-play. My Iron Lung and Fake Plastic Trees were amazing, and I marvelled at Thom Yorke's vocals, but the video for Just was absolutely mesmerising.

I remember we bought The Bends on CD and played it in our little rented house for the first time and loved it. It played constantly, and I went out and bought their first album (Pablo Honey) soon afterwards.

One song on The Bends really resonated with me - Street Spirit (Fade Out). I don't know why, but it really stuck with me. When I put together the first issue of my comic, Missing, that I self published back in '98, the opening scene was set to that song.

When OK Computer came out in 1997, Radiohead did a tour with big festivals and arenas - but to warm up, they toured some of the smallest venues they could find. One was a little seaside town just up the coast from my hometown, and the moment I saw the announcement I was on the phone to book tickets.

September 4th 1997, at Bridlington Spa, Radiohead played a blisteringly amazing set. We were sat in the balcony, right in the middle, second row, and we were incredibly close to the band in such a small venue. The strobe lighting was intense. I think it was during Climbing Up The Walls or Planet Telex that I honestly thought something had flicked a switch in my brain and I was just going to go into seizures.

One of the best gigs ever. Second only to Nine Inch Nails. Phenomenal.

I still listen to a lot of Radiohead, and have always said that, come that fateful day, at my funeral I'd like How to Disappear Completely to be played. I hope that's a while off yet.

Stay Safe everyone.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 12)

Nine Inch Nails - Pretty Hate Machine (1989)

Again, a little late to the party, I was first introduced to Nine Inch Nails just after I'd left my hometown and gone off to University to study graphic design/animation/illustration. The end of my art college time "up north" was turbulent to say the least, and moving away, being away from home, and the whole "trying to fit in" thing isn't something I do naturally. I hid in my tiny box room of the house I'd found for student accommodation and evenings were mostly spent listening to the radio. 

This must have been around 1992ish as I have this memory of hanging around in Gaz' accommodation listening to the noise that was Ministry (Psalm 69 had just come out and the radio was playing Jesus Built My Hotrod a lot) and thinking "this is really cool". This lead to him saying that I should listen to Nine Inch Nails

Pretty Hate Machine quickly became my favourite music choice for literally months and months, with the haunting Something I Can Never Have becoming my personal anthem in my angsty days. 

I went out and bought Fixed, before I'd even heard Broken (yeah, that can be confusing, but they didn't have Broken in stock at the store), and was right there on release day when The Downward Spiral was released in 94. 

My love of Nine Inch Nails has grown as their music has evolved. I love all of it, and would happily listen to nothing but NIN and Trent Reznor's creations. Trent Reznor is a god in my books, and along with David Lynch, is a constant inspiration to do and create whatever you want - and not worry about it being liked or successful. There will always be people for whom it resonates, and has a deep emotional meaning.

Pretty Hate Machine is not my favourite NIN album, but it is the one that opened the door for me becoming an obsessive fanboy, and I still love it. I managed to see Nine Inch Nails at Nottingham Arena in 2014, something I'd never imagined possible, and they still play tracks from Pretty Hate Machine (Terrible Lie, and they finished off with Head Like A Hole before their encores). 

Amazing gig, and not the last time Nine Inch Nails will appear in my 20 Albums that shaped me...

Monday, March 16, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 11)

Pixies - Doolittle (1989)

Hope everyone's staying safe and well out there.

Next on my little list of albums that shaped me, is another recommendation while I was at art college. Martin introduced me to some really cool and weird stuff. He got me listening to Sonic Youth, Ice-T, Bodycount, and more... But the album that left the biggest impression from this time is Doolittle. I'd not really heard any Pixies music before, but they were a real revelation. Martin got me into them just before they released their album Trompe le Monde so I had a whole wealth of back-catalogue to catch up on.

Doolittle is brilliant and bonkers. With amazing graphic design by the late, great Vaughan Oliver (who everyone at art college wanted to be), each track was something very different. It's hard to describe the combination of biblical epic stories, surreal Dali movies, and odd love songs that make up the album, with each track a surprise.


Friday, March 13, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 10)

Faith No More - The Real Thing (1989)

I mentioned in the last post that my art college friends in Hull were very supportive and introduced me to some great music. Besides keeping me sane by introducing me to the wonders of Curve, there were a couple of other albums that had a big impact at art college.

The first was Faith No More's second album, The Real Thing. I had their first, Introduce Yourself, as I really liked We Care A Lot, but it wasn't until Mike Patton took over vocals that Faith No More really became EPIC.

Gareth introduced me to The Real Thing, and it was our "album of the year" the first year we were at art college. We played it to death.

Crazy bonkers fusion of rap, metal, funk, and everything else they could throw at it. And still a great album.

Thursday, March 12, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 9)

Curve - Doppelgänger (1992)

Dumped. Yeah, just after Valentine's Day as well. I remember it well.

Anyway, wasn't happy. My first real girlfriend had broken up with me, but my friends at art college rallied around me and tried to keep me distracted so I wasn't wallowing in self pity. One of my college friends had recommended this band called Curve earlier, and I'd heard a lot of their EPs (Ten Little Girls, The Coast is Clear, etc.). In an act of complete synchronicity, just after the breakup at the end of Feb saw the release of Curve's first proper album - Doppelgänger.

Curve were described as shoegazing filth-pop, and remain number 2 in my all time favourite bands (sorry, but Nine Inch Nails are going to be hard to top). Curve were a mass of electronically constructed beats and synths, with grinding noisy guitars, and the amazing vocals of Toni Halliday echoing over the top. They were the goth music that had defined me so long before, only angrier and noisier. They were dark, doom-laiden, and hated the world (one of their later albums is called Open Day At The Hate-Fest).

I still love Curve. There was a long period when I thought that it was just three albums (Doppelgänger, Cuckoo, and Come Clean). Then came that Spider-man movie trailer using Hell Above The Water, and I discovered they were back - new albums, and even a load of unreleased stuff you could get from their website. I was so happy.

Unfortunately, it didn't last, and 2005 they called it a day. The talk of a reunion is always looming on the horizon and I live in hope.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (Part 8)

All About Eve - All About Eve (1988)

Following on from the previous entry of The Sisters of Mercy's Floodland, I was really going goth. So very goth. Never dyed my hair black or did the eyeliner (guy-liner) but I listened to the music and wore black, and was pretty miserable most of the time.

One of my loves was All About Eve. I loved that album. I bought the vinyl, bought the cool 12" remixes of the singles that came in boxed sets with posters of the band, and it was the first CD I bought when that new-fangled technology made its way into our home.

It was a beautiful marriage of ethereal vocals, haunting melancholy and rock guitars.

I remember my mother commenting - "She's really pretty and has a lovely voice, why does she always sound so sad?"

Like The Reptile House, All About Eve had their fan club - Eden - and I subscribed straight away. I found a pen-friend through it (that I have long since lost contact with - sorry Jill), and won a competition to get tickets and a backstage pass to an All About Eve concert. I had the choice of any from their next tour, and I picked York...

November 12th 1991. York Barbican. I went with my (then) girlfriend, drove to York and parked in a multi-storey car park near the Barbican and picked up my backstage passes. The concert was awesome, part of the tour for the Eve's album Touched By Jesus. The lights failed for about five minutes in the middle of it, and the band didn't even stop - just kept playing in the pitch darkness until the lights were restored. Absolutely loved it.

After the gig, we headed to the backstage bit, and being the social dork that I was, I just seemed to be star-struck and confused by it all. In the backstage area there were about twenty of us hanging around with the band. We just kinda stood there and looked confused. I wasn't really brave enough to talk to anyone, but I think that was a bit obvious because I remember some of the band (definitely Mark Price and Andy Cousin) striking up a conversation with us. I was at art college in Hull (as was my then girlfriend) and I remember Mark Price saying about being at art college and doing graphic design. They were cool, took my cd booklet for Touched By Jesus and made sure that all of the band (including Julianne Regan who I was too nervous to talk to) signed it. Still one of my prized possessions.

We could have hung around with them longer, and they seemed disappointed when I said we had to leave (mostly as if I didn't get my car out of the car park by midnight it would be locked in until six in the morning). They were genuinely welcoming and great, and I had to go home. Dufus.

Anyway, we went home. Fantastic concert, and I still love their albums. I got dumped about three months later, which lead me to the next album on my list...

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 7)

The Sisters of Mercy - Floodland (1987)

Confession time. In my late teens, my music taste was pretty crap. I listened to pop. Shiny, happy, bubblegum pop. I got a bit adventurous when my hormones took control and I realised that someone I like-liked at school listened to something - the main reason why I started listening to stuff like Meat Loaf, Phil Collins, or Black. Otherwise, I listened to pop. Johnny Hates Jazz, Tiffany, The Christians. I hadn't really found myself musically. Even though I'd left school by now, I hadn't really progressed with my music tastes. Sure I still listened to Talking Heads, or Mike Oldfield, but it wasn't until one fateful evening watching Top of the Pops that my life was changed.

You have to imagine boring old me, sitting at home watching Top of the Pops when on come The Sisters of Mercy. I'd never heard anything like it. I remember talking to my friends the day after and we were all in the same state of awe. I think three of us went out and bought Floodland that week, and it was just a matter of time before the previous album, First and Last and Always, and all of the original EPs, became household items in everyone's life in our group.

Black leather jackets were the norm (though I never had one, strangely), and by the time I went to art college in Hull I'd gained goth biker boots from the coolest place in Hull (Function 1 - back when it was hidden on the other side of the city above a warehouse, behind a secret door marked "Beware of the Leopard"... okay, I may exaggerate the last bit, but it was a strangely secret place). A great place for some really cool black shirts with single colour prints of Sisters EP covers on the back...

The Sisters of Mercy was just the start. It was a gateway to The Sisterhood, The Mission, Bauhaus, Fields of the Nephilim and All About Eve (more on the Eves later).

Floodland really spoke to me - it was dark, bleak, epic, doom-laiden and kinda summed up my late teens perfectly. Still a great album.

I signed up to The Reptile House, the Sisters fan club, and got the long sleeved t-shirt, and even the rude t-shirt with the lyrics from Driven Like the Snow ("F*** Me and Marry Me Young") that I had to cover up when I was at art college. The Reptile House longsleeve still fits and I wore it to the advance screening of the first half of Edgar Wright's "The Worlds End", as I knew Simon Pegg's character (Gary King) wore one in the movie. It prompted Edgar Wright to come over and have a chat with me about The Sisters, and asking Andrew Eldritch if he was okay with them using the t-shirt and one of the songs in the movie.

I managed to see The Sisters of Mercy play on one of their more recent tours. Andrew Eldritch and Doktor Avalanche with a host of other musicians you couldn't really see for the smoke machine. Eldritch hopping about the stage in an ice hockey jersey still had the energy and bite after all this time. I just wish he'd record something new.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

[Roll Your Own Life] The Music That Shaped Me (part 6)

Talking Heads - Stop Making Sense (1984)

There was a real spate in the 80's of TV showing cool stuff and completely changing our music listening habits. I remember there was a special night on BBC2 (I think) that looked at music videos, and they did almost an hour looking at the music videos of The Cure, and my awesome friend Coop went out the following day and bought their best of album (Staring at the Sea), and it was a slippery slope to him becoming a completist, buying all of The Cure's albums in a relatively short period of time.

For me, it was Channel 4 showing the Talking Heads movie, Stop Making Sense. I'd seen their music videos before for tracks like Once in a Lifetime, but I remember seeing a trailer for the movie's C4 screening and David Byrne's amazing oversized suit and I knew I had to watch it.

C'mon, just watch that opening sequence with David Byrne walking out onto the stage alone with a cassette recorder and an acoustic guitar to perform Psycho Killer, and you know you're watching something special.

The rest of the band gradually assemble over the following songs, and the whole thing was genius. The following week I went out and purchased the album, and like Coop before me, it was a slippery slope to buying their entire back catalogue, and I'm still a fan today.

I do have a fond memory of trying to convert a girl I was at school with to listening to Talking Heads. I had Speaking in Tongues on a cassette in my cheap not-a-Walkman, and she agreed to give it a go. She really enjoyed Burning Down The House, but when it got to the second track, Making Flippy Floppy, I think she thought I was suggesting something dirty and she stopped listening!

I've noticed that a lot of the music I'm picking are not your traditional "love" style songs... Let's face it, their second album is called More Songs About Buildings and Food - and that features my favourite Heads song (also in the movie Stop Making Sense) - Found a Job - a song about a couple (Bob and Judy) who are so bored with TV they start writing their own shows. Brilliant.