Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers

World music never really goes away, but every few years a band comes along that sparks and interest in exotic foreign sounds for a new audience. In the 1980s in was the Pogues. Then the Gypsy Kings gave the world Bamboleo and David Byrne went all ‘O, Samba’ on us. The success of the film Slumdog Millionaire has even brought Bollywood music to mainstream radio. One of my favourites groups was Les Negresses Vertes, who were a French Gypsy outfit that looked – for a brief moment in the early ‘90s – like they were going to conquer the world. They didn’t.

Les Negresses Vertes run came to a sudden end when lead singer, Helno Rota OD’d and that put paid to to that. Les Negresses Vertes continued, but moved away from being wild Gypsy outfit, to more of a lounge, electronica sounding act. Apparently their albums weren’t bad, but they weren’t my cup of tea at the time.

The current kings of world music are Gogol Bordelo with their wild frontman Eugene Hutz. They have being going from strength to strength in recent years, and last years album Transcontinental Shuffle (IMHO) was one of the best albums of 2010. Golgol Bordello’s success has once again shone a light on Gypsy music, and this compilation Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers taps into that interest.

At the risk of seeming flippant, Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers may be one of the best ‘Bitches Come!’ albums of all time. My terminology there, may have offended some female readers, but please bear with me as I explain. ‘Bitches Come!’ is something I have borrowed from the film xXx, but it applies to quite a lot of films over the past few years. In recent B-grade movies have you noticed the rise of the Russian Mafia as villains of the piece. And in these films, usually starring Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, these Mafia villains have their headquarters based in a nightclub or a strip club. After a tense negotiation scene, where the villain proves how tough and intimidating he is, there is the ‘Bitches Come!’ scene, where a bevy of beautiful, and scantily clad women enter the room, and pounding techno Balkan music starts up. Depravity, including large amounts of cocaine and vodka, ensues. So this album is a ‘Bitches Come!’ album. It’s the music that plays when the girls enter the room. And if you happen to be a member of the Russian mafia, this may very well be your album. It may be the type of music you want playing when a girl is snorting a line of cocaine off your chest (especially the remixes at the end of the album).

Now when you hear the first few tracks, you’re going to think I steered you wrong. The album opens with Bucovina – by Shantel, which on first listen, is going to underwhelm the listener with some clinically over produced brass and accordion. Sounds that suggest the song and the group should belong in some rural park festival celebrating the glory of the potato, rather than in some drug fueled dance venue – and you’d be right. This first track is very traditional, with some fine musicianship – but it does sound sterile rather than fiery. This album starts off in a very traditional manner, and then moves through to more modern beats. The second number, Mahalageasca (Bucovina Dub) – by Mahala Raï Banda – kicks up the pace a little but still has an air of rural life, but possibly fused with one of those 80s pop groups, like Yello.

The third track, Bulgarian Chicks – by Balkan Beat Box moves towards a more dance orientated sound, but still with a hint of brass underscoring the beat, which gives the number a rustic-trad sound, but by this time, after a few beverages (and vodka would be the appropriate accompaniment), you’ll find that your feet are beginning to shuffle across the floor – and towards that girl (or that boy – far from it from me to be hetero-sexist), that;s standing beside the pillar near the bar and is beginning to look rather cute.

Balkan Hot Step – by N.O.H.A. is a fusion of techno beats, riding over the top of more traditional sounds (however with a rather annoying electronic chipmunk vocal) – but for the dance enthusiasts, we are really cooking now.

Then comes the James Bond Theme by Fanfare Ciocărlia. And of course, I am going to say I love it. But it is a throwback to the more traditional sound, killing the groove that the album was building. The guitar sound, that is so integral to the Bond sound is replaced by brass (and I don’t mind it), but I must admit I have heard version of the Bond theme like this before, performed by bands such as The Skatalites – and if you’ll forgive my hyperbole laden appraisal – The Skatalites (in all their diverse combinations) are simply one of the best musical ensembles of all time, so drifting into their arena of play, in my eyes is fraught with danger.

But heading to warmer climes, is where the album seems to be taking us, because the next number, Usti Usti Baba (Altiplano Mix) – by Kocani Orkestar Vs Senor Coconut has a definite reggae feel – brassy rather than that hard – deadened guitar sound – but reggae none the less. It’s a pretty breezy little number.

Spoitoresa by Mahala Raï Banda kicks the tempo up again, melding some Latin rhythms and adding some strategic violin to the proceedings. The album stays South of the border (or Andalusian) for Hora Andalusia by Fanfare Ciocărlia which sounds like a parade of stamping horses.

Since the album is clearly so inspired by Gogol Bordello, it is right that they should get a workout on the album, and their track is Start Wearing Purple – a track that first appeared on Voi-La Intruder, but this is the more confident version lifted off Gypsy Punks – Underdog World Strike.

Mi Bori Sa Korani by Kocani Orkestar seems to be inspired by Bollywood (admittedly Bollywood infected with Mariachi brass). Dostlar Bizim Halaya (Come To Dance) by Buzuki Orhan Osman feat. King Naat Veliov & Original Korcani Orkestar is more of a pounding drum driven celebration.

The last four tracks are remixes of some of the numbers which have come before – dub versions and brass, bass and booty mixes, and these will probably more appeal to groovemeisters.

While I enjoyed this album – I am always a sucker for traditional instruments being thrashed to within an inch of their life – I felt this compilation tried too hard to place Gypsy and Balkan music into a broader global context. As my song descriptions would have suggested, there are passages where Balkan goes Ska and Reggae, and then to South America. And while pure and undiluted regionality in music may be a thing of the past with globalisation, I think a selection of Balkan bangers that just ‘Banged’ rather than showed me how diverse Balkan music can be, would have been a far more enjoyable musical trip.

Gypsy Beats and Balkan Bangers

Ooh Ahh Glenn McGrath Hickory Sauce

A ‘ramblin’ old man’ post to start the week, as I continue to look at ‘Sauces of the World’. One of my favourites, though sadly no longer available, was the Ooh Ahh Glenn McGrath Hickory Sauce.

Hickory was a relatively new flavour to Australian shores. It’s only over the last few years, that the range and variety of sauces has begun to grow in Australia. For a long time, it seemed that the range consisted of simply Tomato, Barbeque, Worstershire and Soy – of course there some specialty sauces like HP too. These days however, there is every conceivable style and combination in the sauce aisle of the local supermarket.

Glenn McGrath was an Australian cricketer, whose wife developed breast cancer. McGrath set up a foundation, and to raise funds released a sauce onto the market based on an old home recipe of his – I guess it was the Australian BBQ sauce equivalent of what Paul Newman’s Sauce has done for charity over the years. However, as McGrath’s cricket career ended, his sauce disappeared off shelves. Shame really as it was a damn good sauce with a bit of zhing, and a nice smokey aftertaste.

The McGrath Foundation is still going, and raises funds by other means, most notably the Sydney Cricket Test, which for the last few years has gone ‘pink’ to support the foundation.

Ooh Ahh Glenn McGrath Hickory Sauce

Blair’s Ultra Death Sauce

Blair's Ultra Death SauceLike many people, I am not adverse to adding a dash of extra flavour to the food I eat, and I must admit I like things on the spicy side. Now, while I like hot food, I am not a spice or heat boffin. Hell, I do not even know what a Scoville Unit is, and the rambling below is based purely on my tastebuds. I am certainly not a professor from the University of Jalopeno nor do I have a doctorate in Peri-perionomy. But in the pursuit of gastronomic excellence, I am prepared to try anything.

Blair’s Ultra Death Sauce.
Naming a sauce ‘Ultra Death’ is a bit of a callout to me. When I saw the bottle, adorned with it skull and flame, I thought ‘oh yeah, sure! How hot can it be?’ So a slapped a couple of drops on a piece of grilled chicken breast undiluted (the box recommends dilution). Fearing nothing, gazing manfully in to the sunset, with my hair blowing in the wind, I took a bite. And I am embarrassed to say, Ultra Death hurt me! Whoa, this sauce is the John Shaft of sauces. It is one bad mother…hush yo mouth! I immediately guzzled down two beers, which I couldn’t taste, with sweat rolling from my brow, and nose running like a tap. Then I took another bite. But it beat me. I accepted defeat, and with shoulders stooped and head bowed, I ended up going to the fridge and retrieving some sour cream to cut into the sauce.

Now I know what you are thinking. It’s time to man up and get back in there and fight. And so I did. Curry time! I made a curry and put two teaspoons of Ultra Death into it. I mean, what can two little teaspoons do when they are diluted in a big dish of curry, right?

After three hours of cooking, it was time for the tasting. First taste was pretty good, and I almost thought I hadn’t put enough Ultra Death in. But then the taste kicked in, and with each subsequent bite, the heat level seemed to rise exponentially.

So ten minutes later, I am lying on the ground, with my arms spread-eagled like some martyred religious deity. Sweat was pouring off my body, tears were rolling down my cheeks and I could not feel my lips.My tongue was on fire. What can I say, Ultra Death had beaten me again.

Blair’s Ultra Death Sauce won the battle. It called me out, and I was brave enough to accept the challenge, but it bent me over, spanked me and sent me home crying. If you like hot, and I mean HOT, chilli sauce then Blair’s sauce has to be on your list of things to try. Maybe if you are more man than me (that applies to the girls too), you may be able to wrestle this one to the ground, but i wouldn’t be laying money on it. This is one product that actually lives up to the hyperbole on the label. Blair’s is made in New Jersey, and the box claims that it is 800 times hotter than a jalapeno chilli – I for one believe them. Take heed of the warnings and show respect, and you’ll find that you can live in relative peace and harmony with Blair’s Ultra Death. However, if you are arrogant enough to engage in open combat with the sauce, you will lose.

There are many other sauces in the Blair’s range, among them Sweet Death, Pure Death, After Death, Mega Death and Sudden Death. Ultra Death is the second hottest in their range – only the limited edition Blair’s Reserve being hotter.

I hope American readers get a better deal than us Australians, because Ultra-Death costs around $30 a bottle (at resellers, though you can get it cheaper from the Australian website), which prices it right out of the range of the average punter. I guess, because it is so hot, that you only need a few small drops at a time, so the 150mL bottle will last quite a while – but to think that you could buy twelve bottles of Nazir’s Fiery Hot Chilli Sauce ($2.50 ea) to one Blair’s puts it into perspective. I guess the overriding factor is just how much pain do you want to inflict upon yourself.

Blair’s Ultra Death Sauce

Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit

Permission to Kill is now a proud member of M.O.S.S. – the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit, and to paraphrase (steal) Blofeld’s speech from Thunderball – ‘we are a dedicated fraternity whose strength lies in the integrity of its members’.

The individual MOSSmen and MOSSettes are a pretty phenomenal bunch of bloggers and podcasters who, when combined, like a Power Rangers MegaZord, are responsible for a truly staggering pool of esoteric information and obsession. Be sure to check out the other M.O.S.S. sites for your daily does of pop-culture and cult needs:

Beth Loves Bollywood
The Cultural Gutter
Die, Danger, Die, Die, Kill!
Fist of B-List
The Greatest Movie Ever
The Horror!?
Memsaab Story
Million Monkey Theater
Monster Island Resort
Tars Tarkas
Teleport City
WtF Film

But wait, there’s more – check out the Facebook Fan Page and Twitter feed, for an up to date direct connection with the Minions of M.O.S.S.

Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit

The Saint: The House on Dragon's Rock (1968)

Country: United Kingdom
Director: Roger Moore
Starring: Roger Moore, Anthony Bate, Annette Andre, Melvyn Johns, Alex Scott, Glyn Houston, Richard Owens, Talfryn Thomas, Heather Seymour
Music: Edwin Astley
Based on characters created by Leslie Charteris

Roger Moore takes the helm as director in what is possibly the silliest episode in The Saint TV series. And naturally, being so silly, it is also one of the most entertaining episodes, and therefore I recommend it highly.

The episode starts with Simon Templar (Roger Moore) arriving by car at a small village in Wales. I wont attempt to tell you the name of the village as it is unpronounceable to my un-cultured tongue. This village seems deserted, and Templar seeking life of any kind heads to the local pub, the Prince of Wales. It too seems strangely deserted. However there is a fire burning, half drunken pints on the table, and smoldering cigarettes in the ash trays. Where ever the inhabitants of the village are. It would appear that they left in quite a hurry.

The House on Dragon's Rock
'We don't like strangers in our village!'

A young girl opens an adjoining door to the main bar and walks in. Templar asks her where the townsfolk are and she says that they have gone to search for Owen. At that moment, the girl’s father arrives on the scene brandishing a shot-gun. When Templar explains that he was invited to the town by the local doctor, Rhys Davis, then the hostility ceases. And soon he has joined the search party looking for Owen.

Who is Owen? Owen Thomas is a shepherd who has gone missing over at Devil’s Gorge. As the search party is about to give up, Owen staggers from the shrubs, disheveled, shaking and as pale as a ghost. He has seen something that has frightened the living daylights out of him. As the search party is called off by radio, the high pitched squeal from the walkie-talkie sets Owen off. He clutches his head and begins to scream. This is practically the last sound he makes, because due to shock, he has lost the power of speech. Therefore he is unable to describe what has frightened him so.

The House on Dragon's Rock
The ubiquitous Simon Templar

Doctor Rhys Davis explains to Templar that a lot of strange things have been happening in the area. A two tonne tractor was upturned in a field, a stable was torn apart, many cows have been found dead, and trees have been torn out by their roots.

No one is sure what is causing the mayhem. The locals all have an idea though, and at the pub they discuss them. Some believe it is a monster from outer space, others believe it is a werewolf or a vampire. However more reasonable minds suggest that it possibly has something to do with a group of scientists, calling themselves the Western Research Laboratory, who operate out of a mansion on top of Dragon’s Rock.

The House at Dragon's Rock
Dr. Sardon and Dr. Armstrong - the men from the Western Research Laboratory

The contempt and mistrust that the locals hold for the laboratory is evident when Carmen Grant, from the laboratory drops into the pub to enquire about the well being of Owen. As many locals believe the laboratory is responsible for his condition, they refuse to talk to her. However, Templar is never one to ignore a lady and updates her on Owen’s progress. Then he escorts her to her car. Along the way he finds out that she is the niece of the director of the laboratory, Dr. Charles Sardon – and if Sardon doesn’t sound like the name of a mad scientist, I don’t know what does!

Naturally Templar delves deeper into the mystery, and finds out that indeed, Sardon is carrying out some very strange and terrifying experiments – experiments that are getting way out of hand. When Carmen is attacked by a large creature, whose tracks lead to Sardon’s laboratory, Templar finds that the madman is breeding giant insects.

The House on Dragon's Rock
Unspeakable Terror!

The House on Dragon’s Rock is an absolute riot, and beyond the mad scientist plot device, the story bears more than a passing resemblance to James Cameron’s Aliens. I am not for a second suggesting any plagiarism from the writers of Aliens, after all this story is pretty derivative of many old fashioned thrillers, but the plot similarities are quite striking – but to reveal more would constitute major spoilers.

The House on Dragon's Rock
Dr. Sardon with his creation

For those readers who have never seen this episode of The Saint, I hope you chose to seek it out. It is thoroughly entertaining, presenting the kind of far-fetched thrills that only a UK television show from the 1960s could provide. The Saint is often considered the ‘straight man’ of British TV when compared to The Prisoner or The Avengers, but this episode shows, when put to it, The Saint team could be just as ‘out there’ as the rest of them.

The Saint: The House on Dragon's Rock (1968)

The Dead Man: The Dead Woman

The Dead WomanAuthor: David McAfee
Publisher: Adventures in Television
Published: June 2011
Based on characters created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin
Book No: 4

It’s a new month and time for the next installment in The Dead Man series – this entry is entitled The Dead Woman, and it is written by David McAfee. With a new writer to the series, there is also a new voice – or tone if you prefer – to this story. This entry doesn’t have the sly humour or cynicism of the Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin penned entries, nor does it have the spine-tingling style of James Daniels Ring of Knives. Instead it is more intriguing, and reveals a fraction more of ‘The Dead Man’ mythos. It also sets up a plot deviation that could bring quite a bit of fun in future entries … by fun, I of course, mean blood-stained mayhem!

As the story starts, Matthew Cahill steps off a bus in the town of Crawford, Tennessee. From his first moments in the town, as police sirens wail, he can tell that is not going to be all beer and skittles, as there is a serial killer on the loose and the whole town is on edge. But Cahill needs some work to earn some money to put a motel roof over his head and finance his travels as he continues to search for answers and the elusive Mr. Dark.

An advert steers Cahill to Abbey’s Antiques which is run by – funnily enough – a woman named Abbey. Business is bad, and she is closing down and needs a hand to move the inventory to a storage facility. Cahill gets the job and goes to work. Incidentally, Abbey’s mother was the first victim of the serial killer – so as the story moves along, you can be sure that before the end of the story, Cahill is going to find himself face-to-face with the killer.

After a long day of hard physical work, Cahill and Abbey go to a bar for a meal, and as they eat, Cahill spies and man named Brad walking past with a rotting face – which regular readers of the Dead Man series will know means that this gent is about to do something pretty nasty. Further complicating matters, Cahill notices Mr. Dark sitting at the bar.

To Cahill’s mind, there is no doubt that Mr. Dark has ‘infected’ Brad, and no good can come of it, so Cahill chases him out of the bar and follows him to a house – but it’s not Brad’s house. It’s a house where the his wife is shacked up with a another man. And now he is looking for bloody revenge. Matt intervenes. At the end of the siege, Abbey turns up and Cahill is curious to how she found him. She explains that she followed Cahill because she knew that something bad was going to happen. When pressed she reveals that when somebody is going to commit an evil act, she can see their flesh rot – just like Cahill. So she is The Dead Woman to Cahill’s The Dead Man.

Meeting Abbey provides Cahill with a great opportunity to learn more about himself and his condition but before any of this can happen, Abbey’s ex-husband, Dale Everett, who happens to be an extremely jealous police officer starts throwing his weight around, and making Cahill’s stay in Crawford rather unpleasant.

The Dead Woman in some ways is the least action packed of the series. Don’t get me wrong, there are passages of action, and Cahill gets to swing his axe, but this story’s strength lies in different areas. Firstly, there’s a sense of awe and wonder that there is another ‘Dead’ person like Cahill (of course there was Jesse Watson in Ring of Knives, but Watson wasn’t like Cahill). Author David McAfee teases out Abbey’s back story, never fully explaining how she in fact became The Dead Woman.

Next there’s a focus on deception and manipulation – naturally, some of this is perpetrated by Mr. Dark, who has a bigger role in this story – but much of the subterfuge is perpetrated by major and minor characters alike. I’ll refrain from going into this further, who’s doing what to whom, as it would constitute a major spoiler. Some of the twists are easy to spot, and some are not.

For those who are simply after quick thrills, then The Dead Woman could be considered the weakest book in the series. However, if you are a regular reader, then this book is a core book – possibly more important than the second and third stories – as it really delves into what it means to be ‘The Dead Man’ or ‘The Dead Woman’ as the case may be. And as such this insight should prove essential in the ongoing adventures of Cahill.

The Dead Woman is available now from Amazon and the usual outlets.

The Dead Man: The Dead Woman