Favourite Things in 2017

Where does the time go? Another year comes to an end and with so many interesting things being released in 2017, this was a tougher list than ever to compile. And with the world going to hell in a handcart and one of my musical heroes Chris Cornell dying on my birthday, it was an odd twelve months in pop culture. As in previous years these are purely and simply the things I personally liked the most across the last twelve months, rather than me declaring anything the 'best'.  You can look back on the 2016 list here

TV Drama – Legion

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I wasn't sure if I was going to like the latest X-Men spin off from Fox, so colour me surprised that this was my favourite show of the year by some margin. Not only that, but I also feel that this show has massively raised the bar for TV superhero shows. As much as I've loved the Marvel Netflix shows (certainly up until Iron Fist), this show took more risks and was more creatively satisfying in its eight episodes than any of those shows have quite managed. Strong performances, shifting perceptions of reality, a mix of retro and modern styling, an amazing soundtrack including Pink Floyd and The Who, a character called Syd Barrett and an overall unnerving creepiness made this a must-watch. As much a sci-fi horror series as it is something from the X Universe, I loved every minute. Now I definitely need to watch showrunner Noah Hawley's other show, Fargo. I can't wait to see what they do in Season Two. 

Honourable mentions –  Star Trek Discovery was another unexpected treat. I'm not a particularly big Star Trek fan and those people I know who are Trekkies didn't seem to like this show too much. It certainly wasn't perfect, but the fact it didn't religiously stick to what you expect from a Star Trek series is what I liked most about the first half of the debut season. Strip it of the Trek mantle and it would have been an epic piece of quality sci-fi regardless, boldly going where a TV show like this hadn't gone before.  Another space set sci-fi that came close to being my favourite this year was The Expanse, I watched both seasons, but it was only the second one that was actually from 2017. I liked the first season, but loved the second, the characterisation got stronger and so did the plot, as things that were set up started to pay off. It's definitely a series I would heartily recommend. 

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Taboo was another interesting new show this year, but anything with Tom Hardy in it was always going to be well worth watching. GLOW took us into the world of Women's Wrestling and managed to be both engaging and unpredictable in equal measure. Among the returning shows Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones and especially Stranger Things did a great job of building on what went before and made me excited to see what the next series has to offer. 

After the disappointment of the lacklustre, dated and mis-cast Iron Fist,  The Defenders was a mixed bag largely due to the Danny Rand elements but it was good to see the characters united at last.  I was playing catch up with the Marvel Netflix shows all year, so perhaps if I'd found time for The Punisher that might have made the list.  I'm also kicking myself that I didn't get to the likes of Godless, Mindhunter or Jean-Claude Van Johnson before the year was out. 

Film – Baby Driver

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The trailers for this film hadn't really managed to get me that interested, it all seemed to smack of trying too hard, so I went into the cinema feeling somewhat sceptical. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I loved it. Meticulously constructed and edited, it reminded me of lots of my favourite 90s films. The inclusion of Kevin Spacey in the cast made that even more the case, but that's not something to dwell on any more. A bit like Legion, the use of music in this film was one of the reasons it resonated with me so much and both those soundtracks have been on heavy rotation this year. Hocus Pocus, Radar Love and Brighton Rock all in one film, that's heaven. 

Honourable mentions – Logan ran Baby Driver very close and if I wasn't such a big music fan it might well have pipped it to the post.  This was what I'd always wanted from an X-Men film and from a Wolverine film in particular, something with emotional weight as well as spectacle. Hugh Jackman, Patrick Stewart and Dafne Keen are all brilliant and it's a film that felt more like a modern day Western than anything else. It also played to my love of heroes in the latter stages of their career looking for redemption, almost the Unforgiven of superhero films. I look forward to re-watching it and probably checking out the black and white cut too. 

One the superhero front in other years Spiderman Homecoming, Wonder Woman, Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Thor Ragnarok might have been up in consideration as I really liked them all, but there were lots of other films I enjoyed slightly more and for the first time it was a Fox X-Men movie that was the most interesting and different. 

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Dunkirk was as brilliant as expected, Christopher Nolan turning his hands to a war movie with his usual aplomb, the way time is used in the film is exquisite. Paddington 2 was an absolute delight, giving me even more warm and fuzzy feelings than the first movie.  In stark contrast John Wick Chapter 2 made things even darker than in the film that preceded it and sets things up well for a third movie.  Hidden Figures was another triumph, a truly inspiring fact based drama. 

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Star Wars The Last Jedi is a film I've seen twice but still can't quite decide what I think about. I think I fall someone in the middle, between those who have been berating it and those who are championing it. It's a Star Wars movie, so it was always going to be enjoyable on some level.  I'm gutted I didn't make it to Get OutBlade Runner 2049 or War for the Planet of the Apes, all of which I would have expected to enjoy. 

Album – To the Bone by Steven Wilson- On her Journey to the Sun by Rikard Sjoblom's Gungfly (tied) . 

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For the second year in a row I was unable to separate two albums, as this category has increasingly become the hardest one to make a final decision on.  Steven Wilson didn't quite go as pop sounding as some people might have you believe, but he certainly did move into a slightly different direction than on my album of 2015, Hand Cannot Erase.  To the Bone is a remarkably consistent set of songs that showcase his talent as a songwriter and helps cement his status as one of the best British musicians around. Seeing him get wider mainstream attention, like the BBC Breakfast interview and reaching Number 3 in the album charts, off the back of some very canny marketing from his new record label, has been very gratifying as a longtime fan. Can't wait to see him live next year, for the first time. 

Another musician who I greatly admire is Rikard Sjoblom, from his work with Big Big Train and Beardfish to last year's solo record, like Wilson he's another musician who seems to live for what he does and likes to be part of multiple projects. Somewhere between his solo work and the Beardfish output, this Rikard Sjoblom's Gungfly album blends pop, art rock and prog and makes something greater than the sum of its parts, catchy and clever in equal measure. The Guardian had it on their best of the year so far list back it the Summer too. Another record that barely left my ears since its release and I really hope I get to hear these songs played live. 

Honourable mentions –

Grimspound by Big Big Train came close to making this a three way tie, having followed up from last year's favourite Folklore and then being followed by surprise companion album The Second Brightest Star perhaps it was a case of too much of a good thing which slightly edged it out.  Zervas and Pepper, a band like Big Big Train that I discovered via comic artist Marc Laming ran things very close with their gorgeous collection of folk rock songs, Wilderland.  Will be seeing them in Cardiff next year and I'm already counting down the days  

It was a year packed with excellent albums by the likes of Mastodon, Magenta, Cosmograf, The Mute Gods, Tiger Moth Tales, And so I watch you from afar, Wobbler and a very grizzly and angry Roger Waters, plus some light and shade from award winning combo Anathema.  Prophets of Rage was exactly what you would expect from the line up, but it felt like an album we needed this year, the same can be said of Living Colour who also returned with a new long player. 

Song -  Pariah by Steven Wilson and Ninet Payet

I love Steven Wilson. I love Ninet Tayeb. I love melancholy duets like Don't Give Up. I love lyrics like this. 

I’m tired of Facebook
Tired of my failing health
I’m tired of everyone
And that includes myself

As soon as I heard it I had a sneaking suspicion no other song would top it this year.  

Honourable mentions –

Hotel Bible by Zervas and Pepper is a song I like just as much as Pariah, but  my personal sensibilities tend to mean that sadder songs appeal to me slightly more. Hotel Bible is blissful, like closing your eyes on a warm summer's day, a timeless classic that it's impossible not to let get under your skin. Sadly their Burning Lantern festival appearance was cut short, so I didn't get to hear it performed live, but I'm promised it will be on the set list when I see them in February. 

It's getting harder and harder to remember which songs are singles these days so this ends up being the hardest category to pull together.  As the Crow Flies, Meadowlands and Experimental Gentlemen from Big Big Train were all very strong, as were the singles from all the other albums I picked out, although as often is the case I preferred other album tracks more. Steve Hackett's Behind the Smoke and 50 Miles from the North Pole and Deep Purples' The Surprising (although I'm a bit biased) and Birds of Prey were other highlights along with The way you used to do by Queens of the Stone Age. I'm still shocked by quite how much I liked Sign of the Times by Harry Styles, which will do wonders for my street cred. 

GigBig Big Train, Cadogan Hall, London

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I was pretty certain on the day I bought tickets for this show that it would be the pinnacle of my live music going year.  Just like their Kings Place show in 2015, the Sunday matinee I attended in London was a life affirming and truly joyful event. A perfect set list, combining newer songs from Grimspound and Folklore mixed with classics from the back catalogue like Swan Hunter, East Coast Racer and Last Train. Having taken my daughter with me again and met up with various friends I've made via the band and some of the band themselves no other gig stood a chance.  Sadly we didn't quite make it to see the Tiger Moth Tales unofficial support at another venue on the Saturday afternoon, but I have been able to listen to that on bandcamp. Video from this year's shows isn't available yet, but as East Coast Racer was in the set then and now it's worth checking out. 

 

Honourable mentions –

Magenta get to have two honourable mentions to their name, as I saw them twice in 2017, under quite different circumstances. Early in the year they were at The Globe in Cardiff, supported by Kinky Wizzards (meaning their shared drummer did a double shift) for a loud show which included first live listens to songs from this year's excellent We are Legend album.  If the crowd didn't include so many chatty people, it would have been a pretty perfect show. 

At the tail end of the year I saw them again at Acapela,near Cardiff, for an intimate, acoustic show which included Les Penning and some other special guests and music from Rob Reed's other projects alongside Magenta's own material. It was a wonderful night and I'm pleased to be seeing Magenta in both venues again in 2018. 

Steve Hackett at St David's Hall, Cardiff was very good too. I've seen some amazing guitarists do their stuff this year, and Hackett is no exception. The first half of the show was solo material and the second featured Genesis songs largely from Wind & Wuthering, so it was the best of the both world's really. Seeing Nick Beggs on bass was a real highlight and the audience cheering when Steve mentioned Brexit was the low point. 

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Deep Purple at the Motorpoint Arena in Cardiff was a show I was lucky enough to attend thanks to working on The Surprising video. We missed Cats in Space, but did manage to see most of Europe's set and they were exceptional live, as were the main act themselves, exceptional musicians still going strong and putting on a phenomenal show. 

The Musical Box at The Tramshed in Cardiff was a real experience and the closest I'll ever get to hearing 70s Genesis in person - I reviewed the show over on Panic in the Skies.  It now means I've heard Firth of Fifth live twice and been lucky enough to see Supper's Ready performed fully too. 

Sadly work commitments meant I had to give my Opeth ticket away, which I'm still smarting from as I think they would have been quite a show. Next year Steven Wilson, Magenta (twice), Pearl Jam and Zervas and Pepper already beckon, despite my assertion that I'll reduce my gig going in 2018. If Rikard Sjoblom takes to the road then I'll be adding that to my list. 

Comic – Slots (Image Comics) 

 

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Dan Panosian is my favourite current artist, so when he writes, draws and colours a new hard boiled series set in Vegas and including boxing and shady hardmen I can't imagine any other book coming close, even after just three issues.

Honourable Mentions  - 

Lazarus has been my pick in every previous year. In 2017 we had one issue of the main series and then X+66 books which were told side stories rather than driving the main story forward. Still very good, but I hope we get back to the main story in 2018. 

Alien Bounty Hunter from Vault Comics  was the other book I read in single issues as the cover for Issue 2 got me interested, it was great fun and the kind of blockbuster action book that I always enjoy.

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Podcast – Here's the thing with Alec Baldwin

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Like most interview shows, your enjoyment will often depend on who the guest is. With Here's the Thing Alec Baldwin proves himself to be an excellent interviewer, so even if the subject matter isn't to your taste the questioning and approach make it well worth a listen. I've really enjoyed all the episodes I've listened to this year. 

Honourable mentions –

Last year's winner Unjustly Maligned was as excellent as ever, but that show sadly went on hiatus partway through the year, leaving a sizeable void. 

In the writing realm On Story and Nerdist's The Writers Panel continue to have some excellent interviews that provide a real insight into the creative process. In the music world I've been enjoying The Prog Report, The K-Scope podcast and Tabletop Genesis in particular, as their album by album discussion format works really well.  Long term favourites iFanBoy,  Geek SyndicateGrouchy Old Geeks,  World Balloon and Comics Experience continue to get well worth a listen too.  

Aside from these things I was busy watching Happy Valley and Toast of London , being disappointed by the new Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age albums and pulling my hair out about the current political climate. Here's to more distracting entertainment coming our way in 2018.

 

It's My Shout Script Shortlist 2017

I was very pleased to find out this week that my short film script "The Package" has been shortlisted by It's my Shout for further deliberation. This is the second year that I've put a script forward for the scheme, having submitted boxing drama "Break" in 2016. 

Wow! So after receiving over 200 scripts from writers across Wales and abroad we’ve managed to get it down to 47! Thank you to all those who entered a script this year. It was very tough to narrow down. For those who managed to reach this shortlist WELL DONE! This is an amazing achievement!

Should find out in the next weeks whether I am one of the lucky few who have made it through to the BBC Writers Room two day residential script development workshop. Fingers firmly crossed. 

Favourite Things in 2016

Following the deaths of Lemmy, David Bowie, Prince, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake, Darwyn Cooke, Steve Dillon, Alan Rickman, Gene Wilder, Victoria Wood and many more people, it's been a difficult year for pop culture. So it's good to once again focus on some of the positives from the past twelve months. As in other years these aren't what I'm saying are the best things, merely my favourites from the past twelve months.  You can see the 2015 list here.  

TV Drama – Stranger Things

For the second year running the show I liked the most was a Netflix original. This 8-part series completely came out of the blue for me, I hadn't heard of it until friends started posting about it on social media. I managed to watch it before it went on the typical arc of being over-hyped and then derided for being too nostalgic within a matter of days. Being set in 1983 certainly helped get me interested and everything from the music to the titles lifted the whole show. It was fresh and different and I thoroughly enjoyed it from beginning to end, I loved the young cast and I can't wait to see what  the Duffer Brothers do in Season Two. 

Honourable mentions –  Westworld came very close to taking top spot and in many ways was the most well constructed show I saw this year. Technically it was the show I appreciated the most and it lead us all on a merry dance, but having taken half the season to emotionally engage with the characters that meant it wasn't quite the show for me. The best of this year's returning shows included Better Call Saul, which maintained its high bar, Game of Thrones which was the best season in years particularly the later episodes, Daredevil, which wasn't quite as good as season one and Jack Irish, which successfully spun the TV movie series into a season long show. Perhaps if I had found time for Luke Cage, that too would have made this list too. 

Film – Creed

Kids films apart, I've spent very little time at the cinema this year so I had relatively slim pickings to choose from. Having said that, I love boxing movies and the Rocky franchise in particular, and was pleased when this finally got a UK release, many months after the US. I wasn't sure about the idea of continuing the story with Apollo Creed's son as the focal point, but it was an excellent decision. Much like the first two Rocky films, this had a big heart and was handled with a deft touch. The fight scenes were breathtaking and Stallone really should have picked up an Oscar for his portayal of the former boxer turned mentor. 

Honourable mentions – Captain America: Civil War was the film I would have day dreamed about as a ten year old, although far from perfect balancing so many Marvel characters in one film was no mean feat. And they brought Spider-Man into the MCU finally and actually made it work too. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than I anticipated and felt and looked like it belonged with the original trilogy, it also had some of the best casting of the year with some top notch talent in front of the camera. Deadpool was another film which surpassed my expectations, far funnier than anticipated and really well put together. Zooptropolis (or Zootopia if you're in the US), was excellent, and much like Paddington, managed to highlight the social injustices in the world within a family movie without it overshadowing the story. Looking back, maybe in 2017 I need to make a point of seeing more original films on the big screen, as well as franchise films and reboots, I'm kicking myself for not seeing The Nice Guys, Manchester by the Sea, Hell or High Water and 10 Cloverfield Lane amongst others.  

Album – Folklore by Big Big Train/Sorceress by Opeth (tied) . 

It was very, very close this year. And I drafted this post a few times with either album in top spot as I don't usually allow myself such indecision. When it came down to it, both albums had the same affect on me, both made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up and gave me goosebumps on multiple listens.  I'm emotionally invested in Folklore, having been an extra in the title track's video and attended the album launch listening party at Real World Studios, so that album had a very high chance of being the one I liked most. Just like their previous work, and the other two non studio albums they put out in 2016, it connected with my emotional and thoughful side. With Opeth it was something different, building on what they'd done before on Pale Communication, this album hit all the different things I look for in music and the perfect balance of light and shade, within one small collection of songs. 

Honourable mentions –

F*** Everyone And Run by Marillion was very, very close to making it a three way tie. In many ways it's the most 2016 album of all, as the lyrics resonate very strongly. They planned to make an important album and succeeded, possibly creating the defining work of their career. Iy just didnt quite have the same impact on me as BBT and Opeth.

Other long players of note came from Giraffe Tongue Orchestra, featuring members of Alice in Chains, Mastodon and Dillinger Escape Plan, Iggy Pop, who has found the perfect collaborator in Josh Homme,  The Mute Gods, Nick Beggs' Porcupine Tree with a pop slant style project, Radiohead, who returned to form again,  ex Beardfish and current BBT man, Rikard Sjoblom, BBT drummer Nick D'Virgillio's new power trio The Fringe, and English art rockers Moulettes

Song -  The New Kings by Marillion.

The radio edit of The New Kings was the first Marillion song I'd heard since the days of Fish and the band playing Kayleigh and Incommunicado on Top of the Pops. I then listened to the five piece full prog suite in all its glory (which everyone should do) and was completely blown away. Lyrically it speaks to these difficult times (we have the keys to Russia's locked doors) and musically it transcends genre and delivers on all levels. Superb stuff. 

This title is adopted not in anger or with any intention to shock. It is adopted and sung (in the song “New Kings”) tenderly, in sadness and resignation inspired by an England, and a world, which increasingly functions on an “Every man for himself” philosophy. I won’t bore you with examples, they’re all over the newspapers every day. There’s a sense of foreboding that permeates much of this record. I have a feeling that we’re approaching some kind of sea-change in the world – an irreversible political, financial, humanitarian and environmental storm. I hope that I’m wrong. I hope that my FEAR of what “seems” to be approaching is just that, and not FEAR of what “is” actually about to happen.
— Steve Hogarth (Marillion)

Honourable mentions –

Familiar by Agnes Obel was my song of choice until I heard The New Kings, it's a song I discovered listening to Bob Harris on Radio 2, while waiting for him to play Big Big Train. It's hauntingly evocative and sounds different on every listen, I was surprised when it started to be used as Match of the Day incidental music. 

 

Realm of You and Me by Rikard Sjoblom is a singalong classic from the former Beardfish frontman and one of the songs from 2016 that put a big smile on my face whenever I heard it.  As their albums were so impressive, of course Sorceress, Will O the Wisp and The WIlde Flowers by Opeth and Folklore and Telling the Bees by Big Big Train have a place on this list. Daydreaming by Radiohead is beautifully restrained, as is Tears for the West by Levee Walkers feat Jaz Coleman (Mike McCready, Duff McKagan and Barrett Martin supergroup goodness with the Killing Joke frontman) and Metallica's Moth to a Flame helped blow off the cobwebs. The Mute Gods singles Feed the Troll, Father Daughter and Do nothing till you hear from me all deserve high praise too. 

Gig– Rikard Sjoblom, The Victoria (Swindon) 

This was another very difficult one and I almost made it a tie too, but in the end this show just shaded its nearest rival. In a small pub venue in Swindon I was treated to an excellent evening of music, starting with support act George Wilding. 

What followed was a perfect set from the Swedish multi-instrumentalist which made me wish I'd seen Beardfish live before they split up. Singing along to Realm of You and Me was one particular highlight, but the evening just kept getting better. Fellow BBT members Rachel Hall and David Longdon joined him on a couple of numbers and the night was rounded off by most of Big Big Train performing Uncle Jack and Wassail. I get goosebumps just thinking about it and it cost the princely sum of £5! 

Honourable mentions –

Tin Spirits (The Road to Tokyo) at Riffs Bar near Swindon was within a whisker of being my pick. Another band with a Big Big Train connection as legendary former XTC guitarist Dave Gregory is in both bands. I love both their albums and really came to appreciate their musicianship even more by seeing them perform live, especially in the front row in such a small vene. They also treated us to a raft of XTC songs too and you can see and hear some of their version of Senses Working Overtime from the show  here.  And once again this was a gig that set me back a fiver! 

Ben Folds at the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff was a gig I wasn't expecting to go to and it was thanks to friend and fellow writer Chris Lynch having a spare ticket that I got to go.  Support act Lera Lynn, as seen and heard in True Detective, was excellent and there was a real party atmosphere when Folds himself came on. 

Chris Cornell at Colston Hall in Bristol with my regular gig buddies, which includes another writer Rob Williams (Suicide Squad, Unfollow) was very good too. Hearing Hunger Strike, Fell on Black Days, Rusty Cage and Black Hole Sun live was worth the admission fee alone. I would like to have heard more songs from Euphoria Morning and a few less covers, more than anything else it made me wish I'd seen Soundgarden live. 

Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics) 

 

 

Three years in a row and the only book I'm picking up in single issues now. Having said that even considering how much I enjoy the titles I read in trades, there is a reason why I pick this up monthly, it really is a must read. As the world gets stranger and darker and oligarchical this book carries even more weight and value.   

Podcast – Unjustly Maligned.

Over the years I've enjoyed Antony Johnston's writing, his convention DJing and his public speaking and I can now add his podcasting to that list of things. In this show he interviews someone who has chosen to defend a film, book, comic, TV show etc that they feel doesn't get fairly treated. It's made me want to watch General Hospital, re-watch Clue and had me listening to Tin Machine again, but it didn't quite convince me to re-evaluate cricket. 

Honourable mentions –

The Prog Report, features excellent interviews with musicians from what has become my favourite genre, iFanBoy continues to be consistent and the return of Talksplode has made it even better, The British History Podcast which I started listening to for research is extremely entertaining, my stable mates Geek Syndicate and Grouchy Old Geeks are always good value and the same can always be said about World Balloon and Comics Experience too. 

Thanks goodness for so much pop culture goodness to distract us all from the news.  When I wasn't keeping up with the latest releases I was busy watching Luther and Community, reading The Book of Genesis and 100 Bullets, listening to Bloodmage and Phil Collins: Not Dead Yet and lots of comic book collections from the library.

 

Favourite things in 2015

This year has absolutely flown by, and I find myself compiling my favourites of the year list all over again. Like last year this isn't a definitive 'best of' list, merely a compilation of what I most enjoyed in the last twelve months. You can see the 2014 list here

TV Drama – Marvel's Daredevil.

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By no means perfect, Daredevil was a bold new step in the right direction for Marvel's broadcast output, bringing the Marvel Knights world to play alongside the more family friendly cinematic universe. After the 2003 film version it looked like the Hell's Kitchen blind lawyer's story was unlikely to be told again, but they managed to pull it off by making a series that really felt like the book it was based on.  This was a show I never imagined existing and I'm pleased that it does. 

Honourable mentions – I was very close to picking Ray Donovan Season Three as my favourite show, it was certainly my favourite returning series this year. After the slightly hit and miss nature of Season Two it was good to see the show returning to the edge of your seat tension that made the first season so compelling. Liev Schreiber, Eddie Marsan and Dash Mihok continue to deliver exceptional performances each week and I can't wait for the next series. Better Call Saul helped me get over my general distrust of prequels, the show featured some brilliant writing and excellent performances too. It both worked as part of the Breaking Bad world and also as its own thing, mixing comedy and tragedy to great effect. On this side of the pond it was River that held my interest the most, a slightly surreal detective series set in London featuring a powerhouse performance from Stellan Skarsgard, who should be showered with plaudits and awards.  It's also the second of my favourite shows this year to feature the ever versatile Eddie Marsan.  Marvel's second Netflix show Jessica Jones rounds off the list, we're only seven episodes in and I don't think we'll get it all watched before the year is out. Another interesting show and proof the Marvel/Netflix deal was a very good thing. And for the second year running, yes I know I need to watch Fargo.

Film – Star Wars - The Force Awakens

This really isn't the film I was expecting to top this list, but I'm pleasantly surprised that it did. I was grinning from start to finish and there were moments where my skin was actually tingling. We live in an age where trying to recapture the feelings of our youth dominates mainstream media, this is often to the detriment of quality. Having felt like a nine year old for a couple of hours again this is one occasion where touching on old themes and bringing back familiar characters worked exceptionally well. Unlike the prequels this completely felt like a Star Wars film and you were immersed in another world. The new characters were brilliant and the torch has very much been passed. Between this and last year's Guardians of the Galaxy it's fun to go into space again. 

Honourable mentions –

Birdman was nothing like I expected and all the better for it. I've always been a fan of Ed Norton and it was good to see him stretching his acting muscles again and for Michael Keaton to get to explore a character that parallels his own Batman experiences. The film made me think a lot about life, creativity and mortality and it is deserving of all the praise it has received.  Southpaw isn't the boxing film I was expecting to put on this list, but with Creed's UK release date being in January, this was the one big screen piece of ringside action for me this year. Like most of these kind of films it was very predictable, but it hit all the right emotional beats for me, coming close to being a modern day Champ. I could watch Forest Whitaker train Jake Gyllenhaal all day and before I saw The Force Awakens this would have been my pick. Ant-Man was far better than expected and the casting of Paul Rudd, Michael Douglas and Evangeline Lilly worked very well. There were still some Edgar Wright touches in there alongside what was added later. It wasn't close to being my favourite film of the year, but was certainly my preferred Marvel movie of the 2015.  Inside Out was exceptional, thoughtful, moving and inspirational in a way that most live actin films aren't and I'm really looking forward to watching it again.  Indie horror romance Spring was a film that would have flown under my radar if I hadn't watched it as part of a workshop I was working on. The main performances are excellent and it has its own unique vibe, if you haven't seen it I'd recommend you do.  John Wick and Big Hero 6 were both late releases in the UK, having been shown elsewhere in 2014. Big Hero 6 was great fun, but like The Good Dinosaur it suffered by comparison from being in the same year as Inside Out.   John Wick was one of the best action movies I've seen in years, I'm someone who's always championed Keanu Reeves and it's great to see him have a film like this and the planned sequel to sink his teeth into.  I didn't get to see Whiplash to see if that film would have made it onto the list.  Mad Max Fury Road looked amazing and I definitely enjoyed it, but I didn't seem to get the same level of enjoyment as others did so it sneaks onto this list for the visual spectacle. 

Album – Hand. Cannot. Erase. by Steven Wilson

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When Hand. Cannot. Erase. came out in February I knew straight away it was something special. I've been a fan of Mr Wilson since i first heard Porcupine Tree's Stupid Dream album playing in a record shop in 1999. A concept album inspired by the death of a London woman, which went unnoticed for three years, it's a exceptionally emotional 65 minutes of music. Regardless of whether you like progressive rock, I think everyone should listen to it, to feel its impact. Probably the first album to almost bring me to tears. I wish I'd got to see it performed live. 

Honourable mentions –

It took a very impressive set of songs to mean that Sol Invictus by Faith No More wasn't my favourite album of 2015. I'm a huge Mike Patton devotee and a big fan of all the band's work, rather than just the high profile Jim Martin period that the media tends to latch onto. I'd been eagerly waiting this new set of songs and they didn't disappoint, there was just one album that connected with me more this year, otherwise this would have taken the crown as expected.  Meliora by Ghost was another excellent long player and might just be their best album to date, immediate and evocative and overall great fun to listen to. It was great to have Baroness back at the end of the year with Purple, with their first release since the coach crash that caused two of the band to call it quits. And so we watch you from Afar were a band I discovered at the start of the year as the soundtrack to much of my writing, their Heirs album continued their rich vein of form.  +4626-COMFORTZONE by Beardfish and Wolflight by Steve Hackett, both prog albums I discovered via my love of Big Big Train, got a lot of play from me in 2015 too.  Higher Ground by Chris Cornell was another album I played a lot this year and there was a lot to like about it, particularly the folk vibe on some songs. Sadly I will always compare his solo work to his first solitary outing Euphoria Morning which is one of my favourite records, although in some ways that was him fronting Eleven. 

Song -  Superhero by Faith No More


When I first Superhero  I really wasn't sure about it, it felt a bit like FnM by numbers but after a few listens to the true genius of this anthemic track shone through. It's up there with their best songs and I've been singing along to this aural gut punch all year. 

Honourable mentions –

Wassail by Big Big Train was within a hairs breadth of being my pick (it was was certainly robbed at the Prog Awards this year) and it's another singalong anthem albeit with a very different tone. It's brilliant on record and even better live.  Nearly forgot my broken heart by Chris Cornell was the other single that I really liked this year, it's quite poppy but still maintains the immaculate attention to detail and superb vocals you'd expect from the Soundgarden frontman. Spectral Mornings 2015 was a song I played a lot, not a new track but a new charity version complete with vocals (the original as an instrumental). The track featured s who's who of modern prog and Steve Hackett himself. 

GigBig Big Train (London)

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This was by far the easiest decision to make when looking back on the year. On Sunday 16th August my daughter and I were truly captivated by a phenomenal performance by a world class group of musicians, when we were lucky enough to see Big Big Train play Kings Place in London. We were in the second row and make a few brief cameo appearances in the Victorian Brickwork video from the show. I'm not sure another gig would ever top it in my lifetime, let alone this year, I still think about that show every day. Life affirming, majestic stuff. 

Honourable mentions –

Shawn Smith at Bristol Folk House in April was another intimate seated affair and it isn't often that you get to share the toilet hand dryer with the act you've just seen. It was great to see him solo a few years after enjoying him with Brad. The live album of this show is available hereThe Manic Street Preachers playing all of Holy Bible, followed by a greatest hits set would have been a dream gig for me at one time. It was great to hear arguably their best album played live, but the sunny June daytime Cardiff Castle setting and crowd of anthem lovers alongside the more rabid fans made it a real mixed bag.  If only I'd made it to the Tin Spirits gig in Swindon, as I have a strong feeling that would have made this list. 

Comic – Lazarus (Image Comics) 

 

For the second year running Lazarus is my favourite book and by the end of the year it was the only thing I was reading in single issues, as I'm reading the likes of Nailbiter, Revival, Zero, Saga, Southern Bastards, Deadly Class. It's a top drawer sci-fi, with gorgeous art, well rounded characters and the ability to surprise. If you aren't reading it you should be. 

Podcast – iFanboy

This was the year that I realised how much this podcast has become part of my weekly routine. Monday morning wouldn't be Monday morning without their Pick of the Week show, even though I am reading most books in trade so have to skip forward chunks. With Ron back on the show (although it was sad to see Paul go) I'm reminded how much time I've spent listening to these guys over the years. The first thing I do after seeing a geeky movie or TV show is to listen to the special edition podcast to find out if we agree, we usually do. If you've seen Star Wars The Force Awakens, they articulate what I thought far better than me, listen to that episode here

Honourable mentions –

It's the usual suspects for me, Geek Syndicate, Nerdist Writers Panel, Austin Film Festival's On Story podcast, Comics Experience Make Comics, Comic Book Outsiders, Word Balloon and The Hat Decides (which I hear is due back very soon). Plaudits must got to PJ and Doktor Andy for taking over The Sidekickcast and making it their own thing. I will, of course, direct you to Bags of Action the action movie show I present with my friend and writing partner Steve Aryan. 

So, there you have it. Those choices were a lot harder than last  year, with a wealth of things I really enjoyed across all mediums. That's not including some of the older things that I really liked such as the whole run of Battlestar Galactica, classic albums by Peter Gabriel era Genesis, The Dark Tower comics from Marvel and the exceptional Secret Identity Superman book by Busiek and Immonen - all of which were ineligible of course. Anyway, here's to another year filled with things to enjoy.