Saturday, 23 September 2017

Jessica Lea Mayfield

Sorry Is Gone, is the fourth album from renowned singer-songwriter, Jessica Lea Mayfield, a songstress who has created a gripping confessional LP following the break-up of her marriage. 

At times emotionally raw and yet unapologetic in wearing her feelings on her sleeve, Mayfield has created a piece of work that is both universal and personal.  Her first album since 2014's Make My Head Sing, and whereas that album had the music written first, for Sorry Is Gone, Mayfield had the lyrics written first as she quietly endured years of domestic abuse, hiding within a brewing tempest. Whilst there may be moments of darkness within the lyrics and riffs, there is light creeping out in the defiance such as in 'World Won't Stop'

From the titular track, Mayfield's music is a mix of Americana with a folk tinge but with a rebellious punk spirit running through its heartfelt veins, helped by having John Agnello (Kurt Vile, Dinosaur Jr.) on production duties helping Mayfield becoming the empowering voice she has become.

Female singer-songwriters are in the vanguard currently dividing opinion and winning fans from the mainstream like Taylor Swift and Adele to the more leftfield St. Vincent or Courtney Barnett; albums are appearing from young women with something to say and finding a voice loud enough to say it.

From the defiant album opener 'Wish You Could See Me Now' with the lines, 'Wish you could see me now/But no-one can see me now' a statement of intent but new beginnings. The album is a multitude of influences from the punk of that opener to the confessional folk of 'Maybe Whatever', the songs are a diverse mixture of opportunity and optimism.  And in 'Offa My Hands' you have the biggest middle finger in female music since Alanis Morrisette's 'You Oughta Know' in being raw but accessible.

Sorry Is Gone is out from ATO Records on September 29th and available for pre-order now

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

The Re-Identification of Alabama QBs

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When you think of Alabama quarterbacks under Nick Saban's tenure you think of pocket passer's men who are leaders on and off the field, those 6' 4" tall athletes who stand tall in the pocket and are pin-point with their accuracy and poise under pressure.

Yet there has been a gradual change in identity of the man under center in Birmingham. Whilst there has been dual threat QBs surrounding the Tide from Cam Newton to Jameis Winston to Johnny Manziel; Nick Saban has been reluctant to make that leap to the dual threat due to the wealth of talent at running back over the years from Trent Richardson to Eddie Lacy.

Starting with Greg McElroy who eventually played for the New York Jets, he led the Crimson Tide to the National Championship in 2009 whilst not setting the numbers alight. In the Championship year he threw for 2508 yards and 17 touchdowns, that was followed the year later by 2987 yards and 20 TDs prompting his inclusion in the draft.

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AJ McCarron the archetype for QB

AJ McCarron inherited the role after McElroy left for the professional ranks, and in his three starting years he saw an increase of total throwing yards over those three years - 2011, 2634 yards; 2012, 2933 yards and 2013, 3063 yards breaking McElroy's passing record. His passing percentage was 66.8% which is par for a solid career and he had 15 total interceptions over his career. McCarron sits behind Andy Dalton as No.2 QB for Cincinnati Bengals awaiting his opportunity with immense patience.

Blake Sims had a veritable explosion in his lone starting season as quarterback, 3487 yards with 28 touchdowns and 10 interceptions coupled with 350 rushing yards and 7 touchdowns.  Sims was probably the marker of change for Saban.

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Jalen Hurts is a frontrunner for the Heisman

Via Jake Coker, we land at current QB Jalen Hurts who is the starting quarterback for Alabama this year following his freshman year, the first true freshman to start for Alabama in 32 years, throwing for 2780 yards and 23 touchdowns with a below average 62.8 percent; however, he also rushed for 954 yards and 13 touchdowns giving him 36 total touchdowns. Hurts became the first quarterback coached by Saban to pass for 300 yards and rush 100 yards in the same game.

Come to this season and following a cagey affair versus Florida State (10-18, 96 yards, 55.6% completion and 55 yards rushing) where a win was more important than the performance, Hurts returned for the home opener versus Fresno State and threw for 14-18, 128 yards, 77.8%, 1 TD with 154 rushing yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns in the 41-10 victory.

The surprising factor of the victory was that Alabama out rushed their passing offense, running for 305 yards from six different carriers - Najee Harris (13 carries, 70 yards), Bo Scarbrough (6 carries, 36 yards) and only 192 passing yards with the most for one receiver being Calvin Ridley with 45 yards off only five receptions.

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Nick Saban is changing his view on QB play

For sceptics, this is Saban falling in line with the rest of the league and not being original, however, perhaps this is Saban utilising the talent correctly.  In Hurts, he has a passer of accuracy who can execute passes to where it needs to go, this allows Saban the chance to dictate play from the off and by having Hurts keep hold of the ball when rushing you negate the threat of turnovers which are key and can effectively keep a stellar defense (better than Fresno State obviously) out of the game.

From worries over his pocket passing to utilising the speed and composure under pressure, Hurts will have bigger tests but its a step in the right direction for this Alabama QB.

Read more of my work at Forty Yards Scouting.
Follow me on Twitter @JamieGarwood and @NextToTheAisle

Friday, 1 September 2017

Clemson Tigers 2017

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Following on from a National Championship season led by a soon to be starting NFL quarterback, the Clemson Tigers nonetheless have high expectations to return to the College Football Playoffs again this year.

Although the ACC has had a gradual resurrection of talent and performance in the last five years since the Florida State Seminoles led by Jameis Winston made headlines. Those Noles are going to be knocking on the door, as well as the NC State and the returning Lamar Jackson at Louisville who will provide highlight plays in abundance.

The task of repeating as champions is a difficult one in any year for any team due to players leaving for the professional game or graduating, in this instance it will be a tougher one for these Tigers but lets look at what they have going for them.

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The obvious positon to start is under center at Quarterback. The expected starter for season opener versus Kent State is Kelly Bryant who was the back up to Deshaun Watson for two years, and is due his opportunity. Key points for Bryant is to translate what he does on the practice field into the real game situation, he shows poise in some practice set ups and good progression through receiver options but the main query must be about confidence.

In these early games, he needs to instill himself and the coaching staff with confidence; this works two ways as they need to give him easy passes and completions from a new but exciting receiving core.  Deon Cain is the likely heir apparent to fill the shoes of former Clemson receivers who have made the leap to the NFL such as Sammy Watkins and DeAndre Hopkins, he has speed on the outside to be the deep threat and last year had seven receiving touchdowns from 724 yards.

Coupled with Cain will be Hunter Renfrow, who is the target on third downs and has good hands as well as the size to combat physical defensive play from the slot.

However, the biggest question will be to replace the hole at running back left by senior Wayne Gallman who had 30 touchdowns over two seasons. Gallman was not only the threat but the three down workhorse which left the next generation with little carries and snaps on the field.  The answer may well be in CJ Fuller, he showed the power to grind for tough yards last season versus NC State when Gallman went down but he also has a knack to make big catches in the backfield which changes the course of the offense and can lead to instilling confidence in Bryant at QB.

To maintain an ACC Championship drive, the Tigers will need to step up on defence and on the defensive line they have some returning quality in Dexter Lawrence who has unnatural athleticism for a 340lb, 6' 5" frame. Clelin Ferrell has the mixture of strength and speed to break tackles and get to the quarterback or running back forcing turnovers - he had double digits last season - and six sacks.

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The mark of any lauded College program is to keep the level of quality returning year on year, Clemson have been something of a noise for sometime and the fact they are National Champions adds to the cache. The abundance of talent at their disposal will lead to them getting big wins in a tough division with road trips to NC State and Louisville (in Week 3).

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Dabo Swinney always takes teams and exceeds expectations, many people did not think they could beat Bama in the title game yet they did. This season will be a different kettle of fish in that, many are not expecting them to return to the Playoffs, if they do, the season will be a success for the Clemson Tigers.

This article features on the UK Draft Guide from 40 Yards Scouting run by Matt Phillips

Friday, 14 July 2017

The Levelling

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The stunning debut feature from writer-director Hope Dickson Leach reaches DVD and Blu-ray on 17th July from Peccadillo Pictures.

Against the backdrops of floods that have ravaged her family home, Clover (Ellie Kendrick - Game of Thrones) returns to the family home to confront her estranged father, Aubrey (David Troughton - The Archers).  Upon return, a tragic event sparks conflict and regrets among the family as father and daughter attempt to repair old wounds within their troubled relationship.

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Shot with a keen eye by director Leach whose camera does not appear to be intruding upon Clover in unusual surroundings confronting the harsh realities of life and the decisions that have led to this point.  At times the camera may have an almost documentary feel lending it a neo-realist feel but the combination of charismatic performances by the two leads and the delicately handled family drama rises it above the level of documentary subject matter.

The title of the film may be construed as prescient and a double meaning of both a term referring to a piece of land where the family home resides but also the death of her brother can perhaps lead to a plateauing of their relationship with an understanding and appreciation of each other.

A film at times feels part dream, part social realist document on the post-austerity Britain and a statement on the fragility of family dichotomies and relationships, Kendrick breaks out from the ensemble of Game of Thrones to mark herself out as a talent to watch, matched by the experience of Troughton.

The Levelling is out on DVD/Blu-ray from Peccadillo Pictures on 17th July

Monday, 10 July 2017

Interview with David Barnett, author of 'Calling Major Tom'

Author David Barnett of 'Calling Major Tom'

Calling Major Tom is one of the most highly rated and beloved books of 2017, following its paperback publication from Orion Publishing on Thursday 29th June, NextToTheAisle was granted an interview with the book's author, David Barnett.

- What was the genesis of the book?
Well, I’ve mentioned this several times before, but the main inspiration came from a true-life event when the British astronaut Tim Peake made a wrong-number call to a grandmother in the UK at Christmas 2015, which amused me and made me wonder what would have happened if that conversation had continued, which is the basis for Calling Major Tom. But I suppose the real-life story behind that is the fact I was made redundant from my job in summer 2015 and embarked on a freelance journalism career. When the idea for the book came to me and I started discussions with Orion, who were setting up their new imprint Trapeze, it meant I was in a good position to devote the time to writing the book.

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- Where did the idea for a fish out of water come about, by plot, by character?
I knew Thomas was going to be incredibly grumpy, and I knew that he needed to be away from everyone else, so that was the starting point. But I also knew that readers tend not to take to a character who’s curmudgeonly for no reason, so Thomas had to have had a life that had led him to being like that, and unfolding the reasons for his grumpiness formed a big part of writing the novel.

- I first heard of your book, a few months after David Bowie's passing, was this an unlikely accident or did you re-edit due to his passing?
No, it all came about at the same time, really. The Tim Peake incident happened just a couple of weeks before Bowie’s death, and when the latter happened - like Thomas in the book, I awoke on my 46th birthday to hear the news - it all seems to fit seamlessly together and helped to formulate Thomas’s character. He’s grumpy but he’s not a monster - he has excellent taste in music, and Bowie’s death, along with some more personal bad news, is one of the motivating factors that propels him into the position where he becomes the first human to make a solo mission to Mars.

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David Bowie, the original Major Tom

- How long did the whole process take?
It was very quick, really. Because the idea consolidated itself very quickly I was off and writing at the beginning of 2016 and I think I’d delivered the finished manuscript by the end of July, with obviously some copy edits after that. But the ebook was released in January 2017, just shy of a year that I’d first begun conversations with Sam Eades at Trapeze about the idea.
- You have a good sense of character and dialogue of differing ages of characters, how did you capture that?
I think as a writer you have to be interested in all kinds of people, and observe them, and take notice of them. We usually all have family, friends, work colleagues, neighbours etc of varying ages, social classes, ethnicities etc etc and it’s just a case of being interested in people. All the best fiction is about people, and a good writer really needs to be able to get under the skin of all kinds of people to know what makes them tick.

- David Bowie hangs over the book and provides a soundtrack as you read, what other influences did you have?
Music was important - in fact, I recently put together a playlist of most of the music referenced in the novel (including Chris De Burgh’s Lady In Red… that was from another character, Thomas would be appalled). You can find it here: But I think I wanted the novel to feel as contemporary as possible, so there are references to Brexit etc. But one of the biggest influences was my hometown of Wigan. That’s where the Ormerod family who Thomas makes contact with live, and I wanted to try to portray a working class family as ordinary, normal people… so much of contemporary fiction seems to focus on middle class characters, I wanted to show the lives of people like those I grew up around.

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Tim Peake's accidental phone-call supplied inspiration
- How pleased have you been by the response to the book?
Well, it’s early days yet, as the paperback only came out at the end of June, but the response to the ebook was phenomenal. I was amazed at how much of a chord the story and characters seemed to strike within a wide range of people, and there were some utterly fantastic reviews (such as yours!) from book bloggers, who I see as an absolutely vital part of the book culture for getting the word out about books to readers.
- You come from a journalism background, do you find the key to avoid block is to keep writing in any format?
Yes, the day job is still freelance journalism, so any given day will find me writing features for the national newspapers and magazines, working on fiction, doing a bit of lecturing at a local university, so I’m always writing, and while the writing isn’t always fiction, it’s like exercise. If you go to the gym you might do cardio or work different muscle groups, but it all contributes to overall physical fitness. It’s the same with writing. Journalism and fiction use different writing muscles, but ultimately it’s all writing, and that’s what’s important - to keep writing.

- What are you working on now?
I’m working on a new novel for Trapeze, which is called The Lonely Hearts Cinema Club, and which will be published by Trapeze in summer 2018. It’s set in a quirky rest home on the Lancashire coast, which takes in students to fill empty rooms and make a bit of money, and is a bit of a mystery, a bit of an inter-generational clash, a bit of a story about loneliness and growing up… or not.

Calling Major Tom is out now on Paperback from Orion Books
Follow David Barnett on his website or on Twitter @davidmbarnett

Last Stop Tokyo - Book review

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The debut novel by James Buckler, published by Doubleday Press, follows in the footsteps of other debut novels by bright new voices of British crime fiction, Joseph Knox and Daniel Cole; where you have an unlikeable protagonist who does not fit the mould of crime novels, they are on the peripheries with a dark history looking for a change and seemingly unfamiliar with an ever-changing world they find themselves struggling in.

Buckler's lead is Alex Malloy, an English language teacher in Tokyo, who is running away from a tragic accident in London. From the outset, much is made of Alex's otherness in the Oriental jungle of Japan's capital city, his white skin, fair hair and Peter O'Toole blue eyes set him out from the crowd. However, as much as he tries to avoid trouble, trouble keeps finding Alex from drunken late nights with his friend Hiro, to the illicit relationship with Hiro's sister, Naoko; an affair that could prove deadly.

Buckler paints Tokyo as a city of vice and sin for foreigners, part-time citizens in a twenty four cityscape where they can get away with murder if they so wish.  From geisha girls who are treated like prostitutes, to unseemly businessmen who treat women as objects of lust to drug lords and vengeful work colleagues.

The trouble for Alex leads him to jail where he encounters Jun who cuts him a deal to get out of the predicament but this has a trickle effect on all of his relationships and those people's lives.

Alex is no saint and Buckler paints him as such, the moral fibre of British people has been called into question in novels recently especially the aforementioned Knox's Sirens where the toeing of the line between right and wrong is complexly handled in a nourish fashion involving double crosses, femme fatales and dark urban settings.

If you are seeking one of those fish-out-of-water novels where an Englishman is lost abroad this is not for you, what you have here is an Englishman experiencing the effect of a gradual resentment of the English values from overseas territories, people do not like English but Alex still finds his saviour in an understanding detective Saito who wants to bring down a yakuza king pin and sees Alex as integral to the investigation.

Buckler writes with a real zip and thrust to the proceedings which is useful where the book comes in at under 280 pages, however, there is a real surprise in the ending which turns the point of view of the book to Naoko ending from a surviving female perspective, which is fitting as Naoko, a female character written by a man who is not merely an object of desire but a fully rounded character.

The ending will pack a punch and is quite a brave step for the modern day novel, Buckler has written a standalone novel that is both enticing and yet downbeat which is not surprising given the current uncertain political climate we find as a people find ourselves.

Last Stop Tokyo is released from Doubleday Books on 28th August in Hardback and all e-book formats.

Thursday, 6 July 2017

Sheer Mag 'Need to Feel Your Love' - Album review

Released on July 14th from London's Static Shock Records, Need to Feel Your Love is the debut full-length release from Philadephia's Sheer Mag.

Already beloved in underground punk circles, this album is an attempt by the band to cross-over into a more rock and roll mainstream, and helped by the whirling dervish of their lead singer Tina.

Sheer Mag (L-R) - Matt, Hart, Tina, Kyle, Ian

The album is not an out and out punk record, it contains moments of pop delight and rock and roll heaven from a by-gone era; reminiscent of heady 70s licks on guitars from Thin Lizzy or the Allman Brothers to the pop delight of many American bands in the late 20th century. This can be seen in the video for 'Suffer' below.

When listening to the band this reviewer was reminded of a band called Young Heart Attack, a band whose only hit single, 'Starlite' which mixed The Who and The Darkness, with a high pitched lead singer. Sheer Mag have a female vocalist in Tina whose voice will recall Beth Ditto of The Gossip, and whilst their debut album had a very heavy punk tinge, Sheer Mag have a more inclined rock sound.

The video for rock ballad 'Just Can't Get Enough' is a great pathway into the album and if you give the album some time it will grow on you from the grit of album opener 'Meet Me in the Street' to the statement of intent that is 'Expect the Bayonet'; the rock vibe from halcyon days is perfect for these summer days in the city.

Sheer Mag 'Need to Feel Your Love' is out on July 14th.
You can pre-order the debut album from Sheer Mag from the Static Shock Records website.