Category Archives: Celtic Folklore

Queen – One Of A Kind of Magic

On June 3rd, 1986, “A Kind Of Magic”, the twelfth studio album from Queen was released. The European Magic Tour supporting the album began four days later at the Rasunda Stadium in Stockholm, Sweden.

Magic Tour Inflatable
A cartoon figure from the “A Kind of Magic” cover inflates on The Magic Tour

It was the first Queen album I’d purchased as a Queen fan, the others being purchased after Live Aid and after this album (by early ’87, I had all Queen’s albums on vinyl and still do.)

Highlander Poster

With Queen contributing many songs from this album to epic fantasy film Highlander, there was a sort of return to thematic elements of Queen’s early albums minus the quirky, Tolkienesque lyrics about ogres, titans and fairy fellers. This was Queen doing a concept album 80s-style with syths and Highlander’s immortality theme playing into the tragic reality about to engulf Freddie and the band.

Highlander star Christopher Lambert explains how Queen’s involvement grew:

 “Highlander coming out was a very exciting time for me. What was also very interesting is that Queen were meant to do only one track – it was the opening credits, ‘Princes Of The Universe’, that was the deal. So they sat down for a private screening for them in a movie theatre and Freddie Mercury when he came out, he said all excited: “I’m doing the whole fucking album! This movie is too fucking great!”. They went and wrote the songs in four weeks and went into the studio and it was one of the biggest selling albums of their career. So you know it’s strange, it’s like nobody ever thought that Highlander was gonna be, thirty years later, still a cult movie, music included. About Freddie… there are many good singers, but to be really great it’s not enough just to sing correctly. You have to do it with the heart and he is the best at it.”

Although it was hard to imagine during Queen’s post-Live Aid second wind, “A Kind of Magic” would be the end of an era for them in many ways. It would be the final album before Freddie’s HIV diagnosis in April 1987 (“Innuendo” would be recorded under time constraints and Freddie’s increasing availability issues due to illness). The Magic Tour would be Freddie’s last with the band.

Queen with Mack
Queen with producer Reinhold Mack

It was also the last time they worked with German producer Reinhold Mack. Mack first worked with Queen on “The Game” album in 1979 at Musicland Studios in Munich. He had produced some of Queen’s biggest hits including “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”, “Another One Bites The Dust”, “Under Pressure”, “Radio Ga Ga”, “I Want To Break Free” and “One Vision.” Brian May said that Mack had been “quite a find” for the band. He was responsible for a different, stripped-back Queen sound, the antithesis of the elaborate, complex sound of previous Queen producer Roy Thomas Baker. With Baker, Queen played every track in the studio until the take was perfect. Mack said they didn’t have to do that and that he could drop in snippets of different takes. This surprised the band and saved them a lot of time. Mack even persuaded Brian to drop his Red Special and play a Fender Stratocaster belonging to Roger on “Crazy Little Thing Called Love.”

Mack Today
The great Mr Mack today

“A Kind of Magic” would also be the last time Queen would do several songs for a movie (here’s hoping the James Bond producers giver Queen + Adam Lambert a shot at the next theme tune).

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Larking about shooting the “One Vision” video

“A Kind of Magic” is a very listenable album. I can listen to it all the way through unlike some of the late seventies albums which were a smattering of big hits and filler. As with Queen’s concerts on The Magic Tour, the album kicks off with the extended version of “One Vision” which teases out the intro superbly until Freddie’s ethereal vocal cry echoes across the synths just before Brian’s euphoric riff kicks in. “A Kind of Magic” the single follows.

One Year of Love

A John Deacon song “One Year of Love is next and it’s the kind of classy, smoky ballad that Sade did so well at the time (saxophone courtesy of the guy who played on “Careless Whisper.”) “Pain Is So Close To Pleasure” is a rare sojourn into Motown stylings for Freddie Mercury (“Cool Cat” on “Hot Space” and B-side “Soul Brother” would probably be the closest tracks to this).

friends will be friends

“Friends Will Be Friends” ends side one. Even though it’s a self-conscious attempt to repeat “We Are The Champions” and didn’t make the UK top ten, I still like it as a song.

WWTLF Shoot
Who wants to live forever? photo shoot

Brian’s “Who Wants To Live Forever” starts side two and, from here on in, it’s all songs from the Highlander soundtrack. Seal and Ronan Keating said this song made them cry the first time they heard it and it is a very beautiful song with lush orchestral accompaniment. It worked well live on The Magic Tour too, although it was still “a new song” as Freddie said and hadn’t found its place among their other hits with the audience yet.

Oh well

Brian Blessed’s Vulcan says “who wants to live forever?” in the battle scene near the end of “Flash Gordon,” Queen’s last big fantasy soundtrack outing. It’s possible Brian unconsciously remembered that line from the previous film but it’s a perfect iteration of Highlander’s themes.

Brian May Flying V
Brian May playing a flying V guitar – a Washburn RR-V

Brian’s rip-snorting “Gimme The Prize” erupts with a cascading Brian May solo, it reaches a crescendo and a sound clip from the film Highlander kicks in (a news reporter comments on one of the many decapitated bodies in the film: “A head, which at this time, has no name.” Clancy Brown’s Kurgen responds with “I KNOW HIS NAME!”). “Here I am!” Freddie declares, “I’m the master of your destiny” (one reviewer at the time compared him to Alice Cooper on this).

Roger’s unsurprisingly drum-heavy “Don’t Lose Your Head” pounds in. It began life as the B-side to the single “A Kind of Magic” under the working title “A Dozen Red Roses For My Darling.” Some thought this was filler (black singer Joan Armatrading pops up to say “Don’t Lose Your Head” over and over for no apparent reason, maybe an attempt by the band to counter negative publicity over their Sun City shows in Apartheid-era South Africa around that time.) It does get a little repetitive but I don’t hate it.

Queen with Christoper Lambert
Queen with Christopher Lambert at the video shoot for “Princes of the Universe”

Then we come to the final track on the album – “Princes of the Universe.” It’s Freddie’s only solo writing credit on the album (almost hard to believe considering he wrote most of Queen’s early albums single-handedly). The title is outrageously camp but the song builds up an incredible head of steam. With Princes, “One Vision” and “Gimme The Prize”, “A Kind of Magic” is probably the closest version to a heavy metal version of Queen we ever got. The single of “Princes of the Universe” was released in America and the video featured Highlander star Christopher Lambert crossing swords and sawn-off microphone stand with Freddie.

Lambert Versus Freddie
The Highander Vs The Messenger of The Gods

It would be three years before the next Queen album was released, the longest gap there had ever been between albums up to that point. There followed a frenzied period of activity to get new Queen material out before Freddie’s inevitable demise. So “A Kind of Magic” is a demarcation point between what went before and the beginning of the end of Queen Mach 1 (two more would follow with Paul Rodgers and now with Adam Lambert.)

© Stewart Stafford, 2018. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

 

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Nightfall: The Shadows Gather

I’ve published a scary short story on Wattpad set in Dublin titled “Nightfall.” You can read it here: https://www.wattpad.com/523641592-nightfall-the-shadows-gather

Star Wars – Empire Under Construction

Narrative theory is the academic idea begun by the Russian scholars Todorov and Propp and continued later by the American Joseph Campbell, that the same archetypes and story motifs and narrative structures appear repeatedly in fairytales and folktales in every culture.

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With Star Wars everywhere in the news this week following the release of Rogue One and the tragic death of Carrie Fisher, let’s take a look at narrative theory through the example of Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope. It was written and directed by George Lucas and released in 1977. It’s a science fiction film even though it takes from every genre; Arthurian legend (the Jedi knights are similar to King Arthur’s knights of the Round Table, Obi-Wan Kenobi is a Merlin-like figure who gives Luke a laser sword similar to Excalibur), Japanese Kurosawa movie The Hidden Fortress (1958) (Lucas said: “The one thing that really struck me about The Hidden Fortress was the fact that the story was told from the [perspective of] the two lowest characters. I decided that would be a nice way to tell the Star Wars story, which was to take the two lowest characters, as Kurosawa did, and tell the story from their point of view, which in the Star Wars case is the two droids.” Darth Vader’s helmet is also supposed to resemble a Samurai’s.)

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Gary Cooper in High Noon (1952) and Harrison Ford in Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars also evokes American Westerns (Han Solo is dressed exactly like Gary Cooper in High Noon minus the cowboy hat.The raucous, violent canteen is like a Western saloon and the destruction of Luke’s home and family is very like The Searchers) and World War II movies (Darth Vader’s helmet also resembles a Nazi helmet, the Empire’s troops are called Stormtroopers just as Hitler’s were and the dogfights in outer space are like Second World War aerial battles. Lucas even edited World War II dogfight footage into an early rough cut of Star Wars as a guide before the special effects were ready.)

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Lucas had tried and failed to secure the rights to make a Flash Gordon movie, yet he retained the opening exposition crawl from the start of the old 1930s Buster Crabbe/Flash Gordon serials for Star Wars.

Here are Propp’s archetypes in Star Wars:

Hero – Luke Skywalker

Donor – Obi-Wan Kenobi gives Luke his lightsaber.

Helper – Han Solo, Chewbacca and the droids

Princess – Leia

Her Father – Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vader

False Hero – There is no obvious false hero in the Star Wars – Episode IV. It appears to be Han Solo, who selfishly refuses to take part in the crucial assault on the Death Star but he redeems himself in a last-minute twist by saving Luke’s life and neutralising the threat of Darth Vader which gives Luke time to destroy the Death Star.

Dispatcher – I believe it’s Leia; she puts the distress hologram inside R2-D2. This sends the droid on his mission which reactivates Obi-Wan who activates Luke as the hero.

For me, the structure is this;

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Act I – Hidden Fortress meets The Searchers

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Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton in Where Eagles Dare (1968)
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Han Solo and Luke Skywalker similarly dressed as the enemy in the Death Star

Act II – Where Eagles Dare (Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton disguise themselves as Nazis to infiltrate a German fortress on a mountaintop just as Han Solo and Luke Skywalker disguise themselves as the enemy to get around the Death Star)

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Act III – The Dambusters (Lucas hired British cinematographer Gil Taylor to shoot Star Wars and he had done special effects photography on the 1955 British film The Dam Busters. The assault on the Death Star at the end is a virtual shot-for-shot remake of the bombing of the German dams at the finale of The Dam Busters.)

© Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd.

       

The Phantastic Phantasms

Halloween Henry sitting on top of a pumpkin he made

Eyes are ablaze

Morbid Melissa breastfeeding strychnine to all of the babes

Her smile never fades

Don’t you see that darkness creeping?

It’s a nightmare without sleeping

Trick-or-Treat Trevor knocking on doors with no head to display

It’s his hea

Emmet The Clownface

dless wayhaunting the grounds of an old children’s school

He’s nobody’s ghoul

On a carpet of Autumn leaves

They’re around every All Hallow’s Eve

Sam O’Terry counting the bones of his earthly remains

None of them lame

Simon-Whose-Head-Hurts taking his 920th overdose

Chemically verbose

They will always do their worst

On October the 31st

©Stewart Stafford, 2016. All rights reserved.

If you’re a generous person who believes this writer should be paid for his hard work, you may donate here.

To read more of this author’s work, check out his short story Nightfall and novel The Vorbing.

How My Love of Stories Began

My exposure to the magical world of stories began in my childhood. My mother would read bedtime stories to my brother and I. She would read from books and we heard tales like The Elves and The Shoemaker, Snow White and Rumplestiltskin. It was hearing the canon of the works that had gone before.

Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin

My father took a different direction. He made up stories on the spot and put us in them. We would start chipping in ideas on what direction the story should take. Our particular favourite was the story our dad told about Batman and Robin bringing us to school in the batmobile (we were crazy about the old Adam West Batman TV show). Sometimes, my dad would say it was too late to continue the story despite our protestations. (He would always finish with: “I had a little doll, I stuck it in the wall, that’s my story after all.”) The next day in school our imaginations ran riot with the possible turns the Batman story could take later on. I was starting to write my first story.

In school itself, there were more stories. I remember my teacher reading from Roald Dahl’s James And The Giant Peach. She read the words and I put the visuals to it in my mind. I would look from the book to the teacher’s face. The book was some sort of incantation read aloud to us, holding us spellbound. Then the teacher would close the book and say it was time to move on to another subject. I didn’t want her to close the book. I didn’t care about the other subject. I wanted to hear the rest of that story. As a writer, I don’t get distracted from stories now and it is very satisfying to me.

A Banshee mourning

In grandmother’s kitchen, once the housework was finished, the women in my mother’s family would sit down with cups of tea and swap stories, jokes and gossip. My grandmother recalled how the Banshee attacked her father in the wilds of the country. The story went that his bicycle tyre got punctured. He was pushing the bike along a narrow country road when he heard a woman crying. There, on the wall, was a woman combing her long, bedraggled hair and sobbing. My great-grandfather approached the woman and asked her what was wrong. At that moment, she threw her comb at him, striking him in the foot. His foot swelled up as a result. The moral of the story is; if you hear the Banshee crying, you mind your own business and don’t interfere with her spectral mourning. She was crying for families with O’ or Mc in their names. As a child, I didn’t question the veracity of this story. It was 100% real, terrifying but also enthralling. This wasn’t just family history I was hearing, it was the words of eyewitness testimony to a supernatural incident. I have tried to do the same thing with vampires in my novel The Vorbing. I wanted to make the vampires real creatures to see how that society operated, hunted and functioned. I also wanted to treat vampirism as a pandemic.

My grandmother also related an incident to me that may or may not be true. She claimed to have witnessed an attempt to dispose of a murder victim’s body possibly through cannibalism. Before I relate what happened to you, you have to understand what life in rural Ireland was like when my grandmother was a child. She was born in 1910 and there was no electricity in the countryside then. The Irish government’s Rural Electrification Scheme didn’t come along until the 1940s. It was a dark land where the even darker worlds of superstition and criminality flourished. My grandmother was told to get something in the shop by her mother. It was dark outside and if it wasn’t a moonlit night, you wouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face. Pitch darkness. She set out and soon came to a house with its front door wide open. My grandmother thought she saw what looked like a human body roasting on a spit over the fire. She crept inside to get a closer look. Her fears appeared to be confirmed. It was a man’s body. She spun around to get out of there and something or someone hit her on the leg. She managed to escape and lived to tell the tale. My grandmother died back in the 1990s, so we’ll never know if any of her story was true. Was it mistaken identity? A bad dream? Something she made up? Or was it real? It was related to me as fact when I was in my 20s. There’s a little nod to my grandmother’s experience in my book The Vorbing, I won’t give away how I work in the reference. So you’ll all have to go to school and hear about Batman later if/when you buy my book, he he. I had a little doll, I stuck it in the wall, that’s my story after all.

The Vorbing is available exclusively on Amazon Kindle from Thursday, October 29th, 2015 and can be pre-ordered at this link now; http://geni.us/1bza

© Stewart Stafford, 2015. All rights reserved.

The Vampire Bodies of Europe

I don’t know what the weather is like where you are right now, but it’s filthy here in Dublin this morning – dark, wet and windy. Even if it’s not like that in your neck of the woods, here’s something to set the Halloween mood – The Vampire Bodies of Europe. I’ve just added an article on that very subject over at my website The Vorbing; http://thevorbing.com/2014/10/the-vampire-bodies-of-europe/

Vampires may have been part of our heritage centuries earlier than we thought…