Film review – Bohemian Rhapsody 

Bohemian Rhapsody 
Directed by Bryan Singer (and Dexter Fletcher)
Starring Rami Malek, Lucy Boynton, Gwilym Lee
Certificate 12A

I fell in love with Queen, like so many others, in the winter of 1975. My dad brought home a copy of Bohemian Rhapsody one day and we played it to death. I didn’t care that it wasn’t the right length to play on the radio. I just loved the fact it was such an experience. 
And 43 years later that love shows little sign of abating. 

So waiting for the inevitable film biopic has been interesting. So many false starts, from Sacha Baron Cohen dropping out of the project years ago to all the other promises of something which looked like it would happen one day, but I wasn’t holding my breath. 
Thankfully the result is wondrous. Rami Malek gives a terrific performance as Freddie Mercury, the iconic front man who goes from racially abused Heathrow baggage handler to internationally famous rock god. 
And while he will rightly get the lion’s share of the acclaim, the other members of Queen are extraordinary, especially Gwilym Lee as Brian May and an uncanny Joe Mazzello as John Deacon. Yes, the actor who played young Tim in the original Jurassic Park is so good as the laid back bass player, I had chills. 

EastEnders and X-Men veteran Ben Hardy isn’t quite the same ideal fit for Roger Taylor, but to paraphrase another magnificent rocker, three out of four isn’t bad. 
Freddie’s bittersweet love affairs, coming to terms with his sexuality and falling in with a bad lot in Munich during his solo projects ensure there’s no shortage of drama along the way. And inevitably it follows the classic three-act structure of: ’Get the band together; split them up, and reunite them for the finale’. 
And what a finale. 

Years ago I’d seen the Harvey Goldsmith and Bob Geldof docudrama about the staging of Live Aid, and hoped the TV-makers managed to recreate that electricity from the gig, but with a limited budget that proved impossible. 
Thankfully Bryan Singer is no stranger to epic set pieces, though as he also left the project and an uncredited Dexter Fletcher took over, it’s hard to know who helmed what scenes. 

I do know the Live Aid recreation is extraordinary. Yes, there’s a split second when Geldof’s movie alter ego seems laughable, but that feeling soon slips away. 
And having watched Queen’s 20-minute set repeatedly over the years, every nuance and gesture is so much more effective given the context of what comes before. And obviously after. To see a man performing like lives depended on it, including his own, is astonishing. 
With a nice in-joke from Mike Myers early in the movie, and solid turns from the likes of Tom Hollander and Aidan Gillen, this is solid stuff, while Sing Street’s sublime Lucy Boynton gives a great turn as the love of Freddie’s life, Mary Austin. 
The inevitable foreshadowing of Mercury’s illness is handled well, and when he tells the band, it’s one of those heartbreaking moments that should leave many reaching for the tissues. 

This could have been a disaster, but it’s thankfully as good as anyone could have hoped for until that Live Aid finale, and then the filmmakers turn everything up to 11 with a foot-tapping ending that takes the hypothetical roof off. 
It’s a solid 8/10 until that point, but the ending alone is guaranteed to blow your mind, and pushes it to…


Film review – A Star is Born (2018)

A Star is Born (2018)

Stars Bradley Cooper, Lady Gaga, Sam Elliott

Directed by Bradley Cooper

Certificate 15

I doubt the world was desperate for another version of A Star is Born, the tale of a musician on the descent whose path crosses with one on the rise. That intersection is what makes the tale work. It’s a format as old as the hills, but of course it’s the dynamic between the two leads which sells the concept.

Barring repeat listens of Evergreen, that phenomenal Barbra Streisand Oscar-winner from 1976, I’ve never ’experienced’ any version until now.

A pet project for Bradley Cooper, who took over the movie when Clint Eastwood dropped out, he’s perfectly believable as the gruff, alcoholic drug-taking music star Jackson Maine. The man can carry a tune, and is obviously a great actor as he’s proved countless times over the years.

When Maine looks for a post-gig drink, he stops off at a drag bar, is figuratively knocked out by former waitress Ally (Lady Gaga), and she literally tries to knock someone else out.

Taping frozen peas to her bruised hand in a parking lot is not exactly textbook seduction in the movies, but it tells you a lot about Jackson, the practical sort who obviously knows a lot about improv medical solutions on the road. A car park is also neutral ground, so both let their guard down, and Jackson gets a glimpse of what a skilled singer-songwriter Ally is.

What unfolds is pure movie magic for the first half as they fall in love; she overcomes her shyness to guest at one of his gigs; the inevitable agent spots her potential and sets her on the road to stardom. The clue’s in the title.

What’s not as obvious is how much the film gets under your skin, like cracking song Shallows. It’s no Evergreen, but it is a slow-burner, like the film itself.

Cooper and Gaga are phenomenal. Jackson’s descent is heartbreaking while Ally’s rise is captivating. Every time she’s on screen I can’t take my eyes off her, and I’m not that much of a fan of Lady Gaga.

ASIB, as no one is calling it, should touch a chord with anyone haunted by personal demons. Yes, there a certain predictability about the second half, but it’s handled so well, including that stunning final five minutes and standout last few seconds, that niggles are forgiven.

If there’s any justice, Gaga should land Oscar and BAFTA noms for her turn, while Cooper should be a shoo-in for either acting, directing or both. We’ll have an indication of how the Oscars shortlist will go when the Golden Globes nominations are released. (Academy Award judges are pretty lazy and tend to use that as a guide).

There’s a good chance the iconic Sam Elliott will also get a nod as Best Supporting Actor. He’s long been one of the best thesps in the business with the finest ’tache in Hollywood. There’s a truth to the film, which is crucial for any movie to work. I completely bought the relationship between its leads, and when things inevitably go south, it’s not the story of two music stars coping with the price of fame, but partners dealing with the disease of other addictions, including escaping the shadow of a lost parent.

Take tissues and an open mind, even if a certain star’s work usually leaves you poker-faced. One rabid anti-Gaga fan was converted by the closing credits, so there’s hope for all viewers.

A day after the screening and the film still lingers, like that song you can’t get out of your head before you leave for work.

Take a bow Bradley Cooper. You’ve done a fine job, though like the movie, I’m guessing your co-star will steal much of your thunder.


An Interview with Mike Holoway 

An Interview with Mike Holoway 

Actor and singer Mike Holoway rose to fame in the 1970s as part of the band Flintlock, and as one of The Tomorrow People. He talks to Roger Crow about that cult show, the price of fame and plans for the future. 

What are your memories of working on the original Tomorrow People? 

Well, fond because when you look back you don’t realise how good things were at the time until the bubble bursts. 

Do you have a favourite episode? 

My favourite episodes were the ones about Hitler. Not because of the subject matter, because of sensitive political reasons, but because I had a great part in it, and the writing was brilliant. Hitler’s Last Stand. There were four episodes.

I was still finding my feet as young actor then. 

You were a regular cover star on Look-In, but was fame the cash cow it appeared to be?

To have that kind of exposure! I was on every cover of every magazine. I was on telly every other day as you know. And I was exhausted, I have to tell you.

If it was managed and done like it is in this day and age, then I’d be a millionaire. 

A lot of the performers – Bay City Rollers, the Glitter Band, Flintlock, me  – we didn’t make the money. It was the television companies and the managers and the agents that took the dosh, so that’s the only bugbear.

Did you see any of the rebooted Tomorrow People, and what did you think of the American version?

The Australian version and the American one fell short for the same reason. You could throw money and special effects and computer graphic enhancements and CGI and all this malarkey, but for me and I think for the staunch following of the series, you rip out the heart of TIM (the computer) and the lab and the association of the Tomorrow People. That was the heart of The Tomorrow People, and I don’t think they ever replaced that personally.

It looks quite funny now but back in the day we were groundbreaking pioneers with the effects we were trying to achieve. But it had a good story; it had good heart; it had good messages. 

Can we see you on tour at any point? 

Well this is the thing. When you haven’t been on telly, people think you’ve died. 

I’ve always been working, especially with big theatre tours like Joseph, Jesus Christ Superstar, Godspell, Pirates of Penzance, Grease, Tommy and all the big rock ‘n’ roll shows that I’ve done over the past 20 years. So I’ve always been out there, but TV is, let’s be blunt, it tends to be dominated by, with great respect, reality TV people that just have an attitude and don’t really have a lot of talent to back it up. 

It’s very difficult to get on television because how do you fight that?

I think you’d be fantastic on I’m a Celebrity…

Absolutely, I’ve been working on it. But I’ve had the #Metoo… I’ve had experiences; it happens to men in showbusiness. It’s not just the women. I’m not allowed to say anything prior to my book, but when the book comes out in the near future… obviously legals are being checked, but that was another reason for some major opportunities that didn’t fall into place.

When can we expect the book? 

Well it’s gonna be within the next year. They take a phenomenal amount of time to do. We’ve  attached a ghost writer to the project now, and it’s a case of crossing the ‘Ts’ and dotting the ‘Is’ that goes into anyone’s book, not just mine. Hopefully this time next year the autobiography will be available, which will be very exciting.

What’s next for you?

My EP Tides of Love is out now. I’ve been working on brand new material for the larger concept album. And I’m working on An Evening with Mike Holoway, which will be my story through showbusiness since the age of 12 to 55. 

:: Mike Holoway’s EP Tides of Love is out now on iTunes and Amazon. For more information:

Hotel review – Hotel Indigo, Dundee

Hotel review – Hotel Indigo, Dundee

When I’m invited to review the relatively new Hotel Indigo in Dundee, it turns out to be just the autumnal challenge I’m looking for.

I never need much of an excuse to go to Scotland, even if it’s a five-hour drive. And with so much I’ve not explored, the idea of visiting Dundee (a first) is hugely appealing.

As someone weaned on The Beano, The Dandy and many other comics produced by DC Thomson, the fact we’re staying half a mile from the home of Desperate Dan is a bonus. I’ve never checked into any hotel which had three copies of The Beano waiting for me. A definite plus point from the off.

“Set in a former textile mill with a landmark bell tower, our hotel reflects its industrial heritage with bare-brick walls, hardwood timber floors and simple, pendant lighting,” boasts the advertising blurb. And they’d be right to wax lyrical about the residence’s interiors and ambience. The bare brick-ceiling offers an essential feel of the hostelry’s history.

Bespoke fabrics and antique furnishings in our room reference the city’s historic linen trade. A nice touch, though many will be more concerned with the hugely comfy bed. There are also plenty of essentials to ensure our stay is a memorable one.

There’s a huge smart TV with speaker linked to the bathroom. A weird side effect being when you change channels in the bedroom, it sounds like a dripping tap in the bathroom.

And the latter is splendid, with an elegant bath, power shower (with all-important waterfall setting – the norm in many posh hotels), and standard shower – ideal for freshening up before dinner.

The superfast WiFi means we’re online in no time, uploading photos and refreshing stati like the social media obsessives we are. There’s also USB ports for charging assorted devices, in case you’ve forgotten a plug.

Tea and coffee-making facilities are provided, but strangely there’s very few UHT milk cartons. However, as with Hotel Indigo a week earlier on Walmgate, we ask at reception and soon have a small bottle of milk to tide us over.

You can drive or walk into town, but we’re booked into the Daisy Tasker restaurant on the ground floor, and want to see what it has to offer.

Design-wise, it’s a welcoming mix of industrial chic, with exposed air-con vents and cool, soft lighting.

For starters I enjoy Arbroath smokie chowder with charred leek and chive oil. Together with warm mini rolls and butter, it’s a delicious autumnal treat, though pretty filling.

Rachel has char-grilled leek and preserved mushroom with croutons. Though she’s uninspired by the menu’s vegetarian choices, the food itself soon wins her over.

I’m sold from the outset. My Schiehallion battered fish and chips with tartar and pickled onions is terrific. The melt-in-the-mouth batter is crisp and delicious.

Rachel’s pearl barley risotto with greens, goat’s cheese and a quail’s egg is far from disappointing either.

Towards the end of service we meet head chef Macca, and I congratulate him on the dishes with a handshake. It’s not quite as legendary as Paul Hollywood’s, but given the quality of food I reckon Macca could give the twinkly eyed Bake Off veteran a run for his money.

We wrap things up with a couple of desserts.

“It’s like a Cadbury’s creme egg in a pastry base. It’s ace,” enthuses Rachel over her chocolate marshmallow fondant with orange sorbet.

The citrus zing is certainly a welcome counterpoint to the chocolate.

My dessert, white chocolate ganache with tarragon, meringue and caramel ice cream, is equally welcome and not too overpowering. I just wish I had room to finish it. The plentiful chowder scuppered those chances, but it was a worthy trade-off.

Defeated, we head back to our room after soaking up the ambience of the reception area, with a collection of type-writers, video game ephemera and vintage cash point, all elements of the rich history of Dundee.

Our bed is so comfy there’s little wonder we’re both asleep in no time, though there is some much needed air con adjustment in the middle of the night as it feels like we’re sleeping in a sauna. Once sorted, we enjoy a peaceful Sunday morning. Blackout curtains ensure we get a good rest, and we rush back to the restaurant where we had dinner for a terrific breakfast in one of the elegant booths. Like all waiting staff during our stay, Alice is courteous and hugely efficient.

I grab a bowl of mueseli before ordering my full Scottish. It comes complete with obligatory haggis, sausage patty, tattie scone, baked beans and bacon. The poached eggs look like a work of art and the mushroom is phenomenal. It’s all beautifully prepared.

Rachel’s tatties with wilted spinach and poached eggs is demolished in no time, and she is in her element with locally made marmalade on toast. So, a perfect breakfast to set us up for the day.

Like the tourists we are, we enjoy a walk round town; a photo op near the beloved DC Thomson office, and a look round the free McManus art gallery, featuring gorgeous art from The Beano as well as assorted other historic masterpieces. Ideal for those on a budget on a rainy day, which sadly it is. However, if you prefer pottering round the shops, there’s plenty of those at the Overview mall. Outside, we enjoy another photo by a Desperate Dan statue. The neighbouring Minnie The Minx also brings a wealth of childhood memories flooding back.

There’s an impressive looking venue in Caird Hall, and our hotel is perfectly located should we come back for a random gig in the future.

We’ve still got an enormous amount of Scotland to explore on future trips, but we won’t have to think too hard about where we want to stay when we return to Dundee.

Less a case of Hotel Indigo and more Hotel In We Go.

Hotel review: Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife

Hotel review

Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife

Some posh houses take your breath away, and Balbirnie House Hotel, Fife certainly looks impressive when we arrive one autumnal Sunday afternoon.

It’s nestled within 400 acres of beautiful parkland in the heart of Fife.

The Grade A listed Georgian mansion is near the village of Markinch, between Edinburgh and St Andrews. So no shortage of attractions on the doorstep.

There’s the remains of a wedding fair on, so we navigate around the assorted bride and groom ephemera as that winds down.

Check-in proves surprisingly easy, which is just as well considering we’ve had a whirlwind 24-plus hours, having driven up from East Yorkshire the day before.

After an engaging stay in Dundee, we’ve travelled around 45 miles south for what looks like the highlight of our long weekend to Scotland.

After navigating round the winding corridors, we find our room, and it’s breathtaking. It’s also huge, with a large bed, high ceiling and impressive bathroom. The bedside cabinets are terrific, as is the wardrobe and full-length mirror.

Yet there’s something not quite right about the peripheral touches.

The room might be the epitome of opulence, but the TV is relatively tiny compared to the standard giant flat screens my wife and I have marvelled over at previous hotels. Thankfully there’s a sofa at the end of the bed, so I get to watch Doctor Who (with the aid of my specs). The cheap plastic kettle also feels out of place, like it’s arrived via a budget motorway hotel. At least there’s plenty of UHT milk, coffee and tea sachets to keep us going.

However, in order to make a cuppa, we have to put the kettle on the floor by the bathroom as fiddling around at the back of the TV for a plug socket sets personal alarm bells ringing.

There’s no chance of fitting the kettle under the bathroom tap, and there’s no carafe to act as a go-between, so just filling the kettle proves more laborious than it should be.

The quality of the well-worn hotel info in the obligatory room pack looks like a photocopy of a photocopy from 1984. It’s all a bit shabby, and yet so easy to do well. A room this gorgeous deserves to be well represented in its literature.

Tea made, we decide to have a wander around the grounds before it gets dark to witness what the place has to offer.

The beautifully mown lawn we can see from our window promises much, so we have a potter up the adjoining path, and up steps to a larger, more unkempt lawn. It’s attractive enough, but in the words of Frank Drebin in The Naked Gun, “There’s nothing to see here”.

No water feature, no hidden attractions. It’s all just a bit of a let down. Having done a circuit of the grounds, we go back to our room and chill out before dinner.

As it goes dark, one thing becomes very clear: the room doesn’t have enough lights. There’s assorted lamps, all seemingly powered by dim bulbs, but no main overhead light, so it’s a struggle to read or do anything without straining our eyes.

As mentioned, the bathroom is terrific with twin sinks, a beautiful bath (with shower attachment) and spotless tiling.

During one of our wanders round the hotel, it looks like we have better bathroom than the ostentatious bridal suite, so we can’t complain. But again a cheap plastic rubbish bin in ours lets the side down.

We head to dinner in a large, chilly dining room and I put my starter on hold after sampling a slate of assorted treats, including haggis bon bon and mini quiche.

My main, sautéed chicken breast with vegetables and braised potato, glazed turnip and grain mustard sauce is a big success. I devour every mouthful, but Rachel fares less well. She’s unimpressed with the vegan menu, and having eventually decided on the veggie ’burger’, when it turns up she’s far from happy. It’s not actually a burger but layers of veggies, including mushroom, peppers and cheese on a soggy bun. It all feels underwhelming, and the chips and side of onion rings are so greasy, she leaves half of everything.

The dessert menu fails to float our boats, and as we’re the last occupants in that chilly dining room, and a bunch of spotlights have just fizzled out, we decide to take cappuccinos in one of the empty lounge areas.

The muzak, which started off hilariously bad, has now turned into the equivalent of nails down a blackboard.

Glamour Girl by Louie Austen is one of those songs Graham Norton plays on his I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better slots On Radio Two. We sit through it for what seems like an age, and a few minutes later it starts again. I do something I’ve never done in years of hotel reviews and BEG the staff to turn it off. We’re the only ones there, so it’s not like we’re depriving anyone else. Thankfully they comply, and suddenly the hotel seems so much better. I relax and enjoy my coffee while surveying the surroundings. The furniture, like the wallpaper, is scuffed in places and the paintings are all a bit randomly hung. A shame as it’s a beautiful room with a gorgeous carved coffee table.

We have an early start in the morning and have requested an early breakfast, so we retire for the night and pack up.

The room temperature is too hot, so some essential radiator control is called for, and the pillows are too hard, so sleep is fitful, though the bed itself is terrific.

When our alarms go off at the crack of dawn, we look out for our breakfast outside the door, but there’s no sign. By the time we leave, still nothing, and there’s nobody on front desk, so we leave the keys and head off.

There’s a lot right with Balbirnie House Hotel, but better lighting; a bigger room TV; posher kettle and bathroom bin; and coffee table by the sofa would make a good stay great, especially as the room is so opulent. A carafe to help fill the kettle would be a massive bonus.

A decent water feature outside, and some elegant exterior lighting would help show off the place a treat. It’s been around since 1777 and certainly deserves it.

And while music taste is obviously subjective, better to stick to classical or nothing at all than annoying muzak that outstays its welcome.