Author: sludgieboy (Page 1 of 4)

The Usborne Legacy

As Yet Unexplained review

Rating –

As Yet Unexplained logo

I first heard of this podcast from Richard Daniels (of The Occultaria Of Albion fame). Unfortunately it wasn’t originally available on every podcatcher and in the interest of fairness, I avoid reviewing such shows. The reason for this is that not everyone has Amazon, or iTunes or Spotify, so I don’t want to review shows that not everyone can enjoy. However it seems that it’s being shared on all apps now, so with great eagerness I subbed and settled down to binge on the whole thing as quickly as possible.

So what’s it about?

This is probably best described as an audio version of the now beloved Usborne books on the unexplained. These were very popular when I was a child and are now experiencing something of a renewed popularity (by people my age, as it goes).

Each episode looks at a different subject. They range from ghosts to UFOs, and from folklore to strange military cover ups from the East and West. There are some very creepy stories here indeed and they are all very well narrated.

Whether intentionally or not, Westley Smith’s narration lends itself to the vintage patina of the show. I can almost imagine him like James Burke on some windswept moor accompanied by a hungry cameraman as he investigates ancient burial chambers, or strange lights in the sky. Also, his voice reminds me of a mix of the character James Hunter from Haunted: An Audio Drama and Jonathan Sims from The Magnus Archives.

Is it any good?

I love this show. The whole thing has a very retro feel. From the logo to the soundtrack, this is a very good pastiche of classic mystery books and shows from my childhood. To be honest, there won’t be any new information here for anyone with an interest in such things, but that really doesn’t matter. Westley Smith does such a good job telling the stories that you almost forget that you know the stories and get sucked into the tales being told. Surely that is a mark of a great orator.

Despite the lack of new information, there are some genuinely creepy moments in the series. The haunting of 50 Berkeley Square will never not be scary, but there are other tales to chill your blood too. The ghosts of Charterhouse, the San Pedro Haunting, and the stories of Russian Cosmonauts drifting off into space are terrifying. The latter especially so, because despite the transmissions being classified, there were people around the world who happened to stumble across them. 

While a show like The Occultaria Of Albion wears its hauntological badge with pride, that show represents a fictional 1970s UK. This is more like the actual late 70s TV shows and books. In the episode on ancient UFO sightings, he’s describing woodcuts that I had studied as a child in my parents’ books on such things. That only reinforces the nostalgia factor, for me at least.

Final thoughts

I really can’t recommend this show highly enough. It’s easy to digest and very well produced. As I mentioned earlier, there aren’t any groundbreaking revelations here, but that’s ok. You can enjoy the show for what it is, and what it is is excellent. Almost immediately, this rose to the top of my favourite podcasts on such subjects.

***NOTE***

I apologise for the constant comparisons to Richard Daniels’ show, but they come as something of a package deal. Indeed, after every episode, that dastardly Richard Daniels manages to inject a subliminal advert for TOoA just to further his own nefarious agenda!

You can get As Yet Unexplained here:

https://asyetunexplained.wixsite.com/home

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Bloody Hell Harold

The Battersea Poltergeist review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

Battersea Poltergeist logo

I know I’ve already reviewed Uncanny, but this was my introduction to the brilliant Danny Robins. It cropped up in the recommendations in BBC sounds and it sounded interesting, so I gave it a go. As soon as the first episode started, I knew this was something special and I knew I was going to love it.

So what’s it about?

Everyone has heard of the film Poltergeist. Fewer people have heard of the real life case of The Enfield Poltergeist. Even fewer have heard of The Battersea Poltergeist. This is unfortunate, the Battersea case was somewhat overshadowed by the more infamous events at Enfield. While Enfield was certainly interesting, Battersea was equally terrifying and equally unexplainable. It was also nearly 20 years before Enfield.

This is probably the reason why it’s almost forgotten. By the 1970s, Britain was paranormal crazy. There were books, TV shows and films all cashing in, but in the post war society of the 50s there was a more pragmatic or sceptical approach to such claims.

In 1956, 15 year old Shirley Hitchings and her family started experiencing strange phenomena that would last an incredible 12 years. I say incredible, because the events at Enfield only lasted a few months. The case starts innocuously enough, as poltergeist cases usually do. Shirley found a silver key on her pillow, one that didn’t fit any locks in the house. Soon the whole family is being constantly terrorised, and the playful nature of the early events is gone.

The spirit (known as Donald) was responsible for moving furniture, throwing things and even starting a fire in the house. As the series progresses, it’s also heavily hinted that it was responsible for the death of Shirley’s Grandmother.

The podcast is a dramatisation of the events in question, interspersed with narration by Danny Robins. It follows the borderline obsessive investigation of the case by Harold Chibbett, played by the incredible Toby Jones. Dafne Keen, who has a long list of credits for someone so young, plays Shirley.

Is it any good?

Anything with Toby Jones is going to be excellent. I don’t think he’s done anything that was sub par. Also, anything by Danny Robins seems to be well worth your time too. As you’ll no doubt remember from my earlier review, I’m something of a fanboy.

Danny Robins actually has boxes of Chibbetts’ original case files and notes, and this is the basis of the series. During the course of the series Danny is holed up in his shed, surrounded by all the papers, and just like Chibbett decades before, the obsession is somewhat contagious. At one point Danny himself complains that his family are missing him due to the time he spends poring over the evidence.

The production values are high enough that you really get an immersive experience, and all the actors are doing an amazing job. The cast features lots of familiar voices, not just Jones’ and there is as much tension here as any good TV show or film. Actually there is more tension here, mainly because there aren’t any good TV shows or films being made. It seems that if you want a genuinely creepy experience nowadays, then you need to look towards podcasts and radio shows.

As well as the horror of the events, there is a real pathos here as well. There are a lot of people living in the house, and all the family members are put under an immense amount of stress. This is also very well portrayed by the cast, as is their suspicion of Harold when he first starts investigating. Poor Harold has to not only figure out exactly how to try and find out about the spirit, but he also has to try and gain the trust of some of the family.

Final thoughts

As with all BBC productions, it’s a joy to listen to. As is the case by now, Danny Robins’ excitement is contagious, as is his disbelief at the phenomena that occur.

If you’re interested in ghost stories, then you’ll love it. There is nothing not to like here. This is a great investigation into a little known (or rather, little known when this was originally released) case of poltergeist activity.

You can get The Battersea Poltergeist here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0940193

Or wherever you get your podcasts

Deadlines, deadlines

A bit of a change this week. As you read this, I will be on holiday, braving the elements with no wifi or phone signal. I had originally planned to get a review written and scheduled for Sunday as usual. The deadline arrived rather quicker than expected and despite my best efforts I couldn’t get it finished. When I started this blog I had planned to keep at least one finished review ready to go for a situation such as this, but I used those up too. C’est la vie.

Normal service will be resumed next Sunday with my review of The Battersea Poltergeist by Danny Robins and the BBC. Im sure that both of my regular subscribers will be ok with that!

Until then, wish me luck trying to keep two kids (who spend more time online than Neo and Morpheus combined) entertained with frisbees, fishing rods and UNO.

See you next week.

Camping Holiday
The key to survival is being able to fashion a shelter at a moments notice

Lost Dreams

Lost Hills Review

Production Company – Pushkin Industries

Rating –

Lost Hills logo

This is a rather awkward series to rate. Hopefully during the course of this review I’ll clarify my decision for the rather low score you see at the top of the post, particularly if you’ve just started listening to this series before reading this. As with most podcasts, I’ll hear a trailer on a different series and decide to check it out. This one caught my eye (ears?) with its exciting and harrowing plot. I subscribed immediately.

So what’s it about?

Lost hills is a true crime podcast. Each series follows a different case, but the locale is similar. In the case of this series, it’s sunny Malibu in California.

Series 1 follows the case of a shooting at a campsite in Malibu Creek State Park. Campers are awoken in the middle of the night to loud gunshots. A father has been shot in his tent as he slept next to his young daughters. The children were unharmed. The police arrest Anthony Rauda, a man already known to the police, and something of a loner and a recluse who lived in the woods. As the investigation gains publicity, it soon becomes known that there had been attempted shootings going on for months beforehand. Were they connected? Did they get the right man, or was he a scapegoat?

This is a long and complex case with severe failings on the side of law enforcement. There will be parts of the story that will have you literally shaking your head in disbelief at the failings to protect the public. I also can’t help but notice the spirit of Making A Murderer early on in the series. It seems to be weighted in favour of innocence, at least early on.

Series 2 follows the case of a tragedy at sea. Fred Roehler, his wife Verna, and their young son Doug were yachting off the Malibu coast when the boat capsized and Verna and Doug lost their lives. Fred was the only survivor and only witness. At first, he’s devastated. He’s lost most of his family in a tragic accident.

As the investigation develops though, skeletons from Fred’s past start to surface. Death seems to follow him around, particularly with regards to wives. Is he the charming, loving husband that everyone thinks? Or is there a darker side. One that’s hidden from the public?

Something that becomes apparent, particularly in season two, is that despite the multi million pound houses and exclusivity of Malibu now, in the 1970s it was a somewhat seedy area. Its popularity with celebrities came from its anonymity and peace. Somewhere away from paparazzi and prying eyes.

Is it any good?

Yes and no. This is the reason for my low score. The first series was brilliant. A gripping story and real emotion. It was a harrowing story that would be any parent’s nightmare. When you couple that with the history of the area and the fact that nobody seemed to do anything to get to the root of the problem before things escalated, makes for a brilliant show.

When series two started I was expecting more of the same, but I was disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an interesting case, and there is no doubt that Fred was a seriously nasty guy, but it didn’t resonate as much as the first series. Even interviews with the ever charming Rob Lowe couldnt save it.

Final thoughts

Pushkin Industries is to factual podcasts what Rusty Quill is to fictional ones. Revisionist History is their flagship show and will be getting a review soon, there are others too that are all outstanding. This one started well enough, but I feel the second series was not quite up to the usual standard of excellence. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m writing the review, so it is what it is.

If they had left it as a one off, then it would have easily been a four or five brain show. I had to knock some off for series two though. No doubt there are plenty of incredible, dark stories from this area and era. Rob Lowe even discussed some things that could make for interesting story threads. Will there be a season three? Will it be a return to form? We shall just have to wait and see.

You can get Lost Hills here:

https://www.pushkin.fm/podcasts/lost-hills

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

In the Chambers of Lovecraft

Malevolent review

Production company – Rusty Quill

Rating –

Malevolent logo

Malevolent is a podcast whose reputation preceded it. I had heard good things from lots of places. Indeed, this review being written now is due to a Twitter thread where it was being widely praised. I figured I must have missed something. I’d listened to four episodes and, in the words of Shania Twain, it didn’t impress me much. So had I written it off too soon, or was I right in my hasty assumption? Read on and I’ll tell you.

So what’s it about?

Malevolent is a horror podcast that flies its Lovecraft flag with pride. The story follows Arkham P.I Arthur Lester who wakes up in his office with no memory of recent events and is unable to see. He can hear a mysterious voice though that appears to be coming from inside his head. This voice guides him, and so begins the adventure to discover not only what happened to Arthur, but what happened to “the voice” as well. This unlikely duo navigate as best they can to solve the mystery, without running afoul of the numerous enemies they encounter.

Speaking of enemies, there are plenty on display here. From distrustful police officers, spooky cultists and the more eldritch horrors of Lovecraft and Chambers, there are plenty of antagonists to try and hinder Arthur on his mission. It’s always fun to try and identify the creatures from the descriptions, playing a kind of mythos “Guess Who”

Is it any good?

Put it this way. It isn’t as bad as I first thought. I had let a few things colour my judgement, and I suspect I was being a bit fussy.

The voice acting is good, although the phase effect on “the voice” will never not be irritating. Even more impressive is that the whole thing is written, directed and performed by Harlan Guthrie. I was surprised at this because while there is obviously a limited cast I wouldn’t have guessed it was a solo effort. For the most part his accents and characterisations are spot on.

Likewise, the production values are reassuringly high. The sound effects are very good and help build tension well. The monster effects are excellent too. They sound original and exactly how I’d imagine an eldritch horror to sound, and the gurgling gore sounds are deliciously disgusting.

One of the things that first threw me (and still does), is that this is a cross between a written story and some kind of improvised roleplaying game. There are definitely points in the story where you can hear dice being rolled before clues or items get discovered.

***NOTE*** On looking at the website, it turns out that the patreon supporters got to vote on the outcome of the original shorter episodes. These got compiled into the longer ones that are released as the podcast.

It is almost literally like an RPG. Because Arthur can’t see, the voice is his eyes and has to describe the surroundings in the manner of a Games Master. This makes it seem like a cross between Call Of Cthulhu and vintage kids TV show Knightmare.

Final thoughts

Based on the first four episodes I had decided it was a one or two brain podcast. Against my better judgement, and some (imagined) peer pressure on Twitter, I have given it another go.

I’m still not too sure what the point is with having the disembodied voice other than to act as a vehicle for the “interactive” side of the concept. I wonder if it would have been as effective to just have a mysterious person be in the room when Arthur woke up. The main plot points would still have worked just fine with minimal work.  I’m sorry but I think there would have been a better effect than that weird phasing to give the impression of being in Arthur’s head.

Apart from the dice rolling aspect of this series, what ultimately held this back from getting a five brain score was the fact I didnt really like the main character much at all. Over the course of the series, he’s undergone great hardship and stress, and ultimately it bothered me not one bit. When Jonathan Sims realised his situation towards the end of his story, in fact anyone in T.M.A. it was genuinely emotional. Im not sure why, but there certainly were moments when I wished that Arthur would learn some respect for the things he was dealing with. Maybe its “character development”, but the way he starts to act , despite what he knows and has experienced should have had serious repercussions.

Despite my misgivings, and my own little “voice” saying to score it really low, I have to say that I’ve grown to like this series a lot. I could have binged the whole lot in two days, and the big twists make up for the things that I dislike. I still don’t feel that it’s a proper five brain show, but it has just squeaked into a four.

I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong.

You can get Malevolent here:

https://www.malevolent.ca/episodes/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Church of the PENNtecost

Penn’s Sunday School review

Rating –

Penn's Sunday School logo

I heard about this podcast somewhere very recently (I can’t remember where) and instantly subscribed. I’ve been a fan of Penn and Teller since they were first shown on British TV at the end of the 80’s, so it was a no brainer for me. Teller (obviously) isn’t a character that lends himself to the audio format, but Penn certainly is. So without further ado, let’s head off to Penn’s Sunday School and preach some peace and love.

So what’s it about?

Penn’s Sunday school seems to be an excuse for Mr. Jillette and his friends to just sit around and “shoot the shit”. There are reminiscences of past lovers, starting out in the industry, and some “current” topics (current at the time anyway). Don’t let this fool you though. While I use the rather flippant term, there is much to enjoy here, and it is far from some droning ramblings to fill the silence, or gaps in Penn’s ego.

Each week he’s joined by regular guest hosts Michael Goudeau and Matt Donnelly. Occasionally special guests sit in (Piff The Magic Dragon was a particular highlight). There are also a few interviews thrown in too, just in case you should get bored of the regular format (you shouldn’t). These are usually people from or adjacent to Penn’s line of work, but there is very little “shop talk” here. That wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing, but as it goes they just talk about “stuff”. Shows they’ve seen, places they’ve been. As I said, “shooting the shit”. 

Is it any good?

Of course it is. If there’s one thing that Penn can do (apart from magic, juggling, and playing bass), it’s talking. He’s a phenomenal raconteur and all his stories are brilliant. This isn’t to say that the other guys just put a penny in the slot and watch him go, they are all very witty and entertaining, and are more than capable of holding court with Mr. Jillette.

One of my favourite episodes came very early on. It was the “McDracula” episode, when one of them had been to Romania and the whole hour was spent making various vampire jokes and arguing about why Americans would “do Transylvania better”.

I really don’t think there is anything better than genuinely witty people firing off each other and making each other laugh (and not in that irritating, smug way that “comedians” on Mock The Week or other panel shows do either). I guess that comes from being magicians or clowns. You need to engage the audience more than other professions.

This series has drawn more than one weird glance my way as I snort out loud at something when I’m on the train, or as I walk through town and a massive smile stretches across my face for no apparent reason. A particular example of this was when they Google translated a Japanese review of Penn’s album. That is something I don’t think will ever not be funny.

Final thoughts

You don’t have to be a magic fan to like this podcast, there’s plenty to enjoy here. Actually, if you are a magic fan then you probably won’t like it, if that’s all you’re after. They are less likely to discuss the “reverse faro shuffle” as they are to talk about books, or offering car rental companies money to trash a car.

I appreciate that I’m very late to the table here. I’ve got hundreds of episodes to catch up on, and this review is entirely based on the first 20 or so. There may be some format changes I don’t yet know about, or some groundbreaking new development. I really try to avoid skipping too far forward, so forgive me for maybe missing out on something important.

And remember, “we spinning dick, swinging play”.

You can get Penn’s Sunday School here:

https://pennsundayschool.com/

Or wherever you get your podcasts 

Its got to be HEROIC

How To Burn A Million Quid review

Production company – BBC

Rating –

How To Burn A Million Quid logo

In the entire history of music, there have been few artists that have genuinely pushed boundaries of their genre. The KLF are one of the even shorter list that pushed the boundaries of reality itself. So unbuckle your brain, jump in your ice cream van, and prepare for a story that proves truth can indeed be stranger than fiction.

What’s it all about?

The KLF (aka The Justified Ancients Of Mu Mu, aka The JAMS, aka The Timelords, and many other projects and pseudonyms) was the brainchild of Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond. Long story short, they started making electronic music that proved very popular, something that was at odds with their love of Robert Anton Wilson and the Illuminatus! Trilogy. Despite trying to prove that pop music was dead and going out of their way to be as unpopular as possible, they still became one of the biggest acts of the late 80s/early 90s. As fans of the trilogy will know, the universe has a dark sense of humour and is not averse to throwing a curveball your way just to be annoying.

From burning their albums outside ABBA’s studio, to firing machine guns at the BRIT awards. From wanting to build a giant pyramid from the ashes of their fans, to the stunt that gives this series its name, there isn’t much they didn’t try (or haven’t tried) in their mission to satisfy their artistic manifesto and discordian destiny. In 1994, they performed their final gesture ( the one that gives this series its name) and pretty much disappeared. 23 years later however, they reappeared with a few new, and no less remarkable projects.

I’m skimming over an awful lot of detail here because I really don’t want to spoil any of the insanity and hijinx. If you are my age or older, you’ll no doubt not only remember the music, but some of the stunts they pulled too. Thankfully, most of them get covered in this series, so you won’t miss out at all.

So is it any good?

100% yes. Despite really trying to make music that people would hate, The KLF were very good. The Illuminatus! Trilogy is very good too (but that’s something for a different blog), and the total commitment of two guys to put their careers in the hands of chance is bordering on unbelievable.

As anyone who’s ever read R.A.W. will testify to, there is no such thing as coincidence, and signs and clues are everywhere. Jimmy Cauty and Bill Drummond are two exemplars of that. Also, as anyone who’s read R.A.W. will testify to is that doing this is the sure way to “chapel perilous”. Something that Cauty and Drummond are also two exemplars of.

The production values are high, this is a BBC podcast after all, so you know it’ll be quality. The acting is great too, with the voice talents of Paul Higgins as Bill Drummond, Nicholas Burns as Jimmy Cauty and Jeremy Stockwell as the narrator Ken Campbell. I won’t go in to where you’ve seen (or heard) these guys before, because they are all very prolific, but you’ll recognise their voices straight away. Google is your friend in this case.

Final thoughts

I suppose that if you aren’t familiar with the band, or these stories, then you could just scoff and call bullshit. I mean, they are funny and ridiculous, and (almost) unbelievable. What they definitely are though is amazing, in the literal sense. This is a very funny series indeed and I will definitely recommend it to anyone whether you like the music or not.

I think what makes Drummond and Cauty so endearing here is that they are two ordinary guys bouncing from one stunt to the next without really being in control. They know they must do something “heroic”, and that it will probably all work out fine. There are times when that trust is tested though, as is usually the case in these spiritual journeys. There is no malice here, they arent nasty arseholes trying to get one over on people, it’s just that their idea of how reality should work is at odds with most of the other people they encounter.

I’ve actually listened to the whole thing three times and it never gets boring. There’s only one or two other series that I can say that about, so make of that what you will. It’s a testament, not only to the top notch writing, but the acting talent here that makes it hold up to multiple plays.

It’s also nice that on the BBC sounds app, most things are available for a month or two and then (just like in the days before Sky+ or even *gasp* video recorders) you have to wait patiently for a rebroadcast. This one is apparently available indefinitely. So now you’ve got no excuse not to check it out have you?

HAIL ERIS!

You can get How To Burn A Million Quid here:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p06x35s5

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

Beware of the owl

Bridgewater review

Production company – Grim & Mild

Rating –

Bridgewater logo

I am currently revisiting this series after a long time. I’ve listened to so many podcasts in the meantime though, for the sake of this review I felt that a “refresher” was needed. Does this mean that the series isn’t memorable? Somewhat, but read on and I’ll explain in more detail (now that I can remember the story!)

So what’s it about?

Folklore lecturer Jeremy Bradshaw has built his reputation on depth of knowledge and extreme sceptical attitude. He teaches in his hometown, a sleepy backwater called Bridgewater. This is a place that has a somewhat notorious reputation though. The locals call it “The Bridgewater Triangle” owing to the number of strange phenomena and disappearances in the area. So I guess the term “sleepy backwater” isn’t such a good one eh?

During a lecture, one of the students starts asking about Jeremy’s father, the town sheriff, who had disappeared 30 years previously. Apparently a sheriff’s badge has recently been found in the area where he vanished, this is news to Jeremy who hasnt been informed of the discovery. Initially he suspects this to be some strange and cruel prank. When he sees the badge, it is like new, certainly not like something that should have been in a swamp for decades. And so the adventure begins.

As the clues are revealed and fitted together, they uncover strange pagan cults, ancient folklore, strange creatures and voices from beyond the grave. His friends either wittingly or unwittingly put themselves in great danger as they try to discover what really happened to his father all those years ago. As the story progresses, Jeremy has not only his faith, but his grip on reality tested.

Is it any good?

Yes. I listen to an awful lot of shows like this, that vary wildly in quality. Thankfully, this is one of the good ones. The voice acting is very good and the characters are all interesting and likeable (even the ones who aren’t supposed to be!)

The more eagle eared among you will recognise Vipin’s voice as that of Karan Soni, who also voices Jeet, the ever alert intern and superfan of Terry Carnation. Also appearing is Will Wheaton as (the quite frankly ridiculously named) Captain Haddock. I remember Wheaton as the fresh faced Wesley Crusher from Star Trek TNG. To be honest, if you didn’t tell me that he was in this I’d never have known.

Aside from the actors, this is a very good audio drama. It’s a nice twist on folk horror without trying too hard. The production values are high enough that there are no cringy sound effects or outdoor monologues that were obviously recorded indoors. Those things appear more often than you’d think and they are a real mood killer.

Some of the characters verge on the cliché. Not just Vipin who seems to be playing Jeet again, actually that should be the other way round, but I’m sure you understand. There is the skeptical lecturer with a dark past, the plucky assistant and the hard boiled ex-cop who has seen it all before. Despite this, they avoid scenery chewing too much and it won’t get in the way of your enjoyment too much (unlike the cast of The White Vault, for example).

Final thoughts

This is a good, solid audio drama. A good paranormal yarn set in the modern day with enough suspense to make sure you listen to “just one more”, before you realise you’ve binged the whole thing. Are there better shows out there? Of course, but there are a whole lot worse to be found. Not only that, but there are worse that regularly get recommended to people.

Do yourself a favour and subscribe. I think you’ll like it a lot.

You can find Bridgewater here:

https://www.grimandmild.com/bridgewater

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

No escape from Big Brother

Just quick announcement to let you all know that I’ve now got a Twitter account. I’ve had a Facebook page for a while, but now it seems I’m a twit as well. There won’t be very much different content on there as this is my primary outlet for inane ramblings, but should you be a completist then the links are either Here and Here, or you can click on the logos on my biography page.

Hopefully the whole thing is now all automatic too, so I dont have to remember to update everything (this post is also something of an experiment to see if it all works, wish me luck!) Technology is great, except when it isn’t.

Tomorrow will see a return to normality with a regular post. It’s a review of the rather good series Bridgewater, so see you then.

Corrido’s of power

Standoff review

Production Company – Imperative Entertainment

Rating –

Standoff Logo

This is yet another recommendation from a friend, thanks Matt (you were right!) I managed to get through this whole thing in two days. It would have been a whole lot less. With the current shenanigans in Westminster though, I’m spending almost as much time listening to political commentary as I am listening to podcasts. But I digress….

So what’s it about?

In 1974 the Huntsville Prison in Texas was the home of cocaine and heroin kingpin Federico Gomez Carrasco. After a dramatic shootout at a small town motel (following on from a previous prison break), he was incarcerated and sentenced. This was something that Carrasco was not prepared to accept however. With the help of some accomplices, he prepared once more to escape.

The group of inmates took hostages and holed up in the impenetrable prison library. Over the next 11 days Carrasco and the prison authorities negotiated for Carrasco to flee the country in an armoured car. Needless to say, despite Carrasco’s gang taking all eventualities into account, A1 things didn’t go according to plan.

Is it any good?

Absolutely. I’m becoming quite a fan of true crime podcasts, and this one really has a twist. Most series you hear will be told from the perspective of hindsight. The parties concerned will tell their stories in the usual fashion. What sets this apart from the rest though, is the sheer amount of recorded footage from the actual event. Carrasco allowed the hostages to use the phone to speak to their families, and he was on the phone to his attorney and the prison officials, and everything was recorded.

When being told a story, there is usually a disconnect from the raw emotion. Time, as they say, is a great healer. These events are no doubt still harrowing to recall, but the people concerned have no doubt told their stories many times and it shows (or whatever the audio equivalent of that is). The fact that a great portion of this is actual footage from the time really adds an emotional weight to the story. Most of the time they make small talk with their families and make plans for when this is over. The producers don’t shy away from playing the calls that truly convey the terror of the situation though. This is the unique thing about this series.

Federico Carrasco has become something of a folk hero apparently. There are stories here that will give him a kind of Robin Hood mystique. There are even parts of this series when you almost root for the plucky little Mexican, standing up to The Man™. As the series progresses though, these moments are fewer and fewer. Ultimately you accept he was a killer, and he wasn’t fussy about who he killed.

The episodes are broken up with Mexican “corrido’s” (see i didn’t spell the title wrong!). Theae are folk ballads from the time telling Carrasco’s story. They are plaintive and solemn, and I know just enough Spanish to get the gist of the lyrics, although they are explained by the narrator. These songs were being released almost daily as the siege went on, not to glamorise the events (although they certainly do), but more as a “news update” for the cantinas and Spanish radio stations. The musicians would listen to the news, write and record the songs and broadcast them. The more popular ones would get pressed to vinyl and released to the bars for their jukeboxes.

Final thoughts

I can’t recommend this series enough really. It was compelling and heartbreaking in almost equal measure. It’s 10 episodes that you’ll fly through in no time.

As I said previously there is always a part of society that will glamorise the criminal. They add some romance to the crimes, whilst glossing over the gorier elements of their past. There is not much chance of that here though. By the end the events have taken a very dark turn indeed, and there is no way you’ll forget the events of the final night.

You can get Standoff here:

https://cumuluspodcastnetwork.com/pods/standoff/

Or wherever you get your podcasts.

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