Wednesday 6 March 2024

Echo and the Bunnymen - O2 Academy, Bournemouth - 5th March 2024

I'd wanted to see Echo and the Bunnymen for some time, so when I saw they were playing the small O2 Academy venue in Bournemouth, I booked a ticket.

As it turned out, I was spending the night a few miles away, so it was a pleasantly short trip to the venue and back, although the £4 parking fee took me aback a little (and paled next to the £7+ for a pint of overly cold IPA at the venue!).

I arrived in plenty of time to catch the support act, a severe looking blonde woman by the name of Erica Nockalls.

She seemed a very pleasant person as she interacted with the audience between songs, but I'd have to say I found her 'experimental' music not to my taste and I wandered off to buy the aforementioned expensive pint a couple of songs in.

I could still see and hear her set, along with the guitarist/vocalist she performed with (who seemed to spend most of the time torturing his instrument), but I won't be making a trip to see her again, perhaps you'd enjoy it more.

After the usual on-stage sheenanigans, the band we'd come to see finally appeared about 9:10 (a few of the audience were getting impatient by then, but it's rock and roll, isn't it?).

While I was keen to see Echo and the Bunnymen, I certainly wouldn't call myself a diehard fan, only having their greatest hits album in my collection.

As the tour was dubbed the 'Songs to Learn and Sing' tour, though, I expected to recognise a lot of them, but having seen the setlist from Bristol, I didn't recognise all of the titles.

They started with one I didn't "Going Up", but the next one "All That Jazz" was an old favourite.

Oddly, I thought, they performed in two sets, with a 20 minute or so break in the middle, which I've rarely experienced and did leave most people just standing around, in fear of leaving a good spot, for a while.

"Rescue", "Never Stop" and "Bring on the Dancing Horses" featured in the first set along with a new song "Brussels is Haunted" (it was OK) and some others I didn't know, but others around me were singing along to, so were clearly known to them.

Between songs "Mac" chatted with the crowd. Sometimes he was a bit mumbled (he's a Liverpuddlian and joked about 'enunciating more clearly' at one point), but seemed in a fairly good humour.

The lead guitarist was a similar age and did a lot of the musical heavy lifting and a quick Goggle confirms he is an original band member, Will Sargent. The others on stage were all far too young to have been, but the overall sound on the songs I recognised was as true to the records as you'd expect a live performance to be, while retaining the energy that you want, so they all did a good job.

I'd heard criticism of Ian McCulloch's voice, but I don't think you'd ever call him a 'singer' and the distinctive sound of his voice was still there and still clear, so I have no complaints on that score either.

The lighting was a bit strange, plenty from behind the band, but very rarely were they actually lit from the front and only for a split second here and there. I've only ever really seen this at the tiny Boiler Room, where the spots tend to blind and roast the acts!

After the mid-set hiatus, they came back with another song I didn't know, but then debuted "Over The Wall" on this tour. "Seven Seas", one of their best known tracks followed, and most people seemed to know the words to "Nothing Lasts Forever", although it was a new one for me.

"Unstoppable Force" wasn't a song I knew either, but they rounded out with "Bedbugs and Ballyhoo", "The Killing Moon" and "The Cutter", the latter two their iconic songs.

After a fair wait, they did come back for an encore, an extended version of another old favourite, "Lips Like Sugar".

Overall, the sound quality was pretty good, the vocals were nicely balanced to the instruments, meaning you could hear both the tune and the words, something not everyone gets right and I've had reason to complain about at this venue before.

Perhaps, if I'd been a bigger fan, I'd have known more of the songs, but the ones I did recognise sounded pretty good.

I am glad I went and I enjoyed the gig, but, unlike many others there, I think once will probably be enough for me.

Set 1:
Going Up
All That Jazz
Brussels Is Haunted
All My Colours (Zimbo)
Never StopPlay Video
Bring On the Dancing Horses

Set 2:
Show of Strength
Over the Wall (Tour debut)
Seven Seas
Nothing Lasts Forever / Walk on the Wild Side
Unstoppable Force
Bedbugs and Ballyhoo
The Killing Moon
The Cutter
Lips Like Sugar

Monday 4 March 2024

Editors - Guildhall, Southampton - 3rd March 2024

I'd been here before to see Editors and I wondered if, maybe, Bono was right and there's nothing like the first time.

I'd really enjoyed that last gig, being very impressed with Editor's live performance and it had been watching the TV coverage of their 2023 set at Glastonbury that had made me decide that I'd go and see them again if the opportunity arose.

A few months later, it did, at the same venue I'd enjoyed them at before - The acoustics at the Guildhall are very good, I think (although my last visit, to see the Amazons, was a disappointment) - so I booked a ticket.

Coming just a few days after Nouvelle Vague (and a couple before another gig) in the cold weather, I was beginning to feel a bit of gig-fatigue already, but my excitment grew as the day came closer.

I found some cheap on street parking nearby and arrived at the Guildhall about 7:30.

At around 8, the lights went down and the support act came on.

They were Wings Of Desire, who I knew nothing about, but their style suited the audience well (a 5 piece indy guitar band, with a woman on keyboards).

They'd obviously done a decent sound check beforehand, too, as the instruments and vocals were pretty clear, especially for a support act (and in stark contrast to the shambles The Amazons had been).

They were pretty enjoyable, I thought, and I can see them having some success (although, what do I know?).

The lights came up after their set and there was the usual 30 minutes of kit shuffling until the stage was ready for Editors.

At 9PM sharp, the lights went down and, without any histrionics, on came the band.

The tour was a belated one to cover the release of their most recent (but 2022) album, EBM, so it wasn't surprising that some of the tracks were from that album, but they opened with the slightly obscure "Two Hearted Spider" from The Weight Of Your Love album, the one I'm least familiar with.

They were soon into more popular and familiar territory, though, with "Sugar", before delivering "Karma Climb" from EBM.

P>From then on it was pretty much a mix of EBM tracks and older favourites, the exception being an enjoyable cover of "Killer" by Adamski.

I was slightly surprised to hear Munich, still their best known track, delivered in the main set (It had been the finale last time) and they round out the main set with "Papillon", "An End Has A Start", "The Racing Rats" and "Nothing", from The Weight Of Your Love.

The lights, of course, didn't go up after they left the stage and we went through the charade of clapping, stamping and cheering before they returned for three more tracks.

The first was "At All Cost", delivered with just Tom (on vocals) and the guitarists, pretty atmospheric.

That was followed by "The Phone Book", another track from "The Weight Of Your Love" - A lot of that album's lesser known tracks getting an airing.

The finale, tonight, though was epic - Tom delivered the first part of "Smokers Outside The Hospital Doors" solo on a piano and then said "Goodnight".

That would have worked just fine, but a split second later the stage was lit by a flash of bright white light and the full band joined in for the more familiar version.

Everyone cheered as the lights went up and the band clapped and bowed to the audience.

Their performance, once again, had left me impressed and enthusiastic. The mix of tracks was imaginative and varied, sure a few of my favourites were missing this time, but lots were there and it was good to hear tracks I was less familiar with performed live.

The sound balance had been good, too, something I always appreciate and that they had got spot on last time. Bands of their quality and experience should be able to get this right, but I've been disappointed many times at other gigs.

Highlights for me were 'Sugar', 'Heart Attack', 'Blood', 'Munich', 'Papillon', 'An End..', 'Smokers Outside...' and the 'Killer' cover, but I enjoyed everything this time as much as I had the first time I saw them and as much as I hoped I would.

They are a band that seem to fly under the radar a bit, despite their first album approaching 20 years old, but the Guildhall was full with people of all ages and everyone seemed to have a great time and there's no doubt in my mind that they're one of the best live bands around - If I'd been organising Glastonbury last year, I'd have made them the headliner, they were far better than the dreadful nostalgia acts that seem to dominate it nowadays.

It had been another brilliant gig by Editors and I will come and see them again.

Two Hearted Spider
Karma Climb
A Ton of Love
Heart Attack
Hallelujah (So Low)
Strawberry Lemonade
Killer(Adamski cover)
No Harm
Strange Intimacy
An End Has a Start
The Racing Rats
Nothing (full band version)
At All Cost
The Phone Book
Smokers Outside the Hospital Doors(Tom solo (on guitar) first verse and chorus)

Saturday 2 March 2024

Nouvelle Vague - 1865, Southampton - 29th February 2024

Cover bands, they're OK for a bit of fun, but they don't add anything, do they? Well Nouvelle Vague have always challenged that notion.

I've always found their very different, Bossa Nova, style covers very enjoyable, taking familiar (mostly '80s) songs and transforming them into something totally different.

So, when, in May 2023, I saw they were coming to Southampton, I booked a ticket, so this was a gig that I waited longer than most for.

It was a miserable February evening and, to be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the drive to Southampton.

However, it was delay free and I found somewhere fairly close to park for a reasonable amount (parking being free between 8PM and 8AM) and made my way to 1865, which I'd never visited before.

Inside I found one fairly large hall with a balcony area to the right, overlooking the main floor and stage. A small bar was alongside the floor to the right (as you look at the stage), while a much larger bar was between the floor and balcony levels at the rear.

I bought myself a nice pint of beer for a very reasonable £4.50 (The Boiler Room's pricing put to shame here) and waited for the support act, De Laurentis, to appear.

I had no idea who or what that would be, but it turned out to be a French woman with an electronic box of tricks. Throughout her set, she pressed the squares on what looked like an electronic chess board.

I can only presume she was manipulating some kind of sampler, but it was very French and enigmatic, she described her instrument as an 'AI' at one point.

The material was electronic dance music, I guess, not horrible, but not truly remarkable, with definite hints of Jean Michel Jarre at times. She got a positive response and the crowd definitely warmed to her as she progressed. Overall, a decent support act.

After that, we had a half hour wait, while the roadies did final setups and sound checks and then, about 9PM, four men appeared and took up their places behind a keyboard, a drumset, something like a double bass and on a chair with an acoustic guitar.

The lighting stayed low, though, just a series of downward pointing spots and then a blonde woman in a black dress appeared as the first notes of 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' were played.

Now, I'm a big fan of New Order and Joy Division and I think that most covers of, possibly the latter's most iconic song, are pretty awful, but Nouvelle Vague's is so different and yet retains the essential emotion (unlike, for example, Paul Young's dire rendition) of the original that it works for me. Melancholic, rather than angst ridden, like the original.

The lights illuminated the blonde's face as the next song started and she was joined on stage by another woman.

The blonde was Marine Quemere and the other woman, Shanice Alonya Sloan, apparently.

Together they sang a sultry version of 'People are People'.

Marine's voice is quite sweet, with an almost characature French accent ('Zese are the Zings we can do Wizout' on Shout, for example), but I'm a sucker for a French accent anyway, so that's 100% fine with me. Her delivery (most of the time) is very 'torch singer'.

Shanice, meanwhile, has a deeper voice and doesn't sound French (although she seems to be), having no problems with 'th' sounds in English. Her delivery, too, is far more theatrical than Marine's and together they provide a great visual and aural combination, either singing together or taking turns on the lead.

Most people (me included) probably think of Nouvelle Vague as slowing down songs, but their live rendition of 'Only You' provided it with a energy that neither the original or the Flying Picket's acapella version have.

'Making Plans For Nigel', though, was the more typical style of cover for the band.

It was only after listening to their new album the day after the gig, that I realised that many of the songs they performed were from it. They've been fairly prolific and I just assumed I'd not heard them all or even that I had, in some cases!

'Girls On Film' started with the bass player centre stage, delivering a 'Fever' like introduction and then a very different version of the Duran Duran hit. 'What I Like Most About You Is Your Girlfriend' is a fairly obscure Specials song, but delivered in a chripy, upbeat manner here, very unlike the original.

'The Forest' saw the stage lit in green and gave Shanice a chance to show off her modern dance skills as well as take lead vocal.

And so it went. 'Teenage Kicks','I Just Can't Get Enough' and 'The Guns of Brixton' were old favourites for me, but 'Too Drunk To Fuck' was a rare excursion into manic energy for Marine, especially, and brilliant fun.

Their reggae-tinged version of 'Shout' (Tears for Fear, not Lulu!) was great too and they finished the main set on a song I only vaguely knew 'I Melt With You', which was fantastic.

Of course, it didn't take long for them to return to the stage for an encore, which started with the stalwart 'Ever Fallen In Love' and then Marine delivered 'This Charming Man' and Shanice ended the gig with another song I didn't know 'In a Manner of Speaking'.

I must admit, I came to the gig wondering if I'd really enjoy it, maybe finding it a bit too mellow and a bit samey, but my doubts were comprehensively dismissed.

Live, the band have a much more energetic and edgy sound than on recordings and the two singers, especially, deliver an entertaining performance.

Early on I recall thinking that the guitarist was doing a lot of the instrumental work, but as the gig progressed, the bass player and the drummer all had virtuoso performances and, on reflection, I don't think any single member of the band could have been dispensed with, everyone played their part.

Throughout, founder member, Marc Collin, remained impassive, almost hidden, at the back behind his keyboard, letting his band take the limelight while, no doubt, adding to the overall pleasure of the sound. I liked that.

So, Nouvelle Vague are absolutely not your typical cover band.

Their versions of the songs, while homaging the 80s classics they love, are absolutely their own.

Another gig, like A Certain Ratio, where I came away a fan! Go see them!

Love Will Tear Us Apart (Joy Division cover)
People are People (Depeche Mode cover)
Only You (Yazoo cover)
Making Plans for Nigel (XTC cover)
This Is Not a Love Song (Public Image Ltd cover)
Girls on Film (Duran Duran cover)
What I Like Most About You is Your Girlfriend (The Specials cover)
A Forest (The Cure cover)
Marian (The Sisters of Mercy cover)
Teenage Kicks (The Undertones cover)
Just Can't Get Enough (Depeche Mode cover)
She’s in Parties (Bauhaus cover)
You Spin Me Round (Dead or Alive cover)
The Guns of Brixton (The Clash cover)
Too Drunk to Fuck (Dead Kennedys cover)
Shout (Tears for Fears cover)
Friday Night, Saturday Morning (The Specials cover)
I Melt With You (Modern English cover)
Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've) (Buzzcocks cover)
This Charming Man (The Smiths cover)
In a Manner of Speaking(Tuxedomoon cover)

Friday 16 February 2024

The Clockworks - Boiler Room, Guildford - 12th February 2024

I've seen a lot of performers over the last few years, some are pure nostalgia, harking back to their heyday, some were at their height, some will never have a heyday, some almost had one, but somehow never really hit the big time, but few really made me think they may be something big quite soon.

The Clockworks were on at the Boiler Room in February and a quick YouTube browse sounded pretty good, so I bought a ticket.

The band are from Dublin and had been putting out videos for a while, but their first album had only just been released.

Their support were pretty decent, for a change, too, a Milton Keynes band called 'Cusp'.

The Clockworks came on at about 9AM and their hard driving guitar sound was absent initially as the track 'Deaths' starts with a quiet keyboard section, but the pace quickly picked up.

Being quite a new band, they really only had their album to play, but that was no bad thing as there are some very catchy tracks on there.

If I was pressed, I'd say they sound a little like the Arctic Monkeys, but more tuneful and it really is only a little. I've also seen comparisons to another Irish band, Fontaines DC.

They quickly moved through 'Bills' and 'Mayday', another couple of (as it says on Rolling Stone magazine) 'post-punk' tracks, with driving guitars and then a couple of ones I didn't recognise (I'd only played the album once or twice before).

Generally, they sounded like they did on the album, lively, energetic, pacey and a little bit different.

Highlights, for me, were 'Bills', 'Mayday', 'Feels So Real', 'Lost in the moment', 'Advertise' and the finale, 'Fingers'.

I liked what I heard and it felt like maybe I was seeing a band on the way to their heyday for once.

On reflection, though, the audience was all fairly middle aged (The band are decidedly not) and that might mean that there's not a young audience for them.

That would be a shame, as their songs were good and their energy undeniable and I think they have the potential to play far bigger venues - I hope they do get the chance and I can say I saw them at the Boiler Room before they were big!

Hall Of Fame
Car Song
Feels So Real
All We Are
Life In A Day
Lost In The Moment

Saturday 18 November 2023

A Certain Ratio - Face Bar, Reading - 16th November 2023

I didn't really know a lot about A Certain Ratio until recently.

I had a record by a band called Thirteen At Midnight of a track called Shack Up, which I knew ACR had recorded (thinking, wrongly, they did the original version).

I knew ACR were a contempary band of Joy Division and New Order, signed to the same Factory Records, and that was pretty much it.

I spotted they were playing a small venue (the Face Bar) in Reading, covering the span of their 45 years in chronological order.

I did a quick YouTube search to listen to a few other songs by them (and watched a recent interview with the 3 founder members still in the band) and decided I'd go along.

Reading isn't my favourite place to go, even though it's quite close, because the one way system is confusing and parking is often extortionate.

I found, though, a car park a short distance from the venue, so arrived a few minutes before the doors opened - someone came and found a few of us outside and invited us in early as it was cold, which was good of them.

One of the things I liked about the way this gig was described was 'no support' - Few support acts add anything to an evening, so getting more of the act you've come to see could only be good.

The gig was in the 'Red Room' of the Face Bar, a biggish room with a low stage and seats around the sides - I'd imagine it's a disco most nights (the glitter ball about the floor adding to that impression!).

There didn't seem to be many people for the first half hour, but it filled up steadily and was full, if not packed, by 8:30 when the band appeared.

As promised, the sets were in chronological order.

The first song, 'All Night Party', was their first single, followed by Do the Du and Flight (their first 12" single), which I knew from a couple of CDs I'd bought after booking my ticket.

Some of the early tracks had a distinctly moody, Joy Division feel, and some of the later tracks at the beginning of the second set sounded more like some later New Order track.

Who influenced who or whether they shared influences is hard to say, as I know the two groups often toured or gig-ed together, but I liked what I heard.

'Shack Up' was as enjoyable as I'd hoped (really, this one track was my reason for being here, initially, at least) and the first set finished on 'Mickey Way', a track from the 1986 album, Force, which was a very jazz orientated way to end the first set on a high.

The band was formed of founder members, Jez Kerr, Martin Moscrop, and Donald Johnson, plus a couple of youngsters (Matt Steele and Viv Griffin) on keyboards and bass respectively, plus a new young female singer, Ellen Beth Abdi.

Original singer, Denise Johnson, died at just 56 during the COVID epidemic, and the first song from the second set, the melodic "Won't Stop Loving You" was dedicated to her.

'Good Together' was another track I remembered and there were a few which, complete with Whistles, sounded more like Happy Mondays (another Factory stablemate) rave-era tracks than anything else, but they were energetic and, well before this, the crowd was having a good time.

They rounded out the second set with 'Day By Day', a recent track from a new EP in 2023 and then gave us 'Si Fermir O Grido' as an encore before the 10:30 curfew was reached.

Overall, I'd have to say this was one of my favourite gigs of 2023 and for a long time.

I didn't come with any expectations, but they were musically excellent, the chronological delivery of their songs was like a tour through the kind of music I'd enjoyed for the last 45 years and the way Martin and Don switched places on the drums and other instruments (tom toms, guitar and trumpet - So nice to hear some live brass in 2023 - Ellen Beth contributing a bit of flute too!)

They provided a good mix of styles over the years, which is probably part of their enduring appeal to those who know them - As this article says, they never wanted to be a tribute act to their early days, which so many of their contemparies are, whether you enjoy the nostalgia or not.

Sure, this was a trip down memory lane for many there, but one that spanned many eras and genres of music, not something that many, better known, acts could even aspire to.

If I get the chance, I will go and see A Certain Ratio again and my Amazon basket is now full of more of their albums!

If you're still uncertain watch this video.

Set 1
All Night Party
Do the Du
And Then Again
Shack Up(Banbarra cover)
Winter Hill
Knife Slits Water
Mickey Way

Set 2:
Won't Stop Loving You
Good Together
27 Forever
Get a Grip
Yo Yo Gi
Emperor Machine
Afro Dizzy
Day by Day

Si Fermir O Grido

Monday 13 November 2023

Big Country - Harlington Centre, Fleet - 10th November 2023

Big Country seem to play the Harlington Centre in my home town of Fleet quite often, so I finally decided it was time to go and see them this year.

I knew that Stuart Adamson, their original singer, had died tragically in the early 2000s, but I didn't know much else about the band except a few hits.

After booking the tickets, I bought a copy of their greatest hits album, so knew a few more songs.

Doors opened at 7:30 and at 8:00 a man with a plugged in acoustic guitar appeared on stage.

He introduced himself as Billy Liberator (for some reason, I keep thinking he said he was Billy Whirlwind!) and played a few of his own songs. They sounded OK and he told us how happy he was to play Fleet and to support Big Country and he got a polite applause for each of his songs.

I felt he could probably do with getting a band to back him or focus on songwriting, as the songs sounded decent musically and OK lyrically, but it was all a bit flat and he wasn't terribly charismatic.

Overall, though, not a terrible support act, but not one that made the evening.

He was on for about half an hour and then, at 9 sharp, a man in a Fidel Castro cap appeared and sat at the drums as a video of a thunder storm played on a video screen behind the drum kit.

By now the hall was pretty much full and most people cheered him loudly (I didn't realise, but he is one of two founder members still with the band and, of all things, English!).

He started drumming and 4 more men appeared. From left to right across the stage, they were a youngish, bespectacled man with a beard and a guitar (Jamie Watson), a lanky, bit fit looking, 60-ish chap, also with a guitar, a chunkier man of a similar age, with spiky hair, not unlike 1980s style Rod Stewart, with an acoustic guitar and finally a slightly younger looking fellow with a bass guitar (Gill Allan).

They quickly broke into a song that I vaguely knew, but the sound was loud and energetic.

Possibly a bit too loud as Simon Hough (the chap with the Rod Stewart haircut) 'blew up' his monitor!

To be honest, I think this hampered the gig a bit, as the vocals were always a bit lost amidst the guitars.

The lanky chap introduced himself as Bruce Watson in the expected Scottish accent after the first song. He is, along with the drummer, the remaining founder member of the band.

They obviously pride themselves on their guitar work, but the thing I noticed was that the distinct 'bagpipe' sound they achieved on records was only partly replicated live.

This site explains how they did that on record, but they managed a reasonable facsimile and the songs I knew didn't sound dramatically different live.

I recognised and enjoyed the second song as the song I thought was called "Walk Away", but is actually "Look Away"!

A few other songs followed that I didn't know. They were similar in sound, but well played and distinctly 'Big Country' in that respect and most of the audience cheered them loudly.

'Steeltown' was another I know, and 'Ships' was a slightly slower track, before a few more tracks I was less familiar with until we got to the final 'hits', which included 'In a Big Country', 'Wonderland' and finished on 'Fields of Fire'.

They came back quickly for the predictable encore, which was a track I didn't know and then Mark Brzezicki (the drummer) came forward and in a very home counties accent explained how he was heading home to Slough and that Fleet was a favourite venue of his because it was his local one!

He introduced all the band members again (Bruce had done this earlier, more or less, too) and then said they missed Stuart Adamson and then they were gone.

I suspect they were out at the merch stand (a lot of people had tour T-Shirts on during the gig), but I was out to my car by then.

I'd enjoyed the gig, but it wasn't one of the best I'd been to.

They were energetic and certainly played well, but the vocals were a bit lost in the mix and, not being a hardcore fan, a lot of the songs sounded very similar without the benefit of being familiar.

However, for the modest price I paid for the ticket and being right on my doorstep, I was happy and with 2 of 4 original members in the band, they're more 'original' than many of the '80s bands touring today.

If you liked Big Country a bit in period, they're still worth a listen today!

Setlist (from numerous gigs on the same tour)
1000 Stars
Look Away
Close Action
Lost Patrol
The Storm
Just a Shadow
Harvest Home
In a Big Country
Fields of Fire

Sunday 20 August 2023

Watches - Speedmaster Professionals - Real, reimagined, homaged, faked and, err, just plain insulted?

I'm a bit of a watch fan, having a reasonable collection covering everything from Casios to Breitlings, Heuers and Omegas.

I have a few 'homage'/'clomage' watches that owe their entire design to a well known watch, but are branded as something else (take a look on Aliexpress, there are plenty of examples).

However, I'm generally adverse to outright fakes.

I've owned a mid-1990s Omega Speedmaster Professional for many years, picking it up when they were relatively affordable and, a broken mainspring aside, it's been a great watch.

The Speedmaster's claim to fame, of course, is that it was the watch worn by NASA astronauts on the moon, but before that it was a high quality chronograph, delivering precise timing from its Swiss build quality.

It's a dated design now, with a manual wind movement, although the latest version features a modern automatic movement.

In 2022, Swatch, Omega's parent, unveiled a plastic Speedmaster clone under the SwatchXOmega brand as the MoonSwatch and it was a huge, perhaps unexpectedly so, success.

At around £250, it was expensive for what you got, but not for a watch with Omega branding (that wasn't an all out fake), but the success, in my mind at least, led to some very unsavoury behaviour from Swatch.

These watches were selling for 4 or 5 times RRP at times and knife wielding gangs were intimidating regular buyers queueing outside Swatch stores to ensure they could get the supply and sell them for a profit. Worse than that, Swatch seemed to facilitate this 'scalping' behaviour, by allowing such groups (Whether knife-wielding or not) preferential access to the watches.

Therefore, when, inevitably, 'lookalike' MoonSwatches started appearing for a fraction of the RRP (and even less that of the profiteers' prices), I, for once, felt no qualms about picking one up and raising a metophorical finger to the Swatch Group and their contempt for their customers.

I watch a lot of watch review videos and this is definitely not intended to be a watch review (you won't get movement specs, timegrapher plots or a rundown on the various brushing on the watches), but I thought it may be interesting to compare the iconic Omega Speedmaster to the genuine MoonSwatch to the various 'dodgy' copies I have and see where the value lies, between the plastic models.

My Speedmaster is a 1997 Omega Speedmaster Professional (145.022), which I bought from eBay over a couple of a beers, while staying in a hotel in Chester for business.

That was almost certainly one of the worst ways to buy a £1,700 watch, but it turned out fine, being a nice example with no issues.

It arrived on a leather strap, rather than a bracelet, but I believe they were sold that way back in 1997, and I tend to prefer my watches on leather, anyway.

My Speedmaster is a traditional hand-wind model and one morning the mainspring broke, leading to a full service by an independent watch maker (From memory, I used STS).

The standard Speedmaster Professional isn't a flashy watch (some of the many, many special editions are, though), with no applied indices, ceramic bezels, screw down crowns and pushers, significant water resistance and the like, but it is a well made, nicely finished quality chronograph - NASA didn't choose it over the Rolex Daytona and others because of a big 'product placement' deal (Yes, I am thinking of the Omega Seamaster 'Bond' tie-in), but because it was the best watch for their job, providing precision timing in zero gravity.

The case finish is very high quality, mine now lives on this Uncle Seiko 'Beads of Rice' bracelet, which may not be as good as a genuine Omega bracelet, but I really like the look and feel of the watch on it, more than the bracelet my watch may or may not have been shipped on in 1997.

The crown isn't the easiest to wind, a bit of a shame on a hand-wind only watch, but it's manageable. The bezel (as on all the lookalikes) is a Tachymeter, that allows you to calculate speed from the time taken to cross a known distance - A fuller description can be found here.

The dial is fully printed, with no applied indices. Likewise the subdials.

Two of the subdials only work with the chronograph running, as does the centre second hand. The exception, the left hand subdial, tracks the running seconds, while the right hand one tracks chrono minutes. The lower of the 3 dials, tracks chrono hours, up to 12.

Finally, this period Speedmaster Pro is fitted with a hesalite (plastic) crystal which is far more prone to scratching than sapphire crystal (as you can see - It looks far worse in the photo than to my eye), but I can forgive that, as it's what the NASA astronauts had and minor scratches can be buffed out.

If it really bothers you, you can get a sapphire sandwich model (with a sapphire crystal and display back - The display back on my watch is an aftermarket one).

The 'genuine' MoonSwatch here is a 'Mission to Jupiter'.

I bought this a few days old from someone on a watch forum, for the RRP, specifically for this comparison and it will be moved on shortly after I complete this blog.

It came in the original box (some fakes will come in very similar looking boxes), which has a slightly plastic feel and a grippy feel, like soft sandpaper. The fakes won't have that feel to them.

Opening the box up and picking up the watch, it felt very like the fakes, but closer examination reveals that the lugs are far more refined in their finish (closer to the true Speedmaster) and, indeed as you may expect for ten times the price, the finish of the watch overall is noticeably better than the fakes.

Oddly, for a watch costing £220+, Swatch skimped on a quartz movement without a ghost date position on the crown, but the chronograph is a 1/10th second model, with the right hand sub-dial tracking that after you stop the chronograph.

The lower subdial is a continuous ticking second hand and the left hand dial tracks chrono minutes.

I was skeptical about this watch, I'll admit, but, while I don't personally think it's worth £225 (let alone 4 times that price, as they often sold for at the height of the frenzy), it's much nicer than I expected.

Next up, price-wise, is the Pagani Design PD-1701, sometimes referred to as the "Mission to Alaska", due to its similarity to both the Mission to Mars MoonSwatch and the Project Alaska Speedmaster.

This features a decent Seiko quartz chronograph, but it doesn't have the same 1/10th second feature that the MoonSwatch does.

On this watch, the left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right hand one is a 24 hour running time and the bottom one is a running seconds hand.

Unlike the other non-Omegas here, though, it's made of stainless steel.

The bezel insert is red sapphire crystal and the dial is actually silver, rather than plain white as it appears in most photographs. The subdial hands, of course, look like little Apollo space capsules, echoing those on the 'Mission to Mars' MoonSwatch.

From the factory, this comes on a just OK bracelet, but I've swapped it onto the 'Mission To Mars' strap that my red fake came on and I rather like the combination.

My two outright fake MoonSwatches are next.

I paid around £20-25 each for these from AliExpress.

Neither was advertised as being a fake, the images showed dials without the Omega or Swatch branding, which I was happy with, but, as mentioned before, I feel no qualms about owning these outright fakes, given the Swatch groups unpleasant behaviour regarding MoonSwatches.

The first I bought was the Red 'Mission to Mars'.

I was quite pleased with the 'Mars', so I also bought the 'Mission to Neptune', blue watch you see here.

This came on a lookalike strap, very like the Jupiter, while the Mars came on the white strap on my Pagani Design.

It seems to be identical to the fake 'Mars', with the same error on the caseback and completely removable caseback and purely cosmetic battery 'hatch'.

Here the subdials are different again to the real thing.

The left dial tracks chrono minutes, the right is a 24 hour clock, always running, like the Pagani Design, but is marked as if it is the 1/10th second dial on the genuine MoonSwatch. The bottom dial is a running second hand.

At first sight the fakes look pretty decent, but (as you can see above) the devil is in the detail. The lugs are broader and less defined than those on the MoonSwatch, which are pretty close to those of the real Speedmaster.

On the 'Mars' especially, but also the 'Neptune', the bezel printing is quite crude compared to the Swatch.

The hands look fairly similar, but even a few moments in the sun reveals the lume is much better on the Swatch.

The back features some big giveaways, too.

On the Swatch, you can only open a small hatch, featuring a sticker of the planet the watch represents, whereas these fakes have a completely removable back, indicated by a little notch in the top right lug as you look at this photo.

The pushers and crown, too, look a bit coarse and, yet again, undefined, compared to the Swatch.

The biggest let down though, is the engraving on the back.

Generally it looks fairly good, but while the Swatch says "DREAM BIG FLY HIGHER", the fakes say "DREAM BIG FIY HIGHER!" - If you're buying a MoonSwatch from an unknown source, always check the case back (and the position of the right hand sub dial hand - If the main hands are set to 12 in photos, be suspicious)

Finally, I picked up the Omsan you see here. It features some Swatch branding, but not the Omega one, with Omsan being prominent.

The biggest difference between this watch and all the others, is that it is a fake chronograph!

The pushers do absolutely nothing, they don't even move and the second hand ticks continually, while the subdials are for appearance other.

The case, hands, strap and dial all look pretty similar to the branded fakes, but the caseback is even poorer, with "DREAM BIG FIY HCHER" obviously poorly copied from the other fakes and only printed!

The caseback opening is cruder, too, with just a little tab on it to open the back.

Still, having paid just £4.86 for it, I'm rather surprised to say it's as well finished as the other fake MoonSwatches and after 4 months is still keeping perfect time. Can you expect any more than that?

Also, a quick look at what's inside the fakes.

You're obviously getting a better movement in the £20 watches, as they are real chronos, but they do look far more substantial than the Omsan.

All you can ever access on the Swatch is the battery.

The straps on the fakes are pretty good, I think. I know a lot of people hate the genuine MoonSwatch velcro strap, but it's actually a fraction nicer, with more texture, than the fakes, but it's no more flexible and the fittings don't seem any better quality.

My two fakes, though, now sit on cheap silicone replacements, for no reason other than I thought I'd try them out!

The colours are a poor match for the cases, but I don't really mind. To be honest, I'd be happier if my 'Mars' watch's case was closer to the strap. The first time I wore the watch, my wife asked why I'd bought a pink watch!

So, there you have a comparison of the Speedmaster Professional and a selection of the lookalikes on the market.

The real thing is, I think, a great watch, if undoubtedly over milked by Omega with their massive array of limited editions and the like.

If I had my time again, I would have bought the quite rare version of the Speedmaster with the moonphase complication as I think it looks great, but I'm a very happy Speedmaster Professional owner.

The genuine MoonSwatch surprised me by being nicer than I expected, but I remain unconvinced it's a £250 watch or anywhere near.

The Pagani Design (as with nearly everything from that brand, who stole a premium car maker's name and then compounded the crime by adding Design to it, when design is the last thing they do!) is actually a pretty decent affordable watch.

It doesn't pretend to be an Omega, although it's clearly a copy of the Speedmaster (if not an exact copy of any particular one), and features a quality Seiko quartz chronograph movement for well under £100.

There's little to dislike about it (except the brand name perhaps) if you look past its similarity to the Speedmaster, even the bracelet is reasonable for the price and some newer versions are even more attractive than genuine Speedmasters, in my view.

The fully branded fake MoonSwatches are OK for the £20 or so I paid, but if you look, they're cheap watches and flawed fakes. On the other hand, they work perfectly well as cheap, simple chronographs.

Finally, the Omsam is just a very cheap quartz watch that looks very like a MoonSwatch, but is certainly no worse than many other quartz watches in terms of time keeping - For under £5, do you have any right to expect a watch to even work?

I'm not, as I said before, supporting fakes generally. If I'd known the two fully branded fakes were marked as such I wouldn't have bought them, but Swatch treated honest buyers so badly over the MoonSwatch affair that I feel no guilt in owning these two and would certainly never pretend they were anything other than cheap copies of the Swatch.

So, how would I rate the various lookalike Speedmasters in terms of value for money?

The Pagani Design is the clear winner for me. It delivers a quality Seiko movement in a well finished stainless steel case and sapphire crystal for sub £100 (sometimes well under!).

It's a watch you can wear without shame and will probably last you as long as a low-end Seiko would, for substantially less money.

Next, in my view, is the MoonSwatch. I was impressed by the finish, it really is as close as you can get in plastic (oh, sorry, bio-ceramic!) to the real case shape and the 1/10th second chrono feature is a good one, but if you just want a 1/10th second chronograph, even Swatch themselves offer far better watches for less money.

Looking past their fakeness, the two £20 fakes are next up. They're relatively crude compared to the Swatch, but I think you'd only really notice that if you had the real thing to hand as well or took a really close look. They are working chronographs and look the part from arm's length, at least.

Propping up the league table of Speedmaster lookalikes is, of course, the Omsan. It's just a very cheap quartz movement in the crudest of all the watch cases here, but it tells the time as well as the others, so if you really want a watch, for next to nothing, that has the Speedmaster look, it's hard to completely discount!

Of course, many will disagree, but this was never going to be anything but a subjective comparison.