Whole Wide World & Divine Thing : A Soup Dragons Two For Tuesday

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The Soup Dragons’ Whole Wide World sounds like the result of a bunch of young guys having a see who can drink the most energy drinks competition – or maybe even a see who can drink the most cans of Dragon Soop competition – as they listen to a selection of classic Buzzcocks and Undertones singles, before rushing into a studio with the intention of making a ramshackle, rip-roaring teenage rampage of a record that will make anybody hearing it happy to be alive for its one and a half minute length.

Made by the band on a budget of around fifty quid according to singer Sean Dickson on his YouTube page, this is the video for Whole Wide World which went on to appear on British TV on The Chart Show.

The early Soup Dragons led a charmed existence. When the fledging band recorded a track called If You Were The Only Girl In The World Would You Take Me? I’m sure they had little idea the kind of reception that lay in store for it. If they did, then I congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Only conceived as one side of a flexi disc giveaway to be released through their bassist Sushil Dade’s Pure Popcorn fanzine (together with Talk Open by The Legend! on Jerry Thackray’s none too imaginatively titled fanzine The Legend!), it became an NME single of the week. John Peel picked up on the track and invited them down for a Radio One session, agreeing to pay their travel costs to London out his own pocket into the bargain as the band were too brassic to afford the fare down.

An invitation to contribute a track to the latest in a series of cassette tapes distributed by NME resulted in Pleasantly Surprised appearing on C86. And if Neil Taylor and his co-compilers ever imagined that this tape would end up giving a name to a genre of music then, again, I would congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Oh, and before I forget, the first ever live Soup Dragons show was also pretty special. They supported Primal Scream at one of the legendary Splash One ‘happenings’ at Daddy Warbuck’s in Glasgow. And if the Splash organisers ever imagined that a short documentary (The Outsiders) and a full length documentary (Teenage Superstars) that covered their club nights, would both later be shown on TV, well, you can guess my thoughts on the subject.

The music press adored The Soup Dragons.

And then the music press went off The Soup Dragons.

As did many indie fundamentalists, who felt betrayed when the band began to introduce a wider range of musical references into their sonic palette on tracks like Mother Universe. How dare they embrace samplers and a dance element?

Lovegod, their 1990 album, according to their press release anyway, was ‘Full of their love of rock ‘n’ Roll iconography. Full of Pain. Kinky Love. And dark metaphors delivered with swagger through a curled lip sneer.’ On its release, even more Soup Dragons badges around the country were unbuttoned from anoraks and thrown away in a tizzy, replaced by badges of more reliable acts, i.e. those with a suitably high score on the twee-o-meter and zero ambition to ever leave their indie garrets.

Sales began snowballing with the release of I’m Free, a Jagger/Richards composition that The Soup Dragons chose to cover after watching The Stones in the Park concert. Featuring some reggae toasting from Junior Reid, a gospel choir, dancey grooves and some slide guitar, this went top ten in Britain.

‘Early on we’d just bang the songs out, but we refuse to do that now,’ Dickson explained to Spin early in 1991. ‘When you start fucking about with songs, it’s really exciting. The whole concept of the Soup Dragons comes from a pop art background that’s defined by bastardizing thing. That’s where the whole idea of sampling comes from.’

The bastardizing continued on next album Hotwired, which again merged dance beats and rock. Divine Thing manges to sound more Stonesy than I’m Free. It’s maybe also a little Lovesexy (Dickson being a big Prince fan) and its chorus always struck me as a little T.Rexy.

A homage to Glenn Milstead AKA Divine, The Soup Dragons wanted John Waters to shoot the video but he otherwise engaged. Instead directing duties were taken on by Nick Egan, who was maybe best known at the time for directing Sonic Youth’s promo for Sugar Kane (and designing a couple of covers for Clash singles). From March 1992, here it is:

John Waters must have liked the song. As a thank you, he gave Sean an autographed can of hairspray, and just in case you’re wondering why, think of the title of Waters’ 1988 movie.

Submarine (Soundtrack Sundays)

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If I told you that that Submarine was an independently made coming-of-age drama, then you might not be surprised to learn that the protagonist of the story, a 15-year-old navigating his way through a stormy adolescence in South Wales, is an outsider. Of course, he is.

Wide-eyed and clueless, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a wannabe great mind who, again predictably, is lovestruck as the film begins, devoting much of his time to daydreaming about Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a girl in his class who is occasionally moody and often mischievous. She even enjoys bullying ‘in moderation’, which makes Oliver uncomfortable, although as he tells himself: ‘I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress.’

Director Richard Ayoade (super-nerd Moss from The IT Crowd) doesn’t take too long before displaying a fondness for a cinematic reference, possibly to reflect the fact that Oliver also sees himself as a budding cinephile.

Jordana’s favourite item of clothing is a red woolen coat probably because Ayoade wants to later reference Don’t Look Now. The film even employs some bold intertitles that could have come direct from an early Godard film and come to think of it, maybe Oliver’s not too obscure object of desire’s bob is a nod to Anna Karina in movies like Godard’s Vivre sa vie.

Then again, it might be that Yasmin Paige already had a bob when she auditioned for the part and that the film’s wardrobe assistant got a good price on the red woolen coat and it looked pretty timeless, fitting in with a movie that didn’t want to be tied down too specifically to an exact period, even though Oliver’s parents go see Crocodile Dundee, meaning it must be the mid-1980s.

Maybe the coat is red because of Jordana’s sometimes fiery temperament. Or maybe there’s a combination of reasons behind it? I bet Oliver over-analyses film too. Let’s move on.

Oliver is persistent in his quest for Jordana, and this pays off. They tentatively become an item, and his dad Lloyd (Noah Taylor) gives him a copy of a mixtape cassette with some songs that he used to listen to when he was Oliver’s age and embarking on his first relationship. I had him down as a bit of a prog or folk rock man myself, but these songs are written and sung by Alex Turner.

Ayoade had previously made three promos – Fluorescent Adolescent, Crying Lightning, and Cornerstone – for The Arctic Monkeys and so inviting Turner to provide some new songs for the soundtrack was a natural choice. And a good one. Turner submitted five tracks, six if you count Stuck on the Puzzle (Intro) and Stuck on the Puzzle as separate. Okay, let’s call it five and a half. Reflective, broody and sometimes dreamy in a similar vein to his fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley, these were released as an EP in the Spring of 2011 by Domino, the first solo work by Turner. Here is Stuck on the Puzzle:

Oliver ‘n’ Jordana begin seeing more and more of one another. She likes watching things burn, while on an early date, he drags her to his local arthouse cinema to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent from the 1920s. There’s a boy that knows how to show a girl a good time. Although at least she probably enjoyed the ending.

Having succeeded in his pursuit of Jordana, Oliver next attempts to repair the disintegrating marriage of his parents. And when I say disintegrating, I mean disintegrating to the extent that mum Jill (Sally Hawkins) somehow finds her new neighbour – and old boyfriend – Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) a more exciting prospect than Lloyd. This despite his spike topped mullet being the worst hairstyle in cinema since John Travolta’s dreads in Battlefield Earth. Not only that, but he’s also a motivational speaker, giving seminars to the gullible on his system of Psychic and Physical Excellence.

Saying that, Lloyd is far from perfect hubby material. He can be one morose individual, although he has his moments. He enjoys marine biology related facts, such as the ocean being six miles deep (really?) but smelling something distinctly fishy about his wife’s blossoming friendship with Graham sends him spiralling into depression.

Soon, Oliver’s going to join him in the feeling miserable stakes after a Billy Liar moment where he self-sabotages his chances of being with his dream girl. He might justify his actions but deep down he regrets them and reckons it might be best to put down his innermost thoughts on paper. Being a misfit, he does this in a classroom. I would have thought that as a film fan, he would have realised that whatever he writes will inevitably come to the attention of a teacher and lead to his total humiliation in front of the whole class including Jordana. Schoolboy error you might say.

Soppy git that I can be, as the movie edged towards its conclusion I found myself rooting for Oliver and hoping he could fix things with Jordana.

Okay, I never remotely bought into the potential Jill/Graham romance and thought Ayoade tried too hard to demonstrate his directing chops at times.

Submarine is not nearly as accomplished and individual as Rushmore. Neither is it as funny as Gregory’s Girl, albeit there’s a very amusing spoof of Open Uni programmes from the 1970s with an uncharismatic Lloyd presenting, and during one of Oliver’s voiceovers, there’s a clever visual gag where he discusses a biopic of his life and what the production would be able to afford. I won’t give that one away.

As coming-of-age dramas go this was a very solid effort for a debut. It avoids the cloying kookiness of many American dramas exploring similar territory. The two young leads were well cast with Yasmin Paige being especially good. Both actually look the age they’re depicted as onscreen, which is also a plus, while Alex Turner’s music suited the mood of Submarine perfectly. I’ll likely be in a pretty damn small minority, but I prefer the songs here to just about everything he’s ever recorded with The Arctic Monkeys.

A Beautiful Mutation Of A Future Generation & An Electronic Bilbo Bopparonie

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First up, The Regents’ 7 Teen, a slice of perfect post-punk pop (if that’s even a thing) released in November 1979 – by which time I was already 2 Months into being 8 Teen.

The song retains the rawness of 1977 but is even more stripped back than yer average punk offering from that year. It’s also somehow very accessible and danceable too, the sort of track you could have easily skanked along to at your local alternative disco in between The Specials and Leyton Buzzards. As for its DIY credentials – they’re impeccable. Released by British independent label Rialto, the tune was recorded on the band’s own 4 track and released in this form.

The lyrics are a grubby three and a half minute mini Play For Today about a girl who’s not yet a woman, a beautiful mutation of a future generation. There’s a great choppy guitar line, some chunky bass and the two girls la-la-la-laa-ing provide a fantastic counterpoint to Martin Scheller’s vocals. And his scream.

As for the cover, it looks like what graphic designers call a rough, a sketch produced quickly to give a client an indication of what the finished image might look like. Here, this is not necessarily a bad thing – its bold simplicity suits the lo-fi feel of the music.

Two versions of the single were issued. One was deemed TV and radio friendly, even though it manages to smuggle in the line ‘Thought that you were never coming’. The only difference is that it substitutes the ‘uncensored’ version’s ‘permanent erection’ with ‘permanent reaction’. You could never have one of the BBC’s top presenters such as Jimmy Savile having to introduce a hit with a clearly offensive word in its lyrics, could you?

And yes, 7 Teen began selling in sufficient quantities to make its way into the UK charts, joining the likes of The Clash, The Sugarhill Gang, Pink Floyd and Abba and soon The Regents were invited onto Britain’s favourite pop show on a number of times (and Savile did introduce them on one of these visits).

You couldn’t hold the band back. For another Top of the Pops appearance, Martin Sheller modelled a red outfit with two shoulder pads gaffa taped onto his top and despite the fashion faux pas, the record still kept on selling, eventually, peaking at #11. They’re certainly in a good mood here and look out for Sheller’s reaction when he realises he’s messed up his miming.

A year or so after The Regents’ five minutes of fame, Phil Oakey visited a nightspot in the centre of Sheffield called the Crazy Daisy where he chanced upon Susanne Sulley (only 7 Teen) and Joanne Catherall (only just turned 8 Teen) on the dancefloor. Famously, this led to him inviting them to sing and dance with The Human League, who had recently been depleted after an acrimonious split.

At the time it was suggested by some that Oakey’s decision might have been influenced by The Regents line-up including two young female backing singers in dresses who also danced – one blonde, one brunette.

Most likely a coincidence I reckon. The Regents, after all, had failed to repeat the chart success of 7 Teen and by this point must have already been worrying that they might be filed under ‘one hit wonders’ in years to come. As further evidence I’ll cite a comment made by a modest Susanne to NME in the autumn of 1981, when she explained Phil’s intentions for his new look band: ‘He wanted a tall black singer and he got two short white girls who couldn’t sing.’

The Sound of the Crowd was the girls’ first outing in the ranks of The Human League and the formula of a crunching synth riff; impossible to decipher the meaning of lyrics and two short white girls who couldn’t sing (and couldn’t dance either according to some) proved irresistible to the British record buying public. This would be The Human League’s first real hit, peaking at #12. With no need to stand proud, here they are from 1981.

Finally, in explanation, if you’ve been wondering about An Electronic Bilbo Bopparoonie. That’s the message etched into the runout groove of The Sound of the Crowd‘s vinyl.

Mr. Vampire (Made in Hong Kong #2)

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Friday saw freezing temperatures in my part of the world (-7 overnight) and the next morning I woke up sneezing incessantly. This lasted throughout the day and into the night but luckily disappeared after about twelve hours although the sneezing had been so severe that my ribs hurt like hell for some time afterwards. At least I could be thankful it very likely wasn’t Covid related.

It was time for something that might just be fun entertainment. The dafter the better and 1985’s Mr. Vampire suited that bill ideally. Directed by Ricky Lau, this is an influential horror/comedy/kung fu hybrid from the golden age of Hong Kong cinema that I hadn’t watched since it was featured as part of Channel 4’s Chinese Ghost Story season in 1990.

The rules here are different from those you have learned in Western vampire movies. Vampires become harmless if you stick a special talisman to their foreheads. Twin dabs of blood on the forehead also incapacitate them, as does an eight-sided mirror. They’re blind and so can’t locate you if you hold your breath. If bitten by one, you can be saved by sticky rice. Not a mixture of sticky and non-sticky rice. Only pure sticky rice. That rule is very important.

I should also point out that the vampires resemble zombies as much as they do Count Dracula. And they hop!

A Taoist priest, Master Kau (Lam Ching-ying) is given the task of supervising the re-burial of a businessman’s father, the idea being that the improved feng shui of a new tomb will bring prosperity to his family who are still alive. Together with his bumbling assistants, Man Choi (Ricky Hui) and Chou Sheng (Chin Siu-ho), Kau exhumes the corpse but the body shows few signs of decomposition despite having lain underground for years.

Realising that it must be a vampire, Kau relocates the coffin to his house for further study. Due to the incompetence of Man Choi and Chou, the vampire breaks out and his first victim will be his own son, Yam.

The local police become involved. Led by Yam’s nephew Wai, who is another incompetent, they are of limited use. Wai, like Man Choi and Chou, is more interested in Yam’s daughter Ting-Ting. To impress her, he arrests Kau, framing him on a charge of murdering his uncle. With the only man knowledgeable enough to combat vampires behind bars, the whole situation spirals out of control with yet more hopping vampires, a conniving but seductive ghost and even a cave-dwelling gorilla.

The comedy is obviously far from subtle. And if you’re looking for scares, you might as well watch Hotel Transylvania. The walls in the prison look as solid as cardboard and occasionally the wires are visible in some of the stunts. Whether Kau’s grey monobrow is supposed to look fake, I have no idea. But all of this adds to the madcap fun.

Ricky Lau, on his directing debut, keeps the action moving briskly. There’s some impressive kung fu action, especially from the amazingly acrobatic Lan Ching-Ying. Best of all, Mr. Vampire has a great ensemble cast, although special mention must be made of Lam Ching-ying as the indomitable Master Kau.

Lam had previously worked as an action choreographer, and assistant to Bruce Lee on movies like Fist of Fury and Enter the Dragon, as well as appearing in a string of Shaw Brothers chopsocky movies. His performance here will be his most fondly remembered. Deservedly so.

On its original 1985 release, Mr. Vampire proved a real blockbuster at the Hong Kong box-office. It also spawned a cycle of sequels and countless rip-off jiangshi (hopping vampire) movies, though none of them are said to have matched the original.

The movie was released last summer by Eureka Masters of Cinema. For more on Mr. Vampire click here.

Radio On (1979): British Movie Night #5

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Music plays a big part in Radio On. Its opening credits even advertise not only the artists that we’ll be soon be hearing but the individual tracks. It opens with David Bowie’s Heroes accompanying some obviously handheld camera shots of someone prowling through a house, that initially appears empty. Doors open and close, and we get a glimpse of a man lying motionless in a bath, presumably having committed suicide. Or maybe not. This is not a film that gives much away.

The lyrics move into the German version of the song, Helden, giving a hint that like Deep End, this is another British/West German co-production, funded jointly by the BFI and Wim Wender’s production company. And yes, the influence of the German director’s early movies is easily identifiable here, no surprise as he acted as associate producer and the film was shot by his frequent collaborator Martin Schäfer, while his then-partner Lisa Kreuzer plays a German woman Ingrid searching for her daughter Alice – an in-joke on Wenders’ Alice in the Cities where she played a woman searching for a daughter named – you’ve guessed it – Alice.

One of the dead man’s final actions was to post a parcel to his brother Robert (David Beames) with three Kraftwerk cassette tapes and a note wishing him a happy birthday. Robert decides to investigate the circumstances of the death further but he’s no Colombo.

Radio On is a real rarity, a British road movie. It’s also a minimalist road movie in every way and moves only between London and the Bristol area. Not much over one hundred miles in distance.

Fast-paced, plot driven and dialogue heavy are not descriptions you’ll ever come across if reading about the film. Petit himself has spoken of how he’s always thought of it as ‘more of a report than a dramatic narrative, about the way things looked and the music we played, about cultural climate and weather, buildings and landscape, a sense of alien record.’

You might not be surprised to hear that Hollywood didn’t come knocking on the door of Chris Petit.

Some scenes serve little purpose in the traditional way of moving the film forward, such as Robert getting his hair cut by the world’s least talkative hairdresser or when, alone, he plays an arcade game called Tumblers without any success.

Sometimes a shot seems superfluous but will later suggest something you feel the need to speculate on. When Robert sets off on the autobahn – sorry – motorway – to Bristol he drives under the Westway and past a wall where the prominent slogan ‘FREE ASTRID PROLL’ has been spray painted – Proll being Baader-Meinhof gang member arrested in London during 1978, her capture spawning a rash of supportive graffiti.

Ingrid’s ex-partner has obtained custody of their daughter and doesn’t want her to see her mother – there are some hints later that this situation is down to her behaving irresponsibly – perhaps getting involved in the fringes of some Red Army Faction style group. Or maybe that’s just my imagination running riot.

Robert goes into a pub and plays Wreckless Eric’s Whole Wide World on the jukebox. He drinks alone at the bar but when he leaves, there’s a youngish guy in his car. The two haven’t been seen communicating but Robert seems okay with this. An intense squaddie who has served two spells of duty in Northern Ireland, he has witnessed his pal being murdered by Nationalists, an event that has clearly brought on some kind of post-traumatic stress. This has led him to go AWOL and Robert decides he’d be better travelling alone although there is danger inherent in this choice. A little action at long last.

This is a film that can be self-referential. In his job as a nightshift DJ in a giant bakery, Robert plays Ian Dury and The Blockhead’s Sweet Gene Vincent. Later, an Eddie Cochran obsessed garage attendant (played by an on the cusp of fame Sting) mentions the crash that killed Cochran and injured Vincent, explaining that they had just ended their tour at the Bristol Hippodrome, a venue that we’ve seen earlier. Sting’s character also imparts some Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich trivia decades before a character in Tarantino’s Death Proof claimed that Pete Townshend almost quit The Who to join the Wiltshire act. I’m still not buying that one.

There are some more gently amusing in-jokes. When Robert first comes across Ingrid, she’s talking to a friend in German and there are no onscreen subtitles provided. Later the partner of Robert’s brother watches a film with the sound down so as not to wake Robert, relying instead on the subtitles.

Shot during Britain’s Winter of Discontent with the spectre of Margaret Thatcher’s likely victory at the polls looming large, the country looks cold with Schäfer’s black and white cinematography adding a suitably bleak mood to proceedings.

Radio On failed to grab me the way Wenders’ own early films grabbed me although it didn’t annoy me the way some of his later films like The Million Dollar Hotel annoyed me – the motto here being ignore Bono if he ever tries to pitch you an idea.

It was selected for Director’s Fortnight at Cannes before going on to play Britain’s art-house circuit. In the documentary series Punk Brittania, synth pioneer Daniel Miller of The Normal named it as one of his favourite films of the era, particularly admiring its use of Kraftwerk ‘which really threw the whole thing into a completely different, weird spin.’

Quite simply, the soundtrack is superb, easily the best thing about the film.

It could be split between two distinct camps (almost). Firstly, there are a number of very forward looking acts – Bowie, Kraftwerk, Robert Fripp and Devo – connected in a number of ways: Bowie used to regularly enthuse about Kraftwerk being his favourite group, while they name-checked him on Trans-Europe Express. Robert Fripp supplied lead guitar on Heroes, and after seeing Devo play Max’s Kansas City, Bowie took to the stage to declare them ‘the band of the future’. Fripp volunteered his services for production duties for their debut album but instead they chose Eno assisted by Bowie. The album was recorded at former Kraftwerk producer Conny Plank’s studio.*

Secondly, there are a bunch of Stiffs: the aforementioned Wreckless Eric and Ian Dury and The Blockheads, together with The Rumour and Lene Lovich – whose Lucky Number was shooting up the British singles chart as Petit filmed. Stiff Records’ head honcho Dave Robinson was agreeable to the idea that as many of his publicity hungry label’s roster be represented as possible and a deal was struck at a very agreeable price for Petit, including Devo whose frenetic take on Satisfaction did appear on Stiff in Britain (hence ‘almost’ in brackets in the previous paragraph).

Here’s a clip featuring some Kraftwerk:

Trivia: Nicholas Royle’s novel The Director’s Cut (2000) features a projectionist who has recently programmed and screened Radio On as part of a series of road movies. He also sleeps rough outside Radio On location the Camden Plaza Cinema and imagines meeting Chris Petit as he does so, the director keen to get him involved in a sequel. It’s a recommended read.

* Mark Mothersbaugh recently discovered some tapes of his band jamming with Bowie from these recording sessions and these will likely be released at some point in the not too distant future.

The Fourth Stiff

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Wreckless Eric: Whole Wide World (Stiff Records)

Having already featured Elvis Costello, Ian Dury and Nick Lowe in this series, it’s now time for another artist from the Stiff stable.

October 1977 saw many exciting acts booked to take to the stage of the Glasgow Apollo. Dr Feelgood would play together with Mink DeVille; The Stranglers were pencilled in to make their Apollo debut backed by The Rezillos; The Clash were coming too and so were The Suburban Studs, although they were only a support act and the headliners for their show held no appeal for me. I’m still not an AC/DC fan. Then there was the Live Stiffs package tour featuring five different acts that were each playing twenty minute sets before coming together onstage to end the evening with a rambunctious rendition of Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll.

I wanted to see all five shows but there was a problem – I was a schoolboy and money was tight. I could only afford two tickets at most if I wanted to continue being able to buy a few records and have the odd night out at the dancing.

Decisions. Decisions. Decisions. Although The Clash was a definite.

Suffering from a touch of lazyitis, taking on a part time job was something I’d always found easy to avoid. Most of the girls in my class put in a few hours in shops at weekends to supplement their pocket money; many boys delivered newspapers, but there were no rounds on the go at this point. A guy that sat next to me in Geography said he could get me a job as a milk boy. This would entail getting up at five in the morning and then jumping on and off an electric milk float, lugging heavy crates of milk around housing schemes even in the most hellish of weather so households could drink a pinta milka day.

No thanks.

My pal would come into school knackered each and every morning and would remain knackered for most of the day. Half my time in that class was spent nudging him as our teacher attempted to teach us about the tributaries of the Amazon or tell us what the capital city of Yugoslavia was.

One day, on the cusp of becoming sixteen, I bunked off geography and all my other classes with another pal, jumped on an appropriately named 77 bus, and joined a queue in Renfield Street outside the Apollo. Back then, the best way to get your hands on a ticket was at the venue’s box office, waiting patiently while (in our case) attempting to appear much more adult than our years by affecting an air of nonchalance while all the time half expecting to be hauled out the line by some truant officer, whose daily duty might include visiting hotspots such as this where teenagers would regularly skip school.

We’d decided to attend The Stranglers’ date, although if that had sold out, plan B was to spend our cash on the Stiff night. I’m still not entirely sure that we made the right decision but, hey, since then I have managed to see four of those Live Stiffs acts, although not Larry Wallis even though I did like his single of the time Police Car. Here it is accompanied initially by some footage of Larry’s old stomping ground of Portobello Road in Notting Hill from the 1968 film Otley:

Another minimal production job by Nick Lowe, Whole Wide World is utterly wonderful from the two chord Telecaster strum that introduces the song through to Eric Goulden’s impassioned ‘Yeah’ and Nick Lowe’s Duane Eddy-ish outro. The reverb on that guitar is magnificent. The bass is magnificent and even those simple drum thuds but best of all is Eric’s reedy rasp which grows increasingly manic as the song reaches its climax, as he insists that to find his perfect partner he’d go the whole wide wirld, go the whole wide wirld just to find her.

Timeless, perfect pop.

Okay, some smart-arses might complain about the geographical blunder in the lyrics, the Bahamas being technically situated in the Atlantic, outside the Caribbean rim but I like to think that the lyrics reflect the viewpoint of a character who is fictional – and who maybe had a long milk round meaning he could never properly concentrate on his geography lessons. You don’t automatically assume that Mrs Goulden ever advised the young Wreckless that the only girl for him probably lived in an island in the Pacific, do you? Or for that matter that Larry Wallis was actually a police car?

The story of how Eric was signed to Stiff is an unusual one and I wouldn’t necessarily advise young musicians to copy it today if they’re on the lookout for a deal.

The singer got boozed up before handing in a demo to the Stiff offices in London, announcing his arrival by kicking open the door. A tall guy with a beard and a shaggy haircut asked if he could help and Eric informed him that he was ‘one of those cunts that brings tapes into record companies.’ The bearded guy incidentally was Huey Lewis whose terrible band The News went mega in America in the 1980s with tracks like Hip to be Square and The Power of Love. The tape was passed on.

Once outside the office, Eric immediately wanted to forget the way he’d acted. Before too long, Jake Riviera of Stiff phoned and a pessimistic Eric explained that they could re-use the cassette tape rather than going to the trouble of sending it back. Riviera, of course, loved the tape and the punkish bravado displayed by Eric. He asked him if he could make his way back to the office ASAP before trooping over to Pathway Studios to record Whole Wide World.

Nick Lowe on bass as well as guitar. Steve Goulding of The Rumour on drums. Bish bash bosh. Two takes before bouncing the handclaps together with some tambourines. A few days later Wreckless was back to put down his vocal. And then a very long wait before the song was paired with Semaphore Signals to become Buy 16.

Amazingly, the song failed to chart in Britain and only ever sold a tiny fraction of Huey Lewis’s output but in the forty odd years since its release it has endured and arguably grew steadily more popular.

Ten years after its release, The Monkees covered it on their Pool It! album. Twenty years after that The Proclaimers recorded a version for Life with You. Marilyn Manson has performed the song live and Will Ferrell sang it in a film I have never seen. Earlier this year, Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day had a go at Whole Wide World too. Not that I have any desire to ever hear any of these.

I have, though, seen and enjoyed Eric perform the song live onstage with singer-songwriter Amy Rigby. And if you don’t know, Amy, who hails from Pittsburgh, P.A. rather than Tahiti or the Bahamas, turned out to be the one for Wreckless with the pair marrying in 2008.

For more on Wreckless Eric click here.

  • Up next, a 1979 British film with one of my favourite ever soundtracks – which includes Whole Wide World.

Nah Pop, No Style: Althea & Donna – Uptown Top Ranking (Lightning Records)

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‘My reggae tastes only cover the 70s. None of your Shabba Ranks round here, sunshine. I strictly roots I think you’ll find.’ So wrote Luke Haines in his 2011 book Post Everything: Outsider Rock and Roll.

I stretch into the first half of the 1980s myself, and I not so strictly roots. I even thought it was a good idea to buy the first couple of UB40 albums. After the death of Bob Marley, my interest in reggae began to wane. On reflection, maybe that was partly down to a big decrease in my ganja intake.

So no Shabba Ranks round my way either, and definitely none of the ragga and dancehall artists from the era when ridiculously sexist and insanely homophobic lyrics became commonplace. Tracks like Beenie Man’s Damn which boasts: ‘I’m dreaming of a new Jamaica, come to execute all the gays,’ really ain’t my ting.

Before the latest of my picks of the best records of 1977, here’s a track that I was tempted to choose in its place. This is Marcia Aitken’s heartbreaking Still in Love With You, originally released in Jamaica on the Joe Gibbs Record Globe label, while coming out on Lightning Records in Britain.

Two years ago, the song again found itself in the limelight when Beyoncé used it to announce her On The Run II tour with hubby Jay-Z in a much viewed TV ad. Payment to Marcia Aitken? Not one thin dime. Maybe Beyoncé was feeling the pinch at the time even though the tour reportedly went on to gross over $250 million.

Alton Ellis is another artist who deserves to have had much more money ponied up to him over the years. I know very little about the man other than he has been called the Godfather of Rocksteady and that he doesn’t seem to have been a litiginous man.

Obviously, if you know Uptown Top Ranking, you’ll be almost instantly struck by the similarities between that song and Still In Love With You. Both share the same riddim, which was originated in 1967 by Ellis on his Coxsone Dodd produced Studio 1 single Still In Love. Marcia Aitken’s single did credit him as its composer but he failed to gain any recognition from a number of artists, including the pair who perform our next track.

The sole hit here by teenagers Althea (not Althia) Rose Forrest and Donna Marie Reid, the lyrics of Uptown Top Ranking largely remain, all these years later, a mystery to me. What the pair meant by the line ‘Nah Pop, No Style, A Strictly Roots’, for example, I have no idea.

1977 was arguably a great year for Pop. Britain’s bestselling single of the year was Abba’s Knowing Me, Knowing You. Some of my fellow Scots have recently been professing their love for another huge hit, Baccara’s Yes Sir, I Can Boogie, but Uptown Top Ranking was surely the most irresistible pop single of 1977.

Strictly roots? I must have another definition for the term.

No style? Okay, one was often seen wearing Deirdre Barlow specs, but the lyrics suggest they both believe they’re leaders in the sartorial stakes, each in their khaki suit and ting, and gorgeous too – to the extent they brag about giving men heart attacks when they see them in their alter backs (which I’m guessing are halter tops).

Again, this is a track that I first heard on John Peel’s Radio 1 show and his championing of it played a big part in its success. Peel placed it at #2 in his 1977 Festive Fifty and the single entered the UK charts in the run up to Christmas. By the tail end of January 1978, it had knocked Wings’ dirge Mull of Kintyre off the top of the chart after its nine week stay. Althea and Donna would enjoy only one week at the top and, unlike Wings, their single failed to sell over two million copies nationwide. But it should have been the other way around.

Let’s get back to the aforementioned Luke Haines. This is from the time when the pop conceptualist teamed up with former Jesus and Mary Chain drummer John Moore and vocalist Sarah Nixey to become Black Box Recorder.

I’m a sucker for posho sounding females talking through a song, and here this is supplied by Sarah Nixey, whose deadpan and detached delivery was achieved, according to Haines in Post Everything, by her being unaware of the original and mightily hungover: ‘We write out the lyrics – mainly Jamaican patois which we cannot make out – phonetically, and she reads them out into the microphone in one take, with the enthusiasm of a cash and carry shelf stacker.’

Works for me. From the 1998 album England Made Me, here is Black Box Recorder and their offbeat version of Uptown Top Ranking:

Deep End (1970): British Movie Night #4

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A British–West German co-production, filmed in London and Bavaria, and written and directed by a Pole, you might question this being a British film. But it is entirely set in London with the main roles going to English actors, so that’ll do for me. Beware, though, that a number of smaller roles went to German actors and some of their dubbed dialogue veers towards the dodgy at the start of the film.

Shy, inarticulate and clumsy, Mike (John Moulder-Brown), is fifteen but comes across as immature even for that age. Fresh out of school, he finds employment as a male attendant at a municipal public bathhouse and pool. Here, locals often go to have their weekly scrub-up, and he sometimes gets the chance to collect tips from clients for ‘special services’ rendered.

His first experience of this comes via a middle-aged platinum blonde (Diana Dors) who visits to get some sexual kicks by pathetically trying to enact a George Best fantasy with a clearly confused Mike. Like Friends, a 1971 film soundtracked by Elton John which I watched recently, it can make for some uncomfortable viewing due to the screen age of certain cast members, so I should point out that Moulder-Brown himself was 17 during the shoot.

Female attendant Susan (Jane Asher) shows him the ropes and he becomes besotted with her. It’s easy to imagine a teenage boy going down this line. Even though she’s maybe a decade older and already engaged, he somehow gets it into his head that a relationship with her might be on the cards – although you’d guess there’s as much chance of this happening as me beating Jane Asher in a cake making competition (I am, though, hoping to perfect my Buckforest Gateau recipe in time for Christmas).

In addition to her fiancé, Susan’s also involved with an older married man, a pervy PE teacher whose jobs include taking schoolgirls to the pool for swimming lessons. Judging by his behaviour as he does so, he may have become involved with Susan when she was his pupil.

Mike takes his infatuation – which he mistakes for love – to an extreme level. His working hours are spent with Susan and at night much of his time is devoted to spying on her.

In 2007, in a Sight & Sound feature on cinematic hidden gems, critic David Thompson chose Deep End. ‘Skolimowski’s direction is extravagant, crude and tender by turns, slapping the audience in the face with its insouciance and weird wit,’ he wrote, before adding: ‘Today the soundtrack by Can and Cat Stevens would probably win a high cool rating.’ I’m not sure why anybody would consider Cat Stevens cool but Thompson was certainly right about hipster favourites Can – credited here as The Can – whose Mother Sky perfectly soundtracks a particularly feverish segment of the film set in Soho, with Mike out on stalking duties again, having discovered that Susan’s fiancé Chris (Chris Sandford) is taking her to an upmarket disco.

In this sequence, Mike is shown desperately seeking Susan and
everything is a little off-kilter. He enters the disco, and a handheld camera completely disorientates viewers as it continuously swirls and circles around him in the reception area as he attempts to gain admission.

Mother Sky is pretty disorientating too. Jerzy Skolimowski has spoken about avoiding ‘obvious soundtracks’ and in 1970, commissioning an underground act like Can was certainly far from obvious – especially when you consider that it had only been around a year since Easy Rider had revolutionized movie music by rejecting a traditional instrumental score in favour of a carefully assembled rock soundtrack consisting of existing or newly commissioned songs.

On seeing Susan and her flashy boyfriend enter, Mike flees. He buys a hotdog. Two doormen attempt to cajole him into a strip joint. He buys another hotdog. He steals a life-size cardboard cut-out of a female, who looks suspiciously like Susan. Hiding from the bouncers of the club he stole the cutout from, he enters the room of a hooker with one leg in a plaster cast. Due to her predicament, she offers a cut-price deal for sex, but he’s more interested in loitering outside the disco again. Two girls persuade him to buy them hotdogs. They’re not too interested in Mike apart from getting something free from him. A group of Christian evangelist squares attempt to spread the word of the Lord in deepest, darkest Soho of all places. Predictably, with zero success. He buys so many hotdogs, he’s offered one for free.

Finally, he spots Susan and her fiancé on the street, arguing. They go their separate ways. He follows Susan to the underground, still carrying his cut-out. Is he having some kind of breakdown? It looks like it. I’m beginning to think this isn’t going to end well.

Mostly filmed during the first half of 1970, Deep End premiered at the Venice Film Festival. Critics were mostly very positive. In the Los Angeles Times, Kevin Thomas insisted that the film was masterpiece, that ‘shows Skolimowski to be a major film-maker, impassioned yet disciplined.’ Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune hailed it as ‘a stunning introduction to a talented film maker.’

Sadly, at the box-office it failed to generate much interest. Doubtless the fact that neither of the leads is sympathetic, didn’t help. Mike’s obviously excessively voyeuristic and prone to throwing childish tantrums too. Susan uses men (and is used by them) and also harbours a nasty streak, shown when she calls Mike’s mother a cow, presumably to hurt him, just because she can. The dialogue is not always convincing, likely as a result of Skolimowski’s poor English. Several of the actors had to rewrite their lines or improvise as the camera rolled and this didn’t always work, although arguably it adds to the dreamlike quality that is often evident.

Despite its flaws, Deep End is fascinating too. It displays a highly striking colour palette – at one point, in the background, a man begins painting the bath’s green tiled corridors a shade of the deepest Suspiria red (seven years before Argento’s horror classic was made). And if anybody ever tells you that everything the 1970s was either grey or beige, feel free to refer them to Jane Asher in her long yellow vinyl mac and blazing red hair.

Asher, incidentally, is very good as the cynical and amoral Susan.

The film also successfully showcases Skolimowski’s taste for absurdist humour. It is never predictable and although some critics judged it a film that deserves a better ending, I thought the climax in the pool was inspired and one of the most memorable in cult cinema.

Unavailable for decades due to legal problems, Deep End was released by the British Film Institute in a dual format edition on their Flipside series in 2011 and given a limited re-release in British cinemas. The film was also chosen to be screened at the Monorail’s Film Club at Glasgow Film Theatre in 2013.

The Hanging Debate Takes A Curious Twist

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John Cooper Clarke: Suspended Sentence (Rabid Records)

Why John Cooper Clarke didn’t pen an autobiography before, I have no idea as it has struck me for a decade or more that that the life of Britain’s premier punk poet was ripe for the memoir treatment. But good things come to those who wait, as the old cliche goes, and I Wanna Be Yours was finally published last month.

I’m now on the home straight, after reading a big chunk of it almost addictively in one go yesterday – although, as is my usual non-linear autobiography reading habit, I jumped in at what promised to be the most fascinating segment of the story for me – which was when Clarke was making the move from playing cabaret clubs in the north of England to embracing what might loosely be called the punk scene. I will get back to the start at some point, though.

Cooper signed to Rabid Records, a local label that had already put out singles from Slaughter And The Dogs and The Nosebleeds, and would go on to become best known for Jilted John’s Going Steady, a #4 hit in Britain in the summer of 1978.

Founded by Tosh Ryan, Lawrence Beadle and Martin Hannett, the label grew out of Music Force, a socialist musicians’ collective that set up live shows and arranged PA hire for bands – an offshoot of this being a profitable fly-posting business that apparently helped pay for the launch of the record label.

Initially, Clarke wasn’t keen on committing any of his work onto vinyl, especially with contributions from musicians, but did see the opportunities of helping promote himself with a single. A one-off band called The Curious Yellows was assembled and Martin Hannett oversaw production duties for what became the Innocents EP. ‘I didn’t really enjoy the recording process, and the results were mixed,’ Clarke admits. ‘Occasionally, it somehow hung together by accident, and I was pleasantly surprised, but generally I could only hear the mistakes.’

Released in November 1977, I first heard Suspended Sentence on the John Peel show and failed to notice any mistakes. Late at night, likely with the lights switched on low, Clarke’s surreal vision of a dystopian Britain made for a simultaneously comic and chilling listen. Peel adored it too. On his end of the year Festive Fifty list, he placed it at #5.

After signing to CBS, Clarke grew increasingly pissed off with Rabid. In the book, he complains (or maybe kvetches might be a more Cooper-esque way of putting it) about them punting out an album with the frankly shite title Où est la maison de fromage? ‘A shamelessly cheap, probably illegal move by a bunch of no-mark chisellers, secretly recorded and marketed without any input or consent from me. Naturally, I only want to present the polished end-product of my labours, therefore its very existence is a continuing thorn in my side. It never stops hurting. If you love me, throw it away.’

Sorry, John but the chances of that happening are the same as me being able to fit into a pair of your kecks.

I Wanna Be Yours also details two appearances at the Glasgow Apollo. The first came via a support slot early in 1978 on Be-Bop Deluxe’s Drastic Plastic tour.

My home town of Glasgow, it would have to be admitted, isn’t a city where acts can be automatically guaranteed a warm welcome. If they like you, you are treated like an absolute hero. If they don’t take to you, then there may be trouble ahead. I’ve mentioned before that I witnessed Suicide receive an Apollo reception so vituperative that Alan Vega still sounded a little shell-shocked when talking about it almost forty years later.

Sheena Easton’s Glasgow Green show in 1990 was to end badly too. Recording a Bond theme, winning Grammies and hooking up with Prince count for very little when your audience consists of boozed up Glaswegians if you commit the cardinal sin of speaking with a Mid-Atlantic accent when you’re fae Bellshill. Let’s just say that adulation was in short supply throughout her set.

According to John Cooper Clarke, his first taste of the Apollo stage was not to last long. Four minutes to be precise. ‘I just stood there,’ he writes, ‘ with no indication that the hostility would ever abate. You can’t fight that level of animosity, so as soon as the volume dropped a fraction, I just said, ‘Let’s call it a draw.’ ‘

Within a year he was back for a re-match, on the same bill as Richard Hell and The Voidoids and Elvis Costello and I was there to see the great man for the first of many times. His onstage banter and breakneck renditions of poems like Kung Fu International and (I Married a) Monster from Outer Space were all met with raucous laughter and appreciative applause. You shoulda seen him go-go-go.

‘The redemption of that night was priceless,’ he explains. ‘Ever since then, my Glasgow audiences have been some of the wildest in the world. It’s a wonderful city full of beautiful people.’

He’s way too kind.

For more on I Wanna Be Yours click here.

‘If You Ride Like Lightning, You’re Gonna Crash Like Thunder’ (Soundtrack Sundays)

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This week, a couple of tracks from The Place Beyond The Pines, the second of which is something really special, one of the most mesmerising pieces of music you could ever hope to hear.

Directed by Derek Cianfrance in 2012, The Place Beyond The Pines is a recommended watch, even though I never quite believed in some of the events that take place. On first seeing it, I stepped out of the cinema not even knowing if I was supposed to or not. It’s a film consisting of a triptych of stories and might have worked better with just two. There’s a massive coincidence and some far too obvious foreshadowing.

On the plus side, the direction was often striking and the acting was very strong across the board, with Ryan Gosling the standout in one of those man of few words roles that he specialises in. He plays Luke, a fairground motorcycle stunt performer who zigzags around a circular metal cage at great speed with two other daredevil riders. On discovering he has fathered a son while in Schenectady, he decides to quit his travelling job, win back Romina (Eva Mendes), the mother of his baby son, and become part of a family.

He also decides that, in order to make enough money to help achieve these goals, he should begin robbing banks. His actions will have wide ranging ramifications, even down through to the next generation.

Eva Mendes is superb too, and Ben Mendelsohn displays why when Gosling directed his own movie – Lost River in 2014 – he was so keen to get the Australian involved.

But the best thing about the film is its use of music.

Composed by Mike Patton, one time singer of Faith No More (a band that failed to ever remotely interest me), the score is surprisingly impressive with The Snow Angel and Schenectady particularly effective – the latter with its brooding, twanging guitar wouldn’t have felt out of place in something by David Lynch.

There’s also Fratres For Violin, String Orchestra And Percussion by Arvo Pärt, the Estonian minimalist adored by Hollywood, while Suicide’s Che injects an instant jittery intensity to a scene where Luke prepares to commit his first raid. Another highlight is Please Stay by The Cryin’ Shames, a ballad I’ve previously judged to be borderline saccharine, but which works beautifully in its context here.

A tail-end of Merseybeat combo, they hooked up with Joe Meek and scored a hit early in 1966 with this Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard song, which had originally been recorded by The Drifters – featuring backing vocals by Doris Troy and Dionne Warwick’s sister Dee Dee Warwick, no less.

Arranged by Ivor Raymonde, the father of Cocteau Twin Simon Raymonde, this would be the final chart hit produced by Meek before he shot and killed his landlady, before turning the gun on his own head and committing suicide.

It’s been claimed over the years that Meek also pointed a gun at the head of Cryin’ Shames’ singer Charlie Crane in order to achieve the vocal take that he craved but really, does this sound like a man singing while under extreme duress?

Time now for Ennio Morricone’s Ninna Nanna Per Adulteri – not to be confused with Ninna Nanna Per Adulti, which I previously featured here.

Originally written for Cuore di mamma, a 1969 Italian movie directed by Salvatore Samperi, A Mother’s Heart, to give it its English title, was very much of its time, inspired by Jean-Luc Godard and politically confusing. Or maybe I only found it confusing as I watched it on YouTube with auto generated English subtitles. These resembled reading a William Burroughs cut-up novel.

In The Place Beyond The Pines, its first appearance accompanies Luke spending an idyllic day with Romina and his son Jason, imagining all three living together happily ever after.

Morricone’s simple but sublime lullaby acts as a clear counterpoint, conveying an overwhelming sense that these good times are never going to last. It’s used again later with similar results, introducing the same almost unbearably poignant sense that as hope blossoms, bad things surely loom ahead.

This is Morricone at his brilliant best.

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