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The Crunch, Strict Machine & The Answer To The Question: What is Even More Wonderful Than Charlotte Gainsbourg?

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Ah, the 1970s. Anybody my age can likely remember the elaborate ritual of getting dressed up for a night out at your local disco. Pulling on your fingerless gloves, then slipping a big bangle round each hand. Next, you’d roll a ninja mask over your head before squeezing into the pièce de résistance, your transparent bin liner thingyme.

Who could fail to admire your sense of style?

The RAH Band consisted of a sole member Richard Anthony Hewson. A jazz guitarist, Hewson was a favourite orchestral arranger with Apple (the original Apple that is) and worked with The Beatles, Badfinger and solo Paul McCartney.

By the mid-1970s, he was feeling the urge to make a pop record of his own and for his first attempt, he hired a Philips 4-track and laid down a tune in his bedroom, playing all the instruments himself. He later added a brass section in a more conventional way in a studio.

As it’s accompanied by (ahem) a real crunching riff, he titled it The Crunch.

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A few years later, Tony Visconti’s Good Earth label picked up on the track. It was released as a single in February 1977 when people in Scotland were dressing like Nanook of the North and only slowly made any impact, eventually peaking during that year’s heatwave summer, when everybody was dehydrated, sunburned and in T-shirts and shorts.

The Crunch spent two weeks in August at #6 in a chart that included a number of tracks where synthesisers were utilised: I Feel Love, Oxygene Part IV and Magic Fly.

Not that The Crunch was part of any pop/synth revolution. None were used in its making, despite the Minimoog on display on the Top of The Pops appearance. That almost irritatingly catchy riff is the result of Hewson putting his Hohner electric piano through a guitar pedal. This is something I only discovered earlier this year.

Something else I have only recently found out is that Hewson is not the guy with the ninja-mask that you see on Top of the Pops. As The Crunch began racking up enough records sales to send it into the charts, The RAH Band was invited onto the show. Hewson wasn’t available to appear so a pretend band was speedily assembled, in order for the song to gain from some further and very crucial exposure – and in Britain in the 1970s around 15million viewers tuned in every week to the show.

I doubt Hewson was impressed by the imposters.

It’s easy to imagine a very young Alison Goldfrapp bopping around to The Crunch in her bedroom, so here is a slice of Goldfrapp electro-glam from 2003. This is Strict Machine:

Still on the theme of electro-glam, here’s another track that might just contain a little of The Crunch in its DNA. Written and produced by Beck – he plays guitar, synth bass and synth too – this is the video for Charlotte Gainsbourg’s Terrible Angels.

And if you’ve ever wondered what could possibly be even more wonderful than Charlotte Gainsbourg, here’s your answer: Charlotte Gainsbourg and a bunch of doppelgangers.

Charlotte Gainsbourg’s directorial debut Jane By Charlotte, a documentary examining her relationship with her mum has just received its world premiere at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

For more on Charlotte Gainsbourg, click here.

For more on Goldfrapp, click here.

And more on The RAH Band, here’s yer link.

Something Like A Phenomenon

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Specialising in percussive post-punk disco, Liquid Liquid emerged in the crazily creative New York of ESG, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Afrika Bambaata, Amos Poe, Jim Jarmusch and Lydia Lunch.

Signed to independent 99 Records, they’re best known for their 1983 12″ EP Optimo, the title track of which would go on to give both a Sunday club night in Glasgow’s Sub Club and the DJ duo behind the night their names. But much as I love that ‘samba punk’ track, my favourite song on the EP is Cavern and here it is:

Don’t you just love Richard McGuire’s two-note bassline?

Grandmaster Melle Mel certainly did. The writing credit for his track White Lines (Don’t Do It) was assigned to him together with Sugar Hill Records co-owner Sylvia Robinson.

99’s head honcho Ed Bahlman thought this crossed the line (white or otherwise) and took legal action. A court battle ensued. Not the only one to involve Sugar Hill. In one of the most blatant musical thefts of the era, The Sugarhill Gang had nicked the instrumental introduction of Chic’s Good Times, composed by Bernard Edwards and Nile Rodgers for Rapper’s Delight. Edwards and Rodgers launched a copyright infringement lawsuit, and there was only going to be one winner there.

Not quite such good times for The Sugarhill Gang – who also copied sections of their rhymes from other rappers like MC Grandmaster Caz and took the beginning of their track from British disco act Love De-Luxe’s Here Comes That Sound Again.

How did the Liquid Liquid case go? As Terry Tolkin, a 99 Records employee, put it on his YouTube channel: ‘After a furious two year precedent setting legal war, we won a quarter of a million dollar judgement.’

Unfortunately, this is one of those good news, bad news scenarios. Here’s the bad news. ‘Two weeks later Sugarhill Records declared bankruptcy and never paid 99 a single penny.’

Sadly, the case bankrupted 99 too and soon a disillusioned Liquid Liquid disbanded, albeit they later reunited after a lengthy absence – two highlights being performing with the Optimo deejays in 2008 at London’s Barbican and opening up for LCD Soundsystem at that act’s ‘farewell’ show at Madison Square Garden in 2011.

Before the reunion, a silver lining of sorts had emerged via the Worst Album Ever Made according to Q magazine – Thank You, a 1995 Duran Duran covers collection (I should point out the Q named it worst ever album in 2006, before Mumford & Sons, Ed Sheeran and Gerry Cinnamon had yet embarked on their recording careers). Thank You included a version of White Lines, which, no thank you, I never want to hear but at least this resulted in Liquid Liquid finally receiving some well-deserved royalty payments for their songwriting.

So what do I think of White Lines? The Grandmaster & Melle Mel* ‘original’ that is?

Firstly, I’m no fan of being preached to by musicians, especially by ones who were allegedly hoovering up a not inconsiderable amount of ching up their own noses while the track was being recorded.

But hey, I utterly love the urgency they inject into the song and I am fond of a bit of rang dang diggedy dang di-dang. It’s a fantastic listen, addictive even.

For more on Liquid Liquid click here.

*If you’re wondering about the Grandmaster Flash & Melle Mel billing on the single’s sleeve, that was a Sugar Hill ploy to sell more records by giving the impression of Flash involvement as he was already a name after The Message, a top ten single in Britain and NME’s Track of the Year in 1982. He had nothing to do with this song, though. Call me sceptical but I’m beginning to think the label was about as trustworthy as the guy who called me last week about my Amazon package even though I refuse to use Amazon.

The Temptation of Victoria & Bizarre Love Triangle (‘I don’t believe in reincarnation because I refuse to come back as a bug or as a rabbit!’)

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Following on from the last post, here’s another ‘official’ New Order video made years after the song’s release. Shot fifteen years ago by filmmaker Michael Shamberg, this came with the title The Temptation of Victoria and the sticky-fingered Victoria here – who I really think should work on her technique – is played by Victoria Bergsman of The Concretes.

Although Temptation marked a real shift away from the Joy Divisionisms of Movement, some have speculated that the video was inspired by Ian Curtis having admitted to stealing records in his youth.

And I reckon with that long raincoat of his, he would likely have made a better job of the schnaffling game than Victoria, who with that pixieish hairstyle kinda reminds me of Annik Honoré when she was discussing Curtis in Grant Gee’s 2007 Joy Division.

Re-watching that documentary, it’s strange to think how many of those closely involved in the Joy Division story are now no longer with us. Ian himself obviously, Martin Hannett, Rob Gretton, Tony Wilson and most recently, Annik Honoré.

And now Bizarre Love Triangle. This was shot by Robert Longo at the time of the track’s release as a single in 1986. An American artist, Longo established his reputation with a series of massive monochrome charcoal and graphite drawings Men In Cities, where men in suits (and sometimes women) were depicted while moving – writhing, tripping, stumbling, falling – against a white background.

He began expanding his artistic range and filmed some videos for bands, REM’s The One I Love being the best known of these. Like fellow NYC based artists David Salle and Julian Schnabel, Longo then progressed into cinema. He directed big budget cyberpunk thriller Johnny Mnemonic in 1995. The film failed to recoup its budget, critics mostly disliked it and Keanu Reeves found himself nominated for a Golden Raspberry Award nomination for Worst Actor albeit he didn’t ‘win’. Maybe not surprisingly, Johnny Mnemonic would be Longo’s first and last feature film directing credit.

Rewind. Since Temptation, New Order have continued on a roll with their singles and the roll would continue until 1990, at the exact moment John Barnes was allowed to rap on World in Motion. I digress but hearing a snatch of that awful new Euro 21 track last night reminded me of a rule that should always be adhered to – football and music should never mix. While I’m at it, I’ll let you into another crucial rule: Bono and music should never mix either.

If you’re wondering about the title Bizarre Love Triangle, according to Peter Hook while in conversation with Vic Galloway in Glasgow’s Mitchell Theatre, it came from a headline in the News of The World, a scumbaggy former Sunday newspaper that specialised in sex scandals involving mainly celebrities. And vicars. This triangle involved a vicar, his wife and one of his parishioners. Oh err.

Anyway, Bizarre Love Triangle is the band at their infectious best with jaunty riffs, headrush (synth) strings and another sharking Peter Hook bassline (absolutely triumphant in those final twenty seconds). It’s very 1980s even though the ‘Every time I see you falling / I get down on my knees and pray’ chorus could have come from a northern soul obscurity. The video is even more of its time with the kind of rapidfire editing beloved by MTV. Longo also inserts a couple of lines of dialogue (partly quoted in the title of this post), the relevance of which escapes me though I refuse as well to come back as a bug or a rabbit. Maybe a panda, because even though all you do is slob around munching bamboo all day long, everybody loves you and thinks you’re super cute. Saying that, you could argue that a rabbit would have a better sex life. I digress again.

Okay, let’s play the ‘this is now X years old and guess what was happening X years before it came out’ game. Released in 1986, Bizarre Love Triangle is now 35 years old. 35 years before, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 was finally repealed at Westminster, Churchill was re-elected and King George VI gave his Christmas speech on the BBC, the country’s one and only TV station. Big hitters in the charts? Rosemary Clooney, Perry Como and Nat King Cole..

These things rarely work, but here’s an entirely unofficial fan made video that uses existing footage taken from Wong Kar Wai’s Chungking Express.

Maybe I’m biased as this is one of my favourite films but I reckon the images and music work really well together in places, especially when Faye Wong’s character (with another pixieish hairstyle) is fooling around.

For more on New Order: http://www.neworder.com/


For more on Peter Hook: https://peterhookandthelight.live/

Age of Consent & Candidate (Two For Tuesday)

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‘Have you seen the new video for Age of Consent?’ a pal asked recently, as we got to talking about New Order just after the release of the super-dooper deluxe, definitive and expensive as hell version of Power, Corruption and Lies which contains the video above, filmed by rising Danish talent Tine Reingaard.

‘Seen the new video?’ I wasn’t even aware there was an old one.

This not so terribly old one had been shot by Amos Poe in 2011, by which time the band had become Hookyless, an event that saw my interest in New Order nosedive, albeit it had been slowly declining for some time before.

The Godard of No Wave cinema, over the past 45 years, Poe has made many lo-fi independent films featuring the likes of Debbie Harry, John Waters regular Cookie Mueller and even Robbie Coltrane. His 1991 crime movie Triple Bogey on a Par Five Hole gave Philip Seymour Hoffman his screen debut back when he was plain old Phil Hoffman. Poe’s also directed cult cable TV show, Glen O’Brien’s TV Party. He’s produced films. He’s written screenplays. He’s taught film.

In his book Spike, Mike, Slackers & Dykes, John Pierson tells an anecdote about a visit that Poe made to the cinema where the author worked in 1981, angling for a retrospective of his work. ‘He didn’t just want to make movies in New York: he wanted to make a movement in New York like the French Wave – a whole “film generation” of cheap, 16mm, black-and-white features.’ Pierson thought he was ahead of his time but couldn’t offer him a retrospective. Poe’s comeback took him by complete surprise.

‘Well, if you’re not going to show my films, could I be an usher?’

Now, there’s a man with a passion for cinema.

Poe is likely best known for Blank Generation, the music documentary he co-directed with Ivan Kral in 1976 and which I covered here. Since that post, due to a long running lawsuit over profits from licensing fees for screenings of the film, Poe has legally lost his co-directing credit for the documentary together with his ownership of several of his other movies.

Worse still, the ending of Blank Generation has been changed and the directing credit reassigned to Cindy Hudson, the wife of the now deceased Ivan Kral, which strikes me as being wrong, wrong, wrong. You can read more about the case in this New York Times report.

Anyway, here’s Poe’s visual interpretation of the opening track of New Order’s 1983 album Power, Corruption & Lies. Simplicity itself. Shoot a girl dancing (she’s namechecked as Betty Kelly) in grainy, washed out Super 8 and edit together ever more frantically as the song reaches its conclusion by which point the images are almost blurred to abstract shapes in places.

More recently – about a year and a half ago – Poe was commissioned to film a video for Joy Division’s debut LP as part of a project titled Unknown Pleasures: Reimagined. This aimed to give ten different directors the chance to shoot a ‘filmic re-imagining of the music in 2019’.

This is Poe’s take on Candidate:

I think this might be a pretty good promo. For some mainstream modern day act that’s maybe hoping to appeal to, say, the Lana Del Ray fanbase. But not for any song ever performed by Ian Curtis, Bernard Sumner, Peter Hook and Stephen Morris.

For more on Amos Poe: http://www.amospoe.com/

For more on New Order: http://www.neworder.com/

I Start Counting & Primitive London (Soundtrack Sundays)

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Tomorrow sees the release by the British Film Institute of director David Greene’s I Start Counting! Underrated when it first came out in 1970, the movie has since established itself as a genuine cult favourite. This is largely down to Jenny Agutter giving one of the best ever performances by any teenage British actor, although its reputation has also been enhanced by the growing interest in the music of Basil Kirchin, whose score is remarkably evocative of the era.

It did surprise surprise me to learn that Kirchin had originally wanted Cilla Black to contribute the vocal for the movie’s theme tune. Thankfully, he didn’t get his wish. Instead, an unknown teenager called Lindsey Moore took on the singing duties. According to legend at least, this came about as a result of Lindsey accompanying her mum (Basil’s singer/arranger/composer pal Barbara) on a visit to the studio where he was recording. Having mentioned that her daughter was looking to start a career as a singer, Basil, on the spur of the moment, suggested that Lindsey give the song a try and handed her a microphone.

What a wonderful job she made of the opportunity. It’s this demo that was used as the musical introduction to the film:

We hear many variations of the theme throughout (although I didn’t start counting them) and there’s a few other less successful tracks, which were Basil’s attempts at mimicking the pop music of the day. They Want Love sounds like a band who thought the high point of The Beatles’ career was Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da, fronted by a singer who wanted to be Tom Jones. These were left off the soundtrack album.

Now, we all know that Dusty Springfield was one of the greatest vocalists of the 20th century, don’t we? I’m guessing that through Barbara Moore – who was for a time one of Dusty’s backing singers on her TV show – Dusty became aware of the theme song and fell in love with it to the extent that she covered the track on her 1972 See All Her Faces album. While it’s always a real pleasure to hear that voice, I reckon this is another case of the original is best.

This BFI release comes with a number of special features, and these include Worlds Within Worlds, a 33-minute look at Basil Kirchin’s pioneering career by Jonny Trunk, whose label Trunk Records, has helped bring Kirchin’s work to the attention of new generations of music fans, releasing several of his albums of his soundtracks and library music. In recent years, Brian Eno, Jarvis Cocker and Thurston (definitely no relation to Lindsey) Moore are only three of the musicians who have also talked up Kirchin’s talent publicly.

During the feature, Trunk mentions that a definite similarity exists between two of Kirchin’s cues for Primitive London and Bernard Herrmann’s Taxi Driver score, written 12 years later.

Primitive London is a curious mondo style documentary that examined life in the capital in the mid-1960s. ‘The beat,’ we’re advised, ‘is off-beat.’

Director Arnold Louis Miller combines the seedy with the sanctimonious. Any supposedly salacious visuals are always accompanied by a lecturing and moralising narration. Men and women flock to a cabaret club to watch ‘exotic’ dancers, a young woman gets a tattoo – a real rarity at the time – and for a reason I couldn’t totally understand, we visit a kendo dojo. We’re introduced to mods and rockers, beatniks and Soho strippers. Britain might not have moved into full swinging mode just yet but we are shown a swingers’ party in suburbia with ‘car keys dropped into a brandy glass.’

Somehow rated X on its release, this is an interesting enough time capsule but easily the best thing about Primitive London is Basil’s score. Here is one of those musical cues that resembles the main theme from Taxi Driver, listen out for the distinctive 21 note melody that both pieces feature.

If you want to hear Herrmann’s theme for Taxi Driver, click here.

For my review of I Start Counting! click here.


For more on Trunk Records: https://www.trunkrecords.com/

Shoplifters of the World (2021)

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This week Stephen Kijak’s Shoplifters of the World, a new Smiths related comedy drama set in Denver, that tells the story of a bunch of Smiths devotees in the wake of the announcement of the band’s 1987 breakup.

The Smiths were far from the most original band of the 1980s, but with his startling wordplay and unique take on life, Morrissey would have to loom large in any discussions of the most adroit lyricist of that decade, while I would struggle to name a more gifted or versatile guitarist than Johnny Marr. Yes, I was a big fan but never an obsessive uberfan. No gladioli waving and no cardie, quiff or NHS specs for me in any attempt to resemble Morrissey, thankfully. That kind of thing always struck me as more than a little sad.

The main characters in Shoplifters of the World have no such qualms about hero worship. They adore The Smiths and in particular Morrissey. The man is pretty much the perfect human being and whatever he says goes. Remember, this is 1987.

Cleo (Helena Howard) is the first of this group of outsiders to discover that the band have split up – via one of the least convincing news bulletins in cinematic history. Luckily, she has gathered up some beer cans left by her dipso mum on the living room floor, so she we can see the severity of her shock as she drops them in sheer disbelief, before letting out one almighty scream, although, as the report mentioned, there had been months of speculation in the music press about the possibility of the band calling it quits.

She drives straight out to her local independent record store to discuss the bombshell with Dean, a Morrissey lookalike behind the counter, who is clearly smitten by her, and is reading about the news in Melody Maker. Impressively, in the short time since Cleo left her home, the British music press has already arrived in Colorado with Johnny Marr’s version of events making front page news in NME.

‘Our music died today and nobody even cares,’ Cleo sulks. ‘I wish there was a way to get all the posers in this town to take notice.’

What good this would achieve, I have no idea but Dean might just have a solution. ‘Something that would go down in musical history.’ But he’s keeping schtum about the details of his plan.

We soon meet more of Cleo’s pals. There’s Billy, who’s joining ‘Reagan’s army’ mainly to please his parents, and there’s Shelia (yes, really) and Patrick (honestly), a couple who are planning to visit England. Sex isn’t featuring in their relationship because Patrick wants to emulate Stephen Patrick’s celibacy. Or because he is obviously gay and looking for a convenient excuse not to have to take his frustrated partner to bed.

Like Dean, Cleo, Billy, Sheila and Patrick all love endlessly punctuating their conversations with Smiths lyrics and song titles to the extent that Morrissey – who liked to swipe the odd snatch of film and theatre dialogue into his lyrics himself – ought to have been given a screenplay credit. For a bit of variety, though, they also like to quote anybody who ever inspired their Mozziah: Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and even Saturday Night and Sunday Morning‘s Arthur Seaton for starters.

This barrage of references quickly begins to grate.

As they attempt to find a party, a lovestruck Dean, presumably in an attempt to impress Cleo, makes his way over to local radio station Kiss 101 with a bunch of Smiths albums. There, he points a loaded gun at macho deejay Full Metal Mickey, interrupting his monthly Metal Marathon, and ordering him to play Smiths records back-to-back all night long.

Full Metal Mickey is no fan of ‘depressive haircut bullshit’ and when told that The Smiths were the only band that mattered, he gives Dean an incredulous look and sneers: ‘You’ve clearly never listened to Twisted fucking Sister!’ But he does what he is told, although there’s never any sense that Dean would shoot him even if he continued to play Sabbath and Slayer.

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Ironically, it’s the metalhead who is easily the movie’s most rounded and likeable character. He’s the only one with any real sense of humour or genuine insight. ‘One day, your heroes are gonna grow old,’ he warns the younger man. ‘They’re gonna change. They’re gonna put out shitty music. They’re gonna say stupid things that betray the past.’

Amen to that, dude.

If you’re wondering about the inspiration behind this part of the story, a depressed young Smiths fan did once drive to a radio station in Denver, carrying a rifle and planning to force the station to air his Smiths mixtape although he failed to carry out this plan of action.

The soundtrack – and there are twenty Smiths tracks included on it – is undoubtedly magnificent, albeit it’s used with as much imagination as an episode of Heartbeat. When Cleo makes her way out of the record shop and throws a pile freshly stolen cassette tapes into her car, she does so to the sound of Shoplifters of the World Unite and when the Sally Ann brass band strikes up the introduction to Sheila Take A Bow, you won’t need me to tell you who the camera focusses on. She even takes a bow.

The film begins to flip between Cleo and her pals out on the razz and Dean and Mickey in the radio booth, where the pair learn that they might have more in common with one another than they first assumed.

Shoplifters of the World is not an entire stinker but neither is it a film that I’ll likely ever be tempted to watch again. None of the performances really stood out bar Joe Manganiello as Mickey. Kijak often demonstrates a good eye for a shot, and while I found his script mediocre at best, I did like the fact that not everything is magically resolved for all the characters as the closing credits beckon. The way he weaved archival Smiths footage into the film was skilfully handled too.

My main problem is that I failed to find any of this bunch very interesting. Just because they see themselves in opposition to the awful one-dimensional jocks who surround them doesn’t automatically make them likeable. 

We’re especially supposed to admire Cleo’s feistiness although she oozes a snobbish sense of superiority over anyone with a different taste in music. She pretends to her pals that she’s a student with a boyfriend when neither is true. She’s a petty thief, and she complains about posers and yet smokes in the most incredibly affected way, using a long cigarette holder. She also lacks self-awareness. She criticises Molly Ringwald’s character in Pretty in Pink, thinking she was ‘kind of a bitch’ by refusing to get together with her ‘cool’ friend just because he dotes on her, while Cleo refuses to get together with a guy who would leap in front of a flying bullet for her.

He did actually say that, and I almost screamed with the same ferocity as Cleo had earlier.

And speaking of flying bullets, she loves the idea of someone threatening another person’s life with a gun just so she can get to hear her favourite music. Yep, I much preferred Molly Ringwald’s Andie, and for all its faults, Pretty In Pink is a much better film than this.

For more on the movie click here.

Cuban Heel: An Interview with Laurie Cuffe

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This week a conversation with Scottish singer and guitarist Laurie Cuffe, whose career started with The Cuban Heels.

There is a myth that when Johnny & the Self Abusers split, two bands were formed, one being The Cuban Heels, the other being Simple Minds. The Cuban Heels, though, had already been in existence for a year or so at this point, although John Milarky did join their ranks from J&TSA.

The band’s debut single was released on independent label Housewives Choice Records in Spring 1978, a double A-side consisting of a frenetic cover of Petula Clark’s international hit Downtown and a self-penned number Smok Walk.

A string of singles and an album followed in the early 1980s but the lifespan of the band was relatively short with Laurie going on to feature in the line-ups of a number of other bands, including The Saints, One O’Clock Gang and, in recent years, The Véloniños, along with Davie Duncan, Kenny McLellan and Shug Jamieson.

In 2019, The Cuban Heels were represented in the highly recommended Big Gold Dreams: A Story Of Scottish Independent Music boxset. That same year, The Cuban Heels were featured in the Spirit of Punk 2019 – RIG Arts exhibition held at Greenock’s Beacon Arts Centre, while Laurie was interviewed for Punching Above Our Weight, a documentary that examined the 1970/80s music scene in the Inverclyde area.

After an absence of decades, the band took to the stage together again to perform two shows: the first at the Beacon Arts Centre to coincide with the exhibition, the second at Glasgow’s O2 Academy.

Can you remember when you first decided that you wanted to become involved in music?

My parents got me a guitar when I was around 12 and I got serious about playing around 14 or 15, listening to bands like Thin Lizzy and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band. My older brothers were big music fans so there was quite a mix of records lying around. Lots of Beatles and Stones (mostly Stones) but also Bob Dylan, folky stuff like the Incredible String Band and Pentangle and I remember loads of Chess label singles including Chuck Berry and Howling Wolf.

Chuck Berry and The Incredible String Band! That really is quite a mix!

The first Dr Feelgood album ‘Down By The Jetty’ had a huge effect on me, especially Wilko Johnson’s guitar style. A real lightbulb moment was hearing the Damned’s ‘New Rose’ on the John Peel show. The first Ramones album and then the first Clash album made it seem like something you could attempt yourself.

So, when and where did the Cuban Heels start and what was your first live show?

We started off in Greenock around ’76 as a three piece. I think the first gig was playing at a mate’s birthday party. I remember doing a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘Oh Carol’. Suits and skinny ties, trying to look like the Jam!

What was the music scene in the Greenock area like when you started out? Were you aware of Thomas Leer and Robert Rental over in neighbouring Port Glasgow?

We weren’t aware of them. The music scene at the time revolved around a gig called the Victorian Carriage. It seemed to be mostly bands doing Steely Dan covers. I recall a lot of versions of ‘Haitian Divorce’. We were more aware of what we didn’t want to be like. One great exception was Chou Pahrot, who were from Paisley. They were a kind of weird hippy/punk, instrumental, Captain Beefheart mash up. Ahead of their time, really good guys and very encouraging to us.

How true is the story of the guy behind the Housewives Choice label being a millionaire who worked part time in an Edinburgh music shop?

Well, he seemed like a millionaire to us as we had fuck-all! His name was Mel Benton. I think his wife came from the landed gentry. I seem to remember they had a big flat in Edinburgh’s New Town. There was a thriving punk scene in Edinburgh based in Cockburn Street. We used to play a pub there called The Wig and Pen.

The band made a cameo on BBC drama Just A Boy’s Game, how did that come about and what did you make of the play?

Scouts from the film company saw us playing at the aforementioned Victorian Carriage. It was shot in Greenock, and our bit was filmed in a bar called The Norseman which is still there. The play was very much ‘of its time’. Looking back it all seemed very bleak. Greenock looks like Gdansk.

After a gap of a few years, your second single Walk On Water appeared on Cuba Libre, which was your drummer Ali Mackenzie’s label, wasn’t it?

Yes. Ali liked the business side of things. He put out early Shakin’ Pyramids and James King & The Lone Wolves releases too.

The Cuban Heels’ sound had moved on significantly since the early days. Who would you say was influencing you at this point?

I remember listening to Talking Heads a lot. I was impressed by Teardrop Explodes and Echo & The Bunnymen. There was a lot of good stuff happening then.

By the time of the release of the Work Our Way to Heaven album, things must have been looking good for the band, Peel sessions, live concerts on Radio 1, working with in demand producers like John Leckie – what would be the highlights of your time as a Cuban Heel?

Working with John Leckie in the Manor Studio in Oxfordshire was amazing. Recording Peel sessions at the BBC was a great experience. We played great places in London like The Marquee, Hope & Anchor, Rock Garden, Dingwalls and The Vortex. I have equally fond memories of iconic Glasgow gigs like The Burns Howff, Amphora, Mars Bar, and the student union at Glasgow Tech was always a good gig for us.

Yeah, I think next to the Apollo that was the best venue in Glasgow in the late 1970s.

We did a support slot with the Stranglers at the Apollo too, and it’s nice to have played that stage.

Being a Nico fan, I’m curious about the time you acted as her backing band for some songs in Edinburgh in 1981.

I remember we did ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, ‘Waiting For The Man’, ‘Femme Fatale’ and a version of Bowie’s ‘Heroes’. The gig was at the Nite Club in Edinburgh. We worked out the songs beforehand and had a rehearsal with her on the afternoon of the gig. I remember us going through ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’ and she pointed and shouted ‘Play!’, when she wanted me to do a guitar break. I’m pretty sure she was in the midst of heroin addiction at the time, but she was still an imposing presence. Her voice was as great as ever.

Later you played with The Saints, how did you enjoy that experience?

Touring Australia was great fun. It was a carefree time – quite liberating to be just the hired guitar player.

And more recently you’ve played with and released music as part of The Véloniños, how would you describe this band’s music?

I suppose it’s kind of ‘modern/retro’. New songs but with a 50’s and 60’s instrumental feel.

Can we expect more Véloniños shows when things (hopefully) return to normal? Or maybe even a second album?

I really hope both of those things happen. I enjoy working on the guitar parts and recording the songs but playing live is my favourite thing!

2019 saw a brief live return for The Cuban Heels, any plans for more shows with them?

I’ve been writing songs with John Milarky, and we’d been talking about doing some small gigs before Covid hit the fan. Hopefully, that will happen before too long. Another Heels gig would be great.

Definitely. Thanks for talking, Laurie.

For more on The Véloniños click here.

Nashville: New Waves #17

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The question of what is the greatest music related movie is asked online regularly.

It’s tempting to answer with a film with a connection to music you love but some of my favourites feature genres that I have little or no interest in. The 2011 documentary Last Days Here tells the story of Bobby Liebling, lead singer of the heavy metal rockers Pentagram, as he battles his demons. It’s compulsively watchable but did I seek out any Pentagram music after seeing it? No.

Likewise, Robert Altman’s 1975 satirical drama Nashville is seeped in country and western balladry, the popularity of which as I’ll mention isn’t something I can readily fathom. It is, though, a great film which should appear on many more lists of best music movies. Here’s a review I wrote for Louder Than War for the Eureka Masters of Cinema release of the film in 2014.

Okay, firstly, Nashville isn’t the easiest film ever made to review – he says, getting his excuses in very early – and resides at the completely opposite end of the cinematic spectrum to the high concept movies beloved by Hollywood producers of the present day, ones that can be summed up in a single and easily understandable logline.

Sprawling and featuring many of Altman’s trademark – and for the time highly innovative – techniques such as his routine use of overlapping dialogue and improvisational shooting style, Nashville is an audacious and hugely ambitious ensemble piece with no real star unless you count the city itself.

Instead of focussing on a small cast of leads, Altman gives us twenty four main characters, whose lives we follow over a period of five days in the run up to the Tennessee presidential primary, where an unseen upstart candidate named Hal Phillip Walker of the fictional Replacement Party is attempting to record his fifth straight electoral success.

A number of themes also weave their way through the film’s very much less than straightforward narrative and Nashville can be viewed in a number of ways: as a biting satire of a country in crisis, a political parable (Nixon resigned as President during the shoot) or even as a musical, as Altman himself points out in his commentary, there’s about an hour’s worth of songs in the film.

Here I should really point out that if you’ve ever been put off watching the film due to its Country and Western backdrop then don’t be and I say that as someone who is just about allergic to the genre. Altman and screenplay writer Joan Tewkesbury weren’t fans either and on its release, the musical community of the titular city were far from enamoured of the representation of their scene which many felt the director had set out to mock.

Certainly, for this non expert, Ronee Blakley as down-home country queen Barbara Jean and Karen Black as her bitchy rival Connie White, appeared to be very convincing country stars from the era of Tammy Wynette and Dolly Parton, while Haven Hamilton (Henry Gibson), a little guy with an ego the size of several Southern states, also struck me as a very plausible Mister Nashville figure with his homespun philosophies and ridiculous late Elvis style wardrobe.

Some of his material such as the jingoistic dirge 200 Years that celebrated the United States Bicentennial and the cloyingly sentimental For The Sake Of The Children do walk a fine line between pastiche and caricature, but back then at least, the latter was something that Country and Western artists weren’t afraid to flirt with. In the same year that Nashville was released, Tammy Wynette scored two huge hits in Britain with Stand By Your Man and D.I.V.O.R.C.E, the latter a song that gave Billy Connolly a UK number one single when he parodied it, although it was surely already bordering on parody even before the Big Yin got his hands on it.

Hamilton could definitely be filed under what one out of towner dismisses as country crapola but Altman was aiming for a mix of good and bad songs and Keith Carradine, who is very plausible in the role of a manipulative womaniser called Tom Frank, provided the film with a track that I found an unexpected treat: I’m Easy, a country folk number that went on to win the Academy award for Best Original Song and also reached the Billboard top twenty chart.

In fact, the scene where he performs the song with several spellbound female characters in the audience clearly under the illusion that he’s singing it to them personally is a real highlight of the movie.

With so much great acting on display, it’s almost impossible to pick out favourite performances but Lily Tomlin is superb in the role of Linnea Reese, the one woman that Tom is actually delivering those lyrics to. She’s also the wife of one heartless husband, the mother of two deaf children and a member of a large gospel choir and what makes her turn even more astonishing is the fact that this was Tomlin’s feature film debut.

Another relative newcomer, Ronee Blakley, is equally fine as the afore-mentioned Barbara Jean, whose success is the envy of many but whose mental state is at best fragile, coming over at times like a cross between Loretta Lynn and Ophelia.

Gwen Welles delivers too as Sueleen Gay, a pretend name for a pretend talent. She has delusions of being the next big thing but no Auto Tune as yet to help her out with that ambition. It’s before the age of the Wonderbra too, so to catch some extra attention, she has to make do with a pair of socks to prop up her cleavage. Today, this gal would undoubtedly dream of the chance of appearing on X-Factor; here though the only time anyone pays any real interest in her onstage is when she’s tricked into attempting to strut her stuff during what is surely cinema’s saddest ever striptease in a club full of men gathered for a Replacement Party fundraising event.

Karen Black, maybe the most under-rated actor of her era, is predictably good. Finally, a mention too for Shelley Duval, who also excels as a brazen and shallow groupie who insists on being called LA Joan, a creature with a penchant for wigs and a talent for latching on to suckers – and if she was ever to catch something rather nasty from her regular bedroom romps then you really might still struggle to work up much sympathy for her.

As Nashville reaches its conclusion, each of the characters who have been zigzagging through the storyline and interconnecting along the way, at last converge together at an outdoor concert at the city’s Parthenon to promote Hal Phillip Walker’s campaign. Some will be onstage, some in the wings and many in the audience – and let’s just say that one is never going to be allowed the chance of vote for Walker or any candidate in the forthcoming election. If you’ve never watched the film, don’t worry, I won’t be spoiling the ending for you here.

Film critics of the day lauded Nashville. ‘It’s a pure emotional high,’ Pauline Kael raved in the New Yorker, ‘and you don’t come down when the picture is over.’ Roger Ebert declared it was the best American movie since Bonnie And Clyde and it was nominated for four Oscars, including for Best Director and Best Picture.

It’s remained highly influential since its release. Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights and Magnolia were both large cast, multiple storyline movies that clearly took inspiration from it, as did Paul Haggis’s Crash, which bagged a Best Picture Oscar win, although few film afficionados would judge it was in any way more deserving of that honour than Altman’s film. Here in Britain, Annie Griffin’s Festival from 2005 was also absolutely in debt to Nashville albeit here comedy replaced country with Edinburgh providing a memorable backdrop.

Nashville is not a perfect film. It does sag slightly round about its halfway mark and an argument could be made that Altman should have excised a couple of songs from the Grand Ole Opry show but it is right up there with his very finest works such as M*A*S*H and Short Cuts. Not only that, but in a period when American cinema was arguably at its creative peak, and intelligent and often provocative motion pictures like One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon and Taxi Driver were all huge box office hits, Nashville was right up with the best of them.

If You Like Nashville, you might also like Altman’s The Player (1992), an absolute joy from the almost eight minutes long opening sequence without an edit to its final credits. Again, there’s a fantastic ensemble cast including Tim Robbins, Greta Scacchi and Peter Gallagher, along with cameos from Andie MacDowell, Malcolm McDowell, Jeff Goldblum, Elliott Gould and many, many more.

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.

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