The Future’s Calling – An Interview with Pete Haynes

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As I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, The Lurkers GLM have a very fine new album out titled The Future’s Calling and I recently spoke with Pete Haynes, the drummer, about the new songs, his past in the punk heyday of The Lurkers and also his writing – he’s had four books published to date including an autobiography with another, The Offender’s Nemesis, out today.

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If you’re reading this then it’s odds on that you know a thing or two about The Lurkers, if you’re new to them though, here’s a brief introduction to one of the most under-rated British punk acts.

Firstly a quick explanation, Pete, when he was the drummer with The Lurkers was often known as Manic Esso, so you might know him by this name. Confusingly, there is currently a version of The Lurkers doing the rounds (with no original members but led by Arturo Bassick who did join an early line-up) while until recently Pete drummed with a band known as God’s Lonely Men – named after the second Lurkers album – who consisted of three of the original Lurkers (Pete, Nigel Moore and Pete Stride). For the new album, this lot have reclaimed their heritage further by becoming Lurkers GLM.

Got that? Okay, I’ll continue.

During the long, hot summer of 1976, Pete started work as a petrol pump attendant at an Esso garage on Uxbridge Road – so that’s one half of his old nickname explained – and he also became aware of a new band from the States called The Ramones. Pete’s newly formed band began rehearsing in the basement of the Beggars Banquet branch in Fulham and before the year was out, they played live for the first time, supporting Screaming Lord Sutch at Uxbridge Technical College, where their set was so short they were asked by Sutch to repeat it.

They were soon playing London’s famous Roxy club, the Nashville and Marquee, a record deal was signed and Shadow released, the first of a great run of 45s: Shadow, Freak Show, Ain’t Got A Clue, I Don’t Need To Tell Her and Just Thirteen.

Despite serving up these three minute slices of raw but catchy punk; playing the Roxy; being signed to an independent label and recording sessions for John Peel’s show, The Lurkers always felt themselves to be outsiders in (and out of) the punk scene. There was no hanging out in SEX with Malcolm, Vivienne and the Bromley Contingent. Many music press journalists dismissed the band as Ramones clones, although Mick Wall in Sounds gave their debut album Fulham Fallout a 5 star review, claiming it was so exciting that he’d had to stand up while penning his thoughts on it: ‘The spirit of 1976, contrary to what you might like to believe, is alive and kicking and coming straight at you – all the way from Fulham.’

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Earlier this year, I reviewed Carmine Appice’s biography Stick It! My Life Of Sex, Drums, And Rock ‘N’ Roll for Louder Than War. This was the tale of a drummer and the thousands of groupies he claims to have slept with, the hundreds of hotel rooms he smashed up and the many superstar names that he has either played with or partied with over the years.

Pete’s memoir of 2007, which again uses the title God’s Lonely Men, is about as far from this kind of excessive life on the road with a band exposé as it’s possible to get although during the course of the book he does eat six pies before going onstage one night in Accrington while, another time, he drinks sixteen pints before a show at the Music Machine in Camden. And then five more afterwards.

Oh and he did once meet Stewart Copeland in the early days of The Police, advising him to change the name of their band or they’d never get anywhere.

Pete, I should maybe add, possesses a rather self deprecating sense of humour. He also likes to throw in the occasional controversial statement. Harry Potter fans beware.

You have a new book just about to be published?

Yeah, it’s a novel called The Offender’s Nemesis and it’s out on New Haven Publishing, which is a Norwegian based company.

And how would you describe it?

It’s about the eradication of the liberal state, which I can see happening. It’s about the average person seeing celebrities as being more meaningful than politicians. There is a story to it about a guy whose brother ends up on a highly popular TV show called The Offender’s Nemesis and he gets killed cos they kill people off who they say are paedophiles or terrorists although they don’t necessarily have to be. The story is set within a dystopian climate of fear. It’s about retribution, going back to the days of medieval society.

That sound potentially very depressing. But also equally fascinating and I’m looking forward to reading it. Any other writing on the go?

I’ve written six 90 minute screenplays, which are comedies, and I have another book at a publisher.

I see you’ve tried your hand at theatre too and had a play performed at the Bush.

That was just a short actually. I did have another, longer one, Thank Your Lucky Stars, that ran for three weeks at the Edinburgh Festival in 1998 and was given a five star review in the Scotsman.

How does your writing compare with making music?

I feel I need to do it. Maybe that’s why I haven’t ended up in Broadmoor. I need to express myself and get it out there.

Do you see yourself now as a writer rather than as a musician?

Oh God, I was never a musician. I was the drummer in The Lurkers!

(Laughs).

You’ve got to have a sense of anchorage in your life. I bumped into that Spizzenergi bloke, you know that song Where’s Captain Kirk?

Yeah, I do like it actually.

I’ve seen him around and he’s got a hat with his name on it that lights up when he walks.

What, when he plays gigs?

No, just normally. He’s like a one man publicity machine. Fortunately I’ve never had that kind of ego although I do have an ego in other ways obviously.

So how good were The Lurkers?

Well, it’s not like our music was The Beatles or The Move or anything like that. It was all quite rudimentary stuff, wasn’t it?

Rudimentary can be good.

Well, yeah I do like The New York Dolls. I like trash rock and roll, The Ramones, that kinda thing.

And what do you listen to nowadays?

When I put on a CD it can be anything from Beethoven to The Wombles. The Idle Race, The Kinks, The Equals. I like old rock and roll, rockabilly, Roy Orbison, Hank Williams. I’ve always had a very broad taste in music. I love The Velvet Underground. For me punk comes from them and Iggy Pop and The New York Dolls through to The Ramones.


I do actually have a lot of time for The Lurkers and I’m very protective of them but we didn’t move with the times.

Who did?

I would say nearly everybody. And by moving with the times I mean people during the late ’70s began aligning their music with politics. I think a lot of them did that to sell their music rather than letting their music stand on its own merit.

Oh, I thought you meant musically moving with times.

Well musically most of it’s a load of old shit.

Whoah!

A lot of the bands that came along later were a bunch of old hippies like The Ruts. They didn’t give a fuck about rioting in the streets, they wanted to be The Rolling Stones.

They did? I liked punk best myself when nobody really knew where it was coming from. Okay, The Clash were always a political band but The Damned weren’t political, The Buzzcocks weren’t very political. Johnny Rotten thought that anarchy was mind games for the middle classes and I doubt Steve Jones could have even told you who the Prime Minister was at the time.

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How much time do you put into the band nowadays?

Well, just to give you an insight, there isn’t a great deal of input at the moment. We meet for an hour and a half every week. We’re not playing live. In fact, I can’t see us playing live again.

That’s a pity, especially as I like the new album and I’m sure a lot of folk would like to hear the songs live. Actually a lot of those new tracks could be weaved into your live set along with the old favourites and fit in really well.

D’you think the album sounds contemporary?

I might be the wrong person to ask. I do listen to a lot of new music and a lot of that doesn’t sound very contemporary. Sounding good is more important to me nowadays than sounding contemporary. As a whole it sounds fresh to me.

I do think it sounds pretty fresh myself even though we’re old bastards and it’s 2016.

It’s funny, I remember back in the punk era Johnny Rotten slagging Mick Jagger off for being an old bastard when Jagger must have been mid-thirties. Never thought I’d say it but I do like going to see some old groups nowadays although if anybody is just getting back together for an nostalgia trip and churning out the greatest hits then I’m not really interested.

Problem for us is, if you don’t play live then you’re not really reaching your audience.

I’m sure marketing people would agree.

On the subject of marketing, I found out that a major part of a company’s budget nowadays goes on marketing. People have to be told what to like, they have to be told what to wear or what to watch or read. The biggest thing for me was that whole Harry Potter thing. I’m sitting on the Underground in about 1999 and this 50 year old man in an office suit opposite me is reading a stupid fucking story about a four eyed cunt and some goblins and wizards, I felt like saying, ‘Give up, will you?’ He wouldn’t be reading that unless he felt pressurised into it in some way.’ What I’m trying to say here is that it was the power of advertising that made people like him read something like that.


One of the things I liked about your biography was the genuine down to earthness, like when you played Max’s Kansas City, a venue that all these cool acts like Television and Patti Smith had played and you only give it two sentences whereas you write a good few pages about Jimmy’s, a boxer’s bar in Harlem that you stumble into. That seems more important to you.

I think so. It was great to play Max’s. The bloke gave me a T-shirt which I’ve still got. Hardly ever wore it then put it in a cupboard.

That’ll likely be worth a small fortune on eBay.

You think so? It’s just a little memento. I think a lot of people go to these places to see who’s there. I didn’t give a fuck who was in Max’s that night. I was more interested in the price of beer. I think the group as a whole was the same although Pete the guitarist was maybe a bit more in tune with that kind of thing.

I didn’t realise till I read your book the extent of how much of a group of outsiders that you felt The Lurkers were.

We were never trendy or cool. The Lurker world wasn’t ‘rack n roll’ – more tea rooms and neurosis, while drinking vats of beer and feeling out of place.

Finally, being Scottish, I was amused by the fact that during the height of punk in the summer of ’77, you played the Isle of Arran. That was some booking agent you had by the way.

The bookings had become a joke by the end. We’re a young band, from London at the cutting edge of punk and they book us to play Arran of all places.

Yeah, lovely island but it’s about ten or twenty years behind the times. I think The Rezillos played there round about the same time actually.

The shows were absolutely mad. It was all flared trousers and long hair. Most of the crowd in their late 20s and everybody was really aggressive cos we’re from London and we had to be very cowardly and just smiled when they said we were shit.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, I never made it along for that one. A bit complicated to get to from where I was living. Didn’t get to see you at the Silver Thread either.

The Silver Thread in Paisley?

Yeah. Couple of bus journeys away from me at the time. Plus I would only have been fifteen and they probably wouldn’t have let me in anyway.

Where is it you’re from, Glasgow?

Originally, yeah, but just outside back then.

Whereabouts in Glasgow?

Govanhill in the Southside originally, then a few other places across the city and surrounding areas.

I used to stay sometimes at a pal’s place in Barrhead.

Yeah, that’s nearer Paisley.

He took me to see Celtic play St. Mirren one time. St Mirren won 2-1.

Thanks for talking Pete and good luck with the new book.

Pete will be taking part in a reading on Saturday (1. October) at Kentish Town Library.

For more on Pete, click here and for more specifically on his new novel, here’s a link.

For more on Lurkers GLM, click here.

West Coast, East Coast (Cool Ghouls & The Eastern Swell)

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San Francisco is one of those cities synonymous with a genre of music – psychedelia – but it’s what came afterwards that has always interested me more, when gentle people no longer wore flowers in their hair, having decided that grit was good; The Flamin’ Groovies, Tubes, Avengers and Dead Kennedys being just some of the acts from the Bay Area that found their way into my record collection as a teenager.

More recently I’ve been enjoying A Weird Exits, the new album from Thee Oh Sees and my current playlist has had Cool Ghouls’ Animal Races on heavy rotation ever since I penned an introduction to the band for this month’s Shindig magazine – available in yer local WH Smith and bucking recent publishing trends by upping the number of issues published each year.

End of advert.

Animal Races is a collection of tracks that often bring to mind the flower power heyday of their hometown but while singer/guitarist Ryan Wong told me they’ve been listening to a lot of Pigpen-era Grateful Dead recently, they’re just as likely to listen to something very different, bebop pioneer Max Roach being one of their current faves.

Inevitably, a little of this jazz influence has seeped into the band’s latest music and they also regularly display a distinct Flying Burrito Brothers influence too.

There’s some top-flight tracks here, Spectator comes across like an American Stone Roses, The Man and When You’re Gone are heartbreaking country rock numbers; best of all is Material Love, a great slice of hook-laden pop with the highly unusual subject matter of Jung’s theories of self-actualization. Or so I’m told.

Brimming with jangling guitars and dreamy harmonies, this is Sundial:


Cool Ghouls are coming to Britain shortly, where they are going to play six dates, the potential highlight being a performance at Liverpool’s International Festival of Psychedelia on 23.09.16.

For more on the band, here’s a link for their Facebook page and here is where you can find them on Twitter.

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Stereogram is as near a guarantee of quality as it is possible to get on a small Scottish independent label. So far they’ve released music by For Malcontents Only favourites Lola in Slacks, the rejuvenated James King and The Lonewolves and The Cathode Ray, three acts that have all made recent appearances in my end of the year best of lists.

This impressive roster has recently been bolstered by two highly tipped new acts, Those Unfortunates – a London band I intend to feature in the coming weeks – and The Eastern Swell, an Edinburgh based four-piece consisting of Chris Reeve, Lainie Urquhart, Neil Collman and Andy Glover – whose debut album, a selection of songs about love and loss called One Day, a Flood is just about to be released.

Like Cool Ghouls, there’s an element of psych in the sound of The Eastern Swell, although on the spectrum of that genre, they veer much closer to the pastoral folk end of the scale rather than to the classic California variety.

Run Down Country Palace, which is perhaps their finest song, reminds me of Espers at times, as does 1000 Yard Stare, while on Temples, they stray into Shelagh McDonald territory with Lainie Urquhart’s fragile vocals sounding exquisite.

Traces of West Coast America are, though, discernible in a couple of their songs; What’s Done is Done and Too Little, Too Late both incorporating that laid back mid ’70s LA feel, best epitomised by Fleetwood Mac.

Admirably, The Eastern Swell aren’t scared to throw a real touch of unpredictability into the equation though, and this comes here in the shape of Dancing Zombie Blues, a frenetic sub-three minute blast that somehow resembles Eugene Reynolds of The Rezillos covering The Living End by The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Appropriately enough for an album that often seems infused with a real autumnal feel, One Day, a Flood is out tomorrow, just as leaves are starting to fall (my birthday too incidentally but don’t feel you have to bombard me with lavish presents, folks). It will be available on CD or as a download.

A single, Rattling Bones, is already out and The Eastern Swell launch the album at Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms on Sunday 18th September with support coming from Candythief.

Penned by guitarist/vocalist Chris Reeve and with string arrangements by producer Pete Harvey, this is Rattling Bones:


For more on The Eastern Swell:

Official
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Stereogram Page
Twitter

Teenage Superstars – An Interview with Grant McPhee

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Regular followers of this blog will know that Big Gold Dream: Scottish Post-Punk and Infiltrating the Mainstream, the highly acclaimed documentary on Scotland’s post-punk scene, was one of my favourite films of 2015.

Directed by Grant McPhee and featuring a host of Scottish indie stalwarts, Big Gold Dream premiered last summer at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, where it picked up the Audience Award, ahead of twelve other nominees including Asif Kapadia’s Amy and Bill Pohlad’s underrated Brian Wilson biopic Love & Mercy.

Combining generous helpings of carefully chosen archival material with articulate talking heads such as Bob Last, Douglas McIntyre and Davy Henderson, Big Gold Dream also reflected the fact that being in a post-punk act in the late 1970s and early ’80s in Scotland didn’t automatically mean you had to be a moody young man walking around dreich Glasgow or Edinburgh streets with a well thumbed Dostoyevsky paperback tucked away in your raincoat pocket. No, the documentary had a number of very funny moments – Ian Stoddart, Hilary Morrison and Alan Rankine made me laugh more than many Hollywood comedies have managed in recent years.

Sequels don’t have a great track record in cinema but now, hot on the heels of Big Gold Dream, a follow-up Teenage Superstars is nearing completion and if the finished documentary is as well crafted, thought provoking and amusing as its predecessor, then fans of independent music are in for a treat.

 
The fact that Grant McPhee has spent around ten years completing both films might give you the impression that he must be something of a slacker or, alternatively, a complete perfectionist – but bear in mind, in addition to making them, he’s also worked as digital imaging technician on films such as Under the Skin and the international hit TV series Game of Thrones as well as directing his own independent drama films.

I spoke to Grant last week to find out more and I’ve accompanied the interview with some videos of tracks he chose that he feels represent the new film – unfortunately, due to a lack of space, I’ve had to leave out a number of his other suggestions such as The Shop Assistants, The Vaselines, BMX Bandits and Primal Scream.


What can we look forward to in Teenage Superstars?

Like Big Gold Dream there will be a lot of joining up of the dots. Most of the bands covered are better known to a wider audience but how interconnected they are is probably less well known, and probably very surprising; especially the Bellshill bands who are a very large focus of the film. There was a point where BMX Bandits, Soup Dragons and a pre-Teenage Fanclub Boy Hairdressers shared most of their line-ups simultaneously. This is really the story of those bands and the wider Glasgow scene which followed pretty much straight on from where Big Gold Dream ends. It starts with The Pastels and the vacuum in the Glasgow music scene left by Postcard imploding.

Did you always plan to make two films?

No, it was originally to be one film called The Sound of Young Scotland which was to be about Postcard and Fire Engines only. It actually does exist – to an extent in a 2010 film, but it doesn’t really make sense for it ever to be released now.

Why the decision to double up?

Two reasons. The main one being that a fuller story was beginning to emerge that went far beyond our initial Postcard only story. It became apparent that when we were speaking to some of the stars of the first film there was a direct continuation to a bigger story which warranted a film in itself. For BGD, when speaking to people such as Eugene (Kelly) and Norman (Blake) we realised it made sense to speak to them about both films at the same time rather than coming back at a later date.

Oh right, so to an extent both films were really shot at the same time?

Well, when the idea for TS came along and the scope became wider, rather than risk BGD being eaten up by itself again we just made the decision to make two films. Saying that, BGD was a two hour film that at a very, very late stage had 30 minutes taken out. Those 30 minutes now form a good part of TS. Like I said, it’s complicated haha. But we now start off with The Bluebells, Pastels and Strawberry Switchblade. It’s not fair to say it’s the Glasgow story but some parts of BGD are re-told from a West Coast perspective.

What stage are you at with Teenage Superstars and when would you envisage it first being premiered?

Teenage Superstars is very nearly complete. Things may change but we have some really exciting offers for premieres. At the moment we can’t say too much but we will be able to make some announcements towards the end of the year. The film is almost there but what takes up so much of our time is dealing with archive clearances – music and video and we need to finalise them first. We decided very early on that if we were to do the films properly we needed to use the best music and archive available – it just would not work any other way. I can’t imagine anything worse than using a series of ‘soundalikes’ or those cheap Beatles films without actual Beatles music.

That kinda thing really should be banned!

We also purposely decided to not allow the film-making to take precedence. Both films are very simple in terms of how they are made and told so we felt it would only take away from the story to try anything complicated. And to not have proper archive would just take away from the excitement. So collecting our archive is a long and expensive process which is going to take up a large part of the next few months. But we do have some exciting and unique footage found in people’s lofts and basements.


How would you pitch the film to a distributor or sales agent?

We’re in a lucky position where both films are at such a late stage where they are beyond a proof-of-concept so we don’t have to explain to anyone too much what it would be like, we can just show them the finished film. BGD did better than we ever could have imagined and with that as a track record it makes TS much easier to pitch. The downside is that because of a lack of initial track record they had to be made on our own which was very tricky. At a basic level it’s just a story about great music, regardless of where it came from or when. So really the pitch is if you love this music you will love the films.

Any theories on why Scotland has managed to consistently produce so many talented independent bands over the years?

I think there are a combination of reasons. One is Fast having a strong and driven personality who happened to be around at the right time to nurture some very talented people. Those people having an element of success inspired others to believe they could do something similar. And generations of others have been inspired to either try the exact opposite or something similar to those who came before.

Where do you end Teenage Superstars and – if it takes in the 1990s – do you include the reactivated Postcard?

TS really ends at the beginning of a new era and the end of the film is the end of Postcard 2 and the emergence of Britpop. But like BGD it ends on a positive note, or more positive than that sounds.

And will there be a third film bringing the story up to date?

There is a skeleton for a third film. The honest answer is that both current films have been so all consuming and personally incredibly expensive that a third film would really have to be commissioned by somebody for it to get beyond where it currently is, so it’s likely to remain unfinished. It covers or would have covered Belle and Sebastian, V-Twin, 1990s, Franz Ferdinand etc. There’s so much left to do it likely won’t be released.

What was your technique when shooting the documentaries, carefully plan everything or go with the flow?

Pretty much go with the flow. There was little opportunity for technique due to time. The main objective at the start was making contact with everyone involved and forming relationships and essentially getting voices down onto tape, to document in the purest sense. Obviously the early years were asking questions to extract just information, then as a story emerged – and more contacts were made there would be a refinement of the questions. A big part of the entire process was building up trust with the cast. It’s a lot to ask someone who doesn’t know you to tell you their story and allow you to tell that story to someone else in your own way. Overall we didn’t have any ulterior motives other than attempting to make a great film, and without any previous experience it was difficult to convince everyone of that.

Well, judging by the interviewees, you didn’t do a bad job on that score.

After BGD was released it became a lot easier, mainly that we could show that the first film had serious prospects so this next one could be similar. We were very careful with how we handled the material and various personalities which we took great lengths to achieve and hopefully that would show. But absolutely over and above everything we had an amazing community built around the film. So many people were so open to helping us create the story and we’ve managed to get contacts, information, photos, posters and advice to get the films where they are. That’s really what a lot of time was spent on. Mike O’Connor in particular seems to have an amazing online community of Scottish Indie music by running FB pages for most of the bands involved and his help has been a fantastic resource.

Having that support must have given you some extra motivation to keep at it during the inevitable times when the going got tough?

Actually, it’s by no means an exaggeration to say that without all the music fans support, the films would never have been completed. Of course that also helped the film as expectations started to mount and we had to produce something that could live up to it.


You’ve been filming for a long time now, I would guess that process has speeded up as you’ve gone along?

In the early days things moved very slowly, equipment and time were expensive so we had to save up for a while to do each interview – and that was frustrating. Even a dozen interviews could take a couple of years. Towards the end we managed to cram many interviews into a single day to keep costs down, it wasn’t ideal but it was the only way we could finish the film. Erik (Sandberg) and Innes (Reekie) coming on board was essential with their knowledge and enthusiasm and again the films would not have been made without them. Angela Slaven, our editor was the backbone to the film. We just handed her the material and she managed to make it into a film. Without her it would be very different. Wendy Griffin, the producer elevated the film to places and contacts we just could not achieve on our own, and in terms of finding a place for TS, winning the EIFF audience award has been a significant help. So for the film, a major part was finding the correct behind-the-scenes people for the film and waiting until they were available as their contributions would make or break it. And we had a great team.

Since you’re obviously such a massive fan of the music you cover, it must have been enjoyable talking to your subjects.

That was pretty easy as I was genuinely enthusiastic about finding out about them. My day job is as a technician on larger, mostly American movies so I’m pretty comfortable being around famous actors so I was never starstruck; though to me someone like Norman Blake is a far bigger star than Brad Pitt – and far more interesting.

Definitely!

Angela just cut around my mumbling and tangential questioning and we just had fun speaking to people about records. Other than having to be your own producer and arrange the interviews it was by far the most enjoyable part, along with the editing. Everything after was something close to nightmarish and involved little sleep for two years, haha. But really any process was born out of a massive enthusiasm in the subjects so in that respect this was the simplest part. I just told our subjects that we wanted to make a good film and explained that I didn’t really know what I was doing so asking for their help to achieve this seemed like a good move.

Any plans for a Big Gold Dream TV screening yet or news of a DVD release or VOD?

Yes and yes and more. There is a network TV screening later in the year, and we will have a DVD, streaming and other things available. Our B-Side, The Glasgow School is one extra but we also have 70 odd hours of interviews that have not been seen.

How do you think current Scottish independent music stands up against the Sound of Young Scotland era acts?

It may seem contentious but I think Postcard was the best and worst thing that has happened to Scottish music. Because Postcard had more of a focus on Scottish based bands, unlike FAST it quickly became regarded as a Scottish label whereas Fast were a record label based in Scotland. This, combined with the great music associated with Postcard quickly set Glasgow as a focus for music and aspiring local musicians. The legacy that’s built around Postcard has been so great that it’s very difficult to escape it’s shadow, and the irony is that’s what Postcard was all about. But there are great acts around and some very talented people.

You also direct your own drama films, how is that going at the moment?

Very different to the documentaries. The documentaries are fairly conventional so the dramas allow me to be a little more experimental. There’s one coming out later in the year called Night Kaleidoscope, which has had some good previews and I’m hoping to do another one early next year. I’ve been working with Dave Balfe, who used to run Zoo Records, who’s now a fantastic screenwriter. We’re working on a couple of drama scripts at the moment, one a horror and one a little closer to Zoo history (but purely drama).

And finally, what’s your own favourite music documentary?

I think All You Need is Love is fantastic, some amazing ’70s performances by folk like Jerry Lee Lewis.

Thanks for taking the time to talk and good luck with the film!

For more on Teenage Superstars here’s the Facebook page and here’s the link for Big Gold Dream.

Fans of Twitter should click here.

BEG 1

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seven-by-seven 77 logo (2016)

THE LURKERS: SHADOW (BEGGARS BANQUET)

The label Beggars Banquet emerged in the slipstream of new independents like Stiff and Chiswick in the mid ’70s. Over the decades they’ve released music by Gary Numan, The Fall, The Go-Betweens and Bauhaus and also launched a number of subsidiaries including 4AD and XL Recordings, as well as acquiring other labels such as Rough Trade and Matador, these all now coming under the umbrella of the Beggars Group, which can claim to be the biggest independent label network in Europe.

In 1974 though, Beggars Banquet was a single record shop in Earl’s Court in London. It quickly grew into a small chain of stores in the capital and it was in a basement of the Fulham branch that The Lurkers first began to rehearse in 1976.

Mike Stone, who ran this shop, got to know the band and became their manager although he later invited the Beggars owners, Martin Mills and Nick Austin, to step in and take over in this role. They agreed but failed to find the band a record deal so, in the spirit of the times, they hit upon the idea to launch their own label.  Their opening salvo, BEG 1, being The Lurkers’ Shadow and Love Story, or the Free Admission Single as it was dubbed on the sleeve.

Shadow (Beggars Banquet)

Before the year was out, Beggars had also released an album, Streets, with some of the best independent punk/new wave records from ’77 including John Cooper Clarke, The Members, The Exile (from Bishopbriggs) and, of course, The Lurkers. This could be called the first ‘punk’ compilation to come out on a UK label.

By the summer of 1979, Beggars had scored a couple of British #1 singles with Tubeway Army and a solo Gary Numan and in recent years, through XL and Matador, the Beggars Group have had #1 albums in America with Vampire Weekend and Queens of the Stone Age. In between, a number of other artists associated with the network such as The Prodigy and Pixies have had fantastic worldwide success but I still reckon that the run of early singles by The Lurkers: Shadow, Freak Show, Ain’t Got a Clue and I Don’t Need To Tell Her, are right up there with the best of their releases.

Taken from the 1977 documentary Punk in London, this is The Lurkers live with Shadow:


In his biography, God’d Lonely Men, Pete Haynes, aka Manic Esso when he drummed on tracks like Shadow, mentions a recent party held by Beggars that he went along to. ‘It was corporate,’ he wrote. ‘There were chill rooms with toys and games for tall children with beaky faces, glasses, gelled hair and satchels on their backs.’ He concluded: ‘It was a long way from that rehearsal room in Fulham. I thought about Beggar’s at the time, not knowing a lot about music but being in the right place at the right time and there they are now, minus Nick Austin, the company had done well.’

I spoke this week with Pete Haynes. His current version of the band, The Lurkers GLM (that’s three of the original Lurkers who until recently went out under the name God’s Lonely Men) have a very impressive new album, The Future’s Calling, out now on Unlatched Records.

My interview should be uploaded within the next week or so but before then here’s a little extra Lurkers, from Top of the Pops, this is I Don’t Need To Tell Her:

 
For more on The Lurkers GLM. click here.

Chemical Brothers & Biological Brothers

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The Olympics isn’t something I take any interest in. The fact that Britain (or Team GB as the press nowadays insist on repeatedly calling it) is winning medals by the bucketload doesn’t fill me with much national pride, instead it makes me suspect that doping in sports here must be far more widespread than most British sports pundits would ever like to admit.

I just can’t get remotely excited about some guy winning a gold who has missed drugs tests and been trained by someone with a track record in cheating, likewise my excitement levels fail to rise while watching some twenty stone muscle man freak bursting several blood vessels in his neck as he attempts to lift some monumentally heavy weight above his head for a few seconds. Even taking anabolic steroid abuse out of the equation, that’s not sport, that’s sheer bampottery.

Anyway, by chance, while I was doing my best to ignore all this sport, I decided to stick The Work of Director Spike Jonze on my Blu-ray player and I have to say, I did enjoy once again seeing his promo for Elektrobank by The Chemical Brothers, which is the one with the gymnastics competition featuring Spike Jonze’s future missus, Sofia Coppola.

Elektrobank is nowhere near my favourite track by the band but this has to be one of the best videos made during what was the most innovative decade in the relatively short history of the music video – the 1990s.

Coppola’s turn as a young hopeful it has to be said is far more convincing than she was ever was in the disappointing The Godfather Part III, where she played Michael Corleone’s daughter, Mary, a role that saw her ‘awarded’ with a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Supporting Actress.

The coach in the vid is, incidentally, based on Béla Károlyi, who once upon a time the moulded the career of Nadia Comăneci, the sensation of the 1976 Montreal games, which come to think of it, was likely the last time I really paid much attention to anything Olympic related. Later he defected from Romania to America, where he remains controversial for the fear-inducing methods he used in an attempt to instill discipline in the young athletes under his supervision, although the coach in the promo doesn’t appear too creepy.

I doubt Jonze was too severe with Coppola during the shoot as they married a few years later. She was, though, apparently put through the mill by her then boyfriend, made to learn and rehearse gymnastic and dance routines such as that section where she performs some ribbonwork. Each night she would come home exhausted, bruised and with aching limbs. Whether her body double suffered in any similar way, I really could only guess.

Taken from the album Dig Your Own Hole, this is Elektrobank:


In 1999, Jonze went on to make his groundbreaking magic-realist comedy, Being John Malkovich, while Sofia Coppola also made her debut feature in that same year, The Virgin Suicides. They divorced four years later.

Like her ex, Coppola has continued to make movies, although she is infuriatingly inconsistent – have you ever watched Somewhere?

On the plus side, she does always include some inspired musical choices on her soundtracks. Even on The Bling Ring, a movie aimed squarely at the generation who actually know and care about Snapchat, she managed to sneak in some Can and Klaus Schulze; on Marie Antoinette she introduced to the world Siouxsie and The Banshees’ Hong Kong Garden with that great strings intro and in Lost in Translation she used Kevin Shields and Air, not for the first or last time.

On the minus side, I’m not too keen on the karaoke version of God Save the Queen in that latter named film – and that’s the Pistols’ GSTQ I’m talking about rather than the one being heard any time a British athlete takes gold in Rio.

Here’s the original video for Just Like Honey, a track that appears memorably on Lost in Translation and provides that poignant and impressionistic (near) romance film with the perfect musical ending.


And finally, I should probably mention that the Mary Chain later went on to perform at their Coachella reunion with Lost in Translation co-star Scarlett Johansson supplying some backing vocals. Lucky fellas.

That Sinking Feeling

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Scottish Connection Logo

Writer/Director: Bill Forsyth

Cast: Robert Buchanan, Billy Greenlees, John Hughes, Gordon Sinclair

Running time: 93 mins

Original UK Release: 29th August 1979

A neglected city dominated by high-rise flats and blackened tenements. Graffitied brick walls stand half-demolished with rubble strewn around them. The majority of the young people living here seem to be unemployed and crime is commonplace. This is an environment so grim that the closest some of these alienated teenagers get to fun is sitting in an abandoned car in some waste ground and discussing the best way to kill yourself or clustering together in a bedroom to sing Holidays in the Sun by The Sex Pistols.

When one of these young men asks his pals what their hometown is famous for, he receives three different answers.

‘Drunks?’, ‘Muggers?’ and ‘Multiple social deprivation?’

Okay I’m being deliberately misleading here, just as Bill Forsyth was when he included a title card during the film’s opening credits with the following disclaimer: ‘The action of this film takes place in a fictitious town called GLASGOW. Any resemblance to a real town called GLASGOW is purely coincidental.’

The film, in case you don’t know, is an absurdist comedy with a whimsical heart.

That Sinking Feeling BFI

While myself and some pals were living down south in 1981, there was a robbery at the hotel where we worked. The police interviewed us collectively. You can imagine the line of questioning, mainly did we have alibis for the night before? For once none of us had went out on the randan, instead we’d stayed in to watch That Sinking Feeling, which was being shown on TV for the first time. We told the cops this and they hadn’t heard of the film, so asked us to describe the plot, which we quickly ran through for their benefit.

Initially they thought we were winding them up. ‘You watched a film about some young Scottish thieves who carry out a robbery?’

Even taking the burglary out of the equation, this, it would have to be admitted, was a pretty big coincidence. Back then films set in Glasgow with local casts were non existent. That’s obviously changed. Think Small Faces, Red Road, Orphans, The Angels’ Share (another heist comedy featuring a group of young losers), Ratcatcher and even Under the Skin with a lead performance from one of the world’s most recognizable stars but three and a half decades ago, the only thing more unlikely than a film set in Glasgow was probably a film set in some place like Cumbernauld.

The main production company involved in making the movie was even named Minor Miracle Film Cooperative.

Parallels could even be drawn to the local independent music labels that were springing up at the time such as Fast and Postcard. That Sinking Feeling – the Falling and Laughing of Scottish cinema?

Well, not exactly, although like, say, Orange Juice, who railed against the macho Glaswegian rock acts of the era, That Sinking Feeling struck many as a reaction to the Peter McDougall style of social realist Play for Todays.

Nowadays anybody with the determination can have a go at making a microbudget guerilla film but back then, making a feature length movie required a helluva lot more enthusiasm, planning and financial risk than putting out a few hundred singles on your own DIY label – albeit Forsyth’s film was a real shoestring (and independent) operation, the director funding it largely by contacting local businesses and trade unions and asking for donations. Described in the 1979 Edinburgh International Film Festival programme notes as ‘Scotland’s first no-budget feature film’, its £2000 cost even earned it a place in the Guinness Book of Records as the cheapest feature then released theatrically in Britain.

It did certainly point the way for others, its comparative success making similar celluloid ventures suddenly seem more achievable.

Forsyth’s pal Charlie Gormley made Living Apart Together (1982) and Heavenly Pursuits (1985), while that same year Michael Hoffman’s Restless Natives and Cary Parker’s The Girl in the Picture were both Forsyth influenced films set in Scotland.

I didn’t get the chance to watch That Sinking Feeling again for many, many years after that TV debut.

At one point the film was released in a version with a re-recorded audio track (with different actors!) to make it easier for American audiences to understand. Generic mid-80s tracks were also added added to replace the film’s incidental music. I’ve never seen this version and have no intention of ever seeking it out. Unless maybe for a laugh.

Then, I did manage to see the film in a cinema for the first time, when in 2008, Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian selected it to be screened one night at the Glasgow Film Theatre as part of the Monorail Film Club, the film being followed by a very entertaining Q&A with Robert Buchanan who played criminal (non) mastermind, Ronnie, a hapless and helpless figure that, like most of the cast, looks like he’s just stepped out from 1972.

Remarkably I remembered pretty much every scene in the entire film although my mind somehow swapped two of the characters around – I was sure that John Gordon Sinclair had played the part of the character that cross-dresses in order to lure the night watchman away from his duties.

I’ve just watched Forsyth’s debut again, this time on Blu-ray, and would definitely recommend it. It’s out on the BFI Flipside series with some early shorts and documentaries with a Forsyth connection.

Bill Forsyth went on to make the much loved Gregory’s Girl before Local Hero established him as the kind of director that Hollywood took a keen interest in.

Being Human, which starred Robin Williams was an awful film and 1999’s Gregory’s 2 Girls was even worse and must be a contender for any top ten rotten sequels out there – and from what I’ve heard, it was far from the fun shoot of That Sinking Feeling.

 
While writing this it just occurred to me after all this time that the alibi mentioned earlier of watching the film on TV should maybe have been further investigated. After all, we could have watched the film at some place like the GFT on its release, remembered the plot and relayed it to the cops convincingly enough.

Strangely enough too, when filming his heist at a local plumbing supplies warehouse, Forsyth was trusted with the keys, with no presence of anybody from the firm keeping an eye on him while he completed his footage over the course of a weekend. So, as Forsyth discusses with Mark Kermode on the film’s commentary track, his cast and crew could have used the filmmaking idea as an elaborate ploy to steal the sinks, which if sold, could have probably financed the film.

For more on the BFI re-release of That Sinking Feeling click here.

Unseen Joe Strummer & Ari Up

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This week something a little bit different. A couple of previously unseen photos of two absolute punk legends: Joe Strummer of The Clash and Ari Up of The Slits sent in by Les Clark, who rather modestly claims that: ‘These are not photographs, just snapshots of time – leave the photos to the professionals.’

The shot of Strummer was taken on the night of The Clash’s second visit to Aberdeen, this being in July 1978 when they played at the Music Hall and were famously supported by Suicide – and here I should say, RIP Alan Vega, who passed away over the weekend. A true pioneer.

Joe Strummer (Aberdeen) - Les Clark

If you watch the docudrama Rude Boy, you’ll see clips of a couple of Clash tracks, The Prisoner and White Riot, belted out that evening and if you want to read Les’s account of the night – or least the part of the night that he didn’t spend in A&E receiving stitches on his head at a local hospital after being hit with a ripped out theatre seat during Suicide’s set – click here.

Around this time Les was starting out his career in graphic design, producing posters for events around town for local promoters. Unfortunately he didn’t own a camera when he first saw The Clash at Aberdeen Uni on the first date they performed on Scottish soil as part of their White Riot tour in May 1977.

He did, though, later get to photograph another one of the acts on the White Riot bill, Ari Up of The Slits, on a visit that her unique and unruly band made to Aberdeen Ruffles, a venue that also played host to the likes of The Radio Stars, Rich Kids, Revillos, The Specials and The Stranglers and which, according to Les, was later burnt down, the site now being a car park.

Ari Up (Aberdeen) by Les Clark

Today Les is still based in the North East of Scotland, where he regularly designs CD and vinyl covers for a number of acts including some of my all-time favourites and we’re talking here the likes of The New York Dolls, Patti Smith, Dexys Midnight Runners, The Yardbirds and The Stooges.

Here’s a couple of his seven inch vinyl single designs, one sleeve signed by former Damned guitarist, Brian James, the other his Okeh inspired cover for a reissue of Northern Soul stomper Tainted Love.

Brian James - Walkin' Round Naked  Tainted Love - Gloria Jones

And here’s a pair of album covers, again designed for British Rock ‘n’ Roll label, Easy Action. Two iconic New Yorkers this time, firstly Johnny Thunders with In Cold Blood, the second Lou Reed’s American Poet.

Johnny Thunders - In Cold Blood Lou Reed American Poet (Les Clark cover)

For more on Easy Action click here.

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