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This Is My Happening and It Freaks Me Out!

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Last time around some inventive dancing from La La La Human Steps and David Bowie. To start with this time, some not so inventive dancing from Mark E. Smith and a (presumably) random drunk guy that happened to pass by as the promo for L.A. was being shot and somehow found himself invited to join in the fun. I’m not sure Smith’s pal Michael Clark would have approved.

Never keen on talk about the ‘Brix era’ of The Fall, one of Smith’s resentments was the idea that during this time his then wife glammed the band up. ‘I’ve always tried to dress smart,’ he protested in his book Renegade, where he also pointed out that ‘nobody takes a scruff seriously’ and ‘you don’t want to be walking around like an urban scarecrow.’

The ‘Brix era’ produced some of my favourite Fall albums with This Nation’s Saving Grace maybe edging it as the finest of them with I Am Kurious Oranj not far behind. As for Brix glamming up the band, I’m not so sure Mark E. could ever be glammed up but she certainly injected a glamourous individual element into mix the day she joined. Up until then Fall members had all looked like they spent most nights supping pints of Boddingtons in some dour Prestwich boozer. This didn’t strike Fall fans as a likely habitat for a blonde Californian with a beaming smile but unlike most British independent outfits of the time, The Fall were always good for a surprise.

During 1985, Brix was going through something of an Edie Sedgwick phase and in her parallel career as leader of The Adult Net, she released her tribute to the Warhol superstar on 45 in the wake of This Nation’s Saving Grace hitting record shops. On L.A. Brix provides a mesmerizing Rickenbacker riff and the repeated line borrowed from Beyond the Valley of the Dolls heard in the final quarter of the track that gives this post its title.

Oh, how I missed regularly staging happenings during lockdown even though they have been known to freak me out too!

Equally madcap and melodramatic, if you haven’t seen it, Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is a trashy exploitation film that was frequently screened as a midnight movie in Britain in the mid-1980s, such as when it was paired with Valley of the Dolls at one of the weekend double bills shows at the Grosvenor in Glasgow. I’m guessing Brix saw it around this time, as in addition to that line, she launched her offshoot Adult Net career with a cover of The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s Incense and Peppermints, which was featured in the movie.

Here is L.A., which is said to have been John Peel’s least favourite Fall song. File under ‘Things Peelie got seriously wrong.’

In his foreword to the book Excavate!: The Wonderful and Frightening World of The Fall, Michael Clark recalls that the first time he saw The Fall live, a member of the Lyceum audience took to the stage and punched Smith. The singer carried on as if nothing had happened. Clark was intrigued by the singer’s response, and his interest in The Fall grew. Soon that interest was reciprocated, and the band would go to see Clark and his troupe dance, sometimes to Fall tracks. They began collaborating, and the highpoint of this would be I Am Curious, Orange.

This was a ballet based let’s say very loosely on the ascension to the British throne of William of Orange and how the consequences of this were still being felt three hundred years later. I wasn’t lying when I said The Fall were always good for a surprise, was I?

Flamboyant and frenetic, with The Fall playing live numbers from their I Am Kurious, Oranj album (not sure why the album and show were spelled differently), there were dancing fruits, a moving phone box and a game of football onstage which wouldn’t have had Alex Ferguson rushing to wave his cheque book at any of the players involved. Michael Clark was King Billy. Brix was wheeled out while sitting on a Claes Oldenburg style hamburger and a gigantic poke of McDonald’s fries was lowered from the ceiling and spilt onto the stage, killing the dancers. Swan Lake this was not.

I saw the show at the King’s Theatre, where it was part of the programme for the 1988 Edinburgh International Festival no less. None of yer Fringe Festival for The Fall. I didn’t remotely understand most of it – I doubt that was the point – but appreciated its anarchic exuberance and, of course, the music.

And I really don’t think King Billy would have approved.

David Bowie & The Most Tragically Brilliant Dancer Alive Today

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It’s not very often that anyone shared a stage with David Bowie and found themselves becoming the main focus of attention. But this did happen in 1988 when Bowie collaborated with Québec based contemporary dance group La La La Human Steps and performed with their lead dancer Louise Lecavalier, before launching into Look Back in Anger and being replaced on dancing duties by another member of the troupe, Donald Weikert.

Lithe, surprisingly strong and with striking bleached white hair, Lecavalier specialised in hurling her body around the stage, flinging herself against – and on top of – her dance partners, and regularly showcasing her trademark sideways barrel jumps. Chris Roberts in Melody Maker, called her as ‘the most tragically brilliant dancer alive today.’

Bowie was making some dreadful artistic decisions around this time, but this pairing up was one of his better ideas. Image-wise, this is a far from high-definition video but it is an essential watch:

When La La La Human Steps announced that they were coming to Glasgow to play the rather posh Theatre Royal, I snapped up a ticket. Until then my only encounter with modern dance was seeing Michael Clark doing his thang once with The Fall but it’s good to get out your comfort zone once in a while and I ended up transfixed by their brand of highly physical dance. I’m pretty sure I even must have gasped in amazement more than once during their frenetic, fearless and gravity defying routines. They all must have woken up the next morning bruised, exhausted and with aching bones.

I bet they all have dodgy knees and hips nowadays.

After seeing La La La Human Steps’ Human Sex duo no 1 in 1987, Bowie wanted them to be part of his Glass Spider tour though scheduling conflicts didn’t permit this but in 1990, he coaxed the company’s choreographer Édouard Lock to act as the artistic director on his Sound+Vision tour. Throughout the 100+ dates, video recordings of Louise Lecavalier in action were screened behind the band. Some shows, such as the one staged at the Montreal Forum, also saw members of La La La Human Steps joining Bowie onstage.

‘You’ve never seen anything like them before,’ he enthused to Elle. ‘It’s where punk and ballet clash with each other.’

Lecavalier also appeared in the video for Fame ’90, shot by Gus Van Sant hot on the heels of his success with Drugstore Cowboy.

Fame ’90, it would have to be admitted, was an entirely unnecessary reworking of a song that was never going to be improved upon, another of those poor artistic choices mentioned earlier. This substandard incarnation of the classic also appeared on the Pretty Woman soundtrack. Oh dear.

Good video, though.

For more on Louise Lecavalier, click here.

Stigma: Folk Horror #5

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A few traditionalists might have sipped their glass of vintage port uneasily while tuned in to the BBC Ghost Story for Christmas in 1977. Previously these had all been classic adaptations of the work of M.R. James or Charles Dickens. This was a new script, set in the present day and had more in common with David Cronenberg than it did some earlier entries in the annual series. And it was about as Christmassy as strawberries and cream at Wimbledon.

Clive Exton supplied the screenplay. Best known for British serial killer film 10 Rillington Place, Exton had also written Doomwatch in 1972, which might be described as an eco-thriller with elements of folk horror. His script here combines body horror with folk horror, not that anybody would have used that latter term when Stigma was first shown on BBC1.

The Delgado family have just moved into a new picture postcard cottage in Avebury, Wiltshire. Katherine (Kate Binchy) and daughter Verity (Maxine Gordon) travel home in a car and Kate faces some low-level resentment from her daughter during the journey. Verity is hardly thrilled to be escaping to the country from London, sensing that teenage kicks will be hard to come by in a sleepy village.

When they arrive home, two workmen Dave and Richard are struggling to hoist a huge stone in their garden from the ground.

‘Why can’t you leave it there?’ Verity protests, and the workmen agree she has a point.

‘It’d spoil the lawn,’ Katherine notes, perhaps a little reluctantly.

You just know this is a bad idea, don’t you?

The camera pans across to the fields beyond the garden, the site of one of the Avebury stone circles that could be seen fleetingly moments earlier.

As she starts preparing a meal, a commentator on the radio outlines the progress of two Voyager spacecraft launched some months beforehand. This is the modern world, and the future is more important than the past, the mysteries of space more fascinating than the ancient mysteries on their doorstep.

Outside, she watches on as the men’s JCB crane finally lifts the stone, albeit only six inches or so above the ground. As it does so some wyrd forces display themselves but only to Katherine.

Wind gusts into her face. She is sent into a trancelike state. She traipses indoors where ornaments, a clock and framed pictures rattle. Small cracks run up a wall. A small mirror smashes. Katherine recovers somewhat.

Verity is unaware that anything strange happened, which the viewer might read as a strong indication that what just took place was only in Katherine’s head.

Soon, Katherine sees blood smearing a plate. She examines her hands but there’s no visible cut. Maybe it’s from the brisket of beef she has begun to prepare, but no – and I better warn you that some spoilers lie ahead.

Tiny droplets of blood begin to inexplicably ooze from her side and forehead for no identifiable reason.

It’s like a particularly distressing anxiety dream (and twice we can glimpse an etching of Fuseli’s famously disturbing image The Nightmare where an incubus sits upon a woman sleeping with outstretched arms). In her bathroom Katherine desperately attempts to wipe the blood from her torso. This is an uneasy, even harrowing watch. I would guess that some complaints were fired off to the BBC about the (semi) nudity but this can’t be viewed as salacious in any way. If anybody enjoys watching this then I’d advise them to seek professional help.

Eventually, the bleeding subsides, and Katherine is able to dine with Peter and Verity that evening.

That night, though, Peter is woken by the noise of a steady drip. Vague voices are heard and laughter. He gets up goes to investigate. An onion rolls off a table, a knife rotates, and some oven rings have been left on. Perplexed, he goes back to bed. 

The next morning, the workmen return with a larger crane. This time round the stone is completely dislodged. Dave and Richard find a skeleton underneath where it lay, and it’s surrounded by carefully placed daggers. Verity suggests that this means the burial was intended for a witch.

‘The old religion,’ she explains. ‘Read about it in a book. They used to bury them under big stones.’

She begins to peel away the outer layer of an onion’s skin, her nails bright red. Maybe she’s also read that onions help ward off evil spirits.

Meanwhile, very bad things are happening to her mother.

Directed by BBC Ghost Story for Christmas regular Lawrence Gordon Clark, Stigma lasts just over half an hour and is continuously engaging from start to finish.

Kate Binchy excels at portraying – without words – the growing panic of her character and there’s a great use of location. By a coincidence, 1977 had started with another drama filmed in Avebury, Children of the Stones on ITV’s late afternoon children’s slot (and believe me, they don’t make them like that anymore on children’s TV).

Most critics disliked Stigma, although surprisingly, the Daily Mail was impressed, their reviewer noting that it ‘worked on the imagination as well as the senses’. I agree, though why the curse unleashed by the stone’s removal only affected Katherine remains a mystery to me.

For more on Stigma, click here.

Bernard Meets Dorothy, Waterloo Station, Every Friday Night

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‘For me the perfect pop song is Waterloo Sunset,’ Dave Gilmour has said on a number of occasions, while according critic Robert Christgau, it’s ‘the most beautiful song in the English language’.

‘Three minutes of sheer musical genius which is still regarded by many as the apogee of the swinging sixties single,’ Allan Laing gushed in the Glasgow Herald twenty years ago. ‘Quite simply, nothing better ever revolved around a Dansette turntable at 45rpm.’

So, if I told you I had seen the band take to the Glasgow Apollo stage early in 1979, you might ask how it felt to be singing along with thousands of others to one of the most achingly poignant and evocative songs written in the twentieth century?

Whether or not Waterloo Sunset was fine on that particular night, though, was not disclosed by Raymond Douglas Davies.

Okay, it was a long time ago and I would have been the worse for wear after far too many beers for somebody who was still underage and relatively new to the drinking game, but I am pretty certain they didn’t play it, which must be the equivalent of the Stones failing to trot out Satisfaction in whatever enormodome they next perform in, or Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey deciding to remove My Generation from their set-list.

Certainly, The Kinks did put on a fantastic show that night despite the absence of their most loved track.

I’m not sure about Waterloo Sunset being the most beautiful song in the English language myself. That’s a big claim. It’s definitely up there but if I’m being super pernickety, I’m not very keen on the double negative of ‘I don’t need no friends’ or the ‘chilly, chilly is the evening time’ line which sounds as if it comes from the England of Thomas Hardy rather than the London of Blowup, Oz and the 14 Hour Technicolor Dream. Not that the contrarian singer would be much enamoured with the summer of love, which when Waterloo Sunset was released that May 1967, was just beginning to get into gear.

Davies, incidentally, has claimed that before he settled on Terry and Julie for his lyrics, he considered George and Mabel and even Bernard and Dorothy instead. Just try singing ‘Bernard meets Dorothy, Waterloo Station / Every Friday night.’

Not quite the same ring to it, has it?

I reckon Ray was on the wind-up when he mentioned those names as they scan so badly. Not only does Terry and Julie have a better flow but I would guess by choosing them, Davies intended to inject a talking point into the song knowing the public would inevitably debate whether it was about Terence Stamp and Julie Christie, two of the stars of Far From The Madding Crowd, John Schlesinger’s high-profile adaptation of the Hardy novel that was being filmed as the record was being recorded.

Sadly no promo was shot to promote the single and there doesn’t seem to be any performances of the track from the 1960s available to watch online but here is Waterloo Sunset from The Kinks In Concert, a half hour live concert first shown on BBC 2 in March 1973:

For more on The Kinks: https://www.facebook.com/TheKinksOfficial

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.

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