Filth

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Filth Ad

2013 – UK – 97 min – Certificate: 18

‘What the fuck was that just jumped off my back?’ Irvine Welsh asked in a tweet earlier in the year after a seeing a final cut of Filth. Answer: ‘Ah, it’s you Trainspotting monkey!’

Welsh is obviously chuffed to bits about the adaptation of his third novel and has been talking up the film at just about every opportunity ever since; he’s even been actively encouraging comparisons with Danny Boyle’s take on Trainspotting; in fact, he’s watched both films back to back and is unable to favour one over the other. And he is very proud of Trainspotting.

Hopes for Filth are almost ridiculously high and have been ever since a genuine buzz emerged as filming started in 2011 and now just prior to its release, its star James McAvoy and director Jon S. Baird seem every bit as upbeat as Welsh about the movie.

Sometimes, though, I prefer seeing a film without these levels of expectation. Indeed, a good example of why this is Danny Boyle’s Trance which actually also starred McAvoy, a very decent effort but which struck me as slightly disappointing after the blaze of hype that preceded it.

Several other nagging doubts remained before I set out to Cineworld last night to see the first Glasgow preview screening. Baird’s only film before this had escaped my notice up till now and hadn’t been lauded by those who did see it, and while I certainly enjoyed the novel Filth, I don’t rate it as highly as some of Welsh’s other work.

The ensemble cast is unquestionably top flight, including (in addition to McAvoy) Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, Joanne Froggatt, Iain De Caestecker, Martin Compston and Kate Dickie but McAvoy in the central role of Bruce Robertson just didn’t strike me as the right choice, just like when John Hannah was chosen to portray another fictional Edinburgh cop in the original series of Rebus.

Maybe it’s because I saw Filth performed as a one man play over a decade ago in a cramped tiny studio space in the Citizens Theatre with a tour de force performance from Tam Dean Burn that made me suspect McAvoy was too fresh faced and young, too small and too good looking for the role of Robertson. Baird and Welsh both apparently had big reservations too over his suitability but these vanished the moment the Glasgow born actor began his audition. He was offered the part that same day.

McAvoy has described taking on the part as the riskiest thing he’s ever done.

The risk though has paid off.

He’s a revelation. And I would never make a casting editor.

Cops onscreen are often mavericks, too fond of bevvy, willing to break the odd rule and usually at odds with their superiors but Bruce is something else, something way beyond that, Bruce is Edinburgh’s outrageously Bad Leiutenent – Bad Detective Sergeant actually – utterly corrupt, sociopathic, and racist, sexist and homophobic too, in fact, the misanthropic Bruce doesn’t really like anybody, and even his fellow Mason and supposed best buddy Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), who accompanies him on a three day walk on the wild side in Hamburg, isn’t immune from his bullying and grotesque scheming.

How does he treat his mate? Well, for starters, Bruce makes sinister, sexual prank calls anonymously to Bladesey’s wife Bunty (Shirley Hendson), putting on a Frank Sidebottom. Before taking things further.

I didn’t mention that Bruce exhibits all the tell-tale signs being a sex addict, did I? A sex addict who is also a heavy drinker and even heavier drug user with a penchant for wreaking havoc on everyone around him.

Dixon of Dock Green he is most definitely not. Although importantly, he is, very occasionally, also capable of doing the right thing.

Filth draws the viewer in quickly. The script is very pacey, relentless even at times and as you may have already worked out, there’s depravity a-plenty on display. Filth is completely in yer face, or maybe since it’s set in Scotland that should be ‘in yer coupon’ and like Trainspotting it’s absolutely hilarious at times.

The plot?

Our anti-hero is hoping for a promotion, which he is convinced would help him win back his departed glamorous wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald) and daughter, Stacey.

He’s enlisted to solve the brutal murder of a Japanese student in an Edinburgh underpass, the solving of which would make him heavy favourite to make the step up to Detective Inspector but rather than concentrating his efforts into the investigation, Robbo spends the bulk of his time ruining the promotion chances of his rivals such as his younger sidekick Ray (Jamie Bell), Gus (Gary Lewis, Bell’s dad in Billy Elliott), Peter (Emun Elliott), Dougie (Brian McCardie) and perhaps his main threat, the very capable and by the book cop, Amanda (Imogen Poots).

Initially his Machiavellian plots go to plan but Bruce’s spiralling wildly out of control addictions aren’t his only problems and very soon surreal hallucinations make an appearance and a disintegrating Bruce, increasingly haunted by personal demons, becomes more erratic by the hour.

Robertson is obviously fast becoming a one man disaster area but is he beyond repair?

I’ll not reveal the answer to that question and I definitely won’t give away the ending – which is the way I believe the film inevitably had to go out on but I will just fully recommend you see Filth and see it on the big screen in a cinema full with others laughing and squirming as the increasingly splenetic and desperate cop finds himself drawn further and further into his outrageous webs of deceit.

Is Filth as good as Trainspotting? As much as I liked it I don’t think it is but how many British films are? I found some of the hallucination scenes with Doctor Rossi overcooked and I’m still mystified by the animation in the end credits but my only real complaint about Filth is that since watching it I’ve had David Soul’s Silver Lady stuck in my head, involuntarily repeating itself again and again. And Lust for Life that song most definitely ain’t.

So far into 2013 this is the most gripping British film I’ve watched by a distance and McAvoy’s performance is also easily the best, in fact, it just edges his turns in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement as his career best to date and an obvious contender for awards. One Scottish bookmaker has offered 33/1 on Filth winning the Oscar next year for Best Film which I’m not particularly tempted by but I really wouldn’t be remotely surprised if McAvoy picked up a Bafta. He would undoubtedly deserve it.

Opens Scotland Sept 27/Rest of UK & ROI Oct 4.

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Newspeak and the Dawn of Creation

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This week saw the first release from Alan McGee’s new 359 label, John Lennon McCullagh’s North South Divide, and with FMO about to start a new An A to Z of Scottish Fanzines feature, I thought now would be the ideal time to run a live review of one of McGee’s early bands, Newspeak, from Fumes fanzine #4 – and look out for the mention of Peter Capaldi’s band The Dreamboys dancing along to the band as they played.

Newspeak (Fumes)

A couple of years earlier, the young Alan McGee had joined local outfit H2O as bassist but was never really at home there so left along with their guitarist Andrew Innes to form Newspeak, who gigged frequently on the Glasgow area circuit in venues like the Countdown and Doune Castle during 1979 and 1980.

According to David Cavanagh’s epic The Creation Records Story (My Magpie Eyes are Hungry for the Prize): ‘McGee made 35 copies of Newspeak’s demo tape and sent them to all the English record companies he could think of. None of them replied.’

Future Primal Scream guitarist Andrew Innes then decided that the best way forward for Newspeak would be relocating to London and singer Jackie Reilly agreed. McGee staying in the band and in Glasgow was impossible so the bassist, reluctantly, agreed to move south, his employer British Rail transferring his job. After about a month he realised he’d made the right decision.

In the capital, Newspeak became, with an altered line-up, The Laughing Apple and before 1980 was out, they had recorded four tracks back home at the Sirrocco Studios in Kilmarnock, which came out early the next year as The Ha Ha Hee Hee! EP on their own Autonomy label in an edition of 1500.

H2O also set up their own independent, Spock Recordz, to release their debut, Hollywood Dream. Recorded at CAVA in Glasgow and produced by Kenny Hyslop, this picked up airplay on Radio Scotland and Clyde and helped win them a deal with RCA.

Their commercial breakthrough then came with Dream to Sleep, a soothing, would-be sophisticated, slice of slickly produced synthpop which made the UK top 20 in the summer of 1983.

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Listening again to Dream to Sleep it’s hard to imagine that H2O could once have been loosely described as punks or that Alan McGee could possibly have ever been a member of the group. I bet he detested the single.

By this point, he was coming to the conclusion that he was never going to be a success as a bass player although he wasn’t yet ready to give up and quit.

As Top of the Pops and Smash Hits beckoned for H2O, a double A-side flexi disc shared with The Pastels was to be The Laughing Apple’s fourth and final release, which McGee put out on a label he christened Creation Artifact and this was soon followed by the very first official Creation release, 73 in 83 by The Legend!

Going back to 359 Music, I can’t claim to be a fan of North South Divide as it’s undeniably Dylanesque and I’m undeniably allergic to Bob; I should also point out that McCullagh is only 15 so I wouldn’t want to be too harsh on the lad, therefore I’ll just say on the plus side that it is unquestionably a much, much better listen than CRE 001 ever was, as is, now I think of it, Dream to Sleep.

Coming Soon: An A to Z of Scottish Fanzines

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Contrary to what many folk believe, fanzines existed before Mark Perry sat down with a children’s typewriter, some felt pens, scissors and glue (which hopefully he didn’t sniff) to produce early copies of Sniffin’ Glue. For example, in 1974, from his home in East Lothian, Brian Hogg began publishing and distributing Bam Balam, which Perry has often acknowledged as a big influence on his own fanzine. As he explained to Jon Savage in England’s Dreaming: ‘It showed you could do a magazine and you didn’t have to be glossy.’

Indeed, even further back, Macabre, a sci-fi carbon zine (meaning its pages are typed carbon-copies) was produced by a Scottish teenager in the early months of World War II and this debatably might be seen as the birth of the fanzine movement in this country.

Scottish Fanzines Collage

An A to Z of Scottish Fanzines will be a new occasional feature in For Malcontents Only that will celebrate Scottish music fanzines, football fanzines, litzines, webzines and e-Fanzines from Bam Balam through the punk era of Ripped & Torn, The Next Big Thing and Hanging Around to the explosion of DIY activity in the 1980s that produced Juniper Ber-Beri and Alternatives to Valium as well as the debut of the football fanzine with the likes of The Absolute Game and smaller circulation zines dedicated to a single club like St. Mirren’s wonderfully named There’s a Store where the Creatures Meet (think the ground where that team played until recently) and Mass Hibsteria, which a young Hibee from Leith named Irvine Welsh regularly contributed to before his writing began circulating more widely in pamphlets from Duncan MacLean’s Clocktower Press and in Kevin Williamson’s brilliant and controversial litzine Rebel Inc. in the first half of the 1990s.

Again contrary to many folk’s beliefs, fanzines haven’t died out – killed off by the internet and most specifically blogs although many have migrated in that direction; admittedly the golden era might have passed but many are still being produced on the fringes of the mainstream and often in different media and so newer publications like Runnin’ Feart and Scotzine (which exists online and in paper form) will also be examined to bring the story up to date although the main focus will be on punk and independent music fanzines, primarily from the 1970s and 1980s.

Feel free to send suggestions for any title that you think deserves a mention as the list that I would come up with on my own would, I’m sure, be far from definitive.

The Clash Hits Back and Sound System

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Clash Releases

The Clash Hits Back is a 2 CD (or 3 LP) compilation released today simultaneously with the Sound System collection but with far less of a fanfare.

Hits Back consists of 24 studio tracks that follow the setlist of a show the band performed at the Brixton Fair Deal (now the Academy) on the 10th of July 1982 – or at least the proposed setlist that Joe Strummer taped to the back of his Telecaster before the gig – along with eight additional tracks thrown in including Complete Control and Hitsville UK. There’s no major tracklisting surprises here bar the exclusion of London’s Burning.

‘Joe would spend a lot of time composing the running order, considering dynamics, emotional impact and the key the songs were in,’ the three best known surviving members explain in the liner notes.

Strummer Stencil

Hits Back will cost you around a tenner which itself sounds like a fair enough deal for 32 remastered tracks but as I already own three Clash comps: Super Black Market Clash, The Story of the Clash and The Essential Clash, I’m struggling to get too excited about this one.

Yeah, it can be fascinating to hear music in a new and well selected sequence but as I already own all the tracks I can make my own Hits Back on my media player of choice if I have the time and inclination. Or, I assume, hear it on Spotify at some point soon. I’d have preferred the Brixton show live myself or any other live Clash gig for that matter.

The Clash Glasgow Apollo 1981

With a very attractive array of extras that includes the first ever recordings of the band (at Beaconsfield Film School in 1976) and the Guy Stevens produced demos for Polydor, Sound System looks a much more intriguing release although it is also around ten times the price of Hits Back.

The first five Clash albums are also available from today as a 5 Album Studio Box Set and are all also included in Sound System – any trace of Cut the Crap though in case you’re wondering has been unceremoniously excluded from all these new re-releases.

Mick Jones has compared Sound System to buying a DVD box set like Kojak or Breaking Bad but if I’m gonna buy a complete box set of a favourite TV show I want to see each and every episode of that show even the ones from the sixth and final series that was accused of jumping the shark.

Was Cut the Crap really so utterly dreadful that it needs to be excised from the history of The Clash? Admittedly, it’s their weakest effort and generally ill conceived but I’d take North and South over a swathe of the tracks from Sandinista and if I had to choose a favourite between This is England and the band’s highest charting single worldwide, Rock the Casbah, it would have to be the former – perversely I’m tempted to seek out my cassette copy of Cut the Crap tonight and give it another listen. On my old beatbox of course.

Gripe over, if I had a spare hundred pounds then I’d likely have already have ordered a copy of Sound System, sadly though I don’t albeit I would like to hear it at some time in that unwritten future of mine.

Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

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The First Half: Once Upon a Time in Satellite City

Tonight Scotland play Belgium in a World Cup qualifier and, no matter the result, they won’t be at next summer’s finals in Brazil, in fact, out of the 53 teams taking part in the various European qualifying sections, Scotland were the first country to be mathematically ruled out of that particular, always rather remote possibility, ahead even of San Marino and the Faroe Islands.

If you want to back Scotland to beat the Belgians at Hampden, my local bookmaker is offering odds of 4/1 but even though the recently appointed manager Gordon Strachan has implemented some immediate and obvious improvements, I really wouldn’t advise you to lump your life savings on that one. Or any money at all for that matter.

Rewind to 1977 though and things were very, very different for Scotland as far as football was concerned. The team then consisted of big name footballers from the top English clubs like Liverpool, Manchester United and Leeds, along with the elite of Scotland’s old First Division. Aston Villa’s Andy Gray, who in 1976–77 became the first footballer ever to be voted PFA Young Player of the Year and PFA Players’ Player of the Year in the same season, struggled to make squads, let alone secure a place in the starting eleven.

Kenny Dalglish and Joe Jordan were banging in the goals and finishing top of their qualifying group for the 1978 World Cup ahead of reigning European champions Czechoslovakia and a very strong Wales side was even expected rather than just hoped for.

The day immediately after they sealed their place in Argentina by beating Wales 2-0, this advert, for an event that had obviously been planned some time before the previous night’s tricky away game, appeared in the Evening Times:

Satellite City Victory Dance

Satellite City was the venue above the Glasgow Apollo previously known as Clouds, which had been seen as an ideal gig for up and coming pop, soul and disco acts who would maybe struggle to attract a big enough crowd to make a sizeable dent in the 3000+ capacity Apollo downstairs. Salvation (later to become Slik) were regulars and others who played there included Edinburgh glam rockers Iron Virgin and, before they had become chart toppers, The Bay City Rollers.

In 1977 though, Clouds moved with the times, rebranding itself late that summer as Satellite City. Suddenly a new breed of band like The Rezillos and The Zones began appearing and gradually more and more bands that could be described as punk or new wave such as Magazine, Wayne County and The Electric Chairs and Elvis Costello were booked to perform and Satellite City quickly established itself as the nearest thing the city was ever to have to a Liverpool Eric’s or the Electric Circus in Manchester.

Many new young local outfits were offered support slots for these acts; the very under-rated The Exile and Matt Vinyl and the Decorators both supported Sham 69 at different shows, some believed The Skids actually upstaged headliners Magazine and The Valves certainly gave The Pirates a run for their money. The singer of Bearsden’s Nu-Sonics, Edwyn Collins later penned a track called Satellite City that partly recalled the time early in 1978 when they played on the same bill as The Backstabbers, Simple Minds and reggae act Black Slate.

Satellite City was also later one of two Scottish venues chosen to host the Farewell to the Roxy tour but by this point the news had been announced that, like the London club, it would be closing down itself – along with the Apollo, which was to be converted into a bingo hall (something I’ll maybe cover in a later post).

The second of these Roxy tour dates actually took place on the day that the Scottish squad touched down in Gatwick on their way home from Argentina.

Farewell to the Roxy

The Second Half: Once Upon a Time in Argentina

After that Victory Dance at Satellite City, expectations that Scotland would go far at the World Cup had grown dramatically in a blaze of hype.

Largely the mood of optimism was down to team boss Ally MacLeod. Ally, a man who thought wearing a safari suit was a good idea, was as far from the stereotype of the dour Scottish manager as it was possible to get and he was never going to be accused of downplaying the chances of any team he took charge off.

Asked what he planned to do after he had won the World Cup, MacLeod gave a chutzpah overloaded two word reply that I doubt even Brian Clough or Bill Shankly ever matched. ‘Retain it’.

Very strange things began happening in Scotland during the run up to Argentina: many grown men decided to have their hair permed in emulation of stars like Alan Rough, Graeme Souness and Derek Johnstone. Over 25,000 punters paid money to give the squad a Gala Send–Off at Hampden Park before they flew off to Cordoba – this consisted of the inevitable pipe band and the squad waving to fans from an open-top bus which trundled round the edges of the pitch and then the squad waving to fans again from the bus as it repeated  its journey. Bizarrely this was televised live on STV as Argentina Here We Come!

Maybe strangest of all, enough folk also bought copies of Andy Cameron’s boak inducing dirge Ally’s Tartan Army, backed by the equally awful I Want To Be A Punk Rocker, to put the record in the UK Top Ten.

Some people really did get it into their heads that the team might just bring the biggest trophy in world football back to Scotland. You don’t believe me? Here. Have a look at this (and, no, I didn’t Photoshop in ‘World Cup Winners’):

World Cup Winners

There was even a T-shirt advertised in NME and elsewhere, based on the Lipsmackin’ Pepsi TV ads of the time:

Argentina T-shirt

To be fair, it wasn’t just Ally that was bumming up his side, there was no shortage of well respected football men willing to say nice things about us. Helmut Schön, for instance, the manager of defending champions West Germany, had been mightily impressed after watching the Scots, predicting that if they emerged out of their group: ‘There’s no telling how far they might go’.  

Of course, Scotland arrived home at the first opportunity having failed to pulp Peru or really irritate Iran let alone slaughter Spain or annihilate Argentina. The games against Peru and Iran were both dismal affairs and were accompanied by a drugs scandal, high profile fallouts with the media, a trio of players being banned from ever representing their country again but also a famous, breathtaking victory over one of the tournament favourites Holland that included one of the greatest goals ever scored. Thank you, Archie.

Ally’s side narrowly failed to qualify from their group on goal difference and before he made it back to Glasgow, there were already rumours he’d resigned (false) and that the SFA wanted Jock Stein to replace him (true).

He would only ever manage Scotland for one more match. In his 1979 autobiography, The Ally MacLeod Story, he reflected: ‘I am a very good manager who just happened to have a few disastrous days, once upon a time, in Argentina.’

‘50,000 bands. One disgusting bathroom.’

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Coming soon to a cinema near you, CBGB the Movie:

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Filmed in New York, CBGB is directed by Randal Miller, who also co-wrote the script along with Jody Savin. The movie will debut on September 5 on America’s DirecTV and will air there for a month before starting its theatrical release in America on the 11th of October. The British release will hopefully follow on soon afterwards.

Alan Rickman plays venue owner Hilly Kristal and CBGB regular and founding editor of Punk magazine John Holmstrom believes the role might just bring an award or two for him. Foo Fighters drummer Taylor Hawkins plays Iggy Pop, Rupert Grint plays Cheetah Chrome of The Dead Boys and Patti Smith is portrayed by Mickey Sumner, whose dad Gordon’s band will be featured in the film too, along with a whole bunch of acts who are undoubtedly much more usually associated with the iconic Bowery club like The Ramones, Television and Talking Heads.

CBGB Poster

A number of Scottish bands were among those supposed 50,000 bands who played sets there over the years from The Rezillos, who fitted in a gig while recording Can’t Stand The Rezillos at the Power Station Studios, through to Teenage Fanclub and The Fuse as well as – and I’m not kidding here – The Sons of Scotland Pipe Band, who played a rock and roll inspired set back in 2005 in the same week they performed at the Tartan Week Parade in New York.

CBGB, the venue, opened in late 1973 and was forced to close in October 2006 although the club the venue did unofficially transplant itself to Glasgow in May of 1977 when Talking Heads and The Ramones played at Strathclyde Uni while Blondie and Television played the Apollo the following evening. I’ll post a piece later on ‘The Weekend CBGB came to Glasgow’ to coincide with the film’s British release.