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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Goodbye, Robin Hardy

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This year there will be no Wickerman Festival. Without Robin Hardy, who directed cult classic The Wicker Man towards the end of 1972,  there would never have been a festival in the first place.

The Wicker Man was not a success on release but this magical and intriguing film has grown in stature ever since to the point where, in addition to the festival named in its honour, there’s been a novelization by Hardy and Anthony Shaffer (who wrote the screenplay), a Hollywood remake starring Nicolas Cage (which I haven’t seen and have no real intention of ever seeing), a number of books on the making of the movie, fanzines, conferences and conventions, film location tours, a stage version and a number of documentaries. Even the recent animated video of Radiohead’s Burn the Witch paid homage to the film that has been described as ‘the Citizen Kane of horror movies’.

The genre of horror experienced a golden age in Britain in the 1970s. Obviously there was Hammer, while studios catering for a similar audience such as Amicus and Tigon thrived too; a post-Hammer ‘new wave of horror’ emerged in the middle of the decade with directors like Norman J. Warren and Pete Walker and there was also the big budget international hit, The Omen. The highpoint of horror in that decade though was The Wicker Man, a film that found no favour with distributors until it was brutally cut in length and relegated to a slot as the support film in a double feature with Don’t Look Now, back when your local picture house provided paying punters with a bit of value.

At times, when I began watching The Wicker Man myself for the first time as part of the BBC’s Moviedrome strand during the ’80s, I didn’t really know whether I liked it or not. Probably because it was utterly unique. I seem to remember it initially striking me as a macabre comedy with bizarre musical interludes such as the bawdy bar song, The Landlord’s Daughter, in praise of Willow (Britt Ekland) and May Pole, which resembled a surreal take on children’s TV of the period – Magpie meets The Incredible String Band.

By the time of Willow’s Song, though, I knew one thing: I wasn’t going to be switching it off until the final credits had rolled – and not just because of a naked Britt Ekland (well a naked Britt and her body double I should say) although I’ll happily admit that I would’ve been in Willow’s bedroom myself quicker than you could say Usain Bolt after that peculiar invitation.

In the unlikely case of you not knowing anything about the plot, Sergeant Howie, played by Edward Woodward, is a pious and pompous Christian with a particularly closed mind who is sent to the pagan community of Summerisle to investigate the alleged disappearance of a twelve year old schoolgirl called Rowan Morrison.

One of the unusual though great things about the film is that it is possible to dislike the priggish hero, a man so repressed he cannot even utter the word sex and who’s offended at every turn by the behaviour of the Bacchanalian islanders. Then there’s that unconventional ending, one of the most memorable scenes of any British film, horror or otherwise, which Robin Hardy shot magnificently.

Hardy really worked wonders on The Wicker Man, to the extent of making Dumfries and Galloway in November resemble May Day and the days leading up to it – at times there was snow on the hills and, while outside, extras had to chew ice cubes so their breath wouldn’t be shown on camera while actors had directional heaters aimed at their waists while they delivered their lines. It’s remarkable that Hardy coaxed so many fine performances from the stars of the film.

‘Hardy was a natural at directing actors,’ Edward Woodward recalled in Allan Brown’s Inside The Wicker Man. ‘He wasn’t easy to work with but I mean that as a compliment. He didn’t let you get away with something just because you’d flash him a charming look, he made you do things differently.’

By coincidence, as someone who is attempting to actively avoid watching any of Euro 2016, I looked out my four disc Final Cut DVD yesterday and watched a couple of the documentaries spread across its four discs, intending to watch the so-called Director’s Cut while Germany faced Italy last night.

Before I got to chance to do so, it sadly emerged that Robin Hardy had died the day before.

~

In addition to his crucial role in The Wicker Man, Hardy also directed a number of other films including the similarly themed The Wicker Tree (2011), which was an adaptation of his novel Cowboys for Christ.

Robin Hardy had planned to make a third Wicker Man film as a tribute to his great friend Christopher Lee, who died himself last year. It really is a pity that Hardy didn’t get the chance to complete his trilogy.

Robin Hardy. 2 October 1929 – 1 July 2016.

Here Comes Johnny Yen Again

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Iggy Pop: Lust For Life

British cinema wasn’t in a good place in the mid 1990s. D’you remember highly touted films like Sarah and Jack? Blue Juice? Shopping? Just imagine, a time of such utter mediocrity that some critics actually hailed Sadie Frost as the country’s most promising young actress.

Or what about The Englishman Who Went Up a Hill But Came Down a Mountain? It was still officially a hill by the time I’d fled the Glasgow Film Theatre and hotfooted it to the nearest bar, believe me.

Then along came Trainspotting and, what’s more, not a dreary social realist version of what remains Irvine Welsh’s finest novel but an inventive, stylish, visceral and fantastically funny take on it.

You watched Ken Loach’s Ladybird, Ladybird feeling equally bored and depressed but you stepped out of Trainspotting, feeling, well, a lust for life.

Trainspotting is here

One of the best things about the movie was, of course, its soundtrack.

Like Tarantino and Scorcese, Danny Boyle is one of those directors that possess a near perfect knack of combining sound and visuals perfectly to lift a movie.

Just think of that frenetic opening of Trainspotting. Renton and Spud being chased down Edinburgh’s Princes Street by a couple of security guards while we hear the famous ‘Choose Life’ voice-over, accompanied by Iggy Pop’s searing uber-classic Lust For Life.

Renton and Spud on Princes Street

I’d read snippets of Welsh’s novel in several of the Scottish litzines that began springing up in the first half of the 1990s and Scream, If You Want To Go Faster, the ninth installment of the annual New Writing Scotland anthology series. I obviously read the novel too when it was first published and, later, went to see Welsh give a reading at the Paisley Arts Centre. I was also lucky enough to nab a ticket for Harry Gibson’s adaptation at the Citizens Theatre in the Gorbals.

Guess what? I dearly wanted the movie to succeed and by the time Boyle freeze-framed on Renton as he a grins at the horrified man who has just run him over, I was confident that this would be the single most exciting Scottish film I had ever seen. And we were only thirty seconds into the action.

I still can’t hear Lust For Life without thinking of that scene, the combination of the two, in all likelihood, will always be indelibly linked in my head, although usually that hyperactive opening rather than the 5-a-side match, the cooking up and injecting the junk in Mother Superior’s or the friends and family decrying heroin while Iggy’s song surges on, still sounding sensational.

From the album Lust For Life, here it is, one of the very finest tracks ever recorded, with the single greatest drum intro ever, ever, ever – the equivalent of a pitbull on steroids straining at a particularly tight leash – and those pounding, primal drums brilliantly balanced by a stunning, stalking Motown bassline from Tony Sales and some itchy yet glistening guitar work from the genuis that is Carlos Alomar and Scotland’s very own Ricky Gardiner. Not forgetting James Newell Osterberg, Jr crooning his Burroughs inspired badass surrealism and his pal David Robert Jones helping out with the backing vocals:


Instead of putting out Lust For Life on 45, RCA in Britain decided to choose Success, another track from the album. With The Passenger somehow relegated to B-side status.

The reasoning behind this decision remains a mystery to me. Not as big a mystery as why around 100,000 folks thought it was a good idea to watch Chris Martin and his bed wetting brethren in Coldplay headline the main stage of Glastonbury on Sunday night, but a mystery all the same.

I obviously didn’t bother watching this myself but it sounds like it just might have been the cosiest ever moment in rock history, the polar opposite of the days when the Ig would goad biker gangs in his audience, snort angel dust and lacerate his bare chest with broken bottles.* I’m sure the numpty readers of Heat and OK! would have lapped up Martin’s antics though. OMG! Apple & Moses r up onstage @ Glasto 2 sing! Awesome!

~

Iggy has recently released another album, Post Pop Depression, which the New York Times has claimed: ‘picks up where Lust For Life left off.’ I wouldn’t go that far myself but it really is worth seeking out. From it, this is American Valhalla.


For more on Iggy: http://iggypop.com/

* Okay, none of these things are in reality very big or very clever but you’ll see where I’m coming from.