BEG 1

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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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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.