Mystery Track Special (Best Picture: Isabelle)

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I do like a mystery.

As a youngster in the 1970s, I would get taken on coach trips for the day during the summer holidays. These would whisk me and my family away to all manner of exotic locations. Ayr. Ardrossan. Even Oban one time.

The idea of the ‘mystery trip’ somehow, though, held the most appeal for the young me. Theoretically, the bus could be headed in any direction within, say, a three and a half hour journey from where we were picked up. Edinburgh possibly, Fort William, maybe even Blackpool although even back then I would have figured out that it would likely just mean a wee jaunt down to the Ayrshire coast.

All the same, I began pestering my parents with pleas for them to choose this option next time around.

This didn’t last long though. A pattern quickly emerged. The first ‘mystery’ outing arrived in Largs. The second ‘mystery’ outing arrived in Largs. The third? You’ve guessed it.

*

I’ve also always enjoyed hearing music for the first time without knowing the identity of the artist. No preconceptions or expectations. Just trusting your ears.

You might already know the track featured below or at least have heard about it (and I have to admit this post is much delayed due to my best of the year blogs getting in the way). When I visited a pal a few months back, he was playing it on YouTube as he ushered me into his living room.

‘Who’s that?’ I asked, instantly intrigued.

‘Who do you think it is?’

‘It wouldn’t be Best Picture and Isabelle by any chance?’ I answered, stepping closer to his laptop and reading from the screen.

‘Aye. Very good but can you name any of the band? Where d’you reckon they’re from, and which era d’you think the song comes from?’

Questions. Questions. Questions.

‘I’ll let you see the video from the start,’ he said, reloading the page, although this didn’t offer up many clues. The band playing in that looked as if they were from the mid 1960s, and this was likely an attempt to steer me off the scent.

Isabelle Video - Best Picture

Umming and awwing, I desperately searched for the kind of inspired answer that would demonstrate my encyclopedic knowledge of guitar bands. Or at least not come up with something so embarrassing that it would be cast up against me for years to come.

Once upon a time I’d played him The Four Vandals’ Wrong Side of Town and told him I’d buy him free drinks all night if he could name the singer. But not being a) someone who watches crap Saturday night TV, or b) a northern soul fan, he failed to recognise the dulcet tones of ex X-Factor winner Steve Brookstein. Great record incidentally and, yeah, I do still occasionally tease him about some of his answers.

We can be a mean bunch.

He further explained that there was a well known face on vocal duties that I’d featured on this blog and a guitarist who’d been part of a successful 1980s chart act that I’ve also mentioned on here.

The answer, therefore, was likely tucked away in some sealed-off compartment of my brain but I still couldn’t offer up any answer that I would’ve been tempted to wager any cash on.

‘Have to hurry you!’

‘Dunno,’ I said, before blurting out, ‘Sounds a bit Liverpool.’

He gave me an unhelpful blank look.

‘Maybe,’ I continued, a wee ooze of panic possibly seeping into my voice due to the fear of saying something incredibly stupid, ‘from around about the time that The Coral and The Zutons first came out?’

My guess wasn’t remotely close. He offered me another go at it.

I gave him a shrug and admitted I had no idea. ‘I like it though. Definitely.’

What do you think? Assuming you don’t already know all about the track.


I won’t reveal the identities of the band members but obviously in the age of the internet it won’t take the detective skills of Inspector Morse or John Rebus to find out all about the band in a matter of minutes. I’ve even added a link to their record label below the video.

For more on Best Picture & Oriel Records click here.

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Art Sex Music & Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You (Best Books 2017)

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Best Books of 2017

A confession. I have made a big dent into Stuart Cosgrove’s Memphis 68: The Tragedy of Southern Soul but still have around sixty pages to go. Voted Shindig‘s music book of the year, this is a fascinating account of a year in America that was political dynamite and soundtracked by some of the finest soul music ever recorded. Much of it from the Memphis area.

Yes, I realise, you wouldn’t get a ‘best of the year’ article in the Times Literary Review that included books the reviewer hadn’t even finished  but having read Cosgrove’s two previous books on soul, I know I’m in safe hands and feel confident that I can already recommend this second part of his soul trilogy. Next up Harlem ’69.

From Memphis, Tennessee to the rather less romanticized environment of Airdrie, Lanarkshire and David Keenan’s This Is Memorial Device.

A multilayered fictional tale that the author subtitled ‘An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978–1986’, the novel reads like a love letter to the town where the author got his teenage kicks.

This Is Memorial Device will surely chime with anybody that picked up a guitar, contributed to a fanzine or was maybe just a fan of their local music scene back in what narrator Ross Raymond calls ‘the glory years’.

Irvine Welsh, who dabbled in a couple of bands himself around this time, is also an admirer, praising it as ‘Brilliant stuff. It captures the terrific, obsessive, ludicrous pomposity of every music fan’s youth in an utterly definitive way.’

Back in May, Keenan hosted a Q&A with Cosey Fanni Tutti in Glasgow’s CCA to coincide with the launch of her book Art Sex Music – and her former group Throbbing Gristle incidentally get a namecheck in his novel.

Cosey’s book is far the most engaging new autobiography I’ve read this year and it’s safe to say it’s also the best book I’ve ever came across by an author equally comfortable in her career as a leading avant-garde provocateur, industrial music pioneer, stripper and porno mag model.

One minute she’s exhibiting with the COUM Transmissions art collective and being dubbed a ‘Wrecker of Civilisation’ by Tory MP Nicolas Fairbairn, the next she’s nipping off to do a photo shoot for Fiesta.

Early on, she’s warned by John Krivine to think seriously about embarking on a relationship with Genesis P. Orridge. ‘He said Gen was the most selfish person he’d met, had the biggest ego that he’d ever come across, and that I would always come second to that.’

Genesis P. Orridge comes out of this very badly. He lets Cosey go out and work in a crappy factory job, clean the house and cook while he swans around, continually craving the chance to be the centre of attention. His violent outbursts quickly become a feature of their relationship and he develops a habit of throwing cats across rooms and down flights of stairs.

Art Sex Music is compulsively readable from page one onwards and here’s Cosey talking about writing it:


Also worth a mention is Live Cinema and Its Techniques by Francis Ford Coppola. Sharp and insightful, Coppola presents us here with a thought-provoking mix of memoir, diary and speculation on a potential future of cinema.

My favourite film related book published in 2017, though, was Charles Taylor’s Opening Wednesday at a Theater or Drive-In Near You. A title that refers to the former American practice whereby new low-budget movies would be touted on TV and radio ads that ended with the release date information: ‘Opening Wednesday at a theater or drive-in near you!’

This, therefore, isn’t a run down of Coppola and his fellow Movie Brats’ critically acclaimed hits (nor for that matter another retelling of the grindhouse schlockers phenomenon) but instead what Taylor calls ‘The Shadow Cinema of the American ’70s’. B Movie gems that in many regards spoke just as deeply about the times in which they were made as the big New Hollywood hitters.

Think Foxy Brown rather than Five Easy Pieces or Two-Lane Blacktop rather than Taxi Driver.

‘Most of the movies in this book did what they set out to do,’ he explains in his introduction. ‘Make money fast. Some are good, solid pieces of moviemaking, and some are shrewdly put-together junk. Outsized claims for their greatness would only falsify their grungy, visceral appeal.’

Taylor can be provocative – comparing the respective star quality of Pam Grier and Meryl Streep, he comes out in favour of Grier – hell, yeah! – and he can be perceptive too – as when he complains that ‘The infantilization of American movies that began in 1977 with the unprecedented success of Star Wars has become total.’ Hell yeah again!

If the movies he discusses that I haven’t yet seen are anywhere near as entertaining as his book then I reckon I’m in for some great viewing once I track down Aloha, Bobby and Rose; Ulzana’s Raid and Hickey & Boggs.

Finally a mention for two small Scottish publishers.

Named the Saltire Society’s Emerging Publisher of the year for 2017 and voted #1 in The List’s Hot 100, Edinburgh based independent 404 Ink are certainly making a name for themselves with their magazine – which is also called 404 Ink, ink zines and paperbacks from a number of new authors including Chris McQueer’s Hings (Short Stories ‘N That).

With bizarre tales about men getting tattoos of Parkhead’s Forge Shopping Centre on their bahookies and a schemie father claiming to be Banksy, Hings might just be the funniest book of the year. Much as I usually hate the cliche of naming an author then adding ‘on drugs’, this did strike me at times like Des Dillon on acid.

Twenty odd miles down the road from Edinburgh lies the coastal town of Dunbar in East Lothian, which is the home to a new venture in micro-publishing, Ronnie Gurr’s Hanging Around Books.

Last month I picked up a copy of Teenage Instamatics: Edinburgh Punk Rock 1977 which features photos taken by Gurr around forty years ago for the punk fanzine Hanging Around. Johnny Thunders, John Lydon and The Stranglers are only some of the faces featured.

2017 saw Hanging Around also publish limited edition photozines on single subjects such as The Skids, The Sex Pistols and Stiff Little Fingers.

Hopefully they’ll be, um, hanging around for years to come and keeping up the good work.

For more information on Hanging Around Books click here and for more on 404 Ink here you go.

 

Atomic Blonde, 20th Century Women & A Woman, A Part (Best Films of 2017)

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Best Films of 2017

Many very good films arrived in 2017 though none that I would rate as an out-and-out classic. Maybe that will come in the near future with Quentin Tarantino’s film set against the backdrop of the Manson murders (working title #9) currently in pre-production and Scorcese’s The Irishman, which is being shot as I type. With a cast that includes Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Harvey Keitel and – coaxed out of retirement – Joe Pesci, The Irishman is the most excited I’ve been about a Scorcese movie since GoodFellas.

I’m also looking forward to seeing Lynne Ramsay’s You Were Never Really Here, which had one Variety critic speculating that the Maryhill born director may be the world’s ‘greatest working filmmaker’.

Complaint of the Year: Directors like the massively over-rated Guy Ritchie thinking it’s a good idea to give their pals like David Beckham a role in their high budget movies. Plenty of talented and experienced actors could obviously have done a far better job than a man who can’t even sound convincing as himself let alone as a battle hardened swordsman in the Middle Ages. Stunt casting is on the rise but has any example of it actually helped a film artistically? Not that I can think of.

Okay. Here’s my top ten films that appeared in British cinemas in 2017 so no Shape of Water which is spectacularly good and no Lady Bird, which is very entertaining, though not as truly exceptional as some hype would have you believe.

10. The Olive Tree (El Olivo)
Ever wondered what a Ken Loach film might look like if he had a better visual eye? Here’s the nearest you might get to that notion with a drama set in Spain with a script supplied by Loach’s regular screenwriter Paul Laverty. Directed by Icíar Bollaín, this did veer towards sentimentality but, on the plus side, Anna Castillo’s acting is superb throughout. A perfect piece of casting.

9. Atomic Blonde
Previously I’d assumed that MI6 spies assumed low-key looks to best blend in while on the job but not according to Atomic Blonde where one of the British Secret Service’s most lethal assassins struts around with platinum hair and thigh high boots and just happens to be one of the most eye-catchingly beautiful women on the planet. Stupid me, eh?

Charlize Theron is ably supported here by James McAvoy and there’s great turns here too from the likes of Toby Jones, John Goodman and Eddie Marsan. Atomic Blonde also featured the best ever use of Blue Monday in a soundtrack.


8. A Woman, A Part
An intimate indie drama that has been completely overlooked in best of lists but which featured two of the finest performances of the year from Maggie Siff and Cara Seymour. And some Pixies and Cure karaoke!

7. Okja
Fantastically funny, this wonky sci-fi environmental parable has been called the first great Netflix release. Okja stars Tilda Swinton, Paul Dano, Lily Collins and Jake Gyllenhaal, as well as South Korean child actress Ahn Seo-hyun, who easily holds her own against the big names.


6. Harmonium
An emotionally complex Japanese drama about secrets and lies; retribution and atonement; innocence and guilt. I saw Koji Fukada’s latest triumph early in the year at the Glasgow Film Theatre and was then lucky enough to be asked to review the Blu-ray. Here’s what I had to say.

5. Dunkirk
An ensemble movie that dazzled on the big screen. Get yer money on Christopher Nolan to bag a little golden statuette come March for Best Director. Please gamble responsibly though.

4. Manchester by the Sea
A slow-burning but highly involving film about grief with a script by Kenneth Lonergan. It’s over two hours long but always fascinating, utterly honest and sometimes even profound. Your time watching this will be well spent.

3. Blade Runner 2049
According to the maker of Blade Runner, Ridley Scott (who also exec produced the sequel) the problem with Blade Runner 2049 is that: ‘It’s slow. Long. Too long. I would have taken out half an hour.’

Box-office returns were disappointing although it will likely still make money. More importantly, like the original, it’s sure to stand the test of time (even if Scott did possibly have a point about its length).


2. The Florida Project
Willem Dafoe in the form of his life here as the kindly manager of a budget motel on the edge of Disney World. Will Hollywood honour his turn here? Well he’s 3/1 with the bookies for Best Supporting Actor, so in with a definite shout. He would get my vote.

1. 20th Century Women
If you follow this blog you’ll know I loved this movie. A fantastic central performance from Annette Benning, one of the best scores in years from Roger Neill, and The Raincoats; Siouxsie; Suicide; Talking Heads and Bowie on the soundtrack.


Honourable mentions also go to Free Fire, a film by Ben Wheatley
with more gunshots than the average Texas firing range sees in a year; A Ghost Story; T2 Trainspotting; The Meyerowitz Stories; mother!Baby Driver; Logan LuckyThe Lost City of Z and the absolutely madcap Mindhorn.

Best Film Reissues 2017

Best reissues include New World, Park Hoon-jung’s South Korean gangster epic from 2013 that is soon to be given the Hollywood remake treatment (which, of course, will likely be nowhere near as impressive).

Drunken Master (Eureka), may not be the greatest martial arts film ever made but it is very possibly the most enjoyable and watching the young Jackie Chan, you might one minute think of Buster Keaton, the next of ballet or the golden age of Hollywood musicals – only with kung fu clashes rather than elaborate song and dance routines.

This year also saw re-releases for a number of favourites including Peppermint Soda (BFI); Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia (Arrow) and John Water’s Multiple Maniacs (Criterion), which I hadn’t seen since borrowing a grungy VHS copy of it back in the 1980s. It’s still fantastically trashy by any standard and now looks better than ever.

The great thing about these reissues is the way that they’ve been imaginatively repackaged and loaded with extras – even if I’m uncertain about the wisdom of Dual Format editions. I usually just give away the DVDs to a good home myself.

Finally a pair of Bill Forsyth related films. His American debut Housekeeping (Indicator) is much better than I remembered it being while Forsyth makes a cameo appearance in Long Shot (BFI Flipside), a lo-fi independent film about filmmaking shot mostly at the 1977 Edinburgh Festival. It stars Charlie Gormley, who went on to make several features himself and I may feature one of these in my Scottish Connection series sometime in 2018.