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Whole Wide World & Divine Thing : A Soup Dragons Two For Tuesday

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The Soup Dragons’ Whole Wide World sounds like the result of a bunch of young guys having a see who can drink the most energy drinks competition – or maybe even a see who can drink the most cans of Dragon Soop competition – as they listen to a selection of classic Buzzcocks and Undertones singles, before rushing into a studio with the intention of making a ramshackle, rip-roaring teenage rampage of a record that will make anybody hearing it happy to be alive for its one and a half minute length.

Made by the band on a budget of around fifty quid according to singer Sean Dickson on his YouTube page, this is the video for Whole Wide World which went on to appear on British TV on The Chart Show.

The early Soup Dragons led a charmed existence. When the fledging band recorded a track called If You Were The Only Girl In The World Would You Take Me? I’m sure they had little idea the kind of reception that lay in store for it. If they did, then I congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Only conceived as one side of a flexi disc giveaway to be released through their bassist Sushil Dade’s Pure Popcorn fanzine (together with Talk Open by The Legend! on Jerry Thackray’s none too imaginatively titled fanzine The Legend!), it became an NME single of the week. John Peel picked up on the track and invited them down for a Radio One session, agreeing to pay their travel costs to London out his own pocket into the bargain as the band were too brassic to afford the fare down.

An invitation to contribute a track to the latest in a series of cassette tapes distributed by NME resulted in Pleasantly Surprised appearing on C86. And if Neil Taylor and his co-compilers ever imagined that this tape would end up giving a name to a genre of music then, again, I would congratulate them on their vivid imaginations.

Oh, and before I forget, the first ever live Soup Dragons show was also pretty special. They supported Primal Scream at one of the legendary Splash One ‘happenings’ at Daddy Warbuck’s in Glasgow. And if the Splash organisers ever imagined that a short documentary (The Outsiders) and a full length documentary (Teenage Superstars) that covered their club nights, would both later be shown on TV, well, you can guess my thoughts on the subject.

The music press adored The Soup Dragons.

And then the music press went off The Soup Dragons.

As did many indie fundamentalists, who felt betrayed when the band began to introduce a wider range of musical references into their sonic palette on tracks like Mother Universe. How dare they embrace samplers and a dance element?

Lovegod, their 1990 album, according to their press release anyway, was ‘Full of their love of rock ‘n’ Roll iconography. Full of Pain. Kinky Love. And dark metaphors delivered with swagger through a curled lip sneer.’ On its release, even more Soup Dragons badges around the country were unbuttoned from anoraks and thrown away in a tizzy, replaced by badges of more reliable acts, i.e. those with a suitably high score on the twee-o-meter and zero ambition to ever leave their indie garrets.

Sales began snowballing with the release of I’m Free, a Jagger/Richards composition that The Soup Dragons chose to cover after watching The Stones in the Park concert. Featuring some reggae toasting from Junior Reid, a gospel choir, dancey grooves and some slide guitar, this went top ten in Britain.

‘Early on we’d just bang the songs out, but we refuse to do that now,’ Dickson explained to Spin early in 1991. ‘When you start fucking about with songs, it’s really exciting. The whole concept of the Soup Dragons comes from a pop art background that’s defined by bastardizing thing. That’s where the whole idea of sampling comes from.’

The bastardizing continued on next album Hotwired, which again merged dance beats and rock. Divine Thing manges to sound more Stonesy than I’m Free. It’s maybe also a little Lovesexy (Dickson being a big Prince fan) and its chorus always struck me as a little T.Rexy.

A homage to Glenn Milstead AKA Divine, The Soup Dragons wanted John Waters to shoot the video but he otherwise engaged. Instead directing duties were taken on by Nick Egan, who was maybe best known at the time for directing Sonic Youth’s promo for Sugar Kane (and designing a couple of covers for Clash singles). From March 1992, here it is:

John Waters must have liked the song. As a thank you, he gave Sean an autographed can of hairspray, and just in case you’re wondering why, think of the title of Waters’ 1988 movie.

Submarine (Soundtrack Sundays)

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If I told you that that Submarine was an independently made coming-of-age drama, then you might not be surprised to learn that the protagonist of the story, a 15-year-old navigating his way through a stormy adolescence in South Wales, is an outsider. Of course, he is.

Wide-eyed and clueless, Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) is a wannabe great mind who, again predictably, is lovestruck as the film begins, devoting much of his time to daydreaming about Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige), a girl in his class who is occasionally moody and often mischievous. She even enjoys bullying ‘in moderation’, which makes Oliver uncomfortable, although as he tells himself: ‘I must not let my principles stand in the way of progress.’

Director Richard Ayoade (super-nerd Moss from The IT Crowd) doesn’t take too long before displaying a fondness for a cinematic reference, possibly to reflect the fact that Oliver also sees himself as a budding cinephile.

Jordana’s favourite item of clothing is a red woolen coat probably because Ayoade wants to later reference Don’t Look Now. The film even employs some bold intertitles that could have come direct from an early Godard film and come to think of it, maybe Oliver’s not too obscure object of desire’s bob is a nod to Anna Karina in movies like Godard’s Vivre sa vie.

Then again, it might be that Yasmin Paige already had a bob when she auditioned for the part and that the film’s wardrobe assistant got a good price on the red woolen coat and it looked pretty timeless, fitting in with a movie that didn’t want to be tied down too specifically to an exact period, even though Oliver’s parents go see Crocodile Dundee, meaning it must be the mid-1980s.

Maybe the coat is red because of Jordana’s sometimes fiery temperament. Or maybe there’s a combination of reasons behind it? I bet Oliver over-analyses film too. Let’s move on.

Oliver is persistent in his quest for Jordana, and this pays off. They tentatively become an item, and his dad Lloyd (Noah Taylor) gives him a copy of a mixtape cassette with some songs that he used to listen to when he was Oliver’s age and embarking on his first relationship. I had him down as a bit of a prog or folk rock man myself, but these songs are written and sung by Alex Turner.

Ayoade had previously made three promos – Fluorescent Adolescent, Crying Lightning, and Cornerstone – for The Arctic Monkeys and so inviting Turner to provide some new songs for the soundtrack was a natural choice. And a good one. Turner submitted five tracks, six if you count Stuck on the Puzzle (Intro) and Stuck on the Puzzle as separate. Okay, let’s call it five and a half. Reflective, broody and sometimes dreamy in a similar vein to his fellow Sheffielder Richard Hawley, these were released as an EP in the Spring of 2011 by Domino, the first solo work by Turner. Here is Stuck on the Puzzle:

Oliver ‘n’ Jordana begin seeing more and more of one another. She likes watching things burn, while on an early date, he drags her to his local arthouse cinema to see The Passion of Joan of Arc, a silent from the 1920s. There’s a boy that knows how to show a girl a good time. Although at least she probably enjoyed the ending.

Having succeeded in his pursuit of Jordana, Oliver next attempts to repair the disintegrating marriage of his parents. And when I say disintegrating, I mean disintegrating to the extent that mum Jill (Sally Hawkins) somehow finds her new neighbour – and old boyfriend – Graham Purvis (Paddy Considine) a more exciting prospect than Lloyd. This despite his spike topped mullet being the worst hairstyle in cinema since John Travolta’s dreads in Battlefield Earth. Not only that, but he’s also a motivational speaker, giving seminars to the gullible on his system of Psychic and Physical Excellence.

Saying that, Lloyd is far from perfect hubby material. He can be one morose individual, although he has his moments. He enjoys marine biology related facts, such as the ocean being six miles deep (really?) but smelling something distinctly fishy about his wife’s blossoming friendship with Graham sends him spiralling into depression.

Soon, Oliver’s going to join him in the feeling miserable stakes after a Billy Liar moment where he self-sabotages his chances of being with his dream girl. He might justify his actions but deep down he regrets them and reckons it might be best to put down his innermost thoughts on paper. Being a misfit, he does this in a classroom. I would have thought that as a film fan, he would have realised that whatever he writes will inevitably come to the attention of a teacher and lead to his total humiliation in front of the whole class including Jordana. Schoolboy error you might say.

Soppy git that I can be, as the movie edged towards its conclusion I found myself rooting for Oliver and hoping he could fix things with Jordana.

Okay, I never remotely bought into the potential Jill/Graham romance and thought Ayoade tried too hard to demonstrate his directing chops at times.

Submarine is not nearly as accomplished and individual as Rushmore. Neither is it as funny as Gregory’s Girl, albeit there’s a very amusing spoof of Open Uni programmes from the 1970s with an uncharismatic Lloyd presenting, and during one of Oliver’s voiceovers, there’s a clever visual gag where he discusses a biopic of his life and what the production would be able to afford. I won’t give that one away.

As coming-of-age dramas go this was a very solid effort for a debut. It avoids the cloying kookiness of many American dramas exploring similar territory. The two young leads were well cast with Yasmin Paige being especially good. Both actually look the age they’re depicted as onscreen, which is also a plus, while Alex Turner’s music suited the mood of Submarine perfectly. I’ll likely be in a pretty damn small minority, but I prefer the songs here to just about everything he’s ever recorded with The Arctic Monkeys.