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Jabberwocky, A Hugh Cornwell Video & A McEwan’s Lager Ad

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Svankmajer Jabberwocky

This particular Jabberwocky is a short animation created by Prague based surrealist master Jan Švankmajer.

Žvahlav aneb šatičky slaměného Huberta, to give it its Czech title – and don’t ask me about the ins and outs of that translation – is deeply strange stuff and sometimes more than a little disturbing.

Here’s just a flavour of what what happens:

A pram wheels itself in circles around a room that In a room that looks like the world of 1871, when Lewis Carroll’s nonsensical poem The Jabberwocky was read by Alice in Through the Looking-Glass. More strangeness soon follows. A disembodied sailor’s suit comes out from a wardrobe and dances and then the room begins to sprout branches. These bloom and apples grows from them. The apples fall and burst open on the floor. They are shown to be full of little slithering maggots. Some large dolls boil some smaller dolls and then eat them. Cannibalism? You could say.

If you’re looking for an analysis of Jabberwocky, though, you’ve come to the wrong place.

Just enjoy and make of it what you will is my advice.

Back in the second half of the 1980s when I was doing a foundation course in art and design, it didn’t take long before I’d hear the name Jan Švankmajer being bandied around in revered tones.

Soon I discovered what the fuss was all about after seeing some of his work on Channel 4, when that station’s remit included providing ‘innovation and experiment in form and content’ rather than concentrating on bake-offs and locations, locations, locations.

Hugh Cornwell of The Stranglers was also becoming a fan around this time. In 1987, the singer attended Bristol’s Animation Festival. On its final day, he watched the British premiere of Švankmajer’s new feature length film Alice (Něco z Alenky). Cornwell was immediately impressed and felt compelled to visit Prague to seek out the surrealist and attempt to persuade him to make a promo for his new solo single Another Kind of Love.

Hugh Cornwell - Another Kind Of Love

The Stranglers, incidentally, were already fans of surrealism, signalling their interest in the movement by appearing in a cameo in the 1978 BBC documentary The Journey, presented by George Melly who they would later collaborate with them.

‘The dadaists and surrealists were taking risks,’ he told Direction magazine, during his visit to Švankmajer’s studio. ‘They were the punks of their time.’

If this is the case, then it was especially true of surrealists in countries like Czechoslovakia, where their art was suppressed by Nazis and subsequently by the Communists. At one point in 1968, the year of the Prague Spring, Švankmajer even feared he might be deported to Siberia after signing the ‘Two Thousand Words Manifesto’ in support of liberalization in his country.

Hugh_Cornwell_-_Another_Kind_of_Love

Švankmajer’s video mixed live action sequences of a sharp-suited Cornwell performing the song together with stop-motion animation – including a likeness of Hugh obtained after making a plaster cast of his head.

This is not one of my very favourite Cornwell songs – but better than Old Codger, that aforementioned collaboration with George Melly that ended up as a Stranglers’ B-side, but I am fond of Švankmajer’s startling video that accompanied it. As far as I’m aware, this was his first and only foray into the world of the pop promo.

McEwan’s is the best buy, the best buy, the best buy in beer!

Everyone of a certain age in Scotland will remember this ditty from a corny but catchy ad constantly on TV in the days before I could legally drink alcohol.

I think I’ve only ever featured one TV advert on this site before and that was a more modern ad for McEwan’s Lager. Here’s a second. And it’s another commercial for McEwan’s. Memorable ads, yes, but sadly not a lager I would ever recommend to any drinker.

Depending on your viewpoint, this can be seen as either a homage to Švankmajer, or, a complete rip-off of a section of his short film Dimensions of Dialogue. Either way, I hope McEwan’s sent a few korunas his way so he could treat himself to a Staropramen or two. Now that is a lager.

And if you want to compare and contrast with Švankmajer’s short here you go:

Coming up soon, another slice of Czechoslovak surrealism, Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.

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Faces & In The Soup: A Seymour Cassel Double Bill (American Indie #3)

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Seymour_Cassel_In_the_Soup

By the end of the 1980s, it was often hard to identify what qualified as an independent film. As Kim Newman pointed out in his essay Independent Daze, Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing looked indie but was financed and distributed by Universal, while James Cameron’s Terminator 2 was backed by short lived independent Carolco.

Twenty years before in America, things were different. Faces was obviously independent. Director John Cassavetes ploughed his own money made from acting into financing it, as well as re-mortgaging his home. Luckily, he had a circle of friends who would also chip in cash and help out in any way they possibly could. Seymour Cassel was one of this group, along with Peter Falk, Ben Gazzara, and Cassavetes’ wife Gena Rowlands.

This resulted in Faces being made on a very modest budget of $40,000, and it was shot and edited over a number of years.

Seymour Cassel - Faces

Cassel got started in film in Shadows in 1959, Cassavetes’ first foray into the independent filmmaking scene. Here he played an uncredited, blink and you’ll miss him role, and acted as an associate producer.

On Faces, the next Cassavetes independent, he again took on double duties. As well as helping out as a crew-member, he also agreed to play Chet, a charismatic chancer whose dancing catches the eyes of a quartet of dissatisfied middle-class women while they visit a nightclub. One of this quartet is Maria (Lynn Carlin), whose husband John Marley has just announced he wants a divorce before storming out to meet up with Jeannie, a prostitute played by Gena Rowlands.

Faces is shot in grainy black and white and most of the action takes place in home interiors. It might resemble mumblecore in some ways, with its emphasis on dialogue, naturalistic performances and real locations – much of it being shot in Cassavetes’ LA residence, a spare room serving as an editing room – but don’t expect any mumbling here. Instead the characters drink, sing, argue, tell jokes, dance, suffer emotional meltdowns and shout at each other. THEN SHOUT SOME MORE AT EACH OTHER!

Seymour Cassel in Faces (1968)

You could easily imagine many scenes as a play and the length of some of these scenes might strike modern audiences as terribly overextended. Some dialogue could easily have been cut. It’s not my favourite Cassavetes film but the acting by everyone involved is absolutely superb, down to even relatively small roles – especially Dorothy Gulliver’s poignant turn as the lamentable drunk Florence.

Shot in sequence, so the actors had an improved chance of developing their characters, Faces never comes across as scripted. It looks like an early experiment in reality TV. Either that or a drama where the actors improvised extensively. According to Cassel, though, he was the only actor who veered off-script.

Uncompromising and unpredictable, Faces is raw but utterly riveting. Critic Roger Ebert judged in a contemporary review that it was the sort of film that made you want to grab people by the neck and drag them into the cinema to watch it.

Faces was recognised at the 1969 Academy Awards, earning Oscar nominations for Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Lynn Carlin), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Seymour Cassel) and Best Writing, Story and Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen (John Cassavetes), although it failed to take any gongs home on the night.

Seymour always retained fond memories of his time on Faces. Talking about this period during an interview on an extra feature on the John Cassavetes Collection, he noted that: ‘The closest I’ve come to having that kinda fun was doing In The Soup.’

He did liven up some big budget movies too like Convoy (1978), Dick Tracy (1990), and Indecent Proposal (1993), but Seymour Cassel remained drawn to independent work throughout his long career. ‘I like the excitement of not having enough money, enough film, enough time to do it, and still trying to make it work,’ he explained in an interview with IndieWire.

In 1996 he was cast as Uncle Al in in Steve Buscemi’s much underrated directorial debutTrees Lounge; he was Bert Fischer in Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (1998), and Dusty, the elevator operator in The Royal Tenenbaums in 2001.

Seymour Cassel - In the Soup 1994

Perhaps best of all was the role of Joe in the aforementioned In the Soup, directed by Alexandre Rockwell in 1992. Here, he played a minor-league mobster who somehow gets the idea that his money might be well spent by helping to finance the indie movie debut of wannabe filmmaker, Adolpho Rollo (Steve Buscemi).

As always, Buscemi puts in an excellent performance here: a wide-eyed dreamer, as desperate to direct as he is deluded about his talent. Jennifer Beals is very good too, but Cassel steals the show, and is at his irascible best throughout, drawing Rollo into his criminal world and constantly advising him how his film could be improved.

Seymour surely deserved a second Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination. Yet another one the Academy got wrong. Saying that, In the Soup was awarded the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, ahead of Reservoir Dogs.

You win some, lose some, and I’ve just belatedly discovered that the world of cinema has lost Seymour, who has sadly died of Alzheimer’s disease.

Seymour Cassel: January 22, 1935 – April 7, 2019

Melody & Alice (Friday Night Film Club #5)

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Melody & Alice

A Tracy Hyde Double Bill: Melody (1971) & Alice (1982)

British cinema in the 1970s often gets a bad rap. The way some commentators go on you’d think the entire decade had consisted of a parade of sexploitation comedies, cheesy horrors and unsuccessful big screen sitcom adaptations. But in the first two years of the ’70s alone, films like Deep End, Bronco Bullfrog, Kes, Get Carter and A Clockwork Orange demonstrated the quality that could be found.

Melody arrived during this time and although nowhere near a box-office success in Britain its reputation has risen steadily in recent years. This might have been aided at least a little by The Wondermints’ wonderful single Tracy Hide in tribute to the young first time actor who played the titular role. In the States, incidentally, its title was switched to S.W.A.L.K.. Apparently, at one point, it was to be named after the Bee Gees’ song To Love Somebody. A better idea by far.

Music plays a very important part in Melody and is largely supplied by the brothers Gibb. The screenplay was even written around seven tracks by that band. A young producer named David Puttnam obtaining a raft of cash that allowed the film to go ahead – on the condition that these tracks were used.

There’s also some Crosby, Still, Nash & Young thrown in too. Teach Your Children utilised in a scene where a bunch of kids get a more than a little anarchic. This is often praised for its irony but its Californian vibe doesn’t really feel appropriate for a film set in inner city London (Hammersmith and Lambeth mostly with short excursions to Soho, Trafalgar Square and even Weymouth).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The film starts with a Boy Brigade march where two boys meet for the first time. One is a scruffy, little cheeky chappie called Ornshaw, the other a solidly middle class kid Daniel Latimer. Alan Parker, who penned the screenplay, has admitted his script was partly autobiographical, comparing himself with the Ornshaw character while suggesting that David Puttnam shared a number of similarities with Daniel.

Melody was heavily promoted on the partnership of the two young actors, reunited after their double act in the 1968 hit musical Oliver! and roughly speaking the first half features their developing friendship while the second concentrates the budding romance between Daniel and Melody.

Melody - Mark Lester & Tracy Hyde

Both these actors were only eleven at the time of the shoot and they do make a very sweet young couple while the adults represented range from well meaning idiots to complete wallopers. The movie has a go at persuading audiences that the viewpoint of children deserves to treated with the same validity as that of grown-ups.

Maybe in 1971 this idea struck some as a good idea – this being the time of the infamous Schoolkids issue of OZ and The Little Red Schoolbook – but if anybody thinks that it might be a good idea for eleven year olds to marry, they should definitely give themselves a good shake.

So, a silly premise but is this a film worth watching?

Well, Wes Anderson has called Melody ‘A forgotten, inspiring gem’ and this is a movie whose mere mention is guaranteed to get many children of the 1970s misty eyed with nostalgia. This doesn’t include me though albeit I found it enjoyable enough.

The story takes far too long to get started. ‘When it gets to the rag-and-bone sequence, where Melody swaps her parents clothes for a goldfish, the film kicks up a gear and takes off,’ Alan Parker later admitted. Since then he has always tried ‘to get to the goldfish’ as quickly as possible.

The direction is solid enough, though never that imaginative with Waris Hussein displaying a TV sensibility for much of the running time. And talking of running, how many times did we need to see schoolkids erupting out of their classes at the sound of the school bell?

The music is pretty good albeit twee – I do rather like The Bee Gees before the medallions and visible chest hair. Its use, though, is generally uninspired – such as To Love Somebody during the school’s sports day.

On the plus side, the acting is very good, particularly from Jack Wild (who was by far the oldest of the three central leads). Ornshaw was also the most interesting character of the three, like a junior version of the characters that Gary Holton went on to specialise in a decade or so later. In comparison Daniel was positively drippy.

Okay, the possibility does exist that I couldn’t enjoy Melody properly due to watching it on STV 2. Interrupted by an infuriating number of mind numbing ads – some of them urging viewers to enter some competition via a premium rate phone number – together with news reports and weather updates, this is hardly the ideal way to watch any film. StudioCanal released it on Blu-ray last year and here’s the trailer:

Alan Parker, of course, soon embarked on a career as a director himself. I’ve always found his work hit and miss. Midnight Express and Angel Heart were superb, The Wall and Angela’s Ashes belong squarely in the category of dreary borefests.

Puttnam next went on next to co-produce The Pied Piper, a disaster that starred Donovan and Diana Dors along with Jack Wild. More music related movies followed: Glastonbury Fayre (1972), That’ll Be the Day (1973), Mahler (1974), Stardust (1974) and Lisztomania (1975). You likely know the rest.

Jack Wild and Mark Lester both found the transition from childhood fame to maintaining adult success a struggle. Drink and drugs abuse followed and, sadly, Jack died in 2006, likely as a result of his excesses.

Bizarrely, Mark later befriended Michael Jackson and has claimed to have been a sperm donor for him, believing he might be the father of Paris Jackson. Wacko Jacko’s former lawyer Brian Oxman, though, has dismissed this idea, saying during a TV interview that: ‘The thing I always heard from Michael was that Michael was the father of these children, and I believe Michael.’

Yeah, sure.

Tracy Constance Margaret Hyde never fully realised her early potential either. Up until the late ’80s she still occasionally appeared in shows like Dempsey and Makepeace, and The Bill. She did star in 1980’s The Orchard End Murder (which I really must seek out) and she also teamed up once more with Jack Wild for Alice (Alicja), a 1982 musical-fantasy.

Alice - Tracey Hyde & Jack Wild

This was only a smallish role and maybe that was for the best. Yet another take on Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, it’s hard, if not impossible, to imagine how anybody could have imagined this was a good idea.

A European co-production shot in Poland, France and England with cast members from each of those countries, Alice failed on every level. There’s one marathon song in the middle of the film that feels as if the lyric writer was trying to concoct the most obvious – and therefore painful – lyrics in the history of the musical. Then there’s I’m A Psychiatrist. No song with that title could be anything other than dreadful, could it?

Sophie Barjac plays Alice, a twenty-something divorcee who works in a factory with her pal Mona, (Tracy Hyde) and Mock Turtle (Jack Wild), a biker obsessed with trivia. I have no idea why most of the characters are assigned names from Alice as they bear little or absolutely no resemblance to their Carroll counterparts.

The best thing about Alice is when Barjac sings but this is down to the fact that her vocals were dubbed by Lulu. Barjac’s co-star is Jean-Pierre Cassel, who in a long career worked with the likes of Claude Chabrol and Luis Buñuel. I can only guess what his old pal Serge Gainsbourg must have thought of his turn here.

A Shel Talmy Two for Tuesday

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Ace Record’s Producer anthologies are always worth investigating – previous compilations have included Jack Nitzsche, Kim Fowley and Shadow Morton – and this week I picked up the latest instalment in the series, Making Time, which features the work of Shel Talmy.

Shel Talmy cover

Shel is certainly a fascinating guy. He worked closely with The Kinks, The Who and The Creation and he also briefly crossed paths in the studio with the young David Bowie (when he was still Davy Jones), Lemmy when he was a Rockin’ Vicar and Jimmy Page when he was a humble session guitarist. He recorded Lee Hazlewood – oh how I wish I could sing like Lee – and also Goldie & the Gingerbreads, who it is claimed were the first all-female rock band to be signed by a major record label – and whose Spectoresque mini-masterpiece titled That’s Why I Love You is one of many highlights here.

Making Time features all these artists as well as some fascinating music by acts that have only ever featured at best peripherally on my radar: Belfast’s Perpetual Langley, and Oliver Norman, whose Drowning in My Own Despair is the best The Four Tops rip-off you will ever hear and then there’s The Rokes, who I’ve just discovered were a bunch of English expatriates who became one of the biggest bands in Italy during the mid ’60s.

The only drawbacks for me is the inclusion of an schmaltzy track by Chad and Jeremy while his production job for The Damned, Stretcher Case Baby, fails to make an appearance.

Here’s something special by one of England’s most under-rated bands of the 1960s. Originally released on Talmy’s Planet Records, this is The Creation and the track that gives the new compilation its name:

 
When Sheldon S. Talmy first arrived in London in 1962, it’s highly unlikely that it would have been described as swinging this being the Britain of Harold Macmillan, heavy smogs and kitchen sink dramas but the American liked the town anyway and in order to extend his stay he hatched a money-making plan, setting up a meeting with Dick Rowe at his Decca office.

Talmy by all accounts was not a man whose motto in life was necessarily ‘honesty is the best policy’. He did possess some experience of working as a recording engineer in L.A. but exaggerated this to the point where he had actually produced a number of records, The Beach Boys’ Surfin’ Safari being maybe the most notable example.

Rowe gave the songs a spin and liked what he heard. Shel landed a job but there was a downside. His first assignment was cutting a single for terminally unhip Dublin act The Bachelors – the track Charmaine was a top ten hit though and Talmy was given the choice of more credible bands.

Within a couple of years he had become synonymous with edgy mod combos playing razor sharp pop with guitar pyrotechnics, the kind of thing that’s usually referred to as freakbeat nowadays.

Talmy certainly captured the blazing crash-bang-wallop of these new acts with a rarely matched panache but, before the end of the decade, he had also succeeded with folk rock in the shape of Roy Harper and The Pentangle and soul in the shape of the aforementioned Perpetual Langley and Oliver Norman.

This, though, is one of Talmy’s purest excursions into commerciality, a wonderful slice of poignant pop which I’d mistakenly thought was called Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. Jones. Extensive research though – thanks, Wiki – tells me that this was indeed the original title given to the song although a modification was made when it occurred to the Manfreds that their recently departed vocalist Paul Jones (who had only just been replaced by Mike D’Abo) might suspect that the song was some kind of dig at him.

From 1966, here’s the first big British hit record to feature a mellotron. This is Manfred Mann and Semi-Detached Suburban Mr. James:

It was 50 Years Ago Today

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Sgt Rutters

Exceptional bands often possess a history that is almost as intriguing as their music. Take The Sex Pistols: hooking up with Malcolm McLaren; swearing live on TV and making front page news; getting the heave-ho from EMI and later A&M; banned shows; God Save the Queen being denied official number one status; breaking up in America at the climax of a tour and the sad demise of Nancy Spungen and then Sid Vicious. All that in just a few years.

Compare that to the story of Coldplay where the most interest generated was a celebrity wedding to an over-rated actress.

Imagine trying to write a page turning book or make a gripping film about that lot.

The history of The Beatles was consistently fascinating: their residency at the Star Club in Hamburg; the infamous rejection from Decca; their first Ed Sullivan Show appearance; Beatlemania and Shea Stadium; MBEs and LSD; John Lennon’s ‘more popular than Jesus’ controversy; the death of their manager Brian Epstein and the retreat from playing live until the Apple rooftop concert – these are all just off the top of my head.

Likewise The Rutles stand firmly in the bands with an exceptionally engrossing history camp. And that history does parallel The Beatles to a spookily bizarre extent: just think of their Ratkellar residency in Hamburg; mass adulation in the shape of Rutlemania; their concert at Che Stadium; Nasty’s bigger than God controversy (when sales boomed as devout Christians bought their records just so they could burn them); the weekend near Bogner in the company of Surrey mystic Arthur Sultan and the Stig is dead rumours.

Released fifty years to the day, their phenomenally successful album Sgt. Rutter’s Lonely Darts Club Band undoubtedly had a seismic influence on music and popular culture and remains for many their high point. From it, this is the closing track, the achingly sad Cheese and Onions:

 
You remember the very awkward date between gangster’s moll Mia Wallace and hitman Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction? Mia telling him that: ‘There are only two kinds of people in the world, Beatles people and Elvis people. Now Beatles people can like Elvis and Elvis people can like the Beatles, but nobody likes them both equally.’

If the choice was between Beatles and Rutles people, I could claim that I’m actually more a Rutles man myself but claiming to prefer a spoof act (however talented) to the band that gave the world A Day in the Life, Revolution and Helter Skelter would border on striving to become the Katie Hopkins of musical opinions – even if I am happy to acknowledge that The Beatles also gave the world a number of rank rotten ditties like Rocky Raccoon, Wild Honey Pie and Ob-La-Fucking Di, Ob-La-Fucking Da.

I may well, though, honestly prefer The Rutles to Oasis.

From their Tragical History Tour, this is Piggy in the Middle:


Oh, I’ve just remembered something else about Coldplay which might be at least of some interest (and which you likely already know yourselves). Chris Martin once invited David Bowie to collaborate on a track that Coldplay felt would be perfect for the Godlike genius to contribute backing vocals to.

Bowie gave them a knockback, explaining: ‘It’s not a very good song, is it?’

For more on The Rutles, click here.

Initials BB, FG, VS & EB (Yé-Yé Sunday)

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Ye-Ye_book

After featuring the track Bonnie and Clyde in my last post I searched out my copy of Yé-Yé Girls of ‘60s French Pop by Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe, a book that will appeal to anyone with a liking for the golden age of Gallic grooviness (that’s me) or just a liking for photos of pretty young Parisiennes wearing very short dresses and kinky boots (that’s me again).

The book really will do nothing to dissuade people like me that everybody in 1960s France looked like they had just walked on to the set of À bout de Souffle. We are talking tres, tres chic here.

First up today is Serge Gainsbourg, who as someone pointed out in a comment last week, once made an arse of himself live on French TV, telling Whitney Houston that he wanted to fuck her.

Sadly for the clearly pished up, ageing Lothario, the feeling wasn’t mutual.

Back when Serge was at the top of his game, his affair with Brigitte Bardot was put on hold when the actress flew off to film Shalako along with Sean Connery in Almería in Spain, the home of the spaghetti western.

Saddened by the situation, Serge penned Initials B.B.

With some vocal help from Bardot, here is that track, the opener on his 1968 album also titled Initials B.B., with a little of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 9 thrown in for good measure:


The 21st century has definitely witnessed a revival of interest in Yé-Yé.
For starters Belle & Sebastian and The Arcade Fire have both covered Poupée de cire, poupée de son while TV and film have also embraced the movement with Zou Bisou Bisou making an appearance on Mad Men and Françoise Hardy’s Le Temps de l’Amour being included on the soundtrack of Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom.

Maybe the most high profile ye-ye moment, though, came via Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof.

This would be his first film to prove, at least in relative terms, a commercial and critical failure,* although few would complain about the quality of its soundtrack, with music ranging from Jack Nitzsche to T. Rex; Ennio Morricone to Joe Tex. The film closes with a version of Serge Gainsbourg’s composition Laisse tomber les filles, re-named Chick Habit with English lyrics supplied by April March.

But here is the original and superior version by France Gall:


Next up is Victoire Scott and her single 4ème Dimension.

The video is taken from her appearance in 1968 on French TV show Au Risque De Vous Plaire and includes surreal artworks by Belgian surrealist Paul Delvaux and Dutch graphic artist M. C. Escher occasionally superimposed in the background.

Here’s the Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict:

‘ “4ème Dimension” is a baroque pop masterpiece, a Paris Existentialism-meets-American psych rock kind of thing. Its string arrangements, atmosphere, and texture created a unique vision.’


And finally Clothilde, or Elisabeth Beauvais to give her birth certificate name.

The career of Clothilde was short and sweet with the teenager apparently never enjoying her brief spell in the spotlight, disliking the clothes that she was told to wear and the songs given to her to sing. Which surprises me as Fallait Pas Ecraser La Queue Du Chat is a crazily catchy slice of frothy 60s pop with a tinny harpsichord (I think) riff that’s unlike just about anything I’ve ever heard before and a fantastic arrangement that includes French horns presumably played by Frenchmen or French women – which is pretty, um, French.

The Jean-Emmanuel Deluxe verdict: ‘Her two EPs were like a beautiful Hollywood set hiding a desolate landscape, or a nice little semi-detached house in a very cozy suburb, in which a desperate housewife has just turned on the gas and is hesitating before striking a full box of matches.’


* I put this down at least partly to the Jungle Julia character being nowhere near as cool and charismatic as Quentin obviously wanted her to be – and if you’re gonna make a case for Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich being a better band than The Who, it might help if you didn’t repeatedly call them Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mitch & Tich.

Prince of Players, Pawn of None

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7-by-7-1977-logo-2016

T. Rex: Dandy in the Underworld (EMI)

t-rex-dandy-in-the-underworld-sleeve

Like most 50-somethings I truly believe that I was lucky to grow up with some of the most exciting music imaginable.

Even before I’d reached my teen years there was Bowie, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper, Slade, The Sweet (yeah!), Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed, Cockney Rebel, Sparks and more who all seemed to routinely bring out a sparkling new album every year (or maybe even two albums in the same year) and make regular must-see appearances on Top of the Pops to be dissected at length in school the very next morning. Bliss it was in that glittered and feather boa’d dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven. Well, that’s how it felt at times.

Firstly though there was T. Rex fronted by glam rock trailblazer, Mr. Mark Feld, better known as Marc Bolan.

Bolan’s first words to manager Simon Napier Bell back in 1966 were supposedly: ‘Hi, I’m a singer and I’m going to be the biggest ever British star.’ Marc really did patholigically crave fame and although not many would argue that he achieved that particular mid-’60s prediction, for a couple of years at the height of T. Rextasy in the early 1970s, few would have totally dismissed the idea as his band let rip with a string of pure pop classics with crunching guitar hooks that instantaneously lodged in your brain – Ride a White Swan, Hot Love, Get It On, Jeepster, Telegram Sam and Metal Guru – that my fellow children of the revolution lapped up.

They all still sound fantastic today.

The world of pop was fast-changing back then and, by 1972, Bolan was already talking of how his success couldn’t last, that the fans’ tastes would change as they got older, how they would want to find new stars to adore and how pop music was all based on cycles anyway.

This proved to be a more accurate prediction. Soon there were no sell-out shows at enornodomes throughout the country, no ex-Beatles wanting to colloborate on films and diminishing sales returns. Bolan’s Zip Gun, released in February 1975, failed to even chart in Britain, although a single taken from it, Light of Love was a minor hit; the follow up, though, Zip Gun Boogie, stalled just outside the top forty.

Critics at NME and elsewhere loved to sneer, especially about the few extra inches that had been added round his waistline. By 1977, Marc looked to many like yesterday’s man, a little washed up, still capable of making some very good music but far from the sensation of his Electric Warrior days.

Yesterday’s man, though, had a few aces up his sleeves. He recorded an album Dandy in the Underworld, which was likely his best since The Slider and he notably became one of the relatively few elder statesmen of rock and pop to fully embrace punk, persuading The Damned to support him on his British tour and launching Dandy that March at London’s punk central, the Roxy in Covent Garden.

marc_bolan_glasgow_apollo_1977_ad-2

He also agreed to host the late afternoon ITV pop show Marc where he showcased many of his own tracks as well as inviting on the likes of The Jam (or Jam as he introduced them), The Radio Stars and Generation X. ‘They have a lead singer who’s supposed to be as pretty as me,’ Marc cooed as he introduced that latter group while sniffing a flower. ‘We’ll see now.’ He didn’t look too convinced by the possibility.

In his new book, The Age of Bowie, Paul Morley describes Marc’s presenting style as: ‘a cross between kindly wizard, scatterbrained sweetheart and lapsed hipster, as though his years as pop star had made him possessed by a general sense of mind-altering cosmic jive.’

Marc, as you’ll see, may have looked kindly on the new breed and even went as far as to introduce a ripped T-shirt into his wardrobe but he wasn’t quite ready to completely ditch the satin, mascara and Tolkien.

Taken from Marc, here is Dandy in the Underworld:


The highlight of the entire series promised to be the duet with David Bowie that would close the sixth and final episode of the show. Since the 1960s the two men had been involved in a (usually) friendly rivalry, with Bolan winning the race for superstardom before Bowie came up on the rails, racing ahead in both the artistic and commercial stakes with Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane.

In fact, by 1977, the rivalry looked as lopsided as the footballing one between England and (West) Germany. By this point Bolan maybe wished that he had set himself up in competition against someone who didn’t quite possess the stratospheric capabilities of musical invention and consistent reinvention of Bowie; Ian Hunter, say, of Mott the Hoople or Steve Harley – who incidentally provided some backing vocals on the Dandy album.

The tour and album and even the TV series did though help rehabilitate Bolan but as you’ll know, his comeback was cut sadly short. On the sixteenth of September, Marc was killed instantly when his Mini 1275GT, driven by girlfriend Gloria Jones, crashed into a steel-reinforced fence on Barnes Common only a mile away from their home, before hitting a sycamore tree.

Recorded only days before his untimely death, the final episode of Marc was shown eight days after his funeral (attended by Bowie, Tony Visconti, Steve Harley, Rod Stewart, members of The Damned and hundreds of fans). Their race against the clock jam was an anti-climax and ended embarrassingly for Bolan, who tripped over a wire causing him to fall off the stage, although the incident is mostly hidden by the programme credits.

Better though is Bowie in his solo slot. This is “Heroes”:


Footnote.

Bolan had also taken on the task of penning a regular column for Record Mirror and, a month before his own death, Marc had commented that it was sad that Elvis was gone but that it was probably better that he went before he turned into the Bing Crosby of rock’n’roll. Bizarrely enough, not long afterwards Bowie agreed to bridge the generation gap by appearing on Bing Crosby’s annual Christmas TV special, the pair performing Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy.

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