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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.

Goodbye, Robert Young

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As you’ll probably already know, former Primal Scream guitarist Robert ‘Throb’ Young died yesterday, aged 49, in Hove.

Bobby Gillespie, Andrew Innes and Primal Scream paid tribute in a statement that noted: ‘We have lost our comrade and brother Robert Young. A beautiful and deeply soulful man. He was an irreplaceable talent, much admired amongst his peers.’

‘Robert ‘Throb’ Young was a beautiful human being and a genius musician,’ Alan McGee told Louder Than War, before adding: ‘He was not just the lead guitar player he was a huge creative part of the Scream.’

Many thousands of tributes appeared too on Twitter. Irvine Welsh, for example, observing: The man was more rock n roll than rock n roll itself.’

This is Come Together:

Shopping in Space & The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

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This week I started re-reading Shopping in Space, a book written jointly by Elizabeth Young and Graham Caveney, that takes a look at a number of writers who found themselves being lumped together during the 1980s and early 90s and tentatively categorised as ‘Downtown’, ‘New Narrative’ or ‘Post-Punk’ but whose writing Young and Caveney opted to term ‘Blank Generation’ fiction, after Richard Hell’s most famous song, to give them ‘the necessary link with punk’ and to convey ‘something of the flat, stunned quality of much of the writing’.

At the point when I first read Shopping In Space shortly after its publication in 1992, I was spending more time reading than I was listening to music. Certainly there was still plenty of great new singles and albums coming out by acts like – off the top of my head – My Bloody Valentine, The Breeders, Slowdive and Teenage Fanclub but new literature struck me as much more dynamic at this time when grunge largely ruled the planet. Admittedly when Nirvana were at the top of their game with tracks like Smells Like Teen Spirit and Heart Shaped Box, grunge might have seemed like a truly great idea but Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and co? No thanks.

The writing discussed in the Shopping in Space was typical of the kind of thing I was reading back then: Bret Easton Ellis, Mary Gaitskill, Joel Rose and Jay McInerney, whose Story Of My Life was a particular favourite. Additionally, I was also very keen on Raymond Carver and the so-called ‘dirty realists’ along with the curiously named Breece D’J Pancake, who like Kurt Cobain died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and the three Glaswegian authors, whose work had been collected together in the 1985 anthology of short stories, Lean Tales: James Kelman, Alasdair Gray and Agnes Owens.

Shopping in Spce (1992)  Rebel Inc. Issue 1

What excited me even more though was my discovery of a whole new wave of younger Scottish writers that included Gordon Legge, Duncan McLean and Irvine Welsh. Finding an extract of what later would become the second chapter of Trainspotting in a yearly anthology called New Writing Scotland was almost like discovering The Damned or The Sex Pistols on John Peel.*

Or maybe I should say that reading the Edinburgh based litzine Rebel Inc. was like listening to the Peel show and its pages would introduce me to Laura Hird, Alan Warner, Sandie Craigie, Paul Reekie and many other new voices ‘from Embra and other bits of Scotland like Falkirk’.

Before long I was dabbling myself, trying my hand at writing very short stories that were sometimes only about a page long. Soon I began sending these off to small press publication; some were accepted though mostly I would receive a bog standard rejection letter.

One time, when I was trying to enter a story for some competition organised by Glasgow Uni, my typewriter ribbon – remember this is 1992ish – began growing ever more faded to the point of illegibility and with a deadline looming and zero money to buy a new ribbon I hit on the only solution I could think of that would make my submission even reasonably presentable: I used Letraset for the last couple of paragraphs before rushing out and delivering the final piece by hand.

It didn’t win the competition but did make the shortlist which was selected by Janice Galloway (I was a big admirer of her debut novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing) and I was invited along to read my piece at an event in a hall somewhere deep in the bowels of the uni.

It was the first time I’d ever set foot inside a university. Well, barring when I got signed in for concerts.

All these years later, I’ve started writing some fiction again after enrolling for a part time course at a local university that isn’t Glasgow and this is taking up more time than I’d imagined. Therefore, for the next six or seven weeks, posts on here might be a wee bit shorter than usual and possibly a bit more spread out too.

Next up on the reading list is Joel Rose’s Kill Kill Faster Faster (my copy is on Canongate’s old Rebel Inc. imprint), a novel that’s discussed in Shopping in Space and which Irvine Welsh proclaimed ‘A Modern Urban Masterpiece’ and ‘The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins’, which Irvine Welsh actually wrote and which the Independent has called ‘a return to top form for the Trainspotting author’.

Joel Rose Kill Kill Faster Faster  Sex Lives of Siamese Twins (Irvine Welsh)

*If Irvine Welsh was The Damned or The Sex Pistols then, applying the punk analogy to myself, I was probably in a band that once supported Eater.

Filth

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Filth Ad

2013 – UK – 97 min – Certificate: 18

‘What the fuck was that just jumped off my back?’ Irvine Welsh asked in a tweet earlier in the year after a seeing a final cut of Filth. Answer: ‘Ah, it’s you Trainspotting monkey!’

Welsh is obviously chuffed to bits about the adaptation of his third novel and has been talking up the film at just about every opportunity ever since; he’s even been actively encouraging comparisons with Danny Boyle’s take on Trainspotting; in fact, he’s watched both films back to back and is unable to favour one over the other. And he is very proud of Trainspotting.

Hopes for Filth are almost ridiculously high and have been ever since a genuine buzz emerged as filming started in 2011 and now just prior to its release, its star James McAvoy and director Jon S. Baird seem every bit as upbeat as Welsh about the movie.

Sometimes, though, I prefer seeing a film without these levels of expectation. Indeed, a good example of why this is Danny Boyle’s Trance which actually also starred McAvoy, a very decent effort but which struck me as slightly disappointing after the blaze of hype that preceded it.

Several other nagging doubts remained before I set out to Cineworld last night to see the first Glasgow preview screening. Baird’s only film before this had escaped my notice up till now and hadn’t been lauded by those who did see it, and while I certainly enjoyed the novel Filth, I don’t rate it as highly as some of Welsh’s other work.

The ensemble cast is unquestionably top flight, including (in addition to McAvoy) Jamie Bell, Eddie Marsan, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Shirley Henderson, Joanne Froggatt, Iain De Caestecker, Martin Compston and Kate Dickie but McAvoy in the central role of Bruce Robertson just didn’t strike me as the right choice, just like when John Hannah was chosen to portray another fictional Edinburgh cop in the original series of Rebus.

Maybe it’s because I saw Filth performed as a one man play over a decade ago in a cramped tiny studio space in the Citizens Theatre with a tour de force performance from Tam Dean Burn that made me suspect McAvoy was too fresh faced and young, too small and too good looking for the role of Robertson. Baird and Welsh both apparently had big reservations too over his suitability but these vanished the moment the Glasgow born actor began his audition. He was offered the part that same day.

McAvoy has described taking on the part as the riskiest thing he’s ever done.

The risk though has paid off.

He’s a revelation. And I would never make a casting editor.

Cops onscreen are often mavericks, too fond of bevvy, willing to break the odd rule and usually at odds with their superiors but Bruce is something else, something way beyond that, Bruce is Edinburgh’s outrageously Bad Leiutenent – Bad Detective Sergeant actually – utterly corrupt, sociopathic, and racist, sexist and homophobic too, in fact, the misanthropic Bruce doesn’t really like anybody, and even his fellow Mason and supposed best buddy Bladesey (Eddie Marsan), who accompanies him on a three day walk on the wild side in Hamburg, isn’t immune from his bullying and grotesque scheming.

How does he treat his mate? Well, for starters, Bruce makes sinister, sexual prank calls anonymously to Bladesey’s wife Bunty (Shirley Hendson), putting on a Frank Sidebottom. Before taking things further.

I didn’t mention that Bruce exhibits all the tell-tale signs being a sex addict, did I? A sex addict who is also a heavy drinker and even heavier drug user with a penchant for wreaking havoc on everyone around him.

Dixon of Dock Green he is most definitely not. Although importantly, he is, very occasionally, also capable of doing the right thing.

Filth draws the viewer in quickly. The script is very pacey, relentless even at times and as you may have already worked out, there’s depravity a-plenty on display. Filth is completely in yer face, or maybe since it’s set in Scotland that should be ‘in yer coupon’ and like Trainspotting it’s absolutely hilarious at times.

The plot?

Our anti-hero is hoping for a promotion, which he is convinced would help him win back his departed glamorous wife Carole (Shauna Macdonald) and daughter, Stacey.

He’s enlisted to solve the brutal murder of a Japanese student in an Edinburgh underpass, the solving of which would make him heavy favourite to make the step up to Detective Inspector but rather than concentrating his efforts into the investigation, Robbo spends the bulk of his time ruining the promotion chances of his rivals such as his younger sidekick Ray (Jamie Bell), Gus (Gary Lewis, Bell’s dad in Billy Elliott), Peter (Emun Elliott), Dougie (Brian McCardie) and perhaps his main threat, the very capable and by the book cop, Amanda (Imogen Poots).

Initially his Machiavellian plots go to plan but Bruce’s spiralling wildly out of control addictions aren’t his only problems and very soon surreal hallucinations make an appearance and a disintegrating Bruce, increasingly haunted by personal demons, becomes more erratic by the hour.

Robertson is obviously fast becoming a one man disaster area but is he beyond repair?

I’ll not reveal the answer to that question and I definitely won’t give away the ending – which is the way I believe the film inevitably had to go out on but I will just fully recommend you see Filth and see it on the big screen in a cinema full with others laughing and squirming as the increasingly splenetic and desperate cop finds himself drawn further and further into his outrageous webs of deceit.

Is Filth as good as Trainspotting? As much as I liked it I don’t think it is but how many British films are? I found some of the hallucination scenes with Doctor Rossi overcooked and I’m still mystified by the animation in the end credits but my only real complaint about Filth is that since watching it I’ve had David Soul’s Silver Lady stuck in my head, involuntarily repeating itself again and again. And Lust for Life that song most definitely ain’t.

So far into 2013 this is the most gripping British film I’ve watched by a distance and McAvoy’s performance is also easily the best, in fact, it just edges his turns in The Last King of Scotland and Atonement as his career best to date and an obvious contender for awards. One Scottish bookmaker has offered 33/1 on Filth winning the Oscar next year for Best Film which I’m not particularly tempted by but I really wouldn’t be remotely surprised if McAvoy picked up a Bafta. He would undoubtedly deserve it.

Opens Scotland Sept 27/Rest of UK & ROI Oct 4.

Blackpool

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Just a few hours ago, this year’s Blackpool Illuminations were switched on by Jonathan Ross and this gives me the perfect excuse to post a song from the 2002 collaboration between Vic Godard and Irvine Welsh, which the latter described in a tweet earlier today as their ‘ill-fated Blackpool musical’:

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For more on Vic’s Blackpool EP.

And if you want to see Vic Godard playing live in Edinburgh and Glasgow in November:

 Vic Godard Live November

Finally for Irvine Welsh fans, the film Filth, based on his third novel, is released in Scotland on the 27th of September and the rest of the UK and Ireland a week later and if it lives up to this trailer that I saw yesterday while taking in a screening of Kick-Ass 2 then I’d expect the film to to be feted rather than described as ‘ill-fated’. As for Kick-Ass 2 – it’s been added to that incredibly long and ever expanding list of disappointing sequels.