Permissive_Quad__Poster

Firstly, a quiz question.

Which member of a highly successful Scottish act played a leading role in British film Permissive in 1970?

Clue: The band he is synonymous with are represented in the current Rip It Up exhibition at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Further clue: The same bands’ biggest hit reached the top ten in Britain and America.

Answer: Alan Gorrie of The Average White Band.

*

The permissive society is one of those terms you hear very rarely these days. In the 1970s, though, many a moralist was scandalised by the idea of the filth being peddled by the likes of pop stars and the gutter press.

Watching this depressing drama, you may wonder if the Daily Mail readers and Mary Whitehouse types had a point.

Made at the height of the groupie phenomenon, when Bebe Buell, Sable Starr and Pamela Des Barres were names known to every rock fan, despite them having never played a note, Permissive is an unusual example of the then fashionable youth culture movie.

Directed by British based Canadian Lindsay Shonteff, Permissive tells the story of Suzy (Maggie Stride), a mousy and innocent provincial gal who arrives in a very grey London. Here she hooks up with her pal Fiona (Gay Singleton), although Fiona is about to hit the road with hairy arsed rockers Forever More, whose singer (and bassist) Lee is played by Gorrie. Fiona being Lee’s ‘old lady’.

Maggie Stride - Permissive

Not allowed to join them, Suzy wanders the streets with homeless hippy busker Pogo, a highly irritating religious obsessive. ‘God is uptight, man,’ he declares during an unofficial sermon from the pulpit of a near empty church, before giving his none too original thoughts on war and inequality. Thankfully he is quickly arrested and then killed off almost arbitrarily in a car accident. The good Lord giveth and the good lord taketh away.

After his death, Suzy takes her first steps in the highly competitive groupie scene. She ditches her duffel coat and starts to wear more fashionable glad rags like a bright maxi-dress and bippity-bopitty hat. She also embraces her inner bitch and slowly wins acceptance into the Forever More clique.

Shot very naturalistically on a budget of around £20,000, Permissive is pessimistic as hell and isn’t much of a fun watch in any way. It does, though, present what I would guess is a pretty authentic portrait of a time when the sixties dream was disappearing fast even though many might have refused to admit it.

Suzy Superscrew was one title touted for the film and if any dirty old man had headed along to his local fleapit picture house on the basis of that sensationalist name then they would have left disappointed. Any sex here is dull. ‘Two minutes and 52 seconds of squelching’ to borrow a phrase later used by Johnny Rotten. The bands exploit females and the females – who happily backstab each other to protect their position in the groupie pecking order – are only too keen to give them what they want.

Why they should do so I have little idea, Forever More are far from the rock royalty of the day. Rather than the champagne, cocaine and private jet lifestyle of a Led Zep, this is more a pint of bitter in a dimpled glass, a badly rolled joint and trips across the country in a cramped Ford Transit van.

Alan Gorrie - Permissive

The film’s music has its fans although I’m not really one of them. In addition to Forever More, cult acid-folk band Comus (who Stuart Maconie recently raved about on his Freakshow, and who were once given a residency at David Bowie’s Beckenham Arts Lab) provide a pretty good opening title theme and some other incidental music. There’s also a very forgettable act Titus Groan, who appear briefly onstage too.

Here I should point out that Forever More were a real band. Post-psych longhairs they were a very average white band specialising in very interminably long bluesy numbers. They recorded a couple of albums, Yours and Words on Black Plastic, for RCA which I have no desire to ever seek out.

Alan Gorrie definitely made a good move getting the funk and forming AWB in 1972 along with former Forever More bandmate Onnie McIntyre.

Gorrie’s acting skills are limited but I’ve witnessed many worse performances from musicians over the years. Most of the acting here is mediocre at best although Maggie Stride does a solid enough job as Suzy and Gilbert Wynne as sleazy manager Jimi also impresses.

This was Gorrie’s one and only appearance on celluloid but he did go on to compose and perform the scores for two further Shonteff films, The Yes Girls from 1971 and 1972’s The Fast Kill.

Strangely enough, Permissive, despite all the negatives I’ve listed, is a fascinating watch in places, especially if you have an interest in the Britain of the 1970s.

I’m guessing the editor had paid close attention to Performance, when deciding to add a number of ominous flash-forwards. One near the very start of the film that looks like a suicide. A touch that really sets the tone for one of the bleakest films ever made with a rock background.

If Ken Loach had ever directed a sexploitation film it might have resembled this.

For more on Permissive: https://www.bfi.org.uk/blu-rays-dvds/permissive