Derek’s Jarman’s Jubilee

1 Comment

Jubilee Quad Poster

Jubilee is no dreary slice of social realism, although the backdrop of the raw sprawl of dockland London, full of bombsites and crumbling buildings, would have been perfect for that. There’s no ‘straight’ political message either, Jarman even dedicated his script at one point to ‘all those who secretly work against the tyranny of marxists Fascists trade unionists maoists capitalists socialists etc’.

Instead, this is a tale of time travel with Queen Elizabeth I (Jenny Runacre), resident court astrologer John Dee (Richard O’Brien) and Lady in Waiting (Helen Wellington-Lloyd) being transported to a 1970s London by Ariel. The same Ariel who served Prospero in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.

None are impressed by what they witness. This is a truly broken down Britain, where cops beat up or kill young people for fun and where homicidal girl gangs maraud around the streets. Jubilee comes across at times like a Kenneth Anger movie with a screenplay by Valerie Solanis. With a little John Waters style sick humour thrown in for good/bad measure.

The cast is of the ensemble variety. Five youngish women share a commune style warehouse squat. Bod – presumably short for Boadicea – is the unofficial leader and is played by Jenny Runacre. Amyl Nitrate (Jordan) is obsessed by history and likes to recreate Mondrian canvases with make-up on her face. Mad (Toyah Willcox) is a loudmouthed pyromaniac with bright orange hair; Crabs (Little Nell Campbell) a promiscuous and easily impressed actress; and finally there’s Chaos (Hermine Demoriane), a tightrope walker who looks good and says nothing.

They sometimes hang around with two bisexual and possibly incestuous brothers, Angel (Ian Charleson) and Sphinx (Karl Johnson), and an artist Viv (Linda Spurrier),the nearest thing to a sympathetic character that Jarman gives us.

The casting is odd. Jenny Runacre (who plays Queen Elizabeth I in addition to Bod) was already an experienced actor and had already worked with Tony Richardson, Pasolini and Antonioni; Richard O’Brien and Little Nell had recently been involved in The Rocky Horror Picture Show, while Toyah had just graduated from drama school.

Toyah Jubilee 1978

Many who took part, though, were picked on the whim of Jarman. Adam Ant (The Kid) was selected on the basis of the director spotting him walking through Chelsea with the word Fuck carved on his back by a razor blade. By a complete coincidence, Jordan, who’d performed the carving duties, had just been cast in a leading role. In fact, the first scene that Jarman chose to shoot for Jubilee involved Mad carving the word LOVE on Bod’s back, before sprinkling salt on to the wound.

The performances range from the professional to verging on the kind of thing you might see in a one-star student production at the Edinburgh Festival. If Tommy Wisseau has ever seen this, he might even find Orlando’s turn as Borgia Ginz, a megalomaniac impresario who inevitably breaks into cackling laughter after he has spoken, annoyingly hammy.

Jubilee is usually claimed to be a punk film but the former public schoolboy director Derek Jarman was no punk. In August 1976 he laid out his thoughts on the ‘King’s Road fashion anarchists’, deriding its instigators as ‘the same old petit bourgeois art students, who a few months ago were David Bowie and Bryan Ferry look-alikes – who’ve read a little art history and adopted some Dadaist typography and bad manners, and who are now in the business of reproducing a fake street credibility.’ Ouch.

Despite this opinion, he did include a number of punkish tracks in Jubilee, with Jordan – then the manager of Adam and The Ants – advising him on which music to use.

Only three days after recording their debut single Plastic Surgery, The Ants filmed the track for Jubilee in the Drury Lane Theatre. Wayne/Jayne County supplied a track Paranoia Paradise, that was supposedly number one in Moscow, having sold 30 million copies in three days, while Siouxsie and The Banshees are briefly seen performing Love In A Void.

Gene October & Little Nell in Jubilee

There’s also a blast of Chelsea’s Right to Work, a song that verges on a dirge and which I’ve never been able to figure out – is it a protest against rising unemployment of the era or is the right to work for employees who believe that they should be able to put in a shift even when the trade unions insist otherwise? The band’s singer Gene October also plays Happy Days, who meets a grisly end, being asphyxiated in a red plastic sheet and then dumped into the mud of the Thames at low tide. A far from happy day.

Additionally, The Slits, like the younger sisters of Alex and his droog pals in A Clockwork Orange, destroy a car with great relish. The band quickly decided that they didn’t want to be portrayed as violent and become associated with mindless destruction. They pulled out of any further involvement with the project and asked Jarman to bin the footage already shot. But, of course, he didn’t. ‘Can’t blame him really,’ Viv Albertine noted in her autobiography Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys.

Interestingly, the first music we hear in Jubilee is the other-worldly ambiance of Slow Water. Initially released in 1976 on a limited edition of Music for Films, which was sent out to directors in the hope that they might include some of it in their films, Jarman was the first to take him up on the opportunity.

Jordan with trident

The song with the most impact, though, has to be Jordan (miming to Suzi Pinn’s vocals) performing a discofied version of Rule Britannia while wearing suspenders and carrying a trident. This apparently being England’s entry for that year’s Eurovision Song Contest.

On its release, Jubilee polarised opinions. Punks might have enjoyed the nihilism but tended to resent the message that punk acts could be co-opted so easily by the capitalist world. The Banshees condemned it while Vivienne Westwood despised it to the extent that she designed an Open T-Shirt to Derek Jarman, denouncing it. Jenny Runacre got her hands on one and wore it with pride, while Jarman was shown photographed wearing one in one of the Criterion re-release extras, A Time Less Golden (2003). When Westwood accepted an OBE in 1992, he called her as a ‘dipsy bitch’.

Derek Jarman in Vivienne Westwood T-shirt

Conservatives meanwhile were likely even more pissed off with the nudity, castration, asphyxiation, murder, blasphemy and sex – especially the orgy sequence supposedly being carried out in the bowels of Westminster Cathedral.

Despite the controversy generated, Jubilee was never a big cinema attraction and by the time it made its debut on British television in 1986, punk was dead and tracks like Sleezy D’s I’ve Lost Control would soon signal a new musical revolution in acid house.

A true provocateur, Derek Jarman was uncompromising here and remained so throughout his career. He was referred to as the ‘English Andy Warhol’ by several critics and Bowie described him as a ‘black magician.’

Don’t expect a traditional narrative here. It’s very episodic, and Jarman made much of it up as he went along (and it tells). It can often be frustrating but equally, it is extraordinary in many ways and not one single scene is bland.

The artist/director/stage designer/writer/gardener believed Jubilee proved prescient. In Dancing Ledge, he wrote: ‘Dr Dee’s vision came true – the streets burned in Brixton and Toxteth, Adam was on Top of the Pops and signed up with Margaret Thatcher to sing at the Falklands Ball. They all sign up in one way or another.’

Ginz’s observation that ‘this is the generation who grew up and forgot to lead their lives’ and how ‘the media became their only reality’, struck me as far more prescient, albeit concerning many of today’s millennials, more interested in recording their lives on phones and social media rather than just leading their lives.

Punk Rock, Aerobics & Inspector Rebus

Leave a comment

Back in the 1980s I bought a hardback novel during a book sale at what was then called the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow (now the CCA). It was the debut of an almost completely unknown young Scottish author and although only a couple of hundred copies of the hardback had been published, they must have been proving hard to shift hence the bargain price of a fiver.

I’m told that this edition of The Flood by Ian Rankin is worth a lot more these days than five quid. Or even fifty quid. Luckily I kept my copy.

Nowadays Ian Rankin is, of course, one of Britain’s best-selling authors and another claim to fame is that he was once the vocalist of Fife’s second best punk band*, The Dancing Pigs, who back in 1978 played about six gigs in Cowdenbeath before splitting up. All these years later the author is still happy to describe himself as a frustrated musician and anybody who follows him on Twitter will know just how important a part in his life that music still plays. Last week, for instance, he was congratulating C Duncan for his Mercury Prize nomination and he’s also just put me on to a band called Outblinker.

A few months ago Ian Rankin spoke with Viv Albertine at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and I have just discovered that their conversation can be downloaded in audio form, so I’ve added the link below. I’d definitely advise you give it a listen as Viv’s memoir Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys (or Clothes, Music, Boys as it has been rebranded) is the best autobiography by any musician I’ve read in years and also the best book ever to feature aerobics at any point. Oh, and she talks about playing in Edinburgh as part of White Riot tour.

Viv Albertine Clothes Music Boys cover


Click here to listen to Viv with Ian.

Ian Rankin’s latest Inspector Rebus novel, Even Dogs in the Wild, will be published next month and its Glasgow launch is on Tuesday, 03 November, 2015 at Òran Mór.

* The Skids obviously being the best and the Dancing Pigs apparently being the only other punk band in the Kingdom.

For more on Ian: http://www.ianrankin.net/
For more on Viv: https://www.facebook.com/vivalbertine/

Confessions of a Milf & Mad Truth


Viv Albertine Clothes Music Boys

Out today is the paperback edition of Viv Albertine’s Clothes Music Boys, the memoir formerly known as Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys – a title that several outlets apparently frowned upon, some using it as an excuse not to stock the book.

I preferred the original title myself but I thought it was a good idea to call a post of mine A Former Dreamboy & A Former Dancing Pig Discuss Punk, Doctor Who & Independence. Bet I’d have had more hits if I had mentioned Craig Ferguson and Ian Rankin by name.

I digress. Again.

Voted music book of the year by The Sunday Times, The Hollywood Reporter and Mojo (and this blog too) as well as making a lengthy stay in the non-fiction bestseller lists in Britain, Clothes Music Boys is written with a searing honesty, with its author unafraid to admit to a string of contradictions in her personality. Albertine also demonstrates a willingness to reveal the kind of details that most autobiographies are happy to ignore.

One example of this is the unflinching way she writes about close friendships: for instance, in 1976, together with Vivienne Westwood, she visits Sid Vicious, her former flatmate, former bandmate and someone she obviously adores, when he is imprisoned in Ashford Remand Centre, accused of throwing a glass that hit a female punk fan at the 100 Club in London – the girl losing her sight in one eye as a result of the incident. Sid is depressed and scared of his fellow inmates, who he clearly believes are more vicious than him. He assures his visitors that he is innocent and pleads with them to do all they can to help get him out.

Luckily for poor Sid, the charges against him are eventually dropped due to a lack of evidence. No one can really say for sure who threw the glass.

A year later Viv tells us that he admits to her that it was him.

Uniquely for a bio from a central character of the punk era, CCCMMMBBB not only manages to remain fascinating after the part of the subject’s life that I thought would hold the most interest to me – in this case her time as a Flower of Romance and the early days of The Slits – it gets even better in what Viv calls Side Two, where she teaches aerobics, studies film, undertakes IVF treatment, is diagnosed with cervical cancer and eventually, decades after selling her guitar, makes the decision in her 50s to relearn the instrument and relaunch herself as a musician.

The fact that her autobiography has been such a success must be very pleasing for Viv as her solo album from 2012, The Vermilion Border, was ignored by many critics and also underrated by some of the others who did bother to review it. I think it’s one of the finest releases of recent years.

From it, this is Viv with Confessions of a Milf:

In her book, Viv mentions meeting Gareth Sager from The Pop Group at Glastonbury, where they run about in the mud and Gareth laughs a lot and says surreal things.

‘Gareth,’ she later explains, ‘is into free jazz and introduces me to music by Ornette Coleman, Dollar Brand, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis and Don Cherry. Even though he’s a really exciting and proficient musician, Gareth thinks tuning and timing are really arbitrary restrictions – passion and ideas are much more important.’

The Pop Group, as you may already know, are just about to release their first album in 35 years. Citizen Zombie is out on Freaks R Us on Monday, February 23rd.

Judging by the single, Mad Truth, the passion and ideas are still as important as ever to Gareth and the band. According to vocalist Mark Stewart: ‘Even I am shocked by the album. It really flips the script. Expect the unexpected. Let the freak flag fly.’

Bet Viv Albertine loves this. Directed by the wonderful Asia Argento this is Mad Truth:

For my 2012 interview with Viv Albertine, click here:

For Viv Albertine’s Facebook page, click here and for the official Pop Group site, click here.