Back In The Cheap Seats (January 2020)

I was surprised that “Jojo Rabbit” made it to our local multiplex, in the school holidays too. OK there was just the one showing a day but movies that are right at the top of my “must see” list often necessitate a minimum 50 mile round trip to a larger cinema with a less narrow view of their audience’s taste. I’m not complaining, there’s some very nice countryside around here & we always take the bucolic way home. Not a fan of the word “multiplex”, I’m aware it’s nostalgic but I preferred the time when every town had a neglected old cinema which could accurately be referred to as a “fleapit”.

 

Related imageWriter/Director Taika Waititi’s successful run has been going on for quite some time now. “Eagle vs Shark” (2007) & “Boy” (2010) caught our attention through his connection with Flight of the Conchords who were not only the funniest thing in New Zealand but also the funniest thing anywhere. “What We Did in the Shadows” (2014) is a brilliant, original documentary on everyday life as a vampire & “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (2016), an effortlessly charming & funny coming-of-age adventure. Taika got the gig for “Thor: Ragnorok” (2017), huge budget, even bigger box office. I don’t usually do superhero movies but his name on the credits (& my companion’s enthusiasm for that Hemsworth fellow) got me to the cinema. I’m no authority on Marvel Cinematic Universe lore but he didn’t screw up & they are letting him write as well as direct the Viking god & Mjolnir’s next saga.

 

 

Related imageSo “Jojo Rabbit” is a break between the blockbusters, a return to the indie aesthetic only this time Hollywood is putting up bigger bucks. Set in the closing months of World War II, 11 year-old Jojo, helped by his Fuhrer friend Adolf, wants to be the best Nazi around. Events, particularly those at home, test his commitment to Fascism & you will have to ask someone else who has seen the film for the rest of the plot. The humour is broad, exuberant & irreverent, as close to Mel Brooks as I’ve seen since the Master himself. Roman Griffin Davies is adorable as the enthusiastic boy, Scarlett Johansson is his mum,  Thomasin McKenzie continues the good work she started in “Leave No Trace” & Sam Rockwell does his thing that adds value to every film he appears in. At the heart of Taika Waititi’s satire is a warmth & a humanity that is touching & appealing. It’s a good time to be pointing out how wrong-headed Fascism is & ridicule is an appropriate weapon. I loved the movie. Watch the clip & you will laugh out loud, hear the Beatles sing in German & be intrigued enough to want to see “Jojo Rabbit” for yourself.

 

It was a pleasant to note that in the following week the local picture house had upgraded the film to three performances a day. “Jojo Rabbit” deserves better than straight-to-streaming &  while comedies never win the big awards, this week’s nomination for a Best Picture Oscar will surely bring wider exposure. Next up for Waikiti, before “Thor: Love & Thunder”, there’s an adaptation of “Next Goal Wins” the inspirational documentary about American Samoa’s football team. His update, for something called Apple TV, of Terry Gilliam’s enduring classic “Time Bandits” sounds like a perfect match. I’ll be in the queue for all of them.

 

 

I’m not too familiar with the current standing of director Rian Johnson. When George Lucas made “Star Wars” in 1977 I was 24, a grown-up who was not really interested in seeing a children’s film. I know just enough about the series to get the references in “Spaceballs” but y’know, I’m not that bothered. A younger associate tells me that Johnson’s efforts on “Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi” (2017) disappointed & enraged millions of fans & that an announced trilogy of spin-off films now seems unlikely to make the screen. Johnson’s films are smart, stylish & entertaining. His debut “Brick” (2005) transposed a Dashiell Hammett Noir to a Southern California high school. “The Brothers Blooom” (2008), a story of international con artists, is a little busy but the mark is Rachel Weisz so you’ll happily stick with it. The time travelling “Looper” (2012) is Hollywood sci-fi, not too high concept, plenty of action, Bruce Willis & very accomplished it is too.

 

Image result for kni8ves outAgatha Christie pretty much perfected the “whodunnit” & while “Knives Out” is an update on the genre there are rules & traditions which Johnson respects & adheres to.  The bereaved family, all with motive enough for murder, are observed by an idiosyncratic detective who we know will finally gather them together & ingeniously expose the guilty party on the final page. The film has the director’s characteristic snappy dialogue & visual flamboyance  & he assuredly keeps the clues & red herrings in the air at the same time. The fine, starry ensemble cast brings to mind those Poirot movies on the Orient Express & the Nile. It’s good to see Ana de Armas being more than just a wife (“War Dogs”) or holographic girlfriend (“Blade Runner 2049”). Daniel Craig’s detective, Benoit Blanc, favours Columbo more than Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple or, my favourite, Alistair Sims’ Inspector Poole. “Knives Out” is a very capable, modern entertainment. I’m not sure that Blanc is a strong or interesting enough character to sustain a projected sequel though I am sure that Craig doesn’t need a TV series just yet.

 

 

 

Image result for uncut gems safdie brothersFinally a film starring Adam Sandler a comedian whose continued popularity is beyond me. It’s over 20 years now since “The Wedding Singer” & “The Waterboy” established him as America’s funny guy. There have been parts that have stretched him a little further but there has been plenty of dross like “You Don’t Mess With the Zohan” & “Jack & Jill”, it’s a list, a long one. His role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Punch Drunk Love” is cited so often as an example of Sandler’s acting talent that it has become a cliche. Can I refer you to “The Cobbler” (2014) one of those great small-scale movies directed by Tom McCarthy before “Spotlight” made the big time & a Best Picture Oscar. Now, at 53 years old, his performance in “Uncut Gems” is one he will be remembered for.

 

Image result for uncut gems posterHoward Ratner’s (Sandler) life can’t always have been chaotic. He has a family, a mistress, a jewellery business in Manhattan’s Diamond District, a gambling addiction & things are getting complicated. There’s an Ethiopian opal that he can sell for the kind of money to make his problems go away but this is a Safdie Brothers’ film so things are not that easy. Josh & Benny Safdie make uncompromising, grimy, anxious movies. “Heaven Knows What” (2014) is a love story between two homeless street junkies, “Good Time” (2017), starring the excellent Robert Pattinson, concerns two inept criminal brothers, like “Uncut Gems” neither are the easiest, most relaxing viewing bringing to mind Abel Ferrara’s classic “Bad Lieutenant”. The frantic, exhausting pace is reinforced by fine editing & an outstanding soundtrack by Oneohtrix Point Never. Former NBA MVP Kevin Garnett & Eric Bogosian (now there was a comedian) are among the support but, never off-screen this is Adam Sandler’s show & he steals it.

Is Rock And Roll The New Bowls? (Danny McCahon 2019)

It’s always a great pleasure to receive the end-of-year reflections of Danny McCahon. This year he provided the words to enhance the sights & sounds of a comprehensive curation of the vibrant 1970’s & 80’s music emerging from his locale, Inverclyde, Scotland. Danny was a face on the scene back then & he still gets himself out of the house to check on the good stuff that’s around today.  

 

“I hope I die before I get old,” sang Roger Daltrey about his generation, and it seems my generation has found the cure for getting old – get the band back together.

I spent the vast majority of 2019 as a 60 year old. Back in 1965 when Pete Townsend penned that anthemic line for The Who that would have been considered well and truly over the hill – by the raucous mods causing mayhem in the towns and cities of the UK, anyway. A time for white flannels, blue blazers and a cream tea after a sedate game down the bowling club.

My generation of Punk Rockas who followed in the path of rebellion hewn by Pete, Roger and their mates doesn’t seem to be ready for the Werther’s Originals just yet.

In the early months of this year, for a reason I have yet to discover, my home town got all reflective about the local music scene of the seventies and eighties with the upshot being that one of the most successful outfits conceived in the area got back together to play their first gig since the early eighties.

 

 

Image result for the cuban heels glasgowThe Cuban Heels were formed in Greenock in 1977 by school mates Davie Duncan and Laurie Cuffe with John Milarky who had wriggled out of Johnny and the Self Abusers before they morphed into Simple Minds. Signed to Virgin after a line up shuffle, they released a series of critically acclaimed singles and one album then disappeared. When they resurfaced for this year’s show it was obvious the fans hadn’t forgotten them and the four-piece featuring founder members Cuffe and Milarky stormed through an energetic, high-paced set to a full house. There was none of that “here’s one off our new album” nonsense in this set. No, it was all the hits and the fans’ favourites including 1981 single, Walk on Water.

 

 

When it comes to “The Sound of Middle Aged Scotland” 2019 newcomers Fat Cops have to appear on the list. Featuring Glasgow’s most popular moptop Robert Hodgens, known to the wider world as Bobby Bluebell, the band is full of people my mum might say are ‘old enough to better’ including on keyboard, J.K. Rowling’s other half & comedian Al Murray, “The Pub Landlord”, stepping out from behind the bar to sit behind the drums.

Image result for fat cops bandA couple of packed-out introductory live gigs in Glasgow were followed by appearances around Scotland and the audiences got it. ‘It’ in this instance being fun. The band could be accused of showing off its record collection in its set of originals, but what a record collection. And by the time they crank out the opening bars to their debut single, “Hands Up! Get Down!” everybody is ready to do just that.

 

Back in 77 when The Cuban Heels were talking about putting a band together, there was already a three-piece striding out in Cuban heels around the country. The Jolt, with their sharp suits and punky sound, were often referred to as Scotland’s answer to The Jam – they even ended up signed to Polydor – but by the time the second generation of mods mounted their scooters in 1979 all the members of The Jolt had moved off in different directions.

Around the same time, like in the rest of the country, young punks would gather in the record shops of central Glasgow. Graffiti and Bruce’s were my favourites, but others used Listen – a well-established local chain where I had bought the first Ramones album and Anarchy in the UK before I knew punk was a thing. One of the staff at Listen went by the name of Mickey Rooney and while we were all Clash mad, to my eyes Mickey always had a Velvet Underground thing going on. A few years later, after I’d gone and done some other stuff, Mickey came on to my radar again with his band The Primevals, Glasgow’s own garage punks.

 

 

Image result for the elevator mood jim doakYes, there is a point to this reminiscing. This year Jim Doak from The Jolt and Mickey from The Primevals released a disc of bedroom doodlings under the banner of The Elevator Mood and it has been a highlight of my car listening in the closing months of the year. Veering close to jazz at times and evoking pictures of Brian Eno’s laboratory at others, with psychedelic vibes rubbing grooves with punk rhythms, this is a DIY rock record made by two pals who’ve spent their lives listening to everything and anything, absorbing the good bits and sharing their influences.

There are many highlights on the 13-track disc and “Flower (for Matthew Bloomer)” is one that gets my toes tapping every time.

“How Are You?” “Old” (Almodovar And More)

Are there more films around concerning the passing of the years & reflections on childhood or is it just that now I’ve reached a certain age I’m paying more attention to them? In 2016 “The Distinguished Citizen” (“El Cuidadano Ilustre”) entertainingly told the story of a Nobel Literature Laureate (Oscar Martinez from the brilliant “Wild Tales”), wealthy & now unmotivated to write, accepting an invitation to return from Spain to his hometown in Argentina where his memories & the often resentful characters from his novels await. Last year Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” lovingly & painstakingly captured his own upbringing in 1970’s Mexico City & was deservedly awarded the Oscars for Cinematography, Direction & Best Foreign Language Film (though my vote went to “Shoplifters” from Japan). While I’m interested when others share their cogitations there’s ample contemplative retrospection in my real life thank you. It’s OK because this week I saw “Pain & Glory” (“Dolor Y Gloria”), the new film from Pedro Almodovar & I’ll bet my pension that it will be some time before I need to watch another movie about love, loss & Life.

 

 

In the photo a Caucasian male and a Hispanic female can be seen.

Pedro y Penelope

Pedro Almodovar, a master of cinema, is 70 this month & has been directing films for almost 40 years. Since his international breakthrough in 1988 with “Women on the Edge of a Nervous Breakdown” his sophisticated, subversive, sometimes melodramatic or outrageous observations on modern Spain (it’s a list…a long one) has established him as the legatee of their genius Luis Bunuel & worthy of a placing alongside the great directors of cinematic history. “Pain & Glory” is the most autobiographical of his films, thematically & stylistically Almodovariano, casting two of his greatest stars while delivering a singular personal statement with integrity & honesty.

 

Image result for pain & glorySalvador Mallo (Antonio Banderas, grizzled, handsome, sensational) is a film maker who no longer makes films, preoccupied with psychological & physical ailments. A revival of one of his movies reconnects him to the estranged star & to heroin, a drug he had some experience of. His opiate induced absorptions return him to childhood living in a cave with his mother (Played by Penelope Cruz with the sensuality of Sophia Loren) & a love for cinema smelling of “piss, jasmine & a summer breeze”. There’s a reunion with a former lover, Salvo’s first feelings of homosexuality & meetings with his dying mother (Julieta Serrano cast as Banderas’ mother for the third time). All of it is at a perfect emotional pitch &, employing a palette of red & white, looks absolutely gorgeous. The soundtrack by Alberto Iglesias is similarly evocative. Almodovar’s films are not always as fully realised though different folks see different strokes of inspiration in each of them. “Pain & Glory”, with its closing reminder that we have been watching a film, is a masterpiece from a director in absolute control of his undoubted talents.

 

Image result for pain and glory penelope cruz

OH!

 

Image result for once upon a time in hollywoodIt was an early start on Sunday lunchtime for “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood”. It would have been earlier but the multiplex staff forgot about us though the delay meant that we were spared the interminable commercials/trailers time waste & went straight to Los Angeles in 1969. Well, into Quentin Tarantino’s version of La-La land. QT’s movies, steeped in popular culture references, all have an element of anamnesis. The movie homages (steals?), artfully placed posters, the kitschy-cool Pop soundtracks all reflect his life-long preoccupations. This time around Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), a star on the wane, is constantly reminded of his successful past. Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) his former stunt double now a gofer is similarly reduced, living in a trailer adjacent to a drive-in cinema. They can’t buy a break in the New Hollywood. Rick’s boozing & Cliff beating up Bruce Lee when he does get a job doesn’t help. Meanwhile Rick’s next door neighbours, Roman Polanski & Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) are living the life.

 

Image result for margot robbie once upon a time in hollywood

OH!

“…in Hollywood” is packed with references to movies & TV shows, real & imagined. The director has some fun morphing Rick into “The Great Escape”. There are some fine scenes, Rick does proper acting, Sharon goes to see one of her movies, Cliff’s visit to the Spahn movie ranch with those damned Manson Family hippies. Then there’s Tarantino’s whipcrack dialogue, it’s a long film but listening to his characters shoot the breeze is always a reason to hand over the entrance fee. A fair chunk of the Internet & the commentariat likes to snark at such a visible, sometimes controversial director. There’s a new Charlie’s Angels film coming up, you’ll be OK. The ending has raised some kerfuffle, violence in a Tarantino movie…who knew? The clue is in the “Once Upon a Time…”, it’s a reverie, only a movie. Jeez, in one of his films he killed Hitler, that didn’t really happen either.

 

My companion & I had seen every Tarantino film & on the way home we talked about wanting to return to them (me, “Jackie Brown”, him, “Reservoir Dogs”). Damn, if “Kill Me Now Ringo, Said The Gringo”, a Spaghetti Western Rick made in Italy, exists then we would pay to see that too. We’re already on the lookout for  the flame thrower-heavy “The 14 Fists of McCluskey”. “Anyone order fried sauerkraut?”

 

 

Related imageBong Joon Ho returns to South Korea for “Parasite”. He went to Hollywood to make the sci-fi classic “Snowpiercer” (2013), on to Netflix for “Okja” (2017), a capable satire about corporations starring a very big pig. “Parasite” concerns a poor family of four struggling to get along in the gig economy, living in a shabby basement. The son, Ki-woo, catches a break & after a little fakery gets work with a very wealthy one-percenter family. A plan is hatched to change their luck & the rest is their story. South Korea’s first winner of the Palme D’or at Cannes is an intricate film, a biting social commentary on the class divide, an amoral, absurd black comedy, a drama which becomes a tense thriller. Each tonal shift is wonderfully & entertainingly handled by the director, the dispassionate camera lens allowing you to make up your own mind about the protagonists. A nod to Hye-jin Jang as the cynical, profane mother, my favourite character. Things I learnt from “Parasite”, the rich don’t like the smell of the poor & the best plan is no plan, then nothing can go wrong.

 

It’s evidently been an outstanding week’s viewing round here. I’ve already handed out the ultimate “masterpiece” tag to Almodovar’s film so I’m reluctant to pin the same accolade on “Parasite”. I’ll probably regret that after another six months of the usual Hollywood dreck but for sure this is another Hit From the Bong (thank you!). Catch it if you can.

Shoots From The Hip, Hip When He Shoots (Michael Ritchie)

The 1970’s in American cinema is quite rightly regarded as a decade of great creativity. Directors like Robert Altman, Arthur Penn, Stanley Kubrick & others, who had initially worked within the limitations of studio control, matured & flourished as they enjoyed greater independence. They inspired & were joined by the younger “movie brats” Coppola, Cimino, Lucas, Spielberg & Scorsese. It’s a list, a long one, I’ve not mentioned some of my & your favourites & I’m about to add Michael Ritchie. merited by an impressive run of films which still provoke & entertain & are always welcome when they come around on the TV.

 

Image result for downhill racer movie michael ritchieAfter Harvard Ritchie served his directorial apprenticeship on successful shows like “Dr Kildare”, “The Big Valley” & a single episode of “The Man From UNCLE”.  He directed 11 installments of “Run For Your Life”, a series starring Ben Gazzara created by the same crew who made “The Fugitive” (now that sounds good). His debut feature film, “Downhill Racer” (1969), hit cinemas just two weeks after “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” had become the current rage, the highest grossing film of the year & made Robert Redford a major star. In “Downhill Racer” Redford is matched with Gene Hackman, not yet as recognisable as he was to become, who had made a big impression in 1967’s “Bonnie & Clyde”

 

The film is a sharp, succinct commentary on competition & success set in the world of Alpine skiing. Redford’s Olympic hopeful is talented, narcissistic & arrogant, he clashes with the pragmatic, angry (you’ve seen Gene act) coach Hackman. The spare semi-documentary feel, Ritchie hired Ken Loach’s cinematographer & sound man, & the excellently shot race scenes made “Downhill Racer” a pretty good sports movie (it’s not really about sport) & a distinctive, well-received debut for Ritchie. His next two films, released in 1972, featured the same actors.

 

 

Image result for prime cut movieFirst up was “Prime Cut” which matched Lee Marvin (Devlin),  a hitman with a heart, against Hackman (Mary Ann), a slaughterhouse owner with a sideline in slavery. Devlin is sent  to the Kansas prairies by the Chicago Mob after Mary Ann had made mincemeat & then sausages of the previous man for the job. This bootleg butchery is shown in Ritchie’s stylish opening sequence. “Prime Cut” is an amoral, violent, entertaining action film. Marvin is a man with a mission, not to be distracted by Hackman’s moustache-twirling bad guy or young orphan Poppy (Sissy Spacek). There’s a nod to Hitchcock with a combine harvester chase through a cornfield. Spoiler alert…the people get away, a car gets killed.

 

The Midwest mayhem of “Prime Cut” has fine performances from its two stars, memorable set pieces & pulpy dialogue. 1972 was a big year for crime thrillers. There’s a built-to-last solidity about “The Godfather”, “The Getaway” & “Deliverance”. Michael Ritchie’s other film from that year effectively caught the mood of the times & can be considered one of the beat films of a very good year.

 

Robert Redford was 32 when he appeared in “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” (1969), a breakthrough role. He managed his position as a new Hollywood star very cannily & in 1972 starred in 3 films where he turned up, looked handsome & displayed his acting chops. “The Hot Rock” is a clever heist movie, the one about the mountain man “Jeremiah Johnson” was a big hit. He was very involved in the production of “The Candidate”, his second hook up with Michael Ritchie, as cynical as a political movie needed to be in 1972, the year that Richard Nixon was re-elected President by a landslide.

 

 

Image result for the candidate movieSo, Bill McKay (Redford) an idealistic lawyer, son of a former Democratic governor, runs for the US Senate. The deal is that he can’t win so he can speak his mind. McKay is telegenic & a moderation of his message brings an upswing in the polls. In fact the less he says the more likely an upset becomes. Redford hits the spot as the bemused McKay (vote once, vote twice) at the mercy of a pair of jaundiced political pros played by the outstanding Peter Boyle & Allen Garfield. The script by Jeremy Larner, a former speechwriter for Presidential candidate Eugene McCarthy, won the Best Original Screenplay Oscar. These days we know that all politicians are lower than whale shit. TV series like “The Thick of It”, “Veep” & “House of Cards” entertain while confirming that an absence of conscience is a political asset. “The Candidate” hit the bullseye with its points about media influence on the election process, reducing debate to non-sequitur soundbites, encouraging, with the complicity of those chasing votes, the generic rather than the specific. “The Candidate” did this in 1972…it was a warning.

 

Related image Ritchie’s position as a leading cinematic satirist was consolidated with “Smile” (1975), a faux documentary about a teenage beauty pageant, another riff on the failure of American success. It may seem an easy target now but this dark, very funny film, with an  ensemble cast lead by Bruce Dern, retains an affection & consideration for the participants alongside the mockery & cynicism. Satire was quite the thing in 1975, post-Watergate, pre-Bicentennial. Altman’s “Nashville” & Hal Ashby’s “Shampoo” may have had bigger budgets & more starpower but “Smile” catches the signs of the times just as well as these higher profile movies.

 

 

Image result for tatum o'neal bad news bearsI keep telling the young folk that they should watch the films of the great comedy actor Walter Matthau but he never played a Superhero so they don’t bother. “Whiplash Willie Gingrich (“The Fortune Cookie”), Oscar Madison (“The Odd Couple”) & Walter Burns (“The Front Page”) are wonderful characters, all lugubrious & anti-social (you’d like him), all in association with Jack Lemmon. I’m not forgetting “Charlie Varrick”. In 1975 Matthau traded insults, written by Neil Simon, with George Burns in “The Sunshine Boys” & was nominated for an Academy award. For his next film he hooked up with Michael Ritchie & it was time to meet Morris Buttermaker.

 

“The Bad News Bears” (1976) is not just a likeable film, it’s absolutely lovable. Buttermaker, an alcoholic former minor league pitcher is hired to coach a Little League baseball team made up of the incompetent kids the others won’t play with. They lose their first game 26-0. He recruits his ex-girlfriend’s daughter (Tatum O’Neal), the best pitcher in town, & the local teenage hoodlum (Jackie Earle Haley, last seen as the villain in “The Tick”). Of course things can only get better & the Bears make the championship game. They don’t win but valuable lessons are learned. So far, so Disney. Did I mention the alcoholism or “the amusement value of hearing little kids cuss like Marines” (Time)?

 

Image result for bad news bearsIn Michael Ritchie’s capable hands “The Bad News Bears” skewers the notion of competition, fair play & success in American society & it’s as funny as heck. Matthau’s hangdog cynicism is magnificent. Tatum O’Neal had won a Best Actress for her only other film & here, demanding Buttermaker pays for ballet lessons in return for playing, a young girl approaching adolescence, you can see why. The group of outsider kids are beautifully played & portrayed. Everyone has a different favourite, Tanner, short-tempered & an imaginative vocabulary, Ahmad, a Black Muslim Hank Aaron fan, the shy, “booger-eating moron” Timmy, the two non-English speaking Mexican brothers & there’s more. It’s not the greatest film ever made but it’s probably the best one about kids’ sport. Man, if ever a movie is going to raise your mood it’s this one. Here’s the ending…

 

 

That’s a pretty good run of film form, “The Bad News Bears” was a box office success & Michael Ritchie was surely set for the big movies. His contemporaries were being given stupid amounts of money, enough to bankrupt studios, to realise their visions.  Ritchie went on to direct films that you’ve seen & that I like but it never really happened for him. I’m not sure why, maybe I’ll have worked it out before I get to do Part Two of this thing.

 

 

In The Cheap Seats With The Popcorn

Image result for stan and ollieEarlier this month I spent the most pleasant of afternoons seeing “Stan & Ollie” at the local multiplex. A film about cinema’s greatest comedy duo couldn’t be anything but affectionate & respectful & this one hits those notes perfectly. The twin heartbeats of the film are Steve Coogan & John C Reilly’s outstanding impersonations of Laurel & Hardy. Set in dreary 1950’s Britain subtle direction smartly blurs any lines between the real blokes & these new guys. It’s no “Sons of the Desert” (1933), nothing else is but it’s a fine, warm piece of work. The cinema has reduced all seats to £5 ($6.60) so I’ll be returning next week for Tim Burton’s live action remake of “Dumbo”. I’ll take a couple of kids with me because the sight of a tearful, solitary old man is never a good one.

 

There’s not been a movie post for a while so here are some recent films that not only held my attention but I would be happy to watch again in my home cinema complex (I have a TV AND a sofa!).

 

 

It’s stating the obvious that “Green Book” was not the best film of 2018 despite the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences deciding it was. I’m not getting into the whole “white saviour” thing, that’s imposing an unnecessary critique on to a film that renders the developing relationship between an odd interracial couple as broadly & as inoffensively as possible. Race relations in 21st century America deserves a more nuanced perspective & we were never going to get that from writer/director Peter Farrelly whose last two films were “The Three Stooges” & “Dumb & Dumber To”. The film introduced me to the cool piano music of Don Shirley so that’s good.

 

Image result for blackkklansmanHaving been a fan of Spike Lee since “She’s Gotta Have It” I much preferred “BlacKkKlansman”. Denzel’s boy John David Washington was prominent in the TV series “Ballers”, he & his perfect afro star in the unlikely but true story of Ron Stallworth, the black cop who infiltrates the Klan using only a telephone & Adam Driver. Spike’s characteristic energy & commitment to his viewpoint makes for an exciting ride. The clip above, cutting from a violent assault by racist cops to the joy of a “Soul Train” line dance (“It’s Too Late to Turn Back Now” – Cornelius Bros & Sister Rose) shows the director at the top of his game. Lee will, I hope, never lose the agitprop aspect of his films, “BlacKkklansman”, set in the 1970’s, has plenty to say about contemporary America. The denouement may stray from actual events, the closing link to Charlottesville & the President’s refusal to condemn the actions of racists is elementary but a necessary & effective reminder that things are same as it ever was.

 

 

Image result for sorry to bother youBoots Riley’s frantic, deliriously absurd anti-capitalist satire “Sorry To Bother You” is a “what the heck is happening here?” eruption & marks the debut of a strikingly talented new writer/director. Riley’s mad, mad, mad world is packed with ideas, maybe too many,  understandable for a film-maker eager to take his chance. “S.T.B.Y.”, set in a skewed version of Oakland, California, made plenty at the box office, the bottom line in the business & there will be more from Boots. Oakland, across the bay from & connected by bridge to San Francisco, has a history of radical ideas, it’s where the Black Panther Party was founded. The success of Silicon Valley & the subsequent squeeze on affordable housing in S.F. has brought gentrification to working class neighbourhoods in Oakland, a major concern in “Blindspotting” the best American film of 2018.

 

Image result for blindspottingThe script of “Blindspotting”, by Daveed Diggs & Rafael Casal, both actors, friends since high school, evolved over 10 years & it shows. Every scene is lean & mean, the dialogue crackles, Collin (Diggs) has just days to go on his probation, anxious that his future should be jail-free, disturbed when he witnesses the murder of a young black man by a white cop. His best friend Miles (Casal), short-tempered & violent, is unhappy about the changes to the city, happy with the life he lives but does he really need that gun? “Blindspotting” skillfully blends the comedy with the drama, the friendship between the pair, one black, one white, feels like the real thing. Important issues, loyalty, class, race, police violence, are dealt with smartly, pertinently & without forcing it. When Miles’ young son finds his father’s gun you are on the edge of your seat, it happens again when Collin, the same gun tucked into his waistband, is on a street late at night with the cops for company. Collin’s closing flow, ” How come every time you come around you monsters got me feeling like a monster in my own town? I say it while I’m rapping, nigga, ’cause everyone conditioned to listen to a rapping nigga”, says it loud. “Blindspotting” has got the bounce.

 

Image result for shoplifters movieAlfonso Cuaron’s “Roma”, a beautifully shot remembrance of his childhood in 1970’s Mexico City, won this year’s Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. An early release on Netflix expanded the audience for a finely detailed, impressively observed story. Another nominee in the same category was “Shoplifters” which concerns the struggles of a poor Tokyo household (really a family but it’s complicated) with the law, Love, morality & survival. Intense, involving, subtle, the film attracts a list of adjectives, all of them good. I certainly must include the word “Humanity” here. Director Hirokazu Koreeda has been ranked with leading exponents of neorealism like Ozu & De Sica & I will be checking out his earlier films. In my opinion “Roma” is a very good movie while “Shoplifters” is a masterpiece.

 

 

Finally a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do & pick a Western. Much as I enjoyed “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs”, the six story anthology by the always dependable Coen Brothers, its fragmentary format made for some unevenness. As is the case with most of the pair’s movies more of its strength & charms will be revealed on repeated viewings.  Anyway it was always going to lose out to a cowboy film I had been eagerly anticipating for the whole of 2018.

 

Jacques Audiard has been making excellent films for over 20 years. The last three, “A Prophet”, “Rust & Bone” & “Dheepan” are among the best of the 21st century. I was always going to be at the front of the queue for “The Sisters Brothers”, his first in the English language. Charlie (Joaquin Pheonix) & Eli (John C Reilly again) Sisters are enforcers, stone-cold killers for the Commodore who trek across the West to San Francisco & the California Gold Rush in pursuit of their target. Like other European directors who go to Hollywood to make a genre film Audiard, who is French, respects the tradition of the great Westerns he saw when they were “a l’affiche” in Paris while adding  stylish flourishes to a well-trodden path.

 

Image result for the sisters brothers“The Sisters Brothers” has an Old West shabbiness bringing to mind “McCabe & Mrs Miller”, classy Peckinpah-like ultraviolence, scenery courtesy of John Ford & the director’s own sense of epic story telling. The extreme gold prospecting really is something that you haven’t seen before. Pheonix is good as the murderous Charlie, Reilly better as the reflective, protective Eli, Riz Ahmed & Jake Gyllenhaal add fine support. It’s not the first time that a European co-production has suffered at the hands of its American distributor. The big bucks promotional budget isn’t forthcoming when there are too many hands in the box office returns till. That’s a pity because, as you may have guessed, I think it’s a very good movie & if you are a fan of Westerns then I think you will too. “The Sisters Brothers” opens in the UK in early April & I’ll be handing over my £5 to enjoy it again on the big screen then I’ll be waiting for the “Deadwood” movie.

 

Well that’s a lot of films, things got a little out of hand there. No mention of “The Favourite” either because we all knew that one day director Yorgos Lanthimos was going to crush it. He & his triple threat stars made an outstanding modern period drama but you knew that already too.

An Outlaw For My Love (Galveston)

I’ve not seen too many memorable movies this year, maybe I’ve not been looking hard enough or maybe I’m satisfied by repeated viewings of “Free Fire”, Ben Wheatley’s spirited shoot-em-up which continues to hit the spot every time. Sunday night’s viewing was “Galveston”, a thriller based on a novel by Nick Pizzolato the creator/writer of the TV series “True Detective”. Series 1 of TD with Woody Harrelson & Matthew McConaughey was so damn good that Nick P gets a pass for the disappointment of series 2 (one more detective didn’t make it 50% better). Good thing too because “Galveston” is a blast, here’s the trailer.

 

 

Related imageWe all know that Ben Foster, after a star turn in “Hell or High Water” (2016) & a cameo in last year’s “Hostiles” is the man for the job when a criminal with more than a touch of weltschmerz is required. He’s Roy Cady, an enforcer for a New Orleans sleazebag (Beau Bridges), who rescues Rocky, a teenage hooker, while killing some guys who would rather be killing him. Their road trip to Texas is anxious, grim, violent & very affecting, complicated by Roy’s conscience, Rocky’s naivety & a 3-year old sister in tow. Foster is rough & not always ready for the what comes his way & he really is a very good actor. Rocky is played by Elle Fanning who does make a lot of films. This year there has already been the awful “How to Talk to Girls at Parties” & the acceptable “I Think We’re Alone Now”. I’m not complaining, the combination of her beauty & her youthfulness make for an individual screen presence. Her damaged doxie will, like her role in 2016’s “The Neon Demon”, endure when she has outgrown her girlishness & is in competition for parts with her big sister Dakota.

 

Image result for galveston movie

star & director

Pizzaloto, unused to the reduced role of a screenwriter, uses a pseudonym in the credits. His chosen nom de plume, Jim Hammett, surely a tip of the fedora to Thompson & Dashiell whose noirish pulp fiction the film wishes to emulate. The director is Melanie Laurent, the French actor best known for being Shosanna in QT’s “Inglourious Basterds”. Her taste & restraint in the story telling avoids the easy cliches which films that aspire to be Film Noir often fall back on., Her empathy with actors has produced two fine performances. Foster is Bogart tough, he’s someone I want to see more of & if Elle Fanning, just 20 years old, continues to improve as an actor then she will be special. The scene where she is  quietly singing Big Star’s “Thirteen”  (played over the closing credits) to herself is very cool, memorable & perfect. When “Galveston” ends you need a bit of quiet to think about what you have just watched. I can’t say the same about many of the films I have seen this year.

 

 

 

 

 

New Stuff Has Come To Light (November)

Image result for o'jays above the lawWell the first thing is that there is a new single from the O’Jays! That’s the legendary O’Jays to us, the vocal group whose recordings with Gamble & Huff for Philadelphia International in the early 1970’s made them a contender for the heavyweight title belt held for so long by the Temptations. There’s quite a bit of “Then” about “Above the Law” & there is a whole lot of “Now”. That upcoming mix of the records of the year will surely have to include this…

 

 

I wrote about the O’Jays here & my regard for the group has grown with repeated viewings of a stunning 2016 session round at Daryl Hall’s (off of …& Oates) gaff. In the piece I extolled the powerful lead vocals of Eddie Levert while not giving enough credit to his partner Walter Williams, an absolute dude in the “Soul Train” years &, despite a long battle with multiple sclerosis, still straight from the fridge on an elevating update of the 1976 hit “Used Ta Be My Girl”. With hands in pockets, toothpick firmly in place he is as insouciant as you could never be & absolutely on it. Walter is quite a man.

 

 

Image result for o'jays 2018Eddie is now 76 years old, Walter 75, friends since childhood. The third member, Eric Nolan Grant, has been around for just the past 20 years. “Above the Law” is the lead for a planned valedictory LP “The Last Word” before retirement. It’s a polemic about the way things are in the USA, same as it ever was, as angry & assertive as “For the Love of Money” (1973) & 1975’s “Rich Get Richer”. Steve Greenberg’s S-Curve label is backing the project & one of his roster, the inimitable Betty Wright, has contributed to the writing & production. Ms Wright has been involved in so much good music for so many years that it has to be her talent rather than coincidence. I believed what the O’Jays had to say back then & they are still damn right. I for one will be joining hands & getting on board the Love Train for one final time when the album comes around.

 

 

We all know that “The Greasy Strangler” (2016) is one of the most striking films of recent years. It’s an entertaining helter-skelter mix of gratuitous violence, unlikely nudity, profanity,  bad jokes in poor taste & worse food. The journey from “what the hell am I watching?” to “I must dig out my video tape (ask your parents) of “The Toxic Avenger”” is one worth inflicting on folk who you hope will not think less of you & will still be your friend after it. This is the movie that has introduced “Hootie Tootie Disco Cutie” into every day conversation, well my day anyway.

 

Image result for an evening with beverly luff linnSo, director Jim Hosking’s new film “An Evening With Beverly Luff Linn” (2018) has got to be seen & it has been. This time there’s less gross-out, less grease (Oh No!) but Hosking’s cinematic world is still populated by inarticulate social outcasts, even grotesques. It’s off the beaten path, David Lynch lives nearby but DL can be too serious for Jim who prefers to go for the laughs. The bigger budget hasn’t, thankfully, been spent on the script, still awkward, deadpan & full of non-sequiturs, but on attracting proper actors. Aubrey Plaza, “always watchable”, is small town femme fatale Lulu Danger who leaves her husband (Emil Hirsch) with Colin (Jemaine Clement off of Flight of the Conchords, he’s good) seeking “One Magical Night Only” with the titular Beverly (Craig Robinson) &…er…that’s it. See this movie if only for the sight of Beverly, garbed in Sir Walter Scott kitsch, reviving the old Scottish folk song “Why Did I Ever Become A Football Referee?”

 

I do hope that Hosking gets to make more films. They are not for everyone, an IMDB review (I know…why?) was disturbed by the poor personal hygiene of his characters! He has an original, idiosyncratic sense of comedy which I find to be interesting, most entertaining & memorable but then, I’m funny that way.

 

 

Image result for bill ryder jones yawnThere are only a couple of preview tracks available from the new Bill Ryder-Jones LP “Yawn” which is released on Friday November 2nd. It’s been 3 years since the triumph of “West Kirby County Primary” & the videos for both “Mither” (see above) & “And Then There’s You” certainly enhance the anticipation of a new collection of melodic Merseyside melancholia from B R-J. Low key contemplative vocals (the influence of Bill Callahan?) matched with a sure, solid wall of guitars, Indie with a touch of Psych, makes, to my ears, an attractive mix. There are British singer-songwriters around who sing quietly, evoke the name of Nick Drake & want to be considered as sensitive souls. Screw that noise, “Yawn” is his 4th album since leaving the Coral, should, I hope, confirm that Bill’s skills as a writer & as a producer continue to develop.He’s someone who thinks imaginatively & considerately about the something he has to say. I’m looking forward to next Friday.

From My Toes Up To My Ears (The Man In Me)

I was already looking upon “Small Town Crime”, the latest film written & directed by the Nelms Brothers, with a kind eye because it stars John Hawkes, one of my favourite current actors. The choice of “Good Times” by Eric Burdon & the Animals to accompany the opening credits clinched the deal & I settled into the sofa to enjoy a capable, violent, low-life thriller which tips its hat to the Coen Brothers & to Tarantino. Speaking of the Coen Brothers, I do like a good tune at the start of a movie & I do like this.

 

 

“The Man In Me” is from “New Morning”, Bob Dylan’s second LP of 1970. The sprawling, deliberately indulgent double album “Self Portrait” was the future Nobel laureate’s way of letting the Woodstock Nation know that if they really wanted a leader to follow then they should be looking in another direction. Bob’s retreat from the public gaze after his motorcycle accident in 1966 added mystery to the legend, leaving the Dylanologists to pore over & think too much about his recorded output. The superbly lyrical “John Wesley Harding” & the Country-croon of “Nashville Skyline” were a break from the early topical Folk songs & from the phosphorescent Rock & Roll of the mid-Sixties. On “New Morning” Dylan was bringing it all back home but Home was a different place now .

 

Image result for new morning bob dylan“New Morning”, quickly recorded in New York, is a lovely piece of kit. “Day of the Locusts”, about an uncomfortable time at Princeton & “Went to See the Gypsy”, an imagined meeting with Elvis, showed Dylan was still master of the spiky put-down but it’s an album with a predominantly romantic, contented outlook. The title track, “If Not For You” (an instant classic),”Sign on the Window” & others were simple, tender paeans to domestic bliss. “The Man in Me” is in that category &, to some extent, it was “The Big Lebowski” that brought it back to the world’s attention. Over here in the UK we already knew what a great love song it was because in the Summer of 1977 you didn’t go to a club or a blues dance without hearing this great version.

 

 

Image result for matumbiMatumbi were a keystone in the UK Reggae scene. A homegrown group who paid the bills backing touring Jamaican artists, their early singles, a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “Brother Louie”, the Rasta-influenced “Wipe Them Out”, didn’t really get a wide hearing. At the time the national charts were based on high street & chain sales, excluding specialist independent shops. “After Tonight” (1976), a self-penned, sweet, harmonious harbinger of Lovers Rock, stayed on the Reggae charts for almost 6 months without bothering the Top of the Pops list. The following year “The Man in Me” was the most successful Reggae 45 in the UK & still never made the Top 40. Matumbi did not get the shot they deserved.

 

After signing with a bigger label the group released a debut LP “Seven Seals” (1978), which, beautifully produced by guitarist Dennis Bovell, still is some good listening. Reggae was being heard a lot more after Bob Marley but it was newer, younger Black British groups, Aswad, Steel Pulse, who were getting the attention. Bovell was busy with other projects. He became a partner/producer for the Lovers Rock label, writing the sure-fire smash “Silly Games” for Janet Kay,. There were Dub albums released under the pseudonym Blackbeard, his Dub Band provided the imaginative musical foundation for the poems of Linton Kwesi Johnson & he scored Franco Rosso’s sound system drama “Babylon” (1980). Dennis Bovell was a groundbreaker & an inspiration for those who came after him on the British Reggae scene.

 

When, in 1979 during the sessions for “London Calling”, the Clash made a demo of “The Man in Me”. It was the UK Pop Reggae of Matumbi they were covering not the Dylan original. It seems that Matumbi themselves discovered the song from another group’s version recorded in 1971.

 

 

Image result for the persuasions street corner symphonyNow here’s a group that you don’t hear enough about. Formed in New York in 1962 the Persuasions were an acapella group who caught the ear of Frank Zappa, a champion of Doo Wop music, who recorded them for his Straight label. Through the 1970’s they continued to make records which were never anachronistic or revivalist because they always sang with Soul & Joy. “The Man in Me” is included on “Street Corner Symphony” (1972) possibly the best of their albums though their just vocals versions of classic songs are all worth checking out.

 

The Persuasions kept on keeping on. At the end of the 20th century there was a Christmas record then one for kids before in 2000 “Frankly A Capella-The Persuasions Sing Zappa” was not only very entertaining but made a whole lot of sense. This began a series of albums based on the catalogue of a single artist, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, U2 & Dylan. These are perhaps not as successful as the Zappa one but no-one does what the Persuasions do better than them & Jah bless them for it.

 

Post-Lebowski “The Man in Me” spawned many more cover versions. I do like the one by Jason Isbell & Amanda Shires (I would, wouldn’t I?), it’s exactly the heartfelt, honest love song that Jason, inspired by his new wife, was hoping to emulate. My favourite thing this week is not only worth featuring here but is also a fine piece of synchronicity.

 

 

Image result for bobby vee new soundBobby Vee is from Fargo, North Dakota (hello to the Coen Brothers again) who, in 1959 as a 16 year old, had a hit in Minnesota with his first single “Suzie Baby”. 18 year old Bob Dylan, calling himself Elston Gunn, blagged a short-lived gig as a piano player with Vee, his first professional experience. When Bob went his way, to New York in search of Woody Guthrie, Bobby exchanged his rockabilly pompadour for a haircut your mother would like & became the biggest, 5 Gold records, of the early 1960’s teen idols. The British Invasion put an end to all that & Bobby Vee, despite covering a couple of Beatles songs, & the label cheekily calling the album “…Sings the New Sound From England”, had just one more hit in 1968. Dylan always spoke very fondly of that brief period & performed his own version of “Suzie Baby”, once when Bobby Vee was in the audience.

 

Image result for bobby vee bob dylanIn 2012 Bobby Vee was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease & his 3 sons spent some quality time with their father in the garage studio at his home in Tucson Arizona. The result was “The Adobe Sessions” (2014), a record I’m unfamiliar with but if there’s anything else as good as this take on “The Man in Me” then further investigation is required. There are younger groups making this kind of Folk-Rock who are being hailed as the new incarnation of the Band! It’s an assured, quite moving version & I like it a lot.

 

So there’s 4 versions of this great song. It may not be “Like A Rolling Stone” or “All Along the Watchtower” but it states a simple truth about Love & that honesty is the best you can ask from a Pop song. “Take a woman like you to get through to the man in me”. That’s right!

 

 

I Read A Book Once. Green It Was! (Brian Glover)

Brian Glover is best & probably rightfully fixed in popular memory for his very first acting role. He had previous dramatic experience as a professional wrestler where he inherited the nom de scene “Leon Arras, the Man from Paris” when the “real” Leon failed to show, His day job was teaching English & French at Barnsley Grammar School in South Yorkshire where he himself had been educated. When his friend & fellow teacher Barry Hines’ novel “A Kestrel for a Knave” was adapted for the cinema the author recommended him as the ideal candidate for the role of Mr Sugden, the Physical Education teacher.

 

 

Related image“Kes” (1969), directed by Ken Loach, is an absolute coup of a movie which should be shown in schools around the world (though possibly with subtitles for those living outside the North of England). Loach had previously made some of the best British social realist films of the late 1960’s.  “Up the Junction”, “Cathy Come Home” (both made for TV) & “Poor Cow” were effective in highlighting & stimulating debate about the issues facing working class women. His story of a boy’s potential thwarted by an unsympathetic education system & by his family situation is enhanced by the use of a mainly non-professional cast. It certainly felt that you were watching a kid you knew living a life you recognised. Brian Glover was so convincing as the casually brutal Sugden, living out his Bobby Charlton fantasies (Denis Law was in the wash!) in a games lesson. Funny because every one of us had experience of his like. Those who can’t do, teach & those who can’t teach, teach PE.

 

Image result for Brian GloverIf a blunt Yorkshireman, who likes what he says & says what he bloody well likes, was required then Brian Glover was in the frame. His starring role as a dictatorial band leader in “Sounding Brass” (1980) didn’t extend beyond 6 episodes but his guest appearances in sit-coms were often memorable. “No Hiding Place” was an outstanding episode of “Whatever Happened to the Likely lads” when Flint (Glover)  attempts to spoil our heroes, Terry & Bob’s plans to avoid the football score (these things matter!). The rather dim Cyril Heslop in “Porridge” provides the title of this piece. There were a couple of episodes of “Doctor Who”, in “Campion”, an adaptation of Margery Allingham’s detective novels he stole the show as sidekick Lugg. Of course when we put the kettle on (which we do a lot here) we still hear his voice from the Tetley Tea adverts.

 

 

At a time when British TV’s most successful exports are nostalgic gee-gaws about an elite class (“Downton Abbey”, “The Crown”) it is worth remembering the time when we made the best original drama in the world. Beginning with the BBC’s “The Wednesday Play” & continuing with strands of one-off plays across all channels (all 3 of them) space was given for many talents , on both sides of the camera, to emerge, develop & tell stories from all levels of society.

 

Image result for brian glover the fishing partyBrian Glover’s first “Play For Today” was Ken Loach’s shopfloor activism drama “The Rank & File” (1971). The following year “A Day Out”, written by Alan Bennett, directed by Stephen Frears (now that’s a pairing) was followed by “The Fishing Party”, the story of a weekend in Whitby for 3 miners. Peter Terson had first come to our attention with his play for the National Youth Theatre “Zigger Zagger” (1967), a boisterous commentary on the culture of football supporters. Glover starred as Art. He, Ray Mort, another fine character actor (Ern) & Douglas Livingstone (Abe) were outstanding in a funny, touching entertaining piece. So much so that the playwright reunited the characters in “Shakespeare or Bust” & “Three for the Fancy”. It says much that over 45 years later these plays are so fondly remembered. You can see “The Fishing Party” here. Glover himself wrote 2 slice of life dramas for the series, “Keep an Eye on Albert” (1975) & “Thicker Than Water (1980) which concerned a black pudding festival!

 

 

Image result for brian glover alien 3He appeared in some good movies too. “O Lucky Man!” (1973) & “Britannia Hospital” (1982) are parts of Lindsay Anderson’s Mick Travis trilogy. “Jabberwocky” (1977)”, he was an ideal terry Gilliam character. He’s playing chess in “American Werewolf in London” (1981) & there’s “The Company of Wolves (1984). Then, of course, he did his turn as Andrews in David Fincher’s “Alien3” (1992)…oh that’s who he is!. “Red Monarch” (1983) is a made-for-TV film which is a sharp study of the tyranny of Stalin’s inner circle with an excellent cast. Glover contributed to a fine production with his portrayal of Nikita Kruschev. He barely makes the above trailer but he’s around the film.

 

Up 'n' Under (1997) Gary Olsen, Samantha Janus, Richard Ridings, Ralph Brown, Neil Morrissey, Brian GloverThe word I have kept wanting to use about Brian Glover is “memorable”. After the impact of “Kes” he only had to walk on to a screen, large or small, & you were pleased to see him. He wasn’t an actor who disguised himself for his roles & he may have been as Yorkshire as the Pudding but was more than a professional Northerner. “What’s that for Sir?” “Slack work lad, slack work”. Love the guy.

 

 

 

 

Danny Remembers Some Nights In 2017

Danny McCahon, the noted Scottish playwright & an authority on Glam Rock, is another of our end-of-year regulars. It’s always a pleasure to hear from him & I do sometimes canvass more regular contributions but our Danny is a busy man. This year he was very excited to meet one of his musical heroes & that memorable evening was sure to be top of his list.

 

Before the Clash was the only band that mattered, there was Mott The Hoople. And while a young Mick Jones was following the hardest working band in the land up and down the country, my mates and I were passing around the lead singer’s book, “Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”. Written on the road during the band’s tour of the United States in November and December 1972, Ian Hunter’s witty expose stripped away any notion of glamour and laid bare all the warts of a band the appeared destined to always be on the up but never make it. But at the end of the tour, as Hunter headed back to his London flat thinking about cleaning up the cat dirt from the kitchen floor he knew the band was bigger than the last time he’d set foot in Blighty.

 

 

Image result for ian hunter rant band southamptonWithin a couple of hit-filled years, Mott The Hoople was finished, but Hunter never put down his guitar and almost 44 years after I first saw him on stage at Glasgow Apollo, Ian Hunter gave me the best show I saw in 2017. A 78 years of age he and his assembly of great players, The Rant Band, held the audience at Southampton’s Engine Rooms in thrall for more than two hours. And to make the night even more of a thrill, I had a few beers with the great man afterwards. Whoever said you should never meet your heroes obviously hadn’t had a chat with Ian Hunter. A true gent, he listened to me gush about that first show at The Apollo and added his own memories of the night. We both agreed that the Apollo bouncers were a breed apart.

 

The show had many highlights but I had goosebumps when The Rant Band backed their leader on this hit released by Hunter and his band a few months after their return from that US tour and reflecting the mood of the classic book. Absolutely joyous. I walked back to my hotel that night, a bit drunk on beer supplied by Ian Hunter, convinced I had just met The Last Rock ‘n’ Roll Star.

 

In Year Zero when the Clash did matter, one of the most interesting guys on the Glasgow music scene went by the name of Jimmy Loser. Jimmy knew stuff, about books and films and especially about music. He played guitar and wrote songs and he and I became mates. During quiet drinking sessions in anonymous Glasgow pubs, Jimmy and a few others filled me in on what had been happening before I looked beyond Glam Rock. One band we did share a love of was Mott The Hoople.

 

Long after Sid had died and Malcolm had got bored, Jimmy was still writing songs and, to paraphrase his own lyric, the Loser became King and put together a band that, after another sensational combo, for me is the best band ever to come out of Glasgow.

 

 

Image result for james king and the lonewolves mcchuillsJames King and the Lonewolves did things their way. Always. And the use of a cussword on the BBC’s “Old Grey Whistle Test” slowed their rise. But not forever. James brought the band back together and released an album in 2014. I’ve seen them quite a few times since that reunion and this year they gave me one of my favourite nights out. In November they took the stage at Glasgow’s finest live music pub, McChuill’s. (Free gigs in 2017!)

 

Jimmy is still writing good tunes and a new album is planned but in a set that filled McChuill’s with more power than I’ve heard anyone else ever do, the live reinterpretation of the song that had upset the Beeb was a highlight.

 

 

Image result for barry adamson king tut'sAnother famous Glasgow venue provided a third live highlight. We all like Magazine and The Bad Seeds, but it’s his solo work that has made bassist Barry Adamson a big favourite of mine. He showed up alone on the stage at King Tut’s and played a full band show. The set was, as the young folks might say, all killer but Big Bad Barry threw in a few surprises including this hit from his first band.

 

 

 

 

I do more than nostalgia and don’t only listen to old tunes resurrected by men of a certain vintage. And here’s a record from Jane Weaver, who I saw play last week, to prove it. If a single is still a thing, this was my single of the year. (Peter Perrett’s was my album of the year.)