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.

 

 

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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.)

There’s not many men round here who’ve still got their Meccano sets, you know! (Liz Smith)

Image result for liz smith hard labourI first became aware of Liz Smith, who died this week aged 95, in 1973 when she starred in “Hard Labour”, a BBC TV drama directed by Mike Leigh & produced by Tony Garnett. The weekly “Play for Today”, like its predecessor “The Wednesday Play”, was a forum for many emerging British talents. The strand encompassed a wide variety of styles & subjects. It was the hard-hitting & effective social realist themes, a development from kitchen sink dramas of a decade earlier which often provoked controversy. “Hard Labour” was Leigh’s first TV play, it employs his improvisational technique to achieve a naturalism & a bleakness unleavened by the humour to be found in his later work. Mrs Thornley, harassed by her husband, patronised by her middle-class employer & offered no solace by her religion, is a study in isolation & limited communication. Liz Smith was outstanding in the part & she broke our hearts.

Image result for liz smith i didn't know you caredThere’s very little of “Hard Labour” on the Interwebs so let’s move on a couple of years to her next starring TV role. “I Didn’t Know You Cared” was a sit-com adapted from his own novels by Peter Tinniswood. It ran for 4 series from 1975-79, another slice of Northern life, this time across the Pennines in Yorkshire. The Brandon family were a wonderful parade of absurd characters, the men cloth-capped, gloomy & cynical, the womenfolk keeping a close eye on them & their faults. It had a terrific ensemble cast, was tougher than the long-running “Last of the Summer Wine”, with the gentleness & acerbity of Alan Bennett. At the heart was Liz Smith’s Mrs Brandon, hen-pecking, haranguing & hilarious, nailing some of the best lines of a very good bunch. Some right old toot from the same period is now recycled on the nostalgia channels with no sign of this classic British comedy.

Ms Smith was in her fifties before this acting thing really took off. Her talent to portray the slightly mad but always likeable Grandma found her plenty of work in film & TV & she quickly became a very recognisable character actor. Her cinema work included Lindsay Anderson’s “Britannia Hospital”, Ridley Scott’s debut “The Duellists” & she was Lady Phillippa of Staines in Viv Stanshall’s brilliant “Sir Henry at Rawlinson End”. She was perfect for the BBC’s adaptations of Dickens & appeared in Michael Palin’s “Ripping Yarns” classic episode “The Testing of Eric Olthwaite”. It would be 1984 before she gained recognition from her peers for her talents.

Handmade Films, a British production & distribution company, was formed by George Harrison when his Monty Python friends were struggling to finance “Life of Brian”. The story goes that George had to mortgage a house but I don’t think that he ever went short. In the next decade Handmade were involved with many fine British films. “A Private Function” (1984) is as close as this to the gentle, eccentric comedies made by Ealing Studios in the 1940s & 50s. Alan Bennett was an international success in 1960 with “Beyond the Fringe”. He continued to act while becoming better known as a writer for TV & theatre. This was his first screenplay, perhaps having less substance than his plays but no less lacking in the acuity Bennett has for language & the intricacies of social interaction & manners.

Image result for liz smith a private function“A Private Function” is set in post-Second World War Yorkshire when food was still rationed. The social climber Joyce Chilvers (Maggie Smith) is determined to make her mark in the town & intends to drag Gilbert, her chiropodist husband, (Michael Palin) along with her. A pig, being illegally fattened for a municipal celebration is kidnapped by the Chilvers & hilarity ensues…really it does. Along with the great writer & the two illustrious principals the cast involves an overflowing National Treasure chest. Denholm Elliott, Alison Steadman, Pete Postlethwaite & others all do their distinctive thing while Liz, as Joyce’s mother, driven mad by the smell of the secret pig, thinking that perhaps she could be the source of the odour, won the BAFTA for Best Supporting Actress.

Image result for liz smith a private functionLiz continued to do the work, adding value to whatever she appeared in. In 1998 she was cast as Nana Norma in Caroline Ahern’s comedy “The Royle Family”.By this time she was 76 year’s old & the nation’s favourite grandmother, perfectly cast in a series which, along with Ricky Gervais’ “The Office” & Steve Coogan’s “I’m Alan Partridge” injected new energy & raised the standard of British situation comedy. “The Royle Family” was sometimes a kitchen sink drama but it was mostly on the living room sofa in front of the telly. The skillful characterisation, the pacing, the natural humour & affection made many people suspect that Aherne had placed a spy camera in their own homes to obtain material. This clip, from the 2006 special “The Queen of Sheba” where the new baby is introduced to the bedridden Nana will moisten the driest of eyes. A starring role in the UK’s most popular comedy brought Liz Smith even wider recognition &, in 2007, a British Comedy Award for Best TV Comedy Actress.

Liz Smith was born in my hometown in Lincolnshire. She’s from the Crosby area up in the north of town. She attended the secondary school which, years later with a change of name, in a different building became my school. That may be why, even in those early days  before I knew of her origins, I found her performances to be so convincing. She reminded me & so many others of our own grandmothers except that perhaps my Nana Daisy actually knew her as young Betty Gleadle. Sad events have made this appreciation into an obituary & that’s a pity. It’s OK because I am reminded of the talent of Liz Smith by the old ladies I talk to at the bus stop, in the market & around my estate. For these women, who have lived through some times, have seen & learned some things, Liz Smith represented.

Leave Him Alone Lennon Or I’ll Tell Them All The Truth About You (Richard Lester)

Richard Lester was in the right place at the right time just too many times for it to purely down to his luck. He was a bright kid, graduating from college at 19. Within a year of becoming a stage hand at a Philadelphia TV station he was directing live shows. That sounds like the fast track but television was a new thing, the whole operation still seat-of-the-pants. If you said you could direct then you got to have a go, if you didn’t screw up then you got the job. In 1953, still only 21, he moved to the UK where his US experience & his ability to talk a good fight found him work with the new commercial station. Lester has said that he wanted to direct films so that he could shoot a second take. Whatever, the films he made in the 1960s retain the spontaneity & vivacity of someone with a liking for pointing a camera & seeing what happens.

 

The Goons were THE deal in 1950s British comedy. “Goonery” was a tangle of surreal wordplay, Army barrack room disregard for authority & the iconoclastic genius of Spike Milligan. The trio (Milligan, Peter Sellers & Harry Secombe) were looking to move from radio to TV & cinema. Richard Lester was the American, the outsider, with a developed & perverse visual sense who helped to do that. You know how Monty Python had Terry Gilliam…exactly like that. There were a couple of small British films, one for Walter Shenson who was to produce a film that the world & their teenage daughter was waiting for. John Lennon was a major fan of the Goons, he knew who Richard Lester was. The director was in the best place at the best time & got the job of his life.

 

 

“A Hard Day’s Night” (1964) had to be a lot of things to a lot of people. United Artists may have wanted a cheap, quickly made film to cash-in on this temporary Beatlemania. Fans & their money were easily parted but there was a fascination with the personalities of 4 young Liverpudlians who made the almost irresistible music. Lester’s film contributed to the Mop Top iconography, presenting sanitized characterisations of each Beatle. It did a whole lot more & did it in the correct style. “A Hard Day’s Night” is a Day In The Life mockumentary, black & white, expeditious. There are nods to the French New Wave, the music video is invented before our very eyes for the best music around. The humour is gentle & knowing whether from the Fab Four or the excellent support cast of comedy actors. Oh & Paul’s Grandad (the incomparable Wilfred Brambell) is “very clean”. The film was a great success. I loved it as a young boy & over 50 years later it still rates 99% over at Rotten Tomatoes.

 

So England was swinging like a pendulum do & Richard Lester was helping out because we were so busy. Before he directed “Help”, the Beatles as an international phenomenon, in colour, on location & a little too zany, he won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival with “The Knack…& How to Get It”, a satire on the new sexual morality since the death of Queen Victoria in 1960 (© Spike Milligan). “The Knack”, though dated, is the quintessential British Mod movie. It’s stylish & energetic without making too much sense & stars Rita Tushingham, our kitchen sink princess. “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” (1966) was a little too busy, a musical-comedy that could use more of both. Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers &, in his final appearance, Buster Keaton are three good reasons to see the film.

 

In 1966 John Lennon gave some of his time & more of his hair to play Musketeer Gripweed in “How I Won the War”, an anti-war movie made with sharp wit & fast pace. “Petulia” (1968) with Julie Christie was made in the US & is very highly rated. It’s so long since I’ve seen this film…I’ll get back to you on this.

 

 

“The Bed Sitting Room” (1969) is, according to the Wiki,  an absurdist, post-apocalyptic, satirical comedy…it’s even better than that sounds ! Adapted from the play by Spike Milligan & John Antrobus, the 20 British survivors of a blink & what just happened nuclear war attempt to preserve a degree of the old ways on the giant rubbish tip they are left with while dealing with unlikely & surprising mutations. The script is hilarious, the filming inventive & the cast is perfect. There are classical actors, Ralph Richardson, in the title role, Michael Hordern (I saw his King Lear that very year) & Mona Washbourne, a couple of Goons, stalwart comedy character actors including Arthur Lowe & Roy Kinnear & there’s Rita Tushingham. The show is almost stolen by Marty Feldman (Nurse Arthur) while Peter Cook & Dudley Moore were never funnier on film than they are here. “The Bed Sitting Room” is the bridge between the Goons & Monty Python, thought-provoking, very silly & from the top rank of British comedy movies. God Save Mrs Ethel Shroake !

 

In the next decade Lester’s budgets got bigger. “The Three Musketeers” (1973) became a bit too much of a comedy-action epic & was eventually released as 2 separate films. The starry cast were surprised by “The 4 Musketeers” (1974) as they had only been paid for the one movie ! “Juggernaut”, a shipboard disaster movie, didn’t really cut it & the following year’s “Royal Flash”, starring Malcolm McDowell, so disappointed writer George MacDonald Fraser that he blocked any further cinematic adaptations of his character.Richard going to Hollywood was inevitable but while these films were accomplished & entertaining, the individuality & vibrancy of his earlier work was diluted. By 1976 he was back on it & his next 2 releases are certainly a return to form.

 

 

In “Robin & Marion” (1976), our outlaw hero returns to England wearied by 20 years of full-on crusading. The Sheriff of Nottingham is still set in his evil ways & the verdant venturer is not about to walk away from a fight. Then, of course, the love of his life, Maid Marion, is still hanging out with the forest folk. Post-James Bond Sean Connery chose his film roles well & his gnarled knight schools Costner, Crowe or any of the other men in tights. The final showdown between Connery & Robert Shaw (the Sheriff), tough guys going at it right, is classy mid-70s cinema. Such a masculine Robin Hood needs a worthy Marion. The film’s coup was to persuade a great star to return to the movies after almost a decade away. Audrey Hepburn was no longer Holly Golightly but the camera still loved her. Her strong, beautiful even luminous Maid completes a lovely, mature, romantic film. I saw it again last week & absolutely enjoyed it just as much as 40 years ago.

 

OK, that’s three very good films so no room here for “The Ritz” (1976), an update on the screwball that gets it right. It’s a 1970s American comedy from the same top shelf as Woody Allen, Mel Brooks & Neil Simon. Lester had a continuing relationship with the producers of the musketeer movies who had moved on to the “Superman” franchise. The first film, starring Christopher Reeve, was a major success & when director Richard Donner was unavailable to complete the follow-up Lester re-shot “Superman II” (1980) & directed “…III” (the one with Richard Pryor). This was big box office stuff but there was not much more to come. The Musketeers were reunited for “The Return of…” (1989) which went straight to cable in the US & the Beatle connection got him the gig for “Get Back” (1991), a McCartney concert film.

 

Richard Lester’s films have not always aged well but they retain the energy & imagination of the 1960s. He worked with some major talents & made a major contribution to transferring their abilities on to the big screen. The 3 films I have highlighted here are of the highest quality. The others are pretty much a blast too.

 

 

 

The First Pop Songs In The World (Strength)

Here at loosehandlebars we have always appreciated an elite group of invited friends giving up their time & talent to contribute to the blog. It’s a delight to welcome Derry music legend, my great buddy, Paul Pj Mc Cartney, off of Bam Bam & the Calling, to these pages. Paul is going to put us on to one of his hometown’s hottest combos Strength. McCarts talks a lot of sense about a lot of things. Any time he wants to share something with us I’m sure that we will find a space for him.

 

I had a party in the house in late March 2010 to celebrate my 45th birthday, and some of the distinguished guests (arch-hooligans of the Derry Underground Music Community?) were late getting there because Strength were launching their double A-Sided single (on cassette) – ‘Do Televisions/Frankie Moore Ritual’ – in the Castle Bar on Waterloo Street. My good friend Sean Pemberton (he of Guadapenda Rosindale and Mars Field fame) brought me up a copy and it went straight into the stereo. I was automatically blown away, and knew I would have to get my ass along to their next show, and a few weeks later I witnessed their brave, beautiful and indeed confrontational music first hand and was smitten.

 

One thing I recall was seeing them not too long after that and remembering most of the songs from the first night and I think that’s a really telling thing. This was Strength Mark 1 – Rory Moore (vocals), John McLaughlin (synthesizer) and David McFeely (synthesizer). I think they played in the Castle about half a dozen times, and it was always an incredible experience that stayed with me for weeks after, and I was totally honoured when Rory invited me along to DJ twice. On a few of these occasions, when they finished a song, there was like a 3 or 4 second delay before the audience applauded. But that’s the magical and seductive whirlpool they draw you into when they play their fantastic songs, they take you on a trip Baby and the last thing you need is Drugs.

 

It’s not for someone like me to speculate on the actual influences the band have, they kinda keep that to themselves, just go out and let it loose. Their songs and their sound had me thinking of Scott Walker, The Young Marble Giants, Nick Cave, The Silver Apples, Suicide, the post-punk Dub excursions of Adrian Sherwood, Liquid Liquid and The Idiot era Iggy Pop. We are aware of their preference for vintage technology (Betamax videotapes are still on the agenda) , but they do it right and the sheer emotion they communicate when they play is nothing short of thrilling. And to the actual songs – the aforementioned ‘Do Televisions’ and ‘Frankie Moore Ritual’, ‘Disobedience’, ‘Hospital Beds And Drugs’, ‘I Like Compressions’, ‘Evil Part One’ and ‘Northern Ireland Yes’ are all totally different to each other , but form a whole, that has us lucky people looking down the barrel of one of the best Irish debut albums ever in my opinion.

 

 

I’m gonna cut to the chase and talk about the songs (in non-chronological order of course), here’s one that has transcended the line-up changes and they play and enjoy playing every night – ‘I Like Compressions’ – In effect, a regional hit, it made a chart of songs put together last year of songs released from bands and artistes from the North of Ireland. The difference here is that Strength didn’t actually put it out as a commercial release. The line-up playing in this video (and you’ve been introduced to Rory Moore already) is Conor McNamee, Neil Burns and Eoghan Doneghan, they are the current line-up. One thing this particular song shows also is that these guys can get pretty darn funky when the groove takes them, and there’s an added bonus here of a chorus you could park three-quarters of Iceland on, and you’ll be humming it for weeks after…as you do.

 

 

Next up, ‘Frankie Moore Ritual’, this was on the the cassette-only double A-Sided release from 2010, the other song being ‘Do Televisions’. They bring this one in at over 8  and a half minutes and it never dips as it goes, in fact, it’s all action start to finish. This one got me thinking of the Young Marble Giants when I first heard it, but also elements of early Orbital and the larky elements of the Stereolab EPs and Albums when Sean O’Hagan of The High Llamas came on board. I would say that anyone who liked the ‘Turn On’ project Sean O’Hagan and Tim Gane put together in the late 1990’s will definitely dig this one. And you know the way some records end up opening up for a few minutes, and you think it’s an instrumental the whole way through and then a song happens, well this is one of them songs…don’t worry, I’m not giving away the plot.

 

 

“Northern Ireland Yes” is this year’s single. It’s another imaginative, hypnotic addition to their catalogue & deserved the wider attention that it received. The group are currently touring. This week, on the 7th of July, they are playing in Derry supported by our boys the Gatefolds. We need an LP of their tunes, in whatever retro-influenced format they choose. Keep an eye out for further news on their website. These guys are going from Strength to…(you see what I almost did there).