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ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

ALL 4 TV REVIEW – THIS IS ENGLAND ’86 (2010)

Created by: Shane Meadows

Directors: Tom Harper, Shane Meadows

Series Producers: Mark Herbert, Derrin Schlesinger, Rebekah Wray-Rogers

Cast: Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure, Joseph Gilgun, Stephen Graham, Andrew Shim, Stephen Graham, Andrew Ellis, Rosamund Hanson, Danielle James, Kriss Dosanjh, Chanel Cresswell, Johnny Harris, Michael Socha, George Newton, Jo Hartley etc.

Cinematography: Danny Cohen

Music by: Ludovico Einaudi

**CONTAINS SPOILERS**

Having watched Shane Meadows classic British film, This is England (2006), again of late – review can be found here – I thought it would be fascinating to catch up with the subsequent television series via ALL 4. Thus, Meadows and co-writer, Jack Thorne re-introduce the gritty lives of beloved and some not-so-beloved working-class characters, within the satanic Midland mills of England.

I would strongly advise, if interested in watching this drama, you begin with the film first. That way you can familiarise and experience the events and characters of the show in the correct order. Indeed, this classic series works best when you watch the film and subsequent series, This is England ’88 (2011) and This is England ’90 (2014) as a continuous whole. That way you get the full power of Shane Meadow’s vision for the characters and the period it is set.

The series for me is an engrossing mix of nostalgia, comedy, drama and socio-political exploration. Opening some three years after the original film, we re-join the “gang” going about their lives attempting to breach the difficult gap between youth and adulthood. After the tragic events of 1983, Shaun (Thomas Turgoose) has lost contact with the group but over the course of the four episodes he integrates back in. The others are either unemployed or in Woody’s (Joe Gilgun) case employed and attempting some form of upward mobility. Moreover, Lol/Lorraine (Vicky McClure) and Woody are planning to get married. However, the return of Lol’s father (Johnny Harris) brings back painful memories for her and his presence gives the series the villain of the piece.

The structure of the series echoes that of the film. We start with mostly lighter episodes containing a comedic flavour. The seeds of drama, such as Woody backing out of the wedding at the altar, are planted early on. Nonetheless, the early episodes contain some really funny scenes. These include Shaun’s run-in with the local bullies and a party which gets completely out of hand too. There’s much in the way of bawdy and sexual humour, especially when Gadget is used as a sex toy by local divorcee, Trudy. These scenes make us feel safe and warm, yet we know that trouble isn’t far away for the characters.

Once again, the soundtrack is a fantastic mix of eras with a classic collection of 1960s, 1970s and 1980s rock, ska, punk and pop music. Similarly, the fashion of the characters is a postmodern melange of punk, mod and new wave looks. Politics and sport are also thrown into the mix with the 1986 “Hand of God” World Cup dominating the backdrop of the series.

As the characters and era are established and some laughs have been mined, the drama really kicks in. Lol and Woody’s relationship breakdown causes her to make some poor decisions, as she capitulates in the stress of her father’s return. Vicky McClure is fantastic as Lol. You can feel the trauma in her whole being during the scenes with Johnny Harris’ evil patriarch. The culmination of their conflict is one of the most harrowing scenes I have ever witnessed on a television screen.

Overall, This is England ’86 is full of complex emotions, humour and drama. There’s a real honesty to the characters who are just trying to live their lives in the Midlands, despite all the disadvantages it brings. Ultimately, they are striving to be decent but find their loyalties tested by friends, family and their lack of opportunities. Amidst the humour and camaraderie of the series we get some brutal and unforgettable moments of drama which remain long after the credits have rolled. The politicians of Westminster may not care and want to forget about such lives, but Shane Meadows won’t let us forget, delivering a powerful character chorus of laughter, tears and togetherness.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11

A LOVELY NIGHT IN THE SUN: LA LA LAND (2016) REVIEWED

LA LA LAND (2016) FILM REVIEW

**SPOILER ALERT!**

In light of the FOURTEEN Oscar nominations from the Academy who am I to go against the tide of musical loveliness that is La La Land. Indeed, while I dislike all kinds of award ceremonies per se it does deserve most of the accolades coming its way. Because as the Trump puppet rears his huge, ugly head in the United States and Brexit looms large in the UK we all need something feel-good and nostalgic to lift us; especially amidst the bitter cold of winter.

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Damian Chazelle, who wrote and directed the exceptional drama Whiplash (2014), has sculpted a sunny post-modern musical which soars throughout paying tribute to both Los Angeles and Hollywood. The movie stars Ryan Gosling as an uncompromising jazz pianist and Emma Stone as a sensitive, budding actress who meet in a contemporary yet somehow old-fashioned vision of LA; where magic and love are in the air and the potentialities of dreams are a palpable force.

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Stone and Gosling are a stunning couple and while Chazelle’s leads may not have the strongest voices they serve the songs exceptionally well with an ordinary wonder. The chemistry between the two sparkles as the story entwines their characters within a “follow your dream” narrative. Arguably there could’ve been slightly more differences between the two than the “I hate jazz” tension; but as in the romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love (2011), Stone and Gosling sail through the film with confidence and profound likeability.

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Chazelle throws everything at the story employing jazz, 80s pop, old band numbers, R and B, and ballads. Moreover, all manner of parody, pastiche and cinematic devices are employed to echo the classic Hollywood musicals of yesteryear; the formidable work of Jacques Demy; plus the more modern pop promos of recent times. The opening Another Day of Sun traffic sequence is a real showstopper as Fame-like dancing and singing on motors in an LA highway jam brilliantly establishes the hyper-real and fantastical elements to come.

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It seems obvious to say that the music in La La Land is to the fore, but Chazelle and the ultra-talented composer Justin Hurwitz commit a verve and soul to the songs and direction. Clearly the characters and lyrics reflect their own personal emotions, dreams and desire to escape everyday existence. While much of the film skims a stylish surface of colour and verve, numbers such as City of Stars and The Fools Who Dream really touch the heartstrings and draw out the internal emotions of the characters.

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It’s hard to criticize such a funny, feel-good movie and as a musical it is probably a masterpiece, however, while the love story served the musical structure really well, I felt that, compared to say Funny Girl (1968), Grease (1977) and Half-A-Sixpence (1967) it arguably lacked a bit of dramatic tension. Indeed, the break-up itself was under-baked and latterly covered by a have-your-cake-and-eat-it “what could have been” fantasy flashback. Yet, this is a minor critique of an incredibly well realised escapist joy.

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So, roll on the Oscars where the film will almost certainly win best film and direction, plus accolades, no doubt, for the musical and technical achievements. The wonderful Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone are certain to be in the fray too. However, while I have seen other more dramatically impactful films such as: Arrival (2016), Manchester by the Sea (2016) and Silence (2016) (not even nominated!!), this remains one terrific musical that will lift the spirits even on the darkest day.

PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. LONDON PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW

PRIMAL SCREAM: A RETRO-PERSPECTIVE Inc. PALLADIUM GIG REVIEW                

“I was blind. Now I can see. You made a believer – out of me!” Primal Scream

My very first discovery of Bobby Gillespie was when I, as a teenage idiot working in a dead-end office job, saw a video by the fuzz-bombing, guitar anarchists Jesus and Mary Chain on the telly for their spectacular single Never Understand. I recall thinking who the hell is that twig-skinny-black-mop-haired-bastard-with-sunglasses smashing hell out of a snare drum? He’s cooler than fuck! Plus, THAT band is phenomenal too! As punk rock was just out of my age range here was loud, noisy and tuneful rock and roll I could really get into. In fact, the 1980s gave birth to so many great independent-minded-guitar-based bands that I was in my element! While the “indie” scene eventually got assimilated into the mainstream a main flagbearer of these halcyon times continues with much creative passion and – based on the gig I went to last Friday – Bobby Gillespie is still as relevant and cool as ever. He’s rock and roll’s Dorian Gray who shows no sign of aging OR dying! Gillespie is one of the great frontmen and true a rock and roll immortal!

Primal Scream are one of my favourite bands of all time! I have literally grown up watching them from virtual birth and any release of theirs is welcomed with heart-stopping brain joy. After Gillespie left the Jesus and Mary Chain to front them they released a series of jangle-pop records and Peel Sessions in the 1980s, notably the wonderful It Happens and Velocity Girl. Subsequently they released their debut album Sonic Flower Groove to a lukewarm critical reception and were swiftly dropped by their major record label. I LOVED their first album. It was a heady mix of jangle guitars, power-pop riffs, flowery lyrics and dreamy vocals from Gillespie. Listening to it today I still recall the beauty of those chiming twelve-strings reverberating around my Roehampton bedroom as Bobby Gillespie’s Scottish falsetto sang melodies such as: Sonic Sister Love, Imperial, May the Sun Shine Bright for You and other classics.

Alas the album flopped but Bobby’s comrade and compatriot Alan McGee signed them to his own label Creation and the band set about, not for the first time, changing their sound and look, for their second album. McGee deserves praise for championing passionate-alternative-young-musicians-with-attitude with a desire to see the underdogs challenging the ruling classes. His ardour and eye for talent meant McGee would be rewarded with chart success with Primal Scream and a little known Manchester band called Oasis; who are now the Guinness World record holders for the most successful band of the 1990s.

Second album Primal Scream was a ballsy-Stooges-inspired rock-out full of dirty guitar riffs and basslines to match. Arguably, Gillespie was still looking for a musical identity and worked further through the rock and roll menu with their sophomore release. While it suffered mixed reviews I love it! It has some right royally rocking tracks including one of my favourite songs of theirs: the mercurial I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have. This song and Primal Scream’s fusion with the acid and rave culture of the early 1990s would shoot the band into the mainstream. Loaded was a bastardized version of I’m Losing More Than I’ll Ever Have and with Andrew Weatherall’s ingenious production and quotes from Peter Fonda and sparse vocals from Gillespie, the band had a massive hit record. Furthermore the wonderfully titled Screamadelica would be a global hit and win them the Mercury award for that year.

Further hit singles from Screamdelica would follow, notably the sublime Movin’ on Up, Come Together and Higher the Sun. The album was a triumphant fusion of dance, electronica and rock and critical acclaim followed the commercial success. Personally, I’m not a fan of Loaded as it lacks the heart of the original song it’s taken from, but the track and subsequent album had summer and zeitgeist stamped all over it. Primal Scream were suddenly riding the crest of a wave and much was expected of their next album Give Out but Don’t Give Up!

When the single Rocks soared to number seven in the charts in 1994 the band once again had a hit. However, this slice of bluesy, Stones-influenced rock wasn’t welcomed by all music critics; some even stating the Scream had sold out their dance roots. This though is a fucking ridiculous idea because first and foremost they are a rock and roll band and secondly they’ve never followed trends. In fact, one of the major reasons I love this band so much is they do what the hell they want. I loved their third album and despite its mildly derivative underbelly, songs like Jailbird and the beautifully written I’m Gonna Cry Myself Blind are bona fide classics which still sound fresh today. Overall, Give Out but Don’t Give Up is a funky party album which doesn’t take itself too seriously and will lift even the most sullen of moods. Yet, the party mood was soon to shift as Primal Scream were about to move into much darker territory.

Vanishing Point was Primal Scream finally finding, amidst the postmodern machinations of their rock and roll brain, a signature sound. The record is drenched in amphetamine and smacked-up tunes and with the introduction of Mani from Mancunian legends Stone Roses, the speed-freak awesomeness of the album was one to behold. Gillespie stated it was an alternative soundtrack to the 1970s counter-cultural-narco-road movie of the same name and dub-punk tracks such as: Burning Wheel, Kowalski, Medication plus the trance melody of Star proved him right. It’s a cracking album which sounds both original and dunked in the blood of Lemmy; there’s even a song called Motorhead on the damn thing! Vanishing Point’s brutal, poetic, cinematic, dirty, thudding basslines, drum loops, guitars and lyrics make it one of their most complete and fresh sounding releases.

If Vanishing Point was a classic then their next album XTRMNTR is, in my view, their masterpiece. It takes the speed-ball from its predecessor and jams it into the brain with a burning syringe; and you’re left in no doubt this is a group at the top of their game. I think the band’s drug use and abuse is well documented and of course narcotic addiction will rip a hole in the soul of one’s humanity; however, the mixture of hedonism, anger, guts, passion and despair you get from being on drugs can give us great art such as this. Because instant classics such as Kill All Hippies, Accelerator, Shoot Speed/Kill Light and the majestic industrial disco epic Swastika Eyes proved that Primal Scream had written and produced one of the finest albums of all time. It’s angry, political, personal, dark and desperate, but also amidst the vampires and shadows there’s some incredible rock tunes in there and it remains for me their finest sixty minutes and twenty-four seconds.

After XTRMNTR the band toured the world. I caught them at a particularly blurry gig at the Hammersmith Palais, which was one of those nights I’ll never forget; mainly because I can’t remember too much about it. I recall dancing and falling over joyous and drunk on: life, music and chemicals. It was a stunning culmination for me of a band and die-hard fan coming together in perfect ecstasy. But how do you follow not one but TWO classic smashed-up tour-de-force albums?

I think in all honesty Primal Scream’s creative purple-patched hearts dipped in the next few years. Evil Heat from 2002 and Riot City Blues (2006) were punctuated by the royal remixed release of “Best of” album called Dirty Hits. Having said that any Primal Scream album is better than no albums at all and songs including: Autobahn 66 from Evil Heat and Country Girl, Hell’s A Comin’ Down and the touching Sometimes I Feel So Lonely demonstrated the band’s continued ability to write a cracking tune. But overall these two albums were inconsistent and unfocussed compared to the manic genius of their predecessors. Having said that Country Girl was another chart hit and it was great seeing the Scream in the charts, appealing to the globby masses again.

Released in 2008 Beautiful Future was a marked improvement in terms of songwriting consistency. The powerful pop electronica of the first seven tracks suggested a classic-in-the-making; however, the quality dips slightly toward the end. Nonetheless, it is a wonderful poppy soufflé drenched in pathos with grandstanding tracks including: Uptown, Zombie Man, Can’t Go Back and Beautiful Summer. In fact Beautiful Future is indeed a bright temporal glimpse forward as the band’s current album Chaosmosis is an even sharper sonic pop album and brimming with startling positivity in songs like: Tripping on your Love and the exquisite When the Light Comes In.

Sandwiched in between these two albums is the experimental, jazzy offerings of More Light, which found Bobby Gillespie clean and sober for the first time forever. He opined when the album was released:

“We are trying to create transcendent, euphoric, ecstatic experiences. That’s always going to be part of our aesthetic. We like making druggy-sounding psychedelic music. It’s just that since we stopped taking drugs we got better at it.” Bobby Gillespie (2013)

Unlike the delectably titled Chaosmosis – which isn’t chaotic sounding at all – More Light is the blended process of Primal Scream shedding their rock and roll skin once again. The scales that scatter in the wind find the music all over the shop; psychedelic 2013 and bluesy-pop of Its Alright, I’m OK meld with punk bursts of Culturecide and Hit Void, and the moody ballad Walking with the Beast. What the album lacks in discipline it makes up with some cracking songs and a mass collection of musical personnel producing an artistically satisfying smorgasbord spikily overseen by uber-producer David Holmes.

To celebrate the release of the sparky power-pop classic Chaosmosis, the Scream booked themselves into the London Palladium for one night only. I was surprised by their choice of venue as the Palladium is historically a home for Royalty, middle-of-the-road entertainment and the bourgeoisie. Plus, it was April Fool’s Day so I wondered if perhaps it was some grand prank and the gig would be prove a sham. It was anything but as Bobby Gillespie and his crew of old stalwarts such as keyboardist Martin Duffy and Andrew Innes on guitar were ably backed up by young bassist Simone Butler and Hannah Marsden on support vocals. When you have almost thirty years of material to choose from then karmic chameleons such as the Scream are a banker to deliver the rock and roll goods. Every song was beautifully rendered as crisp light and video show melded pristinely with the soaring choir in the shadows; all the while sonic brother Gillespie begging the crowd to come together toward the light.

Movin’ On Up was an incredible opener and the hits just poured out from the stage and my personal favourites were Tripping’ On Your Love, Shoot Speed/Kill Light, Rocks, Swastika Eyes, Kill All Hippies and the rarely heard original Come Together replete with acid-dance remix of course. The whole night was a cascade of nostalgia and cracking showmanship and I felt at one with the world and a group of musicians who are part of my psyche and who I consider, culturally speaking, part of the family. I was blind. I can see. Primal Scream made a believer out of me. We’re MOVING ON UP!!

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Dedicated to the memory of Robert Young (1965 – 2014)

TOP TRUMPS #1 – THE BEST ROCK BAND NEVER!

TOP TRUMPS #1 – THE BEST ROCK BAND NEVER!

I was on holiday with my son playing Top Trumps.  Well, we
didn’t take a holiday to play Top Trumps but we were on the plane
playing DC Superheroes and SpongeBob Squarepants Top Trumps and I had the idea of doing a Rock ‘N’ Roll supergroup top trumpy kind of thing.  Who’s my favourite drummer, singer/front-person, bassist, keyboardist, lyricist, rhythm guitarist and lead guitarist?  And why?  Well here are my picks for what could be the greatest rock band that never existed. Of course, it’s highly subjective and on any given day I may go another way on some of these choices.  If you agree or disagree let me know.  Or don’t.

THE DRUMMER – KEITH MOON

The Who’s wild man of rock and roll was an all or nothing legendary figure that beat living hell out of the drums on some of the great rock tunes of our time. A sweaty, ferocious and fiery figure he lived by the booze and by god he died by it too. It was his attitude as much as his technical ability (not that I’m an expert on this) as he played with the Devil in his eyes and the sticks. Read the book Dear Boy – it’s a great read about a man who didn’t just raise hell but lowered heaven for us mere mortals too.

THE BASSIST – GARY “MANI” MOUNFIELD

Mani wasn’t just in ONE of my favouritest ever bands – he was in TWO:  Mancunian baggy geniuses The Stone Roses and Scottish junkie rock ‘n’ rollas Primal Scream. He transformed both bands with a Cheshire Cat grin, Northern wit, all-round charisma and powerful playing.  The Roses really took off after Mani joined them and their first album is one of the greatest debuts ever in my opinion.  For the Scream he brought a dominant, driving energy to their punky-post-industrial-wasteland-blues.  Fookin’ legend man!

RHYTHM GUITAR – JOHNNY MARR

Marr was the musical hurricane behind probably my favouritest band ever The SmithsWhile Morrissey got the majority of the publicity with his daffodil-sway-dancing, provocative and poetic lyrics and barbed media-jousting tongue but Marr’s guitar sung like an angel on a series of classic albums notably:  The Queen is Dead and Meat is Murder. He would go onto be a guitar-for-hire for bands such as: The The and The Cribs and recently released his debut solo album; which wasn’t that bad actually.

LEAD GUITAR – JIMI HENDRIX

Would anyone argue that Johnny Allen “Jimi” Hendrix was the greatest guitarist that ever lived and breathed?  Perhaps fans of Slash?  Or Jimmy Page?  Or Clapton?  Or many more?  Anyway,  he made the guitar sing like demon, and anyone who saw him live was very lucky as he died at such a young age.  Hendrix bridged the gap between blues, psychedelia and rock fusing them in a thunderous mesh.  And within a few short years he went from backing the Isley Brothers to headlining Woodstock. As well as creating some of the greatest rock and roll songs ever he was a pioneer, mastering feedback and popularizing the wah-wah pedal. Hendrix would be an incredible influence during his life and after he was gone.  That’s why he’s my choice for lead guitar.

KEYBOARDIST – RAY MANZAREK

Maybe he does and maybe he doesn’t but I don’t think Manzarek gets the credit he deserves for his playing in 60s rock superstars The Doors.   Of course, Jim Morrison was so charismatic that it’s often impossible to take your eyes off his performances, deep growling vocals and magnetic rock star looks. Indeed, it’s so easy to forget the bookish man sitting behind the organ providing the wall of sound in support of the drug-fuelled hell-raiser at The Door’s front of house. However, his rhythm (he also supplied bass), funky, sprawling, rock, pop, classical keyboard-tinkling spanned many different styles, genres and sounds giving the band their originality for the time.  Morrison may have provided the cheekbones but Manzarek provided the backbone.

WORDS – MORRISSEY

I used to listen to The Smiths all the time when I was a teenager. Still do. People used to say to me that Morrissey was miserable, moaning and tuneless.  Well, to me it was the complete opposite: uplifting, angry and poetic. He disliked much of life around him and gave short shrift to people who got him down.  In my little room he spoke directly to my confused young mind providing a wonderful intelligence, dour Northern humour sprinkled with mordant wit and crafty word play.  He wrote from the heart and the gut and most importantly the brain. His words often echo around my mind when I’m in certain situations and in my mind the greatest poet/lyricist ever.

SINGER – RICHARD ASHCROFT

This is the most interchangeable of choices.  For a long time the front-of-the-band was held by Lizard King Jim Morrison. Then I considered Morrissey or even Freddie Mercury but the latter’s arguably too theatrical for me. Then I thought hmmm… Blondie would be a cracking choice or even Zak De La Rocha of Rage against the Machine; just to give the band something a bit different. Even Dolly Parton, who has a lot of front and sass was a consideration but I just couldn’t hear her singing Morrissey’s words. Bono, Bobby Gillespie, Johnny Cash, Marvin Gaye, Liam Gallager, Robert Smith, Axel Rose and many more went through my mind and then just at time of writing I decided that Wigan-born-ecstasy-driven-poet-come-wizard Richard Ashcroft would be the man to bring this bastard home.

In The Verve Ashcroft’s angular looks and thousand-yard stare are just magnetic as he just throws every emotion into the ring when belting out a tune.  Probably not the most gifted technically, yet, within that voice there is pain and sorrow. Plus a world-weary emotiveness within his visage; like a starving vampire desperate to die in the light. I went for him for emotion, feeling, energy and attitude. On any other day, as I say, it could’ve been another singer.  But today it’s him.