A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

If You're Feeling Sinister

Another of the books we'll be publishing in the autumn of this year is Scott Plagenhoef's fascinating take on Belle & Sebastian's second album, If You're Feeling Sinister.

Here's an extract from near the start of the book. Together with a very early promotional photo of the band...


Murdoch had taken to songwriting in order to engage with a world outside of home, eventually recording demos with bassist Stuart David, a like-minded musician he’d met at a government-training program called Beatbox. Murdoch quickly met a series of other musicians through social and musical circles in his hometown of Glasgow, and they agreed to help with this Stow project: Guitarist Stevie Jackson (an open-mic host whose former band the Moondials had an EP issued on the Stow course’s label the previous year), drummer Richard Colburn (a former semipro snooker player who nominated Murdoch’s songs for the Stow honors), and keyboardist/organist Chris Geddes (the flatmate of one of Murdoch’s friends). Murdoch also knew a talented trumpet player, Mick Cooke, who had contributed to some of his demos and was willing to help out once again. And now he had met Campbell, whose first name had been rattling around his brain since the summer.

The single Murdoch was to record for Stow College—to be issued by Electric Honey, a label run by its music business course—turned into a full album. Course instructor and former Associates multi-instrumentalist Alan Rankine rightly determined that Murdoch had enough good material to record a full LP and could do so if they could get it all done in three days, the studio time allotted for the single. Murdoch rose to the challenge, leading his group of musicians—most of whom had at best a passing familiarity with one another, or with Murdoch himself—through the recording of 10 tracks. Putting the songs down in the order they’d appear on the record and mostly completing them in just a few takes, the recording process was smooth and painless, a rapid transfer to acetate of the sounds and arrangements that for months and years had rattled around Murdoch’s heard. The album, Tigermilk, was issued on vinyl in a one-time-only series of 1,000 copies on June 6, 1996.

Five months later, the group—now including multi-instrumentalist Sarah Martin—recorded a second album, If You’re Feeling Sinister, in much the same manner. Having signed to upstart London-based label Jeepster Records, the band still worked from a shoestring budget, creating Sinister in barely more than a week. Like Tigermilk, this collection of songs were again performed by a group of players who—despite a growing familiarity with one another, and the contributions of a producer, Tony Doogan—were primarily charged with the duty of re-creating Murdoch’s musical vision, with the songwriter dictating his hopes for his songs to his new colleagues.

Belle and Sebastian’s early album covers (from Tigermilk through, to date, 2006’s The Life Pursuit) and their initial single artwork are monochromatic homage to the iconic Smiths sleeves—one of the only overt references they made to the band they’d become most often compared. Few of the Smiths’ images, each of which was selected by Morrissey and featured a different artist bathed in a single color scheme, carried specific, literal meanings—though that didn’t prevent fans from searching for them. Instead, these sleeves provided a window into Morrissey’s intellectual and cultural world, highlighting French film icons Alain Delon, Jean Cocteau, and Jean Marais, early 1960s British cinema stills from films starring, written, or directed by Tony Richardson, Albert Finney, Shelagh Delaney, and Terence Stamp, and gay icons Truman Capote and Candy Darling.

Belle & Sebastian’s cover stars weren’t celebrities or cult heroes, they were friends and acquaintances no more glamorous than the people expected to be buying the records. The first, Tigermilk, is a literal reading of the album title, featuring a photo of Stuart Murdoch’s roommate Jo topless pretending to be breast-feeding a plush toy tiger. It’s a clumsy image but it encapsulates the playfulness of that record and its blend of sexuality and emotionally stunted yet self-aware infantilism. It’s the most stylized and artificial of the band’s sleeves and it fits the slightly surreal look of the group’s early press photos, which included keyboardist Chris Geddes ironing a tartan, cellist Isobel Campbell hiding behind a surgical mask, bassist Stuart David crouched over a fallen nun, and a young, jean-jacketed Alex Kapranos, now of Franz Ferdinand (never of Belle and Sebastian), posed on a street corner with a modest-looking bicycle.

“At the start it was good to use Jo, because that was the outset of the band and they weren’t comfortable about having their pictures taken,” Murdoch told Select of the group’s preference for offbeat PR snapshots. “I think it’s difficult to be intuitive at the same time as being guarded.”

Despite crediting “the band” for this decision, Murdoch made his dislike of press photos even more plain to Melody Maker: “If you think you have to pose and see your own sickening face then you’re in a bad way.”

Although he never posed for photos, at first Murdoch did speak to the press, revealing himself to be charming and witty, joking that he was going to sew a list of his desert-island discs “into the lining of my underpants, just in case I get run over and they have to read it out posthumously.” He was poking fun at his new status as a pop personality of note, but he was also jabbing at the rote content of and lack of imagination in most musician interviews. Tending to focus on influences, inspirations, and writers floating their theories about an artist’s work (and I’m guilty of having done all three myself), they’re often akin to film press junkets, repetitive and dull for the subjects themselves.

Early on it also became clear that Murdoch was going to be pigeonholed as a quintessential student type, despite his relatively advanced years (he turned 27 in 1996, the year both Tigermilk and Sinister were released). After his initial frustration over the quality of these interviews and the copy they produced—usually only a few questions and answers were printed, almost always about religion or the songwriter’s supposed obsession with childhood—Murdoch decided in 1997 to stop doing them altogether, turning down opportunities such as a five-page cover story in fashion/music magazine The Face. The rest of the band eventually followed his lead. “It was a combination of things,” Murdoch told NPR’s Terry Gross in a 2006 interview on her “Fresh Air” program of this decision. “It just seemed at some point that it was easier not to do them. You know, being young and paranoid. I was somewhat disappointed when we started speaking to the British music press right at the start of the group. They seemed to want to control what we were. They seemed to have a problem with us simply doing what we did. It was like they wanted to mold us, and I got rather paranoid about this. And so it just seemed easier to switch off.”

In an August 1997 Melody Maker interview just before the press embargo, Murdoch’s frustration, both with the interview process and the armchair psychologists holding the tape recorders, was beginning to show: “The band is really not about me. The interesting things happen when it goes beyond me. I do like talking. I like meeting new people and chatting away and I like talking about the band. But I am sitting here desperately trying to deflect all the questions.”

In this case, the interviewers—the piece is credited to Ian Watson and longtime Belle and Sebastian champion David Hemingway-—were sympathetic: “Stuart isn’t being difficult here,” they concluded. “Just true to himself and his ideals.” As the press requests continued to be rejected, this romantic notion of the band’s intentions faded.

The ease with which Murdoch could ignore media requests was a luxury many up-and-coming artists didn’t enjoy. Having entered the marketplace with a readymade narrative—university course unearths poet of the disaffected, as the more flowery ledes went—and armed with an incredible batch of songs, the group enjoyed particular advantages. It also had a record label willing to work with the nascent internet in order to cut through the traditional media, and was being embraced by national radio in the UK, having recorded a pair of 1996 BBC sessions.

Belle and Sebastian’s record label, Jeepster, were naturally convinced the group could do more, especially since it was already faced with a star signing that, mindful of ripping off its fans, refused to release singles in order to promote its albums, and scarcely toured.

When the group did perform live in the mid-90s, it made every effort to put on an event rather than something so typical as a gig. As a result, these shows were often small and ramshackle affairs held at offbeat locales such as libraries and churches rather than clubs. This decision made it difficult for curiosity seekers to stumble upon the band. The group’s hometown, Glasgow, has a healthy and supportive music scene, but punters who may have been willing to stop into clubs such as Nice ‘n Sleazy or King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut to see who was playing on a particular night would be highly unlikely to do the same at, say, Mitchell Library. It was akin to punk basement or pub shows, a harkening back to the time when underground or indie music was something discovered and investigated by the curious rather than something branded in the music press.

Stuart David summed up the band’s ambivalence about the whole thing in a 1999 band-made documentary called Up Our Own Arses: “The record company have said that they can’t see it going past the number of people who buy the records just now without us going a lot more promotion, and I think it won’t go beyond the numbers just because of the type of band it is.”


Friday, May 25, 2007


Saw the Bowerbirds play for the first time last night, at the bottom of a Bowery Ballroom bill, and was thoroughly enchanted. I had tears in my eyes by the end of the second song, and felt spiritually cleansed by the end of their set. If they alight in a town near you, you should drop everything to go and hear them play.

Here's a very low-res cameraphone pic:

And here's a much better pic, including trees, from their website:

And finally, here's what our Black Sabbath scribe John Darnielle has to say about their debut album Hymns for a Dark Horse, which you can pre-order now:

Only once every ten years or so does one hear a new band this good, this bursting with ideas, this audibly in love with music. I will be surprised if, after living the album a year or two, I don't place it mentally alongside such holy-fuck debuts as the Gun Club's Fire of Love or more pertinently Souled American's Fe. It is that good. That they recorded this themselves, sweetly booming bass drums and roomy nylon-strung acoustics and all, just pushes the totally-bananas factor out there a little further. The lyrics, the rhythms, the feel, the never-too-much-always-just-enough sweetness of the vocals. The totality of the mood, the wide-ranging shades of melancholy and joy. The points at which the three members sing in unison like some cult who really have discovered the secrets of the universe. It is beyond stunning. This band is the complete package.


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Achtung Baby

We'll be running sneak previews, over the next few days, of some of the books that'll be publishing in the series later this year.

First up is Stephen Catanzarite's meditation on Achtung Baby - the first overtly religious/spiritual book we've had in the series and, I think, also one of the most interesting. Here's a passage from the book's first chapter...


Once upon a time, a long, long time ago, something bad went down—and it took everything and everyone down with it. Even the most well-adjusted person, possessed of a sunny disposition and positively brimming with “high self-esteem,” recognizes that the world is often a very dark and dangerous place and that people, though capable of astonishing kindness and goodness, frequently commit acts of unspeakable evil. With us and with the world things are just not right. “Life,” said the Buddha “is suffering.” “Whatever we are,” said Augustine, “we are not what we ought to be.” Fulton Sheen describes man as a “seat of conflict,” and in his classic book Peace of Soul offers an account of the origins of that conflict through a musical analogy:

Picture an orchestra on a stage with a celebrated conductor directing the beautiful symphony he himself composed. Each member of the orchestra is free to follow the conductor and thus produce harmony. But each member is also free to disobey the conductor. Suppose one of the musicians deliberately plays a false note and then induces a violinist alongside of him to do the same. Having heard the discord, the conductor can do one of two things. He could either strike his baton and order the measure replayed, or he could ignore the discord. It would make no difference which he did, for that discord has already gone out into space…on and on it goes, affecting even the infinitesimally small radiations of the universe. As a stone dropped in a pond causes a ripple which affects the most distant shore, so this discord affects even the stars. As long as time endures, somewhere in God’s Universe there is a disharmony, introduced by the free will of humanity.

The analogy is, of course, made to the story known as the Fall of Man. As told in the book of Genesis, God created the first man and woman in his own image and placed them in a wondrous and wonderful garden filled with beauty and delight. The garden was to be governed by love, and God spelled out exactly what that meant so that the man and woman could live in harmony with God, with each other, and with everything else God created. God also gave them freedom—free will—so that they, out of love, might make beautiful creations of their own. Being free, the man and woman could decide whether or not to obey God’s instructions, but that was never an issue—until the day the devil slipped in. Convincing the man and the woman that God was playing them both—and withholding the best of everything for himself—the devil suggested they take matters into their own hands. Exercising their God-given freedom to disobey God, first the woman and then the man overreached their grasp and overstepped their boundaries by stealing fruit from the one tree God had reserved for himself, setting off an ecological catastrophe of eternal proportions. Having polluted the garden with the taint of their selfishness, Adam and Eve earned for themselves—and for us, their spiritual children—a one-way ticket out of Eden. The cost of re-entry being more than they or we could ever afford, we remain in exile to this day, still touched and enchanted by the scents and echoes occasionally wafting from God’s garden but still dancing in the dung to the devil’s discordant tune.

Each song on Achtung Baby provides a variation on that tune. Taken collectively they offer an insightful meditation on the Fall and the consequences of our “fallen-ness.” It is all there: our infinite potential for dreaming, discovering, and building, and the trouble we cause by confusing our liberty with license; our wanderings through streets both named and unnamed in search of peace or escape, enlightenment or forgetfulness, love or domination; the longing in our hearts for unity between and among God and man, man and woman, brother and sister, parent and child, and the restlessness, pride, larceny, and fear in our heads that disturbs even the happiest of homes; our reveling in the fact that we truly are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and the sad acceptance of our brokenness; the excellence of fidelity, and the appeal of seduction; the glamour of evil, and the disaster of sin; the paradox of being rooted in time but destined for eternity; the God-shaped hole at the center of our being, and our vain attempts to fill it with something, everything, anything other than God.

These paradoxes, contradictions, inconsistencies, and hypocrisies that permeate our existence say something very important about the essence of our fallenness. We are not, as some consider us to be, completely depraved. Somewhere deep within ourselves, and no doubt to greater or lesser degrees, we all still know the difference between good and bad, between right and wrong, between what is beautiful and what is ugly. And all of us, again to greater or lesser degrees, feel drawn to do what is right—along with a distinct inclination to do that which is wrong. In his book, The Revenge of Conscience, political philosopher J. Budziszewski argues that falleness itself is a paradox. “We are neither simply good nor simply bad,” Budziszewski says, “but created good and broken. We are not sheer ugliness, nothing so plain, but a beauty ruined.” There is a little good in the worst of us, but also a little bad in the best of us.

Both musically and lyrically, Achtung Baby captures this, the zeitgeist of our fallen world. The melodies throughout are simply stunning—and stunningly simple—but cast against, around, and on top of complex arrangements overflowing with guttural howls, jarring chimes, trashy beats, and sheets of decadent noise. The guitar riffs, masterfully rendered and brilliantly layered, are also regularly and deliciously off-kilter. The bass lines are solid but frayed, made all the more engaging by their Anglified funkiness. The beats are straightforward and harsh here, tasteful and restrained there; naturally simple and yet abounding with processed intricacy, they frequently and gamely upstage everything else in these wicked mixes. The mixes themselves, though densely packed with a range of sonic elements and patterns, often dissolve and decay into tracks so fragile, vulnerable, and filled with empty space that it feels like a song might break into disparate fragments and collapse.

And then there are the voices. The passion and elegance, beauty and grace, desperation and longing, lust and regret, truth and confusion communicated in each and every note vocalized on Achtung Baby prove two important things about music. First, no instrument is more potent or versatile than the human voice. Second, you don’t always have to sing on key to make music of enduring beauty and relevance. Like the guitars, the vocals are richly layered, creating a tapestry of different colors and shadings that range from the darkest blacks and deepest blues to the hottest reds. Cold growls, soaring arias, wraithlike chants, and comic falsettos blend and clash with a precise abandon.

The lyrics are a poetry of falleness. Litanies of frustration and regret, sloganlike boasts, psalmlike appeals, and unholy confessions push, prod, and stretch the boundaries of what is possible and acceptable in a rock song. The songs themselves also press against the envelope of expectation, taking the traditional pop songwriting structures of verse, chorus, and bridge and subverting them. Achtung Baby is itself a paradox: a dark and disturbing album about ruination that is strikingly beautiful and inspired.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007


It was a strange show at Webster Hall last night. Nothing particularly wrong with it, provided you went along with low expectations. On the one hand, you could witness a band unfurling a succession of some of the greatest, most basic, rock'n'roll songs ever written - Sidewalking, Blues from a Gun, Some Candy Talking, You Trip Me Up, Never Understand. On the other, the two creative members of the band were in a state of such inestimable nonchalance, seemingly determined to redefine the word "lackadaisical," that it was very difficult to care. But perhaps that was the whole point of this band all along - not to care. Which is delightfully rock'n'roll, I guess.

Also of some interest: at what point did William turn into Jeremy Clarkson?

Back on topic: We'll be running excerpts shortly from upcoming 33 1/3 books about U2, Tom Waits, and Belle & Sebastian.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bee Thousand Party, NYC, June

If you're in the NYC area, you might want to put the evening of Saturday June 9th in your diary. It'll be a full-on Bee Thousand festival, celebrating Marc Woodworth's book and plenty of other delights including - presumably - beer.

Here's the flyer:

Monday, May 14, 2007

The Fleshtones: Soul City, and the Ham Sandwich Effect

We've been getting some very good early feedback on our upcoming Fleshtones book - Sweat - written by Joe Bonomo, and publishing in September.

Here's an extract from the book, about the making of the astonishing video (by M. Henry Jones) for "Soul City", an old Hi-Lifes song co-written by Lou Reed, that the Fleshtones recorded in 1978. (Note: there are two versions of this video on YouTube. This one is shorter, but much better quality.)


What Jones wanted to accomplish with Soul City was twofold: film the band performing live in black and white and - taking his cue from the band name - color in their fleshtones with oil paint; and explore his interest in retina paths, in manipulating the viewers' eyes to follow a certain pattern on the screen and to remain pleasurably lost in that pattern, unwilling to move their gaze. "I laid the band out in such a way that visual cues would go from one to the next to the next to the next so it was in a circular pattern that was almost a spiral," Jones explains. "You'd go from Marek to Lenny to Keith to Peter, and then out of Peter you would go for the big picture again. It had to do with what later on was termed the 'Ham Sandwich Effect,' the concept of forcing people's eyes to be regulated to a degree where they would never reach the edge of the screen when they might think about food or think about going to get a ham sandwich." More ambitiously, Jones hoped to "visually counterpoint the music of a subculture" with his film.

Jones spent the bulk of the spring and summer of 1978 working on the project, which burgeoned wildly, due mostly to his ambition and to the meticulous, labor-intensive nature of the photo-animation process itself. The work took its toll, and Jones quickly realized that the short was going to become his thesis project, the cumulative evidence of his talent and vision at SVA. Jones was certainly vibing on the fun and energy of the Fleshtones' ethos in the process: as a scholarship student, he had manufactured keys to the buildings at SVA and was familiar with the security guards, so he would work on the film all day, and then around six o'clock or so go get something to eat, meet up with the Fleshtones, go the rehearsal space at Billy Piano's, check out the gear, pull it up to Max's, do a whole show with them, and then help them lock the equipment down, leave, go back to SVA, open the doors, check with the guard who was cool with it, and then work again until the morning. Oftentimes, Jones would work straight through the day, and then go and see the Fleshtones again that night. The band played Max's three times in August alone, so this became Jones' frolicking, feverish work routine.

Not that the routine wasn't without hair-pulling pitfalls. Jones would spend hours in front of projectors at SVA with his eyelids literally taped open, studying sophisticated, repeating filmed patterns as tests to gauge optical illusions, and his fluctuating eye chemicals and retina paths. His typical diet during the Soul City project: cottage cheese, Entemann's chocolate-covered donuts, and No Doz pills crushed and dropped into strong coffee. A sympathetic teacher allowed Jones the use of his studio on East Thirty-fifth Street to where he would lug his equipment, chemicals, and poorly balanced meals on weekends and work from Friday night at 8.30 until Sunday morning at five. The Soul City project became an exactingly technical journey for Jones, and eye- and mind-opening immersion into visual design and execution possibilities. The end result was a widely influential short film, its international, well-earned reputation arguably more consequential now than at the film's debut.


Thursday, May 10, 2007

A couple of UK articles

Two pieces from across the ocean, today.

The first is in the magazine "One Week To Live" - part of a whole series they've done on 33 1/3 books. It's an interview with Eliot Wilder, author of our DJ Shadow book. The article itself isn't on the magazine's website, but Eliot has the PDF on his website, and it's well worth a look.

The second is a review, by A. Stevens, of Mike McGonigal's Loveless book, in 3:AM Magazine. You can read the review here. And I haven't listened to my Revolver records in a very long time.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Don Breithaupt's book on Aja has just hit stores. It's a very smart dissection of Steely Dan - one of those interesting pop acts where there's almost no consensus as to what might be their finest achievement. The book includes some fascinating comments from Donald Fagen, as well as Breithaupt's incisive analysis. Here's an extract from the chapter called "This Is the Day"...


Conventional wisdom tells us the artists that made up the California scene of the seventies were of a piece, as though Warren Zevon’s methods were Ry Cooder’s, as though it could be anything but geographical accident that Lowell George and Al Jarreau were making records in the same city. Reductionist malarkey! California pop was as varied and finally prĂ©cis-proof as the era-shattering commotion that followed it. Shared colleagues (Rick Marotta, Don Grolnick, Sherlie Matthews) aside, Steely Dan had about as much in common with Linda Ronstadt as Elvis Costello had with Bananarama.

West coast music was commonly associated with the earnest, first-person folk rock of Jackson Browne, but the airing out of emotional laundry interested Steely Dan not at all: Donald Fagen approvingly cited a New York Times interview in which Randy Newman had decried the then-current mania for "personal" songs. Neither Becker nor Fagen was the implied "I" in their lyrics, and their penchant for irony meant nothing could be taken at face value. When Steely Dan told you to how to have fun, fun, fun (see "Everyone’s Gone to the Movies"), they weren’t driving you to the beach in Brian Wilson’s 409 — they were setting you up with the neighborhood whack job for an unchaperoned afternoon watching Super-8 porn. Los Angeles, the "dude ranch above the sea," was all about everlasting summer; Steely Dan, the palest troubadours in the San Fernando Valley, were all about how it feels when it’s fading fast.

If Becker and Fagen were philosophically out of step with their fellow Los Angelenos, they were hardly immune to the culture at large. "We liked Stevie Wonder, of course," says Fagen. "You know who I thought were going to do something really nice? Those two guys called Seals & Crofts. They had a very nice way of integrating jazz into their tunes. And I really liked Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks, and Stuff [Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Richard Tee and company] in New York. John Sebastian was a great musician. I was influenced by the Lovin’ Spoonful a lot, especially as far as singing goes. I really dig John’s phrasing and the way he used to work his way around rhythmically. I liked Herbie Hancock’s stuff. I thought Head Hunters was kind of repetitive — those grooves would just go on — but he really knew how to get a nice sound. And I loved the drummers: Harvey Mason, all those guys who played with Herbie. I liked his guitarists, too, guys out in L.A. like Wah Wah Watson." When Fagen was tapped as a guest for the BBC’s long-running Desert Island Discs radio show in 1990, he delineated his seventies tastes with a decade’s perspective, spinning tracks obviously Dan-compatible (Rickie Lee Jones’s "Chuck E’s in Love," the Grateful Dead’s "Shakedown Street," War’s "Low Rider") and not (Elton John’s "Bennie and the Jets," Neil Young’s "Heart of Gold," John Lennon’s "Instant Karma").

Even when something recognizably current infiltrated one of their records — Aja had the occasional Crusaders-like stretch — Steely Dan were finally a set of one. They were often said to represent some kind of fusion of jazz and rock, but were not a fusion group in the sense that, say, Return to Forever was. "I didn’t follow that debate, to tell you the truth," says Fagen. "Most of the things that were called jazz rock that I was familiar with were pretty boring. I remember Jeremy [Steig] and the Satyrs, a jammy kind of group that was really boring. And Bitches Brew was essentially just a big trash-out for Miles. I haven’t really changed my mind about that. I liked In a Silent Way, but Bitches Brew just sounded kind of funny. It would have made a good soundtrack for a Fat Albert cartoon — but not as good as the Herbie Hancock one they actually had! To me it was just silly, and out of tune, and bad. I couldn’t listen to it. It sounded like [Davis] was shooting for a funk record, and just picked the wrong guys. They didn’t understand how to play funk. They weren’t steady enough. You know what I kind of liked? The Don Ellis big band. It was popular in New York. He had a quarter-tone trumpet, and there was this nice boogaloo-y big band chart they used to play on the jazz stations. But there wasn’t that much happening." The jazz-rock tag, like other classifications, was used by journalists because it was convenient. Steely Dan were part of the California scene, but only because they happened to be there, not because they shared any particular left-coaster’s artistic aims (with the possible exception of Randy Newman). As future New York Times critic Jon Pareles observed in Crawdaddy! at the time, they were "so far removed from any competition that perhaps their only amusement [came] from outdoing themselves."

The Village Voice’s 1977 "Pazz & Jop" poll found Aja (#5) surrounded by numerous punk and punk-related albums: the Sex Pistols’ Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Elvis Costello’s My Aim Is True, Graham Parker & the Rumour’s Stick to Me and the Jam’s In the City from London; Television’s Marquee Moon, Talking Heads’ Talking Heads: 77, Mink DeVille’s eponymous debut and the Ramones’ Rocket to Russia from New York. This served not to so much to contextualize Aja as to isolate it. Rock stringers of the day were falling all over themselves to reward dyspeptic do-it-yourself record makers for whom slickness was the cardinal sin; surely Becker and Fagen were the only auteurs in radioland scoring critical points with major ninth chords and hired sidemen.


Thursday, May 03, 2007

This is England

We were lucky enough last night to see the new Shane Meadows film This is England, at the Tribeca Film Festival. Considering that my favourite film of all time is Meadows' A Room for Romeo Brass, it was a real treat to see Shane and one of his brilliant team of actors, Andrew Shim, at the Q&A after the film.

This is England has a remarkably similar plotline to Romeo Brass - what happens when a sweet-natured kid on the brink of adolescence comes face to face with a surrogate father figure who's inspiring and fun to begin with, but soon turns into a slightly crazed, unhinged, and violent nut-job. The new film's portrayal of early 80s England is astonishingly real, and Meadows handles skinhead culture with real insight and sensitivity. It was weird watching it here in NYC - there were surprisingly few UK-specific jokes/lines in the script, except the very sharp Keith Chegwin reference near the beginning, so you could sense the whole crowd getting swept up in the film.

This is England is loveable, terrifying, and emotionally wrenching; also, it contains the best shoe store scene you will ever see. If this movie comes anywhere near your town, do try to see it.

Here's a great clip, in which little Shaun starts his transformation into a skinhead...