Few artists in the history of rock and roll inspire such rabid devotion as Ian Hunter, and true to form, the faithful turned out en masse to see him play Bath’s Komedia on a drab October night. It struck me as I took my place in the long, snaking queue outside the venue that Ian Hunter attracts a very particular following; not so much fans but more like friends. Perhaps unique amongst concerts I’ve attended, there was a certain bonhomie in the air; a warmth and familiarity with each other and their shared purpose that could only come from a lifetime of nights like this. Never before have I seen such a diverse selection of tour t-shirts adorning such a narrow band of grizzled rock and rollers. The 1980 Welcome To The Club Tour, the ‘99 acoustic tour, the 2009 Mott Reunion shows; all of these and more were proudly displayed like campaign medals on the breast of an old soldier, keen to march behind their leader once more.
When Ian Hunter took to the stage to a collective roar of delight, it was quickly apparent how much he valued their support. Not much of a chatter in between tracks, he preferred to let the music do the talking as so many of his songs directly address his audience, testimony to the symbiotic relationship between the man and his people. You don’t have to look far to see their shared history. It’s all there in the rousing Saturday Gigs, a loving tribute to the early days of Mott the Hoople, to rock and roll itself and to young and innocent days. What sounded merely nostalgic back in 1974 is profoundly affecting in 2012, as a thousand misty eyed veterans raise their arms aloft and ask “Do you remember the Saturday gigs? We do, we do.” And they do as well; they’ve got the t-shirts to prove it.
Last night’s set drew heavily from his latest record, When I’m President, with a liberal sprinkling of solo and Mott tracks thrown in for good measure. Despite dicky sound on Hunter’s vocals (he spent most of the night drowned out by the tremendous racket made by his crack band), the grand old geezer of rock and roll made a mockery of his OAP status, putting in an impressive shift which veered between political rage on When I’m President and great sensitivity on Michael Picasso, a heartfelt tribute to his old mate Mick Ronson. Of the new material, Ta Shunka Witco (Crazy Horse) and Life particularly impressed, with the latter the latest instalment in that forty year dialogue with his fans. “I can’t believe after all these years, you’re still here and I’m still here” he sings, still bemused by it all at 73. I, however, can. Looking around me, I got the distinct impression that so long as he keeps on coming, that they’ll always be there.
The early 70’s was a boom time for hard bitten crime thrillers. After the saccharine 60’s when a Disneyfied version of reality dominated our screens and the good guys always won, the advent of a new decade brought with it a renewed cynicism. Expectation levels for the 1970’s were apparently very low indeed. All of a sudden the good guys were in short supply, everywhere you looked bad men abounded. Raised on a diet of clean cut heroes, audiences were now increasingly asked to root for morally reprehensible lowlifes who, whilst rotten to the core, were not quite as evil as those on their tail. To survive in a dangerous world of back stabbing and low down double dealing, you had to be one bad mother, and Charley Varrick is a tough little cookie indeed.
Brought memorably to life by Walter Matthau, Charley Varrick is a middle aged, trailer park dwelling crop duster, turned violent bank robber. After a marvellously orchestrated opening heist on a small town bank swiftly descends into chaos, Varrick’s life is turned upside down as his easy $25,000 score turns out to be a $750,000 bloodbath. Varrick is nobody’s fool, and quickly realizes the origin of the extra $725,000; and that being chased by the police is the least of his concerns. What follows is a thrilling game of cat and mouse, as he attempts to outwit a psychopathic mob assassin with both his skin, and the loot intact. Charley Varrick is different to most films of its type in that its hero is less reliant on the ability to shoot his way out of trouble, instead favoring a deadly ingenuity that elevates the movie to the realms of the truly special. Matthau excels as a character for whom his gift for improvisation is all he has, and it’s to his credit that he makes a bad man a compelling, if not wholly sympathetic lead. Varrick ain’t the sort of chap you get to know. His emotions, whatever they might be, are all internalised. Whatever hand fate deals him, Matthau’s hangdog features betray nothing, other than a steely determination to stay alive; and over the course of 111 thrilling minutes that proves to be quite a task.
To reveal anything more of Charley Varrick would be to spoil it completely, suffice to say that is a lean, tightly plotted, and entirely satisfying experience; acknowledged as a profound influence by Quentin Tarantino, and greatly enjoyed by yours truly.
Of all the so called heritage acts still plying their trade, none seem more at home with the tag than Ray Davies. Whilst some of his peers would run a mile from such a musty sounding label (and indeed from their own ever present pasts); on the evidence of last night’s show, Ray Davies is a contented man, happy as a pig in the proverbial curating a travelling museum devoted to his lifetime’s observations on a peculiar brand of lost Englishness.
For nigh on fifty years he’s been dancing to his own beat. Ray Davies, the perennial outsider; a rock and roll pervert who spent the summer of love tucked away writing songs about steam trains and village greens. Ray Davies, the introverted extrovert who prefers to walk down the street unrecognised, a man who freely admits to sabotaging The Kinks chances of massive success whenever it looked most likely with detours into music that few wanted to hear. At 68 years old, he shows little sign of changing. Take this tour; the snappily titled Ray Davies October 2012 UK Tour. In typically twisted fashion, there is no new material to promote; this is rock and roll for rock and roll’s sake and it’s really rather refreshing. The newest number he plays is five years old and it’s a good one, but that’s not why we’re here and whatsmore, Ray knows it. We want Autumn Almanac and Victoria and Dedicated Follower Of Fashion and Waterloo Sunset. Like a child’s Christmas list, our demands are lengthy, but Davies duly obliges like a rock and roll Santa Claus, dispensing the songs we know and love as gifts to his delighted audience. The favourites came thick and fast, and the Forum quickly assumed a Last Night of The Proms atmosphere with Ray’s regular encouragement to sing-a-along turning the old theatre into a cacophony of noise. I saw a lot of happy faces last night.
Of course, some people wouldn’t have liked it. They’d call it a nostalgia fest like that’s a bad thing, and how wrong they’d be. Oh it’s a nostalgia fest alright, but that’s precisely why it’s so good. Last night I witnessed a performer and his audience, still joined at the hip after all this time by the songs that soundtracked our lives. In fact, to call them mere songs is to serve them a gross injustice as they are so much more than that. They are part of our collective DNA. They and the great tunes of the past by so many titans of popular music are the glue that help keep us together, now and forever. Last night was a joyous celebration of our shared history, a living history that is rich, vibrant and oh so melodic; the story of us condensed into three minute miracles encapsulating a time, a place; a way of life that once was but can never be again.
Times may change but the village green lives on in song and that’s ok by me.
As Ray Davies finally left the stage after two encores, he reached down to shake my outstretched hand. As he did so I looked him in the eye and simply said “Thank you Ray”. And I meant it.
Righteous Kill is the sort of film that makes a whole host of alternative, intrinsically unappealing activities seem a darn sight more attractive. For example, in the 96 minutes it took to sit through this ode to shite, I could’ve listened to half of Steve Wright’s “Big Show” on the BBC IPlayer, or for that matter, had a catheter fitted through my bumhole. Talking of catheters, I’m pretty certain the dream team of Rob and Al know all about them, as they stretch the definition of veteran cops to breaking point. Apparently, veteran cops don’t retire, they just become elderly cops; good news I’m sure for all you frightened citizens out there. So, the revised synopsis. De Niro and Pacino play too decrepit cops, hot on the trail of a vigilante killer who may well be one of their own. Did I say hot on the trail? I didn’t mean hot. I meant cold. I meant fucking Baltic. The NYPD might as well have put the boys from The Last of The Summer Wine on the case. I’m not sure if it’s the script or the fact the cast are now older than Jesus, but the art of detecting has surely slowed down some since the glory days of Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. Hell, even in the 80’s this would’ve taken Al and Rob all of five minutes to solve. As it is, the pacing of Righteous Kill makes the average episode of Miss Marple seem like The Bourne Identity. You know things are really bad when a Brian Dennehy cameo can’t liven up the proceedings. At the point when 50 Cent appeared, I was contemplating getting a tattoo, by the time De Niro got his vigorous sex on, I wanted to go back to work. Avoid like a land mine.
There’s our hero, clad in a fetching combo of shiny suit and dapper hat; a little older, a little rounder, just as angry. Or so we hoped…..one question buzzed incessantly around my head like a fidgeting fly coated in itching powder; what if Elvis has gone soft? The signs were there in ominous neon, a hundred feet high. Happily married, doting dad, living in Canada….What if Elvis has gone soft? There it was again; the nagging doubt. And then he strapped on his telecaster and began to sing. Any lingering fears as to the mellowing effect of multi-millionaire middle age were instantly dispelled, as he launched into a blistering version of I Hope You’re Happy Now, sneering and snarling like it was 1978 and he was directly addressing a doggy dropping. Marvellous! Sorry I ever doubted you Mr Costello.
After rattling off a few innovators to get the party started, attention turned to the giant wheel that dominated the stage; the famous spinning songbook; essentially a fairground apparatus with 40 different songs and themes displayed around its garish face. Assuming the guise of mischievous MC Napoleon Dynamite, Costello donned a top hat and twirled his cane with fiendish relish, quipping and hustling as though his life depended on it, whilst his ravishing/ravishable assistant prowled the aisles, selecting random members of the audience to spin the wheel and have their song played whilst they danced onstage in a cage. And why not? Whilst my inner Costello says the Spinning Songbook is a labour saving device designed to alleviate the pressure of choosing a setlist from such a diverse back catalogue, it made for an undeniably entertaining spectacle, as well as producing a show that touched bases with career highlights and obscure gems, as well as the occasional all out snoozefest. But whenever things threatened to get a mite too grown up and sophistimicated, an Accidents Will Happen or a Watching The Detectives was never too far away to relieve the tedium of the old, “here’s one off the new album” syndrome.
Elvis and his Imposters sound as though they’ve been playing together since the dawn of time, which if your worldview began with the birth of punk, then I suppose they have. Essentially The Imposters are The Attractions with a different bassist. These boys have got history and you can tell, whether on an out of control Oliver’s Army or a show stopping, even more psychotic than usual I Want You. It’s all there in Steve Nieve’s swirling organ patterns and Pete Thomas’s pounding drums, with that voice right upfront, telling it like it is; like he always has. And in amongst the gimmicks and distractions, that was all that mattered.
Take The Gunfighter, a film about reputation and its nasty habit of following one around. Gregory Peck stars as Jimmy Ringo, the titular shootist and possessor of one very unwanted legend. In every town and every saloon, Ringo’s reputation as the fastest gun in the west precedes him. Deadly confrontation lurks around every corner from an endless supply of young punks, eager to make a name for themselves as the man who shot Jimmy Ringo. No matter how hard he tries to avoid it, his fame is such that he cannot survive without killing; and survival is the ultimate aim. Only by doing so can a reformed Ringo reunite with his estranged wife and the young son he has never seen, if of course he can escape the gun toting shadows of his past.The Gunfighter is very unusual in that it depicts a thoroughly depressing profession for what it really is. The Wild West has never seemed so grim. Gunfighting here is not something to aspire to, it’s something that gets you killed. Ringo’s proficiency with death is not a blessing but a curse, dooming him to forgo a normal existence for a daily struggle for survival, with death as his only company; always on the move and ever wary of a bullet in the back. His dreams of starting a new life are hindered at every turn by some new adversary, each more determined than the last to blow his lonely head off. Reconciliation with his family is the hope that springs eternal, but it’s a forlorn hope at best. Unlike her peers, Mrs Ringo is not a helpless heroine, but a realist, long since resigned to life as a single parent and widow to a walking corpse. Over the course of 85 taut minutes, we watch enthralled as Ringo battles to prove her wrong and postpone his date with death. Westerns don’t get any better than this.
Zulu Dawn is remembered as the lesser regarded prequel to Zulu (when indeed it is remembered at all), which is a great shame for a lovingly crafted epic of the sort they just don’t make anymore. Where Zulu told the story of triumph in the face of insurmountable odds, Zulu Dawn is chiefly concerned with the dark heart of Empire and with military folly on the grandest of scales. With such lofty themes at its core, it’s hardly a surprise that it failed to capture the public imagination in the same way as its more straightforward predecessor. Time then for a revaluation.
Zulu Dawn examines the deeply flawed political and military decisions that resulted in the invasion of Zululand, and the subsequent catastrophic defeat at Isandlhwana, depicted at the film’s climax. Although the campaign would ultimately end in some kind of victory for the British Empire (read up on the history and decide for yourself what kind of victory that is), this is a film about defeat. The fate of the men on the ground is sealed from the very beginning, when wheels are set in motion that they cannot possibly hope to avoid. Determined to pursue a course of action designed to destroy the Zulu kingdom, the political leadership of Sir Henry Bartle Frere is rotten to the core, and motivated by a Facististic desire to “provide a final solution to the Zulu problem”. The soldiers sent to do his bidding, on whose orders men live or die, are shown to be blundering at best, and vain, arrogant and blundering at worst. It is no surprise at all when their pitiful camp, laid out with typical indecision, is overwhelmed by the very savages they were sent to tame, whilst those responsible sit beneath a marquis discussing etiquette.
Riding the wave of revisionism prevalent in 70’s filmmaking, Zulu Dawn attempts to give a balanced account of the campaign, and so it is that the Zulu’s themselves are given a voice. Happily, the filmmakers steer clear of presenting them as noble savages. Their rituals and customs are shown to be cruel and barbarous and alien to the British mindset, yet this was not the reason given by the British for declaring war. Columns of Redcoats advance on Zululand in the name of an Empire built on cruelty and barbarism, an Empire completely alien to those they seek to conquer. When two great powers founded on blood collide, the results are never going to be pretty.Zulu Dawn sacrifices some of the gritty intimacy of its predecessor for a bigger, if not necessarily better feel. The story is played out on a broader canvas, with garden parties, Governor’s offices and the wide open spaces of the savannah to the fore. No expense is spared in recreating the South Africa of 1879. The costumes and pageantry are as sumptuous as one could hope for, whilst the battle itself (Britain’s heaviest defeat by a native army) is skilfully brought to life. The moment when the doomed British realise the full extent of their predicament, as 20,000 Zulu warriors bear down on them is chilling indeed, whilst the panic and desperation of a rapidly deteriorating situation are effectively evoked, as the outnumbered redcoats are overwhelmed and slaughtered with frightening ferocity.
At the end of Zulu, the survivors of that remarkable victory trudge shell shocked through the smoking battlefield, as the narrator lists the men awarded a Victoria Cross. That film ends positively, emphasising the glory of their heroic struggle. Zulu Dawn has no such happy ending. Oh, the Zulu’s walk triumphantly over the fallen alright, but their victory would be short lived. Zululand would be crushed beneath the boot of Empire before the year was out. As for the British, glory is out, folly is in. Ultimately, a bad decision can prove as fatal as a spear in the gut. Either way, it’s the little guy who loses out.
How he inspires such devotion from so many I will never know. His is the voice of a generation, or so I’m told, which perhaps goes some ways towards explaining his enduring appeal, as his music is every bit as tedious as the generation he’s inspired. Listening to We Take Care Of Our Own is akin to being beaten to death by a denim clad dullard clutching a heavy lump of noxious sincerity. Springsteen sings from the heart apparently. Who’d have thought a heart could sound so damned repetitive? Dreadful, just dreadful.
The introduction of Timothy Dalton as 007 breathed new life into the ailing franchise after the worst excesses of the Roger Moore era. Gone were the days when a brave stuntman would pretend to be a 58 year old secret agent, swinging from a vine and emitting a Tarzan call whilst wearing Roger Moore’s cast off ginger wig and an ill fitting tux. As the march of old father time caught up with Granddad Rog, and the sensible mid 80’s tightened their icy grip on everyone’s favourite sex addict; godawful jokes, Grace Jones and rogue geniuses intent on destroying the world were yesterday’s news. In their place came a gritty realism (for a Bond film), not seen since the glory days of Sean Connery. Bringing a harder edge to the role (which essentially means less smirking, less sex and no jokes), Dalton’s Bond is a capable Bond, adept at navigating the murky waters of a cold war world where the cartoonish, megalomaniac villainy of old has been supplanted with something far less principled – and far more sinister.
In Licence To Kill, Bond faces an adversary firmly rooted in the headlines of the 1980’s. Franz Sanchez is an international drug dealer, and by all accounts, not a very nice man. This is apparent, not only from his morally dubious profession, but from the manner in which he feeds Bond’s best friend to a shark, forcing 007 to embark on a mission of violent revenge. In the old days, the bad guys were always quite cuddly. Despite possessing a set of metal teeth here, or a deadly bowler hat there, one always got the feeling that their heart wasn’t really in it. In the Moore era, villainy wasn’t a serious business; it was as though the baddies were in it for the craic, and if their evil plan came off, so much the better. Licence To Kill is different. There is an utter ruthlessness at work here, practically unique to the franchise. As the only Bond movie to be awarded a 15 certificate, its home to a great deal of unpleasantness. Over the course of its running time, heads explode, bodies get shredded, and people generally die pretty horribly. You see, in the Timothy Dalton era, sharks don’t swim menacingly by; they stop for lunch, fully intent on a three course meal. Whilst this isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, it’s an approach that perfectly suits the darker nature of Dalton’s portrayal. Never comfortable punning his enemies to death, Dalton looks totally at ease playing a man for whom unpleasantness is second nature. For his 007, sex and high jinks are secondary pleasures at best, a world away from the playboy of old. In Licence To Kill, the mission is everything, and Bond will do whatever it takes to achieve his deadly aim.
Ultimately, this new fangled approach to an old favourite alienated large sections of its audience, but don’t let that put you off. Some people have no taste. Whilst Licence To Kill is undeniably something of a departure from the formula committed to stone tablet all those years ago, it has enough typically Bond-ian ingredients to keep the faithful happy. The globe is well and truly trotted, women’s clothes still fall off with inexplicable ease, Q is still a gadget geek and ultimately James Bond emerges triumphant. Reassuringly, some things never change.
To anyone who thinks Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary output is restricted to tales of a smug twat with a penchant for puzzles, pipes and heavy duty narcotics, think again! Arfur’ (That’s Sir Arthur to you!) dabbled with pretty much every genre under the sun in his 43 year writing career, including excursions into the Supernatural, Science Fiction and Erotica. Only joking about the Erotica. A Study in Schlongs is sadly an unrealised project! I digress. As to his actual body of work, that some of those worthy efforts have fallen out of print, and that all of them are doomed to cower unloved and ill-remembered beneath the looming shadow of his most famous creation is a great shame, and ultimately a greater loss to the reading public.
Take The Lost World, arguably Conan Doyle’s second most recognised work. It is in every respect the equal of the adventures of Messrs Holmes and Watson, providing thrills aplenty for the dedicated connoisseur of good old fashioned entertainment, yet it enjoys a fraction of the reputation afforded to Sherlock. If you said The Lost World to your average human being (and there are a lot of those about), they would probably think first and foremost of the rather unnecessary sequel to Jurassic Park. Which is frankly unfair. The only thing the two Lost Worlds have in common is that they both have people in them. And dinosaurs. We can’t overlook the dinosaurs I suppose.
The Lost World is very much a product of its time. When Sir Arthur put pen to paper in 1912, it was slap bang in the middle of the golden age of exploration, a period in time when great swathes of the earth remained unexplored and ripe with untold promise; when a mere mortal could become a God, simply by conquering the unconquerable with little more than a pack of huskies and a Swiss Army Knife. Simple. It is such a quest that forms the basis of The Lost World, a novel that sees Conan Doyle exchanging the familiar gas lit alleyways of turn of the century London for the untamed wilderness of deepest, darkest South America.
Now if I were to swap my mundane suburban existence for the myriad joys of the jungle, I am willing to bet both my kidneys and a signed photograph that all I’d get for my efforts is malaria and the unwanted attention of some very angry drug runners. But The Lost World isn’t reality, it is fiction; glorious, wonderful fiction, from a bygone age when derring-do was to the young men of the day what stabbing Policemen is to their contemporary counterparts. This jungle is home to Apemen and Indians, to Pterodactyls and Plesiosaurs. It is every little boy’s wildest dream brought to life by a master craftsman, an opinion I think he would’ve appreciated given that the preface to the book states:
I have wrought my simple plan
If I give one hour of joy
To the boy who’s half a man,
Or the man who’s half a boy.
A more admirable reason to write I cannot imagine. And if the promise of adventure isn’t quite enough for you, Conan Doyle creates some wonderfully memorable characters to share the experience with. I ask you, who wouldn’t want to travel to a mysterious plateau to prove the continued existence of Prehistoric life with the rambunctious Professor Challenger for company? And who wouldn’t want to hunt the deranged missing link in the evolutionary chain with the heroic Lord John Roxton and his trusty rifle at their side? If the answer to either of those questions is “Me” then I have absolutely no wish to know you and I ask you to leave this website immediately!
For a fellow with a reputation as the grand master of horror, Vincent Price didn’t half make a lot of bad films. From The Tingler to The Pit and The Pendulum, the amount of godawful Vincent Price movies clogging up a bargain bin near you could bridge the water between Dover and Calais, whilst the good un’s can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Thank heavens then for Theatre of Blood, the one undoubted masterpiece in Price’s lengthy oeuvre, and an absolute treat from start to finish.
Theatre of Blood is the perfect vehicle for Price’s particular brand of horror, with a character and plot seemingly tailor made for him. He excels in the role of Edward Lionheart, a notoriously dreadful Shakespearian actor with a serious taste for ham. Sick to death of the ‘groundless’ vitriol directed at him by his many critics (played by a veritable who’s who of British character actors), Lionheart decides that enough is enough, embarking on an orgy of murderous revenge – with a Shakespearian twist. As you do! Throwing himself at the role with gleeful abandon, Price is like a kid in a sweet shop as he hams up soliloquies dressed as a French chef, brandishes a rapier whilst trampolining, and pretends to be a gay hairdresser named Butch, amongst many other acts of inspired lunacy.
If the thought of Vincent Price camping it up doesn’t sound very frightening, then you may well be surprised. All of Lionheart’s macabre revenges are styled after the works of Shakespeare himself, meaning that they are innovative, unpleasant, and far too clever for the likes of me and you. The moment when a lone critic is butchered in an abandoned building by a mob of meth drinking maniacs (in homage to Julius Caeser don’t you know?!), is genuinely unnerving; whilst other fates are either too hilarious to be true, or far too horrible to contemplate. When played out in such an over the top manner, the cumulative effect is of a nightmarish pantomime where the baddie is not only behind you, but intent on feeding you your own dog in a pie. If that ain’t the definition of horror, I don’t know what is.
Ultimately, Theatre Of Blood is a delight; a genuine one off and a technicolour oddity in a black and white world. I suggest you seek it out.
When debating Clint Eastwood’s best western, its generally agreed to be a two horse race between the spaghetti-licious The Good, The Bad and The Ugly, and his autumnal masterpiece, Unforgiven. And it’s just that kind of attitude that gets me all riled up! Unforgiven?! I’ve never heard such hogwash in all my life. After I’ve finished pistol whipping any loudmouthed Unforgiven aficionado into bloody submission, I’d like to make them a cup of tea and sit them down in front of The Outlaw Josey Wales (and not in the good chair I might add!). By the time it’s finished, they’ll be dancing to a different tune! Probably “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place”……
The Outlaw Josey Wales is a sensational piece of filmmaking, directed by the man himself at the top his game, and fit to stand alongside the finest westerns of Ford, Peckinpah, and Leone. The greedy so and so also excels in the title role as a peaceful Missouri farmer turned gun toting renegade, bringing all of his grizzled charisma to a character he was born to play. Josey Wales seems happy enough letting the American Civil War pass him by, tending his fields and generally looking contented with his lot. But after the brutal murder of his wife and child at the hands of mangy Yankee scum, he puts down his pitchfork and picks up his six guns to kill those responsible – or die trying.
So far, so typical right? But if you think you’ve seen this kind of thing a thousand times before, you’d be very wrong indeed. As much as this is a story of revenge, it is a tale of redemption, following Wales from his lowest ebb as a soulless killing machine, forged in the fires of a brutal age, to his gradual re-assimilation into polite-ish society. But that don’t mean Vicar’s tea parties and country rambles; no sir! The bulk of the film sees Wales pursued through hell and highwater by those he seeks to annihilate, with all the attendant gunfights and narrow escapes you could possibly wish for. The violence here is swift and deadly, and not played out according to any code of conduct. Everyone is affected by it, as evidenced by the ever expanding retinue of strays and waifs who accompany Wales on his savage flight, each in need of his fearsome protection. In the company of this surrogate family of world weary Indians and desperate pioneers, Wales attempts to find some kind of peace with himself, en route to the inevitable bloody showdown.
The Outlaw Josey Wales belongs to a very select band of westerns that convey an authentic vision of the American frontier. Like the foul landscapes of TGTBATU and Unforgiven, Wales’s world is a harsh environment, populated by rapists and ruthless killers for whom a moral compass is something to be shot in the back. Around every corner lurks death, but hey, it could be worse! As Wales himself would have it, “Dying is easy for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard.” And The Outlaw Josey Wales is hard living indeed.
With Arthur, The Kinks (for whom eccentricity and willful perversion ran through their veins in place of blood), attempted that grand rock statement of years gone by; the concept album – and in doing so crafted the finest record of their long and varied career. For an effort described by Greil Marcus as “the best British album of 1969”, Arthur ain’t half a hard sell to the uninitiated! It tells the story of a very ordinary chap and his very ordinary life from the cradle to the grave. Born into the twilight years of the British Empire on whom the sun never set, we follow Arthur through the ups and downs of an average existence, as his hopes and dreams are systematically snuffed out, one by tragic one. The Grease soundtrack this ain’t, but for anyone prepared to face up to the harsh realities of a mundane suburban existence, all packaged in some of The Kinks most delightful melodies, Arthur is a must listen.
The success of a concept album hinges on the strength of its story, not to mention a great set of songs. Happily Arthur has both in spades. Its concept lends itself particularly well to The Kinks, allowing Ray Davies songwriting to flourish in a setting he’s clearly very comfortable with. On Arthur he touches base with of all his favorite themes. From the nostalgia of “Young and Innocent Days”, to the ode to the working class that is “She’s Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina”, this is classic Kinks territory, as bittersweet as a cherry sour and as English as Yorkshire Pudding.It is this sense of all pervading Britishness that forms the albums core, a national identity that shapes Arthur’s life, an identity moulded from conflict, from class, and from blind faith in his betters, the very shackles of Britishness from which he can never hope to escape. For Davies, the scars of Empire run as deep as the Mariana Trench, with the rot setting in from the first lines of the barnstorming opener, “Victoria”. Right from the off its clear that Arthur is a very insignificant cog in a monolithic machine, and whatsmore he knows it; but hey, it’s fine because that’s what the likes of Arthur do. You’re born, you do your bit, you die. Bleak eh? As the years wear on and Arthur’s impact on the world around him diminishes, alongside that of the Empire he holds so dear, he experiences hope, loss, ambition and disappointment; that is to say real life pouring out of your speakers in Dolby 5.1. And just in case I’ve fooled you into thinking it all sounds a wee bit depressing, never fear. Whilst Arthur features some occasionally glum home truths, when they’re told by The Kinks at their irresistible best, it’s hard to stay glum for long.
Nestled snugly in Seat G5, eagerly awaiting the return of the Rhinestone Cowboy to the Colston Hall, the thought occurred to me that I really didn’t know what to expect from the Glen Campbell Final Farewell Tour. All the talk in the press had centred around the effects of the Alzheimer’s that had taken its icy grip on Mr Campbell’s faculties, an effect noticeable enough to make him go public with news of his affliction. In the shows prior to his sad announcement, Campbell’s monologues had become noticeably slurred and rambling, our hero increasingly reliant on a teleprompter feeding him the lyrics to songs he’d been singing for forty years. Something clearly wasn’t right. Sensibly, the Campbell clan acted quickly to quash any rumours of a return to his hellraising past of drink and drugs, breaking the bad news with the promise of The Final Farewell Tour, Glen’s last hurrah and a chance to say ‘so long’ to his devoted fans before riding off into the sunset in a star spangled rodeo. The question I asked myself was what sort of farewell would it be?
Well, I’m thrilled to report that despite the cynical observations of some, The Final Farewell Tour is neither exploitation of an aging cash cow nor a voyeuristic peep into the mental decline of a legend. The show was a celebration pure and simple, a joyous knees up in honour of a fantastic career. At the centre of it all was a man who, whilst not exactly at the top of his game, was absolutely determined to send us home smiling – and that’s just what he did. Accompanied by a band comprised of family and friends (including his daughter and two sons keeping a watchful eye), the 75 year old Campbell bounded around the stage with the enthusiasm of a little boy, regularly expressing his astonishment at the quality of the songs he’s had the pleasure to have sung. And what songs they are; Wichita Lineman, Galveston, By The Time I Get To Phoenix – all the hits were present and correct, as well as a smattering of poignant numbers from his new record, Ghost On The Canvas; all of which sounded like classics in the making. As for the man himself, those famous pipes of his showed no sign of wear and tear despite the occasional mistake, and the joy in his voice as he shouted ‘let’s play one!” prior to wonderful guitar solo after wonderful guitar solo was a pleasure to behold. A force in decline? You could’ve fooled me!
Ultimately, the thing that impressed me most about Glen Campbell was his own smile, as wide as the great American Vistas he paints in song. Sod the usual clichés about nobility and triumph in the face of adversity that accompany Campbell wherever he goes; he might not always have been able to articulate what he wanted to say, but that smile did all the talking. Glen Campbell’s just happy to be up there doing his thing and for people to still be digging it after all this time. How dare anyone tell him to stop?
You know, I’d forgotten just how enjoyable a good James Bond film can be? Whilst it’s generally agreed by the boys and men of this world that all of 007′s adventures have their merits (even proper stinkers like Die Another Day and Moonraker), the bad films (of which I’d say there are about 25%) and the formulaic ones (maybe 60%) tend to overshadow the very best entries in the series; those rarest of gems that offer a glimpse of Bond as he was always meant to be, the Bond of Ian Fleming.
There is really something to be said for James Bond done right, and From Russia With Love is quite possibly the donest rightiest of them all. For once, 007 behaves like the spy he is, espionaging it up to the max at every available opportunity in a complex battle of wills with SPECTRE, the deadiest criminal organisation of them all. Well, apart from FIFA that is.
Connery’s got his hands full here, with danger and boobies around every corner, and not necessarily in that order either! Whilst inevitably big Sean can (and does) handle whatever’s thrown at him, be it buxom fighting gippos, or a lesbo Russian minger with a poisoned knife in her shoe and a rather fetching red mullet, the real joy of this film is the sense that for once, 007 might have bitten off more than he can chew.
Kronsteen, the chess playing criminal mastermind behind the plan to eliminate our hero is surely too thorough, too diabolical to let Bond slip through his elaborately laid trap, whilst Robert Shaw’s Red Grant is the Gold standard for menacing, psychopathic henchman who just won’t let it go. Add a sultry and quite possibly treacherous Russian cypher clerk into the mix, set the whole shebang in the impossibly exotic surroundings of Istanbul and Venice, and climax aboard the Orient Express with the most backbreaking, brutal fight of the series, and you’ve got yourself a winner. Surely Bond can’t escape this time? He bloody can you know!
Hack ‘im Down! Feat. Rupert Murdoch’s Japs Eye, Nazi Paedo Priests, The Chuckle Brothers and the Fundamentals of Engineering
So. Rupert Murdoch. Turns out he’s a bit of a twat. Who’d have thought it eh? Not me. Never in a million years. I’m in shock. I ask you, how can a nice old gentleman like that build a multi billion pound empire on foundations that are essentially rotten to the core? Does he realise what he’s done for the reputation of pensioners worldwide?* Next thing, you’ll be telling me there are elderly Nazis still at large, living in South America in luxuriously appointed Italianate Villas, funded by the life savings of a decimated race, or OAPaedos doing their best impression of a kindly Priest whilst copping a feel of a choirboy in the confession box, all the while protected by the loving embrace of the Roman Catholic Church! I refuse to believe it!
No seriously, there’s a valuable lesson to be learned here. You know Rupert’s problem? He has no understanding of the basic principals of engineering. When constructing a large above-surface structure/multi billion pound empire, a monopole footing is absolutely vital. To base your organisation on material that is decayed, corrupt, and frankly criminal; well, it’s a schoolboy error in extremis. And when you throw hacking into the mix…..
Honestly though, I just can’t believe it. All that hard hitting stuff in the News Of The World over the years, illegally obtained. Words fail me. I feel, well, betrayed. Yeah, maybe. As bad as all of this is (and it is pretty bad, right?), I can’t help thinking that The News Of The World hacked the wrong phones. If I’d been in charge, there’d have been none of this sorry Milly Dowler, 7/7 victims business. Oh no. If I were a cackling, corduroy clad, clove cigarette consuming media mogul (A. I really couldn’t be any other kind, and B. that really should’ve been a cackling, clove cigarette consuming, cedia cogul shouldn’t it?), I’d be searching for the answers to the questions we all want, uh, answered. Questions like…Do aliens exist?
If so, are the Cheeky Girls in fact neither cheeky, nor girls, but Intergalactic Ambassadors from a galaxy far, far away? Are the Chuckle Brothers kiddie fiddlers (and therefore possibly in league with the church)? Have the Cheeky Girls and The Chuckle Brothers ever met (or worse/better still, you decide, made love in the most grotesque incestual orgy of all time)? Will there ever be another Zulu War so I can fight in it? Will Steps ever reform? Ok, just me with that last one, but you get the point. You don’t do you? That makes two of us buddy, join the goddamn club.
Oh yeah, I remember. Murdoch. Rupert that is, not the deranged ace combat pilot from the A Team. Lock ‘im in the Tower and chop off his goolies, that’s what I say. Fuck it, hack his goolies. Hack ‘em like they’ve never been hacked before. Hack ‘em like a Polaroid picture. Let’s put a bug down his Japs eye and find out what it’s got to say for itself. “Do you expect me to talk?” “Uh, yeah actually Mr Murdoch’s Japs eye, I do.” Failing that, strip him of his assets and give them to me. His assets, not his goolies.
*In fairness, absolutely nothing. They always have been and always will be, absolutely fucking useless. I mean, what do they do, really? They get in my way, shit themselves silly (in public I might add), and talk bank cashiers to death with their unceasing complaints or/and inane anecdotes…If I were them, I’d take my bus pass to my wrists and slash those bad boys ASAP**
**I am of course pulling your pisser. I like many old people, including Clint Eastwood, Jimmy Greaves, Prince Philip, Roger Moore and my own dear, departed Grandparents. Oh, and you Mum.
When the brothers Mael of Sparks fame sat down to write their classic ode to facial hair, Moustache, which namechecks Pancho Villa, Fu Manchu, Ronald Coleman and Adolf Hitler amongst others, there was one notable wearer of the hairy lip they forgot to mention. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it’s the one and only Burt Reynolds!
Now Burt Reynolds without a moustache is a bit like a dog without poo on its bum, or a teenager with half a brain and no STD’s – it’s virtually unthinkable.
You see Burt and His Moustache™ go way back, enjoying a symbiotic relationship that’s lasted for aeons; sort of like The Rolling Stones but much, much hairier. Actually Burt and His Moustache™ are very much like The Rolling Stones. Take Mick away from Keith and what have you got? A diabolical solo album and the mother of all benders; but put ‘em together and they’re capable of minor miracles.
Which brings me back to Burt Reynolds and his Moustache™. Imagine my surprise when I sat down to watch the classic thriller Deliverance, starring Burt Reynolds and His Moustache™, only to discover that His Moustache™ had in fact failed to show? I should have known when I bought the bloody thing, a cursory glance at the DVD case would have revealed that this was a film starring Burt Reynolds and Jon Voight, and not Burt Reynolds and His Moustache™. Good job I didn’t look, because if I’d known the moustache had gone AWOL then I surely wouldn’t have bought it, which would’ve been a shame because Deliverance is actually rather good.
I won’t spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, but basically it tells the story of three city types and their macho moustacheless friend, who decide to take a canoeing trip deep in the heart of Hicksville, USA. Suffice to say it doesn’t quite go according to plan. Screw it I’m gonna spoil it for you. Jon Voight gets tied to a tree with his own belt and has to watch helplessly as two randy hillbilly’s rape his poor gormless friend, but not before making him squeal like a pig, boy. Nice. Action man Burt intervenes killing one of the toothless wonders with a well placed arrow like Kevin Costner in a chest wig, in the process saving Jon Voight’s ass from a serious pounding. The fourth friend, we’ll call him Gaylord, is frankly appalled by this sudden turn of events, Burt’s necessary show of murderous violence tipping him over the edge and thus sparking the moral dilemma at the heart of the narrative. Is the killing of the homicidal bum bandit justified? Can their lives ever return to normal? Will Burt Reynolds’s Moustache ever grow back?
Having seen both Smokey and The Bandit and The Cannonball Run, I am delighted to confirm that Burt and his furry friend do eventually reunite and hit top form together once again, his hairy mojo helping him to lure both Sally Field and Farrah Fawcett back to the comforts of his motor ve-hicle.
As for the questions posed by Deliverance, I can’t help feeling that everything I’ve described and all that happens subsequently is a direct result of Burt’s decision to remove the Mooch. Bum rape, murder, broken lives – it’s all Burt’s fault. When Samson lost his power it was because of a quick nap, a jezebel and some industrial strength sheep shears, but Burt – he shaved it off himself. It’s practically Biblical!
“And during the making of the classic thriller Deliverance when Burt decided to shave off his moustache and venture into the wilderness, God did smite Burt’s character with a broken collarbone and a drastically reduced role in the film’s climax.”
The Book of Burt 13: 19 – 24
None of this, none of it would have happened had Burt stayed true to himself, had he worn his facial hair with the pride it so clearly deserves. But in undergoing this epic test of human endurance sans ‘tache, he learnt a valuable lesson, a lesson I believe he carries with him to this day. How do I know? Well, you didn’t ever see The Bandit breaking his collarbone. Or getting bum raped. I rest my case.
What’s wrong with mulling wine?