Saturday, 31 August 2013

Out On Blue Six : Dobie Gray - And An Announcement

Just a wonderfully good slab of Northern Soul to kick Saturday off - Dobie Gray and Out On The Floor - but also, a great little number to tide everyone over as I'll be on radio silence for the next week as I'm off on holiday.

So, no blog posts until next weekend from me. Enjoy your week and your start to September and I'll see you all shortly.

End Transmission

Friday, 30 August 2013

The Special Relationship (2010)

It's quite weird watching this a day after the UK has voted against military action in Syria, given that The Special Relationship is about the more morally righteous or war mongering (depending on your POV) British PM Tony Blair's staunch desire to meet the world's evils head on coming against the more hesitant and left of centre US President Bill Clinton.

This was the third Sheen/Morgan Blair project following The Deal and The Queen and I have to say its probably the lesser of the trilogy with some truly clunky exposition dialogue. The film provides an interesting 'what if?' insight to the Blair/Clinton relationship, suggesting the latter as a mentor whom the former ultimately trampled over to progress with his own 'legacy' and desire to make his mark, it doesn't have the same significance as the previous films which focused on Blair trampling over Brown to take the leadership of the Labour Party in the light of John Smith's untimely death and Blair spotting another golden opportunity from the back of Princess Di's demise, respectively. However, it does follow a similar path in deconstructing Blair;  a great study of one of recent histories most influential political figures (and for me,and I suspect Morgan too, one of the most loathed and traitorous) fleshed out brilliantly by Michael Sheen. He isn't at any time impersonating Blair, he just seems to capture the essence of him.

Dennis Quaid is as ever an amiable enough presence. Ever since the '80s, he's been a harmless figure in cinema and seemingly a go to man for when any production couldn't stretch to Harrison Ford. Given a weighty role here, it's a shame he doesn't utterly convince (looking at times more like the Catchphrase host Roy Walker) and seems to be overdoing the vocal inflections which is at odds with Sheen's more understated style, but there's still an air of decency, beneath the grubby Lewinsky business that is, in both his performance and the script which has him advising Blair to be careful of his eagerness for conflict, especially in light of Dubya's election. 

For me the real star was Hope Davis as Hillary Clinton. She manages to look like her (albeit a prettier version) but like Sheen didn't go for out and out mimicry and, as such, created something truly memorable.

Compare Covers : Stewart Lee and The Specials

Just like the EP between The Specials albums so Stewart Lee has produced a book version, a release between his previous tome How I Escaped My Certain Fate and his forthcoming TV Comedian. A book as an EP? Well yeah. Basically Lee has transcribed his show If You Prefer A Milder Comedian Please Ask For One for the book and, following the formula of his previous release (though that compiled and annotated three shows, whereas this is just one; hence EP status at just 100 pages) has provided extensive footnotes that give a revealing insight into the world beyond the jokes, the reasoning for and the workings of the material and his theories on comedy. It's a fascinating and hilarious read. I look forward to TV Comedian his next annotated book released next year.

Divorcing Jack (1998)

A favourite of mine from the late 90s when I used to devour the excellent pulp fiction of Northern Irish novelist Colin Bateman, the source of this underrated movie. A film I vividly recall watching for the first time late one Saturday night on BBC2.

Divorcing Jack is a great unadulterated punchy affair. Adapted by Bateman himself it is faithful to the novel, which means the style on screen is the same no holds barred, NI wit and sardonic, jet black comic take on life that appeared on the page too. The kind of take on life one can only have when living in a province that for decades had gunfights and bombs going off as a matter of routine. As such moments are shocking, unexpected, matter of fact and sickly humourous - a rare treat for film.

David Thewlis impresses as Bateman's hero, the cyncial lippy journo and old punk Dan Starkey. His accent is convincing but you do find yourself listening perhaps too hard at times, waiting for a slip. Indeed all the main parts are filled by non NI actors which means you  also have, at the other end of the scale, Robert Lindsay as NI's answer to Tony Blair with an accent that is utterly atrocious. The other accent adoptees are Jason Isaacs suitably creepily menacing as IRA gangster Cow-Pat Keegan, and  the lovely quirky Rachel Griffiths as the rather iconic nurse by day/strip-o-gram nun by night and gun for hire when the chips are down. There's even a brief appearance from the young Laura Fraser, beautiful as ever.

It's a shame this was the only Bateman and/or Starkey novel that was adapted for film as there was definitely mileage in more.

British TV watchers can listen out for Starkey tuning in to Belfast Citybeat, a local radio station whose news presenter can be heard - the then unknown (to us) Christine Bleakley.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Out On Blue Six : The Yardbirds

One of my favourite songs, I love that break in it

End Transmission

Well, Here's To You Mrs Robinson

Anne Bancroft

Theme Time : John Keating - Z Cars

Starting in 1962 and ending sixteen years later in 1978, Z Cars remains one of the most popular, successful and well loved of all British television crime series. Created by Troy Kennedy Martin (who would go on to write The Italian Job, Kelly's Heroes and Edge Of Darkness, whilst his brother Ian would create the famous policiers The Sweeney and Juliet Bravo - quite the family eh?) after a spell laid up in bed with mumps listening to the police radio, the show was set in the fictional North West town of Newtown, in fact a thinly disguised Kirkby, just outside of Liverpool. 

The show was intended as a grittier more realistic depiction of the nation's police force, a contrast to the cosy grandfatherly Dixon Of Dock Green - then its main competitor and stablemate on BBC1, and focused squarely on crime cars used by the Lancashire force at the time. These cars, Ford Zephyrs and Zodiacs patrolled the North using a series of call signs appropriate to the town/division; for example in reality A Division was Ulverston with patrol cars responding thus, B was Lancaster and further down the alphabet were Manchester and Liverpool, hence Z Cars distinctive call sign Z-Victor 1 and Z-Victor 2

The show made stars of its cast including Stratford Johns as Inspector Barlow, Frank Windsor as Detective Sgt Watt, James Ellis (the only cast member to remain in the show's entire 16 year run) as PC Bert Lynch, Jeremy Kemp as PC Bob Steele and a young Brian Blessed as PC 'Fancy' Smith, the squad's hard case, known as 'a teddy boy in a uniform' albeit a firm and fair one.

Also in the cast through the years were Colin Welland, Joseph Brady, Geoffrey Whitehead, Joss Ackland, John Woodvine, Stephen Yardley and Ray Lonnen with breakthrough roles for many a now famous household name. A firm Saturday night favourite in its initial format/schedule the show helped create the template for future shows in that slot such as Juliet Bravo and of course Casualty

The show's theme tune is instantly recognisable. An arrangement by Fritz Spiegl of the traditional folk song Johnny Todd which has roots in Liverpool, Ireland and Scotland. It was provided for the show by John Keating and his orchestra and instantly went down in history. Nowadays it is familiar to football fans as the anthem for the Liverpudlian club Everton, as well as being heard across the Mersey at Tranmere Rovers and down south at Watford home games ever since the 1960s when it was then manager Bill McGarry's favourite TV show.

And here's Bob Dylan singing the trad arrangement, Johnny Todd

A DVD of Z Cars 1972 season will be released next week. The first release of its kind.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Lennon Naked (2010)

Lennon Naked is solid BBC4 biographical TV film from 2010 that is boosted by the brilliant and always watchable Christopher Eccleston (one of several productions I've rewatched with him in recently) giving an unflinching approach at Lennon the man.

Let's face it, John Winston Lennon was a complex man. Abandoned by both father (played here in fractious scenes of father/son reunion by Christopher Fairbank, dusting off his scouse accent from Auf Wiedersehen Pet) and mother as a small child, he grew up not only to be a global rock and roll superstar and a spokesman for the peace movement but also a contrary, snide, wife beating, adulterous and emotionally manipulative dick who walked out on his son Julian much like his own parents had done to him. In focusing on this, the film is lifted beyond mere biopic into something more psychologically meaningful and a touch Freudian. 

It's actually refreshing to see a production that addresses Lennon as a whole rather than just create a puff piece or, adversely, an out and out attack. It is, as the title suggests, Lennon naked. It is a Lennon so embittered by his lack of parental guidance that he fails to see he is destined to make the very same mistake. It's a canny conceit and well played in the film, especially in the final stages when we see John play 'Mother' in confrontation with his father, before jetting off to the States with Yoko for a new life, ill fated never to return, and seeming somewhat taken aback by one journalist daring to ask at that farewell press conference "What about your son?" The film doesn't give us an answer, beyond the head turning reaction swallowed up by harsh photoflash. One wonders if Lennon, for all his naval gazing, would even have had an honest truthful answer.

Eccleston's on form as the man himself and despite his age (he was 46 at the time of filming - an age Lennon was never to see - and has the difficult task of playing Lennon from the ages of 27 to 31, as well as one scene at the start as a 24 year old) and his non Liverpudlian status, he captures his look, mannerisms and the beguiling mix of prickly cynicism and naive wonder rather well.  

This was Eccleston's first return to the BBC after having played Doctor Who five years previously. He's joined here by fellow Whoniverse actor, Naoko Mori (of Torchwood and indeed an episode of Doctor Who in which Eccleston starred) as Yoko Ono, the controversial figure for whom many still cite as the reason for the break up of The Beatles. It's an unenviable role, and frankly Mori, despite being de-beautified, is far too pretty to play the mad artist but she performs it very well and never once resorts to cliche, however slim the role and intangible the woman herself actually is.

Interestingly, the Doctor Who link doesn't end there as further down the cast list we find Andrew Scott as Paul McCartney. Scott played Jim Moriarty in Who honcho Steven Moffatt's other big BBC show, the excellent Sherlock. I must admit I find Scott a bit Emperor's New Clothes, beloved of squealing fangirls and, in turn, Bafta (who awarded him, bafflingly, the Best Supporting Actor trophy last year for his cartoonish Moriarty) yet his mimicry of Macca here is quite superb.

At just 80 minutes Lennon Naked never outstays its welcome and offers the viewer much to think about. It also has one of my favourite exchanges, so good it could have actually featured in one of The Beatles movies;

Accountant: "It's a fact that you're all very rich men"
Ringo: "I like that fact. That's a good fact."

Oh and yeah, you do get to see Lennon (Eccleston and Mori) Naked. Quite a bit actually.

Out On Blue Six : Cat Stevens

In 2005, I was so royally fed up of having spent the previous six years as a civil servant/representation of hate for the mass unemployed that I decided to jump ship and landed, quite inexplicably and utterly ill advisedly in the bizarre and unsuited role of customer services for an office furniture supplier.

I lasted three months. It remains the only job I ever got the sack from and I seem to recall skipping for joy all the way home that morning after my unexpected - well not all that unexpected I guess - severance meeting with human resources. I skipped for further joy when I saw the incredible severance package I was rewarded afterwards. I still think they made a mistake!

I absolutely hated the place. The work - tied to a phone all day listening to people place gibberish orders and type in equally gibberish codes on a colour co-ordinated package that looked about as high tec as a ZX Spectrum game - was not for me, the atmosphere was deeply unwelcoming, the people decidedly unfriendly and small minded. It was an established family business of many years in a small town, hence the small mentality (however it didn't excuse any of the blatant casual racism they so often showcased) They seemed to live for office furniture and little else. Me, I couldn't give a toss about office furniture, I only took the job because I could walk it to and from work each day as opposed to the twenty minute train commute I had been doing the previous six years and also because it might mean I wasn't subjected to face to face abuse on a daily basis. I was however subjected to stultifying boredom on a daily basis and was so adrift I regressed the seven or so years professionalism I'd had from previous jobs to become a slack jawed, incompetent, awkward loner counting the ceiling tiles and watching the hands of the clock go by...willing it to be 12 noon, for lunch, or 5pm for the end of another dreary, soul destroying day.

Why am I saying all this - and in Out On Blue Six? Well because I think Cat Stevens had been there before me, in a firm that ironically shared the same name...

Oil City Confidential (2009)

I love Julien Temple's music biopics; witty, inventive, a clear love, affinity and dedication to the subject matter and a veritable confetti of clips and snippets of sound to enhance the story, you could certainly never call them dry!

Oil City Confidential tells the story of R+B pub rockers Dr Feelgood (the late Lee Brilleaux, Wilko Johnson, John B Sparks and The Big Figure) their rise to success in the pre-punk 1970s and their playful, irreverent Americanisation and mythologising of their hometown, the rundown Canvey Island, as The Thames Delta or the Oil City of the film's title. Temple equally mythologises using great clips from British and American crime and gangster films to draw parallels with the band's rough and ready wham bam appeal.

Our guide for the film is largely Wilko, still as much a skittish, eye popping imposing figure - albeit one who is in turn surprisingly charismatic, articulate, romantic and poetic - as he was on stage as he is leading you through his life and the locale of his beloved Canvey.

Watching it now is quite saddening however, Wilko's diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer late last year and his decision not to receive any treatment means we're set to lose a true giant of British music, one of it's finest, powerful and striking characters. He's currently surpassed the six months the doctors diagnosed him as having left to live and firmly believes the diagnosis has made him feel 'vividly alive', taking each day as a blessing. The writer Mary Jean Iron once wrote a paean for the notion of a normal day; 'Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow. Let me hold you while I may, for it may not always be so' I hope Wilko has many more normal, and as such utterly joyous, days to come.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Saucy Postcards

As it's August Bank Holiday today and I'm off on my hols to the North East coast this coming Saturday, I'm in the mood for some classic saucy postcards. Here's just a smattering of this British tradition that used to have me sniggering as a child in seaside holiday spots like Blackpool and Rhyll because I knew it was 'naughty', even if I didn't necessarily get the gags!

Out On Blue Six : Queen

Nuff Said.

End Transmission

Bank Holiday Bumday

Bank Holiday bonanza of bums!