Saturday, 17 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: Frank Sidebottom

Yesterday I amended my previous Out On Blue Six post to tell readers that I was unable to bring you the other track that I had completely forgotten about until watching an edition of Frank's Fantastic Shed Show, because YT doesn't have it. So instead of The Adventures and Marianne (for that was the track) I'm sharing a bit of Frank himself. He's been on Match of the Day y'know

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Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: Don-E

Here's a song and act that I had completely forgotten about: It's Don-E's debut single  which reached number 18 in 1992 

Why did it come back to me this week? Well it's all down to Frank Sidebottom!

I was watching an episode of Frank's Fantastic Shed Show and Don-E turned up to perform it in Frank's 'garden'. There's another musical memory that came back to me too - which I'll share later this week...

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ETA on 16/11/18: Well I had intended to share another musical memory with you, except YT doesn't have any videos of the song!

Oh well in case you were wondering, it was The Adventures and their song Marianne, which you can hear on Spotify at least.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Music

Here's a Proud to be Northern track from the band The Music, who threatened to break out into the big time a few years ago, but it didn't seem to come to pass. This track, 'Welcome to the North', was most recently spotted as the background music on the trailer for ITV's Geordie detective drama Vera!

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Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Laughing Policeman (1973)

"I hope that's a sandwich you're reaching for because whatever it is, you're gonna have to eat it!"

The Laughing Policeman is the fourth book in the series of ten Swedish novels featuring detective Martin Beck by husband and wife team - and originators of Nordic Noir - Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, who just happen to figure high in my list of favourite authors. It's a novel that grips like a vice from the off, depicting a lone gunman's massacre of the passengers of a Stockholm bus, one of whom was an off-duty policeman known to Beck. Assigned the case, Beck and his team must piece together how and why their dead colleague  came to be on the bus, discovering just as much about him as they do the murderer. 

Given the premise, it's easy to see why Hollywood were interested. Stuart Rosenberg's film relocates the action to San Francisco but loses so much along the way. 

I still don't understand the decision to start the film not with the multiple shooting (or indeed the Vietnam protest that features in the novel) but with events that lead up to the incident on the bus; a peculiar narrative choice that robs some of the mystery inherent in the story by revealing information to audiences that would not figure until much later in the source novel.

Equally missing is Sjöwall and Wahlöö's purpose behind the Martin Beck series. These novels were not just mystery thrillers, they were a textual exploration of the so-called 'Third Way' (between Communism and Capitalism) of Sweden's welfare experiment and, as such, served as a critique of Swedish society throughout the 1960s. In their novels, the bureaucrats and town planners, the rich and the destitute, were just as important as the cops and criminals. Their starting point was that something had gone profoundly wrong in Swedish society and their central protagonist, Martin Beck, was the consummate professional policeman who not only attempted to administer cures but was also wearily sick from what he viewed and experienced. 

Whilst Sjöwall and Wahlöö were often happy to cite their influence in crime fiction arguably stemmed from America, transplanting their story to there essentially makes it little more than an imitation of Ed McBain's 87th Precinct novels (novels that the husband and wife claim to have been initially unaware of) and the cliches of the traditionally American policier are all too apparent in Rosenberg's film. Walter Matthau takes the role of Beck (here renamed Jake Martin) and is admirably dour and dyspeptic but is also a good deal less empathetic than the character in the books. Here, he's not averse to slapping suspects (and women) around, and is placed in the midst of stereotypical domestic disharmony (in the novel, Beck and his wife had already become estranged by this stage, having realised they married in haste as teenagers and no longer really know one another). Matthau, still more famous for his comedic roles at this stage, depicts the glumness of the character admirably, which is just as well as - considering the script elects to remove the very reason why the whole affair is called 'The Laughing Policeman' (Beck's daughter presents him the old music hall record on Christmas Day, and the novel ends with him laughing) - we're left to presume the title must be ironic. (Some territories - including I think the UK, briefly at least - even retitled the film as An Investigation of Murder to avoid confusion).

Rosenberg attempts to make much of San Francisco's colour, perhaps to compliment the integrity of the novels dissection of society, but with bearded ladies, busty strippers, Hare Krishna devotees and obese life models are wheeled out, it sometimes feels like overkill. Crucially, the appeal is lost. If you're from an English-language speaking country, Sjöwall and Wahlöö's Sweden is instantly exotic, fresh and original. This is just another American crime story and the procedural elements that are so engaging on the page feel like an abundance of red herrings and dead ends on the screen.

One of the things I really liked about this adaptation however is the casting of Louis Gossett Jr. as Larrimore - he's the one responsible for that glorious bit of dialogue (spoken to a pimp he's just floored) I included at the top of the review. The casting of an Afro-American actor in the Kollberg role helps to draw out the bigotry of Bruce Dern's Larsen, and he lights up the screen whenever he appears. Unfortunately, the adaptation rather reduces his role as Beck/Martin's friend, partner and confident, preferring instead to focus much more on Larsen. The character of Gunvald Larsson remains a highlight in all of the Beck novels, a brusque yet strangely loveable viking who serves as both action man and comic relief. Dern was no stranger to portraying the ugly side of human nature and he nails the roughhousing nature and aforementioned bigotry, but the character's perpetual (comic) exasperation is somewhat underplayed.

I know my review may seem a little unfair but it is only because I am such an admirer of the novels that I can't help but see the missed potential and flaws in the film. I should point out however that this film was my introduction to Martin Beck, having watched this film for the first (and, until today, only time in the '90s). If you have no prior knowledge or experience of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's writing and you like a good '70s crime drama then this is still enjoyable enough, though not the best that 'New Hollywood' had to offer in this field. If you are a fan of the Martin Beck books and are looking for a good, faithful adaptation to watch then look no further than Bo Widerberg's Mannen på taket (aka Man on the Roof) from 1976, based on the seventh book in the series, The Abominable Man. Interestingly, the actor chosen to play Beck in that film, Carl-Gustaf Lindstedt, was also known for his comic roles, just like Matthau.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Out On Blue Six: The Human League

This week's BBC4 repeat of 1986 Top of the Pops informed us that The Human League were back after a two year break. That long, really? Well I guess with BBC4 going through two years of TOTP each year it seems considerably less. The Human League returned of course with a classy single that was set to become a shopping centre favourite*, Human.

*I've seriously lost track of the amount of times I have subsequently heard Human being piped around shopping centres I've been milling about in over the years. It was especially popular it seemed in St Helens Hardshaw Centre in the late 90s and early 00s. I guess before that it went down extremely well as the last dance in clubs that had singles nights. Seems tailor made for them really.

As you can see from the above single cover, The Human League had not only returned (minus their 'The', which was always quite errant I guess) they had also embraced the mid '80s fashion scene. No longer the quirky innovators they were part of the crowd and the accompanying music video suggested that you really didn't want to put a naked flame anywhere near the trio for fear of them combusting from all that hair lacquer. Still, I possess all the feels for this song and vid... 

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Thursday, 1 November 2018

They Don't Pay? We Won't Pay! @ Liverpool Playhouse, 1/11/18

Politicised pantomime.

That ought to please the playwright Debbie McAndrew, as her reworking of Dario Fo's 1974 play Can't Pay? Won't Pay! shows an affection for an abundance of alliteration, along with that old standby; the corny and deliberately bad joke. Whenever a character in a play or television series is an habitual purveyor of lame gags, an alarm bell starts to ring. It's a very obvious device for any writer who simply cannot come up with a good joke, so they litter their script with dozens of poor ones, thereby excusing themselves if you don't laugh and gaining everything if you do.

Have you realised I hated this yet?

I really did. It was a blessed relief to turn to my friend the minute the interval started to find that we both hated it! So much so that, we excused ourselves to a nearby pub and did not return for the second act. That is something neither of us has ever done before and would never do lightly, but frankly; Northern Broadsides production of They Don't Pay? We Won't Pay! isn't worth the time. Northern Broadsides is right, because this is a very broad comedy of crudely stereotypical northerness. It's ironic that McAndrew has updated a 1970s Italian play to the present day, Brexit torn and austerity struck north of England because it actually feels like an episode of a creaky and abysmal 1970s ITV sitcom like On The Buses, Love Thy Neighbour or The Wackers. I should have known we were in for antiquated entertainment when the cast assembled on the stage before the play commences to warm the audience up with sing-songs of 'When You're Smiling', 'Bring Me Sunshine' and 'Big Yellow Taxi'. I cringed for them, I really did. But even my sympathy was tested by the grotesque mugging the cast then went on to do, with each one pitching their performance to the back wall of the theatre. Director Conrad Nelson should hang his head in shame for electing that hoary old performance style whereby characters engage in conversations with each other, but deliver their lines to the audience. The biggest name in the cast, Steve Huison, just about came away with some dignity intact, but not so Lisa Howard, playing his wife, or indeed any of the other actors who delivered load and unsubtle performances that were just embarrassingly vaudevillian. 

As for the politics, it just felt like McAndrew threw a plethora of buzz words like 'Fake News' and 'Me Too' at the script, along with politicians and issues that she clearly has no real grasp of or indeed any message to convey. The play has a weirdly anti-Corbyn agenda that didn't sit well with this Liverpool audience whilst its Brexit gags fell flat.  If you find the idea of Huison's beleaguered hubby believing that the EU has decreed that a woman's amniotic fluid should consist of brine and olives and is therefore thankful for Brexit then no doubt you'll be wetting yourselves as much as the 'expectant mother' in question.  

I really wish I hadn't paid!