Thursday, 31 January 2019

The Real Don Tonay

It will come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog how keen I am on the Madchester scene. When Michael Winterbottom's film 24 Hour Party People came out in 2002, I went to see it at the cinemas twice and it fast became one of my favourite films. I loved the way that the film recreated the whole scene and the immersive, bewildering world of Factory Records, populated by so many eccentric creatives and larger than life characters. However, there was one particular character who intrigued me and that was Don Tonay, the owner of the Russell Club in Moss Side.

The Real Don Tonay - photo taken from the Excavating the Reno site, 
a site dedicated to the Moss Side cellar club that Don owned in the 1970s.

In the film, Tonay is played by Peter Kay as your stereotypical northern club owner, not too dissimilar to the type of comic creations Kay is known for. But I quickly learned that this was not a truthful account of Don Tonay, a man with Irish, Italian and Jamaican heritage (a Jamaican father and Italian mother I believe, though I may be wrong) who was a much suaver and more imposing figure than the film depicts.

In Tony Wilson's suitably eccentric novelisation of the film (only Wilson would approach his own life story in such an irreverent fashion; as he says in the film "I agree with John Ford. When you have to choose between the truth and the legend - print the legend" and that's literally what he does in this book) he depicts the real Tonay thus; 

"The front door was open. They walked straight in. At the bar, cashing up, a tall, striking, late-middle-aged man in a fine cashmere overcoat. Imposing wasn't the word. Self-assured as only someone who took on the Krays and lived can be. Story was, he came from the tenements of Dublin's North Side, tough as those streets. After a slight altercation with London's premier family, he has come north"

This then, is corroboration for a bit of mythologising I had once heard in a Manchester boozer when raising the subject of Don Tonay. Rumour has it, a sage in his cups informed me, that Don Tonay had heard that the Kray twins were coming to take a look at Manchester in the late '60s. The train from London Euston arrived at Piccadilly and the brothers decamped to be met by Don and what can only be described as a posse of hard bastards. The Krays took the next train back. 

Is it true? I dunno, but I'd like it to be. Already, I'm falling into the Tony Wilson school of 'printing the legend'.

In his book, Factory: The Story of the Record Label, Mick Middles elaborates more on Tonay's 'gangster' qualities; 

"The Russell Club had numerous guises, mainly though as the PSV Club (Public Service, I never understood that, either). It had made its name in later days as a suitably downbeat reggae-orientated venue handily placed, as it was, for nearby Moss Side. (Tony) Wilson had chanced upon the venue following a meeting with the owner, local 'businessman' Don Tonay. He was, in the eyes of Wilson, ' an incredible character...a civilised gangster' 

Tonay, undoubtedly, had style. He was a tall, commanding handsome man in his late forties. Each night, after prowling around the club, he would leave at precisely 1 a.m. A van would pull respectfully onto the car park. The rear door would open to reveal two beautiful prostitutes in reclining poses, between whom Tonay would stylishly flop. The door would be pulled shut and the van would cruise away into the night. Tonay's style was a throwback, of sorts, to the gangster tradition - he did have links, it was strongly rumoured, with the Kray fraternity - and most people who knew him, and knew him well enough not to cross him, regarded him as a lovely individual. One is tempted, of course, to break into Pythonesque tales of a Piranha Brothers nature; 'Oh yeah Don... he was a lovely bloke...' etc, and such cliches wouldn't be too far from the truth as Tonay ruled his patch with an iron hand, be it a loving hand or otherwise. This was, perhaps, typified by a conversation overheard at the Russell Club one night when Magazine were performing. The band's van had been cynically and pointlessly broken into in the car park. Two 'drug squad' officers, standing at the bar - drinking Red Stripe - were heard to mutter, 'Whoever broke into that van will be very sorry...very sorry indeed...pity for him that it wasn't our precinct. Don will sort them out, poor guys'

Tonay had a few other quirks. There were signs in the club that read 'NO TAMS ALLOWED'. It was difficult to know quite what this meant. However one clue could be the time Tonay wandered into the club and, spying three Jamaican guys in woolly hats, screamed 'Haaaattttts!', following which the offending articles were removed. On another occasion Tonay entered the club at 2 a.m, and two or three straggling tables remained - students mainly - only too slowly finishing their Guinnesses, smoking dope, chatting about the evening's gig.  'Don't you know how to clear a club out?' asked Tonay, his question directed at Alan Wise, his sidekick Nigel, and Wilson. Wilson answered pointedly, 'No...not really, Don'. Tonay proceeded to pick up a table, hurl it in the air and, before it crashed to the ground, screamed 'OOOOOUTTTTTTT!!!!'. The students, needless to say, filed out respectfully, silently, nervously."

Alan Wise himself had this to say in a conversation with New Order frontman Bernard Sumner, included in Sumner's memoir, Chapter and Verse;

"Don was actually quite an erudite gangster who's been involved in political activities all over Africa. He went off to be a paratrooper and had been involved with certain members of the African National Congress. He'd gone to Africa and dealt in iron pyrites. Fool's gold. Don was a fascinating character and I really took to him...he was a pirate...he was a fence. The police used to come round to his house and he'd say, 'how's things, guys?' and they'd say, 'we're broke, Don': they used to openly come round to take money, so he was still involved."

Whilst Lindsey Reade, Tony Wilson's first wife, recalls in her book, Mr Manchester and the Factory Girl, that Tonay was;

"A man of Irish gypsy descent with black wavy hair...(Don Tonay) looked like a big Mafiosi character. Tosh (Ryan) recalled accompanying Don's right-hand man to collect Don from the airport after a trip to Italy. The first thing Don said was, 'Anything happen?' '5 Mitten Street got torched,' came the reply. (This was a shebeen that Don owned.) To which Don responded, deadpan, 'Anything else?' 

So as you can see, the reality was far and away quite different from Peter Kay's interpretation in 24 Hour Party People - even though the film retained Tonay's flamboyant mode of transport home from the Russell Club each night.  

Emphatically NOT the real Don Tonay,
played by Peter Kay in 24 Hour Party People

On my special limited edition DVD of 24 Hour Party People (number 1756 of the DVD release which, of course, has a Fac number too: DVD424) there is a great extra entitled From the Factory Floor; an in-vision DVD commentary of Winterbottom's film, featuring the likes of Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order), Bruce Mitchell (The Durutti Column), Martin Moscrop (ACR) and Rowetta (Happy Mondays), and chaired by the delightful Miranda Sawyer. In it, Hooky talks about Tonay and how radically different the film chose to portray him, and unconsciously challenging the Middles anecdote that made it into the movie;

"Don Tonay wasn't like that though was he? He was much more aloof, much more of a gentleman, you wouldn't catch him in the back of a van with fuckin' hookers. It's probably a good thing that he's dead, the poor bugger, otherwise we'd all have our legs chopped off for that!"

Later on, as Peter Kay makes his first appearance in the film, Sawyer asks the group to recall the real Tonay. Hooky is somewhat confused as to what Tonay's ethnicity was; "Was he black or Italian?" he asks, and Moscrop replies "Italian" "He was very dark skinned though wasn't he?" Hooky continues. "He was from Manchester, but he was of Italian descent" Moscrop concludes - which differs from Wilson's claims that he was originally from Dublin. It's left to Bruce Mitchell to fill in more detail;

"He was a very serious level. He wore like £500 suits...and a £500 suit in those days was a serious suit. He run all the blue beats, he ran all the deliveries of the beer to the blue beats, and this guy was seriously cool..." 

Mitchell then goes on to say something that is presumably libellous as the sound drops out! When it returns, he concludes with "...But he was a very charming guy as well"

The performance by Peter Kay, and the way the character is written in the film, still rankles with Hooky;

"But that's such a strange portrayal. That portrayal of him, if you knew him, is the strangest"

Ultimately, it's Moscrop who sums it up in relation to the audience;

"Everyone knows who Peter Kay is, but they don't know who Don Tonay is" 

In short, the film required the depiction of a northern club owner, Peter Kay was, at the time, playing a northern club owner in his sitcom Phoenix Nights, therefore the film cast Peter Kay, a popular comic, to more or less play himself. A case of printing the legend rather than the truth again.

Did you know Don Tonay? Do you have any stories about him? I'd love to hear from you if you do. Just drop me a line in the comment section below. 

Out On Blue Six: Barbara Dickson

As we approach the end of January (what a relief, always such a slog!) and the start of February, I thought this would be an apt song to share...

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Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Mad Death (1983)

This three part drama about a rabies outbreak in Scotland was based on a novel of the same name by Nigel Slater, and broadcast by the BBC in the summer of 1983. Despite Britain being rabies free since the early 1920s, it's hard to explain the fearful hold the disease still had over the UK in my youth; suitably chilling public information films produced in that period warned you of the horrors posed by importing potentially rabid animals from the continent, whilst it proved to be an ongoing concern for the protagonists in Terry Nation's post-apocalyptic TV series Survivors. So pressing was this threat that comedian Sarah Millican - just a couple of years senior to me - has since recalled how her father taught her as a child the best way to kill a dog, just in case! Tapping into this fear with disturbing aplomb, was The Mad Death.

When a cat owner decides to smuggle her pampered feline into the UK (from France - where else?!) she has no idea of the damage and tragedy she's about to unleash. The cat had got into a scrap with a rabid fox prior to leaving home and it's now a carrier for the zoonotic disease which eventually moves to its first human victim, in the shape of Scottish-based US businessman Tom Siegler (Ed Bishop - yup, not even UFO's Commander Ed Straker is safe here!). Gradually succumbing to the nightmarish death throes of rabies - a fear of water, an inability to tolerate any draught near his throat, weirdly surreal and erotically menacing dreams (though to be fair, that might just be a symptom for Siegler; a randy get who has already passed the disease on to his mistress) - and dies in a hospital isolation room where the cause of death is confirmed as rabies.  

A containment plan is immediately launched and the head of the strategy is veterinary officer, Michael Hilliard, played by Richard Heffer. Heffer was a very popular actor at the time, but it's hard to see the reason for his appeal here though. It's really not his fault though (indeed, I have enjoyed several of his performances elsewhere), it's really a flaw in the writing. You see, Hilliard is your typical 1970s disaster movie hero and by that I mean he's an incredibly dated cliche that now shows up the inherent silliness of The Mad Death. He isn't just a divisional veterinary officer and expert on rabies, he's also a Maverick divisional veterinary officer and expert on rabies - one who wears a permanent scowl, is having it off with Dr Anne Maitland (Barbara Kellerman - you can't really blame him can you?) behind her partner, Johnny Dalry (Richard Morant) of the landed gentry class, and is irked that the rabies outbreak has postponed his commencement of a new and cushy job in Brussels. Indeed, so pissed off is he that he initially turns down flat the opportunity to contain an outbreak that has already claimed two lives (one of which is a teenage girl!) because he doesn't feel his brilliance has been properly recognised by the bureaucrats he has had to work for and he's no time for the public relations exercise such a duty requires. In short, Hilliard is a bit of a prick and Heffer really struggles to make him attractive to this viewer at least. It's down to Jimmy Logan's genial, cigar chomping Scottish minister Bill Stanton to convince Hilliard to stay in the UK and, with the help of Maitland and a minor comic relief character in the shape of portly, bumbling Bob Nicol (Paul Brooke), curtail this threat   before more deaths occur.

Of course Hilliard's  work faces a bigger challenge than locating and destroying all infected animals and that's the horrified reaction his pragmatic and hard-nosed programme from this nation of animal lovers.  The greatest challenge to the kind of dick swinging that Hilliard employs? Why, a mad cat lady of course - the distinctly unhinged and eccentric spinster Miss Stonecroft (Brenda Bruce), who lives in a rambling old pile in the sticks and shares it with a host of cats and dogs who are soon infected. Aghast at the quarantine and murder on display, Stonecroft seeks a twisted kind of justice that could not only scupper Hilliard's work but spread the disease even further.

The Mad Death is a good example of the kind of unsettling, leftfield dramas that the BBC would make in the early '80s - the kind that had the tradition, commitment and feel of a Play for Today but would teeter on the edges of horror and science fiction. However, anyone expecting a kind of 'this could happen any day now' chilling experience so expertly crafted in the daddy of all these dramas - Threads - will be disappointed in The Mad Death, though that's not to say that it doesn't occasionally capture something of those knowing moments of character sleepwalking to their doom and a growing sense of dread. In reality, The Mad Death is something of a stablemate of the BBC's excellent adaptation of The Day of the Triffids, the aforementioned Survivors, and that other BBC Scotland drama, The Nightmare Man. There is however a streak of silliness that runs through it that unintentionally puts you more in mind of the great pastiche of such programmes, Garth Marenghi's Darkplace. By the time we reach the concluding part, which features deeply repetitive sequences of dogs being tracked down and shot on the Scottish hillsides, the jealous Dalry debating whether to shoot them or Hilliard, the rival for his affections, and Dr Maitland being kidnapped by Miss Stonecroft, who has gone the full Hitchcock and decided to keep her as her new 'pet', and I was both rolling my eyes and chuckling. Still, there are enough moments of 'look away now' gruesomeness and a PIF style unsettling atmosphere to offset these.

Nostalgia wise, there's much that stands out from The Mad Death and I'm not just referring to a wonderful sequence in which a stray rabid dog finds its way into an East Kilbride shopping centre full of long-ago folded high street names like John Menzies (the store is soon evacuated, lending an eerie zombie apocalypse style atmosphere to the scenes and a touch of mad action as the off-road fan Dr Maitland takes her Land Rover around the deserted precinct!) either; there's a scene at the very start when a dog bites Hilliard's daughter during a day at the beach and no one does a thing about it. Hilliard doesn't approach the dog's owner (who is of course Miss Stonecroft - neither character aware at this point of what lies around the corner and how their fates are ultimately entwined) to rebuke her or raise the matter, it's just taken as a matter of course that, if you go to pet a dog off it's leash, you take the chance of being bitten. I can't imagine that happening now. 

Tense, but a little sensationalist and cheesy too, The Mad Death is nevertheless a good example of the kind of drama that British TV doesn't really make any more and an indicator of one of the nation's  now near forgotten concerns. It also possesses a genuinely unsettling and disturbing title sequence, which features an unseen child whispering the lyrics to the hymn All Things Bright and Beautiful over images of nature that seem to belong in the 1970s adaptation of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There's a nice suitably early 80s synth score from Philip Sawyer (formerly of the Spencer Davis Group) used throughout too.

The Mad Death is now available on DVD from Simply Media.

Tuesday, 29 January 2019

Absolution (1978)

Absolution is as suitably chilly, gripping and tricksy affair as you'd perhaps come to expect from Anthony Shaffer, the man behind The Wicker Man, Frenzy and Sleuth. Directed by Anthony Page, it's a tale set in a Catholic public school, a tale of priests, revenge and the sanctity of confession. It stars Richard Burton who, then in the twilight of his career, giving a commanding performance as the austere Father Goddard, a priest slowly driven mad by the pranks of his pupils.

A smirking and irksome Dominic Guard co-stars as Benjie Stanfield, a promising pupil who has mastered the ability to present himself in the  most ideal and favourable light to his masters, whilst at the same time holding them in secret contempt. This rebellious streak is given further encouragement when he befriends Billy Connolly's beatnik traveller, Blakey, who has set up camp in the school's nearby woods. The bohemian lifestyle that Blakey lives is certainly attractive to Stanfield, but it's the disapproval that such a carefree life has for Father Goddard that holds the greater appeal. Knowing just what buttons to press, and encouraged by Blakey, Stanfield starts to spin elaborate lies in the confessional, knowing full well that Goddard is powerless to do anything, and soon enough the boy's beatific innocence in class starts to grate with Goddard. When an argument occurs between Blakey and Stanfield, the latter once again heads to Goddard, this time to confess to the sin of murder. But is the boy really telling the truth this time?

Meanwhile, Stanfield is something of an idol for crippled pupil Arthur Dyson (David Bradley of Kes fame, credited her as Dai Bradley) who follows him around like a puppy - when he's not infuriating Father Goddard by constantly asking questions in class, that is. When Stanfield confesses how his irritation with Dyson has led to fantasies of murdering him too, the now beleaguered Goddard realises that - if indeed Stanfield is speaking the truth - he is powerless to stop the boy or indeed save his soul. 

The genius of this film lies not in the twists and turns of Shaffer's narrative but, for me at least, in the sympathy rendered within Burton's central performance. Goddard is not a man to be liked; he's pompous, cold and abrupt, he plays his favourites like Stanfield (and it could be argued - indeed, it is argued by characters within the film - that his interest in the boy lies beyond his academic potential and into something sexual) whilst he is unable to hide the contempt he feels for Dyson, whose naturally inquisitive mind and inability to read social situations irritates him deeply, but perhaps not as much as his disability, which is clearly an affront to him (at one point he even remarks with some cold relish how their pagan ancestors, when faced with a lame and crippled child, would leave it for dead rather than rearing them - the implication being that this is an attitude this particular man of the cloth approves of). And yet, as Goddard is beset by Stanfield's confessions, it's hard not to empathise with him, and this is thanks to both Burton's genius as an actor and Page and Shaffer's commitment to allowing the first half of the film to be solely about characterisation. The desperation that Burton depicts is both palpable and played to perfection; his craggy face becoming increasingly hollow and pale, those eyes become dead and haunted, as the truth creeps up on him and he realises that all that he has placed his faith in is truly lost. It's an exemplary commanding performance from a great actor. Burton may not have always picked the best projects, but he was always convincing in them. That he spent his final years really strong roles  such as this, makes his premature death just six years later all the more tragic.

Equally impressive are Guard and Bradley. It's not easy for two young actors to share the screen with a master like Burton and still hold their own, but these two do and it's all the more impressive when you consider that Bradley had no training in acting, being just an ordinary Yorkshire schoolboy picked by Ken Loach to play the starring role as Billy Casper in Kes just nine years earlier. That Bradley didn't go on to have a successful career as a mature actor is a crime based on the performances he delivered as a juvenile and a young man in the 1970s - though I suspect that, given it took ten years for this to gain a release in the US, it must have been hard for him to capitalise on any work he had done. Meanwhile Billy Connolly, making his cinema debut, reveals a talent that goes beyond his natural profession as a stand-up comedian and folk singer, showing promise as a straight actor a full nineteen years before he got the chance to prove himself alongside Judi Dench in Mrs Brown. He shares just one scene with Burton, but it's  interesting to see two such disparate figures together on film and their natural differences are skilfully conveyed for their respective characters. 

The supporting cast also includes Andrew Keir as the school's headmaster, Robin Soans as an English teacher, Hilart Mason as the school secretary, Sharon Duce as Blakey's scouse girlfriend, Robert Addie as an arrogant and athletic pupil and Brian Glover as a thuggish policeman - though sadly he doesn't get to share any screen time with his Kes co-star Bradley this time around.

A great morality play, Absolution is an underrated gem from late '70s British cinema.

Thursday, 24 January 2019

Out On Blue Six: Swing Out Sister

With BBC4 now repeating Top of the Pops from 1987, I'm reminded of the sophisticated pop of Swing Out Sister, a most underrated pop group. Mention the name and most people will recall Break Out, their chart debut, but they had a string of really good songs, including this one, Surrender

Corinne Drewery was so stylish wasn't she? Turning up at the TOTP studios with clothes the former fashion student bought second hand means she effectively created charity shop chic, whilst her sharp cheekbones and even sharper bob more or less set the template for supermodels like Erin O'Connor. But despite the many she inspired, not many of them could possibly have had her beautiful honeyed voice.

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Monday, 21 January 2019

Out On Blue Six: The Housemartins

There's good publicity and bad publicity and the BBC, our oh so impartial public service broadcaster, seems to be the master of turning the bad to the good when given the nod from the establishment. The tail end of last week the Duke of Edinburgh was responsible for a collision with a car carrying two of his wife's subjects and a nine-month-old baby. This news naturally placed the Windsors in a rather poor light, as questions were raised about whether it was right for the 97 year old Prince Philip to still be driving...and certainly not without wearing a seat belt!

The start of this week saw the BBC news deliver a fluff piece about two infant Chinese twins who, having watched an episode of Peppa Pig in which the porcine heroine meets the Queen, made a video requesting to meet the Queen themselves. The British Ambassador in China, keen to restore some good faith in the Windsors, were quick to extend an invite to the two girls at the British Embassy and the BBC spun the whole thing as proof that 'Brand Britain' is a winner overseas. 

It all reminded me of this classic Housemartins song from 1987, in particular the line "And even when their kids were starving, they all thought the Queen was charming" A nine month old baby could have died because of the cavalier attitudes of an infirm nonagenerian. But it's OK, cos he's royalty and we all love royalty don't we?


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Saturday, 19 January 2019

RIP Windsor Davies

Very sad to hear of the death of Windsor Davies at the age of 88 on Thursday.

The burly, deep-voiced Welsh actor was best known for playing the Sergeant-Major in Croft and Perry's classic WWII set sitcom It Ain't Half Hot Mum which ran from 1974 to 1981. It was a role that not only made him a household name but also saw him typecast (not that he seemed to mind) as the bullish soldier putting others through their paces in everything from films like Carry on England and Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall to children's series like Marmalade Atkins and Gerry Anderson's Terrahawks. When he wasn't playing the sergeant-major then he was often cast as policeman, appearing as one on TV in the likes of Z Cars, Softly Softly, Callan, Special Branch, Detective, The Mind of Mr J.G. Reader, and The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, and on film in The Playbirds, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Endless Night, and Not Now, Comrade.

Other memorable roles include starring opposite Donald Sinden as rival antique dealers in the ITV sitcom Never the Twain which ran from 1981 to 1991, and the Welsh rugby comedies, Grand Slam and Old Scores. He also starred in Carry On Behind, played General Tufto in the BBC's excellent 1998 adaptation of Vanity Fair and David Lloyd George in Channel 4's Mosley. His last appearances on TV included guest appearances in Casualty in 2000 and in My Family in 2004, before retiring to France. His wife passed away in September last year and he is survived by five children.


Thursday, 17 January 2019

Out On Blue Six: Fisherman's Friends

With a new movie out later in a month or two based on the Port Isaac folk group, Fisherman's Friends and starring the likes of James Purefoy, David Hayman, Daniel Mays and Dave Johns, I thought it the ideal time to share one of my favourite tracks from them

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Tuesday, 15 January 2019

No Confidence

The biggest defeat for a serving PM since 1924, it was inevitable that Theresa May would fall flat on her face tonight. It's time for a real government, one that actually puts the concerns of ordinary people first. In the face of this Brexit nightmare, Jeremy Corbyn has tabled a vote of no confidence in the calamitous Tory government that has brought us to this farce, and Momentum are asking for your support. Please sign this petition, show that we need an election that delivers a Labour government and let's take back proper control.

Out On Blue Six: Hannah Peel

Radcliffe and Maconie's time slot may have changed from weekday afternoon to weekend mornings on 6 Music this week, but their commitment to great music remains the same. Stuart opened a new feature on Saturday's first show called 'Sun Up', showcasing music to signify the start of the day with Sunrise Through the Dusty Nebula by Hannah Peel. Have a listen, it's beautiful

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Monday, 14 January 2019

Nico, 1988 (2017)

Firstly, I must confess I'm not a great expert on Nico. However, as a fiercely proud Lancastrian I have long since been fascinated by the fact that the former Velvet Underground singer and muse of Andy Warhol spent her final decade - the 1980s - living in Manchester. 

Unfortunately for me, Susanna Nicchiarelli the director of Nico, 1988, is far less fascinated with the idea of Nico living in Manchester and more interested with telling a somewhat traditional tale of a faded star who attempts to get her shit together in the final years of her life. This may be the right decision; after all, can you really make a 90 minute movie out of her repeatedly scoring heroin with John Cooper Clarke in their Prestwich flat? (I dunno actually, I'd watch it) but I still feel like this is a missed opportunity. The way Nicchiarelli shows it, Nico seems to find herself in Manchester in 1986 (and not the very early 80s as she in fact did), deciding it's like post-war Berlin and as good a place as any to settle, before heading off on a European tour organised by her manager, Richard, played by John Gordon Sinclair. Despite a few inauspicious moments, the tour provides Nico with the opportunity to reconnect not only with music, but her estranged son, Ari, the child Nico bore with French actor Alain Delon.

Now, let's address the elephant in the room. Gregory's Girl is one of my favourite films and I love John Gordon Sinclair but sweet fancy Moses, he cannot do a Manc accent. That said it's not really his fault that his character truly fails I guess, because 'Richard' is of course a fiction; an amalgam, I presume, of Roger Eagle and Nico's manager, the legendary Manchester music impresario Alan Wise; a man whose personality was much more out there and larger than this film - which is understandably about Nico - can actually sustain. I get that a film on this budget was never going to get Steve Coogan (and he's been there, done that anyway) but there are plenty of Manc actors to choose from, so why did they turn to a Scot? Bloody hell, did no one think to ring Kieran O'Brien? He's shot his muck on screen before now, he's up for anything!

This refusal to explore the idea of Nico in the grubby Manchester bedsit land of the 1980s also means we don't get John Cooper Clarke in the movie, any notion of the roots she put down there, or any suggestion that Manchester was such a thriving hotbed for the music scene at that time. There's no interaction to be had with any of the big acts from Factory or indeed any of the Mancunian music legends, just the odd sequence of her performing at Rafters. That's it. 

What does work about Nico, 1988 however is the performance from Trine Dyrholm, an actress I have admired ever since Festen and especially love in the Danish TV series, Arvingerne (aka The Legacy). Dyrholm, who sang all the songs in the movie, doesn't just mimic Nico, she creates a character for the movie alongside Nicchiarelli and it's a fragile yet sometimes infuriating, morose and fiercely intelligent delight. It's fair to say in fact that Dyrholm is the film. 

Nico, 1988 has been met with come criticism. There are some critics (largely Americans it seems) who bemoan the fact that the film doesn't focus on Factory (that's the Warhol version, not the Anthony H Wilson one) or La Dolce Vita, whilst others complain that Nico's less attractive qualities, including her racism and antisemitism are ignored. It's true that Nicchiarelli does do the latter - besides surmising that Richard is Jewish, Nico's less than respectful opinions are concerned with his socialist politics, as she is even shown to have a very cute and friendly relationship with her Manchester landlord, a yamaka-wearing Jew - but the former criticism is completely missing the point, frankly. 

Stylistically, Nicchiarelli chooses to shoot in square, rather than rectangular, format in an attempt to reproduce the aesthetic of the period  in which the film is set and old VHS era. Despite it's narrow view of the subject matter, the film does have much to say and never more so is this clear than in this comment Nicchiarelli made; “It’s interesting that Nico was born in 1938 and died in 1988, a year before the end of the cold war. She never saw her country reunified. It’s as if the war never ended for her.” Nico, 1988 may not deliver on its promise of recreating those final years, but it understands perfectly that her life was ostensibly one that was lived like a war zone.

Now can someone make a Mark E. Smith/The Fall/Brix biopic so I can see the culture clash of LA Brix trying to live in Prestwich on chip butties with Mark?

Friday, 11 January 2019

RIP Dianne Oxberry

As a proud northerner who loves his region, I am shocked and saddened to hear of the death of local legend and BBC North West Tonight's long-time weather presenter, Dianne Oxberry following a short battle with cancer at the age of just 51.

The meteorologist joined North West Tonight in 1994 and, as such, she has been an almost daily part of my life for the last twenty-five years. She was the mainstay of the programme and I will always remember what I personally feel was the show's golden years, when the presenting team consisted of Gordon Burns, Ranvir Singh, Tony Livesey and her. Around this time she gained national attention when Peter Kay memorably interrupted her forecast, proclaiming "God love Dianne Oxberry - You made the sun shine for everybody!" Words that many paying tribute today have recalled fondly, almost as her epitaph.

Prior to North West Tonight, Sunderland born Dianne worked for Radio 1, presenting alongside Simon Mayo and as part of the Steve Wright's 'Zoo' team. In the early '90s she also presented the BBC's Saturday morning children's TV show The 8:15 From Manchester with Ross King and Charlotte Hindle - a show that the teenage me used to greatly enjoy with its mix of cartoons, stunts and games and its showcase for the best in the baggy Madchester music scene. It was her that she met her husband and the father of her two young children, cameraman Ian Hindle.

As well as presenting the weather, Dianne also presented the Inside Out North West current affairs and local interest series, worked for BBC Radio Manchester and appeared as herself in the film Grow Your Own, and in the Steve Coogan comedy drama series Sunshine. 

Presented with a cake by the NWT team for twenty years service with the show

There are many heartfelt tributes being paid right now from colleagues and admirers, but the most touching one I've seen comes in the shape of a poem from Lemn Sissay, which I'll share here;

She saw and named storms,
With calm and hazel eyes,
I shalln't think of her as 'passed away',
I'll think of her as sun rise.

Indeed. I'll be preparing myself for some tears coming in today's bulletins.


Thursday, 10 January 2019

Michael Collins (1996)

Anyone expecting from Neil Jordan's 1996 film the definitive account of the life of Michael Collins and  the fight for a free Ireland will be sorely disappointed. Jordan was perfectly placed to deliver a modern epic, but instead his film harks back to the kind of thing John Ford did back in the 1930s and '40s. 

When I first saw this as a young man I was quite impressed by it, but I didn't know my Irish history as well as I would come to do and I think that's why, upon this rewatch, I wasn't as keen - because the problem here is historical accuracy and Jordan's decision to fictionalise much of the story. 

It's one thing to alter the circumstances of Harry Boland's death (he was not shot escaping through the sewers a'la Orson Welles in The Third Man - he was in fact shot during an aborted arrest by soldiers of the  Irish Free State Army at Skerries Grand Hotel, and died some days later in hospital) and to outright kill the double agent Ned Broy at the torturous hands of the British, when in fact Broy went on to live into old age. But it's something else to fictionalise the events of the first 'Bloody Sunday' - the massacre of fourteen innocent civilians at Croke Park football ground in 1920. In reality, the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans entered the stadium to conduct a search for the accomplices of Collins responsible for the deaths of soldiers, policeman, informers and intelligence operatives known as the 'the Cairo Gang'.  Whilst undertaking this duty, the British began firing their rifles and revolvers in what their commanding officer Major Mills would later describe as an 'excited and out of hand' manner. In Jordan's film however, we see armoured vehicles roll onto the pitch itself before firing indiscriminately and without warning upon the crowds assembled there. 

The DVD I watched is a 20th anniversary edition that comes with a commentary from Jordan himself and I could not resist rewatching this controversial scene to hear his account first hand. It's telling that he first says that he felt he had to 'falsify history', before realising the negative connotations of just such a phrase and correcting himself with 'dramatise history' instead. Unfortunately, I feel he was right the first time. The events of Bloody Sunday in 1920 and the consequences of British imperialism in Ireland (and indeed , the world over) were truly horrific and shameful - it did not need exaggeration for dramatic effect. Given that tentative ceasefires were occurring between Ireland and the British at the time of the film's production and release, it's easy to see why Jordan's choices came in for much criticism as being rather inflammatory. 

Jordan subsequently lands himself in further hot water when depicting the events of Collins' assassination in 1922. His film strongly implies that Éamon de Valera had a hand in the ambush at Béal na Bláth by forging a link between the political leader and a fictional assassin played by a young Jonathan Rhys Meyers (in reality the man who fired the fatal bullet was a former British army sniper and his motivations and the circumstances surrounding Collins' death remain unclear). Jordan claims that it was never his intention to imply that de Valera had anything to do with Collins' murder, but his claims do not hold water because of this or his previous decision to depict de Valera as knowingly sacrificing Collins in Westminster to deliver a free state proposal that led to the Irish Civil War. His decision to close the film on de Valera's comment that "History will record the greatness of Michael Collins, and it will be at my expense" makes it sound less like political ruefulness and more like an admission of guilt too. 

Away from the issues with accuracy, the film boasts many strengths. The cast is uniformly strong, led by Liam Neeson in a role he was born to play (albeit a few years earlier - Neeson at 44 is too long in the tooth to convince as a republican leader who was just 31 when he died). Admittedly there are some hokey accents on display here; American Aidan Quinn stars as Boland and Alan Rickman is a great de Valera, but you're perpetually aware that he's doing an accent and you're willing him to nail every inflection the minute he opens his mouth, which rather detracts somewhat. Nevertheless, he is significantly better than Julia Roberts as Collins' sweetheart Kitty Kiernan, a role that earned her many brickbats at the time. To be fair to Roberts (she continued to struggle with the Irish accent in the much lambasted Mary Reilly)  she's not solely culpable here because Jordan has written a very poor part; each time she arrives in a scene, heralded by Elliot Goldenthal 'Romantic' score (that's with a capital R - so soft you'd have to thumb it in), your heart sinks because you know you're in store for some boring moments before we can get back to the fighting, of the political or very real variety. It's fair to say she's miscast yes, but you have to admire her desire to want to be taken more seriously internationally at this stage in her career. It doesn't help either that she has very little chemistry with Neeson, or indeed Quinn as a rival for her affections. Rounding out the cast are Ian Hart, Stephen Rea and a succession of familiar Irish faces, including a pre-fame Brendan Gleeson (looking very much like his son, Brian). There's also a small but pivotal and classy cameo from Charles Dance.

The film looks beautiful too and it's easy to see why it was one of the most expensive films produced in Ireland, going on to reap the benefits by taking £4million on its release and making it the highest grossing film ever released in Ireland at that time (Titanic would later relegate it to second place). Goldenthal's score is strong too, and the decision to incorporate Sinéad O'Connor at one key point was inspired.

Silly Rachel Riley's Own Goal

Recently Rachel Riley, best known for picking vowels and consonants and adding numbers up in various skimpy dresses on Countdown (yeah, it's still going!), decided that she should be the one to stamp out antisemitism in the UK - or more particularly, the perceived antisemitism in the left of politics.

Taking to twitter she has smeared everyone from Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Loach and - most bizarrely of all - Noam Chomsky, as being promoters of antisemisitm. 

This stance last night afforded her the ultimate accolade of being interviewed about her position by Channel 4 News anchor and Riley colleague (and "swinging dick", according to Lucy Porter on yesterday's Richard Herring podcast) Krishnan Guru-Murthy. It should have gone swimmingly - except Riley fell at the first hurdle.

When asked by Guru-Murthy what her Jewish identity was, Riley - this staunch fighter of A/S remember - replied; "You wouldn't know, I don't look like a typical Jew, or anything like that" (you can see it here) before conflating Jewish people with Israel.

Oh dear. I'm sorry Rachel but that really is not Numberwang. In fact I feel that is, by IHRA definition, A/S of itself.

The great Michael Rosen, a voice of sanity in the open sewer that is the A/S debate (or, to give it it's proper term, the establishment and trendy wendies stick-the-boot-into-the-left moan) on social media, was quick to point out Riley's error, demanding to know what facial or body characteristics a 'typical Jew' may possess. I doubt she will respond.

Monday, 7 January 2019

Out On Blue Six: Peter Gabriel feat Kate Bush

The first Out On Blue Six post of 2019, and it's Don't Give Up, Peter Gabriel and The Blessed Kate's powerful ballad asking you to reconsider Dry January*... 

*Not really of course. It's inspired by the now iconic Depression-era photography of Dorothea Lange which struck a chord with Gabriel during the dark, similarly impoverished days of Thatcher's Britain and the miners' strike. Such a beautiful, heartbreaking song.

End Transmission

Thursday, 3 January 2019

It's Over So Fast

Is it just me or does Christmas finish earlier and earlier each year?

Taking the dog for his evening stroll these past couple of nights I've been struck by how many houses have taken down their decorations. Now I guess I can talk, it's been a tradition to take everything down on New Year's Day for some years now, but it seems a little sad to see houses in my neighbourhood that have young children so suddenly give up Christmas long before twelfth night and the end of the school holidays. 

And it's not just taking down the decorations. It seems to me now that Christmas is largely considered over by Boxing Day, when the January sales inexplicably start. I can remember when the sales didn't start until New Year's Day, which is when it should start really, allowing everyone to enjoy a relaxing week long Christmas break between the two big days. I get why the high street start the sales early these days, they struggle enough with online competition to lose out on a week in which potential customers would be sit at home buying stuff on their phones and laptops, but it just feels like Christmas is getting squeezed every year.

In the end we have weeks of lead up for what is essentially just one day. How did we get to this?

Wednesday, 2 January 2019

Plus Size Bond Girls: January

Here's a novelty I've come across online. It's a calendar featuring plus size models as Bond girls. As the calendar fits 2019, I thought I'd share each month

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Doctor Who: Resolution

Some 'fans', ie the Special People, threw their Dapol figures out of the pram when they heard that Jodie Whittaker's debut season would feature no returning villains. Like, how were they expected to cope with a female Doctor and no Daleks?

Personally, I breathed a sigh of relief. If there's one thing NuWho has been guilty of it's milking the Daleks to death. RTD re-introduced them so brilliantly in the first season, with Rob Shearman's excellent Dalek (still on of the very best Dalek stories ever) and a thrillingly old fashioned two-part space opera finale in Bad Wolf and The Parting of the Ways, but let's face it, they ought to have been used sparingly in subsequent seasons, just like in old Who. By the time we got to that hideous redesign, the Paradigm Daleks, there was only really one thing to do and that was to draw a discreet veil over proceedings and use them very carefully, or indeed not at all.

Resolution (c'mon, would it have hurt to call it Resolution of the Daleks?) brings the monsters of Skaro back with a palpable bang, first to back-hug (shades of Alien there) Charlotte Ritchie's archaeologist and force her to go on an epic killing spree, before rehousing itself in what the Doctor described as 'junk yard chic', wiping out a troop of soldiers and invading GCHQ. But perhaps the Daleks most cruelest play was in robbing bored and hungover families of their wifi on New Year's Day, forcing them to have...a conversation!

As with the last season, Resolution hits the ground running and continues to deliver something that is notably Who but yet at the same time unlike anything RTD or Moffat created. I especially liked the Limp Bizkit style score, which added to the relentless nature of the Daleks, and the regular cast continue to impress with Whittaker's Doctor getting a great moment, literally facing off against the Dalek (or rather Ritchie) who had foolishly laughed at her; "Do that again, to my face"

Some people continue to say that you can't have a female Doctor, some people continue to say that this doesn't feel like Doctor Who. I'm here to tell you that, having loved this show all my life (including the very dark period as a teenager in the 90s when all you had was DWM and the Virgin New Adventures) that these people are wrong. Dead wrong.