Saturday, April 25, 2020

Ever Circling (Bowie tribute)

I've just completed a David Bowie tribute, the most ambitious of my tributes to date. Full statement and piece can accessed here

Cast of characters (in order of appearance):

Dick Cavett
David Bowie
Rip Torn
Mae West
George Formby
John Harris
Norman Carl Odam
Nic Roeg
Woody Wooodmansey
Elvis Presley
Candy Clark
Michael Palin
Russell Harty
Dudley Moore
Peter Cook 
Buck Henry
David Beales
John Hurt
Richard Burton
Malcolm McDowell
William Burroughs
Cyril Cusack
Geoff McCormack
Carlos Alomar
Ava Cherry
Earl Slick
Peter Sellers
Johnny Mathis
Iggy Pop
Dennis Davis
Graham Lewis
Charles Shaar Murray
Brian Eno
Tony Visconti
Robert Fripp
Chris Burden
Jacques Brel
Debbie Harry
Rutger Hauer

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

A Salt-Set Seal (for Carole Chant)

I composed a new piece for Jon Abbey's AMPLIFY 2020 online festival, which I dedicated to my late friend Carole Chant (83), who died on the 20th of March from Covid-19 related pneumonia.

It can be streamed and freely downloaded from the AMPLIFY Bandcamp page.

This piece was composed with edits of improvisations with found metals which are combined with field recordings made in Iceland, where I first met Carole in 2013 on a field
recording trip with Chris Watson and Jez Riley French. 

These recordings were made in various spots around Snæfellsnes in North West Iceland. I've also used a recording of water underneath a jetty in the Antibes in 2015, as Carole used it in one of her Sounding Out radio shows for Resonance FM. The piece also uses recordings made from the back of Carole's house, where I stayed on recent London visits, as well as from around her neighborhood in Battersea.

I first met Carole in 2013 at a week-long field recording workshop in Iceland with Chris Watson and Jez Riley French
. I kept in touch in the following years and stayed at her lovely house in Battersea on a few occasions on recent London visits. 

She was a wonderful woman with an indomitable spirit, highly creative, fiercely independent, a lively
conversationalist, very funny, generous and thoughtful. I will miss her greatly, as will everyone whose lives she touched, of whom there are a great many.

"She was a member of the Scratch Orchestra; an artist; a much loved art teacher for 30 years; a very fine banjo player (although she hated to admit it) playing Bluegrass, English and Irish folk music, and lots of free improvised music; A radio presenter with a weekly programme on Resonance FM, where she entertained and was entertained by all her favourite people from the worlds of experimental, improvised and folk music, and where she played her field recordings of trips she took to India, Mexico and Egypt, armed with a zoom and all she'd learnt on various courses with Chris Watson"

Tom Chant, Carole's son.

Saturday, December 07, 2019

The Long Good Friday (1980)

After reading 'Very Naughty Boys', about Handmade Films, my interest was piqued to watch The Long Good Friday, especially as I knew it was shot at a time (1979) before the London docklands was developed, so would have some historically interesting footage.

It seems you can't move for the garlands of praise being heaped on this film, both at the time and in retrospect with a new print of the film in the cinema in recent years, but, even though Hoskins delivers a star turn, ably supported by Helen Mirren, the rest of the supporting cast I thought were very weak, the characterisation paper thin, performances quite hammy, especially the key character of Hoskin's right hand man, played by Derek Thompson, who would go on to find fame in 'Casualty' - he was very unconvincing. He seemed to sort of sleep walk through the role. I also found it hard to get past the casting of Brian Hall, better known as the chef in Fawlty Towers, as one of Hoskins' henchmen - the face was just too familiar from the wrong context (even though it took me a while to place it).

And parts of the script really show their age, especially in this scene with Brian King's character of the bent copper talking to Hoskins about the proposed 1988 London Olympics and 'nig nogs doing the long jump..' (ouch). Yes, historically accurate and all that, but I'm sure the actor would wince in later years to remember the line. No different I suppose to Vietnamese being called slopes in Apocalypse Now or the amount of times Samuel L Jackson says 'nigger' in Jackie Brown - it's authentic without being necessarily gratuitous, but grates (more so in the 1979 examples).

The scriptwriter Barrie Keefe did his research amongst the hard men associates of the Krays and others, but for such a dramatic story the film has a curious lack of tension and is oddly paced. Hard to connect with any characters or their eventual fate. The very young Dexter Fletcher appears in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment (he would have been about 13 years old) with some street kids being cheeky to Hoskins. I thought the soundtrack (by Curved Air's Francis Monkman) was awful, very dated, even for the time, trying far too hard.

The film features Pierce Brosnan as an IRA hitman in his first (non-speaking) film role. Lew Grade wanted it for TV transmission originally but was not keen on what he saw as the glorification of the IRA, and demanded substantial cuts. Ultimately George Harrison's company Handmade Films would step into the breach and give it an uncut cinema release. Film maker Sé Merry Doyle recalls considerable police and special branch presence at the opening in Dublin,  monitoring the crowd in the old Irish Film Theatre (now the Sugar Club), with Helen Mirren also in attendance.

What's interesting in the current climate is how pro-Europe Hoskins' character is, and how he might have been fairly knocked out by the scale of development that came in Thatcher's wake, far in excess of his dreams I imagine. Interesting too that his character's name, Shand is so phonetically close to one of the symbols of London's prodigious development, the Shard.

Barrie Keeffe wrote a sequel, Black Easter Monday, set twenty years after the events of the first film. It opened with Bob Hoskins' character escaping from the IRA after the car was pulled over by police. Hoskins would retire to Jamaica, then return to stop the East End being taken over by the Yardies. Perhaps it was just as well the film was never made.

My Father took me on my first visit to London for a few days in Easter '81. We went to see Rowan Atkinson do a stand up show, but could only get one ticket, so Dad let me go in and he went to see The Long Good Friday, but left before the end to come and collect me (I suppose it never occurred to him that I could wait till the film finished). It was years before he saw it in full on TV. He took this photo of me on Carnaby Street. Turns out the film's production office was located here !

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Cape Fear (1962)

Revisited J. Lee Thompson's masterful Cape Fear for the first time in a good 20 years and found it immensely satisfying. Initially storyboarded by Hitchcock, the cinematography follows his penchant for unusual composition, deep shadow, close-ups etc., to great effect. Thompson's decision to film in black and white was an inspired choice - he felt colour would be too distracting - as it heightens the all-pervasive sense of threat and unease that ratchets up throughout the film.

Mitchum is pitch perfect as Cady: impudent swagger, cool as fuck, iron will, unstoppably dogged in his pursuit of Bowden and his family, deeply damaged and misogynist; a brute who uses his forensic knowledge of the law to run rings around his prey. What's interesting about his portrayal is you don't out-and-out hate him at first, he has a certain menacing charisma.

Whereas in Scorsese's overcooked remake De Niro plays Cady as a completely insufferable fucking prick. Mitchum's Cady deftly uses the law like a game of chess, but as things really start to kick off Peck's Bowden attempts to flout the same law in a desperate attempt to gain the upper hand. It's a war of nerves till the end. It's interesting, that's not a phrase you see much these days (it was used in the film posters at the time), but it's vividly evocative, with a certain cold war paranoia about it too, as befits the times.

Thompson originally wanted Hayley Mills to play Bowden's daughter Nancy, as she had a stronger allure for Cady's foul intent. To my mind, Lori Martin was excellent as Nancy because she is so innocent, thus making Cady's brutal intrusion into her life all the more traumatic.

She's an only child, rather sheltered, more like someone out of an early 40s movie, her whole dress sense and hairstyle curiously middle-aged. Thompson admitted to being a bit tough on her as he really wanted Mills, but admits Martin was really good. She would have been about 15 at the time. Apparently she did suffer nightmares for a time after filming. In a very sad postscript, she died by suicide in 2010 at 62 after struggling with mental illness and drug abuse in the wake of her husband's death in 1999.

Whereas Juliette Lewis' portrayal in the remake is more knowingly sexual and curious (she would've been 17). Censorship in the 60s meant that the word rape could not be used, yet when the word 'attack' is used, it still carries considerable threat because the implication is clear. The hints and suggestions of actual levels of violence are more disturbing for not being shown in the original.

The 90s remake is more upfront and reflective of changed times. Scorsese tends more to an almost operatic reading of the story, ending in a near-biblical finale with raging storm and Cady speaking in tongues as he drowns. All very overwrought, with De Niro hamming it up 90.

Bernard Herrman's score is magnificent, and the orchestration has a lot more subtlety than Elmer Bernstein's orchestration in the remake. It also, on close listening, has elements that aren't in the remake too. I wish there was an album version of this. Whilst I do like the remake score, you realise how it tends to bludgeon rather heavily at times, after hearing the original score. 

It could be suggested that the tension in Mitchum's performance was partly informed by his deep aversion to the actual location in Savannah where much of the filming happened - as a teenager he had been charged with vagrancy and put on a chain gang.

When the fight in the river was being filmed, Peck apparently once hit Mitchum for real by mistake, but being the pro, Mitchum kept playing the scene, but when he got back to his trailer, he "literally collapsed" due to the impact of the punch and said that he felt it for days after wards. According to Mitchum: "I don't feel sorry for anyone dumb enough who picks a fight with him (Peck)." 

Meanwhile, Polly Bergen suffered minor bruises in a scene where she struggles with Cady. He was supposed to drag her through various doors on the set, but a crew member mistakenly left all those doors locked, so that when Mitchum forced Bergen through the doors, she was actually being used as a battering ram to push them open.

When the film wrapped Mitchum gave the director a present - a straightjacket !

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Two new releases

Based on a studio session in London in 2017, this trio album is now available. A particular pleasure to work with such fine gentlemen and wonderful improvisors.

My new solo album, Gleaming Seams, is also now available in a limited edition of 50, and digitally at Bandcamp.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Sound Collector

I will be performing a solo percussion set for this event 
on the 6th of July 2019, using found metals and plastics.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Day For Night

So, I decided to mark the 40th anniversary of Unknown Pleasures by composing a Joy Division tribute, Day For Night, which can be heard here.

Cast of characters (in order of appearance):

Tony Wilson
Peter Hook
Peter Saville
Iain Gray
Bob Dickinson
Malcolm Whitehead
Bernard Sumner
Liz Naylor
Stephen Morris
Genesis P. Orridge
William Burroughs
Martin Hannett
Ian Curtis
Jon Savage
Jon Wozencroft
Orson Welles
Martin Sheen
Dennis Hopper
Alan Hempsall

Ralph Gibson, Hand Through Door, from The Somnambulist, 1969.