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.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

An evening of fun

15 years to the day since this wonderful gig at Tramway in Glasgow, which gave us The Scottish Play DVD, I thought I'd mark the occasion by trawling the memory, with an edited version of a letter to a friend at the time:

Photo/backstage pass sorted, Paul Smith has asked me to take a shot of the boys in the gardens of Tramway before or after soundcheck, so I’m at the venue by 4 as per the Wire schedule of arrival in Glasgow, though it’s not clear whether 4 is the time of their arrival in the city or the venue…

Slaking my thirst after the long walk out of the city centre to the venue, there’s no sign of the lads. So I make direct inquiries at reception, and am brought round to the production manager’s office. He doesn’t know when they’re getting in. I go out to the gardens to get some ideas. Though I’m excited by the prospect of doing this photo, I’m also terrified. As time ticks by, the terror mounts. I can’t get any fucking ideas. I return to the bar and try to read my book. But I can’t concentrate. I’m on edge. 

After what seems like forever, I hear some unmistakably familiar chords emanating from the stage area. The lads have landed. I wander in and meet Graham as Bruce is doing his line check. Refreshments are offered in the dressing room. I’d murder a cup of tea, but there’s a fridge full of Stella, so I opt for a beer. Try and relax me for the photo shoot (some chance !).

We’re chatting away and Colin comes in. ‘Hello !’ he beams. ‘You're looking very well… tanned as well !’ he says as we shake hands. ‘Yeah.. I’m out on the bike a lot..’, Then he disappears and I sit down with Graham again.

He had suggested in an email resuming a previous phone conversation about the collaborative album with John Duncan, so I’ve come prepared with my Dictaphone. Stories unfold and people wander back and forth. He nips out for his line check and Bruce appears. Greetings exchanged, he flops down on the couch. He seems very tired, and conversation fizzles out after a short while. Time enlarges. Eventually Graham appears. “You alright Bruce ?” he asks quizzically. “Meditating” comes the reply.

Graham resumes filling in the background to Presence. Some very interesting stories there. Then they’re all called to soundcheck. I nip out with them and get a few shots. Then we’re all back in the dressing room with Paul and they’ve to do an MTV interview and a radio interview.

The lads are back and Paul decides to do the photo. I suggest they do the radio interview first. “Nah, let’s do the photo..” he says with a sweeping hand gesture, as though to clear us all out to the gardens. We all walk out, with Paul leading the way. He seems to be going to some specific part of the gardens. The greenhouses. They been out here already? Fuck ! “Bruce wants a shot looking down in between the greenhouses… we were thinking of using it for the cover of the DVD…” Shit Smith, now you tell me ! As if I didn’t feel terrified enough !

I’ve got the lads lined up in my sights and they don’t quite fit between the greenhouses, so they have to rubberneck a bit. It looks shite. I snap away anyway, changing lenses to get different perspectives. They are smiling back down the lens at me, being model models. Before the lads go back inside, I think I should really get something else. So I say it to Bruce. “Where do you want to go ?” he says. “What about that seat over there with the tree growing out of it… ” “Yes… problem is, probably everyone else has used that…” (shite !!) “OK… em… what about over here in front of this chimney, there’s a path leading up to it that’ll give us a similar perspective to the greenhouse”. “OK”. They line up patiently. Mmm. This is a bit better. Bit more depth. I suggest Rob takes off his wooly hat as it’s sat lightly atop his head and makes him look 7 foot tall. Change lenses again for some close-ups. It’s after 7 and I really don’t want to detain them any more.

Then we notice a whole bunch of security had assembled at the entrance to the gardens and were milling about. Penguins on parade. Bruce thinks it could make an interesting shot if they mingle with them. I think it’s a brilliant idea. Someone from the venue comes out and Colin asks if it’d be OK to be photographed with the security. The woman doesn’t exactly say no, but she seems unsure, but this is enough for Colin. They scrap the idea. Shite !! It could’ve been great… even if we did a less posed one with the security more in the background… but the opportunity has been squandered. I think it could’ve been a classic. I should’ve pushed it a bit more. As we wander back inside, Colin remarks that they’ve never appeared on any album cover (apart from the back cover of Pink Flag & Chairs Missing I think to myself).

All aboard the tour bus and we’re off. The driver’s tuned to some dreadful station playing what I thought was Eddy Grant. Colin corrects me. “It’s Men at Work”. “Jesus ! You’re right… what a godawful band…” “One of the most loathsome of the 80s” Colin says. The flute on the track reminds him of the fact that Mike Thorne used to play flute. And wear glittery trousers. Well… whaddya know !

The bus pulls in to the hotel and we’re only a few yards from where I’m staying, as it happens. I repair to the hotel bar with Graham and Bruce. About 40 minutes later we’re sat in the hotel’s Thai restaurant awaiting our orders. I’m introduced to Susan Stenger. Bruce is sat opposite me, and he’s gone quite again. For a minute or two at a time he just closes his eyes. (Maybe he is just very tired. Or listening.) Graham, to my right, is, by contrast, always the lively conversationalist. When we leave, I thank Paul, and he just says “EMI”. Well I suppose it is a Mute night… and Mute are now owned by EMI…

The bus gets us back to the venue shortly after 10, and Pan Sonic are melting the concrete. The new material is stunning. Bruce had said earlier that they were going to ‘drop the bomb’. Well it was a pretty explosive set. I met Ilpo afterwards and told him how much I enjoyed the set, and the time they played Dublin, with Bruce, FM Einheit and Caspar Brotzmann. He’s grinning happily.

Back in the dressing room I say to Graham how outstanding the new Pan Sonic stuff is. He tells me he has a CDR of the new album (not out for a few weeks), sounding very pleased with himself. “Well you’re a cunt, aren’t you ?” I say. He smiles broadly. Paul says “feel free to help yourself to beer… we’ve plenty of it…” he says motioning to the extra boxes under the table, “ doesn’t always get drunk…” So I start as I mean to go on, and bring a bottle out to the public area, which is now rammed with people. I wander about to see if I can spot any Ideal Copyists. Then I notice Mark, Paul and Chris. It’s great to see them, and we chat away until the start of the Liars set. They’ve reduced to guitar, drums and electronics, and most definitely shed the Gang Of Four influence. It’s an enjoyable, if somewhat shambolic set. I spot Graeme Rowland in the crowd, and I suggest he joins me backstage for a beer with the lads, but he disappears.

Grab another beer, and back out to the public area. I spot Irmin Schmidt, shake his hand and thank him for years of listening pleasure with Can. Time’s moving on now, and it’ll be Wire’s turn to make some noise soon. I disappear backstage. Things are running about 20 minutes late. Wire have left the dressing room now and are waiting to get on stage. I grab my camera gear and head out to take up my position with the film crew, between crash barrier and stage. It’s the most surreal sensation as I walk out from backstage, as, for a few seconds as I walk across, the whole audience looks expectantly at me…

“Nice one chaps” I say as the lads collapse exhausted onto the couches after a storming set. Paul is cracking open the champagne, and hands me a glass. The atmosphere’s really good now, everyone’s relaxing. People are snapping with their digital cameras. Bruce hands me a G&T. Cheers ! Some more champagne and beers and it’s getting on for 3. I have just been informed that the hotel has a 24 hour bar. Holy shit, this party never ends !

Back on the bus, back at the bar, downing the beers, here we go. I meet Project Dark’s Kirsten Reynolds, and chat with her for a while. She very kindly gives me a copy of their Gramophone Deluxe CD. Bruce comes over and we’re chatting for a while, but it’s here I start to find significant gaps in my memory of what was said. It’s nearing 5. Upon needing the assistance of the architecture to guide my safe passage to the toilet, I realize I’m quite pissed, and decide to make a quick exit. “Let us know what you’re up to…” Bruce calls after me as I struggle out the door. “YeahshurrBrucceseeyelater”

I wake up next morning and notice I’ve slept in my clothes. Jesus ! At least I had the good sense to take me boots off ! It’s 9.30. But my watch has stopped. Shit ! What time is it – I’ve a plane to catch !! Lash on the boots and race downstairs. Ten past ten. OK. I’ve missed the breakfast. I approach the receptionist.

“Any chance of some breakfast ?” I croak.

“Breakfast finishes at 9” she responds chirpily, with a sadistic smile.

“I got in very late last night”


“I slept in”


“Ah go on…”




Jesus. She’s not giving me an inch. Well fuck you missus. Fuck you very much.

Friday, February 01, 2019

New sound work January 2019

Vacant Possession (2019) 14' 10”

This piece, which was made for Project Arts Centre's show 'Active Archive - Slow Institution - The Long Goodbye', has been woven from field recordings, radio recordings, answering machine messages and concert recordings made in the 1990s, and also includes some TV and music from the time. The field recordings were originally made for my CD album for Project Arts Centre, Invisible City (1999), as part of their 'Off Site' series of exhibitions during building renovations.

Going back to these recordings twenty years later is a curious experience, a time machine to different times, where, in a digital surgery of grafting and transfusion, presences are reanimated, spirits invoked, vacated spaces haunted. It's a sonic seance, a poltergeist's pantomime, an entropy tango. I'm reminded of how Iain Sinclair pithily described the editing process for London Orbital (2002), his film with Chris Petit: “The choice was stark: become a digital mudlark, rummaging through exhausted footage for retrievable images. Fool's gold, dropped down the toilet bowl of the culture.”

This piece functions like a radio play or cinema for the ears, where hybrid scenes are stitched from various parts of my record of the decade, and different characters appear and disappear. Though the recordings were not part of any attempt to exhaustively document the decade, merely part of an ongoing continuum of recordings of things that interested me. Edits from solo and collaborative performances of mine colour the second half of the piece. Wading through the tapes, there were some things I'd completely forgotten (and glad) I'd recorded.

Certain signature sounds are salient parts of the landscape for me, and work like 'soundmarks' or sonic landmarks. The particular texture of Dublin bus engines, and the call of the Moore Street traders that is pure music to me, no need to loop it or add to it, it's music 'in the field' in the best sense, part of a continuum of village vendors calling out across time the world over. Their calls are almost gone now, sadly, in a changed landscape and regulatory framework where traders, since the beginning of this year are not allowed to pass licenses down through families, as they had done for decades. I fear it's the beginning of a process that will see them eventually leached out in favour of larger developments.

Radio was more a part of my media landscape then, and hearing certain sig tunes really takes me back – Morning Ireland, Gay Byrne (the point where I switched off), Myles Dungan on Today at Five, Scrap Saturday (satire the likes of which we have not heard since). Callan's Kicks, try though it might, just doesn't cut it like Dermot Morgan et al used to so hilariously.

The 90s was a time of enormous flux and upheaval in the built environment, and thankfully I had the presence of mind to photograph various sites around the city as they underwent significant changes. Looking back over these, I'm reminded how much dereliction, open space and abandoned property there was (going back 20 years or more). It was a gap-toothed city, with areas steadily accumulating value till the developers swept in for the kill. Signage on some empty properties would flag it as 'vacant possession', meaning there were no sitting tennants, the building was well and truly empty, and free of any potential impediments to development.


RTE radio 1 pips
Evening, Charles Street flats
Dublin bus
Late night, Mountjoy Square
Propeller plane over Trinity College
Christchurch bells
Gay Byrne, housewife of the year contest
Archaos (FR) performance, Tallaght, 1991
Bow Gamelan (UK) performance, Ha'penny Bridge, Dublin 1990
Mike Murphy & Stephanie MacBride reviewing Sculptors' Society of Ireland 'Random Access' artists' soundworks CD, produced by Crocodile Records, 1994.
Concrete pouring, Morrison Hotel (former Ormond Printworks) 1997
DJ Shadow – edits of 'Midnight, In A Perfect World' and 'Changeling' (1996)
Scrap Saturday RTE Radio 1 satire programme with
Dermot Morgan, Owen Roe & Pauline McLynn
Birmingham 6 River Parade of Innocence, December 1989
Myles Dungan, 'Today at 5' RTE Radio 1 news programme, 1995
Marian Finucane, phone-in about censorship
Tricky – opening vocal from 'Pumpkin' (1995)
Scaffolders, Grafton Street, 1997
Moore Street traders, Talbot Street butchers, Mary Street home wares shop, 1995
Roller shutters, Moore Street, 1997
Car alarm set-up, 1997
Max Eastley aeolian sculpture, 'Pine Ghost', part of Sculptors' Society of Ireland
exhibition, 'Ireland & Europe', Iveagh Gardens, Dublin, 1997
Fergus Kelly prepared bass solo perfomance, for 'Body Without Organs' event,
Temple Bar Gallery, Dublin 1999.
Scrap Saturday, 'Maurice Pratt' (Quinnsworth) Gulf War skit
DART leaving Tara Street station 1997
Master Musicians of Joujouka performing for Dave Fanning radio show, RTE, 1992
Frank Rynne interviewed by Dave Fanning about 'Here To Go' show at Project, 1992
'Alan Partridge'/Steve Coogan
Fiach Mac Conghail
IMMA lift
Frank McDonald talking about the Civic Offices
Duo with Max Eastley, Arthouse, Dublin 1997.
Joan Fowler mentioning 'In A State' show - Project Arts Centre's contribution to
Dublin '91 (when we were Capital of Culture)
Scrap Saturday 'Mike Murphy' exhibition review skit
Repetitive Strain Industries (Fergus Kelly, David Lacey, Jurgen Simpson) performance
for Fergus Kelly's 'Invisible City' CD launch, as part of Project's 'Off Site' programme,
Project at The Mint, Dublin, 1999
World Cup celebrations 1990

Fergus Kelly

January 2019