Review – The Velvet Underground (Documentary by Todd Haynes)

I think this documentary ended up posing more questions than it answered. 

Firstly, it doesn’t sugarcoat the notion of Lou Reed being….well…actually perhaps they DO sugarcoat it. Because what became obvious was that to label Reed “troubled” is somewhat of an understatement. I actually started to wonder how anyone managed to work with him. Certainly John Cale was finding it difficult towards the end of his part in the Velvet Underground story “if you were nice to him, he only treated you worse”.

The one thing I’d say to Jim after seeing this film is when you say you’re not worthy of tying Lou Reed’s bootlaces – you do yourself a MASSIVE disservice, Jim Kerr. You really do! 

The film starts with a quote from Baudelaire – “Music fathoms the sky.” That immediately had me thinking of Jim for in the New Gold Dream tour program, he’s given the name “Kid Baudelaire” in brackets. Attributed from Adam Sweeting? A nickname the rest of the guys give him? Who knows?

A Warhol film image of Lou Reed appears fairly early on. Just that straight-at-the-lens, nowhere-to-hide portrait shot, the camera rolling for several minutes. A childhood that didn’t sound overly loving, but they talk to his sister Merrill and she makes the counter argument of it being easy to pin all of Lou’s troubles on his childhood and upbringing. 

Several minutes later we move on to a similar half of the screen moving image portrait of John Cale. This is how little I admit to knowing about The Velvet Underground and its individual members – I hear John Cale speak and….he sounds like he usually sounds….with a New York twang. And then, he speaks again and sounds WELSH! Like, a proper Valley boy-o! 

I know! I should know better than this. I should be more knowledgeable. A lot of the time I do feel incredibly ignorant about a lot of things. 

A lot of the film centred towards PRE-VU. Lou and John and how they got into music the way they did, their influences, and how they met and formed The Primitives. 

All of that I found good. Sterling Morrison remains a mystery. Moe Tucker seems a very lovely woman. Doug Yule seemed a very fitting replacement for John Cale. 

It flowed well up to the point we got to when Warhol became involved and Nico joined the group. Then, for me, the documentary became a bit…rushed. It spent a lot of time on the preamble but then not much time on the Velvet Underground itself, once a modicum of success came.

Also, whenever they played Venus In Furs, it was DEAFENING! Venus In Furs was ssooo much louder than anything else within the audio, other Velvet songs, people speaking, etc, etc. It was a real wallop to the ears.

I kind of came away a bit…unfulfilled by the experience. I wanted more and something different. I probably wanted to learn more about Lou Reed than I did. I certainly wanted to learn more about the band than I felt I did. 

What I did learn though (or had confirmed to me) is:

  • The Velvet Underground are definitely punk. They are the TRUE pioneers of punk. Forget the “avant garde” schtick, although that does apply too. They’re punk.
  • John Cale is Welsh (I know! Lol).
  • Lou Reed was a douche canoe (at least at that time) and I honestly don’t know how anyone worked with him.
  • Delmore Schwartz was a massive influence on Reed.
  • Jonathan Richman is a sweetheart, and just about the only person to say something nice about Lou. And it explained why The Modern Lovers’ Roadrunner is ssooo much like Rock ‘n’ Roll to me. (Though it is meant to be a homage to Sister Ray – shows you how familiar I am with Sister Ray!)
  • Nico was a drifter. Lost, trying to find purpose in her life.
  • Warhol gave us “celebrity” and fame for fame’s sake. He’d love Love Island and Big Brother, and probably Gogglebox too.
  • Without Warhol no one outside of NYC would have heard of VU.

So, last night, in bed. Wanting to listen to some music to help me drift off to sleep, did I choose the “Banana Album”? Or White Light/White Heat? Or The Velvet Underground (aka album three)? Or Loaded? 

Nope!

I chose to listen to The Modern Lovers – the original set of recordings from 1972 that were finally released in 1976. 

And to paraphrase words from Roadrunner “I’m in love with Jonathan Richman”. We could all do with keeping that childlike wonder. Oh, man. Even in the documentary – you just want to reach in through the screen and hug him!

In summary of the Velvet Underground documentary. Did I enjoy it? To a degree. Did I find it insightful? Again, to a degree. Did I enjoy it as much as the previous music documentary I saw (The Sparks Brothers)? Naw.

If I was to give it a mark out of 10 – where the Sparks Brothers doc gets a firm 10/10. The Velvet Underground documentary gets a 7/10. The best bits were the interviews with John Cale, Moe Tucker, Jonathan Richman and Mary Woronov. 

It wasn’t quite what I had hoped for or anticipated. For one I didn’t expect to come out of a Velvet Underground documentary thinking “Aawww, Jonathan Richman – he’s sssooo sweet!” Lol

Can I recommend it? I guess. If you’re a REAL diehard Velvets fan, it probably isn’t going to give you much more of an insight in all honesty. Novices interested in the band and the period and wanting to know more…you might learn some stuff, but for me personally, it didn’t completely fill the remit.

And so, I shall leave you with this, influence of an influence that leads to an influence. And I love a fade-in!

Review: Field Music – St Luke’s – Glasgow – 8/10/2021

Last night’s gig for me was as highly anticipated as the Scritti Politti gig was just a couple of weeks back. It has been somewhat of a slow burn in relative terms, my love for Field Music. Meandering through other channels. Initially coming via getting into Warm Digits – whom I first got to be aware of by listening to Paul Smith from Maximo Park presenting a show on BBC 6 Music about bands and music from the North East of England (Newcastle, Sunderland, and the general vicinity). He played a track from Warm Digits on the show and I immediately sought them out and have been a solid fan ever since. I don’t remember him playing any Field Music on that same show, but I’m sure he must have done. Anyway, as a consequence of my love for Warm Digits, my love has also grown for Field Music, solidified further by seeing them perform the whole of the Making A New World album at Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum in January 2020. (Ah, pre-Covid days! Remember those?)

I have been suffering from a gammy knee for about the past week or so. I honestly don’t know what’s brought it on but my right knee feels in a constant state of dislocation. Like it just wants to crack back into place all the time. And if I try and walk at any kind of pace when it feels like this, my leg feels like it is going to buckle from under me from the knee down. It righted itself a couple of days ago, only for me to stretch my leg out in bed on Wednesday night for it to go out of alignment again. Friday’s forecast had been looking iffy for most of the week, but by midday yesterday it seemed as though from around 5pm onwards the skies would be relatively clear and dry so I decided to get the train in and walk to St Luke’s from Queen Street. BAD IDEA! Just as we (the OH accompanied me into the city) got into Gallowgate, my knee gave an almighty crack and went from under me. Determined not to miss the gig, I hobbled past the Morrisons, precariously crossed the road and made it around the corner to Bain Street where I sat my butt down on one of the stone blocks outside St Luke’s.

Despite my pain and worry that I’d round the corner and already see a queue as long as your arm outside, I was about the first person to be queuing up. Only one other couple were outside, seated on one of the other stone blocks. Doors were opening at 7pm and it was already 6.35pm. Something made me double check with one of the security personnel at the door what the time the gig was due to finish. I took just a cursory glance at the relevant info for the gig posted by the promoters earlier in the afternoon and something had me recalling that it said “Finish: 10pm” – I had booked a cab to collect me at 11pm – thinking the gig would end between 10.30-10.45 as most gigs do. The security guy confirmed that the gig was ending at 10pm so I called the cab firm and altered my collection time to 10.15.

I got myself positioned front and centre once the doors were open, thankful to be at the barrier so I could at least stand on my dodgy leg without too much discomfort. Sadly the support act had to pull out of the gig earlier in the day. I was really looking forward to seeing Galaxians who I have also had exposure to from them being label mates of both Warm Digits and Field Music. I recommend you check out the talent Memphis Industries have on their excellent label. Galaxians had suffered a broken down van the night before in Aberdeen and then yesterday their drummer was experiencing Covid symptoms so they had to pull out of the Glasgow gig. 

UPDATE: Drummer Matt has tested positive for Covid, so the rest of their tour is postponed. Sad news. I hope Matt has only a mild case and will be fully recovered soon. 

At short notice local act, Raveloe, stepped in. Kim Grant played a solo set last night. Usually accompanied by a drummer and bassist, I’m guessing that at such short notice she had to play solo. I enjoyed her set. She has a lovely voice. She finished the set with the band’s latest single New House.

Some dismantling and resetting of mics, some tuning of guitars, etc and it was all set for Field Music by 8.30pm. Then it was 8.35. Then 8.40 and I am starting to think “Should I have altered my taxi pick up to 10.30?”, but just before 8.45pm the band arrived on stage. The Glasgow crowd at St Luke’s always incredibly welcoming. 

The set started with a track from their latest album Flat White Moon called Do Me A Favour. Next up was Disappointed, which I just love the ending of. 

At this point in proceedings, I am starting to feel rather fraudulent and a horrible “fair weather” fan for although I could make out some of the tracks from Flat White Moon and I recognised Disappointed and knew Money Is A Memory from Making A New World, other tracks performed were fairly alien to me. I wasn’t alone – and Peter Brewis could feel it from the crowd too. That the crowd were largely unfamiliar with most of the material on offer. It has given me the extra impetus to continue to listen to them regularly and stop being so fair weathered! 

Continuing on with the bad fan fair weathered nature, I recorded a song to share for my review and had to search through tracks to get the name of it. The song is called I’m Glad and is from their 2016 album, Commontime, the same album Disappointed appears on.

David and Peter Brewis take turns in the drum and guitar parts, alternating in lead vocal parts also as a result. They had foam muffs on their mics as a way of adding a layer of protection for when they were swapping around. David’s muff was red, Peter’s was blue. Every time they swapped over, they had to make sure they took their muffs with them. 

All the swapping and retuning instruments meant that banter ensued – especially between the brothers. David initially goading Peter, having snide little digs at him, but Peter gave back as good as he got. Brotherly love, eh? I hope it was all tongue-in-cheek banter and things are all fine between the Brewis brothers. They are both such lovely guys, with a fantastic sense of humour and always wonderfully engaging with the crowd.

I have to give a special mention to Liz Corney who is absolutely fantastic with them. A great keyboardist and always so happy and in her element on the stage. She’s absolutely fab. She was like sunshine last night. 

The drumming – I honestly don’t know who I love more with the drumming parts – David or Peter. David whacks the shit out of the drums, but Peter has a bit more finesse. I honestly can’t decide. They’re both so good! From what I remember of talking to them both after the Kelvingrove gig, I’m sure David told me that Peter taught him the drums. So I guess on that basis, Peter should win the battle of Brewis brothers drummers.

As much as I was saying before that I am unfamiliar with a lot of Field Music’s…music, I could tell that they performed several other tracks from Flat White Moon, including No Pressure, Meant To Be and Not When You’re In Love. 

I found myself keeping an eye on the time, worried that I had booked my cab home too early. But as we got to around 9.45, Peter declares that they have just two songs in the set to go. Lots of sighs from the crowd who have been loving every tune. And rightly so! Just because the majority of us weren’t overly familiar with the material, it didn’t mean we were any less appreciative of it.

The set ended with the lead single of the Flat White Moon album – Orion From The Street, reproduced perfectly live, and where Liz truly came out to shine. Beautiful! 

All the music was top class and this band is stellar live. The reason I kept on clock watching was because I didn’t want the gig to end at 10pm! I really didn’t! I’d have happily stayed on until 11pm to watch them. 

But after a single song encore, the gig was over at 10pm sharp! A few minutes to try and get my now totally screwed legs working, put my mask back on and slowly shuffle on out the front doors. A short wait for 10.15pm to tick over and right on cue my taxi arrived and I was home at 10.30pm – which just blows my mind! I had only ever experienced that joy just the once in Luton when Ruts DC came to play the Hat Factory in March, 2018. It was bliss! Usually great gigs by big names meant trips to Cambridge, or London, or perhaps if you were lucky, Milton Keynes or Bedford, or St Albans, Watford or Hemel Hempstead. 

Glasgow is just…such a gem! It really is. And what gigs this city gets! I love it! The only thing that would have made this night better was that there had been nothing wrong with my leg. Other than that, it was a perfect evening. I thoroughly enjoyed every single moment of it. Field Music are top notch!

The Velvet Underground Documentary – Coming Soon

UPDATE: Oct 5th – saw a review in the latest Rolling Stone. Thought I’d post it here.

Looking into what was coming up for viewing at the Glasgow Film Theatre, I spied this!

When I was at the Living Proof screening last week, I decided to secure a ticket for one of the screenings of it. I’ll be seeing it in a couple of weeks time and I’m looking forward to it. And if I’m honest, I am also looking forward to being able to enjoy being in a cinema or theatre without having to wear a fucking mask all the time! I know it’s for the greater good and I genuinely have no problem with that. But I need to wear distance glasses these days and so I either put up with my glasses fogging up or I decide to take them off so I can “see” a bit better. That bit of it really sucks. And…it does still feel really breath inhibiting to be indoors for a few hours and wearing a mask. It just does.

Anyway, just thought I’d mention this Velvets documentary here as we all know what a massive influence the Velvets and Lou Reed has been on a certain James Kerr, esq. and to the music of Simple Minds as a whole.

This is STILL my favourite SM cover along with Street Hassle. The emotion in Jim’s voice is just beautiful. It just proves what an influence that the Velvets and Lou have been on them for my fave SM covers to be VU and Lou Reed compositions.

Review: Scritti Politti + Alexis Taylor – St Luke’s – Glasgow – 27/09/2021

The last gig I went to prior to this was March 10th, 2020. The “two gigs in one night” show of Simple Minds at Store Vega in Copenhagen. My last gig SHOULD have been two days later seeing King Creosote at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow on March 12th but the return flight home from Copenhagen ended up so delayed I missed the gig. And my first gig back SHOULD have been John Grant on September 9th at Barrowland Ballroom, but I was attending the gig alone and was too anxious about it to attend.

So…it has been a long time between gigs! Esp. for me as I am these days as I now attend gigs on a fairly regular basis.

I was still very anxious about last night. All through the day I was wondering if I should be going and questioning whether I even WANTED to go! Speaking of weather – I love Glasgow but fuck me! The weather is ssoooo unpredictable here! I was worried that we’d get pissed upon getting there, so we booked a cab mid afternoon, only for it to be basking in sunshine when the driver collected us at around 5.40pm. We were at St Luke’s 10 minutes later.

There was going to be a bit of a wait. The doors weren’t opening until 7pm. Thankfully the weather stayed dry for the queue outside. But dry also tends to mean flipping cold at this time of year. I wanted to travel as light as possible, so I had no big coat with me to keep me warm. I was freezing! 

Once the doors opened, we got in fairly quickly. It was a bit of clamour to get in. A loose queue had formed outside and we were fourth (and fifth) in the queue, but were third (and fourth) to be let in as the guy ahead of us was refused entry for not having a mask. He had his vaccine passport with him – but “no mask, no entry” was also the policy. So he had to go off and buy one to be allowed entry later on. 

It was a bit of a wait before support act Alexis Taylor started his set. I wasn’t sure of set timings and I don’t think Alexis started his set until 8.15pm, allowing enough time for the checks at the door to be done and for the punters to gain entry. He played the set either completely solo or with fellow Hot Chip (and Scritti Politti) band member Robert Smoughton (aka Grovesnor). It was a short set but very good. Taylor has a great voice and a really nice style of guitar playing. A nice mix of synths and Mellotron played through the tracks as well. He complimented what was to come with the SP set very well.

A short reset of the stage setup and then the main affair were on shortly after 9pm. 

The crowd were very receptive as Green and Co hit the stage. This gig had been hotly anticipated by all who came to see it. 

We started things off with a little rusty but by no means unenjoyable rendition of The Sweetest Girl. Several other hits and SP faves were performed in the lead up to the main event – the playing of the whole of Cupid And Psyche 85. A fabulous rendition of “Oh Patti (Don’t Feel Sorry For Loverboy)”, also great versions of Day Late And A Dollar Short and Skank Bloc Bologna as well as my favourites from the pre-Cupid And Psyche set – The Boom Boom Bap and Trentavious White.

Then with a call of “Are we ready? Right, let’s go” from Green…in comes The Word Girl. At the end of the song…well, the place was in raptures. Before that, even. The Glasgow crowd don’t disappoint in terms of getting behind people they love. And Green was certainly feeling the love last night. I think he was quite overwhelmed by the reception he was getting.

You can always feel how much of a very scary thing it is for him to be up there on that stage still. But he’s so deflective and self-effacing with it. He is such a sweet man and such an incredible performer, you cannae help but be swept by the emotion of it. But all in a very positive way. The music is so funky and uplifting and joyous and there was just such a buzz in the crowd and so much positivity around.

And on and on we went through the rest of the album. Fabulous versions of Absolute (see snippet above) and Perfect Way. The cheers and gratitude displayed by the crowd just built and built after each song.

Then comes Wood Beez (Pray Like Aretha Franklin) and you can’t help but be gobsmacked by how incredibly like the album version they get it. Green’s voice is … magic. There’s no other superlative for it! The man is 66 years old! For one, he doesn’t LOOK 66 – he’s aged incredibly well – but also vocally, to have that voice. To be able to replicate your voice on record from nearly 40 years ago is nothing short of astounding! 

The crowd were singing along to Wood Beez – I’ll give it to the Glaswegians, they can hold a tune when it comes to crowd singing. It was quite beautiful really. That same crowd went MENTAL at the end of Wood Beez. They…WE…(I was in the crowd too, duh!) were sssooo appreciative of hearing it and the way it was performed.

Final track of the night was Hypnotize and Green was sounding like he could sing all night. 

The crowd gave a final incredible round of applause and appreciation to Green Gartside, Rhodri Marsden, Dicky Moore and Robert Smoughton for a great performance.

Just a few minutes of waiting. A begging crowd asking for more received a single song encore. Alexis Taylor joined the band on stage. I had my suspicions and hopes for what was about to happen – and I wasn’t disappointed. As soon as Green started his intro of it with “The song we’re going to do was originally recorded by Chic”, I knew what was coming and grabbed my phone out from its holder. I had rued not recording this when seeing Green Gartside and Alexis Taylor at Bedford Esquires back in 2017, so I was NOT going to miss it this time. It was beautiful the last time and it was just as beautiful this time. At Last I Am Free – true to Robert Wyatt’s rendition of it. Stunning!

Any negatives to report from the night? Only slight niggles. A bit of reverb that could have been sorted better. The guitars were maybe a little too low in the mix. Green’s vocal also a little too lost in the mix sometimes. Some stupid c***s deciding to have a natter midway through Alexis Taylor’s set. Grrr! And another short chat during the main Scritti Politti set – which is just fucking outrageous! But honestly…minor bugbears – nothing to take away the overall enjoyment of the gig.

For all the anxiety I was feeling prior to the gig, I am so thankful I pushed myself to go and get out there and enjoy it, because it was wonderful. I could not have wished for a better gig to return to.

*Crappy sound quality of clips is down to my crappy phone. Records great video but shit sound with it unfortunately.

Crowd photo curtesy of Rhodri Marsden. I’m on the left.

Living Proof – Review – Glasgow Film Theatre – 23/9/2021

I ventured out on Thursday evening to see the second “World Premiere” (Edinburgh actually pipped us to the post the night before) of the documentary Living Proof.

It dealt with looking at Scotland’s growth under Capitalism over the past 150 years, but concentrated on the rate of growth from post-WWII. Also the way Scotland has dealt with its climate, in good and bad, for the past 150 years and the ramifications of tapping into its apparently abundant natural resources – but at what ultimate cost?

The presentation of the film started with a short introduction from the film’s director, Emily Monro, about what the film’s main objective was. 

The film starts with a broad outline and visual run-through of what the film will be exploring in closer detail. A rush through the past 100+ years of Scotland’s environmental history – with a musical backdrop from the wonderful Louise Connell. Louise was there herself to watch the film. She had also been there to see it the previous night in Edinburgh. 

We start with a look at post-war Scotland and the richness of treasures that industrial juggernauts see in it. All for the good on the surface, with the talk of capitalising on those natural resources with hydroelectricity implemented in the Highlands. 

We continue on from there, looking at things from the farming of peat from bogs to coal mining, to North Sea oil drilling and gas harvesting. 

It quickly feels like we are just plundering something that we should have realised much earlier on is only finite! We as humans have somewhat blighted Scotland’s landscape by being swept up into the kind of “corporate greed” model of “improving” our lives. Some things done with the initial view of being better for everyone, for example, the hydroelectric schemes in the Highlands, have actually had negative repercussions. And we can’t escape the fact that the mining industry and the drilling of North Sea oil has had a massive impact environmentally. 

The film also looks into the decline of the shipbuilding industry. The shipbuilding docks try to move themselves forward by becoming the construction areas for the North Sea oil rigs. That was the most eye-opening and jaw-dropping aspect of the film for me. As one of the oil rigs had completed its first part of construction – its base, the foundation platform that will be plunged into the sea bed, just what a feat of engineering that it is. It’s hard to reconcile being marvalled by all that. To see this human constructed metal monolith making its way out of the Clyde firth in outrageously stormy seas to be slowly upended from its side to start being (weather permitting!) slowly, painstakingly, millimetre by millimetre hammered into the sea bed. It was both astonishing and gut-wrenching in equal measure. 

Conoco was the company in question building the massive offshore oil rigs, taking advantage of the docks left empty from the Clyde shipbuilding that went asunder. Watching that footage with a genuine mix of awe and lament. 

The film also takes a look into selling Scotland as an “attractive” prospect for investment and having some American firms come over and set up bases here – like the big Digital Equipment factory in Ayr. I remember as we made our way down the west coast towards Girvan a few months back being struck by how many huge factories there were along that part of the Ayrshire coast between Ayr and Girvan – particularly from Turnburry to Girvan. But then, why should I be surprised? Turnberry just for starters has a Trump stamp all over it!

Towards the end of the film we look at the take up of wind turbines and wind farms. Earlier in the film there is a bit about how ubiquitous and reliant upon metal we are for things. Like, it is in our lives EVERYWHERE. And you can’t help but in the end see the irony of the wind turbines being these monstrous metal contraptions and it all just cycles round. And that was the crux of the film’s point (well it was for me personally, anyway) – how do we get out of this loop? How do we get out of the capitalist “hamster wheel” (for want of better terminology)? Can we actually even do it? Are we too far down the line with things? Are we far too reliant on it all to not see any other way out? How do we really make REAL CHANGE?

The film finished with a Q and A with a panel of guests including the film’s director Emily Monro. One question asked of Emily was how she thought the film would be received by non-Scots? Emily found it not an easy question to respond to, but if I had responded to it (as I will do now) – I think it’s a universal problem and dilemma. Although the things within the film are entirely Scotland based, all the world’s countries are going through these same problems and going through the same questions. For some countries in the world, the crisis is a lot more profound than what Scotland is going through. So I think it can resonate and speak to people whether they live here or not. It really isn’t a thing that affects Scotland exclusively, the broader aspects of the climate crisis. 

It was pieced together so well by Emily and the final beach scene and dialogue ends on a really harrowing, pondering note. And the soundtrack used within it featured music wonderfully chosen. I will link to the tracks used through the film below. 

It was sobering viewing and I’m not sure I have any answers for it myself. Let us see what COP26 brings to us in November. Let’s just see how Glasgow copes with hosting such a summit, for one.

The Sparks Brothers – Review – Glasgow Film Theatre – August 5th, 2021

As usual, I’ll give a preamble to what happened with watching the film. 

That spark of spontaneous conversation that only ever seems to happen in Glasgow. It happened AGAIN today. We arrived (myself and my OH) outside the Glasgow Film Theatre, located on Rose Street, around 1.20pm. Me doing my usual “I MUST NOT REFER TO GOOGLE MAPS!” mantra and then STILL having to admit defeat and look at Google Maps to make sure I was actually going in the right direction. (This pandemic has fucked about with so much stuff, I tell ya!)

So. I kept in walking down Renfrew Street knowing I was at least heading in the right direction. Once I passed the intersection with Hope St, I was getting a little worried that maybe I had fucked up – but it was fine. Still a little ways to go. A little lost once we get to Rose Street as to where the cinema was, as it was hiding itself under the much larger banner of “Cafe Cosmo”.

The film wasn’t starting until 2pm but it was all good as we ended up chatting to a lady who had turned up to buy herself a ticket to see Now, Voyager. I KNOW! And I had seen this on the cinema’s website yesterday that they were screening Now, Voyager over the weekend and into next week! I am sssoooooo excited by that! (And booked a ticket to see it on Tuesday – sssooo happy!)

Turned out she had been living in the south for YEARS. Lived around Watford and St Albans. Bloody small world! Asked us where we were from and said Luton (originally Sydney for me) and that’s how we got to chatting about the towns and cities around Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire. She found it a wonderfully humorous story to tell us her daughter was born in England and was as English as they come but came up to study English Literature at the University of Glasgow. Lol. 

We both admitted to missing aspects of London – the galleries. The art side of things. And it turned out she was an art librarian. The people you meet and the conversations you have! I just love it! It is the thing I love about this city more than anything else! And we both agreed that that is what makes Glasgow so special. 

Twenty minutes of time sailed on by. We collected our tickets for the Sparks Brothers from the box office. The lady bought her Now, Voyager ticket. I queued and bought MY Now, Voyager ticket and off we went into the cinema to see the film.

I had little expectations about this documentary. I heard it was really good – but I was worried you might have to be REALLY into Sparks to appreciate it. 

I like them – don’t get me wrong! I like what I know…but I don’t know much and I would say my partner is much more the fan of them than I am – or was prior to the film. But some two hours later – oh, wow! Just. Yeah!

If you think you’re only a fairweather fan of Sparks. Like, you appreciate what they’re about musically….the avant garde, irreverent, subversive, humorous….kind of “can’t be pigeonholed” behemoth they are, but you’re not THAT into it – or you think you’re not – like, JUST GO AND SEE THE FILM! It was sssoooo well done!

Not a band documentary as you would think it would be. Really cleverly done it that it was more a spanning retrospective of their career. Just…the body of work!

I don’t want to give out spoilers, and it’s hard to review things without spoilers. It was just so well done. It wasn’t bogged down in interviews. You think from seeing the trailers that it’s going to be filmed with people just talking about them – but it isn’t like that. 

From the very beginnings of Ron and Russell’s lives and just linear, from Halfnelson on to the formation of Sparks, and it just went on…bang, bang, bang. And just so informative and so focused on the music and the up and downs. The degrees of success (or otherwise) with each album. Their time based in the UK, and then going back to California. Getting into the charts and on Top of the Pops, getting so much exposure and then it dying away, only to return again when they work with Giorgio Moroder, and hitting the high of the early 80’s electronic wave. 

At this point, my jaw dropped. All this time I have lived here in the UK, I thought I had never known a single Sparks song until I moved to the UK. I was not really aware of them at all – or so I thought. The only thing I had an inkling about was in Paul McCartney’s Coming Up video in which he does a parody of Ron Mael – but I didn’t really know who Ron Mael was. I think I had seen bits of Sparks so I know Macca was taking off that guy in the band – but that was the extent I know.

And THEN – they played When I’m With You – and my jaw dropped. I don’t think I had heard it since the time but it was an instant (excuse the pun) spark! I knew it instantly because I fucking LOVED IT! I was obsessed with that song at the time! And I couldn’t believe how long it had been since I had heard it – AND THAT IT WAS ONE OF THEIR SONGS! 

I don’t know whose song I thought it was. Just the video, even…as soon as I saw it, it’s so obviously Ron and Russell and yet – I … it’s like my memory of the song was wiped. Until today and they started playing the clip in the film. What a revelation that was! 

Having the exposure since moving to the UK of things like, This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us, and Get In The Swing, Beat The Clock and The Number One Song In Heaven, I’d have thought that just because of what an impact When I’m with You made upon me as a not-quite 10 year old that I’d put two and two together – but nope!

I came out DETERMINED to work my way through their back catalogue – but I know already that the Moroder produced albums will be the favourites. In recent years, The Number One Song In Heaven has been a firm favourite of mine – having COMPLETELY forgot about When I’m With You – as it’s NEVER played here in the UK, but it made the Top 20 in Australia in 1980. 

They brought it right up to the present day too, with talk of A Steady Drip Drip Drip and the lead track, Lawnmower.

A really comprehensively done documentary. I loved absolutely every second of it. Every second. There is no “dead wood” in this documentary. It has been lovingly put together.

If you’re a Sparks fan, you’ll love it. If you’re not a Sparks fan, you’ll end up a Sparks fan AND you’ll love it!

Go see it! It’s a fabulous way to spend two hours!

Return To Oz Is Off

Sadly inevitable. Too much uncertainty around. And, for me, this tour was off last year – even though it had initially been rescheduled for the end of this year. I wasn’t going to be travelling there. And I had resigned myself to the fate of money squandered. I didn’t like my chances of selling my tickets on. So on a personal note, I am thankful for the tour cancellation because I know I will get refunds on my tickets now. I am grateful not to be resigned to swallowing up another loss of funds. Small mercies.

I feel for my friends there. Australia is a loooong way and not everyone can just get on a plane and travel to the other side of the world to see the band they love. A few Aussie fans have been fortunate to do that, but there are some who would never have those funds or opportunities. My heart really does go out to those guys.

I hope Simple Minds will make it back out there again sooner rather than later. In the meantime – don’t be disappointed with the band, or their management, or the promoters. They have done all they can to try and get these things to go ahead. They are losing their livelihoods and the live music scene around the world is on its knees! I know Jim and Charlie and the rest of the band will be as disappointed and disheartened as the fans.

It’s this bloody pandemic. It’s Coronavirus, Covid-19…whatever you want to call this absolute cockwomble of a thing! And government ineptitude by and large. You know, the whole world. EVERY COUNTRY could have done with the leadership of New Zealand. Every country could have done with a Jacinda Ardern as their leader. Had every country stayed locked like NZ did, then maybe just MAYBE we’d not be in the state we’re in right now the world over. But we’ll never really know.

I hope you are all staying safe and well.

A Toryglen Mural?

I wished those flats at Prospecthill Circus still existed. And that I had the talent to actually paint this on the side of a building rather than have it exist digitally and only imagine how it could look on a wall – painted directly on it.

Imagine approaching Glasgow City Council to get this painted somewhere? It would be amazing!

That reminds me – I need to go and have a look at that Shuggie Bain mural painted on the side of Barrowland on Friday.

UPDATE: I worked on creating this (photo below) this morning and was about to post it on my own Facebook timeline when I though, “Oh, maybe I should post it to SMOG. I few people might appreciate it. It might get the odd like.” HOLY SHIT! I think it’s going to end up being probably the most popular thing I have ever posted on there! Wow!

Even if I do say so myself, my photoshop work is pretty darn convincing.

Minds Music Monday – Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call – Recording Begins

In a small village called Little Chalfont, in the Buckinghamshire countryside near the town of Amersham…. five band members and a producer that they (the band) admit to having slight reservations about (they wanted Todd Rundgren but he only worked out of Sigma Sound in New York and Virgin deemed the idea too expensive to hire him, then it was proposed they use Martin Rushent but he was unavailable, or Steve Lillywhite but he was deemed too expensive also at that point in time) enter a recording studio and started to record what would be, for me, quite possibly their most remarkable album(s). There may have been trepidation to start with. And it may have continued to be fraught with indecision, but what sprang forth from it, in hindsight, is…wondrous!

Steve Hillage sounded the least authoritarian producer you could wish for, which one could argue wasn’t what a still fledgeling Simple Minds needed at that point – their three album recording history with John Leckie meant that it was an entirely unknown dynamic for the boys when they entered Farmyard Studios with “old Cabbage Head” to record their 4th and 5th albums. They sounded as if they needed the discipline that Hillage lacked giving them – at the time – but it also released something profound too. Perhaps a modicum of freedom that they needed? Yes, it meant they were indecisive about which songs to work on, but wow! I mean, talk about spoilt for choice when you feel your hands are tied and say “we’ll take them all in!”

📸 Rupert Hine with Andy Scarth at Farmyard Studios
– curtesy of ruperthine.com

Perhaps this is why we’ll never see a Sons And Fascination/Sister Feelings Call boxset? Do we have it all already? Well…I can’t imagine that is true! Just last night on the Dream Giver site I read about demos that were recorded at CaVa Studios in Glasgow. And when I interviewed Jaine Henderson a couple of years back she had told me that initially Love Song was offered to her by Jim to perform and record. Imagine it! What would be their biggest hit of the time – until Promised You A Miracle is released 12 months later – might not have even been a Simple Minds hit! Jaine wasn’t persuaded. She wasn’t a singer or performer.

I’m guessing those CaVa demos are what ended up on the Silver Box set that Virgin brought out in 2004? There are demo versions of Love Song, The American, Careful In Career and Sweat In Bullet on there – as well as (dare I mention it?) the forgotten Life In Oils – which fell somewhere between the tracks of Empires And Dance and Sons/Sister. Already too much new stuff they were working on as the Sons/Sister sessions started, it got ditched, much to mine and John Leckie’s consternation.

They nearly called him (Leckie) back into the studio, they ended up so directionless with Hillage – but would we have ended up with what now feels like such a rich tapestry? The album needed to formulate and end up shaped in the way it was. A bulging overspill of creative energy. A band oozing with an abundance that sees them on the cusp of something grand. You can feel it. You can almost taste it! With long hindsight, and even with its (SUBTLE) imperfections both Jim and Charlie value it for the creative tour de force it was.

For your listening pleasure – a fantastic recording of them made in San Fransisco while they were on tour. Recorded by Frank Gallagher, no less, and aired exclusively on Billy Sloan’s radio show for Clyde Radio back in July, 1982. I’m assuming the recording was made the previous November as they played San Fransisco on November 7th, 1981. They didn’t tour the U.S. again until 1983 and SAF was no longer on the the setlist by then.

Enjoy!

Source material from simpleminds.org and ruperthine.com