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!

“RockField – The Studio On The Farm” Documentary To Air On BBC Channels!

The documentary on the famous Monmouthshire recording studio is set to air simultaneously on BBC Two Wales and BBC Four on Saturday, July 18th at 9pm BST.

Below is a trailer on the documentary – with a tiny snippet of Jim discussing Simple Minds’ meeting with David Bowie and Iggy Pop while the band were there recording second album Real To Real Cacophony in 1979.

I have been hoping this would be getting a UK airing at some point. Really looking forward to this one.

An Independent Socialist – A World In Gray

Please do not be fooled by the blurb you see attached to the video! There really isn’t too much talk about the then imminent Scottish Independence referendum. It really is all about the remarkable Alasdair Gray. A man I wish I had been aware of, learned about and began to have some kind of – albeit without any actual personal interaction with – affinity for while he was still living.

There is a sadness I feel that, having moved to this amazing city just a few short weeks before, that Alasdair left us at the end of December in 2019.

Yes, you have to pay to watch the film – documentary – but if you love art, love the murals around Glasgow, have ever read Lanark or 1982 Janine and loved them – see that mural at Hillhead subway station each day (I can’t tell you how many times I have passed it by already and never realised it was there – with great shame) …

Just watch it.

Even as I am still finding my way through Lanark, I take in all the places I recognise. A number of them are local or not very far away. I even found myself reading a letter to a local paper he had submitted about wondering what was to become of Sighthill (the general area, not the cemetery – that wasn’t the topic of Gray’s letter) It is literally just up the road. Just go down to the end of the adjacent street, past the bowling green, round the corner, past the speedway track – up Finlas Street turning into Carlisle Street, until it meets Keppochill Road – and there you are. Sighthill Cemetery. Three weeks ago I didn’t even know it existed! There is NOTHING to mark it out on Google Maps. A few times coming down the A803 from the city centre by car or on public transport I could see there were some graves but I had assumed it was attached to a churchyard – not an actual full cemetery. A cemetery so vast that – as far as I am aware, only the Necropolis is larger (although trying to confirm this with research would indicate Sighthill is larger in acreage so I am a bit confused). Needless to say it is a large expanse and perplexing not to be revealed on a map!

Gray within the pages of Lanark seems to mention a street nearby, Ashfield Street. There is only one Ashfield Street in all of Glasgow. A few Ashfield Roads but no “street”. Only this one. It must be it! And there is talk of Riddrie where he grew up and the area that is now know as Robroyston but was once Garngad – all not terribly far away, further over to the east and north of us on the other side of Bishopbriggs.

But I shall stop waffling and let you watch it! I found it enthralling.

Rockfield Documentary To Premier at SXSW in March

A documentary (featuring contributions from Jim and Charlie) on the Monmouthshire countryside’s world famous Rockfield studio (where Real To Real Cacophony, Empires And Dance and Graffiti Soul were recorded) has been made and will be debuting at SXSW Festival next month.

You can watch the trailer below.

Hopefully beyond the premier screening, it will get a distribution beyond that.

I took these two screenshots from within the documentary trailer. I didn’t even know these kind of photos existed of their time recording there.

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New Wave: Dare To Be Different On DVD

A great documentary about Long Island radio station WLIR that broadcasted from 1959 until it was forced to close from having its licence revoked in 1987.

A champion of the second British invasion of the early 1980’s due to an overhaul and change in musical output. The station was very popular for those wanting exposure to new music, esp. the stuff that was being shipped and imported from across the Atlantic.

Many artists from the 70s and 80s music scene were interviewed for the documentary, among them Billy Idol, Midge Ure, Thomas Dolby, Howard Jones, Curt Smith, Debbie Harry and Chris Stein, Fred Schneider, Mike Peters, Tom Bailey, Lol Tolhurst, Nick Rhodes and Mike Score – to name a few.

In amongst those interviewed was Jim. There were just two small snippets of him talking and New Gold Dream was used as an opening musical introduction to the backstory and brief history of Long Island and the beginnings of what was then LIR – Long Island Radio.

Here are those snippets for SM fans to enjoy. I do highly recommend viewing the whole documentary if you get the chance. I’ve been waiting months to watch it myself, having to wait for its release onto DVD.

How Green Was My Valley?

I rarely put any true personal content on here…and…something so “off topic” but this blew me away, discovering this. I’ve only just started watching it…but it is the ACTUAL Peter Weir. THE actual Peter Weir…making a satire and documentary about the place I grew up in! Like…WOW!

And, yes…that stigma was VERY real! And to a degree the “oppression” was self-perpetuating. You felt as if you didn’t deserve to try and improve yourself. That you had to put up with your lot. That you lived in a disadvantaged area, so therefore…

Aspirations are not for you.

And, to this day, the stigma still continues. In recent years I have still had it targeted at me. A few Simple Minds fans I have had passing dealings with…Australians…who know the history and reputation of where I am from…passing judgement.

I always saw that as quite a strange twist of irony that a fellow SM fan would be so judgemental of someone coming from a background they perceived to be more disadvantaged than theirs…taking on some air of superiority. When, in fact, a background like mine is not too dissimilar to that of Jim or Charlie’s. The irony of these peoples’ sanctimonious and judgemental attitude never lost on me.

But one I equally tried hard to never let unnerve me for too long. I will not let the area in which I was raised wholly define me. It is a part of me, yes. And I am proud of where I came from. In many ways I had a wonderful childhood…and I doubt I would feel any better about it had I had the “fortune” of bearing to have grown up around the inner suburbs of Sydney, or along the northern or southern shores of the city.

Anyway…here is the film on YouTube. An interesting part of my personal history for anyone remotely interested in it. I am off to finish watching it. I am only several minutes in and finding it fascinating.

Kiwi Envy

A fantastic opportunity…but I do wonder whether Liam is any relation to Lily Warring? The little cynic in me says “Yeah, because you just…contact the band and they say ‘yeah, sure’, just like that!” These things NEVER happen!

You’d NEVER get the lead singer (and head diva) of a band doing stuff like that…not with a total stranger. I mean, it would be like, say, I take up art and start doing these pieces and show said singer/diva (or at least kid myself at the time it was the singer/diva seeng them) and he shows an interest in them.

Nah.

Yes! I freely admit…I am envious (I am almost black the shade of green is that dark)…esp. as if I think back to February, it reminds me of New Zealand and Wall Of Love. All those hopes and dreams got reignited.

But, anyway. This is Liam’s thing. And he won an award for this, so it’s awesome for him. I hope it’ll be the start of something wonderful for him. God knows some of us could do with that kick through the door, initially.

I’ve linked to the clip here, I haven’t even been able to watch it myself, yet. Bloody YouTube and its thing in which it doesn’t add the required elements for a clip to be played back on mobile devices. Pisses me off. Thanks YT!

And you can read more of Liam’s documentary here…