Nirvana live in Newcastle 1991

I saw Nirvana around half a dozen or so times with each time being an experience for one reason or another but the one time I missed out was seeing them play in Newcastle, partly because it was in the legendary Mayfair, a nightclub of many rooms with dark corners where young people of the age did glorious things with drugs and other people’s body parts.

I was a tad annoyed as one can imagine so thanks again to YouTube and the person who had the foresight to go to one of NEwcastle’s finest clubs on one of its best night with a camcorder so this night can be preserved for folk like me.

The world of Super 8 home films

Today if you want to see a film all you need to do is turn your TV on, go to any streaming site and pretty much anything you want is there. If it isn’t then there’s plenty of ways to find it. IT never used to be like this of course. Once we all had to get up off our arses to go to the video shop like a Blockbuster, or if we really liked a film you can buy it on VHS, then DVD and now Blu-Ray. Now imagine a time when you couldn’t just watch your favourite film but instead had to do with a Super 8 version of the film which was heavily edited down to normally around half an hour, if you were lucky. These versions of films did not mess around as they had to effectively act as highlights while staying true to the full version.

Here’s Alien as an example.

The chestburster happens around seven minutes into its 17 minute running time, leaving 10 minutes to cram everything else in. As for Star Wars, you dare not blink or you’ll miss something.

Same goes for The Empire Strikes Back.

Go to YouTube and there’s hundreds of them there in a handy playlist, and be warned some of these condensed films are literally less than highlights. Jaws for example runs just over ten minutes!

Yet there’s a charm to all these films. For years they were the only ways to see a film unless it was rereleased or it happened to pop up on TV, which for new films at the time would be years. An actual print of the full film would be out of the price range of most people, assuming they had the equipment and space to show them in. Super 8 versions could be shown on your wall.

These films are now massively collectable odddites from a pre-digital age where you had to improvise to see a film you liked, and these highlight reels were great pre-video solutions to a demand. I had a few of them but sadly sold them some years ago because they were gathering dust, but these clunky gems of memorbillia are things I wish I’d kept. Especially considering the current value of many of them…

Rock City in Nottingham is 40 years old

In the early 90’s I spent just over a year living in Nottingham, not because it was handier for work (which it was as it allowed me to live near where I could work) but because the nightclub/venue Rock City was there.

Rock City formed a large part of my formative youth when I moved from Glasgow to Leicester, and although dirty, sleazy alternative clubs were a thing in Glasgow nothing came close to Rock City. My first time there was for ‘alternative night’ which was a Saturday then. Walking up the wee hill to the venue I saw some poor lad being thrown face first out the club by the quite fearsome door staff who helped ensure there was very little trouble in the place.

Back in the late 80’s, and much of the 90’s I’d go up there for a gig, a night out or one of the legendary all-nighters. An all day session would involve starting in Ye Olde Trip to Jerusalem, then some chips, and then to the Salutation, before making our way to Rock City where by this point everyone is happily drunk and then the insanity really begins. The next day would see you wake up in a mess on someone’s floor/couch/bed or by some miracle you made it back home!

One of my best times there was when Nirvana played in 1991 just as they became huge. I’d bumped into the band coming out of Selectadisc (a now closed legendary record shop) while I was dropping some comics off at a shop in town. A blurted hello, and a smile back from the band made my day as did their gig that evening in what was a dangerously overcrowded venue.

You can get a jist of the night in the video below.

But moving away from the East Midlands meant visits were less, plus old age, and now disablity means clubbing is a chore, but the memories of the nights there will keep me going for ages, assuming I can remember most of them…

40 years ago John Lennon died

40 years ago I got up on a cold, dark winter morning to go to school as a child basically barely a teenager to do my normal daily routine of getting up to go to school. yet this day in 1980 was different. There was a solumn tone in my mother’s voice, and something weird to me, which was shock about the murder of John Lennon.

The Beatles were sacred cows growing up, Lennon especially with his antiauthoritarian nature, but mostly because of the music. Lennon was a household hero, so in the early hours of the 9th December the news broke in the UK that John Lennon had been killed in the New York on the evening of the 8th of December. In those pre-internet days news travelled by the speed of a phone call. The spread of information seems glacial compared to today when one can follow breaking stories like this is real time online.

So it was that the news broke, again in those days things were more formal, less emotional in the bleak cold start to what would be a pretty awful winter for the UK. It wasn’t til years later that I realised the importance of it all, and how it would affect music and culture. Lennon was not a god, but a flawed man who used his position to try to do more than just make pop songs which today is a rare thing indeed.

And so here’s the BBC news broadcast from the evening and it is a wonderful bit of archive of a time long gone.

A quick word of praise for Oliver Stone’s JFK

Back in 1963 John F. Kennedy was murdered on the steeets of Dallas, and in that one action the modern conspiracy theory was born. Nearly 30 years later Oliver Stone makes one of the best films I’ve ever seen on an absolute tissue of bullshit, but with many conspiracy theories, there’s an element of something in it, which is often even more shite, but in the case of JFK, it’s an enigma wrapped in a riddle wrapped in insanity.

I first saw it in a cinema in Nottingham on a cold afternoon, and loved it. It was also the last film I saw with an actual intermission (which came before Donald Sutherland’s character’s massive info-dump) in which I ended up chatting in the bar with a well-dressed woman in her early 30s called Gill who ended up being a massive JFK conspiraacy theorist who ended up pre-emptying much of what Sutherland’s character was to say. After the film we carried on chatting for hours in the pub, then at hers, mainly about the veracity of Lee Harvey Oswald as lone gunman.

JFK is one of those films that turns ordinary people into conspiracy theorist because it’s a brilliantly made piece of propaganda. Do I think there was a massive conspiracy to kill Kenndy as portrayed in the film? No, but I don’t think there was a lone gunman and I do think there was a massive cover up of something but I’m not exactly sure what and that’s partly because of Stone’s film, and of people like Gill who took me down rabbit holes that today are almost infinite thanks to the internet.

This is a film that grabs you at the start, throws you end slowly, and by the time Donald Sutherland turns up to thrust you all the way under, has you under it’s spell. Brilliantly acted, directed and edited, JFK is a number of things from thriller, to conspiracy theory, to the background family drama which is really there to give Sissy Spacek something to do. Though as the years go on I see its flaws more; the film is at times unintentionally homophobic, especially in the extended cut. Also it is sexist as women in this film are reduced to victims or background dressing but ultimately this is a film which although not Stone’s best film (which for me is still Natural Born Killers) it is certainly the film of his I’m drawn back to over and over as new things are to be found with each viewing.

I love the film. I wish Stone could go back to this quality of filmaking, however this will remain as a testement to how to make a great film for decades to come. Go watch it again if you’ve not seen it in years, or just watch it for the first time ever.

RIP Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona is dead at the all too young age of 60, and the world loses an artist and a footballer, and if you think football can’t be art then look at this goal.

Back in the olden days before the English Premier League and modern football blandified the game, there were players like Cruyff, Dalglish and Best who strode like giants in the game but were also far from being bland figures routinely rolling off perfectly trained media soundbites.Then there was Maradona who was in a class of his own, and getting the chance to watch him play on the rare chance you coujld back in the 80’s was amazing. Those days didn’t have 24/7 football coverage of the game at almost all levels and overseas football certainly was rarely, if ever shown outwith of things like the European Cup.

So seeing Maradona do magical things with a football in grainly, crackly footage do stuff with a ball was astonishing. Watching him pull his country Argentina up by the short and curlies in 1986 and win that year’s World Cup was amazing. The man was a footballing genius. Less said about some of his off-pitch antics, but let’s focus on what the man didn on the pitch as a genuine working class here who pulled himself up from nowhere to become the greatest footballer of all time.

I’ll miss him. Hearing of his latest venture always made me smile, but watching him in his prime made me fill with joy. He’s going to leave a massive hole in the game.

One Dove’s lost second album?

One Dove were a band who in 1993 should have been enormous, but through a series of problems, mainly caused by the record company you wanted them to sound nothing like the dreamy dub/pop/indie/dance fusion sound they’d become known for. Also there were a load of great new bands flying around in 1993 in those pre-Britpop years and just after the early 90’s Grebo scene started dying out. It was a crowded time but for me One Dove gave me the soundtrack of a great summer in Bristol in 1993.

That summer was hot, sunny and brilliant. It felt like something was brewing, but we didn’t know what yet however we lived in the time and fuck me it was fun. And One Dove was my music of choice that summer as I played that first album to death. Sadly the album flopped though a cult following did emerge, and for a brief time in 95/96 there were rumours of a second album but nothing happened as by now the band had split up with vocalist Dot Allison going off to sing with the likes of Massive Attack.

So last week this video below popped into my YouTube feed. It isn’t an actual second album but is made up of demo tracks so there’s some rough edges which a good producer would iron out, however it sounds glorious in places. Untouched is a lost classic as is Stay, though the latter track is still a bit rough at the edges but that adds to the charm. Had this been released in 96/7 it’d have been swallowed up by the fagend of Britpop when crap like Kula Shaker and Mansun were an actual thing.

I’m amazed to find this though after decades of trying (I once spent a day going through Napster once trying to find a rumoured copy of the second album) so join with me and enjoy what could have been…

What is the single most important issue of a comic in the 1980s?

There’s dozens of possibilities. Is it Frank Miller’s first issue of Daredevil or Dark Knight Returns? One of Claremont/Byrne’s X-Men run? Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing or Watchmen? Warrior?

The answer is Love and Rockets #2.

It was this issue that Alan Moore saw in 1982, as the story goes at a comic mart in London where it opened his eyes as to what comics could be and the first, most direct influence was Moore dropping thought bubbles from his scripts, and secondly he started to use a lot more female characters and directly led to him creating Halo Jones.

On top of that the mix of reality and fantasy that Los Bros Hernandez were mixing in their strips at this point became a template for many a future Marvel or DC title, though mostly without the skill or talent of any of the Hernandez Brothers. This single issue is the Rosetta Stone of comics of late 20th century, and the 21st century so far,and is dissected here by the lads at Cartoonist Kayfabe.

It’s an extraordinary comic mixing the mass market genres of superheroes and fantasy, with old-style adventure comics but framed in a slice of reality with Jaimie’s Mechanics story while Gibert and Mario lay down a touch of surrealism and more reality respectively. Again many have tried to follow in their footsteps only to fail but Moore was not one of those people, though imagine had not Moore see this issue when he did?

It is an interesting thought but we can be thankful he didn’t. As for Love and Rockets it still marches on though Maggie and Hopey are much older, maybe not wiser but it’s still the best ongoing comic of the last 40 years, and without it the industry would be an entirely different beast completely.

Debbie Harry was once a hippy

Whenever I think of Debbie Harry it’s her in her Blondie years looking and sounding like complete perfection. Even though I’ve seen here play only in the last decade or so I still think of her in her prime.

Before this she tried her hand in almost everything, but she started her mnusical career in a band called Wind in the Willows back in the 60’s and still very much a flower child. This 1968 album is a kitch mix of 60’s folk rock (I mean there’s a fucking kazoo on one track) but there’s a few good tunes however this is very much an album of its time. There is no other year in history this album could have been released.

The album is a confused oddity but a a bit of musical history it’s worth a listen. Just skip the kazoos…

A short gory history of AKA Books and Comics and the second shop of horrors

I’ve mentioned AKA Books and Comics many times before on this blog and how it played a crucial part in shaping Glasgow, and indeed, Scotland’s comic scene in a legacy that last today. What I’ve mentioned maybe in passing is the short-lived AKA 2 shop in the West End which lasted from 1986 til 86 before it was finally dragged out behind the bins and shot.

There’s little evidence the place existed but here’s an AKA advert from the 1985 Albacon (Glasgow’s then annual science fiction convention) programme booklet.

Based near the then new SECC in Finnieston the shop were it to exist now would be in the heart of the most arguably thriving part of Glasgow and certainly one which is the most active. It is a great location in 2020 but in 1985 Finnieston was a burnt out post-industrial husk and even though it was near Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the West End it didn’t bring the trade all concerned hoped but it was cheap rent, plus it meant Pete Root (one of AKA’s owners) could vanish to the shop merrily bagging and pricing to his hearts content.

The building was shared with Bob Shaw who was a major figure in Glasgow’s SF scene, and had co-owned what became Futureshock on the Woodlands Road. Bob by this point had his finger in many, many pies so used the upstairs part as an office/workspace and indeed, I’d often be there til late producing badges or helping in putting together magazines, or whatever Del-Boyesque scheme he’d got going this week. Truth is Pete was no fan of Bob, neither were the other owners John McShane and Bob Napier, but needs must and Bob did actually bring people to the shop in his own odd little way.

The shop was huge. It is in the same location where the Sandyford Surgery exists today, so you can see the attraction in the building. Downstairs was also cold as there was no central heating, so gloves and a scarf were often essential during the winter months as it’d get cold and you’d hardly be chasing after customers. It’d be a moment of dread if asked to go up and take some stuff for the shop but I’d often go up as it’d be nearer home plus I could pretend I was cool hanging around the West End. So things ticked over for a while then one night while making badges one of the lads was making a cup of tea and discovered something which was there was a false wall built into the kitchen area. Behind this false wall was a room. After some fiddling the door was prised open wide enought to see what was in the small, dark room.

On the floor was a mattress, some bedding and pointing down at the mattress was a clunky old video camera, with some more what looked like clothes and a box ot small cupboard just visible. The quick realisation was obvious that here was Bob’s homemade porn studio. We knew he’d ‘indulged’ in porn films as one of our group had the misfortune of seeing one but we never thought we’d actually stumble across the place of production. This brought up a dilemma as Pete and John had to know because this was dodgy, but we all sat on it working out I suppose if we were old and mature enought to deal with it. At the same time some dubious people were turning up to the shop, plus one day Bob was involved in a fight with a visitor upstairs so things were clearly more than just a dodgy businessman pushing his luck so Pete and John were told. After that the shop whimpered on bleeding money until the plug was finally pulled and Pete returned to the Virginia Galleries to bag and price to his hearts content while John’s liquid lunches would often last days.

As an idea it was ahead of its time by 30 years. I currently live not far from that location in buildings which used to be disintegrating tenements but are now bright newish flats, and the area which then used to be full of bookies and dubious pubs are now full of gastropubs and boutique shops selling all manner of things to a mix of relatively wealthy yuppies and students from Glasgow University. A shop there now would clean up. Not so in 1985. As for Bob he’s still around somewhere, and though AKA as a shop is now long gone what AKA2 taught everyone was not to overstretch themselves by creating a money pit with a pornographer. In fact the death of AKA2 pushed AKA into what I think was it’s strongest, most influential period from 1986 to 1990 as it soldified what it was while bringing on board customers who in some cases shaped the face of comic books to this day.

More of that another time though.