RIP Ennio Morricone

This one hurts because for all my life Ennio Morricone has soundtracked some of my favourite films. When I was young, I was allowed up late to watch A Fistful of Dollars and saw what is still once of the finest titles for a movie ever.

That music though was like nothing I’d heard before and I wanted more. When my parents said this was the first of three films I ensured I was allowed to stay up the next week for A Few Dollars More, however it was that third week with The Good, the Bad and the Ugly which blew my tiny little mind.

You knew from this opening credits score that you were in for something epic, something spectacular and you got something transcendent at the end of the film. I mean just look at what’s going on and story being told here, all made to work thanks to direction, editing and of course music.

Then I caught Once Upon a TIme in the West some months later. The end blew me away.

But Morricone could do whatever he wanted in terms to variety. Here’s the opening credits to Danger: Diabolik with him in full 60’s mode.

Over the years it quickly became clear Morricone was scoring some of my favourite films, and sure, he could raise rubbish up from the depths, but he could add quality to quality, or take an average film and raise it to something else.

By the time he starts scoring Hollywood films, he’s already scored dozens of films. IN fact by the mid-70s his C.V. is enormous, but the hits still keep coming. Take a low budget Italian Z-Grade Star Wars rip off called The Humanoid. It’s a terrible film, but the soundtrack is Morricone experimenting with things like synths in a way he might not have with something a bit more expensive, and better.

My favourite of this time is for John Carpenter’s The Thing, which starts to ramp up the tension right from the start.

After that there were classics for films like Once Upon a Time in America, The Untouchables and Bugsy. All classic scores which pull these films into being something else, but in recent years he’s been scaling back the amount of work he’s doing with The Hateful Eight being the last big score most people will remember him by.

He’ll be missed because he was so varied, so good and just a bloody genius. I mean, just listen to his theme for Space:1999 when they released some edited together episodes to make a film.

Watch the first ever Rage Against the Machine gig

Working on a few big blogs, but the glorious thing about diving into YouTube is finding little bits of history thanks to the site’s algorithm. And this is a cracker. Rage Against the Machine are an amazing band live who I’ve seen a load of times over the decades but here’s their first-ever live gig. It really is remarkable how fully formed they are at this stage even if a few songs are not quite there yet, so enjoy a wee bit of history.

Return to Glastonbury 1994

If there’s a year where Glastonbury Festival musically hit a height then a good argument can be made for the line-up in 1994.

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I’d previously skimmed over 1994 mainly because much of it was a blur to me, but over the seven years since writing that post more has returned to me, partly through conversations with people who were there with me and through watching the TV coverage that sneaks onto YouTube.

1994 was a year that fell into the badlands between the burst of Britpop just later that year and the mix of American bands like Rage Against the Machine, and British bands still riding the last wave of the ‘Second Summer of Love’ from 89/90. Contrary to modern versions of history of the time, the early 90’s were a glorious time for British bands who were diverse in genres, as well as their members. Britpop came along and crushed that with its bland white homogeny that it eventually became after the initial exciting period.

That year was a blur because of various chemical substances, but also because it was impossible not to spend that year dashing between stage and stage to see acts. It was exhausting! It also was the first year television filmed vast chunks of it with Channel 4 and MTV being everywhere, so you had to get used to boom cameras being waved in the collective faces of the audience.

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I seem to vaguely remember turning up on the Thursday, pitching in front of the Pyramid (which had burned down a fortnight before the festival to be quickly replaced by a standard big stage) before going on a big adventure. See, in those days you didn’t turn up on the Wednesday unless you were one of the hardcore, were working or you could afford that extra day. Also nothing was on, well, nothing organised but once you made your way to the Green Fields you’d find things, and on the way back home you’d try to avoid the dark, dodgy corners of the festival. Back then there was an issue with gangs fighting for their territory and that spilled over a few times that year, most notably during Elvis Costello’s set on the Saturday.

Being much younger and fitter then meant it didn’t take too long to get between stages, and as I’d basically decided to do my own thing rather than hang out with friends who were happy setting up for large chunks of the day in front of the Pyramid or NME stage. I wanted to explore the site, meet people, drink and be merry which judging by my muddled head 26 years later, I seemed to have done exceptionally well. So the Thursday night I went up to the Green Fields, sat around drinking, chatting, and all manner of things til daylight. I didn’t want to waste time sleeping but managed to grab a few hours before being woken up by the early morning soundchecks.

Friday was all about Rage Against the Machine who at this point were the band everyone wanted to see at the festival, and they turned in one of the finest performances Glastonbury ever saw. Outwith of them, everything else is a blur. I remember bits of The Pretenders, some Beastie Boys and being underwhelmed at World Party.

At some point on Saturday morning, I got some sleep somewhere in the Green Fields before waking up to be offered a cup of tea by a lovely young hippy girl. Apparently I’d ended up in one of the tea tents in the wee hours gibbering like a loon talking about comics with a Tank Girl clone. At some point I’d closed down, and they chucked a blanket over me so when I woke up a few hours later to the offer of a tea I was actually not in much of a mess as I should have been.  I must have wandered off at some point because my next clear memory is brushing my teeth back at the tent.

From what I remember, I spent most of the Saturday at the NME Stage mainly because Orbital were headlining and they could not be missed. Also I was a tad fragile plus I wanted to spend the night up at the Stone Circle, so Saturday I took it easy.

 

Again things are blurry but having enjoyed a brilliant festival so far, the Sunday looked to be a great final day but by now I don’t remember being myself as it were. I was lacking sleep (in thinking about it, I’d probably just about hit double figures. I did however want to see the sun come up and I’d arranged to meet the folk from the other night before heading to the Stone Circle. Thankfully this is 1994 and the Lord created speed so I managed to get my sunrise before getting some rest before the greatness of Johnny Cash.

From there it was a few more bands with Blur being one highlight before the now traditional final night wander around the site and the last night session which leads into an early return home, which in 1994 meant a long, sad drive back to Leicester and a vow that I’d try never to miss a Glastonbury Festival in my life, which was easy to say when you’re young and healthy.

These festivals will never return. Glastonbury has moved on to be something else which I still love, but it’s more curated, more organised and has long shed it’s major counter-cultural aspects though parts still linger on especially in the Green Fields. The more those times are documented before they get lost the more we’ll be able to appreciate what’s now gone forever.

Matt Hancock is the laughing death secretary

One of the many, many remarkable things about the UK government’s reaction to the coronavirus is how most of them look like they’re really not bothered about an estimated 60,000 dead and a confirmed 40,000 deaths. Top of the list is Health Secretary Matt Hancock who from the start of this crisis has been hopeless, but as the death toll rose he’s made himself even look worse by his complete lack of understanding.

Today he did an interview with Kay Burley, and it takes a hell of a lot for Burley to speak as a moral voice but she gave him enough rope to hang himself today.

I mean, what sort of sociopath do you need to be to laugh at perfectly reasonable questions and there’s 40,000 dead. Why make this face?

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What needs to be going through your head to think ‘ah fuck it, this is funny’ when England’s daily death toll is still in the hundreds?

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At what point does it go through a normal person’s head that this is fine, that this is a decent way to act when hundreds of people will die today and he’s sat at home having a laugh?

These people don’t care. 40,000 dead? So? They don’t care. They’re sociopaths.

Relive the 1980’s on MTV

The 1980’s is when the media landscape changed across the world, with the USA especially changing into a multi-channel future before much of the rest of the world. The channel which pretty much opened this new horizon for many was MTV, a channel which (and it isn’t hyperbole to say this) changed the world.

Many of you and I will have memories of MTV based upon late-night viewing sessions, whatever faded VHS tapes you might still have but really it’ll be what’s stuck up on YouTube. Well that changes now as someone has stuck a massive chunk of the channel’s output in the 1980’s up from the very first few hours through the 80’s and into the 1990’s. 

The sheer volume of material here is extraordinary, and this archive will keep anyone going so whether you want to see the first few hours after that first video by The Buggles, or Vincent Price introduce a Halloween special, or even all of Live Aid then dive in and be prepared to be lost for hours and hours.

RIP Andrew Weatherall

DJ, producer, writer, performer and musician Andrew Weatherall has died aged 56, which is far too young. Most folk will know him through his production of Primal Scream’s Loaded in 1990 but he wrote my life’s soundtrack for the early 90’s. I’ve touched upon this briefly before here.

I broke a tape replaying the first Sabres of Paradise album, Sabresonic, so much. The second one, Haunted Dancehall was the soundtrack to 1994 and of course Raise by Bocca Juniors in clubs in Bristol and London back in the day.

A Weatherall remix could earn you money, chart places and critical acclaim but for me the Weatherall project that welded itself to me was One Dove, their only album Morning Dove White and the song One Love.

I listen to that and I’m 20something walking into a club in Bristol hearing this shouting ‘WHO THE FUCK IS THIS?’ to a mate, who found out who it was, and that sparked me out in my mind as this was the sound in my head. Dot Allison’s vocals made everything perfect, while Weatherall’s guitar mix (he really was a great guitarist) is still a fucking tune and a half.

Weatherall mixed everything it seemed together to create glorious sounds, which as said, sometimes sounds exactly like what’s going on in my head. I could fill up pages and pages of his work but I’ll wrap up with a tune from Fuck Buttons, Surf Solar, which bizarrely ended up being used at the London Olympics in 2012. All those years dancing on the outskirts and suddenly his sounds are in the middle of one of the most establishment events out there.

Nobody will replace him. 56 is far too young and dear god, how badly will I miss his tunes…

30 years of Tim Burton’s Batman

The days of the blockbuster film as media and cultural event is more or less past barring one or two exceptions. Avengers Endgame being the most recent, but for a time we’d have two, maybe three a year. In 1989 however the biggest one was Tim Burton’s Batman film.

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The marketing campaign for that film was genius. It basically threw the pre-existing trademark (the Batman logo) on anything and everything, so from around spring 89 you couldn’t move for Bat-logos everywhere. I remember being in a pub in Camden in London at the end of July in 89 with half the pub having some form of Batman t-shirt on, including myself with this effort drawn by Frank Miller.

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If you worked in comics as I did at the time, it was amazing to see people go crazy for the comics with literally a Batman title at least once a week for a year which meant boom times for lesser selling titles who only need stick Batman on the cover to suddenly see a sharp spike in sales upwards. Of course it was the success of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke which created the environment for the film to be made, and made in the way it was as opposed to  the campy TV show.

Unlike today where every second of the film is analysed in advance, there was a lack of footage from the film and with there still being a vocal section of fans hating the casting of Michael Keaton, the producers rushed out a poorly cut teaser trailer in 1988.

I know of people who would go as see other films knowing this would be running before that film just to see these 90 seconds, and also, bad VHS copies of it would be shown at conventions just to get people a fix before the big event. The fact the film opened in America a good month before the UK meant waiting was strung out as reviews would come across the Atlantic telling us this was something special, until finally that August the film opened in a blaze of glory.

Leicester Square  had been transformed into Gotham City with Bat-Signals galore to help whip up those massive queues waitng to get in, and as for me, I had to wait til the next day to see it and indeed, it was everything I wanted then from a Batman film. I’ve written about the film before here. 

Looking back at the film now, even five years after previously writing about it, it’s clear my opinion has changed. The script doesn’t really have a third act with a messy end replacing any sort of more structured ending instead of the disheveled mess that is the ending as it is. It didn’t matter at the time, but now it’s probably two-thirds of the film I thought it was back then, or indeed, five years ago. The film’s place in history is assured, especially as it was one of the first big comic book films and proved they’d make gazillions at the box office. It has a chaotic feel and hasn’t that shiny, glossy feel of a Marvel film, plus it does draw from decades of Batman history with a great performance from Jack Nicholson who is loving every second.

But Batman made comics acceptable for millions of people. It drew in so many people into shops and made them fans of the medium, and there’s the legacy of that film. For that it’ll always hold a special place for comics fans.

Every Time the Sun Comes Up-The story of Glastonbury 2019

Glastonbury 2019 was one of those years where the line up was actually very good, but as is normally the way I managed to miss half of what I wanted to see and catch loads I never knew I wanted to see. As a festival I loved this year, even though I was melting and had to deal with a grim realisation by the Friday morning. More of this later, but first, the beginning.  S

I’d decided to spend some time in Bristol before the festival to catch up with friends, but before leaving I had a funeral to attend and a speedy rush to the train station to enjoy a pretty painless journey across half the UK with some essential provisions.

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The one thing that’s always clear when travelling the UK is how empty much of it is and how close we all are to water.

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Eventually we crossed the country and sighted balloons which meant Bristol wasn’t far.

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So a few days in Bristol were enjoyed before Wednesday morning came screeching up and my friend Alan picked me up early in the morning to take me through the morning fog to the festival. Weather forecasts had been sketchy in the weeks leading up to the festival with one saying the opening few days would be pestered with thunderstorms, but things changed with the forecast saying long, hot spells. Which we got. A lot.

As we joined the queue for wristbands, etc in the disabled field, our other group turned up and we all managed to get in together.

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Of course we didn’t get a fancy opening ceremony like the guys at Gate A just a few hundred metres away from where we were.

This year I had an enormous tent as I can’t crawl in and out of a two or three man tent anymore. Thankfully I had nothing but the most modern transport for it.

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Eventually we squeezed into the shuttle bus, pitched up in the disabled field, and set up everyone’s tents realising we could have done with another body to help. Next time we’re going to be a tad more organised.

Wednesday at Glastonbury is a bit of a free for all. Not a lot is on, mainly because most people are setting up so it is a perfect time to go wandering round the site when the site isn’t quite ready. I’ve always loved this day since I started going down for the full week in the early 2000’s.

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Wednesday is also the day when a lot of people grab an early night, and with temperatures starting to rise  it seemed smart to duck out and grab an early night.

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Thursday saw a showing of the Jim Jarmusch zombie film, The Dead Don’t Die, but that was in the evening.

Til them myself and Alan decided to wander, which thanks to my glacial walking speed and the by now baking heat, this too ages so we ended up at the Acoustic Stage taking advantage of the bar.

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And of course the cold, cold drink it sold.

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After the film (which is rather good) we all wandered back, with myself staying out later drinking with a mate from Bristol but a mix of exhaustion and fatigue meant I left before things got messy.

Now when the bands start things always become vague in these blogs mainly because by this point things are vague. What was clear is that seeing Stormsy was to be essential as this would either be astonishing or a road accident. Thankfully it was astonishing as he dipped into 60 years of pop history for inspiration, including a backdrop inspired by Elvis and Jailhouse Rock.

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It was a remarkable show that was one of those Glastonbury gigs where an act becomes something else entirely along the lines of Pulp in 1995 or Radiohead in 1997.

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Saturday came and so did the hottest day. As we’re all outdoors shade is a premium so by late morning people were either still lazing round their tents or shade, or risking the blazing sun which by now was melting people around the site. See, there’s a bit of a myth that really hot days are great for festivals and they’re not as every inch of shade was occupied. Luckily most of what I wanted to see on the Saturday was in the John Peel Stage, which meant sitting in the shade on a pretty empty disabled viewing platform near the bar selling cold drinks. It was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon at Glastonbury, plus things became cooler and more akin to a festival rather than the heatwave baking heat.

As for the night I didn’t fancy The Killers as it isn’t 2011, and seeing as people who did see them said they were a bit pish, I made the right choice which was to soak up the night by falling alseep. I struggle with fatigue and this was a time when my body decided to rest itself ahead of what I wanted to do. Ah well.

Sunday came. It was a perfect day, so time for Kylie, who’d supposed to be headliner in 2005 but cancelled due to her fight with cancer. It was a controversy she’d even been booked at the time, but this is 2019 so instead of indie purists sulking, the Pyramid Stage saw tens of thousands of people. I’d put it at around 150k people crammed into a field. It really was extraordinary.

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I mean, there was just a sea of humanity for this tiny Aussie.

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And the crowd barely shrunk for Miley Cyrus who did the Ashley O thing much to the crowds joy or bemusement.

Topping off the festival were The Cure. Now I’m a passing fan but I’d seen them close the festival in 1995 though back then I’d dropped a load of mushrooms which is not something I can do these days. As the crowd on the viewing platform transformed into old Goths, the stage was set for a classic headliner performance if you were a fan. As said, I’m a casual fan and found much of the first half, well, boring. The last half however where they cranked out the singles was great fun and reminded people just how much of a great singles band The Cure were.

As The Cure ended that was it for most people, though many vanished into the South East of the site to not reappear til well into the next day which for us, involved packing up slowly, getting back in our cars and relunctantly going home.

And that was Glastonbury 2019 where I learned the lesson that trying to walk everywhere isn’t going to work anymore. Next year (tickets permitting) I’ll have to get a scooter because there’s no fun in spending hours walking around making myself fatigued ages before I need to be. Next year will be the 50th anniversary and internet rumours range from it being the last year before Michael Eavis retires (I don’t think he will now) to the festival expanding to a full seven days for the one-off anniversary (which I can’t see either) but the lone fact is that demand will be much larger than usual.

2022 will mark my 30th anniversary of attending the festival, but the 50th will be special and I hope to catch you there. I’ve learned my lessons this year so no more trying to do stuff I can’t do and take offers of aid, or use things that’ll help make things more fun!

 

Scott Walker RIP

Back in the long hot summer of 1995 I went down to Glastonbury for a weekend of fun and games, with a couple of friends, Denise and Joe who were driving down. We were travelling in a battered old car which groaned with our stuff but spirits were high as we left Leicester to hit the M69 to head to the South West. As we approached Coventry Joe stuck on the one tape we had for the trip which was a copy of the Best of Scott Walker and as he stuck it in, and pressed play the first chinks of sunrise broke as this played.

It was the sign it was going to be a good weekend.

By this point in the mid 90’s, Walker had gained an appreciation among the Indie kids who weren’t having the dull boot heel of Britpop kicking them in the head, though folks like myself grew up with Walker’s music. Basically if you grew up in the 70’s and your family had taste you’d normally head one Walker tune all the time. Mine was Jackie.

But the king was this one.

No Regrets was my drunken pulling song along with Blondie’s Atomic for years in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Those were the days.

What I’m basically saying is that Scott Walker is dead but his music won’t die. Walker has been with me musically for more or less my entire life. His music was there during some amazingly memorable times and still will because just listen to the man sing on songs like this…

I mean, just fuck, listen to it! If that song doesn’t move you a bit then you have no soul.

But the sun won’t shine anymore for him and it’s only fitting to close this with this performance of a Jacques Brel song…

Keith Flint RIP

Keith Flint of The Prodigy took his own life at the age of 49 and it is an utter tragedy for so, so many reasons. If one assumes he was suffering from depression then he’s another victim of how men especially find it hard to nearly impossible to speak about something that can be crippling or worse. 49 is no age these days and Flint had decades ahead of him.

And it can’t be said often enough that The Prodigy emerged from a scene in the early 90’s where rave bands were ten a penny and novelty dance tunes were chart fodder, which brings me my first encounter with the band in the form of Charly.

In these early days Flint was a dancer. Basically he was there to dance to LIam Howlett’s tunes as The Prodigy was purely a vehicle for Howlett back then but then came Music For A Jilted Generation and fuck me, it was like an entirely different band.

I first saw them sometime in 93/4 at the Astoria in London and it was clear the band wasn’t just actually becoming a band, but Flint was developing a presence onstage, and not just that the band were getting harder. Sometimes even moving away from the rave sound which by the mid 90s was becoming increasingly commercialised and well, shite.

Then Firestarter came out in 96 at the height of Britpop when British bands were supposed to be inspired by The Kinks and writing songs about going to the seaside or getting drunk, The Prodigy turned out something that sounded nothing like any other mainstream band at the time.

Sure, others had blended dance with Punk before, Sheep on Drugs for example, but nobody really made a success of it til Keith Flint decided to have a serious makeover which ended up scaring the shite out of people’s mid-90’s complacency when the video first appeared on Top of the Pops.

Summer 96 saw The Prodigy tear up the Phoenix festival, but it was 1997 at Glastonbury when they landed fully formed as something extraordinary.

It was Friday night. It’d been raining so hard in the run-up that stages were sinking into the mud. Conditions were miserable. Everywhere had this sucking, sticky mud that clung to everything, and if you stayed still for too long you either locked into place or sank. People were fucked off and waiting for something to kick the festival’s arse into gear. A lot has been said about Radiohead’s set on the Saturday over the years, but without the Prodigy kicking off the Friday night  and giving people a spark, then the crowd wouldn’t have been so up for it. We’d have given in.

By now at the scabby dogend of Britpop bands were dropping off fast, but The Prodigy sailed through the storms, not to mention controversies like the argument with the Beastie Boys about Smack My Bitch Up.

After 98 I sort of took the Prodigy for granted. Subsequent albums never hit the heights of Fat of the Land, and a decent headliner spot in Reading in 2002 was the last time I saw them live, and now I’ll never see them again and that is nothing compared to the tragedy of Flint leaving us at such a relatively young age.