Festivals · Movies · Music

Teenage Superstars

This sequel to Grant McPhee’s Big Gold Dream had its world premiere at Edinburgh International Film Festival last Thursday 22 June, the final cut apparently only arriving in Edinburgh just before midnight in 21 June…

Big Gold Dream was a big hit at the festival two years ago and I think may have won the best film award  at the time.  That surprised me, because the night I saw the film, it seemed more like a good 40-minute TV documentary padded out to feature film length.  Nonetheless, it went on to much success and plaudit, so what do I know?

So I wasn’t eagerly waiting on the “sequel,” directed again by Grant McPhee.

As it turns out, Teenage Superstars is much more captivating that Big Gold Dream; maybe it’s just a more interesting story of more interesting people.  As can be gleaned from the title, this film is about the Glasgow scene of the 1980’s and concentrates on The Jesus and Mary Chain, Primal Scream, Teenage Fanclub, The Vaselines, The Soup Dragons, The Pastels and BMX Bandits.  The interdependence of many of the bands and individuals in the scene is stressed over and over – often one band would have a high percentage of common members – and the influence of Stephen Pastel, Duglas T Stewart and Bobby Gillespie as taste-makers and facilitators is presented cogently with many interviews with the first two, but not, frustratingly, with Gillespie.  Frustratingly, as he is cited on many occasions for his influence.

I really enjoyed the first hour and thought that the issues I had with Big Gold Dream had been illusory, or maybe the result of seeing a very early edit.  The second half really slowed down though and the continued repetition of the same pieces of footage and still pictures began to jar.  There was something a bit weird with the music as well, which I assume is due to clearances – sometimes a piece of music under discussion was not what was being played on the soundtrack (Primal Scream) or a band’s music was presented solely through TV or film appearances.

Still, I woke up the next day in a fantastic mood, which I was sure was due to this film, for the most part a fine and cheering story of a bunch of people with enough self-belief to obviate failure.  I expect it will do better and be more fondly remembered than its predecessor.

Edinburgh Festivals - the Film Festival 2017 - Teenage Superstars

 

Gigs · Music

Ethan Johns in Edinburgh

 

Ethan Johns in Edinburgh

Ethan Johns, producer of Laura Marling and co-producer of The Staves played in Edinburgh tonight. Great set, some great sounding songs from his new album The Reckoning, including a song called “The Roses and the Dead.” Maybe I wasn’t the only fan of The Dead in the room tonight…

Producer Ethan Johns with Stuart Ferguson

The man’s uncle produced Marquee Moon…this case is closed.

Gigs · Music

My new favourite band

Snowgoose at the Queen's Hall, Edinburgh

On Saturday, I finally got to see Snowgoose after almost a year of missing them.

The first of these epic fails of taste was 4th May last year, when Snowgoose opened for the excellent Lightships at the CCA in Glasgow. When I met my friends Danni and Ruthie in Glasgow the next day, they spelled out for me what I’d missed the previous evening; I couldn’t even buy the album that day as it had only been out on vinyl as a Record Shop Day special (I did try…)
The second failure was even more regrettable; in August, I went to see Mark Lanegan in Edinburgh (the man whose feet never move throughout his entire set) but missed the support, only to be told, even before Lanegan’s set, that it had been Snowgoose. D’OH!
In retrospect, this makes sense, the connection being that two members of Snowgoose had decided they would form such a band while on tour with Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan in support of their duet record.
So nearly ten months later, I wasn’t about to miss the chance to see them as part of a bill at The Queen’s Hall in Edinburgh.
Snowgoose is comprised of Raymond McGinley and Dave McGowan from Teenage Fanclub, Jim McCulloch (former Soup Dragon, sometime BMX Bandit, former member of Superstar,) Stuart Kidd (The Wellgreen, The Pearlfishers, drummer in the live incarnation of Linden, sometime BMX Bandit) and Anna Sheard, who apparently hasn’t sung professionally with anyone before this band.
All bar Raymond were present for Saturday’s show (I believe Teenage Fanclub are rehearsing,) so I believe this was a stripped down version of Snowgoose I saw (i.e., without drums.) Stuart Kidd normally plays the drums, but was covering guitar, bongos and vocals tonight. Not only does Stuart seem to be able to play most instruments in his various projects, he does so with immense taste; but most importantly, he’s the guy who is singing the harmonies that you don’t necessarily hear, but which make the blend. Dave McGowan is similarly gifted – in Teenage Fanclub, he generally plays keyboards, unless it’s pedal steel, or guitar, or contributing to the TFC vocal wall of sound; tonight he was playing bass and a bit of guitar as well as singing harmonies.
The songs are mostly written by Jim McCulloch, tonight on guitar and vocal, another musician of impeccable pedigree and experience.
So it’s great to see how well Anna Sheard fits into this little supergroup and even better when you hear how well she fits. She’s exactly the right voice and person for this band and they know it.

Anna Sheard Snowgoose

The odd little bit of Snowgoose music I’d heard online had made me think they were in thrall to Pentangle, but there’s way more to it than that. Surely, the influence of jazz-inflected English folk is right there, but there’s also a big dollop of Laurel Canyon Crosby-esque harmonies and structures.
And what great harmonies; effortless four-part singing which is so difficult to pull off without it looking really hard.
Several new songs were performed along with most of the album Harmony Springs, (all new to me, of course,) as well as a languid cover of John Cale’s “Andalucia.”
I bought a copy of the CD afterward – it’s great stuff after maybe the second play…
Among instruments used on the evening was (I think, I couldn’t quite see the name on the headstock) a really old Yamaha 12-string. Being a 12-string, it was presenting some tuning difficulties to the extent that Dave promised it would be going in a skip after that night…
NOOOOO!
Preferences have already been expressed about Yamaha guitars on this blog – I sure hope he was joking. Interesting to see all the dinks and wear on the top of the guitar were very similar to those on my (not as old, eighties at best) Yamaha 12-string. They just go on and on…
See Snowgoose’s website here.

Thanks to Ruthie Blaney for her picture of Anna.

Movies · Music

Quartet and film related coincidences

Quartet by Dustin Hoffman

I went to see Dustin Hoffman’s movie Quartet yesterday tea-time (or more correctly, pint time,) which had just the right gentle and restful tone for New Year’s Day.

It’s a fine looking movie, apart from a couple of plot twists that go nowhere in an already thin plot. Set in a retirement home for musicians, it gives the principals a chance to show off a bit.  Pauline Collins is outstanding, Billy Connolly does, well, Billy Connolly with a haircut pretending to be a retired opera singer; but that’s fine, he’s earned that right.  Connolly does what he does and it’s been a pleasure to be on the planet for some of the same time and see his work.

Maggie Smith is everybody’s favourite just now I believe, due to Downton Abbey – she certainly got loads of laughs in the cinema yesterday.

That’s where all the coincidences started kicking off.  On Hogmanay, we had watched the magnificent One Day on DVD because we had seen it for the first time at The Filmhouse last Hogmanay; then here we were watching Maggie Smith a year after watching The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie in the same cinema.

To get even more fey, the music supervision on Quartet is by Kle Savidge.  Kle was Alan McGee’s assistant in Creation Records’ imperial years and this is what she does now (see her website here.)

Another film she did the music for is An Education, directed by Lone Scherfig, who directed One Day.

Kle was also vocalist on this track by BMX Bandits about whom I wrote the other day; my understanding is that she impressed so much at the karaoke during the wedding of a member of a Creation band that she was a shoo-in for the job on the Bandits’ Theme Park album.  A great wee track.

It’s all connected…

Movies · Music

Serious Drugs – a film about BMX Bandits

Serious drugs BMX Bandits

 

On 12 December last year I attended the world premiere of Serious Drugs, Jim Burns’ film about the career of BMX Bandits. For the first and probably last time, I was able to personally greet both the director and subject of a film on the red carpet at its premiere – in truth though, rather than a red carpet, it was the pavement outside the Glasgow Film Theatre…

It was a fine film, a labour of love for Jim, who had been personally uplifted by the music of BMX Bandits at a low point in his life. With the co-operation of Duglas Stewart and a selection of current and past members of the band, he had made a low-budget film which only would have been possible with the shrewdest applications of modern digital technology. It took some years, but it was gratifying to see Jim and Duglas being able to take the plaudits from a “live” audience at the Q and A after the film was shown.

While unflinching in exploring the work methods and the motivations which have propelled the Bandits’ twenty-five year (and counting) career, it is also openly celebratory of the positive effects their work has had on many people throughout the world.

The only quibble I had was the absence of any mention of Joe McAlinden, an important member of the band for years as composer, instrumentalist and vocalist. There were a couple of still pictures of the band including him, but it was a bit weird that the co-writer and original singer on none other than the song “Serious Drugs” was written out of the history

The film has gone on to be shown at numerous film festivals and has been roundly praised.

Serious Drugs has just been released on a limited edition DVD which is available to buy here.