Poor People – Alan Price
It’s no use mumbling.
It’s no use grumbling.
Life just isn’t fair-
There’s no easy days
There’s no easy ways
Just get out there and do it!
So smile while you’re makin’ it-
Laugh while you’re takin’ it-
Even though you’re fakin’ it-
Nobody’s gonna know.
Nobody’s gonna know.
I was 16 when Lindsay Anderson‘s film O Lucky Man was released onto an unsuspecting general public. Five years earlier he’d directed the anarchic anti-public-school revolutionary film “If…” also starring a young Malcolm McDowell and in many ways, O Lucky Man is a sequel, a kaleidoscopic canter through Great Britain with all its class, corruption, sycophancy, greed and – yes – fun, seen through the eyes of an eternally hopeful everyman (Travis) who only sees good in people, and is thus used, abused, beaten up, arrested and generally crucified. McDowell was everyone’s favourite actor in 1973 – because of “If…” and “A Clockwork Orange”, and in this film you can see why…
Eternally appealing, he is used by Anderson to wander through this green and pleasant land and lift the lid on the truth. At every turn our hero meets corruption, cheating, bending the rules, selfishness and dishonesty. It’s rather like as told from a left-wing point of view. It’s a top five film of mine not least because the soundtrack – all by Alan Price and his band – is perfect, and each song is treated like an interlude; thus when a song starts to play in the film, we dissolve to the studio and watch Alan Price playing the song before picking up the story again as it finishes. I’ve never seen this done before or since and it’s brilliant. As is the music.
Price is from County Durham, and went to school in Jarrow, south of the city of Newcastle in North-East England. A piano and organ player, he formed blues pop band The Animals in 1962 (House Of The Rising Sun, Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood), then left in 1965 to form the Alan Price Set (House That Jack Built, Don’t Stop The Carnival) before turning his hand to a TV show with Georgie Fame (Fame and Price together!) and introducing Britain to the music of the great songwriter Randy Newman (rather like Harry Nilsson did in the US – but Nilsson would be Alan’s US equivalent though, not Newman). There was a stage musical in the late 70s : Andy Capp – which I saw purely due to Price’s involvement – on the Aldwych. Tom Courtenay playing the lead as a cuddly giggly sexist git – it didn’t work. But before that he had written the songs and played himself in this dark political comedy of manners – which for me at 16 was a blueprint for understanding the world. I already knew the world was corrupt. I knew we were being shafted. I knew everyone was lying. And I knew that essentially I was on my own. I loved this film and this music – I bought the vinyl LP shortly after seeing it for the second time. Here was a director, an actor and a musician speaking for me.
Christine Noonan, Anna Dawson, Malcolm McDowell, Arthur Lowe
Not to mention that many of the finest and my personal favourite actors are involved – many of them playing more than one role, which also lends the story-telling a theatrical arc, a surreal edge as Travis (McDowell) thinks he recognises people – and sometimes has. From the great Arthur Lowe playing a northern mayor who demands a “chocolate sandwich” at a live backstage sex-show, an African dictator from an un-named country buying “honey” to decimate his own population with, to Rachel Roberts, Geoffrey Palmer, Graham Crowden, Helen Mirren, Philip Stone, Dandy Nichols, Mona Washbourne, Peter Jeffrey, Warren Clarke, Brian Glover and Ralph Richardson among many others. A feast of acting chops all at their peak. So many exquisite moments – but I must mention Richardson near the end : “Hold this. Wait here.”
At one point Travis escapes from a weird frightening hospital and hitch-hikes to get away – and who should pull over to pick him up but Alan Price and his band. The music is uniformly excellent and provides an extra wry commentary on the lessons we – and Travis – are being shown. I’ve chosen Poor People because I think it’s the best song on the LP, and it’s a beautiful moment in the film as Rachel Roberts invites Travis to sample the coffee…