My Pop Life #198 : Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) – The Arcade Fire


Neighbourhood #3 (Power Out) – The Arcade Fire

I went out into the night, I went out to pick a fight with anyone

*

In the summer of 2006 Jenny and I drove from Sweden down into Germany for the World Cup, saw a few games in Nuremberg and Dortmund, then drove back to our friend Amanda Oom’s house in Skåne (pronounced Skohner) for the midsummer party.  It was rather great, though somehow shadowed by an undefined unease.

Soder Åby in Skåne, south Sweden, June 2006

Upon returning home I went for a film audition in London, usual kind of thing, I’d had a couple of days to look at the scene and read the script.  For once I really fancied it – set in a lowlife milieu of East London my character was an ex-UDI paramilitary gun-runner.  One of the accents I most enjoy wrapping my chops around is Belfast, so armed with the Protestant version thereof I auditioned the shit out of it.  Thought I’d done quite well, and decided that if I got the part I would resemble Lemmy from Mötorhead with giant rockabilly muttonchops and proceeded to grow them over that summer.

After about 5 weeks I learned that I had failed to be cast in said film, Andy Serkis having pipped me at the post.  I’ve still never done the Belfast accent.  The regular disappointment, spiced with whiskers.  So I decided to carry on growing them, to my wife’s irritation.  If there’s one type of face fuzz she can’t stand (and she does like a beard does Jenny) it’s the aforementioned mutton chops.  Still, nothing to lose I thought.  We drove over to see old friend and Withnail writer/director Bruce Robinson and his wife Sophie out in the bucolic eden of Herefordshire on their farmhouse for a few days.

Rural Hertfordshire with Sophie and Bruce Robinson

He showed me his work on the Jack The Ripper book and claimed “I’ve got him Ralph !”  Can’t remember who it was, or maybe he didn’t tell me more likely.  Secret !!   Always great to see the old fucker though.  We pottered around the farm, did a workout on a nearby hilltop and talked about the good old days, ranted about the bad old days.  It is always thus. Back in Brighton we had our summer son down for the school holidays, Jordan Jules-Stock and he was a delight.  He came down every summer for quite a few years.

Jordan and I resting while we serve our Lady Jenny, Arundel

We went to Arundel Castle and pretended to be knights of the holy grail with our Lady Jenny.  We went to Drusillas my old childhood retreat and to the Anchor pub on the River Ouse at Balcombe which has boat trips and wasps in the garden with friends Jo and Loretta and their children Maddy, Milo and Inka.  It was always great that Jordan had some people his own age to hang out with.

Inka, Maddy, Jordan & Milo at The Anchor, Barcombe Mills

At some point in September I believe I went for another audition, this time for a TV show with casting director Gary Davies.  To play a slightly freaky policeman.  I still had the muttonchops.  I learned the lines as usual and played the scenes on tape for him.  Within days I had the offer…and the instruction : “And Don’t Shave!!

At a wedding in 2006 – Jenny wishing I’d shaved

Jenny’s nightmare scenario.  The show was a six-episode thriller about a strange community of witness-protection anonymity, all with a dark past, all hiding in this pastel-shaded modern development.  I was the town copper who had acid flashbacks and a dark streak, Wintersgill.  Great part.  I was picked up for work at an unearthly hour by my lovely driver who lived in Folkestone (!) and driven to an odd designer estate just off the M26 in Kent where the entire show was shot.  It was called Cape Wrath.

Created by Robert Murphy, episode one was directed by Duane Clark, an American whom I got on with very well.  My co-stars (gawd I mean fellow actors) in the cast were David Morrissey and Lucy Cohu with their kids played by Felicity Jones and Harry Treadaway.  Also – major friendships were struck with Melanie Hill, Tristan Gemmill, Ella Smith and Nina Sosanya, not to mention Scot Williams, Don Gilet, Sian Brooke and Tom Hardy and his dog.  Yes, that Tom Hardy.

Wintersgill (me) & Danny (David Morrissey), in his rabbit hutch

I had to spend an entire episode strangling Morrissey almost to death in the underground cell of the police station, forcing him to confess to a murder.  It was pretty intense.  I’d already worked with David on Steven Woolley‘s film Stoned about Brian Jones and we’d met in Marrakech in the old town.  I’d meet him again in Prague years later.  Proper good fella is Dave Morrissey.  Genuine, funny, talented, heart in the right place.  A good man to have to strangle.  Loads of trust needed.

Harry Treadaway getting frisky

I also struck up a great relationship with young Harry Treadaway based on music sharing and other cultural chat.  He and his twin brother Luke had already made a strange punk film about conjoined twins who become pop stars called Brothers of the Head in 2005.  We swapped music, probably CDs I can’t remember the format, but he lent me the first Arcade Fire album from 2004 called “Funeral“.  I cannot remember now what I lent Harry, and I wonder if he can, but after about two days Funeral was seriously under my skin.  What a brilliant record.

Funeral – Arcade Fire

Something truly affecting about the music.  Harry had seen them in a loft in Montreal playing to a few dozen people and immediately swooned.  I could see why.  Something intensely passionate with strong hooks and yet a loose quality, almost like a live rehearsal.  Anthemic but lo-fi.  Little did I know that it wouldn’t last, but I worked it out for myself after the second gig.  We had the chance to go and see them live during the shoot because they were doing a warm-up tour for their imminent 2nd LP Neon Bible.  It was Porchester Hall in Feb 2007 when I saw them first.  What a gig.  They played 4 songs from Funeral : Power Out, Haiti, Rebellion/Lies and Wake Up which they played acoustically as they walked out through the audience.  People sang along lustily.  Pretty damn good.  I was hooked.

Brixton Academy : Neon Bible, time to push to the front !

The following month they were back, this time in the cavernous Brixton Academy, and this time they played Tunnels the wonderful opening song from Funeral along with most of Neon Bible.  I met Harry and Luke in a pub I think and in we went, pushed right down the front like teenage students, probably the final time in my life when I actually wanted to do that.  It was the music, a major discovery for me, and the company, these two bright buttons the Treadaway brothers and one of their friends.  We bounced around like idiots to the drums, sang the choruses at the top of our voices and got the shivers down our necks when this song started.

I felt towards the end that Arcade Fire would never play a small venue again, not only were the songs anthemic but the whole trajectory of the band felt that way, a U2-esque quality that was all going one way > into the stadium.  Unfair possibly, but the raggy studenty unrehearsed vibe was giving way to more purposeful statement-rock.  The great disappointment was the 2nd encore after Wake Up which was brilliant, when they then played the Clash song Guns of Brixton.  I think most people loved it but I can’t stand gun songs – for example Johnny Cash’s first single Folsom Prison Blues which always gets a cheer on the line “I Shot A Man In Reno Just To Watch Him Die” especially when he plays it in a prison. Really ?  Man in Black is it ?  Fuck off.   Just no.  And I feel the same way about Paul Simenon’s song.  I know it’s a rebellion ditty but I am pretty anti gun I’m afraid.  They’re only good for one thing.  And yes, I would’ve signed up to fight Hitler if that’s the next question.  But Guns of Brixton?  No thanks middle class rebels.

At some point that spring the cast of Cape Wrath were invited to a screening of episode one at Channel Four.  Glasses of wine and so on & so forth.

Marvellous Melanie Hill in Cape Wrath

Felicity Jones & Tom Hardy in Cape Wrath

Good news : US channel Showtime had bought it and was calling it Meadowlands (the name of the designer estate in the show).  Bad news : the series was going out in July and August.  This was truly disappointing.  Then the Head of Drama at Channel 4 who had commissioned and championed the series told us he was moving on.  It all fell into place.  A new head of drama was inheriting somebody else’s Big Cock of a TV series and needed to deflate it and replace it with his own Big Cock.  Thus we were to screen in the summer holidays when no one watches TV and the resulting low figures would be pulled out with a shrug to explain why the series wasn’t going to a second year.  We were kicked into the long grass in effect.

Which was a shame, because the show was really good.  A strong central idea, great writing and directing with a stonking cast.  It was like a US TV series just when everyone was complaining that the UK didn’t make that kind of show.  So there you go.  I got to meet Harry and Luke, saw Arcade Fire and got to Strangle David Morrissey and I’ll always be grateful for that.   And Power Out still sends shivers down my spine.

As for Arcade Fire, I became their number one cheerleader for a year in Brighton among the gang – Andy, Tim, Jo, Arron & Alice, Jimmy, Lee and all (see My Pop Life #192).   That summer – 2006 – some of them had gone down to Bestival and eaten handfuls of mushrooms, possibly LSD too. As they’d wandered through the fields, tripped off their collective tits, a couple of fellas had passed them going the other way and muttered “Bag of Snakes” under their breath.  My lot collapsed in laughter – if I’d been among them it would’ve been a classic bad acid moment for me but they are built of sterner psychedelic stuff than I – and they decided to start a band – called Bag of Snakes of course.   I distinctly remember Tim Lewis, dear Tim, deciding to play Power Out on his drum kit as a warm up every day.

Win Butler & Régine Chassagne

Arcade Fire are from Montreal, led by husband & wife team Win Butler and Régine Chassagne and including William Butler, Richard Reed Parry, Tim Kingsbury and Sarah Neufeld among their ranks.  They exploded onto the scene with Funeral in 2004 and a live cover of Bowie’s Five Years which brought them to David’s attention.  The 2nd album Neon Bible is full of dark anthems including No Cars Go and Black Mirror which may or may not have inspired the TV series.  But for me their sound has streamlined and straightened out over the years, and I’ve become less and less interested in their output on a steadily declining curve since those legendary two shows where they were as exciting and powerful as any band I’ve ever seen live.  My final fling as a genuine sweaty squashed fan, gazing up at the band, arms aloft, eyes shining.   Thanks Harry !

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