My Pop Life #227 : Paranoid Android – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Paranoid Android – Radiohead

Please, could you stop the noise
I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices
In my head

*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Two

March 25th 1998 contd

We travel up after the workshop to London together.  I meet Jenny at Beverley and Paulette’s and tell her my news.  There is chaos and weeping and anger and fury. I am grateful that two of my oldest friends who understand from all sides are there to help us through this incredibly difficult time. I have a calm fury, a murderous shine to my eyes, Jenny’s are black. I resolve to insist that Suri meet Jenny for lunch face to face.  He will not get away with this.

[However he is directing my screenplay, my baby, and I have at the very least a morbid fascination about the bubbles and the exact time of death. So on the train journey I remain tight-lipped and decide Not To Undermine Not To Punch In Face Not to Kill quietly in Notting Hill side street Not To Disagree Violently because I sense that if I champion certain things strongly in an aggressive sulky moralistic way Suri is quite likely to do quite the opposite.  If I become visibly his enemy in face, my opinions will rebound against me. I have to keep my lip zipped (as far as Suri is concerned) for one year.  Any honesty, any real honesty at this point will not help me (I probably cannot be really honest with Shekhar either). A long game is preferred now, a painful steep learning curve called “How To Make A Film” (I will choose and re-choose to stay with my baby wounded and twisted and mis-shapen though it is I will not abandon it entirely I will choose the difficult path the learning curve that curls up and over my head in a perfect arc toward my shoulder blades where it embeds itself firmly in my back, sharp and piercing and drawing blood but not killing me) so I will be at Production Meetings, castings etc I will take Mark Stevenson production designer round Lewes to original locations so that he can double them in Surrey I will hold the baby’s head underwater for as long as I fucking can!  At the time of writing it is not dead yet.]

I go to the Production Office next day and have an hour or two with Charles Steel our associate producer.  Suri is talking to Mark. He thinks Marianne will be offered the part and that Jenny will not even be seen.  Well he should fucking know !!  I tell him that he must call Jenny ASAP and meet her for lunch and make out that my marriage is on the line.  It actually was a month ago because Jenny of course was way ahead of it all and smelled it out and knew deep in her bones.  Her bag was ready and packed until she could see that my pain was equal to hers that I was on her side that I was losing too.  In fact I want Jenny to tell him what we both need to tell him but for reasons explained above, I cannot.  My learning curve bends again and I feel nauseous at the extent of human selfishness.

Over the weekend Jenny and I are immersed in pain.  Lightened somewhat by seeing Thomas Jules Stock perform in front of 12000 screaming teenage girls at Wembley Arena, supporting Backstreet Boys.  He is fantastic, and Jenny and I both secretly claim authorship and feel proud. All the family come and feel the buzz.  On Tuesday night we see Lyndon David Hall on Jools Holland and meet Spiritualized properly (at the Royal Albert Hall after a fantastic gig of Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space), and Wednesday is dinner at Noel Greig’s with Mala from Delhi who works with the Street Theatre Movement in India, and all of these social events smooth the rough edges of our days – good people – good music – good conversation and love.  The love seems to have disappeared from NYD.

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       The Magic Circle in Lewes behind the castle – holy ground for me                –   a ‘cathedral of the imagination’ for Cleary.  Well exactly.

On Tuesday Mark Stevenson came to Lewes and I made him fall in love with it. He loved the space – Hamsey in particular, the castle, the Downs, the schools. We got on tremendously well but I am seeing bubbles all day as we are down to 2 weeks shooting in Lewes now in The Schedule.  The soul of the film starts to leave me, there is a funeral every day and the thought of jumping off chalk appeals as it must.  NYD is a story about a teenage suicide pact which is set partly on the chalk cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea, famously at Beachy Head near Eastbourne.  

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But the baby stubbornly refuses to die.

Evening Same Day

What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)

Another great betrayal is at hand.  Weakness and the centre & accountants bullying are leading to the internal collapse of this film.  Not green lit yet, with few outstanding candidates for the lead boys on offer, now a location panic resulting from Granada insisting on a five day shoot in Lewes (!) and the production team squeezing two weeks out of them – not enough time to shoot the exteriors so it would be mix and match. I would rather it wasn’t in Lewes than be a bastardization of my town, and so would Suri clearly.  He and Mark are planning a jaunt to – yes – The Isle of Wight – next Wednesday to see if it can work there!  Well readers what a turnabout we have here then. Writer provides director with vehicle for his ego. Cuckoo pushes eggs out.  Small man flexes. It is ugly this loss of love this appropriation this betrayal.  I explain to Frances Tempest (costume designer and neighbour) on the train that Suri asked me to set the script on the IOW three years ago – we visited the island and I came back and decided to set it in Lewes. why didn’t I see the signs why didn’t I see the signs  I am reminded about conversations about bonfire night and the cliffs, the castle and the river.

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This sucks.  This is like Wimbledon moving to Dublin. (this was proposed before the club was moved as a franchise to Milton Keynes in a hugely controversial relocation). Location matters. NYD is SET IN LEWES.  If this fact is overlooked and altered in the next week then we have a war my friends.  A war. My benevolent neutrality must be sought for the soul of this movie to fly.

When I am king
You will be first against the wall
With your opinion
Which is of no consequence at all

Jenny has a meeting with Suri tomorrow.  I must ask her to tape it. I am incredulous at these events and must only wonder at the state of mankind for these things to be possible. To be defended. If I had written dots instead of words I would be revered now, but the director in this case, not content with taking the credit for my movie, wants to shit on me from a grat ehight at the same time, piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, and for that, revenge will be administered. And I will leave this fiasco to its doom.

Note: Suri called to cancel the meeting with Jenny this morning as I left to fly to Shetland.  We expected that he would.

Tuesday March 30th midnight

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After a peaceful empty sane weekend in Shetland with Mark Williams, Flora Avery and Simon Day I return to life in my life – Paulette’s birthday which we miss because of prior invitation to Catherine Wearing’s to see the final episode of Our Mutual Friend which I pronounce to be the best one.  McGann is excellent, as is David Bradley, Tim Spall, Pam Ferris, Peter Vaughan, Anna Friel and Ken Cranham.  The Jules’ family dog was put down today at 18 years of age (good innings!) so the idea is to give Mandy some support but we don’t get in until 2.15 and she is asleep and unhappy.  Jenny and I are a bit up our arses to be honest.

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy

Back in the office next day I meet Steve and Suri in “sorry we haven’t called you” mode.  We have lunch in The Giggling Sausage on Great Suffolk Street. There seems to be co-production money from France, the U.S. and the BBC, but how much we will find out this afternoon.  Green light expected in the next “29 hours”.  Steve and I have a private conversation after Suri has left and the Isle of Wight is laid to rest – just between us (oh no it wasn’t – just between us).  The fact of its contemplation by Suri though is enough for me, but I shall not let him know anything while he is making the film.  One day he will find out how I feel. As far as he is concerned my position is this :  “if you don’t shoot in Lewes that leaves the town for me, for my film projects, it remains virgin film territory”.  And indeed, that is partly my position.

“we’re going to make a great film” Suri says to me. “Once you have discharged your duty to Jenny I will be able to have a proper conversation with you” I reply.  It’s something he understandably doesn’t want to do.  But he will have to meet her.  This has all been handled very badly and people must own their lives and choices.  One thing is certain, Jenny has insisted (quite correctly) He will Never be Invited to my House Again.

We now have an Art Director, a Production Supervisor, Runner, Location Manager and Director’s assistant alongside the already employed Production Accountant, Production Manager, Costume Designer and Producer’s Assistant.

I tell Charles Steel that my title is not Writer but Writer/Co-Producer.

Every step of the way.

Bubbles

Oxygen

Please god, let me start soon on whatever will be next, then next, then next.

Friday April 3rd

Great drunken Brighton evening last night at the Zap Club the launch of Surf 107FM with free beer and Malibu all night.  Hungover today. Went into the office a couple of times this week.  Had a short chat with Steve Cleary – he is mental on the money raising side – no green light yet – the BBC (David Thompson) can’t decide how much money to put in which is holding everything up.  Designers can’t work, crew can’t do proper breakdowns of the script and schedule and every department’s budget is way over the top.  Current budget = £2.4million.  I reckon it will need nearer £4million but we’ll never get that.  Therefore more horrible decisions to be made – more cuts and slices and chops.  Dead baby food. Suri never calls me now. Avoids me in fact.  Has no interest in my opinion, or is scared of it.  Collaboration over.  Cunt. Hate him now more than I can say.  Give us your screenplay and Fuck Off. Well, we have at least one more draft to go and we’ll see what happens there – I know already how Suri wants it to go ie here are the script changes, now go and write them. I haven’t been party to any of these meetings, discussions or conversations.  Every time I changed the script or storyline over the last three years I phoned Suri to run it by him. That’s the kind of fellow I am. I am sick to my guts that I have made this basic error of judgement regarding the character of this disloyal weak unimpressive swine.  Jenny goes to meet him at six today in Browns, St Martin’s Lane.  The sword of justice and the shield of honesty are her weapons.  Watch out Krishnamma!!!

Sunday 5th April 1998

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Suri called just as Jenny was leaving to cancel the meeting again. Asked me how I was because I’d answered the phone (pre-mobile days pop fans). Said I’d been better. He asked why. Long story I said, we’ll talk about it one day. He then talked to Jen, cancelling, leaving us in this unresolved limbo for another weekend, then we spoke again. Asked me about the long story.

You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does

I gave him some of it, diluted:  I don’t feel welcome, I feel you want to make the film all on your own, where is the collaboration, I gave you this film as a gift and you don’t want me around anymore. He said Frances Tempest had talked to him, and he wished I hadn’t been party to the information about “location”. What do you expect me to do, I said, I have an opinion.  It’s just an opinion, that’s all it is. I was silenced, neutralised over the Veronica issue – no you weren’t he said, you took yourself out of the debate by writing “no comment” on the fax to Jane Deitch against that character.  A subtle rewriting of history occurs whereby it is all my fault. I hang in there though. because i have decided to be a limpet and stick with my baby and protect it where i can because i can and i will not walk away and hand it over to this cunt  We discuss the end, Katrin Cartlidge, the jump, Shelley.  I decide not to go to Paris to see Thomas sing with Backstreet Boys, so they can’t have another production meeting behind my back.  No more of that. I also decide to forego skiing with Michael this year for the same reason.  This is too important.

Tonight we went to see Kundun at the Duke of York’s in Brighton.  That’s how to make a movie…

Monday April 6th 1998

Jenny finally met Suri tonight.  For probably the last time.  Haven’t spoken to her properly about it – she was drunk with Doraly but said “it was horrible” and I believe her. A fundamental moment for us all.  Steven and Suri have a production meeting tomorrow at 7.00am.  Doubt I’ll be at that then.  Or the one scheduled for 6.00am on Wednesday. At some point in the next 12 hours Granada will, or will not greenlight the project.  At which point I will pierce my face, symbolically and actually.

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Good Friday

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
‘Till he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said “it’s okay if you cry”
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?

All this useless beauty

Well well.  It wasn’t greenlit I finally discovered on Thursday afternoon.  In between times I developed an eerie cool about it all as a result of Jenny’s blood-letting with Suri. Apparently she ended the meeting saying that he was weak, disloyal, a coward (to which he replied Fuck You) and that he wasn’t her friend.  She then walked off. I achieved a strange serenity regarding the project. Cool.  Suri called Tuesday to say he had a tape for me to watch of possible Jakes and Stevens and that the Jenny meeting had been constructive (!) what a fucking coward he was what a fucking jerk Steve Cleary also called for a chat. I spoke on Wednesday to them both after learning that they had been ensconced in script meetings together at 6.00am and that I wasn’t to be invited in to the office until Thursday late afternoon.  I arrive to see office workers leaving for a break.

Steve & Suri tell me that we don’t have a greenlight, that Pippa Cross’ job may be on the line at Granada, and that a scenario for saving the shoot is as follows : cut back to six weeks, lose the avalanche and the trip to France, replace with another tragedy. This is the opening sequence, more or less, of the screenplay. Their favourite was the mad gunman scenario – Dunblane or Hungerford.  I react coolly to this – we haven’t done the research, the film doesn’t discuss this.  Cleary “We are now in the crucible of production and we must redouble our efforts to get this film made”.  Suri “We must get this film made now, we can’t lay all these people off They’ve been working on the film for weeks (!!)”  A 6-week shoot based at Bray Studios with 4 days on location in Sussex including Beachy Head, Brighton and maybe some river. The gunman will make it more powerful – that’s why Jake wants to commit suicide !  I listen, and now and again suggest another way of doing the avalanche – radio, darkness, all sorts.  Steve & Suri keep looking at each other.  We go to the pub. I leave after half an hour to meet Jen.  More tomorrow on my plan….

Easter Sunday

Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height

My plan is making me ill.  Or am I just ill? A Psychosomatic flu has enveloped me – I can’t think straight, ache all over, tired, very very hot as if the raging fury cannot be contained by my mere body. I feel like I am exploding within all day.  Temptation is not to write anything at all and sink this version of the project with all hands on deck.  I would not contemplate this had I been included in the process up to this point, I would have proper relationships with all the crew and would do whatever I could to save the project.  Bit I feel left out. Overlooked. Uninvited. Excluded. Ariyon called last night and talked to Jen, let it slip that Andrew Lee Potts had been offered the part of Jake.  I haven’t even been informed of this.  What is their problem?  Are they really so scared of me that they can’t tell me when the lead character has been cast? Unbefuckinglievable.  I leave a message for Clear Eye to tell him that I cannot proceed until we have had a face to face meeting.  I actually want to hole this thing below the waterline because it doesn’t feel like mine anymore. How childish is that?  Catherine supports this point of view – it’s already a bastardization, kill it off.  Then I spoke to Stuart Orme on the phone (he directed me in Ivanhoe and other TV shows, a father figure to me in the industry)  and he said is that what you really want to do?  It will sour forever and be difficult to get off the ground again. But I don’t want to change the beginning and I cannot continue to work like this. Steve needs to know what a bully Suri has become.  Fuck it all I’m going back to sleep.  Feel like crap.

Radiohead.okcomputer.albumart

Radiohead released OK Computer in June 1997 just after Jenny and I had filmed A Respectable Trade.  It was a dystopian soundtrack for the ugliness which was to come, twisted lyrics reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails over stunning music that had veered unmistakably into prog, especially on this song, a three-part nightmare in technicolour and black & white interference. They were still students, morose angry bitter students and we loved them for it –  they weren’t students obviously and neither were we but the bond there was tight.  Fuck the world it’s all shit.  The key song was Fitter, Happier. The disgust expressed throughout the LP seemed to be the only honest reaction to how the world had become so lacking in compassion, so full of dishonesty corruption and greed. The album was a perfect soundtrack to my struggle.  Exit Music was actually written for a film – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, and Paranoid Android is just what is says on the tin.  thanks for reading

That’s it, sir, you’re leaving (Rain down)
The crackle of pigskin (Rain down)
The dust and the screaming (Come on, rain down)
The yuppies networking (On me)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
God loves his children
God loves his children, yeah

My Pop Life #226 : Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

We hope that you choke
That you choke
We hope that you choke
That you choke
*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part One

January 1996

Almost exactly a year since I first took NYD public, pitching it to Suri in the Atlantic Bar before jetting back to LA for one last month to write the screenplay. I suppose I have spent 6 to 8 weeks of the year since then writing and re-writing the script.  On Monday I delivered the official 3rd draft (actually the 6th but that’s how it works).  On Tuesday producer Steven Cleary left a message on the ansaphone saying “I need to edit this draft so would you please send me a disc so I can show you what I mean – it needs to lose 6 or 7 pages”.  I was so furious that I didn’t even reply for two days and Steven eventually called Suri to ask where I was. When I eventually returned his call he was in a temper and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t send him the disc.  He is becoming quite irritating. We still haven’t got a contract even thought the money has been agreed. Mine is 2 & a half % of the budget, minimum £30K, max £75K, 25% of producer’s budget at back end.

At each script meeting the project – my baby – is placed on the table between Steven, producer, Suri, director and myself, writer.  We take it in turns to cut it, twist it, pull it, open it up, mend it, wound it, kill it.  In this way it gets better because it gets stronger.  Once the 3 of us have punched it in the face a few times, stabbed it and held it underwater until the bubbles stop, why then, it has become almost invincible…

July 1996

I have no desire to write the next draft – officially – believe it or not – the 3rd draft (I know) despite the eight I have written so far.  I actually have 5 separate drafts on the hard drive (we are pre-computer and pre-internet here) but Clear-eye felt I had only written two. I was repulsed by this betrayal having been writing this film now for 18 months, and as a result my interest in the screenplay has almost vanished. (See My Pop Life #75).  I no longer give a shit about the story or the characters, couldn’t care less whether the film is made or not, whether I’ll be involved or not. I feel totally drained of juice, enthusiasm, interest, buzz, creativity.

December 1996

A million pounds has evaporated – indeed, it was never there in the first place.  A next draft in the offing. I read the 1st draft again recently thinking in my arrogance that it would be better than the “3rd draft”.  It wasn’t.  The screenplay has steadily improved since it was first thought of, and can improve again.

Steven Cleary has moved house, been burgled, and had a baby (Stephanie has) as he attempts to sew Granada/Rank into the deal.  Suri now committed to “A Respectable Trade” with the BBC until April – as are Jenny and I.  NYD slips back to autumn 1997…

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A Respectable Trade…

October 1997

Ten months later and Steven is married.  Granada and I are still negotiating my contract – I am now to be credited as co-producer separately from screenplay. They have a clause about giving any new writer credit on the screen – ‘screenplay by Ralph Brown and…’ well bollocks to that.  I’ve been stalling them anyway as I am not that happy with the whole set-up.  The last draft was met with silence. I eventually received a copy of my script typed up by Steven’s secretary, edited by Steven. Which was, as you can imagine, quite hilarious.  Irritated by these developments, I kept my cool and sold Steven on a new draft based on a book review I had read in Bristol ‘The Importance of Disappointment‘. He bought it.  I rewrote the character of Veronica going back to draft 5 for the structure.  This of course annoyed everyone, but that’s the current draft and battle will be resumed when there is Money On The Table and not before.  I have refused all requests for script meetings this summer.  Simon Channing Williams is still interested and I am meeting him this Thursday October 9th.

I felt at this point and others that script meetings were being used to create energy when there was no movement on the money front.  Rewrites to keep us all energised.  Slightly patronising, sometimes useful, more often just chewing over stuff which had been shaped perfectly well.  When there is no movement on the money let’s get Ralph to write another draft. 

January 20th 1998

We appear to be in pre-pre-production. A small shared office on the 17th floor at Granada on the South Bank with a beautiful view over the Thames and London.  I saw the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament today while chatting to Suri about Barry Ackroyd who seems to be shaping up as the DP.  Good.  Kathy Burke seems to have fallen through as an idea as she is slated to shoot David Kane’s movie at the same time .  Shame.  She would have been perfect as Shelley.  We have a casting director – Jane Deitch who worked with us all on A Respectable Trade.  An open audition is planned for Feb 11th in the Theatre Royal Brighton for prospective Jakes and Stevens (lead characters in the film, two 16-year old boys).  Very exciting stuff.  Tomorrow is the Premiere of Up’N’Under in Leicester Square with Mums Dads Brothers Sisters coming.  Interview with Andy Oliver at GLR in the afternoon, then Thursday up to Hull for the Northern Premiere.  Hoorah !

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

(in keeping with the bellyaches and gripes herein I merely note that my agent failed to negotiate my name on the poster)

February 1998

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Great week in Brighton with Jane and Suri and Jenny going to schools and drama groups then holding an open casting at the Theatre Royal then another at Granada Studios in Manchester.  500 kids turn up in Brighton – we are overwhelmed but manage to see them all.  The quality is low, but the hunger is fantastically exhilarating.  Highlights of the week were : 1. Varndean – great class with lots of talent and very strong potential ‘Jake’, 2. The Academy – almost all young girls (12-15) who blew us away with their improvisations and their production of the Orestia – all credit to their teacher Mel, 3. Going back to Priory in Lewes to audition the 6th form – some talent here too.  Great production of Guys & Dolls by Blatchington Mills School at the Gardner Arts Centre and disappointment at Falmer and Shandy Stage School which was in fact quite Moonie-like and spooky.  A very enjoyable week indeed – spoiled for Suri only by the local Argus headline “500 queue to audition for Ralph’s film”.  He is very competitive, silly thing.  Jane was wonderful with the kids, spoke her mind, and we all loved her and her husband Mark who came down to help at the Theatre Royal.  The hunt for ‘Steven’ goes on.

March 3rd

Bad day.  Suri has gone seriously paranoid about me and refuses to invite me to casting sessions or casting discussions with Jane.  Shoot planned for 4th May, time spent worrying about snow, ski-ing, avalanches.  Today Suri manages to disagree with everything I say, regardless of what it was about – contrary to the Nth Degree.  Very disturbing indeed and all thoughts of collaboration, friendship, protecting my film go out of the window.  I meet Charles Steel who is our Associate Producer (friend of Steve Cleary) who is great, friendly, positive, lovely.  We get on immediately.  Steve is in Paris talking to potential French co-producers, and doing a workshop for Arista.  We need him full-time now. I spend the day looking through Spotlight – the whole thing – and run up my shortlists for the principal cast.  This is what Jane and Suri did on Friday.  I simply do not understand why Suri would not want me in one of these discussions.  I cannot get my head round it at all.  I can only assume that he is really insecure and needs to flex his status as much as possible.  He is behaving like any weak director who feels threatened by a writer. He is also perhaps (as Catherine Wearing suggested) a stick-in-the-mud, rather inflexible about how he works and how he has always done it, ignoring our relationship and my experience in film because in some way to change his working method is to undermine him. I am deeply worried about Suri for a number of reasons – not least of which is that he is now going out with Nikki again who does not approve of NYD, or doesn’t like it, and with whom he spends as much time as possible rather than on the film.  This will get increasingly irritating as we go into pre-production (starting Monday) and fucking outrageously annoying while we shoot.  Oh dear.  I start to take the sanguine long view, I start to plan my short film, my next full-length screenplay and the rest of my life without a good friend who has become an arse.

8th March Sunday night

Life has become empty without New Year’s Day in it.  I made one call to Suri the next morning – paged him “I WON’T BE IN AGAIN THIS WEEK. DO YOU WANT TO SEE MAN UTD GAME WITH ME?”.  He called back immediately said he couldn’t see the game and we had a chat about things, tried to improve the atmosphere and I think we were both relieved. Cleared the air. But the truth is he doesn’t need me now. He has work and so does Nikki. She will help in increasing his confidence which i good but there’ll be no more cosy chats over a big spliff.  It’s a shame but I really have to let it all go.  I feel as if I am going mad. Gwen (o seed – gwaine in patois) in Los Angeles brilliantly understood it all as an authorship problem and and insecurity/potency problem to be resolved through authorship and advised me to breathe the air and wait.  Good advice.  I need to start writing again, something new, and more than that I need to spend a week getting stoned out of my face.

25th March

A horrible fortnight.  After faxing my forthright casting comments up to Jane Deitch a silence ensues for over a week.  I later learn that this is when I am betrayed by all.  Granada want a star name in the Veronica part and I am not invited to offer my opinion – first betrayal.  It will be embarrassing for Pippa (Granada producer) if I’m there because I’m married to Jenny, for whom I wrote the part of Veronica, and who is under consideration.  This all starts to stink bigtime bigtime.  I spend a week being furious and gutted.  Wednesday I lunch at Quo Vadis with Fiona McGloughlin my new acting agent but not before Ian Amos (my Literary Agent) beckons me quickly into his office to inform me that he is leaving ICM to set up a music agency.  Oscar Wilde springs through my mind – to lose one agent is unfortunate (Michael Foster having left in December) – to lose two looks rather like carelessness.  Over spinach leaves and stuff I tell Fifi my whole life story for some reason and explain why writing is so important to me. I go to the Production Office where Suri is busying himself with something or other and we greet and hug stiffly. “Do you still hate me?” I ask like an ingenue. “No” he replies, but it ain’t right.

Steve and I go downstairs for a meeting where he tells me that Suri needs a clear run at the casting and it’s the area which is causing the most problems and I tell Steve that I understand the authorship issue and that’s why he’s insecure and precious but no – it turns out that Marianne Jean-Baptiste is being sent the script for the Veronica part (at least she’s black I think to myself) and Granada insist and Jenny won’t get a look-in – although this doesn’t transpire until much later.  The writer always dies three times intones a frankly unsympathetic Steve Cleary doing an unpleasant dirty job, or rather half of it, that Suri hasn’t the balls to do himself.  It is an awful moment.  I am left in the canteen of LWT with a knife protruding from between my shoulder blades.

The next few days are spent analysing this turn of events and the extra piece of information that Sting has been sent the screenplay for the Mr Diamond role.  I discuss with Jenny.  We shred blankets with our teeth and smash crockery and karma is summoned and charlatans and cowards and the knife is still there.

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Fuck me I want to kill someone now.  This feeling persists all weekend as Conrad and I go to watch Barnet 2 Brighton 0 and singalongahoolie with the Albion away contingent which is therapeutic.

On Sunday I decide to send Suri my pain, all wrapped up in love.  A fax to his house.  We wait three days for the reply but in a strange way I feel calmer.  I know he must reply.  I call mutual friends Meera and Shekhar and discuss.  Shekhar is brilliant and I love him.  He promises to “have a word with Suri”.  I feel as if I may have miscalculated many times over with Suri, particularly in relation to my friendship with the man. This hurts the most – the possibility (!!) of being wrong in a personal judgement haunts me terribly and I keep pushing it to the back of my mind, but I cannot help thinking that Something Is Up and Suri cannot face me, cannot talk to me, would rather I wasn’t there probably.  I think every day about turning my back and walking away, letting three years three years or more of my life be colonised invaded changed altered crucified sold out massacred a droned infant keeps appearing in my mind. I feel perhaps I should help to hold its head under the water until it stops breathing.  But to date it has refused to expire.  And I cannot leave yet.  New projects appear in front of me and I grab at them for sanity as I must – Groucho meetings twice a week with young writers, cinematographers, directors, friends.  No solace there though.  The monkey must be faced down.

Suri eventually replies to my fax.  (damn I wish I had it, or could even remember what I wrote !) He had to, and for his own sense of worth, had to invite me back.  But the worst is yet to come.  On Thursday 19th March we hold a workshop in Varndean School for the creme of the Sussex kids.  It is a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing off the sea when I pick up Jane, Suri and Theresa from the station.  I had arrived early and bought myself a nice wake-up coffee, after all it is 8.45a.m.  As my now full Jaguar swings round the Seven Dials roundabout my cappucino tilts karmically into Suri’s lap and he is drenched with hot coffee.  The rest of it ebbs away into the carpet and we both apologise – me for burning his leg and wetting his trousers – he for not saving a drop of coffee as it emptied onto the floor – a snap decision made in shock and anger I felt.  We arrive at the school and run through the workshop.  The kids are fantastic and I am really proud of them – original, individual, colourful.  Some fine actors stand out and I have my first inkling of problems with Jake and Steven as Suri doesn’t like the boy who stands out for Jane & I.  We lunch in a pub, we continue in the afternoon. It is a very successful day although perhaps without leading contenders (except the aforementioned Joe).  I drive Suri to the station via my house, which is empty.  We roll a joint and smoke it.

He then informs me that he has met Marianne Jean-Baptiste and she is heavily pregnant but that Granada have insisted she is cast in order to raise the money for the film.  I feel instinctively wrong about all of this. First I am neutralised, then excluded, then Jenny is cast aside. All out of my viewing.  A kind of defiant skulking quality appears in Suri – apologetic, but Marianne will be “terrific”.  I can scarcely contain my shock and disappointment (at him and indeed at myself for not seeing it earlier, years earlier, for why indeed had I asked this man to direct my screenplay?  Because I trusted him, because I felt that he would understand the material and the vibe of the story, that we were friends.  But no.  We never were.  In fact, just before the contracts were signed I changed my mind about everything and decided that I would direct it myself.  I called Suri and told him so.  He was furious.  He said he would initiate another project which would be his version of this story.  I said he could do what he wanted and we left it there.  But for SOME FUCKING REASON I changed my mind the next day and surrendered to someone else’s ego and sacrificed my story, my screenplay and my marriage to my woman to this worm of a human being who now held my finest hour in his grubby little hands the utter fuckwit) and indicate as I had done to Steve a week earlier that the other grown-up characters should be cast first, in deference to me, so that we can see where we get to vis-a-vis names, money-raising names.  Kathy Burke as Shelley, James Wilby as Robin, Paul McGann as Mr Diamond – then the way is clear for Jenny to play Veronica.  But no.  To head straight for this part and secretly cast it so obviously against my wishes is a high level betrayal which everyone has colluded in.  When we get back to the pub Jane asks Suri if he is “all right”.  I am the bully.  I am not asked if I am all right.  In the great scheme of film-making it is less important.  I start to believe, to realise, that Suri has not actually fought for Jenny to be considered.  It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t there was I?  Despite it being in my contract as associate producer that I am to be invited to all meetings etc etc.  I was carefully neutralised at the critical moment.  Suri’s weakness becomes immediately transparently apparent.  The way he switched so quickly, isolating me.  Jenny suspects that he wanted Marianne all along which is quite possible, but then he shouldn’t have said to me IN FEBRUARY (oh yes, quite recently) that he wanted Jenny to play the part.  There is no one better in England to play it.  No one.  I start to think long term again.

I have to for my sanity.

The bubbles come out of its mouth and its legs are kicking

I’ll never do this again

Ever

Suri is not

in fact

my friend

At this point Jenny and I had a series of extremely painful and raw heart-to-hearts which I did not diarise in any way.  They are private conversations.  They are about how much we mean to each other.  They are about her (and my) public humiliation at the optics and the actuality of what is happening.  They are about how we survive these betrayals without resorting to murder.  We question everything that we are doing, have done, will do.  What is the point of it all?  We – the idea of we – is under serious attack.  Who is betrayed?  Who is fighting?  Who is hurting?

We are being rent asunder.  

*

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill
Such a chill

And you can laugh a spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace
We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

My Pop Life #222 : Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix

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Little Wing – Jimi Hendrix

Well she’s walking through the clouds with a circus mind that’s running wild, Butterflies and zebras – moonbeams – and a fairy tale

When I was 16 years old, in the Lower Sixth at school, and doing my A-Levels : Geography, English Literature, Economics, I still had not had sex with any girl.  Pretty much all of my friends had, some for a while and with more than one partner.  I was clearly a deep romantic because I felt that before I had my first sexual experience, that I wanted to be in love.  That even though I had “got off” with girls, kissed and “felt up” and “messed around” with various girlfriends, that none of them had been people I swooned over.  Or had sex with.  I was prepared to wait it seems.

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Me in Hailsham back garden, aged c 16 years

It was late 1973 and my home life was as chaotic as ever.  Mum had re-married, split up, got back, got pregnant, fought, kicked John Daignault out and was living alone once again, now with my one-year old sister.  The constant fights and complaints and visits to the phone box to call the doctor “my Mum needs some different tablets” were stressing me to the point of not going home after school some nights – because I had “band practice”.

But I really did.  I’d been practising the saxophone for almost a year (see My Pop Life #18) and I had on the strength of this rudimentary knowledge been allowed to join a band – with Conrad, Tat, Tigger and Andy Shand.  We were called Rough Justice and we had band practice at Conrad’s house in Kingston. I’ve written about this moment a few times notably in My Pop Life #80 Heartbreak Hotel and My Pop Life #172 In My Chair a little.  What I didn’t mention in any of those blogs about Rough Justice is that I would usually end up staying the night at Waterlilies after band practice because I lived 25 miles away in Hailsham by then and went to school in Lewes, 2 miles away across the Downs.  There was a spare room which I started to be able to use – or I would be in Conrad’s room which was fairly large too.

And this meant I would wake up in the morning and have breakfast with the family as they all got ready to go to school.  Conrad was the youngest of three brothers.  They were all very tall and clever, and all studied different things.  This struck me as interesting.  Martin, the eldest, was a Scots Pine at Oxford reading English. His A Levels were English French and History. He was also the tallest and was a regular at Brighton & Hove Albion games over the ensuing 45 years. I still see Martin for a few ales before or after a game when I’m back in Sussex.  Then Cym pronounced Kim was a flowering Horse Chestnut who was studying Biology Chemistry and Physics A-levels and was the handsome one, a bass player and had the best girlfriend a certain Shirin Pezeshghi.  He became a doctor.  Conrad was an Oak solid English sheltering all, fair and even-handed, rarely angry, gentle giant. He chose Economics, Geography and Art. No overlap with each other at all !

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Martin Ryle 

Rosemary and Tony Ryle were the parents, almost aristocratic but very earthy and nurturing, very generous to me, who was somewhat of a waif and stray.  Rosemary was a social worker, and Tony was a psychiatrist at Sussex University.  On one memorable occasion he offered to talk to my mum who was having another series of breakdowns.  We all drove from Kingston to Hailsham and he spoke with her for about an hour.  I can’t recall any action or conclusions being made, but at least they could see my environment – it was no longer in their imagination, and I was profoundly grateful for the intervention and the effort and the love it represented, especially when I later realised Tony’s status in the psychiatry world.

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Tony Ryle

And then there was Miriam.  Younger than Conrad and I.  Tall and shy but confident.  Her Mum called her Mindy, so I did too, or “Min”.   Like “Crod” the name didn’t stay into adulthood,  Three older brothers meant she stood her ground and she had a very close relationship with her mother.  Over time that year I would find myself in conversation with Miriam in the garden or washing up after a meal.  Miriam was always very confident which I liked very much.  I’ve always responded positively to confident women.  It’s attractive and a challenge, which I accept.  Her gentle taunting questions hooked me in, and one afternoon while sitting in the front room overlooking the lane and the front garden I unspooled my childhood for her revealing a jagged patch of my shadow history which undid her, and me.

The Ryles were the third family in Lewes who had adopted me after the Smurthwaites (My Pop Life #84) and the Korners (My Pop Life #64).  What they had in common was a loving generous embrace of this teenage boy whose family was constantly being divided, separated and fractured by the forces of dysfunction.  They invited me into their homes, fed me, gave me a place to lay my head and a key to the door.  They included me.  I was a very lucky teenager – all of my family could have ended up in care on numerous occasions.   Pete Smurthwaite died earlier this year sadly and over the years I’d lost touch with him, but Conrad Ryle and Simon Korner became my North and South Poles and still are.

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Lewis, Gaynor who married Conrad (centre) and Simon Korner 1990

Mealtime in the Ryle house – Waterlilies – was always announced (inevitably) by Rosemary with an Indian war whoop, created with a flat hand over the open mouth.  Later I would hear this noise being made by hundreds of women at Greenham Common as we protested cruise missiles being stationed there in the 80s – an eerie powerful sound – but as heard in Waterlilies delivered by Rosemary it was comforting and welcome.  The mealtime was always relaxed (with one classic exception below) and I always felt welcomed and wanted.  It became my home from home.  Especially when Miriam and I started to walk out together.

It was gentle, it was innocent, sweet and lovely, it was wild flowers in bunches on the windowledge, it was Diorella and Laura Ashley and eyelashes and shy smiles.  Skin.  The warmth of the sun.  Picnics with strawberries in a field beneath the Downs on a cheesecloth blanket. Walking to school over Juggs Lane (before the bypass was built).  Seeking each other out in lunch periods.  Looking for her face at Rough Justice gigs, where she would stand with her friends.  We both swooned ever so wonderfully in young love with each other.  My first girlfriend, my first love.

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We listened to a variety of music around that time – The Doors LA Woman LP was always on the giant wooden stereo, as was The Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers and The Beatles’ Abbey Road.  Other favourites of ours were Carole King’s Tapestry and Jimi’s Axis Bold As Love & Hendrix In The West from which this live version of Little Wing comes.  Originally recorded for the Bold As Love LP in 1967 the track is simple in the very best way.  I bought a book in 2015 called Jimi Hendrix : Starting At Zero which is a wonderful thing written all in his own words, and this is how he described Little Wing :

“It is based on a very, very simple American Indian style.  I got the idea when I was in Monterey and I just happened to be looking at everything around. So I figured I’d take everything I’d seen and put it, maybe, in the form of a girl and call it Little Wing.  It’ll just fly away.  Everybody was flyin’ and in a nice mood, like the police and everybody were really groovy out there. So I took all these things and just put them in one very very small little matchbox. Keep it just like that. It’s very simple.  I like it though. It’s one of the very few I like.”

The live version is from The Royal Albert Hall on February 24th 1969 and is possibly Hendrix’ finest moment ever in his short sunburst time with us. Delicate, assured, sighing with desire but as controlled and precise as a cat stalking a bird. It is a live recording, you can hear the crowd, and he sounds relaxed as if extemporising but I believe every second is elegantly designed and positioned and delivered.  An astonishing piece of songwriting, singing and playing from the genius.  I know every note, every breath of this piece as if the song were inside my bones which it possibly may be.

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My rough book at the start of the Lower Sixth in 1973

Tony and Rosemary allowed us to share a bed at some point in this journey, perhaps feeling that things in the open were preferable to secrets.  But the morning after this first night together (which came after our first fumbling afternoon delight) the breakfast table was set for what turned out to be a very strong memory for all of us.  Tony was all bluster and bark even though his heart was certainly in the right place.  (I remember one occasion later driving through Stoke Newington with him and Conrad seeing a policeman or two looming over a black man on Church Street – “Shall we intervene?” Tony instinctively asked. We didn’t.)  But he was a gentle chap at times despite the bark, (he had three big sons !!) and he found most things funny or preposterous and had a loud laugh. A big guy too with big hands.  Witheringly intelligent.  He had an obituary in The Guardian when he died in 2016.  Rosemary was gentle and kind and sweet, really loving.  Anyway the morning after that first night together, I sat down to crack open a boiled egg and slice my bread into soldiers and drink the plunger coffee (another novel experience) when Tony announced : “Good morning everyone. Congratulations to Miriam who has had her first orgasm.”  Mindy flushed bright red and left the room and I was just embarrassed as fuck.  I never quite recovered from that strange flag planting from Tony.

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Further rough book doodles

It didn’t “really” affect Miriam and I though.  I don’t think. Or did it?  We would go out with each other for over 18 months, and I’m fairly sure I asked her to marry me at some point.  I was happy.  But it wasn’t to be.  I wrote briefly about our ending in My Pop Life #47.  Miriam instigated it.  I was devastated.  This post isn’t about that.  It is about our sweet humble beginning, losing our virginity in tender love with each other, wandering through the Sussex countryside hand in hand reading poetry and listening to music, picking flowers, laughing, swooning.

I have no photos of Miriam or Mindy Ryle.  I remember one glorious summer day taking some pictures of her in a summer dress by the pond with the waterlilies which gave the bungalow its name.  She was making a daisy chain and her eyelashes and legs were long.  I took the film into a chemist in Lewes High St to develop them and one week later called back to pick them up.  When did you bring them in? Nah.  Can’t see them. Sorry we’ve lost those.  Lost ’emSorry mate.

My Pop Life #218 : Bad ‘N’ Ruin – The Faces

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Bad ‘n’ Ruin  –  The Faces

Mother don’t you recognise your son?

*

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A battered dog-eared copy of Long Player by The Faces sits upright on the floor resting on the wedge of other battered and dog-eared LPs, in no order, just a stack for flicking through.  Elton John is in there, Jimi Hendrix, The Pretty Things, Cream, King Crimson, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Simon & Garfunkel. Dr John.   I was 14 and a half going on 15 and I was sitting cross-legged in my friend Simon’s bedroom, flicking, flicking.  Stuff I’d never heard of.  The Incredible String Band.  Stuff I didn’t like the sound of.  Humble Pie.  Stuff I liked – The Faces.  Damn what a band.  I knew the singer Rod Stewart from his number one hit singles (all with The Faces but credited to Rod Stewart) Maggie May, Stay With Me and You Wear It Well.  He was impossibly cool – relaxed, confident, cheeky, couldn’t care less.  Husky voice. Feathered haircut around his cheek bones, satin scarf, flares, cuban heels.  The rest of the band also couldn’t care less but were the coolest band I’d ever seen.  The Beatles always looked hyper-aware of their status as cultural leaders, and by now – 1971 – they’d split up, leaving a bewildered scene behind them as the pop landscape fragmented and rebuilt itself.  A moment acknowledged on the last track of Long Player – as a live recording catches Rod Stewart saying “Here’s a tune you may well know, may not know, but if you don’t know it, I really don’t know where you been“.  And they break into the mighty ‘Maybe I’m Amazed‘ from McCartney’s first solo album.  Suddenly The LP was everything, the single was losing its grip on the teen population as Pink Floyd, Genesis and Led Zeppelin started to indulge their musical whims and song lengths were stretching.  Some of these bands didn’t release singles. 1970s singles were of course at least as good as the 1960s crop – Gamble & Huff’s Philly Empire, 10cc, Elton John, Al Green, Bowie, T. Rex, Rod Stewart and all of the pop kings & queens of my youth, but the fact remains that Sgt Pepper changed the pop landscape and all bands poured energy into the LP from that point.  Long Player dated from 1970, I discovered it a couple of years later.

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The Rainbow public house, Lewes High Street

The Faces were a band I just wished I was in.  They enjoyed themselves in an obviously infectious way, they genuinely liked each other I was sure.  They liked beer too which was important to me – I was by now drinking cider and beer.  Not in the pub – no, I couldn’t get in – but in the Magic Circle, too young to go into the pub and order a guinness & blackcurrant, lager & lime or pernod & orange.  We’d ask an older boy to buy us a quart bottle at the off-licence and carry it through the twitten and up the steps behind The Rainbow, where the bikers and greasers drank.  John Whippy (a white boy who had a ‘fro) Pete Davis & John Mote, Andrew Ranken and Simon’s sister Deborah Korner – all one or two giant years older than us.  The jukebox in The Rainbow was legendary but that would have to wait.  They were groovy older people with scruffy hair and gypsy-styled clothes.  They actually resembled The Faces come to think about it.

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Ian McLagan, Ron Wood, Ronnie Lane, Rod Stewart, Kenney Jones – The Faces

We were thirteen.  This does segue-way with an earlier story (My Pop Life #84) a small gang of urchins sat by Lewes Castle on a stone semi-circular seat under some trees passing the cider bottle and smoking Number 6 cigarettes.  Teenage laughter and giggles as we quickly got drunk on Woodpecker or Bulmers Cider.  Me, Pete Smurthwaite, Chris Clark, Conrad Ryle, Jon Foreman, Martin Elkins,  Simon Korner, Andrew Taylor, Adrian Birch, or any combination of these. We would just chat.  No portable music players then.  Music was for rooms.  Rooms were for smoking in.  We would wait our turn.  But in the meantime we could sit in Simon’s or Pete’s or Conrad’s bedroom and listen to records.  It was the main past-time of our teen years.  Playing football, listening to albums, drinking, smoking. Eventually girls.

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Ronnie Wood & Rod Stewart, early 70s

I did eventually buy this record but not until I left Lewes and went up to London for University in 1976.  It’s a wonderful piece of work – loose but tight, boogie-rock with mandolins and a Hammond organ, expressive and rhythmically funky and so full of character.  The Faces were formed out of The Small Faces who had produced a handful of explosive singles in the late 1960s – Tin Soldier, Lazy Sunday, Itchycoo Park – all with the incredible voice of Steve Marriott, a raspy bluesy rock voice that compelled attention.  When he left the band to form Humble Pie, the remaining members – Ian McLagan on keys, Kenney Jones on drums and Ronnie Lane on bass, joined with Rod Stewart & Ron Wood of The Jeff Beck Group to form The Faces.  They fitted perfectly.  The Faces made four albums together – Long Player was the 2nd – but by 1971 Rod Stewart was already making solo LPs, with the Faces as his backing band.  Then they became Rod Stewart & The Faces.  It almost goes without saying.  Ever-present on Top of the Pops, they effortlessly bestrode my impressionable years as the grooviest people and the best band in the universe.  The women in Rod’s lyrics were often older than him :

“the morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age, but that don’t worry me none in my eyes you’re everything”

a face like that you got nothin’ to laugh about….red lips, hair & fingernails, they say you’re a mean old Jezebel”

“a little old-fashioned but that’s all right”

and he’s often waking up next to them. But he sees them as real women, with power over him, he spars with them.  Women loved him, but then so did men.

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I was lucky enough to see the group at Reading Festival in 1972 when they headlined on Saturday night, August 12th.  It was an eclectic selection of music that now reads like a who’s who of groovers, including Matching Mole (see My Pop Life #202), ELO AND WIZZARD !!!, Focus (see My Pop Life #103), Genesis with Peter Gabriel singing and Welsh band Man.  The Faces with Rod : that night spiritual leader Ronnie Lane wasn’t present and Tetsu was on bass.  They were simply awesome, playing Memphis, Miss Judy’s Farm, Angel, Stay With Me, True Blue, I’d Rather Go Blind, Too Bad, That’s All You Need, (I Know) I’m Losing You – and an encore – Twistin’ The Night Away/Every Picture Tells A Story, then finally Maggie May.  There is a bootleg of the gig recorded by a photographer from the pit which is very good apparently.  I was drunk and stoned and quite smelly having not washed since Thursday.  I think I was with Martin Cooper and Adrian Birch.  It was the year when John Peel was DJing between bands and on the Sunday he introduced us to Roxy Music, playing the mighty single Virginia Plain and changing my life forever, although I was not to know this yet.

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Rod Stewart aficionados – and we are legion – will know the classic Python Lee Jackson single In A Broken Dream which he sang at a session in the late sixties for a set of car-seat covers apparently.  Wonderful.  I’m also very fond of You Wear It Well and his Tim Hardin cover Reason To Believe, as is Paul Weller.  I heard about this somehow and convinced Paul to cover the song for my film New Year’s Day (see My Pop Life #90) which I haven’t discussed in much depth to be fair.  Yet.

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And his first few solo LPs really were remarkably good, with backing by The Faces before he famously left the UK and The Faces behind with Atlantic Crossing in 1975 with a slow side and a fast side and I Don’t Want To Talk About It and Sailing as the big-selling singles, recorded with three-quarters of Booker T & the MGs.  Stewart was also quick to blame Harold Wilson, British Prime Minister for a top rate of tax of 83% – although you had to be earning a large whack to have it apply to you.  He both won and lost a number of fans, which happened in the 1970s to many artists, the concept of “selling out” was still currency back then.  I still have a soft spot for the old fucker, but I preferred his work with the band who backed him in the early 1970s.

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Ronnie Lane was the first to leave in 1973 and they never really recovered.  Japanese bass player Tetsu Yamauchi replaced him, although strangely, having checked all the dates, Tetsu was playing the Reading Festival gig in August 1972, a year earlier.  Ronnie Wood joined the Rolling Stones in 1975, and Kenney Jones replaced Keith Moon in The Who after the drummer’s death from alcoholism-related drugs in 1978.  Ian MacLagan moved to the USA and continued performing and writing.  From time to time the lads would reform and play at special occasions.  No hard feelings.  Rock royalty all right.

The LP Long Player wears well and has stayed with me (is this a dreadful Faces pun sentence yet?) – although this dates to the vinyl age because I only ever listened to Side One which opens with that cracking tune Bad’N’Ruin.    Eventually I chose Bad ‘N’ Ruin as the music on my second Showreel proper.  The first one had Mahler’s 4th Symphony (see My Pop Life #62) a lush yearning romantic sweep that is possibly a little OTT, but hey, “You Got ta Put It Out There” as Sam Jackson once said on the set of Phantom Menace.

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So when I came to re-shoot and re-edit the greatest hits reel*, sometime in 2005-6 and beyond, updating it every so often, I needed some new music.  I didn’t worry about it for too long and went with The Faces because there’s something about the bounce and chop of the rhythm – Ronnie Lane on bass – Kenny Jones on drums – and Ron Wood bending the strings to get that blues shriek – oh and the line

Mother don’t you recognise your son?

which appealed to my strange sense of self.  Although the song is about (I think) a burglar going home to his mum (?), I turned it into an actor imagining his mum watching him on TV.   How ya like me now?  Given that I am a confirmed character actor now, an accent collector, enjoying the twists and turns of a rogue’s gallery of types and n’er-do-wells, it seemed appropriate.  But beneath this superficial and admittedly wrong reading of the song was I suspect a deeper sub-conscious impulse, and an even more backwards interpretation.  It was my song of escape from home, for I had joined the circus and run away. It is still my showreel music.

*With thanks to Richard Vaux and Take Five Studios in London’s Beak Street.

The record :

live on TV in 1971 :

 

the showreel :

https://vimeo.com/328316053

 

 

 

My Pop Life #206 : Summertime In My Heart – Electric Soft Parade

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Summertime In My Heart – Electric Soft Parade

I gotta say that it often feels
There’s someone watching over me
I don’t pray and I certainly don’t preach
Maybe it’s just wishful thinking
You gotta take the rough with the smooth
If you’re prepared to tell your own truth
It certainly don’t make me look cool
And maybe it’s just all this drinking 

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Alex and Tom White.  Tom has the tie.

I have to write a post on the White brothers.   It was, of course, music that brought us together.  Dear Kit Ashton, when he lived in Brighton, used to do a songwriter’s evening once a year, and I suspect it was Julian Deane – once of Toploader and now running Raygun Records – who suggested he contact me.  Kit emailed probably and said he was doing a David Bowie night, and which song would I like to sing?

Wow.

I said, without any hesitation, ‘Station To Station’ which rhymes, and the resulting rehearsals and live gig were among the highlights of my musical life.  Honest – I will write about the lowlights too at some point, but my favourites are the highlights.  They just are.  Call me old-fashioned.   I missed the earlier incarnations of Kit’s annual event, but they included Rufus Wainwright which is a show I’d have loved to have been involved in.  The following year we’d done Elvis Costello (or was it the previous year?) and that was brilliant too, mainly doing backing vocals and some sax, and singing a couple of leads.  Worth its own post.

Anyway the band on the Bowie gig included some folk I knew : killer guitarist Rachel Wood I’d seen in Paul Steel’s band, some special guests : Herbie Flowers, Glen Richardson, and some folk I didn’t really know, Joe on keyboards and Alex White on drums.  He was outstanding.  Was it the same night of the gig when we went back up Abbey Road to our house and got high and compared notes on depression and strategies for dealing with it?  And then Alex made me a CD with some cracking songs I’d never heard of – including: Ambrosia’s Running Away ; a blast from my own past which he’d somehow unearthed: Deaf School’s What A Way To End It All; a shared joy: Van Dyke Parks & Brian Wilson’s Orange Crate Art;  and most astoundingly, a cover that Alex had made by himself of a Todd Rundgren song All The Children Sing.  This blew my tiny mind, because it is a multi-layered exquisite piece of work in the original and Alex had somehow re-created its vibe note-perfectly.

I undoubtedly made him some kind of CD too, but lacking the cover version moment with me playing all the parts and singing all the harmonies.  I jest.  As any fule kno.  At this point I suspect I went back to listen to Electric Soft Parade all over again.

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Electric Soft Parade were Alex and his brother Tom White, previously members of Feltro Media, a Brighton band who’d recorded three (!) self-released albums in the late 90s.  I’ve not heard any of these.   Electric Soft Parade’s first album Holes In The Wall came out in 2002 and was nominated for a Mercury prize, two other great albums followed which I won’t go into here, but from around 2007 everything they’ve done together or singly has been self-produced.   When I met Alex, the band was on an extended hiatus, the two brothers being busy with their own projects as well as playing with Brakes – another Brighton outfit formed with members of British Seapower & Tenderfoot.

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Alex and Tom as youngers

I bumped into Tom White one day in the framing shop in The Lanes and said ‘hi, I’m a friend of Alex‘.   I went to see Clowwns at the Prince Albert one night, Miles Heathfield‘s excellent band, Tom was on drums.   The brothers kept popping up at gigs around town.  Then, suddenly, their Mum died.  In their grief, a benefit concert was arranged down at The Concorde on the seafront, almost directly below our house.  I went along and saw the cream of the Brighton musical establishment playing for the brothers, including Field Music and Electric Soft Parade themselves, playing their first gig for some time.

What was great for me about discovering further musical riches in my home town was that sense of things being joined together.  Pretty much any musician I talked to knew them.  Among my joyous memories of local bands (or bands who’d based themselves in Brighton) were Mike Lord‘s tremendous outfit Stars & Sons in which Paul Steel played bass and Luke Sital-Singh played guitar – both now incandescent solo acts with Julian’s Raygun Records along with ace punk-rock group The Xcerts.  My friend Tim Lewis was now dating a beautiful young lady named Beth Hannah. Her father is Ian Hannah of this parish, a massive music fan who enjoys going to local gigs (like me) and would always be seen at anything involving the White brothers.  He is their biggest fan I reckon!  So  often the crowd would be me, Tim and Ian with maybe Andy or Will or Keith or whoever we can rustle up.  The live scene there is ace.

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Tom White, Alex White : The Electric Soft Parade : “Idiots”

The following year or maybe the year after that they released their fourth album “Idiots” which was on the Helium label and had a rather brilliant front cover (see above).  One of the songs on this album caught my ear and never let go.   Summertime in My Heart is a wonderful piece of songwriting & playing by the brothers White, conjuring up endless sunny days, carefree afternoons and long lazy evenings with people you love and bottles of cider.  It references sounds like The Byrds jangly guitar pop, The Las from Liverpool and the fresh punk-pop of The Undertones.  But really it sounds just like them.  My wife Jenny adores the song with its sibling harmonies mixed high in the production, and references to catching “the first bus into town“.  Perfect pop.

I don’t know if Idiots” got much traction, had good reviews or sales, but it seems not which is one of the many crimes against perfect pop that have been perpetrated over the years.  I reference here one of Brighton’s other fine musicians, Paul Steel, and his 2nd album Moon Rock which was released in Japan and is now available on iTunes, but very few people know about it.  Such a shame.

Disheartened they may have been but it didn’t dent their confidence, as evidenced by the next move.  Around this time they both produced albums on their own – Alex made a perfect copy of Steely Dan’s Katy Lied :

https://theelectricsoftparade.bandcamp.com/album/katy-lied

while Tom made an equally perfect copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours :

https://theelectricsoftparade.bandcamp.com/album/rumours

Because why not? !!

Alex was also making an album inspired by his mother called Interlocutor at The Levellers‘ studio near Brighton College playing-fields with mates and wanted some of my alto saxophone on it.  The dates never quite worked and I’ve never heard the finished product, if indeed it was ever finished.

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Tom made a handful of solo LPs, including Yalla recorded in Egypt (all his stuff is great by the way) and then formed a new band called The Fiction Aisle.  I love this band too.  Their first album was a stunner, called Heart Map Rubric. To date they have produced four albums – three studio releases and a live LP  which came out last month (April 2018) with Alex playing guitar which was welcome news since every time I’d seen Alex recently he hasn’t been buoyant.  The previous last time (I think) was at a Fiction Aisle gig in Brighton in December 2016 where Alex was on DJ duties and we went back to his mate’s flat for a few beers and smokes afterward.  It was nice to see him again.

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Earlier Tom had spied me on the pavement smoking eternal cigarettes as ever & I’d congratulated him on the gig and yet expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like my favourite album of theirs Fuchsia Days.  Different line-up, instruments, energy.  Tom was full of joy and told me that he and Alex had been hanging out at Preston Park earlier in the year listening outside the perimeter fence to Brian Wilson & his band playing Pet Sounds and melting into their musical boots.  I was inside with Paul Steel & his partner Hollie his partner & Martin his dad (see My Pop Life #1 and #2) and wondering why Brian was singing like Frank Sinatra and breaking up the rhythm of the phrases.  There is a school that believes that Brian can do whatever he wants and there is a smaller group of devotees like myself who want to hear the song, not the singer’s experimentation.  Ah fuck it, he can do whatever he wants, course he can!  He’s a living savant.

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Brian Wilson at Together The People, Preston Park Brighton 2016

So Tom says “we loved Brian Wilson and we’d like to play in your band if there’s space“.  My band being The Brighton Beach Boys who started out playing the music of Brian Wilson then The Beatles, now Bowie, John Barry and everyone you like (see My Pop Life #111,  My Pop Life #154,  My Pop Life #169  and others…)   There was a little bit of band politics to follow, but in the end we needed a new drummer who lived in Brighton for we were at that time rehearsing The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour LP for its 50th Anniversary to play alongside Sgt Pepper and… well, our regular Ringo the reverend Thomas Arnold was out in Macau and other exotic loci with a Michael Jackson show entitled Thriller.  Early in 2017 I flew back to the UK for a rehearsal and there was Tom White on the kit.  Very happy to see this fresh injection of talent and energy.   And a new generation.  Good for the band I thought.  And he loved the lack of stress, as he put it, playing other people’s music.   Not sure if all the band felt that way!  The following months were a joy for me, and all of us, he gobbled up everything we threw at him, including, of course, backing vocals by the score.  And fake animal heads of course.

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Tom at rehearsal playing er…I Am The Walrus

(the walrus was Paul : see  My Pop Life#118)

That summer (time in my heart) of 2017 we happy few played Brighton Festival, Windsor, Liverpool (!) and London together.  Enjoying those two mighty albums. For another post no doubt, it will remain one of the highlights of my life.

Alex meanwhile had retreated into not really wanting to play music.   Until he turned up on the 4th Fiction Aisle (live) album sounding quite amazing.

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I really should mention the drummer Damo Waters too who is a monster player and who spreads himself among the high end Brighton music scene like caviar on Armenian toast – I’ve seen him with Clowwns, Field Music, ESP and others, always outstanding.

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 I really wanted the brothers to play Summertime In My Heart at my 60th birthday concert in the summer of 2017 (see My Pop Life #200) but Alex was in the slough of despond and didn’t like being in rooms full of people, or even know if he wanted to play music any longer.  I think he’s better now.   I hope so.  I know that struggle.   Tom sang Simon & Garfunkel’s America with Kit Ashton, closing the circle of karma with which we started 1932 words ago and we all ended up on the beach at dawnIMG_2993 Tom White & Paul Brown my dear brother, dawn, June 19th 2017

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you : the White brothers as the magnificent Electric Soft Parade :

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 !

My Pop Life #174 : Learning To Be – Eleven

Learning To Be   –   Eleven

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Slipping away I get closer each day I been looking for love to find me

Digging away I will search I will pray I been waiting for truth to blind me

Only perceive and the world will conceive there’s a seat in my heart that binds me  

awake in a dream I believe it’s extreme, ruling out that all this is magic…

“If you can meet with triumph and disaster, and treat those two imposters both the same…”  said Rudyard Kipling in his incomparable poem “If…”.   Well I can’t.  I pretend I can, but no, I prefer the triumphs.  Is that what they’re called ?  Those goals into the top corner.  Those victories.  Yes, I prefer those imposters to the failures.  But people always say wise self-help guru stuff like “you learn more from your failures”  or “crisis and opportunity is the same word in Chinese”  or even “I get knocked down but I get up again”.  You know?   I prefer not to get knocked down at all.   I feel like my life was built on crises.  But still they come.

David Fincher

In 1994 I was living in Los Angeles.  It was David Fincher‘s idea.  He’d directed Alien 3 in 1991 and suggested that Jenny and I move to California.  “Come to LaLa” is actually what he said.  In 1992, after we’d got married and shot Undercover Blues in New Orleans which coincided with our honeymoon, (see My Pop Life #158) we rented an apartment in West Hollywood and stayed for three years.  David was very disappointed with Alien3 because the studio hadn’t accepted his cut, indeed had hacked the shit out of his cut, and after the glamorous premiere in LA and razzamatazz opening weekend fizz had died down, it was a film which didn’t knock everyone out, neither the public it seemed nor the critics.  David took it very badly – personally and professionally.  He spent the following two years silently fuming and plotting his revenge, and his next move.  We spent a lot of time together, round his apartment which at the time was on Beverley & La Brea with his new wife Donya Fiorentino, and Rachel his PA, her boyfriend Paul Carafotes, and David’s friends Chip & Carol, Ron, James, Marcie, and other friends.  We had a handful of friends already there – Anita Lewton from Moving Parts days (early 80s) was in Venice Beach, Suzy Crowley and Tony Armatrading were hanging out too.

Donya Fiorentino

We ate out a lot – on Sunset Strip, on La Brea, at Pane e Vino on Beverley.  We went to the movies together.  We got drunk.  We visited Lake Arrowhead one weekend and played pool and ate mushrooms.   We drove to Malibu.  Venice.  Went to gigs, clubs, parties.  We hung out in other words.

I got a gig on the film Wayne’s World 2 playing a roadie named Del Preston, and it was rushed out only a few months after it was finished (unusually).  David and Donya were round at our place on King’s Road when the LA Times review came out – it was great for me, and David said something along the lines of “I hope you remember me when you collect your Oscar“.  He wasn’t joking, he was feeling the pain of not working for two years.  Oh the irony !   Then one day some months later we were round his apartment off Beverley and he gave me a script, saying “there’s a great part in this for you Ralphie“.   It was a film called Seven.

Awake In A Dream by Eleven

There was an album that we listened to a lot that year called Awake In A Dream, by a group called Eleven, who were from LA.    A three-piece band writing intelligent glossy pop/rock with great melodies and unusual chord changes.  Their genesis was entwined with another LA band, the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, and then later after Eleven split, Natasha Shneider played bass with Queens Of The Stone Age in their early days before sadly dying of cancer in 2008.  The other two band members were Alain Johannes (who also joined QOTSA in 2005) and Jack Irons.   Their first LP from which this song comes was released in 1991.   Two songs stood out – Learning To Be and Rainbow’s End… 

…Here at the rainbow’s end, there is no pot of gold, no matter what you’re told…

which was clearly a song about LA itself.   It was a sign.  An omen.

Me, Anita Lewton, Jen, Gary Kemp, Donya, David, Annie & Paul McGann

I’d always had a dream of Hollywood, and I’d never chased it, for fear I would fall flat on my face.  I’d been turned away from LA in 1989 on a trip across the USA in Auto Driveaway cars (see My Pop Life #147) getting as far as Phoenix on Christmas Eve before turning back to El Paso.  I’d always wanted Hollywood to ask me in, even in a small way, and in 1991 they did.   I had to shoot some extra Alien3 scenes and Fox paid for Pete Postlethwaite and I to travel to Culver City in LA (for another story).  I’d got an agent, got a job, got an apartment, and now a few years later I’d got the massive opportunity that eventually comes around.

 1994 was a watershed year for me, looking back.  After that incredible review in the LA Times I did not work for a whole year.  “Kim Basinger is fantastic and Christopher Walken marvellous, but walking away with the whole picture is Ralph Brown as Del Preston” is what it said.  It was the kiss of death of course.   I was going up for three films per week.  Everything that was made in 1994, I auditioned for.  Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead.  The Usual Suspects.  Crimson Tide.  Devil In A Blue Dress.  Heat.  Jumanji.   True Romance.  The Quick & The Dead.  And many many others lost to the mists of time.  Learning lines, forming character, turning up with well-chosen clothing and delivering the scene, over and over and over.  Fincher helping me with auditions sometimes (True Romance – offered to Christopher Walken).   Meeting after meeting.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  No.  And No.   I’d hit the glass ceiling.  Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken were getting the gigs.  My gigs.  How could I break through that invisible barrier ?

In June the World Cup gave us some welcome respite.  We got tickets for all the Rose Bowl games in Pasadena, just by sending off for them – an advert in the LA Times, and a country that wasn’t interested, bar the foreigners, the Latinos, Africans and Europeans.  We decided to support Cameroon in an early game v Sweden and met Ashley Joyce (English) and Jeremy Thomas (Welsh, just separated from Drew Barrymore after two months of marriage) who ran The Room a groovy bar just off Hollywood Boulevard.  They are still friends of mine.

The Rose Bowl, Pasadena, 1994 World Cup Final 

The month that followed was glorious – wall to wall football, no England to disappoint us (we didn’t qualify) – over 100 degree heat for a Colombia v USA game, a July 4th game USA v Brazil in San José, a quarter final in Pasadena Romania v Sweden, a semi-final Brazil v Sweden and tickets to the actual final Brazil v Italy, a 0-0 draw, and Roberto Baggio blasting his penalty over the bar, cue Brazilian Carnivale, and meeting my old friend Stephen Woolley from Scala Cinema days and The Crying Game outside the stadium after the Final – in town doing screenings for test audiences of Interview With A Vampire.  “That’s no way to make a film” I said.  “Asking the audience which characters they prefer”  “When you’re spending 40 million dollars, it’s the only way to make a film”  he replied.  I was so green, really, so innocent.  But I was certainly living life.   Learning To Be.

Roberto Baggio has just missed a penalty at the World Cup Final

The best game was Romania 3 Argentina 2 after Maradona had been sent home for drug abuse and Hagi’s sweet left foot sent the East Europeans through to the quarter finals.   I think Germany were beaten by Bulgaria, who in turn lost to Italy.  Klinsmann was playing, Roger Milla, Alexi Lalas, Stoichkov, Romario.  We particularly enjoyed watching games on TV with absurd, nay, surreal commentary from US commentators deciphering a game they scarcely understood:  “The ball has crossed the end line” or “great touch by the goal-handler“.  Or the Latin American channels with the hyperbole of the gods :

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL!!!!

We had a laugh.    Then as summer turned to late summer and even later summer (you don’t really get winter in Los Angeles) – our thoughts turned to work and I carried on getting NO from meetings.  They’ve gone another way.  They loved you but it’s not going to work out this time.  Or even worse : silence.  The dwindling hope that finally extinguishes.  And then David gave me the script for Seven.   I read it – and as I’m sure you know dear reader, it was dark and clever.  My character was called John Doe.   David assured me that he wanted me to play it.   It was my gig.  This was great news.   I hadn’t worked for almost a year and was a) going slightly mental, and b) running out of money.   David then called one afternoon and said the producer would like to meet me on Thursday.  Would I mind reading?  “Course not”  I said, “no problem”.   I prepared the scenes in my own accent and also in an American accent.  I’d had an accent coach since one of the films I’d gone up for (The Ice Cream Story) had insisted on me reading again and again ( I went in 3 times and still didn’t get it).  My accent coach told me that my accent was perfect – nailed on.  But the director was nervous, and was projecting his nerves onto me.   I rationalised bitterly.

Wilshire and Fairfax in LA

So Thursday rolls around and I sit in that old space-age diner Johnie’s just above Wilshire Boulevard on Fairfax while I wait for the meeting across the road.   Then I cross Wilshire and go in.  David greets me all smiles like an old friend – he is an old friend.  Introduces me to the producer who in my memory was Arnie Kopelson.  The casting director was there too I think, Billy Hopkins who since Alien3 which he’d cast with Priscilla John had got me in for loads of things, including Speed which is for another post.  Maybe he wasn’t.  But there were a few people there watching me, and I immediately felt uncomfortable.  Like I was on the spot.  I suddenly realised that I had to make David look good.  We did some small talk then someone suggested we read.  There was probably someone there to read the off-lines.  I was shit.  My accent was terrible.  I apologised.  David smiled “It’s cool dude, just do your thing”  I tried it again.  I was shit again.  “Just use your own accent Ralphie” said Fincher, “Just do what you do“.    He was so kind and supportive.  I was in pieces. It was excruciating.

Sometimes I think that eternity blinks paying no due respect to logic

I’ve thought about this moment many times, and I don’t know why I didn’t seize it.  His dream must have seemed so close that he could scarcely fail to grasp it.  He could not know that it was already behind him…wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald…The Great Gatsby’s final paragraph.

I didn’t get the job.  Kevin Spacey did.  He smashed it.  He took a few jobs off me that year.  It was his year.  And the following year certainly was too.  We ended 1994 with one BBC job in Italy and nothing in Hollywood, broke.  We decided to move back to England, but not before I’d written a movie called New Year’s Day which would eventually get made in 1999 (see My Pop Life #75) and which is about – ouch – The Importance Of Disappointment.

..Give me your hand we are part of this plan we can force all this chaos to rhyme…

At some point during the post-production for Seven or Se7en as it was then written, David and Donya separated.  This was painful for everyone, and Jenny and I attempted our usual even-handed response to these painful events and stayed in touch with both parties.  David didn’t like that, or perhaps Donya used us against him in an argument.  In any event I have hardly seen him since 1995.   No bad feeling, just the end of an era.

Donya’s photograph of my wife Jenny Jules, 1994

It was an incredible opportunity in retrospect.  If I’d been cast in that role, it would certainly have changed my career.  I absolutely under-anticipated the stress of that meeting, thinking in my foolishness that David holding the door open would be perhaps enough to swing it for me.   It was a harsh lesson.   Many times I have played it over in my mind, re-entered the room, better prepared, psyched-up, played the scene properly like I’d planned it.  (Spacey played it exactly as I’d rehearsed it in the finished movie).   But I didn’t get it.  Even today, writing this, it bites me.  It was a gift horse and I gave it a thorough dental examination.   Oh well.  I’m still here.  Some things are just not meant to be.  No regrets.  Learning To Be.

Like all hinge moments one cannot eventually regret the way it went.  If I’d been cast in Seven we would have stayed in LA.  Or at least I would.  First and biggest problem.  We wouldn’t have bought a house in Brighton.  Tom, Millie and Lucy wouldn’t have moved down.   Scarlett and Tom wouldn’t have met.  Skye wouldn’t have been born.  I wouldn’t have played in The Brighton Beach Boys.  And on and on.  You cannot unmake a moment, even in your wishes.  And thus, once again, writing out one of my haunted moments in a blog post has allowed to me to understand the wound and clarify the misty darkness which surrounds it a little bit more.   And it becomes not a defeat but just another chapter in My Pop Life.

Look in the eyes of the water that falls
Hiding behind every flower and rock
Why do we dance on the wheel and forget
Life is a child that will never regret
Learning to be, be, be
Stepping away, I get closer each day
I’ve been looking for love to find me
Digging away, I will search I will pray
I’ve been waiting for truth to blind me

Learning To Be :

and Rainbow’s End – it’s not a great quality video, but it’s all there is :

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