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 come down every summer for 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 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


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 :


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 :

My Pop Life #152 : The Morning Papers – Prince

The Morning Papers   –   Prince

If he poured his heart into a cup and offered it like wine

She could drink it and be back in time for the morning papers

The third time I saw Prince live was with The New Power Generation at Glam Slam, his nightclub in downtown Los Angeles.  Spring 1994.  Jenny and I are renting a lovely old tiled and wood-floored 1940s ground floor apartment on King’s Road in West Hollywood, just south of Beverley Boulevard.  It has a piano!  The World Cup is approaching, but only the immigrants – the latinos, africans and europeans – are interested.  Jenny spends a lot of time in London filming with John Thaw on Kavanagh QC playing a lawyer.  For some childish reason I always call it Cavendish PC.  There weren’t that many parts for black actors on British TV in those days.  How times have changed…

We used to walk a couple of blocks west from King’s Road to Jans – an old time diner with booths and an endless menu which included The Monte Cristo – french toast with cheese, turkey and ham, my particular preference.  With french fries. And ketchup, or catsup as it used to be known. And coffee. And the Morning Papers.  Always the LA Times, which is thin fare, but that’s where we were.  At least it had a decent Arts section, and film reviews were pored over.  The LA Weekly (a kind of Village voice for Southern California) was a weekly staple and gave us film reviews and concert listings.  We could actually walk to the Beverley Center – cinema, restaurants, shops etc, but we usually drove.  Almost opposite us was the King’s Road Cafe, a hipster joint before the word was coined. It was self-consciously groovy and slightly twee and we preferred Jans, where the waitresses were all middle-aged ladies, often latinas,  the owner was an ancient Greek and the customers were old jewish people and cops.  Classic old-school American diner.

Jenny’s sister Lucy Jules (see My Pop Life #135) was staying with us in LA on an extended break from London.  She’d just graduated from the Brit School in Croydon, and sung at our wedding and she wanted to check out La La Land while we were there – the centre of the music industry as well as the film industry.  We were in Los Angeles for close to three years straight in the early 90s, and I could count the number of visitors we had from London on one hand.  I know it’s a long way and an expensive flight, but there was free accommodation at the other end if you asked nicely !!    Anyway, Lucy’s favourite artist is Prince.

Prince Rogers Nelson.  Who died today Thursday April 21st 2016 aged 57 in Minneapolis.  The shock will take a while to sink in.  I’m still trying to deal with David Bowie passing not to mention Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman and Ronnie Corbett.  This year the long scythe of death is cutting down many of our brightest and best and most loved creatives.  We are all in shock at how fragile life is, at how young many of our heroes are dying.  And it’s still only April.

About 22 years ago Lucy and I drove downtown in my stupid show-off car which I dearly loved, a 2-door gas guzzling white pimpmobile or Lincoln Continental.  I couldn’t drink and drive of course, but there are no handy subway stations in Los Angeles.  Everyone drives.  I had seen Prince twice before : first in 1988 when he played Wembley Arena on the Lovesexy Tour, entering the stage on a Ford Thunderbird from the ceiling, Sheila E. on drums.  A tremendous gig.  Second time with my new girlfriend Jenny Jules a year later on the Nude tour, again at Wembley arena, again outstanding.  This time it’s a darkened nightclub with a mixed crowd (hold the front page LA) and huge excitement in the air.  The most recent Prince LP is LoveSymbol, the unpronounceable shape which signifies Prince at this time.

He would change his name later that year. The symbol apparently combines the male and female and led to Prince being known as “The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”.    When he changed his name back to Prince some wisecrackers referred to him as “The Artist Formerly Known As The Artist Formerly Known As Prince”.  And so on and so forth.

While I had five or six Prince LPs (CDs in fact) at this point, I wouldn’t have described myself as a huge fan.   But I know a good number of people who completely adore him :  Lucy J, our good friend Loretta Sacco, Jen’s oldest friend Pippa Randall, Tim Lewis, Tom Jules and my friend Lewis MacLeod who came to Wembley with me in ’88.  They are all devastated today.  I’m just sad, upset, shocked.  So is Jenny.  Her favourite Prince song is Scandalous from the Batman soundtrack and it was favoured at many of our Brighton houseparties.  As for me – well, I really like lots of Sign ‘O’ The Times (Slow Love is the best song probably because to me it sounds like an old-school soul record) and most of Lovesexy.  Diamonds & Pearls is probably my peak Prince LP, the first album he recorded with The New Power Generation.  Yes yes of course Purple Rain and 1999 but they’re like event songs.  I’m just being honest here.

The LoveSymbol LP had a handful of absolute crackers – My Name Is Prince, Love 2 The 9s (Lucy’s favourite), 7, Sexy M.F. and this tune The Morning Papers, my favourite Prince song.  Why ?  I’m not sure that I could really analyse that, but I like the melody mainly, but also the sheer poppiness of it I think, I like the lyrics and the horns and I like the guitar solo.  The song is inspired by and describes Prince’s early relationship with Mayte Garcia one of his back-up singers whom he married in 1996 two years later.  She was 15 years younger than him.

He realised that she was new to love naive in every way

Every schoolboy’s fantasy of love that’s why he had to wait

They were divorced in 1999 after losing two children.   There is a lovely story of his first meeting with Warner Brothers (I think) in a big office which had various instruments hanging on the walls.  When Prince felt that the meeting wasn’t going the way he wanted he offered: “I can play any instrument in the world after studying it for five minutes by the way”.  I think he knew he could, and he needed to be signed.  The suit pointed to a French Horn and said Ok – play that.  Five minutes later Prince played him the melody of the song they’d just been listening to and he was signed.  He fought against this contract all his life – the Symbol name-change was his way of re-negotiating his deal, and he appeared in 1993 with the word SLAVE written across his cheek.  There are no Prince videos on Youtube.  None.  There may be tomorrow.  He sanctioned his autobiography two days ago.    He really was a phenomena.  His passing has left a huge whole in the musical firmament and in millions of lives.  It feels very strange for me to be going out to a concert tonight (Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso) and I expect he will be remembered.  I will remember him for sure, but I guess we all have to live on.

Right ?

Now I’m home.  The concert was superb, classy, wonderful.  When Babs and I came out of BAM there was a huge crowd of people, police cars blocking the street, TV crews and loud music on South Elliott and Lafayette – a couple of thousand at least outside Spike Lee’s office.  They’re playing Purple Rain and people are swaying, holding their phones aloft.  It’s a love vibe.  I love how New York mourns and celebrates and marks a major death like this.  Spike did a similar thing for Michael Jackson, and of course John Lennon’s death was mourned across the city.

We saw Prince again in 1994 but I cannot remember where (Staples Centre?) or whether it was before or after Glam Slam. That night he and the band played for three hours straight and did a half-hour encore.  Maybe more.  Pure sweaty funk, with some pop and rock and soul poured liberally over the top.  Most of Diamonds and Pearls, loads of Symbol and Sign O’ The Times, When Doves Cry, Purple Rain, Nothing Compares To You, 1999, Raspberry Beret, and on and on.  It was, of course, fantastic.  He was the ultimate showman in his cuban heels and cheeky smile, his absolute mastery of the guitar, his posing, his musicianship.  His energy was infectious.   He will be hugely missed.  Prince Rogers Nelson R.I.P.,the-morning-papers-live,sursr.html&autoplay=0&mdtk=04516441&

My Pop Life #110 : Dreams – Joe Walsh

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Dreams   –   Joe Walsh

…off to waste the day plunging headlong…

For some reason it always feels indulgent to write about Lewes Priory school 1970 -75  and my teenage musical passions.  See for example My Pop Life #78 – a eulogy to Blue Öyster Cult.   I’m not embarrassed about any of the music I listened to then – or since – and I deride the notion of ‘guilty pleasures’ when it comes to music, as if there is a canon of excellence that we must worship publicly and then privately enjoy our own rather suspect taste.  The Alan Partridge joke about liking Abba and Wings – because they’re “not cool”.   In this scenario the supposedly “cool” bands are usually skinny white guys playing atonal miserablism.  My taste has widened considerably since 1973 but my enthusiasm for The Velvet Underground (and those they influenced) still hovers around ‘lukewarm’.

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But this song is still an unalloyed joy for me.  The Joe Walsh LP  “The Smoker You Drink, The Player You Get” was released in america on my birthday, June 18th 1973, and three months later in England.  I have no idea from whence it came among my friends, perhaps the opening track Rocky Mountain Way caught somebody’s ear, or perhaps Andy Holmes just went ahead and bought it after sitting on a beanbag with headphones on in Virgin Records at Brighton Clocktower.  Or perhaps I did – but where I got the idea who knows ?  I don’t remember Rocky Mountain Way (Joe Walsh’s most famous song) being played on the radio.  Anyway – there is was, this amusingly-titled LP which acknowledged our new favourite past-time (getting stoned) with a brightly-coloured cover design and a selection of rather brilliant songs.  I associate this whole LP with happiness.  Sitting somewhere rolling a joint on the LP cover, glueing rizlas together, burning hashish  (invariably – grass was very rare in 1973) into little brown worms and sprinkling them evenly among the Golden Virgina, Old Holborn or Players Number Six cigarette broken down.  The music washing over us as we pass the joint among us, people nodding, agreeing on stuff, giggling, being witty and honest.  The best kind of getting high, when there’s simply nothing else to worry about.

Featured imageThere’s a section in the middle :  “she’s easy on my mind…she thinks my jokes are funny, makes me feel fine..” which reminds me of Miriam Ryle whom I started going out with halfway through the lower sixth.  My first love.  She wore Diorella and flower-print dresses.   I think that’s a great lyric, the idea of a girl being “easy on your mind”.   But the lyric also reminds me of my wife now, Jenny, who still laughs at my jokes.  I try to make her laugh every day, and if we’re not having a punch-up I succeed.  Makes me feel fine.

The song is a beautiful homage to being relaxed in a way that seems impossible today.  Having nothing to do.  Sitting on the grass somewhere.  Going for a walk.  Going for a drive, nowhere in particular.  The music has a marvellous lazy laid-back feel, minimal instrumentally but hugely effective and evocative of an endless summer’s day when time seems to stop and allow you to step off for a while.  Where did those days go?

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Joe Walsh’s band at this point were called Barnstorm – they’d done one album previous to this which is also brilliant, called “Barnstorm” and also produced by the great Bill Szymczyk.  How do you pronounce that? Kenny Passarelli played bass. Rocke Grace joined on keys. But Joe Vitale on drums, synths and flute was a particularly important collaborator for Walsh, and wrote and co-wrote some of these songs.  His influence is very musical, as opposed to the rocky flavours of some of the rest of the LP – but to be fair, Joe Walsh has a huge musical palette and always has.   He emerged from various east-coast bands to join The James Gang in 1968, recording three studio LPs with them including the tracks Funk#49, Walk Away, Collage and Ashes The Rain & I.   All tremendous.   After The Smoker You Drink LP, Walsh was asked to join The Eagles and they proceeded to record Hotel California, Walsh sharing guitar theatrics on that song with Don Felder.  I saw this line-up live in 1976 at Wembley Arena, thrilled to bits to be witnessing one of my teen idols live.  They played Rocky Mountain Way and possibly one more (Time Out?) but it was an Eagles concert and so they remain the only two songs I’ve ever seen Joe play of his own.

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However I just bought two tickets to see him at The Beacon Theatre New York City on October 1st 2015.  Unbelievably he is re-united with Joe Vitale for this show. This is a big deal.

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Joe is a hugely likeable person by all accounts – he visits the same AA group in Hollywood as one of my friends – and his other big hit “Life’s Been Good” is testament to his sense of humour about money, fame and success.  As a rock guitarist I don’t think he’s ever been bettered with the sole exception of Jimi Hendrix but like Jimi he also has a gentle lyrical side and a beautiful delicate touch, none more so than on this song, a wistful evocation of plunging headlong into a relaxed endless day where you will do absolutely nothing.  Taking the time for dreams…  

My Pop Life #99 : La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh) – Manic Street Preachers

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La Tristessa Durera (Scream To A Sigh)  –   Manic Street Preachers

…I retreat into self pity…it’s so easy….

 The summer of 1993, West Hollywood.  132 N King’s Road just off the corner of Beverley Boulevard.   About ten blocks from The Beverly Centre.   Breakfast in Jans.   A small circle of friends centred on David Fincher‘s gang – Chip & Carol, Paul Carafotes, Rachel Schadt, Marcie, Ron, David’s girlfriend Donya Fiorentina, and a few Brits : Anita Lewton and Suze Crowley in Venice, Bruce Payne in Beverly Hills and his girlfriend Nina Kraft and a revolving door of visitors that is the lifeblood of Hollywood, or at least some of the blood – British and Irish actors – Jude Law, Richard E. Grant, Paul McGann, David Thewlis, Fiona Shaw, others whom I never met.   It’s a strange bubble, hard to find the centre, and the beating heart of LA carries on with or without you.   An indifferent city.   But it is also the centre of the film industry, where people talk about films, go to see films, compare the opening weekends of film openings, where choosing what you’re going to see on a Friday night feels like it actually matters.   I always liked that.   Getting auditions and meetings at Paramount Pictures, at Universal, at Disney.  Having a “drive-on” so you can park your car on the lot.   You never want to take that for granted.    I’d done my first truly Hollywood film in 1992 :  Undercover Blues with Kathleen Turner and Denis Quaid, Fiona Shaw, Obba Babatunde and Stanley Tucci, (all shot in Louisiana while Jenny and I were on honeymoon).

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But I’d had a “drive-on” for costume fittings and read-through at the MGM Studio Lot in Culver City at the time.    By 1993 I was into a routine of regular meetings and auditions all over town.    I can only remember one.   Billy Hopkins, who’d cast Alien3, the very reason why we lived in Los Angeles, had asked me to come in and read for the part of Howard Payne in a new thriller being directed by Jan De Bont.   Howard Payne was the bad guy.    I did one of the best auditions of my stupid life, unpredictable, whispered, snarled, charming, bisexual and deadly.   The following day one of my agents Jim Carnahan rang me to say they’d offered me the role.    Whoop!    My life – our life – turned around.    But the etiquette – indeed the common sense – of show business – means that you do not talk about jobs, work, gigs until you’ve signed the contract.   There are always quite a few days of negociating.   And so we started, the number of days, weeks, the quote (per week), the dates, the costume fittings, the billing, the whole shebang.   It did drag out.    But no more than usual.   Until the day 2 weeks after the audition when Jim rang me and told me that they’d just offered my part to Dennis Hopper.   The film was called Speed.   It also starred Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock.   It was an unexpected hit.   I would come across Billy Hopkins again a year later, but that’s another story, even worse than this one.   This one wasn’t my fault.   It was the glass ceiling of Hollywood.

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The Manic Street Preachers had passed me by until their second album Gold Against The Soul, which everyone said wasn’t as good as their first.   We played it a lot.   Probably heard on Radio One whilst in England, but also likely to have been played on KCRW the Santa Monica College Radio Station that everyone in LA listens to.  (All white bourgeouis I mean).   There is a morning show called “Morning Becomes Eclectic” between 9 and 12am where you could hear almost anything white and groovy.  Not much hip hop or Dance music.  A little bit of groovy mexican music.  Loads of English indie.  Otherwise American Radio is totally segmented into genres – ROCK FM, GROOVE FM, COUNTRY FM, CHART FM.  all with tons of commercials of in-un-ending banality.  So KCRW’s gentle white supremacy became the least-worst ear-bashing of a morning.

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James, Richey, Nicky, Sean in 1994

La Tristessa Durera is in an unknown Pyrenean language half-way between French and Spanish.  Le Tristesse Durera means “the sadness continues” in French, and were the last words spoken by Vincent Van Gogh according to a letter written by his brother Theo.  Vincent Van Gogh shot himself with a rifle near one of the cornfields which obsessed him toward the end of his life.   Why Richey James translated Le Tristesse as La Tristessa we shall never know, (I suspect it’s just more poetic?) but there’s a lot we shall never know about Richey James Edwards.  The song itself is lyrically brilliant, one of Richey’s best and concerns a war veteran who describes himself as “a relic, I am just a petrified cry – wheeled out once a year, a cenotaph souvenir…

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That a young writer could put themselves into the shoes of an old war veteran, singing “Life has been unfaithful…and it all promised oh so much” is a huge credit to a compassionate and disturbed individual who seemed to see through everything and everybody and only find the pain and hypocrisy, the torture and ugliness inside.  He suffered from depression and self-harmed on a regular basis, also was reported to have suffered anorexia too.  He wrote and spoke about all these issues with great humility and common sense.   He would go on to write 80% of the lyrics to the next Manics LP “The Holy Bible” (1994) which is a monument to man’s inhumanity to man and a modern rock classic, and the following year in February 1995 Richey would disappear.  Not quite without trace – his car was found near the Severn Bridge, with evidence that he’d been living in it.   The outcry and column inches would last for years.   He was finally pronounced missing presumed dead in 2008.

Richard James Edwards was born in Caerphilly in 1967 and went to school with all the other band members at Oakdale Comprehensive in Blackwood in the 1980s.  He joined the Manic Street Preachers as a roadie in 1990 after securing a 2:1 in Political History at the University Of Wales, Swansea.   His politics and poeticism helped to shape the Manics entire image, Nicky Wire playing bass also wrote lyrics, while James Dean Bradfield, guitarist and singer provided the music.  With Sean Moore on drums they were a formidable live act but I did not get to see them until the late 90s as a three-piece.

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They always had a visceral passion and anger which was grounded in punk rock, a militancy based on being from South Wales, so recently hammered by Thatcher in the miner’s strike (1982) and an intellectual and poetic analysis and understanding which came from Wire and Edwards’ voracious appetite for reading, whether it was Dostoyevsky, Rimbaud, Camus, Orwell or Mishima.  They were my favourite band for a few years in there, they seemed to have their collective finger on my pulse.    These were songs you would sing along with not necessarily understanding the exact meanings of the lines:  “the applause nails down my silence” or my favourite line to spit out “I see liberals – I am just a fashion accessory…”  but of course there he is referring literally to the use of war medals as badges on fashion catwalks.   In the final verse our old soldier admits “I sold my medal – it paid a bill…“.

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All of their songs have this deep disgust at life’s injustices at their core and their huge success is built on being able to articulate the fury of the intelligent left-over people of the world.   Another song from this album “Life Becoming A Landslide” was also instrumental in my screenplay for New Year’s Day (see My Pop Life #75) which would actually begin with an avalanche, and also hopefully bottle some of those powerful feelings of disappointment at how life unfolds for each of us, and all of us…

the video

Live at Glastonbury ’93 with Richie (turned up!)