My Pop Life #144 : Flowers In The Window – Travis

Flowers In The Window   –   Travis

It’s yet another song with seagull noises in it.  I’m collecting them.  One of the great things about living in Brighton is the quality of live music there.  The Brighton Beach Boys were formed after many a joyful Monday night in The Dragon in St George’s Road watching Stephen Wrigley and Adrian Marshall play 90 minutes of pop music, inviting punters to come to the mic and sing.  Drink + music = joy.  Once the band was up and running, gigging, rehearsing regularly I had the impertinent hubris to feel as if I could play in the pub too.

So I got a regular, or perhaps irregular Monday night gig in The Robin Hood on the border of Hove, a charity pub (Britain’s first!) with a benign and knowledgeable landlord in the form of Neil Hayward, brother to Paul, sports writer and Albion fan.  The BBBs had the residency and we took it in turns to play two-handers.  I played with Adrian Marshall himself on the bass and bvs, and when we went to look at a set-list there were a list of my favourite things I could already play :  Golden Lady, The Man With The Child In His Eyes, Julia, Sunny Afternoon and then a bunch of newer songs – it’s good to stay contemporary in the pub rock game.  So we chose this song by Travis, and Christina Aguilera’s Beautiful because I wanted to appear open-minded (and because I secretly loved it) and some Ben Folds and Todd Rundgren too.  In the end you’re just plonking away while people drink and chat, the living background music, but it is an honourable profession and I felt like I needed to do it for some inner compulsive reason.  I took to it pretty well, the amp broke down on the first gig and Ade took about 20 minutes fixing it.  I had no sustain pedal, and David Keys (thanks David) mentioned that it might be a good idea to get one.  Despite these handicaps I still enjoyed the gig in a nerve-wracked kind of way.   Flowers in the Window stayed in the set and we played it every gig, people loved it.  It was from the third LP by Travis, effortless pop brilliance from a Scottish four-piece gathered about the person of Fran Healy, songwriter and lead vocalist.

I’d bought the 2nd album The Man Who in 1999 with its gracious songwriting and harmonised easy pop  – Driftwood, Turn and the inescapable Why Does It Always Rain On Me?  There is a sweet jangly flow to their songs which sounds easy, but is rare in music, because it’s not as easy to write as it is to listen to.

The third album The Invisible Band came out in late 2001, with lead single Sing, but Flowers In The Window was in the charts as a single in April 2002.  I was playing it in the pub late in 2002 into early 2003.

Around this time we had a place in Los Feliz in LA, and went back and forth.    We’d found it through a contact of Gwen Wynne‘s.  It was the top floor of a rambling mansion at the bottom of beautiful Griffith Park, right on the corner of Western Avenue and Los Feliz Boulevard.  We were in the treetops, with squirrels, birds and magnificent butterflies as company.  Old school Los Angeles, wooden floors, tiled bathrooms, overgrown back garden that stretched back up the hill.  We could walk to the shops but we never did.  Our landlords, a lovely old Hollywood couple called Patrick and Alma Sexton, lived below us.  Patrick had Parkinsons Disease which caused mini-earthquakes to his left arm from time to time.  He also had a thin Clark Gable-esque white moustache on his top lip and a twinkle in his eye. He was the most charming cultured man.  Alma his wife was a naturalised Mexican, but you’d never know from superficial contact, only after she’d told us their story, and she was just a dear. We would walk down the stairs and hang out and talk with them from time to time, go out for meals now and again.  They would leave us a bottle of wine if we’d been away for a few weeks.  It was a dream house, expensive yes, but beautiful.  We had close friends Suzy Crowley and Tony Armatrading just down the road from us.  Convivial.  At that point we were essentially commuting between Brighton and LA.

Then early in 2003 Catherine Wearing‘s dad Michael asked me if I wanted to take a look at a rewrite on a project he was involved with producing.  Catherine was our friend from London days – us in Archway Rd, she in Finsbury Park and we stayed in touch regularly – she would come down to our Brighton parties, we would go up to hers for screenings of things she was producing for the BBC.  Michael Wearing had been a top producer at the Beeb since the late 70s and made his name with Edge Of Darkness and Boys From The Blackstuff, and carried on as Head of Series at the Beeb and Our Friends In The North.   He needed a writer, and bless her cotton socks, Catherine had suggested me.  I wasn’t brand new (don’t forget) – this was two years after New Year’s Day (see My Pop Life #75) was finally released (and seven years after it was written) and I’d also just finished writing a commissioned film about Howard Marks called High Times which despite being the finest screenplay I’ve ever created remains unmade.  And unpaid.  Another story.  So.  Michael and I had a meeting in London and he handed me a mess of a screenplay entitled Red Light Runners.  At its core was a brilliant film idea – but the script delivered nowt but cliches, risible dialogue and non-sequiturs.  I said I’d take a look.

The Groucho Club, 45 Dean St, London

A few weeks later I was sitting in a room at The Groucho Club pitching my version of the story to the producers: Michael, Nigel Warren-Green, Marcus Vinton and Mark O’Sullivan, and the director Nick Egan.  I was confident and, in retrospect, at 46 years old, at the top of my game.  Flowers In The Window.  I think it may have been peak Brown to be honest.  April 2003.  I had been a member of Groucho since 1989.  I’d just done a film in Morocco and Rome with Paul Schrader, my own band were learning Pet Sounds after being inspired by the Brian Wilson resurgence, my nephew Thomas Jules had just been in the charts with his pop band 3rd Edge.  Supergrass and Cate Blanchett lived down the road.   The music of 2002 had been all positive (no it wasn’t said Skippy) – Groove Armada, Justin Timberlake, Queens Of The Stone Age, Norah Jones, Flaming Lips, Electric Soft Parade, Common, N.E.R.D.   Live LPs from Ben Folds and Brian Wilson, the latter almost a miracle moment.  And I’d done my first TV show in Los Angeles in 2002 – The Agency for CBS, only one episode, but I felt that I existed on many planes of existence and that all was well.   Not all – that’s impossible, because I have bipolar disturbance which means that anxiety goes up and down, anger rages around then turns to depression, regardless of pubs and other distractions.  But if I’m working, I don’t usually have time to be depressed.  Futile perhaps, but not usually the full darkness.  This was as good as it gets.

Travis

I felt the meeting had gone well.  I’d come up with a decent new plot involving an ex-CIA gay Fagin-esque priest in London, a manhunt, and yardie gangs all circulating what was essentially a heist in the British Museum.  A phone call from Michael confirmed I was to rewrite the screenplay.  We agreed a fee and I was flown down to Cannes that May to meet Michael Madsen complete with black cowboy boots and cultivated ‘cousin-of-elvis’ image.  He was already cast as Killian.  And Michael Casey – the money.  The hype had started.  Talk of sponsors, money, meals, champagne, everything was free.  To those who can afford it of course.

Michael, Nick and I sat down and thrashed out some wrinkles together in Cannes and in London, and then it was down to me to produce something.

Looking down Western Avenue from Los Feliz Boulevard

Later that May Jenny and I flew to Los Angeles and I sat down in the Los Feliz treetops at the desk we had just bought and I wrote my version of Red Light Runners.  This often meant lighting up a spliff at 8 in the morning with my coffee – because I write best in the morning.  And in those days, I wrote best on spliff.  The spliff undoes knots in the plot, speeds things up a bit.  Unblocks the stupid fucking brain.  There was usually a sag, a dip, a plunge, a decline in the mid-afternoon, which is organic and natural, so we’d go out shopping or something, or sit on the sun terrace in the treetops then I’d get back on it at 6pm through to sundown or later.  On a fucking roll.  Such a great feeling when the top of your head becomes a huge funnel into which the universe is pouring itself, everything now and ever is grist to your particular subjective all-encompassing mill.  I’ve felt it about a dozen times in my life so far, and it is thrilling, fulfilling and magical.  WRITING.  I don’t actually know why I’ve carried on acting when the writing is so Right, but perhaps it will become clear.   At some point we had dinner on Sunset Strip with Dick Clement and Ian LaFrenais the British writing team who created The Likely Lads and Porridge among other gems.  They were introduced to us by Neil Morrissey who was in LA with his new girlfriend Emma Killick, talking to Dick and Ian about writing a film called Baker Street.   Dick Clement in particular was charming and twinkly, and shared this nugget with me, and he was serious : “Never tell the producers how long it takes you to rewrite a scene“.  I agreed with him.  We remembered (although neither of us were there) the old writing rooms in the Hollywood Studios in the 1940s when the writers had to sit at their desks from 9-5 every day churning it out.  So I won’t tell you how long it took me to write Red Light Runners.  And I won’t tell you how much I got as an advance either.  But I delivered the screenplay later that spring.  And it was, within months, greenlit. We were up and running.

And although my special talent in life is to find the worst in any situation, to be in-un-endingly half-empty, to seek out the meaningless darkness behind a beautiful sunset, I will resist that instinct for once and allow that moment to be perfect.   I think Flowers In The Window is probably the happiest song I know.   It’s so hard to be happy isn’t it ?

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My Pop Life #90 : Didi – Cheb Khaled

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Didi   –   Khaled
…la zhar la memoon la aargoob zine

didi, didi, didi, didi, zin di wah….

I’m just fated to have bad luck,

take, take, take, take this beautiful girl away…

This song is such a dear favourite of the amazing woman that I married, as were the last two songs I posted (Silencio in My Pop Life #88 and Some Folks Lives Roll Easy in My Pop Life #89) that I am seriously considering calling this section My Pop Wife.   It’s dance music for the world, and was a huge hit across the Mediterranean and far beyond in 1992, the year of our marriage, and the ripple carried through to 1993, getting as far as India.  Didi was used in a Bollywood film, and performed by Khaled at the 2010 World Cup opening ceremony.  It is his best-known song and I have proof of its dance-floor credentials from personal experience.

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I first came across Cheb Khaled (as he was known in 1984) when I bought his LP Hada Raykoum – it was raw and thrilling, the sound of raï music from Algeria.  At that time I was living in Finsbury Park with my muslim Pakistani girlfriend Mumtaz.  We went to see Khaled at the Royal Festival Hall where he had the whole venue up and out of their seats – he and his band were electrifying.  Khaled was born in Oran in 1960 and became well-known as a teenager through his cassette tapes.  He is an amazing singer.  Raï music was frowned upon for many years in Algeria, being considered a bastardization of traditional islamic music.

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Cheikha Remitti (3rd left)

Raï started out as a cross between Sephardic Jewish, Spanish, French and Arabic music in Oran, a vulgar street music which rejected conservative islamic values and definitions of what could and couldn’t be heard.  The first and still most influential star of the genre was the legendary Cheikha Remitti who popularised the bawdy and earthy songs which had previously only been heard behind closed doors at weddings and other events.  The association of ‘fallen women’ with the music kept raï music unrespectable, and she was banned from TV and radio by the first independent Government of Algeria in 1962 (because she’d sung in French-controlled areas during the revolution), and yet the working-class poor adored her and Khaled no doubt would have heard her as he grew up.

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She died, still performing and recording at the age of 83, in 2006.

Pop raï was born in the 1960s when music and instruments from other cultures, (including Jamaica) started being adopted, and the moniker Cheb (chief) was used for the popular performers to distinguish them from the previous generation.  Cheb Mami for example also had a huge following in France among the Algerian diaspora.  Cheb Khaled though rose head and shoulders above the pack, and when World Music was promoted in the UK by the likes of Earthworks and Peter Gabriel’s WOMAD in the early 1980s, raï was among the new styles and sounds that we hungrily consumed.

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Hada Raykoum was my first raï purchase in 1984, a stunning slice of Maghreb soul with accordion and drums of various kinds (I don’t know what they are called I’m afraid, please feel free to add details below!) providing the backing for Cheb Khaled’s aching emotional voice.  He would drop the prefix “Cheb” later and by 1992 when his breakthrough LP “Khaled” was released, (produced by Don Was), he was called simply “Khaled”.   The new sound had bass guitar and synthesisers, but still retained the Algerian raï flavour.  It was a massive crossover hit.

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In 2001 the film I’d written “New Year’s Day” – the most scarring experience of my professional life (see My Pop Life #75) – had its UK Premiere in Brighton, my home town.   It was probably November.  In the Marina cinema.   Although I haven’t told you, dear reader, about exactly why it was the most scarring experience of my professional life, for now all you need to know is that Jenny and I nearly got divorced during the making of the film.   We both fell out badly, and finally, with the director of the film, (why should I name him?) who nevertheless turned up all smiles to the Premiere.    Before we went in the local paper was taking pictures of the famous people (jeez) who’d swung by : Richard E. Grant and Kevin Rowland, Mark Williams and maybe me.   Then I saw Bobby Zamora at the sweets counter and went a little mental.   “Bobby” I said, “Hi !” ( I should add that we knew each other a bit thanks to the small world of Brighton and Hove Albion – the football team I supported and which he played for in 2001.  Played for?  He was our star centre-forward ! )   I burbled at him unnecessarily about my premiere, and he smiled and offered congratulations.  “Why don’t you come in and see the film?”  I asked like a burbling twerp.  “No thanks” he said.  “I’m going to see blahblahblah”.  My crest probably fell, but not for long.   Oh well.   Back in Screen 1, the premiere was chock full of friends old and new, including people who were, in disguise, portrayed in the film.   I made a little speech which was emotional (the film is very much a testimony of sorts) and thanked Danny Perkins and Will Clarke from Optimum who were distributing the movie, and then we watched it.   It was good.   Mainly.   Afterwards we crammed into taxis and perhaps a double decker bus which took us down to the PARTY which was in the Zap Club.  As it was still called in those days.

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And we had already decided who was DJ-ing, and prime position was taken by my pop wife, Jenny Jules.  And yes it was November because not two months earlier the Twin Towers had been destroyed in New York by two piloted planes (apparently), not to mention the Pentagon, and we all knew the world would change forever and yes – the anti-islamic feeling which we all take for granted now in 2015 was just starting to surface.  We knew it would.  And Jenny played this song Didi by Khaled at the height of the party.  And we danced to those muslim rhythms and those arabic words.  And shortly afterwards, one of our friends Naima, a Moroccan lady with two beautiful daughters and an English husband Steve who had converted to Islam to marry her, went up to Jenny and hugged her tight.  “Thank you for playing that” she said, “you don’t know what the last two months have been like”.

My Pop Life #76 : St Matthew Passion – Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott – J.S. Bach

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Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen   (St Matthew Passion)   –   J.S. Bach

Erbarme Dich, Mein Gott  (St Matthew Passion)   –   J.S. Bach

Erbarme dich, mein Gott,
Um meiner Zähren Willen!
Schaue hier, Herz und Auge
Weint vor dir bitterlich.
Erbarme dich, erbarme dich!

Have mercy, my God,
for the sake of my tears!
Look here, heart and eyes
weep bitterly before You.
Have mercy, have mercy!

I cannot remember where and when I first heard this piece of music.   Or why.   It wasn’t the first piece of Bach I bought – that was the Brandenburg Concertos, which I saw live in The Hollywood Bowl when I was 19 years old (along with Vivaldi’s Four Seasons – clearly it was pop classic night).    Then I think the Orchestral Suites were next (include Air On A G String) which a gang of us went to see in Brighton Festival around 1999, sat in the front row of the balcony of St George’s Church, the first few notes of that famous section float up to us from the ensemble at which point Luke Cresswell turns to us and whispers “Tune!”.    But anyway, at some point in my late 20s/early 30s I bought John Eliot Gardiner‘s version of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on CD.   It is my favourite piece of classical music, along with Chopin’s Ballade #1 and Debussy’s Prelude A L’Aprés-Midi d’un Faun.

Bach is the daddy of classical music – his output, between 1708 and 1750 is immense, including organ works (Toccata & Fugue), violin concertos, over 200 sacred cantatas, 2 passions, a Great Mass, the Goldberg Variations, Brandenburg Concertos, Cello Suites,  and Orchestral suites among many other pieces.  He is considered to be a baroque composer.  Everything I’ve heard (about 10% of his output at a guess) is extraordinarily beautiful, rich and contains great depth of feeling.  It is not complex music (to my ears) but it is endlessly rewarding.  Don’t worry I’m not going to post the entire two and a half hours of the Passion here – but you should hear it once before you die.  You’ll hear it plenty of times after you die I’m quite certain of that, but the experience of listening to it whilst alive is quite excellent, and highly recommended.   But I will post the opening Kommt Ihr Tochter which is going to blow your head off, and also Erbarme Dich… which is transcendent.

Being a Passion, this means the libretto, or oratorio is taken from the New Testament of the Bible.  I’ve never actually followed the story, and I’ve heard the music many many times, I always get lost in the music and forget completely about the story it is telling – the life and particularly I suspect, the death of Christ.   It really sounds like church music though, perhaps one of the reasons I like it – the hymnal qualities, the shapes of the chords.  The layered choral effect of the opening Kommt Ihr Tochter Helft Mir Klagencome you daughters, help me lament – played by two orchestras and three choirs is probably the most fantastic and exciting piece of music ever written.  Thus it starts at the end of the story with the daughters of Zion weeping over the dead body of the lamb, our saviour.

I always heard this piece of music in my head when I was writing New Year’s Day (NYD).   Not for any intellectual reason, but because it has an immense feeling of something about to happen, something huge and undefinable.  In NYD, our two boys have survived a terrible tragedy at the beginning of the film, Christmas comes and goes with funerals, memorial services, counselling and piles of wreaths outside the school gates.  When the final death happens on New Year’s Eve, the two boys arrange to meet on the clifftop the following day.  In the first draft of the film (set in Lewes, East Sussex) they cycled from Lewes to Eastbourne, (Beachy Head more specifically a 600 foot cliff) – perhaps we’d have used Seaford Head and the Seven Sisters – but a decent 15-20 miles cycle ride by two teenage boys with this massive dramatic music of Bach supporting them.  It is a matter of life and death for them.

The second piece – Erbarme Dich Mein Gotthave pity on me my god – is just pure emotion.  Sung by a counter-tenor usually – a man with a high voice – this short piece of music really transcends intellect and debate, description and enthusiasm.  I would like it to be played at my funeral as the most beautiful piece of music I had the pleasure to hear in  my life.  It makes me weep every time I hear it, unless I’m washing up at the time.   Joke.    Now, I’m not religious as you know (see My Pop Life 24 : Faure’s Requiem) but I like to play classical music on a Sunday morning, whether it be religious or not, an LP of Chopin’s Etudes, a Mozart or Brahms symphony, Erik Satie, or some Bach.  Whatever my newest discovery is – currently Corelli a contemporary of Johan Sebastian.   It makes the day seem without stress.   Often on Sunday mornings I’m off to work – the film industry isn’t christian – but one always notices.  Sundays – or Saturdays – or Fridays – doesn’t really matter – but one day should be for resting.   St Matthew Passion is played more than any other piece of music in our house on a Sunday.

I’ve never seen SMP live.  I will though.  One day.   In the meantime, I have these….

John Eliot Gardiner conducts The Monteverdi Choir, The London Oratory Junior Choir, and The English Baroque Soloists :  

Kommt, Ihr Töchter, Helft Mir Klagen

Erbarme Dich sung by Michael Chance, John Eliot Gardiner conducting :

Erbarme Dich with Karl Richter conducting, Julia Hamari singing:

My Pop Life #75 : Still Life – Suede

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Still Life   –   Suede

…this still life is all I ever do

there by the window, quietly killed for you

this glass house, my insect life

crawling the walls under electric light

I’ll go into the night, into the night…

In 1994 Jenny and I were living in West Hollywood, just south of Beverley Boulevard, along from the Beverly Center.  We’d eat breakfast in Jans.  Lie around in the sunny cactus-filled backyard, studying script pages for endless auditions.   Learning lines.  All the American actors were off the page.  5% extra to push you over the line.   But.  Didn’t go over the line.   Stayed unemployed all year.  Analysed and over-analysed why work wasn’t landing.  And, eventually, wrote a raging angry nihilistic screenplay.

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The 2nd Suede LP was called Dog Man Star.   We listened to it’s gloomy sexual gothic splendour endlessly that year and the next.  The guitar by Bernard Butler was exquisite, the songs were inspired by all elements of Bowie and others : Bush, Floyd, Scott Walker, and actually delivered, the voice of Brett Anderson really carries the whole album as a glorious doomed romantic slice of dark glamour, finer than anything by Oasis, the Manic Street Preachers or Blur from the same period.

Featured imageSuede’s debut LP from 1993 was very good indeed, again evoking the spirit of Bowie, in particular the decadent drug-wasted sexual nihilism of Diamond Dogs.  There were a handful of huge expressive singles : Animal Nitrate, The Drowners, Metal Mickey.  But for Jenny and I, receiving cultural information from London, carefully labelled ‘The London Suede’ in case there was any confusion (actually a lawsuit), the 2nd LP was even better.  By then Bernard Butler had left the band but his music and guitar playing remained.  Standouts were the superb single The Wild Ones and central towering track The Asphalt World – nine and a half proggy minutes long, full of drama and atmosphere, beautifully produced (by Ed Buller, after much tension with Butler) – and the final track Still Life just blew us away with its orchestrated splendour.  But more than any of this, Still Life became the unofficial soundtrack to my screenplay for “New Year’s Day“.

New Year’s Day is loosely based on a conversation I had with Simon Korner in New Mexico in 1976 while we were hitch-hiking across North America.  We speculated on defying fate and history and writing the future – writing down a ten-year plan for us both with a detailed itinerary of what each year would hold – where we would go, which languages we would learn,Featured imagewhich instruments would be played, which books read.   We felt that there may have to be some kind of impartial judges, for it would become a competition quite quickly – who’d done it, who hadn’t.   I added a suicide pact to this cocktail, one last year to complete the list of tasks before jumping off the cliff on New Year’s Day.   The dynamic of the two lead boys was taken from my personal life, one boy from a single-parent family with missing father and younger needy siblings, mentally fragile mother;   one boy from a middle class 2-parent family which was more distant.   So the second boy was really out of my imagination and didn’t originate either with Simon or Conrad Ryle in reality.   The character of Stephen in the screenplay, and as played brilliantly by Bobby Barry in the film is insouciant, nihilistic and isolated, intelligent, lonely and destructive.  He is trapped in a kind of still life after the film’s opening ten minutes, and this song for me painted his interior monologue, and the deathly stillness at the heart of the story perfectly.   If you make a suicide pact with your best friend, the film explores what it is that keeps you going, what it is that makes you stop.  It’s a kind of frozen moment in time – a still life.

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Of course that meant that it would never be on the film’s eventual soundtrack, along with my other signature tunes – the opening of The St Matthew Passion by Bach, Erbarme Dich from the same piece, Focus ll, Roxy Music.   But the disappointments of NYD are for another day.   For today I salute the dark bitter heart of the screenplay and its furious teenage manifesto, its refusal to grow up and be sensible, its rage at the joke of death, and life.   I’ve read since that the song is a bored housewife scenario, while the video (below) has an old man contemplating mortality but it’s my song and I can make it whatever I want.  It’s Bobby Barry in New Year’s Day with his pet insect vivarium, plotting silently and sadly.   Andrew Lee-Potts who played Jake (ie me) would have a different song.

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We eventually saw Suede at The Royal Albert Hall, probably in 1995.    They were brilliant.

 

And in an acoustic set in 2013, the song stands up as a complete classic 

My Pop Life #66 : Untold Stories – Buju Banton

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Untold Stories   –   Buju Banton

I’m living while I’m living to the father I will pray
Only him know how we get tru’ every day
 all the hike in the price, arm and leg we have to pay
While our leaders play…

…all I see people a rip and a rob and a rival tief never love fe see tief wid long bag… no love for the people who are sufferin’ bad, another toll for the poll may god help we soul…

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1995.   Q : What do actors do when the work dries up?

a)  Go mad

b) Start a business, and go mad

c) go to the gym, read and go mad

d) go to Los Angeles, and go mad

e) take drugs, drink, and go mad

f) go on a bike ride, do voluntary work, and go mad

g) write a film, and go mad

I’ve tried all of the above – except b) naturally.  Start a business ?  I think not.  But I’ve started a couple of Production Companies – 1507 Productions with Beverley Randall (fond memories) and Apricot Films with Gwen Wynne and others (actually still exists).   I suppose they are businesses.  In 1995 I had been unemployed for a year in Hollywood.  I’d done one job for the BBC in Italy – nice, Florence, Napoli – another story – but zilch in LaLa.  Grrrrrr.

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I’ve documented some of this chapter of my life in My Pop Life #15, the hustle for work, the desert drive, the agent meeting,  the return to England.   What I didn’t mention was my last stretch in LA, knowing I was coming back to England, finishing up, finishing the lease, finishing my first screenplay.   We’d been on King’s Road in West Hollywood for two years, lovely apartment with a piano and back yard, walking distance from the Beverley Centre, just across from the King’s Road Cafe, even though we preferred to patronise Jans on Beverley (where the LAPD eat) because of the Monte Cristo sandwich and unselfconscious clientele.   LA man, I dunno, it’s a trip you know ?

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And I had an idea for a film.  A good film.   I knew what the story was, I’d talked about it with a couple of people, including the screwface who eventually directed it Suri Krishnamma.  Looking back it’s amazing how little confidence I had in myself.  My front page is full confidence, but behind that is a person who needs constant encouragement, and when that isn’t forthcoming doesn’t have the sheer chutzpah to smash through the indifference and just DO IT.   Although I have done that a couple of times, it’ just not my personality really.  Funny old game innit.   Anyway.

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I organised my CDs in alphabetical order and played them one at a time starting with A.  I like to write to music.  Doesn’t really matter what it is.  I didn’t want to choose a CD every time one finished, so I just took the next one.  I sat in the bedroom at a small table with my Apple, opened Final Draft and started to write my screenplay.    I vomited it up like an ayahuasca purge.   Based loosely on my adolescence at Lewes Priory School, the story is about two 16-year-old boys who make a suicide pact at the top of a steep chalk cliff overlooking the sea, then give themselves one last year of life before they die together.   It took me two weeks to write, and the first draft that resulted could have been made into a very good film.   Of course though, there were re-writes, seventeen in all.   It eventually got made in 1999, but that’s a long and tremendously irritating story.    I will tell it.    The film is called New Years Day.   It always was, even at first draft stage.  An annoying title, because when you google it, all kinds of shit comes up.   Word to the wise – choose a standout title, something eye-catching like My Beautiful Laundrette.   Sgt Pepper.   Songs For The Deaf.   Everyone remembers those.   “New Years Day”.    Cah.   What was it called again ?  Anyway, done, dusted.  It’s out there on DVD now, I haven’t spoiled it by unravelling the plot.    I am, despite the teeth-grinding betrayals and back-stabbing, proud of the finished product.

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Untold Stories was on Buju Banton‘s fourth LP ‘Til Shiloh which was his 1st since becoming a Rastafari faith member, and the change in style and lyrics was immediate – gone (almost) were the lyrics about women and batty men, violence and so on, in were more thoughtful pieces like Untold Stories, Not An Easy Road and “Til I’m Laid To Rest.   We all deserve a second chance, right?  Untold Stories itself has a marvellous feel to it, spiritual, neo-realist, earthy and full of wisdom.   It is one of my favourite pieces of music from Jamaica and speaks to the struggle we all go through, whoever we are. It’s not an easy road.   Who feels it knows.   I had an untold story.   I told it.   I’m still telling it.

 “…I could go on and on, the full has never been told…”

My Pop Life #55 : Help! – The Beatles

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Help !   –   The Beatles

…when I was young, oh so much younger than today,

I never needed anybody’s help in any way 

but now these days are gone I’m not so self-assured

now I find I’ve changed my mind I’ve opened up the doors

1965, Selmeston, East Sussex.  Andrew is one year old and things are not going well with Mum.  Later she would blame the amount of air and gas she was given by the midwife during the birth, but who knows why she felt she could no longer cope with life in a small village with three young boys?  The world collapsed when she was admitted to Hellingly Hospital as a patient, suffering from a mental breakdown.  I didn’t know what was going on, so what chance did Paul and Andrew, my younger brothers have?  Nan travelled up from Portsmouth to help my dad, who still had to go to work every day, teaching kids English in Falmer School near Brighton.  Nan was my mum’s mum and kindly, with a tough edge.  Her favourite swear word was “sod”.  As in “ooh, he’s a sod”.   I can’t remember who the sod was, but there were a few around. mainly on telly I think.  I cannot remember the date when mum was admitted, but it was during school term, possibly May or June.

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Pretty sure that’s our house at the far end, slightly higher and off the road

The following day and for about a week, I went to school – a fifteen minute walk up the village – in my grandad’s black hat, which kind of fitted me.  I was 8 years old.  Miss Lamb, the venerable headmistress didn’t say anything until the end of the week, when she had a quiet word in my ear and asked me not to wear it the following week.

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Me aged about 8

We visited Mum in Hellingly a few times, stressful, strained occasions where the effects of whatever medication they were administering were obvious – she was tired and lethargic, but happy to see us.  Some of these memories survived in my first screenplay, for the film “New Year’s Day” (2001) which is very loosely based on my youth.

We didn’t know how long she’d be in there, but she was given ECT at least twice – Electro-Convulsive Therapy where they strap you to a couch put something on your tongue and shoot electricity through your brain giving you an induced fit.  I’ve seen a documentary on the procedure since with Jonathan Miller talking about how little they know about why it works – when it does.

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This looks like Miss Lamb’s house next to the village school

From that moment on, my mum would be the subject of various new treatments and theories which abounded in the 1960s regarding how to treat depression, usually some new drug which would be tested in the field on her and all the other women and men going through the same thing.  Her doctor at Hellingly was Dr Maggs.  He diagnosed manic depression, probably gave her Largactyl, a massive downer.  I got to know all of these drugs years later, both from our kitchen cupboard and later when I worked as a nursing assistant at Laughton Lodge.  For now, I was an eight-year-old boy wearing my grandad’s hat to school, to cover my dark abandoned scared feelings.

My mum was in Hellingly for 9 months.  A gestation of a new life for me, for all of us, without her.  Things would never be the same after that.

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Help is a John Lennon song through and through, one of his best.  So dramatic and hooked with feeling.  Later he would describe it as a release from being bottled up in the Beatles glass enclosure for years, the pressure of success, being holed up in hotel rooms under siege from press and fans, of having to explain every detail of every element of your life, your songs, your clothes, your haircuts.  They dealt with all of it really well, I almost remember the press conferences from that era better than the songs:  the jokes, the verbal sparring, the deflection of any difficulty or awkwardness with scouse wit and quick-thinking and solidarity.  But by 1965 the strain was beginning to show, the answers less smart-arse, more weary :

Help is a glimpse of the world beneath those likely lad grins and chuckles, the cry of a young man floating in space without anchor or centre of gravity, who was supposed to be happy because it was all going so well.  A breakout from the shell of protection, the rictus grin of appearances, the secret heart exposed : camouflaged as a great pop song.

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For me 1965/66 was the year when I created that shelter, day by day stitched together a carapace around my heart which would protect me from further pain, started to create a protective layer of survival.  I felt capable of doing that.  After removing the hat I had to walk up that little road exposed to the sky, and I learned to enclose my feelings, my pain and distress, with a character who got on with it, who coped, who survived.  Who looked after his younger brother Paul.   This new coping, private character took over my entire being over the following 15 years as things progressed, deteriorated, wobbled and left me exposed with unsteady regularity.  I would look after my brothers, and the house once Mum and Dad were divorced, but that was a year away, after Mum came home.  The story of her coming home is frightening, but I’ll save it for another song.

My real and true feelings escaped just as I went to sleep at night upstairs with Paul in the room alongside me in his own bed.  Large inchoate shapes would start to appear in the corners of the room, like Play Doh blobs of grey, heavy bulging clouds of unnerving malevolent solidity which moved closer around my eyes until they were all I could see.  I don’t remember telling anyone about that.

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I love Ringo’s drum roll before the first verse, I love Paul and George’s backing vocals especially the harmonies over help me get my feet back on the ground, but mostly I love John Lennon’s voice : grainy, gritty yet melodic and true.  The last harmony on the vocals at the end of the song is unfeasibly sweet.   They were at the height of their power, where they would stay for another 4 years.  I was at the depths of my weakness, and forever afterward lived in fear of repeating it.  I built my heart’s castle wall from the mud of Selmeston village.  I wouldn’t start to unravel it until I was in my mid-fifties.

And now my life has changed in oh so many ways
My independence seems to vanish in the haze
But every now and then I feel so insecure
I know that I just need you like I’ve never done before

live, August 1965: