Tales from the Front Row: Sir Alan Parker on his career in film

 

alan_parker_bw__fullTales from Down the Front goes Down to the Front Row for a third time to talk to yet another Hollywood legend. This time, Oscar-winning director and Knight of the Realm Sir Alan Parker

SIR ALAN PARKER began his career in the advertising world of the 1960s, working first as a copywriter and then as a director of commercials. He progressed to feature films from the mid-1970s, directing movies such as “Bugsy Malone”, “Midnight Express”, “Fame” and “The Commitments”. But in 2003, he said “Cut!” for the last time. Speaking to Nick Amies at the Brussels International Film Festival, where he appeared as a special guest, Sir Alan looked back at his time in the director’s chair.

You made your last film, “The Life of David Gale”, 11 years ago. Why did you decide to stop after that?

I discovered that I enjoyed not making films. It started as a break and then I discovered I liked my life as it was. I’ve been making movies since I was 24 and I’m now 70. Some directors will keep going and probably die on set, but I won’t be one of those. Making films is an extremely demanding process; as a director you work 14- or 15-hour days, six days a week for about three months and then another two years finishing the film and promoting it. You need the same enthusiasm and energy from start to finish. It’s a young person’s game, in my opinion. I’d much rather go to the pub these days.

Have you not been tempted to make another film in that time?

I had maybe five projects in mind in the early years after “David Gale”, but as time went by I decided that my life was better without making films. I’ve been pretty lucky though. All the projects I developed have been made into films. I’m not one of these people to have scripts knocking about in a drawer. Some ideas never came to fruition, but those which became solid projects got made.

There was talk of you filming a remake of the Marlene Dietrich movie “The Blue Angel” in the 1980s, with Madonna in the lead role. What happened to that?

Diane Keaton was keen to produce the movie, I was enthusiastic about making it and we had Madonna and De Niro pegged for the lead roles, but it just never came to anything. Everyone just lost interest in it.

You worked with Madonna on “Evita” a few years after that. What was that like?

When you make musical films you either have to work with actors who can sing or singers who can act. Somewhere along the way, you have to compromise, let’s put it like that. Madonna sent me a six-page letter detailing why she thought she would be perfect for the role, which must have worked because I eventually cast her. We had originally wanted Michelle Pfeiffer, but she had two young kids and wouldn’t leave Los Angeles.

Music is central to a number of your films. How would you describe your relationship with music, with regard to your film-making?

Music and images have such a strong connection and music can create such dramatic energy in a film. It is always my taste of music which makes it into the film and I have a wide appreciation of music, as you can see in the contrasts between something like “Evita” and “Pink Floyd The Wall”. There are only a few times where others have influenced my choice of music. Nic Cage was driving me mad on the set of “Birdy” by constantly singing “La Bamba”, so when it came to a scene where we needed him to sing I told him to just go with that stupid song he’d been driving me round the bend with.

“Birdy” is one of a number of your films whose ending is opening to interpretation. Is this a conscious use of the device on your part?

I think it’s always good to make your audience work a little. If people leave the cinema debating the ending of the film, then my goal to provoke is achieved—as long as they’re satisfied with the journey they took to get to the end. In the United States, the rule is to never let the audience leave unsatisfied, whereas in European cinema, they just don’t care. If it makes you think, then that’s good. I like open endings because they make film mysterious. And anyway, most directors don’t actually know how to end a film.

Alan-Parker-Nicolas-Cage-Mathhew-Modine-Birdy

You’re appearing at this year’s Brussels International Film Festival. What’s your opinion of the contemporary film scene in Europe?

It’s becoming harder to see good and interesting European films, especially in London where I live, as the United Kingdom is so dominated by films from the United States. I have a nine-year-old son so I have to sit through a lot of big Hollywood special-effects blockbusters and, to be honest, I sleep through most of them. That’s not to say that there are no intelligent films coming out of the States or Europe, it’s just that special and original films are rare. Films are more about recouping costs and generating revenue these days than pushing artistic boundaries.

Would you say that financial constraints are hindering creativity in the film industry?

There’s never enough money. I’ve been asked this same question about funding for the last 25 years and the answer, sadly, remains the same: without cash, European cinema will die. My belief is that we need to foster new talent to keep film alive and to create new and exciting projects which will bring people into cinemas to watch them. Who wants to see the same old director making the same type of film over and over again? But for this, you need money and it’s very hard—especially in today’s climate—to ask for such large sums when you have priorities such as health, social care and education.

This Q&A originally appeared in The Economist

See other Tales from the Front Row | Film:

Fear & Loathing in Hollywood – Terry Gilliam

“Monsters Don’t Scare Me” – John Landis

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KASABIAN: Men of Simple Pleasures

 

Tom Meighan sits quietly at his backstage dressing table and thoughtfully thumbs the pages of a battered copy of Crazy Diamond, a book detailing the rise and psychedelic fall of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barrett. His current demeanor is in stark contrast to the last time we met and one wonders if the paperback on the counter is more than just a bit of light reading. The Kasabian front man looks into the tired sunken eyes staring out from the book’s cover, perhaps searching for questions as to how to avoid a similar fate. But this isn’t a man on the verge of burnout or breakdown. This may be a more reserved Tom Meighan but this isn’t the vacant contemplation of a man lost to himself and the world. It is the calm of one who now knows exactly who he is, what he’s doing and where he wants to be. “Syd was a genius,” he says solemnly, putting the book down. “A sad, mad, beautiful genius. It blows my mind when I think about what he could have achieved.”

Almost three years ago to the day, in this very same Brussels dressing room, Kasabian’s hyper-active singer was a bundle of unrestrained energy; an incandescent firefly of a man burning with belief, flitting around the room as if in pursuit of the thoughts and concepts which escaped unhindered from his churning brain and uncensored from his mouth. Meighan’s band were in the middle of an exhaustive world tour in support of their third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, Kasabian’s most critically acclaimed and successful record to date, and a raging, rollicking mish-mash of styles and experiments which had incredulously transformed them from contenders to undisputed heavyweight champions. After a decade of picking off their rivals with increasingly brave interpretations of the stadium rock blueprint, they finally ascended to the throne in 2009 to be crowned Britain’s premier rock act on the back of an ambitious and often gloriously deranged concept album. It unsurprisingly had a strange effect on all those involved…

Before West Ryder we took a year off and I basically went through my Jim Morrison phase; drinking, getting fat, growing my hair long,” the cherubic 32-year-old Meighan says. “After (sophomore album) Empire and that tour, we had to reflect because that was already a fucking mind-bending experience in terms of how people had started to see us and talk about us. So all that stewing in our own creative juices went into creating the panoramas of West Ryder and we came out with a weird banquet of a record. We had no idea then that it would just make things go even fucking nuttier.”

Hardly a band known for lacking confidence or self-belief, the success of West Ryder, with the truckload of awards bestowed on the game-changing album and the subsequent hysteria which began to follow Kasabian wherever they went, stunned the Leicester quartet. The whirlwind of praise and the rapid elevation of their standing conspired to distort reality to such an extent that Meighan, guitarist and songwriter Serge Pizzorno, bassist Chris Edwards and drummer Ian Matthews agreed to pull back from the maelstrom at the first opportunity. With touring duties completed at the end of the summer festival season in 2010, the band retreated from the attention to concentrate on their private lives and families. Amidst the diaper changing and bottle feeding, however, Pizzorno was already fathering a new offspring, one which would come into the world under the name Velociraptor!

Kasabian’s fourth album, when it was delivered kicking and screaming in September 2011, had a lot to live up to in the shadow of its nearest sibling.

We needed the break between West Ryder and Velociraptor! to get our heads straight and get back to being husbands, partners and sons,” says Meighan. “When we came off the road I cut my hair off and shed the weight. When it came to recording again, we just got stuck in and I think you can tell with some of the songs on Velociraptor! that they have more of an urgency to them. Once we’d taken stock, we wanted to get back out there so we didn’t really take a lot of notice about what was going on in music and in the outside world. We cracked on and did our thing.”

If a week is a long time in politics, then two years waiting for a new rock album is an eternity. Tastes change, fads pass and the music industry rolls on without stopping to wait for stragglers. Well aware of the vagaries of fashion, Kasabian knew Velociraptor! couldn’t retread already covered ground if the band were to stay relevant.

Velociraptor! is a completely different record to West Ryder and it had to be,” Meighan says. “It’s a lot less underground than we’ve been in the past but saying that, there’s a lot of stuff on there which for us is quite a departure so it’s by no means a safe record. There’s weird jungle drums and chanting on Day Are Forgotten.Goodbye Kiss is like Roy Orbison working with Phil Spector. Le Fee Verte is a beautiful Syd Barret-era Floyd tune…I think it’s been a hard record for some people to get their heads around because it’s so diverse and if they were expecting us to stick to the West Ryder formula then it must have come as a pretty big fucking shock to some.”

While most of the reviews for Velociraptor! understood that it was a progression for the band and not only praised the music but also the courage showed in returning with such a different record to West Ryder, some critics were underwhelmed. Some bemoaned the lightness of the album and questioned the band’s decision to add a poppier, more commercial edge to the songs. “Velociraptor! was reviewed by some people in comparison to West Ryder but you can’t compare them,” Meighan says. “The only thing they really have in common is that it’s Kasabian.”

Criticism seems to have little effect on Kasabian’s belief in themselves or their music – especially as the success of Velociraptor! made it two UK number one albums in a row, a sign that the record had not only been taken to the hearts of the band’s fan base but had also won over many new followers.

There’s always pressure,” says Meighan. “You always want to put out your best work but saying that, if Velociraptor! had flopped we would have just said, so what – let’s make another one.

“People seem to be too self conscious these days about what other people think about them. We would have been disappointed if the record had failed but we wouldn’t have freaked out about it. We’re a rock band and we’re in it for the long haul. We haven’t made our best record yet. If you look at Led Zeppelin and The Who, bands like that, they were building up a legacy. I’m not down with this indie attitude of immediate success, that’s teenage thinking. When you get a bit older you see a bigger picture and realize that you’ll get judged at the end by the quality of your entire output which is why we’ll keep on making the best records we can. As a rock’n’roll band we’ll stand the test of time.”

The last three years have seen many changes in the Kasabian camp. In addition to seeing their dream of being the biggest band in Britain come true, they have learned the lessons which come with achieving that dream. While still explosive on stage, these lessons, along with the changes in their personal lives, have inspired a new maturity; one, which in the long-term, may see them claim their place in Britain’s musical heritage and add to the legacy of bands they revere such as The Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Oasis.

There’s the rock’n’roll cliché of the women, the drink, the drugs… We’ve done that, we’ve lived that,” Meighan says. “We started in our early 20s and we’ve been going for nearly thirteen years now.

There comes a time when that lifestyle naturally tends to tail off as things change. You can carry on with that image and live that life if you want but at some point you’ve got to get up and go to work. We’ve got a good rock’n’roll image, I’d say. We’ve partied and we’ve had a good time. We still have an edge, a certain sense of danger about us, but we’ve never been dicks about it. We’re not Guns ‘n’ Roses any more or fucking Nikki Sixx but that rebellious image we got when we were younger will stick with us, I think, without us having to be falling out of Stringfellows with a couple of strippers when we’re 60.”

The work ethic which has seen Kasabian go from strength-to-strength creatively and commercially has seen them release their first live album and DVD in June and is likely to yield another studio offering sometime in 2013. What it will sound like, however, is anyone’s guess…

I could just say to Serge, fuck it, let’s just make an electric blues album with every track a minute long,” Meighan grins. “Just go against the whole fucking establishment. We wouldn’t do it to piss people off or because it’s a gimmick. We want to evolve. We need to evolve. We know that the next record will be completely different from this one and so on. I mean, who wants to buy the same record from the same band year after year? Apart from the fact that I think that’s a bit like taking the piss out of the fans, we’d also get really fucking bored with that. We love loads of very different styles of music. Serge is badly into the Beastie Boys so our next record may sound like that, who knows? The only thing we can guarantee is that it’ll have Kasabian stamped on it.”

Nick Amies

First published on PULUCHE (www.puluche.com)

Related material: Kasabian – The Last Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Band

Fear & Loathing in Hollywood

Tales from Down the Front goes Down to the Front Row for a second time to talk to another Hollywood legend. This time, maverick director and ex-Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam…

Terry Gilliam last released a full length feature film in 2009. The ex-Monty Python animator has spent the three years since The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus struggling to get a long list of follow-up projects off the ground. When he staged a well-received production of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust at the English National Opera last May, many thought Gilliam’s days as a film director were over.

However, rather than abandoning cinema, Gilliam has kept in the game by making short films, the latest of which, The Wholly Family, opened the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival in April. Nick Amies met him there to discuss the current state of his career, the film industry and the world in general.

You’ve been living in London now for 45 years. Do you consider yourself to be more European than American these days?

I’ve lived the majority of my life in London so I guess I do feel more European than American. But then London doesn’t want to be European, does it? London lives in its own dream. In actual terms, I am closer to being European as I renounced my American citizenship about six years ago when George W. Bush got re-elected. I just thought, this idiot has been voted back in by more American idiots so it’s time to leave. I’m still in the probation period so I won’t truly be free of the US for another four years. At the moment I can only spend 30 days a year there, less than if I had a British tourist visa. My kids can spend more time there than I can.

How does this interfere with your film-making?

America isn’t the only place where you can make movies but the citizenship situation has certainly added another layer to my problematic film-making relationship with the US. The irony is that two weeks after I renounced my citizenship I was offered a film in California. I couldn’t take it. I can still make films in Canada, which looks like America, so I’ve made a couple of films there (Tideland in 2005 and The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus in 2009), and there’s Mexico on the other side if I need that kind of environment.

When you originally left the United States in the 1960s after becoming disillusioned with the government’s response to the social unrest there, you began channelling your anti-establishment politics into your art. Where do you see parallels between the response of artists then and the response to the current global instability?

To be honest, I don’t see anyone dealing with the state of the world, asking questions or making challenging statements in their art. I don’t think there’s any kind of artistic response to this current situation. People are just looking for jobs and looking to get paid.

What’s your own personal opinion on the current state of the world?

The situation today is depressing because we kinda predicted it in Brazil back in 1985. A couple of years ago I was considering suing George Bush and Dick Cheney for the illegal and unauthorized remake. They infringed on my copyright! What else is the Department of Homeland Security than the Ministry of Information made flesh? In fact, Homeland Security is even worse. It’s terrible and what’s worse is that people accept it. It’s incredible how easily intelligent people have been convinced by this idea that we’re under threat from terrorists. There was a lot more terrorism going on 30 years ago; there was the IRA bombing London, Baader Meinhof was terrorizing Germany, the Red Brigade in Italy… Scary stuff was happening. Today’s situation is based on fear and the best way to control people is to keep them scared.

How is Hollywood reacting to this situation?

Hollywood has been afraid to take risks for a long time now. All the studios want is a safe pair of hands who can deliver the package. That’s been my experience of Hollywood ever since I’ve been involved in it. They don’t want to take chances so they continue to hitch their wagons to the same old tried and tested formulas. That’s why the studios are so obsessed with franchises and comic book heroes. I’m concerned about where this is taking us. I love super heroes but not to the extent that they should be dominating not only cinema but consciousness.

To what extent do audiences have a responsibility to challenge the film industry and say enough is enough?

I’ve been moaning about the dumbing down of audiences for years now because the longer you keep churning out this production line crap, the more audiences are going to like it – and need it. There’s an element of security that re-makes and re-hashes provide which supplies audiences with a kind of visual soma. We’re at the stage where audiences just want to know that everything will be the same and I feel a real sense of desperation about that. Maybe it’s because the world has become so diffused and unclear that people just want to go back to what they know over and over again. Maybe that’s one of the clearest reflections on the state of the world right now. Maybe that’s what people need to do rather than exploring new things all the time, to reassure themselves that Spider-Man can still do the things he’s always done.

Given the critical and commercial success you’ve enjoyed in your career, are people still put off by your reputation as being something of a maverick director?

Even now, I’m still seen as a rebel in Hollywood. They see me as someone who won’t be controlled as easily as a young guy straight out of making commercials. They don’t want some 71-year-old hippie who still hasn’t learned to play the game after all these years, coming in and having his own ideas. And that goes against me sometimes. Take the first Harry Potter film, for example. I was the perfect guy for that movie. They all knew it. JK Rowling wanted me to do it, David Heyman the producer wanted me to do it. So I went into the meeting feeling really positive and one half of the people there wanted me and the other half I won over. But one guy from Warner’s over-ruled everyone and Chris Columbus got the gig. I was furious at the time but in hindsight, the level of studio interference on a project that size would have driven me insane.

You’re famous for having numerous projects in various stages of development at any one time. What’s the state of play with the current batch?

I still have the Terry Pratchett-Neil Gaimon project Good Omens sitting there, I have the Defective Detective screenplay in the catacombs of some studio gathering dust… These need digging out and brushing up but people in Hollywood don’t like hard work and resurrecting projects is hard work. They only want whatever is hot at the moment. They live on today’s heat. The truth is I spend most of my life depressed; I get depressed about trying to get the money I need to do what I want to do. It’s a very frustrating experience trying to find the money to do what you love. People think that there’s a sell-by-date on my projects and that makes it hard to find investment. There’s no sell-by-date on anything.

You recently said that you were worried that you may never get the chance to make another full-length feature. How much does that have to do with the struggle for financing?

Well, I need about $20 million to make my kind of films. If I could do it on $10 million, I’d be making a movie every week. So the money’s a factor, for sure. But the Hollywood structure is another. There is someone who has the capacity to make big budget films outside the main framework who could help. I just need to get off my ass and get back over to Hollywood – which I dread. It’s getting back into a world that I despise.

So if you get the financial backing you need, will we finally get to see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote?

I can’t tell you what’s happening with Quixote. Not because it’s a great secret…I just don’t know! I wish I did.

This interview first appeared in edited form in the May 17 edition of the Economist’s Prospero culture blog.

Photographs ©benitalipps

Wizards from Oz: Tame Impala. Witloof Bar, Le Botanique, Brussels 03/11/2010

Kevin Parker reclines in a wicker throne under billowing satin drapes and unhurriedly sips his tequila sunrise as Brussels life bustles by outside. Through the adjacent window, Tame Impala’s lead man surveys the scurrying bodies which dash past his sanctuary in the Asian-themed section of the Hotel Bloom’s bar and runs a lethargic hand through his tired hair. “It’s crazy the speed we live our lives,” he says, his Australian drawl stretched out over the vowels and consonants like a lazy cat on a warm radiator. “We were in Paris yesterday making a short TV film for one of our songs and today we’re in Brussels doing this gig. I haven’t been to bed yet, not because I’m rock and roll but because I just haven’t had time.” He sips his cocktail up through a bendy straw, appreciating the change in colour spiralling up the plastic piping. The clock above the well-stocked shelves of liquor nearby reads 11 a.m. “This is breakfast,” he grins, raising his glass to the chaotic world outside. “Now that is rock and roll.”

Tame Impala’s heavy schedule on this their first headlining European tour perfectly reflects the hard graft and steady rise that Parker’s psychedelic rock outfit has endured since signing their first deal and releasing their eponymous debut EP in late 2008. Essentially Parker’s personal pet project – expanded for touring duties by friends and colleagues from the numerous bands that make up Perth’s underground scene – Tame Impala has grown from a local buzz to a national phenomenon and is now on the verge of going seriously international. “I kinda feel guilty for what’s happened with Tame Impala because the other guys are all in bands back home and I’ve taken them away from that,” says Parker. “Of course if any of them got pissed off and said that they wanted to go back to Australia to do their thing, I wouldn’t have a problem with that. I’m just really grateful to have them along because we’re all mates and they really make the sound what it is.”

What the sound is is a mix of 60s psychedelia, dance rock and spaced out feedback which conjures up images of Cream in their heyday, Hendrix at his most cosmic and the druggy splendour of White Album-era Beatles. It’s a panoramic soundscape of breathy vocals played deep in the mix under fuzzy echoed guitars and rumbling bass, tripping over danceable drums and leftfield orchestration. The band’s debut album, Innerspeaker, was released in May 2010 to widespread acclaim and has already earned the band some celebrity followers. “We played a gig in London earlier this year and Noel Fielding came back stage to tell us how much he loved the music,” Parker grins, shaking his head at the surreal memory. “We’re all massive fans of the Mighty Boosh and suddenly there’s one of our idols in our dressing room, and we were all like ‘what?’” Another Noel is also said to be a convert. “Yeah, Noel Gallagher has said some nice things about us too,” Parker adds. “It’s so weird when these things happen because for me it’s just my music that I came up with in my bedroom, messing about with tape loops and reverse guitars. Now we have this following starting up and, you know, me and Jay (Watson, drummer and backing vocalist) just laid these tracks down in a beach house a few months ago. It’s crazy really.”

Support slots with the Black Keys, Yeasayer and MGMT, coupled with well-received festival appearances over the summer and the host of nominations and plaudits which have been bestowed on Innerspeaker since its release, have helped to bring Tame Impala’s music to the masses. Parker is equally thankful and dumbfounded that his wildly unfashionable music is finding an adoring audience. “We don’t dance about, we don’t play music that you can really get down to and some of the songs go on longer than a Pink Floyd epic when we play them live so it kinda confuses me as to why people actually like it,” he says with surprising honesty. “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad they do but we don’t really fit in with what’s supposed to be popular. I suppose that’s part of the attraction.”

The crowd which gathers in Le Botanique’s Witloof cellar bar later in the evening has certainly found something to its taste in the musical maelstrom these young Aussies have brought to Brussels. The low ceiling is glistening with condensation before the band even take the stage and the heat and expectation becomes stifling as Parker, Watson, bassist Nick Allbrook and guitarist Dom Simper loom out of the dry ice to take their positions under the oppressive arches. What follows is a 90 minute aural assault as Parker and Co. weave tracks such as early EP stalwarts ‘Half Full Glass of Wine’, ‘Skeleton Tiger’ and ‘Bold Arrow of Time’ into seamless meddlies which roll out over the sweaty, appreciative audience and settle on them like clouds of dreams while Innerspeaker favourites such as the jaunty Lennon-esque ‘Lucidity’, the tripped-out acquiescence of ‘I Don’t Really Mind’ and the feedback-heavy chug of ‘Desire Be Desire Go’ achieve the seemingly impossible by getting the Witloof crowd jigging under the seriously low, cranium-threatening ceiling. They even treat the throng to a rendition of Blue Boy’s ‘Remember Me’ which gets the full extended live treatment, complete with a particularly unhinged guitar solo from Parker which threatens to run off and never come back.

In contrast to their extravagant playing and arrangements, Tame Impala finally depart with almost self-conscious shyness as the crowd cries for more. True to Parker’s earlier assertion, the band don’t reappear for the much-called for encore “not because we’re dicks but because we don’t have that many songs.” Despite this, there is not a single disappointed punter as the crowd shuffle out of the Witloof. Tame Impala have come, they’ve seen and they’ve conquered – and blown a few minds along the way.

Kasabian: The Last Great Rock’n’Roll Band

Tom Meighan bounces from room to room backstage at the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels like a hyperactive cocker spaniel who can hear his favourite toy being rattled but can’t locate it. Eventually the Kasabian front man loses interest in the hunt and flops down in a plastic chair, his eyes wide and a huge playful grin running riot over his stubbled face. He is affability personified; a charming and engaging host full of warm greetings and positivity – while his focus remains intact. But these moments are few and far between. There’s too much fun to be had to just sit around, chewing the fat. Intermittently he’ll cock his ear as if receiving signals from the great beyond and then suddenly leap up, whooping and punching the air, to pace the room as a train of thought sprints away with his mind and mouth in pursuit. It’s tiring to watch but the singer has energy to burn as he waxes lyrical about his band in paradoxes which reflect his own.

“We still have it as large as we always have, regardless of whether it’s a stadium or a small club,” he says, rearranging the litter on the changing room counter. “It’s like two titans fighting up there when we get going, like He-Man versus Skeletor…It’s the musical Masters of the Universe. It’s a battle; it’s dark and nasty but also beautiful, warm and full of life. Just like us, really.”

Kasabian have been fighting with darkness and light since forming in 1999. It took four years of playing dingy working men’s clubs and tiny venues before the band were ready to give their riotous music to the world. “Of course we wanted to make it big,” Tom says, getting serious for moment. “But it had to be right. We wanted to shake people up and keep them shook up for a long time. We weren’t going to be able to do that if we’d rushed out a load of shite and then sank without trace. We wanted it so bad. We still do. We’re still the same as we were when we driving our own van, playing a gig every night, trying to get noticed. We’re still the same people.”

This everyman statement is quite a contrast to the one Kasabian made in the wake of last year’s Oasis split when Tom and his lieutenant, guitarist Serge Pizzorno, announced that now that the Gallagher’s’ partnership was no more, theirs was the biggest band in Britain. “What we meant was that we’re one of the last great rock’n’roll bands,” Tom clarifies, getting to his feet as if he’s about to deliver a sermon. “There are so few real bands around these days that we feel it’s our responsibility to pick up that baton which was carried by the likes of the Beatles, the Stones, Small Faces and Oasis and do our bit for the legacy. We owe it to Britain’s musical heritage.”

Just how seriously Kasabian take their self-appointed role as standard bearers for British rock can be seen on their third album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The band’s most critically acclaimed and successful record to date, West Ryder is a raging, rollicking mish-mash of styles and experiments. Its ambition, scope and musicianship have since elevated Kasabian to the big leagues. The album was not only celebrated by the public – it was their first UK number one – the critics also had their say, nominating it for the 2009 Mercury Music Prize.  “We just wanted to do something mental with the style, the clothes and the music,” Tom enthuses, beaming like a proud father when he talks about West Ryder. “We wanted to dress up as French revolutionaries and make one of those iconic records like the psychedelic concept albums of the 60s; full of love, heroes and shady characters. It’s been a real trip, man.” The album has taken the band on a year-long extensive world tour which finally returns to British shores in August. Kasabian will headline the 2010 V Festival and the response they get on their homecoming will give them some indication as to where  they stand in the hearts of the people and whether they’re on the way to joining the greats they aspire to emulate.

“We’ve been a way from home for quite a while,” Tom says. “We’ve done a few shows back in Britain as part of this tour but this will be the big finale. We were blown away by the response we had at Glastonbury last year and I think we really proved that we could take a huge crowd. When we roll up this summer it’ll be like, ‘remember us?’ And then it’ll kick off. It’ll be mental. I’m buzzing just thinking about it now.”

At that point, the wiry frame of Serge Pizzorno slides through the unfeasibly narrow gap in the door, prompting the singer to leap from his chair and start flicking his fingers in the guitarist’s face. Tom is the cherubic Jagger to Serge’s elegantly wasted Richards, a classic rock double act of creativity and friendship. What’s interesting is how the dynamic changes when Serge enters the room. The infectiously confident Meighan suddenly becomes the younger brother, instantly gravitating to the guitarist and principle songwriter and hanging expectantly on what he has to say.

“You owe me a rematch,” the guitarist drawls, prompting another blast of excited jigging from the singer. The game console beckons and Serge leads his front man away to a room where parity has to be restored through a titanic struggle of computerized football.

Football. For musicians, tapping into terrace culture can help their music reach a much wider audience and few current rock acts have so successfully blended fan bases than Kasabian. A handy celebrity five-a-side team, the dyed-in-the-wool Leicester City fans generate a euphoric atmosphere akin to match day at their shows with bouncing fans and stadium chanting. The links run deeper: Serge even had schoolboy trials with Nottingham Forest. Kasabian and the Beautiful Game go hand in hand.

“I’m Leicester City first, then England,” he says proudly. “We all are. Serge even wore Leicester socks under his Forest kit when he was a boy. We try and get to see the Foxes as often as we can when we’re home, which is a real pleasure and pain thing. But that’s what being a fan is about – being there for the club in the good and bad times, even though with Leicester there are more bad than good…”

Kasabian’s credentials as Britain’s premier soccer-rockers were further enhanced in February when the English Football Association chose the band to launch the England team’s World Cup shirt at a gig at the Paris Olympia. While Tom was honoured to do so, he admits to having reservations about the chosen location. “I said to them that it was all on their heads,” he confides. “If it backfires, if it all kicks off, then it’s all on you. If they riot, I want you to get us out of there. But it was okay. There were a few boos but then we played another song and it was all sweet.”

There are no boos a few hours later when the Leicester lunatics take over another in a long list of asylums. From the opening bars of the stomping ‘Fast Fuse’, it’s clear that this is not going to be a sedate evening of toe-tapping and muted singalongs. The pit directly centre-stage is soon a writhing mass of bodies. In addition to crowd pleasers such as ‘Underdog’, ‘Fire’ and ‘Fast Fuse’ from their third album, Kasabian unleash a seemingly never-ending stream of rousing favourites from West Ryder’s two predecessors, their eponymously titled debut and follow-up Empire. The audience threatens spontaneous combustion when the band hit them with the triple whammy of ‘Processed Beats’, ‘Reason is Treason’ and ‘Julie and the Mothman’; the increasingly sweaty crowd ebbing and flowing against the crash barriers as Tom – resplendent in a stripy sweater and gargantuan fly shades – commands the waves like a deranged King Canute. Beside him, Serge – a study of skinny vintage rock clobber and headband – strangles riffs from his guitar and backing vocals from his shredded throat while the rhythm section of bassist Chris Edwards and drummer Ian Matthews anchor down the glorious chaos with infectious beats. It’s a 90 minute dance-rock onslaught which leaves the crowd exhausted but satisfied.

Back stage, Tom Meighan is more wired than ever. Everyone in his vicinity gets a hug and an offer of a beer, which he soon forgets in favour of a manic flick through the band’s CD collection followed by an extensive poll of ideas for the evening’s post-gig entertainment. “Are we heading out?” he asks. “Come on Serge, are you mad for it?” No one is ready to call it a night and the party looks far from over. Kasabian live it like they love it. For them, it’s definitely better to burn out than to fade away.

First published in: The Red Bulletin

First Person: My Home Town by Tom Barman (dEUS)

Tom Barman, lead singer with Belgian rock legends dEUS, talks to Nick Amies about his home town, Antwerp.

Antwerp is a much smaller city than Brussels but that’s never stopped it from having a vibrant scene and producing a real vibe. I think that has a lot to do with the people and their attitude. Antwerp people are something else. They are the hardest people to please and impress. Whenever we play there, we always have to work harder and play better because they can be tough. They’re our harshest critics. But they’re beautiful people; beautiful, aloof, arrogant, straight-forward people…with a brutal sense of humour.

The city is just home for me. I’ve lived in other areas but I’ve been in the Jewish quarter by the main station for the last fourteen years and it’s perfect for me. I went to school around there and so it’s all really familiar, like an old jacket. The neighbourhood has a quiet, surreal quality to it in a way, with the orthodox Jews and the diamond dealers coming and going. They all just shuffle along, getting on with business. It’s quite calming.

Antwerp was a perfect choice for us when we were looking to build our studio. Our violin player Klaas managed to buy this massive old building in the Borgerhout district for very little. So we set up there. We have rehearsal space, our studio and a huge area on the ground floor where Klaas runs a club night called De Pekbabriek every now and again. Due to legal issues, it’s not that regular, about once every eight months but its wild when it happens. It’s always a crazy night because it has that semi-legal underground vibe.

When it comes to going out, Antwerp is really quite small so there’s no need to keep to one neighbourhood. A good night out can take in a variety of areas and different atmospheres. We normally drift towards the city centre and hang out at my favourite bar, the Kassa 4, which is on the Ossemarkt right in the heart of the student area. There’s also the Zeezicht bar on the Dageraadsplaats not far from our studio. It has some great beers and has a real local feel. That whole square is a cool place for bars.

 If you’re looking for something a bit more up market, you can head to the south of the city where there are some good cocktail bars or the north by the harbour where there are some great restaurants like Bart A Vin and Den Artist which do great traditional Belgian food.

There’s a real upswing in hands-on nightlife at the moment with small places springing up with minimal entrance fees, just kids spinning discs in basements. The Kelly Splinter parties are great, like old skool raves which crop up in random places, and there’s a big squat called the Scheld’apen which the police have chosen to leave alone which puts on some great events. It has hardcore electro nights, rock bands, art installations…it’s a pretty cool place. There’s also a really nice hangout we like, the Café Capital, in the middle of the Stadspark which regularly has a good mix of local and international DJs. It’s kinda small, around 300 to 400 max, but that’s a good thing. It really generates a great energy. 

The day after a gig or a large night, I like to go and hang out downtown. On sunny days, the city’s Leopold De Waelplaats square is a great place to start the day. There are some excellent cafes like Chat Le Roi around there with terraces where you can sit out on the street and watch the world wake up. You can pretty much just wander around the city and grab a seat where you like and have a beer. Once the sun comes out, the city is suddenly full of pavement cafes. We even have a verb for it – een terrasje doen – which basically means ‘to do a terrace.’ Winter leaves and everyone ‘does a terrace.’ 

If you want a real taste of Antwerp in all its glorious weirdness then go to the beach! It’s an actual beach called the St. Annastrand on the south bank of the river Schelde with some nice little restaurants and a promenade. I wouldn’t say it’s beautiful but it has this otherworldly charm and atmosphere. It freaks people out because you have this beach beside a river you can’t swim in because it’s too nasty, and a view of the industrial harbour. It’s quirky and down-to-earth, it’s a bit grubby but it has a lot of charm. It really sums up the essence of Antwerp.

First published in The Red Bulletin

Another Score for Satan: Introducing The Black Box Revelation

blackboxxxJan Paternoster is missing. Two hours before Belgian blues rockers Black Box Revelation are due on stage at the Cactus festival in Bruges, the singer/guitarist is AWOL. No-one knows where he is. Thankfully someone knows who he’s with, which seems to reduce the latent unease among the group’s entourage dramatically. “He’s with his girlfriend,” says Dries Van Dijck, the band’s cherubic drummer. “Don’t worry, he’ll be here,” he adds, calmly. “Want a beer?”

This confident and cool response speaks volumes about the relationship between front man Paternoster and his pint-sized powerhouse partner-in-crime. After the laconic singer eventually ambles into the backstage area, it’s clear the bond is strong. They banter like brothers; cracking each other up with shared anecdotes and memories. On stage, the connection is almost telepathic. Trust is everything. It has to be when the show, the music and even their futures rely so heavily on just the two of them.

“From the very first rehearsal, we agreed that we wanted to become a really good band and not stay a shitty little Brussels group that just played for about 20 people,” says Paternoster, after relocating to the band’s dressing room in a nearby school. “We like the fact that it’s just the two of us. In the old band, there were four of us and when we wanted to rehearse there was always trouble getting everyone together at the same time. There was always someone who couldn’t make it. We ended up hardly rehearsing. With the two of us, it’s easier and we’re more committed to making it work.”

The old band is – or was – the Mighty Generators. Legend has it that after a demo session for a recording the Mighty Generators were entering into Belgium’s biggest band contest, Humo’s Rock Rally, Paternoster and Van Dijck used the remaining time to jam on some songs the singer had been toying with away from the band. “I wrote one song, Love in Your Head, and it didn’t fit with what the Mighty Generators were doing,” Paternoster says. “So I said to Dries that maybe we should try and play this song together, just guitar and drums. We rehearsed just the one time and it was like ‘Nah…’ but then I wrote two more songs and we played them again and it sounded pretty good. The music we played, just the two of us, was more like the music we wanted to play.”

Both the Mighty Generators and the embryonic Black Box Revelation recordings were entered into the contest. The Mighty Generators were eliminated in the first round. The Black Box Revelation won the silver medal. The rest is recent history

“After that, we thought we should stick with Black Box Revelation and try and make a go of it,” says van Dijck. “We’ve never really regretted the decision to leave because we’re doing quite well and this is where we want to be. From the start we said to each other that we wanted to go for it and become famous. And it’s happening.”

It certainly is. Despite their tender ages – Paternoster is 20, Van Dijck is just 18 – they already have a wealth of knowledge gained from growing up in the business and stories from the rock ‘n’ roll’ coalface.

“My first gig ever was with a band called The Feminists,” says Paternoster.  “I wasn’t playing guitar at the point. I could only sing and not that well, I hadn’t learnt how to breathe properly in the songs and I had this very low voice. And they made me sing Stairway to Heaven. On the one hand it was terrible but on the other it was really fun. Robert Plant had nothing to worry about though. And the guy on drums is the only drummer I know without any rhythm. He just played whatever he wanted over the top of the guitars and my singing.”

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Just how famous the Black Box Revelation will get remains to be seen but the initial signs are good. They already have a growing reputation and a burgeoning following in their home country while high profile support slots on international tours and increasingly large headline shows around Europe are helping to spread the message.

“We’ve done three tours since the start of the year,” says Paternoster, putting his band forward for a nomination as one of the hardest working new acts around. “We toured through Europe with the Eagles of Death Metal and then we toured France with (fellow Belgians) Ghinzu, which was weird because in the Flemish part of Belgium, they’re not that big but in France they were selling out big venues of 2000 people every night. Then we did our own headlining tour in Germany and Switzerland. But now we’re playing one or two festivals a week.

“Things are also going okay in the UK,” he adds. “We were in the NME three times and our next single comes out there in three weeks and then we’re going to play a show. But it’s hard to create a buzz around our band in the UK because they have lots of bands there. I think they have so many bands that some people wonder why they should listen to bands from outside the UK. It’s working out well though, but it’s not easy. “

“We played the Scala in London with dEUS and White Lies and that was cool,” says Van Dijck. “The guys from dEUS told us that we had to come back and play as many times as we can in the UK. Just keep coming back and playing. Get as much attention as you can. So we will, when we get the chance. Last time we played in London it was a great show and the people said they liked us, so…”

Despite the increasing exposure to the hard-living rock’n’roll lifestyle, these young Belgians seem to have their heads screwed on and their feet planted firmly on the ground.

“We’re not the type of band to have superstitions and rituals,” says Paternoster. “I think it’s too dangerous to start with superstitions. Once you think you have to have those things, like the lucky underpants, you might have one day when it’s like, ‘oh shit, the lucky underpants aren’t clean’ and then you think it means that it’s going to be a bad show.

“We know how important this all is,“ adds Paternoster. “We always drink a beer before a show but we never get drunk. We’re not drunk onstage because we did that once or twice and it wasn’t that good so from that moment we said that we would always be sober on stage. But we have the one beer to get in the mood.”

“We don’t act like big stars because we’re not…yet,” adds Van Dijck. “On our rider, we only ask for two bottles of wine; one red, one white; a bottle of whiskey, enough beers. If we get really big maybe we can ask for something stupid before every show and see if they bring it for us. We can see if they pay attention to the rider or not.

“Dries used to have Red Bull on the rider,” laughs Paternoster, imitating an over-caffeinated drummer. “He would say that he wouldn’t go on stage without his Red Bull. Some bands have their booze album, some have their cocaine album – our first record was our Red Bull album. The next one will be the coffee album.”

TheBlackBoxRevelationTrue to their word, after a series of neck rolls and intense pacing, they toast their band with a single beer and go into a two-man huddle before taking to the stage. The atmosphere, already electric due to a series of passing downpours and threatening storm clouds, crackles from the moment the band greet the crowd. After the briefest of introductions, the band tears through an hour long set of funked-up punk blues at illegal volume and breakneck speed. The majority of debut album “Set Your Head on Fire” gets the high octane live treatment, with Van Dijck splintering drumsticks with abandon while Paternoster struts and screams like a possessed young Jagger, torturing supernatural riffs from his battered guitar. While the White Stripes and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club comparisons make sense when confronted with the cut-and-thrust of songs like Love, Love is on My Mind and Gravity Blues, it’s the band’s love of the Rolling Stones which drives the scuzzy jive of crowd pleasers like Stand Your Ground and I Think I Like You. It’s a fast-paced celebration of the Devil’s best music.

They are even granted the festival rarity of an encore, an even more anomalous event considering they aren’t even the headline act and this is a mid-afternoon slot, not a closing set. One breathless discussion later and the band are back on stage for a ballsy, truimphant version of Fighting with the Truth. Then they’re gone in a squall of feedback; ears ringing and drenched in sweat.

It’s obvious from the state of them after the show that creating such a noise and generating such incredible energy leaves both band members on the point of collapse.

“We have to create this wall of sound, just the two of us, so we have to give 100 percent all the time,” gasps Paternoster, as he shakily signs autographs while Van Dijck struggles to find the power to hand out drumsticks to young fans nearby. “I have three amps but it’s as much to do with the power and effort we put in as much as the amplification. I think it has a lot to do with the way we play together. We’ve been getting louder and louder as we’ve gone on. The first year, we never used ear plugs but after that, the ringing in the ears was so bad we had to start wearing them. I think since then we’ve been even louder. I can’t put my amp at just one or two because Dries is drumming so hard I can’t hear it. I have to turn it up to eleven, like Spinal Tap.”

Once the adoring hordes have been satisfied, it’s time for friends and family. “I’m here for all the Belgian shows,” says, Elisabeth Van Lierop, Paternoster’s girlfriend, as she props up the exhausted singer. “It’s the only time I get to see him at the moment. They’re either in the studio or on the road.”

Considering the band are due back in the studio in August to put the finishing touches to their much-anticipated second album, she may have to get used to her boyfriend being away from home a lot more.