WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? Available to buy on Amazon and Lulu.com NOW

coverimage_lulu 2After exploding onto the British music scene only two years previously, Oasis played the biggest free-standing gigs the UK had ever seen over two nights at Knebworth Park in the summer of 1996. Playing to a combined crowd of 250,000 people on what would become the defining weekend of the Britpop era, Oasis made good on their many claims that they were destined to be the biggest band on the planet. What happened next is a rollercoaster ride through the wildest excesses of rock ‘n’ roll; from the highs of mega-stardom, mass adoration and tabloid ubiquity, to the lows of drug psychosis, mindless mayhem and a media backlash. WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? charts Oasis’s journey from the mid-90s euphoria of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? to the turn-of-the-century comedown of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants; from the all-conquering Knebworth shows through the cocaine blizzard of Be Here Now, the madness and chaos of their 1997 world tour and out the other side.

Buy WHERE DID IT ALL GO WRONG? on Amazon

Advertisements

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

She’s Electric interview on Puluche.com

In a departure from the usual Tales From Down the Front articles, I am posting an interview I gave to the US music site Puluche.com about the release of my second novel She’s Electric.

Nick Amies is a journalist and author based in Brussels who writes for publications such as The New York Times, The Economist and Red Bulletin magazine and is also a senior contributing writer for Puluche. While his freelance work ranges from international politics to architecture, his main passion is music. As well as his magazine work, Nick has written two novels, each set in an important period of British pop culture. Here he talks to Puluche about She’s Electric, his Britpop-era love story and ode to excess.

electricPuluche: Firstly, congratulations on She’s Electric. I found it to be an extremely interesting read. It certainly is a multi-faceted love story with a sex, drugs and rock and roll backdrop, but within a “Cool Britannia” culture which many might not know about. How does your book relate to international audiences when it’s such a Brit-focused topic?

Nick Amies: I think the emotional themes running through the book – love, loss, desperation, insecurity – are universal. When we first meet Danny, the narrator of the story, he’s a young man coming out of a long-term relationship into a world he doesn’t really understand. He’s been one half of a high school love affair as long as he can remember and now he’s on his own. He’s hurt, lonely and angry due to the break-up but also confused and lost because he doesn’t know who or what he’s supposed to be. I think that wherever you’re from, you can relate to feelings like that and it’s part of the human condition to question the reasons for our existence and what it’s all supposed to mean. As for the cultural setting, again I feel that while it’s specifically British, anyone who has ever had their life changed by music or have bought into a particular scene wholesale will identify with the characters. The music is not just a soundtrack to their lives but a way of life in itself. It comes with an identity, a fashion and a sense of belonging. Anyone who has ever been a fan of a band will know what that means. Plus being a music fan, I believe, is essentially being part of a global community. We may have different tastes but the emotions that music elicits are built into our DNA. She’s Electric is set in the Britpop era but it could have been set anywhere at any time where a musical phenomenon has moved a generation of young people.

In that case, why set the book specifically in the Britpop era?

Firstly, I followed the old advice of writing about what you know. I lived through this period and experienced a lot of things I wanted to document. Secondly, the Britpop era is extremely well suited as a setting for a coming-of-age story with all the insecurities which come with that. It was a uniquely superficial period and as such it was the best and worst time to suffer from an identity crisis, which is essentially what each of the main characters in my book are going through. On the one hand, the movement itself and its association with a new permissiveness which openly tolerated bad behavior, casual sex and substance abuse came with a blueprint. If you weren’t sure who you wanted to be, you just did what everybody else did. There was an attitude, a way of dressing, a way of behaving that was connected with the whole idea of what it meant to be young and British at the time. But on the other hand, if you were really searching for something, buying into this could really drag you further away from yourself. This is the situation facing the guys in the book. They have whole-heartedly embraced Britpop and Lad culture but, as time moves on, they realize that there is little substance behind it and that the void they have in their lives is still there behind the sex, drugs and rock’n’roll.

Is it a very personal story then? Perhaps a thinly-veiled autobiography?

I would never admit that even if it were true! What I will say is that the characters are fictitious but the experiences are very loosely based on those I and my friends were part of but everything is exaggerated for narrative purposes. Of course the cultural reference points detailed in the book such as the massive Oasis gigs at Knebworth in 1996, the 1995 Glastonbury festival and the 1997 General Election in the UK are all documented historical events. The emotional turmoil and search for identity are all written from a personal viewpoint but don’t get the idea that we were all suffering some kind of existential angst! It was the best time to be young and the most concentrated period of partying that I’ve ever lived through so we were hardly crying into our beers every night, wailing about how hard our lives were. It was a lot of fun. I think that comes across in the book. Danny and his friends live it large and enjoy every excessive minute but at some point they realize that there’s more to life than picking up a different girl every night and waking up with self-induced memory loss and that’s when the internal struggles begin.

What are the subtexts and messages in the book? What did you set out to say with it beyond reminiscing about a great time in music?

The book moves from the present to the past and back again with flashbacks from the Britpop era used to illustrate certain themes or show contrasts to the lives the main characters are leading in the present day. All of them are struggling with different aspects of their lives as adults with responsibilities and their reunion back on their old stomping ground emphasises how much things have changed. Danny is the last one to really give up on the old life and is using the reunion to see if returning to his old ways is a viable option, despite having a partner and child at home. His identity crisis has gone on the longest. I suppose there’s a message here about the risks of trying to recapture former glories or trying to relive the past at the risk of your future. I also wanted to point out that even though we get older, things don’t always get easier if you’re not prepared to leave history behind. We can only grow by letting go, which doesn’t mean we have to forget or deny the past. The sections dealing with Britpop are clearly a celebration of that time with their depictions of all the fun that was had but as that timeline moves on to 1997 it shows that the façade was beginning to slip and the party was clearly coming to an end, something the guys address with hindsight in the present day sections of the book. In short, I wanted to show that youth cultures are not built to last, much like youth itself, but you should live them to the full while they’re there just as you should embrace your youth and not pine for it when it’s gone.

electric-bmpWhy was Britpop so important to British culture?

Youth and popular culture movements tend to rise as a reaction to the socio-political climate of the time. Before Britpop, we’d had a reaction to the years of oppressive conservatism which had become entrenched in the UK under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. This reaction gave birth to acid house and the Madchester music scene. Driven by the ecstasy explosion, these movements provided an escape route from the poverty and hopelessness that many parts of Britain were suffering from at the end of the 1980s. When that phase passed, British music retreated and US grunge flooded in. Britpop was a reaction to that as much as anything else. People like Blur’s Damon Albarn and Noel Gallagher of Oasis said that their bands’ early Britpop output was a direct riposte to the nihilism of grunge and an attempt to reverse the flood of US culture swamping the UK. So, Britpop was important in the way that it gave the country something to be proud of again and made it okay to be patriotic. Britpop got an extra boost when Tony Blair and the Labour Party finally ended 18 years of conservative rule in 1997. Suddenly it was like the heavy curtains were drawn back to reveal a new land of hope and opportunity stretching into the distance. When things like that happen in my country, we Brits tend to go a bit mad and make the most of it without really thinking about the consequences. But before it was all revealed to be a false dawn and that we’d actually been manipulated into thinking things would be truly different, Blair’s labeling of all things cultural with the “Cool Britannia” tag revitalized everything: music, art, literature and film. Even though it turned out to be a cynical marketing plan of the government’s making, the idea to tie it all together and brand it was an inspired one. It was an identity we could all get behind and one which could be sold abroad. Britain was the centre of attention during that time and I think the music, fashion and attitude which came out of that time began to influence a lot of other cultures.

And what about the music which was at the heart of it all?

The success of the big bands such as Oasis, Blur and Pulp for example inspired many others to make music with varying degrees of success and quality so to be a fan of the genre at that time was to be spoilt for choice. It was a great and productive time for British music and it also exported well. The Europeans instantly understood it and quickly grew to love it, the Japanese went crazy for it immediately and even the US succumbed to a certain degree. Its popularity in the countries which embraced it can still be seen today in the way audiences welcome back the legends and react to British bands in general as a result of that Britpop Invasion.

It’s also worth remembering that Britpop happened at a time before the internet exploded. Oasis sold over eight million copies of their debut album and followed that up by selling over 22 million copies of (What’s the Story) Morning Glory? without the help of Twitter, YouTube or online marketing campaigns. This was an age before the digital revolution so all those sales were actual CDs, records and cassette tapes. There wasn’t any downloading going on – legal or otherwise. So in that respect, Britpop still represents the zenith of the British music industry before it imploded. It is a high watermark that will never be reached again.

glory-bmpIs this era still relevant today?

It’s relevant in the way that punk is still relevant or the Sixties are still relevant. We are where we are musically in the UK because of Britpop. And Britpop couldn’t have happened if bands hadn’t heard the Sex Pistols or had never listened to their parents’ Beatles records. It’s a signpost on the road of Britain’s musical progress, whether people like that or not. If there had been no Stone Roses, there would have been no Oasis. No Oasis, no Arctic Monkeys and so on. So as a legacy with a continuing influence, yes it’s relevant. As a reference point on the quest of knowledge about Britain’s musical heritage, it’s relevant. But most importantly, it’s relevant in the lives of all those who love the music that came out of that era. For us, it’s as relevant now as it was then because it is such a huge part of our lives. That’s why in She’s Electric, Danny and his friends continue to celebrate those days even as middle age creeps up on them. Their lives have gone separate, very different ways but they will always have those crazy days when their friendships were formed. For the Britpop generation, it will always be relevant.

What is the true current status of the Britpop genre? The remaining bands that consider themselves a part of this movement, do they still represent the genre well compared to the originals like Blur, Suede and eventually others such as Oasis?

When the party ended, there were a lot of casualties. No-one escaped unharmed and I think that can be heard in the material that the original bands put out after Britpop came to a close. If you listen to Blur or 13 they are polar opposites of The Great Escape and you can’t compare the cocaine bluster of Be Here Now-era Oasis to the washed-out comedown of Standing on the Shoulder of Giants. So whatever Britpop was musically, it stopped existing soon afterwards. But even at the height of the movement it was a very contentious thing to say that one band or another sounded “Britpop”. There was never really one style. It was more of an attitude than a sound. When that attitude became more introspective, Britpop ceased to exist. There may be bands around now which get labeled Britpop but that’s just lazy. They can’t be Britpop because there is no such thing. That particular zeitgeist – every strand of cultural DNA from which Britpop was constructed – is history. It can never be repeated or cloned.

Knowing you as a music reviewer as well, one that can be quite critical, you recently rated Arctic Monkeys latest album AM as a perfect release. Such new releases are sadly few and far between in modern music compared to previous decades. What are many of today’s bands missing compared to a release like AM where they just get it?

am5

It’s easy to point the finger at The Man but that doesn’t change the fact that The Man has a lot to answer for in this respect. There are just too few risk takers in the music business these days and not enough labels who are confident and savvy enough to let their acts experiment. I have a lot of respect for Domino for letting Arctic Monkeys go their own way. They could have forced them to stick to the tried and tested formula of the early days but they gave them space to evolve. They could have panicked after Humbug saw the band suffer what was essentially the first bit of backlash but they let them work it out themselves and move on to great effect. I wrote in my AM review that freedom and confidence bring their own reward and for great music to be made there has to be less emphasis on the bottom line and shifting units. Bands have to be shown love and trust, not balance sheets. Reducing the number of accountants and employing more people with a passion for music would be a start.

In your opinion, is rock music in a continuing period decline?

I wouldn’t say it’s in a continuing period of decline but I would say that it is in one of the longest periodical downswings for some time. We haven’t really seen a movement crash into the collective consciousness and change the musical landscape for a few years now. We seem to be relying on individual bands to innovate and excite rather than expecting a wave to sweep in with all the added extras like the fashion, the attitude and the message to compliment the music. Usually these things grow from a scene in a particular city. I’ve been pinning my hopes on the Perth underground for a while now, with Tame Impala, Pond and others coming from this alternative community on the Australian west coast but I think there should have been more of a collective impact made by now. Perhaps growing a local scene from Down Under into an international phenomenon is harder than if you are in New York. I don’t know. Perhaps the general problem is that the opportunities previously enjoyed by those being nurtured in the traditional breeding grounds are shrinking. The question then arises about funding and support for small venues and you’re then into a political debate. But who can say for sure? Maybe it is all crap and we’ve already been condemned to an eternity of rubbish but we haven’t yet realized it. I sincerely hope not.

She’s Electric is available in paperback and Kindle versions on all Amazon’s international sites.

This interview first appeared on Puluche.com

Nobody’s Puppet: Miles Kane & The Return of the Wirral Riddler

miles_kane_1249265You should really know who Miles Kane is by now. Even if you missed his turn as the precocious 18-year-old guitarist in short-lived Merseybeat combo The Little Flames or his first front man gig as singer with The Rascals, you will surely have noticed him as one half of the Last Shadow Puppets alongside a certain Mr. Alex Turner. Failing that, his breath-taking work rate during his solo breakthrough year in 2011 should surely have seen the 26-year-old Wirral troubadour pop up somewhere on your radar. After releasing his début album The Colour of the Trap in late 2010, young Miles spent most of the following year on tour. Even if you didn’t catch his own shows, there’s a good chance that you may have seen him supporting the likes of Beady Eye, Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys.

Despite a musical CV which now spans eight years in the business, and the imminent release of his second solo album, Don’t Forget Who You Are, Miles Kane somehow still finds himself saddled with the ‘next big thing’ tag. For a tender-aged stalwart of the scene, with a long list of fans and collaborators which reads like a Who’s Who of modern rock royalty, surely it must be frustrating for recognition to only now start being bestowed on his narrow shoulders.

“For me, the last five years have been all about working in bands and learning my craft so I haven’t really been that interested in whether people have been taking any notice of me during that time,” Kane says, his chirpy Scouse accent adding authenticity to this assertion. “I was too busy being on the journey, dealing with the highs and lows and taking the learning curves at speed. I’ve started from the bottom a few times and have served more than one apprenticeship. Everything that’s gone before has been driving me to this point so if people are now taking notice, I’m more than happy with that and ready for that because I’m really happy with where I am now and the sound I’ve developed.”

That sound has come on leaps and bounds since the early days as a teenager playing in and around Liverpool’s club scene, sweating through the circuit playing jangly pop alongside contemporaries like The Coral and The Zutons. Don’t Forget Who You Are takes the 60’s rock’n’roll vibe developed for The Colour of the Trap and puts it on rigourous gym regime. It’s another urgent record, full of choppy guitars and brimming with cocksure attitude, but it’s a much more muscular effort than before. The orchestration is more lush and the choruses, as you would expect, border on the anthemic, which suggests a growing confidence. But with lead single ‘Give Up’ screaming along to a heavy, crashing beat and almost metal guitars, it appears the Wirral Riddler is in no rush to lay aside the high octane rockers in favour of the cinematic, John Barry-esque theatricals of the Last Shadow Puppets which so distinguished his work with Alex Turner from anything he’d done before.

“I’d describe myself as a rock’n’roller even though there are some cinematic, grand tracks on the album,” he says. “It was great doing the big wide-screen tunes with strings with the Puppets but my heart’s in the rock’n’roll. I like to dabble with songs which people might be surprised with though, like covering Lee Hazlewood and Jacques Dutronc, and that’s one of the great things about being a solo artist that I don’t have to run that by anyone. I’m just obsessed with music and doing tunes like that lets people know that, it shows what mood I’m in.”

It seems that being a solo artist suits the perfectionist side of Kane’s character, the trait that refuses to allow him to leave the house without being immaculately suited and booted, usually in something from his favourite designer Adrien Sauvage, even to go to the shops. The dapper Miles certainly doesn’t regret his decision to leave The Rascals in 2009, even if it meant having to build a new identity from scratch.

“It felt right to go solo after two years of considering it,” he says. “I asked Alex one day whether I should quit and he said I should do it. To be fair, I’d already decided so it wasn’t a case of Alex Turner splitting up the Rascals. I could have gone on and formed another band after the Shadow Puppets but something beautiful happened with the songs I was working on to convince me to front it myself. It’s been a beautiful time for me. I’m a completely different lad. It’s a total buzz.”

Being a rock’n’roller from Merseyside, the obvious weighty legacy of a certain band hangs over Miles as it does all bands and artists from in and around the port city of Liverpool. There’s no escaping the influence of the Beatles; it’s there in every street, in every bar, in every heart. For some, fighting against the omnipotence of Liverpool’s favourite sons could be a way of asserting their individuality. For Miles Kane, however, it’s been the opposite to a certain extent.

“I’ve never felt any pressure from Liverpool’s legacy, in fact I’ve always embraced that and have never hidden that,” he says proudly. “There have been so many great bands from Liverpool and the influence is clear but you have to tread your own path. I’ve always been inspired by the great Liverpool bands and my ambition is to try and be bigger and better than any of them. Considering the Beatles are in there, that may sound a tall order but you’ve got to be in it to win it. If you don’t want to be bigger than the Beatles, what’s the point?”

With Don’t Forget Who You Are soon to be on general release, could this be the moment that Miles Kane finally goes from being the The Next Big Thing to an accepted national hero? Whatever happens, one gets the impression that it won’t matter to him as much as the quality of the music itself. People can view him how they like. How Miles Kane defines himself is through his art and that is something which won’t stop evolving, regardless of the titles awarded him by the public.

“I just don’t really want to stop working,” he says. “I put everything I have into every record and if it’s a hit or a flop, I know there’s nothing more I could have done. I just want to make every record better than the last; I want to improve my singing, my playing, my writing. I’ve always got to be at it. That’s just how I am. It’s like the music – that’s just me. No bullshit. I approach it all the same way. Full on.”

The Stone Roses – The Stone Roses (Review)

This review was published as part of Puluche.com‘s Exemplar series – historical albums which score a perfect 100.

Comments

stone_rosesMany bands have burst onto the scene with a debut album which defines their entire career, and many of those albums then go on to define the era in which they were released. The first album from the Stone Roses does both and much more besides. It is an album which perfectly encapsulates the climate of growing up in late 80’s Britain; the messianic self-belief of the chemical generation, the introspective questioning of desperate and disillusioned youth, the pure and simple euphoria of being young, pretty and cool. And yet, while The Stone Roses is undoubtedly the masterpiece of the Madchester period, it is also a timeless classic which sounds as innovative and vital now as it did in 1989. Put it next to any of the classic rock albums of the 60’s or 70’s, or any of those which arrived in its wake in the 90’s and new millennium, and The Stone Roses can confidently rub shoulders with the best while towering over the rest. It manages both to sound both modern and nostalgic, tipping its hat to its influences while also blazing a trail into the unknown. All these things combine to make it an artifact of the zeitgeist. Beyond the depth, the meaning and the legacy, it’s just a fantastic sounding record. Expertly mastered by producer John Leckie, a band of clothes-conscious, mop-haired street urchins are exposed as the consummate musicians they are, something which is often overlooked when talking about the band’s story and legend. And at the heart of it all is a song-writing partnership which began in a childhood sandpit and was forged over a mutual love of The Clash. The Brown-Squire axis has never been stronger than on this record…although who knows what the future might bring.

Commendations

To retreat from the world and allow The Stone Roses to be your reality for 49 minutes is to indulge yourself in a musical experience filled with rare beauty and genius. From the unearthly echoes, steadily building bass and jangling intro to ‘I Wanna Be Adored’ to the extended, psychedelic abandon of ‘I am the Resurrection’s ecstatic finale, it is a collection of songs which scales impossible heights with every passing spine-tingling, skin-prickling second. Just when you think you may have heard the best song ever, another arrives to steal the crown.

The opening track rattles into existence on the echoes of distant dirty train tracks and guided warily through sinister, echoing alleyways by Gary ‘Mani’ Mounfield’s slowly building bass. John Squire’s guitar offers the first chinks of light, sending sparks over the brooding intro before taking the lead with a muscular, chiming riff. Ian Brown’s eerie, breathy vocals start swirling in the mix, offering cryptic hints at Luciferian deals: “I don’t need to sell my soul, he’s already in me…I wanna be adored…” It’s a stirring, sinister opener with hints of the band’s early days as a Goth outfit. ‘She Bangs the Drums’ then fully dispels any gloom. Drummer Alan ‘Reni’ Wren opens with a skittering Shaft-esque cymbal shuffle before Mani’s playful hook drags us in. Squire then crashes through with a sunburst power chord and suddenly it’s a better day. Ian Brown then delivers the killer blow: “Kiss me where the sun don’t shine…the past was yours but the future’s mine…” And with that, The Stone Roses became champions of the trampled youth. With the kids entranced, these Pied Pipers then conjure the mesmeric ‘Waterfall’. Driven by a Squire hook with peels like church bells, it’s a song of hope and renewal which rolls along on sweet vocals from both singer and drummer. But it’s the guitarist who takes it to the next level. Left to bring the song to its conclusion, Squire morphs and builds his earlier chiming refrain into a rolling 70’s rock riff which takes on a deeper voice and delivers a finale worthy of the song’s heroine and her determined quest for individual freedom.

The old adage “waste not, want not” applies to ‘Don’t Stop’ which is effectively ‘Waterfall’ played backwards with new Ian Brown lyrics sliding queasily through the weirdness in such a way that it sounds like his voice is also a reversed track. The slightly nonsensical lyrics add to the slightly seasick, off-kilter atmosphere. It’s a track which works in the same vein as those strange psychedelic fillers scattered through the tail-end of the Beatles catalogue. The band returns to normality with the beautiful yet scornful ‘Bye Bye Badman’. Conjuring up images of the ’68 student riots in Paris – “In this citrus sucking sunshine” describes the lemons used to counter the effects of tear gas, the same lemons on the album’s cover – it owes much to fellow Mancunians The Smiths in both music and lyrical content. John Squire’s jangly, guitar dances all over the track, subtly paying homage to Johnny Marr. Challenging the establishment, Ian Brown warns that he’s “throwing stones at you, man…I want you black and blue and I’m gonna make you bleed…Gonna bring you down to your knees.” After the anti-monarchy nursery rhyme of ‘Elizabeth My Dear’, we’re back into swaying, braying pop with ‘(Song for my) Sugar Spun Sister’. Brown takes a Byrdsian mop-topped, drug-dazed swagger across blue grass and under green skies while accusing the ruling class of being a bunch of glue sniffers. The majestic ‘Made of Stone’, perhaps the band’s most accomplished song, brings dramatic and mournful imagery to life through anthemic, rousing orchestration and inspired lyrics: “Your knuckles whiten on the wheel, the last thing that your hands will feel…your final flight can’t be delayed…”Punctuated by one of their most rousing choruses, at the time it was a triumph beyond their tender years: “Sometimes I fantasize…When the streets are cold and lonely and the cars they burn below me…”Taking a breath from all the drama, we’re treated to a lazy, warm blues shuffle with a cutting edge in the form of ‘Shoot You Down’. Reni’s drums brush around a restrained Squire as Mani plucks mellow strings and Brown the assassin lilts: “I’d love to do it and you know you’ve always had it coming.”

roses

The run-in is a booming statement of potential greatness. ‘This is the One’ crashes into life before starting its ebb and flow, retreating to catch its breath under harp-like guitar refrains and whispered sugar-sweet lyrics before exploding again with such triumph and celebration that it leaves you utterly convinced that, yes – this is indeed the one. What that is just doesn’t matter. It is whatever you want it to be. That seems to be the point. It is the musical interpretation of just knowing; that feeling of perfect acceptance that nothing gets better than this. But of course, the previous 40-odd minutes will have taught you that behind every peak is another monumental musical Everest to behold – and there, from the summit of ‘This is the One’ we are left with the final colossus, the towering majesty of ‘I am the Resurrection’. Stomping in on Reni’s almost military-beat drums, Mani’s bass injects the groove before Ian Brown starts spitting attitude and sweet poetic put-downs: “Stone me, why can’t you see…you’re a no-one, nowhere, washed-up baby who’d look better dead…” John Squire shyly enters the fray in the background to begin with, letting the rhythm section take the lead and injecting little spiraling fills into the gaps until Brown’s holy refrain brings us to the break. Then all hell cuts loose. Reni starts playing drums like a Hindu god, covering the entire kit like only a multi-armed deity possibly could while Mani unleashes a carpet-bombing, rolling funk bass line over which Squire’s guitar squeals and squalls. The guitars gets dirtier, the drums get faster, the bass gets crazier – and then it breaks to silence…Only to chime back in before more thrashing reverb takes over once again. And then, the storm seems to ease, with a beautiful acoustic refrain filling the void – only we’re not finished yet, the drums, bass and pace quicken and we’re racing to the end again, finally fading out on an acoustic strum and the echoes of another Squire jam which could go on for eternity. It’s ballsy, breath-taking and beyond anything one would expect from a band’s first album. It nearly was the full-stop on their career. If it had been, it would have been one of the best exits since the Ascension.

Next Steps

After such an astonishing debut, some generation defining live shows and the release of the genre-busting ‘Fools Gold’ which left all their rivals in the dust, the Stone Roses dropped the mega-stardom ball and disappeared in a flurry of lawsuits and a miasma of lost focus and impetus. It would take five years for a follow-up to appear, by which time the Brown-Squire dynamic at the heart of the band had been undermined by drugs and ego. Second Coming was much-maligned but isn’t as bad as some make it out to be. It just wasn’t The Stone Roses II. The band limped on, losing first Reni and then Squire before a pale imitation self-destructed in 1996. Years of solo careers, rumors and denials followed until the band the world was waiting for returned in triumph in 2012 to old audiences and new, proving that the Stone Roses have an enduring magic and spirit that can be suppressed but never destroyed. Their debut album remains the best testament to that.

First published on: Puluche.com

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