Saturday, 21 June 2014

Frank Sidebottom... Four Years Gone.


As another year passes without the great Chris Sievey, we can reflect again on his legacy, and on how much we miss his genius.
The past year has seen an enormous amount of Frank Sidebottom activity. There was the unveiling of a statue in Timperley, which I was proud to be part of the fundraising team. I ran the fund's eBay sales for around 8 months, sending all manner of Frank-related merchandise out to like-minded fans. I also put together a DVD containing the last major project Frank worked on, the Celebrity Sleepover pilot. A limited run of 100 copies sold out within a week, raising over £1,137 for the Marie Curie Cancer Charity. The actual unveiling was a glorious day, with thousands of fans bringing the main road in Timperley to a standstill; with the police forced to close the roads for nearly an hour. Entertainment laid on at the nearby Stonemasons Arms was wonderful, including The Stags, the brilliant 60's psych-garage band, including Oh Blimey Big Band member Dave Arnold, and Chris' son Harry Sievey, who performed his own unique material as well as a stunning (if unrehearsed and gloriously ramshackle) short set with Rick Sarko and Barry Spencer of The Freshies.
It was an incredibly emotional day; a culmination of over two years of fundraising and organising. Timperley Councillor Neil Taylor really excelled in getting the project finished, and it's not only a glorious tribute to a comedy and musical legend, but something Neil should be eternally proud of.
Harry Sievey fronting the Oh Blimey Big Band with Jon Ronson
Also, the Jon Ronson scripted film Frank hit UK cinemas in May. Although not a biopic, it certainly brought a lot of attention in the direction of 'our' Frank, which can only be a good thing. It was also a pleasant surprise that it was really enjoyable, too. Prior to its release, Ronson undertook a spoken word tour, and played packed rooms with his personal story behind the writing of Frank, with the emphasis this time on the reality of his time in the Oh Blimeys. Several shows ended with several Frank songs performed by the Big Band with Ronson on keyboard and Harry on vocals; Frank's head (or at least the facsimile made by Dave Arnold) displayed on stage, like some kind of ritual.
Dave Arnold
The real Frank/Chris story is yet to be told, but the crowd funded documentary Being Frank: The Chris Sievey Story is still in the process of being finished, and will be released in due course. From what we've already seen, it should be a fascinating and enlightening film.
Frank with Dennis and Lois (as seen in the Elbow video)
With all the attention Chris' creation has been getting of late, it personally makes me really sad that he isn't here to enjoy it. Although, he would have probably shrugged, dismissed the accolades, had another pint and cigarette, before finding a way to de-rail it. He always preferred to do it his way.
Chris, we miss you. You know we do, we really do. Thank you.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Short Film Review: A BLOODSTAINED BUTTERFLY (2014) Dir: David McCool

Although the project failed to raise it's planned total, David McCool's Sponsume campaign for his first narrative short, A Bloodstained Butterfly (Krwawy Motyl) sourced enough money to make a decent little homage to the halcyon days of home video, and particularly the horror films available.
With a simple setup, Veronika (Aleksandra Rogalska) is home alone after splitting with her boyfriend, Stefan. With a glass of wine she sits flicking through her old photos, burning them along with the memories. She's interrupted by one of Stefan's friends, Henryk (writer/director McCool himself), who has heard about the couple's breakup and clearly thinks he stands a chance. She makes it clear he's too immature for her, but as the evening progresses, she may need him...
With a ten minute running time, it's difficult to say more for fear of spoiling the viewer's enjoyment, so the less said about the plot the better. What I can say is, that despite the very limited budget, and having to pare down the shoot to accommodate the restricted funds, McCool has done a great job of making a coherent, fun, and enjoyable short. There's even a successful 'jump' moment, which shows the skill of his build up.
The film also doesn't take itself too seriously. There are fake video lines and soundtrack noises to give the feel of watching an older film, as well some awkward jump cuts. Filmed in Polish, (the director is an ex-pat living there) there's also a wink to badly dubbed films with the out-of-synch dialogue - the version reviewed was subtitled although there may well be an English dubbed version sorted too at some point, which would no doubt heighten the gag.
Although there's an element of pastiche here, it's not necessarily played for laughs, more a knowing nod to a bygone age.
While it has some flaws, largely due to the finances, it's hard to knock the film as it works as what it is. One can only imagine what McCool could produce with a decent budget and a crew to help out! The whole shoot was done over a few days, not long after the Sponsume campaign ended (April 20th), and was edited and distributed to backers a little over a month later. Considering that some crowd funded films take months (or more) to get started, I feel McCool deserves a heap of praise. Not only for delivering on his promise (albeit with some concessions) but following through with his dream, and not giving up.
Taking advantage of the free music provided by techno superstar Moby (via his brilliant mobygratis.com service) really works in the film's favour as it adds a real polished soundtrack.

With any luck, A Bloodstained Butterfly will be accepted into some horror film festivals over the next few months so you can see for yourself. In the meantime, check out McCool's debut short, Sparks below for an example of the guy's talent and imagination.


You can find out more about the film by following @KrwawyMotyl on Twitter, or the director himself, . There's also a Facebook page to watch also.
7 out of 10

Gig Review: SPACEHEADS Live at St Margaret's Church, Manchester 26th April 2014

Playing the last of three shows to launch their new EP, Trip to the Moon, drum and trumpet duo Spaceheads returned to the beautiful setting of St. Margaret's Church in the heart of Whalley Range.
Opening the proceedings was Paddy Steer, a one-man band whose set-up is as eclectic and random as his musical style. Using a mix of laptop, vintage synths, oscillators, percussion and a xylophone, the seemingly haphazard manner Paddy plays works amazingly to produce a soundscape which is remarkably entertaining. With the vocal being fed through a vocoder, the music at times sounded like R2D2 having a drunken fight. During some less abstract moments it was akin to Italian soundtrack legends Goblin. Dressed in a highly theatrical robe, neck piece and hat, looking like a cross between a glam rock priest and someone from The Arabian Nights, Paddy is a wonderfully visual as well as audible spectacle. He even dons a papier-mâché helmet, complete with glowing eyes and mouth, resembling a cyborg Frank Sidebottom to sing a number of songs. His quirky charm is easy to like, and despite what seemed to be a slapdash approach, it's clear Paddy is very talented and it's all put together very artful. 
Paddy's place on the bill is no random afterthought, however, as he also guests on the new Spaceheads EP playing bass. But there's no on-stage recreation of this collaboration as when they hit the stage, a little later than planned, it's down to just the talents of Andy Diagram, playing trumpet fed through all manner of electronics, and Richard Harrison, whose traditional kit is accessorised with several home-made pieces of percussion. Andy is, of course, full-time trumpet player in James, while Richard was previously a member of Blue Orchids and has played drums with Nico. However, it's not really the associations which draw the crowds; Spaceheads music is a force in itself.
Musically, Spaceheads are pretty much an experimental jazz/fusion/trippy/dance band. Andy's trumpet is looped, distorted and tweaked into rhythmic patterns which stir passions and movement from the listener. Richard's drumming is intricate and layered, providing a solid beat which makes it even more danceable. Sounding like a rave party hosted by Miles Davis and George Clinton, this is trippy music without having to indulge in anything dodgy.
They play a selection of tunes from their new EP and the previous one, Sun Radar, with great energy and power. Andy walks the length of the church aisle and from the pulpit, like a minister addressing his congregation, never dropping a beat – one eye and finger on the iPhone attached to a spatula attachment to trigger the effects.
Enhancing the stunning church location, there was projections from Jaime Rory Lucy's Rucksack Cinema. A mixture of film, patterns and random images (as well as the band's circular pattern icon) envelope the stage area and across the ornate stone building, the stained glass adding a surreal extra element.
Unfortunately, it's over too soon. Due to a strict 10.30pm curfew they have to finish on Trance Figure 8, from the 1999 album Angel Station.
Another great show, enjoyed by all who attended (which included Andy's James band-mate Larry Gott). With James just about to undertake a flurry of live activity themselves, it may be some time before Spaceheads get together again for more shows, but when they do, make sure you check them out. 
9 out of 10

You can follow Spaceheads on Twitter and Facebook, as well as their own website.
The new EP, Trip to the Moon is available to download, and on CD and 12” vinyl from here.
You can buy the music of Paddy Steer here.



Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: WILLOW CREEK (Bobcat Goldthwait Bigfoot flick)

 
Having firmly established himself as a director with great vision, Bobcat Goldthwait (God Bless America) tries his hand at the 'found footage' genre. And while it does follow much the same format as those which have gone before (most notably The Blair Witch Project), Willow Creek manages to amp the tension and instil something missing from many FF films, scares!

Jim (Bryce Johnson) is an aspiring filmmaker, and manages to coerce his girlfriend, Kelly (Alexie Gilmore) to accompany him on a project which involves seeking the location of the famous Bigfoot footage shot in 1967 by Patterson/Gimlin. After exploring Bluff Creek, and all its Sasquatch-related tourist traps, they head on to Willow Creek, Jim hoping all the time that they will find the mythical beast too. Kelly is much more skeptical, and is really just along for the ride, getting wearier as they trek through the woods.
Despite the locals all being willing to talk, most claim nothing is there. There are some oddball characters as you'd expect (including one who sings a song about the original filmmaking pair) and those who claim to have experience Bigfoot in the flesh. And despite one man threateningly them not to go, they keep moving, eventually setting up camp for the night. It's during this night that they experience something which puts the fear of God into both of them.
Willow Creek starts almost painfully slow. Coupled with the 'shaky-cam' style of filming you'd be forgiven for reaching for the remote and flicking through or even turning off. However, I was glad I didn't as it's during these talky sections, and scenes of local interaction that we feel the wonderful chemistry between the two leads. It's this plodding build-up which makes the final act all the more rewarding - and terrifying.
Not to mention a brilliant, if audacious, scene which runs almost twenty minutes and consists of a simple two-shot of the pair talking in their tent while something is outside. By pure suggestion and superb use of sound design, Goldthwait has made this among the most riveting and tense scenes of recent years. It goes on so long that the viewer has a very palpable fear, as we - like the couple - don't know what is out there nor what it intends to do. Whereas the prolonged confined two-shot scene in The Battery worked because of its irreverence, here it's the mounting anxiety and startling sound which makes it a stand-out moment.
While I'm no fan of FF films, I was surprised at how well this drew me in, and am so glad I didn't right it off when it felt like it was going nowhere. Whereas Blair Witch felt a like a damp squib by the end, Willow Creek - largely because we actually end up liking the characters - quite literally explodes by the climax. Recommended.
8 out of 10

Friday, 13 June 2014

Review: THE BATTERY



Just when you thought it was safe to come back to the DVD shelf, another zombie apocalypse film lumbers towards the shelves. But don't despair, dear reader! The Battery is, in fact, that rare breed which takes a well-worn premise and attempts to do something new.
Ben (writer/director Jeremy Gardner) and Mickey (Adam Cronheim) used to play in a baseball team together, but since the world has been ravished by a zombie outbreak, they have been on the road together. After staying three months in a house, escaping when it became overrun by the undead, they have spent every night sleeping where ever they can: rooftops, trees, cars, any place they might not be eaten. Ben, the stronger of the pair, wields his bat to see off any attack, while Mickey is a little more sensitive and can't bring himself to fight back, choosing instead to block his senses with music, wearing headphones almost all the time. After they find some walkie-talkies and stumble upon a transmission between two strangers who appear to have a safe haven, Mickey becomes obsessed with finding them. This is despite being told by both man and woman on the other end of the line that they would not be welcome. This causes even more friction between the mismatched pair, and could be their downfall.
The Battery (also known as Ben & Mickey vs. the Dead, making it sound more like a comedy) is that rare breed of film in which not much actually happens, but is engrossing and entertaining nonetheless. Aside from the occasional zombie attack, the majority of the film is made up of the men bickering and ruminating on what might be happening outside of the rural New England countryside they are roaming. While it's not a comedy, there's still some humour to be had along the way, often coming from the pair's differences, and, in one particularly brilliant scene, when the sexually frustrated Mickey is under siege from a young female zombie. Thrusting her body (think Cool Hand Luke) against the car window, he can't resist taking matters into hand and having a dirty rummage.
The film is most like The Walking Dead in its more talky parts, but that's not altogether a bad thing. Gardner, as both director and actor, has made a brave choice in focusing on the realism of 'just getting on with things' while everything else has gone to pot. There are long scenes where nothing happens, the characters contemplating, or just talking, filmed boldly in long, static, takes. The finale particularly shows great ingenuity. When working with such a low budget (apparently $6000), he makes no attempt to over stretch and in doing so the finish product is incredibly moving; claustrophobic yet full of tension. The real evil to be wary of, as is always the case, is not those who want to eat us, but our fellow man. 
It's ambitious, but it works. It won't be a mainstream pleaser - like the slower episodes of the TV series, the pace will put off many, but those who get it will savour it. A cult classic for future generations.
9 out of 10