Monthly Archives: April 2013

Edwyn Collins, Cambridge Junction 22 April 2013

Edwyn2

It’s already a minor miracle that former Orange Juice frontman and informally acknowledged national treasure Edwyn Collins is still able to walk and talk given the sudden and potentially cataclysmic brain haemorrhages he suffered eight years ago (for more information his wife Grace Maxwell’s book about the trauma and Edwyn’s recovery is highly recommended). That he’s been able to resume his recording career with albums as brilliant as Losing Sleep and the new Understated as well as putting on shows as energetic and life-affirming as last night’s might be taken as positive proof of a higher power in the universe…if you didn’t know that that’s the type of ludicrous hyperbole that would make the man in question wince. Collins’s approach is resolutely down to earth, despite his gift for disarming lyrical flourishes, and while it may be a legacy of his condition and the way his near-death experiences forced him to re-learn language from scratch that his song introductions are almost comically deadpan and matter of fact you can’t help feeling that the refreshing absence of rock’n’roll airs and graces in his presentation suits his intimate and honest material perfectly.

Bullies

There are two supports, both featuring players from the main man’s backing band, and first up are Bullies, a young and almost defiantly ordinarily dressed trio. It takes a while for the penny to drop that the bassist and lead vocalist is in fact Edwyn’s son Will, and while this might seem a fairly blatant bit of nepotism I’ve got to say this band isn’t half bad: while the tempo, format and chugging basslines initially suggest a grungey Nirvana/Dinosaur Jr. influence some catchy melodies do cut through, and the guitarist is able enough to vary the sound with some jazzy chords and clearly audible riffs and picking. Will doesn’t say too much between numbers but when he sings his voice is fine, and he sensibly sticks to playing root notes while he’s doing it (how do people like Sting and Phil Lynott play the bass and sing at the same time? It’s impossible!)

Colorama

It’s immediately obvious that the five-piece Colorama, on the other hand, are already highly accomplished and confident enough to swap instruments around with aplomb. The Brian Jones haircut and sharp suit sported by leader Carwyn Ellis gives you the clue as to where they’re at musically: dense, funky, psychedelic grooves topped off with electric piano and highly adept harmonies. It’s like they’ve walked straight out of a subterranean late 60s nightclub where the walls are painted purple and everything’s seen through a fish-eye lens. They’re no mere Austin Powers-style pastiche though – despite the flowery musicianship their pieces are in the main taut and disciplined, with proper tunes and only a couple of rambling instrumental interludes. The best psych-folk band to come out of Wales this century, probably.

Edwyn1After the break, and right on time, the main act appears, with Edwyn finding his way over to a bass amp positioned centre stage on which he perches for the duration of his set, slightly in the manner of a hip, but not to be crossed, English teacher. Without any ceremony he announces “Orange Juice. Falling And Laughing” and his band (in which Ellis reappears, this time as bassist and keyboard player) launch into a joyous version of said joyous debut single, a coup that a wilier band leader might have held back for the encore. You sense pretty quickly though that Edwyn’s not got much truck with showmanship – he’s here to play the songs he wants to play, be they over thirty years old or newly released, and in this context the songs fit together seamlessly, glorious uplifting lilting odes supported by full-bodied and vigorous arrangements that for once at The Junction are mixed so well that you can pick out every instrument. It’s a brilliant gig. Edwyn has a lectern of song lyrics by his side but scarcely glances at it, and manages to keep the crowd entertained between songs via his pithy reminisces and cheeky remarks to his wife. He brings out Will to sing back-up vocals on a couple of songs, and while the younger man’s clearly self-conscious he’s also happy to be there, and not afraid to tell his old man to get a move on when Edwyn loses the thread during one song’s introduction. There are even moments when some old school rock’n’roll grandstanding is indulged, with guitarist James Walbourne let off the leash for some full-on soloing at the end of the set, though one suspects this is cover to let the singer make a dignified exit before the rest of the band. The main set ends with Edwyn’s two big hits Rip It Up (complete with authentically squelchy keyboard sounds) and A Girl Like You (which must be the only worldwide smash ever to feature the word “allegorically”), but there’s a treat in store for the encore in the form of the two ballads Home Again and It Dawns On Me, for which Walbourne and Ellis provide accompaniment on acoustic guitars.

This was a great evening, with three bands that were all worth the time, a genuine living legend and some wonderful songs. Catch him if you can.

Setlist: Falling And Laughing, Make Me Feel, What Presence, 31 Years, Ghost Of A Chance, Understated, Dying Day, Too Bad (That’s Sad), In Your Eyes, Losing Sleep, Dilemna, Rip It Up, A Girl Like You. Encores: Home Again, It Dawns On Me, Blue Boy, Don’t Shilly Shally

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The Place Beyond The Pines

PlaceBeyondPines

Derek Cianfrance’s second film as writer/director The Place Beyond The Pines has the surface feel and many of the trappings of one those mumbly, grainy, low budget indie films about under-privileged characters scraping out an existence on the fringes of small-town America that you might go to see at your friendly local arthouse cinema on a rainy afternoon and then not be able to remember anything about a couple of hours later. It becomes obvious very quickly though that it’s considerably better than that: gripping and full of unexpected swerves in fortune for its main players, well-crafted despite the odd bit of authentically shaky camera work, structurally bold, and confident enough to let the viewer make their own decisions about the morally grey areas it explores without having to ham-fistedly signpost an emotional response.

As protagonists Cianfrance gives us two young men, each with a baby boy to provide for, one a motorcycle stunt rider who develops a side-line in holding up banks when the money starts running out and the other an educated and ambitious police officer who finds himself implicated in some highly dodgy perversions of justice. Both men’s stories are fascinating and played out in a naturalistic and often understated manner that minimises tedious establishing scenes and unnecessary subplots, and while we’re clearly meant to draw parallels between them this aspect isn’t laboured…or not until the drawn-out and rather too neat final act of the film anyway, which could have easily been reduced to a five minute coda. The two men’s lives only actually intersect for the briefest of moments, but it’s an absolutely pivotal one and the consequences are shocking and far-reaching.

A lot of the tropes in Pines are well-worn (violent arguments in a small cramped house about a baby’s welfare, a mentor figure living in a shack in the wilds, a corrupt police chief trying to hush up a whistle-blower) but none of them seem forced and the action flows easily and naturally, with a highlight being an exhilarating chase sequence with Ryan Gosling’s chancer Luke desperately manoeuvring his bike through residential streets, backyards and even a cemetery in an effort to evade capture after a botched raid. And while the look and subject matter of the film are familiar there’s something about the tone of it that’s feels original, with the haunting, elegiac music signalling that Cianfrance is aiming for something much more ambitious and epic than a kitchen sink melodrama. He nearly gets there too. Pines could certainly do with some heavy editing towards the end but for the first hour and a half or so you definitely feel like you’re watching something a bit special.

The Spirit of ’45

SpiritOf45

The release of Ken Loach’s documentary The Spirit Of ’45, a summary of the postwar Labour government’s efforts to ensure a fair deal for all the UK’s long-suffering working people through the setting up of the National Health Service and the nationalisation of most of the country’s infrastructure and industry, is pretty timely given the current administration’s attempts to demonise the poorest and most disadvantaged members of society and somehow make them the scapegoat for the massive deficit in public finances that actually came about through the irresponsible and largely unpunished behaviour of unregulated financial institutions. The film juxtaposes archive footage of ordinary people living their lives in deprived and often bomb-scarred communities against fascinating recent interviews with octagenarians who were employed as miners, dockers, railway workers, nurses and doctors at the time, and also includes extracts from political campaigns of the era together with analysis from social historians. The picture that emerges is one of a bankrupt and traumatised nation coming to the end of a sustained period of hardship (a ten year economic depression followed by six years of war) with the firm determination that the future must be better and fairer for all – to this end Labour scored a landslide victory over the revered but unelectably patrician Winston Churchill and to their credit for once actually achieved the bulk of their manifesto promises, with Aneurin Bevan particularly notable for making the National Health Service more genuinely comprehensive and accessible than anyone had imagined possible. All of Labour’s accomplishments are properly set in context in Loach’s film, with the sheer amazement and joy which one 87 year old man remembers on being able to afford a council house with an inside toilet standing out as an indication on how our expectations of baseline comfort have changed since then.

The bulk of Spirit is really engrossing, possibly because Loach avoids blatant editorialising and just lets his participant’s memories and impressions build up a portrait of a time when individual members of society found it natural to work together to improve conditions for everyone. It’s perhaps a bit unfortunate then that the film ends with a bluntly polemical section showing the undermining and eventual dismantling of key sections of the welfare state by the Thatcher government and its successors – it’s not that I don’t recognise the devastating effects that the decisions to abruptly curtail mining and manufacturing had on the communities involved, but they’re presented here as a series of callous acts with no rationale or context and this part of the film is unlikely to change the mind of anyone watching who’s already suspicious of moaning lefties. Loach ends with a series of interviews with NHS workers past and present in which they make clear their opposition to the increasing marketisation of the service, and it’s to be hoped that this film will at least help focus resistance to what sometimes seems like an inevitable erosion of some of this country’s hard-won principles of equality.