Tag Archives: Richard Ayoade

PJ Harvey and Portishead at All Tomorrow’s Parties: I’ll Be Your Mirror, Alexandra Palace 23/7/2011

I’m not much of a one for festivals, as I tend to find, as in life, that being presented with simultaneous multiple options induces anxiety rather than relaxation, but I made an exception for day one of All Tomorrow’s Parties: I’ll Be Your Mirror as at least it was being held in a well-defined and relatively accessible venue (the venerable Alexandra Palace) and it wasn’t going to involve any camping. True to form, on arrival I found the sheer mass of humanity attending a little alarming, and the confusing one-way system didn’t help allay my gut instinct that I’d signed up for some kind of alternative bootcamp, but after some food and a screening of the agreeable Submarine (featuring an appropriately shambolic and self-effacing Q & A with its director Richard Ayoade) I was starting to feel acclimatised.

As I’ve said before, at the minute I love PJ Harvey, and it was great to see her even in the vast Great Hall of the palace, a massive space that may well have been used in a past life for auctioning blue whales. She appeared dressed entirely in black, clutching her autoharp, with her extensive black hair sculpted into a fantastic back-projecting structure that reminded me of nothing so much as the alien blue opera singer from The Fifth Element. Her set consisted mainly of a tight runthrough of nearly all of the songs from the remarkable Let England Shake, with the band made up of the same seasoned players that appear on the album, and as on the recorded version they played with grace and no showboating, allowing you not to be distracted from the PJ’s astonishing and highly accomplished vocals. As befits an artist wary of resting on her laurels there was nothing much in the way of golden oldies (C’mon Billy and Angelene were I think the only pre-2007 selections), and there were a couple of songs I didn’t recognise that may well have been new. All fine stuff anyway, presented with the minimum of fuss and over a more than decent public address system, and it was nice of PJ to introduce her band and let them take a bow with her at the end.

Portishead were awesome and majestic and magisterial and any other adjective you can find towards the top end of the scale of quality that starts with “alright, I suppose”. Their melancholy blend of processed beats, murky aural textures and heart-tugging melody can’t be straightforward to reproduce even in laboratory conditions, but the mix in this most cavernous of venues was well-nigh faultless, with Beth Gibbons’ aching vocals cutting through the industrial percussion and treated guitars immaculately. The five musicians on stage were varying the approach admirably too, changing instruments to fit every song’s requirements with the minimum of delays, and I was surprised to hear something as traditional as a delicately picked acoustic guitar at one point. My only issue is really the same that I have with the albums, in that the raw material gets a little, well, samey after a while – the songs and arrangements always seem to be descending, and would it kill them to use a major chord every now and then? – but there’s absolutely no denying the quality of this performance. Sour Times sounded as clear as a CD being listened to on top quality headphones, with every element in perfect balance, while the harsh electronic drill-like motif of the frankly terrifying Machine Gun (surely one of the least compromising pop singles ever) seemed to cause my heart to start racing. They went to town with the visuals too: multiple screens showing a mix of animations, abstract sequences and distorted live footage of the band as they played. This was one of the most impressive live presentations on a technical level I can remember, even if I didn’t always connect emotionally with the repertoire.

Submarine: you were all yellow

Richard Ayoade’s (you may know him better as Moss from The IT Crowd) directorial debut Submarine is a minor marvel: a postmodern comedy liberally peppered with self-awareness, irony and references to other films that still manages to be charming, funny and unexpectedly touching in places. I’m getting increasingly impatient with stuff that’s self-consciously quirky and offbeat (for example, I’ve stopped watching the films of Wes Anderson, to which Submarine seems particularly stylistically indebted), but sometimes things just click – Gregory’s Girl is probably my yardstick for unconventional teen romances, and it’s to Ayoade’s credit that his film doesn’t look at all shabby by comparison.

It’s a small-scale story told from the point of view of Oliver, a bookish and solitary 15 year old living in a run-down but still reasonably scenic Welsh town, with one of the two main plot threads being his mission to secure a girlfriend and lose his outsider status and the other being his concern over the reappearance of his mother’s former lover. Both of these strands may sound a bit formulaic, but they play out in ways that are surprising, frequently laugh-out-loud funny and occasionally slightly unsettling. A lot of the stock characters and scenarios you’d expect are present and correct (the school bully, the wry teacher, the repressed mother and insecure father) but all come up feeling fresh due to thoughtful scripting and excellent performances that keep the situations credible, despite the overabundance of freeze-frames, voiceover and ostentatious fade-outs to red or blue. Craig Roberts is an ideal bit of casting for Oliver: most of the time he’s utterly convincing as the nerdy and naively calculating loner, but he handles some more challenging material just as well, such as when Oliver acts badly out of self-absorption or when he tries to restore the balance of his parents’ marriage. Yasmin Paige is also excellent as Oliver’s love interest Jordana, a wilful and bluntly mocking girl whose motivation is initially impossible to fathom. Also worth mentioning is Paddy Considine’s ludicrous but constantly hilarious new age psychic, whose ridiculously pompous seminars and videos are worth going to see the film for alone.

Submarine is probably destined for cult status, on the same shelf as Shaun Of The Dead and In Bruges in terms of quotable dialogue and memorable set-pieces. I wouldn’t be too upset to see it there.