The M M & M 1000 – part 57

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. The last of the Ts.

MIRACLES – Tracks of My Tears / Fork in the Road (Tamla 1965)
SPINNERS – Truly Yours / Where Is That Girl (Motown 1966)

Two classic Motown break-up ballads by two of the finest soul vocal groups of all time. But where everybody must know Tracks of My Tears, Truly Yours is unfairly obscure. Both have glorious angst-ridden choruses. It goes to show that sometimes the difference between being a well-loved classic and a relatively unknown tune is often simply down to luck. Ivy Hunter and Micky Stevenson’s song concerns the receipt of a ‘dear John’ letter, with Bobby Smith bitterly noting that “there’s one thing that I don’t understand / how you had the nerve to take a pen in your hand / and sign the letter ‘truly yours’ when you know that you were never truly mine“. Ouch.

KRAFTWERK – Trans Europe Express / Franz Schubert (Capitol 1977)
There were loads of different versions of this issued at the time. Most had Franz Schubert as the B side, although the UK issue had Europe Endless. On the album, TEE / Metal on Metal / Franz Schubert are a long, uninterrupted suite and a sub four minute edit does rob the track of a lot of its impact. Still, it’s here because it’s brilliant.

JOY DIVISION – Transmission / Novelty (Factory 1979)
On the face of it “Dance, dance, dance to the radio” isn’t Ian Curtis’s most profound lyric, but there’s an agitation to this record that suggests more epileptic fit than homely waltz. It was written before Curtis’s epilepsy was diagnosed, of course. Hooky’s bass intro is one of the greatest you’ll ever hear.

TINDERSTICKS – Travelling Light / Waiting ‘Round You / I’ve Been Loving You Too Long (This Way Up 1995)
While Stuart Staples protests he’s OK and free of any emotional baggage, Carla Torgerson (the Walkabouts) plays the voice of reason, pointing out his self-delusion. Their voices gel perfectly on this country-tinged weepie. Staples’ reading of Otis’s I’ve Been Loving You Too Long is an attractively morose one – all English introspection as opposed to the original’s obvious emotional pain.

OMNI TRIO – Trippin’ On Broken Beats / Soul of Darkness (Moving Shadow 1996)
CAPONE – Tudor Rose / Submerge (Hard Leaders 1999)

Two all time classic drum and bass cuts, but of a very different tone. Rob Haigh’s Trippin’ has a lightness of touch about it that makes the beats seem as airy as the water kiss of a skimming stone. A sample of Richard Burton from the film Anne of a Thousand Days leads off Tudor Rose, an intense stew of fat beats and thumping bass. Dark stuff.

NEW ORDER – True Faith / 1963 (Factory 1987)
The video was one of the weirdest things I’d ever seen – it still looks brilliant. I love the trio of fat-suited dancers, but my favourite bit is exactly three minutes in. Laugh out loud funny.

JOHN LEE HOOKER – Tupelo / Dusty Road (Vee-Jay 1960)
The inspiration for Nick Cave’s song of the same name, Hooker’s Tupelo is a dark rumination of a 1930s flood that inundated the Mississippi town. It’s part reportage and part a haunting and creepy walk among the ghosts of the past.

BYRDS – Turn, Turn, Turn / She Don’t Care About Time (Columbia 1965)
Here’s one for the pub quiz. Which US number one single has the oldest lyrics? Answer – this one (of course), with all the words taken verbatim from the Book of Ecclesiastes (traditionally attributed to King Solomon) except the last six (“I swear it’s not too late”) which were added by Pete Seeger when he adapted the passage to song form.

LITTLE RICHARD – Tutti Frutti / I’m Just a Lonely Guy (Speciality 1955)
Supposedly the finished article was a cleaned up version of a song that was a humorous ode to anal sex. What’s left is lyrical nonsense, but whatever it’s about sounds like a blast. And it gave the world the phrase “A-wop bop-a loo-bop, a-wop bam-boom!”.

THE NORMAL – TVOD / Warm Leatherette (Mute 1978)
The 45 that launched Mute Records consists of two punk-primitive slabs of dystopian electronica recorded by label head honcho Daniel Miller. Warm Leatherette in particular has a disturbing, dispassionate fetishization of car smashes inspired by JG Ballard’s Crash.

CULTURE – Two Sevens Clash / Version (Joe Gibbs 1977)
According to some Rastafarians, 1977 was the year of the coming apocalypse, with 7/7/77 (when the four sevens clash) the most feared date of all. Well, 1978 rolled around without much fuss, but the year did leave the world with one of the finest roots reggae albums of all time, and this majestic single, the LP’s title track.

FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD – Two Tribes / War (ZTT 1984)
And talking of apocalypses, seven years later (another 7 – spooky) the UK was gripped by Frankie-mania as the second of the group’s trio of tracts on sex, war and religion dropped, and sold and sold and sold. With its sampled passages from the government’s notoriously silly Protect and Survive pamphlet, this was partying in the face of nuclear armageddon. It also ushered in a new era of marketing, with a seemingly endless stream of remixes, and Paul Morley’s Katharine Hamnett inspired T shirts with slogans such as “Frankie Say Arm the Unemployed” and the like present on every high street during that summer. It was a very Thatcherite type of protest – tied in with commerce, music and fashion and saying more about the individual rather than actually attempting any concrete political change.

SLITS – Typical Girls / I Heard it Through the Grapevine (Island 1979)
The Slits were not your typical girls at all when it came to the post-77 crowd. Posh, public school educated and female in a scene dominated by white working class boys, they were also more interested in reggae and soul music than any 1-2-3-4 buzz-rock. That they couldn’t really play gave their tunes a ramshackle feel that contrasted with the usual tight rhythms of the dub they loved. Their covers (like Grapevine) were saved from being bad karaoke by a questing spirit and sense of mischief that made them great in a way that’s almost impossible to define.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 32

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Last load of Ls.

Halfway through now. 500 down, 500 to go. As I mentioned in the first part, this little undertaking stemmed from a response I compiled to a similar list by Dave Marsh getting on for ten years ago. I rediscovered it, tweaked it, and began to unleash it on the world. As far as my mini sketches about each record go, I do a little background checking, but I deliberately don’t reacquaint myself with the tunes before I scribble my nonsense. I figure that if I can’t remember a piece of music that clearly, then it can’t be that great in the first place. Of course, the opposite is definitely not true, as anyone who gets really annoying tunes stuck in their head will know! But after pressing the publish button, I often rush straight to the collection to dig out some of the tunes that I’ve written about. I hope that some of you do too.

PRIMAL SCREAM – Loaded / I’m Losing More Than I Ever Had (Creation 70 1990)
In which Andy Weatherall took an average jangly indie band by the scruff of the neck, shook out the tweeness and stripped them down to their underpants.. “Loaded” still has a lazy, narcotic charm. Unfortunately the band thought that this made them the next Stones, and have proceeded to churn out mountains of guff since, with the occasional unpolished gem sometimes turning up.

LORI & THE CHAMELEONS – The Lonely Spy / Peru (Korova 5 1980)
One of the great could-have-been bands. It was a project by Dave Balfe and Bill Drummond that only ever produced four songs spread over two singles. Each was a little belter. All were mini stories (exotic romances or Le Carré like thrillers, set in places like Japan or India) crammed into three minute pop tunes, all with a noir-ish atmosphere. Think Goldfrapp’s first album for a rough comparison. The Moscow set “The Lonely Spy” has more than a bit of The Spy Who Came in From the Cold about its ultimately tragic plot.

LEFTY FRIZZELL – Long Black Veil / Knock Again True Love (Columbia 41384 1959)
This is one of a few songs that I first heard on Nick Cave’s Kicking Against the Pricks album. I think his cover is equally good, but wasn’t a single. Lefty’s was. It’s a country weepie with all the essential ingredients – murder, adultery and honour. The protagonist sings from beyond the grave about how he was tried and executed for a murder he didn’t commit – his alibi being that he was sleeping with his best friend’s wife at the time. But he feels that to use it would be to betray her, so he silently accepts his fate.

HANK WILLIAMS – The Lost Highway / You’re Gonna Change (MGM 10506 1949)
Why do people who don’t generally like country music revere Hank Williams? I think it’s down to the poetic simplicity of his songs. There’s no gloss, no veneer, no melodramatics. He could be funny (“Move It On Over”), but he could also express existential despair succinctly and simply. “Lost Highway” is beyond grief and bereft of self-pity. It is a man detached from life, so weighed down by regrets, that he just drifts along, a lost soul with no thoughts for the future. It comes across as a warning to others not to be led astray, although his sins are never spelled out. It sounds that it was written as thinly disguised autobiography – especially in the light of the fate that awaited him.

SISTER SLEDGE – Lost in Music / Thinking of You (Cotillion 45001 1979)
I was in my mid teens, a huge fan of Joy Division, Magazine, the Pop Group etc. But I also had a (then) pretty unfashionable love of soul music. “Lost in Music” was pretty unique in the disco canon in that it was the lyrics that spoke to me more than the tune or the rhythm. I totally understood Kathy Sledge and how it was to be obsessed with music, to be able to relate to it more than with any other art form – or person. You get more grounded as you grow older, and fortunately more socially proficient! But my love of music is still a massive part of who I am, and I still regard this as a kind of personal theme tune.

KINGSMEN – Louie Louie / Haunted Castle (Wand 143 1963)
One of the things that’s so great about pop music in particular, is that sometimes a record that is so wrong on every level can end up as a masterpiece. The Kingsmen were an early garage band, dominated by their organ. This rough and ready live recording of an old Richard Berry song features a mumbling singer who seems to have forgotten most of the words, sounds drunk and is utterly unintelligible. The band can barely play either. But its appeal lies in that raw, primitive ineptitude. The riff is dumb and repetitive, but irresistible.

SUPREMES – Love Child / Will This Be The Day (Motown 1135 1968)
DIANA ROSS – Love Hangover / Kiss Me Now (Motown 1392 1976)

Early Supremes songs had simple themes, even if they were poetic and lyrically clever – girl meets boy, girl loses boy or girl gets boy back. “Love Child” moved into the realms of corny melodrama. Beneath that, there is a pretty conservative moral message. What shames the protagonist isn’t her past of extreme poverty, but the fact that she was born out of wedlock, and the song is essentially a plea to her lover to do the decent thing before they do anything that could make her baby suffer the same immoral fate. It’s all a bit Moral Majority. Eight years on, Diana the diva is fully formed. “Love Hangover” starts off seductive and slow but then breaks into a breathless, funky disco. It’s just about the sexiest disco tune this side of Donna Summer.

PET SHOP BOYS – Love Comes Quickly / That’s My Impression (Parlophone 6116 1986)
There was an almost Roman decadence about the eighties. While the outposts of the Empire (ie the north) were suffering grinding poverty, unemployment, and the destruction of their entire industrial and social fabric, the imperial capital was a sea of excess – yuppies, cocktail bars, sports cars and wads of cash being flashed around. It’s ironic that bands the Pet Shop Boys who came to soundtrack this orgy of consumption, were from the north and politically the antithesis of everything that was going on. They were fully aware of their odd position, and both celebrated and satirised the ‘me decade’. Ultimately, they just had a knack for producing lush, slightly melancholy but classic pop songs. Like this one.

ROBERT JOHNSON – Love in Vain Blues / Preachin’ Blues (Vocalion 4630 1937)
In the officially authorised version of the history of rock ‘n’ roll, Robert Johnson is cast unquestionably as the ‘greatest blues artist of all time’. I hate these sort of sweeping statements that make subjective opinions on art stand on par with unarguable facts such as water is wet. Johnson’s total output of 29 songs aren’t all classics by any stretch of the imagination. Some, like “Terraplane Blues” and “Phonograph Blues” are exactly the same tune with different words. You could argue that the reason that he was raised above all others was a) because he was dead, and his life was mysterious, short and came to a dramatic end and b) John Hammond issued loads of his tunes in 1961 on album, making them available to hungry blues fans. I’m not saying he wasn’t great, just that sweeping statements need to be tempered by a bit of perspective. “Love in Vain” (to come back to the subject) is one of his most beautiful songs. It’s weary, mournful and sad – I guess the essence of the blues.

RUTH ETTING – Love Me or Leave Me / I’m Bringing a Red Red Rose (Columbia 1680 1928)
There was an HBO mini series a few years back called Carnivale that I stumbled upon quite by accident on DVD. Set in the height of the great Depression, it followed the progress of a travelling carny, but was focused on the eternal battle between good and evil, represented by a young carnival worker with healing powers and a demonic preacher. Definitely worth watching if you get the chance. To the point. One record that was a recurring motif was this song by Ruth Etting. It was often heard playing on a scratchy 78. Ghostly, and sad, the words “I’d rather be lonely than happy with somebody else” seemed particularly haunting. I downloaded the tune when I’d tracked down who it was by (it’s out of copyright, so I wasn’t being naughty). It’s captivating. Ruth Etting was a stage musical actress and sang the song in the play Makin’ Whoopee. When released in 1928, it was a huge hit. Many people will know the song through Nina Simone’s version. I’ll have to confess I’ve never heard that one. Can’t imagine it’s better than the original.

CLOVERS – Love Potion #9 / Stay Awhile (United Artists 180 1959)
After three hitless years, Atlantic dropped the Clovers, only for the group to bounce back one final time with this little comic gem. With his sex life little more than a memory, our hero goes to see a gypsy who gives him the titular love potion. The effects are a little stronger than he expected, and he lands in trouble when he grabs a cop and kisses him. It’s silly but sprightly. Something the Clovers had done well in their earlier Atlantic days before they were given ever more gloopy and embarrassing ballads to sing. I was to be a brief coda to their career, unfortunately.

TEDDY PENDERGRASS – Love TKO / I Just Called to Say (Philadelphia International 93116 1980)
Once the voice of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, Teddy Pendergrass went solo and became the Godfather of eighties soul crooners like Alexander O’Neal and Luther Vandross. I never really liked that stuff – too glossy for me. But “Love TKO” is both sumptuous and soulful. Oh, and miserable too. It’s a typical song about being dumped, but Pendergrass conveys the pain, and the production has an almost noir-ish late night feel. It has more in common with Sinatra’s classic Capitol collections of unadulterated gloom than it does with synthetic eighties soul.

O’JAYS – Love Train / Who Am I? (Philadelphia International 3524 1973)
Trains play a big role in soul music, and also in Gospel. I guess it stems from the great migrations of African Americans from the plantations of the south to northern cities like St Louis, Chicago and Detroit in the first half of the twentieth century. “People Get Ready” by the Impressions uses the train as a metaphor for the favourite old Gospel topic of the Israelites exodus, something that stikes a very obvious chord of recognition. “Love Train” is a secular take on the same concept, and a fabulous uplifting track to boot.

JOY DIVISION – Love Will Tear Us Apart / These Days (Factory 23 1980)
Some songs just are. To try and explain them, is to somehow drain them of their power. I don’t think it’s Joy Division’s greatest song. It also crops up frequently in all sorts of parts of the media. I rarely play it, but then I don’t need to – I know it note for note.

EMMETT MILLER – Lovesick Blues / Big Bad Bill (Okeh 40465 1925)
Nick Tosches’ book Where the Dead Voices Gather is a superb piece of music archaeology, biography and polemic rolled into one. The central figure is a vaudevillian and blackface comedian called Emmett Miller who recorded a couple of dozen 78s over a fifteen year period. They range from seriously unfunny skits on black characters that are quite shocking in their racism, to prehistoric country croons. Tosches makes strong, often controversial, arguments about the role of minstrelsy in the half century or so following the American Civil War, but also strong arguments for Miller’s role in the evolution of country music. On that latter score, “Lovesick Blues” is exhibit A, a bruised yodel that clearly predates Jimmie Rodgers. It’s a gateway to a past that we can never truly comprehend.

More soon

The M M & M 1000 – part 13

Here’s the latest batch of Music Musings and Miscellany’s unapologetically subjective selection of the twentieth century’s best 1000 singles. Onward, and in amongst the Ds.

NOMEANSNO – Dad / Revenge (Alternative Tentacles 60 1988)
“Dad” was remade by the band’s alter-egos the Hanson Brothers (with different words) as “Brad” (Wrong 4 1992). Both concern monstrous family members. “Dad” is the violent, sexually abusive, domineering patriarch whilst “Brad” is the über-annoying little brother who steals and squeals and generally causes no end of trouble. Both have the same punk-rock arrangement, but the protagonist on “Dad” sounds desperate, while on “Brad” he’s merely extremely exasperated. There is a difference. Unsurprisingly, it’s the Hansons I listen to most often. The Nomeansno original is too raw and disturbing.

GANG OF FOUR – Damaged Goods / Love Like Anthrax / Armalite Rifle (Fast Product 5 1978)
A brilliant three-tracker from Leeds University’s most famous Marxist alumni. Human being as consumer object, love as disease, weapons as freely traded commodities. Everything wrong with the world is pretty much encapsulated in this trio of brilliant, spiky post-punk tunes.

SOPHIE B HAWKINS – Damn, I Wish I Was Your Lover / Don’t Stop Swaying (Columbia 657735 1992)
Unrequited love can foster many reactions. The one most usually observed in pop is the self-pitying adolescent mope (hi Mozzer). Ms Hawkins, though, is just really really frustrated. This is one of those worm-like songs that gets into your head and stays there. At least it does in my case. Great use of Bonzo Bonham’s drumming on “Kashmir” too, before the sample became as hackneyed as that James Brown one from “Funky Drummer”.

SLY & THE FAMILY STONE – Dance to the Music / Let Me Hear It From You (Epic 10256 1967)
The Family Stone’s breakthrough hit, and the first really successful melding of funk and rock. “Dance to the Music” is a great party track, but also pointed the way for many to follow from the P-Funksters to the Whitfield-era Temptations and rock groups like Blood, Sweat and Tears and Rare Earth.

MARTHA & THE VANDELLAS – Dancing in the Street / There He Is (Gordy 7033 1964)
According to Mojo Magazine, the greatest of all Motown 45s. Somehow an upbeat party record caught the mood, and became an anthem for sixties radicalism – from the Detroit Riots to the Paris uprising to the Prague Spring.

ABBA – Dancing Queen / That’s Me (Epic 4499 1976)
What wedding disco or office party would be complete without it? Essentially, any social function that mixes a disparate group of people of all generations with little in common, and needs something to give the group a little cohesion usually wheels this one on. If people are drunk enough, it’ll always work. Disco-pop about nothing other than the joy of dancing. What’s not to like?

JAMES CARR – The Dark End of the Street / Lovable Girl (Goldwax 317 1967)
If soul is the expression of inner pain, then James Carr was the finest soul singer ever. He battled with severe depression all his life, and without wishing to sound glib, you can hear it in his songs. “The Dark End of the Street” is actually about two adulterous lovers trying to keep their affair a secret, but in Carr’s hands that seems a far more heartbreaking situation than the poor sods that they are cuckolding are in. Is there a genre called soul-noir? If there isn’t, then I’ll just have to invent it and give this record pride of place.

POGUES – The Dark Streets of London / And the Band Played Waltzin’ Matilda (Stiff 207 1984)
Drunken rabble rousing of the highest order. The flip side is a spirited, but respectful reading of Eric Bogle’s epic Great War tale of an ANZAC veteran of the Gallipoli campaign. June Tabor’s spooky and solemn acapella version is probably the best known, but Shane MacGowan gives the protagonist an outraged anger as opposed to Tabor’s weary resignation.

STEELY DAN – Deacon Blues / Home at Last (ABC 12355 1978)
By the time Becker and Fagen made Aja, they’d ironed out all the rough spots leaving a glistening sheen of smooth jazz-pop. By rights, that should be truly awful, but “Deacon Blues” has a sophisticated charm that makes you fantasize about owning an opened top Beamer and your own cocktail bar. At least for five or six minutes.

LOU RAWLS – Dead End Street / Yes It Hurts Doesn’t It (Capitol 5869 1967)
Lou Rawls had a gorgeous baritone voice, but for much of his career, he was a singer of standards in the Sammy Davis Jr / Billy Eckstine mould. “Dead End Street” was an all-too rare excursion into darker, more soulful terrtory. Essentially, it’s a two part song – the opening minute and a half is a monologue about growing up on the cold and mean streets of Chicago, before the song proper gets underway. It’s a gripping tale of deprivation and escape. Hey, another for my soul-noir category!

JOY DIVISION – Dead Souls / Atmosphere (Sordide Sentimentale 2 1980)
Any other band with two songs this good would have issued them as singles or used them as showpiece album tracks. Joy Division licensed them to a French arthouse label who issued them under the title Licht und Blindheit in a limited run of 1578 copies. “Atmosphere” surfaced later in the year on a twelve inch, and “Dead Souls” in 1981 as part of the Still odds ‘n’ sods compilation. With its title taken from Gogol, “Dead Souls” is a rumination on internal conflicts where the dead seem to be summoning Curtis to join them. Seriously spooky. In its initial incarnation on a Piccadilly Radio session, “Atmosphere” had the equally spooky couplet “It may happen soon – then maybe you’d care” which was changed to “abandoned too soon – set down with due care” on the final version. Discuss.

PUBLIC IMAGE LTD – Death Disco / No Birds Do Sing (Virgin 274 1979)
Seriously brutal dub topped with Lydon’s wailing phantom. Can you imagine something this confrontational and extreme making the top ten today? It’s a pity that the Sex Pistols still get all the attention. They were a minor footnote compared to PIL if you use an artistic yardstick as opposed to a cultural one.

DAVE DAVIES – Death of a Clown / Love Me Till the Sun Shines (Pye 17356 1967)
Ray’s little brother proved he had the chops with this solo hit. The dark side of Swingin’ London.

WATERBOYS – December / Three Day Man (Ensign 506 1983)
Mike Scott had already begun to move towards self-consciously epic territory in his previous bands Another Pretty Face and Funhouse, but it was with the Waterboys he went the whole hog. Big subjects required big music, something grandly self-proclaimed on his second album. “December” is a cracking song, although I haven’t really got a clue what it’s about. But it does sound very important – Jesus gets a name check, so it must be.

PRETTY THINGS – Deflecting Grey / Mr Evasion (Columbia 8300 1967)
UK psychedelia is so polite. There’s no revolutionary calls to arms, or garage band punk in the ouevre. Or very little – most concerns itself with oddball characters, gentle satire and Edwardian children’s fiction. “Deflecting Grey” is more like the gritty US psyche punk of the likes of the Count Five or even the Red Krayola. But with far better musicianship. It rocks much harder than anything else to come out of the country before the Broughtons and the Deviants injected a bit of proto-punk zip.

HOUSE OF LOVE – Destroy the Heart / Blind / Mr Jo (Creation 57 1988)
The last of the House of Love’s four great Creation singles, “Destroy the Heart” fades in at a point where you feel you’ve just walked in and missed part of it, and precedes to zip along with no let up for two and a half minutes. Brilliant and exciting – not words that would be easily applied to UK indie these days.

SKIP JAMES – Devil Got My Woman / Cypress Grove Blues (Paramount 13088 1931)
Skip James was both an amazing guitarist and brilliant songwriter, but he had a lousy sense of timing. He arrived on the scene just as the record industry was going into meltdown, so his recorded output was small, and sold zilch. Interest was revived by a couple of albums he made for Vanguard in the sixties. Good as they were, they don’t really compare with his classic 1931 material.

CLOVERS – Devil or Angel / Hey Doll Baby (Atlantic 1083 1956)
“Devil or Angel” was one of the last classic Clovers records before Atlantic virtually destroyed the group by covering their tunes in orchestral and choral schmaltz in a misguided attempt to gain crossover appeal. None of that here, thankfully – just a pure, heartstring-yanking doowop ballad where he can’t decide whether she’s good or evil before having to admit that it makes no difference, ’cause he’s smitten anyway.

More soon

Film: Joy Division (Grant Gee 2008)

In some ways, the Joy Division story is an odd one for a major documentary film. It’s not that the story isn’t interesting – far from it – just that it is perhaps overly familiar. Anton Corbijn’s brilliant Control was only released six months ago, and there was a BBC documentary about Factory shown around the same time. Coupled with this, the amount of archive footage is small – much of it (like the Granada studios and BBC Oxford Road sessions) has been seen many times before. The film’s major coup was getting Annik Honoré to speak for the first time, but she didn’t really have much of interest to say. Against this, there was a Deborah Curtis shaped hole in the centre of film, papered over with quotes from her book.

So reservations aplenty, but director Grant Gee has managed to fashion a remarkably good film out of the limited resources available. After Corbijn’s grainy monochrome, it’s quite a shock to see everything in glorious colour. Grubby as it was, seventies Manchester doesn’t look quite so shockingly grim and war-torn when shown in colour. Sunshine and blue skies weren’t eighties inventions. The film’s structure is chronological, eschewing too much fancy contextualizing with a more or less straight telling of the story. Both Barney and Hooky are as unguarded and revealing as I’ve heard them. Ian Curtis comes across in a better light than he did in Control. In Corbijn’s film it was easy to forget just how young he was. Here it’s more apparent, and the sense of regret that the surviving band members have that they didn’t handle his illness better, or read the warning signs more clearly is palpable. They were also young, and simply not experienced enough to deal with it. In retrospect, all three feel that their singer was wracked with guilt about letting them down through his illness, and this made him hide it is much as he could from them. Which, of course, just made things worse.

Gee weaves the interviews with archive footage very well. He uses the limited amount of material available to its best advantage, including some live footage shot by fans. Grainy and tinny, but worth seeing. There is a hilarious bit mid film where John Peel wrestles with the concept of a 33rpm seven inch single. The film’s screenwriter Jon Savage and the late Tony Wilson try to make a case that the band were largely responsible for Manchester’s rebirth as a modern city which is perhaps overstating their impact. But that thesis isn’t overplayed, thankfully. In the end, what leaves the greatest impression is the music. As one interviewee says in the film (Richard Boon? I forget who), it still sounds strikingly modern. It certainly doesn’t sound like it was made almost thirty years ago.

The audience at the showing I was at sat reverentially right through to the end of the credits, which is unusual. And then they filed out in contemplative silence. That in itself is as good a recommendation as any.

Joy Division reissues

In two weeks time, new expanded issues of Unknown Pleasures, Closer and Still are released, each with a bonus disc. As a long time Joy Division fan, why am I not slavering at the mouth? Simply put, it’s just another record company cash in. Unknown Pleasures and Closer are both masterpieces. If you don’t own them, I suggest strongly that you rectify that oversight asap. But both are available mid price. Still was always a mish mash. The studio disc contains some superb material, but the live half is, shall we say, a little lacking. Nothing wrong with the performances, but “Ceremony” has inaudible vocals, and the synths are all over the place, reaching technical meltdown on a truly horrible rendition of “Decades”.

What about the bonus discs? The three shows at the Factory, High Wycombe and the University of London Union have been bootlegged to death. The best tracks of the three are all included on the definitive Heart And Soul box which also includes all of the studio cuts from across the three albums, all of the singles, compilation tracks and some superb demo material. It’s also available for at least a tenner less than the three reissues would put you back.

If you’re determined to chuck money around like confetti, then I recommend the limited edition vinyl box set also released on September 17th. A Snip at £160.

Edinburgh Diary / Control (Anton Corbijn)

I’m in Edinburgh for a week for a festival. I’ll try and mention one or two things that I’ve seen over the next few days.

First up yesterday (Sunday) was Free and Easy at the Stand, free improv comedy with long time regulars Stewart Murphy and Gary Dobson. I enjoy the inane silliness of it all and the surreal logic warps that the duo achieve. Like all improv, though, it’s uneven. Today there were a few too many knob gags for it to be considered one of their better shows.

The Laughing Horse are doing a number of free comedy shows at the Smirnoff Underbelly on Cowgate. The lunchtime show features a number of up and coming comics doing seven minute spots. None of the five on yesterday rocked my world, but none were stare-at-the-floor bad either. I wrote their names down on a bit of paper but I’ve lost it.

The evening was music related. Deaf Shepherd were playing the third off three nights at the Acoustic Music Centre at St. Bride’s on Orwell Road. Normally a six piece, the group were trimmed to a quitet due to the illness of one of the two fiddle players. Even so, they delivered a thrilling set of turbocharged traditional Scottish music with Burns ballads interspersed with some fiery reels and jigs.

Good though that was, the real highlight of the day for me was the second UK screening of Anton Corbijn’s film Control – a biopic about the short life of Joy Division singer Ian Curtis. The film is shot in the kind of steely monochrome that Corbijn is famous for in his photography. Considering the subject matter, there are quite a few laugh out loud moments – particularly from potty-mouthed Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson (played by Toby Kebbell and Craig Parkinson respectively). But it has to be said that these get progressively fewer as the film spirals down to its dark conclusion. The performances are uniformly excellent – particularly Sam Riley as Curtis and Samantha Morton as his wife Debbie. There are certain scenes when Riley looks uncannily like the singer which adds to the atmosphere of realism that pervades the movie.

On a musical level, the live footage and rehearsal scenes are superb. Originally the screen band were to mime to Joy Division backing tracks, with Riley singing live over the top, but they persuaded Corbijn to allow them to play the music themselves. The result is a slightly ragged, but undenyingly powerful sound which feels much more realistic than it would otherwise have done. Apparently James Anthony Pearson, who plays Barney Sumner, learned guitar from scratch for his role in only a fortnight (which just shows you had technically good Barney was!). Although the film is specifically not about the band, but about the singer and his personal demons, if the music hadn’t have been believable it would have seriously undermined the whole movie. In fact, I almost clapped at the end of one song, forgetting where I was for a minute.

Curtis does come out looking like a bit of a dick. His emotional manipulation of both his wife and mistress Annik Honore, like his inability to communicate on a more than superficial level with either, reveals an emotional immaturity. It has to be said, though, the progressive worsening of his epilepsy, and the consequent medication that was constantly pumped into him can’t have helped his mental state.

Annik Honore appears in a more sympathetic light than could be reasonably expected since the film was based on Debbie Curtis’ book. Both women were essentially victims of a screwed-up and frightened boy who was way out of his depth dealing with marriage, fatherhood, love, fame and illness. In the end, he just didn’t have the strength.

Control is a film I’d looked forward to, but was kind of nervous about too. I was a bit of a Joy Division obsessive in my teenaged years, so this was quite personal material to me. I needn’t have worried. The film is distinctly un-Hollywood. It is by turns bleak and funny, but pulls no punches and offers no emotional compromises. The audience filed out in near silence afterwards in an atmosphere of shell-shock. A masterpiece of movie-making, and one I thoroughly recommend that everyone sees, whether they’re into Joy Division or not, when it gets a general release in October.