Andrew R. Hill

'Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records' - Simon Goddard

Simon Goddard’s whimsical account of Postcard is prefaced by Maxwell Scott’s oft paraphrased “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” It’s a quote that is key to understanding and enjoying the book. It does not ‘set the record straight’, it is not a reference manual of endless gigographies and timelines – if that’s what you’re after, that book is yet to be written. Simply Thrilled: The Preposterous Story of Postcard Records is not a hagiography per se – the presence of myriad acts of self-defeat (and, every now and then, incompetence) and acid-tongued put-downs run rather contrary to most accounts of sainthood – but it does indulge the mythmaking, as well as further romanticising that which has already been significantly romanticised. It’s an engaging read, for all that the line between fact and fiction is often knowingly blurred (quite where is far from apparent much of the time, although Goddard does occasionally illuminate the reader with footnotes on particularly contentious matters).

Following a prologue explaining the life Victorian cat illustrator and inadvertent Postcard logo designer Louis Wain, Goddard introduces us to the Mitty-ish, Saltcoats-dwelling teenage Alan Horne, perennially setback by “fate’s cruel ministers” (a fate used recurrently to great comic effect); most readers will know how integral he is to the Postcard story – in some ways, Goddard renders it all the more incredible that he could be. From there, Goddard recounts his absurd tale of the (still) influential phenomenon that was Postcard Records (slogan ‘The Sound of Young Scotland’): short-lived, a haphazard lurch from genius to disaster and back again, full of youthful bravado and naivety, all the while producing some of the most jaw-droppingly vivacious music ever recorded (although none of it could ever measure up to Pale Blue Eyes for Horne, of course). Horne, Edwyn Collins and co. believed they could take the charts and were outward-looking, without ever losing their very Scottish sense of humour (and periodic self-destruction). Orange Juice were from Bearsden, Josef K Edinburgh, Aztec Camera East Kilbride – all pretty close to each other – but the Go-Betweens were from Brisbane; nonetheless, they weren’t afraid to play with a particular image of Scotland as well (see the label 7” sleeves from 1981).

' Funky Glasgow Then' map - a Record Store Day exclusive

'Funky Glasgow Then' map - a Record Store Day exclusive

The book presents the Postcard story as just that: a tale, a fable, a ripping yarn. Its is a compelling narrative and often laugh-out-loud funny; the overly florid language can be a tad overpowering, even a bit grating (particularly at first), but the eccentric subjects lend themselves to it (how many debut singles – how many songs, for that matter - have used the word ‘consequently’?). There is also the risk of the humour overwhelming an inspiring story and rendering its protagonists parochial bumpkins – it narrowly avoids doing so by the obvious affection Goddard has for his subjects (as well as the fact that these stories have come from the participants themselves). There is an obsessive fanboy in this writer that is perhaps a bit disappointed by a lack of endless hard facts and figures, trivial minutiae, but that same anorak-bearing, social incompetent was also enthralled to read the myth recorded in black-and-white. Finally. Postcard (the records, the idea of it) is held close to the hearts of many – Goddard’s book will certainly not detract from this, he may well serve to enhance it. There’s certainly a lot more to be said about the journeys that the talents of Postcard took, but this book gets things off to a flying start. Ye Gods.

 

 

Andrew R. Hill


Glasgow Film Festival 2014

Starred Up - dir. David MacKenzie

Image courtesy of Sigma Films

Image courtesy of Sigma Films

Eric Love (Jack O' Connell) is a young offender who gets transferred to adult prison due to his hard to control, violent behavior - early on in the film, he earns the designation ' single cell, high risk'. By a twist of fate, his father Nev (Ben Mendelsohn) is also on the same wing......

I must admit I wasn't overjoyed at the premise of David MacKenzie's new film. Even though I am a fan of his solid body of work (including Young Adam and Hallam Foe), I wondered what else there was to add to the prison drama 'subgenre'.

Whilst Starred Up hardly brings anything new to the table, it somehow manages to tell a story that has cliché written all over it (the difficult father-son relationship, the generous but misunderstood counsellor, the corrupt prison guards) in a fresh, and ingenious manner. Yes, it is 'gritty', and yes, it tries to be 'authentic' with his handheld camera shots and 'real' location (a disused Belfast prison), but it also portrays characters that are anything but one-dimensional and that remain largely unknowable. Eric, his father and the rest of the inmates go beyond the good vs bad distinction that is usually a staple for this kind of film. Their behaviour is largely erratic and unpredictable. Similarly, counsellor Oliver (Rupert Friend) is well-meaning, but clearly has some issues of his own. Is his interest in Eric just limited to his job requirements? Questions like this are not met by easy answers: the dialogue is kept to a bare minimum, and is often simply hard to understand. The cast seem to communicate in an almost primitive way. Of course, this could be a consequence of living in an environment that is clearly dehumanising, but it also gives an impression that we are witnessing a story that is interested in human nature in its most basic form. The images on screen seem to confirm this impression: every burst of violence is carefully choreographed, and takes on a meaning that goes beyond the immediacy of the action. The film's 'naturalism' is clearly not what it superficially appears.

Starred Up ends with a shot of a revolving door (a recurrent image throughout the film): it left me wondering whether this is simply a nihilistic reference to the  never-changing nature of the British prison system or more of a reflection on the vicious circle that violence often produces. 

Erika Sella


The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears - dir. Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani

I  mage courtesy of BFI

Image courtesy of BFI

Who doesn't love a Giallo? The last decade seems to have brought a massive revival for the 60s/70s Italian 'genre', Glossy DVD releases, conferences at film festivals, academic books, countless website and blogs, and Berberian Sound Studio

Cattet and Forzani are clearly fans, as this is their second venture (after 2009's Amer) that heavily references this source material. The Giallo semiotic staples are all there: a killer with black gloves, plently of female nudity, the 'groovy' soundtrack, the Art Nouveau building (heavily reminiscent of the dance school in Suspiria),   At one point, there is a very direct nod to the much-loved The Strange Vice of Mrs Wardh  as the protagonist 'enjoys' a sexual encounter involving shattered glass. 

The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears should not be judged on the basis of its stick-thin plot (a man trying to unravel the mystery of his wife's disappearance) - beyond its excessive cinematography, and its very core, it is not a giallo, (in many of the Italian thrillers, scripts were convoluted and often nonsensical, yet fundamental part of what made them enjoyable), but rather something more akin to early Buñuel or to Jodorowsky. Yet, despite its art house aspirations, this film is an overall fail: very quickly, its 'cinema of attractions' strategy (a cavalcade of kaleidoscopic effects, split screens, blinding primary colours etc. ) appears thin and tiresome, leaving the viewer with very little to get stuck in.  

The general impression I was left in was that of an over-long, humorless and very pretentious music video. A real shame seen that the filmmakers' attempt to breath new life into a still underrated genre is a valiant and worthy one. 

Erika Sella


Of Horses and Men - dir. Benedikt Erlingsson

Image courtesy of Icelandic Film Centre.

Image courtesy of Icelandic Film Centre.

Benedikt Erlingsson's Of Horses and Men is a funny, brutal, humane, charming film that looks at the lives of a rural community through a series of interlocking vignettes. Unsurprisingly, horses feature heavily and are central to the characters' stories, livelihoods, romances, misadventures and (in a couple of cases) deaths. The backdrop might be so barren as to border on the lunar but warmth permeates throughout, even at its most shockingly violent junctures (which are often immediately preceded by comedy that borders on the slapstick). As with the lives of these characters (their stories, their horses), the comic and the tragic interweave, are rarely far removed from one another; it is an approach that was always bound to endear the film to to a Scottish audience - the two are practically inseparable here, after all.

Of Horses and Men is a deftly executed, uplifting set of stories that looks at the characters relationships with their environment, the animals on which they rely, and each other, without ever piling on cloying sentimentality - impressive given that horses seem to be afforded a particular status that few other animals are (cf Findus lasagne-gate 2013, War Horse, etc.). The same night the film was presented at the GFF, the film did very well at the Edda Awards, the 'Icelandic Oscars'; it's unsurprising the myopic, increasingly irrelevant American equivalent overlooked a film of such wit and depth (the film was Iceland's - ultimately unselected - entry to this year's Academy Awards Best Film in a Foreign Language category) - this film sees no need to make sweeping commentary on Life. Its specifics relate to a way of life that is obscure to many, probably most, and yet this specificity creates a universality with which one can identify and enjoy without resorting to trite overstatements - it has subtleties far-removed from the majority of the string-laden statue-bait. Unfortunately, it's likely to be a case of 'catch it if you can' rather than 'while', but the sentiment remains the same.

Andrew R. Hill

EIFF 2013: A Story of Children and Film

Following the making of his fifteen and a half hour epic documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey - a project that took six years to shoot – Mark Cousins made the poetic film essay What is this film called Love? in just three days, a film that was a meditation on the nature of happiness (among other things). What is this film called Love? functioned as a kind of creative palate-cleanser for Cousins and, unlike the herculean effort of The Story of Film, was spontaneous, unplanned. A Story of Children and Film (that indefinite article is important) feels, in more ways than one, to be a meeting of the two films, a historiography of cinema through a personal prism, prompted by a chance incidence of home recording.

Image courtesy of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  

Image courtesy of the Edinburgh International Film Festival.  

The film was inspired by an unplanned recording of Cousins’ niece and nephew playing in his Edinburgh flat one morning and takes its structural queues from the themes he found in this ad hoc footage (and then some). These themes encompass shyness, social class, the strop, enacted parenting, conflict, dreams and adventure (among others). In his distinctive and captivating (captivated, even) Ulster brogue, Cousins leads us through fifty-one films from Denmark in the ‘40s (Palle Alone In The World), Iran in the ‘70s (Two Solutions For One Problem), Japan in the ‘90s (Children In The Wind) and the USA of the current decade (Moonrise Kingdom); his selection encompasses directors as diverse as Bill Douglas, Charlie Chaplin, Ingmar Bergman and Luis Buñuel to explore his chosen themes.

At one point the unnatural (actually somewhat creepy) performance of Shirley Temple in Irving Cummings’ Curly Top is contrasted with Margaret O’Brien’s bum note laden duet with Judy Garland in Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me In St Louis, Cousins remarks that "We are spellbound by [O’Brien]” – we are, but we’re spellbound by this film too, entirely apposite given its subject; we marvel with childlike wonder at both children in cinema and at cinema itself. This only serves to illustrate and underline the thrust of the film, “Could it be that kids are movies? That the movies are kids?” That would be an eye-rolling moment had these questions come at the end of a film that did not so subtly nudge us towards this conclusion all the way through, and it’s a very convincing argument, beguilingly executed. Cinema in its purest experience is open to the world and open to everyone, everything; it is egalitarian, simple, profound, honest, fantastical - these qualities only get disrupted when adults (or, perhaps, ‘adults’) get in the way.

Andrew R. Hill

EIFF 2013: Leviathan

A documentary that is prefaced with a quote from The Book of Job rarely creates anticipation for a light-hearted romp. Leviathan begins with such a quote in white text on black, an extract from chapter 41 regarding the titular beast. We fade to black; deep metallic groaning as water laps in surround sound, light leaks in, red and then an image forms: waves, the deck of the boat, a fisherman’s gloved hands – our hands in fact, as the camera’s eye is the fisherman’s. We’re hauling in a catch, an enormous net, the trawler leaning toward the sea. We could go in those waves at any moment and then, apparently, we do. Have we gone overboard? No – this camera moves about as it pleases, possessing fishermen, swimming in the wake of debris, climbing nets, writhing among gawp-mouthed fish, defying gravity. The camera is our narrator. From that slow fade in, we plunge into a semi-psychedelic miasma of images and sounds, edited into a practically seamless hallucination. This is no ordinary documentary.

Image courtesy of Cinema Guild.

Image courtesy of Cinema Guild.

In acid-droppers’ parlance, this is a bad trip. The fishermen live on a knife edge, everything is poised on the brink of destruction at all times, it’s dark and it’s wet and it’s choppy as hell. The camera eye, our eye, is unflinching: fish writhe and suffocate, and are beheaded and gutted with ruthless efficiency by the fishermen – in this initial sequence – mostly faceless, sou’westered automatons. The physicality of their job combined with the harshness of their environment makes it hard to believe they’re human sometimes. In one grimly hypnotic sequence, two fishermen remove the fins from stingrays, hooking them through the eye, hacking off the fins and then throwing the three dismembered pieces into buckets - hook, hack, chuck; hook, hack, chuck; hook, hack, chuck – a (presumably) routine process in their day’s work, a routine of metronomic brutality. Later, we see blood and slurry pouring from the side of the boat, back to the sea.

The unsettling horror sequence of the first hour is abruptly interrupted and the film turns round into a more human affair. The fishermen, below deck for the most part, are now human; they still conduct their business in a well-worn manner but we can see their bare faces: physically and emotionally exhausted, damp and hollow eyed. Fish are processed, cranes are operated, incomprehensible New England gutturals exchanged. A hefty, moustachioed man in a vest blankly watches television beneath deck, he doses off and we’re in another frame of consciousness again. A slow-motion, woozy drift, the camera floats in and around the ship, in and out the black water - is this the fisherman’s dream? Is it ours?

To call Leviathan a documentary is in many ways inadequate, a convenience of categorisation. But while it does so in an extraordinary, hypnotic, hypnagogic manner, it actually cuts to the heart of its subject matter by simply showing us, unencumbered by narration or a narrative. In among the viscera of the operations of the boat, we feel the brutality of nature and the brutality of industrialised human consumption. To call Leviathan a horror film is something of an exaggeration too but it might be just as accurate as calling it a documentary: like the best horror films, one is relieved when it’s all over - but the pull of the dark currents, the impulse to plumb those depths again, recurs too.

 Andrew R. Hill  

'Slow Summits' - The Pastels


The Pastels make a virtue of taking your time with their first album in sixteen (or ten or four) years, Slow Summits, as Andrew R. Hill finds.


It’s taken a while to get there, but it’s been worth the wait; The Pastels’ new record, Slow Summits, is – appropriately – a career high. It’s a record that seemed to threaten to remain inchoate forever, but now, sixteen years after their last album ‘proper’, Illumination, it has manifested as an album that is possessed of vivacity, gentle eccentricity and vibrant melodic brushstrokes, both fine and broad. It expands on a palette that was first exposed with Illumination, greatly developed with 2003’s The Last Great Wilderness soundtrack and further refined with 2009’s fruitful and frequently gorgeous collaboration with Tokyo’s Tenniscoats, Two Sunsets.

The-Pastels-Slow-Summits-cover.jpg

Secret Music fades in, reveals itself with an initially delicate arrangement of pattering drums, Gerard Love’s undulating bass and Katrina Mitchell’s voice - somehow both guileless and knowing - before growing into a (somewhat) quiet crescendo as other instruments and voices join in; it’s a perfect opener for an album that ebbs and flows but (slowly and - kind of - quietly) builds  - the album title couldn’t be more apt, for innumerable reasons.

There’s a toughness that was missing on Two Sunsets underpinning Night Time Made Us that recurs throughout, and becomes more ferocious each time. It’s grit that’s tops things becoming too pretty, and keeps that certain strain of steeliness that The Pastels have always had present without disrupting the flow of the record (quite the opposite in fact - if anything, it keeps it pushing on). First single, Check My Heart, has a different kind of boldness to it. In primary colours, it’s the sound of summer, of letting go, of almost unbridled joy – almost, because, as with much of this record, even in its most summery moments there are slight melancholic touches, sometimes approaching something of a wistful tone; it’s a matter of light and shade though, and serves to make the sunniest parts all the more coruscating.

The climb continues with Summer Rain, framed with a chord progression that brings to mind Vic Godard and early Orange Juice (and again there’s that underlying toughness); without much warning the song turns around into a spectrally semi-psychedelic coda, something of a hallmark of the latter day sound of the band, and with good reason - they happen to be very good at it. After Image is the halfway break, a pause for reflection that showcases the range of the instrumental touches that pervade throughout the record and provide a kind of sonic canvas, a primer that creates a textural depth and helps the foreground hang together: wordless multi-tracked backing vocals, winding keyboard lines, wheezing melodica, burbling electronic touches and innumerable other instrumental details.

The ascent recommences with the most sumptuous piece in The Pastels’ oeuvre to date, Kicking Leaves melodically and lyrically swoons, and features a string arrangement by fellow Glaswegian Craig Armstrong that manages to be very much to the fore without being cloying or saccharine. It’s the most beautiful passage in a record full of beautiful passages. Wrong Light features an esoteric sing-along moment courtesy of Mr Pastel “Please don’t show/The wrong light/We are the shadows of the night” and a jauntily oscillating flute line, sounding la bit like a lost track from Two Sunsets, albeit crisper than much of that album’s soft-focus psychedelia.

Tom Crossley’s flute is also showcased particularly effectively, as is Alison Mitchell’s trumpet, on the brooding title track. The tone of the instrumental is unexpectedly dark, guitar chords clang against a driving rhythm section. It’s a song that bears a furrowed brow, a determined last push towards the peak. It could easily be the theme to a lost Franco-Tartan film noir, and it’s a bit of a surprise, a chiaroscuro impression that throws the rest of the record into sharp relief, panoramic and breathtaking.

Come to the Dance rounds the album off with a party, all buoyant vocal melodies and strident guitar, the party at the peak, and rightly so - Slow Summits is worth celebrating, as well as a celebration in itself. The Pastels may no longer make quite the polarising racket they emerged with in 1982, but the vivacity rendered in their earlier work remains, and while the music is a little bit subtler, a bit more crafted, that same spirit definitely carries through. This record is affecting and infectious, warm and energetic. Whether the wait has been four, ten or sixteen years by your count, Slow Summits gives the impression that the same interval again would be worth the wait. That doesn’t mean that anyone wants such a long wait for the next one, of course, but there’s clearly something to be said for taking your time.

Slow Summits is out now on CD and LP on Domino Records.

Live: Veronica Falls (with La La Vasquez) at St Leonard's Shoreditch Church, 8 February 2013


It all gets a bit much for our Andrew R. Hill when he catches the one and only Veronica Falls in action in London


St. Leonard’s Shoreditch Church is mentioned in the nursery rhyme Oranges & Lemons (“When will you pay me? / Say the bells of Old Bailey / When I am rich / Say the bells of Shoreditch”); that Veronica Falls should launch their second album Waiting for Something to Happen in such a venue is, on the face of it, oddly apposite. Hitherto, the band have been purveyors of melodies and lyrical concerns that capture something of the qualities associated with the nursery rhyme (and, by extension, childhood itself): sweetness and innocence on the surface with and underlying darkness and melancholia. Tonight’s show builds on this solid foundation but with a new confidence, a boldness even, that suggests a figurative coming of age that is reflected in the grand yet austere setting.

First up are three-piece La La Vasquez, who bring to mind Black Tambourine, Vivian Girls and Pavement, not only through their melodies and clattering rhythms, but also the constant sense that it could all fall apart at any given second. Theirs is a thrilling racket and a perfect preface for the headlining act.

A quick turnaround and Veronica Falls assume position, stridently launching with Tell Me. They are dramatically backlit, clad in dark hues, and (given the venue) the tenebrous oils of Caravaggio and Rothko’s religious paintings come to mind. Last year’s single (also featured on the new album) My Heart Beats is more vibrant than its relatively bloodless studio companion, retaining the edge that came as something of a shock on initial listen in April but moderated with a ragged edge. For old favourite Found Love in a Graveyard, the lighting shifts to the front creating enormous shadows, then the band really hit their stride with Waiting for Something to Happen.

To one familiar with their prior work and performances, throughout there is a sense the band has changed, there’s a new ‘toughness’, and it’s illustrated well by a double-whammy of - old tracks - Bad Feeling and Beachy Head. They’ve always had a certain quiet confidence, but now there’s something resembling swagger, a renewed tension in the dynamics that renders them justifiably self-assured as opposed to irksomely cocky. They also seem relaxed in the right kind of way, and let their somewhat gloomy image slip with the odd grin here and there. No wonder though – there’s dancing in the aisle, lips mouthing lyrics; it’s hard not to get swept along. Who else but Veronica Falls could make a song entitled Buried Alive so catchy, so downright joyous?

The band clatters through two songs from the old album followed by two from the new album (highlights being Wedding Day and Teenage, respectively), and then it’s over. Almost. The pitted and bare crucifix doesn’t have to wait long for the return of its temporary neighbours. Feet stamp, hands clap, throats cry and of course they’re back, with the Wicked Game-esque If You Still Want Me, their classic cover of Roky Erickson’s Starry Eyes and, the eternally perfect pièce de résistance, Come on Over. The collective elation of the audience and band alike, the revelry in this stunning setting, the tingling spines, the dewy eyes… It all gets a bit much for a certain ‘impartial’ writer. Come on over? Veronica Falls need never ask twice.

'cavalcade' - POST


Dynamic, intelligent and 'damn good fun', POST's debut mini-album, cavalcade, is a ride worth taking, as Andrew R. Hill finds out.


POST cavalcade cover.jpg

POST began life as a solo songwriting vehicle for Graham Wann, former guitarist, singer and songwriter of Bricolage. The latter emerged in the early-mid aughts, a key part of the exciting Glasgow scene that also included the likes of Franz Ferdinand, Mother & The Addicts, 1990s and the Royal We. Their impact was nowhere near as great as it should’ve been, and their self-titled debut - essential for fans of Postcard and melodic, intelligent guitar music – served as a final testament rather than a first chapter. POST’s debut (mini-)album cavalcade shares many of the melodic and lyrical markers that made Bricolage (and numerous preceding singles) great, but approaches them with an expanded sonic palette, often highly reminiscent of Low-era Bowie.

From the off cavalcade is taut, a spartan arrangement on Monument to a Lost Cause centring around a cyclical guitar riff and Wann’s vocal, the latter of which provides much of the track’s build; this boldly positions both the song and the record in opposition to contemporary ‘more is more’ attitudes to production by eschewing extensive layering. That the song captivates from the first beat, even though its tempo is just slightly faster than mid-paced, demonstrates that an enhanced use of dynamics is at work, in addition to well-crafted songwriting flair.

New Play Thing is a catchy glam stomp underpinned by a monosynth bass note, while R.I.T.H. is the track that harks back most to Bricolage’s scene, a winding lead guitar line carrying along frantic disco drums and brittle, funk-infused rhythm guitar. New Built Fears Love brings to mind Orange Juice and Pulp in the in their respective balladeering modes (but somehow doesn’t sound particularly like either), and manages to be genuinely lovely without resorting to arrangement clichés.

Metro Camel sounds like a lost track from Low, no small compliment, and is overt in demonstrating that album’s influence, as well as revealing touches of the Krautrock/Kosmische acts that inspired Bowie, Eno and Pop so much in late-‘70s Berlin; Ring Binder mines much of the same territory, albeit in a more spacious, psychedelic manner, harnessing an off-kilter drumbeat to superb effect.

cavalcade whizzes by in just under twenty-five minutes (it is a mini-album, after all), it doesn’t hang around any longer than it has to and uses a variety of influences in an engaging and refreshing way. It’s confident, it’s sharp and, perhaps most importantly, it’s damn good fun without having to be utterly brainless – pretty rare qualities, all told. More please.

‘cavalcade’ is available for download from POST’s bandcamp now, and will be available on CD in the near future (check out their Facebook page for updates).