Tuesday, 28 September 2010
“Where you going Shaft?” asks honky cop to the private investigator out on the freezing New York sidewalk. “To get laid. Where you going?” And with an exaggerated laugh he saunters off leaving said cop looking useless and impotent.
It’s a great exchange and one of many in a film I’ve not seen for so long I’d forgotten how good it is. So it was doubly cool not only to see it at the NFT on Sunday, but for John Shaft, actor Richard Roundtree, to be there too.
Can you dig it?
Gone is the immaculate fro, gone is the bushy moustache, gone is the leather trench coat, and most definitely gone are the ball breaking black leather strides, but Richard Roundtree is still the man. Albeit a 68 year old man in a conservative blue blazer over a canary yellow v-neck sweater. But there’s enough in his chat with DJ and presenter Iyare Igiehorn to let you know he still ain’t a dude to be messed with. For well over an hour he’s happy to yak about the Shaft films but when the topics stray into more personal or touchy areas he stays resolutely tight lipped.
He starts by explaining how he came to play the role: he had done a little theatre acting he was mainly employed as a model but put in for the role anyway. During an interview with photographer/writer turned producer Gordon Parks, Parks puffed on his cigar and pointed to an advert in a magazine on his desk. “We want somebody who looks like that”. That somebody was Roundtree himself. Parks gave him his break and throughout the interview Roundtree heaps mountains of praise on a man that clearly had a huge influence on not just his work but his life as well. One audience member later rates Parks up there with Duke Ellington and Paul Robeson in the pantheons of great 20th Century black cultural figures.
Igiehorn, who refreshingly for this type of event, gallantly tries to stick to fan type questions – rather than technical filmmaking questions – asks how he dealt with suddenly being an unexpected star after the huge success of Shaft in 1971. Roundtree thinks carefully. “I didn’t have to use toilet paper. You know what I’m saying?”. I’m thinking he was such a big cheese he had bitches wipe his hairless butt (more of that later) but he was trying to politely say he believed the hype and thought his shit didn’t stink.
Who’s the black private dick that’s a sex machine to all the chicks?
Without using the words Igiehorn tries to ask about the superstar lifestyle: the parties, the women, the drugs. Roundtree is having none of it. “The 70s were great” he says. That’s it. “Come on man, you can’t leave it at that?” But he does. “Lean on him” shouts someone. “You want me to lean on Shaft?” Still no dice. Attempts to extract juicy gossip about likes of Pam Grier are met with an impenetrable silence and a steely look.
They say this cat Shaft is bad mother –
We do though get a glimmer into one party though, held by Miles Davis. “Good job”, says Miles, “but you gotta learn to say motherfucker”.
Shut your mouth.
A fight scene from Shaft’s Big Score (1972) is shown, as is a bonkers scene from Shaft In Africa (1973) where a naked Shaft waking up next to a horse and then – still naked – engages in a spot of stick fighting before burying himself in sand. “What did you think when you read that in the script?” he’s asked. Roundtree doesn’t really answer but does say that Shaft In Africa is his favourite Shaft film as it was only then he felt comfortable with the role. And by the look of it comfortable prancing around waving his big stick in the air; although he had no idea his daughter’s classmates would discover the film years later.
The thorny issue of the blaxploitation genre – its portrayal of pimps, junkies and whores received negative vibes from within the black community - is touched upon and Roundtree how he’s met people in Mississippi and beyond who’ve told him how empowering the films have been to them and how he gets angry when people talk about exploitation. Watching Shaft again and seeing such a strong, cool, no nonsense, intelligent black man in a leading role you can see his point. And as Igiehorn remarks “it’s a movie where the black guy lives to the end!”
An audience question about the short lived TV series of Shaft is met with an obvious understatement of “I was not overly enamoured with it” and the Samuel L. Jackson remake received equally short thrift “needless to say I was underwhelmed”. Although he didn’t quite say it, it was apparent he was upset Jackson got the gig instead of him, which contrasted with Isaac Hayes’s reaction when he thought he’d get the original Shaft role but was still the “consummate gentleman” and such a “mellow human being”.
After a career that includes eight pages of an acting CV, Roundtree is forever going to be known as Shaft and expresses some regret almost all his subsequent roles have been as authority figures (not hard to see why), and leaves with the line “sometimes you just got to ride the horse in the direction it’s going”.
Sunday, 26 September 2010
For September gurls and boys.
1. Porgy and the Monarchs – “If It’s For Real” (1965)
Not much seems to be known about Porgy and the Monarchs but a listen to the brush then swish of the strings, the empty room acoustics, the tearful atmosphere, the consoling harmonies, the impeccable arrangement, the drum clicks like footsteps walking in to the lonely night, the heartache and the heartbreak, and it tells you all you need to know.
2. Bo Diddley – “Ooh Baby” (1966)
What a groove.
3. July – “The Way” (1968)
Not the album version by these UK psychsters but the even freakier sitar molesting pots and pans version on the flip of “Hello, Who’s There?”
4. The Staple Singers – “You’ve Got To Earn It” (1971)
Horns ‘n’ harmonica, flute, the kitchen sink and some typically right-on fist clenching positivity are thrown in to this not-much-like-the-original Tempts number by the fabulous Staples.
5. Pigbag – “Papa’s Got A Brand New Pigbag” (1981)
Let’s have a look at Queen’s Park Rangers’ scores so far this season: 4-0, 3-0, 2-0, 2-2, 3-0, 3-0, 2-0, 3-0. All together now: “Dood dood, dood-dod, HOOPS! Dood dood, dooo-doo/ Dood- dood, dood-dod, HOOPS! Dood dood, dooo-doo”.
6. The Black Crowes – “She Talks To Angels” (1990)
Long ago and worlds apart I was sat in a Vegas bar and told I looked like Chris Robinson. I didn’t but it made my night.
7. Race Horses – “Cake” (2009)
Watch the video on YouTube, then come back and thank me.
8. Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan – “No Place To Fall” (2010)
Hawk covers much ground including a crafty reworking of Bettye LaVette’s “Let Me Down Easy” (“Come Undone”), some spiky blues (“Get Behind Me”) but the highlight is the graceful folk/country/soul of “No Place To Fall”.
9. The Black Angels – “Telephone” (2010)
Phosphene Dream finds the Angels cutting back on the fat to show a leaner, meaner, laying off the munchies side. It’s still dense with heavy stoner rock but the load is lightened with a couple of blasts of twanging garage punk with Barrettesque breaks.
10. The Crookes – “Backstreet Lovers” (2010)
Their Smiths-scented new 45 won’t change anyone’s life but it bobs along pleasantly enough.
Tuesday, 21 September 2010
When a chap named The Hammer appears in Tony O’Neill’s new novel you immediately dread how he earned such a moniker. It only takes a couple of pages to discover it’s on account of the shape of his fourteen inch todger which he uses as the template for a hand crafted, monogrammed dildo that’s shoved so far up a young man’s arse it gets stuck inside him, kills him, and has to be gruesomely retrieved before the body is disposed of.
Sick City follows the degenerate junkie theme of previous novels Digging The Vein and Down and Out On Murder Mile but it’s less overtly personal and deviates, and expands upon those, by moving away from first person to a third person narrative, giving O’Neill ample scope to create a vast cast of increasingly grotesque characters, which he does with obvious relish. This is a writer letting loose and enjoying himself. The Hammer dildo passage (if you excuse the pun) is but one of many wickedly funny moments amid the scuzzy world of sex and drugs that equalizes LA junkies and whores with Hollywood execs, TV doctors and police chiefs.
The story centers on bereaved faggot Jeffrey and shittypants outcast Randal’s not unreasonable plan to sell a Hollywood sex tape (including Steve McQueen giving a portion to Sharon Tate and Mama Cass…) to the highest bidder and thus getting clean, straight and living happily ever after. Easy as that. But on their trail comes Pat, a psychopathic speed freak with – in a nod to that other American Psycho – a Phil Collins fixation who thinks nothing of pulling off nipples with pliers to the sound of Phil’s Greatest Hits.
Sick City’s vivid cinematic quality begs it to be made into a film. Whoever gets the screenplay gig will have a piss easy job, it’s all here already. As is Primal Scream’s soundtrack.
Sick City by Tony O’Neill is published by Harper Perennial, priced $13.99.
Sunday, 19 September 2010
I’ve served my dues as fire safety officer, offering advice on how to protect people and property from fire. Most is blindingly obvious: training, fire alarms and extinguishers, maintenance of electrical items, not leaving candles unattended, not smoking, general housekeeping, protection from arson etc. Fascinating stuff I’m sure you’ll agree. Those souls still doing that job may now like to add the Jim Jones Revue to their risk assessment because, believe me, they are red hot and likely to spontaneously combust at any moment.
There’s little change since 2008’s eponymous debut, it’s still full-tilt in-the-red rockaboogie delivered with a ferocious intensity and conviction it destroys not only everything in its way but everything that came before. The only hint of difference from the first LP being the distortion is occasionally turned down from eleven to ten and three quarters, allowing the merest waft of air in to the recording.
“Dishonest John” smacks down a marker and they shake, rattle and roll their way through another ten at breakneck speed as the flames lick around their heels. The MC5 meet Little Richard comparison has been done to death (presumably by those who’ve not heard the Five’s weedy cover of “Tutti Fruitti”) so by way of a change let’s say songs like “Premeditated” are more a souped up Black Crowes playing as if they've been pushed over a cliff and fronted by a wild and bug eyed Noddy Holder who’s been told it really will be Christmas every day. Not every track matches the giddy heights of the singles “High Horse” or the thunderous “Elemental” but there’s nothing to change my mind that they are the most electrifying and thrilling band in town.
Do not leave unattended.
Burning Your House Down by The Jim Jones Revue is released by Punk Rock Blues Records.
Friday, 17 September 2010
Those days of sitting on the bedroom floor with a pile of Kent compilations to create Northern Soul tapes for work mates have long passed. Instead - and it’s a poor substitute really - a quick flick around Spotify can do an okay job. So, with that in mind, and with the emphasis on quality over obscurity (just as well working with Spotify’s thin collection), here are twenty tracks to glide around the floor to. Enjoy.
Tuesday, 14 September 2010
And now for something completely different. Taken from the ever excellent theQuietus site. Inspiring stuff. Can forgive Nicky's misguided attempt at singing (again) on the new Manics album now. Although forgiving them for such a fluffy album will take longer.
In Conversation: Tony Benn MP & Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers from theQuietus on Vimeo.
In Conversation: Tony Benn MP & Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers from theQuietus on Vimeo.
Sunday, 12 September 2010
Friday, 10 September 2010
Stoke-on-Trent 1974 and Joe (played by Martin Compston) has left school, delivers flour with a Tom Jones enthusiast by day and gets drunk in a local bar for local people who dance to Mud records by night. Then he becomes wrapped, tied and tangled in the world of Northern Soul…
Beneath the spins, acrobatics and sweaty vests of Shimmy Marcus’s SoulBoy is an ordinary coming of age film about a lad who falls for the walking-in-slow-motion-with-blonde-hair-blowing-in-the-wind Jane (Nichola Burley), whilst the (supposedly) plain bit-frumpy-at-school brunette Mandy (Felicity Jones) harbours a secret crush and teaches him to dance in his bedroom. You know what follows. It’s formulaic and clichéd but thanks to the setting, music, period detail and gentle humour actually hard to dislike and difficult to watch without a slight smile.
Northern Soul itself is the star though. Hearing Yvonne Baker, Patti and the Emblems, Luther Ingram, Jason Knight, Billy Preston, Dean Parrish and co blaring out cinema speakers instead of the rattling ones at the 100 Club brings on the old goose bumps, and whoever managed to squeeze in Porgy and the Monarchs “If It’s For Real” deserves the keys to Wigan. Set in the Casino it blends archive footage with new scenes making the joins difficult to see.
The cringe worthy moments were unexpectedly low, although I did wince at clapping in unison to “Tainted Love” and any scene with Huey Morgan as the ridiculous cartoon hippie record shop owner cheapened the overall effect. Also Jane’s boyfriend who ruled the roost with his dancing at the front of the Casino stage was too old and ugly to be dating the belle of the ball. But generally it looked good and made the scene out to be an exciting place to be, covering the dancing, records, fashions, drugs and violence with admirable believability. It's not a documentary or a gritty drama, just a nice way to spend a hour and a half. Nowt wrong with that.
If you’ve ever been bitten by the soul bug there’s plenty to enjoy and recognize; if not, this might – just – tempt you out on the floor.
Sunday, 5 September 2010
Lee Rourke’s unsettling debut novel is centered on a nameless man and a nameless woman sitting on a bench, gazing at the Regent’s Canal between Hackney and Islington, sometimes speaking, mostly not. That’s the surface but, much like the feet of the swans as they glide past, it kicks up a lot of turbulence underneath. The Canal is about boredom, about life, about love, death, dreams, fears, loneliness, solitude, truth, and thoughts you wouldn’t share in polite company. It’s also about towpath etiquette (ting-ting) and uses words like crepuscular but don’t let that put you off. I read it in two days, finished it over a week ago, and am still thinking about it now.
The photo above is one I took of that stretch of the canal by my flat about a year ago and somehow captures the mood better than I can in words.
The Canal by Lee Rourke is published by Melville House, priced £9.99.