Star Trek: Insurrection

Star Trek Insurrection posterThere is a famous theory about Star Trek movies that if it is an even-numbered ‘episode’ it will be good and if it is odd-numbered it will be less so, to an extent The Wrath of Kahn, The Search For SpockThe Final Frontier, The Undiscovered Country and First Contact demonstrate this as being true.

Approaching Star Trek: Insurrection, the ninth instalment in the cinematic series, then my hopes were not high, based on the rule and my vague memories from seeing it in the cinema back in 1998. This was not aided by the opening credits stating that this one was directed by Jonathan Frakes, aka Commander William Riker.

The story of the film concerns two opposing alien races and what appears to be a kind of ‘fountain of youth’ type maguffin and the crew of the Enterprise have to sort things out. This is a fairly standard sounding plot for Star Trek, and it feels like it; though normally this would be one of the more disposable weekly 45 minute episodes rather than an hour and forty minutes of film time.

To try to make it seem bigger a few extra twists are thrown into the tale which largely just serve to over complicate the story in a totally unsatisfactory way so any revelations simply fall flat at best or at worst just make no sense at all.

Star Trek insurrection - Picard

Captain Picard (Stewart) has a ‘humourous’ encounter

Away from the story, which incidentally is entirely self-contained and strangely distant from the ongoing Dominion War raging in the then ongoing TV series Deep Space Nine, the entire production of the film just feels a little off.

The script is riddled with moments that appear to be adding a lighthearted air to proceedings but sit entirely at odds with the rest of the story while also being totally out of character for these very well established parts and the apparent internal explanation never quite rings true.

Added to this is the fact that Frakes direction makes the whole thing feel just like a bad episode of a TV show. At the time when Deep Space Nine was starting the development of the television series into the sort of thing it has become now with the likes of Game Of Thrones, this film feels more like a relative of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, just without being an intentional spoof.

Star Trek Insurrection - F Murray Abraham as Ru'Afo

F Murray Abraham as the forgettable villain Ru’Afo

It also seems Frakes and the writers felt the need to include a clumsily handled side plot about Riker’s beard which is simply surplus to any requirements, while another romantic entanglement for Picard just feels like repetition of several similar threads from the past – neither have the weird presence of William Shatner to pull off these sub-Kirk shenanigans.

To their credit it looks like the actors are having a good time doing something a bit more lighthearted than their previous cinematic efforts but with the script failing them so badly even the usually reliable Patrick Stewart is left with little and so hams it up a treat and little else.

Meanwhile the usually reliably Brent Spiner as Data is also left floundering with little that really fits his character and it seems the recently bereaved Worf (Michael Dorn) has just been crowbarred in and reset to his role at the end of The Next Generation TV series with barely a mention of his ongoing exploits.

Star Trek Insurrection - Riker and Troi

Riker (Frakes) loses his trademark beard thanks to Counsellor Troi (Marina Sirtis)

In the end of course all is sorted out and the status quo remains after a less than exhilarating battle both in space and on planet making Star Trek: Insurrection undeniably continuing proof of the evens and odds rule for the series and, while it may not be as bad as Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, it is probably a close second for worst Trek movie.

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Beau Cinema #CriticsChoice: The Manchurian Candidate

Beau CinemaHaving been revamped a couple of years ago to give Guernsey audiences a chance to see current releases on a bigger screen the cinema in Beau Sejour Leisure Centre, dubbed Beau Cinema, has recently branched out to present a (hopefully ongoing) season of films slightly away from the mainstream under the banner of #CriticsChoice.

Following an opening pair of recent releases Train To Busan and Nocturnal Animals (both of which I sadly missed) they headed into classic territory with John Frankenheimer’s Cold War thriller, The Manchurian Candidate.

Before the film #CriticsChoice curator, Wynter Tyson, who has been involved with various cinema events in the past including the local Sarnia Shorts film festival, gave a brief introduction to the film giving a little context to not just the time of its release but also its place within the career of director John Frankenheimer as part of a trilogy of films dealing with paranoia.

The Manchurian Candidate - 1962 posterAnd so onto the film.

Released in 1962, we are dropped straight into the Korean War ten years earlier where we meet a platoon of American soldiers led by Major Ben Marco (Frank Sinatra) and see them taken prisoner by a band of Chinese/Soviet troops.

From there we cut to a number of years later as the American soldiers appear to have escaped from captivity and returned home thanks to the heroics of Raymond Shaw (Laurence Harvey) and he is awarded the Medal of Honor, but all, of course, is not quite how it appears.

From the start Frankenheimer takes the story by Richard Condon and uses fabulous cinematic technique to slowly build a creeping sense of claustrophobia.

Throughout there’s a sense that we are either voyeurs spying on the characters or, as it goes on, trapped in metaphorically tight spaces with them. Even when we head to New York’s Central Park or Madison Square Garden arena there is the feeling of being oppressed and enclosed.

This is predominantly done with the use of startlingly tight close-ups which is particularly effective on the big screen.

The Manchurian Candidate - Frank Sinatra and Laurence Harvey

Sinatra and Harvey

Also spectacular are the nightmare sequences which are pure cinematic magic in the best of ways, all done very simply but genuinely tense, terrifying and confusing in a good way.

Along with this are some excellent performances. Harvey is excellent as the initially standoffish Shaw who gradually grows across the film before leading to something convincingly unnerving in the genuinely thrilling denouement.

Sinatra meanwhile gives a surprisingly fragile performance, while retaining something of the quintessential American soldier, that must be one of the earliest portrayals of a kind of post traumatic stress disorder – albeit highly fictionalised for the purposes of the plot – and he never comes across as too ‘starry’ as I thought he might.

The supporting cast are also generally very effective, particularly Angela Lansbury who is something of a revelation to see for the first time away from Murder She Wrote or Bedknobs & Broomsticks as she develops a truly unsettling and dark presence in the centre of the story.

The Manchurian Candidate - Angela Lansbury and Laurence Harvey

Lansbury and Harvey

The only real downside of the film Janet Leigh’s role which really only seems to serve as a slightly improbable love interest for Sinatra that never quite rings true or satisfactorily becomes a part of the wider story as it feels she at first might.

Of course a lot could be made of the film’s political side which is astonishingly relevant today, 55 years after the film’s release, given most of the headlines coming from the US, Russia, France and the U.K, and develops in a way that feels far more intense than you’d expect in the pre-JFK and pre-Watergate world, but I’ll leave that for you to find out and ponder on.

The Manchurian Candidate then is a fantastic film that uses everything cinema can to both tell a tremendous, gripping and thrilling tale and say something truly reflective of real world politics through a (vaguely) heightened filter.

The Manchurian Candidate

One of the film’s startling moments

While the audience was on the small side for this screening the chance to see something a bit different on a big screen is a great one to have and with Scorsese’s latest, Silence, lined up next in 11th May hopefully #CriticsChoice is a series of events that will continue for a long time to come.

To find out about future #CriticsChoice screenings keep an eye on the Guernsey Film Chat Facebook page

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Sound Guernsey: Burning at Both Ends, Jawbone, WaterColour Matchbox and Track Not Found – The Fermain Tavern – 21/04/17

You can see a gallery of my photos from the show on the BBC Introducing Guernsey Facebook page

Jawbone

Jawbone

As Sound Guernsey have now announced their involvement with both the Chaos and Vale Earth Fair festivals this summer, it might just be me, but their April show at The Fermain Tavern seemed to have a further increase in its positive atmosphere amongst the assembled youngsters.

The first band to form out of the Sound events, Track Not Found, opened the show and once again showed some development following recent appearances in front of new audiences at both a The Vault and the recent metal night at the The Tav.

With more fuzz in the sound here and a more deliberate pace their grungy blues had something of an added stoner quality to it.

Track Not Found

Track Not Found

While the band have become nice and tight they still lack something in stage presence between the songs, but this is a minor criticism and something likely to develop with time and guitarist/vocalist Grace Tayler in particular has a great look evoking something of the riotgrrl feel of the 1990s but with her own twist.

Highlights in their set came with Ecstasy and new song Code Red both of which demonstrated not just their sound but their way of writing songs exactly as they want them in their own way, which is refreshing to hear in a young band.

Following a successful couple of first gigs over the last few months WaterColour Matchbox brought their brand of nu-grunge flavoured prog metal to Sound.

While it seemed to lack some of the metallic bite of their outing at the recent metal night, the four-piece were still as tight as they come and did crank up the heaviness a few times as the set went on.

WaterColour Matchbox

WaterColour Matchbox

With heads banging to some of the heaviest sounds the Sound crowd had been treated to, the band debuted a new song indicating we can expect more of the same to come.

After the precision controlled delivery of WaterColour Matchbox things couldn’t have been much more different as Jawbone took to the stage with their usual chaotic brand of punk rock.

While the classic covers that have been their hallmark up to now were all present, correct and hugely enjoyable, it was the raft of new originals that brought the highlights. Combining something of the abrasive Californian skate punk of the likes of NoFX and mixing it with the intensity of the classic British style led to a sound at once politically charged and vaguely nihilistic with a typically direct lyrical streak.

Steve of Jawbone

Steve of Jawbone

In the midst of the chaos that saw guitarist Lee Burton don a wedding dress (for reasons best known to himself) and bass player Dan Keltie head of stage with bass and mic for a run at The Damned’s Neat Neat Neat, frontman Steve Scratton demonstrated a newly confident side to his performance properly interacting with the crowd during the songs in a way rarely seen over here.

All this made for a set that was my highlight of the night and, suitably enough, included their take on The Misfits’ Astro Zombies on Jerry Only’s birthday.

The punk rock vibe continued, in slightly different form, with the powerful pop punk of Burning At Both Ends.

Over the last year ‘BABE’ have become one of the favourite bands for the Sound audience and, while going on a bit late mean the crowd had shrunk somewhat, they still got the audience onto the dancefloor from the start.

Another band debuting some new songs, BABE showed they are continuing with more of the same as their first album, in this case no bad thing, and the crowd ate it up.

Burning At Both Ends

Burning At Both Ends

For me they lacked the raw energy of Jawbone that I love, but it’s hard to escape the infectious quality of Burning At Both Ends and with a streak of heaviness alongside some great singalong moments they closed the show on a high, maintaining their spot as Sound favourites.

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Vorlon – False Sense of Security

Vorlon - False Sense of Security coverHaving made his name as drummer with bands like Earthcorpse and Darker Shores and playing guitar and bass for the likes of Mechanical Lobster and Maiden Guernsey (amongst others), Daz Carre has now released his solo debut, under the name Vorlon.

False Sense of Security was recorded and produced by Bob Klein of Noizemonkey Studios in Guernsey and is available now via Bandcamp.

My review of the album was published in The Guernsey Press on Saturday 22nd April 2017 and you can read it below.

Vorlon - False Sense of Security review

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Ginger Wildheart – Clout EP

Ginger Wildheart - Clout EP coverA couple of years ago Ginger Wildheart released the four track Clout EP as a bonus for those pledging on his Songs & Words autobiography project. Now a physical, vinyl version has been released to mark the 10th Record Store Day on Saturday 22nd April 2017.

While I wasn’t able to get my hands on a copy of the physical EP I have had the tracks floating around my iPod since their original release but not had a listen with my reviewing head on until now.

While he is, in an explicit sense, generally an apolitical songwriter, the four tracks of Clout present Ginger at his most political.

Opener Nelson is as eccentrically abrasive as your likely to hear from Ginger away from his Mutation project and is an intense and deep sonic assault throughout as it presents the conflict between the image of men & masculinity and the perception of heroes.

Benn then switches gears into something that sonically is loosely reminiscent of the second part of The Wildhearts’ All American Homeboy Crowd.

With the only ‘lyrics’ being samples of speeches from late long-standing Labour politician Tony Benn exploring the position of the workers in the capitalist system, this is the most overtly political I remember Ginger being, though, while its point is fairly obvious it is presented without comment which is refreshing given the constant binary side taking of most political discussion.

The second half of the EP goes into more scientific territory but, given the current direction of discussion, particularly that coming out of America, even this has a political angle given the subjects chosen.

Ginger Wildheart

Ginger Wildheart

The two tracks are loosely linked as Darwin, as you might expect, tackles evolution and humanity’s place in the grand scheme of the natural world while You explores the ‘common miracle’ of our individual existence.

Away from the intense opener the other three tracks are slightly more musically relaxed but still retain the wall of sound approach. This makes it reminiscent in many ways of Ginger’s early solo work, particularly moments of Valor Del Corazon and Market Harbour, but even then, sonically, Clout stands apart from the rest of his back catalogue with You being the closest to his classic pop-rock sound.

While each track has its own message and sonic experience Clout comes together as an ultimately uplifting whole, challenging and probing masculinity, politics, science and humanity in a way that makes it a complete work that presents a world view in a noisily expressive way that stands apart from Ginger Wildheart’s other work.

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Undaunted (selected poems 2014-2016) by Attila The Stockbroker

Attila The Stockbroker - UndauntedFor over thirty years Attila The Stockbroker has stood as one of the primary forces in the movement of ranting poetry. Grown from the same place as the second wave of punk in the early 1980s, the ranters were often found on the same stages as their noisier contemporaries, but, like the bands, over the years most have fallen by the wayside in one way or another.

Not so Attila. Following his fascinating and frank autobiography last year comes a new set of his poems, his eighth since 1985, suitably titled Undaunted.

Coming from the same scene that gave us the likes of Crass it’s not surprising that much of Attila’s reputation comes from his rabble rousing rebel ranting, and that is firmly in evidence here.

As up to the minute as it’s possible to be he takes on the targets you’d expect, Trump, Brexit, Farage and May in particular, in his own scathing, satirical and down to earth way.

While the titular poem, one of the books longest, is a more serious affair than many, elsewhere it is Attila’s streak of (appropriately) crass humour that makes this more than an ‘angry old leftie’ having a go with Rock ‘n’ Roll Brexit, Farageland, Theresa The Appeaser and Corbyn Supporters From Hell (a play on one of his earlier works) as highlights.

Attila The Stockbroker on stage with Barnstormer

Attila on stage with Barnstormer at Vale Earth Fair 2014

Along with these though we get another side to Attila, one that has always been there but seems more poignant as he moves on with life, poems that, in many ways, feel they really be credited to John. In these he takes a look a life, death and football in a way that is genuinely poignant.

It would be easy for his words on these subjects to become a bit cliché or over-processed like so much bad food, but his manner and style of writing and description just makes them feel real as in Candid Camera, Auntie Rose and the hugely effecting My Ninth Birthday.

Throughout all of these Attila’s politics still feature whether it’s championing the NHS or highlighting how past Conservative governments have caused tragedy for working class communities but in a less direct way, so it’s My Doctor Martens that pulls the two sides together and exists as a macrocosm of the rest of the collection.

Attila The Stockbroker

Accompanied by some excellent illustrations by Dan Woods (guitarist with Attila’s band, Barnstormer) and (I guess i should admit my involvement) a rather nice photo by yours truly taken at the Vale Earth Fair a few years back, Undaunted see Attila The Stockbroker continue to do just what he’s always done; speak his truth loud, proud and clear with an honesty, wit and humour many he ridicules could do with learning a thing or two about.

Much like his great inspiration John Cooper Clarke, Attila’s work may be best experienced read live and loud by its author but none-the-less the written versions remain hugely effective and effecting and it doesn’t seem there’s any slowing down this undaunted veteran yet.

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I Am Divine

I Am Divine posterContinuing my interest in cult movie documentaries, following the likes of Midnight Movies, Electric Boogaloo, Not Quite Hollywood and Jodorowsky’s Dune, I delved into Jeffrey Schwarz’s film about the ‘muse of John Waters’, Divine, aka Harris Glenn Milstead.

While my awareness of Divine was brief she was certainly a fascinating presence, known to me mostly for the early extreme films of John Waters but later finding a kind of mainstream-cult notoriety in Water’s Hairspray and a suitably surreal looking pop career.

I Am Divine then charts his/her life and career in some detail, not pulling too many punches but clearly coming from an affectionate viewpoint.

While I get the feeling this probably glosses over quite a lot of things, it does mean that many of Divine’s friends and colleagues are present as talking heads which adds a definite authenticity to the story.

Unsurprisingly Waters is a highlight among these whether in archive footage or interviews recorded for the film and it’s clear that the two shared a strange connection which gives much credence to the ‘muse’ notion.

Divine, out of costume

Divine, out of costume

That said there are a few moments where Waters, and others, come dangerously close to appearing to lead the rather naive and enthusiastic young Milstead into quite such a surreal position, particularly when it is revealed that Divine’s name and look were constructed by Waters and his crew of ‘Dreamlanders’, though for the most part it feels that Divine was fairly complicit in this too.

Generally the production of I Am Divine is fairly standard but given the less than standard story it tells this doesn’t really matter as the straight forward interviews reveal an honesty that is essential while the archive footage of Divine both in and out of character helps bring the stories to life.

Away from the Waters link particularly interesting are stories from Holly Woodlawn about Divine’s meeting with Andy Warhol, tales from the time Divine toured as a disco pop performer, including an appearance on Top Of The Pops where British tabloids typically declared the appearance as ‘worse than Boy George’.

Divine in Pink Flamingos

Divine in Pink Flamingos

As with the best of these kind of films it has encouraged me to look further into Waters’ and Divine’s films and gives those I have seen a somewhat new aspect based around the difference between Divine’s on and offstage demeanour.

While all of this is fascinating the thing that really makes I Am Divine something different from many similar profile documentaries is the family and personal story that is threaded through.

This is made all the stronger thanks to the participation of Divine’s own mother.

While this side of the story has its ups and downs it overall is one with as happy an ending as it can have given Divine’s ultimate fate.

In the end I Am Divine is a fascinating, surprisingly touching, film with a story that, while ultimately tragic in many ways, never fails to be uplifting and delivers much of the same message of pride espoused by much of the LGBT+ plus movement and, appropriately enough, the message of The Rocky Horror Show could easily be applied as a message to take from Divine’s life… ‘Don’t dream it, be it!’

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The Big Lebowski

The Big Lebowski posterWhere does one start with the Coen Brothers take on neo-noir, The Big Lebowski?

Since its release it has often been hailed as a classic (though I’m sure it has its share of naysayers) and has become one of the most quotable films in recent memory. I’ve seen it a good number of times and sat down to rewatch it again recently on something of a whim.

This whim was spawned by a fact that struck me, part way through, as being a bit odd – that despite the fact the plot deals with kidnap, murder and conspiracy it does so in a way that feels cosy, friendly and warm in something of a generic about face.

The story is a rambling one, reminiscent of many classic noir stories, where a young lady is kidnapped, a ransom demanded and a pay off set up that goes wrong as new aspects come to light and the mystery deepens. Where the Coens throw in their twist though is that rather than having a detached, cool, calm and collected private detective in the lead they have… The Dude (Jeff Bridges).

The Dude (“His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing”) is an ageing hippy type who enjoys the simple things in life like bowling, White Russians and Credence Clearwater Revival and it is his presence as the often befuddled core of all the goings on that I think creates the surprisingly homely feel.

The Dude (Jeff Bridges) - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Jeff Bridges)

Added to this is the fact that, regardless of your social position, The Dude is almost universally relatable.

He is a guy that just wants to get on with his life and is wondering why someone has soiled his rug, someone wants to use him to conceive a child and someone else has roped him into being a go between in a ransom case – while his best friend (John Goodman’s excellent crazed Jewish convert Vietnam vet, Walter) is threatening people with a gun over bowling scores and confusing the mystery plot even further.

What really makes this is a performance from Bridges that is so spot on its hard to separate him from the role as he casually meanders his way through the movie.

Even though it does reach more of a neat conclusion than one might expect The Big Lebowski retains the feel of a rambling, shaggy dog story, that has a ring of truth within a sense of near surrealism.

Jeff Bridges, Steve Buscemi and John Goodman - The Big Lebowski

The Dude (Bridges), Donnie (Buscemi) and Walter (Goodman)

This is aided by a couple of dream sequences that perfectly fit The Dude’s demeanour and work as almost stand alone moments, the most impressive of which is the second that ties the whole film together in a suggestive musical number to the song Just Dropped In by Kenny Rogers & The First Edition.

The setting of the film also adds to the sense of surreal-realism as this is North Hollywood in the early 1990s.

North Hollywood itself, the less glamorous side to LA, is a location that lends itself to the uniquely odd mix of the real world rubbing shoulders with Hollywood just over the hills and the famed pornography industry of the San Fernando Valley as well as the high end residential area of Beverly Hills and so, in many ways, is a reflection of The Dude and his situation.

While the Dude is certainly our hero the film is rounded off by a very strong cast of supporting characters.

Jeff Bridges and Julianne Moore

The Dude and Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore) mid dream Sequence

From The Dude’s bowling buddies Walter and Donnie (Steve Buscemi), the titular Lebowski’s assistant, Brandt (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the eccentric artist Maude Lebowski (Julianne Moore), ‘The Jesus’ (John Turturro) to the excellent Sam Elliott as The Stranger, our narrator, while also being present in the world of the film (possibly).

All of these help create the world of The Dude, a world he and we are sucked into and spat out from across the film and, as is a Coen Brothers trait, they are an excellent ensemble cast of regular players.

While this all sounds a little confusing the Coens wrangle it expertly into a movie that becomes at once as good as one would expect it to be and somehow even better, all while twisting cinematic convention from noir to period in a way unlike anything to come before or since.

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Paper Girls: Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan and Cliff Chiang

Paper Girls Volume 1Generally when I pick up a new comic I have a fair idea what to expect. If it’s Marvel or DC that’s generally the usual superhero fare, while more indie comics will usually be recommended by friends or because there’s a movie or TV show based on it. 

Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang’s Paper Girls then is something a little different as I took a punt on it based on a combination of the cover art and it being recommended in a few different comic book stores, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed.

Telling the story of four young girls who, while out on their paper round, get embroiled in a mystery apparently spanning time and space the series, which was launched in late 2015, lands firmly in the same kind of zeitgeist as Netflix’s Stranger Things.

Set in the late 1980s the style evokes this excellently and it treads the line of nostalgia and truth brilliantly while its small town America setting just adds to the 80s movie vibe, a little like a more adult The Goonies or slightly more juvenile Back To The Future or The Lost Boys but laced through with the same sense of down to earth grit in the lead characters as all of those.

Paper Girls and objectI don’t want to spoil things in the story too much but, as it goes on, the design of the mysterious, somewhat alien, characters who appear contain the right level of grotesque and scary to again fit this style and, like the best of those 80s movies it doesn’t shy away from getting a bit more graphic than you might initially expect.

Artistically, Chiang’s style is a great mix of simplicity and detail so we get an idea of the settings quickly and easily but with everything we need to know where we are and who the characters are without things becoming over complicated.

It also treads the line between realism and cartoon excellently with some very nice design flourishes in the more fantastic elements. In my experience this is often a highlight of the more independent end of comic books and Chiang is clearly a fine exponent of it.

Erin - Paper Girls

Erin

As a whole then Paper Girls is something of a joy combining a healthy mix of nostalgia and creativity to produce a comic book with a unique feel that captures a current spirit but has everything it should need to be a highlight of the medium for a long time to come.

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Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt by John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke - Ten Years In An Open Necked ShirtWhile I generally don’t have too much bad to say about the education system I went through, there was one thing throughout my studying of English that they never quite managed to transmit – that poetry really is at its best when read aloud.

Certainly some poetry is a written medium with clever use of form, style and language to make its point, but, much like music, the stuff that really grips me is the performed sort… So enter ‘The Bard of Salford’, Dr. John Cooper Clarke.

First published in 1983, his debut printed collection Ten Years In An Open Necked Shirt takes the cream of Clarke’s early work, from his days as a pioneering ‘punk poet’ and captures them in text.

While it’s clear throughout that this stuff was written to be read out loud and, even better, performed, if read with Clarke’s harsh, biting accent in mind it works just as well on the page as beat and bop meet punk and pop in a surreal satire of life in northern England in the 1960s and 70s that, in many ways, still rings true today.

Supporting punk bands in the late 1970s, as he came too early for the alternative comedy movement he no doubt helped inspire, gave Clarke’s writing a certain political position but, in reading it, it is vividly apolitical. In this it allows the reader to get an image in their mind and, at times, create a political context for it of their own, while at other times simply get lost in a flight of surreal fantasy that captures an aspect of the popular culture of the time.

John Cooper Clarke

John Cooper Clarke (circa 1982)

A couple of specific examples of this could be the triumphant Beezley Street which presents the feel of a hellish nightmare (but probably more realistic) version of (long running soap opera) Coronation Street and it’s sort of opposite Kung-Fu International, obviously capturing the early 70s kung-fu trend through Clarke’s harsh, street level filter.

Throughout things move from bleak to hilarious, often within a verse or stanza, let alone from poem to poem, but all come with a feeling of something that could only have emerged when it did – with The Goons and Spike Milligan clearly as much of an influence as Ginsberg or Kerouac, or Rotten, Vanian, et al.

Along with Clarke’s words the book features some great illustrations by Steve Maguire that work in a similar way to Ralph Steadman’s work with Hunter S. Thompson, though in a less brutally graphic way, but they too capture the mix of surrealism with intense social realism that is a hall-mark of the collection as a whole.

Unlike later punk poets (a trend that really took off in the 1980s) John Cooper Clarke is not a posturing and ranting presence, though he no doubt inspired those and they have their place in the form, but a remote observer. In reading his words you get the feeling he’s been there and done that but this is the view of it from the outside, through those ever-present dark glasses, and in that he timelessly captures life in a way any other media or style couldn’t quite manage.

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