19 July 2013

Local Color

Interlude, vintage VHS edition...

Had the music from this (above) on an EP I bought back in 1984. From what little I knew about the source, the songs came from some program the band had done for Brit TV. Acoustic versions, one of “The Killing Moon” which didn’t do much for me; a couple of additional unplugged versions of two tunes from their debut LP that I ended up preferred to the originals; and a 7-minute long cover of "All You Need is Love" in which Ian McColluch indulges that extrapolatory thing that he sometimes did – randomly shoveling in lyrics from various old pop songs. For some reason I never thought to check Youtube to see if anyone had ever uploaded the TV production in question, until I recently stumbled across it.

From the looks of it, ITV gave the band a camera crew and an hour’s worth of airtime, probably hoping they’d devote it all to themselves and whatever there was of a Liverpool "scene" at the time. The band performed a few tunes for the thing, but what they handed back to the network was a more humble facet of their northern hometown. Mainly by way of centering it on Brian McCaffrey, a former boxer and welterweight contender back in the late ‘60s; who, having eventually lost his shot at the title, returned to Liverpool where he opened a neighborhood eatery with his wife. Fifteen years later and Brian's aged very well. He recalls the excitement of being in the ring, he talks about the things he likes and doesn’t like about running a small business; particularly how he dislikes the tough decisions of being "ruthless" that it sometimes requires, and how he’s had to cash in a couple of insurance policies to keep the place afloat. There’s also quite a few of the regulars who are given airtime, including a Vietnamese singer who sometimes provides entertainment at Brian’s, and some old geezer rambling on about god-knows-what like a stray character from a Samuel Beckett play. And when it’s time for the credits to roll at the end, you instead get a full rundown of the restaurant’s menu. It was, to my surprise, a very charmingly deferential affair.

And for thrownback bonus points, the uploader even left all the network ID bumpers and adverts intact.

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I say 'surprising' because the band had a bit of reputation at the time – mainly on account of McColloch, who was known for mouthing off to the music press. Seemed to be the common way of generating publicity for yourself back then if you were an up-and-coming act – come off all arrogant and dismissive in interviews, making absurdly bold claims for yourself. It was like a latter-day variant of the "bigger than Jesus" boast. It was a frequent source of amusement at the time.

The kings of this sort of thing around that same time was the Jesus & Mary Chain, in their noisy, feedback-wrangling early days. Notorious then for playing sets that lasted no longer than 20 minutes, claiming in an interview: "There’s no point in playing any longer than that. After that, any band – even the greatest bands – would wear out their welcome. I'm sure even the Beach Boys sucked after the first twenty minutes onstage." As it turned out, J&MC proved to be interesting for the span of exactly one album.

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