Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s By Stephen Brotherstone and Dave Lawrence

25 03 2017

OK, lets start with a confession. The 70s is my favourite decade. Its a decade that I lived through as a young ‘un (I was 10 in 1970) and saw me through to my first years as a young adult. It was the decade that provided some of the music that has seeped into my very soul, especially the mid 70s classic rock and the punk / post punk music from 77-79 that shook the establishment. So Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s was always going to scream out READ ME, READ ME NOW. Oh and prepare to open your wallet – as you will probably find yourselves heading over to Amazon to buy lots of the DVDs and blurays of programmes you loved when you were young, or to eBay to pick up comics (old copies of Look-in) or other 70s memorabilia.

Scarred for Life Volume one: The 1970s

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s is a printed publication (740 black and white pages printed, with a free colour eBook version) that covers the decades weird and wonderful television (including favourites of mine such as The Tomorrow People, Sky, Survivors and A Ghost Story For Christmas), as well as a look at the changing face of UK TV culture. And that’s not all – the publication looks at board games – such as Top Trumps and Escape From Colditz, plus films and comics (including the mighty Action from 1976) as well as 70s fads and food (I had forgotten all about Horror Bags Fangs Crisps!). Oh and the array of 70s ice-lollies – no wonder I’ve spent so much money at the dentists over the years.

Scarred For Life volume one: The 1970s opens with an excellent scene-setting introduction by horror writer / historian Johnny Mains. Scarred by Television is the books first section. If you lived through the 70s, the memories are instantly sparked by the description of TV in that decade – no remote controls, tiny screens and few channels, compared to todays HD and hundreds of channels beamed into our homes through satellite / cable and on demand net based programming. On demand was not an option in the 1970s – in fact recording of programmes to watch later didn’t feature in most households until the 1980s. So TV watching was a much more communal event – everyone watched the programmes at the same time and discussed last nights viewing at school or work the next day. And if you missed the programme, or if it clashed with something else your family was watching on the homes ONE TV, that was it – no pausing, rewinding or catch-up TV. You simply missed it.

Programmes discussed in depth in the first few chapters include The Owl ServiceThe Ghosts of Motley Hall and one of my favourites, The Tomorrow People (which has a Bowie reference, fact fiends). Name that tune! The Blue And The Green Tomorrow People story has stuck with me all these years.

SkyOne of the most enjoyable parts of Scarred for Life is the coverage of the HTV series Sky. I remember watching and enjoying early episodes of this programme, but for some long forgotten reason, I never got to watch the whole of the seven part series. But I never forgot those terrifying black eyes…..

There is also a lengthy and informative section on Play For Today – including the haunting Blue Remembered Hills, which can be found on the Essential Dennis Potter boxset.

The sci-fi section of Scarred for Life includes the BBC post-plague drama Survivors. Much grittier than the (sadly cut-short after two series) more recent version starring Max Beesley, the original series lasted three seasons and went straight into my Amazon basket after reading about it in this book.

My favourite TV related section of Scarred for Life is the Gothic TV section – especially  the section on A Ghost Story For Christmas. I occasionally saw episodes during the 70s but bought the BFI DVD collection a couple of years ago due to the 2010 remake of the M. R. James story Whistle and I’ll Come to You, and dipping into this collection has become a Christmas tradition. The Scarred for Life piece goes into great detail, even mentioning the 1860s M. R. James origin of the Christmas Ghost stories that led to this wonderful BBC festive regular. I know its not Christmas as I write this review, but I think I’ll dip into the collection again this weekend. Charles Dickens is not just for Christmas, after all.

The How we used to live section discusses the way that some mainstream 70s TV dealt with race (the impact of ‘light entertainment’ shows such as The Black and White Minstrel Show and Love Thy Neighbour) and particularly the awful, lazy stereotyping in Mind Your Language. The section also discusses the “something for the Dads” casual sexism that was prevalent in Seaside Special / Top of the Pops and various sitcoms such as Doctor In The House and On The Buses. To their credit, the Scarred for Life writers don’t choose the easy “weren’t the 70s wacky” route in their discussions about these issues.

Scarred for Life takes an interesting approach to its lengthy Doctor Who section. Instead of focusing on the show and the stories, they take a fresh approach discussing what it was like being a fan of the show – writing about the Doctor Who Exhibitions and the eras Doctor Who annuals and magazines.

If, like me, you are of a certain age – the phrase “clunk click every trip” will mean you watched the multitude of public information films that ran through the decade, and they are discussed in loving detail in Scarred for Life. To this day, I’m still petrified of dumped fridges and ponds.

charleysays

The section covers with Charley Says, The Green Cross Code and the downright terrifying Joe & Petunia (the coastguard animation still haunts me). Coo-ee!

I spent many happy hours playing Escape From Colditz as a kid in the early 70s. The board game was inspired by the popular TV series, starring Robert Wagner and David McCallum, that ran for two series between 1972 and 1974. It made a change from the endless magic sets and compendium of games that I received each Christmas. So I really enjoyed the children’s games section in this publication, that also covers Top Trumps, a card based game (I recall having lots of military and vehicle based sets – mainly tanks, jets and motorbikes).

The savage cinema section is well researched. Covering films such as Soldier Blue, Straw Dogs, Dirty Harry and the Death Wish series, the writers put these films in the context of the post-Vietnam, permissive society fighting Mary Whitehouse era. Classic films such as Martin Scorcese’s Taxi Driver and Deliverance are also covered.

The writers also delve briefly into the “When Animals Attack” late 70s film genre, mentioning Grizzly, but sadly no mention of one of my  (corny) favourites from the era – Day of the Animals. I saw Day of the Animals as a double-bill (what a great concept, bring it back!) at the cinema in 1977 with a great film called The Car, with James Brolin being pursued through the desert by a seemingly driverless Lincoln Continental (The Car is mentioned further on in Scarred for Life).

Another well-written section of the book are chapters given over to covering some of the satanic / possession films of the 70s. Covering less obvious choices, such as Dennis Potters Brimstone and Treacle (not to be confused with the later film version starring Sting) as well as the sort of films you would expect, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist, the writing is often focused on the public’s perception of the films rather than plot synopses, which is a fresh take on these much-discussed classic horror films.

I also found the folk-horror section interesting – as its a sub-genre I know little about, so feel inclined to explore further.

The Pop Movie Turns Dark covers the trio of pop films That’ll Be The Day, Stardust and Slade in Flame. I’ve never seen the Slade film but love the two David Essex films. I didn’t realise that That’ll Be The Day is based on Harry Nilsson’s song 1941, so thanks for that pop-quiz nugget, Scarred for Life.

thatll-be-the-day

The sections on 70s books and comics is the section I was looking forward to the most, and it did not disappoint. I bought several pre-ban issues of Action – I wish I’d kept them, as it was a ground-breaking comic that is covered in depth in this publication. And I had forgotten all about the Pan Book of Horror Stories – that turned me onto the work of Edgar Allen Poe and Bram Stoker among others. I was also a big fan of the early James Herbert books – The Rats is discussed in Scarred for Life, but my favourite was The Fog. I’ve still got my original copy and it still scares me to death. Its a shame there is not more coverage of James Herbert – he may not be regarded as being a writer in the same class as Stephen King in horror writing circles, but his books were extremely popular in the 70s and 80s for the very good reason that they were terrifying.

Scarred by… food. Horror themed ice-lollies (Lyons Maid Red Devils & Haunted House), Smiths Horror Bags crisps (I can taste them now!) and Golden Wonder Kung Fueys (bacon and mushroom corn balls mnnnn) are all on the menu in Scarred for Life. Oh how I miss the 70s.

There is an interesting chapter on UFO imagery used in 70s music, including Boston, ELO, The Stranglers and a fair bit about David Bowie‘s apparent fascination with aliens. The sections ends with the top 10 UFO songs of the 70s. I won’t give it away – buy Scarred for Life and see for yourself.

Scarred for Life is a great read for anyone who lived through the decade, or for anyone in love with the music, TV and films that poured out of this amazing period. The TV series Life on Mars gave a great flavour of the 70s, so if you loved that show, Scarred for Life will paint an even fuller picture of the decade. I am really looking forward to the next volume, that will cover the 80s. I can’t wait to read about the nuclear paranoia of that decade, especially the mighty Threads.

You can buy Scarred for Life Volume one – the 70s now as a 740 page perfect-bound paperback (the printed version comes with details of how to obtain the colour e-book version as part of your purchase).

Advertisements




Hugh Cornwell – The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell

11 10 2015

The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell is a compilation of material from Hugh’s first six solo albums. If all you know of Hugh’s work is from his time as a member of The Stranglers, The Fall and Rise… will serve as a great introduction.

The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell

Opening with Hi Fi‘s powerful Leave Me Alone, it’s clear that the re-mastering by Miles Showell at Abbey Road Studios has really added something to the audio quality. This is more noticeable on the older material, such as Hot Cat on A Tin Roof from 1993’s Wired, where the track sounds brighter, with better separation.

Break of Dawn from Wolf is one of the albums highlights, a forgotten gem from the late 80s.

Under Her Spell has always been one of my favourite songs from the Tony Visconti produced Beyond Elysian Fields from 2004. The Who like final section on this song gets me everytime. You could say I’m under the songs spell!

First Bus To Babylon, with its mix of layered percussion and wonderful slide guitar, is a classic Hugh solo track.

“When we’ve sung the final song, get the first bus to Babylon”

Two of the more recent tracks, Hooverdam‘s Please Dont Put Me On A Slow Boat To Trowbridge and Beat Of My Heart have been cranked up a little in this remaster. Lay Back On Me Pal sounds wonderful just past the half way point on this compilation. The lovely psychedelic layers, strings and warm Laurie Latham production make this almost Beatles-like piece a definite highlight of the album.

One Burning Desire (originally from Guilty) is one of Hugh’s finest pop songs (and one of his great vocal performances). Another Laurie Latham production, One Burning Desire is almost a homage to the 60s with Hugh’s Byrds like guitar walls of sound.

From one of Hugh’s most “produced” songs to one of his most stripped back in his paean to his beloved Cadiz in Spain. The Abbey Road remaster brings out the layers in the chorus and the verse backing vocals and there is a noticeable brightness to the version on this compilation.

Long Dead Train was a favourite of a lot of fans when Guilty was released back in 1997, and it was always a great live track. I hope it’s inclusion on this compilation leads to it finding its way back into Hugh’s next full-band shows. I’ve always loved the Elvis “uh-huhs” in the chorus.

I wasn’t sure what Wolf‘s Getting Involved would sound like on this compilation, as its one of the most 80s sounding tracks in Hugh’s back catalogue but the remaster has beefed the track up a little. Yes it still sounds like the 80s – but it was from the 80s, theres no getting away with it!

The final track is a 2015 recording of the live favourite Live It And Breathe It. Guitars and drums to the fore, we are treated to a great guitar solo and more Elvisism’s thrown in from Mr C, so what’s not to like?

So if you are not familiar with Hugh’s work, The Fall and Rise Of Hugh Cornwell should be the perfect introduction. And if you like what you hear, maybe buy his most recent studio album, Totem and Taboo. You can listen to a couple of the tracks on Hugh’s website.

Buy The Fall and Rise of Hugh Cornwell on Amazon

Buy Totem and Taboo on Amazon





Hugh Cornwell – Totem & Taboo

18 08 2012

The follow-up to 2008’s Hooverdam is a continuation of Cornwell’s recent back-to-basics approach.  Where the production on Hooverdam (by Liam Watson) harked back to the 60s, I felt that the production on the vocals let the songs down.  Hugh recorded his latest album in Chicago late last year, with Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey) behind the desk.  The result is Hugh’s best sounding album to date, and surely up there with Nosferatu and Guilty as one of his finest albums.

A lot of credit must go to Albini for capturing the rich vocals and dirty, raw guitar from one of the class of 77’s finest performers. The Totem & Taboo title track is driven by powerful  drums and a guitar line reminiscent of early Bowie ala Rebel Rebel.

The albums second track, The Face, is about attending a party in honour of the material girl.  The pace picks up with I Want One Of Those, a real new wave thrasher, with lyrics bemoaning the consumerism of society, and the constant upgrade, give me it now culture. Albini captures Hugh’s guitar sound perfectly, with a wonderful solo closing the song.

Stuck in Daily Mail Land has shades of The Jam / Kinks & The Who (check out the nods to Start / Taxman in the bassline and the Keith Moon freakout drums in the break). It’s so refreshing to hear an album where all the musicians are clearly playing live in a room, at the same time, without countless overdubs.

Hugh Cornwell April 2012. Photo Copyright Kevin Nixon.Bad Vibrations is a highlight of Hugh’s live set, and has a wonderful, dirty overdriven bass sound, and Nosferatu‘esque  / Wired discordant guitar / drums interplay after the chorus.  The guitar at the end of the song has a real early Skids feel to it. One of my favourite tracks on the album, I never tire of this song.

God is a Woman features some great interplay between the three musicians, and is the result of bringing well-rehearsed, road-tested songs into the studio environment.

“You know she made the birds and the bees,
You know she made the plants and the trees

I want to see you down on your knees
God is a woman.”

Love Me Slender could be a comment on our image-driven society, as well as obviously being a misappropriation of Presley’s Love Me Tender.

The album ends strongly, with a trio of the albums most powerful songs, all connected by the United States.  Gods Guns and Gays is driven by a wonderful guitar line reminiscent at times of his former band’s Always The Sun, and lyrically discusses the contradictions and obsessions of the Country. Timpanis underpin some sections of the song (possibly a wry nod to another acerbic USA lyric, Dead Loss Angeles and it’s symphony of lonely tympanis line?).

Street Called Carroll is a new wave firecracker and a love song to LA. There is something about this song that reminds me of The Lovin’ Spoonful‘s Summer In The City, and I love the “staying cool, staying cool…” refrain.

“He’ll be drawing in the chalk again,
They are telling me the dead can walk again.”

From the polluted, smog-filled inner-city jungle of LA, the album slips to a more mystical side of the USA with Totem & Taboo‘s closing track, the epic In The Dead of Night.  The sound of assorted wildlife and a real feel of the wide open spaces of the Mojave Desert usher in the track, with it’s walking bass and loping drums.  Cornwell delivers a Riders on the Storm for the 21st Century, with the most effortlessly cool song you will hear this year.

The 60s feel continues as a riff that references Peter Gunn underpins the solo in the middle of the song. I love how Cornwell & Albini resisted the temptation to over-complicate the arrangement.  It remains true to the live version premiered last year, and is a great finish to the album.

Buy the CD on Amazon

Visit the Hugh Cornwell website








%d bloggers like this: