Tag Archives: film

Film Review of ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’, BBC4, 16 March 2021

Another in-depth TV treat for the music obsessive, following the recent broadcast of ‘King Rocker’, chronicling punk legends The Nightingales.

With Julian Temple at the creative and directing helm, ‘Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds with Shane MacGowan’ is an informative, romanticized, warm, irreverent and funny trip through the career of the Pogues frontman, with interviews, live performances, animations, TV appearances and Irish history. The two hour running time allowed for a huge supporting cast orbiting around the music and cultural influences of Shane; from Samuel Beckett and W.B. Yeats to Joe Strummer and Johnny Depp. Family members and friends provided extra insight but in the end it was the music clips and comments from Shane that were the key.

Shane MacGowan seemed to have been filmed in the front row at numerous London gigs in the late 70s for the likes of the Sex Pistols and The Clash, noticed by the NME as ‘the face of ’77’. These appearances were followed by many recordings of the early Pogues shows, encapsulating their electricity and commitment to re-energising traditional Irish music.

Many of their best songs featured; ‘Streams Of Whiskey’, ‘A Pair Of Brown Eyes’, ‘The Sick Bed of Cuchulainn’, ‘Sally MacLennane’ and of course ‘Fairytale of New York’ also had to be there, particularly serving as a reminder of the talent of Kirsty MacColl. The sentimentality of ‘A Rainy Night In Soho’ is probably a superior song and their brilliant cover of ‘The Band Played Waltzing Matilda’ was juxtaposed with a liner leaving for the US, one of many references to the Irish diaspora.

Shane described the intensity of success when the band’s fame led at one point to 364 shows in one year, causing health problems and ending with him leaving the band in 1991, (though there were reunion shows from 2001 onward). With excerpts from his 60th birthday tribute show, this very watchable film left a lasting impression.

Shane MacGowan – Official Website

The Pogues, Thetford Forest, 14 June 2014 | cambridgemusicreviews

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Film Review of ‘Blinded By The Light’, released August 2019

After Yesterday we now have another music themed ‘feel-good hit of the summer’, this time it is Blinded By The Light featuring songs by Bruce Springsteen. On paper it seems an inviting but improbable prospect, a teenager uses the music as a channel of escape from family pressures in an industrially depressed Luton in the late 1980s, but in the hands of director Gurinder Chadha, co-writer Sarfraz Manzoor (based on his memoir) and brought to vivid life by newcomer Viveik Kalra it is an excellent summer watch.

Luton is not the most picturesque of towns except the rolling-ish hills (overlooking the A505?) that bookend the film, but the period detail is immaculate – chopper bike, a first ‘mobile’ phone, battered cassettes, and of course the British-made car models that time forgot. This creates a cosy glow of memory, but it is unflinchingly interwoven with some of the harsh realities – redundancy, unemployment and ingrained racism. The National Front march looks like an echo of current news but the more personal attacks and abuse were viscerally straight to the point (a fellow cinema-goer was audibly shocked).

Life in the sixth form college looked pretty good though, with its own radio station (playing A-ha and Debbie Gibson!), an array of musical ‘tribes’ in the canteen and the caring/inspiring English teacher (played by Hayley Atwell).

I don’t think Bruce would have been prominent on most sixth-formers radar at that time but when he appears on the ubiquitous Walkman worn by our hero Javed and the words swirl around in the gale (as seen on the TV being mis-forecast by Michael Fish!) the connection is made. ‘Dancing In the Dark’ may be an unlikely lyric to trigger this; I had previously considered it to be a lightweight pop single in the Boss’s canon but maybe I have misjudged it..!

The film continues to engross and engage with some sharply written cameos, thoughtful moments, relationship twists and turns and the music a touchstone to all the action. The unexpected ‘Born To Run’ semi-fantasy production number is a brilliant highlight, showing that from the moment you hear that introduction what a 100% rock classic this song is.

I saw Springsteen on a stadium tour; there is no doubt he is a brilliant live performer, with mastery of the crowd and the majesty of the E-Street band driving the extra long set to new heights, but it doesn’t have a huge resonance in my memory compared with some shows I have attended – so maybe a personal re-appraisal of his themes and lyrics is overdue? But there is no doubt that by weaving the music into the perception of a troubled and ambitious Luton teenager the director and actors have created a very special movie treat.


Film Review of ‘Yesterday’, released June 2019

The premise of this film is now well known; struggling musician wakes up in a world in which nobody knows of The Beatles so he seizes the opportunity to pass off the classic songs as his own. The concept is then weaved skilfully into romantic comedy, family and buddy movie, satire on the music business, East Anglian travelogue, a cameo from Michael Kiwanuka and generous helpings of Ed Sheeran. In the hands of writer Richard Curtis and director Danny Boyle this all works as it should but of course some of the prominent reviews are predictable and fairly lukewarm.

I have limited interest in the much more favourably reviewed recent megahit music biopics (I would rather watch a proper documentary!) but I believe this film delves into something deeper – through the vehicle of well-known Beatles music there is a less frequently told tale of the huge creative and emotional investment that so many artists have in their writing and performing which is probably never going to lead to ‘bigger things’ – the antithesis of reality TV easy fame.
Lead character Jack has stumbled on a goldmine but still wants his ‘Summer Song’ to feature on the album, as he is so connected to his own compositions.
Few around him share his enthusiasm, except some well-meaning friends and sweet-natured but steely superfan Ellie. Unfortunately this is so true – many original musicians continue to play and record while the world around them only seems interested in the well established acts or variations that are openly commercial.

I didn’t grow up with the Beatles as a soundtrack, they have always been in the background with some songs far too overplayed (heresy warning – especially ‘Hey Jude’ and ‘Let It Be’). In recent years I have heard some of their album tracks for the first time and realised the depth and richness of the back catalogue.
The song selection here is not huge but there are many gems; ‘Back In The USSR’ helps develop the plot, the sublime ‘In My Life’ probably surpasses ‘Yesterday’ as a show-stopping ballad and best of all the triumphant ‘Help’, a punk-scarred full-band blast in front of a huge crowd of extras on Gorleston beach. (I wish I had been there….and are there other outtakes from this mini-show?)

With some fun plot twists and star performances from Himesh Patel and Lily James this is a heartwarming entertainment with plenty of interest for the music enthusiast. I highly recommend it.
To paraphrase Noël Coward; “Strange how potent Beatles music is.”