Thursday, 4 March 2010

Pop Festering 1: London Popfest Films

Due to my being ill/ at work / being ill at work, I didn’t really experience much of London Popfest 2010, but here are a few thoughts on the bits I did get to:

London Popfest Films, The Roxy - 26 February 2010
We nick off work for an afternoon of having a nice sit down (this is good as I feel dizzy – cheers mystery virus thing!) to watch a couple of poptastic films in the comfortingly shabby environs of the Roxy on Borough High Street. The first film is ‘The Shield Around The K’, Heather Dominic’s exhaustive, lo-fi celebration of K Records. This sort of history of the label is somewhat obliquely pieced together via various interviews (featuring such luminaries as Slim Moon, Ian MacKaye and Rose Melberg), cut with rather grainy live footage of bands playing the first International Pop Underground Festival in 1991. Plus the odd groovy Super-8 pop video for Beat Happening and Tiger Trap and the like.

By the end the general consensus amongst the audience seems to be ‘it went on a bit’, but there is plenty to be entertained by and unless you are a raving K Records freak a fair bit to learn about the label and the people involved with it. Highlights include: Sonic Boom looking exactly like a skull wearing a dishevelled Beatles wig; Jean Smith of Mecca Normal telling an anecdote and changing her mind about what happened even as the words leave her mouth; some amazing ‘freeform’ dancing by Calvin Johnson; footage of Fugazi performing; the Roxy audience sniggering whenever record store moustache man appears on screen; everyone looking pretty good and not too old until you remember that 1999, when the film was made, was like 11 years ago. Oh yes and Calvin saying that when the first Beat Happening seven inch came out someone asked him what had happened to K’s ‘cassette revolution’. Answer: ‘Didn’t you hear? We won.’

The second film seems to get more bums on seats.
It’s the main reason I came as I missed out on its only other showing, at the Barbican in 2008. ‘Take Three Girls: The Dolly Mixture Story’ is introduced by director Paul Kelly who rather sweetly says, “Bye!” at the end of his intro as if he was on the phone. As he explains, the forty minute film combines extensive footage of Dolly Mixture from the early eighties with interviews and imagery he filmed in 2008. It isn’t finished yet, but it’s brilliant, perfectly juxtaposing the past (three rather naïve girls apparently just kind of doing stuff and it sort of working in a wonky way) and the present (three cool women reminiscing in a very matter of fact way without any annoying mythologizing). It would maybe be good to have a bit more of an idea of time in the film, sometimes it’s not really clear what happened when – just at some point between 1979 and 1984. Still, it’s chockfull of great bits and should be shown to school girls everywhere, as it’s utterly inspiring. Apart from at the end when the band finishes ‘cos one of them is pregnant with Captain Sensible’s child.

Good bits:
- As school girls Debsey and Rachel pretended to be in a band and wrote articles about themselves. We did that too!

- Debsey’s box full of old Butterick sewing patterns, and the band’s approach to ‘fashion’ in general.

- Preparing for their first studio session, Dolly Mixture practise getting progressively quieter as they play because they want one of their tracks to fade out. They haven’t heard of faders on mixing desks.

- Dolly Mixture go down to London for the day (in carefully chosen outfits that include coloured bowler hats – for that city gent goes pop! look) in order to obtain a record deal and are disappointed when they find you can’t just phone up a label and pop round to play them your demo there and then.

- Dolly Mixture’s Peel session never gets a repeat airing, ‘cos John Walters doesn’t like them, “The Slits crossed with The Nolans”. Boo.

- Dolly Mixture’s manager is called ‘Dubious Tony’.

- U2 supported Dolly Mixture at The Rock Garden. Captain Sensible reports that U2 were ‘crap’.

- Dolly Mixture don’t have enough money to see The Undertones play at Cambridge Corn Exchange so they stand outside in the car-park to listen. Afterwards they go in and manage to give the band their demo tape. Half an hour later they are asked to support The Undertones the next night. And then after that they get to be support on the whole Undertones tour and the band are all really kind to the Dolly Mixture girls. It is pleasing to learn that the O’Neill brothers in particular are very nice.

- Dolly Mixture the band write to Dolly Mixture the sweetie company to suggest some kind of advertising collaboration. The company declines this kind offer, but sends the band a big box of sweets! Can you imagine this happening now? A cease and desist order would be more likely.

- Debsey Wykes is my new style icon (not that I had an old one, but you know).

Towards the end of the film, drummer Hester expresses a desire to have a go at drumming again – but only in a sound-proof room where she’s knows nobody could overhear her. And she definitely would never ever play in a band again. This is a shame, ‘cos when the film’s over you can practically see the thought bubbles forming above the Roxy audience’s heads as they picture Dolly Mixture playing a reunion show to an adoring Indietracks crowd.

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