Monthly Archives: August 2017

When Word Got Around About Cool Cymru

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the release of the Stereophonics debut album, Word Gets Around. I’ll skip the ‘I can’t believe it was so long ago!’ rhetoric and get right to why it was significant. 1997 was the peak of Cool Cymru, a spin-off from the Britpop-fuelled Cool Britannia movement, which deemed it a positive thing to be from Wales. This was new to me. Until then, for most people living in the valleys, our existence had been anything but cool. Frustrating, alienating and angst-ridden maybe, but never cool. Wales is a nice place to visit, but has been on an economic down-turn since Thatcher closed the coal mines in the 80s. Sadly, no money often equals no prospects, no hope, and no reason to believe that will change any time soon. Cue high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, and widespread alcohol and drug abuse.

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While Cool Britannia was typified by a new influx of guitar bands with suitably provocative one-word names (Blur, Oasis, Pulp, Suede, Elastica, Sleeper, Cast, Keane, Embrace, to name but, er, nine) Cool Cymru was always about more than music. Sure, it was spearheaded by the Stereophonics, The Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia and the Super Furry Animals, but it encapsulated so much more. Howard Marks was showing us that bad boys really can come good, in the sporting arena we had Joe Calzaghe (boxing), Ryan Giggs (football) and Scott Gibbs (rugby). The Cardiff Devils ice hockey team were dominant, Ioan Gruffudd was on the Titanic, Twin Town was all the rage, and a national referendum voted ‘yes’ to devolution. The emphasis was very much on growth, progress and change, the historic Cardiff Arms Park being demolished to make way for a plush new venue (the Millennium Stadium) symptomatic of this general shift in attitude. It was an exciting time, filled with optimism and grand expectations, and through it all was an overriding sense that anything was possible.

All this was manifested in the music, and Word Gets Around is a prime example. Not much time for naval-gazing on the Welsh music scene. We were too busy getting wasted and jumping around, high on the fact that if a bunch of beery blokes from a tiny village near Aberdare in the Cynon Valley called Cwmaman could make it, any of us could. The album kicks off with a quartet of fast-paced, fist-pumping, balls-out floor fillers laden with killer riffs and pop hooks. A Thousand Trees, Looks Like Chaplin, More Life in a Tramp’s Vest and Local Boy in the Photograph which, incidentally, were the band’s first four singles, breeze by in a combined total of about eleven minutes, before things are taken down a few notches for track (and single) five, Traffic. These songs are still regulars in the band’s live gigs today.

“Is anyone going anywhere?

Everyone’s got to be somewhere.”

The second half of the album, or side 2 if you are a vinyl worshipper, is where you’ll find all the deep cuts. Two of my all-time favourite ‘Phonics tracks, Same Size Feet and Too Many Sandwiches, reside there. Most of the songs on Word Gets Around are about small-town life, holding a magnifying glass against it and articulating the desire to escape that we all felt, or are based on actual events in and around Cwmaman. Weddings, funerals, suicides, sexual abuse, violent encounters and mundane acts like selling fruit in dying market stalls. Like most valley towns, Cwmaman is a place you don’t visit unless you have to, or you are very, very lost. The isolation can be both a blessing and a curse, and songs like Goldfish Bowl and Last of the Big Time Drinkers’ sum up this state of existence perfectly. Lyrically, the former is pretty self-explanatory, while the latter is about working a dead end job with your only release being a few pints in the local at the end of the week.

“I don’t live to work,

I work to live,

I live at the weekend.”

The album closes on the poignant ballad Billy Davey’s Daughter, about a young girl who drowns herself, which is another standard that has stood the test of time. It’s probably one of the strongest tracks on the record, and it wouldn’t have been a complete surprise to see it released as a single. But then again, five singles was enough. This isn’t Michael Jackson we’re talking about. While we’re on the topic, a few words must be said about the sheer quality of b-sides to be found on the singles that were released, most of which have been included on various re-issues. Carrot Cake & Wine is strong enough to grace virtually any album of the decade and Poppy Day isn’t far behind, while covers of The Last Resort (originally by The Eagles) and Who’ll Stop the Rain (Creedence Clearwater revival) not only pay homage to the ‘Phonics roots, but make decent additions to any collection.

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The year before, the ‘Phonics had been the first band to sign to Richard Branson’s new V2 label which meant they had some money and industry clout behind them, ensuring the album reached number six on the UK charts and eventually went triple platinum. Later albums may have sold more (2001’s Just Enough Education to Perform remains their biggest seller to date), but Word Gets Around is the one that got under people’s skin, and is still a firm fan favourite. It featured the original, stripped-down line up of Kelly Jones, Richard Jones and Stuart Cable, who were so polished through years of playing together in workingmen’s clubs that they were as tight as the proverbial nun’s arse. And just as dirty. This is the sound of a band on the cusp, energetic, wide-eyed and hungry, before their next album Performance & Cocktails launched them into the stratosphere, and listening to Word Gets Around now two decades later still evokes the same feelings of defiant celebration.

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RetView #1 – The Lost Boys

Title: The Lost Boys

Year of Release: 1987

Director: Joel Schumacher 

Length: 98 mins

Starring: Jason Patric, Corey Haim, Corey Feldman, Kiefer Sutherland, Jami Gertz

It’s a conversation which comes up every so often. There you are, semi-drunk with a group of colleagues, or on one of those awkward Tinder dates, when in an effort to lift the tension and find some common ground, somebody asks, “So, what’s your favourite film?”

Obviously, there’s no right or wrong answer. It’s entirely subjective. But it’s still a bit of a loaded question. Say the wrong thing, and it could cloud someone’s opinion of you forever. What would your peers and prospective lovers think if you gave the accolade to Human Centipede 2? Or even worse, the Adam Sandler disaster Jack and Jill?

For me, there are a few contenders (neither Human Centipede 2 or Jack and Jill is among them, you’ll be glad to know). But for as long as I can remember, my answer has always been the same.

The Lost Boys.

It’s not always a popular choice. Horror buffs and 80’s film aficionados usually nod with appreciation, while others, especially the younger crowd, invariably frown and say ‘You what?’

Given that The Lost Boys came out exactly thirty years ago (July 29th 1987 to be precise) I suppose that’s an acceptable reaction. Upon release it was a modest hit but was no Top Gun or Dirty Dancing, and has since passed into the ranks of ‘cult classic.’ That said, it has certainly aged better than most 80’s movies. Have you seen Weird Science recently? Didn’t think so.

Anyway, directed by Joel Schumacher and made on a budget of just $8.5 million, the Lost Boys was a triumph of style over substance, in many ways encapsulating the 80’s as a whole. It was big, brash, gaudy, and ever-so-slightly camp. A bit like a 98-minute 80’s pop video. Yet by the same token it was funny, slick, and immeasurably cool. In the case of Kiefer Sutherland, it might also be one of the very few times a lead character rocks a mullet and gets away with it.

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The producers originally wanted to call the town where Lost Boys is set Santa Cruz, because during the 1970s Santa Cruz gained a reputation as being “the Murder Capital of the World” after three infamous serial killers (Kemper, Mullin, and Carpenter, aka the Trailside Killer) hunted victims there. However, the Santa Cruz council ‘strongly objected’ to the town being portrayed in such a negative manner and allegedly withheld filming permits, forcing the producers to change the name to Santa Carla.

For the uninitiated, The Lost Boys is the story of two brothers, Sam (Corey Haim) and Michael (Jason Patric) who move with their recently-divorced mother (Dianne West) to stay with her eccentric father in Santa Carla, California. Cue lashings of teen angst and despair about feeling isolated and not fitting in and stuff. At a local comic book store, Sam bumps into the Frog Brothers (Corey Feldman and Jamison Newlander) who warn him that the town has become overrun with vampires and give him comics to educate him about the threat, while big brother Michael falls in love with Star (Jami Gertz) who happens to be in a relationship with a local gang leader called David (the aforementioned mullet-sporting Sutherland). Yup, you guessed it, David’s gang is actually made up of the very same vampires that have been terrorizing the town and making people disappear, and they want the star-struck (sorry) Michael to join their ranks. The story builds to an epic showdown between good and evil featuring a few fantastically creative kill scenes and some better one-liners.

At the time, Lost Boys represented something of a gamble by Warner Bros. Horror comedies aimed specifically at teenagers was an unexplored genre. To make things even harder, at the time, the main cast was comprised mainly of untested wannabes and even director Joel Schumacher was a largely unknown quantity with only The Incredible Shrinking Woman (1981) and St Elmo’s Fire (1985) on his resume.

Even with the benefit of having 30-years to think about it, it’s hard to pinpoint what makes Lost Boys work so well. The plot itself is a little thin with not many surprises, but the script is sharp and witty. A piece of marketing genius, the slogan (‘Sleep all day, party all night, never grow old, never die. It’s fun to be a vampire’) captured both the imagination and the mood of a generation, while the sleek MTV-style visuals are positively spellbinding, Kiefer Sutherland made the coolest villain ever, and Jami Gertz playing the little girl lost role sent pulses racing. As sultry and vulnerable as she appeared, you just knew she was as dangerous and ruthless as a coiled cobra. The haunting soundtrack, an essential component of any 80’s movie, was also a contributing factor. Even the dog Nanook deserves special praise for several show-stealing scenes.

However, despite all this, Lost Boys was much more than the sum of its parts, making an undeniable impression on the psyche Generation X and paving the way for everything from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to the Twilight saga. The movie did spawn two low-key sequels of it’s own, Lost Boys: the Tribe (2008) and Lost Boys: the Thirst (2010) but neither set the world on fire, and a rumoured proper sequel, the Lost Girls, also directed by Joel Schumacher and which sounded fucking amazing, failed to materialize. The enduring legacy of Lost Boys ties in neatly with the source of the title, J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan who, just like vampires, never grew up. To my knowledge he didn’t end up dissolving in a bath of holy water and garlic or being impaled on a fence post either, so there’s that.

Trivia corner:

Actress Julia Roberts started dating Jason Patric just days after cancelling her wedding to Lost Boys co-star Kiefer Sutherland in 1991. Ouch.

This is the first installment of the RetView series.


Coming Soon… RetViews!

Regular visitors will know I post (or have posted) about whatever takes my fancy. In the past I’ve written about topics as diverse as Bruce Springsteen gigs and animals that shit coffee, but most of my posts are in some way related to teaching, sport, China, horror fiction, music or films. Sometimes, two or more of those categories bleed into each other, which makes me happy. What all these topics have in common is the fact that they’re all important to me. They make my world go around.

I realized some time ago that as our lives trundle on and we get ever older, our perceptions change, as well as our tastes. As our reserves of life experience swell, we come to see things in a different light. This logic applies to a lot of things. You could probably argue that it applies to everything. But it is especially noticeable with regards to music and films, these being the spheres where fads and fashions are most prevalent. For example, how many people were into Johnny Hates Jazz or the Christians in the late 80’s? And how many of those people still play Shattered Dreams or Harvest for the World? Probably not that many. Let’s not forget, the arts also serve as open forums for social commentary, which makes them especially relevant.

This is just one reason why I thought it might be interesting to revisit some classic cinematic moments, and take another look at them in a ‘modern’ context. Or at least, with the benefit of knowing some stuff I probably didn’t know before. Older movies have also generated more academic research, comments and opinions, which I can draw upon as I endeavour to provide some valuable insight, rather than a simple ‘It was rad!’ review.

I’m going to call this my RetView series. Short for Retro Review. See what I did there?

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I’m starting with films. Horror films, to be precise, and have earmarked such classics as An American Werewolf in London, the Evil Dead, Eyes Without a Face, Nightmare on Elm Street, The Thing and one of the Alien films (haven’t decided which one yet) for the RetView treatment. I will also re-visit some more modern examples, like the Blair Witch Project, Train to Busan and [REC]. In time I might branch out into other genres, or even music. Hell, I might even dig out some cassettes and fire up my old Sony Walkman. I might leave Johnny Hates Jazz and the Christians out of it, though.

I am well aware that this site needs some structure, so I am going to be aiming for a new a new instalment every month. On the 13th, to be precise, in keeping with the horror theme. Each RetView will contain essential information such as the year the film was released, who directed and starred in it, and a synopsis. Where possible I’ll also scratch beneath the surface to provide a bit of context, make observations where appropriate, and uncover a bit of light-hearted trivia to make the whole thing more slick. The fun starts next week with Lost Boys, one of the greatest 80’s films ever made.

I hope you read my RetViews and take something from them. Like I said, for one reason or another, these are all films that deserve some recognition. Comments, likes, shares and blow jobs are always very much appreciated, and don’t forget to sign up so you never miss an installment.


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