Monday, 2 August 2021

900th blog post!

Blimey, welcome to my 900th post!  After deciding to stick to a regular posting schedule (every Monday), I've thoroughly enjoyed working on the blog (especially in the depths of the pandemic) and, as ever, I'm surprised at how much I've managed to fit in since the last milestone catch up.
Since the 800th post (back in July 2019), life has been a bit weird (to say the least), but the blog's been consistent and something very nice for me to get lost into.  In that time, I've had two short stories published, Mr Stix came out as an e-book and I self-published my novella The Exercise (which became, briefly, the No.1 Amazon Hot New Release!).  I also wrote another thriller novel (the previous two didn't attract agency interest, sadly) and remembered my first time in print

I went to Edge-Lit 8 and reminisced about FantasyCon, since all other cons were disrupted by covid and, bloody hell, I've really missed them), The Crusty Exterior revisited horror firsts (on video) and celebrated its 5 Year Anniversary, I got to interview Sue Moorcroft at Rothwell Library and I celebrated my creative years in 2019 and 2020 (along with the 'novels' teenaged me wrote).  I also presented two sets of the Westies (in 2019 and 2020).

On the blog, I've written some book reviews, some behind-the-scenes essays (on movie miniatures and matte paintings), had fun researching some retrospectives (on The Six Million Dollar Man, Looking For Rachel Wallace, Skeleton Crew, Will You, by Hazel O'Connor, Dark Forces, edited by Kirby McCauley, The Creature From The Black Lagoon, For Your Eyes Only at 40, Raiders Of The Lost Ark at 40), carried out some Q&A's (with Gary McMahonSue MoorcroftPeter Mark May & Richard Farren BarberCC AdamsPriya SharmaPenny JonesDan HowarthSue again (for Under The Italian Sun)), discovered an obscure gem, 1978's brilliant The Silent Partner and checked out the real-life locations of my novella The Mill.

I caught up with some Three Investigators book reviews, shared a love of novelisations (with The ProfessionalsThe A-TeamThe Six Million Dollar Man and Dead & Buried and looked at another Old School Horror (the cracking Death Tour), as well as highlighting Halloween Top Trumps.

I've written some Nostalgic pieces (on posters magazines in 2019 and 2020, the joy of Christmas Annuals in 2019 and 2020the Usborne Book Of GhostsThe Empire Strikes Back Letraset, Summer Specials in 2020 and 2021Starburst magazine, More Comic & Magazine ads (in 2020 and in 2021), Mr BennFangoria magazine) and wrote about the INXS singles Burn For YouDevil Inside, Suicide Blonde and Just Keep Walking, for their various anniversaries as well as the band's 1991 Summer XS gig at Wembley (the first time I saw them).  I also celebrated 5 years of the King For A Year project and continued the Ten Favourite Covers thread (with some Hitchock anthologiesMore Childhood TerrorsThe Golden Age of 2000AD and The Three Investigators).  I enjoyed some cover art from Bullet comicLook-In and 70s British comics (in 2020 and 2021) and also celebrated The Art Of... Bob Larkin and Bryan Bysouth.

The past two years have been an odd time, with more than half of it spent in various forms of lockdown and I've really missed the interaction of friends and family.  Stay safe and healthy and here's looking forward to post 1000.

Monday, 26 July 2021

The Making Of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, by Derek Taylor (a review)

Regular readers will know I'm always fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process of films, especially special effects work with miniatures (which I've blogged about here), matte paintings (which I've blogged about here) and making-of books.  I also love Raiders Of The Lost Ark (and wrote a retrospective piece on it, which you can read here) which, unbelievably, turns 40 this week (released on 31st July 1981 here in the UK).  So while this isn't the most up-to-date review I've ever posted, it was the perfect book for me this week.
Already a fan of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg then, I went to see it that summer with my best friend Nick and loved it.  We both did, though it took him a long time to stop making fun of me because I got scared when the pretty ghost turned into a monster after the Ark had been opened.

To help celebrate the anniversary, I’ve been on a bit of a Raiders jag and one element was this making of.  First published in paperback in 1981, it includes a batch (32 pages) of “spectacular behind-the-scenes photos” (all black and white) and is a real old school making-of, the kind that’s almost as much a memoir as anything else.  It’s also the kind that doesn’t get published these days.
Richard Amsel's iconic poster, which adorned my bedroom wall for a long time.
Derek Taylor writes well and he really is our guide, explaining the situation (in laymans terms), the script as he sees it, the troubles with the locations and the pace of the production.  As if you were sitting together as he caught you up on news, he relates chatting with various actors and crew members and they all come across as being really lovely - Harrison Ford remembers him from the Monterey pop festival, he goes for a walk with Karen Allen and Ronald Lacey befriends holidaymakers at the Tunisian hotel where the main crew and cast (but not the writer) are staying.
Karen Allen, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Harrison Ford on location in Tunisia
Taylor interviewed a lot of people and most of the twenty-three chapters (there’s also a prologue and epilogue) contain at least one with Spielberg and Lucas themselves, as unguarded in interview as I think I’ve ever read.  Chapters are devoted to interviewing (in order) Howard Kazanjian (the co-executive producer), Frank Marshall (producer), Norman Reynolds (production designer, who Spielberg is particularly enamored of due to his work on Star Wars) and Tom Smith (the make-up designer).  The stand-ins get their say and interviews continue with Robert Watts (producer), Harrison Ford, David Tomblin (assistant director, who’s a big presence in the behind-the-scenes documentaries for both this and Return Of The Jedi), Terry Leonard (stunt man), Martin Grace and Wendy Leach (the stunt doubles in England - Leach would go on to marry Vic Armstrong, who also did some of the stunts for Indy here and took over completely for the next two films), Karen Allen, Roy Charman (sound man), Kit West (special effects) and Douglas Slocombe (the director of photography).  Taylor also visited ILM (and clearly didn’t really understand any of the processes Richard Edlund talks about) and attended some of the scoring with John Williams.
The amount of detail that comes across is impressive, some of it amusing forty years down the line.  Kit West, for example, talks about creating black smoke cheaply by buying tyres “for pennies” and setting fire to them, rather than using more expensive (but more environmentally friendly) smoke pots - different times indeed.
Filming on Norman Reynolds' island set at Elstree Studios
Hugely comprehensive and yet still chatty, this is a terrific read, faithfully following a huge crew with one aim who seemed to get on very well together and, as we know, produced a fantastic film.  If you’re used to the modern coffee-table style of making of book (which I also love, except those that feature page after page of technicians sitting in front of computer monitors), this might not be to your taste, but for a proper old-school approach, celebrating a proper, old-school action movie where pretty much everything you see actually happened, I don’t think you could do much better.  Highly recommended - the book and film (and, if you can get hold of it - as I did, to satisfy my Raiders thirst - I’d also recommend the 180g vinyl re-issue soundtrack double album).
Lunch in Tunisia, with executive producer Howard Kazanjian on the far left
Derek Taylor (7th May 1932 - 8th September 1997) was an English journalist, writer, publicist and record producer.  The Beatles press officer (he was sometimes called ‘the Fifth Beatle’), he also worked as a publicist for the Byrds, the Beach Boys, the Mamas and Papas, helped organise the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and headed up publicity for Apple Corps from 1968.  After working for Warner Brothers during the 1970s he then moved to Handmade Films with his close friend George Harrison (while editing Harrison’s 1980 autobiography I, Me, Mine) and wrote several books, including the Raiders making of.  Returning to Apple Corps in the 90s, he was working on the Beatles anthology book at the time of his death.
This iconic shot features in the narrative, a lucky accident that Spielberg saw the sunset and decided to incorporate it
Taylor is surprised at the size of the Tunisian dig set - and at how the extras are treated.  After he informs Spielberg (who wasn't aware), changes are quickly made.
The final sequence, with the "complicated" ILM work included

Happy 40th, Indy!

Monday, 19 July 2021

The Damocles Files Vol 1: Ragnarok Rising, by Benedict J. Jones & Anthony Watson

To mark the publication of their new novel, Ragnarok Rising, I hand over the blog to a guest post from my friends Benedict Jones and Anthony Watson.

As the fires of conflict engulf the globe and empires vie for dominance, a secondary shadow war is being fought for control of the worlds occult treasures, among them the keys to the prisons of long forgotten, sleeping gods. Allied academics join forces with soldiers in a desperate race to halt the machinations of the Axis powers and shadowy cults with their own agendas.

Welcome to the world of Damocles.

BJJ: What started out as an attempt to write a joint collection of horror stories themed around the second world war quickly escalated into something bigger. Why don’t we link all the stories in some way? An overarching narrative perhaps… Well, I do have this one idea… The next thing we knew we were well on our way to 110,000 words and found ourselves building a whole world. In creating this world we knew from the off that we wanted to anchor the dark fantastic in the real history of the second world war; major events still occur when they did, units and regiments are where they were at a specific time. But, behind these real events other, darker, things are occurring.

In drawing up the characters who make up the Damocles organisation and populate the world around them we wanted to make sure that they were all too human with all the fragility which that brings. These are people plucked from the worlds of academia and the military and thrust into life or death conflicts with forces they can barely comprehend. Soldiers and scholars are dispatched to be used as cannon fodder for “the greater good”, mirroring the sacrifices made in the actual war, and we wanted to try and showcase the effects that this would have upon our protagonists. The true facts of the conflict are hidden from some of those involved, the truth being simply too terrible. Scholars, book hounds, assassins and occultists mix with bureaucrats, hobbyists, criminals and squaddies. It was important to us that their stories, with an eye to realism, were told as well as that of the epic struggle to prevent Ragnarok.

Location. Location. Location. Whether it is musty libraries in London, the streets of Istanbul, the desert wastes of north Africa, cave systems in the outer Hebrides, the barren arctic, or war-ravaged Berlin we wanted to imbue each tale with a real sense of place. This was done to try and illustrate the scope and range of the second world war. It truly was a global event that touched almost every corner of the world in one way or another.

The influences that we drew upon in developing the world of Damocles were wide ranging, drawing upon spy literature, historical sources, action and adventure pulps, Lovecraftian cosmic horror, and Norse mythology to name but a few. The Hellboy universe provided some touch points of inspiration as did various other works that involve “weird world war two”. Structure wise we aimed for a fractured narrative with characters coming into and out of the story at various points. The steampunk novel The Difference Engine helped with this in some ways, being an example of where this had been done before. Stories within stories and tales within tales. There is a heroic undercurrent to many of the stories but we tried to temper this by showing the real, often damaging, results of such heroism. One of the wonderful things about creating our world from scratch meant that we were able to draw upon a multitude of sources for influence as well as providing us with ample scope for the freedom to create and add our own inventions.

The act of writing is generally a solitary one. Writing with someone else can be a very different experience. The act of creation became a shared one in which we could both act as a sounding board for the other and in turn add our own ideas to the mix. These “idea sessions” really allowed for us to spark off each other’s creativity. It allowed us to avoid dead ends and cul-de-sacs of imagination and planning which not only allowed us to speed up the writing process but to create and develop the world around the characters very efficiently and fully. It also made it easier to overcome those writer’s block moments which can stall a work. Particularly difficult scenes for one writer could be passed to the other for completion and we utilised that at several points. The whole process has been one that was, and continues to be, thoroughly enjoyed by us both.

We produced Wings in the Darkness, an expansion on one of the shorter pieces in the novel, as an introduction and access point to the world of Damocles. The novella works well to lay out a lot of the themes and ideas which are expanded upon in the novel, Ragnarok Rising. A second novel, Volume Two, is close to completion (this time turning to the war in the Far East) and various other works set in the same world are also in development.

AW: When Ben first approached me with the idea of co-writing a collection of war/horror stories, agreeing to it was one of the easiest decisions I’d ever had to make. It’s not like we hadn’t worked together before, having already produced two volumes of our horror western novellas series Dark Frontiers so it was a real no-brainer. I set to work thinking of some ideas and had a couple lined up when Ben contacted me again and suggested that we based the stores around a secret organisation he’d thought up, there to investigate and combat occult and supernatural forces…

Cool, I thought, putting my kaiju and ghost stories back on the shelf, that’s a really good idea – and began plotting some new stories. I think we ‘d finished a story each when he came up with the “Let’s make this a novel with an overarching narrative” idea. Thus the Damocles Files were born.

I have to say, I’ve never enjoyed writing something as much as I have The Damocles Files. Once we had the main narrative in place, we could tailor the new stories to fit and retrofit the ones we’d already completed. On the whole, we would write individual stories on our own but one of the stories in the book is a collaboration, as is the novella Last Rites which makes up the novel’s conclusion. It’ll be interesting to see whether readers can tell which of us wrote which story – and whether they can tell which was the co-written one.

Part of the joy of writing these stories was spending time with the characters we’d created. I think Ben is a master at this particular art but it’s something I’m not always that confident about so it was good to be able to take his creations and use them in the stories I was working on. It’s no real spoiler to say that not all of them survive until the end credits and it was actually quite emotional writing the scenes where they meet their fates. Of course, a huge benefit of writing the novel as a fractured narrative spanning many years is that there are big gaps between the stories, gaps which are there to be filled, so characters who might not have made it to the end of Volume One can always be resurrected – which is precisely what we’re doing in Volume Two, and all the standalone stories and novellas we have planned.

Whilst the novel is grounded in reality and historical fact, a huge influence on it personally were the war films I watched as a kid (and continue to watch and enjoy, it has to be said). I’ve a huge affection for those films and the unironic way they portrayed the heroism and valour of their heroes. I’d like to think that that gung-ho spirit is reflected in The Damocles Files; there’s certainly plenty of unapologetic heroic sacrifice and bravery above and beyond the call of duty featured within its pages. It’s a love letter to those films of my youth.

I had a great time writing this book and will be forever grateful to Ben for inviting me along for the ride. I hope everyone gets as much enjoyment from reading it as I had in writing it.

Wings in the Darkness was released on Kindle on the 21st May 2021 and can be purchased here.

The Damocles Files Volume 1: Raganarok Rising is being released in paperback and ebook on 
23rd July 2021 and the Kindle edition can be pre-ordered here.

Monday, 12 July 2021

Summer XS, 30 years on

Following the huge international success of their album Kick, INXS toured it extensively starting in August 1987 and running through to November 1988 (including five UK dates during June).  Understandably burned out by the end, the band took a year off during which most members started musical side projects, before reconvening to record X, which was released in September 1990.
INXS, 1991
from left - Jon Farriss (drums/keyboards), Garry Gary Beers (bass), Tim Farriss (guitar), Michael Hutchence (vocals), Andrew Farriss (keyboards, guitar, harmonica), Kirk Pengilly (guitar, saxophone, vocals)
On the strength of Kick, the profile of the band had been steadily rising and it’s perhaps difficult now to remember just how big INXS were at that time.  Kick peaked at number 2 in Australia, number 9 in the UK and number 3 in the US album charts and was certified Platinum in Australia (x7), the UK, the US and Switzerland, was a Gold record in France, Germany and Hong Kong and Diamond in Canada (a category Tim Farris later admitted he didn’t even know existed - it apparently represents sales of 1m).  Total sales to date are approximately 12.8m copies.

X had a lot to live up to and opened well, reaching number 2 in the UK and number 5 in the US charts, racking up plenty of sales along the way - Platinum in Australia (x2), the US (x2) and the UK, hitting Gold in Germany and France.  Combined with the X Tour, it managed to spend an aggregate of eight months on the UK chart, returning to the Top 40 in July 1991.

In 1988, Michael Hutchence met soap-opera star and singer Kylie Minogue and when they ran away together in 1989, it brought the band to a whole new audience and level of publicity.  In 1991, INXS received a Grammy nomination for 'Best Rock Performance by a Group', whilst USA Today reported they were tied for second place as 'musical artists with the most videos played on MTV' (at the time, they had 37 different clips).  At the 1991 Brit Awards in March, INXS won 'Best International Group' (having previously been nominated in 1989) and Hutchence won 'Best International Male'.  They were also recognised as 'Best International Band' at the first Australian Music Awards.

The X Tour kicked off in October 1990 at the Mackay Entertainment Centre in North Queensland.  It hit the UK on November 25th with two nights at London Docklands Arena, a four night run at Wembley Arena, four nights at Birmingham NEC (where Alison & I would see them in 1997 as part of the Elegantly Wasted Tour), one night each at SECC in Glasgow (should have been two but the first was cancelled by weather), Manchester GMEX, Brigton (The Brighton Centre) and Bournemouth (Bournemouth International Centre) before two nights at The Point Theatre in Dublin.  The UK dates ended in January and, in all, the tour played to 1.2m fans through 80 cities over four continents.

After a successful ‘homecoming’ leg in Australia during April and May, INXS returned to Europe for a series of headlining festival shows from 28th June through to 16th July, the highpoint of which (according to most band members) was the 13th July sold-out show at Wembley Stadium.

So the stage was set, with Summer XS taking place six years to the day after Live Aid had been staged at Wembley Stadium, as INXS continued to enjoy rock giant status both in the UK and around the world.  And I was there.
My now slightly sun-bleached ticket - look at that price!
Saturday 13th July 1991 was warm but overcast.  I’d stayed up late the night before to watch the excellent Dogs In Space, which starred Michael Hutchence and was written & directed by Richard Lowenstein, who directed a lot of INXS videos from Burn For You onwards (his latest was Suicide Blonde, from the X album).  I was quite excited, since my then-girlfriend Liz (who had seen INXS at one of their Wembley Arena gigs in late 1990) had talked me into going to see the show and raved about them - slightly older, she was a fan of long-standing.  I knew of them, of course - I started going to nightclubs in 1986 so I was around as Kick broke out - and I bought X on vinyl a couple of weeks before the gig and really enjoyed it.

Me & Liz, 1991 - I wore that t-shirt a lot!
I picked up Liz and then her friends teenaged daughter (who took her friend), we piled into my Fiat Panda and took off down the M1, listening to an INXS mix-tape Liz had made.  By the time we reached the North Circular, we were all singing along as the signs for Jellyfish, one of the supporting bands, started to appear.  In fact, they were on pretty much every lamp-post we passed.

We parked in the multi-storey next to the stadium, crossed the bridge, found our gate and settled down as we waited to be let in.  The girls were chatty, Liz & I talked and watched the world go by, we went on memorabilia buying sprees and ate our lunch.  Finally the gates opened and we legged it - it was the first time I’d ever been to Wembley so of course I took the opportunity to run onto the (covered over pitch) and pretend I was representing England.  As did so many other blokes my age it became silly.

The four of us made our way towards the front and found some seats to the left of the stage, close enough that we could see people up there (if not clearly), though the huge video monitors would also come in handy as the day wore on.  The festival feel was maintained by having a whole host of bands on the programme which started in the early afternoon (INXS came onstage at about 8.45).  Another of my main reasons to go was the fact that Debbie Harry was playing and I’d been a Blondie fan since the late 70s, though I'd been too young to get to any of their concerts.

The Summer XS line-up was:
Jellyfish - don’t remember anything of their set at all, though they were apparently “a melodic San Francisco rock band” (and got in trouble for plastering their posters everywhere)
Roachford - who were excellent, I went onto the pitch for a dance when they played
Jesus Jones - didn’t like them before I went, didn’t like them any better when I left
Deborah Harry - who I adored.  I left the girls in the seats and pushed my way as far to the front as I could possibly get and then rocked out with the best of them.  She played 11 songs and ended her set with the superb “Atomic”.  Fantastic.
Hothouse Flowers - who were better live, I thought, than when I’d heard them on the radio

The INXS show was being recorded as part of the Live Baby Live project, under the supervision of Mark Optiz and the band’s manager, Chris Murphy decided it should be filmed as well.  In an interview at the time, he said that although he thought X was good “the band had grown lazy, the new songs were too slick and too much like Kick.  I was worried.  I knew I had to do something to bring it back to the basics, back to the strengths of the band.  Doing the film and releasing the live record accomplished that.  It was a way to remind the public of how powerful INXS was live, in case they’d written them off as a band who only released pop songs.”

INXS spent £250,000 filming the concert whilst Murphy convinced Polygram, their European record label, to stump up the rest.  On the night, the fact the band was barely breaking even on the show weighed heavily on Andrew Farriss, though he has since revised his opinion.  “I am so glad we did it,” he said in interview with Anthony Bozza.  “Thank God we did, that same band is not here any more.  Michael is not here any more.”  Andrew was so overcome with expectation of the event, he famously escaped to a bathroom where he spent ten minutes alone, enjoying a beer and smoking a cigarette.  In documentary footage, Michael Hutchence comments that the gig is making £1m and he was only getting £5k of that.

Murphy hired David Mallet to film the concert and he used sixteen 35mm cameras, including two on roving helicopters, to capture everything.  At the time, Mallet was an up-and-coming talent who’d cut his teeth on promo videos for Queen (Bicyle Race in 1978 and I Want To Break Free in 1984, which Brian May credits with the band losing US fans), Blondie (Hanging On The Telephone in 1978), a host of Bowie videos (including the iconic Ashes To Ashes in 1980) and many more.  His work on Bowie’s Glass Spider tour in 1988 and Madonna’s Blond Ambition in 1990 convinced Murphy he was their man.  Mallet also shot the video for Shining Star in 1991 and has since gone on to a strong career in concert films.
By the time INXS came on stage, I was ready.  Opening with two big songs from Kick got me into it straight away and they followed up with a few songs from X that were fresh in my mind but it was Original Sin that locked it for me, vibrant and alive with the all-out jam session at the end.  I do remember loving the rest of the gig, I remember being invigorated by the whole thing though I must confess that most of my memory of the show itself now comes from the DVD.  But no matter - as Mark Opitz said in interview, the band were incredible on the night and they were.  In fact, watching the film again (as I did when I wrote this post), they were clearly on fire and for a first gig by a band relatively new to me, I couldn’t have asked for anything better!
Lately (with a beautiful sax part opening from Kirk Pengilly) followed Original Sin in real life but it was never filmed (it’s an extra on the DVD).  Then came The Loved One, which remains one of my all-time favourite songs and it was launched with an introduction from Hutchence.  “This is a big gig.  Really happy to be here, la-di-da-di-dah - this is the biggest pub we’ve ever played.  Is this what they call a fucking rave or what?
The show is superb - in sound and vision - and Mallet’s cameras catch it well, with plenty of highlights to savour.  During the opening to Mystify, the crowd sing along so Hutchence stops and holds out the microphone towards them and they bounce around once the band kicks in.  How cool must it be to see an audience do that for one of your songs?  There’s the moshpit run during Wild Life, the crowd going mad for Suicide Blonde, Hutchence kissing Andrew Farriss at the start of What You Need (which also includes the "play the fucking riff, Timmy!” incident).  Kick, Need You Tonight and Never Tear Us Apart sound huge and the set concludes with the best version I’ve ever heard of Devil Inside - the band always used to close on Don’t Change and whilst that would have been good, it really works well as it is.

“We had already headlined at plenty of stadiums and festivals, but this was different. Wembley is the most prestigious stadium in Europe - if not the world - and it was going to be magical. There were 16 cameras, 72,000 extremely psyched people and some great opening bands and we were ready to turn Wembley Stadium into the biggest pub on the planet.”
- Kirk Pengilly

“For us as Australians, Wembley was always thought of as one of those places you knew you that you wanted to play - if you were lucky.  To even have the opportunity to perform there was a dream.  There were something like 200 people backstage which was a bigger crowd than some of the pubs we'd played in! It was nuts and I couldn't really take it all in.”
- Andrew Farriss

“This gig was a prize; it meant that all those years of touring, playing gigs the world over paid off this one night.  We had played many concerts that were bigger but selling out Wembley Stadium was a prestigious hallmark for us, especially considering England’s affection towards INXS took years to develop.”
- Jon Farriss

“When we took part in Live Aid in 1985 it was made all the more special knowing that our performance was being projected onto the large screens at Wembley Stadium.  Wembley was the pinnacle of venues around the world, the place you read about in music magazines growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.  To sell out Wembley Stadium was certainly a dream come true.”
- Garry Gary Beers

“It was INXS Day on BBC Radio, MTV, you name it, we were everywhere you looked or listened, it was kind of surreal, which is always a good thing.  The whole gig was kind of like a big pressure cooker of 'let's see just how nervous we can make the band', but the tension had the opposite effect on me. I had to struggle to keep the smile off my face.”
 - Tim Farriss

Selling out Wembley Stadium was a big deal - AC/DC are the only other Australian band to do the same.  INXS had played the venue before, supporting Queen during the “Kind Of Magic” tour in July 1986 (which I didn't see, though had the opportunity to - really wish I had done now).

According to Billboard magazine, the concert grossed £1,426,617 and the audience was a sell-out capacity of 73,791.

The day after arguably one of their biggest gigs ever, the band and Mark Opitz recorded Shining Star (which Andrew Farriss had written on the road) at London’s Metropolis Studios.

* * * * *
Live Baby Live, the live CD and concert film video, were both released on 11th November 1991 (when I bought my copies). The film, which looks glorious but isn't in widescreen (presumably since TV's weren't set up for that then)  is well-edited and perfectly captures the scale of the event (shots of the crowd and stadium) without missing any of the intimate bits - such as the little nods between Kirk Pengilly and Tim Farriss (plus the fabulous ear signals during What You Need as Hutchence sings “Hey you, don’t you listen” and Kirk gestures to Tim, who had screwed up his riff).  It also captures the sheer energy of the show, the tightness of the musicianship and the real sense of camaraderie amongst the band.  For me, watching it on VHS back in the day was a revelation - I thought I’d picked up a lot from the video monitors (and I thought Kirk was the coolest thing ever in his red suit and black shades) - but I clearly hadn't.  I'm happy to say that even now I still find new bits every time I watch it.

Track Listing:

"Guns in the Sky"
"New Sensation"
"I Send a Message"
"The Stairs"
"Know the Difference"
"By My Side"
"Hear That Sound"
"Original Sin"
"The Loved One"
"Bitter Tears"
"Suicide Blonde"
"What You Need"
"Need You Tonight"
"Never Tear Us Apart"
"Who Pays the Price"
"Devil Inside"

On the re-issue, there’s an excellent 40 minute behind-the-scenes documentary which shows the band in preparation for the gig with a real sense of nervous excitement about them all, which is refreshing to see.

The Live Baby Live album reached number 8 in the UK, number 3 in Australia and number 72 in the US (though it sold over 1m copies there).  Shining Star, the single recorded directly after the concert and the only new material on the album (it’s heard over the closing credits of the DVD), was released on 2nd November.  It reached number 31 in the UK, number 21 in Australia and 14 in the US Billboard Mainstream Rock Tracks chart.  The CD single was backed with live versions of Send A Message (from Summer XS), Faith In Each Other (Sydney 1990) and Bitter Tears (Paris 1991).

The album - produced by INXS and Mark Opitz - featured several songs recorded at Wembley, as well as highlights from gigs in Paris, Dublin, Glasgow, Rio de Janeiro (“Hey, hey Rio?” before launching into Suicide Blonde), Montreal, Spain, Switzerland, Melbourne, Sydney, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Las Vegas.
Track Listing:

"New Sensation"
"Guns in the Sky"
"By My Side"
“Shining Star”
"Need You Tonight"
“One X One”
“Burn For You”
“The One Thing”
“This Time”
"The Stairs"
"Suicide Blonde"
"Hear That Sound"
"Never Tear Us Apart"
"What You Need"

Summer XS memorabilia - taken from the DVD insert

Part of the DVD documentary, showing the audience gathering.  I wonder if I'm in one of those shots?

An excellent gig and an excellent memory, a great band at the top of their game and I'm chuffed to have been there.

* * *
The show (with Lately now included) was released on vinyl in 2019 and so was the film, re-edited in HD from the original negative to give a proper widescreen presentation.  Alison & I went to see if at the Northampton Filmhouse and it was bloody brilliant (I wrote about it here).

We were just six blokes from Australia that treated Wembley Stadium like just another pub gig,” Tim Farriss wrote in the liner notes.  “We went in with a PA and a few lights and played our asses off. No ego ramps, no back-up singers, no props, no grand pianos, just the six of us – and the audience went nuts! That’s all we needed!

band interviews from the Live Baby Live DVD re-issue liner notes, no credit (released by Sanctuary Visual Entertainment)
INXS: The Official Inside Story Of A Band On The Road, text by Ed St. John
Gig information from Billboard Magazine
Story To Story: The Official INXS Autobiography, by INXS and Anthony Bozza

Monday, 5 July 2021

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Even More Summer Specials

A couple of years ago I had a conversation with Dude where he expressed amusement over what I had to put up with when I was his age, namely (but not limited to) very few video games, cameras that were only cameras and phones that were wired to the walls in your house.  This led to me blogging about one terrific thing I had that he didn't, the Summer Special!
As I explained then (you can read the 2018 entry here and the 2020 one here), children’s comics now aren’t a patch on what they were back in the 70s and 80s (and before that, even).  Modern titles, sealed in plastic bags and littered with free gifts, have very little in the way of comic strips or stories (in fact, most seem to consist of quizzes) but back in the day the likes of IPC and DC Thomson produced a raft of weeklies that catered for most tastes (published on newsprint with a splash of colour).

Those weeklies, in turn, gave us the Summer Special to look forward to.  A one-off, thicker and more colourful edition of our favourite title, it was the perfect reading accompaniment to a long car journey or a lazy afternoon in the back garden.

Comics historian Lew Stringer suggests (on his blog) that “today’s retailers dislike them because they occupy valuable shelf space for too many months” which didn’t bother newsagents in the 70s - Summer Specials were especially popular at seaside towns because they were pretty much guaranteed sellers, with a new batch of kids every week who’d need entertaining.

Here are a few more from my golden-era of reading them (the late 70s into the early 80s) - what were your favourites?
1979 - the "seven-penny" nightmare, Action ceased publication in November 1977
1979 - Tornado (which I wrote about here) only lasted for 22 issues in 1979 but, luckily, that timing fell into the Summer Special period!

Thanks to Lew Stringer for the history and comicvine for some of the scans.  See also David Barnett’s excellent blog piece at The Guardian.

Monday, 28 June 2021

Photo-stories and me...

When I was a kid, a major ambition of mine was to make a feature film.  Regular readers will know I'm endlessly fascinated by the behind-the-scenes process on films (especially miniatures and matte paintings) and that started in my childhood, fed by watching Clapperboard and reading Look-In.  I particularly loved it when Mum & Dad let me stay up to watch Film (whatever year it was) with dear old Barry Norman.

Growing up through the 70s and 80s, video cameras were a pipe-dream and cine cameras were far more expensive than my family could afford so you can perhaps understand why this became a kind of Holy Grail for me. To try and create something visual, I ended up making various "photo-stories", which satisfied me for a while.

(for those who don't know, "photo-stories" were a staple of some boys and girls comics back in the day, replacing hand-drawn panels in a comic strip of posed stills.  Girls comics used them for problem pages, whilst I remember Eagle comic featuring a strip called Doomlord, amongst others.  There were also photo-novels - novelisations using film stills rather than prose - but the less said about them, probably the better).

What reminded me of all this was discovering some photographs over the weekend, of one such 'strip' I wrote.
The above picture was taken in 1981 and features my Dad, me and my school friend Geoff Burbidge. We were making a story about a bounty hunter (or in effect, a very close homage to a strip called Man Tracker from The Crunch comic, which I wrote about here).  I also used this image as the cover of a novel (or, as it'd be deemed now, a long-ish short story) I wrote in 1982 called Hadley Hall Comprehensive (and which I blogged about here).
Left - Nick walks away as Geoff (in my Dad's old trilby) threatens me.  Look at those clothes - Harrington jackets, jeans and trainers!  What a look!
Right - Nick's brother Chris (I recruited absolutely anyone who showed the slightest expression of interest!) takes aim at Nick and Geoff.  Wonderfully, this shot inadvertently captured history.  The billboard and waste-ground Chris & I were standing on is long gone, the new library in its place.  The private house beyond the awning is now a Tesco Express store.
I never gained the means to make films of my own and so I never got the chance to enter the Clapperboard Young Filmmakers competition.  I did eventually make some films on VHS, with a school friend called Matt Ratcliff, but that was much later in the 80s and into the early 90s and all of them were zero-budget horror flicks.  I'll tell you about them one day.

Now, of course, everyone with a smartphone has the technology to make films but my focus has shifted to writing only (though some of my ideas do start off as me seeing them in filmic terms).  Years back, however, Dude & I made several LEGO stop-motion epics and we both had a great deal of fun with that.

I wonder how things would have turned out if I'd had the technology at my disposal then that I do now?

Monday, 21 June 2021

For Your Eyes Only, at 40

For Your Eyes Only, the twelfth James Bond film in the official EON series (and the fifth to feature Roger Moore in the lead role), opened in the UK on 26th June 1981.  It was directed by John Glen (the first in his eventual five-film run), produced by Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli and written by Richard Maibaum & Michael G. Wilson.  Peter Lamont was the production designer, Derek Meddings supervised the visual effects and Bill Conti wrote the score.  The film was originally planned for release in 1979 to follow The Spy Who Loved Me (it’s announced at the end of that film) but was put back to allow Moonraker to go into production.
UK quad poster
Following the outer space excess of Moonraker (which remained the series highest grossing entry until Goldeneye in 1995), producer Cubby Broccoli wanted a conscious return to the style of the earlier Bond films and, indeed, the novels of Ian Fleming.  For Your Eyes Only, he decided, would be stripped back of gadgets and humour, allowing for a grittier, more realistic approach - a reboot before they were in fashion, as it were.  Broccoli’s stepson, Michael G. Wilson, had been made an executive producer for Moonraker and was given more creative input in the series.  He agreed with the need to get back to basics and collaborated on the screenplay with Bond veteran Richard Maibaum.  The script took key elements from two of Fleming’s short stories - Risico (Kristatos and Columbo) and For Your Eyes Only (the murder of the Havelocks) - and included unused sequences from Live And Let Die (the keelhauling), Goldfinger (the Indentigraph, called the Identicast in the novel) and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (the winter sports).  The macguffin of the film - the ATAC - and the villain Locque were both added by the pair.
As the script was being written, Broccoli had a major problem in that Roger Moore was undecided as to whether or not he wanted to continue.  His original three-film contract took him up to The Spy Who Loved Me and following that, he negotiated contracts on a film-by-film basis.  This uncertainty led to other actors being considered for the role, including Lewis Collins (then well-known as Bodie in The Professionals), Michael Billington (who played Anya’s lover in The Spy Who Loved Me) and Michael Jayston.  Broccoli worked hard to persuade his friend and star to make at least one more film and Moore, helped by a substantial increase in his salary, eventually signed on, though he remained uneasy about the tougher character he was being asked to play.  For my part, I think this is probably his best performance as Bond - he still has some quips but they’re toned down from the 70s excesses and his character shows a harder, more vengeful streak.  His age also seems to be acknowledged, especially with the young ice skater Bibi - he rebuffs her advances by saying “You get your clothes on and I’ll buy you an ice cream.”
At work in Cortina - front left - Tony Waye (Assistant director), Bob Simmons (Action co-ordinator), Roger Moore, Cubby Broccoli, John Glen, Michael G Wilson
Further to the back-to-basics philosophy, there were several changes in the key crew.  John Glen, who’d worked as editor and second unit director on a number of previous Bond films, was promoted to director.  Ken Adam, the production designer, was working on Pennies From Heaven in America and when his assistant Peter Lamont was asked who he thought should replace him said “why not me?”  Both Glen and Lamont decided to pull back from Adam’s trademark grand sets in favour of a more realistic design.

Of the old guard, both Desmond Llewelyn (Q) and Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) returned but Bernard Lee, who’d played M since Dr No (1962) was hospitalised with stomach cancer and died on 16th January 1981 before he could film his scenes.  As a mark of respect, the part wasn’t recast and his dialogue was split between Q, the Minister Of Defence (Geoffrey Keen) and Bill Tanner (James Villiers).
from left - Carole Bouquet, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Cassandra Harris
Carole Bouquet, who had previously auditioned for the part of Holly Goodhead in Moonraker, was chosen to play the vengeful Melina Havelock and in an interesting twist became the first Bond girl who doesn’t share a love scene with our hero until the closing credits.  She is also only a year older than Lynn-Holly Johnson.  Julian Glover, who’d once been shortlisted as a potential Bond prior to Live And Let Die was cast as Kristatos, whilst Chaim Topol was suggested by Broccoli’s wife Dana for Bond’s ally Columbo (and it was he who came up with the pistachios quirk).  Cassandra Harris, cast as Countess Lisl, took her fiance to lunch with Broccoli and his team, the first time any of them were to meet Pierce Brosnan.  Lynn-Holly Johnson, who played Bibi Dahl, was a professional ice skater Broccoli had seen and liked in the film Ice Castles (1978).  Michael Gothard played Kristatos’ henchman, the hired assasin Emile Locque, who doesn’t say a single word throughout the film (though he screams as he dies).  Unfortunately, the film ends with a cringeworthy sequence featuring then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (played for laughs by Janet Brown) which doesn’t sit with the tone of the film at all, dates it badly and feels like a terrible joke that should have been cut in the scripting stage.  Roger Moore reportedly hated it too.
from left - Julian Glover, Topol
Since John Barry was unable to work in the UK at the time, American composer Bill Conti - best known for his work on the Rocky films - was chosen.  His score, very much of its time, doesn’t really suit the film (though it’s an decent enough listen) and has dated quite badly (though I maintain that the discordant piano during the ski sequence fits the visuals perfectly).  Conti also wrote the music to go with Michael Leeson’s lyrics for the title song, sung by Sheena Easton who maintains the honour of being the only singer to feature in the opening titles.  The song reached number 8 in the UK charts, number 4 in the US and was nominated for the Best Song Oscar.  Blondie were asked to submit a song but it was rejected - it’s available on their album The Hunter and, I think, would have worked just as well.

On a budget of $28m ($6m less than Moonraker), Bond was ready to head into the 1980s.

“We had gone as far as we could into space. We needed a change of some sort, back to the grass roots of Bond. We wanted to make the new film more of a thriller than a romp, without losing sight of what made Bond famous - its humour.”
- John Glen

Production began on 2nd September 1980 in the North Sea, filming exterior scenes with the St Georges (interiors were shot at Pinewood later, as was the explosion which was filmed in the tank on the 007 stage).

The production moved to Corfu and, on 15th September, began filming at the Villa Sylva at Kanoni, which doubled as Gonzales’ Spanish villa.  On a location scout, it had been decided to use the local hills and olive groves for the chase scene between Melina’s Citroën 2CV and the Peugeot 504s driven by Gonzales’ men (Bond’s Lotus was blown up early on to show that he would be relying more on his wits than gadgets).  The chase was supervised by Remy Julienne (who would work on every Bond film up to Goldeneye) and filmed over twelve days, using four 2CVs which were modified for the stunts required.  The scene includes Roger Moore’s ad-lib “I love a drive in the country, don’t you?” which clearly takes Carole Bouquet by surprise and he has since stated that of all the cars he ever drove as Bond, the 2CV was his favourite.
The Citroen 2CV jumps the Peugeot in the olive groves
The crew moved to Kalambaka on the Greek mainland to shoot in and around the monastery that sits on top of a virtually sheer column of rock.  Although permits had been signed and agreed, the monks who lived in the neighbouring monastery of Meteora took exception, complaining that Bond’s reputation for sex and violence was an affront and demanding filming be halted.  To prevent filming, they hung laundry out of windows in an attempt to ruin the shots.  Local people and the government intervened and shooting was allowed to continue, though only exteriors were used - St Cyrils monastery itself was built at Pinewood.  On location, Roger Moore - who has a fear of heights - had to resort to some ‘moderate drinking’ to calm his nerves but the fall was performed by Rick Sylvester (who also did the parachute jump at the start of The Spy Who Loved Me).  Derek Meddings developed a system that would dampen the sudden stop and although Sylvester was nervous - he later said “From where we were shooting you could see the local cemetery” - the stunt went without a hitch.
Bond kicks Locque's car off the cliff, the scene that concerned Roger Moore

The raid on Kristatos’ warehouse was also filmed, along with the scene where Bond kicks Locque’s car over the edge of a cliff.  Roger Moore felt the scene was too cold-blooded - he said it “was Bond-like, but not Roger Moore Bond-like” (though I would argue his killing of Sandor in The Spy Who Loved Me is just as nasty) - but agreed to film it as originally written.  The raid sequence also saw Topol injured, when a piece of debris hit him in the face - the scene is included in the movie, with the actor falling toward Moore.

Could that be Locque, or is it a character from Guess Who?
Returning to Pinewood in Novermber, work began on Peter Lamont’s sets at Pinewood, including the Identigraph scene with Q.  On the DVD documentary, Roger Moore (a known practical joker) said he convinced Desmond Llewellyn his dialogue had been changed and handed him new sheets the continuity girl had typed up.  Desmond spent his lunch-hour learning the new lines only to discover, when he got on set, that it was a joke.  His response is not recorded.

The church in the pre-credits sequence was filmed at Stoke Poges, next door to the golf course from Goldfinger (1964).  The sequence of Bond visiting his wife’s grave was written to provide continuity between potentially different actors, when it was still unsure if Moore would be continuing in the role.
Martin Grace hangs on over Beckton Gas Works
The helicopter sequence was filmed at the abandoned Beckton Gas Works in London (later used as a location for Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987)).  Featuring some excellent stunt work - Martin Grace was hanging onto the Jet Ranger, whilst Marc Wolff was the pilot - it also included an incredible Derek Meddings foreground miniature, which used forced perspective to allow the helicopter to apparently fly into a warehouse.  For footage inside the building, a full-scale mock-up was mounted on a rail, allowing Roger Moore to be filmed inside it.  The bald man in the wheelchair was clearly meant to be Blofeld but ongoing legal battles with Kevin McClory meant the character couldn’t be named or properly seen.  Unofficially disposing of Bond’s greatest villain down a chimney stack was Cubby Brococli’s perfect way of saying the 007 series could survive without Blofeld, who wouldn’t re-appear until Spectre in 2015.
Not-Blofeld at Beckton Gas Works (Martin Grace on the skid)
Whilst the first unit was in England, the second unit, supervised by Al Giddings, shot the underwater scenes in the Bahamas with stand-ins. Since Carole Bouquet had a sinus condition, she couldn’t film underwater so the close-ups of Bond and Melina were shot on a dry soundstage.  Smoke, wind, lighting effects and dubbed on bubbles gave the illusion of the actors being submerged.  Giddings also co-ordinated the logistically difficult keelhauling sequence with John Glen.  The submarine scenes were filmed at Pinewood on the 007 stage tank, where Peter Lamont created two working props for the Neptune, as well as a mock-up with a fake bottom.
Filming the keelhauling sequence in the Bahamas
On 1st January 1981, the production began work at Cortina D’Ampezzo in Italy, where unusually mild weather meant no snow had fallen.  Instead, they had to ship some in from nearby mountains and dump it on the city streets.  Bond veteran Willy Bogner Jr led the second unit there and designed the chase sequence with Bob Simmons to surpass his work in both On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me.  As well as being pursued by two motorcycles with studded tyres (to film them, Bogner used skis that allowed him to go forwards or backwards), Bond is also chased on the bobsled track in a gripping and visually dynamic sequence.  Unfortunately, on the last day of shooting the run, one of the stuntmen in the sled, 23 year-old Paolo Rigon, was killed after he became trapped under the bob.  Although he was an accomplished cross-country skier, Roger Moore wasn’t insured for downhill skiing so Bogner stood in for him.  Close-ups were filmed with Moore strapped to a sled being pulled downhill, as Bogner skied backwards operating the camera.
Locque and his men wait for Bond at the ski jump - from left, Claus (Charles Dance), Locque (Michael Gothard), Erich Kriegler (John Wyman)
Robbin Young, who played the florist, won Playboy’s “Be A James Bond Girl” where her prize was a small role and a spread in the magazine.  The film also marked the last appearance by Victor Tourjanksy, the ‘Man With Glass’ from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker.

First unit filming wrapped in February.  Back at Pinewood, Derek Meddings and his team created miniatures of the St George (and blew it up), Columbo’s yacht for the approach to Kristatos’ warehouse and elements of St Cyrils (including the basket lift).
top - film still
bottom - Derek Meddings with the foreground miniature exactly duplicating the real building 
A member of Derek Meddings' crew at work on the St Georges miniature, just before the diver explodes (hence the miniatures of Bond and Melina)

For Your Eyes Only premiered at the Odeon, Leicester Square on 24th June 1981 before going on general release on 26th June.  The premiere was attended by the Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer, for the benefit of the Royal Association for Disability and Rehabilitation.  Topol suggested to Cubby Broccoli that he invite his former Bond co-producer Harry Salzman, which he did, marking the first re-union between the two men since their break up after The Man with the Golden Gun (1974).
left - Concept art for the poster by Brian Bysouth - right - raw photo of Nancy Stafford (the hand and crossbow used in the poster)
The poster, showing a woman standing with her legs spread, was designed by Bill Gold and caused a certain amount of controversy in the US - The Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times considered it unsuitable and edited out everything above the knee whilst the Pittsburgh Press painted on shorts.  I thought it was very good and had a copy of it on my bedroom wall for years.  The image is composite from two women Morgan Kane photographed - Joyce Bartle provides the legs (she wore her bikini bottoms the wrong way around) and former Miss Florida Nancy Stafford is the hand holding the crossbow.

Roger Moore presents Cubby Broccoli with his Irving Thalberg Award
Citroen produced a special “007” edition of the 2CV which had decorative bullet holes on the door, Corgi Toys produced die-cast models and a 007 digital watch was also available.  Marvel Comics published a comic book adaption (which I read and quite enjoyed), written by Larry Hama and drawn by Howard Chaykin.

At the Oscars on 29th March 1982, Sheena Easton performed the nominated title song and Roger Moore presented Cubby Broccoli with the Irving Thalberg Honorary Award, in honour of the Bond series.  The script was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay by The Writers Guild of America.

Setting a record for opening-day grosses (£14,998), it went on to made $195.3m ($509.6m adjusted for inflation) worldwide, making it the second highest grossing Bond film after Moonraker.  It was the last Bond film distributed solely by United Artists, as the studio merged with MGM soon after the release.

I like the film a lot though I must admit, at the time, I wasn’t so keen (you have to remember I was 12 when this was released) because after the glorious excess of Moonraker it seemed a bit too pedestrian.  But it’s not - the direction is tight, the set-pieces (especially the car chase and the submarine stuff with the St Georges) are suspenseful and well constructed and the acting is good across the board.  I’m a fan, so happy 40th anniversary For Your Eyes Only.