Monday, 19 December 2011

RAY DAVIES -Spring 1966

"Days went by, I walked around dressed in a disguise.
 I wore a moustache and I parted my hair 
 And gave the impression that I didn't care
 But oh the embarrassment, oh, the despair!
 Came the day, helped by a few large glasses of gin,
 I nervously mounted the stage once again, 
 Got through my performance and no one complained
 Thank god I can go back to normal again"
 All of My Friends Were There 

On the 16th April 1966 a moustached Ray Davies appeared on stage with The Kinks at the Locomotive Club, Paris. He'd been absent for 6 weeks, recovering from a pressure-induced breakdown. The day before, TIME magazine had published it's infamous "London The Swinging City" edition. The cover montage of dolly-birds and old-money aristocrat's strewn over Westminster Bridge, encapsulated the rough-hewn cut and paste exuberance of the moment and The Kinks radio hit of the day added a soundtrack that seemed to celebrate this resplendent Spring:

"He thinks he is a flower to be looked at,
 And when he pulls his frilly nylon panties RIGHT UP TIGHT
 He feels a dedicated follower of fashion"
NME March 1966 , Ray (right)

But the only thing right up tight was the song's beleaguered composer.

The previous month, ex-art student Ray had drawn a portrait of The Kinks on the cover of the NME at the request of management to promote the Dedicated Follower of Fashion single. Ray's self-portrait in floral roll-neck sweater was a picture of coiled rage and pent-up frustration. The song had been inspired by a punch-up he'd had with a fashion-designer at a pre-Christmas party and the actual recording sessions had been laboured with the composer emerging less than satisfied with the finished product. One speculates whether the jolly sounding camp of the final version came as a commercial compromise, with a searing personal character assassination hidden somewhere on scraps of paper in the Davies archive.

The period running up to Christmas 1965 had been marked with a rash of darker songs reflecting the rigours of the tread-mill music business, featuring increasingly acerbic lyrics. Sharpening around the grey reality of life, the songs were offering an uncomfortable reality check on the swinging decade. From the summer the contemptuous A Well Respected Man had heralded the first of a long-line of character portraits highlighting lives that offered little real reward. Where Have All The Good Times Gone and I'm On An Island were self-evident statements of Davies own state of mind regarding his own predicament and they were soon followed by I'm Not Like Everybody Else, a song so close to the bone that it was originally seen as being unsuitable for the band to record. The demos recorded at the time give an even more undiluted view of Davies world view. All Night Stand, from December was an essay in exhaustion:

"All night stand, been around seen a million faces, yeah
 All night stand, seen a good half a million places, yeah
 All night stand, can't get these people off my back.
 All night stand, ten percent for this and that.
 All night stand, all night stand..."

In early February 1966 the band recorded a song that would remain buried in the vaults. Influenced by Dylan's vitriol, Mr Reporter featured lyrics that did not not sit well with the hit-machine image that management had them firmly locked into. This was a song that would be impossible to promote:

At around this time Davies began to balance his increasingly dark satirical vignettes with a strand of quasi-philosophical lyrics seemingly written to pull himself out of depression. The songs varied in tone and delivery but they clearly reached out to "bigger forces" putting the everyday grind into perspective. Songs like Lazy Old Sun and Big Sky with their reference to heavenly bodies, have their origins in the sentiments expressed in The World Keeps Going Round which first appeared in November 1965. The lyric circles around a world-weary acceptance that this is how it is so we might as well just get on with it:

"You worry 'bout the sun, 
 What's the use in worrying 'bout the big ol' sun
 You worry 'bout the rain, 
 The rain keeps falling just the same"

On 4th February a group called The Lancastrians would release their version of the song, marking a period filled with cover versions of Davies product. With the encouragement of a management eager to utilise their prize songwriting asset, Davies would embark on his first forays into extra-curricula activity, writing songs to order like Leapy Lee's King of The Whole Wide World (featuring back-up from The Kinks) and a proposed LP project with "Private Eye" contributor and TV presenter Barry Fantoni. The resulting single Little Man in a Little Box emerges as a typically moody Davies lyric, with the song's protagonist lost in his TV world isolated from his audience and his love:

On 26th February 1966 in between TV performances in London and Birmigham The Kinks appeared in concert in Nelson, Lancashire, squeezing in an appearance at "The Inn Place" boutique in Blackburn. The first week of March was then spent touring Switzerland and Austria. At the end Ray collapsed with exhaustion.

Whilst the band toured France and Belgium with a stand-in guitarist and a Carnaby Street film promoted the Dedicated Follower of Fashion single on TV, Ray convalesed at his North London home. But things got worse. On 17th March he famously ran from Muswell Hill down to central London and attacked the band's publicist Brian Sommerville. Whisked away into the care of a psychiatrist, The Kinks were seemingly in disarray.

Yet the release of tension would turn out to be a godsend. Already banned from US touring, the band now scaled down their live commitments in the UK and Europe. The semi-retirement would effect the band members already parlous finances but the benefits would soon bear fruit. Davies would use the time to compulsively write out his problems in song and the greater proportion of the brilliant LPs recorded in the next 2 years would have their genesis in this public hiatus period. By the time Davies returned to the fold in Paris the band were back in full swing, recording their landmark "Face to Face" LP at the Pye Records Marble Arch studios. The songs reflected the turbulance of the period to a greater or lesser extent. Too Much on My Mind is a stark appraisal of mental health, Rainy Day in June a malevolent fantasy induced by depression and Fancy an altogether elliptical commentary on the enigmatic source of the band's stardom:
Face to Face 1966

"No one can penetrate me,
 They only see what's in their own fancy,

But the songs were wrapped in a sound that at least gave the impression that the good-time band were back. A garish pop-art sleeve added to the myth and despite further setbacks including the temporary loss of bassist Pete Quaife in a road accident, 1966 was turning into a good year after all. It is interesting to note how Davies reacted to the second Harold Wilson administration that Spring. The increased austerity gave the country a wake-up call and the newly impoverished Kinks would mark the changing times with songs about upper-class despondency (Sunny Afternoon, Most Exclusive Residence For Sale, End of the Season) and working class hardship framed in Dickensian terms (Dead End Street, Big Black Smoke). The sound was whimsical if not "chipper", but the dark clouds were never far away in Ray Davies world.

To balance this Ray continued to develop a strand of songwriting dedicated to the management of his own state of mind, writing songs that challenged him to transcend everyday circumstances. These songs were clearly therapeutic in their design and at their best, joyous celebrations of the simple pleasures of life. They would culminate in Days recorded 2 years later. Davies was now emulating the positivism encapsulated by the poet Rilke:

"...try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very    foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you  would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now."  
We leave with one such reflection, written with the wisdom of someone who's been run through the mill and come out the other side. This is Where I Belong:

Friday, 9 December 2011

MINA - The Tiger of Cremona

Mina Mazzini was an Italian singer responsible for one of the greatest pop-melodramas ever recorded. In her rise to stardom she encountered many obstacles and the bitter lessons learnt ultimately lead her to a life of self-imposed exile. 

By the early 1960's the former rock'n'roll Queen of the Screamers was beginning to experience the downside of her provocative stardom. The exuberant repertoire of her early songs reflected the usual teenage obsessions but they also reflected the deeper repressed vitality of life within a highly conservative society.

As a nation-state Italy is not unique in it's ability to dupe the masses with democracy, whilst an elite minority oversees a process that siphons off the nation's wealth. In Italy however this process is re-inforced by the alliance of Church and State which dictates a strong moral justification for the preservation of this status quo. Mina almost single handedly invented the pop-singer in Italian society through her immense popular appeal to the proletarian masses of both the working class north and the impoverished agrarian south. The hypocrisy of Italian society is however so entrenched that once she overstepped the moral code in her personal life, the recording industry whose pockets she lined, felt compelled to join as one in an attempt to sacrifice her.

Mina found herself banned from the the state controlled RAI public broadcasting company due to a scandal caused by her relationship with a married actor and the pregnancy that followed. New recordings and TV appearances were suppressed and after the death of her brother in a car accident, her withdrawal from public life was complete. The authorities however found it hard to maintain censure of a figure of such genuine popular appeal and unsurprisingly the ban was lifted despite renewed efforts from the RAI to maintain standards. Commercial considerations ultimately dictated how far morality could be pushed and the Italian public democratically voted Mina back with their lira. An image-conscious but impotent Vatican looked on, as Mina returned back to the charts, stronger than ever. It is interesting to gauge just how much damage had been inflicted on society by Mina's moral weakness by the haste with which the world of commerce would embrace her triumphant return. Indeed a contract with the Batolli pasta company would soon prove a lucrative arrangement for all concerned.

This period would also mark the beginning of an artistically rich period with her highly melodramatic multi-octave vocals given free reign over material edging into uncharted taboo areas. Here is a pregnant Mina back on the TV demonstrably proving that "one kiss is not enough" :

Songs became dedicated to a liberalising agenda glorifying the pleasures of sex and the similarly outrageous act of smoking as in "Ta-ra-ta-ta (Fumo Blu)" (Blue Fumes). Pushing things further she covered Wilson Simonal's Brazilian samba "Nem Vem Que Nao Tem" which toyed with sex and religion with it's references to the devil (Tellingly the song would be camped up by Brigitte Bardot as "Tu Veux Ou Tu Veux Pas" a couple of years later). A run of memorable songs would follow culminating in a moment of genuine creative genius that would transcend the lower-brow nature of this thing dismissed as "pop-music". In 1966 the collaboration with composer Ennio Morricone would result in the phenomenal and deeply moving "Se Telefonando" (If Over The Phone). Famously inspired by the sound of police sirens, the song eschews Anglo-Saxon pop-song conventions with a unique repeating crescendo of choruses mirroring the rising emotional intensity of the song's protagonist. The song is a revolutionary experiment in pop and arguably un-equalled by anything recorded in Britain or the USA at the time. In this song we have to concede that verses are irrelevant when the chorus is this immense:

Mina was now the iconic symbol of assertive Italian womanhood. She'd ridden the wave and crashed but was now back, firmly in control of her own destiny. In this period she married and embarked on very public affairs with actors Walter Chiari and rising star Gian-Maria Volonte, then making a name for himself in the Morricone-scored westerns of Sergio Leone. By 1969 she had entered the third phase of her career mixing bossa-nova and easy listening songs to reflect the upwardly mobile direction of a maturing fan-base then enjoying a relative boom in living standards. Blues and soul work-outs featured in her repertoire and her sound mirrored the influence of singers like Dionne Warwick and Dusty Springfield. At 5ft 10" Mina cut an imposing figure. At the start of her career she'd been dubbed The Tiger of Cremona and she was now emulating that image with her shaved eyebrows and heavily made-up eyes glaring through a mane of long golden dyed hair. The 1970 song "Viva Lei" (Hurray For You) was a virtual manifesto of what she was now all about with it's depiction of a woman breaking free from chains she didn't need. One wonders if this is a song about a relationship or whether it's actually about Italy itself. The song certainly starts with a look that says "Don't mess with me!" and the smile at the end screams "F##k you!". It's mid period Mina at her very best:

The "Insieme/Viva Lei" single marked the tipping point where the Tiger of Cremona transcended her role as a record industry sex-object to become THE diva of Italian pop music. It also marked her 30th year.

The success of the record set the template for her future career and ushered in a productive collaboration with songwriters Lucio Battisti and Mogol. (Mogol had penned the original which as "I Who Have Nothing" would become a standard for Sinatra and Matt Monroe amongst others). She now had greater control over her albums and recorded in Lugano, her Swiss home since the mid-60s exile, she was now geographically and symbolically just beyond the control of the Milanese record industry. Each year an album would appear following the same formula, highlighted by European hits like "Grande Grande Grande", a song covered by fellow-diva Shirley Bassey as "Never, Never, Never". One of her best albums 1972's "Cinquemilaquantre" would feature "Parole Parole", an almost comical duet with Alberto Lupo, where the singer mocks her suitor, degrading his fawning confessions of love as mere words, words, words. It would become a much-parodied song and it's popularity would lead to a similar duet in France between Dalida and Alain Delon.

In the mid 70's like Bobbie Gentry in the USA, Mina would commence her retreat from the public eye making her final TV appearance in 1974. In 1978 she performed an emotional and final concert performance at the Bussola Nightclub in Tuscany. She continued to record and to this this day releases at least one new LP a year to a fan-base bolstered by a new generation taking advantage of the availability of iconic 60's and 70's recordings.

It might be said that she compromised her sound in the 70's through the adoption of the prevalent mid-Atlantic trends of the day and it is certainly true that the work is more formulaic than some of the truly innovative records that she made in the mid-60's. However there is much to admire in her 70's output and Italian pop music in general enjoyed something of a renaissance in this period with the rise of other female singers like Patty Parvo, Milva and Ornella Vanoni.

Ultimately however the musical legacy of Mina is constantly referred back to that collaboration with Morricone. A recent poll in "La Repubblica" voted the song as Mina's finest achievement. It is intriguing to consider that in theory the pair could get together and do this live in concert....

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Un Soir, Un Train - ANDRE DELVAUX -Director

Released 1968

And now a trip to the complex patch of European mud called Belgium.

In Andre Delvaux's film, the opening shots of the frozen, misty Flemish landscape symbolically reflect the distancing bond between Yves Montand's linguistics professor and his stage-director partner Anouk Aimee. The doom-filled love song played over the titles makes this impression explicit but the surreal turn of the narrative gives the film a unique depth that reveals a great deal more. If you can imagine what a collaboration between Bergman and Tarkovsky might have looked like, well this is it.

Aimee's portrayal of Anne reveals an independent woman, marooned in an alien culture, drifting iceberg-like from Montand's Mathias. Through flashback we gain insight into their relationship beginning with a fable-like first encounter at Christmas Mass in Spain, their two lost souls magically connecting before an open fire. Then through a chilly detour in London, a scruffy pack of kids by the Rotherhithe quayside, puncture an afternoon, emphasising the absence of children in their life. By late summer they wrap themselves round each other in a fatalistic show of tenderness, with one eye on a farmer malevolently chopping wood on the horizon. The scene acting as a literal and metaphorical preparation for the cold days ahead.

In their flat they dine in oppressive silence sipping wine over oysters. Rejecting Matthias' plans for a romantic afternoon Anne finds herself rejected when the offer to accompany him to a University in the Flemish north is dismissed as linguistically in-sensitive due to her French mother tongue. Yves Montand in the midst of a compelling run of mid-career acting performances, stands passively aloof to Anne's isolation, failing to grasp how close he is to losing her. When Anne unexpectedly appears in his train carriage they exchange words and a smile, teetering on the edge of reconciliation, teetering on the edge of an abyss.

Like a maverick travelogue director, Delvaux connects artistic portrayals of his culture, to the different phases of the film. Here the gloomy pastoral imagery of Breughal is evoked by the wintery flat-lands flashing by the train windows. Outside a stark church organ in homage to Cesar Franck, accompanies the wind whipping the ploughed fields. And before long the film unexpectedly lurches into the subconscious dream world of the 20th Century Belgian surrealist masters.

Awaking from sleep Matthias finds Anne gone, the train at a standstill and the passengers asleep. Leaving the train in the company of an older colleague and a former pupil, the men suddenly find themselves stranded on the tracks as the train abruptly pulls away. With a rational resolve to find a telephone they wander across the landscape, finally huddling round a fire as the night closes in. Then finding a deserted town they search for human life and food.

Here the director evokes the world of his namesake Paul Delvaux. In his canvasses Delvaux obssesses about empty nocturnal train stations shining in moonlight and archaic vistas decorated with owl-eyed alabaster nudes. In all his paintings there is a feeling of people and time waiting portentously for things to happen. The mood extends to the three strangers as they wander through the illuminated empty terraced streets. Finding a cinema they sit impassively through a bizarre and disturbing film depicting floating bodies suspended in mid air. Then gaining directions from a man speaking in an alien tongue, they find their way to a busy back-street hotel restaurant. Here they encounter the enigmatic Moira.

The film lends itself to multiple interpretations due to its multi-layered symbolism and a direction which gives the most innocuous scenes added significance. The Belgian setting in itself is a master-stroke, exploiting the Director's conservative and culturally divided homeland with the underlying tension forever threatening the bourgeois status quo. It is interesting to note that the student protests over linguistic dominance that we see rumbling in the background, were also captured in the contemporary James Coburn thriller "Hard Contract". At the same time the films of Harry Kumel were similarly exposing the eeriness found in the Flemish landscape with both "Daughters of Darkness" and "Malpertuis" turning this corner of northern Europe into a cerebral landscape of lonely terror and dread.
Andre Delvaux

In this period Delvaux would produce another mysterious meditation on human relations, releasing "Rendez-vous a Bray" in 1971 with Mathieu Carriere and Anna Karina. Set during the First World War the film appears to centre around two friends divided by conflict, women and ambition. Though lacking the fantasy element of its predecessor the film maintains a similar mood of unfathomable mystery.

At the beginning of  "Un Soir, Un Train" Matthias promises his mother that he will lay chrysanthemums on the grave of his father. En route to his life-changing train journey he wanders around the cemetery in search of the grave. Finally in despair he places the flowers on an empty plot and makes a hasty retreat. It's a scene straight out of the repertoire of Belgian singer Jacques Brel, a poet divided by both love and hate for his homeland. In his songs Brel drifts between the good intention to do good and the corresponding bitterness and despair found in failure. I leave you with Brel's "J'Arrive" and the symbolic chrysanthemums of his own imagined memorial. I trust Delvaux would approve of the connection:

Sunday, 27 November 2011

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie - JOHN CASSAVETES - Director

Released 1976/1978

Is this really a film that needs pulling out and dusting off? The answer is yes. And always.

Orson in Furs
Let's start in the late 1940's when actor/director Orson Welles was approached to appear in the plodding historical epic "The Black Rose". He agreed to take the part only on the understanding that his character wear an expensive fur-lined coat for all his scenes. With the request granted the finished product was released to fanfares but almost universal indifference. Welles meanwhile had been concurrently working on a critically acclaimed version of "Othello" and on it's release he was clearly seen in the title-role wearing the same coat turned inside out!

It was a small act of opportunism from a star exploiting his power but also a symbolic act of defiance from an artist hell-bent on subverting the system. Welles fought this running battle throughout his career, seducing his backers with grand schemes, then exploiting the investment opportunities by working on multiple projects at the same time. He pursued a twin career as a jobbing actor often appearing in material far below his own exacting and ambitious standards, but justifying it by creating the sort of films he wanted to make. The sort of films he wanted to see. Along the way he would indirectly influence the self-financing pioneers of what would be termed American Independent Cinema; a movement from which John Cassavetes would emerge as a founding father.

John Cassavetes
Cassavetes followed a similar path establishing himself in acting roles on American TV and film whilst simultaneously developing his own experimental features. Like Welles there was a seemingly carefree disregard for quality control with regard to his acting engagements and for every "Rosemary's Baby" there were obscure irrelevancies like the Euro-pudding "If It's Tuesday This Must Be Belgium". The acting was the day job and entirely subservient to the metaphorical and literal "big picture"; the end goal forever in his sights.

I was shocked when somebody said to me recently that they liked the idea of John Cassavetes more than they liked the idea of watching his films. It sent me back to reappraise as many as I could, to see if I really thought the same. I certainly had fond memories of his acting, in particular the TV jazz-pianist detective "Johnny Stacatto" but I hadn't watched his directorial efforts for some time. I ploughed through the lengthy "Faces" checking my watch every half-hour or so and searched long and hard for a sympathetic character to identify with in "Husbands". Individual performances were memorable and the ideas and dialogue striking but the films as a whole, didn't entertain. I was not lost in the play, I sat watching performances, noting technique and innovation. I went back to his debut film "Shadows" but the improvisation was even more stark and though the feel of the New York locations is refreshingly realistic, I ultimately found it a slog. It took me back to grim days studying film critique at the University of London, where you struggled to hear the dialogue in the clips we were shown for the sound of students flicking through their Roland Barthes. Welles at least was always entertaining.

Then I had my first viewing of  the 1971 film "Minnie & Moskowitz", a comedy that I thought was a tragedy until it blissfully ended up an odd-ball romance. Finding my feet I chanced a replay of his harrowing study of mental illness, "A Woman Under the Influence", a tragedy that ends up a tragedy but one that ends in a strangely uplifting way. And through these two films it clicked.

Cassavetes was making nouvelle-vague films before some of the French directors had even picked up a camera, but he'd had to wait until the early 1970's for his style of film-making to come into vogue. The major American companies had begun to popularise this new wave of European influenced character-driven films and it seemed to coincide with efforts by Cassavetes to refine and broaden his appeal. By the time he made "The Killing of Chinese Bookie" in 1976 it seems everything Cassavetes had been working towards finally came together.

The plot uses the "Gangster" genre as a background with Ben Gazeera playing Cosmo Vittelli, a quietly desperate strip club-owner in hock to the Mob. But while the narrative is driven by an obligation he has to his paymasters, the message of the film lovingly plays out the obligation he is driven to fulfill to the people that orbit his club. The below trailer tries to say something else but ultimately conveys the same thing:

What this clip doesn't reveal is that there are two quite different versions of this film. Dismayed by the audience reaction to the original 135 minute version, Cassavetes re-cut the film in 1978, sharpening the plot devices at the expense of the indulgent but entirely worthwhile character development. But there isn't a great deal of plot and there is a great deal of character so the cut version works very well as a synthesised version of his original vision. Whole scenes are deleted and some of the longer scenes tightened with the naturalistic soundtrack enlivened by music. He would go on to cite that the original long version was hastily edited and therefore inferior but I'm not sure I buy this. The common consensus is that there isn't a definitive version as the two films give a different focus and so work as completely different entities. My advice would be to watch the shorter version first. Then when you've had time to take it all in go back and watch the long version and revel in the subtleties of the grotesques he examines in microscopic detail. There is much to enjoy.

If you have not encountered him before then this film is worth watching alone for your introduction to the work of Timothy Carey. He plays the leering, check-shirted terror and loose cannon of the Santa Monica hood. In a scene that runs "The Sopranos" close in terms of misplaced finesse, he forks spinach into his sweating face, bedecked in over-size napkin and white magicians gloves. A method actor with a tendency to swallow up his every scene, he advises Cosmo of the getaway car they have selected and staring into the abyss delivers his line with an almost insane intensity and portent:

"It's automatich-ch-ch.....runs on don't stall it...there's no key!"

Timothy Carey (middle)
Carey made his mark with memorable parts in Kubrick's "The Killing" and "Paths of Glory" and followed Cassavetes down the path of film-making with the bizarre "The World's Greatest Sinner" in 1962. Carey even appeared on The Beatles "Sgt Pepper" sleeve, though his cut-out was ultimately obscured by George Harrison's head in the final cover shot. He made his debut performance for Cassavetes with a small psychotic cameo in "Minnie & Moskowitz", playing opposite Seymour Cassel. In "Bookie", Cassel plays the genial gangster who first entwines Cosmo with the mob. His unassuming nature and the bureaucratic method by which his Firm processes the $23,000 debt, makes his performance all the more creepy. The proformas and xeroxes of organised crime acting as just another branch of the faceless administration trying to castrate Cosmo's personal freedom.

Seymour Cassel
Despite the heat, Cosmo keeps returning to his club "The Crazy Horse West" where he choreographs the appalling routines of his buxom "De-Lovlies", proudly taking credit for their every misstep. Centre stage is the master of ceremonies Mr Sophistication, a garishly made-up, self-styled "cult" with a fetish for singing tunelessly into the spot lights. The immovable Cosmo, portrayed by Ben Gazeera in probably his finest role, sits through it all with the intensity of a man watching high-art, while the camera runs endlessly, giving us the full excruciating horror of the Club's tour-de-force "Paris" routine.
Meade Roberts is Mr Sophistication

Deliberating over an artistic dispute back-stage, Cosmo rallies the troops one more time reminding them what they've got. They know what they do and the audience loves them for it. He tells them to enjoy life because they've realised their ultimate ambition. The ultimate ambition "to be comfortable". And with the vultures circling over head Cosmo knows, even if they don't, that these are the greatest years of their lives. That they deliver crud simply doesn't come into it.

It's a deep message.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

I Never Dreamed/A Road to Nowhere - CAROLE KING / GERRY GOFFIN

The Cookies - I Never Dreamed - Recorded 1964
Carole King - A Road to Nowhere - Recorded 1966

As The Drifters hit version of  "Up on the Roof" serenaded love-crossed teenagers across America, it's composer Carole King was preparing to give birth to her second child. It was 1963 and she was 21 years old.

In addition to music, King (real name Stein) had bonded with husband and song-writing partner Gerry Goffin through the shared experience of childhoods spent with dysfunctional New York families. For her it was twice divorced parents in backwater Brooklyn; for him a largely absent and philandering father in Queens. Driven by a precocious talent, a strong work ethic and a large dose of marital insecurity, King launched the pair into a devastating partnership in the highly competitive hit-factory at Broadway's Brill Building. Harnessed by demanding label boss Don Kirshner, the young songwriters drew melodramatic inspiration from the recent but increasingly long gone days of their carefree youth.

Don Kirshner, Carole King and Gerry Goffin
Carole hammered out piano riffs to Gerry's lyrics, which after scrutiny by Kirshner were then placed with an assembly line of talent. "Some Kind of Wonderful" - The Drifters, "Crying in The Rain" - The Everly Brothers, "One Fine Day" - The Chiffons and "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" - The Shirelles. Era defining records and crucially best selling hits.

But right about here things began to change.

Carole demoed the songs and on occasion was allowed a single release under her own name, but under Gerry's insistence, 1963's "It Might as Well Rain Until September" was earmarked as her last. Carole bounced back investing her creativity in the perfect girl group The Cookies and their recording of "Chains" would reward the songwriting duo with even wider exposure when The Beatles covered the song on their first LP. The black girl sound was a winning formula and an enthusiastic Gerry would take to the road with The Cookies, leaving Carole at home with the two kids. By early 1964 it was apparent that Cookies vocalist Earl-Jean McCrea was pregnant but incredibly the professional life of Goffin & King did not obviously turn upside down when it was revealed that Gerry was the father! Life went on in a way that can only be explained by the context of the times they were living in. A Goffin & King title recorded by The Crystals in this period gives as good an indication of the state of socio-sexual relations as much as anything and "He Hit Me (And It Felt Like a Kiss)" would sound as provocative as its title. The show went on. An absent Carole even allowed Gerry to work with Russ Titelman on The Cookies next single that same year. The achingly beautiful "I Never Dreamed" captured exactly where Gerry's thoughts were, drawing from him a deeply personal lyric that placed the song a few notches above the many sound-a-like classics of the period:

"He tells me I'm pretty... and then I feel pretty"

And on it went. Carole's sang-froid, would eventually see her writing a song specifically for a solo Earl-Jean, with "I'm Into Something Good" as prescient a title as the song which had prematurely ended Carole's stab at a solo career the previous year.

By 1965 the couple had soldiered on with a move out of town to a leafy part of New Jersey. Recorded by The Monkees two years later, the satirical "Pleasant Valley Sunday" was written in honour of their new suburban surroundings and would capture the pretence of the life lived for the neighbours. It was a scenario all too true and a situation exacerbated when one of those neighbours became Earl-Jean; Gerry financing the nearby house for his second family from the couple's song-writing royalties.

Carole King - solo 
And the music was changing too. The popularity of the Motown soul factory was threatening the Brill Building dominance and the growing influence of Dylan and The Beatles would inspire the pair to gamble on a label of their own. Optimistically called Tomorrow Records, the aspirations  to broaden horizons were lofty but they would only result in drug experimentation for a mentally frail Gerry and a fling for Carole with a musician from a protege beat group.

This personal deterioration is captured in "A Road To Nowhere", a 1966 recording on the increasingly ironic-sounding imprint. A doom filled, cymbal crashing drone of a song, it sounds like a telepathic message to the music being made across the Hudson by the newly formed Velvet Underground. Both "All Tomorrow's Parties" and "Venus in Furs" have much in common with this soulful scream from the heart, with Carole's multi-tracked vocals soaring in the abyss. The song is credited to Goffin/King but to consider this as a true collaboration would surely be stretching the endurance of their relationship to exotic lengths. The lyrics are closer to a session with the psycho-analyst than anything else and they would re-ignite Carole's determination to strike out alone.

A Road to Nowhere - 1966

Carole soon broke free, separating from Gerry and heading for a new life in Los Angeles. From this she fell into the hands of Lou Adler and her re-invention as a Laurel Canyon troubadour. Gerry too found himself in LA and attempts were made for professional reconciliation, resulting in songs written to provide income for their children. It was short-lived and when "Tapestry" appeared with words and music by Carole, the relationship was finally dissolved. Gerry would move back East to battle with his own demons.

The years covered by this period of transition 1965-68 would result in a cache of superb Goffin/King collaborations as recorded by other artists. That such a body of work could be written under such duress highlights the discipline installed by the Brill Building regime and makes the powerful connection that entwined this song-writing team together all the more remarkable. A quick scan through these song titles captures a poignant story unfolding.

Oh No Not My Baby - Manfred Mann/Dusty Springfield
Stage Door - Tony Jackson/Peter James
Some of Your Lovin'-The Honeybees/Dusty Springfield
Honey & Wine - The Hollies
Yes I Will - The Hollies/The Monkees
Take a Giant Step - The Rising Sons/The Monkees
Just Once in My Life - The Righteous Brothers
Wasn't It You - The Action/Peggy Lipton
Goin' Back - Dusty Springfield/The Byrds/Goldie & the Gingerbreads
So Much Love - Ben E King/Blood Sweat & Tears
I Need You - Chuck Jackson/The Walker Brothers
Don't Forget About Me - Barbara Lewis/Dusty Springfield
Is This What I Get For Loving You - PP Arnold/Marianne Faithfull
Don't Bring Me Down - The Animals
I Can't Make It Alone - PJ Proby/Dusty Springfield
Yours Until Tomorrow - Dee Dee Warwick
I Happen To Love You - The Myddle Class/The Electric Prunes
The Snow Queen - Roger Nicholls & A Small Circle of Friends
Wasn't Born To Follow - The Byrds/Dusty Springfield
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman - Aretha Franklin
You're Just What I was Looking For - The Everly Brothers/Status Quo
So Goes Love - The Turtles
Pleasant Valley Sunday - The Monkees
Porpoise Song - The Monkees
No Easy Way Down - The American Breed/Dusty Springfield
The Right to Cry - Erma Franklin
Who Needs It - Peggy Lipton

Thursday, 10 November 2011

MIKE WESTBROOK - The Emancipator of British Jazz

This is a piece about British jazz. It's about it's rise between two falls and it's about a composer responsible, as one musicologist put it, "for the emancipation of British jazz from American slavery"

In the mid 1960's the jazz movement was struggling for survival in the UK. London club owner Ronnie Scott was providing work for long-suffering British musicians backing the visiting US stars, but the arrangement was proving less than harmonious for their egos. With audiences dwindling, musicians were facing the prospect of a steady job outside music or chancing their hands in the burgeoning R&B movement.

Into this depressed atmosphere a new generation of musicians suddenly emerged, including a handful of innovative composers determined to present their work through larger ensembles. They included Michael Gibbs, Graham Collier, Neil Ardley and a pianist from somewhere between High Wycombe and Devon, Mike Westbrook.

Brought up by a Duke Ellington obsessed father, Westbrook would synthesise the music of Gerry Mulligan, John Coltrane and Charles Mingus, to create an orchestra with a sound and vision very much it's own. Signed to the progressive arm of Decca Records, Westbrook's first release on Deram was the aptly named "Celebration", a record that leaps out with a controlled confidence and verve quite incongruous to it's fledgling status. At times the band plays in a quasi-R&B style as on the swinging and joyous "A Greeting", whilst elsewhere Westbrook strikes his piano in homage to the "Mingus Plays Piano" LP, with abstract dashes along the keyboard sending cues to his assembled charges.

The Mingus influence is strong. A fellow Ellington devotee, Mingus shook new life into the music with passages of anarchic yet arranged collective improvisation, and it would give Westbrook a template to build upon for his subsequent albums. On this and the following year's "Release" saxophonists Mike Osborne and John Surman would signal their emergence with assertive soloing adding the colossal influence of Coltrane to the centre of the mix. Both would soon emerge as heavyweight players under their own steam. On this LP Westbrook revealed his idiosyncratic style, creating side-long suites which interspersed Ellington pastiches and cover tunes, alongside tuneful originals that verged towards pop music. Indeed "A Life of It's Own/Can't Get It Out of My Mind" was even promoted as single, presumably in the hope for radio play. But despite individual moments of brilliance (including the aforementioned 45), "Release" sounds like a diversion from the real creative energies which were being dedicated to that year's commission for the Camden Arts Festival.

The anti-war themed "Marching Song" was put down on tape by an expanded ensemble of 26 in 1969 and marked Westbrook's first extended masterpiece. It was released as two separate albums, running over 2 hours in length. A rich, intense recording, it brims with ideas and superb playing which rewards the listener with repeated plays.

The concept opens with soldiers caught up in an insanely euphoric march before cheering crowds, then shifts to the desolated landscape of the battlefield. A long piano solo denotes the restlessness and ennuie of the pre-battle period followed by the chaotic theme of the title track. The original side 3 of the package plays like a concept in itself, suggesting the continued frustration of non-action with "Transition", "Home", "Rosie", "Prelude" and the track "Tension" sounding like something from Miles Davis' "ESP" period. A mood of reflection is suddenly broken with the cataclysmic screams of a saxophone announcing the inevitable "Conflict". The music is both stunningly beautiful and disconcerting, but the temptation to overfill the piece with discordant free jazz is resisted and the moments of spontaneous disharmony are used to fit appropriate moments in the narrative. The band is augmented by John Warren, Alan Skidmore, Kenny Wheeler and John Marshall, then working on sessions with Jack Bruce.

Westbrook followed the album with another diversion, cutting the understated "Love Songs" in the Spring of 1970. It was a beautifully relaxed break from the increasingly intense sound of the big band and is a good starting point for anyone in search of an introduction to his music. The recordings were built around Westbrook's rolling piano, strummed guitar of Chris Spedding and decidedly funky bass and drum rhythms, making it the band's most pop-sounding record to date. The album also featured a prominent new member in Norma Winstone, a singer who would contribute to most of the significant British jazz records produced in this period. She sings three poetic songs but also contributes wordless vocals, sounding at times like an additional wind instrument.

The music is close to soul-jazz as in the tuneful "Love Song #2" and it's close cousin, the infectious "Original Peter" (re-recorded for a single) sampled here:

The band now included George Khan a musician with a stronger rock/pop sensibility and the Deram LP's were produced by Peter Eden, an important catalyst for introducing pop to jazz and vice versa. (members of Westbrook's band would contribute to pop-hymn writer Bill Fay's 1970 Deram LP, produced by Eden). The cross-over in musical genres was however done more out of necessity than anything else and with the artists largely semi-professional, many were happy to pick up any available work. It was a period of greater respectability for jazz but it was still very much a secondary musical genre. "Love Songs" for example had been recorded at the independent Tangerine Studios on the Kingsland Road in East London which despite boasting an 8-track facility also had a bingo hall next door and recordings there were prone to a certain amount of sound leakage. Club dates were undertaken in a circuit of public houses dotted around the country, but mainly in London and the culture was still dictated by the rough and tumble of the saloon bar. In reality the larger the band, the more incoherent a piece could conceivably start, with band members returning from the bar glass in hand.

TYGER 1971 & LIVE 1972
Jazz was fighting for it's place in the culture and despite his growing status Westbrook would find himself promoting his music through increasingly diverse mediums. In 1971 his band provided the background music to Adrian Mitchell's National Theatre adaptation of William Blake poems (sung by a cast including Norman Beaton, Peter Duncan and a very groovy Maureen Lipman). The band also gigged with a multi-media company known as the Welfare State Travelling Circus, featuring acrobats and fire-eaters. At the City of London Festival in July 1972, a spectacular performance of "The Apocalyptic High Diver And The Pit of Molten Fire" culminated in one performer making a leap from the Tower of London battlements into the moat! It was a direction Westbrook would further develop into the early 1970's with his experimental jazz-rock outfit, Solid Gold Cadillac.

However Westbrook was primarily a composer and all other projects were merely works in progress towards his large scale compositions. In late 1968-1969 the big-band, with the assistance of an Arts Council bursary developed the follow-up to "Marching Song". Presented by the London Jazz Centre Society, the new work titled "Metropolis" received it's premi√®re at the Mermaid Theatre in the City of London. The performance was put on tape in the summer of 1971 and appeared on RCA Records new progressine imprint Neon, appearing alongside other low-selling jazz albums by Brotherhood of Breath and Keith Tippett's monstrous Centipede project. Featuring a 23 piece ensemble the album would be Westbrook's most ambitious and rewarding achievement to date. It would also reflect a greater degree of professionalism with Westbrook now released from his job as art teacher. This time around the core of the band were augmented by Henry Lowther, Malcolm Griffiths, Ray Warleigh, John Taylor, Gary Boyle and Harry Beckett; a veritable who's who of British jazz heavyweights. Of the album's nine movements three featured rock drumming and each side on the individual album concluded with elegiac trumpet solos by Lowther and Beckett respectively.

The album gently erupts with the sound of a city of horn instruments individually waking and shaking themselves out of slumber. Before long the city bursts into life with streets throbbing to funky electric bass and drums. Norma Winstone reappears as part of a lengthy collective improvisation that develops from a tentative and abstract opening towards a stunning melodic crescendo. Elsewhere Kenny Wheeler plays trumpet in a "Bitches Brew" style, whilst Westbrook himself features on a brief piano solo. Ex-Soft Machine guitarist Gary Boyle locks the LP into a jazz-rock groove with the massed horns of the dawn chorus, squawking their way towards the metaphorical day's end. John Marshall and Alan Jackson providing the heavy, driving rhythm in the drums. The track re-imagined as "Pleasure City", would feature in the Sold Gold Cadillac repertoire the following year, with the rock credentials emphasised by the band slipping into the "Satisfaction" riff.

                                                               METROPOLIS 1971
This period reached it's conclusion with another mighty big band composition, Citadel/Room 315 commissioned by Swedish radio in 1974. It would re-unite Westbrook with West Country saxophonist John Surman and return to the structured approach of  "Celebration" but with every piece written out in advance. Gone was the ragged collective improvisation of the previous years with players feeding off each others energy and spontaneity. In its place was an immaculately performed multi-layered composition which took British jazz to even higher levels. The album version featured ex-Blossom Toes guitarist Brian Godding on guitar, whilst Alan Jackson once again gave the LP an undercurrent of jazz-rock drumming. Co-producer John Surman dominates the LP's highlights including the complex "View From a Drawbridge" and the concluding "Outgoing Song", whilst Henry Lowther again excells on the nearly 12 minute "Pastorale" . Westbrook is pictured on the sleeve gazing out of rehearsal room 315 at Leeds Polytechnic seemingly in search of his next move. This would include an offshoot Brass Band and even greater theatrical collaboration with wife Kate Westbrook culminating in another huge work, 1979's "Cortege".

But the music industry's mainstream flirtation with jazz was over for good and the players retreated to the cellars of pubs and more receptive audiences on the Continent. The record labels passed over even the most established names and the Colliers, Ardleys, Gibbs and Westbrooks would find their music focussed towards a hardcore following with recordings increasingly distributed through small circulation labels. For many of them it was a return to the road and to the endless gigging that had set them on the path back in the early 60's. For many others it was a new life in the Post Office and Civil Service.

I leave you with the appropriately mournful conclusion to1971's "Metropolis" played by the late great Harry Beckett. It evokes the big city closing down, the last trains pulling away and the sound of a generation of superb musicians temporarily falling down between the cracks..

Friday, 4 November 2011

The Ballad of Tam Lin - RODDY McDOWALL - Director

Released 1970

The traditional ballad "Tam Lin", enjoyed a voguish revival in Britain in the late 1960's. It featured in the repertoire of three highly influential folk artists and inspired an imaginative but largely forgotten film. 

"The Ballad of Tam Lin", American-style.
It was a time when a renewed interest in folk music and pagan belief was percolating back through the left-leaning underground. Increasingly politicised listeners were looking to reconnect to an ancient authority more authentic than that proscribed by their elected reps (sound familiar?). The Christ-like Che shared bedroom wall space with proto-anarchist William Blake, whilst an outbreak of eastern spirituality offered glimpses of a surrogate utopia, long lost in ancient Albion. Popular novels sensationalised the Occult, whilst the myths of King Arthur coincided with the cult of Tolkein, with his talking trees, malevolent Trolls, Elfin Kings and all. It was a fantasy-parable but one conceived in a childhood idyll menaced by the very real perils of encroaching industrialisation and the horror of war.

The evolving cross-fertilisation of folk music across the Atlantic in the 1960's popularised this backwards quest for authenticity and meaning. Appalachian murder ballads, sea-shanties and work songs sung by the likes of MacColl, Seeger and the Clancy Brothers stirred the polemic-energy of the visionary Bob Dylan. His anthems were morphed into pop music by The Beatles and The Byrds, the latter band in particular acting as midwive to a generation of experimental West Coast musicians. Folk music was now anything from country and roots, through all shades of Americana and the blues.

1969 Island LP
It was against this backdrop that a group from London called The Fairport Convention, would record a string of increasingly impressive albums, peaking in 1969 with "Liege & Lief". This hybrid music was deeply influenced by the evolving sounds from America but with Sandy Denny's assertive and tradition-toned vocals it was a sound firmly rooted in the British folk-song firmament. That something so modern sounding could compliment something so old, served as the benchmark for what was to come and to this day it stands as the defining manifesto for the whole British folk-rock movement. The interpretation of the Scottish ballad "Tam Lin" sounds like a microcosm of the entire work, melding the anachronistic imagery to Richard Thompson's West Coast-style guitar breaks; a sound that manages to be both biting and languorous at the same time.

The ancient lyric of this ballad, adapted by Robert Burns in the 18th century, conveys a morality tale concerning the consequences of maidens cavorting with rakish men. A universal message found in folk tales throughout the world and one retold since time began. Our fascination for this version is wrapped up in it's telling and the strongly symbolic setting. Janet's virgin encounters Tam (or Tom) in a forest glade. Finding herself impregnated, Tam reveals himself as a mortal man imprisoned by the Faerie Queen. In order to free him she is instructed to pull him from his horse when the faerie court ride by. Their love is proved true as they withstand the shape-shifting torment that the enraged Queen curses Tam with.

" to the white steed and pull the rider down"
It's a story steeped in the Celtic night of Samain, or our adopted Halloween or All Saints Day (Day of the Dead). The night when bonfires are lit to renew life in the pre-winter earth, when all natural law is suspended and ghosts and demons are abroad. The faerie myths in the Scottish borderlands likened Elves to humans in their physical size, but gave them a compulsion to steal new born children and men. Their unassuming wisp-like nature hiding an ulterior hell-bent motive to strengthen their stock through interbreeding!  

Not long after Fairport's version was released, the traditional singer Anne Briggs recorded an unaccompanied variant of the song called "Young Tambling". A singer much admired by Sandy Denny, her compelling and austere recording draws the listener closer to the meaning of the ballad, making the girl's predicament all the more dramatic. Janet becomes Margaret, her seduction by Tambling is made explicit and she returns to the woods to find herbs to effect an abortion. It is only here that she is convinced to save Tambling and their child. It's a reminder of the subtleties and nuances of a story passed down through generations. A tale in many different forms, chopped and changed to give new emphasis and relevance to different audiences at different times.

Roddy McDowall on location.
At the same time the Pentangle, second-only to Fairport Convention in the folk-rock hierarchy, were tackling another variation of the song. Their version with additional orchestration by Stanley Myers was commissioned for a cinematic curio released in British cinemas in December 1970. The film "The Ballad of Tam-Lin" or "The Devil's Widow" maintained the premise of the fable but updated it to the present day. The Pentangle sang the tune at appropriate intervals in a narrative which subtly shifted the focus towards a decadent Faerie Queen portrayed by an ageing Ava Gardner. It would be the only film directed by American actor Roddy McDowall, made in between his appearances in the Planet of the Apes films. That he didn't make another film is a great pity as it's directed with an understated style, reminiscent of those unique films that only foreign directors seem to capture.

Ian McShane soon for the dead wood
Gardner, resplendent in spider-like eye make-up, revels in the role of Queen Bitch. Self-exiled from her court of beautiful young things, her lover Tom, played by Ian McShane, elopes with Vicar's daughter Stephanie Beacham. This propels the Queen into an existential malaise which sets in motion the eerie end-game. Using the malevolent mood of a drunken party-prank gone wrong, the film speeds towards a conclusion which toys with horror-film conventions. In this interpretation a caravan by the Forth Bridge, a fleet of sports cars and a deadly dose of hallucinogenics feature as iconic plot devices. Richard Wattis is a memorably creepy supporting Queen as the waspish Secretary Elroy whilst a sympathetic Cyril Cusack plays Janet's pastor-father. The other cast members including Joanna Lumley, Madeleine Smith and Jenny Hanley, all presumably biding their time between the next Hammer costume change, play the mindless hangers-on, circling in the Queen's orbit.

" angry Queen was she."
The film works and each member of the cast plays their role to perfection. McShane and Beacham transcend the legacy of their later TV roles and convincingly portray the innocence at the heart of the story. The washed-out 1960's are evoked by the flight from London and the end of the party literally leaves the guests in complete disarray.

The film was a forerunner to some contemporaneous Scottish pagan horrors. "Nothing But the Night" in 1973 suffered from convuluted plotting and an OTT performance from Diana Dors. However that film's star and producer Christopher Lee would make a triumphant return that year with the magnificent "The Wicker Man", a celluloid equivalent of "Liege & Lief" in terms of  influence and legacy.

McDowall returned to The Planet of The Apes but he also returned to this film collaborating with Martin Scorcese no less, on a 1998 restoration project. Unfortunately that version is proving as elusive to find as any other commercial version. However the film is available if you look hard enough and it really is worth the search.

Here's Tam's seduction of Janet.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

Eva - JOSEPH LOSEY - Director

Released 1962

"Do you know how much this weekend's going to cost me? Two friends, thirty thousand dollars...and a WIFE."

In the fetid Venetian lagoons, two monsters lie in wait. He is Tyvian Jones, escapee from the South Wales valleys, blustering his virility around the continent on the back of an international best-seller plagiarised from his dead brother. She is Eva, lady about town, functional schizoid and nemesis in bold type. For the next hour or so we witness a man being systematically destroyed by his obsession for a woman.

In it's longest print  the 1962 film "Eva" exists with Swedish & Finnish subtitles and a clutch of very mixed reviews. It left something of a black mark on the careers of all those involved in the making of it, yet within those footnotes remains a fascinating story.

In the month of his death, Rhondda-born actor Stanley Baker received the ultimate career accolade with the award of a knighthood. Forever engrained in the consciousness of the British cinema-going public for his role of Lt. Chard in the 1964 film "Zulu", Baker forged a reputation as a socially committed actors actor who could and should have followed the Connerys and Caines towards Hollywood action-man immortality. But having rejected the money by turning down the role of James Bond for fear of being typecast, Stanley Baker began the 1960's with the intention of bringing to life the vision of a director very much in tune with himself.

Stanley Baker
In 1961 not long after making that momentous decision, Baker found himself contracted as the male lead in a European film to be produced by Egyptian brothers Raymond and Robert Hakim, currently riding high on the back of the Alain Delon thriller "Plein Soleil" and then working on the concurrent "L'Eclisse", also starring Delon and directed by Michaelangelo Antonioni. The Hakim's notorious for a heavy hands-on supervision on all their productions, allowed themselves to be persuaded by Baker to employ the directorial services of exiled American-in-Britain, Joseph Losey. Losey had cast Baker in a couple of features and the two men had developed a rapport based largely on their shared social convictions. Losey had been black-listed in the McCarthy anti-Communist witch-hunt whilst Baker was a CND activist and ardent left-wing supporter of Harold Wilson (it would be Wilson's 1976 resignation honours list that would honour him)

Joseph Losey
The story Eve (re-titled "Eva" for the film) had been written by pulp fiction novelist James Hadley Chase and was based around the relationship between a hard-boiled detective and a prostitute. If the subject matter was entirely in keeping with the Hakim's commercial, not to mention salacious instincts, the final treatment would take a considerable detour. As was common currency with Losey, "Eva" would be shaped around the director's own particular demons, the original story a skeleton onto which a modern treatise on his own sexual dilemmas would be grafted. For the director, this film was to be his statement on the bourgeois entrapment of the female spirit and would bear direct comparison to his own marriage. The off-set intrigue surrounding his relationship with wife and mistress would actually result in a nervous breakdown for a put-upon nanny who would find herself confined to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London for the duration of filming. A fitting sub-plot to a film devoted to much madness and hate.

Jeanne Moreau
A significant departure from the plan would see Losey moving the action from Los Angeles to Venice and the American detective changed to a fraudulent Welsh novelist. Baker's collusion accounted for the character change but the geography hinted at loftier ambitions and one requiring some practical assistance due to a hangover from Losey's American ban. It has been suggested that Baker and Losey employed the services of the London underworld to secure visas and permits to enter Italy and the name of Kray Twin acolyte Albert Dimes has been mentioned. The ends pursued indicate the ambitions both men had for the project. The title role would be played by leading French actress Jeanne Moreau, then an established name on the international circuit. Fresh from her success in Antonioni's "La Notte" and the career defining "Jules et Jim", Moreau would be cast as the demonic tormentor to Baker's man skating on thin ice. Courted for the role by Losey, the actress and director shared mutual respect and the triumvirate began filming with great hope.

Michel Legrand
Reluctantly granting the director his wishes, the Hakim's did however eschew the preferred choice of composer when Miles Davis' representatives requested a little more money than budgeted. Fortunately the Billie Holliday tunes and work of French composer Michel Legrand would give the film a sophisticated yet sleazy air perfectly in tune with the fractured personality splits of the lead characters. The main theme is a particularly fascinating piece. A quietly swinging trumpet riff backed by a small jazz group is suddenly broken by a sudden sheet of discordant harpsichords and a sound not unlike Bartok or Stravinsky. Legrand would go on to score "The Go-between" for Losey but it was this soundtrack that the director would go on to cite as his favourite musical score.

In Stanley Baker's Tyvian Jones the morose Celtic division of faux machismo and brooding self-hatred is perfectly encapsulated. The films charts the self-investigation of a man who knows he is living a lie. "Stranger From Hell" the title of his dead brother's slice of life pulp-fiction, features his name on the spine and his photo on the jacket but it is only in the title that Tyvian finds the awful truth. Far off in the distance lies marriage to a beautiful fianc√© and a place in an establishment he can only dream about. But right before his eyes gaping cracks appear in an insecurity he is desperate to fill. This void is filled by Moreau's Eva, willing seductress through the necessity of earning money to live the life she must live. By turns childish and demonic, for Moreau it would be one of the finest performances of her career, her post-coital eyes staring balnkly through the smoke.

"Do you find me attractive?", she asks an exasperated Tyvian during one the film's many scences of desperate, doomed seduction.
"Mean...cruel...vicious...destructive", he answers.

Boasting stunning photography from Henri Decae, the film looked great too, painting a nocturnal Venice and scruffy Rome in dark forboding shades. Yet this darkness and the bitterness within the text would slip into the production like a spiked drink. Fact and fiction merged. Eva used her sex like a weapon and even disregarding Moreau's assertion of the time when she took a knife to the producers during an on-set dispute, a feeling of deep malevolence and violence hung over the whole venture. Scenes were fought over and planned budgets withdrawn. It spilled over into the action.

In one scene as Eva leads Tyvian through dark Roman streets, we glimpse piazza and fountains reminiscent of  Fellini's award-winning "La Dolce Vita", yet where in that film we recall an iconic embrace at dawn, in doomed "Eva" the lovers stumble down stairs into the hovel of a sleeping vagrant. There is nothing accidental about this fall. The scene also reminds us that "Eva" was Losey's shot at doing a Visconti or Antonioni or indeed Fellini. In the early 1960's Italy was where a film director made his international mark. Losey, Baker and Moreau were clearly fighting towards this end, the stakes were high and as the funds were withdrawn Baker found himself chipping in money from his own pocket. Like Tyvian with his repressed sensitivity, rash bursts of passion were beginning to consume reason.

The final director's cut of 155 minutes would never see the light of day. Allegedly butchered by the Hakim's down to the standard 103 minute theatrical release (though some have argued this was a conceit manufactured by a director who had already lost control). Today we have access to the Scandinavian cut which allows us 119 minutes though in markedly inferior stock. Critics have commented on the longeurs of even the shortest versions of the film so it's a moot point as to whether Losey's grand vision justified his final cut. Either way after moving on to greater things he would recoil in later years over his unrealised masterpiece. (He would describe the unseen full version as "almost an orgasm"!)

Upon it's release established opinion suggested "Eva" was fit only to lurk menacingly in the back-waters of the European cinema world, though plaudits were given to Moreau's expert performance. Yet it is Stanley Baker's portrayal of a seducer devoured who shines brightest nearly half a century on. The working class lad striking out at a time when the blurring of the classes suggested everything was up for grabs strikes a resounding note. To witness the disintegration of his very being acts as a bitter morality play of universal hubris. With another amour in-tow and Tyvian reduced to a lapdog, Eva's final put-down in Piazza St Marco reminds us of the film's unusual subject matter,

"Bloody Welshman!", she spits.

As a post-script it seems fitting to recall that the film's premiere ended as tortuously as its creation. In a split-level Paris cinema, Baker found himself downstairs before a non-plussed cross-section of the weary international press, whilst upstairs Losey partied with enough Anglo-Saxon chutzpah to suggest they'd carried the whole thing off. But the hangover from this film would last a long time.